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  • 1913
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When your Committee invited me to deliver the Moncure Conway address this year, I was even more surprised at their choice of subject than at their choice of person. For the chosen subject was Peace, and my chief study, interest, and means of livelihood for some twenty years past has been War. It seemed to me like inviting a butcher to lecture on vegetarianism. So I wrote, with regret, to refuse. But your Committee very generously repeated the invitation, giving me free permission to take my own line upon the subject; and then I perceived that you did not ask for the mere celebration of an established doctrine, but were still prepared to join in pursuit, following the track of reason wherever it might lead, as became the traditions of this classic building, which I sometimes think of as reason’s last lair. I perceived that what you demanded was not panegyric, or immutable commonplace, but, above all things, sincerity. And sincerity is a dog with nose to the ground, uncertain of the trail, often losing the scent, often harking back, but possessed by an honest determination to hunt down the truth, if by any means it can be caught.

It is one of my many regrets for wasted opportunity that I never heard Moncure Conway; but, with a view to this address, I have lately read a good deal of his writings. Especially I have read the _Autobiography_, an attractive record and commentary on the intellectual history of rapidly-changing years, most of which I remember. On the question of peace Moncure Conway was uncompromising–very nearly uncompromising. Many Americans feel taller when they think of Lexington and the shot that echoed round the world. Moncure Conway only saw lynchers in the champions of freedom who flung the tea-chests into the sea; and in the War of Independence he saw nothing but St. George Washington spearing a George the Third dragon.[8] He quotes with approval the saying of Quaker Mifflin to Washington: “General, the worst peace is better than the best war.”[9] Many Americans regard the Civil War between North and South with admiration as a stupendous contest either for freedom and unity, or for self-government and good manners. Moncure Conway was strongly and consistently opposed to it. The question of slavery did not affect his opposition. He thought few men had wrought so much evil as John Brown of Harper’s Ferry, whose soul marched with the Northern Armies.[10] “I hated violence more than slavery,” he wrote, “and much as I disliked President Buchanan, I thought him right in declining to coerce the seceding States.”[11] Just before the war began, he wrote in a famous pamphlet: “War is always wrong; it is because the victories of Peace require so much more courage than those of war that they are rarely won.”[12] “I see in the Union War,” he wrote, “a great catastrophe.” “Alas! the promises of the sword are always broken–always.” And in the concluding pages of his _Autobiography_, as though uttering his final message to the world, he wrote:

“There can arise no important literature, nor art, nor real freedom and happiness, among any people until they feel their uniform a livery, and see in every battlefield an inglorious arena of human degradation…. The only cause that can uplift the genius of a people as the anti-slavery cause did in America is the war against war.”

For the very last words of his _Autobiography_ he wrote:

“And now, at the end of my work, I offer yet a new plan for ending war–namely, that the friends of peace and justice shall insist on a demand that every declaration of war shall be regarded as a sentence of death by one people on another; and shall be made only after a full and formal judicial inquiry and trial, at which the accused people shall be fairly represented…. The meanest prisoner cannot be executed without a trial. A declaration of war is the most terrible of sentences: it sentences a people to be slain and mutilated, their women to be widowed, their children orphaned, their cities burned, their commerce destroyed. The real motives of every declaration of war are unavowed and unavowable. Let them be dragged into the light! No war would ever occur after a fair judicial trial by a tribunal in any country open to its citizens.

“Implore peace, O my reader, from whom I now part. Implore peace, not of deified thunderclouds, but of every man, woman, or child thou shalt meet. Do not merely offer the prayer, ‘Give peace in our time,’ but do thy part to answer it! Then, at least, though the world be at strife, there shall be peace in thee.”[13]

That sounds uncompromising. We cannot doubt that one of the main motives of Conway’s life was “War against War.” He suffered for peace; he lost friends and influence for peace; we may almost say he was exiled for peace. Those are the marks of sincerity. He, if anyone, we might suppose, was a “Peace-at-any-price man.” But let us remember one passage in an address delivered only a few months before his death. In that address, on William Penn, given in April 1907 (he died in the following November), speaking of Mr. Carnegie’s proposal for a compulsory Court of International Arbitration, he said:

“In order to prevent swift attacks of one nation on another without notice, or outrages on weak and helpless tribes, there shall be selected from the armaments of the world a combination armament to act as the international police…. Even if in the last resort there were needed such united force of mankind to prevent any one nation from breaking the peace in which the interests of all nations are involved, that would not be an act of war, but civilisation’s self-defence. Self-defence is not war, although the phrase is often used to disguise aggression.”[14]

Speaking with all respect for a distinguished man’s memory, I disagree with every word of those sentences. An international police, directed by the combined Powers, would almost certainly develop into a tremendous engine of injustice and oppression. The Holy Alliance after Napoleon’s overthrow aimed at an international police, and we want no more Holy Alliances. I would not trust a single government in the world to enter into such a combination. I would rather trust Satan to combine with sin. Think of the fate of Egypt from Arabi’s time up to the present, or of Turkey controlled by the Powers, or of Persia and Morocco to-day! But the point to notice is that you cannot alter things by altering names. The united force of civilisation brought to bear upon any nation, however guilty, would be an act of war, however much you called it international police. Civilisation’s self-defence would be war. Every form of self-defence by violence, whether it disguises aggression or not, is war. For many generations every war has been excused as self-defence of one kind or another. I can hardly imagine a modern war that would not be excused by both sides as defensive. By making these admissions–by maintaining that self-defence is not war–Moncure Conway gives away the whole case of the “peace-at-any-price man,” He comes down from the ideal positions of the early Quakers, the modern Tolstoyans, and the Salvation Army. They preach non-resistance to evil consistently. Like all extremists who have no reservations, but will trust to their principle though it slay them, they have gained a certain glow, a fervour of life, which shrivels up our ordinary compromises and political considerations. But by advocating civilisation’s self-defence in the form of a combined international armament, Moncure Conway abandoned that vantage ground. He became sensible, arguable, uncertain, submitting himself to the balances of reason and expediency like the rest of us.

A certain glow, a fervour of life–those are signs that always distinguish extremists–men and women who are willing literally to die for their cause. I did not find those signs at the Hague Peace Conference, when I was sent there in 1907 as being a war correspondent. Such an assembly ought to have marked an immense advance in human history. It was the sort of thing that last-century poets dreamed of as the Parliament of Man, the Federation of the World. It surpassed Prince Albert’s vision of an eternity of International Exhibitions. One would have expected such an occasion to be heralded by Schiller’s _Ode to Joy_ sounding through the triumph of the Choral Symphony. Long and dubious has been the music’s struggle with pain, but at last, in great simplicity, the voices of the men give out the immortal theme, and the whole universe joins in harmony with a thunder of exultation:

“Seid umschlungen, Millionen,
Diesen Kuss der ganzen Welt!”

Surely at the Hague Conference, in the fulfilment of time, peace had come on earth and goodwill among men. Here once more would sound the song that the morning stars sang together, when all the sons of God shouted for joy.

As loaders in that celestial chorus, I found about 400 frock-coated, top-hatted gentlemen from various parts of the world–elderly diplomatists, ambassadors inured to the stifling atmosphere of courts, Foreign Ministers who had served their time of intrigue, professors who worshipped law, worthy officials primed with a stock of phrases about “the noble sentiments of justice and humanity,” but reared in the deadening circle of uniforms, decorations, and insincere courtesy, having no more knowledge of the people’s desires than of the people’s bacon, and instructed to maintain the cause of peace chiefly by safeguarding their country’s military interests. An atmosphere of suspicion and secrecy surrounded them, more dense than the fog of war. For their president they elected an ambassador who had grown old in the service of three Tsars, and now represented a tyrant who refused the first principles of peace to his own people, and repressed the struggle for freedom by methods of barbarism such as no general could use against a belligerent in the stress of war without incurring the execration of mankind.

With commendable industry, those delegates at this Second Peace Conference devoted themselves to careful preparations for the next war, especially for the next naval war. They appeared to me like two farmers making arrangements to abstain from burning each other’s hay-ricks. “Look here,” says one, “this rick-burning’s a dangerous and expensive job. Let us give up wax vestas, and stick to safety matches.” “Done!” says the other. “Now mind! Only safety matches in future!” and they part with mutual satisfaction, conscious of thrift and Christian forbearance. Or, again, I thought the situation might be expressed in the form of a fable, how the Fox of the Conference said to the Rabbit of Peace, “With what sauce, Brer Rabbit, would you like to be eaten?” “Please, Mr. Fox, I don’t want to be eaten at all,” said the Rabbit “Now,” answered the Fox, “you are gettin’ away from the pint.”

Something, no doubt, has been gained. Even the jealous diplomatists and cautious lawyers at The Hague have secured something. Mankind had gradually learnt that certain forms of horror were too horrible for average civilisation, and The Hague confirmed man’s veto, in some particulars. Laying mines at sea and the destruction of private property at sea were not forbidden, nor were the rights of belligerents extended to subject races or rebels. Men and women are still exposed to every kind of torture and brutality, provided the brutalities are practised by their own superior government. But it is something, certainly, to have gained a permanent Court of Arbitration for the trial of disputed points between nations. The points are at present minor, it is true. Questions affecting honour, vital interests, and independence are expressly excluded. But the habit of referring any question at all to arbitration is a gain, if only we could trust the members of the Court. So long as those members are appointed by the present governments of Europe, there is danger of the Court becoming merely another engine in the hands of despotism, as was proved by the conduct of the Savarkar case at The Hague in February 1911. But the field of reference will grow imperceptibly, and we have had President Taft protesting that he desires an Arbitration Treaty with England from which even questions of honour, vital interests, and independence shall not be excluded.[15] Out of the eater cometh forth meat. Even a blood-stained Tsar’s proposals for peace have not been entirely without effect. But in the midst of the warring diplomatists at The Hague one could discover none of that glow, that fervour of devotion to peace, which distinguished the early Quakers and is still felt among a few fine enthusiasts. The first duty imposed upon every representative at The Hague was to get everyone to do as much as possible for peace, except himself. It is not so that the world is moved.

Neither in the representatives nor in their governments can we find any principle or passionate desire for peace. The emperors, kings, and men of wealth, birth, and leisure who impudently claim the right of deciding questions of peace and war in all nations, display no objection to war, provided it looks profitable. Provided it looks profitable–what a vista of devilry those words call up! What a theme for satire! But also, to some extent, and in the present day, what ground for hope!

They bring us suddenly face to face with a little book which will leave its mark, not only on the mind, but, perhaps, on the actual and external history of man. In my opinion, the next Nobel prize should be shared equally between Mr. J.A. Hobson and Mr. Lane, the younger writer who calls himself Norman Angell. Between them they have completely analysed the motives, the pretexts, the hypocrisies, the deceptions, the corruptions, and the fallacies of modern war.[16] When we say that the men who impudently claim the control of foreign politics among the nations display no objection to war, provided it looks profitable, we enter at once the sphere of that “Great Illusion” which is the distinguishing theme of Norman Angell’s pamphlet.

His main contention is that in modern times, owing to the interdependence of nations, especially in trade, the readiness of communication, the conduct of commerce and finance almost entirely by the exchange of bills and cheques, the complicated banking relations, and the solidarity of credit in all great capitals, so that if London credit is shaken the finance of Berlin, Paris, St. Petersburg, and New York feels the shock almost equally–for all these reasons modern war cannot be profitable even to the victorious Power.

To advocates of peace, here comes a gleam of hope at last–perhaps the strongest gleam that has reached us yet. Upon the kings of the earth, sitting, as Milton said, with awful eye; upon diplomatists, ambassadors, Foreign Office officials, courtiers, clergy, and the governing class in general, appeals to pity, mercy, humanity, religion, or reason have had no effect whatever. If you think I speak too strongly, look around you. Name within the last century any ruler or minister who has been guided by humanity or religion in the question of peace or war. Name any ruler who has abstained from war because force is no argument. With the possible exception of Mr. Gladstone in the cases of the _Alabama_ and Majuba Hill, I can think of none. Against that one possible exception place all the wars of a century past, including three that were among the most terrible in human history–the Napoleonic war, the Franco-German, and the Russo-Japanese. And as to the sweet influences of Christianity, remember the Russian Archbishops, how they blessed the sacred Icons that were to lead the Russian peasants to the slaughter of Japanese peasants. Remember our Archbishop of Canterbury in February 1911 deeply regretting that a previous engagement prevented him from passing on the blessing of the Apostles to the battleship _Thunderer_. Remember how he sent his wife as a substitute to occupy the Apostolic position in the hope that the hand which rocks the cradle might prove equally efficacious.

Against the pugnacity and courage which urge our rulers to send other people to die for them, the claims of humanity, reason, and religion have no effect. The new hope is that self-interest may succeed where the motives that act upon most decent people almost invariably fail. Norman Angell’s appeal goes straight to the pocket, and his choice of that objective inspires hope. If rulers can no longer plead that by war they are advancing the material interests of their State, if it is recognised that even a victorious war involves as great disaster as defeat, or even greater (and it is remarkable that, in one of his latest speeches, Moltke maintained that, next to defeat, the greatest disaster which could befall any State was victory)–if it can be shown that, in a war between great nations, trade does not follow the flag, but moves rapidly in the other direction, then one of the pretexts of our rulers will be removed, one veil of hypocrisy will be stripped off. To that extent the hope of peace will have grown brighter, and that extent is large.

On the whole, it is the brightest hope that has lately risen–or the brightest but one which we will speak of later on. I would only hint at two considerations which may obscure it. Granted that in modern times war-power or victory does not give prosperity; that the invader cannot destroy or capture the enemy’s trade; that his own finance is equally disturbed; and that the most enormous indemnity can add nothing to the victorious nation’s actual wealth–granted all this, nevertheless, the warlike, though vicarious, heroism of our rulers might not on this account be restrained. In many, if not most, recent wars the object has not been national aggrandisement, or even national commerce, but private gain. We have but to think of the South African War, so cleverly engineered in the gold-mining interest, or of the Russo-Japanese war, where so many thousands died for the Russian aristocracy’s timber concessions on the Yalu. Or, as permanent incitements to warfare, we may think of all the manufacturers of armaments, the enormous companies that fatten on blood and iron, the contractors, purveyors, horse-breeders, tailors, advertisers, army-coaches, landowners, and well-to-do families whose wealth, livelihood, or position depends mainly upon the continuance of warlike preparations, and whose personal interests are enormously increased by actual war. When a nation is pouring out its wealth at the rate of L2,000,000 or even L10,000,000 a week, as in the future it may well do, much of it will run away to waste, but most of it will stick to one finger or another; and the dirtier the finger the more will stick. It seems silly, it seems almost incredible, that, only a few generations ago, the peoples of Europe were engaged in killing each other as fast as possible over a question of dynasty–whether this or that poor forked radish of a mortal should be called King of Spain or King of France. But in our own days men kill each other for dynasties of cash–for wealthy firms and intermarried families. Nations fight that private companies may show a higher percentage on dividends. It is silly; it is almost incredible. But to shareholders and speculators instigated by these motives Norman Angell’s appeal is futile. Even a victorious war may spell disaster to the nation; but even defeat spells cash for them.

Holland was in February 1911 compelled to buy twenty-four inferior big guns from Krupp, without contract or competition, for the defence of her Javanese possessions, which no one thinks of attacking. Do you suppose that Krupp’s Company regards war as disadvantageous, or circulates Norman Angell’s book for a new gospel? “What plunder!” cried Bluecher, looking over London from St. Paul’s. Nowadays he would not wait to plunder a foreign nation; he would invest in a Dreadnought company, and plunder his own. Our naval expenditure in 1911-12 amounted to L46,000,000; our army expenditure to nearly L28,000,000–a total of L73,650,000 for what is called defence! Ten years ago we were in the midst of a most expensive war. Nevertheless, in ten years the annual expenditure upon armaments has increased by L14,000,000–far more than enough to double our Old Age Pensions. Within thirty years the naval estimates have more than quadrupled. Are we to suppose that no one grows fat on the people’s money? _Quidquid delirant reges_. The kings of the earth stood up and violently raged together; their subjects died. But now the kings of the earth are raging financiers with a shrewd eye to business, and their subjects starve to pay them. We used to be told that the man who paid the piper called the tune. Do the people call the tune of peace or war? Not at all. The ruling classes both call the tune and pocket the pay.

There is one other point that may obscure the hope arising from Norman Angell’s book. His main contention concerns wars between great Powers, nearly equally matched–Powers of high civilisation, with elaborate systems of credit and complicated interdependence of trade. But most recent wars have been attacks–defensive attacks, of course–upon small, powerless, and semi-civilised nations by the great Powers. Under the pretext of extending law and order, justice, peace, good government, and the blessings of the Christian faith, a great Power attacks a small and half-organised people with the object of taking up the White Man’s Burden, capturing markets, contracting for railways, and extending territory. To wars of this kind, I think, Norman Angell’s comforting theory does not apply–the great illusion does not come in. A strong Power may conquer Morocco, or Persia, or seize Bosnia, or enslave Finland, or penetrate Tibet, or maintain its hold on India, or occupy Egypt, or even destroy the Dutch Republics of South Africa, without disorganising its own commerce or raising a panic on its own credit. Most actual fighting has lately been of this character. It aims at the suppression of freedom in small or unarmed nationalities, the absorption of independent countries into great empires. It is the modern counterpart of the slave-trade. It is supported by similar arguments, and may be quite lucrative, as the slave-trade was.

Actual warfare generally takes this form now, but behind it one may always feel the latent or diplomatic warfare that consists in the calculation of armaments. A great Power says: “How much of Persia, Turkey, China, or Morocco do I dare to swallow? Germany, Russia, France, Japan, England, or Spain (as the case may be) will not like it if I swallow much. But what force could she bring against me, if it came to extremities, and what force could I set against hers?” Then the Powers set to counting up army corps and Dreadnoughts. In Dreadnoughts they seldom get their addition-sums right, but they do their poor best, strike a balance, and declare that a satisfactory agreement has been come to. This latent war is expensive, but cheaper than real war–and it is not bloody; it does not shock credit, though it weakens it; it does not ruin commerce, though it hampers it. The drain upon the nations is exhausting, but it does not kill men so horribly, and our rulers do not feel it; for the people pay, and the concession-hunters, the contractors, the company directors, and suchlike people with whom our rulers chiefly associate, grow very fat.

If, then, Norman Angell’s hopeful theory applies only partially to these common wars of Imperial aggrandisement and the perpetual diplomatic war by comparison of armaments, to what may we look for hope? Lord Rosebery would be the last person to whom one would look for hope in general. His hope is too like despair for prudence to smother. Yet, in his speech at the Press banquet during the Imperial Conference of 1909, when he spoke of our modern civilisation “rattling into barbarism,” he gave a hint of the movement to which alone I am inclined to trust. “I can only foresee,” he exclaimed, “the working-classes of Europe uniting in a great federation to cry: ‘We will have no more of this madness and foolery, which is grinding us to powder!'” The words may not have been entirely sincere–something had to be said for the Liberal Press tables, which cheered while the Imperialists sat glum; but there, I believe, lies the ultimate and only possible chance of hope. We must revolutionise our Governments; we must recognise the abject folly of allowing these vital questions of peace, war, and armaments to be decided according to the caprice or advantage of a single man, a clique of courtiers, a gang of adventurers, or the Cabal of a Cabinet formed from the very classes which have most to gain and least to lose, whether from actual war or the competition in armaments. Over this Executive, whether it is called Emperor, King, Court, or Cabinet, the people of the nation has no control–or nothing like adequate control–in foreign affairs and questions of war. In England in the year 1910 not a single hour was allowed for Foreign Office debate in the Commons. In no country of Europe have the men and women of the State a real voice in a matter which touches every man and every woman so closely as war touches them–even distant war, but far more the kind of war that devastates the larder, sweeps out the drawing-room, encamps in the back garden, and at any moment may reduce the family by half.[17] One remembers that picture in Carlyle, how thirty souls from the British village of Dumdrudge are brought face to face with thirty souls from a French Dumdrudge, after infinite effort. The word “Fire!” is given, and they blow the souls out of one another:

“Had these men any quarrel?” asks the Sartor. “Busy as the Devil is, not the smallest! They lived far enough apart–were the entirest strangers; nay, in so wide a Universe there was even, unconsciously, by Commerce, some mutual helpfulness between them. How then? Simpleton! their Governors had fallen out; and, instead of shooting one another, had the cunning to make these poor blockheads shoot.”

Slowly and dimly the Dumdrudges of the world–the peasants and artisans, the working people, the people who have most right to count–are beginning to recognise the absurdity of paying and dying for wars of which they know nothing, and in the quarrels of kings and ministers for whom they have neither reverence nor love. “What is the British Empire to me,” I heard a Whitechapel man say, “when I have to open the window before I get room to put on my trousers?” A section of the country was opposed to the Crimean War; a far larger section was opposed to the Boer War. Both were ridiculed, persecuted, and maltreated; but nearly everyone now admits that both were right. In the next unjust or unreasonable war the peace party will be stronger still. Something has thus been gained; but the greatest gain ever yet won for the cause of peace was the refusal of the Catalonian reservists to serve in the war against the Riff mountaineers of Morocco in July 1909. “Risk our lives and the subsistence of our little families to secure dividends for shareholders in mining concessions illegally inveigled from a semi-savage chieftain? Never! We will raise hell rather, and die in revolution upon our native streets.” So Barcelona flared to heaven, and for nearly a week the people held the vast city. I have seen many noble, as well as many terrible, events, but none more noble or of finer promise for mankind than the sudden uprising of the Catalan working people against a dastardly and inglorious war, waged for the benefit of a few speculators in Paris and Madrid. Ferrer had no direct part in that rising; his only part lay in sowing the seed of freedom by his writings. It was a pity he had no other part. He lost an opportunity such as comes in few men’s lives–and he was executed just the same.[18]

The event was small and brief, but it was one of the most significant in modern times. If the working classes refuse to fight, what will the kings, ministers, speculators, and contractors do? Will they go out to fight each other? Then, indeed, warfare would become a blessing undisguised, and we could freely join the poet in calling carnage God’s daughter. When I was a child I drew up a scheme for a vast British army recruited from our lunatic asylums. With lunatic soldiers, as I explained to my mother, the heavier our losses, the greater would be our gain. It seems to me still a promising idea. But an army recruited from kings, lords, Cabinet Ministers, Members of Parliament, speculators, contractors, and officials–the people who are the primary originators of our wars–would have even greater advantages, and the losses in battle would be balanced by still greater compensations.

The Barcelona rising was, indeed, full of promise. It marked the gradual approach of a time when the working-people, who always supply most of the men to be killed in war, will refuse to fight for the ruling classes, as they would now refuse to fight for dynasties. If they refuse to fight in the ordinary Government wars, either war will cease, or it will rise to the higher stage of war between class and class. It will become either civil war–the most terrible and difficult, but the finest kind of war, because some principle of the highest value must be at stake before civil war can arise; or it will become a combined war of the classes in various countries between whom there is a feeling of sympathy and common interest. That would take the form of a civil war extended throughout Europe, and perhaps America and the highly-developed parts of Asia. The allied forces in the various countries would then strike where the need was greatest, the French or English army corps of working-men going to the assistance of Russian or German working-men against the forces of despotism or capital. But a social war on that scale, however desirable, is like the Spanish fleet in the _Critic_–it is not yet in sight. The growing perfection of modern arms gives too enormous an advantage to established forces. The movement is much more likely to take the Barcelona form of refusal to fight; and if the peoples of Europe could combine in that determination, the effect would be irresistible. This international movement is, in fact, very slowly, growing. The telegraph, the railway, cheap tickets, Cook’s tours, the power of reading, and even the peculiar language taught as French in our schools, combine to wear away the hostility of peoples. The “beastly foreigner” is almost extinct. The man who has been for a week in Germany, or for a trip to lovely Lucerne, feels a reflected glory in saying those foreigners are not so bad. There was a fine old song with a refrain, “He’s a good ‘un when you know him, but you’ve got to know him first.” Well, we are getting to know the foreigner whom we once called “beastly.”

Ultimately the best, the only hope for peace lies in the determination of the peoples not to do anything so silly as to settle the quarrels of their rulers by killing each other. But then come the deeper questions: Do people love peace? Do they hate war? Would the total abolition of war be a good thing for the world? After a lengthy period of peace there usually arises a craving for battle. Nearly fifty years of peace followed the defeat of the Persians in Greece, and at the end of that time, just before the Peloponnesian War, which was to bring ruin on the country, Thucydides tells us that all Greece, being ignorant of the realities of war, stood a-tiptoe with excitement. It was the same in England just before our disastrous South African War, when readers of Kipling glutted themselves with imaginary slaughter, and Henley cried to our country that her whelps wanted blooding. In England this martial spirit was more violent than in Greece, because, when war actually came, the Greeks were themselves exposed to all its horrors and sufferings, but in England the bloodthirsty mind could enjoy the conflict in a suburban train with a half-penny paper. As in bull-fights or gladiatorial shows, the spectators watched the expensive but entertaining scene of blood and death from a safe and comfortable distance. They gave the cash and let the credit go; they thoroughly appreciated the rumble of a distant drum. “Blood! blood!” they cried. “Give us more blood to make our own blood circulate more agreeably under our unbroken skins!” Christianity joined in the cry through the mouths of its best accredited representatives. As at the Crucifixion it is written, “On that day Herod and Pilate were friends,” so on the outbreak of a singularly unjust, avaricious, and cruel war, the Christian Churches of England displayed for the first and last time some signs of unity. Canterbury and Armagh kissed each other, and the City Temple applauded the embraces of unrighteousness and war. Dean Farrar of Canterbury, concluding his glorification of the hell which I then saw enacted in South Africa, quoted with heartfelt approval the Archbishop of Armagh’s poem:–

“And, as I note how nobly natures form Under the war’s red rain, I deem it true That He who made the earthquake and the storm Perhaps makes battles too.

Thus as the heaven’s many-coloured flames At sunset are but dust in rich disguise, The ascending earthquake-dust of battle frames God’s picture in the skies.”[19]

We are no longer compelled to regard the dogmas of Christianity or the opinions of eminent Christians as authoritative. The appeal to Christianity, which used to be regarded as decisive in favour of peace, is no longer decisive one way or other. Christ’s own teaching is submitted to critical examination like any other teacher’s, and I should be the last to decry the representatives of the Prince of Peace for acclaiming the virtues of war, if they think their Master was mistaken. When bishops and deans and leading Nonconformists thirst for war’s red rain, we must take account of their craving as part of man’s nature. We must remember also that war has popular elements sometimes overlooked in its general horror. It is believed that in the American Civil War nearly a million men lost their lives; but against this loss we must set the peculiar longevity with which the survivors have been endowed, and the increasing number of heroes who enjoyed the State’s reward for their services of fifty years before. Even during the South African War certain compensations were found. A charitable lady went on a visit of condolence to a poor woman whose husband’s name had just appeared in the list of the killed at Spion Kop. “Ah, Mum,” exclaimed the widow with feeling, “you don’t know how many happy homes this war has made!”

Before we absolutely condemn war we must take account of these religious, medicinal, and domestic considerations. On the side of peace I think it is of little avail to plead the horrors and unreason of war. We all know how horrible and silly it is for two countries to pretend to settle a dispute by ordering large numbers of innocent men to kill each other. If horrors would stop it, anyone who has known war could a tale unfold surpassing all that the ghost of Hamlet’s father had seen in hell. There are sights on a battlefield under shell-fire, and in a country devastated by troops, so horrible that even war correspondents have silently agreed to leave them undescribed. But the truth is that people who are not present in war enjoy the horror. That is what they like reading about in their back-gardens, clubs, and city offices. The more you talk of the horrors of war the more warlike they become, and I have met no one quite so bloodthirsty as the warrior of peace. Nor is it any good pleading for reason when about ninety-nine per cent. of every man’s motives are not reasonable, but spring from passion, taste, or interest. The appeal even to expense falls flat in a country like ours, where about 200,000 horses, valued at L12,000,000, and maintained at a charge of L8,000,000 a year, are kept entirely for the pursuit of foxes, which are preserved alive at great cost in order that they may be pursued to death.[20] Protests against the horrors, the unreason, and even the expense of war have hitherto had very small effect.

The real argument in favour of war welcomes horror, defies reason, and disregards expense. There are certain military qualities and aspects of life, it says, that are worth preserving at the cost of all the horror, unreason, and waste of war. The stern military character, brave but tender, is a type of human nature for which we cannot pay too much. Consider physical courage alone, how valuable it is, and how rare. With what speed the citizen runs at the first glimpse of danger! With what pleasure or shamefaced cowardice citizens look on while women are being violently and indecently assaulted when attempting to vindicate their political rights! How gladly everyone shouts with the largest crowd! Consider how many noble actions men leave undone through fear of being hurt or killed. “Dogs! would you live for ever?” cried Frederick the Great to his soldiers, in defeat; and most of us would certainly answer: “Yes, we would, if you please!” Only through war, or the training for war, says the argument, can this loathly cowardice be kept in check. Only by war can the spirit be maintained that redeems the world from sinking into a Pigs’ Paradise. Only in the expectation or reality of war can life be kept sweet, strong, and at its height. War is life in extremes; it is worth preserving even for its discipline and training.

“Manhood training [said Mr. Garvin, editor of the _Observer_, in the issue of January 22, 1911]–manhood training has become the basis of public life, not only in every great European State, but in young democratic countries, like Australia and South Africa. ‘One vote, one rifle,’ says ex-President Steyn…. As a means of developing the physical efficiency of whole nations, of increasing their patriotic cohesion, of implanting in individuals the sense of political reality and responsibility, no substitute for manhood training has yet been discovered.”

This kind of argument implies despair of perpetual, or even of long-continued, peace. It is true that those who advocate a national training of all our manhood for war generally urge upon us that it is the best security for peace. In the same way, peaceful Anarchists might plead that they maintained several enormous bomb-factories in order to impress upon rulers the advantages of freedom. But if peace were the real and only object of Conscription, and if Conscription precluded the probability of war, military training, after some years, would almost certainly decline, and its supposed advantages would be lost. When you breed game-cocks, they will fight; but if you forbid cock-fighting, the breed will decline. You cannot have training for war without the expectation of war. For many years I was a strong advocate of national service, even though I knew it would never be adopted in this country until we had seen the realities of war in our very midst, and had sat in morning trains to the City stopped by the enemy’s batteries outside Liverpool Street and London Bridge. I also foresaw the extreme difficulty of enforcing military training upon Quakers, the Salvation Army, the Peace Society, and many Nonconformists and Rationalists. Nevertheless, twenty-five years ago I advocated Conscription in a carefully-reasoned article that appeared in Mr. Stead’s _Pall Mall Gazette_. It was received with a howl of rage and derision by both parties in the State, and by all newspapers that noticed it at all. It is significant–perhaps terribly significant–that it would not be received with derision now, but that nearly the whole of one party and the great majority of newspapers would welcome it only too gladly.

It seemed to me at that time–and it seems to me still–one of the most horrible things in modern British life that we bribe the unemployed, that we compel them by fear of starvation, to do our killing and dying for us. I have passed more men into the army, probably, than any recruiting sergeant, and I have never known a man who wished to recruit unless he was unemployed. The Recruiting Report issued by the War Office for 1911 shows ninety per cent. of the recruits “out of work.” I should have put the percentage still higher. But when you next see a full company of a hundred soldiers, and reflect that ninety of them have been persuaded to kill and die for you simply through fear of starvation under our country’s social system–I say, whether you seek peace or admire war, the thought is horrible; it is hardly to be endured.

To wipe out this hideous shame, to put ourselves all in one boat, and, if war is licensed murder, at all events to share the murder that we license, and not to starve the poor into criminals for our own relief, perhaps Conscription would not be too high a price to pay. Other advantages are more obvious–the physical advantage of two years’ regular food and healthy air and exercise for rich and poor alike, the social advantage of the mixture of all classes in the ranks, the moral advantage of giving the effeminate sons of luxury a stern and bitter time. For all this we would willingly pay a very heavy price. I would pay almost any price.

But should we pay the price of compulsion? That is the only price that makes me hesitate. I used to cherish a frail belief in discipline and obedience to authority and the State. My belief in discipline is still alive–discipline in the sense of entire mutual confidence between comrades fighting for the same cause; but I have come to regard obedience to external authority as one of the most dangerous virtues. I doubt if any possible advantage could balance an increase of that danger; and every form of military life is almost certain to increase it. To me the chief peril of our time is the growing power of the State, its growing interference in personal opinion and personal life, the intrusion of an inhuman being called an expert or official into the most intimate, inexplicable, and changing affairs of our lives and souls, and the arrogant social legislation of a secret and self-appointed Cabal or Cabinet, which refuses even to consult the wishes of that half of the population which social restrictions touch most nearly. If general military service would tend to increase respect and obedience to external authority of this kind, it might be too big a price to pay for all its other advantages. And I do think it would tend to increase that abhorrent virtue of indiscriminate obedience. Put a man in uniform, and ten to one he will shoot his mother, if you order him. Yet the shame of our present enlistment by hunger is so overwhelming that I confess I still hesitate between the two systems, if we must assume that the continuance of war is inevitable, or to be desired.

Is it inevitable? Is it to be desired? If it were dying out in the world, should we make efforts to preserve war artificially, as we preserve sport, which would die out unless we maintained it at great expense? The sportsman is an amateur butcher–a butcher for love. Ought we to maintain soldiers for love–for fear of losing the advantages of war? Those advantages are thought considerable. War has inspired much art and much literature. It is the background or foreground in nearly all history; it sheds a gleam of uniforms and romance upon a drab world; it delivers us from the horrors of peace–the softness, the monotony, the sensual corruption, the enfeebling relaxation. No one desires a population slack of nerve, soft of body, cruel through fear of pain, and incapable of endurance or high endeavour.

“It is a calumny on men,” said Carlyle, “to say they are roused to heroic action by ease, hope of pleasure, recompense in this world or the next. Difficulty, abnegation, martyrdom, death, are the allurements that act on the heart of man.”[21]

At times war appears as a kind of Last Judgment, sentencing folly and sensuality to hell. The shame of France was consumed by the fire of 1870, and her true genius was restored. Abominable as the Boer War was, the mind of England was less pestilential after it than before. Passion purifies, and surely there can be no passion stronger than one which drives you to kill or die.

The trouble is that, in modern wars, passion does not drive _you_, but you drive someone else, who probably feels no passion at all. It is thought a reproach against an unwarlike soldier that “he has never seen a shot fired in anger.” But in these days he might have been through many battles without seeing a shot fired in anger. Except in the Balkans, few fire in anger now. What passion can an unemployed workman feel when he is firing at an invisible unemployed workman or semi-savage in the interest of a mining concession? Nor is it true that war in these days encourages eugenics by promoting the survival of the fittest. On the contrary, the fittest, the bravest, and the biggest are the most likely to be killed. The smallest, the cowards, the men who get behind stones and stick there, will probably survive. And as to the dangers of effeminate peace, it is only the very small circle of the rich, the overfed, the over-educated, and the over-sensitive who are exposed to them. There is no present fear of the working classes becoming too soft. The molten iron, the flaming mine, the whirling machine, the engulfing sea, and hunger always at the door take care of that. Every working man lives in perpetual danger. Compared to him, and compared to any woman in childbirth, a soldier is secure, even under fire. The daily peril, the daily toil, the fear for the daily bread harden most working men and women enough, and for that very reason we should welcome the fine suggestion of Professor William James–his last great service–that the rich and highly educated should pass through a conscription of labour side by side with the working classes, who would heartily enjoy the sight of young dukes, capitalists, barristers, and curates toiling in the stokeholes, coal-mines, factories, and fishing-fleets, to the incalculable advantage of their souls and bodies.

So the balance swings this way and that, and neither scale will definitely settle down. It is very likely that the bias of temperament makes us incapable of decision. What is called the personal equation holds the two scales of our minds painfully equal, and while we meditate perpetual peace we suddenly hear the trumpet blowing. In many of us a primitive instinct survives which blinds and warps the reason, and calls us like a bugle to the silly and atrocious field. For the immediate future, I can only hope, as I confidently believe, that the present age of capitalist war will pass, as the age of dynastic war has passed, for ever into the inferno where slavery and religious persecution now lie burning, though they seemed so natural and strong. I think it will not much longer be possible to fool the working classes into wars for concessions or the extension of empires. I believe that already the peoples of the greatest countries are awakening to the folly of entrusting their foreign politics, involving questions of peace and war, to the guidance of rulers, Ministers, and diplomatists who serve the interests of their own class, and have no knowledge or care for the desires or interests of the vast populations beneath them. I look forward to the time when the extreme arbitrament of war will be resorted to mainly in the form of civil or class contentions, involving one or other of the noblest and most profound principles of human existence. Or if war is to be international, we may hope that the finest peoples of the world will resolve only to declare it in defence of the threatened independence of some small but gallant race, or for the assistance of rebel peoples in revolt for freedom against an intolerable tyranny.

I suppose a man’s truest happiness lies in the keenest energy, the conquest of difficulties, the highest fulfilment of his own nature; and I think it possible that, under the conditions of our existence as men, the finest happiness–the happiness of ecstasy–can only exist against a very dark background, or in quick succession after extreme toil and danger. It can only blaze like lightning against the thunder-cloud, or like the sun’s radiance after storm. For most of us other perils or disasters or calls for energy supply that terrific background to joy; but it is none the less significant that most people who have shared in perilous and violent contests would, in retrospect, choose to omit any part of active and happy lives rather than the wars and revolutions in which they have been present, no matter how terrible the misery, the sickness, the hunger and thirst, the fear and danger, the loss of friends, the overwhelming horror, and even the defeat.

We must not take as argument a personal note that may sound only from a primitive and unregenerate mind. But when I look back upon the long travail of our race, it appears to me still impossible to adopt the peace position of non-resistance. As a matter of bare fact, in reviewing history would not all of us most desire to have chased the enslaving Persian host into the sea at Marathon, to have driven the Austrians back from the Swiss mountains, to have charged with Joan of Arc at Orleans, to have gone with Garibaldi and his Thousand to the wild redemption of Sicily’s freedom, to have severed the invader’s sinews with De Wet, to have shaken an ancient tyranny with the Russian revolutionists, or to have cleaned up the Sultan’s shambles with the Young Turks? Probably there is no man or woman who would not choose scenes and actions like those, if the choice were offered. To very few do such opportunities come; but we must hold ourselves in daily readiness. We do well to extol peace, to confront the dangers, labour, and temptations of peace, and to hope for the general happiness of man in her continuance. But from time to time there come awful moments to which Heaven has joined great issues, when the fire kindles, the savage indignation tears the heart, and the soul, arising against some incarnate symbol of iniquity, exclaims, “By God, you shall not do that. I will kill you rather. I will rather die!”

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 7: An address delivered at South Place Institute in London on Moncure Conway’s birthday, March 17, 1911.]

[Footnote 8: Address on William Penn at Dickinson College, April 1907 (_Addresses and Reprints_, p. 415).]

[Footnote 9: _Ibid_., p. 411.]

[Footnote 10: _Autobiography_, vol. i. p. 239.]

[Footnote 11: _Ibid_., vol. i. p. 320.]

[Footnote 12: _Autobiography_, vol. i. p. 341 (from “The Rejected Stone”).]

[Footnote 13: _Autobiography_, vol. ii. pp. 453, 454.]

[Footnote 14: _Addresses and Reprints_, p. 432.]

[Footnote 15: Speech before the American International Arbitration Society, January 1911.]

[Footnote 16: See Mr. Hobson’s _Imperialism_ and _The Psychology of Jingoism_; Norman Angell’s _The Great Illusion_.]

[Footnote 17: “It is especially in the domain of war that we, the bearers of men’s bodies, who supply its most valuable munition, who, not amid the clamour and ardour of battle, but singly and alone, with a three-in-the-morning courage, shed our blood and face death that the battlefield may have its food–a food more precious to us than our heart’s blood; it is we especially who, in the domain of war, have our word to say–a word no man can say for us. It is our intention to enter into the domain of war, and to labour there till, in the course of generations, we have extinguished it”–Olive Schreiner’s _Woman and Labour_, p. 178.]

[Footnote 18: Of course, other causes combined for the Barcelona outbreak–hatred of the religious orders, chiefly economic, and the Catalonian hatred of Castile; but the refusal of reservists to embark for Melilla was the occasion and the main cause.]

[Footnote 19: Quoted in J.A. Hobson’s _Psychology of Jingoism_, p. 52.]

[Footnote 20: Figures from an article by Mr. Leonard Willoughby in the _Pall Mall Magazine_ for November 1910.]

[Footnote 21: _The Hero as Prophet_, p. 65.]

XXIV

THE MAID

From the early morning of Sunday, August 18, 1909, till evening came, the Square of St. Peter’s in Rome and the interior of the great basilica itself were thronged from end to end with worshippers and pilgrims. The scene was brilliant with innumerable lamps, with the robes of many cardinals and the vestments of bishops, archbishops, and all the ranks of priesthood. The ceremony of adding one more to the calendar of the Blessed was performed, a solemn “Te Deum” was sung in praise of God’s eternal greatness, and Pontifical Mass was celebrated, with all the splendour of ancient ritual and music of the grandest harmony. In the afternoon Christ’s Vicar himself entered from his palace, attended by fifteen cardinals, seventy of the archbishops and bishops of France, with an equal number of their rank from elsewhere, and, amid the gleaming lights of scarlet and gold, of green and violet, of jewels and holy flames, he prostrated himself before the figure of the Blessed One, to whom effectual prayer might now be offered even by the Head of the Church militant here on earth. Till late at night the vast cathedral was crowded with increasing multitudes assembled for the honour of one whom the Church which judges securely as the world, commanded them to revere.

It was a simple peasant girl–“just the simplest peasant you could ever see”–whom the Head of the Church thus worshipped and crowds delighted to honour. Short and deep-chested she was, capable of a man’s endurance, and with black hair cut like a boy’s. She could not write or read, was so ignorant as to astonish ladies, and had only the peasant arts. The earliest description tells of her “common red frock carefully patched.” “I could beat any woman in Rouen at spinning and stitching,” she said to her judges, who, to be sure, had no special knowledge of anything beyond theology. “I’m only a poor girl, and can’t ride or fight,” she said when first she conceived her mission, and she had just the common instincts of the working woman. We may suppose her fond of children, for wherever she went she held the newborn babies at the font. She hated death and cruelty. “The sight of French blood,” she said, “always makes my hair stand on end,” and even to the enemy she always offered peace. “Or, if you want to fight,” she sent a message to the Duke of Burgundy, “you might go and fight the Saracens.” She never killed anyone, she said at her trial. Just an ordinary peasant girl she seemed–“la plus simple bergerette qu’on veit onques”–with no apparent distinction but a sweet and attractive voice. To be sure, she could put that sweet voice to shrewd use when she pleased. “What tongue do your Visions speak?” a theologian kept asking her. “A better tongue than yours!” she answered with the retort of an open-air meeting. But in those days there were theologians who would try the patience of a saint, and Joan of Arc is not a saint even yet, having been only Beatified on that Sunday, nearly five centuries after her death.

And she was only nineteen when they burnt her. At least, she thought she was about nineteen, but was not quite sure. Few years had passed since she was a child dancing under the big trees which fairies haunted still. Her days of glory had lasted only a few months, and now she had lain week after week in prison, weighed down with chains and balls of iron, watched day and night by men in the cell, because she always claimed a prisoner’s right to escape if she could. Her trial before the Bishop of Beauvais and all the learning and theology of Paris University lasted nearly three months. Sometimes forty men were present, sometimes over sixty, for it was a remarkable case, and gave fine opportunity for the display of the superhuman knowledge and wisdom upon which divines exist. Human compassion they displayed also, hurrying away just before the burning began one May morning, and shedding tears of pity over the sins of one so young. Indeed, their preachings and exhortations to her whilst the stake and fire were being arranged continued so long that the rude English soldiers, so often deaf to the beauty of theology, asked whether they were going to be kept waiting there past dinner-time.

However, the verdict of divine and human law could never be really doubtful from the first, for the charges on which she was found guilty comprehended many grievous sins. The inscription placed over her head as she stood while the flames were being kindled declared this Joan, who called herself the Maid, to be a liar, a plague, a deceiver of the people, a sorceress, superstitious, a blasphemer of God, presumptuous, a misbeliever in the faith of Christ, a boaster, idolatress, cruel, dissolute, a witch of devils, apostate, schismatic, and heretic. It was a heavy crime-sheet for a mere girl, and there was no knowing into what a monster she might grow up. So the Bishop of Beauvais could not well hesitate in pronouncing the final sentence whereby, to avoid further infection to its members, this rotten limb, Joan, was cast out from the unity of the Church, torn from its body, and delivered to the secular power, with a request for moderation in the execution of the sentence. Accordingly she was burnt alive, and the Voices and Visions to which she had trusted did not save her from the agony of flames.

At first sight the contrast between these two scenes, enacted by the authority of the same Church, may appear a little bewildering. It might tempt us to criticise the consistency of ecclesiastic judgment, did we not know that in theology, as in metaphysics, extreme contradictions are capable of ultimate reconciliation. The Church’s attitude was, in fact, definitely fixed in January 1909 by the Papal proclamation declaring that the girl’s virtues were heroic and her miracles authentic. One can only regret that the discovery was not made sooner, in time to save her from the fire, when her clerical judges came to the very opposite conclusion. Yet we must not hastily condemn them for an error which, even apart from theological guidance, most of us laymen would probably have committed.

Let us for a moment imagine Joan herself appearing in the England of to-day on much the same mission. It is not difficult to picture the contempt, the derision, the ribaldry, with which she would be greeted. In nearly every point her reception would be the same as it was, except that fewer people would believe in her inspiration. We have only to read her trial, or even the account given in _Henry VI_, to know what we should say of her now. There would be the same reproaches of unwomanliness, the same reminders that a woman’s sphere is the home, the same plea that she should leave serious affairs to men, who, indeed, had carried them on so well that the whole country was tormented with perpetual panic of an enemy over sea. There would be the same taunts of immodesty, the same filthy songs. Since science has presumed to take the place of theology, we should talk about hysteria instead of witchcraft, and hallucination instead of demoniacal possession. Physiologists would expound her enthusiasm as functional disorder of the thyroid gland. Historians would draw parallels between her recurring Voices and the “tarantism” of the Middle Ages. Superior people would smile with polite curiosity. The vulgar would yell in crowds and throw filth in her face. The scenes of the fifteenth century in France would be exactly repeated, except that we should not actually burn her in Trafalgar Square. If she escaped the madhouse, the gaol and forcible feeding would be always ready.

So that we must not be hard on that theological conclave which made the mistake of burning a Blessed One alive. They were inspired by the highest motives, political and divine, and they made the fullest use of their knowledge of spiritual things. Being under divine direction, they could not allow any weak sentiment of pity or human consideration to influence their judgment. Their only error was in their failure to discern the authenticity of the girl’s miracles, and we must call that a venial error, since it has taken the Church nearly five centuries to give a final decision on the point. The authenticity of miracles! Of all questions that is the most difficult for a contemporary to decide. In the case of Joan’s judges, indeed, the solution of this mystery must have been almost impossible, unless they were gifted with prophecy; for most of her miracles were performed only after her death, or at least only then became known. And as to the bare facts they knew of her life–the realities that everyone might have seen or heard, and many thousands had shared in–there was nothing miraculous about them, nothing to detain the attention of theologians. They were natural events.

For a hundred years the country had been rent and devastated by foreign war. The enemy still clutched its very centre. The south-west quarter of the kingdom was his beyond question. By treaty his young king was heir to the whole. The land was depopulated by plague and impoverished by vain revolution. Continuous civil strife tore the people asunder, and the most powerful of the factions fought for the invader’s claim. Armies ate up the years like locusts, and there was no refuge for the poor, no preservation of wealth for men or honour for women. Even religion was distracted by schism, divided against herself into two, perhaps into three, conflicting churches. In the midst of the misery and tumult this girl appears, possessed by one thought only–the pity for her country. Modest beyond all common decency; most sensitive to pain, for it always made her cry; conscious, as she said, that in battle she ran as much risk of being killed as anyone else, she rode among men as one of themselves, bareheaded, swinging her axe, charging with her standard which all must follow, heartening her countrymen for the cause of France, striking the invading enemy with the terrors of a spirit. Just a clear-witted, womanly girl, except that her cause had driven fear from her heart, and occupied all her soul, to the exclusion of lesser things. “Pity she isn’t an Englishwoman!” said one of the enemy who was near her after a battle, and he meant it for the most delicate praise. In a few months she changed the face of her country, revived the hope, inspired the courage, rekindled the belief, re-established the unity, staggered the invader with a blow in the heart, and crowned her king as the symbol of national glory. Within a few months she had set France upon the assured road to future greatness. Little over twenty years after they burnt her there was hardly a trace of foreign foot upon French soil.

It was all quite natural, of course. The theologians who condemned her to death, and those who have now raised her to Beatitude, were concerned with the authenticity of her miracles, and there is nothing miraculous in thus raising a nation from the dead. Considering the difficulty of their task, we may forgive the clergy some apparent inconsistency in their treatment. But for myself, as a mere layman, I should be content to call any human being Blessed for the natural magic of such a history; and compared with that deed of hers, I would not turn my head to witness the most astonishing miracle ever performed in all the records of the saints.

XXV

THE HEROINE

It is strange to think that up to August of 1910, a woman was alive who had won the highest fame many years before most people now living were born. To remember her is like turning the pages of an illustrated newspaper half-a-century old. Again we see the men with long and pointed whiskers, the women with ballooning skirts, bag nets for the hair, and little bonnets or porkpie hats, a feather raking fore and aft. Those were the years when Gladstone was still a subordinate statesman, earning credit for finance, Dickens was writing _Hard Times_, Carlyle was beginning his _Frederick_, Ruskin was at work on _Modern Painters_, Browning composing his _Men and Women_, Thackeray publishing _The Newcomes_, George Eliot wondering whether she was capable of imagination. It all seems very long ago since that October night when that woman sailed for Boulogne with her thirty-eight chosen nurses on the way to Scutari. I suppose that never in the world’s history has the change in thought and manners been so rapid and far-reaching as in the two generations that have arisen in our country since that night. And it is certain that Florence Nightingale, when she embarked without fuss in the packet, was quite unconscious how much she was contributing to so vast a transformation.

One memory almost alone still keeps a familiar air, suggesting something that lies perhaps permanently at the basis of man’s nature. The present-day detractors of all things new, of every step in advance, every breach in routine, every promise of emancipation, and every departure from the commonplace, would feel themselves quite at home among the evil tongues that spewed their venom upon a courageous and noble-hearted woman. They would recognise as akin to themselves the calumny, scandal, ridicule, and malignity with which their natural predecessors pursued her from the moment that she took up her heroic task to the time when her glory stilled their filthy breath. She went under Government direction; the Queen mentioned her with interest in a letter; even the _Times_ supported her, for in those days the _Times_ frequently stood as champion for some noble cause, and its own correspondent, William Russell, had himself first made the suggestion that led to her departure. But neither the Queen, the Government, nor the _Times_ could silence the born backbiters of greatness. Cowards, startled at the sight of courage, were alert with jealousy. Pleasure-seekers, stung in the midst of comfort, sniffed with depreciation. Culture, in pursuit of prettiness, passed by with artistic indifference. The narrow mind attributed motives and designs. The snake of disguised concupiscence sounded its rattle. That refined and respectable women should go on such an errand–how could propriety endure it? No lady could thus expose herself without the loss of feminine bloom. If decent women took to this kind of service, where would the charm of womanhood be fled? “They are impelled by vanity, and seek the notoriety of scandal,” said the envious. “None of them will stand the mere labour of it for a month, if we know anything,” said the physiologists. “They will run at the first rat,” said masculine wit. “Let them stay at home and nurse babies,” cried the suburbs. “These Nightingales will in due time become ringdoves,” sneered _Punch_.

With all that sort of thing we are familiar, and every age has known it. The shifts to which the _Times_ was driven in defence show the nature of the assaults:

“Young,” it wrote of Florence Nightingale, “young (about the age of our Queen), graceful, feminine, rich, popular, she holds a singularly gentle and persuasive influence over all with whom she comes in contact. Her friends and acquaintance are of all classes and persuasions, but her happiest place is at home, in the centre of a very large band of accomplished relatives, and in simplest obedience to her admiring parents.”

“About the age of our Queen,” “rich,” “feminine,” “happiest at home,” “with accomplished relatives,” and “simply obedient to her parents,” she being then thirty-five–those were the points that the _Times_ knew would weigh most in answer to her accusers. With all that sort of thing, as I said, we are familiar still; but there was one additional line of abuse that has at last become obsolete. For weeks after her arrival at Scutari, the papers rang with controversy over her religious beliefs. She had taken Romish Sisters with her; she had been partly trained in a convent. She was a Papist in disguise, they cried; her purpose was to clutch the dying soldier’s spirit and send it to a non-existent Purgatory, instead of to the Hell it probably deserved. She was the incarnation of the Scarlet Woman; she was worse, she was a Puseyite, a traitor in the camp of England’s decent Church. “No,” cried the others, “she is worse even than a Puseyite. She is a Unitarian; it is doubtful whether her father’s belief in the Athanasian Creed is intelligent and sincere.” Finally, the climax in her iniquities of mind and conduct reached its height and she was publicly denounced as a Supralapsarian. I doubt whether, at the present day, the coward’s horror at the sight of courage, the politician’s alarm at the sound of principle, or envy’s utmost malignity would go so far as to call a woman that.

I dwell on the opposition and abuse that beset Florence Nightingale’s undertaking, because they are pleasanter and more instructive than the sentimentality into which her detractors converted their abuse when her achievement was publicly glorified. It is significant that, in its minute account of the Crimean War, the _Annual Register_ of the time appears to have made no mention of her till the war was over and she had received a jewel from the Queen. Then it uttered its little complaint that “the gentler sex seems altogether excluded from public reward.” Well, it is matter for small regret that a great woman should not be offered such titles as are bestowed upon the failures in Cabinets, the contributors to party funds, and the party traitors whom it is hoped to restrain from treachery. But whether a peerage would have honoured her or not, there is no question of the disservice done to the truth of her character by those whose sentimental titles of “Lady with the Lamp,” “Leader of the Angel Band,” “Queen of the Gracious Dynasty,” “Ministering angel, thou!” and all the rest of it have created an ideal as false as it is mawkish. Did the sentimentalists, at first so horrified at her action, really suppose that the service which in the end they were compelled to admire could ever have been accomplished by a soft and maudlin being such as their imagination created, all brimming eyes and heartfelt sighs, angelic draperies and white-winged shadows that hairy soldiers turned to kiss?

To those who have read her books and the letters written to her by one of the sanest and least ecstatic men of her day, or have conversed with people who knew her well, it is evident that Florence Nightingale was at no point like that. Her temptations led to love of mastery and impatience with fools. Like all great organisers, quick and practical in determination, she found extreme difficulty in suffering fools gladly. To relieve her irritation at their folly, she used to write her private opinions of their value on the blotting-paper while they chattered. It was not for angelic sympathy or enthusiasm that Sidney Herbert chose her in his famous invitation, but for “administrative capacity and experience.” Those were the real secrets of her great accomplishment, and one remembers her own scorn of “the commonly received idea that it requires nothing but a disappointment in love, or incapacity for other things, to turn a woman into a good nurse.” It was a practical and organising power for getting things done that distinguished the remarkable women of the last century, and perhaps of all ages, far more than the soft and sugary qualities which sentimentality has delighted to plaster on its ideal of womanhood, while it talks its pretty nonsense about chivalry and the weakness of woman being her strength. As instances, one could recall Elizabeth Fry, Sister Dora, Josephine Butler, Mary Kingsley, Octavia Hill, Dr. Garrett Anderson, Mrs. F.G. Hogg (whose labour secured the Employment of Children Act and the Children’s Courts), and a crowd more in education, medicine, natural science, and political life. But, indeed, we need only point to Queen Victoria herself, her strong but narrow nature torn by the false ideal which made her protest that no good woman was fit to reign, while all the time she was reigning with a persistent industry, a mastery of detail, and a truthfulness of dealing rare among any rulers, and at intervals illuminated by sudden glory.

“Woman is the practical sex,” said George Meredith, almost with over-emphasis, and certainly the saying was true of Florence Nightingale. In far the best appreciation of her that has appeared–an appreciation written by Harriet Martineau, who herself died about forty years ago–that distinguished woman says: “She effected two great things–a mighty reform in the cure of the sick, and an opening for her sex into the region of serious business.” The reform of hospital life and sick nursing, whether military or civil, is near fulfilment now, and it is hard to imagine such a scene as those Scutari wards where, in William Russell’s words, the sick were tended by the sick and the dying by the dying, while rats fed upon the corpses and the filth could not be described. But though her other and much greater service is, owing to its very magnitude, still far from fulfilment, it is perhaps even harder for us to imagine the network of custom, prejudice, and sentiment through which she forced the opening of which Harriet Martineau speaks.

XXVI

THE PENALTY OF VIRTUE

His crime was that he actually married the girl. It had always been the fashion for an Austrian Archduke to keep an opera-dancer, whether he liked it or not, just as he always kept a racehorse, even though he cared nothing about racing. For any scion of the Imperial House she was a necessary part of the surroundings, an item in the entourage of Court. He maintained her just as our Royal Family pay subscriptions to charities, or lay the foundation-stone of a church. It was expected of him. _Noblesse oblige_. Descent from the House of Hapsburg involves its duties as well as its rights. The opera-dancer was as essential to Archducal existence as the seventy-seventh quartering on the Hapsburg arms. She was the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual Imperialness. She justified the title of “Transparency.” She was the mark of true heredity, like the Hapsburg lip. As the advertisements say, no Archduke should be without one.

But really to love an opera-dancer was a scandal for derision, moving all the Courts of the Empire to scorn. Actually to marry her was a crime beyond forgiveness. It shook the Throne. It came very near the sin of treason, for which the penalties prescribed may hardly be whispered in polite ears. To mingle the Imperial blood with a creature born without a title, and to demand human and divine sanction for the deed! It brought a blush to the cheek of heraldry. What of the possible results of a union with a being from the stage? Only if illegitimate, could such results legitimately be recognised; only if ignoble in the eyes of morality, could they be received without censure among the nobility. It was not fair to put all one’s Imperial relations, to say nothing of the Court officials, the Lord High Chamberlain, the Keepers of the Pedigree, the Diamond Sticks in Waiting, the Grooms of the Bedchamber, and the Valets Extraordinary–it was not fair to put their poor brains into such a quandary of contradiction and perplexity. And who shall tell the divine wrath of that august figure, obscurely visible in the recesses of ancestral homes, upon whose brow had descended the diadem of Roman Emperors, the crown of Christ’s Vicar in things terrestrial, and who, when he was not actually wearing the symbol of Imperial supremacy, enjoyed the absolute right to assume the regalia of eight kingdoms in turn, including the sacred kingdom of Jerusalem, and possessed forty-three other titles to pre-eminent nobility, not counting the etceteras with which each separate string of titles was concluded? Who, without profanity, shall tell his wrath?

It was the Archduke Johann Salvator of Austria, head of the Tuscan branch of the House of Hapsburg, who confronted in his own person that Imperial wrath, and committed the inexpiable crime of marriage. It is true that he was not entirely to blame. He did not succumb without a struggle, and his efforts to resist the temptation to legality appear to have been sincere. Indeed, as has so often happened since the days of Eve, it was chiefly the woman’s fault. He honestly endeavoured to make her his mistress, in accordance with all Archducal precedent, but she persistently, nay, obstinately, refused the honour of Imperial shame. With a rigidity that in other circumstances might, perhaps, have been commended, but, in relation to an Archduke, can only be described as designing, she insisted upon marriage. She was but Fraulein Milli Stubel, light-skirted dancer at the Court Opera-House, but, with unexampled hardihood, she maintained her headlong course along the criminal path of virtue. What could a man do when exposed to temptation so severe?

The Archduke was in love, and love is an incalculable force, driving all of us at times irresistibly to deeds of civil and ecclesiastical wedlock. He was a soldier, a good soldier, in itself an unusual and suspicious characteristic in one of the Hapsburg blood. He was a musician and a man of culture–qualities that, in a prince, must be taken as dangerous indications of an unbalanced mind. He was an intimate friend of the Crown Prince Rudolph, that bewildering personality, whose own fate was so unhappy, so obscure. Skill in war, intelligence, knowledge, friendship all marked him out as a man only too likely to bring discredit on Archducal tradition. His peers in birth shook their heads, and muttered the German synonym for “crank.” Worse than all, he was in love–in love with a woman of dangerous virtue. What could such a man do against temptation? Struggle as he might, he could not long repel the seductive advances of honourable action. He loved, he fell, he married.

In London, of all places, this crime against all the natural dictates of Society was ultimately perpetrated. We do not know what church lent itself to the deed, or what hotel gave shelter to the culprits’ shame. By hunting up the marriage register of Johann Orth (to such shifts may an Archduke be reduced in the pursuit of virtue), one might, perhaps, discover the name of the officiating clergyman, and we can confidently assume he will not be found upon the bench of Bishops. But it is all many years ago now, and directly after the marriage, as though in the vain hope of concealing every trace of his offence, Johann Orth purchased a little German ship, which he called by the symbolic name of _Santa Margherita_–for St. Margaret suffered martyrdom for the sin of rejecting a ruler’s dishonourable proposals–and so they sailed for South America. By what means the wedded fugitives purposed there to support their guiltless passion, is uncertain. But we know that they arrived, that the captain gave himself out as ill, and left the ship, together with most of the crew, no doubt in apprehension of divine vengeance, if they should seem any longer to participate in the breach of royal etiquette. We further know that, in July 1890, the legal lovers sailed from Buenos Ayres, with a fresh crew, the Archduke himself in command, and were never heard of more.

An Austrian cruiser was sent to search the coasts, in vain. No letters came; no ship has ever hailed the vessel of their iniquity. The insurance companies have long paid the claims upon the Archduke’s premiums for his life, and that fact alone is almost as desirable an evidence as a death-certificate to his heir. But one Sunday in July 1910, the Imperial Court of Austria also issued an edict to appear simultaneously in the chief official gazettes of the habitable globe, declaring that, unless within six months further particulars were supplied concerning one, namely, the Archduke Johann Salvator, of the House of Austria and Tuscany, otherwise and hereinafter known as Johann Orth, master mariner, and concerning his alleged decease, together with that of one Milli Orth, _nee_ Stubel, his reputed accomplice in matrimony, the property, estates, effects, titles, jewels, family vaults, and other goods of the aforesaid Johann Orth, should forthwith and therewithal pass into the possession of the Archduke Joseph Ferdinand, nephew and presumptive heir of the aforesaid Johann Orth, to the estimated value of L150,000 sterling, in excess or defect thereof as the case might be, it being thereafter presumed that the aforesaid Johann Orth, together with the aforesaid Milli Orth, his reputed accomplice in matrimony, did meet or encounter their death upon the high seas by the act or other intervention of God.

Oh, never believe it! There is an unsuspected island in untravelled seas. Like the island of Tirnanog, which is the Irish land of eternal youth, it lies below the sunset, brighter than the island-valley of Avilion:

“Where falls not hail, or rain, or any snow, Nor ever wind blows loudly; but it lies Deep-meadow’d, happy, fair with orchard lawns And bowery hollows crown’d with summer sea.”

To that island have those star-like lovers fared, since they gave the world and all its Imperial Courts the slip. There they have discovered an innocent and lovely race, adorned only with shells and the flowers of hibiscus; and, intermingled with that race, in accordance with indigenous marriage ceremonies, the crew of the _Santa Margherita_ now rear a dusky brood. In her last extant letter, addressed to the leader of the _corps de ballet_ at the Ring Theatre in Vienna, Madame Milli Orth herself hinted at a No-Man’s Land, which they were seeking as the home of their future happiness. They have found it now, having trodden the golden path of rays. There palls not wealth, or state, or any rank, nor ever Court snores loudly, but men and women meet each evening to discuss the next day’s occupation, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer collects the unearned increment in the form of the shell called Venus’ ear. For a time, indeed, Johann Orth attempted to maintain a kind of kingship, on the strength of his superior pedigree. But when a democratic cabin-boy one day turned and told him to stow his Hapsburg lip, the beautiful ex-opera-dancer burst out laughing, and Johann agreed in future to be called Archduke only on Sundays. With their eldest son, now a fine young man coming to maturity, the title is expected to expire.

XXVII

“THE DAILY ROUND, THE COMMON TASK”

Mr. Clarkson, of the Education Office, was enjoying his breakfast with his accustomed equanimity and leisure. Having skimmed the Literary Supplement of the _Times_, and recalled a phrase from a symphony on his piano, he began opening his letters. But at the third he paused in sudden perplexity, holding his coffee-cup half raised. After a while the brightness of adventurous decision came into his eyes, and he set the cup down, almost too violently, on the saucer.

“I’ll do it!” he cried, with the resolute air of an explorer contemplating the Antarctic. “The world is too much with me. I will recover my true personality in the wilderness. I will commune with my own heart and be still!”

He rang the bell hurriedly, lest his purpose should weaken.

“Oh, Mrs. Wilson,” he said carelessly, “I am going away for a few days.”

“Visiting at some gentleman’s seat to shoot the gamebirds, I make no doubt,” answered the landlady.

“Why, no; not precisely that,” said Mr. Clarkson. “The fact is, Mr. Davies, a literary friend of mine–quite the best authority on Jacobean verse–offers me his house, just by way of a joke. The house will be empty, and he says he only wants me to defend his notes on the _History of the Masque_ from burglary. I shall take him at his word.”

“You alone in a house, sir? There’s a thing!” exclaimed the landlady.

“A thing to be thankful for,” Mr. Clarkson replied. “George Sand always longed to inhabit an empty house.”

“Mr. Sand’s neither here nor there,” answered the landlady firmly. “But you’re not fit, sir, begging your pardon. Unless a person comes in the morning to do for you.”

“I shall prefer complete solitude,” said Mr. Clarkson. “The calm of the uninterrupted morning has for me the greatest attraction.”

“You’ll excuse me mentioning such things,” she continued, “but there’s the washing-up and bed-making.”

“Excellent athletic exercises!” cried Mr. Clarkson. “In Xenophon’s charming picture of married life we see the model husband instructing the young wife to leave off painting and adorning herself, and to seek the true beauty of health and strength by housework and turning beds.”

“There’s many on us had ought to be beauties, then, without paint nor yet powder,” said the landlady, turning away with a little sigh. And when Mr. Clarkson drove off that evening with his bag, she stood by the railings and said to the lady next door: “There goes my gentleman, and him no more fit to do for hisself than a babe unborn, and no more idea of cooking than a crocodile!”

The question of cooking did not occur to Mr. Clarkson till he had entered the semi-detached suburban residence with his friend’s latchkey, groped about for the electric lights, and discovered there was nothing to eat in the house, whereas he was accustomed to a biscuit or two and a little whisky and soda before going to bed.

“Never mind,” he thought. “Enterprise implies sacrifice, and hunger will be a new experience. I can buy something for breakfast in the morning.”

So he spent a placid hour in reading the titles of his friend’s books, and then retired to the bedroom prepared for him.

He woke in the morning with a sense of profound tranquillity, and thought with admiration of the Dean of his College, whose one rule of life was never to allow anyone to call him. “This is worth a little subsequent trouble, if, indeed, trouble is involved,” he murmured to himself, as he turned over and settled down to sleep again. But hardly had he dozed off when he was startled by an aggressive double-knock at the front door. He hoped it would not recur; but it did recur, and was accompanied by prolonged ringing of an electric bell. Feeling that his peace was broken, he put on his slippers and crept downstairs.

“What do you want?” he said at the door.

“Post,” came a voice. Undoing the bolts, he put out a naked arm. “Even if you are the post,” he remarked, “you need not sound the Last Trumpet!”

“Davies,” said the postman, crammed a bundle of proofs into the expectant hand, and departed.

Mr. Clarkson turned into the kitchen. It presented a rather dreary aspect. The range and fire-irons looked as though they had been out all night. The grate was piled with ashes, like a crater.

“No wonder,” said Mr. Clarkson, “that ashes are the popular comparison for a heart of extinguished affections. Could anything be more desolate, more hopeless, or, I may say, more disagreeable? To how many a disappointed cook that simile must come home when first she gets down in the morning!”

He took the poker and began raking gently between the bars. But no matter how tenderly he raked, his hands appeared to grow black of themselves, and great clouds of dust floated about the room and covered him.

“This _must_ be the way to do it,” he said, pausing in perplexity; “I suppose a certain amount of dirt is inevitable when you are grappling with reality. But my pyjamas will be in a filthy state.”

Taking them off, he hung them on the banisters, and, with a passing thought of Lady Godiva, closed the kitchen door and advanced again towards the grate, still grasping the poker in his hand. Then he set himself to grapple with reality in earnest. The ashes crashed together, dust rose in columns, iron rang on iron, as in war’s smithy. But little by little the victory was achieved, and lines of paper, wood, and coal gave promise of brighter things. He wiped his sweating brow, tingeing it with a still deeper black, and, catching sight of himself in a servant’s looking-glass over the mantelpiece, he said, “There is no doubt man was intended by nature to be a coloured race.”

But while he was thinking what wisdom the Vestal Virgins showed in never letting their fire go out, another crash came at the door, followed by the war-whoop of a scalp-hunter. “I seem to recognise that noise,” he thought, “but I can’t possibly open the door in this condition.”

Creeping down the passage, he said “Who’s there?” through the letter-box.

“Milko!” came the repeated yell.

“Would there be any objection to your depositing the milk upon the doorstep?” asked Mr. Clarkson.

“Righto!” came the answer, and steps retreated with a clang of pails.

“Why do the common people love to add ‘o’ to their words?” Mr. Clarkson reflected. “Is it that they unconsciously appreciate ‘o’ as the most beautiful of vowel sounds? But I wonder whether I ought to have blacked that range before I lighted the fire? The ironwork certainly looks rather pre-Dreadnought! What I require most just now is a hot bath, and I’d soon have one if I only knew which of these little slides to pull out. But if I pulled out the wrong one, there might be an explosion, and then what would become of the _History of the Masque?_”

So he put on a kettle, and waited uneasily for it to sing as a kettle should. “Now I’ll shave,” he said; “and when I am less like that too conscientious Othello, I’ll go out and buy something for breakfast.”

The bath was distinctly cool, but when he got out there was a satisfaction in the water’s hue, and, though chilled to the bone, he carried his pyjamas upstairs with a feeling of something accomplished. On entering his bedroom, he was confronted by his disordered pillow, and a bed like a map of Switzerland in high relief. “Courage!” he cried, “I will make it at once. The secret of labour-saving is organisation.”

So, with a certain asperity, he dragged off the clothes, and flung the mattress over, while the bedstead rolled about under the unaccustomed violence. “Rightly does the Scot talk about sorting a bed!” he thought, as he wrenched the blankets asunder, and stood wondering whether the black border should be tucked in at the sides or the feet. At last he pulled the counterpane fairly smooth, but in an evil moment, looking under the bed, he perceived large quantities of fluffy and coagulated dust.

“I know what that is,” he said. “That’s called flue, and it must be removed. Swift advised the chambermaid, if she was in haste, to sweep the dust into a corner of the room, but leave her brush upon it, that it might not be seen, for that would disgrace her. Well, there is no one to see me, so I must do it as I can.”

He crawled under the bed, and gathering the flue together in his two hands, began throwing it out of the window. “Pity it isn’t nesting season for the birds,” he said, as he watched it float away. But this process was too slow; so taking his towel, he dusted the drawers, the washing-stand, and the greater part of the floor, shaking the towel out of the window, until, in his eagerness, he dropped it into the back garden, and it lay extended upon the wash-house roof.

Tranquillity had now vanished, and solitude was losing some of its charm. It was quite time he started for the office, but he had not begun to dress, and, except for the kettle, which he could hear boiling over downstairs, there was not a gleam of breakfast. After washing again, he put on his clothes hurriedly, and determined to postpone the remainder of his physical exercise till his return in the evening.

Running downstairs, he saw his dirty boots staring him in the face. “Is there any peace in ever climbing up the climbing wave?” he quoted, with a sinking heart. There was no help for it. The things had to be cleaned, or people would wonder where he had been. Searching in a cupboard full of oily rags, grimy leathers, and other filthy instruments, he found the blacking and the brushes, and presently the boots began to shine in patches here and there. Then he washed again, and as he flung open the front door, he kicked the milk all down the steps. It ran in a broad, white stream along the tiled pavement to the gate.

“There goes breakfast!” he thought, but the disaster reached further. Hastily fetching a pail of water, he soused it over the steps, with the result that all the whitening came off and mingled with the milk upon the tiles. A second pail only heightened the deplorable aspect, and he splashed large quantities of the water over his trousers and boots. He felt it running through his socks. It was impossible to go to the office like that, or to leave his friend’s house in such a state.

He took off his coat and began pushing the milky water to and fro with a broom. Seeing the maid next door making great wet curves on her steps with a sort of stone, he called to her to ask how she did it.

“Same as other people, saucy,” she retorted at once.

“Is that a bath-brick you are manipulating?” Mr. Clarkson asked.

“Bath-brick, indeed! What do you take me for?” she replied, and continued swirling the stuff round and round.

After a further search in the cupboard, Mr. Clarkson discovered a similar piece of stone, and stooping down, began to swirl it about in the same manner. The stuff was deposited in yellowish curves, which he believed would turn white. But it showed the marks so obviously that, to break up the outlines, he carefully dabbed the steps all over with the flat of his hands. “The effect will be like an Academician’s stippling,” he thought, but when he had swept the surface of the garden path into the road, he scrutinised his handiwork with some satisfaction.

Hardly had he cleaned his boots again, washed again, and changed his socks, when there came another knocking at the door, polite and important this time. He found a well-dressed man, with tall hat, frock-coat, and umbrella, who inquired if he could speak to the proprietor.

“Mr. Davies is away,” said Mr. Clarkson, fixing his eyes on the stranger’s boots. “I beg your pardon, but may I remind you that you are standing on my steps? I’m afraid you will whiten the soles of your boots, I mean.”

“Thank you, that’s of no consequence,” said the stranger, entering, and leaving two great brown footprints on the step and several white ones on the passage. “But I thought I might venture to submit to your consideration a pound of our unsurpassable tea.”

“Tea?” cried Mr. Clarkson, with joyous eagerness. “I suppose you don’t happen to have milk, sugar, bread and butter, and an egg or two concealed about your person, do you?”

“I am not a conjuror,” said the stranger, resuming his hat with some _hauteur_.

An hour later, Mr. Clarkson was enjoying at his Club a meal that he endeavoured to regard as lunch, and on reaching the office in the afternoon he apologised for having been unavoidably detained at home.

“There’s no place like home,” replied his elderly colleague, with his usual inanity.

“Perhaps fortunately, there is not,” said Mr. Clarkson, and attempting to straighten his aching back and ease his suffering limbs, he added, “I am coming to the conclusion that woman’s place is the home.”

XXVIII

THE CHARM OF COMMONPLACE

George Eliot warned us somewhere not to expect Isaiah and Plato in every country house, and the warning was characteristic of the time when one really might have met Ruskin or Herbert Spencer. How uncalled for it would be now! If Isaiah or Plato were to appear at any country house, what a shock it would give the company, even if no one present had heard of their names and death before! We do not know how prophets and philosophers would behave in a country house, but, to judge from their books, their conversation could not fail to embarrass. What would they say when the daughter of the house inquired if her Toy-Pom was not really rather a darling, or the host proclaimed to the world that he never took potatoes with fish? What would the host and daughter say if their guest began to prophesy or discuss the nature of justice? There is something irreligious in the incongruity of the scene.

The age of the wise, in those astonishing eighteen-seventies, was succeeded by the age of the epigram, when someone was always expected to say something witty, and it was passed on, like a sporting tip, through widening circles. Such sayings as “I can resist everything but temptation” were much sought after. Common sense became piquant if reversed, and the good, plain man disappeared in laughter. When a languid creature told him it was always too late to mend, and never too young to learn, he was disconcerted. The bases of existence were shaken by little earthquakes, and he did not know where to stand or what to say. He felt it was nonsense, but as everyone laughed and applauded he supposed they were all too clever for him–too clever by half, and he went away sadder, but no wiser. “If Christ were again on earth,” said Carlyle, of an earlier generation, “Mr. Milnes (Lord Houghton) would ask him to breakfast, and the clubs would all be talking of the good things he had said.” Frivolity only changes its form, but the epigrams of the early ‘nineties were not Christlike, and Mr. Milnes would have been as much astray among them as the good, plain man.

The epigrammatist still lingers, and sometimes dines; but his roses have faded, and the weariness of his audience is no longer a pose. A tragic ghost, he feels like one who treads alone some banquet-hall, not, indeed, deserted, but filled with another company, and that is so much drearier. The faces that used to smile on him are gone, the present faces only stare and if he told them now that it may be better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, but both are good, they would conceal a shiver of boredom under politeness. It is recognised that life with an epigrammatist has become unendurable. “Witty?” (if one may quote again the Carlyle whom English people are forgetting) “O be not witty: none of us is bound to be witty under penalties. A fashionable wit? If you ask me which, he or a death’s head, will be the cheerier company for me, pray send _not_ him.”

Evidently there are some creatures too bright if not too good for human nature’s daily food. They are like the pudding that was all raisins, because the cook had forgotten to put in the suet. Sensible people put in the suet pretty thick, and they find it fortifying. Here in England, for instance, it has been the standing sneer of upstart pertness that ordinary men and women always set out upon their conversations with the weather. Well, and why on earth should they not? In every part of the world the weather is the most important subject. India may suffer from unrest, but the Indian’s first thought is whether she suffers from drought. Russia may seethe with revolution, but ninety-nine per cent. of Russians are thinking of the crops. France may be disturbed about Germany, but Frenchmen know the sun promises such a vintage as never was. War may threaten Russia, but the outbreak depends upon the harvest. Certainly, in our barren wildernesses of city it does not much matter whether it rains or shines, except to the top hats and long skirts of the inhabitants. But mankind cannot live on smuts and sulphur, and our discussions on the weather keep us in touch with the kindly fruits of the earth; we show we are not weaned from Nature, but still remember the cornfields and orchards by which we live. Every cloud and wind, every ray of sunshine comes filled with unconscious memories, and secret influences extend to our very souls with every change in weather. Like fishes, we do not bite when the east wind blows; like ducks and eels, we sicken or go mad in thunder.

Why should we fuddle our conversation with paradoxes and intellectual interests when nature presents us with this sempiternal theme? Ruskin observed that Pusey never seemed to know what sort of a day it was. That showed a mind too absent from terrestrial things, too much occupied with immortality. Here in England the variety of the weather affords a special incitement to discussion. It is like a fellow-creature or a race-meeting; the sporting element is added, and you never know what a single day may bring forth. Shallow wits may laugh at such talk, but neither the publishers’ lists nor the Cowes Regatta, neither the Veto nor the Insurance Act can compare for a moment with the question whether it will rain this week. Why, then, should we not talk about rain, and leave plays and books and pictures and politics and scandal to narrow and abnormal minds? To adapt a Baconian phrase, the weather is the one subject that you cannot dull by jading it too far.

Nor does it arouse the evil passions of imparting information or contradicting opinions. When someone says, “It is a fine day,” or “It’s good weather for ducks,” he does not wish to convey a new fact. I have known only one man who desired to contradict such statements, and, looking up at the sky, would have liked to order the sun in or out rather than agree; and he was a Territorial officer, so that command was in his nature. But mention the Lords, or the Church, or the Suffrage, and what a turmoil and tearing of hair! What sandstorms of information, what semi-courteous contradiction! Whither has the sweet gregariousness of human converse strayed? Black looks flash from the miracle of a seeing eye; bad blood rushes to thinking foreheads; the bonds of hell are loosed; pale gods sit trembling in their twilight. “O sons of Adam, the sun still shines, and a spell of fair weather never did no harm, as we heard tell on; but don’t you think a drop of rain to-night would favour the roots? You’ll excuse a farmer’s grumbling.”

People do not associate in order to receive epigrammatic shocks, nor to be fed up with information and have their views put right. They associate for society. They feel more secure, more open-hearted and cheerful, when together. Sheep know in their hearts that numbers are no protection against the dog, who is so much cleverer and more terrible than they; but still they like to keep in the flock. It is always comfortable to sit beside a man as foolish as oneself and hear him say that East is East and West is West; or that men are men, and women are women; or that the world is a small place after all, truth is stranger than fiction, listeners never hear any good of themselves, and a true friend is known in adversity. That gives the sense of perfect comradeship. There is here no tiresome rivalry of wits, no plaguy intellectual effort. One feels one’s proper level at once, and needs no longer go scrambling up the heights with banners of strange devices. At such moments of pleasant and unadventurous intercourse, it will be found very soothing to reply that cold hands show a warm heart, that only town-dwellers really love the country, that night is darkest before the dawn, that there are always faults on both sides, that an Englishman’s home is his castle, but travel expands the mind, and marriage is a lottery.

Such sentences, delivered alternately, will supply all the requisites of intercourse. The philosopher rightly esteemed no knowledge of value unless it was known already, and all these things have been known a very long time. Sometimes, it is true, a conversation may become more directly informative and yet remain amicable, as when the man on the steamer acquaints you with the facts that lettuce contains opium, that Lincoln’s Inn Fields is the size of the Great Pyramid’s base, that Mr. Gladstone took sixty bites to the mouthful, that hot tea is a cooling drink, that a Frenchwoman knows how to put on her clothes, that the engineer on board is sure to be a Scotsman, that fish is good for the brain because it contains phosphorus, that cheese will digest everything but itself, that there are more acres in England than words in the Bible, and that the cigars smoked in a year would go ten thousand and a quarter times round the earth if placed end to end. These facts are also familiar to everyone beforehand, and they present a solid basis for gregarious conversation. They put the merest stranger at his ease. They make one feel at home.

Some of the trades and professions secure the same object by special phrases. When you hear that the horses are fat as butter, the men keen as mustard, and everything right as rain, you know you are back to the army again. The kindly mention of the Great Lexicographer, the Wizard of the North, the Sage of Chelsea, and London’s Particular calls up the vision of a street descending into the vale of St. Paul’s. But such phrases are fleeting. They hardly last four generations of mankind, and already they wither to decay. “Every cloud has a silver lining,” “It’s a poor heart that never rejoices,” “There are as good fish in the sea as ever were caught”–those are the observations that give stability and permanence to the intercourse of man. They are not clever; they contain no paradox; like the Ugly Duckling, they cannot emit sparks. But one’s heart leaps up at hearing them, as at the sight of a rainbow. For, like the rainbow, they are an assurance that while the earth remaineth, seed-time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall never cease.

XXIX

THE PRIEST OF NEMI

Here it is cool under thick alders, close to the water’s edge, where frogs are doing their very best to sing. Hidden in some depth of the sky, the Dog Star rages, and overhead the mid-day sun marches across his blazing barrack-square. Far away the heathen violently rage; the world is full of rumours of war, and the kings of the earth take counsel together against liberty and peace. But here under thick alders it is cool, and the deep water of the lake that lies brooding within the silent crater of these Alban hills, stretches before us an unruffled surface of green and indigo profoundly mingled. Wandering about among overgrown and indistinguishable gardens under the woods, women and girls are gathering strawberries and loading them up in great wicker baskets for the market of Rome. The sound of sawing comes from a few old houses by the lake-side, that once were mills turned by the nymph Egeria’s stream, where Ovid drank. Opposite, across the lake, on the top of the old crater’s edge, stands a brown village–the church tower, unoccupied “palace,” huddled walls and roofs piled up the steep, as Italian villages are made. That is Genzano. On the precipitous crag high above our heads stands a more ancient village, with fortress tower, unoccupied castle, crumbling gates, and the walls and roofs of dwellings huddled around them. That is Nemi, the village of the sacred wood.

Except where the rock is too steep for growth, the slopes of the deep hollow are covered with trees and bushes on every side. But the trees are thickest where the slope falls most gently–so gently that from the foot of the crater to the water’s edge the ground for a few hundred yards might almost be called a bit of plain. Under the trees there the best strawberries grow, and there stood the temple of mysterious and blood-stained rites. Prowling continually round and round one of the trees, the ghastly priest was for centuries there to be seen:

“The priest who slew the slayer,
And shall himself be slain.”

No one can tell in what prehistoric age the succession of murdering and murdered priests first began that vigil for their lives. It continued with recurrent slaughter through Rome’s greatest years. About the time when Virgil was still alive, or perhaps just after Christ himself was born, the geographer Strabo appears actually to have seen that living assassin and victim lurking in the wood; for he vividly describes him “with sword always drawn, turning his eyes on every side, ready to defend himself against an onslaught.” Possibly the priest suspected Strabo himself for his outlandish look and tongue, for only a runaway slave might murder and succeed him. Possibly it was that self-same priest whom Caligula, a few years after Christ’s death, hired a stalwart ruffian to finish off, because he was growing old and decrepit, having defended himself from onslaughts too long. Upon the lake the Emperor constructed two fine house-boats, devoted to the habits that house-boats generally induce (you may still fish up bits of their splendour from the bottom, if you have luck), and very likely it was annoying to watch the old man still doddering round his tree with drawn sword. One would like to ask whether the crazy tyrant was aware how well he was fulfilling the ancient rite by ordaining the slaughter of decrepitude. And one would like to ask also whether the stalwart ruffian himself took up the line of consecrated and ghastly succession. Someone, at all events, took it up; for in the bland age of the Antonines the priest was still there, pacing with drawn sword, turning his eyes in every direction, lest his successor should spring upon him unawares.

In the opening chapter, which states the central problem, still slowly being worked out in the great series of _The Golden Bough_, Dr. Frazer has drawn the well-known picture of that haunted man. “The dreamy blue,” he writes:

“The dreamy blue of Italian skies, the dappled shade of summer woods, and the sparkle of waves in the sun, can have accorded but ill with that stern and sinister figure. Rather we picture to ourselves the scene as it may have been witnessed by a belated wayfarer on one of those wild autumn nights when the dead leaves are falling thick, and the winds seem to sing the dirge of the dying year. It is a sombre picture, set to melancholy music–the background of forest showing black and jagged against a lowering and stormy sky, the sighing of the wind in the branches, the rustle of the withered leaves under foot, the lapping of the cold water on the shore, and, in the foreground, pacing to and fro, now in twilight and now in gloom, a dark figure with a glitter of steel at the shoulder whenever the pale moon, riding clear of the cloud-rack, peers down at him through the matted boughs.”

For the priest himself it can hardly have been a happy life. Thanks to Dr. Frazer, we now partly know how much of man’s religious hope and fear that sinister figure represented. But he himself had no conception of all this, nor can we suppose that even if he had possessed Dr. Frazer’s own wealth of knowledge, it would have cheered him much. When violent death impends on every moment and lurks in every shade, it is small consolation to reflect that you stand as a holy emblem, protector of a symbolic tree, the mystic mate both of the tree itself and of the goddess of fertility in man and beast and plant. There is no comfort in the knowledge that the slave who waits to kill you, as you killed your predecessor in the office, only obeys the widespread injunction of primitive religion whereby the divine powers incarnate in the priest are maintained active and wholesome with all the fervour and sprightliness of youth. Such knowledge would not relax the perpetual strain of terror, nor could the priest have displayed an intelligent and scientific interest in all the queer mythologies forcibly dragged in and combined to explain his presence there–Orestes fleeing like a runaway from the blood-stained Euxine shore; or Hippolytus, faithful worshipper of the unwedded goddess, rent by wild horses, and by Diana’s prayer to the medicine-god subsequently pieced together into life; or Virbius, counterpart of Hippolytus; or perhaps even the two-faced Janus himself, looking before and after. The finest conjectures of research, though illustrated in the person of the priest himself, could have supplied him with no antidote to those terrors of ambushed assassination.

In his investigations among the “sword-dancers” of Northern England, Mr. Cecil Sharp has discovered that at Earsdon, after the usual captain’s song, a strange interlude occurs, in which two of the dancers feign a quarrel, and one is killed and carried out for burial amid the lamentations of the “Bessy.” A travelled doctor, however, arrives, and calls to the dead man, “Jack! take a drop of my bottle, that’ll go down your thrittle-throttle.” Whereupon up jumps Jack and shakes his sword, and the dance proceeds amid the rejoicings of Bessy and the rest. So priest slays priest, the British Diana laments her hero slain, the British Aesculapius, in verse inferior to Euripides, tends him back to life, and who in that Northumbrian dance could fail to recognise a rite sprung from the same primitive worship as the myths of Nemi? But if one had been able to stand beside that murderous and apprehensive priest, and to foretell to him that in future centuries, long after his form of religion had died away, far off in Britain, beside the wall of the Empire’s frontier, his tragedy would thus be burlesqued by Bessy, Jack, and the doctor, one may doubt if he would have expressed any kind of scientific interest, or have even smiled, as, sword in hand, he prowled around his sacred tree, peering on every side.

Why, then, did he do it? How came it that there was always a candidate for that bloody deed and disquieting existence? It is true that the competition for the post appears to have decreased with years. Originally, the priest’s murder seems to have been an annual affair, regular as the “grotter” which we are called upon to remember every August in London streets, or as the Guy Faux, whose fires will in future ages be connected with autumnal myths or with the disappearance of Adonis or Thammuz yearly wounded. The virtues of fertility’s god had to be renewed each spring; year by year the priest was slain; and only by a subsequent concession to human weakness was he allowed to retain his life till he could no longer defend it. The change seems to show that, as time went on, the privileges of the office were regarded with less eagerness, and it was more difficult to find one man a year anxious to be killed.

But with what motive, century after century, no matter at what interval of years, did a volunteer always come forward to slay and to be slain? Certainly, the priest had to be a runaway slave; but was Roman slavery so hideous that a life of unending terror by day and night was to be preferred–a life enslaved as a horse’s chained to the grinding mill in a brickyard, and without the horse’s hours of stabled peace? Hunger will drive to much, but even when the risky encounter with one’s predecessor had been successfully accomplished, what enjoyment could there be in meals eaten in bitter haste, with one hand upon the sword? As to money, what should all the wealth of the shrine profit a man compelled, in Bishop Ken’s language, to live each day as it were his last? Promise of future and eternal bliss? The religion held out no sure and certain hope of such a state. Joy in the divine service? It is not to vigorous runaway slaves that we look for ecstatic rapture in performing heaven’s will. Upon the priest was bestowed the title of “King of the Wood.” Can it be that for that barren honour a human being dyed his hands with murder and risked momentary assassination for the remainder of his lifetime? Well, we have heard of the Man who would be King, and empty titles still are sought by political services equally repellent.

But, for ourselves, in that forlorn and hag-ridden figure we more naturally see a symbol of the generations that slay the slayer and shall themselves be slain. It is thus that each generation comes knocking at the door–comes, rather, so suddenly and unannounced, clutching at the Tree of Life, and with the glittering sword of youth beating down its worn-out defenders. New blood, new thoughts and hopes each generation brings to resuscitate the genius of fertility and growth. Often it longs imperiously to summon a stalwart ruffian, who will finish off decrepitude and make an end; but hardly has the younger generation itself assumed the office and taken its stand as the Warder of the Tree, when its life and hopes in turn are threatened, and among the ambuscading woods it hears a footstep coming and sees the gleam of a drawn sword. Let us not think too precisely on such events. But rather let us climb the toilsome track up to the little town, where Cicero once waited to meet the assassin Brutus after the murder of the world’s greatest man; and there, in the ancient inn still called “Diana’s Looking-glass” from the old name of the beautiful and mysterious lake which lies in profoundly mingled green and indigo below it, let us forget impending doom over a twopenny quart of wine and a plate of little cuttlefish stewed in garlic, after which any priest might confront his successor with equanimity.

XXX

THE UNDERWORLD OF TIME

Sometimes, for a moment, the curtain of the past is rolled up, the seven seals of its book are loosened, and we are allowed to know more of the history than the round number of soldiers with which a general crossed a river, or the succession that brought one crazy voluptuary to follow another upon the Imperial throne. We do not refuse gratitude for what we ordinarily receive. To the general it made all the difference whether he had a thousand soldiers more or less, and to us it makes some. To the Imperial maniac it was of consequence that his predecessor in the government of civilised mankind was slain before him, and for us the information counts for something, too; just as one meets travellers who satisfy an artistic craving by enumerating the columns of a ruined shrine, and seeing that they agree with the guidebook. But it is not often that historians tell us what we really want to know, or that artists will stoop to our questionings. We would willingly go wrong over a thousand or two of those soldiers, if we might catch the language of just one of them as he waded into the river; and how many a simpering Venus would we grind into face-powder if we could follow for just one day the thoughts of a single priest who once guarded her temple! But, occupied with grandeur and beauty, the artists and historians move upon their own elevated plane, and it is only by furtive glimpses that we catch sight of the common and unclean underworld of life, always lumbering along with much the same chaotic noise of hungry desires and incessant labour, of animalism and spiritual aspiration.

One such glimpse we are given in that book of _The Golden Ass_, now issued by the Clarendon Press, in Mr. H.E. Butler’s English version, but hitherto best known through a chapter in Walter Pater’s _Marius_, or by William Adlington’s sixteenth century rendering, included among _The Tudor Translations_. It is a strange and incoherent picture that the book presents. Pater well compares it to a dream: “Story within story–stories with the sudden, unlooked-for changes of dreams.” And, as though to suit this dream-like inconsequence, the scene is laid in