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  • 1914
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literature is immortal, and with something more significant than the immortality awarded to him in the sayings of rhetoric; he is perdurable because he is not completed. His humours are strangely matched with perpetuity. But, indeed, he is not worthy to die; for there is something graver than to be immortal, and that is to be mortal. I protest I do not laugh at man or woman in the world. I thank my fellow mortals for their wit, and also for the kind of joke that the French so pleasantly call une joyeusete; these are to smile at. But the gay injustice of laughter is between me and the man or woman in a book, in fiction, or on the stage in a play.

That narrow house–there is sometimes a message from its living windows. Its bewilderment, its reluctance, its defect, show by moments from eyes that are apt to express none but common things. There are allusions unawares, involuntary appeals, in those brief glances. Far from me and from my friends be the misfortune of meeting such looks in reply to pain of our inflicting. To be clever and sensitive and to hurt the foolish and the stolid–“wouldst thou do such a deed for all the world?”


I shall not ask the commentators whether Blake used these two words in union or in antithesis. They assuredly have an inseverable union in the art of literature. The songs of Innocence and Experience are for each poet the songs of his own separate heart and life; but to take the cumulative experiences of other men, and to use these in place of the virginal fruit of thought–whereas one would hardly consent to take them for ordering even the most habitual of daily affairs–is to forgo Innocence and Experience at once and together. Obviously, Experience can be nothing except personal and separate; and Innocence of a singularly solitary quality is his who does not dip his hands into other men’s histories, and does not give to his own word the common sanction of other men’s summaries and conclusions. Therefore I bind Innocence and Experience in one, and take them as a sign of the necessary and noble isolation of man from man–of his uniqueness. But if I had a mind to forgo that manner of personal separateness, and to use the things of others, I think I would rather appropriate their future than their past. Let me put on their hopes, and the colours of their confidence, if I must borrow. Not that I would burden my prophetic soul with unjustified ambitions; but even this would be more tolerable than to load my memory with an unjustifiable history.

And yet how differently do the writers of a certain kind of love- poetry consider this matter. These are the love-poets who have no reluctance in adopting the past of a multitude of people to whom they have not even been introduced. Their verse is full of ready- made memories, various, numerous, and cruel. No single life– supposing it to be a liberal life concerned with something besides sex–could quite suffice for so much experience, so much disillusion, so much deception. To achieve that tone in its fullness it is necessary to take for one’s own the praeterita (say) of Alfred de Musset and of the men who helped him–not to live but– to have lived; it is necessary to have lived much more than any man lives, and to make a common hoard of erotic remembrances with all kinds of poets.

As the Franciscans wear each other’s old habits, and one friar goes about darned because of another’s rending, so the poet of a certain order grows cynical for the sake of many poets’ old loves. Not otherwise will the resultant verse succeed in implying so much–or rather so many, in the feminine plural. The man of very sensitive individuality might hesitate at the adoption. The Franciscan is understood to have a fastidiousness and to overcome it. And yet, if choice were, one might wish rather to make use of one’s fellow men’s old shoes than put their old secrets to use, and dress one’s art in a motley of past passions. Moreover, to utilize the mental experience of many is inevitably to use their verse and phrase. For the rest, all the traits of this love-poetry are familiar enough. One of them is the absence of the word of promise and pledge, the loss of the earliest and simplest of the impulses of love: which is the vow. “Till death!” “For ever!” are cries too simple and too natural to be commonplace, and in their denial there is the least tolerable of banalities–that of other men’s disillusions.

Perfect personal distinctness of Experience would be in literature a delicate Innocence. Not a passage of cheapness, of greed, of assumption, of sloth, or of any such sins in the work of him whose love-poetry were thus true, and whose pudeur of personality thus simple and inviolate. This is the private man, in other words the gentleman, who will neither love nor remember in common.


There are hours claimed by Sleep, but refused to him. None the less are they his by some state within the mind, which answers rhythmically and punctually to that claim. Awake and at work, without drowsiness, without languor, and without gloom, the night mind of man is yet not his day mind; he has night-powers of feeling which are at their highest in dreams, but are night’s as well as sleep’s. The powers of the mind in dreams, which are inexplicable, are not altogether baffled because the mind is awake; it is the hour of their return as it is the hour of a tide’s, and they do return.

In sleep they have their free way. Night then has nothing to hamper her influence, and she draws the emotion, the senses, and the nerves of the sleeper. She urges him upon those extremities of anger and love, contempt and terror to which not only can no event of the real day persuade him, but for which, awake, he has perhaps not even the capacity. This increase of capacity, which is the dream’s, is punctual to the night, even though sleep and the dream be kept at arm’s length.

The child, not asleep, but passing through the hours of sleep and their dominions, knows that the mood of night will have its hour; he puts off his troubled heart, and will answer it another time, in the other state, by day. “I shall be able to bear this when I am grown up” is not oftener in a young child’s mind than “I shall endure to think of it in the day-time.” By this he confesses the double habit and double experience, not to be interchanged, and communicating together only by memory and hope.

Perhaps it will be found that to work all by day or all by night is to miss something of the powers of a complex mind. One might imagine the rhythmic experience of a poet, subject, like a child, to the time, and tempering the extremities of either state by messages of remembrance and expectancy.

Never to have had a brilliant dream, and never to have had any delirium, would be to live too much in the day; and hardly less would be the loss of him who had not exercised his waking thought under the influence of the hours claimed by dreams. And as to choosing between day and night, or guessing whether the state of day or dark is the truer and the more natural, he would be rash who should make too sure.

In order to live the life of night, a watcher must not wake too much. That is, he should not alter so greatly the character of night as to lose the solitude, the visible darkness, or the quietude. The hours of sleep are too much altered when they are filled by lights and crowds; and Nature is cheated so, and evaded, and her rhythm broken, as when the larks caged in populous streets make ineffectual springs and sing daybreak songs when the London gas is lighted. Nature is easily deceived; and the muse, like the lark, may be set all astray as to the hour. You may spend the peculiar hours of sleep amid so much noise and among so many people that you shall not be aware of them; you may thus merely force and prolong the day. But to do so is not to live well both lives; it is not to yield to the daily and nightly rise and fall and to be cradled in the swing of change.

There surely never was a poet but was now and then rocked in such a cradle of alternate hours. “It cannot be,” says Herbert, “that I am he on whom Thy tempests fell all night.”

It is in the hours of sleep that the mind, by some divine paradox, has the extremest sense of light. Almost the most shining lines in English poetry–lines that cast sunrise shadows–are those of Blake, written confessedly from the side of night, the side of sorrow and dreams, and those dreams the dreams of little chimney-sweepers; all is as dark as he can make it with the “bags of soot”; but the boy’s dream of the green plain and the river is too bright for day. So, indeed, is another brightness of Blake’s, which is also, in his poem, a child’s dream, and was certainly conceived by him in the hours of sleep, in which he woke to write the Songs of Innocence:-

O what land is the land of dreams?
What are its mountains, and what are its streams? O father, I saw my mother there,
Among the lilies by waters fair.
Among the lambs clothed in white,
She walk’d with her Thomas in sweet delight.

To none but the hours claimed and inspired by sleep, held awake by sufferance of sleep, belongs such a vision.

Corot also took the brilliant opportunity of the hours of sleep. In some landscapes of his early manner he has the very light of dreams, and it was surely because he went abroad at the time when sleep and dreams claimed his eyes that he was able to see so spiritual an illumination. Summer is precious for a painter, chiefly because in summer so many of the hours of sleep are also hours of light. He carries the mood of man’s night out into the sunshine–Corot did so- -and lives the life of night, in all its genius, in the presence of a risen sun. In the only time when the heart can dream of light, in the night of visions, with the rhythmic power of night at its dark noon in his mind, his eyes see the soaring of the actual sun.

He himself has not yet passed at that hour into the life of day. To that life belongs many another kind of work, and a sense of other kinds of beauty; but the summer daybreak was seen by Corot with the extreme perception of the life of night. Here, at last, is the explanation of all the memories of dreams recalled by these visionary paintings, done in earlier years than were those, better known, that are the Corots of all the world. Every man who knows what it is to dream of landscape meets with one of these works of Corot’s first manner with a cry, not of welcome only, but of recognition. Here is morning perceived by the spirit of the hours of sleep.


The wild man is alone at will, and so is the man for whom civilization has been kind. But there are the multitudes to whom civilization has given little but its reaction, its rebound, its chips, its refuse, its shavings, sawdust and waste, its failures; to them solitude is a right foregone or a luxury unattained; a right foregone, we may name it, in the case of the nearly savage, and a luxury unattained in the case of the nearly refined. These has the movement of the world thronged together into some blind by-way.

Their share in the enormous solitude which is the common, unbounded, and virtually illimitable possession of all mankind has lapsed, unclaimed. They do not know it is theirs. Of many of their kingdoms they are ignorant, but of this most ignorant. They have not guessed that they own for every man a space inviolate, a place of unhidden liberty and of no obscure enfranchisement. They do not claim even the solitude of closed corners, the narrow privacy of the lock and key; nor could they command so much. For the solitude that has a sky and a horizon they know not how to wish.

It lies in a perpetual distance. England has leagues thereof, landscapes, verge beyond verge, a thousand thousand places in the woods, and on uplifted hills. Or rather, solitudes are not to be measured by miles; they are to be numbered by days. They are freshly and freely the dominion of every man for the day of his possession. There is loneliness for innumerable solitaries. As many days as there are in all the ages, so many solitudes are there for men. This is the open house of the earth; no one is refused. Nor is the space shortened or the silence marred because, one by one, men in multitudes have been alone there before. Solitude is separate experience. Nay, solitudes are not to be numbered by days, but by men themselves. Every man of the living and every man of the dead might have had his “privacy of light.”

It needs no park. It is to be found in the merest working country; and a thicket may be as secret as a forest. It is not so difficult to get for a time out of sight and earshot. Even if your solitude be enclosed, it is still an open solitude, so there be “no cloister for the eyes,” and a space of far country or a cloud in the sky be privy to your hiding-place. But the best solitude does not hide at all.

This the people who have drifted together into the streets live whole lives and never know. Do they suffer from their deprivation of even the solitude of the hiding-place? There are many who never have a whole hour alone. They live in reluctant or indifferent companionship, as people may in a boarding-house, by paradoxical choice, familiar with one another and not intimate. They live under careless observation and subject to a vagabond curiosity. Theirs is the involuntary and perhaps the unconscious loss which is futile and barren.

One knows the men, and the many women, who have sacrificed all their solitude to the perpetual society of the school, the cloister, or the hospital ward. They walk without secrecy, candid, simple, visible, without moods, unchangeable, in a constant communication and practice of action and speech. Theirs assuredly is no barren or futile loss, and they have a conviction, and they bestow the conviction, of solitude deferred.

Who has painted solitude so that the solitary seemed to stand alone and inaccessible? There is the loneliness of the shepherdess in many a drawing of J.F. Millet. The little figure is away, aloof. The girl stands so when the painter is gone. She waits so on the sun for the closing of the hours of pasture. Millet has her as she looks, out of sight.

Now, although solitude is a prepared, secured, defended, elaborate possession of the rich, they too deny themselves the natural solitude of a woman with a child. A newly-born child is so nursed and talked about, handled and jolted and carried about by aliens, and there is so much importunate service going forward, that a woman is hardly alone long enough to become aware, in recollection, how her own blood moves separately, beside her, with another rhythm and different pulses. All is commonplace until the doors are closed upon the two. This unique intimacy is a profound retreat, an absolute seclusion. It is more than single solitude; it is a redoubled isolation more remote than mountains, safer than valleys, deeper than forests, and further than mid-sea.

That solitude partaken–the only partaken solitude in the world–is the Point of Honour of ethics. Treachery to that obligation and a betrayal of that confidence might well be held to be the least pardonable of all crimes. There is no innocent sleep so innocent as sleep shared between a woman and a child, the little breath hurrying beside the longer, as a child’s foot runs. But the favourite crime of the sentimentalist is that of a woman against her child. Her power, her intimacy, her opportunity, that should be her accusers, are held to excuse her. She gains the most slovenly of indulgences and the grossest compassion, on the vulgar grounds that her crime was easy.

Lawless and vain art of a certain kind is apt to claim to-day, by the way, some such fondling as a heroine of the dock receives from common opinion. The vain artist had all the opportunities of the situation. He was master of his own purpose, such as it was; it was his secret, and the public was not privy to his artistic conscience. He does violence to the obligations of which he is aware, and which the world does not know very explicitly. Nothing is easier. Or he is lawless in a more literal sense, but only hopes the world will believe that he has a whole code of his own making. It would, nevertheless, be less unworthy to break obvious rules obviously in the obvious face of the public, and to abide the common rebuke.

It has just been said that a park is by no means necessary for the preparation of a country solitude. Indeed, to make those far and wide and long approaches and avenues to peace seems to be a denial of the accessibility of what should be so simple. A step, a pace or so aside, is enough to lead thither.

A park insists too much, and, besides, does not insist very sincerely. In order to fulfil the apparent professions and to keep the published promise of a park, the owner thereof should be a lover of long seclusion or of a very life of loneliness. He should have gained the state of solitariness which is a condition of life quite unlike any other. The traveller who may have gone astray in countries where an almost life-long solitude is possible knows how invincibly apart are the lonely figures he has seen in desert places there. Their loneliness is broken by his passage, it is true, but hardly so to them. They look at him, but they are not aware that he looks at them. Nay, they look at him as though they were invisible. Their un-self-consciousness is absolute; it is in the wild degree. They are solitaries, body and soul; even when they are curious, and turn to watch the passer-by, they are essentially alone. Now, no one ever found that attitude in a squire’s figure, or that look in any country gentleman’s eyes. The squire is not a life-long solitary. He never bore himself as though he were invisible. He never had the impersonal ways of a herdsman in the remoter Apennines, with a blind, blank hut in the rocks for his dwelling. Millet would not even have taken him as a model for a solitary in the briefer and milder sylvan solitudes of France. And yet nothing but a life-long, habitual, and wild solitariness would be quite proportionate to a park of any magnitude.

If there is a look of human eyes that tells of perpetual loneliness, so there is also the familiar look that is the sign of perpetual crowds. It is the London expression, and, in its way, the Paris expression. It is the quickly caught, though not interested, look, the dull but ready glance of those who do not know of their forfeited place apart; who have neither the open secret nor the close; no reserve, no need of refuge, no flight nor impulse of flight; no moods but what they may brave out in the street, no hope of news from solitary counsels.


The difficulty of dealing–in the course of any critical duty–with decivilized man lies in this: when you accuse him of vulgarity– sparing him no doubt the word–he defends himself against the charge of barbarism. Especially from new soil–remote, colonial–he faces you, bronzed, with a half conviction of savagery, partly persuaded of his own youthfulness of race. He writes, and recites, poems about ranches and canyons; they are designed to betray the recklessness of his nature and to reveal the good that lurks in the lawless ways of a young society. He is there to explain himself, voluble, with a glossary for his own artless slang. But his colonialism is only provincialism very articulate. The new air does but make old decadences seem more stale; the young soil does but set into fresh conditions the ready-made, the uncostly, the refuse feeling of a race decivilizing. He who played long this pattering part of youth, hastened to assure you with so self-denying a face he did not wear war-paint and feathers, that it became doubly difficult to communicate to him that you had suspected him of nothing wilder than a second-hand (figurative) dress coat. And when it was a question not of rebuke, but of praise, even the American was ill- content with the word of the judicious who lauded him for some delicate successes in continuing something of the literature of England, something of the art of France; he was more eager for the applause that stimulated him to write poems in prose form and to paint panoramic landscape, after brief training in academies of native inspiration. Even now English voices are constantly calling upon America to begin–to begin, for the world is expectant. Whereas there is no beginning for her, but instead a fine and admirable continuity which only a constant care can guide into sustained advance.

But decivilized man is not peculiar to new soil. The English town, too, knows him in all his dailiness. In England, too, he has a literature, an art, a music, all his own–derived from many and various things of price. Trash, in the fullness of its insimplicity and cheapness, is impossible without a beautiful past. Its chief characteristic–which is futility, not failure–could not be achieved but by the long abuse, the rotatory reproduction, the quotidian disgrace, of the utterances of Art, especially the utterance by words. Gaiety, vigour, vitality, the organic quality, purity, simplicity, precision–all these are among the antecedents of trash. It is after them; it is also, alas, because of them. And nothing can be much sadder that such a proof of what may possibly be the failure of derivation.

Evidently we cannot choose our posterity. Reversing the steps of time, we may, indeed choose backwards. We may give our thoughts noble forefathers. Well begotten, well born our fancies must be; they shall be also well derived. We have a voice in decreeing our inheritance, and not our inheritance only, but our heredity. Our minds may trace upwards and follow their ways to the best well-heads of the arts. The very habit of our thoughts may be persuaded one way unawares by their antenatal history. Their companions must be lovely, but need be no lovelier than their ancestors; and being so fathered and so husbanded, our thoughts may be intrusted to keep the counsels of literature.

Such is our confidence in a descent we know. But, of a sequel which of us is sure? Which of us is secured against the dangers of subsequent depreciation? And, moreover, which of us shall trace the contemporary tendencies, the one towards honour, the other towards dishonour? Or who shall discover why derivation becomes degeneration, and where and when and how the bastardy befalls? The decivilized have every grace as the antecedent of their vulgarities, every distinction as the precedent of their mediocrities. No ballad-concert song, feign it sigh, frolic, or laugh, but has the excuse that the feint was suggested, was made easy, by some living sweetness once. Nor are the decivilized to blame as having in their own persons possessed civilization and marred it. They did not possess it; they were born into some tendency to derogation, into an inclination for things mentally inexpensive. And the tendency can hardly do other than continue.

Nothing can look duller than the future of this second-hand and multiplying world. Men need not be common merely because they are many; but the infection of commonness once begun in the many, what dullness in their future! To the eye that has reluctantly discovered this truth–that the vulgarized are not un-civilized, and that there is no growth for them–it does not look like a future at all. More ballad-concerts, more quaint English, more robustious barytone songs, more piecemeal pictures, more colonial poetry, more young nations with withered traditions. Yet it is before this prospect that the provincial overseas lifts up his voice in a boast or a promise common enough among the incapable young, but pardonable only in senility. He promises the world a literature, an art, that shall be new because his forest is untracked and his town just built. But what the newness is to be he cannot tell. Certain words were dreadful once in the mouth of desperate old age. Dreadful and pitiable as the threat of an impotent king, what shall we name them when they are the promise of an impotent people? “I will do such things: what they are yet I know not.”


With mimicry, with praises, with echoes, or with answers, the poets have all but outsung the bells. The inarticulate bell has found too much interpretation, too many rhymes professing to close with her inaccessible utterance, and to agree with her remote tongue. The bell, like the bird, is a musician pestered with literature.

To the bell, moreover, men do actual violence. You cannot shake together a nightingale’s notes, or strike or drive them into haste, nor can you make a lark toll for you with intervals to suit your turn, whereas wedding-bells are compelled to seem gay by mere movement and hustling. I have known some grim bells, with not a single joyous note in the whole peal, so forced to hurry for a human festival, with their harshness made light of, as though the Bishop of Hereford had again been forced to dance in his boots by a merry highwayman.

The clock is an inexorable but less arbitrary player than the bellringer, and the chimes await their appointed time to fly–wild prisoners–by twos or threes, or in greater companies. Fugitives– one or twelve taking wing–they are sudden, they are brief, they are gone; they are delivered from the close hands of this actual present. Not in vain is the sudden upper door opened against the sky; they are away, hours of the past.

Of all unfamiliar bells, those which seem to hold the memory most surely after but one hearing are bells of an unseen cathedral of France when one has arrived by night; they are no more to be forgotten than the bells in “Parsifal.” They mingle with the sound of feet in unknown streets, they are the voices of an unknown tower; they are loud in their own language. The spirit of place, which is to be seen in the shapes of the fields and the manner of the crops, to be felt in a prevalent wind, breathed in the breath of the earth, overheard in a far street-cry or in the tinkle of some black-smith, calls out and peals in the cathedral bells. It speaks its local tongue remotely, steadfastly, largely, clamorously, loudly, and greatly by these voices; you hear the sound in its dignity, and you know how familiar, how childlike, how lifelong it is in the ears of the people. The bells are strange, and you know how homely they must be. Their utterances are, as it were, the classics of a dialect.

Spirit of place! It is for this we travel, to surprise its subtlety; and where it is a strong and dominant angel, that place, seen once, abides entire in the memory with all its own accidents, its habits, its breath, its name. It is recalled all a lifetime, having been perceived a week, and is not scattered but abides, one living body of remembrance. The untravelled spirit of place–not to be pursued, for it never flies, but always to be discovered, never absent, without variation–lurks in the by-ways and rules over the towers, indestructible, an indescribable unity. It awaits us always in its ancient and eager freshness. It is sweet and nimble within its immemorial boundaries, but it never crosses them. Long white roads outside have mere suggestions of it and prophecies; they give promise not of its coming, for it abides, but of a new and singular and unforeseen goal for our present pilgrimage, and of an intimacy to be made. Was ever journey too hard or too long that had to pay such a visit? And if by good fortune it is a child who is the pilgrim, the spirit of place gives him a peculiar welcome, for antiquity and the conceiver of antiquity (who is only a child) know one another; nor is there a more delicate perceiver of locality than a child. He is well used to words and voices that he does not understand, and this is a condition of his simplicity; and when those unknown words are bells, loud in the night, they are to him as homely and as old as lullabies.

If, especially in England, we make rough and reluctant bells go in gay measures, when we whip them to run down the scale to ring in a wedding–bells that would step to quite another and a less agile march with a better grace–there are belfries that hold far sweeter companies. If there is no music within Italian churches, there is a most curious local immemorial music in many a campanile on the heights. Their way is for the ringers to play a tune on the festivals, and the tunes are not hymn tunes or popular melodies, but proper bell-tunes, made for bells. Doubtless they were made in times better versed than ours in the sub-divisions of the arts, and better able to understand the strength that lies ready in the mere little submission to the means of a little art, and to the limits– nay, the very embarrassments–of those means. If it were but possible to give here a real bell-tune–which cannot be, for those melodies are rather long–the reader would understand how some village musician of the past used his narrow means as a composer for the bells, with what freshness, completeness, significance, fancy, and what effect of liberty.

These hamlet-bells are the sweetest, as to their own voices, in the world. Then I speak of their antiquity I use the word relatively. The belfries are no older than the sixteenth or seventeenth century, the time when Italy seems to have been generally rebuilt. But, needless to say, this is antiquity for music, especially in Italy. At that time they must have had foundries for bells of tender voices, and pure, warm, light, and golden throats, precisely tuned. The hounds of Theseus had not a more just scale, tuned in a peal, than a North Italian belfry holds in leash. But it does not send them out in a mere scale, it touches them in the order of the game of a charming melody. Of all cheerful sounds made by man this is by far the most light-hearted. You do not hear it from the great churches. Giotto’s coloured tower in Florence, that carries the bells for Santa Maria del Fiore and Brunelleschi’s silent dome, does not ring more than four contralto notes, tuned with sweetness, depth, and dignity, and swinging one musical phrase which softly fills the country.

The village belfry it is that grows so fantastic and has such nimble bells. Obviously it stands alone with its own village, and can therefore hear its own tune from beginning to end. There are no other bells in earshot. Other such dovecote-doors are suddenly set open to the cloud, on a festa morning, to let fly those soft-voiced flocks, but the nearest is behind one of many mountains, and our local tune is uninterrupted. Doubtless this is why the little, secluded, sequestered art of composing melodies for bells–charming division of an art, having its own ends and means, and keeping its own wings for unfolding by law–dwells in these solitary places. No tunes in a town would get this hearing, or would be made clear to the end of their frolic amid such a wide and lofty silence.

Nor does every inner village of Italy hold a bell-tune of its own; the custom is Ligurian. Nowhere so much as in Genoa does the nervous tourist complain of church bells in the morning, and in fact he is made to hear an honest rout of them betimes. But the nervous tourist has not, perhaps, the sense of place, and the genius of place does not signal to him to go and find it among innumerable hills, where one by one, one by one, the belfries stand and play their tunes. Variable are those lonely melodies, having a differing gaiety for the festivals; and a pitiful air is played for the burial of a villager.

As for the poets, there is but one among so many of their bells that seems to toll with a spiritual music so loud as to be unforgotten when the mind goes up a little higher than the earth, to listen in thought to earth’s untethered sounds. This is Milton’s curfew, that sways across one of the greatest of all the seashores of poetry– “the wide-watered.”


The more I consider that strange inversion of idolatry which is the motive of Guy Fawkes Day and which annually animates the by-streets with the sound of processionals and of recessionals–a certain popular version of “Lest we forget” their unvaried theme; the more I hear the cries of derision raised by the makers of this likeness of something unworshipful on the earth beneath, so much the more am I convinced that the national humour is that of banter, and that no other kind of mirth so gains as does this upon the public taste.

Here, for example, is the popular idea of a street festival; that day is as the people will actually have it, with their own invention, their own material, their own means, and their own spirit. They owe nothing on this occasion to the promptings or the subscriptions of the classes that are apt to take upon themselves the direction and tutelage of the people in relation to any form of art. Here on every fifth of November the people have their own way with their own art; and their way is to offer the service of the image-maker, reversed in hissing and irony, to some creature of their hands.

It is a wanton fancy; and perhaps no really barbarous people is capable of so overturning the innocent plan of original portraiture. To make a mental image of all things that are named to the ear, or conceived in the mind, being an industrious custom of children and childish people which lapses in the age of much idle reading, the making of a material image is the still more diligent and more sedulous act, whereby the primitive man controls and caresses his own fancy. He may take arms anon, disappointed, against his own work; but did he ever do that work in malice from the outset?

From the statue to the doll, images are all outraged in the person of the guy. If it were but an antithesis to the citizen’s idea of something admirable which he might carry in procession on some other day, the carrying of the guy would be less gloomy; but he would hoot at a suspicion that he might admire anything so much as to make a good-looking doll in its praise. There is absolutely no image- making art in the practice of our people, except only this art of rags and contumely. Or, again, if the revenge taken upon a guy were that of anger for a certain cause, the destruction would not be the work of so thin an annual malice and of so heartless a rancour.

But the single motive is that popular irony which becomes daily–or so it seems–more and more the holiday temper of the majority. Mockery is the only animating impulse, and a loud incredulity is the only intelligence. They make an image of some one in whom they do not believe, to deride it. Say that the guy is the effigy of an agitator in the cause of something to be desired; the street man and boy have then two motives of mocking: they think the reform to be not worth doing, and they are willing to suspect the reformer of some kind of hypocrisy. Perhaps the guy of this occasion is most characteristic of all guys in London. The people, having him or her to deride, do not even wait for the opportunity of their annual procession. They anticipate time, and make an image when it is not November, and sell it at the market of the kerb.

Hear, moreover, the songs which some nameless one makes for the citizens, perhaps in thoughtful renunciation of the making of their laws. These, too, seem to have for their inspiration the universal taunt. They are, indeed, most in vogue when they have no meaning at all–this it is that makes the succes fou (and here Paris is of one mind with London) of the street; but short of such a triumph, and when a meaning is discernible, it is an irony.

Bank Holiday courtship (if the inappropriate word can be pardoned) seems to be done, in real life, entirely by banter. And it is the strangest thing to find that the banter of women by men is the most mocking in the exchange. If the burlesque of the maid’s tongue is provocative, that of the man’s is derisive. Somewhat of the order of things as they stood before they were inverted seems to remain, nevertheless, as a memory; nay, to give the inversion a kind of lagging interest. Irony is made more complete by the remembrance, and by an implicit allusion to the state of courtship in other classes, countries, or times. Such an allusion no doubt gives all its peculiar twang to the burlesque of love.

With the most strange submission these Englishwomen in their millions undergo all degrees of derision from the tongues of men who are their mates, equals, contemporaries, perhaps in some obscure sense their suitors, and in a strolling manner, with one knows not what ungainly motive of reserve, even their admirers. Nor from their tongues only; for, to pass the time, the holiday swain annoys the girl; and if he wears her hat, it is ten to one that he has plucked it off with a humorous disregard of her dreadful pins.

We have to believe that unmocked love has existence in the streets, because of the proof that is published when a man shoots a woman who has rejected him; and from this also do we learn to believe that a woman of the burlesque classes is able to reject. But for that sign we should find little or nothing intelligible in what we see or overhear of the drama of love in popular life.

In its easy moments, in its leisure, at holiday time, it baffles all tradition, and shows us the spirit of comedy clowning after a fashion that is insular and not merely civic. You hear the same twang in country places; and whether the English maid, having, like the antique, thrown her apple at her shepherd, run into the thickets of Hampstead Heath or among sylvan trees, it seems that the most humorous thing to be done by the swain would be, in the opinion in vogue, to stroll another way. Insular I have said, because I have not seen the like of this fashion whether in America or elsewhere in Europe.

But the chief inversion of all, proved summarily by the annual inversion of the worship of images on the fifth of November, is that of a sentence of Wordsworth’s–“We live by admiration.”


Some considerable time must have gone by since any kind of courtesy ceased, in England, to be held necessary in the course of communication with a beggar. Feeling may be humane, and the interior act most gentle; there may be a tacit apology, and a profound misgiving unexpressed; a reluctance not only to refuse but to be arbiter; a dislike of the office; a regret, whether for the unequal distribution of social luck or for a purse left at home, equally sincere; howbeit custom exacts no word or sign, nothing whatever of intercourse. If a dog or a cat accosts you, or a calf in a field comes close to you with a candid infant face and breathing nostrils of investigation, or if any kind of animal comes to you on some obscure impulse of friendly approach, you acknowledge it. But the beggar to whom you give nothing expects no answer to a question, no recognition of his presence, not so much as the turn of your eyelid in his direction, and never a word to excuse you.

Nor does this blank behaviour seem savage to those who are used to nothing else. Yet it is somewhat more inhuman to refuse an answer to the beggar’s remark than to leave a shop without “Good morning.” When complaint is made of the modern social manner–that it has no merit but what is negative, and that it is apt even to abstain from courtesy with more lack of grace than the abstinence absolutely requires–the habit of manner towards beggars is probably not so much as thought of. To the simply human eye, however, the prevalent manner towards beggars is a striking thing; it is significant of so much.

Obviously it is not easy to reply to begging except by the intelligible act of giving. We have not the ingenuous simplicity that marks the caste answering more or less to that of Vere de Vere, in Italy, for example. An elderly Italian lady on her slow way from her own ancient ancestral palazzo to the village, and accustomed to meet, empty-handed, a certain number of beggars, answers them by a retort which would be, literally translated, “Excuse me, dear; I, too, am a poor devil,” and the last word she naturally puts into the feminine.

Moreover, the sentence is spoken in all the familiarity of the local dialect–a dialect that puts any two people at once upon equal terms as nothing else can do it. Would it were possible to present the phrase to English readers in all its own helpless good-humour. The excellent woman who uses it is practising no eccentricity thereby, and raises no smile. It is only in another climate, and amid other manners, that one cannot recall it without a smile. To a mind having a lively sense of contrast it is not a little pleasant to imagine an elderly lady of corresponding station in England replying so to importunities for alms; albeit we have nothing answering to the good fellowship of a broad patois used currently by rich and poor, and yet slightly grotesque in the case of all speakers–a dialect in which, for example, no sermon is ever preached, and in which no book is ever printed, except for fun; a dialect “familiar, but by no means vulgar.” Besides, even if our Englishwoman could by any possibility bring herself to say to a mendicant, “Excuse me, dear; I, too, am a poor devil,” she would still not have the opportunity of putting the last word punctually into the feminine, which does so complete the character of the sentence.

The phrase at the head of this paper is the far more graceful phrase of excuse customary in the courteous manners of Portugal. And everywhere in the South, where an almost well-dressed old woman, who suddenly begins to beg from you when you least expected it, calls you “my daughter,” you can hardly reply without kindness. Where the tourist is thoroughly well known, doubtless the company of beggars are used to savage manners in the rich; but about the byways and remoter places there must still be some dismay at the anger, the silence, the indignation, and the inexpensive haughtiness wherewith the opportunity of alms-giving is received by travellers.

In nothing do we show how far the West is from the East so emphatically as we show it by our lofty ways towards those who so manifestly put themselves at our feet. It is certainly not pleasant to see them there; but silence or a storm of impersonal protest–a protest that appeals vaguely less to the beggars than to some not impossible police–does not seem the most appropriate manner of rebuking them. We have, it may be, a scruple on the point of human dignity, compromised by the entreaty and the thanks of the mendicant; but we have a strange way of vindicating that dignity when we refuse to man, woman, or child the recognition of a simply human word. Nay, our offence is much the greater of the two. It is not merely a rough and contemptuous intercourse, it is the refusal of intercourse–the last outrage. How do we propose to redress those conditions of life that annoy us when a brother whines, if we deny the presence, the voice, and the being of this brother, and if, because fortune has refused him money, we refuse him existence?

We take the matter too seriously, or not seriously enough, to hold it in the indifference of the wise. “Have patience, little saint,” is a phrase that might teach us the cheerful way to endure our own unintelligible fortunes in the midst, say, of the population of a hill-village among the most barren of the Maritime Alps, where huts of stone stand among the stones of an unclothed earth, and there is no sign of daily bread. The people, albeit unused to travellers, yet know by instinct what to do, and beg without the delay of a moment as soon as they see your unwonted figure. Let it be taken for granted that you give all you can; some form of refusal becomes necessary at last, and the gentlest–it is worth while to remember– is the most effectual. An indignant tourist, one who to the portent of a puggaree which, perhaps, he wears on a grey day, adds that of ungovernable rage, is so wild a visitor that no attempt at all is made to understand him; and the beggars beg dismayed but unalarmed, uninterruptedly, without a pause or a conjecture. They beg by rote, thinking of something else, as occasion arises, and all indifferent to the violence of the rich.

It is the merry beggar who has so lamentably disappeared. If a beggar is still merry anywhere, he hides away what it would so cheer and comfort us to see; he practises not merely the conventional seeming, which is hardly intended to convince, but a more subtle and dramatic kind of semblance, of no good influence upon the morals of the road. He no longer trusts the world with a sight of his gaiety. He is not a wholehearted mendicant, and no longer keeps that liberty of unstable balance whereby an unattached creature can go in a new direction with a new wind. The merry beggar was the only adventurer free to yield to the lighter touches of chance, the touches that a habit of resistance has made imperceptible to the seated and stable social world.

The visible flitting figure of the unfettered madman sprinkled our literature with mad songs, and even one or two poets of to-day have, by tradition, written them; but that wild source of inspiration has been stopped; it has been built over, lapped and locked, imprisoned, led underground. The light melancholy and the wind-blown joys of the song of the distraught, which the poets were once ingenious to capture, have ceased to sound one note of liberty in the world’s ears. But it seems that the grosser and saner freedom of the happy beggar is still the subject of a Spanish song.

That song is gay, not defiant it is not an outlaw’s or a robber’s, it is not a song of violence or fear. It is the random trolling note of a man who owes his liberty to no disorder, failure, or ill- fortune, but takes it by choice from the voluntary world, enjoys it at the hand of unreluctant charity; who twits the world with its own choice of bonds, but has not broken his own by force. It seems, therefore, the song of an indomitable liberty of movement, light enough for the puffs of a zephyr chance.


No woman has ever crossed the inner threshold, or shall ever cross it, unless a queen, English or foreign, should claim her privilege. Therefore, if a woman records here the slighter things visible of the monastic life, it is only because she was not admitted to see more than beautiful courtesy and friendliness were able to show her in guest-house and garden.

The Monastery is of fresh-looking Gothic, by Pugin–the first of the dynasty: it is reached by the white roads of a limestone country, and backed by a young plantation, and it gathers its group of buildings in a cleft high up among the hills of Wales. The brown habit is this, and these are the sandals, that come and go by hills of finer, sharper, and loftier line, edging the dusk and dawn of an Umbrian sky. Just such a Via Crucis climbs the height above Orta, and from the foot of its final crucifix you can see the sunrise touch the top of Monte Rosa, while the encircled lake below is cool with the last of the night. The same order of friars keep that sub- Alpine Monte Sacro, and the same have set the Kreuzberg beyond Bonn with the same steep path by the same fourteen chapels, facing the Seven Mountains and the Rhine.

Here, in North Wales, remote as the country is, with the wheat green over the blunt hill-tops, and the sky vibrating with larks, a long wing of smoke lies round the horizon. The country, rather thinly and languidly cultivated above, has a valuable sub-soil, and is burrowed with mines; the breath of pit and factory, out of sight, thickens the lower sky, and lies heavily over the sands of Dee. It leaves the upper blue clear and the head of Orion, but dims the flicker of Sirius and shortens the steady ray of the evening star. The people scattered about are not mining people, but half-hearted agriculturists, and very poor. Their cottages are rather cabins; not a tiled roof is in the country, but the slates have taken some beauty with time, having dips and dimples, and grass upon their edges. The walls are all thickly whitewashed, which is a pleasure to see. How willingly would one swish the harmless whitewash over more than half the colour–over all the chocolate and all the blue– with which the buildings of the world are stained! You could not wish for a better, simpler, or fresher harmony than whitewash makes with the slight sunshine and the bright grey of an English sky.

The grey-stone, grey-roofed monastery looks young in one sense–it is modern; and the friars look young in another–they are like their brothers of an earlier time. No one, except the journalists of yesterday, would spend upon them those tedious words, “quaint,” or “old world.” No such weary adjectives are spoken here, unless it be by the excursionists.

With large aprons tied over their brown habits, the Lay Brothers work upon their land, planting parsnips in rows, or tending a prosperous bee-farm. A young friar, who sang the High Mass yesterday, is gaily hanging the washed linen in the sun. A printing press, and a machine which slices turnips, are at work in an outhouse, and the yard thereby is guarded by a St Bernard, whose single evil deed was that under one of the obscure impulses of a dog’s heart -atoned for by long and self-conscious remorse–he bit the poet; and tried, says one of the friars, to make doggerel of him. The poet, too, lives at the monastery gates, and on monastery ground, in a seclusion which the tidings of the sequence of his editions hardly reaches. There is no disturbing renown to be got among the cabins of the Flintshire hills. Homeward, over the verge, from other valleys, his light figure flits at nightfall, like a moth.

To the coming and going of the friars, too, the village people have become well used, and the infrequent excursionists, for lack of intelligence and of any knowledge that would refer to history, look at them without obtrusive curiosity. It was only from a Salvation Army girl that you heard the brutal word of contempt. She had come to the place with some companions, and with them was trespassing, as she was welcome to do, within the monastery grounds. She stood, a figure for Bournemouth pier, in her grotesque bonnet, and watched the son of the Umbrian saint–the friar who walks among the Giotto frescoes at Assisi and between the cypresses of Bello Sguardo, and has paced the centuries continually since the coming of the friars. One might have asked of her the kindness of a fellow-feeling. She and he alike were so habited as to show the world that their life was aloof from its “idle business.” By some such phrase, at least, the friar would assuredly have attempted to include her in any spiritual honours ascribed to him. Or one might have asked of her the condescension of forbearance. “Only fancy,” said the Salvation Army girl, watching the friar out of sight, “only fancy making such a fool of one’s self!”

The great hood of the friars, which is drawn over the head in Zurbaran’s ecstatic picture, is turned to use when the friars are busy. As a pocket it relieves the over-burdened hands. A bottle of the local white wine made by the brotherhood at Genoa, and sent to this house by the West, is carried in the cowl as a present to the stranger at the gates. The friars tell how a brother resolved, at Shrovetide, to make pancakes, and not only to make, but also to toss them. Those who chanced to be in the room stood prudently aside, and the brother tossed boldly. But that was the last that was seen of his handiwork. Victor Hugo sings in La Legende des Siecles of disappearance as the thing which no creature is able to achieve: here the impossibility seemed to be accomplished by quite an ordinary and a simple pancake. It was clean gone, and there was an end of it. Nor could any explanation of this ceasing of a pancake from the midst of the visible world be so much as divined by the spectators. It was only when the brother, in church, knelt down to meditate and drew his cowl about his head that the accident was explained.

Every midnight the sweet contralto bells call the community, who get up gaily to this difficult service. Of all duties this one never grows easy or familiar, and therefore never habitual. It is something to have found but one act aloof from habit. It is not merely that the friars overcome the habit of sleep. The subtler point is that they can never acquire the habit of sacrificing sleep. What art, what literature, or what life but would gain a secret security by such a point of perpetual freshness and perpetual initiative? It is not possible to get up at midnight without a will that is new night by night. So should the writer’s work be done, and, with an intention perpetually unique, the poet’s.

The contralto bells have taught these Western hills the “Angelus” of the French fields, and the hour of night–l’ora di notte–which rings with so melancholy a note from the village belfries on the Adriatic littoral, when the latest light is passing. It is the prayer for the dead: “Out of the depths have I cried unto Thee, O Lord.”

The little flocks of novices, on paschal evenings, are folded to the sound of that evening prayer. The care of them is the central work of the monastery, which is placed in so remote a country because it is principally a place of studies. So much elect intellect and strength of heart withdrawn from the traffic of the world! True, the friars are not doing the task which Carlyle set mankind as a refuge from despair. These “bearded counsellors of God” keep their cells, read, study, suffer, sing, hold silence; whereas they might be “operating”–beautiful word!–upon the Stock Exchange, or painting Academy pictures, or making speeches, or reluctantly jostling other men for places. They might be among the involuntary busybodies who are living by futile tasks the need whereof is a discouraged fiction. There is absolutely no limit to the superfluous activities, to the art, to the literature, implicitly renounced by the dwellers within such walls as these. The output– again a beautiful word–of the age is lessened by this abstention. None the less hopes the stranger and pilgrim to pause and knock once again upon those monastery gates.


A singular love of walls is mine. Perhaps because of childish association with mountain-climbing roads narrow in the bright shadows of grey stone, hiding olive trees whereof the topmost leaves prick above into the blue; or perhaps because of subsequent living in London, with its too many windows and too few walls, the city which of all capitals takes least visible hold upon the ground; or for the sake of some other attraction or aversion, walls, blank and strong, reaching outward at the base, are a satisfaction to the eyes teased by the inexpressive peering of windows, by that weak lapse and shuffling which is the London “area,” and by the helpless hollows of shop-fronts.

I would rather have a wall than any rail but a very good one of wrought-iron. A wall is the safeguard of simplicity. It lays a long level line among the indefinite chances of the landscape. But never more majestic than in face of the wild sea, the wall, steadying its slanting foot upon the rock, builds in the serried ilex-wood and builds out the wave. The sea-wall is the wall at its best. And fine as it is on the strong coast, it is beautiful on the weak littoral and the imperilled levels of a northern beach.

That sea wall is low and long; sea-pinks grow on the salt grass that passes away into shingle at its foot. It is at close quarters with the winter sea, when, from the low coast with its low horizon, the sky-line of sea is jagged. Never from any height does the ocean- horizon show thus broken and battered at its very verge, but from the flat coast and the narrow world you can see the wave as far as you can see the water; and the stormy light of a clear horizon is seen to be mobile and shifting with the buoyant hillocks and their restless line.

Nowhere in Holland does there seem to be such a low sea-wall as secures many a mile of gentle English coast to the east. The Dutch dyke has not that aspect of a lowly parapet against a tide; it springs with a look of haste and of height; and when you first run upstairs from the encumbered Dutch fields to look at the sea, there is nothing in the least like England; and even the Englishman of to- day is apt to share something of the old perversity that was minded to cast derision upon the Dutch in their encounters with the tides.

There has been some fault in the Dutch, making them subject to the slight derision of the nations who hold themselves to be more romantic, and, as it were, more slender. We English, once upon a time, did especially flout the little nation then acting a history that proved worth the writing. It may be no more than a brief perversity that has set a number of our writers to cheer the memory of Charles II. Perhaps, even, it is no more than another rehearsal of that untiring success at the expense of the bourgeois. The bourgeois would be more simple than, in fact, he is were he to stand up every time to be shocked; but, perhaps, the image of his dismay is enough to reward the fancy of those who practise the wanton art. And, when all is done, who performs for any but an imaginary audience? Surely those companies of spectators and of auditors are not the least of the makings of an author. A few men and women he achieves within his books; but others does he create without, and to those figures of all illusion makes the appeal of his art. More candid is the author who has no world, but turns that appeal inwards to his own heart. He has at least a living hearer.

This is by the way. Charles II has been cheered; the feat is done, the dismay is imagined with joy. And yet the Merry Monarch’s was a dismal time. Plague, fire, the arrears of pension from the French King remembered and claimed by the restored throne of England, and the Dutch in the Medway–all this was disaster. None the less, having the vanity of new clothes and a pretty figure, did we– especially by the mouth of Andrew Marvell–deride our victors, making sport of the Philistines with a proper national sense of enjoyment of such physical disabilities, or such natural difficulties, or such misfavour of fortune, as may beset the alien.

Especially were the denials of fortune matter for merriment. They are so still; or they were so certainly in the day when a great novelist found the smallness of some South German States to be the subject of unsating banter. The German scenes at the end of “Vanity Fair,” for example, may prove how much the ridicule of mere smallness, fewness, poverty (and not even real poverty, privation, but the poverty that shows in comparison with the gold of great States, and is properly in proportion) rejoiced the sense of humour in a writer and moralist who intended to teach mankind to be less worldly. In Andrew Marvell’s day they were even more candid. The poverty of privation itself was provocative of the sincere laughter of the inmost man, the true, infrequent laughter of the heart. Marvell, the Puritan, laughed that very laughter–at leanness, at hunger, cold, and solitude–in the face of the world, and in the name of literature, in one memorable satire. I speak of “Flecno, an English Priest in Rome,” wherein nothing is spared–not the smallness of the lodging, nor the lack of a bed, nor the scantiness of clothing, nor the fast.

“This basso-rilievo of a man–“

personal meagreness is the first joke and the last.

It is not to be wondered at that he should find in the smallness of the country of Holland matter for a cordial jest. But, besides the smallness, there was that accidental and natural disadvantage in regard to the sea. In the Venetians, commerce with the sea, conflict with the sea, a victory over the sea, and the ensuing peace–albeit a less instant battle and a more languid victory–were confessed to be noble; in the Dutch they were grotesque. “With mad labour,” says Andrew Marvell, with the spirited consciousness of the citizen of a country well above ground and free to watch the labour at leisure, “with mad labour” did the Dutch “fish the land to shore.”

How did they rivet with gigantic piles, Thorough the centre, their new-catched miles, And to the stake a struggling country bound, Where barking waves still bait the forced ground; Building their watery Babel far more high To reach the sea than those to scale the sky!

It is done with a jolly wit, and in what admirable couplets!

The fish oft-times the burgher dispossessed, And sat, not as a meat, but as a guest.

And it is even better sport that the astonished tritons and sea- nymphs should find themselves provided with a capital cabillau of shoals of pickled Dutchmen (heeren for herring, says Marvell); and it must be allowed that he rhymes with the enjoyment of irony. There is not a smile for us in “Flecno,” but it is more than possible to smile over this “Character of Holland”; at the excluded ocean returning to play at leap-frog over the steeples; at the rise of government and authority in Holland, which belonged of right to the man who could best invent a shovel or a pump, the country being so leaky:-

Not who first sees the rising sun commands, But who could first discern the rising lands.

We have lost something more than the delighted laughter of Marvell, more than his practical joke, and more than the heart that was light in so burly a frame–we have lost with these the wild humour that wore so well the bonds of two equal lines, and was wild with so much order, invention, malice, gaiety, polish, equilibrium, and vitality- -in a word, the Couplet, the couplet of the past. We who cannot stand firm within two lines, but must slip beyond and between the boundaries, who tolerate the couplets of Keats and imitate them, should praise the day of Charles II because of Marvell’s art, and not for love of the sorry reign. We had plague, fire, and the Dutch in the Medway, but we had the couplet; and there were also the measures of those more poetic poets, hitherto called somewhat slightingly the Cavalier poets, who matched the wit of the Puritan with a spirit simpler and less mocking.

It was against an English fortress, profoundly walled, that some remembered winter storms lately turned their great artillery. It was a time of resounding nights; the sky was so clamorous and so close, up in the towers of the seaside stronghold, that one seemed to be indeed admitted to the perturbed counsels of the winds. The gale came with an indescribable haste, hooting as it flew; it seemed to break itself upon the heights, yet passed unbroken out to sea; in the voice of the sea there were pauses, but none in that of the urgent gale with its hoo-hoo-hoo all night, that clamoured down the calling of the waves. That lack of pauses was the strangest thing in the tempest, because the increase of sound seemed to imply a lull before. The lull was never perceptible, but the lift was always an alarm. The onslaught was instant, where would it stop? What was the secret extreme to which this hurry and force were tending? You asked less what thing was driving the flocks of the storm than what was drawing them. The attraction seemed the greater violence, the more irresistible, and the more unknown. And there were moments when the end seemed about to be attained.

The wind struck us hasty blows, and unawares we borrowed, to describe it, words fit for the sharp strokes of material things; but the fierce gale is soft. Along the short grass, trembling and cowering flat on the scarped hill-side, against the staggering horse, against the flint walls, one with the rock they grasp, the battery of the tempest is a quick and enormous softness. What down, what sand, what deep moss, what elastic wave could match the bed and cushion of the gale?

This storm tossed the wave and the stones of the sea-wall up together. The next day it left the waters white with the thrilling whiteness of foam in sunshine. It was only the Channel; and in such narrow waters you do not see the distances, the wide levels of fleeting and floating foam, that lie light between long wave and long wave on a Mediterranean coast, regions of delicate and transitory brightness so far out that all the waves, near and far, seem to be breaking at the same moment, one beyond the other, and league beyond league, into foam. But the Channel has its own strong, short curl that catches the rushing shingle up with the freshest of all noises and runs up with sudden curves, white upon the white sea-wall, under the random shadow of sea-gulls and the light of a shining cloud.


“It was resolved,” said the morning paper, “to colour the borders of the panels and other spaces of Portland stone with arabesques and other patterns, but that no paint should be used, as paint would need renewing from time to time. The colours, therefore,”–and here is the passage to be noted–“are all mixed with wax liquefied with petroleum; and the wax surface sets as hard as marble. . . The wax is left time to form an imperishable surface of ornament, which would have to be cut out of the stone with a chisel if it was desired to remove it.” Not, apparently, that a new surface is formed which, by much violence and perseverance, could, years hence, be chipped off again; but that the “ornament” is driven in and incorporate, burnt in and absorbed, so that there is nothing possible to cut away by any industry. In this humorous form of ornament we are beforehand with Posterity. Posterity is baffled.

Will this victory over our sons’ sons be the last resolute tyranny prepared by one age for the coercion, constraint, and defeat of the future? To impose that compulsion has been hitherto one of the strongest of human desires. It is one, doubtless, to be outgrown by the human race; but how slowly that growth creeps onwards, let this success in the stencilling of St Paul’s teach us, to our confusion. There is evidently a man–a group of men–happy at this moment because it has been possible, by great ingenuity, to force our posterity to have their cupola of St Paul’s with the stone mouldings stencilled and “picked out” with niggling colours, whether that undefended posterity like it or not. And this is a survival of one of the obscure pleasures of man, attested by history.

It is impossible to read the Thirty-nine Articles, for example, and not to recognize in those acts of final, all-resolute, eager, eternal legislation one of the strongest of all recorded proofs of this former human wish. If Galileo’s Inquisitors put a check upon the earth, which yet moved, a far bolder enterprise was the Reformers’ who arrested the moving man, and inhibited the moving God. The sixteenth century and a certain part of the age immediately following seem to be times when the desire had conspicuously become a passion. Say the middle of the sixteenth century in Italy and the beginning of the seventeenth in England– for in those days we were somewhat in the rear. THERE is the obstinate, confident, unreluctant, undoubting, and resolved seizure upon power. THEN was Rome rebuilt, re-faced, marked with a single sign and style. Then was many a human hand stretched forth to grasp the fate of the unborn. The fortunes and the thoughts of the day to come were to be as the day then present would have them, if the dead hand–the living hand that was then to die, and was to keep its hold in death–could by any means make them fast.

Obviously, to build at all is to impose something upon an age that may be more than willing to build for itself. The day may soon come when no man will do even so much without some impulse of apology. Posterity is not compelled to keep our pictures or our books in existence, nor to read nor to look at them; but it is more or less obliged to have a stone building in view for an age or two. We can hardly avoid some of the forms of tyranny over the future, but few, few are the living men who would consent to share in this horrible ingenuity at St Paul’s–this petroleum and this wax.

In 1842 they were discussing the decoration of the Houses of Parliament, and the efforts of all in council were directed upon the future. How the frescoes then to be achieved by the artists of the day should be made secure against all mischances–smoke, damp, “the risk of bulging,” even accidents attending the washing of upper floors–all was discussed in confidence with the public. It was impossible for anyone who read the papers then to escape from some at least of the responsibilities of technical knowledge. From Genoa, from Rome, from Munich especially, all kinds of expert and most deliberate schemes were gathered in order to defeat the natural and not superfluous operation of efficient and effacing time.

The academic little capital of Bavaria had, at about the same date, decorated a vast quantity of wall space of more than one order of architecture. Art revived and was encouraged at that time and place with unparalleled obstinacy. They had not the malice of the petroleum that does violence to St Paul’s; but they had instead an indomitable patience. Under the commands of the master Cornelius, they baffled time and all his work–refused his pardons, his absolutions, his cancelling indulgences–by a perseverance that nothing could discourage. Who has not known somewhat indifferent painters mighty busy about their colours and varnishes? Cornelius caused a pit to be dug for the preparation of the lime, and in the case of the Ludwig Kirche this lime remained there for eight years, with frequent stirrings. This was in order that the whole fresco, when at last it was entrusted to its bed, should be set there for immortality. Nor did the master fail to thwart time by those mechanical means that should avert the risk of bulging already mentioned. He neglected no detail. He was provident, and he lay in wait for more than one of the laws of nature, to frustrate them. Gravitation found him prepared, and so did the less majestic but not vain dispensation of accidents. Against bulging he had an underplot of tiles set on end; against possible trickling from an upper floor he had asphalt; it was all part of the human conspiracy. In effect, the dull pictures at Munich seem to stand well. It would have been more just–so the present age thinks of these preserved walls–if the day that admired them had had them exclusively, and our day had been exempt. The painted cathedrals of the Middle Ages have undergone the natural correction; why not the Ludwig Kirche?

In 1842, then, the nations were standing, as it were, shoulder to shoulder against the walk of time and against his gentle act and art. They had just called iron into their cabal. Cornelius came from Munich to London, looked at the walls at Westminster, and put a heart of confidence into the breast of the Commission. The situation, he averred, need not be too damp for immortality, with due care. What he had done in the Glyptothek and in the Pinacothek might be done with the best results in England, in defiance of the weather, of the river, of the mere days, of the divine order of alteration, and, in a word, of heaven and earth.

Meanwhile, there was that good servant of the law of change, lime that had not been kept quite long enough, ready to fulfil its mission; they would have none of it. They evaded it, studied its ways, and put it to the rout. “Many failures that might have been hastily attributed to damp were really owing to the use of lime in too fresh a state. Of the experimental works painted at Munich, those only have faded which are known to have been done without due attention to the materials. THUS, A FIGURE OF BAVARIA, PAINTED BY KAULBACH, WHICH HAS FADED CONSIDERABLY, IS KNOWN TO HAVE BEEN EXECUTED WITH LIME THAT WAS TOO FRESH.” One cannot refrain from italics: the way was so easy; it was only to take a little less of this important care about the lime, to have a better confidence, to be more impatient and eager, and all had been well: NOT to do–a virtue of omission.

This is not a matter of art-criticism. It is an ethical question hitherto unstudied. The makers of laws have not always been obliged to face it, inasmuch as their laws are made in part for the present, and in part for that future whereof the present needs to be assured- -that is, the future is bound as a guaranty for present security of person or property. Some such hold upon the time to come we are obliged to claim, and to claim it for our own sakes–because of the reflex effect upon our own affairs, and not for the pleasure of fettering the time to come. Every maker of a will does at least this.

Were the men of the sixteenth century so moderate? Not they. They found the present all too narrow for the imposition of their will. It did not satisfy them to disinter and scatter the bones of the dead, nor to efface the records of a past that offended them. It did not satisfy them to bind the present to obedience by imperative menace and instant compulsion. When they had burnt libraries and thrown down monuments and pursued the rebels of the past into the other world, and had seen to it that none living should evade them, then they outraged the future.

Whatever misgivings may have visited those dominant minds as to the effectual and final success of their measures–would their writ run in time as well as place, and were the nameless populations indeed their subjects?–whatever questions may have peered in upon those rigid counsels and upon those busy vigils of the keepers of the world, they silenced by legislation and yet more legislation. They wrote in statute books; they would have written their will across the skies. Their hearts would have burnt for lack of records more inveterate, and of testimonials that mankind should lack courage to question, if in truth they did ever doubt lest posterity might try their lock. Perhaps they did never so much as foresee the race of the unnumbered and emancipated for whom their prohibitions and penalties are no more than documents of history.

If the tyrannous day of our fathers had but possessed the means of these our more diffident times! They, who would have written their present and actual will upon the skies, might certainly have written it in petroleum and wax upon the stone. Fate did them wrong in withholding from their hands this means of finality and violence. Into our hands it has been given at a time when the student of the race thought, perhaps, that we had been proved in the school of forbearance. Something, indeed, we may have learnt therein, but not enough, as we now find.

We have not yet the natural respect for the certain knowledge and the probable wisdom of our successors. A certain reverend official document, not guiltless of some confusion of thought, lately recommended to the veneration of the present times “those past ages with their store of experience.” Doubtless, as the posterity of their predecessors our predecessors had experience, but, as our ancestors, none–none. Therefore, if they were a little reverend our own posterity is right reverend. It is a flippant and novelty- loving humour that so flatters the unproved past and refuses the deference due to the burden of years which is ours, which–grown still graver–will be our children’s.


The art of Japan has none but an exterior part in the history of the art of nations. Being in its own methods and attitude the art of accident, it has, appropriately, an accidental value. It is of accidental value, and not of integral necessity. The virtual discovery of Japanese art, during the later years of the second French Empire, caused Europe to relearn how expedient, how delicate, and how lovely Incident may look when Symmetry has grown vulgar. The lesson was most welcome. Japan has had her full influence. European art has learnt the value of position and the tact of the unique. But Japan is unlessoned, and (in all her characteristic art) content with her own conventions; she is local, provincial, alien, remote, incapable of equal companionship with a world that has Greek art in its own history–Pericles “to its father.”

Nor is it pictorial art, or decorative art only, that has been touched by Japanese example of Incident and the Unique. Music had attained the noblest form of symmetry in the eighteenth century, but in music, too, symmetry had since grown dull; and momentary music, the music of phase and of fragment, succeeded. The sense of symmetry is strong in a complete melody–of symmetry in its most delicate and lively and least stationary form–balance; whereas the leit-motif is isolated. In domestic architecture Symmetry and Incident make a familiar antithesis–the very commonplace of rival methods of art. But the same antithesis exists in less obvious forms. The poets have sought “irregular” metres. Incident hovers, in the very act of choosing its right place, in the most modern of modern portraits. In these we have, if not the Japanese suppression of minor emphasis, certainly the Japanese exaggeration of major emphasis; and with this a quickness and buoyancy. The smile, the figure, the drapery–not yet settled from the arranging touch of a hand, and showing its mark–the restless and unstationary foot, and the unity of impulse that has passed everywhere like a single breeze, all these have a life that greatly transcends the life of Japanese art, yet has the nimble touch of Japanese incident. In passing, a charming comparison may be made between such portraiture and the aspect of an aspen or other tree of light and liberal leaf; whether still or in motion the aspen and the free-leafed poplar have the alertness and expectancy of flight in all their flocks of leaves, while the oaks and elms are gathered in their station. All this is not Japanese, but from such accident is Japanese art inspired, with its good luck of perceptiveness.

What symmetry is to form, that is repetition in the art of ornament. Greek art and Gothic alike have series, with repetition or counter- change for their ruling motive. It is hardly necessary to draw the distinction between this motive and that of the Japanese. The Japanese motives may be defined as uniqueness and position. And these were not known as motives of decoration before the study of Japanese decoration. Repetition and counter-change, of course, have their place in Japanese ornament, as in the diaper patterns for which these people have so singular an invention, but here, too, uniqueness and position are the principal inspiration. And it is quite worth while, and much to the present purpose, to call attention to the chief peculiarity of the Japanese diaper patterns, which is INTERRUPTION. Repetition there must necessarily be in these, but symmetry is avoided by an interruption which is, to the Western eye, at least, perpetually and freshly unexpected. The place of the interruptions of lines, the variation of the place, and the avoidance of correspondence, are precisely what makes Japanese design of this class inimitable. Thus, even in a repeating pattern, you have a curiously successful effect of impulse. It is as though a separate intention had been formed by the designer at every angle. Such renewed consciousness does not make for greatness. Greatness in design has more peace than is found in the gentle abruptness of Japanese lines, in their curious brevity. It is scarcely necessary to say that a line, in all other schools of art, is long or short according to its place and purpose; but only the Japanese designer so contrives his patterns that the line is always short; and many repeating designs are entirely composed of this various and variously-occurring brevity, this prankish avoidance of the goal. Moreover, the Japanese evade symmetry, in the unit of their repeating patterns, by another simple device–that of numbers. They make a small difference in the number of curves and of lines. A great difference would not make the same effect of variety; it would look too much like a contrast. For example, three rods on one side and six on another would be something else than a mere variation, and variety would be lost by the use of them. The Japanese decorator will vary three in this place by two in that, and a sense of the defeat of symmetry is immediately produced. With more violent means the idea of symmetry would have been neither suggested nor refuted.

Leaving mere repeating patterns and diaper designs, you find, in Japanese compositions, complete designs in which there is no point of symmetry. It is a balance of suspension and of antithesis. There is no sense of lack of equilibrium, because place is, most subtly, made to have the effect of giving or of subtracting value. A small thing is arranged to reply to a large one, for the small thing is placed at the precise distance that makes it a (Japanese) equivalent. In Italy (and perhaps in other countries) the scales commonly in use are furnished with only a single weight that increases or diminishes in value according as you slide it nearer or farther upon a horizontal arm. It is equivalent to so many ounces when it is close to the upright, and to so many pounds when it hangs from the farther end of the horizontal rod. Distance plays some such part with the twig or the bird in the upper corner of a Japanese composition. Its place is its significance and its value. Such an art of position implies a great art of intervals. The Japanese chooses a few things and leaves the space between them free, as free as the pauses or silences in music. But as time, not silence, is the subject, or material, of contrast in musical pauses, so it is the measurement of space–that is, collocation–that makes the value of empty intervals. The space between this form and that, in a Japanese composition, is valuable because it is just so wide and no more. And this, again, is only another way of saying that position is the principle of this apparently wilful art.

Moreover, the alien art of Japan, in its pictorial form, has helped to justify the more stenographic school of etching. Greatly transcending Japanese expression, the modern etcher has undoubtedly accepted moral support from the islands of the Japanese. He too etches a kind of shorthand, even though his notes appeal much to the spectator’s knowledge, while the Oriental shorthand appeals to nothing but the spectator’s simple vision. Thus the two artists work in ways dissimilar. Nevertheless, the French etcher would never have written his signs so freely had not the Japanese so freely drawn his own. Furthermore still, the transitory and destructible material of Japanese art has done as much as the multiplication of newspapers, and the discovery of processes, to reconcile the European designer–the black and white artist–to working for the day, the day of publication. Japan lives much of its daily life by means of paper, painted; so does Europe by means of paper, printed. But as we, unlike those Orientals, are a destructive people, paper with us means short life, quick abolition, transformation, re-appearance, a very circulation of life. This is our present way of surviving ourselves–the new version of that feat of life. Time was when to survive yourself meant to secure, for a time indefinitely longer than the life of man, such dull form as you had given to your work; to intrude upon posterity. To survive yourself, to-day, is to let your work go into daily oblivion.

Now, though the Japanese are not a destructive people, their paper does not last for ever, and that material has clearly suggested to them a different condition of ornament from that with which they adorned old lacquer, fine ivory, or other perdurable things. For the transitory material they keep the more purely pictorial art of landscape. What of Japanese landscape? Assuredly it is too far reduced to a monotonous convention to merit the serious study of races that have produced Cotman and Corot. Japanese landscape- drawing reduces things seen to such fewness as must have made the art insuperably tedious to any people less fresh-spirited and more inclined to take themselves seriously than these Orientals. A preoccupied people would never endure it. But a little closer attention from the Occidental student might find for their evasive attitude towards landscape–it is an attitude almost traitorously evasive–a more significant reason. It is that the distances, the greatness, the winds and the waves of the world, coloured plains, and the flight of a sky, are all certainly alien to the perceptions of a people intent upon little deformities. Does it seem harsh to define by that phrase the curious Japanese search for accidents? Upon such search these people are avowedly intent, even though they show themselves capable of exquisite appreciation of the form of a normal bird and of the habit of growth of a normal flower. They are not in search of the perpetual slight novelty which was Aristotle’s ideal of the language poetic (“a little wildly, or with the flower of the mind,” says Emerson of the way of a poet’s speech)–and such novelty it is, like the frequent pulse of the pinion, that keeps verse upon the wing; no, what the Japanese are intent upon is perpetual slight disorder. In Japan the man in the fields has eyes less for the sky and the crescent moon than for some stone in the path, of which the asymmetry strikes his curious sense of pleasure in fortunate accident of form. For love of a little grotesque strangeness he will load himself with the stone and carry it home to his garden. The art of such a people is not liberal art, not the art of peace, and not the art of humanity. Look at the curls and curves whereby this people conventionally signify wave or cloud. All these curls have an attitude which is like that of a figure slightly malformed, and not like that of a human body that is perfect, dominant, and if bent, bent at no lowly or niggling labour. Why these curves should be so charming it would be hard to say; they have an exquisite prankishness of variety, the place where the upward or downward scrolls curl off from the main wave is delicately unexpected every time, and–especially in gold embroideries–is sensitively fit for the material, catching and losing the light, while the lengths of waving line are such as the long gold threads take by nature.

A moment ago this art was declared not human. And, in fact, in no other art has the figure suffered such crooked handling. The Japanese have generally evaded even the local beauty of their own race for the sake of perpetual slight deformity. Their beauty is remote from our sympathy and admiration; and it is quite possible that we might miss it in pictorial presentation, and that the Japanese artist may have intended human beauty where we do not recognise it. But if it is not easy to recognise, it is certainly not difficult to guess at. And, accordingly, you are generally aware that the separate beauty of the race, and its separate dignity, even–to be very generous–has been admired by the Japanese artist, and is represented here and there occasionally, in the figure of warrior or mousme. But even with this exception the habit of Japanese figure-drawing is evidently grotesque, derisive, and crooked. It is curious to observe that the search for slight deformity is so constant as to make use, for its purposes, not of action only, but of perspective foreshortening. With us it is to the youngest child only that there would appear to be mirth in the drawing of a man who, stooping violently forward, would seem to have his head “beneath his shoulders.” The European child would not see fun in the living man so presented, but–unused to the same effect “in the flat”–he thinks it prodigiously humorous in a drawing. But so only when he is quite young. The Japanese keeps, apparently, his sense of this kind of humour. It amuses him, but not perhaps altogether as it amuses the child, that the foreshortened figure should, in drawing and to the unpractised eye, seem distorted and dislocated; the simple Oriental appears to find more derision in it than the simple child. The distortion is not without a suggestion of ignominy. And, moreover, the Japanese shows derision, but not precisely scorn. He does not hold himself superior to his hideous models. He makes free with them on equal terms. He is familiar with them.

And if this is the conviction gathered from ordinary drawings, no need to insist upon the ignoble character of those that are intentional caricatures.

Perhaps the time has hardly come for writing anew the praises of symmetry. The world knows too much of the abuse of Greek decoration, and would be glad to forget it, with the intention of learning that art afresh in a future age and of seeing it then anew. But whatever may be the phases of the arts, there is the abiding principle of symmetry in the body of man, that goes erect, like an upright soul. Its balance is equal. Exterior human symmetry is surely a curious physiological fact where there is no symmetry interiorly. For the centres of life and movement within the body are placed with Oriental inequality. Man is Greek without and Japanese within. But the absolute symmetry of the skeleton and of the beauty and life that cover it is accurately a principle. It controls, but not tyrannously, all the life of human action. Attitude and motion disturb perpetually, with infinite incidents– inequalities of work, war, and pastime, inequalities of sleep–the symmetry of man. Only in death and “at attention” is that symmetry complete in attitude. Nevertheless, it rules the dance and the battle, and its rhythm is not to be destroyed. All the more because this hand holds the goad and that the harrow, this the shield and that the sword, because this hand rocks the cradle and that caresses the unequal heads of children, is this rhythm the law; and grace and strength are inflections thereof. All human movement is a variation upon symmetry, and without symmetry it would not be variation; it would be lawless, fortuitous, and as dull and broadcast as lawless art. The order of inflection that is not infraction has been explained in a most authoritative sentence of criticism of literature, a sentence that should save the world the trouble of some of its futile, violent, and weak experiments: “Law, the rectitude of humanity,” says Mr Coventry Patmore, “should be the poet’s only subject, as, from time immemorial, it has been the subject of true art, though many a true artist has done the Muse’s will and knew it not. As all the music of verse arises, not from infraction but from inflection of the law of the set metre; so the greatest poets have been those the modulus of whose verse has been most variously and delicately inflected, in correspondence with feelings and passions which are the inflections of moral law in their theme. Law puts a strain upon feeling, and feeling responds with a strain upon law. Furthermore, Aristotle says that the quality of poetic language is a continual SLIGHT novelty. In the highest poetry, like that of Milton, these three modes of inflection, metrical, linguistical, and moral, all chime together in praise of the truer order of life.”

And like that order is the order of the figure of man, an order most beautiful and most secure when it is put to the proof. That perpetual proof by perpetual inflection is the very condition of life. Symmetry is a profound, if disregarded because perpetually inflected, condition of human life.

The nimble art of Japan is unessential; it may come and go, may settle or be fanned away. It has life and it is not without law; it has an obvious life, and a less obvious law. But with Greece abides the obvious law and the less obvious life: symmetry as apparent as the symmetry of the form of man, and life occult like his unequal heart. And this seems to be the nobler and the more perdurable relation.


It is disconcerting to hear of the plaid in India. Our dyes, we know, they use in the silk mills of Bombay, with the deplorable result that their old clothes are dull and unintentionally falsified with infelicitous decay. The Hindus are a washing people; and the sun and water that do but dim, soften, and warm the native vegetable dyes to the last, do but burlesque the aniline. Magenta is bad enough when it is itself; but the worst of magenta is that it spoils but poorly. No bad modern forms and no bad modern colours spoil well. And spoiling is an important process. It is a test–one of the ironical tests that come too late with their proofs. London portico-houses will make some such ruins as do chemical dyes, which undergo no use but derides them, no accidents but caricature them. This is an old enough grievance. But the plaid!

The plaid is the Scotchman’s contribution to the decorative art of the world. Scotland has no other indigenous decoration. In his most admirable lecture on “The Two Paths,” Ruskin acknowledged, with a passing misgiving, that his Highlanders had little art. And the misgiving was but passing, because he considered how fatally wrong was the art of India–“it never represents a natural fact. It forms its compositions out of meaningless fragments of colour and flowings of line . . . It will not draw a man, but an eight-armed monster; it will not draw a flower, but only a spiral or a zig-zag.” Because of this aversion from Nature the Hindu and his art tended to evil, we read. But of the Scot we are told, “You will find upon reflection that all the highest points of the Scottish character are connected with impressions derived straight from the natural scenery of their country.”

What, then, about the plaid? Where is the natural fact there? If the Indian, by practising a non-natural art of spirals and zig-zags, cuts himself off “from all possible sources of healthy knowledge or natural delight,” to what did the good and healthy Highlander condemn himself by practising the art of the plaid? A spiral may be found in the vine, and a zig-zag in the lightning, but where in nature is the plaid to be found? There is surely no curve or curl that can be drawn by a designing hand but is a play upon some infinitely various natural fact. The smoke of the cigarette, more sensitive in motion than breath or blood, has its waves so multitudinously inflected and reinflected, with such flights and such delays, it flows and bends upon currents of so subtle influence and impulse as to include the most active, impetuous, and lingering curls ever drawn by the finest Oriental hand–and that is not a Hindu hand, nor any hand of Aryan race. The Japanese has captured the curve of the section of a sea-wave–its flow, relaxation, and fall; but this is a single movement, whereas the line of cigarette- smoke in a still room fluctuates in twenty delicate directions. No, it is impossible to accept the saying that the poor spiral or scroll of a human design is anything but a participation in the innumerable curves and curls of nature.

Now the plaid is not only “cut off” from natural sources, as Ruskin says of Oriental design–the plaid is not only cut off from nature, and cut off from nature by the yard, for it is to be measured off in inorganic quantity; but it is even a kind of intentional contradiction of all natural or vital forms. And it is equally defiant of vital tone and of vital colour. Everywhere in nature tone is gradual, and between the fainting of a tone and the failing of a curve there is a charming analogy. But the tartan insists that its tone shall be invariable, and sharply defined by contrasts of dark and light. As to colour, it has colours, not colour.

But that plaid should now go so far afield as to decorate the noble garment of the Indies is ill news. True, Ruskin saw nothing but cruelty and corruption in Indian life or art; but let us hear an Indian maxim in regard to those who, in cruel places, are ready sufferers: “There,” says the Mahabharata, “where women are treated with respect, the very gods are said to be filled with joy. Women deserve to be honoured. Serve ye them. Bend your will before them. By honouring women ye are sure to attain to the fruition of all things.” And the rash teachers of our youth would have persuaded us that this generous lesson was first learnt in Teutonic forests!

Nothing but extreme lowliness can well reply, or would probably be suffered to reply, to this Hindu profession of reverence. Accordingly the woman so honoured makes an offering of cakes and oil to the souls of her mother-in-law, grandmother-in-law, and great- grandmother-in-law, in gratitude for their giving her a good husband. And to go back for a moment to Ruskin’s contrast of the two races, it was assuredly under the stress of some too rash reasoning that he judged the lovely art of the East as a ministrant to superstition, cruelty, and pleasure, whether wrought upon the temple, the sword, or the girdle. The innocent art of innocent Hindu women for centuries decked their most modest heads, their dedicated and sequestered beauty, their child-loving breasts, and consecrated chambers.


There is a form of oppression that has not until now been confessed by those who suffer from it or who are participants, as mere witnesses, in its tyranny. It is the obsession of man by the flower. In the shape of the flower his own paltriness revisits him- -his triviality, his sloth, his cheapness, his wholesale habitualness, his slatternly ostentation. These return to him and wreak upon him their dull revenges. What the tyranny really had grown to can be gauged nowhere so well as in country lodgings, where the most ordinary things of design and decoration have sifted down and gathered together, so that foolish ornament gains a cumulative force and achieves a conspicuous commonness. Stem and petal and leaf–the fluent forms that a man has not by heart but certainly by rote–are woven, printed, cast, and stamped wherever restlessness and insimplicity have feared to leave plain spaces. The most ugly of all imaginable rooms, which is probably the parlour of a farm- house arrayed for those whom Americans call summer-boarders, is beset with flowers. It blooms, a dry, woollen, papery, cast-iron garden. The floor flourishes with blossoms adust, poorly conventionalized into a kind of order; the table-cover is ablaze with a more realistic florescence; the wall-paper is set with bunches; the rigid machine-lace curtain is all of roses and lilies in its very construction; over the muslin blinds an impotent sprig is scattered. In the worsted rosettes of the bell-ropes, in the plaster picture-frames, in the painted tea-tray and on the cups, in the pediment of the sideboard, in the ornament that crowns the barometer, in the finials of sofa and arm-chair, in the finger- plates of the “grained” door, is to be seen the ineffectual portrait or to be traced the stale inspiration of the flower. And what is this bossiness around the grate but some blunt, black-leaded garland? The recital is wearisome, but the retribution of the flower is precisely weariness. It is the persecution of man, the haunting of his trivial visions, and the oppression of his inconsiderable brain.

The man so possessed suffers the lot of the weakling–subjection to the smallest of the things he has abused. The designer of cheap patterns is no more inevitably ridden by the flower than is the vain and transitory author by the phrase. In literature as in all else man merits his subjection to trivialities by his economical greed. A condition for using justly and gaily any decoration would seem to be a measure of reluctance. Ornament–strange as the doctrine sounds in a world decivilized–was in the beginning intended to be something jocund; and jocundity was never to be achieved but by postponement, deference, and modesty. Nor can the prodigality of the meadows in May be quoted in dispute. For Nature has something even more severe than modertion: she has an innumerable singleness. Her buttercup meadows are not prodigal; they show multitude, but not multiplicity, and multiplicity is exactly the disgrace of decoration. Who has ever multiplied or repeated his delights? or who has ever gained the granting of the most foolish of his wishes– the prayer for reiteration? It is a curious slight to generous Fate that man should, like a child, ask for one thing many times. Her answer every time is a resembling but new and single gift; until the day when she shall make the one tremendous difference among her gifts–and make it perhaps in secret–by naming one of them the ultimate. What, for novelty, what, for singleness, what, for separateness, can equal the last? Of many thousand kisses the poor last–but even the kisses of your mouth are all numbered.


It is principally for the sake of the leg that a change in the dress of man is so much to be desired. The leg, completing as it does the form of man, should make a great part of that human scenery which is at least as important as the scenery of geological structure, or the scenery of architecture, or the scenery of vegetation, but which the lovers of mountains and the preservers of ancient buildings have consented to ignore. The leg is the best part of the figure, inasmuch as it has the finest lines and therewith those slender, diminishing forms which, coming at the base of the human structure, show it to be a thing of life by its unstable equilibrium. A lifeless structure is in stable equilibrium; the body, springing, poised, upon its fine ankles and narrow feet, never stands without implying and expressing life. It is the leg that first suggested the phantasy of flight. We imagine wings to the figure that is erect upon the vital and tense legs of man; and the herald Mercury, because of his station, looks new-lighted. All this is true of the best leg, and the best leg is the man’s. That of the young child, in which the Italian schools of painting delighted, has neither movement nor supporting strength. In the case of the woman’s figure it is the foot, with its extreme proportional smallness, that gives the precious instability, the spring and balance that are so organic. But man should no longer disguise the long lines, the strong forms, in those lengths of piping or tubing that are of all garments the most stupid. Inexpressive of what they clothe as no kind of concealing drapery could ever be, they are neither implicitly nor explicitly good raiment. It is hardly possible to err by violence in denouncing them. Why, when an indifferent writer is praised for “clothing his thought,” it is to modern raiment that one’s agile fancy flies–fain of completing the metaphor!

The human scenery: yes, costume could make a crowd something other than the mass of sooty colour–dark without depth–and the multiplication of undignified forms that fill the streets, and demonstrate, and meet, and listen to the speaker. For the undistinguished are very important by their numbers. These are they who make the look of the artificial world. They are man generalized; as units they inevitably lack something of interest; all the more they have cumulative effect. It would be well if we could persuade the average man to take on a certain human dignity in the clothing of his average body. Unfortunately he will be slow to be changed. And as to the poorer part of the mass, so wretched are their national customs–and the wretchedest of them all the wearing of other men’s old raiment–that they must wait for reform until the reformed dress, which the reformers have not yet put on, shall have turned second-hand.


There has been no denunciation, and perhaps even no recognition, of a certain social immorality in the caricature of the mid-century and earlier. Literary and pictorial alike, it had for its aim the vulgarizing of the married woman. No one now would read Douglas Jerrold for pleasure, but it is worth while to turn up that humourist’s serial, “Mrs. Caudle’s Curtain Lectures,” which were presumably considered good comic reading in the “Punch” of that time, and to make acquaintance with a certain ideal of the grotesque. Obviously to make a serious comment on anything which others consider or have considered humorous is to put oneself at a disadvantage. He who sees the joke holds himself somewhat the superior of the man who would see it, such as it is, if he thought it worth his eyesight. The last-named has to bear the least tolerable of modern reproaches–that he lacks humour; but he need not always care. Now to turn over Douglas Jerrold’s monologues is to find that people in the mid-century took their mirth principally from the life of the arriere boutique. On that shabby stage was enacted the comedy of literature. Therefore we must take something of the vulgarity of Jerrold as a circumstance of the social ranks wherein he delighted. But the essential vulgarity is that of the woman. There is in some old “Punch” volume a drawing by Leech–whom one is weary of hearing named the gentle, the refined–where the work of the artist has vied with the spirit of the letterpress. Douglas Jerrold treats of the woman’s jealousy, Leech of her stays. They lie on a chair by the bed, beyond description gross. And page by page the woman is derided, with an unfailing enjoyment of her foolish ugliness of person, of manners, and of language. In that time there was, moreover, one great humourist, one whom I infinitely admire; he, too, I am grieved to remember, bore his part willingly in vulgarizing the woman; and the part that fell to him was the vulgarizing of the act of maternity. Woman spiteful, woman suing man at the law for evading her fatuous companionship, woman incoherent, woman abandoned without restraint to violence and temper, woman feigning sensibility–in none of these ignominies is woman so common and so foolish for Dickens as she is in child- bearing.

I named Leech but now. He was, in all things essential, Dickens’s contemporary. And accordingly the married woman and her child are humiliated by his pencil; not grossly, but commonly. For him she is moderately and dully ridiculous. What delights him as humorous is that her husband–himself wearisome enough to die of–is weary of her, finds the time long, and tries to escape her. It amuses him that she should furtively spend money over her own dowdiness, to the annoyance of her husband, and that her husband should have no desire to adorn her, and that her mother should be intolerable. It pleases him that her baby, with enormous cheeks and a hideous rosette in its hat–a burlesque baby–should be a grotesque object of her love, for that too makes subtly for her abasement. Charles Keene, again– another contemporary, though he lived into a later and different time. He saw little else than common forms of human ignominy– indignities of civic physique, of stupid prosperity, of dress, of bearing. He transmits these things in greater proportion than he found them–whether for love of the humour of them, or by a kind of inverted disgust that is as eager as delight–one is not sure which is the impulse. The grossness of the vulgarities is rendered with a completeness that goes far to convince us of a certain sensitiveness of apprehension in the designer; and then again we get convinced that real apprehension–real apprehensiveness–would not have insisted upon such things, could not have lived with them through almost a whole career. There is one drawing in the “Punch” of years ago, in which Charles Keene achieved the nastiest thing possible to even the invention of that day. A drunken citizen, in the usual broadcloth, has gone to bed, fully dressed, with his boots on and his umbrella open, and the joke lies in the surprise awaiting, when she awakes, the wife asleep at his side in a night-cap. Every one who knows Keene’s work can imagine how the huge well-fed figure was drawn, and how the coat wrinkled across the back, and how the bourgeois whiskers were indicated. This obscene drawing is matched by many equally odious. Abject domesticity, ignominies of married life, of middle-age, of money-making; the old common jape against the mother-in-law; abominable weddings: in one drawing a bridegroom with shambling side-long legs asks his bride if she is nervous; she is a widow, and she answers, “No, never was.” In all these things there is very little humour. Where Keene achieved fun was in the figures of his schoolboys. The hint of tenderness which in really fine work could never be absent from a man’s thought of a child or from his touch of one, however frolic or rowdy the subject in hand, is absolutely lacking in Keene’s designs; nevertheless, we acknowledge that there is humour. It is also in some of his clerical figures when they are not caricatures, and certainly in “Robert,” the City waiter of “Punch.” But so irresistible is the derision of the woman that all Charles Keene’s persistent sense of vulgarity is intent centrally upon her. Never for any grace gone astray is she bantered, never for the social extravagances, for prattle, or for beloved dress; but always for her jealousy, and for the repulsive person of the man upon whom she spies and in whom she vindicates her ignoble rights. If this is the shopkeeper the possession of whom is her boast, what then is she?

This great immorality, centring in the irreproachable days of the Exhibition of 1851, or thereabouts–the pleasure in this particular form of human disgrace–has passed, leaving one trace only: the habit by which some men reproach a silly woman through her sex, whereas a silly man is not reproached through his sex. But the vulgarity of which I have written here was distinctively English– the most English thing that England had in days when she bragged of many another–and it was not able to survive an increased commerce of manners and letters with France. It was the chief immorality destroyed by the French novel.


Not without significance is the Spanish nationality of Velasquez. In Spain was the Point put upon Honour; and Velasquez was the first Impressionist. As an Impressionist he claimed, implicitly if not explicitly, a whole series of delicate trusts in his trustworthiness; he made an appeal to the confidence of his peers; he relied on his own candour, and asked that the candid should rely upon him; he kept the chastity of art when other masters were content with its honesty, and when others saved artistic conscience he safeguarded the point of honour. Contemporary masters more or less proved their position, and convinced the world by something of demonstration; the first Impressionist simply asked that his word should be accepted. To those who would not take his word he offers no bond. To those who will, he grants the distinction of a share in his responsibility.

Somewhat unrefined, in comparison with his lofty and simple claim to be believed on a suggestion, is the commoner painter’s production of his credentials, his appeal to the sanctions of ordinary experience, his self-defence against the suspicion of making irresponsible mysteries in art. “You can see for yourself,” the lesser man seems to say to the world, “thus things are, and I render them in such manner that your intelligence may be satisfied.” This is an appeal to average experience–at the best the cumulative experience; and with the average, or with the sum, art cannot deal without derogation. The Spaniard seems to say: “Thus things are in my pictorial sight. Trust me, I apprehend them so.” We are not