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Thessaly, the natural home of witchcraft–where, in fact, I was myself laid under a witch’s incantation little more than ten years ago, and might have been transformed into heaven knows what, if a remembered passage from this same book of Apuleius had not caused an outburst of laughter that broke the spell only just in time. It is a savage country, running into deep glens of forest and precipitous defiles among the mountains, fit haunt for the robber bands with which the few roads were infested. The region where the Lucius of the book wandered, either as man, or after his own curiosity into mysterious things had converted him into an ass (whereas he had wished to become a beautiful bird)–the region recalls some wild picture of Salvator Rosa’s. We are surrounded by gloomy shades, sepulchral caverns, and trees writhing in storm, nor are cut-throat bandits ever far away. Violence and murder threaten at every turn. Through the narrow and filthy streets young noblemen, flown with wine, storm at midnight. When a robber chief is nailed through the hand to a door, his devoted followers hew off his arm and set him free. They capture girls for ransom, and sell them to panders. When one is troublesome, they propose to sew her up in the paunch of the yet living ass, and expose her to the mid-day sun. One of the gang, disguised as a bear, slays all his keepers, and is himself torn in pieces by men and dogs. All the band are finally slaughtered or flung from precipices. Gladiatorial beasts are kept as sepulchres for criminals. A slave is smeared with honey and slowly devoured by ants till only his white skeleton remains tied to a tree. A dragon eats one of the party, quite cursorily. What with bears, wolves, wild boars, and savage dogs, each step in life would seem a peril, were not the cruelty of man more perilous still. Continued existence in that region was, indeed, so insecure, that men and women in large numbers ended the torments of anxiety by cutting life short.

And then there were the witches, perpetually adding to the uncertainty by rendering it dubious in what form one might awake, if one awoke at all. During sleep, a witch could draw the heart out through a hole in the neck, and, stopping up the orifice with a sponge, allow her victim to pine in wonder why he felt so incomplete. With ointments compounded of dead men’s flesh she could transform a lover into a beaver, or an innkeeper into a frog swimming in his own vat of wine and with doleful croak inviting his former customers to drink; or herself, with the aid of a little shaking, she could convert into a feathered owl uttering a queasy note as it flitted out of the window. Indeed, the whole of nature was uncertain, especially if disaster impended, and sometimes a chicken would be born without the formality of an egg, or a bottomless abyss spurted with gore under the dining-room table, or the wine began to boil in the bottles, or a green frog leapt out of the sheepdog’s mouth.

So life was a little trying, a little perplexing; but it afforded wide scope for curiosity, and Apuleius, an African, brought up in Athens, and living in Rome, was endlessly curious. In his attraction to horrors, to bloodshed, and the shudder of grisly phantoms there was, perhaps, something of the man of peace. It is only the unwarlike citizen who could delight in imagining a brigand nurtured from babyhood on human blood. He was, indeed, writing in the very period which the historian fixed upon as the happiest and most prosperous that the human race has ever enjoyed–those two or three benign generations when, under the Antonines, provincials combined with Romans in celebrating “the increasing splendours of the cities, the beautiful face of the country, cultivated and adorned like an immense garden, and the long festival of peace, which was enjoyed by so many nations, forgetful of their ancient animosities, and delivered from the apprehension of future danger.” The slow and secret poison that Gibbon says was introduced by the long peace into the vitals of the Empire, was, perhaps, among the causes that turned the thoughts of Apuleius to scenes of violence and terror–to the “macabre,” as Pater said–just as it touched his style with the preciosity of decadence, and prompted him to occupy a page with rapture over the “swift lightnings” flashed against the sunlight from women’s hair. He was, in fact, writing for citizens much like the English of twenty years ago, when the interest of readers, protected from the harsh realities of danger and anxiety, was flattered equally by bloodthirsty slaughters, the shimmer of veiled radiance, and haunted byways for access to the unknown gods.

Those byways to unknown gods were much affected by Apuleius himself. The world was at the slack, waiting, as it were, for the next tide to flow, and seldom has religion been so powerless or religions so many. Of one abandoned woman it is told as the climax of her other wickednesses that she blasphemously proclaimed her belief in one god only. Apuleius seems to have been initiated into every cult of religious mystery, and in his story he exultingly shows us the dog-faced gods of Egypt triumphing on the soil that Apollo and Athene had blessed. Here was Anubis, their messenger, and unconquered Osiris, supreme father of gods, and another whose emblem no mortal tongue might expound. So it came that at the great procession of Isis through a Greek city the ass was at last able, after unutterable sufferings, to devour the chaplet of roses destined to restore him to human shape; and thereupon he took the vows of chastity and abstinence (so difficult for him to observe) until at length he was worthy to be initiated into the mysteries of the goddess, and, in his own words, “drew nigh to the confines of death, trod the threshold of Proserpine, was borne through all the elements, and returned to earth again, saw the sun gleaming with bright splendour at dead of night, approached the gods above and the gods below, and worshipped them face to face.”

It was this redemption by roses, and the initiation into virtue’s path, that caused Adlington in his introduction to call the book “a figure of man’s life, egging mortal men forward from their asinal form to their human and perfect shape, that so they might take a pattern to regenerate their lives from brutish and beastly custom,” And, indeed, the book is, in a wider sense, the figure of man’s life, for almost alone among the writings of antiquity it reveals to us every phase of that dim underworld which persists, as we have supposed, almost unnoticed and unchanged from one generation of man to another, and takes little account either of government, the arts, or the other interests of intellectual classes. It is a world of incessant toil and primitive passion, yet laughter has place in it, and Apuleius shows us how two slave cooks could laugh as they peered through a chink at their ass carefully selecting the choicest dainties from the table; and how the whole populace of a country town roared with delight at the trial of a man who thought he had killed three thieves, but had really pierced three wine skins; and how the ass in his distress appealed unto Caesar for the rights of a Roman citizen, but could get no further with his best Greek than “O!” It is a world of violence and obscenity and laughter, but, above all, a world of pity. Virgil, too, was touched with the pity of mortal things, but towards the poor and the labouring man he rather affected a pastoral envy. Apuleius had looked poverty nearer in the eyes, and he knew the piteous terror on its face. To him we must turn if we would know how the poor lived in the happiest and most prosperous age that mankind has enjoyed. In the course of his adventures, the ass was sold to a mill–a great flour factory employing numerous hands–and, with his usual curiosity, he there observed, as he says, the way in which that loathsome workshop was conducted:

“What stunted little men met my eye, their skin all striped with livid scars, their backs a mass of sores, with tattered patchwork clothing that gave them shade rather than covering! … Letters were branded on their foreheads, their heads were half shaven, iron rings were welded about their ankles, they were hideously pale, and the smoky darkness of that steaming, gloomy den had ulcerated their eyelids: their sight was impaired, and their bodies smeared and filthy white with the powdered meal, making them look like boxers who sprinkle themselves with dust before they fight.”

Even to animals the same pity for their sufferings is extended–a pity unusual among the ancients, and still hardly known around the Mediterranean. Yet Apuleius counted the sorrows of the ill-used ass, and, speaking of the same flour mill, he describes the old mules and pack-horses labouring there, with drooping heads, their necks swollen with gangrenes and putrid sores, their nostrils panting with the harsh cough that continually racked them, their chests ulcerated by the ceaseless rubbing of their hempen harness, their hoofs swollen to an enormous size as the result of their long journeys round the mill, their ribs laid bare even to the bone by their endless floggings, and all their hides rough with the scab of neglect and decay.

The first writer of the modern novel–first of romanticists–Apuleius has been called. Romance! If we must keep those rather futile distinctions, it is as the first of realists that we would remember him. For, as in a dream, he has shown us the actual life that mankind led in the temple, the workshop, the market-place, and the forest, during the century after the Apostles died. And we find it much the same as the actual life of toiling mankind in all ages–full of unwelcome labour and suffering and continual apprehension, haunted by ghostly fears and self-imagined horrors, but illuminated by sudden laughter, and continually goaded on by an inexplicable desire to submit itself to that hard service of perfection under which, as the priest of the goddess informed Lucius in the story, man may perceive most fully the greatness of his liberty.

XXXI

MENTAL EUGENICS

It is horrible. We are being overpopulated with spirits. Day by day, hundreds of newly-created ghosts issue into the world–not the poor relics and incorporeal shadows of the dead, but real living ghosts, who never had any other existence except as they now appear. They are creations of the mind–figments they are sometimes called–but they have as real an existence as any other created thing. We love them or hate them, we talk about them, we quote them, we discuss their characters. To many people they are much more alive than the solid human beings whom in some respects they resemble. Obviously they are more interesting, else the travellers in a railway carriage would converse instead of reading. Some minds cannot help producing them. They produce them as easily as the queen bee produces the eggs that hatch into drones. And both the number and productivity of such minds are terribly on the increase. A few years ago Anatole France told us that, in Paris alone, fifty volumes a day were published, not to mention the newspapers; and the rate has gone up since then. He called it a monstrous orgy. He said it would end in driving us mad. He called books the opium of the West. They devour us, he said. He foresaw the day when we shall all be librarians. We are rushing, he said, through study into general paralysis.

Does it not remind one of the horror with which the wise and prudent about a century ago began to regard the birth-rate? They beheld the geometrical progression of life catching up the arithmetical progression of food with fearful strides. Mankind became to them a devouring mouth, always agape, like a nestling’s, and incessantly multiplying, like a bacillus. What was the good of improving the condition of Tom and Sal, if Tom and Sal, in consequence of the improvement, went their way and in a few years produced Dick, Poll, Bill, and Meg, who proceeded to eat up the improvement, and in a generation produced sixteen other devourers hungrier than themselves? It was an awesome picture, that ravenous and reduplicating mouth! It cast a chill over humanity, and blighted the hope of progress for many years. To some it is still a bodeful portent, presaging eternal famine. It still hangs ominously over the nations. But, on the whole, its terrors have lately declined; one cannot exactly say why. Either the mouth is not so hungry, or it gets more to eat, or, for good or evil, it does not multiply so fast. And now there are these teachers of Eugenics, always insisting on quality.

The question is whether some similar means might not check the multiplication of the ghosts that threaten to devour the mind of man. The progression of man’s mind can hardly be called even arithmetical, and the increase of ghosts accelerates frightfully in comparison. If Paris produced fifty books a day some years ago, London probably produces a hundred now. And then there is Berlin, and all the German Universities, where professors must write or die. And there are New York and Boston. Rome and Athens still count for something, and so does Madrid. Scandinavia is no longer sterile, and a few of Russia’s mournful progeny escape strangulation at their birth. Not every book, it is true, embodies a living soul. Many are stillborn; many are like dolls, bleeding sawdust. But in most there dwells some kind of life, hungry for the human brain, and day by day its share of sustenance diminishes, if shares are equal. They are not equal, but the inequality only increases the clamour of the poor among the ghosts.

Take the case of novels, which make up the majority of books in the modern world. We will assume the average of souls in a novel to be five, the same as the average of a human family. Probably it is considerably higher, but take it at five. Let us suppose that fifty novels are produced per day in London, Paris, New York, Berlin, and other large cities together, which I believe to be a low estimate. Not counting Sundays and Bank holidays, this will give us rather more than 75,000 newly created souls a year–cannibal souls, ravening for the brains of men and women similar to the brains that gave them birth, and each able to devour as many brains as it can catch. It is no good saying that nearly all are short-lived, dying in six months like summer flies. The dead are but succeeded by increasing hordes. They swarm about us; they bite us at every turn. They sit in our chairs, and hover round our tables. They speak to us on mountain tops, and if we descend into the Tube, they are there. They absorb the solid world, making it of no account beside the spirit world in which we dwell, so that we neither see nor hear nor handle the realities of outward life, but perceive them only, if at all, through filmy veils and apparitions, the haunting offspring of another’s mind. And remember, we are now speaking of the spirits in novels alone. Besides novels, there are the breeding grounds of the drama, the essay, the lyric, and every other kind of spiritual and imaginative book. In every corner the spirits lurk, ready to spring upon us unaware. We are ghost-ridden. The witches tear us. Our life is no longer our own. It has become a nebula of alien dreams. O wretched men that we are! Who shall deliver us from the body of these shades?

To what can we look? Prudence may save us in the end, for if the spirits utterly devour us, they will find they cannot live themselves. In the end, Nature may adjust their birthrate. But at what cost, after how cruel a struggle for existence! Might not teachers of eugenics do something drastic, and at once? Critics are the teachers of spiritual eugenics. Could not a few timely words from them hold the productive powers of certain brains in check? It is easily said, but the result is very doubtful. Mr. Walkley, in an unintentionally despairing article in the _Times_, once maintained that the critics were powerless to stem the increasing flood that pours in upon us, like that hideous stream of babies that Mr. Wells once saw pouring down some gutter or rain-pipe. Mr. Walkley said no real and industrious artist ever stops to listen to criticism. He said the artist simply cannot help it; the creature is bound to go on creating, whatever people say. Mr. Walkley went further, and told us the critic himself is an artist; that he also cannot help it, but is bound to create. So we go on from bad to worse, the creative artist not only producing shadows on his own account, but the shades of shadows through the critics. Our state is becoming a bewildered horror; and yet we cannot deny that Mr. Walkley was right, though we may regard his pessimism as exaggerated. There are one or two cases on record in which criticism, or the fear of it, has really checked the production of peculiarly sensitive and fastidious minds. I will not mention Keats, for after the savage and Tartarly article he went on producing in greater quantity and finer quality than ever before, and would have so continued but for a very natural death. Robert Montgomery, whom Macaulay killed, is a happier instance. And there may here and there also have been a poet or novelist like that “Pictor Ignotus” of Browning’s, who cried:

“I could have painted pictures like that youth’s Ye praise so!”

He would have had a painter’s fame:

“But a voice changed it. Glimpses of such sights Have scared me, like the revels through a door Of some strange house of idols at its rites! This world seemed not the world it was, before: Mixed with my loving, trusting ones, there trooped … Who summoned those cold faces that begun To press on me and judge me? Though I stooped Shrinking, as from the soldiery a nun,
They drew me forth, and spite of me … enough!”

Unhappily, there are few souls so humble, so conventual as that. George Eliot, as Mr. Walkley recalled, was terrified lest ill-judged blame or ill-judged praise should discourage her production; but then she made it a strict rule never to read any criticism, so that, of course, it had no restraining effect upon her. Wordsworth seems to have read his critics, but though they did their utmost to restrain or silence him, he paid no heed. “Too petulant to be passive to a genuine poet,” he called them:

“Too petulant to be passive to a genuine poet, and too feeble to grapple with him;–men of palsied imagination and indurated hearts; in whose minds all healthy action is languid, who therefore feed as the many direct them, or, with the many, are greedy after vicious provocatives;–judges, whose censure is auspicious, and whose praise ominous!”

In them there was no restraining power for such a man, any more than in Christopher North for Tennyson:

“When I heard from whom it came,
I forgave you all the blame;
I could not forgive the praise,
Rusty Christopher!”

On this line, then, there is not much to be hoped from the critics. Over-sensitive writers are too rare, and the productive impulse of the others is too self-confident for prudence to smother. Obviously, they care no more for the critics than Tom and Sal a century ago cared for Malthus. They disregard them. The most savage criticism only confirms their belief in the beauty and necessity of their progeny, just as a mother always fondles the child that its aunts consider plain. Against such obstinacy, what headway can the critics make? May we not advise them to drop the old method of frontal attack altogether? Let them adopt the methods of these new teachers of Eugenics, whom we have described as insisting on quality. For the teachers of Eugenics, as I understand, do not go about saying, “O parents, what inferior and degenerate children you have! How goose-faced, rabbit-mouthed, lantern-jawed, pot-bellied, spindle-shanked, and splay-footed they are! It was a most anti-social action to produce these puny monstrosities, and when you found yourselves falling in love, you ought to have run to opposite antipodes.” That, I believe, is no longer the method of the Eugenic teacher. He now shows beforehand wherein the beauty and excellence of human development may lie. He insists upon quality, he raises a standard, he diffuses an unconscious fastidiousness of selection. He does not prevent Tom and Sal from falling in love, but he makes Tom, and especially Sal, less satisfied with the first that comes, less easily bemused with the tenth-rate rubbish of a man or girl.

By similar methods, it seems to us, the critics might even now relieve humanity from the oncoming host of spirits that threatens to overwhelm us. They find it useless to tell creative writers how hideous and mis-begotten their productions are–how deeply tainted with erotics, neurotics, hysteria, consumption, or fatty degeneration. Either the writers do not listen, or they reply, “Thank you, but neurotics and degeneracy are in the fashion, and we like them.” Let the critics change their method by widely extending their action. Let them insist upon quality, and show beforehand what quality means. Let them rise from the position of reviewers, and apply to the general thought of the world that critical power of which Matthew Arnold was thinking when he wrote:

“The best spiritual work of criticism is to keep man from self-satisfaction which is retarding and vulgarising, to lead him towards perfection by making his mind dwell upon what is excellent in itself, and the absolute beauty and fitness of things.”

Such criticism, if persisted in by all critics for a generation, would act as so wholesome and tonic a course of Eugenic instruction, would so strongly insist upon quality, and so widely diffuse an unconscious fastidiousness of selection, that the locust cloud of phantoms which now darken the zenith might be dissipated, and again we should behold the sky which is the home of stars. For we may safely suppose that excellence will never be super-abundant, nor quality be found in hordes. No one can tell how fine, how fit, and few the children of our creative artists might then become. But, as in prophetic vision, we can picture the rarity of their beauty, and when they come knocking at our door, we will share with them the spiritual food that they demand from our brains, and give them a drink of our brief and irrevocable time.

XXXII

THE MEDICINE OF THE MIND

There are minds that run to maxims as Messrs. Holloway and Beecham ran to pills. From the fields and mines of experience they cull their secret ingredients, concentrate them in the alembic of wit, mould them into compact and serviceable form, and put them upon the market of publicity for the universal benefit of mankind. Such essence of wisdom will surely cure all ills; such maxims must be worth a guinea a box. When the wise and the worldly have condensed their knowledge and observation into portable shape, why go further and pay more for a medicine of the soul, or, indeed, for the soul’s sustenance? Pills, did we say? Are there not tabloids that supply the body with oxygen, hydrogen, calorics, or whatever else is essential to life in the common hundredweights and gallons of bread, meat, and drink? Why not feed our souls on maxims, like those who spread the board for courses of a bovril lozenge apiece, two grains of phosphorus, three of nitrogen, one of saccharine, a dewdrop of alcohol, and half a scruple of caffeine to conclude?

It is a stimulating thought, encouraging to economy of time and space. We read to acquire wisdom, and no one grudges zeal in that pursuit. But still, the time spent upon it, especially in our own country, is what old journalists used to call “positively appalling,” and in some books, perhaps, we may draw blank. Read only maxims, and in the twinkling of an eye you catch the thing that you pursue. It is not “Wisdom while you wait”; there is no waiting at all. It is a “lightning lunch,” a “kill” without the risk and fatigue of hunting. The find and the death are simultaneous. And as to space, a poacher’s pocket will hold your library; where now the sewers of Bloomsbury crack beneath the accumulating masses of superfluous print, one single shelf will contain all that man needs to know; and Mr. Carnegie’s occupation will be gone.

For these reasons, one heartily welcomes Messrs. Methuen’s re-issue of an old and excellent translation of Rochefoucauld’s _Maxims_, edited by Mr. George Powell. The book is a little large for tabloids. It runs to nearly two hundred pages, and it might have been more conveniently divided by ten or even by a hundred. But still, as Rochefoucauld is the very medicine-man of maxims, we will leave it at that. He united every quality of the moral and intellectual pill-doctor. He lived in an artificial and highly intellectualised society. He was a contemporary and friend of great wits. He haunted salons, and was graciously received by perceptive ladies, who never made a boredom of virtue. He mingled in a chaos of political intrigue, and was involved in burlesque rebellion. He was intimate with something below the face-value of public men, and he used the language that Providence made for maxims. But, above all, he had the acid or tang of poison needed to make the true, the medicinal maxim. His present editor compares him with Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, and Bacon–great names, but gnomic philosophers rather than authors of maxims proper. Nor were the splendid figures of the eighteenth century, who wrote so eloquently about love, virtue, and humanity, real inventors of maxims. Their sugar-coating was spread too thick. Often their teaching was sugar to the core–a sweetmeat, not a pill; or, like the fraudulent patents in the trade, it revealed soft soap within the covering, and nothing more. George Meredith had a natural love of maxims, and an instinct for them. One remembers the “Pilgrim’s Scrip” in _Richard Feverel_, and the Old Buccaneer in _The Amazing Marriage_. But usually his maxims want the bitter tang:

“Who rises from Prayer a better man, his Prayer is answered.”

“For this reason so many fall from God, who have attained to Him; that they cling to Him with their weakness, not with their strength.”

“No regrets; they unman the heart we want for to-morrow.”

“My foe can spoil my face; he beats me if he spoils my temper.”

One sees at once that these are not medicinal maxims, but excellent advice–concentrated sermons, after our English manner. “Friends may laugh: I am not roused. My enemy’s laugh is a bugle blown in the night”–that has a keener flavour. So has “Never forgive an injury without a return blow for it.” Among the living, Mr. Bernard Shaw is sometimes infected by an English habit of sermonising. “Never resist temptation: prove all things: hold fast that which is good,” is a sermon. But he has the inborn love of maxims, all the same, and, though they are too often as long as a book, or even as a preface, his maxims sometimes have the genuine medicinal taste. These from _The Revolutionist’s Handbook_, for instance, are true maxims:

“Vulgarity in a king flatters the majority of the nation.”

“He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.”

“Marriage is popular because it combines the maximum of temptation with the maximum of opportunity.”

“When a man wants to murder a tiger, he calls it sport; when the tiger wants to murder him he calls it ferocity. The distinction between Crime and Justice is no greater.”

“Home is the girl’s prison, and the woman’s workhouse.”

“Decency is Indecency’s Conspiracy of Silence.”

But among the masters of the maxim, I suppose no one has come so near as Chamfort to the Master himself. There is a difference. If Chamfort brings rather less strength and bitterness to his dose, he presents it with a certain grace, a sense of mortal things, and a kind of pity mingled with his contempt that Rochefoucauld would have despised:

“Il est malheureux pour les hommes que les pauvres n’aient pas l’instinct ou la fierte de l’elephant, qui ne se reproduit pas dans la servitude.”

“Otez l’amour-propre de l’amour, il en reste tres peu de chose.”

“Il n’y a que l’inutilite du premier deluge qui empeche Dieu d’en envoyer un second.”

“L’homme arrive novice a chaque age de la vie.”

“Sans le gouvernement on ne rirait plus en France.”

With a difference, these come very near Rochefoucauld’s own. “Take self-love from love, and little remains,” might be an extract from that Doomsday Book of Egoism in which Rochefoucauld was so deeply read. “Self-love is the Love of a man’s own Self, and of everything else, for his own Sake”: so begins his terrible analysis of human motives, and no man escapes from a perusal of it without recognition of himself, just as there is no escape from Meredith’s Egoist. All of us move darkly in that awful abyss of Self, and as the fourth Maxim says, “When a Man hath travelled never so far, and discovered never so much in the world of Self-love, yet still the Terra Incognita will take up a considerable part of the Map.” On the belief that self-love prompts and pervades all actions, the greater part of the maxims are founded. The most famous of them all is the saying that “Hypocrisy is a sort of Homage which Vice pays to Virtue,” but there are others that fly from mouth to mouth, and treat more definitely of self-love. “The reason why Ladies and their Lovers are at ease in one another’s company, is because they never talk of anything but themselves”; or “There is something not unpleasing to us in the misfortunes of our best friends.” These are, perhaps, the three most famous, though we doubt whether the last of them has enough truth in it for a first-rate maxim. Might one not rather say that the perpetual misfortunes of our friends are the chief plague of existence? Goethe came nearer the truth when he wrote: “I am happy enough for myself. Joy comes streaming in upon me from every side. Only, for others, I am not happy.” But Rochefoucauld had to play the cynic, and a dash of cynicism adds a fine ingredient to a maxim.

Nevertheless, after reading this book of _Maxims_ through again, all the seven hundred and more (a hideous task, almost as bad as reading a whole volume of _Punch_ on end), I incline to think Rochefoucauld’s reputation for cynicism much exaggerated. It may be that the world grows more cynical with age, unlike a man, whose cynical period ends with youth. At all events, in the last twenty years we have had half a dozen writers who, as far as cynicism goes, could give Rochefoucauld fifty maxims in a hundred. In all artificial and inactive times and places, as in Rochefoucauld’s France, Queen Anne’s England, the London of the end of last century, and our Universities always, epigram and a dandy cynicism are sure to flourish until they often sicken us with the name of literature. But in Rochefoucauld we perceive glimpses of something far deeper than the cynicism that makes his reputation. It is not to a cynic, or to the middle of the seventeenth century in France, that we should look for such sayings as these:

“A Man at some times differs as much from himself as he does from other People.”

“Eloquence is as much seen in the Tone and Cadence of the Eyes, and the Air of the Face, as in the Choice of proper Expressions.”

“When we commend good Actions heartily, we make them in some measure our own.”

Such sayings lie beyond the probe of the cynic, or the wit of the literary man. They spring from sympathetic observation and a quietly serious mind. And there is something equally fresh and unexpected in some of the sayings upon passion:

“The Passions are the only Orators that are always successful in persuading.”

“It is not in the Power of any the most crafty Dissimulation to conceal Love long where it really is, nor to counterfeit it long where it is not.”

“Love pure and untainted with any other Passions (if such a Thing there be) lies hidden in the Bottom of our Heart, so exceedingly close that we scarcely know it ourselves.”

“The more passionately a Man loves his Mistress, the readier he is to hate her.” (Compare Catullus’s “Odi et amo.”)

“The same Resolution which helps to resist Love, helps to make it more violent and lasting too. People of unsettled Minds are always driven about with Passions, but never absolutely filled with any.”

No one who knew Rochefoucauld only by reputation would guess such sentences to be his. They reveal “the man differing from himself”; or, rather, perhaps, they reveal the true nature, that usually put on a thin but protective armour of cynicism when it appeared before the world. Here we see the inward being of the man who, twice in his life, was overwhelmed by that “violent and lasting passion,” and was driven by it into strange and dangerous courses where self-love was no guide. But to quote more would induce the peculiar weariness that maxims always bring–the weariness that comes of scattered, disconnected, and abstract thought, no matter how wise. “Give us instances,” we cry. “Show us the thing in the warmth of flesh and blood.” Nor will we any longer be put off by pillules from seeking the abundance of life’s great feast.

XXXIII

THE LAST FENCE

He was riding May Dolly, a Cheshire six-year-old, and one of his own breeding; for just as some people think that everyone should go to his own parish church, it was a principle with Mr. James Tomkinson that a man should ride a horse from his own county. Straight, lithe, and ruddy, he trotted to the starting-post, and the crowd cheered him as he went, for they liked to see a bit of pluck. He modestly enjoyed their applause: “I think I never saw anybody so pleased,” said Mr. Justice Grantham, who was judge in the race. It was known that the old man had passed the limit of seventy, but only five years before he won a steeplechase on his own, and if ever a rider fulfilled Montaigne’s ideal of a life spent in the saddle, it was he. So he rode to the starting-post, happy in himself and modestly confident–the very model of what a well-to-do English countryman should wish to be–a Rugby and Balliol man, above suspicion for honesty, a busy man of affairs, a consummate horseman, a bad speaker, and a true-hearted Liberal, holding an equally unblemished record for courage in convictions and at fences.

The race was three and a half miles–twice round the circuit. The first circuit was run, the last fence of it safely cleared. The second circuit was nearly complete: only that last fence remained. It was three hundred yards away, and he rode fast for it along the bottom. Someone was abreast of him, someone close behind. May Dolly rushed forward, and the fence drew nearer and nearer. He was leading; once over that fence and victory was his–the latest victory, always worth all the rest. He felt the moving saddle between his thighs; he heard the quick beating of the hoofs. Something happened; there was a swerve, a sideways jump, a vain effort at recovery, a crashing fall too quick for thought; and before the joy of victory had died, the darkness came.

Who would not choose to plunge out of life like that? A sudden end at the moment of victory has always been the commonplace of human desire. When the antique sage was asked to select the happiest man in history, his choice fell on one whose destiny resembled that of the Member for Crewe; for Tellus the Athenian had lived a full and well-contented life, had seen fine and gentlemanly sons and many grandchildren growing up around him, had shared the honour and prosperity of his country, and died fighting at Eleusis when victory was assured. Next in happiness to Tellus came the two Argive boys, who, for want of oxen, themselves drew their mother in a cart up the hill to worship, and, as though in answer to her prayer for blessings on them, died in the temple that night. It has always been so. The leap of Rome’s greatest treasure into the Gulf of earthquake was accounted an enviable opportunity. When they asked Caesar what death he would choose, he answered, “A sudden one,” and he had his wish. “Oh, happy he whom thou in battles findest,” cried Faust to Death in the midst of all his learning; and “Let me like a soldier fall” is the natural marching song of our Territorials.

The advantages of these hot-blooded ends are so obvious that they need hardly be recalled, and, indeed, they have provided a theme for many of our most inspiriting writers. To go when life is strongest and passion is at its height; to avoid the terrors of expectation and escape the lingering paraphernalia of sick chambers and deathbed scenes; to shirk the stuffy and inactive hours, marked by nothing but medicines and unwelcome meals; to elude the doctor’s feigned encouragements, the sympathy of relations anxious to resume their ordinary pursuits, the buzzing of the parson in the ear, the fading of the casement into that “glimmering square”–should we not all go a long way round to seek so merciful a deliverance? “I will not die in my bed like a cow!” cried the Northumbrian king, and was set on his feet in full armour to confront the Arch Fear face to face. There was some poor comfort in a pose like that; it was better than our helpless collapse into a middle-aged cradle, with pap-boat for feeding-bottle, and a last sleep in the nurse’s arms, younger and less muscular than our own. But how much finer to die like Romeo with a kiss, quick as the true apothecary’s drugs; to sink like Shelley in the blue water, with mind still full of the Greek poet whom he tucked against his heart; to pass hot with fever, like Byron, from the height of fame, while thunder presaged to the mountaineers the loss of their great champion in freedom’s war!

There is no question of it; these are axioms that all mankind is agreed upon. Every mortal soul would choose a quick and impassioned death; all admire a certain recklessness, an indifference to personal safety or existence, especially in the old, to whom recklessness is most natural, since they have less of life to risk. That was why the crowd cheered Mr. James Tomkinson as he trotted to the starting-post, and that was why everybody envied his rapid and victorious end. In his _Tales from a Field Hospital_, Sir Frederick Treves told of a soldier who was brought down from Spion Kop as a mere fragment, his limbs shattered, his face blown away, incapable of speech or sight. When asked if he had any message to send home before he died, he wrote upon the paper, “Did we win?” In those words lives the very spirit of that enviable death which all men think they long for–the death which takes no thought of self, and swallows up fear in victory. Such a man Stevenson would have delighted to include in his brave roll-call, and of him those final, well-known words in _Aes Triplex_ might have been written:

“In the hot-fit of life, a-tiptoe on the highest point of being, he passes at a bound on to the other side. The noise of the mallet and chisel is scarcely quenched, the trumpets are hardly done blowing, when, trailing with him clouds of glory, this happy-starred, full-blooded spirit shoots into the spiritual land.”

Yes, it is all very beautiful, and all very true. Stevenson himself, like Caesar, received the death he wished for, and, whether in reason or in passion, every soul among us would agree that death in the midst of life is the most desirable end. And yet–and yet–we hardly know how it is, but, as a matter of fact, we do not seek it, and when the thing comes our way, we prefer, if possible, to walk in the opposite direction. The Territorial may sing himself hoarse with his prayer to fall like a soldier, but when the bullets begin to wail around him, it is a thousand to one that he will duck his head. A man may be reasonably convinced that, since he must die some day, and his reprieve cannot be extended long, it is best to die in battle and shoot full-blooded into the spiritual land; nevertheless, if the shadow of a rock gives some shelter from the guns, he will crawl behind it. A few years ago there was a great Oxford philosopher who, after lecturing all morning on the beauty of being absorbed by death into the absolute and eternal, was granted the opportunity of being wrecked on a lake in the afternoon, but displayed no satisfaction at the immediate prospect of such absorption.

In the same way, despite our natural and reasonable desires for a death like Mr. Tomkinson’s, we still continue to speak, not only of sleeping in our beds, but of dying in them, as one of the chief objects of a virtuous and happy existence. The longest and most devotional part of the Anglican Common Prayer contains a special petition entreating that we may be delivered from the sudden death which we have all agreed is so excellent a piece of fortune. That we are not set free from love of living is shown by what Matthew Arnold called a bloodthirsty clinging to life at a moment of crisis. I shall not forget the green terror on the faces of all the men in a railway carriage when I accidentally set fire to the train, nor have I found it really appetising to suspect even the quickest poison in my soup. Instead of leaping gallantly into death while the trumpets are still blowing, nearly every civilised man deliberately plots out his existence so as to die, like Tolstoy’s Ivan Ilyitch, amid the pitiful squalor of domestic indifference or solicitude. We think health universally interesting, we meditate on diet, we measure our exercise, and shun all risks more carefully than sin. Praising with our lips the glories of the soldier’s death, we tread with minute observance the bath-chair pathway to the sick-rooms of old age.

Are our praises of death in victory, then, all cant, and are all the eloquent rhapsodies of poets and essayists a sham? Montaigne seems to have thought so, for, writing of those who talk fine of dying bravely, he says:

“It happeneth that most men set a stern countenance on the matter, look big, and speak stoutly, thereby to acquire reputation, which, if they chance to live, they hope to enjoy.”

The case of our eloquent rhapsodists who hymn the joys of sudden and courageous death is evidently more favourable still, since they have every chance of living for a time, and so of enjoying a reputation for bravery without much risk. But rather than accuse mankind of purposely dissembling terror in the hope of braggart fame, we would lay the charge upon a queer divergence between the mind and the bodily will. No matter what the mind may say in commendation of swift and glorious death, the bodily will continues to maintain its life to the utmost, and is the last and savages enemy that the mind can overcome. So it is that no one should reckon beforehand upon courageous behaviour when the supreme summons for courage comes, and only those are faultlessly brave who have never known peril. In reason everyone is convinced that all mankind is mortal, and we hear with vague sympathy of the hosts of dead whose skulls went to pile the pyramids of Tamerlane, or of the thousands that the sea engulfs and earthquakes shatter. But few realise that the life of each among those thousands was as dear to him as our life is, and, though we congratulate heroes upon the opportunity of their death, the moment when that opportunity would be most happy for ourselves never seems exactly to arrive. Hardly anyone really thinks he will die, or is persuaded that the limit to his nature has now come. But it is through realising the incalculable craving of this bodily will to survive that men who have themselves known danger will pay the greater reverence to those who, conscious of mortal fears, and throbbing with the fullness of existence, none the less in the calm ecstasy of their devotion commit themselves to the battle, the firing squad, or the prison death as to a chariot of fire.

XXXIV

THE ELEMENT OF CALM

All are aware that we have no abiding city here, but that, says the hymn-writer, is a truth which should not cost the saint a tear, and our politicians appear to lament it as little as the saints. Their eyes are dry; it does not distress their mind, it seems hardly to occur to them, unless, perhaps, they are defeated candidates. One might suppose from their manner that eternal truths depended on their efforts, and that the city they seek to build would abide for ever. Could all this toil and expenditure be lavished on a transitory show, all this eloquence upon the baseless fabric of a vision, all this hatred and malice upon things that wax old as doth a garment and like a vesture are rolled up? One would think from his preoccupied zeal that every politician was laying the foundation stone of an everlasting Jerusalem, did not reason and experience alike forbid the possibility.

May it not rather be that the politicians, like the saints, keep the tears of mortality out of their eyes by contemplating this passing dream under the aspect of eternal realities? In months when the heavens at night are filled with constellations of peculiar beauty, may we not suppose that the politician, emerging from the Town Hall amid the cheers and execrations of the voice that represents the voice of God, lifts up his eyes unto the heavens, where prone Orion still grasps his sword, and Auriga drives his chariot of fire, and the pole star hangs immovable, by which Ulysses set his helm? And as he gazes, he recognises with joy in his heart that the stars themselves, with all their recurrent comets and flaming meteors and immovable constellations, hardly cast a stain upon the white radiance of eternity, under which he has been striving and crying and perpetrating comparatively trifling deviations from exactness.

It is a consolation which a large proportion, probably more than half, of mankind shares with our politicians. Like them, the greater part of mankind is aware that there is peace somewhere beyond these voices, that life with all its unsatisfied longings and its repetition of care is transitory as a summer cloud, and that the only way of escape from the pain and misery, the foulness and corruption, of this material universe is by the destruction of all desires, except the one engrossing desire for non-existence. That is why the majority of mankind has set itself to overcome the unholy urgings of ambition, the pleasure of selfish and revengeful purposes, and the deeply-implanted delight in cruelty and unkindness. Such conquest is the essential part of the Fourfold Path by which the bliss of extinction may be attained. Let him cease to be ambitious, let him purge himself of selfish aims and revengeful or unkind thoughts, and a man may at last enter into Nirvana, even a politician may slowly be extinguished. Life follows life, and each life fulfils its Karma of destined expiation, working out the earthly stain of previous existences. “Quisque suos patimur manes.” The sin that most easily besets us fixes the shape of our next incarnation, and, did not a politician strictly follow the guidance of the Fourfold Path, the first election after his death might see him re-appear as a sheep, a cave-dweller, or a rat.

Never to have been born is best; never to be born again is the hope and motive of all good men among the greater part of mankind. It is not only the teaching of the most famous Buddha which has told them so. A Preacher more familiar to us has said the same, and our Western churches do but repeat an echo from the East. “I praised the dead who are already dead more than the living who are yet alive,” he wrote; “yea, better is he than both they which hath not yet been, who hath not seen the evil work that is done under the sun.” Wherefore is light given to him that is in misery? asked Job. From age to age the question has been asked by far more than half the human race, and yet the human race continues, miserable and unholy though it is.

But the widest expression of this common cry is found in Buddhism, and therein is found also a doctrine of peace that seeks to answer it. From the turmoil of the street and market-place, from the atomic vortex of public meetings, ballot stations, and motors decked with flags, let us turn to the “Psalms of the Sisters,” those Buddhist nuns whose utterances Mrs. Rhys Davids has edited for the Pali Text Society. In this inextricable error of existence–this charnel-house of corrupting bodies wherein the soul lies imprisoned too long–time and space do not seriously matter. Let us turn from Haggerston and Battersea and the Parliamentary squabbles of to-day, and visit the regions where the great mountains were standing and the holy Ganges flowed within two or three centuries before or after the birth of Christ. Somewhere about that time, somewhere about that place, these women, having in most cases, fulfilled their various parts in wives, mothers, or courtesans, retired to the Homeless Life in mountains, forests, or the banks of streams where they might seek deliverance for their souls. With shaven heads, and clad in the deep saffron cloth such as the ascetic wanderer of India still wears, furnished only with a bowl for the unasked offerings of the pious and compassionate, they went their way, free from the cares and desires of this putrefying world. As one of them–a goldsmith’s daughter, to whom the Master himself had taught the Norm of the Fourfold Path–as one of them explained to the tiresome relations who tried to call her back:

“Why herewithal, my kinsmen–nay, my foes– Why yoke me in your minds with sense desires? Know me as her who fled the life of sense, Shorn of her hair, wrapt in her yellow robe. The food from hand to mouth, glean’d here and there, The patchwork robe–these things are meet for me, The base and groundwork of the homeless life.”

Some sought escape from the depression of luxury, some from the wretchedness of the poor, some from the abominations of the wanton, some from the boredom of tending an indifferent husband. One of them thus utters her complaint with frank simplicity:

“Rising betimes, I went about the house, Then, with my hands and feet well cleansed I went To bring respectful greeting to my lord, And taking comb and mirror, unguents, soap, I dressed and groomed him as a handmaid might. I boiled the rice, I washed the pots and pans; And as a mother on her only child,
So did I minister to my good man.
For me, who with toil infinite then worked, And rendered service with a humble mind, Rose early, ever diligent and good,
For me he nothing felt, save sore dislike.”

Others sought freedom of intellect, others the free development of personality; but, in the end, it was deliverance from earthly desires that all were seeking, for it is only through such deliverance that the final blessedness of total extinction can be reached. Then, as they cry, they cease to wander in the jungles of the senses, rebirth comes no more, and the peace of Nirvana is won. A poor Brahmin’s daughter who had been married to a cripple, thus exults in a multiplied redemption:

“O free, indeed! O gloriously free
Am I in freedom from three crooked things:– From quern, from mortar, from my crook-back’d lord! Ay, but I’m free from rebirth and from death, And all that dragged me back is hurled away.”

But more truly characteristic of the spiritual mind is the joyful advice of one who, having perfected herself in meditation, could thus commune with her soul:

“Hast thou not seen sorrow and ill in all The springs of life? Come thou not back to birth! Cast out the passionate desire again to Be. So shalt thou go thy ways calm and serene.”

Thus only by the recognition of the sorrow of the world, by the conquest of all desires, and by the exercise of kindliness to all that breathe this life of misery, is that Path to be trodden of which the fourth stage enters Nirvana’s peace. Thus only can we escape from this repulsive carcass–“this bag of skin with carrion filled,” as one of the Sisters called it–and so be merged into the element of calm, just as the space inside a bowl is merged into the element of space when at last the bowl is broken and will never need scrubbing more.

It is thought that Gautama, the great Buddha, whose effigy in the calm of contemplation is the noblest work of Indian art, fondly believed that all mankind would seek deliverance along the path he pointed out, and that so, within a few generations, the human race, together, perhaps, with every living thing that breathes beneath the law of Karma, would pass from sorrow into nothingness. Mankind has not fulfilled his expectation. The task of expiation is not yet completed, and, in the midst of anguish, corruption, and the flux of all material things, the human race goes swarming on. I suppose it is about as numerous as ever, and, though something like half of it accepts the teaching of the Buddha as divine, they seem in no more hurry to fulfil its precepts than are the followers of other Founders. We cannot say that mankind has gone very far along the Fourfold Path, for there are still many of us who would rather be a mouse than nothing; yet it remains an accepted truth of the Buddhistic doctrine, that above this fleeting and variegated world there abides the element of calm. As the final Chorus “Mysticus” of _Faust_ proclaims: “All things transitory are but a symbol,” and if any politician during the storm of worldly desires has for a moment lost sight of truth’s eternal stars that guide his way, let him now turn to the “Psalms of the Sisters.” Even if he has been successful in his ambition, he will there find peace, discovering in Nirvana the quiet Chiltern Hundreds of the soul.

XXXV

“THE KING OF TERRORS”

Skulls may not affright us, nor present fashion ordain cross-bones upon our sepulchres; but still in the face of death the commonplaces of comfort shrivel, and philosophy’s consolations strike cold as the symbolism of the tomb. All that lives must die; we know it, but that death is common does not assuage particular grief, nor can the contemplation of prehistoric ruins soften regret for one baby’s smile. Man’s dogma has proved vain as his philosophy. Age after age has composed some vision of continued life, and sought to allay its fear or sorrow with suitable imaginations. Mummies of death outlive their granite; vermilion and the scalping-knife lie ready for the happy hunting grounds; beside the royal carcass two score of concubines and warriors are buried quick; Walhalla rings with clashing swords whose wounds close up again at sunset; heroes tread the fields of shadowy asphodel, and on Elysian plains attenuated poets welcome the sage newcomer to their converse; houris reward the faithful for holy slaughter; prophets reveal a gorgeous city and pearly gates beyond the river; the poet tells of circles winding downward to the abyss, and upward to the Rose of Paradise; upon the bishop’s tomb in St. Praxed’s one Pan is carved, and Moses with the tables; upon the gravestone of an Albanian chief they scratch his rifle and his horse; and over the slave’s low mound in Angola plantations his basket and mattock are laid, lest he should miss them. So various are the devices contrived for the solace of mankind, or for his instruction. But one by one, like the dead themselves, those devices have passed and passed away, leaving mankind unwitting and unconsoled. For there is still one road that each traveller must discover afresh, and death’s door, at which all men stand, opens only inwards.

Maurice Maeterlinck has always remained very conscious of that door. How often in his whispering dramas we are made aware of it! How often, without even the knock of warning, it suddenly gapes or stands ajar, and unseen hands are pulling, and children are drawn in, and young girls are drawn in, and wise men, and the old, while the living world remains outside, still at breakfast, still busy with its evening games and sewing, still blindly groping for its departed guide! From the outset, Maeterlinck has been an amateur of death. In a little volume that bears Death’s name, he utters his meditation upon death’s nature and significance. Like other philosophers and all old wives, he also attempts our consolation. Mankind demands a consolation, for without it, perhaps, the species could hardly have survived their foreknowledge of the end. But in treating the first two terrors to which he applies his comfortable arguments, Maeterlinck’s reasoning appears to me almost irrelevant, almost obsolete. He attributes the terrified apprehension of death, first, to the fear of pain in dying, and, secondly, to the fear of anguish hereafter. In neither fear, I think, does the essential horror of death now lie. All who have witnessed various forms of death, whether on the field or in the sick chamber, will agree that the process of dying is seldom more difficult or more painful than taking off one’s clothes. The blood ebbs, the senses sleep, “the casement slowly grows a glimmering square,” breath gradually fails, unconsciousness faints into deeper unconsciousness, and that is all. Even in terrible wounds and cases of extreme pain, medicine can now alleviate the worst, nor, in any case, do I believe that the expectation of physical agony, however severe, has much share in the instinct that stands aghast at death. If fear of pain thus preoccupied the soul, martyrs would not have sown the Church, nor would births continue.

In combating the dread of future torment, Maeterlinck may have better cause for giving comfort. Long generations have been haunted by that terror. “Ay, but to die,” cries Claudio in _Measure for Measure_:

“Ay, but to die, and go we know not where; To lie in cold obstruction, and to rot; This sensible warm motion to become
A kneaded clod; and the delighted spirit To bathe in fiery floods, or to reside
In thrilling regions of thick-ribbed ice; To be imprison’d in the viewless winds, And blown with restless violence round about The pendant world; or to be worse than worst Of those that lawless and incertain thoughts Imagine howling!”

Nor were such terrors mediaeval only. Till quite recent years they cast a gloom over the existence of honourable and laborious men. Remember that scene in Oxford when Dr. Johnson, with a look of horror, acknowledged that he was much oppressed by the fear of death, and when the amiable Dr. Adams suggested that God was infinitely good, he replied:

“‘As I cannot be sure that I have fulfilled the conditions on which salvation is granted, I am afraid I may be one of those who shall be damned’ (looking dismally). Dr. Adams: ‘What do you mean by damned?’ Johnson (passionately and loudly): ‘Sent to Hell, Sir, and punished everlastingly.'”

No one disputes that for many ages the lives of even the just and good were burdened by such oppressive fears. Perhaps, indeed, the just and good were more burdened than the wicked; for to the wicked their own sins seldom appear so deadly black, and when a Balkan priest lately displayed pictures of eternal torment as warnings to a savage mountaineer’s enormities, he was met by the reply, “Even we should not be so cruel.” But to the greater part of thinking mankind, Maeterlinck’s reassurances upon the subject, even if they could be established, would appear a little out-of-date, and I do not believe that, even where they linger, such terrors form the basis of the fear of death. Was there not, at all events, one strenuous Canon of the Established Church who defiantly proclaimed that he would rather be damned than annihilated?

“Men fear death,” says Bacon’s familiar sentence; “men fear death, as children fear to go in the dark.” It is not the dread of pain and torment; it is the dark that terrifies; it is Kingsley’s horror of annihilation; it is the hot life’s fear of ceasing to be. I grant that many are unconscious of this fear. In word, at all events, there are multitudes, perhaps the greater part of mankind, who long for the annihilation of self, who direct their lives by the great hope of becoming in the end absorbed into the Universe. Their perpetual prayer is to be rid of personality at the last, no matter through what strange embodiments the self must pass before it reach the bliss of nothingness. Similar, though less doctrinal, was the prayer of Job when he counted himself among those who long for death, but it cometh not, and dig for it more than for hid treasures; who rejoice exceedingly, and are glad when they can find the grave. “Why died I not from the womb?” he cried:

“For now should I have lain still and been quiet, I should have slept; then, had I been at rest, with kings and counsellors of the earth, which built solitary places for themselves.”

How far the loss of personal consciousness by absorption into universal infinity is identical with the eternal rest desired by Job might be long disputed. Sir Thomas Browne, having heard of the Brahmin or Buddhist conceptions of futurity, would draw a thin distinction:

“Others,” he says, “rather than be lost in the uncomfortable night of nothing, were content to recede into the common being; and make one particle of the public soul of all things, which was no more than to return into their unknown and divine original again.”

In effect this doctrine comes very near Maeterlinck’s plea of comfort. Annihilation, he says, is impossible, because nothing is destructible. But when confronted with the eternal antinomy of death, that both the end and the survival of personality are equally inconceivable, he hesitates. He admits that survival without consciousness would be the same as the annihilation o self (in which case he maintains death could be no evil, bringing only eternal sleep). But he rejects this solution as flattering only to ignorance, and has visions of a new ego collecting a fresh nucleus round itself and developing in infinity. For the “narrow ego” which we partly know–the humble self of memories and identity, the soul that sums up experience into some kind of unity–he expresses considerable contempt, as a frail and forgetful thing; and he seeks to waft us away into an intellect devoid of senses, which he says almost certainly exists, and into an infinity which is “nothing if it be not felicity.”

I do not know. A man may say what he pleases about intellect devoid of senses, or about the felicity of infinity. One statement may be as true as the other, or the reverse of both may be true. Talk of that kind rests on no sounder basis than the old assertions about the houris and the happy hunting-grounds, and it brings no surer consolation. Even when Maeterlinck tells us that it is impossible for the universe to be a mistake, and that our own reason necessarily corresponds with the eternal laws of the universe, we may answer that we hope, and even believe, that he is right, but on such a basis we can found no certainty whatever. Nor does the self, when, warm with life, inspired with vital passion, and energising for its own fulfilment, it stands horrified before the gulf of death, fearing no conceivable torment, but only the cessation of its power and identity–at such a moment that inward and isolated self can derive no reassurance from the dim possibility of some future nucleus, under cover of which it may pass into the felicity of the universal infinite, stripped of its memory, its present personality, and its flesh.

Fear of annihilation, or of the loss of identity, which is the same thing, I take to be one of the remaining terrors in European minds meditating on death. Of all the imagined forms of survival, only one is obviously more horrible than the night of nothing, and that is the state in which Beethoven twangs a banjo and Gladstone utters the political forecasts of a distinguished journalist. It may be that my affection for the “narrow ego” is too violent, but, for myself, I do not find M. Maeterlinck’s consolations more genuinely consoling than other philosophy. On the second and far more poignant terror that still survives in the very nature of death, he hardly touches. I mean the severance of love, the disappearance of the beloved. “No, no, no life,” cries Lear:

“Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life, And thou no breath at all? Thou’lt come no more, Never, never, never, never, never!”

It is the cry of all mankind when love is thus slit in twain; nor is sorrow comforted because coral is made of love’s bones, or violets spring from his flesh, and the vanished self is possibly absorbed into the felicity of an infinite and everlasting azure.

XXXVI

STRULDBRUGS

What a fuss they make, proclaiming the secret of long life! We must stay abed till noon, they say; we must take life slowly and comfortably; we must avoid worry, live moderately, drink wine, smoke cigars, and read the _Times_. Yes; there is one who, in a letter to the _Times_, boasted his grandfather sustained life for a hundred and one years by reading all the leading and special articles of that paper; his father got to eighty-eight on the same diet; himself follows their footsteps on fare that is new every morning. Another writer has subscribed to the _Times_ for sixty-seven years, and now is ninety-two on the strength of it. Avoid worry, fret not yourself because of evildoers, let not indignation lacerate your heart, take the sensible and solid view of things, read the _Times_, and you will surpass the Psalmist’s limit of threescore years and ten.

What a picture of beneficent comfort it calls up! The breakfast-room furniture fit to outlast the Pyramids, the maroon leather of deep armchairs, the marble clock ticking to half-past nine beneath the bronze figure with the scythe and hourglass, the boots set to warm upon the hearthrug, the crisp bacon sizzling gently beneath its silver cover, the pleasant wife murmuring gently behind the silver urn, the paper set beside the master’s plate. Isaiah knew not of such regimen, else he would not have cried that all flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof as the flower of the field.

Others there are whom poverty precludes from silver, and the narrow estate of home from daily sustenance on the _Times_. Some study diuturnity upon two meals a day, or pursue old age by means of “unfired food,” Others devour roots by moonlight, or savagely dine upon a pocket of raw beans. These are intemperate on water, or bewail the touch of salt as sacrilege against the sacrifice of eggs. These grovel for nuts like the Hampshire hog, or impiously celebrate the fruitage by which man fell. Some cast away their coats, some their hosen, some their hats. They go barefoot but for sandals. They wander about in sheepskins and goatskins, eschewing flesh for their food, and vegetables for their clothing. They plunge distracted into boiling water. Shudderingly, they break the frosty Serpentine. They absorb the sun’s rays like pigeons upon the housetops, or shiver naked in suburban chambers that they may recover the barbaric tang. They walk through rivers fully clothed, and shake their vesture as a dog his coat; or are hydrophobic for their skins, fearing to wash lest they disturb essential oils. They shave their heads as a cure for baldness, or in gentle gardens emulate the raging lion’s mane. One dreads to miss his curdled milk by the fraction of a minute; another, at the semblance of a cold, puts off his supper for three weeks and a day. One calculates upon longevity by means of bare knees, another apprehends the approach of death through the orifice in the palm of a leather glove.

Of course, it is all right. Life is of inestimable value, and nothing can compensate a corpse for the loss of it. Falstaff knew that, and, like the Magpie Moth, wisely counterfeited death to avoid the irretrievable step of dying. Our prudent livers display an equal wisdom, not exactly counterfeiting death, but living gingerly–living, as it were, at half-cock, lest life should go off suddenly with a flash and bang, leaving them nowhere. Of course, they are quite right. Life being pleasurable, it is well to spread it out as far as it will go. As to honour, the hoary head in itself is a crown of glory, and when a man reaches ninety, people will call him wonderful, though for ninety years he has been a fool. The objects of living are, for the most part, obscure and variable, and prudent livers may well ask why for the obscure and variable objects of life they should lose life itself–“Propter causas vivendi perdere vitam,” if we may reverse the old quotation.

So they are quite justified in eating the bread of carefulness, and no one who has known danger will condemn their solicitude for safely. But yet, in hearing of those devices, or perusing the _Sour Milk Gazette_ and the _Valetudinarian’s Handbook_, somehow there come to my mind the words, “Insanitas Sanitutum, omnia Insanitas!” And suddenly the picture of those woeful islanders whom Gulliver discovered rises before me. For, as we remember, in the realm of Laputa, he found a certain number of both sexes (about eleven hundred) who were called Struldbrugs, or Immortals, because, being born with a certain spot over the left eyebrow, they were destined never to know the common visitation of death. We remember how Gulliver envied them, accounting them the happiest of human beings, since they had obtained in perpetuity the blessing of life, for which all men struggle so hard that whoever has one foot in the grave is sure to hold back the other as strongly as he can. But in the end, he concluded that their lot was not really enviable, seeing that increasing years only brought an increase of their dullness and incapacity:

“They were not only opinionative,” he writes, “peevish, covetous, morose, vain, talkative, but incapable of friendship, and dead to all natural affections, which never descended below their grandchildren. Envy and impotent desires are their prevailing passions. But those objects against which their envy seems principally directed are the vices of the younger sort, and the deaths of the old. By reflecting on the former they find themselves cut off from all possibility of pleasure; and whenever they see a funeral they lament and repine that others have gone to a harbour of rest, to which they themselves never can hope to arrive.”

The explorer further discovered that, after the age of eighty, the marriages of the Struldbrugs were dissolved, because the law thought it a reasonable indulgence that those who were condemned, without any fault of their own, to a perpetual continuance in the world, should not have their misery doubled by the load of a wife; also that they could never amuse themselves with reading, because their memory would not serve to carry them from the beginning of a sentence to the end; and after about two hundred years, they could not hold conversation with their neighbours, the mortals, because the language of the country was always upon the flux.

It is a pity that the laws of Laputa stringently forbade the export of Struldbrugs, else, Gulliver tells us, he would gladly have brought a couple to this country, to arm our people against the fear of death. Had he only done so, what a lot of letters to the _Times_, advertisements of patent medicines; and Eugenic discussions we should have been spared! If earthly immortality were known to be such a curse, we could more easily convince the most scrupulous devotee of health that old age was little better than immortality.

It is not, therefore, as though great age were such a catch that it should demand all these delicate manipulations of diet, sleep, rest-cures, health-resorts, scourings, and temperatures, for its attainment. How refreshing to escape from this hospital atmosphere into the free air, blowing whither it lists, and to fling oneself carelessly upon existence, as Sir George Birdwood, for instance, has done! He also wrote to the _Times_, but in a very different tone. Like another Gulliver, he pictured the calamity of millionaires living on till their heirs are senile. It is all nonsense, he said, to prescribe rules for life. One of his oldest friends drank a bottle of cognac a day, and, as for himself–well, we know that he is eighty, has lived a varied and dangerous life in many lands, has written on carrots, chestnuts, carpets, art, scholarship, all manner of absorbing subjects, and yet he heartily survives:

“I attribute my senility–let others say senectitude,” he shouts in his cheery way, “to a certain playful devilry of spirit, a ceaseless militancy, quite suffragettic, so that when I left the Indian Office on a bilked pension I swore by all the gods I would make up for it by living on ten years, instead of one, which was all an insurance society told me I was worth.”

That sounds the true note, blowing the horn of old forests and battles. “A playful devilry of spirit,” “a ceaseless militancy”–how stirring to the stagnant lives of prudent regularity! “Lie in bed till noon-day!” he goes on; “I would rather be some monstrous flat-fish at the bottom of the Atlantic than accept human life on such terms.” Who in future will hear of rest-cures, retirements, retreats, nursings, comforts, and attention to health, without beholding in his mind that monstrous flat-fish, blind and deaf with age, rotting at ease upon the Atlantic slime? Life is not measured by the ticking of a clock, and it is no new thing to discover eternity in a minute. “I have not time to make money,” said the naturalist, Agassiz, when his friends advised some pecuniary advantage; and, in the same way, every really fortunate man says he has no time to bother about living. So soon as a human being does anything simply because he thinks it will “do him good,” and not for pleasure, interest, or service, he should withdraw from this present world as gracefully as he can. Of course, we all want to live, but even in death there can hardly be anything so very awful, since it is so common.

“The Kingdom of Heaven is not meat and drink.” “He that loses his life shall find it,” said one Teacher. “Live dangerously,” said another; and “Try to be killed” is still the best advice for a soldier who would rise. For life is to be measured by its intensity, and not by the tapping of a death-watch beetle. “I’ve lost my appetite. I can’t eat!” groaned the patient whom Carlyle knew. “My dear sir, that is not of the slightest consequence,” replied the good physician; and how wise are those scientists who deny to invalids the existence of their pain! Sir George Birdwood recalled the saying of Plato that attention to health is one of the greatest hindrances to life, and I vaguely remember Plato’s commendation of the working-man, who, in illness, just takes a dose, and if that doesn’t cure him, remarks, “If I must die, I must die,” and dies accordingly. That is how the working-man dies still; though sometimes he is now buoyed up by the thought of his funeral’s grandeur. “A certain playful devilry of spirit,” “a ceaseless militancy”–for life or death those are the best regulations.

XXXVII

“LIBERTE, LIBERTE, CHERIE!”

Just escaped from the prison-house of Russia, I had reached Marseilles. The whole city, the bay, and the surrounding hills, bright with villas and farms, glittered in sunshine. So did the spidery bridge that swings the ferry across the Old Harbour’s mouth. Even the fortifications looked quite amiable under such a sky. Booming sirens sounded the approach of great liners, moving slowly to their appointed docks. Little steamers hurried from point to point along the shores with crowded decks, and the lighthouses stood white against the Mediterranean blue.

The streets were thronged with busy people. The shops and cafes were thronged. At all the bathing places along the bay crowds of men, women, and children were plunging with joy into the cool, transparent water. The walls and kiosks were covered with gay advertisements of balls, concerts, theatres, and open air music-halls. Flaunting and flirting to and fro, women recalled what pleasure was. Electric trams went clanging down the lines. Motors hooted as they set off for tours in the Alps. Little carriages, with many-coloured hoods, loitered temptingly beside tine pavements. The stalls along the quay shone with every variety of gleaming fish, and every produce of the kindly earth. The sun went smiling through the air; the sea smiled in answer. And over all, high upon her rocky hill, watched the great image of Notre Dame de la Garde.

“This is civilisation! This is liberty!” cried a Frenchman, who had joined our ship in Turkey, and was now seated beside me, enjoying the return to security, peace, and the comfort of his own language.

Yes; it was civilisation, and it was liberty. Has not the name of Marseilles breathed the very spirit of liberty all over the world? And yet his words recalled to me another scene, and the remark of another native of Marseilles.

We were steaming slowly along the West Coast of Africa, landing cargo at point after point, or calling for it as required. Day by day we wallowed through the oily water, under a misty sun, that did not roast, but boiled. Day by day we watched the low-lying shore–the unvarying line of white beach, almost as white as the foam which dashed against it; and beyond the beach, the long black line of unbroken forest. Nothing was to be seen but those parallel lines of white beach and black forest, stretching both ways to the horizon. At dawn they were partly concealed by serpentining ghosts of mist that slowly vanished under the increasing heat; and at sunset the mists stole silently over them again. But all day and all night the sickly stench of vegetation, putrefying in the steam of those forests from age to age, pervaded the ship as with the breath of plague.

One morning the scream of our whistle and the bang of our little signal-gun, followed by the prolonged rattle of the anchor-chain running through the hawse-pipe, showed that we had reached some point of call. The ship lay about half a mile off shore, and one could see black figures running about the beach and pushing off a big black boat. The spray shot high in the air as the bow dived through the surf, and soon we could hear the hiss and gasp of the rowers as they drew near. They were naked negroes, shining with oil and sweat. Standing up in the boat, with face to bow, they plunged their paddles perpendicularly into the water with a hiss, and drew them out with a gasp. A swirling circle of foam marked where each stroke had fallen, and the boat surged nearer through the swell, till, with a swish of backing paddles, it stopped alongside the ship’s ladder, like a horse reined up. Out of the stern there stepped a little figure, just recognisable as a white man. His helmet was soaked and battered out of shape. The tattered relics of his white-duck suit were plastered with yellow palm-oil and various kinds of grease. So was the singlet, which was his only other clothing. So were his face and hands. But he was a white man, and he came up the ship’s side with the confident air of Europe.

The purser greeted him on deck, and they disappeared into the purser’s cabin to make out the bill of lading. The hatch was opened, and the steam crane began hauling barrels and sacks out of the boat, and then depositing other great barrels in their place, according to the simplest form of barter. The barrels we took smelt of palm-oil; the barrels we gave smelt of rum. When the boat could hold no more, the little man reappeared with the purser, and was introduced to me as Mr. Jacks.

He took off his battered helmet, inclined his body from the middle of his back, and said, “Enchanted, sair!”

Then he gave me his oily hand, which wanted rubbing down with a bit of deck swabbing.

“You fit for go shore one time?” he asked in the pidjin English of the Coast, still keeping his helmet politely raised.

“Oui, certainement, toute suite,” I replied in the pidjin French of England.

If I had been the King conferring on him the title of Duke with a corresponding income, his face could not have expressed greater surprise and ecstasy.

He replied with a torrent of French, of which I understood nearly all, except the point.

Taking my arm (the coat-sleeve never recovered from the oily stain), he led me to the ship’s side and steadied the rope ladder while I went down, the purser following behind, or rather on my head. We sat on the barrels, M. Jacques took a paddle to steer, and hissing and gasping, the queer-smelling crew started for the beach. When we came near, M. Jacques turned with his pleasant smile to the purser, and said, “Surf no good! Plenty purser live for drown this one place.”

“That’s all right,” said the purser. Then the paddling stopped, and M. Jacques looked over the stern to watch the swell. For a long time we hung there, the waves rolling smoothly under us and crashing against the steep bank of sand just in front, as a stormy sea crashes against a south-coast esplanade at full tide under a south-west wind. Gently moving his paddle this way and that, M. Jacques held the stern to the swell, till suddenly he shouted “One time!” and the natives drove their paddles Into the water like spears. On the top of a huge billow we rushed forward. It broke, and we crashed down upon the beach. In a dome of green and white the surge passed clean over us, and then, with a roar like a torrent, it dragged us back. Another great wave broke over the stern, and again we were hurled forward beneath it. This time a crowd of natives rushed into the foam and, clinging to the gunwale, held us steady against the backwash. Out we all sprang into two feet of rushing water, and hauled the boat clear up the shore.

“Surf no good!” observed M. Jacques; “but purser live this time,” Then he shook himself like a dog, rolled on the fine sand, shook himself again, and with the smile of all the angels, remarked, “Now we fit for go get one dilly drink.”

Leaving the natives to roll up the great barrels from the boat, we climbed the beach to a long but narrow strip of fairly hard ground, on which one solitary thorn-tree had contrived to grow. The further side of the bank fell steeply into the vast swamp of the coast. There the mangrove trees stood rotting in black water and slimy ooze, so thick together that the misty sun never penetrated half-way down their inextricable branches, and even from the edge of the forest one looked into darkness. On the top of that thin plateau between the roaring sea and the impenetrable swamp, M. Jacques had made his home. It was a ramshackle little house, run together of boards and corrugated iron, and bearing evidence of all the mistakes of which a West African native is capable. At midday the solitary thorn afforded a transparent shade; for the rest of daylight the dwelling sweltered and boiled unprotected. Round house and tree ran a mud wall, about five feet high, loop-holed at intervals. And just inside the house door was fastened a rack of three rifles, kept tolerably clean.

“Plenty pom-pom,” said M. Jacques, as I looked at them (he returned to the language that I evidently understood better than his own). “Black man he cut throats too plenty much.”

Opening a padlocked trap-door in the flooring, he disappeared into an underground cavern. Calling to me, he struck a match, and I looked down into a kind of dungeon cell, smelling of damp like a vault There I saw a broken camp-bed, covered with a Kaffir blanket.

“Here live for catch dilly sleep,” he cried triumphantly, as though exhibiting a palace. “Plenty cool night here.”

Then, with a bottle in one hand, he came up the ladder, and carefully locking the trap-door and pulling a table over it, he observed, “Black man he thief too plenty much.”

With one thought only–the longing for liquid of any kind but salt water-we sat in crazy deck-chairs under the iron verandah, where a few starved chickens pecked unhappily at the dust. Presently there came the padding sound of naked feet upon the hard-baked earth, and a dark figure emerged from an inner kitchen. It was a young negress. Her short, woolly hair was cut into sections, like a melon, by lines that showed the paler skin below. The large dark eyes were filmy as a seal’s, and the heavy black lips projected far in front of the flat nostrils, slit sideways like a bull-dog’s. From breast to knee she was covered with a length of dark blue cotton, wound twice round her body, and fastened with two safety pins. In her hands, which were pinkish inside and on the palm like a monkey’s, she held a tray, and coming close to us, she stood, silent and motionless, in front of M. Jacques.

Into three meat-tins that served for cups, he poured out wine from the bottle he had brought up from his subterranean bedroom. Then he filled up his own cup from a larger meat-tin of water fresh from the marsh. We did the same to make the wine go further, and at last we drank. It was the vilest wine the chemists of Hamburg ever made, though German education favours chemistry; and the water tasted like the bilge of Charon’s boat. But it was liquid, and when we had drained the tins–I will not say to the dregs, for Hamburg wine has no dregs–M. Jacques lay back with a sigh and said, “Drink fine too much.”

The girl handed us sticky slabs of Africa’s maize bread, and then padded off with the tray. Coming out again, she crouched down on her heels against the doorpost, and silently watched us with impenetrable eyes, that never blinked or turned aside, no matter how much one stared.

Meantime, the natives from the beach, with many sighs and groans, were rolling up the cargo of barrels, and setting them, one by one, in a barricaded storehouse. “That’s Bank of France,” said M. Jacques, locking the door securely when all the barrels were stowed. “Plenty rum all the same good for plenty gold.”

Their spell of labour finished, the natives stretched themselves in the shadow of the enclosure wall, and slept, while we sat languidly looking over the steaming water at the ship, now dim in the haze. The heat was so intense that, in spite of our drenching in the surf, the sweat was running down our faces and backs again. The repeated crash and drag of the waves were the only sounds, except when now and again a parrot shrieked from the forest, or some great trunk, rotted right through at last, fell heavily into the swamp among the tangled roots and slime. Even the mosquitoes were still, and the only movement was the hovering of giant hornets, attracted by the smell of the wine.

“Holiday fine too much,” said M. Jacques, smiling at us dreamily, and stretching out his legs as he sank lower into his creaking chair.

“One month, one ship; holiday same time,” he explained, and he went on to tell us he worked too plenty hard the rest of the month, stowing the palm-oil and kernels as the natives brought them in by hardly perceptible tracks from their villages far across the swamp.

“Bit slow, isn’t it, old man?” said the purser.

“Not slow,” he answered quickly; “plenty black man go thief, go kill; plenty fever, plenty live for die.”

“I should think you miss the French cafes and concerts and dancing and all that sort of thing,” I remarked.

“No matter for them things,” he answered. “Liberty here. Liberty live for this one place.”

“‘Where there ain’t no Ten Commandments,'” I quoted.

“No ten? No _one_,” he cried, shaking one finger in my face excitedly, so as to make the meaning of “one” quite clear.

Just then the steamer sounded her siren.

“The old man’s getting in a stew,” said the purser, slowly standing up and mopping his face.

The crew stretched themselves, tightened their wisps of cotton, and slowly stood up too.

As M. Jacques led us politely down to the surf-boat again, I heard him quietly singing in an undertone, “Liberte, Liberte, cherie!”

“What part of France do you come from?” I asked.

“From Marseilles, monsieur,” he answered, and having helped push off the boat, he stood with raised hat, watching us dive through the breakers. Then he slowly climbed the sand again, and I saw him pass into the gate of his fortified wall.

It was strange. Against that man every possible Commandment could be broken, but there was only one which he could have had any pleasure in breaking himself. And as I sat at Marseilles, watching the happy crowds of men and women pass to and fro, it appeared to me that he would have been at liberty to break that Commandment without leaving his native city.

XXXVIII

A FAREWELL TO FLEET STREET

It is still early, but dinner is over–not the club dinner with its buzzing conversation, nor yet the restaurant dinner, hurried into the ten minutes between someone’s momentous speech and the leader that has to be written on it. The suburban dinner is over, and there was no need to hurry. They tell me I shall be healthier now. What do I care about being healthier?

Shall I sit with a novel over the fire? Shall I take life at second-hand and work up an interest in imaginary loves and the exigencies of shadows? What are all the firesides and fictions of the world to me that I should loiter here and doze, doze, as good as die?

They tell me it is a fine thing to take a little walk before bed-time. I go out into the suburban street. A thin, wet mist hangs over the silent and monotonous houses, and blurs the electric lamps along our road. There will be a fog in Fleet Street to-night, but everyone is too busy to notice it. How friendly a fog made us all! How jolly it was that night when I ran straight into a _Chronicle_ man, and got a lead of him by a short head over the same curse! There’s no chance of running into anyone here, let alone cursing! A few figures slouch past and disappear; the last postman goes his round, knocking at one house in ten; up and down the asphalt path leading into the obscurity of the Common a wretched woman wanders in vain; the long, pointed windows of a chapel glimmer with yellowish light through the dingy air, and I hear the faint groans of a harmonium cheering the people dismally home. The groaning ceases, the lights go out, service is over; it will soon be time for decent people to be in bed.

In Fleet Street the telegrams will now be falling thick as–No, I won’t say it! No Vallombrosa for me, nor any other journalistic tag! I remember once a young sub-editor had got as far as, “The cry is still–” when I took him by the throat. I have done the State some service.

Our sub-editors’ room is humming now: a low murmur of questions, rapid orders, the rustle of paper, the quick alarum of telephones. Boys keep bringing telegrams in orange envelopes. Each sub-editor is bent over his little lot of news. One sorts out the speeches from bundles of flimsy. The middle of Lloyd George’s speech has got mixed up with Balfour’s peroration. If he left them mixed, would anyone be the less wise? Perhaps the speakers might notice it, and that man from Wiltshire would be sure to write saying he had always supported Mr. Balfour, and heartily welcomed this fresh evidence of his consistency.

“Six columns speeches in already; how much?” asks the sub-editor. “Column and quarter,” comes answer from the head of the table, and the cutting begins. Another sub-editor pieces together an interview about the approaching comet. “Keep comet to three sticks,” comes the order, and the comet’s perihelion is abbreviated. Another guts a blue-book on prison statistics as savagely as though he were disembowelling the whole criminal population.

There’s the telephone ringing. “Hullo, hullo!” calls a sub-editor quietly. “Who are you? Margate mystery? Go ahead. They’ve found the corpse? All right. Keep it to a column, but send good story. Horrible mutilations? Good. Glimpse the corpse yourself if you can. Yes. Send full mutilations. Will call for them at eleven. Good-bye.” “You doing the Archbishop, Mr. Jones?” asks the head of the table. “Cup-tie at Sunderland,” answers Mr. Jones, and all the time the boys go in and out with those orange-coloured bulletins of the world’s health.

What’s a man to do at night out here? Let’s have a look at all these posters displayed in front of the Free Library, where a few poor creatures are still reading last night’s news for the warmth. Next week there’s a concert of chamber-music in the Town Hall I suppose I might go to that, just to “kill time” as they say. Think of a journalist wanting to kill time! Or to kill anything but another fellow’s “stuff,” and sometimes an editor! Then there’s a boxing competition at the St. John’s Arms, and a subscription dance in the Nelson Rooms, and a lecture on Dante, with illustrations from contemporary art, for working men and women, at the Institute. Also there’s something called the Why-Be-Lonesome Club for promoting friendly social intercourse among the young and old of all classes. I suppose I might go to that too. It sounds comprehensive.

There seems no need to be dull in the suburbs. A man in a cart is still crying coke down the street. Another desires to sell clothes-props. A brace of lovers come stealing out of the Common through the mist, careless of mud and soaking grass. I suppose people would say I’m too old to make love on a County Council bench. In love’s cash-books the balance-sheet of years is kept with remorseless accuracy.

The foreign editors are waiting now in their silent room, and the telegrams come to them from the ends of the world. They fold them in packets together by countries or continents–the Indian stuff, the Russian stuff, the Egyptian, Balkan, Austrian, South African, Persian, Japanese, American, Spanish, and all the rest. They’ll have pretty nearly seven columns by this time, and the order will come “Two-and-a-half foreign,” Then the piecing and cutting will begin. One of them sits in a telephone box with bands across his head, and repeats a message from our Paris correspondent. Through our Paris man we can talk with Berlin and Rome.

From this rising ground I can see the light of the city reflected on the misty air, and somewhere mingled in that light are the big lamps down in Fleet Street. The City’s voice comes to me like a confused murmur through a telephone when the words are unintelligible. The only distinct sounds are the dripping of the moisture from the trees in suburban gardens, and the voice of an old lady imploring her pet dog to return from his evening walk.

The voice of all the world is now heard in that silent room. From moment to moment news is coming of treaties and revolutions, of sultans deposed and kings enthroned, of commerce and failures, of shipwrecks, earthquakes, and explorations, of wars and flooded camps and sieges, of intrigue, diplomacy, and assassination, of love, murder, revenge, and all the public joy and sorrow and business of mankind. All the voices of fear, hope, and lamentation echo in that silent little room; and maps hang on the walls, and guide-books are always ready, for who knows where the next event may come to pass upon this energetic little earth, already twisting for a hundred million years around the sun?

The editor must be back by now. Calm and decisive, he takes his seat in his own room, like the conductor of an orchestra preparing to raise his baton now that the tuning-up is finished. The leader-writers are coming in for their instructions. No need for much consultation to-night–not for the first leader anyhow. For the second–well, there are a good many things one could suggest: Turkey or Persia or the eternal German Dreadnought for a foreign subject; the stage censorship or the price of cotton; and the cup-ties, or the extinction of hats for both sexes as a light note to finish with. He’s always labouring to invent “something light,” is the editor. He says we must sometimes consider the public; just as though we wrote the rest of the paper for our own private fun.

But there’s no doubt about the first leader to-night. There’s only one subject on which it would be a shock to every reader in the morning not to find it written. And, my word! what a subject it is! What seriousness and indignation and conviction one could get into it! I should begin by restating the situation. You must always assume that the reader’s ignorance is new every morning, as love should be; and anyone who happens to know something about it likes to see he was right. I should work in adroit references to this evening’s speeches, and that would fill the first paragraph–say, three sides of my copy, or something over. In the second paragraph I’d show the immense issues involved in the present contest, and expose the fallacies of our opponents who attempt to belittle the matter as temporary and unlikely to recur–say, three sides of my copy again, but not a word more. And, then, in the third paragraph, I’d adjure the Government, in the name of all their party hold sacred, to stand firm, and I’d appeal to the people of this great Empire never to allow their ancient liberties to be encroached upon or overridden by a set of irresponsible–well, in short, I should be like General Sherman when at the crisis of a battle he used to say, “Now, let everything go in”–four sides of my copy, or even five if the stuff is running well.

Somebody must be writing that leader now. Possibly he is doing it better than I should, but I hope not. When Hannibal wandered all those years in Asia at the Court of silly Antiochus this or stupid Prusias the other, and knew that Carthage was falling to ruin while he alone might have saved her if only she had allowed him, would he have rejoiced to hear that someone else was succeeding better than himself–had traversed the Alps with a bigger army, had won a second Cannae, and even at Zama snatched a decisive victory? Hannibal might have rejoiced. He was a very exceptional man.

But here’s a poor creature still playing the clarionet down the street, on the pretence of giving pleasure worth a penny. Yes, my boy, I know you’re out of work, and that is why you play the “Last Rose of Summer” and “When other Lips.” I am out of work, too, and I can’t play anything. You say you learnt when a boy, and once played in the orchestra at Drury Lane; but now you’ve come to wandering about suburban streets, and having finished “When other Lips,” you will quite naturally play “My Lodging’s on the Cold Ground.” Only last night I was playing in an orchestra myself, not a hundred miles (obsolete journalistic tag!)–not a hundred miles from Drury Lane. It was a grand orchestra, that of ours. Night by night it played the symphony of the world, and each night a new symphony was performed, without rehearsal. The drums of our orchestra were the echoes of thundering wars; the flutes and soft recorders were the eloquence of an Empire’s statesmen; and our ‘cellos and violins wailed with the pity of all mankind. In that vast orchestra I played the horn that sounds the charge, or with its sharp reveille vexes the ear of night before the sun is up. Here is your penny, my brother in affliction. I, too, have once joined in the music of a star, and now wander the suburban streets.

That leader-writer has not finished yet, but the proofs of the beginning of his article will be coming down. In an hour or so his work will be over, and he will pass out into the street exhausted, but happy with the sense of function fulfilled. Fleet Street is quieter now. The lamps gleam through the fog, a motor-‘bus thunders by, a few late messengers flit along with the latest telegrams, and some stragglers from the restaurants come singing past the Temple. For a few moments there is silence but for the leader-writer’s quick footsteps on the pavement. He is some hours in front of the morning’s news, and in a few hours more half a million people will be reading what he has just written, and will quote it to each other as their own. How often I have had whole sentences of my stuff thrown at me as conclusive arguments almost before the printing ink was dry!

Here I stand, beside a solitary lamp-post upon a suburban acclivity. The light of the city’s existence I think my successor would say, of her pulsating and palpitating or ebullient existence–is pale upon the sky, and the murmur of her voice sounds like large but distant waves. I stand alone, and near me there is no sound but the complaint of a homeless tramp swearing at the cold as he settles down upon a bench for the night.

How I used to swear at that boy for not coming quick enough to fetch my copy! I knew the young scoundrel’s step–I knew the step of every man and boy in that office. I knew the way each of them went up and down the stairs, and coughed or whistled or spat. What knowledge dies with me now that I am gone! _Qualis artifex pereo!_ But that boy–how I should love to be swearing at him now! I wonder whether he misses me? I hope he does. “It would be an assurance most dear,” as an old song of exile used to say.

INDEX

A

Abdul Hamid,
Angell, Norman,
Antonines, Age of the,
Apuleius, _Golden Ass_ of,
Arbuthnot, Dr.,
Aristotle, definition of happiness, Arnold, Matthew, quoted,
Augustine, Saint,
Austria, Archduke Johann Salvator of,

B

Barcelona,
Barnett, Canon, quoted,
Birdwood, Sir George, quoted,
Boer War,
Boerne, Ludwig, quoted,
Bolivar,
Booth, Charles,
Brailsford, H.N., quoted,
Brown, John,
Browne, Sir Thomas, quoted,
Browning, Robert,
Buddhist Nuns,
Burke, Edmund,
Burns, John,
Byron, as catfish,
quoted,
as rebel,
in Greece,
on the poor,
death,

C

Cade, Jack,
Calvin,
Campbell-Bannerman, Sir Henry,
Canning,
Canterbury, Archbishop of,
Carlyle, Thomas, on allurements,
burning book,
on Mammon,
on Peterloo,
on landowners,
on heroes,
on war,
on Christ,
on invalids,
Chamfort,
Clarkson, Mr., of the Education Office, Clough, Arthur,
Coleridge,
Conway, Moncure,
Cooper, Thomas,
Cowper, William,
Cromwell,
Curzon, Lord,

D

Dante,
Danton,
Darwin,
Davids, Mrs. Rhys,
Davitt, Michael,
Deborah,
Delany,

E

Eliot, George, quoted,
Elliot, Ebenezer,
Emerson, quoted,
Emmet, Robert,

F

Farrar, Dean,
Ferrer, of Barcelona,
Finland,
France, Anatole,
Frazer, _The Golden Bough_, quoted, Free, Richard,
Futurists,

G

Garibaldi,
Gaunt, Elizabeth, burnt,
George, Henry,
Germany, her conquest of England imagined, Gibbon, quoted,
Ginnell, Lawrence, M.P.,
Gladstone,
foreign policy,
arbitration,
Goethe,
preface,
_Faust_, quoted,
science,

H

Hague, The, Conferences,
Hampden, John,
Harmodius and Aristogeiton,
Hebrews, Epistle to, quoted,
Heine, Heinrich,
Henley, W.E., quoted,
Hobbes,
Hobson, J.A.,
Hugo, Victor,
Huxley, Thomas H.,

I

Ibsen, quoted,
India,
treatment of rebels,
our government of,
Anglo-Indians,
Ireland,
Italy,

J

Jacques, M., of the West Coast,
James, Prof. William,
Jameson, Sir L. Starr,
Joan of Arc,
Johnson, Dr., on Hell,
Jones, Ebenezer,
Jones, Ernest,
Judith,

K

Kant, quoted,
Kingsley, Charles, quoted,
Kipling, Rudyard, quoted or referred to, Kossuth,

L

Landor, quoted,
Leopardi, quoted,
Linton, William James,
Lowell, J.R., quoted,
Lynch, Dr., M.P.,

M

Macaulay,
quoted,
in India,
MacDonald, J. Ramsay, M.P.
Machiavelli,
Maeterlinck,
Malmberg, Mme., of Finland,
Malthus,
Mann, Tom,
Martineau, Harriet,
Marx, Karl,
Massey, Gerald,
Mazzini,
Meredith, George, quoted,
Mill, John Stuart,
Montfort, Simon de,
Morley, Lord,
on political offenders,
on books,
on government,
Morocco, Sultan of,
Morris, William,

N

Nash, Vaughan,
Nietzsche, quoted,
Norway, the only democracy,

O

O’Neill, Shan,
Orth, Johann. _See_ Archduke

P

Paine, Tom,
Parnell, Charles Stuart,
Pater, Walter, quoted,
Paterson, Alexander,
Pope,
Proudhon,

R

Rienzi,
Rochefoucauld,
Roosevelt, Theodore,
Rosebery, Lord, quoted,
Rousseau, Jean Jacques,
Ruskin,
on deeds,
the burning book,