Essays in Rebellion by Henry W. Nevinson

Produced by Garrett Alley and PG Distributed Proofreaders ESSAYS IN REBELLION BY HENRY W. NEVINSON _BY THE SAME AUTHOR_ NEIGHBOURS OF OURS: Scenes of East End Life. IN THE VALLEY OF TOPHET: Scenes of Black Country Life. THE THIRTY DAYS’ WAR: Scenes in the Greek and Turkish War of 1897. LADYSMITH: a Diary of the
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  • 1913
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Produced by Garrett Alley and PG Distributed Proofreaders





NEIGHBOURS OF OURS: Scenes of East End Life.

IN THE VALLEY OF TOPHET: Scenes of Black Country Life.

THE THIRTY DAYS’ WAR: Scenes in the Greek and Turkish War of 1897.

LADYSMITH: a Diary of the Siege.

CLASSIC GREEK LANDSCAPE AND ARCHITECTURE: Text to John Fulleylove’s Pictures of Greece.


BETWEEN THE ACTS: Scenes in the Author’s Experience.

ON THE OLD ROAD THROUGH FRANCE TO FLORENCE: French Chapters to Hallam Murray’s Pictures.

BOOKS AND PERSONALITIES: a volume of Criticism.

A MODERN SLAVERY: an Investigation of the Slave System in Angola and the Islands of San Thome and Principe.

THE DAWN IN RUSSIA: Scenes in the Revolution of 1905-1906.

THE NEW SPIRIT IN INDIA: Scenes during the Unrest of 1907-1908.


THE GROWTH OF FREEDOM: a Summary of the History of Democracy.

[Illustration: HENRY W. NEVINSON]









_First published in_ 1913


When writers are so different, it is queer that every age should have a distinguishing spirit. Each writer is as different in “style” as in look, and his words reveal him just as the body reveals the soul, blazoning its past or its future without possibility of concealment. Paint a face, no matter how delicately or how thick; the very paint–the very choice of colours red or white–betrays the nature lurking beneath it, and no amount of artifice or imitation in a writer can obscure the secret of self. Artifice and imitation reveal the finikin or uncertain soul as surely as deliberate bareness reveals a conscious austerity. Except, perhaps, in mathematics, there seems no escape from this revelation. I am told that even in the “exact sciences” there is no escape; even in physics the exposition is a matter of imagination, of personality, of “style.”

Next to mathematics and the exact sciences, I suppose, Bluebooks and leading articles are taken as representing truth in the most absolute and impersonal manner. We appeal to Bluebooks as confidently as to astronomers, assuming that their statements will be impersonally true, just as the curve of a comet will be the same for the Opposition as for the Government, for Anarchists as for Fabians. Yet what a difference may be detected in Bluebooks on the selfsame subject, and what an exciting hide-and-seek for souls we may there enjoy! Behind one we catch sight of the cautiously official mind, obsequious to established power, observant of accepted fictions, contemptuous of zeal, apprehensive of trouble, solicitous for the path of least resistance. Behind another we feel the stirring spirit that no promotion will subdue, pitiless to abomination, untouched by smooth excuses, regardless of official sensibilities, and untamed to comfortable routine, which, in his case, will probably be short.

Or take the leading article: hardly any form of words would appear less personal. It is the abstract product of what the editor wants, what the proprietor wants, what the Party wants, and what the readers want, just flavoured sometimes with the very smallest suspicion of what the writer wants. And yet, in leaders upon the same subject and in the same paper, what a difference, again! Peruse leaders for a week, and in the week following, with as much certainty as if you saw the animals emerging from the Ark, you will be able to say, “Here comes the laboured Ox, here the Wild Ass prances, here trips the Antelope with fairy footfall, here the Dromedary froths beneath his hump; there soars the Crested Screamer, there bolts the circuitous Hare, there old Behemoth wallows in the ooze, and there the swivel-eyed Chameleon clings along the fence.”

If even the writers of Bluebooks and leading articles are thus as distinguishable as the animals which Noah had no difficulty in sorting into couples, such writers as poets, essayists, and novelists, who have no limit imposed upon their distinction, are likely to be still more distinct. Indeed, we find it so, for their work needs no signature, since the “style”–their way of looking at things–reveals it. And yet, though it is only the sum of all these separate personalities so diverse and distinct, each age or generation possesses a certain “style” of its own, unconsciously revealing a kind of general personality. Everyone knows it is as unnecessary to date a book as a church or a candlestick, since church and candlestick and book always bear the date written on the face. The literature of the last three or four generations, for instance, has been distinguished by Rebellion as a “style.” Rebellion has been the characteristic expression of its most vital self.

It has been an age of rebels in letters as in life. Of course, acquiescent writers have existed as well, just as in the Ark (to keep up the illustration) vegetarians stood side by side with carnivors, and hoofs were intermixed with claws. The great majority have, as usual, supported traditional order, have eulogised the past or present, and been, not only at ease in their generation, but enraptured at the vision of its beneficent prosperity. Such were the writers and orators whom their contemporaries hailed as the distinctive spokesmen of a happy and glorious time, leaping and bounding with income and population. But, on looking back, we see their contemporaries were entirely mistaken. The people of vital power and prolonged, far-reaching influence–the “dynamic” people–have been the rebels. Wordsworth (it may seem strange to include that venerable figure among rebels, but so long as he was more poetic than venerable he stood in perpetual rebellion against the motives, pursuits, and satisfactions of his time)–Wordsworth till he was forty-five, Byron all his short life, Newman, Carlyle, Dickens, Matthew Arnold, Ruskin–among English writers those have proved themselves the dynamic people. There are many others, and many later; but we need recall only these few great names, far enough distant to be clearly visible. It was they who moved the country, shaking its torpor like successive earthquakes. Risen against the conceit of riches, and the hypocrisies of Society, against unimpassioned and unimaginative religion, against ignoble success and the complacent economics that hewed mankind into statistics to fit their abstractions–one and all, in spite of their variety or mutual hostility, they were rebels, and their personality expressed itself in rebellion. That was the common characteristic of their “style.”

In other parts of Europe, from _Faust_, which opened the nineteenth century, onward through _Les Miserables_ to _The Doll’s House_ and _Resurrection_, it was the same. As, in political action, Russia hardly ceased to rebel, France freed herself three times, Ireland gave us the line of rebels from Robert Emmet to Michael Davitt, and all rebellion culminated in Garibaldi, so the most vital spirits in every literature of Europe were rebels. Perhaps it is so in all the greatest periods of word and deed. For examples, one could point rapidly to Euripides, Dante, Rabelais, Milton, Swift, Rousseau–men who have few attributes in common except greatness and rebellion. But, to limit ourselves to the familiar period of the last three or four generations, the words, thoughts, and actions most pregnant with dynamic energy have been marked with one mark. Rebellion has been the expression of a century’s personality.

Of course, it is very lamentable. _Otium divos_–the rebel, like the storm-swept sailor, cries to heaven for tranquillity. It is not the hardened warrior, but only the elegant writer who, having never seen bloodshed, clamours to shed blood. All rebels long for a peace in which it would be possible to acquiesce, while they cultivated their minds and their gardens, employing the shining hour upon industry and intellectual pursuits. “I can say in the presence of God,” cried Cromwell, in the last of his speeches, “I can say in the presence of God, in comparison with whom we are but poor creeping ants upon the earth,–I would have been glad to have lived under my woodside, to have kept a flock of sheep, rather than undertaken such a Government as this.” Every rebel is a Quietist at heart, seeking peace and ensuing it, willing to let the stream of time glide past without his stir, dreading the onset of indignation’s claws, stopping his ears to the trumpet-call of action, and always tempted to leave vengeance to Him who has promised to repay. If reason alone were his guide, undisturbed by rage he would enjoy such pleasure as he could clutch, or sit like a Fakir in blissful isolation, contemplating the aspect of eternity under which the difference between a mouse and a man becomes imperceptible. But the age has grown a skin too sensitive for such happiness. “For myself,” said Goethe, in a passage I quote again later in this book, “For myself, I am happy enough. Joy comes streaming in upon me from every side. Only, for others, I am not happy.” So it is that the Hound of another’s Hell gives us no rest, and we are pursued by Furies not our own.

In spite of the longing for tranquillity, then, we cannot confidently hope that rebellion will be less the characteristic of the present generation than of the past. It is true, we are told that, in this country at all events, the necessity for active and political rebellion is past. However much a man may detest the Government, he is now, in a sense, governed with his own consent, since he is free to persuade his fellow-citizens that the Government is detestable, and, as far as his vote goes, to dismiss his paid servants in the Ministry and to appoint others. Such securities for freedom are thought to have made active and political rebellion obsolete. This appears to be proved even by the increasingly rebellious movement among women, as unenfranchised people, excluded from citizenship and governed without consent. For women are in rebellion only because they possess none of those securities, and the moment that the securities are ensured them, their rebellion ceases. It has only arisen because they are compelled to pay for the upkeep of the State (including the upkeep of the statesmen) and to obey laws which interfere increasingly more and more with their daily life, while they are allowed no voice in the expenditure or the legislation. Whence have originated, not only tangible and obvious hardships, but those feelings of degradation, as of beings excluded from privileges owing to some inferiority supposed inherent–those feelings of subjection, impotence, and degradation which, more even than actual hardships, kindle the spirit to the white-hot point of rebellion.

This democratic rising against a masculine oligarchy ceases when the cause is removed, and the cause is simple. Similarly, the revolts of nationalism against Imperial power, though the motives are more complicated, usually cease at the concession of self-government. But even if these political and fairly simple motives to rebellion are likely soon to become obsolete in our country and Empire, other and vaguer rebellious forms, neither nationalist nor directly political, appear to stand close in front of us, and no one is yet sure what line of action they will follow. Their line of action is still obscure, though both England and Europe have felt the touch of general or sympathetic strikes, and of “sabotage,” or wilful destruction of property rather than life–the method advocated by Syndicalists and Suffragettes to rouse the sleepy world from indifference to their wrongs. In this collection of essays, contributed during the last year or two, as occasion arose, to the _Nation_ and other periodicals, I have included some descriptions of the causes likely to incite people to rebellion of this kind. Such causes, I mean, as the inequality that comes from poverty alone–the physical unfitness or lack of mental opportunity that is due only to poverty. Those things make happiness impossible, for they frustrate the active exercise of vital powers, and give life no scope. During a generation or so, people have looked to the Government to mitigate the oppression of poverty, but some different appeal now seems probable. For many despair of the goodwill or the power of the State, finding little in it but hurried politicians, inhuman officials, and the “experts” who docket and label the poor for “institutional treatment,” with results shown in my example of a workhouse school.

The troubling and persistent alarum of rebellion calls from many sides, and as instances of its call I have introduced mention of various rebels, whether against authority or custom. I have once or twice ventured also into those twilit regions where the spirit itself stands rebellious against its limits, and questions even the ultimate insane triumph of flesh and circumstance, closing its short-lived interlude. The rebellion may appear to be vain, but when we consider the primitive elements of life from which our paragon of animals has ascended, the mere attempt at rebellion is more astonishing than the greatest recorded miracle, and since man has grown to think that he possesses a soul, there is no knowing what he may come to.

I have added a few other scenes from old times and new, just for variety, or just to remind ourselves that, in the midst of all chaos and perturbation and rage, it is possible for the world to go upon its way, preserving, in spite of all, its most excellent gift of sanity.


LONDON, _Easter_, 1913.






Before the hustling days of ice and of “cutters” rushing to and fro between Billingsgate and our fleets of steam-trawlers on the Dogger Bank, most sailing trawlers and long-line fishing-boats were built with a large tank in their holds, through which the sea flowed freely. Dutch eel-boats are built so still, and along the quays of Amsterdam and Copenhagen you may see such tanks in fishing-boats of almost every kind. Our East Coast fishermen kept them chiefly for cod. They hoped thus to bring the fish fresh and good to market, for, unless they were overcrowded, the cod lived quite as contentedly in the tanks as in the open sea. But in one respect the fishermen were disappointed. They found that the fish arrived slack, flabby, and limp, though well fed and in apparent health.

Perplexity reigned (for the value of the catch was much diminished) until some fisherman of genius conjectured that the cod lived only too contentedly in those tanks, and suffered from the atrophy of calm. The cod is by nature a lethargic, torpid, and plethoric creature, prone to inactivity, content to lie in comfort, swallowing all that comes, with cavernous mouth wide open, big enough to gulp its own body down if that could be. In the tanks the cod rotted at ease, rapidly deteriorating in their flesh. So, as a stimulating corrective, that genius among fishermen inserted one catfish into each of his tanks, and found that his cod came to market firm, brisk, and wholesome. Which result remained a mystery until his death, when the secret was published and a strange demand for catfish arose. For the catfish is the demon of the deep, and keeps things lively.

This irritating but salutary stimulant in the tank (to say nothing of the myriad catfishes in the depths of ocean!) has often reminded me of what the Lord says to Mephistopheles in the Prologue to _Faust_. After observing that, of all the spirits that deny, He finds a knave the least of a bore, the Lord proceeds:

“Des Menschen Thaetigkeit kann allzuleicht erschlaffen, Er liebt sich bald die unbedingte Ruh;
Drum geb’ ich ihm gern den Gesellen zu, Der reizt und wirkt und muss als Teufel, schaffen.”

Is not the parallel remarkable? Man’s activity, like the cod’s, turns too readily to slumber; he is much too fond of unconditioned ease; and so the Lord gives him a comrade like a catfish, to stimulate, rouse, and drive to creation, as a devil may. There sprawls man, by nature lethargic and torpid as a cod, prone to inactivity, content to lie in comfort swallowing all that comes, with wide-open mouth, big enough to gulp himself down, if that could be. There he sprawls, rotting at ease, and rapidly deteriorating in body and soul, till one little demon of the spiritual deep is inserted into his surroundings, and makes him firm, brisk, and wholesome in a trice–“in half a jiffy,” as people used to say.

“Der reizt und wirkt”–the words necessarily recall a much older parable than the catfish–the parable of the little leaven inserted in a piece of dough until it leavens the whole lump by its “working,” as cooks and bakers know. Goethe may have been thinking of that. Leaven is a sour, almost poisonous kind of stuff, working as though by magic, moving in a mysterious way, causing the solid and impracticable dough to upheave, to rise, expand, bubble, swell, and spout like a volcano. To all races there has been something devilish, or at least demonic, in the action of leaven. It is true that in the ancient parable the comparison lay between leaven and the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven was like a little leaven that leavens the whole lump, and Goethe says that Mephisto, one of the Princes of Evil, also works like that. But whether we call the leaven a good or evil thing makes little difference. The effect of its mysterious powers of movement and upheaval is in the end salutary. It works upon the lump just as the catfish, that demon of the deep, preserves the lumpish cod from the apathy and degeneration of comfort, and as Mephisto, that demon of the world, acts upon the lethargy of mankind working within him, stimulating, driving to production as a devil may.

“A society needs to have a ferment in it,” said Professor Sumner of Yale, in his published essays. Sometimes, he said, the ferment takes the form of an enthusiastic delusion or an adventurous folly; sometimes merely of economic opportunity and hope of luxury; in other ages frequently of war. And, indeed, it was of war that he was writing, though himself a pacific man, and in all respects a thinker of obstinate caution. A society needs to have a ferment in it–a leaven, a catfish, a Mephisto, the queer, unpleasant, disturbing touch of the kingdom of heaven. Take any period of calm and rest in the life of the world or the history of the arts. Take that period which great historians have agreed to praise as the happiest of human ages–the age of the Antonines. How benign and unruffled it was! What bland and leisurely culture could be enjoyed in exquisite villas beside the Mediterranean, or in flourishing municipalities along the Rhone! Many a cultivated and comfortable man must have wished that reasonable peace to last for ever. The civilised world was bathed in the element of calm, the element of gentle acquiescence. All looked so quiet, so imperturbable; and yet all the time the little catfish of Christianity (or the little leaven, if you will) was at its work, irritating, disturbing, stimulating with salutary energy to upheaval, to rebellion, to the soul’s activity that saves from bland and reasonable despair. Like a fisherman over-anxious for the peace of the cod in his tank, the philosophic Emperor tried to stamp the catfish down, and hoped to preserve a philosophic quietude by the martyrdom of Christians in those flourishing municipalities on the Rhone. Of course he failed, as even the most humane and philosophic persecutors usually fail, but had he succeeded, would not the soul of Europe have degenerated into a flabbiness, lethargy, and desperate peace?

Take history where you will, when a new driving force enters the world, it is a nuisance, a disturbing upheaval, a troubling agitation, a plaguey fish. Think how the tiresome Reformation disturbed the artists of Italy and Renaissance scholars; or how Cromwell disgusted the half-way moderates, how the Revolution jogged the sentimental theorists of France, how Kant shattered the Supreme Being of the Deists, and Byron set the conventions of art and life tottering aghast. Take it where you will, the approach of the soul’s catfish is watched with apprehension and violent dislike, all the more because it saves from torpor. It saves from what Hamlet calls–

“That monster, custom, who all sense doth eat– Of habits devil.”

In the Futurist exhibition held in Sackville Street in 1912, one of the most notable pictures was called “Rebellion.” The catalogue told us that it represented “the collision of two forces, that of the revolutionary element made up of enthusiasm and red lyricism against the force of inertia and the reactionary resistance of tradition.” The picture showed a crowd of scarlet figures rushing forward in a wedge. Before them went successive wedge-shaped lines, impinging upon dull blue. They represented, we were told, the vibratory waves of the revolutionary element in motion. The force of inertia and the reactionary resistance of tradition were pictured as rows on rows of commonplace streets. The waves of the revolutionary element had knocked them all askew. Though they still stood firmly side by side to all appearance (to keep up appearances, as we say) they were all knocked aslant, “just as a boxer is bent double by receiving a blow in the wind.”

We may be sure that inertia in all its monotonous streets does not like such treatment. It likes it no more than the plethoric cod likes the catfish close behind its tail. And it is no consolation either to inertia or cod to say that this disturbing element serves an ultimate good, rendering it alert, firm, and wholesome of flesh. However salutary, the catfish is far from popular among the placid residents of the tank, and it is fortunate that neither in tanks nor streets can the advisability of catfish or change be submitted to the referendum of the inert. In neither case would the necessary steps for advance in health and activity be adopted. To be sure, it is just possible to overdo the number of catfish in one tank. At present in this country, for instance, and, indeed, in the whole world, there seem to be more catfish than cod, and the resulting liveliness is perhaps a little excessive, a little “jumpy.” But in the midst of all the violence, turmoil, and upheaval, it is hopeful to remember that of the deepest and most salutary change which Europe has known it was divinely foretold that it would bring not peace but a sword.



For certain crimes mankind has ordained penalties of exceptional severity, in order to emphasise a general abhorrence. In Rome, for example, a parricide, or the murderer of any near relation, was thrown into deep water, tied up in a sack together with a dog, a cock, a viper, and a monkey, which were probably symbols of his wickedness, and must have given him a lively time before death supervened. Similarly, the English law, always so careful of domestic sanctitude in women, provided that a wife who killed her husband should be dragged by a horse to the place of execution and burnt alive. We need not recall the penalties considered most suitable for the crime of religious difference–the rack, the fire, the boiling oil, the tearing pincers, the embrace of the spiky virgin, the sharpened edge of stone on which the doubter sat, with increasing weights tied to his feet, until his opinions upon heavenly mysteries should improve under the stress of pain. When we come to rebellion, the ordinance of English law was more express. In the case of a woman, the penalty was the same as for killing her husband–that crime being defined as “petty treason,” since the husband is to her the sacred emblem of God and King. So a woman rebel was burnt alive as she stood, head, quarters, and all. But male rebels were specially treated, as may be seen from the sentence passed upon them until the reign of George III.[1] These were the words that Judge Jeffreys and Scroggs, for instance, used to roll out with enjoyable eloquence upon the dazed agricultural labourer before them:

“The sentence of the Court now is that you be conveyed from hence to the place from where you came, and from there be drawn to the place of execution upon hurdles; that you be hanged by the neck; that you be cut down alive; that your bowels be taken out and burnt in your view; that your head be severed from your body; that your body be divided into four quarters, and your quarters be at the disposition of the King: and may the God of infinite mercy be merciful to your soul. Amen.”

“Why all this cookery?” once asked a Scottish rebel, quoted by Swift. But the sentence, with its confiding appeal to a higher Court than England’s, was literally carried out upon rebels in this country for at least four and a half centuries. Every detail of it (and one still more disgusting) is recorded in the execution of Sir William Wallace, the national hero of Scotland, more generally known to the English of the time as “the man of Belial,” who was executed at Tyburn in 1305.[2] The rebels of 1745 were, apparently, the last upon whom the full ritual was performed, and Elizabeth Gaunt, burnt alive at Tyburn in 1685 for sheltering a conspirator in the Rye House Plot, was the last woman up to now intentionally put to death in this country for a purely political offence. The long continuance of so savage a sentence is proof of the abhorrence in which the crime of rebellion has been held. And in many minds the abhorrence still subsists. Sir James Fitzjames Stephen, for instance, one of our greatest authorities on criminal law, wrote in 1880:

“My opinion is that we have gone too far in laying capital punishment aside, and that it ought to be inflicted in many cases not at present capital. I think, for instance, that political offences should in some cases be punished with death. People should be made to understand that to attack the existing state of society is equivalent to risking their own lives.”[3]

Among ourselves the opinion of this high authority has slowly declined. No one supposed that Doctor Lynch, for instance, would be executed as a rebel for commanding the Irish Brigade that fought for the Boers during the South African War, though he was condemned to death by the highest Court in the kingdom. No Irish rebel has been executed for about a century, unless his offence involved some one’s death. On the other hand, during the Boer War, the devastation of the country and the destruction of the farms were frequently defended on the ground that, after the Queen’s proclamations annexing the two Republics, all the inhabitants were rebels; and some of the extreme newspapers even urged that for that reason no Boer with arms in his hand should be given quarter. On the strength of a passage in Scripture, Mr. Kipling, at the time, wrote a pamphlet identifying rebellion with witchcraft. A few Cape Boers who took up arms for the assistance of their race were shot without benefit of prisoners of war. And in India during 1907 and 1908 men of unblemished private character were spirited away to jail without charge or trial and kept there for months–a fate that could not have befallen any but political prisoners.

Outside our own Empire, I have myself witnessed the suppression of rebellions in Crete and Macedonia by the destruction of villages, the massacre of men, women, and children, and the violation of women and girls, many of whom disappeared into Turkish harems. And I have witnessed similar suppressions of rebellion by Russia in Moscow, in the Baltic Provinces, and the Caucasus, by the burning of villages, the slaughter of prisoners, and the violation of women. All this has happened within the last sixteen years, the worst part within nine and a half. Indeed, in Russia the punishments of exile, torture, and hanging have not ceased since 1905, though the death penalty has been long abolished there except for political offences. In the summer of 1909 I was also present during the suppression of the outbreak in Barcelona, which culminated in the execution of Senor Ferrer under a military Court.

From these recent events it is evident that Sir James Stephen’s attitude towards rebellion is shared by many civilised governments. Belligerents–that is to say, subjects of one State engaged in war with another State–have now nominally secured certain rights under International Law. The first Hague Conference (1899) framed a “Convention with respect to the Laws and Customs of Wars on Land” which forbade the torture or cruel treatment of prisoners, the refusal of quarter, the destruction of private property, unless such destruction were imperatively demanded by the necessities of war, the pillage of towns taken by assault, disrespect to religion and family honour (including, I suppose, the honour of women and girls), and the infliction of penalties on the population owing to the acts of individuals for which it could not be regarded as collectively responsible.

In actual war this Convention is not invariably observed, as was seen at Tripoli in 1911, but in the case of rebellion there is no such Convention at all. I have known all those regulations broken with impunity, and in most cases without protest from the other Powers. Just as, under the old law of England, the rebel was executed with circumstances of special atrocity, so at the present time, under the name of crushing rebellion, men are tortured and flogged, no quarter is given, they are executed without trial, their private property is pillaged, their towns and villages are destroyed, their women violated, their children killed, penalties are imposed on districts owing to acts for which the population is not collectively responsible–and nothing said. That each Power is allowed to deal with its own subjects in its own way is becoming an accepted rule of international amenity. It was not the rule of Cromwell, nor of Canning, nor of Gladstone, but it has now been consecrated by the Liberal Government which came into power in 1906.

In the summer of 1909, it is true, the rule was broken. Mulai Hafid, Sultan of Morocco, was reported to be torturing his rebel prisoners according to ancestral custom, and rumours came that he had followed a French king’s example in keeping the rebel leader, El Roghi, in a cage like a tame eagle, or had thrown him to the lions to be torn in pieces before the eyes of the royal concubines. Then the European Powers combined to protest in the name of humanity. It was something gained. But no great courage was required to rebuke the Sultan of Morocco, if England, France, Germany, Russia, Italy, and Spain combined to do it; and his country was so desirable for its minerals, barley, and dates that a little courage in dealing with him might even prove lucrative in the end. When Russia treated her rebellious subjects with tortures and executions more horrible than anything reported from Morocco, the case was very different. Then alliances and understandings were confirmed, substantial loans were arranged in France and England, Kings and Emperors visited the Tsar, and the cannon of our fleet welcomed him to our waters amid the applause of our newspapers and the congratulations of a Liberal Government.

It is evident, then, that, in Sir James Stephen’s words, subjects are in most countries still made to understand that to attack the existing state of society is equivalent to risking their own lives. Under our own rule, no matter what statesmen like Gladstone and John Morley have in past years urged in favour of the mitigation of penalties for political offences, such offences are, as a matter of fact, punished with special severity; unless, of course, the culprit is intimately connected with great riches, like Dr. Jameson, who was imprisoned as a first-class misdemeanant for the incalculable crime of making private war upon another State; or unless the culprit is intimately connected with votes, like Mr. Ginnell, the Irish cattle-driver, who was treated with similar politeness. Otherwise, until quite lately, even in this country we executed a political criminal with unusual pain. In India we recently kept political suspects imprisoned without charge or trial. And in England we have lately sentenced women to terms of imprisonment that certainly would never have been imposed for their offences on any but political offenders.

This exceptional severity springs from a primitive and natural conception of the State–a conception most logically expressed by Hobbes of Malmesbury under the similitude of a “mortal God” or Leviathan, the almost omnipotent and unlimited source of authority.

“The Covenant of the State,” says Hobbes, “is made in such a manner as if every man should say to every man: ‘I authorise and give up my right of governing myself to this man, or to this assembly of men, on this condition, that thou give up thy right to him and authorise all his actions in like manner.’ This done, the multitude so united is called a Commonwealth, in Latin Civitas. This is the generation of that great Leviathan, that mortal God, to whom we owe, under the immortal God, our peace and defence.”

Hobbes considered the object of this Covenant to be peace and common defence. “Without a State,” he said, “the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” The preservation of the State was to him of transcendent importance.

“Loss of liberty,” he wrote, “is really no inconvenience, for it is the only means by which we have any possibility of preserving ourselves. For if every man were allowed the liberty of following his own conscience, in such differences of consciences, they would not live together in peace an hour.”

Under such a system, it follows that rebellion is the worst of crimes. Hobbes calls it a war renewed–a renouncing of the Covenant. He was so terrified of it that he dwelt upon the danger of reading Greek and Roman history (probably having Plutarch and his praise of rebels most in mind)–“which venom,” he says, “I will not doubt to compare to the biting of a mad dog.” In all leaders of rebellion he found only three conditions–to be discontented with their own lot, to be eloquent speakers, and to be men of mean judgment and capacity _(De Corpore Politico_, II.). And as to punishment:

“On rebels,” he said, “vengeance is lawfully extended, not only to the fathers, but also to the third and fourth generations not yet in being, and consequently innocent of the fact for which they are afflicted.”

We may take Hobbes as the philosopher of the extreme idea of the State and the consequent iniquity of rebellion. His is the ideal of the Hive, in which the virgin workers devote their whole lives without complaint to the service of the Queen and her State-supported grubs, while the drones are mercilessly slaughtered as soon as one of them has fulfilled his rapturous but suicidal functions for the future swarm. This ideal found its highest human example in the Spartan State, which trained its men to have no private existence at all, and even to visit their own wives by stealth. But we find the ideal present in some degree among Central Africans when they bury valuable slaves and women alive with their chief; and among the Japanese when mothers kill themselves if their sons are prevented from dying for their country; and among the Germans when the drill-sergeant shouts his word of command.

In fact, all races and countries are disciples of Hobbes when they address the Head of the State as “Your Majesty” or “Your Excellence,” when they decorate him with fur and feathers, and put a gold hat on his head and a gold walking-stick in his hand, and gird him with a sword that he never uses, and play him the same tune wherever he goes, and spread his platform with crimson though it is clean, and bow before him though he is dishonourable, and call him gracious though he is nasty-tempered, and august though he may be a fool. In the first instance, we go through all this make-believe because the Leviathan of the State is necessary for peace and self-defence, and without it our life would be solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. But we further endow the State with a personality we can almost see and handle, and we regard it as something that is able not only to protect our peace but to shed a reflected splendour on ourselves, giving us an importance not our own–just as schoolboys glory in their school, or Churchmen in their Church, or cricketers in their county, or fox-hunters in their pack of hounds.

It is this conception that makes rebellion so rare and so dangerous. In hives it seems never to occur. In rookeries, the rebels are pecked to death and their homes torn in pieces. In human communities we have seen how they are treated. Rebellion is the one crime for which there is no forgiveness–the one crime for which hanging is too good.

Why is it, then, that all the world loves a rebel? Provided he is distant enough in time and space, all the world loves a rebel. Who are the figures in history round whom the people’s imagination has woven the fondest dreams? Are they not such rebels as Deborah and Judith[4] and Joan of Arc; as Harmodius and Aristogeiton, the Gracchi and Brutus, William Tell, William Wallace, Simon de Montfort, Rienzi, Wat Tyler, Jack Cade, Shan O’Neill, William the Silent, John Hampden and Pym, the Highlanders of the Forty-five, Robert Emmet and Wolf Tone and Parnell, Bolivar, John Brown of Harper’s Ferry, Kossuth, Mazzini and Garibaldi, Danton, Victor Hugo, and the Russian revolutionists? These are haphazard figures of various magnitude, but all have the quality of rebellion in common, and all have been honoured with affectionate glory, romance, and even a mythology of worship.

So, too, the most attractive periods in history have been times of rebellion–the Reformation in Germany, the Revolt of the Netherlands from Spain, the Civil Wars in England, the War of Independence in America, the prolonged revolution in Russia. Within the last hundred years alone, how numerous the rebellions have been, as a rule how successful, and in every case how much applauded, except by the dominant authority attacked! We need only recall the French revolutions of 1832, 1848, and 1870 to 1871, including the Commune; the Greek War of Independence up to 1829; the Polish insurrections of 1830, 1863, and 1905; the liberation of the Danubian Principalities, 1858; of Bulgaria and Thessaly, 1878; of Crete, 1898; the revolution in Hungary, 1848; the restoration of Italy, 1849 to 1860; the revolution in Spain, 1868; the independence of the South American States, 1821 to 1825; the revolution in Russia, Finland, the Caucasus and Baltic Provinces, 1905; the revolution in Persia, 1907 to 1909; and the revolution of the Young Turks, 1908 to 1909. Among these we must also count the Nationalist movements in Ireland, Egypt, and India, as well as the present movement of women against the Government in our own country.

Under these various instances two distinct kinds of rebellion are obviously included–the rising of subject nationalities against a dominant power, as in Greece, Italy, the Caucasus, India, and Ireland; and the rising of subjects against their own Government, as in France, Russia, Persia, and Turkey, or in England in the case of the Suffragettes. It is difficult to say which kind is the more detested and punished with the greater severity by the central authority attacked. Was the Nationalist rising in the Caucasus or the Baltic Provinces suppressed with greater brutality than the almost simultaneous rising of Russian subjects in Moscow? I witnessed all three, and I think it was; chiefly because soldiers have less scruple in the slaughter and violation of people whose language they do not understand. Did our Government feel greater animosity towards the recent Indian movement or the Irish movement of thirty years ago than towards the rioters for the Reform Bills of 1832 and 1867? I think they did. Vengeance upon external or Nationalist rebels is incited by racial antipathy. But, on the other hand, the outside world is more ready to applaud a Nationalist rebellion, especially if it succeeds, and we feel a more romantic affection for William Tell or Garibaldi than for Oliver Cromwell or Danton; I suppose because it is easier to imagine the splendour of liberty when a subject race throws off a foreign yoke.

So the history of rebellion involves us in a mesh of contradictions. Rebels have been generally regarded as deserving more terrible penalties than other criminals, yet all the world loves a rebel, at a distance. Nationalist rebellions are crushed with even greater ferocity than the internal rebellions of a State, and yet the leaders of Nationalist rebellions are regarded by the common world with a special affection of hero-worship. Obviously, we are here confronted with two different standards of conduct. On one side is the standard of Government, the States and Law, which denounces the rebel, and especially the Nationalist rebel, as the worst of sinners; on the other side we have the standard of the individual, the soul and liberty, which loves a rebel, especially a Nationalist rebel, and denies that he is a sinner at all.

Let us leave the Nationalist rebel, whose justification is now almost universally admitted (except by the dominant Power), even if he is unsuccessful, and consider only the rebel inside the State–the rebel against his own Leviathan–whose position is far more dubious. Job’s Leviathan appears to have been a more fearsome and powerful beast than the elephant, but in India the elephant is taken as the symbol of wisdom, and when an Indian boy goes in for a municipal examination, he prays to the elephant-god for assistance. Now the ideal State of the elephant is the herd, and yet this herd of wisdom sometimes develops a rebel or “rogue” who seems to be striving after some fresh manner of existence and works terrible havoc among the elephantine conventions. Usually the herd combines to kill him and there is an end of the matter. Yet I sometimes think that the occasional and inexplicable appearance of the “rogue” at intervals during many thousand years may really have been the origin of that wisdom to which the Indians pray.

Similarly, mankind, which sometimes surpasses even the elephant in wisdom, has been continually torn between the idol of the Herd and the profanity of the rebel or Rogue, and it is perhaps through the rebel–the variation, as Darwin would call him–that man makes his advance. The rebel is what distinguishes our States and cities from the beehives and ant-heaps to which they are commonly compared. The progress of ants and bees appears to have been arrested. They seem to have developed a completely socialised polity thousands of years ago, perhaps before man existed, and then to have stopped–stopped _dead_, as we say. But mankind has never stopped. If a country’s progress is arrested–if a people becomes simply conservative in habits, they may die slowly, like Egypt, or quickly, likes Sparta, but they die and disappear, unless inspired by new life, like Japan, or by revolution, like France and possibly Russia. For, as we are almost too frequently told, change is the law of human life.

And may not this be just the very reason we are seeking for–the very reason why all the world loves a rebel, at a distance? Perhaps the world unconsciously recognises in him a symbol of change, a symbol of the law of life. We may not like him very near us–not uncomfortably near, as we say. For most change is uncomfortable. When I was shut up for many weeks in a London hospital, I felt a shrinking horror of going out, as though my skin had become too tender for this rough world. After I had been shut up for four months in a siege, daily exposed to shells, bullets, fever, and starvation, I felt no relief when the relief came, but rather a dread of confronting the perils of ordinary life. So quickly does the curse of stagnation fall upon us. And in support of stagnation are always ranged the immense forces of Society, the prosperous, the well-to-do, the people who are content if to-morrow is exactly like to-day. In support of stagnation stands the power of every kind of government–the King who sticks to his inherited importance, the Lords who stick to their lands and titles, the experts who stick to their theories, the officials who stick to their incomes, routine, and leisure, the Members of Parliament who stick to their seats.

But even more powerful than all these forces in support of stagnation is the enormous host of those whose first thought is necessarily their daily bread–men and women who dare not risk a change for fear of to-morrow’s hunger–people for whom the crust is too uncertain for its certainty to be questioned. We often ask why it is that the poor–the working-people–endure their poverty and perpetual toil without overwhelming revolt. The reason is that they have their eyes fixed on the evening meal, and for the life of them they dare not lose sight of it.

So the rebel need never be afraid of going too fast. The violence of inertia–the suction of the stagnant bog–is almost invincible. Like the horse, we are creatures of cast-iron habit. We abandon ourselves easily to careless acquiescence. We make much of external laws, and, like a mother bemused with torpid beer when she overlays her child, we stifle the law of the soul because its crying is such a nuisance. Like a new baby, a new thought is fractious, restless, and incalculable. It saps our strength; it gives us no peace; it exposes a wider surface to pain. There is something indecent, uncontrolled, and unconscionable about it. Our friends like it best when it is asleep, and they like us better when it is buried.

There is very little danger of rebellion going too far. The barriers confronting it are too solid, and the Idol of the Herd is too carefully enshrined. A perpetual rebellion of every one against everything would give us an insecure, though exciting, existence, and we are protected by man’s disposition to obedience and his solid love of custom. Against the first vedettes of rebellion the army of routine will always muster, and it gathers to itself the indifferent, the startled cowards, the thinkers whose thought is finished, the lawyers whose laws are fixed–an innumerable host. They proceed to treat the rebels as we have seen. In all ages, rebellion has been met by the standing armies of permanence. If captured, it is put to the ordeal of fire and water, so as to try what stuff it is made of. Faith is rebellion’s only inspiration and support, and a deal of faith is needed to resist the battle and the test. It was in thinking of the faith of rebels that an early Christian writer told of those who, having walked by faith, have in all ages been tortured, not accepting deliverance; and others have had trial of mockings and scourgings, and of bonds and imprisonment; they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword; they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented (of whom the world was not worthy); they wandered in deserts and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.[5] That is the test and the reward of faith. So strong is the grip of the Leviathan, so determined is mankind to allow no change in thought or life to survive if he can possibly choke it.

One of the most learned and inspiring of writers on political philosophy has said in a book published in 1910:

“It is advantageous to the organism [of the Slate] that the rights of suggestion, protest, veto, and revolt should be accorded to its members.”[6]

That sounds very simple. We should all like to agree with it. But under that apparently innocent sentence one of the most perplexing of human problems lies hidden: what are the rights of liberty, what are the limits of revolt? Only in a State of ideal anarchy can liberty be complete and revolt universal, because there would be nothing to revolt against. And anarchy, though it is the goal of every man’s desire, seems still far away, being, indeed, the Kingdom of Heaven, which that God rules whose service is perfect freedom and which only angels are qualified to inhabit. For though the law of the indwelling spirit is the only law that ought to count, not many of us are so little lower than the angels as to be a law unto ourselves.

In a really democratic State, where the whole people had equal voices in the government and all could exercise free power of persuasion, active rebellion, I think, would be very rare and seldom justified. But there are, I believe, only four democratic States in the world. All four are small, and of these Finland is overshadowed by despotism, and Australia and New Zealand have their foreign relations controlled and protected by the mother country. Hitherto the experiment of a really democratic government has never been tried on this planet, except since 1909 in Norway, and even there with some limitations; and though democracy might possibly avert the necessity of rebellion, I rather doubt whether it can be called advantageous to any State to accord to its members the right of revolt. The State that allows revolt–that takes no notice of it–has abdicated; it has ceased to exist. But whether advantageous or not, no State has ever accorded that right in matters of government; nor does mankind accord it, without a prolonged struggle, even in religious doctrine and ordinary life. Every revolt is tested as by fire, and we do not otherwise know the temper of the rebels or the value of their purpose. Is it a trick? Is it a fad? Is it a plot for contemptible ends? Is it a riot–a moment’s effervescence–or a revolution glowing from volcanic depths? We only know by the tests of ridicule, suffering, and death. In his “Ode to France,” written in 1797, Coleridge exclaimed:

“The Sensual and the Dark rebel in vain, Slaves by their own compulsion.”

They rebel in vain because the Sensual and the Dark cannot hold out long against the pressure of the Herd–against the taunts of Society, against poverty, the loss of friends, the ruin of careers, the discomforts of prison, the misery of hunger and ill-treatment, and the terror of death. It is only by the supreme triumph over such obstacles that revolt vindicates its righteousness.

And so, if any one among us is driven to rebellion by an irresistible necessity of soul, I would not have him wonder at the treatment he will certainly receive. Such treatment is the hideous but inevitable test of his rebellion’s value, for so persecuted they the rebels that were before him. Whether he rebels against a despotism like the Naples of fifty years ago or the Russia of to-day; or whether he rebels against the opinions or customs of his fellow-citizens, he will inevitably suffer, and the success that justifies rebellion may not be of this world. But if his cause is high, the shame of his suffering will ultimately be attributed to the government or to the majority, never to himself. There is a sense in which rebellion never fails. It is almost always a symptom of intolerable wrong, for the penalties are so terrible that it would not be attempted without terrible provocation. “Rebellion,” as Burke said, “does not arise from a desire for change, but from the impossibility of suffering more.” It concentrates attention upon the wrong. At the worst, though it be stamped into a grave, its spirit goes marching on, and the inspiration of all history would be lost were it not for rebellions, no matter whether they have succeeded or failed.

It may be said that if the State cannot accord the right of revolt, the door is left open to all the violences, cruelty, and injustice with which Rebellion is at present suppressed. But that does not follow. The Liberal leaders of the last generation endeavoured to draw a distinction whereby political offenders should be treated better than ordinary criminals rather than worse, and, though their successors went back from that position, we may perhaps discern a certain uneasiness behind their appearance of cruelty, at all events in the case of titled and distinguished offenders. In war we have lately introduced definite rules for the exclusion of cruelty and injustice, and in some cases the rules are observed. The same thing could be done in rebellion. I have often urged that the rights of war, now guaranteed to belligerents, should be extended to rebels. The chances are that a rebellion or civil war has more justice on its side than international war, and there is no more reason why men should be tortured and refused quarter, or why women should be violated and have their children killed before their eyes by the agents of their own government than by strangers. Yet these things are habitually done, and my simple proposal appears ludicrously impossible. Just in the same way, sixty years ago, it was thought ludicrously impossible to deprive a man of his right to whip his slave.

But in any case, whether or not the rebel is to remain for all time an object of special vengeance to the State and Society, he has compensations. If he wins, the more barbarous his suppression has been, so much the finer is his triumph, so much the sweeter the wild justice of his revenge. It is a high reward when the slow world comes swinging round to your despised and persecuted cause, while the defeated persecutor whines at your feet that at heart he was with you all the time. If the rebel fails–well, it is a terrible thing to fail in rebellion. Bodily or social execution is almost inevitably the result. But, if his cause has been high, whether he wins or loses, he will have enjoyed a comradeship such as is nowhere else to be found–a comradeship in a common service that transfigures daily life and takes suffering and disgrace for honour. His spirit will have been illumined by a hope and an indignation that make the usual aims and satisfactions of the world appear trivial and fond. To him it has been granted to hand on the torch of that impassioned movement and change by which the soul of man appears slowly to be working out its transfiguration. And if he dies in the race, he may still hope that some glimmer of freedom will shine where he is buried.


[Footnote 1: The following extract from _Drakard’s Paper_ for Feb. 23, 1813, shows the attempt at reform just a century ago, and the opposition to reform characteristic of officials: “House of Commons, Wed., Feb. 17. Sir Samuel Romilly rose, in pursuance of his notice, to move for leave to bring in a bill to repeal an Act of King William, making it capital to steal property above the value of 5s. in a dwelling house, &c…..

“The next bill he proposed to introduce related to a part of the punishment for the crime of high treason, which was not at present carried into execution. The sentence for this crime, however, was, that the criminal should be dragged upon a hurdle to the place of execution, that he should be hanged by the neck, but cut down before he was dead, that his bowels should then be taken out and burnt before his face. As to that part of the sentence which relates to embowelling, it was never executed now, but this omission was owing to accident, or to the mercy of the executioner, not to the discretion of the judge.

“The Solicitor-General stated general objections to the plan of his learned friend.

“Leave was given to bring in the bills.”]

[Footnote 2: See _The History of Tyburn_, by Alfred Marks.]

[Footnote 3: _History of the Criminal Law of England_, vol. i. p. 478.]

[Footnote 4: Judith was not strictly a rebel, except that Nabuchodonosor claimed sovereignty over all the world and was avenging himself on all the earth. See Judith ii. 1.]

[Footnote 5: Hebrews xi. 35-38.]

[Footnote 6: _The Crisis of Liberalism_, by J.A. Hobson, p. 82.]



Present grandeur is always hard to realise. The past and the distant are easily perceived. Like a far-off mountain, their glory is conspicuous, and the iridescent vapours of romance quickly gather round it. The main outline of a distant peak is clear, for rival heights are plainly surpassed, and sordid details, being invisible, cannot detract from it or confuse. The comfortable spectator may contemplate it in peace. It does not exact from him quick decisions or disquieting activity. The storms that sweep over it contribute to his admiration without wetting his feet, and his high estimate of its beauty and greatness may be enjoyed without apprehension of an avalanche. So the historian is like a picturesque spectator cultivating his sense of the sublime upon a distant prospect of the Himalayas. It is easy for him to admire, and the appreciation of a far-off heroic movement gives him quite a pleasant time. At his leisure he may descant with enthusiasm upon the forlorn courage of sacrificed patriots, and hymn, amidst general applause, the battles of freedom long since lost or won.

But in the thick of present life it is different. The air is obscured by murky doubt, and unaccustomed shapes stand along the path, indistinguishable under the light malign. Uncertain hope scarcely glimmers, nor can the termination of the struggle be divined. Tranquillity, giving time for thought, and the security that leaves the judgment clear, have both gone, and may never return. The ears are haunted with the laughter of vulgarity, and the judicious discouragement of prudence. Is there not as much to be said for taking one line as another? If there is talk of conflict, were it not better to leave the issue in the discriminating hands of One whose judgment is indisputable? Yet in the very midst of hesitations, mockery, and good advice, the next step must be taken, the decision must be swift, the choice is brief but eternal. There is no clear evidence of heroism around. The lighters do not differ much from the grotesque, the foolish, and the braggart ruck of men. No wonder that culture smiles and passes aloof upon its pellucid and elevating course. Culture smiles; the valet de chambre lurking in most hearts sniffs at the name of hero; hideous applause comes from securely sheltered crowds who hound victims to the combat, bloodthirsty as spectators at a bull-fight. In the sweat and twilight and crudity of the actual event, when so much is merely ludicrous and discomforting, and all is enveloped in the element of fear, it is rare to perceive a glory shining, or to distinguish greatness amid the mud of contumely and commonplace.

Take the story of Italy’s revival–the “Resurrection,” as Italians call it. In the summer of 1911, Italy was celebrating her jubilee of national rebellion, and English writers who spend their years, day by day or week by week, sneering at freedom, betraying nationality, and demanding vengeance on rebels, burst into ecstatic rhapsodies about that glorious but distant uprising. They raised the old war-cry of liberty over battle-fields long silent; they extolled to heaven the renown of the rebellious dead; their very periods glowed with Garibaldian red, white, and green; and rising to Byronic exaltation they concluded their nationalist effusions by adjuring freedom’s weather-beaten flag:

“Yet, Freedom! yet thy banner, torn, but flying, Streams like the thunder-storm against the wind!”

So they cried, echoing the voice of noble ghosts. But where in the scenes of present life around them have they hailed that torn but flying banner? What have they said or done for freedom’s emblem in Persia, or in Morocco, or in Turkey? What support have they given it in Finland, or in the Caucasus, or in the Baltic Provinces? To come within our own sphere, what ecstatic rhapsodies have they composed to greet the rising nationalism of Ireland, or of India, or of Egypt? Or, in this country herself, what movement of men or of women striving to be free have they welcomed with their paeans of joy? Not once have they perceived a glory in liberty’s cause to-day. Wherever a rag of that torn banner fluttered, they have denounced and stamped it down, declaring it should fly no more. Their admiration and enthusiasm are reserved for a buried past, and over triumphant rebellion they will sentimentalise for pages, provided it is securely bestowed in some historic age that can trouble them no more.

Leaving them to their peace, let us approach a great name among our English singers of liberty. Swinburne stands in the foremost rank. In a collection of “English Songs of Italian Freedom,” edited by Mr. George Trevelyan, who himself has so finely narrated the epic of Italy’s redemption–in that collection Swinburne occupies a place among the very highest. No one has paid nobler tribute to the heroes of that amazing revolution. No one has told the sorrow of their failures with more sympathetic rage, or has poured so burning a scorn and so deep an obloquy upon their oppressors, whether in treacherous Church or alien State. It is magnificent, but alas! it was not war. By the time he wrote, the war was over, the victory won. By that time, not only the British crowd, but even people of rank, office, and culture could hardly fail to applaud. The thing had become definite and conspicuous. It was finished. It stood in quite visible splendour at a safe and comfortable distance. Ridicule had fallen impotent. Hesitation could now put down its foot. Superiority could smile, not in doubt, but in welcome. The element of fear was dissipated. The coward could shout, “I was your friend all along!” If a man wrote odes at all, he could write them to freedom then.

“By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept, Remembering Thee,
That for ages of agony hast endured and slept, And would’st not see.”

How superb! But when that was written the weeping and agony were over, the sleeper had awakened, the eyes saw. It was easy then to sing the heroism of rebellious sorrow. But afterwards, while an issue was still doubtful, while the cry of freedom was rising amid the obscurity, the dust, and uncertainty of actual combat, with how blind a scorn did that great poet of freedom pour upon Irishman and Boer a poison as virulent as he had once poured upon the priests and kings of Italy!

Let us emerge from the depression of such common blindness, and recall the memory of one whose vision never failed even in the midst of present gloom to detect the spark of freedom. A few great names stand beside his. Shelley, Landor, the Brownings, all gave the cause of Italy great and, in one case, the most exquisite verse, while the conflict was uncertain still. Even the distracted and hesitating soul of Clough, amid the dilettante contemplation of the arts in Rome, was rightly stirred. The poem that declared, “‘Tis better to have fought and lost than never to have fought at all,” displayed in him a rare decision, while, even among his hideous hexameters, we find the great satiric line–fit motto for spectators at the bull-fights of freedom–“So that I ‘list not, hurrah for the glorious army of martyrs!” But the name of Byron rises above them all, not merely that he alone showed himself capable of deed, but that the deed gave to his words a solidity and concrete power such as deeds always give. First of Englishmen, as Mr. Trevelyan says, Byron perceived that a living Italy was struggling beneath the outward semblance of Metternich’s “order”; and as early as 1821 he prepared to join the Carbonari of Naples in their revolt for Italian liberty:

“I suppose that they consider me,” he wrote, “as a depot to be sacrificed, in case of accidents. It is no great matter, supposing that Italy would he liberated, who or what is sacrificed. It is a grand object–the very _poetry_ of politics. Only think–a free Italy!”

That was written in freedom’s darkest age, between Waterloo and the appearance of Mazzini, and that grand object was not to be reached for forty years. In the meantime, true to his guiding principle:

“Then battle for freedom whenever you can, And, if not shot or hang’d, you’ll get knighted,”

Byron had sacrificed himself for Greece as nobly as he was prepared to sacrifice himself for Italy. It was a time of darkness hardly visible. In the very year when Byron witnessed the collapse of the Carbonari rebellion, Leopardi, as Mr. Trevelyan tells us, wrote to his sister on her marriage: “The children you will have must be either cowards or unhappy; choose the unhappy.” The hope of freedom appeared extinct. Tyrants, as Byron wrote, could be conquered but by tyrants, and freedom found no champion. The Italians themselves were merged in the slime of despairing satisfaction, and he watched them creeping, “crouching, and crab-like,” along their streets. But through that dark gate of unhappiness which Leopardi named as the one choice for all but cowards, led the thin path that freedom must always take. Great as were Mazzini’s services to all Europe, his greatest service to his countrymen lay in arousing them from the slough of contentment to a life of hardship, sacrifice, and unhappiness. When, after the loss of Rome in 1849, Garibaldi called for volunteers to accompany his hazardous retreat, he said to them: “I offer neither pay, nor quarters, nor provisions; I offer hunger, thirst, forced marches, battles, and death.” Swinburne himself may have had those words in mind when, writing also of Garibaldi, he said of freedom:

“She, without shelter or station,
She, beyond limit or bar,
Urges to slumberless speed
Armies that famish, that bleed,
Sowing their lives for her seed,
That their dust may rebuild her a nation, That their souls may relight her a star.”

“Happy are all they that follow her,” he continued, and in a sense we may well deem their fate happiness. But it is in the sense of what Carlyle in a memorable passage called the allurements to action. “It is a calumny on men,” he wrote, “to say they are roused to heroic action by ease, hope of pleasure, reward in this world or the next. Difficulty, abnegation, martyrdom, death are the allurements that act on the heart of man.” Under the spell and with the reward of those grim allurements the battles of freedom, so visible in the resurrection of Italy, so unrecognised in freedom’s recurrent and contemporary conflicts, must invariably be fought. We may justly talk, if we please, of the joy in such conflicts, but Thermopylae was a charnel, though, as Byron said, it was a proud one; and it is always against the wind that the banner of freedom streams.



As he wrote–as he wrote his best, while the shafts of the spirit lightened in his brain–Heine would sometimes feel a mysterious figure standing behind him, muffled in a cloak, and holding, beneath the cloak, something that gleamed now and then like an executioner’s axe. For a long while he had not perceived that strange figure, when, on visiting Germany, after fourteen years’ exile in Paris, as he crossed the Cathedral Square in Cologne one moonlight night, he became aware that it was following him again. Turning impatiently, he asked who he was, why he followed him, and what he was hiding under his cloak. In reply, the figure, with ironic coolness, urged him not to get excited, nor to give way to eloquent exorcism:

“I am no antiquated ghost,” he continued. “I’m quite a practical person, always silent and calm. But I must tell you, the thoughts conceived in your soul–I carry them out, I bring them to pass.

“And though years may go by, I take no rest until I transform your thoughts into reality. You think; I act.

“You are the judge, I am the gaoler, and, like an obedient servant, I fulfil the sentence which you have ordained, even if it is unjust.

“In Rome of ancient days they carried an axe before the Consul. You also have your Lictor, but the axe is carried behind you.

“I am your Lictor, and I walk perpetually with bare executioner’s axe behind you–I am the deed of your thought.”

No artist–no poet or writer, at all events–could enjoy a more consolatory vision. The powerlessness of the word is the burden of writers, and “Who hath believed our report?” cry all the prophets in successive lamentation. They so naturally suppose that, when truth and reason have spoken, truth and reason will prevail, but, as the years go by, they mournfully discover that nothing of the kind occurs. Man, they discover, does not live by truth and reason: he rather resents the intrusion of such quietly argumentative forms. When they have spoken, nothing whatever is yet accomplished, and the conflict has still to begin. The dog returns to his own vomit; the soul convicted of sin continues sinning, and he that was filthy is filthy still. Thence comes the despair of all the great masters of the word. The immovable world admires them, it praises their style, it forms aesthetic circles for their perusal, and dines in their honour when they are dead. But it goes on its way immovable, grinding the poor, enslaving the slave, admiring hideousness, adulating vulgarity for its wealth and insignificance for its pedigree. Grasping, pleasure-seeking, indifferent to reason, and enamoured of the lie, so it goes on, and the masters of the word might just as well have hushed their sweet or thunderous voices. For, though they speak with the tongue of men and angels, and have not action, what are they but sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal?

To such a mood, how consolatory must be the vision of that muffled figure, with the two-handed engine, always following close! And to Heine himself the consolation came with especial grace. He had been virulently assailed by the leaders of the party to which he regarded himself as naturally belonging–the party for whose sake he endured the charming exile of Paris, then at the very height of her intellectual supremacy. The exile was charming, but unbearable dreams and memories would come. “When I am happy in your arms,” he wrote, “you must never speak to me of Germany, I cannot bear it; I have my reasons. I implore you, leave Germany alone. You must not plague me with these eternal questions about home, and friends, and the way of life. I have my reasons; I cannot bear it.” All this was suffered–for a quarter of a century it was suffered–just for an imaginary and unrealised German revolution. And, if Heine was not to be counted as a German revolutionist, what was the good of it all? What did the sorrows of exile profit him, if he had no part in the cause? He might just as well have gone on eating, drinking, and being merry on German beer. Yet Ludwig Boerne, acknowledged leader of German revolutionists, had scornfully written of him (I translate from Heine’s own quotation, in his pamphlet on Boerne):

“I can make allowance for child’s-play, and for the passions of youth. But when, on the day of bloody conflict, a boy who is chasing butterflies on the battle-field runs between my legs; or when, on the day of our deepest need, while we are praying earnestly to God, a young dandy at our side can see nothing in the church but the pretty girls, and keeps whispering to them and making eyes–then, I say, in spite of all philosophy and humanity, one cannot restrain one’s indignation.”

Much more followed, but in those words lay the sting of the scorn. It is a scorn that many poets and writers suffer when confronted by the man of action, or even by the man of affairs. When it comes to action, all the finest words ever spoken, and all the most beautiful poems and books ever written, seem so irrelevant, as Hilda Wangel said of reading. “How beggarly all arguments appear before a defiant deed!” cried Walt Whitman. “Every man,” said Ruskin, “feels instinctively that all the beautiful sentiments in the world count less than a single lovely action.” The powerlessness of the word–that, as I said, has been the burden of speakers and writers. That is what drove Dante to politics, and Byron to Greece, and Goethe to the study of bones.

But Heine laid himself open more than most to such scorn as Boerne’s. There was little of the active revolutionist in his nature. About the revolutionist hangs something Hebraic (if we may still use Heine’s own distinction, never very definite, and now worn so thin), but Heine prided himself upon a sunlit cheerfulness that he called Greek. He loved the garish world; he was in love with every woman; but the true revolutionist must be the modern monk. It is no good asking the revolutionist out to dinner; he will neither say anything amusing, nor know the difference between chalk and cheese. But Heine’s good sayings went the round of Parisian society, and he loved the subtleties of wine and the table. “That dish,” he said once, “should be eaten on one’s knees.” Only on paper, and then rarely, was his heart lacerated by savage indignation. Except for brief periods of poverty, in the Zion of exile he lived very much at ease, nor did the zeal of the Lord ever consume him. Did it not seem that a true revolutionist was justified in comparing him to a boy chasing butterflies on the battle-field? Here, if anywhere, one might have thought, was one of those charming poets whom the Philosopher would have honoured, and feasted, and loaded with beautiful gifts, and then conducted, laurel-crowned, far outside the walls of the perfect city, to the sound of flutes and soft recorders.

To such scorn Heine attempted the artist’s common answer. He replied to Boerne’s revolutionary scorn of the mere poet, with a poet’s fastidious scorn of the smudgy revolutionist. He tells us of his visit to Boerne’s rooms, where he found such a menagerie as could hardly be seen in the Jardin des Plantes–German polar bears, a Polish wolf, a French ape. Or we read of the one revolutionary assembly he attended, and how up till then he had always longed to be a popular orator, and had even practised on oxen and sheep in the fields; but that one meeting, with its dirt, and smells, and stifling tobacco smoke, sickened him of oratory. “I saw,” he writes,

“I saw that the path of a German tribune is not strewn with roses–not with clean roses. For example, you have to shake hands vigorously with all your auditors, your ‘dear brothers and cousins.’ Perhaps Boerne means it metaphorically when he says that, if a king shook him by the band, he would at once hold it in the fire, so as to clean it; but I mean it literally, and not metaphorically, when I say that, if the people shook me by the hand, I should at once wash it.”

We all know those meetings now–the fraternal handshake, the menagerie smell, the reek of tobacco, the indistinguishable hubbub of tongues, the frothy violence, the bottomless inanity of abstract dissensions, that have less concern with human realities than the curve of the hyperbola through space. We all know that, and sometimes, perhaps, at the sight of some artist or poet like Heine–or, shall we say? like William Morris–in the sulphurous crater of that volcanic tumult, we may have been tempted to exclaim, “Not here, O Apollo, are haunts meet for thee!” But we had best restrain such exclamation, for we have had quite enough of the artistic or philanthropic temperaments that talk a deal about fighting the battle of the poor and the oppressed, but take very good care to keep at a clean and comfortable distance from those whose battle they are fighting, and appear more than content to live among the tyrants and oppressors they denounce. And we remind ourselves, further, that what keeps the memory of William Morris sweet is not his wall-papers, his beaten work of bronze or silver, his dreamy tapestries of interwoven silks or verse, but just that strange attempt of his, however vain, however often deceived, to convert the phrases of liberty into realities, and to learn something more about democracy than the spelling of its name.

Heine’s first line of defence was quite worthless. It was the cheap and common defence of the commonplace, fastidious nature that has hardly courage to exist outside its nest of culture. His second line was stronger, and it is most fully set out in the preface to his _Lutetia_, written only a year before his death. He there expresses the artist’s fear of beauty’s desecration by the crowd. He dreads the horny hand laid upon the statues he had loved. He sees the laurel groves, the lilies, the roses–“those idle brides of nightingales”–destroyed to make room for useful potato-patches. He sees his _Book of Songs_ taken by the grocer to wrap up coffee and snuff for old women, in a world where the victorious proletariat triumphs. But that line of defence he voluntarily abandons, knowing in his heart, as he said, that the present social order could not endure, and that all beauty it preserved was not to be counted against its horror.

It is at the end of the same preface that the well-known passage occurs, thus translated by Matthew Arnold:

“I know not if I deserve that a laurel-wreath should one day be laid on my coffin. Poetry, dearly as I have loved it, has always been to me but a divine plaything. I have never attached any great value to poetical fame; and I trouble myself very little whether people praise my verses or blame them. But lay on my coffin a _sword_; for I was a brave soldier in the war of liberation of humanity.”

The words appear strangely paradoxical. No one questions Heine’s place among the poets of the world. As a matter of fact, he was quite as sensitive to criticism as other poets, and his courage was not more conspicuous than most people’s. But, nevertheless, those words contain his last and true defence against the scorn of revolutionists, or men of affairs, like Boerne. There is no need to make light of Boerne’s achievement; that also has its high place in the war of liberation. But, powerless as the word may seem, there was in Heine’s word a liberating force that is felt in our battle to this day. He did not wield the axe himself, but behind him has moved a mysterious figure, muffled in a cloak–a Lictor following his footsteps with an axe–the deed of Heine’s thought.



“How beggarly appear arguments before a defiant deed!” cried Walt Whitman, as I quoted in the last essay. He was thinking, perhaps, of Harper’s Ferry and of John Brown hanging on the crab-apple tree, while his soul went marching on. It is the lament of all writers and speakers who are driven by inward compulsion to be something more than artists in words, and who seek to jog the slow-pacing world more hurriedly forward. How long had preachers, essayists, orators, and journalists argued slavery round and round before the defiant deed crashed and settled it! “Who hath believed our report?” the prophets have always cried, until the arm of the Lord was revealed; and the melancholy of all prophetic writers is mainly due to the conscious helplessness of their words. If men would only listen to reason–if they would listen even to the appeals of justice and compassion, we suppose our prophets would grow quite cheerful at last. But to justice and compassion men listen only at a distance, and the prophet is near.

Nevertheless, in his address as Chancellor of Manchester University in June 1912, Lord Morley, who has himself often sounded the prophetic note, asserted that “a score of books in political literature rank as acts, not books.” He happened to be speaking on the anniversary of Rousseau’s birth, two hundred years ago, and in no list of such books could Rousseau’s name be forgotten. “Whether a score or a hundred,” Lord Morley went on, “the _Social Contract_ was one,” and, as though to rouse his audience with a spark, he quoted once more the celebrated opening sentence, “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.” That sentence is not true either in history or in present life. It would be truer to say that man has everywhere been born in chains and, very slowly, in some few parts of the world, he is becoming free. The sentence is neither scientific as historic theory nor true to present life, and yet Lord Morley rightly called it electrifying. And the same is true of the book which it so gloriously opens. As history and as philosophy, it is neither original nor exact. It derived directly from Locke, and many aspects of the world and thought since Darwin’s time confute it. But, however much anticipated, and however much exposed to scientific ridicule, it remains one of the burning books of the world–one of those books which, as Lord Morley said, rank as acts, not books.

“Let us realise,” he continued, “with what effulgence such a book burst upon communities oppressed by wrong, sunk in care, inflamed by passions of religion or of liberty, the two eternal fields of mortal struggle.” So potent an influence depends much upon the opportunity of time–the fulfilment of the hour’s need. A book so abstract, so assertive of theory, and standing so far apart from the world’s actual course, would hardly find an audience now. But in the eighteenth century, so gaily confident in the power of reason, so trustful of good intentions, so ready to acclaim noble phrase and generality, and so ignorant of the past and of the poor–in the midst of such a century the _Social Contract_ was born at the due time. Add the vivid imagination and the genuine love for his fellow-men, to which Lord Morley told us Maine attributed Rousseau’s ineffaceable influence on history, and we are shown some of the qualities and reasons that now and again make words burn with that effulgence, and give even to a book the power of a deed.

Lord Morley thought there might be a score, or perhaps even a hundred, of such books in political literature. He himself gave two other instances beside the _Social Contract_. He mentioned _The Institutions of the Christian Religion_, of Calvin, “whose own unconquerable will and power to meet occasion made him one of the commanding forces in the world’s history.” And he mentioned Tom Paine’s _Common Sense_ as “the most influential political piece ever composed.” I could not, offhand, give a list of seventeen other books of similar power to make up the score. I do not believe so many exist, and as to ninety-seven, the idea need not be considered. There have been books of wide and lasting political influence–Plato’s _Republic_, Aristotle’s _Politics_, Machiavelli’s _Prince_, Hobbes’s _Leviathan_, Locke’s _Civil Government_, Adam Smith’s _Wealth of Nations_, Paine’s _Right of Man_, Mill’s _Liberty_ and _The Subjection of Women_, Green’s _Political Obligation_, and many more. But these are not burning books in the sense in which the _Social Contract_ was a burning book. With the possible exception of _The Subjection of Women_, they were cool and philosophic. With the possible exception of Machiavelli, their writers might have been professors. The effect of the books was fine and lasting, but they were not aflame. They did not rank as acts. The burning books that rank as acts and devour like purifying fire must be endowed with other qualities.

Such books appear to have been very few, though, in a rapid survey, one is likely to overlook some. In all minds there will arise at once the great memory of Swift’s _Drapier’s Letters_, passionately uttering the simple but continually neglected law that “all government without the consent of the governed is the very definition of slavery.” Carlyle’s _French Revolution_ and _Past and Present_ burnt with similar flame; so did Ruskin’s _Unto this Last_ and the series of _Fors Clavigera;_ so did Mazzini’s _God and the People_, Karl Marx’s _Kapital_, Henry George’s _Progress and Poverty_, Tolstoy’s _What shall we do?_ and so did Proudhon’s _Qu’est ce que la Propriete?_ at the time of its birth. Nor from such a list could one exclude _Uncle Tom’s Cabin_, by which Mrs. Beecher Stowe anticipated the deed of Harper’s Ferry nine years before it came.

These are but few books and few authors. With Lord Morley’s three thrown in, they still fall far short of a score. Readers will add other names, other books that ranked as acts and burnt like fire. To their brief but noble roll, I would also add one name, and one brief set of speeches or essays that hardly made a book, but to which Lord Morley himself, at all events, would not be likely to take exception. He mentioned Burke’s famous denunciation of Rousseau, and, indeed, the natures and aspects of no two distinguished and finely-tempered men could well be more opposed. But none the less, I believe that in Burke, before growing age and growing fears and habits chilled his blood, there kindled a fire consuming in its indignation, and driving him to words that, equally with Rousseau’s, may rank among the acts of history. In support of what may appear so violent a paradox when speaking of one so often claimed as a model of Conservative moderation and constitutional caution, let me recall a few actual sentences from the speech on “Conciliation with America,” published three years before Rousseau’s death. The grounds of Burke’s imagination were not theoretic. He says nothing about abstract man born free; but, as though quietly addressing the House of Commons to-day, he remarks:

“The Colonies complain that they have not the characteristic mark and seal of British freedom. They complain that they are taxed in a Parliament in which they are not represented.”

That simple complaint had roused in the Colonies, thus deprived of the mark and seal of British freedom, a spirit of turbulence and disorder. Already, under a policy of negation and suppression, the people were driving towards the most terrible kind of war–a war between the members of the same community. Already the cry of “no concession so long as disorders continue” went up from the central Government, and, with passionate wisdom, Burke replied:

“The question is not whether their spirit deserves blame or praise, but what, in the name of God, shall we do with it?”

Then come two brief passages which ought to be bound as watchwords and phylacteries about the foreheads of every legislator who presumes to direct our country’s destiny, and which stand as a perpetual indictment against all who endeavour to exclude the men or women of this country from constitutional liberties:

“In order to prove that the Americans have no right to their liberties, we are every day endeavouring to subvert the maxims which preserve the whole spirit of our own. To prove that the Americans ought not to be free, we are obliged to depreciate the value of freedom itself; and we never seem to gain a paltry advantage over them in debate without attacking some of those principles or deriding some of those feelings for which our ancestors have shed their blood.”

The second passage is finer still, and particularly apt to the present civil contest over Englishwomen’s enfranchisement:

“The temper and character which prevail in our Colonies are, I am afraid, unalterable by any human art. We cannot, I fear, falsify the pedigree of this fierce people, and persuade them that they are not sprung from a nation in whose veins the blood of freedom circulates. The language in which they would hear you tell them this tale would detect the imposition. Your speech would betray you. An Englishman is the unfittest person on earth to argue another Englishman into slavery.”

It may be said that these words, unlike the words with which Rousseau kindled revolution, failed of their purpose. The Government remained deaf and blind to the demand of British freedom; a terrible war was not averted; one of the greatest disasters in our history ensued. None the less, they glow with the true fire, and the book that contains them ranks with acts, and, indeed, with battles. That we should thus be coupling Rousseau and Burke–two men of naturally violent antipathy–is but one of the common ironies of history, which in the course of years obliterates differences and soothes so many hatreds. To be accepted and honoured by the same mind, and even for similar service, the two apparent opposites must have had something in common. What they had in common was the great qualities that Maine discovered in Rousseau–the vivid imagination and the genuine love for their fellow-men; and by imagination I mean the power of realising the thoughts, feelings, and sufferings of others. Thus from these two qualities combined in the presence of oppression, cruelty, or the ordinary stupid and callous denial of freedom, there sprang that flame of indignation from which alone the burning book derives its fire. Examine those other books whose titles I have mentioned, and their origin will in every case be found the same. They are the flaming children of rage, and rage is begotten by imaginative power out of love for the common human kind.



“Fret not thyself,” sang the cheerful Psalmist–“fret not thyself because of evildoers.” For they shall soon be cut down like the grass; they shall be rooted out; their sword shall go through their own heart; their arms shall be broken; they shall consume as the fat of lambs, and as the smoke they shall consume away; though they flourish like a green bay-tree, they shall be gone, and though we seek them, their place shall nowhere be found.

A soothing consolation lies in the thought. Why should we fluster ourselves, why wax so hot, when time thus brings its inevitable revenges? Composed in mind, let us pursue our own unruffled course, with calm assurance that justice will at length prevail. Let us comply with the dictates of sweetness and light, in reasonable expectation that iniquity will melt away of itself, like a snail before the fire. If we have confidence that vengeance is the Lord’s and He will repay, where but in that faith shall we find an outlet for our indignation at once so secure, so consolatory, and so cheap?

It was the pious answer made by Dr. Delany to Swift at the time when, torn by cruel rage, Swift was entering upon the struggle against Ireland’s misery. Swift appealed to him one day “whether the corruptions and villainies of men in power did not eat his flesh and exhaust his spirits?” But Delany answered, “That in truth they did not.” “Why–why, how can you help it? How can you avoid it?” asked the indignant heart. And the judicious answer came: “Because I am commanded to the contrary; ‘Fret not thyself because of the ungodly.'” Under the qualities revealed in Swift and Delany by that characteristic scene, is also revealed a deeply-marked distinction between two orders of mankind, and the two speakers stand as their types. Dr. Delany we all know. He may be met in any agreeable society–himself agreeable and tolerant, unwilling to judge lest he be judged, solicitous to please, careful not to lose esteem, always welcome among his numerous acquaintances, sweetly reasonable, and devoutly confident that the tale of hideous wrong will right itself without his stir. No figure is more essential for social intercourse, or moves round the cultivated or political circle of his life with more serene success.

To the great comfort of cultivated and political circles, the type of Swift is not so frequent or so comprehensible. What place have those who fret not themselves because of evildoers–what place in their tolerant society have they for uncouth personalities, terrible with indignation? It is true that Swift was himself accounted a valued friend among the best wits and writers of his time. Bolingbroke wrote to him: “I loved you almost twenty years ago; I thought of you as well as I do now, better was beyond the power of conception.” Pope, also after twenty years of intimate friendship, could write of him: “My sincere love of that valuable, indeed incomparable, man will accompany him through life, and pursue his memory were I to live a hundred lives.” Arbuthnot could write to him:

“DEAR FRIEND,–The last sentence of your letter plunged a dagger in my heart. Never repeat those sad, but tender, words, that you will try to forget me. For my part, I can never forget you–at least till I discover, which is impossible, another friend whose conversation could procure me the pleasure I have found in yours.”

The friends of Swift–the men who could write like this–men like Bolingbroke, Pope, Arbuthnot, Addison, Steele, and Gay–were no sentimentalists; they rank among the shrewdest and most clear-eyed writers of our literature. And, indeed, to me at all events, the difficulty of Swift’s riddle lies, not in his savagery, but in his charm. When we think of that tiger burning in the forests of the night, how shall we reconcile his fearful symmetry with eyes “azure as the heavens,” which Pope describes as having a surprising archness in them? Or when a man is reputed the most embittered misanthrope in history, how was it that his intimate friend, Sheridan, could speak of that “spirit of generosity and benevolence whose greatness, and vigour, when pent up in his own breast by poverty and dependence, served only as an evil spirit to torment him”? Of his private generosity, and his consideration for the poor, for servants, and animals, there are many instances recorded. For divergent types of womanhood, whether passionate, witty, or intellectual, he possessed the attraction of sympathetic intimacy. A woman of peculiar charm and noble character was his livelong friend from girlhood, risking reputation, marriage, position, and all that many women most value, just for that friendship and nothing more. Another woman loved him with more tragic destiny. To Stella, in the midst of his political warfare, he could write with the playfulness that nursemaids use for children, and most men keep for their kittens or puppies. In the “Verses on his own Death,” how far removed from the envy, hatred, and malice of the literary nature is the affectionate irony of those verses beginning:

“In Pope I cannot read a line,
But with a sigh I wish it mine;
When he can in one couplet fix
More sense than I can do in six,
It gives me such a jealous fit,
I cry, ‘Plague take him and his wit.’ I grieve to be outdone by Gay
In my own humorous biting way;
Arbuthnot is no more my friend
Who dares to irony pretend,
Which I was born to introduce;
Refined it first, and showed its use.”

And so on down to the lines:

“If with such talents Heaven has blest ’em, Have I not reason to detest ’em?”

To damn with faint praise is the readiest defence of envious failure; but to praise with jealous damnation reveals a delicate generosity that few would look for in the hater of his kind. Nor let us forget that Swift was himself the inventor of the phrase “Sweetness and light.”

These elements of charm and generosity have been too much overlooked, and they could not redeem the writer’s savagery in popular opinion, being overshadowed by that cruel indignation which ate his flesh and exhausted his spirit. Yet it was, perhaps, just from such elements of intuitive sympathy and affectionate goodwill that the indignation sprang. Like most over-sensitive natures, he found that every new relation in life, even every new friendship that he formed, only opened a gate to new unhappiness. The sorrows of others were more to him than to themselves, and, like a man or woman that loves a child, he discovered that his affection only exposed a wider surface to pain. On the death of a lady with whom he was not very intimately acquainted, “I hate life,” he cried, “when I think it exposed to such accidents: and to see so many thousand wretches burdening the earth while such as her die, makes me think God did never intend life for a blessing.” It was not any spirit of hatred or cruelty, but an intensely personal sympathy with suffering, that tore his heart and kindled that furnace of indignation against the stupid, the hateful, and the cruel to whom most suffering is due; and it was a furnace in which he himself was consumed. Writing whilst he was still a youth, in _The Tale of a Tub_, he composed a terrible sentence, in which all his rage and pity and ironical bareness of style seem foretold: “Last week,” he says, “I saw a woman flayed, and you will hardly believe how much it altered her person for the worse.” “Only a woman’s hair,” was found written on the packet in which the memorial of Stella was preserved, and I do not know in what elegy there breathes a prouder or more poignant sorrow.

When he wrote the _Drapier Letters_, Ireland lay before him like a woman flayed. Of the misery of Ireland it was said (I think by Sheridan):

“It fevered his blood, it broke his rest, it drove him at times half frantic with furious indignation, it sunk him at times in abysses of sullen despondency, it awoke in him emotions which in ordinary men are seldom excited save by personal injuries.”

This cruel rage over the wrongs of a people whom he did not love, and whom he repeatedly disowned, drove him to the savage denunciations in which he said of England’s nominee: “It is no dishonour to submit to the lion, but who, with the figure of a man, can think with patience of being devoured alive by a rat?” It drove him also to the great principle, still too slowly struggling into recognition in this country, that “all government without the consent of the governed is the very definition of slavery.” It inspired his _Proposal for the Universal Use of Irish Manufactures_, in which the advice to “burn everything that came from England except the coals and the people,” might serve as the motto of the Sinn Fein movement. And it inspired also that other “Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Ireland from being a burden to their Parents and Country, and making them beneficial to the Public. Fatten them up for the Dublin market; they will be delicious roast, baked, or boiled.”

As wave after wave of indignation passed over him, his wrath at oppression extended to all mankind. In _Gulliver’s Travels_ it is the human race that lies before him, how much altered for the worse by being flayed! But it is not pity he feels for the victim now. In man he only sees the littleness, the grossness, the stupidity, or the brutal degradation of Yahoos. Unlike other satirists–unlike Juvenal or Pope or the author of _Penguin Island_, who comes nearest to his manner–he pours his contempt, not upon certain types of folly or examples of vice, but upon the race of man as a whole. “I heartily hate,” he wrote to Pope soon after _Gulliver_ was published, “I heartily hate and detest that animal called man, although I heartily love John, Peter, Thomas, and so forth.” The philanthropist will often idealise man in the abstract and hate his neighbour at the back door, but that was not Swift’s way. He has been called an inverted hypocrite, as one who makes himself out worse than he is. I should rather call him an inverted idealist, for, with high hopes and generous expectations, he entered into the world, and lacerated by rage at the cruelty, foulness, and lunacy he there discovered, he poured out his denunciations upon the crawling forms of life whose filthy minds were well housed in their apelike and corrupting flesh–a bag of loathsome carrion, animated by various lusts.

“Noli aemulari,” sang the cheerful Psalmist; “Fret not thyself because of evildoers.” How easy for most of us it is to follow that comfortable counsel! How little strain it puts upon our popularity or our courage! And how amusing it is to watch the course of human affairs with tolerant acquiescence! Yes, but, says Swift, “amusement is the happiness of those who cannot think,” and may we not say that acquiescence is the cowardice of those who dare not feel? There will always be some, at least, in the world whom savage indignation, like Swift’s, will continually torment. It will eat their flesh and exhaust their spirits. They would gladly be rid of it, for, indeed, it stifles their existence, depriving them alike of pleasure, friends, and the objects of ambition–isolating them in the end as Swift was isolated. If only the causes of their indignation might cease, how gladly they would welcome the interludes of quiet! But hardly is one surmounted than another overtops them like a wave, nor have the stern victims of indignation the smallest hope of deliverance from their suffering, until they lie, as Swift has now lain for so many years, where cruel rage can tear the heart no more–“Ubi saeva indignatio ulterius cor lacerare nequit.”



“It is time that I ceased to fill the world,” said the dying Victor Hugo, and we recognise the truth of the saying, though with a smile. For each generation must find its own way, nor would it be a consolation to have even the greatest of ancient prophets living still. But yet there breathes from the living a more intimate influence, for which an immortality of fame cannot compensate. When men like Tolstoy die, the world is colder as well as more empty. They have passed outside the common dangers and affections of man’s warm-blooded circle, lighted by the sun and moon. Their spirit may go marching on; it may become immortal and shine with an increasing radiance, perpetual as the sweet influences of the Pleiades. But their place in the heavens is fixed. We can no longer watch how they will meet the glorious or inglorious uncertainties of the daily conflict. We can no longer make appeal for their succour against the new positions and new encroachments of the eternal adversary. The sudden splendour of action is no longer theirs, and if we would know the loss implied in that difference, let us imagine that Tolstoy had died before the summer of 1908, when he uttered his overwhelming protest against the political massacres ordained by Russia. In place of that protest, in place of the poignant indignation which appealed to Stolypin’s hangmen to fix their well-soaped noose around his own old neck, since, if any were guilty, it was he–in place of the shame and wrath that cried, “I cannot be silent!” we should have had nothing but our own memory and regret, murmuring to ourselves, “If only Tolstoy had been living now! But perhaps, for his sake, it is better he is not.”

And now that he is dead, and the world is chilled by the loss of its greatest and most fiery personality, the adversary may breathe more freely. As Tolstoy was crossing a city square–I suppose the “Red Square” in Moscow–on the day when the Holy Synod of Russia excommunicated him from the Church, he heard someone say, “Look! There goes the devil in human form!” And for the next few weeks he continued to receive letters clotted with anathemas, damnations, threats, and filthy abuse. It was no wonder. To all thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers, to all priests of established religions, to the officials of every kind of government, to the Ministers, whether of parliaments or despots, to all naval and military officers, to all lawyers, judges, jurymen, policemen, gaolers, and executioners, to all tax-collectors, speculators, and financiers, Tolstoy was, indeed, the devil in human form. To them he was the gainsayer, the destroyer, the most shattering of existent forces. And, in themselves, how large and powerful a section of every modern State they are! They may almost be called the Church and State incarnate, and they seldom hesitate to call themselves so. But, against all their authorities, formulae, and traditions, Tolstoy stood in perpetual rebellion. To him their parchments and wigs, their cells and rods and hang-ropes, their mitres, chasubles, vestments, incense, chantings, services, bells, and books counted as so much trumpery. For him external law had no authority. If it conflicted with the law of the soul, it was the soul’s right and duty to disregard or break it. Speaking of the law which ordained the flogging of peasants for taxes, he wrote: “There is but one thing to say–that no such law can exist; that no ukase, or insignia, or seals, or Imperial commands can make a law out of a crime.” Similarly, the doctrines of the Church, her traditions, sacraments, rituals, and miracles–all that appeared to him to conflict with human intelligence and the law of his soul–he disregarded or denied. “I deny them all,” he wrote in his answer to the Holy Synod’s excommunication (1901); “I consider all the sacraments to be coarse, degrading sorcery, incompatible with the idea of God or with the Christian teaching.” And, as the briefest statement of the law of his soul, he added:

“I believe in this: I believe in God, whom I understand as Spirit, as Love, as the Source of all. I believe that he is in me, and I in him. I believe that the will of God is most clearly and intelligibly expressed in the teaching of the man Jesus, whom to consider as God, and pray to I esteem the greatest blasphemy. I believe that man’s true welfare lies in fulfilling God’s will, and his will is that men should love one another, and should consequently do to others as they wish others to do to them–of which it is said in the Gospels that this is the law and the prophets.”

The world has listened to rebels against Church and State before, and still it goes shuffling along as best it can under external laws and governments, seeking from symbols, rituals, and miraculous manifestation such spiritual consolation as it may imbibe. To such rebels the world, after burning, hanging, and quartering them for several centuries, has now become fairly well accustomed, though it still shoots or hangs them now and then as a matter of habit. But Tolstoy’s rebellion did not stop at Church and State. He rebelled against all the ordinary proposals and ideals of rebels themselves, and to him there was not very much to choose between the Socialism of Marxists and the despotism of Tsars. Liberals, Radicals, Social Democrats, Social Revolutionists, and all the rest of the reforming or rebellious parties–what were they doing but struggling to re-establish external laws, external governments, officials, and authorities under different forms and different names? In the Liberal movements of the day he took no part, and he had little influence upon the course of revolution. He formed no party; no band of rebels followed the orders of the rebel-in-chief; among all the groups of the first Duma there was no Tolstoyan group, nor could there have been any. When we touch government, he would say, we touch the devil, and it is only by admitting compromise or corruption that men seek to maintain or readjust the power of officials over body and soul. “It seems to me,” he wrote to the Russian Liberals in 1896,

“It seems to me now specially important to do what is right quietly and persistently, not only without asking permission from Government, but consciously avoiding participation in it…. What can a Government do with a man who will not publicly lie with uplifted hand, or will not send his children to a school he thinks bad, or will not learn to kill people, or will not take part in idolatry, or in coronations, deputations, and addresses, or who says and writes what he thinks and feels?… It is only necessary for all these good, enlightened, and honest people whose strength is now wasted in Revolutionary, Socialistic, or Liberal activity (harmful to themselves and to their cause) to begin to act thus, and a nucleus of honest, enlightened, and moral people would form around them, united in the same thoughts and the same feelings. Public opinion–the only power which subdues Governments–would become evident, demanding freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, justice, and humanity.”

From a distance, the bustling politicians and reformers of happier lands might regard this quietism or wise passiveness as a mere counsel of despair, suitable enough as a shelter in the storm of Russia’s tyranny, but having little significance for Western men of affairs. Yet even so they had not silenced the voice of this persistent rebel; for he rose in equal rebellion against the ideals, methods, and standards of European cities. Wealth, commerce, industrial development, inventions, luxuries, and all the complexity of civilisation were of no more account to him than the toys of kings and the tag-rag of the churches. Other rebels had preached the gospel of pleasure to the poor, and had themselves acted on their precepts. Other reformers, even religious reformers, had extolled the delights of women, wine, and song. But here was a man despising these as the things after which the Gentiles seek. Love intrigues, banquets, wealthy establishments, operas, theatres, poetry, and fashionable novels–what had they to do with the kingdom of God that is within? He touched nothing from which he did not strip the adornment. He left life bare and stern as the starry firmament, and he felt awe at nothing, not even at the starry firmament, but only at the sense of right and wrong in man. He did not summon the poor to rise against “the idle rich,” but he summoned the idle rich, the well-to-do, the gentry of independent means, the comfortable annuitants, the sportsmen, the writers and dramatists of pleasure, the artists of triviality, the pretty rhymers, and the people who are too busy for thought, to rise against themselves. It was a much harder summons to obey, and generally they answered with a shrug and a mutter of “madness,” “mere asceticism,” or “a fanatic’s intolerance.”

Yet they could not choose but hear. Mr. Kipling, in agreement with an earlier prophet, once identified rebellion with the sin of witchcraft, and about Tolstoy there was certainly a witching power, a magic or demonic attraction, that gave the hearer no peace. Perhaps more even than from his imaginative strength, it arose from his whole-hearted sincerity, always looking reality straight in the face, always refusing compromise, never hesitating to follow where reason led. Compromise and temporise and choose the line of least resistance, as we habitually do, there still remains in most people a fibre that vibrates to that iron sincerity. And so it was that, from the first, Tolstoy brought with him a disturbing and incalculable magic–an upheaving force, like leaven stirring in the dough, or like a sword in unconditioned and unchartered peace.

Critics have divided his life into artistic and prophetic hemispheres; they have accused him of giving up for man what was meant for artistic circles. But the seas of both hemispheres are the same, and there was no division in Tolstoy’s main purpose or outlook upon life from first to