Tonya Allen, Eric Eldred, Charles Franks, and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team
FIRST AND LAST
ON WEIGHING ANCHOR
THE CAPTAIN OF INDUSTRY
THE VIEWS OF ENGLAND
THE INHERITANCE OF HUMOUR
THE OLD GENTLEMAN’S OPINIONS
ON HISTORICAL EVIDENCE
THE ABSENCE OF THE PAST
THE LOST THINGS
ON THE READING OF HISTORY
ON THE DECLINE OF THE BOOK
JOSE MARIA DE HEREDIA
NORMANDY AND THE NORMANS
THE OLD THINGS
THE BATTLE OF HASTINGS
THE ROMAN ROADS IN PICARDY
THE REWARD OF LETTERS
COMPANIONS OF TRAVEL
ON THE SOURCES OF RIVERS
THE GREAT SIGHT
THE DECLINE OF A STATE
ON PAST GREATNESS
MR. THE DUKE: THE MAN OF MALPLAQUET
THE GAME OF CARDS
ON A GREAT WIND
THE END OF THE WORLD
FIRST AND LAST
On Weighing Anchor
Personally I should call it “Getting It up,” but I have always seen it in print called “weighing anchor”–and if it is in print one must bow to it. It does weigh.
There are many ways of doing it. The best, like all good things, has gone for ever, and this best way was for a thing called a capstan to have sticking out from it, movable, and fitted into its upper rim, other things called capstan–bars. These, men would push singing a song, while on the top of the capstan sat a man playing the fiddle, or the flute, or some other instrument of music. You and I have seen it in pictures. Our sons will say that they wish they had seen it in pictures. Our sons’ sons will say it is all a lie and was never in anything but the pictures, and they will explain it by some myth or other.
Another way is to take two turns of a rope round a donkey-engine, paying in and coiling while the engine clanks. And another way on smaller boats is a sort of jack arrangement by which you give little jerks to a ratchet and wheel, and at last It looses Its hold. Sometimes (in this last way) It will not loose Its hold at all.
Then there is a way of which I proudly boast that it is the only way I know, which is to go forward and haul at the line until It comes–or does not come. If It does not come, you will not be so cowardly or so mean as to miss your tide for such a trifle. You will cut the line and tie a float on and pray Heaven that into whatever place you run, that place will have moorings ready and free.
When a man weighs anchor in a little ship or a large one he does a jolly thing! He cuts himself off and he starts for freedom and for the chance of things. He pulls the jib a-weather, he leans to her slowly pulling round, he sees the wind getting into the mainsail, and he feels that she feels the helm. He has her on a slant of the wind, and he makes out between the harbour piers. I am supposing, for the sake of good luck, that it is not blowing bang down the harbour mouth, nor, for the matter of that, bang out of it. I am supposing, for the sake of good luck to this venture, that in weighing anchor you have the wind so that you can sail with it full and by, or freer still, right past the walls until you are well into the tide outside. You may tell me that you are so rich and your boat is so big that there have been times when you have anchored in the very open, and that all this does not apply to you. Why, then, your thoughts do not apply to me nor to the little boat I have in mind.
In the weighing of anchor and the taking of adventure and of the sea there is an exact parallel to anything that any man can do in the beginning of any human thing, from his momentous setting out upon his life in early manhood to the least decision of his present passing day. It is a very proper emblem of a beginning. It may lead him to that kind of muddle and set-back which attaches only to beginnings, or it may get him fairly into the weather, and yet he may find, a little way outside, that he has to run for it, or to beat back to harbour. Or, more generously, it may lead him to a long and steady cruise in which he shall find profit and make distant rivers and continue to increase his log by one good landfall after another. But the whole point of weighing anchor is that he has chosen his weather and his tide, and that he is setting out. The thing is done.
You will very commonly observe that, in land affairs, if good fortune follows a venture it is due to the marvellous excellence of its conductor, but if ill fortune, then to evil chance alone. Now, it is not so with the sea.
The sea drives truth into a man like salt. A coward cannot long pretend to be brave at sea, nor a fool to be wise, nor a prig to be a good companion, and any venture connected with the sea is full of venture and can pretend to be nothing more. Nevertheless there is a certain pride in keeping a course through different weathers, in making the best of a tide, in using cats’ paws in a dull race, and, generally, in knowing how to handle the thing you steer and to judge the water and the wind. Just because men have to tell the truth once they get into tide water, what little is due to themselves in their success thereon they are proud of and acknowledge.
If your sailing venture goes well, sailing reader, take a just pride in it; there will be the less need for me to write, some few years hence, upon the art of picking up moorings, though I confess I would rather have written on that so far as the fun of writing was concerned. For picking up moorings is a far more tricky and amusing business than Getting It up. It differs with every conceivable circumstance of wind, and tide, and harbour, and rig, and freeboard, and light; and then there are so many stories to tell about it! As–how once a poor man picked up a rich man’s moorings at Cowes and was visited by an aluminium boat, all splendid in the morning sun. Or again–how a stranger who had made Orford Haven (that very difficult place) on the very top of an equinoctial springtide, picked up a racing mark-buoy, taking it to be moorings, and dragged it with him all the way to Aldborough, and that right before the town of Orford, so making himself hateful to the Orford people.
But I digress….
There was in the regiment with which I served a man called Frocot, famous with his comrades because he had seen The Dead, for this experience, though common among the Scotch, is rare among the French, a sister nation. This man Frocot could neither write nor read, and was also the strongest man I ever knew. He was quite short and exceedingly broad, and he could break a penny with his hands, but this gift of strength, though young men value it so much, was thought little of compared with his perception of unseen things, for though the men, who were peasants, professed to laugh at it, and him, in their hearts they profoundly believed. It had been made clear to us that he could see and hear The Dead one night in January during a snowstorm, when he came in and woke me in barrack-room because he had heard the Loose Spur. Our spurs were not buckled on like the officers’; they were fixed into the heel of the boot, and if a nail loosened upon either side the spur dragged with an unmistakable noise. There was a sergeant who (for some reason) had one so loosened on the last night he had ever gone the rounds before his death, for in the morning as he came off guard he killed himself, and the story went about among the drivers that sometimes on stable guard in the thick of the night, when you watched all alone by the lantern (with your three comrades asleep in the straw of an empty stall), your blood would stop and your skin tauten at the sound of a loose spur dragging on the far side of the stable, in the dark. But though many had heard the story, and though some had pretended to find proof for it, I never knew a man to feel and know it except this man Frocot on that night. I remember him at the foot of my bed with his lantern waking me from the rooted sleep of bodily fatigue, standing there in his dark blue driver’s coat and staring with terrible eyes. He had undoubtedly heard and seen, but whether of himself from within, imagining, or, as I rather believe, from without and influenced, it is impossible to say. He was rough and poor, and he came from the Forest of Ardennes.
The reason I remember him and write of him at this season is not, however, this particular and dreadful visitation of his, but a folly or a vision that befell him at this time of the year, now seventeen years ago; for he had Christmas leave and was on his way from garrison to his native place, and he was walking the last miles of the wood. It was the night before Christmas. It was clear, and there was no wind, but the sky was overcast with level clouds and the evening was very dark. He started unfed since the first meal of the day; it was dark three hours before he was up into the high wood. He met no one during all these miles, and his body and his mind were lonely; he hoped to press on and be at his father’s door before two in the morning or perhaps at one. The night was so still that he heard no noise in the high wood, not even the rustling of a leaf or a twig crackling, and no animal ran in the undergrowth. The moss of the ride was silent under his heavy tread, but now and then the steel of his side-arm clicked against a metal button of the great cloak he wore. This sharp sound made him so conscious of himself that he seemed to fill that forest with his own presence and to be all that was, there or elsewhere. He was in a mood of unreal and not holy things. The mood, remaining, changed its aspect, and now he was so far from alone that all the trunks around him and the glimmers of sky between bare boughs held each a spirit of its own, and with the powerful imagination of the unlearned he could have spoken and held communion with the trees; but it would have an evil communion, for he felt this mood of his take on a further phase as he went deeper and deeper still into these forests. He felt about him uneasily the sense of doom. He was in that exaltation of fancy or dream when faint appeals are half heard far off, but not by our human ears, and when whatever attempts to pierce the armour of our mortality appeals to us by wailing and by despairing sighs. It seemed to him that most unhappy things passed near him in the air, and that the wood about him was full of sobbing. Then, again, he felt his own mind within him begin to be occupied by doubtful troubles worse than these terrors, an anxious straining for ill news, for bitter and dreadful news, mixed with a confused certitude that such news had come indeed, disturbed and haunted him; and all the while about him in that stillness the rushing of unhappy spirits went like a secret storm. He was clouded with the mingled emotions of apprehension and of fatal mourning; he attempted to remember the expectations that had failed him, friends untrue, and the names of parents dead; but he was now the victim of this strange night and unable (whether from hunger or fatigue, or from that unique power of his to discern things beyond the world) to remember his life or his definite aims at all, or even his own name. He was mixed with the whole universe about him, and was suffering some loss so grievous that very soon the gait of his march and his whole being were informed by a large and final despair.
It was in this great and universal mood (granted to him as a seer, though he was a common man) that he saw down the ride, but somewhat to one side of it in the heart of the high wood, a great light shining from a barn or shed that stood there in the undergrowth, and to this light, though his way naturally led him to it, he felt also impelled by an influence as strong as or stronger than the despair that had filled his soul and all the woods around. He went on therefore quickly, straining with his eyes, and when he came into the light that shone out from this he saw a more brilliant light within, and men of his own kind adoring; but the vision was confused, like light on light or like vapours moving over bright metals in a cauldron, and as he gazed his mind became still and the dread left him altogether. He said it was like shutting a gentleman’s great oaken door against a driving storm.
This is the story he told me weeks after as we rode together in the battery, for he hid it in his heart till the spring. As I say, I believed him.
He was an unlearned man and a strong; he never worshipped. He was of that plain stuff and clay on which has worked since all recorded time the power of the Spirit.
He said that when he left (as he did rapidly leave) that light, peace also left him, but that the haunting terror did not return. He found the clearing and his father’s hut; fatigue and the common world indeed returned, but with them a permanent memory of things experienced.
Every word I have written of him is true.
If antiquity be the test of nobility, as many affirm and none deny (saving, indeed, that family which takes for its motto “Sola Virtus Nobilitas,” which may mean that virtue is the only nobility, but which may also mean, mark you, that nobility is the only virtue–and anyhow denies that nobility is tested by the lapse of time), _if_, I say, antiquity be the only test of nobility, then cheese is a very noble thing.
But wait a moment: there was a digression in that first paragraph which to the purist might seem of a complicated kind.
Were I writing algebra (I wish I were) I could have analysed my thoughts by the use of square brackets, round brackets, twiddly brackets, and the rest, all properly set out in order so that a Common Fool could follow them.
But no such luck! I may not write of algebra here; for there is a rule current in all newspapers that no man may write upon any matter save upon those in which he is more learned than all his human fellows that drag themselves so slowly daily forward to the grave.
So I had to put the thing in the very common form of a digression, and very nearly to forget that great subject of cheese which I had put at the very head and title of this.
Which reminds me: had I followed the rule set down by a London journalist the other day (and of the proprietor of his paper I will say nothing–though I might have put down the remark to his proprietor) I would have hesitated to write that first paragraph. I would have hesitated, did I say? Griffins’ tails! Nay–Hippogriffs and other things of the night! I would not have dared to write it at all! For this journalist made a law and promulgated it, and the law was this: that no man should write that English which could not be understood if all the punctuation were left out. Punctuation, I take it, includes brackets, which the Lord of Printers knows are a very modern part of punctuation indeed.
Now let the horripilised reader look up again at the first paragraph (it will do him no harm), and think how it would look all written out in fair uncials like the beautiful Gospels of St. Chad, which anyone may see for nothing in the cathedral of Lichfield, an English town famous for eight or nine different things: as Garrick, Doctor Johnson, and its two opposite inns. Come, read that first paragraph over now and see what you could make of it if it were written out in uncials–that is, not only without punctuation, but without any division between the words. Wow! As the philosopher said when he was asked to give a plain answer “Yes” or “No.”
And now to cheese. I have had quite enough of digressions and of follies. They are the happy youth of an article. They are the springtime of it. They are its riot. I am approaching the middle age of this article. Let us be solid upon the matter of cheese.
I have premised its antiquity, which is of two sorts, as is that of a nobleman. First, the antiquity of its lineage; secondly, the antiquity of its self. For we all know that when we meet a nobleman we revere his nobility very much if he be himself old, and that this quality of age in him seems to marry itself in some mysterious way with the antiquity of his line.
The lineage of cheese is demonstrably beyond all record. What did the faun in the beginning of time when a god surprised him or a mortal had the misfortune to come across him in the woods? It is well known that the faun offered either of them cheese. So he knew how to make it.
There are certain bestial men, hangers-on of the Germans, who would contend that this would prove cheese to be acquired by the Aryan race (or what not) from the Dolichocephalics (or what not), and there are certain horrors who descend to imitate these barbarians–though themselves born in these glorious islands, which are so steep upon their western side. But I will not detain you upon these lest I should fall head foremost into another digression and forget that my article, already in its middle age, is now approaching grey hairs.
At any rate, cheese is very old. It is beyond written language. Whether it is older than butter has been exhaustively discussed by several learned men, to whom I do not send you because the road towards them leads elsewhere. It is the universal opinion of all most accustomed to weigh evidence (and in these I very properly include not only such political hacks as are already upon the bench but sweepingly every single lawyer in Parliament, since any one of them may tomorrow be a judge) that milk is older than cheese, and that man had the use of milk before he cunningly devised the trick of squeezing it in a press and by sacrificing something of its sweetness endowed it with a sort of immortality.
The story of all this has perished. Do not believe any man who professes to give it you. If he tells you some legend of a god who taught the Wheat-eating Race, the Ploughers, and the Lords to make cheese, tell him such tales are true symbols, but symbols only. If he tells you that cheese was an evolution and a development, oh! then!–bring up your guns! Open on the fellow and sweep his intolerable lack of intelligence from the earth. Ask him if he discovers reality to be a function of time, and Being to hide in clockwork. Keep him on the hop with ironical comments upon how it may be that environment can act upon Will, while Will can do nothing with environment–whose proper name is mud. Pester the provincial. Run him off the field.
But about cheese. Its noble antiquity breeds in it a noble diffusion.
This happy Christendom of ours (which is just now suffering from an indigestion and needs a doctor–but having also a complication of insomnia cannot recollect his name) has been multifarious incredibly–but in nothing more than in cheese!
One cheese differs from another, and the difference is in sweeps, and in landscapes, and in provinces, and in countrysides, and in climates, and in principalities, and in realms, and in the nature of things. Cheese does most gloriously reflect the multitudinous effect of earthly things, which could not be multitudinous did they not proceed from one mind.
Consider the cheese of Rocquefort: how hard it is in its little box. Consider the cheese of Camembert, which is hard also, and also lives in a little box, but must not be eaten until it is soft and yellow. Consider the cheese of Stilton, which is not made there, and of Cheddar, which is. Then there is your Parmesan, which idiots buy rancid in bottles, but which the wise grate daily for their use: you think it is hard from its birth? You are mistaken. It is the world that hardens the Parmesan. In its youth the Parmesan is very soft and easy, and is voraciously devoured.
Then there is your cheese of Wensleydale, which is made in Wensleydale, and your little Swiss cheese, which is soft and creamy and eaten with sugar, and there is your Cheshire cheese and your little Cornish cheese, whose name escapes me, and your huge round cheese out of the Midlands, as big as a fort whose name I never heard. There is your toasted or Welsh cheese, and your cheese of Pont-l’eveque, and your white cheese of Brie, which is a chalky sort of cheese. And there is your cheese of Neufchatel, and there is your Gorgonzola cheese, which is mottled all over like some marbles, or like that Mediterranean soap which is made of wood-ash and of olive oil. There is your Gloucester cheese called the Double Gloucester, and I have read in a book of Dunlop cheese, which is made in Ayrshire: they could tell you more about it in Kilmarnock. Then Suffolk makes a cheese, but does not give it any name; and talking of that reminds me how going to Le Quesnoy to pass the people there the time of day, and to see what was left of that famous but forgotten fortress, a young man there showed me a cheese, which he told me also had no name, but which was native to the town, and in the valley of Ste. Engrace, where is that great wood which shuts off all the world, they make their cheese of ewe’s milk and sell it in Tardets, which is their only livelihood. They make a cheese in Port-Salut which is a very subtle cheese, and there is a cheese of Limburg, and I know not how many others, or rather I know them, but you have had enough: for a little cheese goes a long way. No man is a glutton on cheese.
What other cheese has great holes in it like Gruyere, or what other is as round as a cannon-ball like that cheese called Dutch? which reminds me:–
Talking of Dutch cheese. Do you not notice how the intimate mind of Europe is reflected in cheese? For in the centre of Europe, and where Europe is most active, I mean in Britain and in Gaul and in Northern Italy, and in the valley of the Rhine–nay, to some extent in Spain (in her Pyrenean valleys at least)–there flourishes a vast burgeoning of cheese, infinite in variety, one in goodness. But as Europe fades away under the African wound which Spain suffered or the Eastern barbarism of the Elbe, what happens to cheese? It becomes very flat and similar. You can quote six cheeses perhaps which the public power of Christendom has founded outside the limits of its ancient Empire–but not more than six. I will quote you 253 between the Ebro and the Grampians, between Brindisi and the Irish Channel.
I do not write vainly. It is a profound thing.
The Captain of Industry
The heir of the merchant Mahmoud had not disappointed that great financier while he still lived, and when he died he had the satisfaction of seeing the young man, now twenty-five years of age, successfully conducting his numerous affairs, and increasing (fabulous as this may seem) the millions with which his uncle entrusted him.
Shortly after Mahmoud’s death the prosperity of the firm had already given rise to a new proverb, and men said: “Do you think I am Mahmoud’s-Nephew?” when they were asked to lend money or in some other way to jeopardize a few coppers in the service of God or their neighbour.
It was also a current expression, “He’s rich as Mahmoud’s-Nephew,” when comrades would jest against some young fellow who was flusher than usual, and could afford a quart or even a gallon of wine for the company; while again the discontented and the oppressed would mutter between their teeth: “Heaven will take vengeance at last upon these Mahmoud’s-Nephews!” In a word, “Mahmoud’s-Nephew” came to mean throughout the whole Caliphate and wherever the True Believers spread their empire, an exceedingly wealthy man. But Mahmoud himself having been dead ten years and his heir the fortunate head of the establishment being now well over thirty years of age, there happened a very inexplicable and outrageous accident: he died–and after his death no instructions were discovered as to what should be done with this enormous capital, no will could be found, and it happened moreover to be a moment of great financial delicacy when the manager of each department in the business needed all the credit he could get.
In such a quandary the Chief Organizer and confidential friend, Ahmed, upon whom the business already largely depended, and who was so circumstanced that he could draw almost at will upon the balances, imagined a most intelligent way of escaping from the difficulties that would arise when the death of the principal was known.
He caused a quantity of hay, of straw, of dust and of other worthless materials to be stuffed into a figure of canvas; this he wrapped round with the usual clothes that Mahmoud’s-Nephew had worn in the office, he shrouded the face with the hood which his chief had commonly worn during life, and having so dressed the lay figure and secretly buried the real body, he admitted upon the morning after the death those who first had business with his master.
He met them at the door with smiles and bows, saying: “You know, gentlemen, that like most really successful men, my chief is as silent as his decisions are rapid; he will listen to what you have to say, and it will be a plain yes or no at the end of it.”
These gentlemen came with a proposal to sell to the firm for the sum of one million dinars a barren rock in the Indian Sea, which was not even theirs, and on which indeed not one of them had ever set eyes. Their claim to advance so original a proposal was that to their certain knowledge two thousand of the wealthiest citizens of their town were willing to buy the rock again at a profit from whoever should be its possessor during the next few weeks in the fond hope of selling it once again to provincials, clerics, widows, orphans, and in general the uninstructed and the credulous–among whom had been industriously spread the report that the rock in question consisted of one solid and flawless diamond.
These gentlemen sitting round the table before the shrouded figure laid down their proposals, whereupon the manager briefly summed up what they had said, and having done so, replied: “Gentlemen, his lordship is a man of few words; but you will have your answer in a moment if you will be good enough to rise, as he is at this moment expecting a deputation from the Holy Men who are entreating him to provide the cost of a mosque in one of the suburbs.”
The proposers of the bargain rose, greatly awed and pleased by the silence and dignity of the financier who apparently remained for a moment discussing their proposals without gesture and in a tone too low for them to hear, while his manager bent over to listen.
“It is ever so,” said one of them, “you may ever know the greatest men by their silence.”
“You are right,” said another, “he is not one to be easily deceived.”
The manager in a moment or two rejoined them at the door. “Gentlemen,” he said, smiling, “my chief has heard your arguments and has expressed his assent to your conditions.”
They went out, delighted at the success of their mission, and congratulated Ahmed upon the financier’s genius.
“He does not,” said the manager, laughing in hearty agreement, “bestow himself as a present upon all and sundry. Nor is he often caught indulging in short bouts of sleep, nor are flies diabolically left to repose undisturbed upon his features–but you must excuse me, I hear the Holy Men,” and indeed from the inner room came a noise of speechifying in that doleful sing-song which is associated in Bagdad with the practice of religion.
The gentlemen who had thus had the luck to interview Mahmoud’s-Nephew with such success in the matter of the Diamond Island, soon spread about the news, and confirmed their fellow-citizens in the certitude that a great financier is neither talkative nor vivacious. “Still waters run deep,” they said, and all those to whom they said it nodded in a wise acquiescence. Nor had the Manager the least difficulty in receiving one set of customers after another and in negotiating within three weeks an infinite amount of business, all of which confirmed those who had the pleasure of an audience with the stuffed dummy that great fortunes were made and retained by reticence and a contempt for convivial weakness.
At last the ingenious man of affairs, to whom the whole combination was due, was not a little disturbed to receive from the Caliph a note couched in the following terms:
“The Commander of the Faithful and the Servant of the Merciful whose name be exalted, to the Nephew of Mahmoud:
“It has been the custom since the days of my grandfather (May his soul see God!) for the more wealthy of the Faithful to be called to my councils, and upon my summoning them thither it has not been unusual for them to present sums varying in magnitude but always proportionate to their total fortunes. My court will receive signal honour if you will present yourself after the morning prayer of the day after to-morrow. My treasurer will receive from you with gratitude and remembrance upon the previous day and not later than noon, the sum of one million dinars.”
Here, indeed, was a perplexity. The payment of the money was an easy matter and was duly accomplished; but how should the lay figure which did duty in such domestic scenes as the negotiation of loans, the bullying of debtors, the purchase of options, and the cheating of the innocent and the embarrassed, take his place in the Caliph’s council and remain undiscovered? For great as was the reputation of Mahmoud’s-Nephew for discretion and for golden silence, such as are proper to the accumulation of great wealth, there would seem a necessity in any political assembly to open the mouth from time to time, if only for the giving of a vote.
But Ahmed, who had by this time accumulated into his own hands the millions formerly his master’s, finally solved the problem. Judicious presents to the servants of the palace and the public criers made his way the easier, and on the summoning of the council Mahmoud’s-Nephew, whose troublesome affection of the throat was now publicly discussed, was permitted to bring into the council-room his private secretary and manager.
Moreover at the council, as at his private office, the continued taciturnity of the millionaire could not but impress the politicians as it had already impressed the financial world.
“He does not waste his breath in tub-thumping,” said one, looking reverently at the sealed figure.
“No,” another would reply, “they may ridicule our old-fashioned, honest, quiet Mohammedan country gentlemen, but for common sense I will back them against all the brilliant paradoxical young fellows of our day.”
“They say he is very kind at heart and lovable,” a third would then add, upon which a fourth would bear his testimony thus:
“Yes, and though he says nothing about it, his charitable gifts are enormous.”
By the second meeting of the council the lay figure had achieved a reputation of so high a sort that the Caliph himself insisted upon making him a domestic adviser, one of the three who perpetually associated with the Commander of the _Faithful_ and directed his policy. For the universal esteem in which the new councillor was held had affected that Prince very deeply.
Here there arose a crux from which there could be no escape, as one of the three chief councillors, Mahmoud’s-Nephew, must speak at last and deliver judgments!
The Manager, first considering the whole business, and next adding up his private gains, which he had carefully laid out in estates of which the firm and its employes knew nothing, decided that he could afford to retire. What might happen to the general business after his withdrawal would not be his concern.
He first gave out, therefore, that the millionaire was taken exceedingly ill, and that his life was despaired of: later, within a few hours, that he was dead.
So far from attempting to allay the panic which ensued, Ahmed frankly admitted the worst.
With cries of despair and a confident appeal to the justice of Heaven against such intrigues, the honest fellow permitted the whole of the vast business to be wound up in favour of newcomers, who had not forgotten to reward him, and soothing as best he could the ruined crowds of small investors who thronged round him for help and advice, he retired under an assumed name to his highly profitable estates, which were situated in the most distant provinces of the known world.
As for Mahmoud’s-Nephew, three theories arose about him which are still disputed to this day:
The first was that his magnificent brain with its equitable judgment and its power of strict secrecy, had designed plans too far advanced for his time, and that his bankruptcy was due to excess of wisdom.
The second theory would have it that by “going into politics” (as the phrase runs in Bagdad) he had dissipated his energies, neglected his business, and that the inevitable consequences had followed.
The third theory was far more reasonable. Mahmoud’s-Nephew, according to this, had towards the end of his life lost judgment; his garrulous indecision within the last few days before his death was notorious: in the Caliph’s council, as those who should best know were sure, one could hardly get a word in edgewise for his bombastic self-assurance; while in matters of business, to conduct a bargain with him was more like attending a public meeting than the prosecution of negotiations with a respectable banker.
In a word, it was generally agreed that Mahmoud’s-Nephew’s success had been bound up with his splendid silence, his fall, bankruptcy, and death, with a lesion of the brain which had disturbed this miracle of self-control.
I had a day free between two lectures in the south-west of England, and I spent it stopping at a town in which there was a large and very comfortable old posting-house or coaching-inn. I had meant to stay some few hours there and to take the last train out in the evening, and I had meant to spend those hours alone and resting; but this was not permitted me, for just as I had taken up the local paper, which was a humble, reasonable thing, empty of any passion and violence and very reposeful to read, a man came up and touched my left elbow sharply: a gesture not at all to my taste nor, I think, to that of anyone who is trying to read his paper.
I looked up and saw a man who must have been quite sixty years of age. He had on a soft, felt slouch hat, a very old and greenish black coat; he stooped and shuffled; he was clean-shaven, with long grey hair, and his eyes were astonishingly bright and piercing and set close together.
He said, “I beg your pardon.”
I said, “Eh, what?”
He said again “I beg your pardon” in the tones of a man who almost commands, and having said this he put his hat on the table, dragged a chair quite close to mine, and pulled a folded bunch of foolscap sheets out of his pocket. His manner was that of a man who engages your attention and has a right to engage it. There were no preliminaries and there was no introduction. This was apparently his manner, and I submitted.
“I have here,” he said, fixing me with his intense eyes, “the plans for a speedometer.”
“Oh!” said I.
“You know what a speedometer is?” he asked suspiciously.
I said yes. I said it was a machine for measuring the speed of vehicles, and that it was compounded of two (or more) Greek words.
He nodded; he was pleased that I knew so much, and could therefore listen to his tale and understand it. He pulled his grey baggy trousers up over the knee, settled himself, sitting forward, and opened his document. He cleared his throat, still fixing me with those eyes of his, and said–
“Every speedometer up to now has depended upon the same principle as a Watt’s governor; that is, there are two little balls attached to each by a limb to a central shaft: they rise and fall according to their speed of rotation, and this movement is indicated upon a dial.”
He cleared his throat again. “Of course, that is unsatisfactory.”
“Damnably!” said I, but this reply did not check him.
“It works tolerably well at high speeds; at low speeds it is useless; and then again there is a very rapid fluctuation, and the instrument is of only approximate precision.”
“Not it!” said I to encourage him.
“There is one exception,” he continued, “to this principle, and that is a speedometer which depends upon the introduction of resistance into a current generated by a small magneto. The faster the magneto turns the stronger the current generated, and the change is indicated upon a dial.”
“Yes,” said I sadly, “as in the former case so in this; the change of speed is indicated upon a dial.” And I sighed.
“But this method also,” he went on tenaciously, “has its defects.”
“You may lay to that,” I interrupted.
“It has the defect that at high speeds its readings are not quite correct, and at very low speeds still less so. Moreover, it is said that it slightly deteriorates with the passage of time.”
“Now that,” I broke in emphatically, “is a defect I have discovered in—-“
But he put up his hand to stop me. “It slightly deteriorates, I say, with the passage of time.” He paused a moment impressively. “No one has hitherto discovered any system which will accurately record the speed of a vehicle or of any rotary movement and register it at the lowest as at the highest speeds.” He paused again for a still longer period in order to give still greater emphasis to what he had to say. He concluded in a new note of sober triumph: “I have solved the problem!”
I thought this was the end of him, and I got up and beamed a congratulation at him and asked if he would drink anything, but he only said, “Please sit down again and I will explain.”
There is no way of combating this sort of thing, and so I sat down, and he went on:
“It is perfectly simple….” He passed his hand over his forehead. “It is so simple that one would say it must have been thought of before; but that is what is always said of a great invention…. Now I have here” (and he opened out his foolscap) “the full details. But I will not read them to you; I will summarize them briefly.”
“Have you a plan or anything I could watch?” said I a little anxiously.
“No,” he answered sharply, “I have not, but if you like I will draw a rough sketch as I go along upon the margin of your newspaper.”
“Thank you,” I said.
He drew the newspaper towards him and put it on his knee. He pulled out a pencil; he held the foolscap up before his eye, and he began to describe.
“The general principle upon which my speedometer reposes,” he said solemnly, “is the coordination of the cylinder and the cone upon an angle which will have to be determined in practice, and will probably vary for different types. But it will never fall below 15 nor rise over 43.”
“I should have thought—-” I began, but he told me I could not yet have grasped it, and that he wished to be more explicit.
“On a king bolt,” he said, occasionally consulting his notes, “runs a pivot in bevel which is kept in place by a small hair-spring, which spring fits loosely on the Conkling Shaft.”
“Exactly,” said I, “I see what is coming.”
But he wouldn’t let me off so easily.
“Yes, of course you are going to say that the whole will be keyed together, and that the T-pattern nuts on a movable shank will be my method of attachment to the fixed portion next to the cam? Eh? So it is, but” (and here his eye brightened), “_anyone_ could have arranged that. My particularity is that I have a freedom of movement even at the lowest speeds, and an accuracy of notation even at the highest, which is secured in a wholly novel manner … and yet so simply. What do you think it is?”
I affected to look puzzled, and thought for a moment. “I cannot imagine,” said I, “unless—-“
“No,” he interrupted, “do not try to guess it, for you never will. _I turn the flange inward_ on a Wilkinson lathe and give it a parabolic section so that the axes are always parallel to each other and to the shaft…. There!”
I had no idea the man could be so moved: there was jubilation in his voice.
“There!” he said again, as though some effort of the brain had exhausted him. “It can’t be touched, mind you,” he added suspiciously; “I’ve taken out the provisional patents. There’s one man I know wants to fight it in the courts as an infringement on Wilkinson’s own patent, but it can’t be touched!” He shook his head decisively. “No! my lawyer’s certain of that–and so’m I!”
Here there was a break in his communications, so to speak, and he had apparently run out. It was not for me to wind him up again. I watched him with a sombre relief as he stood up again to full height, leaned his head back, and sighed profoundly with satisfaction and with completion. He folded up his specification and put it in his pocket again. He tore off the incomprehensible sketch he had made with his pencil while he was speaking, and put it by me on the mantelshelf. “You might like to keep it,” he said pathetically; “it’s a document, that is; it will be famous some day.” He looked at it lovingly, almost as though he was going to take it back again: but he thought better of it.
I was waiting, I will not say itching, for him to take his leave, when a god or demon, that same perhaps which had treated the poor fellow as a jest for a whole lifetime, inspired him to take a very false step indeed. He had already taken up his hat and was turning as though to go to the door, when the unfortunate thought struck him.
“What would you do?” he said.
“How do you mean?” I answered.
“Why, what would you do to try and get it taken up and talked about?”
Then it was my turn, and I let him have it.
“You must get the Press and the Government to work together,” I said rapidly, “and particularly in connection with the new Government Service of Camion’s Fettle-Trains and Cursory Circuits.”
He nodded like one who thoroughly understands and desires to hear more.
“Speed,” I added nonchalantly, “and the measure of it are of course essentials in their case.”
He nodded again.
“And they have never really settled the problem … especially about Fettle-Trains.”
“No,” said he ponderously, “so I understand.”
“Well now,” I went on, full of the chase, “you will naturally ask me who are you to go to?” I scratched my nose. “You know the Fusionary Office, as we call it? It is really, of course, a part of the Stannaries. But the Chief Permanent Secretary likes to have it called the Fusionary Office; it’s his vanity.”
“Yes,” said he eagerly, “yes, go on!”
“They always have the same hours,” I said, “four to eleven.”
“Four to _what_?” he asked, looking up.
“To eleven,” I repeated sharply; “but you’d much better call round about three.”
He looked bewildered.
“Don’t interrupt,” I said, seeing him open his lips, “or I shall lose the thread. It’s rather complicated. You call at three by the little door in Whitehall on the Embankment side towards the Horse Guards looking south, and _don’t_ ring the bell.”
“Why not?” he asked. I thought for the moment he might begin to cry.
“Oh, well,” I said testily, “you mustn’t ask those questions. All these institutions are very old institutions with habits and prejudices of their own. You mustn’t ring the bell, that’s all; they don’t like it; you must just wait until they open; and then, if you take _my_ advice, don’t write a note or ask to interview the First Analyist. Don’t do any of the usual things, but just fill up one of the regular Treasury forms and state that you have come with regard to the Perception and Mensuration advertisements.”
His face was pained and wrinkled as he heard me, but he said, “I beg your pardon … but shall I have it all explained to me at the office?”
“Certainly not!” I said, aghast; “it’s just because you might have so much difficulty there that I’m explaining everything to you.”
“Yes, I know,” he said doubtfully; “thank you.”
“I hope you’ll try and follow what I say,” I continued a little wearily; “I have special opportunities for knowing…. Political, you know.”
“Certainly,” he said, “certainly; but about those forms?”
“Well,” I said, “you didn’t suppose they supplied them, did you?”
“I almost did,” he ventured.
“Oh, you did,” said I, with a loud laugh, “well, you’re wrong there. However, I dare say I’ve got one on me.” He looked up eagerly as I felt in my pockets. I brought out a telegraph blank, two letters, and a tobacco pouch. I looked at them for a moment. “No,” said I, “I haven’t got one; it’s a pity, but I’ll tell you who will give you one; you know the place opposite, where the bills are drafted?”
“I’m afraid I don’t,” he said, admitting ignorance for the first time in this conversation and perhaps in his life.
“Well,” said I impatiently, “never mind, anyone will show you. Go there, and if they don’t give you a form they’ll show you a copy of Paper B, which is much the same thing.”
“Thank you,” said he humbly, and he got up to move out. He was going a little groggily, his eyes were dull and sodden. He presented all the aspect of a man under a heavy strain.
“You’ve got it all clear, I hope?” I asked cheerfully as he neared the door.
“Oh, yes!” he said. “Thank you; yes!”
“Anything else?” I shouted as he passed out into the courtyard. “Anything else I can do? You’ll always find me in the room over the office, Room H, down the little iron staircase,” I nodded genially to him as he disappeared.
In this way did we exchange, the Inventor and I, those expert confidences and mutual aids in either’s technical skill which are too rarely discovered in modern travel.
The Views of England
England is a country with edges and with a core. It is a country very small for the number of people who live in it, and very appreciable to the eye for the traveller who travels on foot or in a boat from place to place. Considering the part it has in the making of the world, it might justly be compared to a jewel which is very small and very valuable and can almost be held in the hand. The physical appreciation of England is to be reached by an appreciation of landscape.
It so happens that England is traversed by remarkable and sudden ranges; hills with a sharp escarpment overlooking great undulating plains. This is not true of any other one country of Europe, but it is true of England, and a man who professes to consider, to understand, to criticize, to defend, and to love this country, must know the Pennines, the Cotswolds, the North and the South Downs, the Chilterns, the Mendips, and the Malverns; he must know Delamere Forest, and he must know the Hill of Beeston, from which all Cheshire may be perceived. If he knows these heights and has long considered the prospects which they afford, he can claim to have seen the face of England.
It is deplorable that our modern method of travel does cut us off from such experiences. They were not only common to, they were necessary to our fathers; the roads would not be at the expense of tunnelling through hills, and (what is more important) when those men who most mould the knowledge of the country by the country (the people who deal with its soil, who live separate upon its separate farms) visited each other upon horses; and horses, unlike railway trains, cannot climb hills. They puff, they heave, they snort, as do railway trains, but they climb them well.
On this account, because the roads for the carriages went over hills, and because the method of visiting even a near neighbour would permit you to go over hills, the England of quite a little time ago was familiar with the half-dozen great landscapes of England. You may see it in that most individual, that most peculiar, and, I think, that most glorious school of painters, the English landscape painter, Constable with his thick colours, Turner with his wonderment, and even the portrait painters in their backgrounds depend upon the view of the plains from a height. To-day our landscape painters sometimes do the same, but the market for that emotion is capricious, it is no longer the secure and natural way of presenting England to English eyes.
If you will consider these plains at the foot of the English hills you will find in them the whole history of the country, and the whole meaning of it as well. Two occur to me first: The view of the Weald (both Kentish and Sussex) through which the influence of Europe perpetually approached the island, not only in the crisis of the Roman or the Norman invasions, but in a hundred episodes stretched out through two thousand years–and the view of the Thames Valley as one gets it on a clear day from the summits of the North Downs when one looks northward and sees very faintly the Chilterns along the horizon.
This last is obscured by London. One needs a very particular circumstance in which to appreciate it. The air must be dry and clear, there must be little or no wind, or if there is a wind it must be a strong one from the south and west that has already driven the smoke from the western edge of the town. When this is so, a man looks right across to the sandy heights just north of the Thames, and far beyond he sees the Chilterns, like a landfall upon the rim of the world. He looks at all that soil on which the government of this country has been rooted. He sees the hill of Windsor. He overlooks, though he cannot perceive at so great a distance, the two great schools of the rich; he has within one view the principal Castle of the Kings, the place of their council, and the cathedral of their capital city: so true is it that the Thames made England.
Then, if you consider the upper half of that valley, the view is from the ridge of the Berkshire hills, or, better still, from Cumnor, or from the clump of trees above Faringdon. From such look-outs the astonishing loneliness which England has had the strength to preserve in this historic belt of land profoundly strikes a man. You can see to your left and, a long way off, the hill where, as is most probable, Alfred thrust back the Pagans, and so saved one-half of Christendom. Oxford is within your landscape. The roll upwards in a glacis of the Cotswold, the nodal point of the Roman roads at Cirencester, and the ancient crossings of the Thames.
From the Cotswold again westward you look over a sheer wall and see one of those differences which make up England. For the passage from the Upper Thames to the flat and luxuriant valley floor of the Severn is a transition (if it be made by crossing the hills) more sudden than that between many countries abroad. Had our feudalism cut England into provinces we should here have two marked provincial histories marching together, for the natural contrast is greater than between Normandy and Brittany at any part of their march or between Aragon and Castile at any part of theirs. I do not know what it is, but the view of the jagged Malvern seen above the happy mists of autumn, when these mists lie like a warm fleece upon the orchards of the vale, preserving them of a morning until the strengthening of the sun, the sudden aspect, I say, of those jagged peaks strikes one like a vision of a new world. How many men have thought it! How often it ought to be written down! It hangs in the memory of the traveller like a permanent benediction, and remains in his mind a standing symbol of peace.
I have no space to speak of how from Beeston you see all Cheshire; the Vale Royal to your left, and the main plain of the county to your right. The whole stretch is framed in with definite hills, the last and highly marked line of the Pennines bounds the view upon the east; upon the west the first of the Welsh hills stands sharply in a long even line against the fading sun; and on the north you see the height of Delamere. There are three other views in the North of England, the first easy, the last two difficult to obtain, all between them making up a true picture of what the North of England is. The first (and it is very famous) is the view over the industrial ferment of South Lancashire, seen from the complete silence of the hills round the Peak. No matter where you cross that summit, even if you take the high road from the Snake Inn to Glossop, where the easiest, and therefore the least striking, passage has been chosen, much more if you follow the wild heights a little to the south until you come to a more abrupt descent on which there are not even paths, there comes a point where there is presented to you in one great offering, without introduction, a vision of the vast energies of England.
I remember once in winter when the sun sets early (it was December, and seven years ago) coming upon this sight. The clouds were so arranged after an Atlantic storm that all the heaven (which here is always spacious and noble) was covered with a rolling curtain as though a man had pulled it with his hands. But far off, westward, there was a broad red band of sunset, and against this the smoke, the tall stacks, the violence and the wealth of that cauldron. One could almost hear the noise. It did arrest one; it was as though someone had painted something unreal, to be a mystical emblem, and to sum up in one picture all those million despairs, misfortunes, chances, disciplines, and acquirements which make up the character of Lancashire men. This vision also many men have seen and many men shall write of. Very rarely upon the surface of the earth does the soul take on so immediate and obvious a physical body as does the soul of that industrial world in the view of which I speak.
And the two other views are, first, that difficult one which one must pick and choose but which can be obtained from several sites (especially at the end of Wensleydale), and which is the view of that rich, old, and agricultural Yorkshire, from which the county draws its traditions and in which, perhaps, the truest spirit of the county still abides; for Yorkshire is at heart farmer, and possibly after three generations of a town, a man from this part of England still looks more lively when he sees a lively horse put before him for judgment. Second, the view from Cross Fell, very, very difficult to obtain, for often when one climbs Cross Fell in sunny weather, one gets up over the Scar under the threat of cloud, and one only reaches the summit by the time the evening or the mist has fallen; but if one has the luck to see the view of which I speak, then one sees all that rugged remaining part of the Northwest exactly as the Romans saw it, and as it has been for two thousand years, with the high land of the lakes and the stony nature and the sparseness of all the stretch about one, and the approach to a foreign land.
I have often thought when I have heard men blaming the story of England or her present mood for false reasons, or, what is worse, praising her for false reasons; when I have heard the men of the cities talking wild talk got from maps and from print, or the disappointed men talking wild talk of another kind, expecting impossible or foreign perfections from their own kindred–I have often thought, I say, when I have heard the folly upon either side (and the mass of it daily increases)–that it would be a wholesome thing if one could take such a talker and make him walk from Dover to the Solway, exercising some care that he should rise before the sun, and that he should see in clear weather the views of which I speak. A man who has done that has seen England–not the name or the map or the rhetorical catchword, but the thing. And it does not take so very long.
Those who are interested in what simple straightforward people call the Pathology of Consciousness have gathered a great body of evidence upon the various manias that affect men, and there is an especially interesting department of this which concerns illusion upon matters which in the sane are determinable by the senses and common experience. Thus one man will believe himself to be the Emperor of China, another to be William Shakespeare or some other impossible person, though one would imagine that his every accident of daily life would convince him to the contrary.
I had recently occasion to watch one of the most harmless and yet one of the most striking of these illusions in a private asylum which has specialized, if I may so express myself, upon men of letters. The case was harmless and even benign, for the poor fellow was not of a combative disposition to begin with, was of too careful and dignified a temperament to show more than slight irritation if his delusion were contradicted. This misfortune, however, very rarely overtook him, for those who came to visit him were warned to humour his whim. This eccentricity I will now describe.
He imagined, nay he was convinced, that he was existing fifty years in the future, and that the interest of his conversation for others would lie in his reminiscence of the state of society in which we are actually living today. If anyone who had not been warned was imprudent enough to suggest that the conversation was taking place in 1909 would smile gently, nod, and say rather bitterly, “Yes, I know, I know,” as though recognizing a universal plot against him which he was too weary to combat. But when he had said this he would continue to talk on as though both parties to the conversation were equally convinced that the year was really 1960 or thereabouts. Whether to add zest to what he said or from some part of his malady consonant with all the rest, my poor friend (who had been a journalist and will very possibly be a journalist again) presupposed that the whole structure of society as we now know it had changed and that his reminiscences were those of a past time which, on account of some great revolution or other, men imperfectly comprehended, so that it must be of the highest interest and advantage to listen to the testimony of an eye-witness upon them.
What especially delighted him (for he was a zealous admirer of the society he described) was the method of government.
“There was no possibility of going wrong,” he said to me with curious zeal, “not a shadow of danger! It would be difficult for you to understand now how easily the system worked!” And here he sighed profoundly. “And why on earth,” he continued, “men should have destroyed such an instrument when they had it is more than I can understand. There it was in every country in Europe; there were elections; all the men voted. And mind you, the elections were not so very far apart. Most people living at one election could remember the last, so there was no time for abuses to spring up…. Well, everybody voted. If a man wanted one thing he voted one way, and if he wanted another thing he voted the other way. The people for whom he voted would then meet, and with a sense of duty which I cannot exaggerate they would work month after month exactly to reproduce the will of those who had appointed them. It was a great time!”
“Yet,” said I, “even so there must have been occasional divergences between what these people did and what the nation wanted.”
“I see what you mean,” he said, musing, “you mean that all the devotion in the world, the purest of motives and the most devoted sense of duty, could not keep the elected always in contact with the electors. You are right. But you must remember that in every country there was a machinery, with regard to the most important measures at least, which could throw the matter before the electors to be re-decided. I can remember no important occasion upon which the machinery was not brought into use.”
“But, after all, the value of the decisions of the electorate you are describing,” said I, continuing to humour him, “would depend upon the information which the electorate had received as well as upon their judgment.”
“As for their judgment,” he said, a little shortly, “it is not for our time to criticize theirs. Human judgment is not infallible, but I can well remember how in every nation of Europe it was the fixed conviction of the citizens that judgment was their chief characteristic, and especially judgment in national affairs. I cannot believe that so universal an attitude of the mind could have arisen had it not been justified. But as for information, they had the Press … a free Press!” Here he fell into a reverie, so powerfully did his supposed memories affect him.
I was willing to lead him on, because this kind of illness is best met by sympathy, and also because I was not uninterested to discover how his own trade had affected him.
“You would hardly understand it,” he said sadly; “what you hear from me is nothing but words…. I wish I could have shown you one of those great houses with information pouring in as rapid, as light, and as clear, from every hidden corner of the world, digested by master brains into the most lucid and terse presentment of it possible, and then whirled out on great wheels to be distributed by the thousand and the hundred thousand, to the hungry intelligence of Europe. There was nothing escaped it–nothing. In every capital were crowds of men dispatched from the other capitals of our civilization, moving with ease in the wealthiest houses, and exquisitely in touch with the most delicate phases of national life everywhere. And these men were such experts in selection that a picture of Europe as a whole was presented every morning to each particular part of Europe; and nowhere was this more successfully accomplished than in my own beloved town of London.”
“It must have been useful,” I said, “not only for the political purposes you describe, but also for investors. Indeed, I should imagine that the two things ran together.”
“You are right,” he said with interest, “the wide knowledge which even the poorest of the people possessed upon foreign affairs, through the action of the Press, was, further, of the utmost and most beneficent effect in teaching even the smallest proprietor what he need do with his capital. A discovery of metallic ore–especially of gold–a new invention, anything which might require development, was at once presented in its most exact aspect to the reader.”
“It was probably upon that account,” said I, “that property was so equally distributed, and that so general a prosperity reigned as you have often described to me.”
“You are right,” said he; “it was mainly this accurate and universal daily information which produced such excellent results.”
“But it occurs to me,” said I, by way of stimulating his conversation with an objection, “that if so passionate and tenacious a habit of telling the exact truth upon innumerable things was present in this old institution of which you speak, it cannot but have bred a certain amount of dissension, and it must sometimes even have done definite harm to individuals whose private actions were thus exposed.”
“You are right,” said he; “the danger of such misfortunes was always present, and with the greatest desire in the world to support only what was worthy the writers of the journals of which I speak would occasionally blunder against private interests; but there was a remedy.”
“What was that?” I asked.
“Why, the law provided that in this matter twelve men called a jury, instructed by a judge, after the matter had been fully explained to them by two other men whose business it was to examine the truth boldly for the sake of justice–I say the law provided that the twelve men after this process should decide whether the person injured should receive money from the newspaper or no, and if so, in what amount. And, lest there should still be any manner of doubt, the judge was permitted to set aside their verdict if he thought it unjust. To secure his absolute impartiality as between rich and poor he was paid somewhat over L100 a week, a large salary in those days, and he was further granted the right of imprisoning people at will or of taking away their property if he believed them to obstruct his judgment. Nor were these the only safeguards. For in the case of very rich men, to whom justice might not be done on account of the natural envy of their poorer fellow-citizens, it was arranged that the jury should consist only of rich men. In this way it was absolutely certain that a complete impartiality would reign. We shall never see those days again,” he concluded.
“But do you not think,” I said before I left him, “that the social perfection of the kind you have described must rather have been due to some spirit of the time than to particular institutions? For after all the zealous love of justice and the sense of duty which you describe are not social elements to be produced by laws.”
“Possibly,” he said, wearily, “possibly, but we shall never see it again!”
And I left him looking into the fire with infinite sadness and reflecting upon his lost youth and the year 1909: a pathetic figure, and one whose upkeep during the period of his deficiency was a very serious drain upon the resources of his family.
The Inheritance of Humour
There are some truths which seem to get old almost as soon as they are born, and that simply because they are so astonishingly true that people soon get to feel as though they have known them all their lives; and such a truth is that which first one writer and then another in the last five years has been insisting upon, until it is already a perfect commonplace that nations do not know their own qualities. The inmost, the characteristic thing, that which differentiates one community from another, as tastes or colours differentiate things–_that_ a nation hardly ever knows until it is pointed out to it by some foreigner or by some observer from within. It cannot know it, because one cannot tell the very atmosphere in which one lives. It is universal and therefore unnoticed. Now, if this is true of any nation, it is particularly true of England. And English people need to be told morning, noon, and night, not indeed the particular national characteristic which they have, since for this no particular name could be found, but rather what its evidences are; as, for instance, spontaneity in design, a passion for the mystical in poetry and the arts; a power in water-colour, in which they are perhaps quite alone, and certainly the first in Europe; and, above all, the chief, the master thing of all, humour.
There is not nor ever will be anything like English humour. It is a thing quite apart, and by it for now more than two hundred years you may know England. It does not puzzle the foreigner (as the more blatant kind of intellectual man is too fond of boasting that it does); he simply admires it as a rule and wonders at it always; sometimes he actually dislikes it, but by it he knows that the thing he is reading is English and has the savour and taste of England.
It is impossible to define it, because it is so full of stuff and so organic a quality; but in our own time it was principally the pencil of Charles Keene that has summed it up and presented it in a moment and at once to the eye–the pencil of Charles Keene and that profound instinct whereby he chose the legends for his drawing, whether he found them by his own sympathy with the people or whether they were suggested to him by friends.
It is the verdict of the men most competent perhaps to judge upon these things that he had the greatest graphic power of his time, and that no one had had that power to such an extent since Hogarth. Upon these things the men of the trade must dispute; the layman cannot doubt that he had here a genius and a genius comprehensively national. It is the essence of a good draughtsman that what he wants to draw, that he draws. The line that he desires to see upon the paper appears there as his fingers move. It is a quality extremely rare in its perfection. And Charles Keene had it in perfection, as in totally different manner had the offensive and diseased talent of Beardsley.
But more important than the power to do is the quality of the thing done, and the work of Charles Keene, multitudinous, varied, always great, is an inheritance for English people comparable to the inheritance they have in Dickens. It has also what Dickens had, a power of representing, as it were, the essential English. Just that which makes people say (with some truth) that Dickens never drew a gentleman would make them say with equal truth that what was interesting in the gentlemen of Charles Keene (and he perpetually drew them) was not the externals upon which gentlemen so pride themselves, but the soul. Thus I have in mind one picture wherein Keene drew a gentleman; true, he was a gentleman who had just swallowed a bad oyster, and therefore he was a man as well. I recall another of an old gentleman complaining of the caterpillar on his chop: he is a gentleman of the professional rather than the territorial classes, and, great heavens! what a power of line! All you see beneath the round of his hat is the end of his nose, the curve of his mouth, and two bushy ends of whiskers. Yet one can tell all about that man; one could write a book on him. One knows his economics, his religion, his accent, and what he thought of the Third Napoleon and what of Garibaldi. I have called draughtsmanship of this quality an inheritance–I might have called it perhaps with better propriety a monument. It is possible that England in the near future will look back with great envy, as she will certainly look back with great pride, to the generation preceding our own: they were a solid and a happy community of men. How much they owed to fortune, how much to themselves, it is not the place of such random stuff as mine to consider.
They were nearly impregnable in their island; they were not bellicose. They made and sold for all the world. Whether the very different future which we are now entering is to be laid to their door or to our own, that generation will still remain one of the principal things in English history, like the Elizabethan generation, or the group of men who organized the Seven Years’ War, or the group of men who fought in the Peninsula. And of that generation the note of health and of stability is represented by its humour. I am not sure that of all things educational to young men with no personal memory of that time, and especially to young men with no family tradition of it to reflect it in their books and their furniture; and–this yet more particularly–to young men born out of England yet claiming communion with England, the Anglo-Indians and the Colonials–I am not sure, I say, that the thing most educational to these would not be some hundred of Charles Keene’s drawings, for therein they would find what it was that gave them the power and the wealth that can hardly be defended unless its traditions are continued. Note how Victorian England dealt with the humour of a Volunteer review; note how it dealt with the humour of excessive wealth; and note how it dealt with the humour of schools and of Dons. One might almost define it by negations. There is in all of it no–but here I lack a word…. When things ring false it is because they have got by exaggeration or by some other form of falsity _beside_ themselves. Appreciation of rank or even of worth becomes snobbishness; appreciation of another’s judgment false taste; and patriotism, the most beautiful, the noblest, the most necessary of the great emotions, corrupts into something very vile indeed.
Well, the Victorians, and notably this man of whose power of the pencil I am speaking, did lack that false savour, that savour of just missing what one wishes to say or to feel, which haunts us to-day; and I should imagine that whether it were cause or effect the salt present in the preservation of the moral health of that society was humour. Let us enjoy it like an heirloom. It is more national than the language; at least it is more national than what the language has become under foreign pressure; it is infinitely more national than our problems and our tragedies. It is so national that–who knows?–it may crop up again of itself one of these days; and may that not be long.
The Old Gentleman’s Opinions
I had occasion about a fortnight ago to meet a man more nearly ninety than eighty years of age, who had had special opportunity for discovering the changes of Europe during his long life. He was of the English wealthier classes by lineage, but his mother had been of the French nobility and a Huguenot. His father had been prominent in the diplomacy of a couple of generations ago. He had travelled widely, read perhaps less widely, but had known and appreciated an astonishing number of his contemporaries.
I was interested (without any power of my own to judge whether his decisions were right or wrong) to discover what most struck him in the changes produced by that great stretch of years, all of which he had personally observed: he was born just after Waterloo, and he could remember the Reform Bill.
He surprised me by telling me, in the first place, that the material changes and discoveries, enormous though they were in extent, were not, in his view, the most striking. He was ready to leave it open whether these material changes were the causes of moral changes more remarkable, or merely effects concomitant with these. When I asked him what had struck him most of the great material developments, he told me the phonograph and the aeroplane among inventions; Mendel’s observations in the sphere of experimental knowledge; and, in the sphere of pure theory, the breakdown of many things that had been dogmas of physical science in his early manhood.
Since I did not quite understand what he meant by this last, he gave me, after some hesitation, a few examples: That the interior of the earth was molten; that a certain limited number of elements–not all yet isolated, but certainly few in their total–were at the base of all material forms, and were immutable; that the ultimate unit of each of these was a certain indivisible, eternal thing called the Atom; and so forth.
He assured me that views of this sort, extending over a hundred or a thousand other points, were so universally accepted in his time that to dispute them was to be ranked with the unlettered or the fantastic. I asked him if it were so in economics. He said: Yes, in England, where there was a similar dogma of Free Trade: not abroad.
When I asked him why Mendel’s published experiments and the theory based upon them had so much impressed him, he said because it was almost the first attempt to apply to the speculative dogmas of biology some standard demonstrably true; and here he wandered off to explain to me why the commonly accepted views upon biology, which had so changed thought in the latter part of his life, were associated with the name of Darwin. Darwin, he assured me, had brought forward no new discovery, but only a new hypothesis, and that only a small and particular hypothesis, whereby to explain the general theory of transformism. This theory, he told me–the unbroken descent of living organisms and their physical connection with one another and with common parents–had been a favourite idea from the beginning of history with many great thinkers, from Lucretius to Buffon and from Augustus of Hippo to Lamarck. Darwin’s, the old gentleman assured me, which he had defended with infinite toil, was that the method in which this continuity of descent proceeded was by an infinitely slow process of very small changes differentiating each minute step from the one before and the one after it, and these small changes Darwin’s hypothesis referred to a natural selection. Nothing else in Darwin’s work, he assured me, was novel, and yet it was the one thing which subsequent research had rendered more and more doubtful. Darwin (he said) said nothing new that was also true.
At this point I was moved to contradict the old gentleman, and to say that one unquestioned contribution to science of Darwin, as novel as it was secure, was his patient discovery of the work of earthworms, and of its vast effect. The old gentleman was willing to admit that I was right, but he said he was only speaking of Darwin in connection with transformism and the whimsical way in which his private name (and his errors) had become identified with evolution in general.
I asked him, since he had such a knowledge of men from observation, why this was so.
“It seems at first sight,” he said, “as ridiculous as though we should associate the theory of light with the name of Newton, who inclined to the exploded corpuscular hypothesis, or the general conception of orbital motion in the universe to the great Bacon, who, in point of fact, rudely repudiated the Copernican theory in particular.”
“Did he, indeed?” said I, interested.
“I believe so,” said the old gentleman; “at any rate you were asking me why Darwin, with his single contribution to the theory of transformism, and that a doubtful one–or, to be accurate, an exploded one–should be associated in the popular mind with the invention of so ancient a theory as that of evolution. The reason is, I think, no more than that he came at a particular moment when any man doing great quantities of detailed work in this field was bound to stand out exaggeratedly. The society in which he appeared had, until just before his day, accepted a narrow cosmogony, quite unknown to its ancestors. Darwin’s book certainly exploded that, and the mind of his time–ignorant as it was of the past–was ready to accept the shattering of its father’s idols as a new revelation.”
“But you were saying,” said I, when he had thus dealt harshly with a great name, “that not the material but the moral changes of your time seemed to you the greatest. Which did you mean?”
“Why, in the first place,” said the old man thoughtfully and with some hesitation, “the curiously rapid decline of intelligence, or if you will have it differently, the clouding of thought that has marked the last thirty years. Men in my youth knew what they held and what they did not hold. They knew why they held it or why they did not hold it; but the attempt to enjoy the advantages of two contradictory systems at the same time, and, what is worse, the consulting of a man as an authority upon subjects he had never professed to know, are intellectual phenomena quite peculiar to the later years of my life.”
I said we of the younger generation had all noticed it, as, for instance, when an honest but imperfectly intelligent chemist was listened to in his exposition of the nature of the soul, or a well-paid religious official was content to expound the consolations of Christianity while denying that Christianity was true.
“But,” I continued, “we are usually told that this unfortunate decline in the express powers of the brain is due to the wide and imperfect education of the populace at the present moment.”
“That is not the case,” answered the old man sharply, when I had made myself clear by repeating my remarks in a louder tone, for he was a little deaf.
“That is not the case. The follies of which I speak are not particularly to be discovered among the poorer classes who have passed through the elementary schools. _These_” (it was to the schools that he was alluding with a comprehensive pessimism) “may account for the gross decline apparent in the public manners of our people, but not for faults which are peculiar to the upper and middle classes. It is not in the populace, but in those wealthier ranks that you will find the sort of intellectual decay of which I spoke.”
I asked him whether he thought the tricks it was now considered cultured to play with mathematics came within the category of this intellectual decay. The old gentleman answered me a little abruptly that he could not judge what I was talking about.
“Why,” said I, “do you believe that parallel straight lines _converge_ or _diverge_?”
“Neither,” said he, a little bewildered. “If they are parallel they cannot by definition either diverge or converge.”
“You are, then,” said I, “an old-fashioned adherent of the theory of the parabolic universe?” At which sensible reply of mine the old man muttered rather ill-temperedly, and begged me to speak of something else.
I asked him whether the knowledge of languages had not declined in his time. He said, somewhat emphatically, yes, and especially the knowledge of French, assuring me that in his early years many a Fellow of a College at Oxford or at Cambridge was capable of speaking that tongue in such a fashion as to make himself understood. On the other hand, he admitted that German and Spanish were more widely known than they had been, and Arabic certainly far more widely diffused among those officials of the Empire who took their work seriously.
When I asked him whether politics were more corrupt as time proceeded, he said No, but more cynical; and as to morals he would not judge, for he was certain that as one vice was corrected another appeared in its place.
What he told me he most deplored in the social system of his country was the power of the police and of the statistician by whom the policeman was guided. This he ascribed to the growth of great towns, to civic cowardice, and to a new taboo laid upon uniformed and labelled public authorities, who are now regarded as sacred, and also inordinately feared.
“In my youth,” he said, “there was a joke that every man in Paris was known to the police. Today that is universally true, and no joke with regard to every man in London. Our movements are marked, our earnings, our expenses, and our most private affairs known to the innumerable officials of the Treasury, our records of every sort, however intimate, are exactly and correctly maintained. The obtaining of work and a livelihood is dependent upon strong organizations. There is hardly an ailment or a domestic habit, from drinking wine to eating turnips, which some crank who has obtained the ear of a politician does not control or threaten in the immediate future to control.”
“As for doctors!” he began, his voice cracking with indignation, “their abominable….” but here the old gentleman fell into so violent a fit of coughing that he nearly turned black in the face, and when I respectfully slapped him on the back, in the hopes of granting him relief, he made matters worse by shaking himself at me with an energy worthy of 1842. His nurse rushed in, clapped him upon his pillows, and was prepared to vent her wrath upon me for having caused this paroxysm, when the old man’s exhaustion and laboured breathing captured all her attention, and I had the opportunity to withdraw.
On Historical Evidence
The last book to be published upon the last Dauphin of France set me thinking upon what seems to me the chief practical science in which modern men should secure themselves. I mean the science of history–and in this science almost all lies in the appreciation of evidence, for one of the chief particular problems presented to the student of history at the present moment is whether the Dauphin did or did not survive his imprisonment in the Temple.
Let me first say why, to so many of us, the science of history and the appreciation of the evidence upon which it depends is of the first moment. It is because, short of vision or revelation, history is our only extension of human experience. It is true that a philosophy common to all citizens is necessary for a State if it is to, live–but short of that necessity the next most necessary factor is a knowledge of the stuff of mankind: of how men act under certain conditions and impulses. This knowledge may be acquired, and is in some measure, during the experience of one wise lifetime, but it is indefinitely extended by the accumulation of experience which history affords.
And what history so gives us is always of immediate and practical moment.
For instance, men sometimes speak with indifference of the rival theories as to the origin of European land tenure; they talk as though it were a mere academic debate whether the conception of private property in land arose comparatively late among Europeans or was native and original in our race. But you have only to watch a big popular discussion on that very great and at the present moment very living issue, the moral right to the private ownership in land, to see how heavily the historic argument weighs with every type of citizen. The instinct that gives that argument weight is a sound one, and not less sound in those who have least studied the matter than in those who have most studied it; for if our race from its immemorial origins has desired to own land as a private thing side by side with communal tenures, then it is pretty certain that we shall not modify that intention, however much we change our laws. If, on the other hand, it could be shown that before the advent of a complex civilization Europeans had no conception of private property in land, but treated land as a thing necessarily and always communal, then you could ascribe modern Socialist theories with regard to the land to that general movement of harking back to the origins which Europe has been assisting at through over a hundred years of revolution and of change.
It sounds cynical, but it is perfectly true, that much the largest factor in the historical conception of men is assertion. It is literally true that when men (with the exception of a very small proportion of scholars who are also intelligent) consider the past, the picture on which they dwell is a picture conveyed to them wholly by authority and by unquestioned authority. There was never a time when the original sources of history were more easily to be consulted by the plain man; but whether because of their very number, or because the habit is not yet formed, or because there are traditions of imaginary difficulty surrounding such reading, original sources were perhaps never less familiar to fairly educated opinion than they are today; and therefore no type of book gives more pleasure when one comes across it than those little cheap books, now becoming fairly numerous, in which the original sources, and the original sources alone, are put before the reader. Mr. Rait has already done such work in connection with Mary Queen of Scots, and Mr. Archer did it admirably in connection with the Third Crusade.
But apart from the importance of consulting original sources–which is like hearing the very witnesses themselves in court–there is a factor in historical judgment which by some unhappy accident is peculiarly lacking in the professional historian. It is a factor to which no particular name can be attached, though it may be called a department of common sense. But it is a mental power or attitude easily recognizable in those who possess it, and perhaps atrophied by the very atmosphere of the study. It goes with the open air with a general knowledge of men and with that rapid recognition of the way in which things “fit in” which is necessarily developed by active life.
For instance, when you know the pace at which Harold marched down from the north to Hastings you recognize, if you use that factor of historic judgment of which I spake, that the affair was not barbaric. There must have been fairly good roads, and there must have been a high organization of transport. You have only to consider for a moment what a column looks like, even if it be only a brigade, to see the truth of that. Again, this type of judgment forbids anyone who uses it to ascribe great popular movements (great massacres, great turmoils, and so forth) to craft. It is a very common thing, especially in modern history, to lay such things to the power of one or two wealthy or one or two bloody leaders, but you have only to think for a few moments of what a mob is to see the falsity of that. Craft can harness this sort of explosive force, it can control it, or persuade it, or canalize it to certain issues, but it cannot create it.
Again, this sort of sense easily recognizes in historic types the parallels of modern experience. It avoids the error of thinking history a mistake and making of the men and women who appear there something remote from humanity, extreme, and either stilted or grandiose.
In aid of this last feature in historical judgment there is nothing of such permanent value as a portrait. Obtain your conception (as, indeed, most boys do) of the English early sixteenth century from a text, then go and live with the Holbeins for a week and see what an enormously greater thing you will possess at the end of it. It is indeed one of the misfortunes of European history that from the fifth century to at least the eleventh we are, so far as Western European history is concerned, deprived of portraits. And by an interesting parallel the writers of the dark time seemed to have had neither the desire nor the gift of vivid description. Consider the dreariness of the hagiographers, every one of them boasting the noble rank and the conventional status of his hero, and you may say not one giving the least conception of the man’s personality. You have the great Gallo-Roman noble family of Ferreolus running down the centuries from the Decline of the Empire to the climax of Charlemagne. Many of those names stand for some most powerful individuality, yet all we have is a formula, a lineage, with symbols and names in the place of living beings, and even that established only by careful work, picking out and sifting relationships from various lives. The men of that time did not even think to tell us that there was such a thing as a family tradition, nor did it seem important to them to establish its Roman origin and its long succession in power.
Next it must be protested that the smallness and particularity of the questions upon which historical discussion rages are no proof either of its general purposelessness nor of _their_ insignificance. All advance of knowledge proceeds in this fashion. Physical science affords innumerable examples of the way in which progress has depended upon a curiosity directed towards apparently insignificant things, and there is something in the mind which compels it to select a narrow field for the exercise of its acutest powers. Moreover, special points, discussion upon which must evidently be lengthy and may be indefinite, are peculiarly attractive to just that kind of man who by a love of prolonged research enlarges the bounds of knowledge and at the same time strengthens and improves for his fellows by continual exercise all the instruments of their common trade. Take, for instance, this case of the little Dauphin, Louis XVII. It really does not matter to day whether the boy got away or whether he died in prison. It does not prolong the line of the Capetians–the heir to that is present in the Duke of Orleans. It does not even affect our view of any other considerable part of history–save possibly the policy of Louis XVIII–and it is of no direct interest to our pockets or to our affections. Yet the masses of work which have accumulated round that one doubt have solved twenty other doubts. They have illuminated all the close of the Terror; they are beginning to make us understand that most difficult piece of political psychology, the reaction of Thermidor, and with it how Europeans lose their balance and regain it in the course of their quasi-religious wars; for all our wars have something in them of religion.
Three elements appear to enter into the judgment of history. First, there is the testimony of human witnesses; next, there are the non-human boundaries wherein the action took place, boundaries which, by all our experience, impose fixed limits to action; thirdly, there is that indefinable thing, that mystic power, which all nations deriving from the theology of the Western Church have agreed to call, with the schoolman, _common sense_; a general appreciation which transcends particular appreciations and which can integrate the differentials of evidence. Of this last it is quite impossible to afford a test or to construct a measure; its presence in an argument is none the less as readily felt as fresh air in a room; without it nothing is convincing however laboured, with it, even though it rely upon slight evidence, one has the feeling of walking on a firm road. But it must be “common sense”–it must be of the sort, that is, which is common to man various and general, and it is in this perhaps that history suffers most from the charlatanism and ritual common to all great matters.
Men will have pomp and mystery surrounding important things, and therefore the historians must, consciously or unconsciously, tend to strut, to quote solemn authorities in support, and to make out the vulgar unworthy of their confidence. Hence, by the way, the plague of footnotes.
These had their origin in two sources: the desire to show that one was honest and to prove it by a reference; the desire to elucidate some point which it was not easy to elucidate in the text itself without making the sentence too elaborate and clumsy. Either use may be seen at its best in Gibbon. With the last generation they have served mainly, and sometimes merely, for ritual adornment and terror, not to make clearer or more honest, but to deceive. Thus Taine in his monstrously false history of the Revolution revels in footnotes; you have but to examine a batch of them with care to turn them completely against his own conclusions–they are only put there as a sort of spiked paling to warn off trespassers. Or, again, M. Thibaut, who writes under the name of “Anatole France,” gives footnotes by the score in his romance of Joan of Arc, apparently not even caring to examine whether they so much as refer to his text, let alone support it. They seem to have been done by contract.
Another ailment in this department is the negative one, whereby an historian will leave out some aspect which to him, cramped in a study, seems unimportant, but which any plain man moving in the world would have told him to be the essential aspect of the whole matter. For instance, when Napoleon left Madrid on his forced march to intercept Sir John Moore before that general should have reached Benevente, he thought Moore was at Valladolid, when as a fact he was at Sahagun. In Mr. Oman’s history of the Peninsular War the error is put thus: “Napoleon had not the comparatively easy task of cutting the road between Valladolid and Astorga, but the much harder one of intercepting that between Sahagun and Astorga.”
Why is this egregious nonsense? The facts are right and so are the dates and the names, yet it makes one blush for Oxford history. Why? Because the all-important element of _distance_ is omitted. The very first question a plain man would ask about the case would be, “What were the distances involved?” The academic historian doesn’t know, or, at least, doesn’t say; yet without an appreciation of the distances the statement has no value. As a fact the distances were such that in the first case (supposing Moore had been at Valladolid) Napoleon would have had to cover nearly three miles to Moore’s one to intercept him–an almost superhuman task. In the second case (Moore being as a fact at Sahagun) he would have had to go over _four miles_ to his opponent’s one–an absolutely impossible feat.
To march _three_ miles to the enemy’s _one_ is what Mr. Oman calls “a comparatively easy task”; to march four to his one is what Mr. Oman calls a “much harder” task; and to write like that is what an informed critic calls bad history.
The other two factors in an historical judgment can be more easily measured.
The non-human elements which, as I have said, are irremovable (save to miracle), are topography, climate, season, local physical conditions, and so forth. They have two valuable characters in aid of history; the first is that they correct the errors of human memory and support the accuracy of details; the second is that they enable us to complete a picture. We can by their aid “see” the physical framework in which an action took place, and such a landscape helps the judgment of things past as it does of things contemporary. Thus the map, the date, the soil, the contours of Crecy field make the traditional spot at which the King of Bohemia fell doubtful; the same factors make it certain that Drouet did not plunge haphazard through Argonne on the night of June 21, 1791, but that he must have gone by one path–which can be determined.
Or, again, take that prime question, why the Prussians did not charge at Valmy. On their failure to do so all the success of the Revolution turned. A man may read Dumouriez, Kellermann, Pully, Botidoux, Massenback, Goethe–there are fifty eye-witnesses at least whose evidence we can collect, and I defy anyone to decide. (Brunswick himself never knew.) But go to that roll of land between Valmy and the high road; go after three days’ rain as the allies did, and you will immediately learn. That field between the heights of “The Moon” and the site of old Valmy mill, which is as hard as a brick in summer (when the experts visit it), is a marsh of the worst under an autumn drizzle; no one could have charged.
As for human testimony, three things appear: first, that the witness is not, as in a law court, circumscribed. His relation may vary infinitely in degree of proximity of time or space to the action, from that of an eye-witness writing within the hour to that of a partisan writing at tenth hand a lifetime after. That question of proximity comes first, from the known action of the human mind whereby it transforms colours and changes remembered things. Next there is the character of the witness _for the purposes of his testimony_. Historians write, too often, as though virtue–or wealth (with which they often confound it)–were the test. It is not, short of a known motive for lying; a murderer or a thief casually witnessing to a thing with which he is familiar is worth more than the best man witnessing in a matter which he understands ill. It was this error which ruined Croker’s essay on Charlotte Robespierre’s Memoirs. Croker thought, perhaps wisely, that all radicals were scoundrels; he could not accept her editor’s evidence, and (by the way) the view of this amateur collector without a tincture of historical scholarship actually imposed itself on Europe for nearly seventy years!
And the third character in the witness is support: the support upon converging lines of other human testimony, most of it indifferent, some (this is essential) casual and by the way–deprived therefore of motive.
When I shall find these canons satisfied to oppose the strong probability and tradition of the Dauphin’s death in prison I shall doubt that death, but not before.
The Absence of the Past
It is perhaps not possible to put into human language that emotion which rises when a man stands upon some plot of European soil and can say with certitude to himself: “Such and such great, or wonderful, or beautiful things happened here.”
Touch that emotion ever so lightly and it tumbles into the commonplace, and the deadest of commonplace. Neglect it ever so little and the Present (which is never really there, for even as you walk across Trafalgar Square it is yesterday and tomorrow that are in your mind), the Present, I say, or rather the immediate flow of things, occupies you altogether. But there is a mood, and it is a mood common in men who have read and who have travelled, in which one is overwhelmed by the sanctity of a place on which men have done this or that a long, long time ago.
Here it is that the gentle supports which have been framed for human life by that power which launched it come in and help a man. Time does not remain, but space does, and though we cannot seize the Past physically we can stand physically upon the site, and we can have (if I may so express myself) a physical communion with the Past by occupying that very spot which the past greatness of man or of event has occupied.
It was but the other day that, with an American friend at my side, I stood looking at the little brass plate which says that here Charles Stuart faced (he not only faced, but he refused) the authority of his judges. I know not by what delicate mechanism of the soul that record may seem at one moment a sort of tourist thing, to be neglected or despised, and at another moment a portent. But I will confess that all of a sudden, pointing out this very well-known record upon the brass let into the stone in Westminster Hall, I suddenly felt the presence of the thing. Here all that business was done: they were alive; they were in the Present as we are. Here sat that tender-faced, courageous man, with his pointed beard and his luminous eyes; here he was a living man holding his walking-stick with the great jewel in the handle of it; here was spoken in the very tones of his voice (and how a human voice perishes!–how we forget the accents of the most loved and the most familiar voices within a few days of their disappearance!); here the small gestures, and all the things that make up a personality, marked out Charles Stuart. When the soul is seized with such sudden and positive conviction of the substantial past it is overwhelmed; and Europe is full of such ghosts.
As you take the road to Paradise, about halfway there you come to an inn, which even as inns go is admirable. You go into the garden of it, and see the great trees and the wall of Box Hill shrouding you all around. It is beautiful enough (in all conscience) to arrest one without the need of history or any admixture of the pride of race; but as you sit there on a seat in that garden you are sitting where Nelson sat when he said goodbye to his Emma, and if you will move a yard or two you will be sitting where Keats sat biting his pen and thinking out some new line of his poem.
What has happened? These two men with their keen, feminine faces, these two great heroes of a great time in the great story of a great people of this world, are not there. They are nowhere. But the site remains.
Philosophers can put in formulae the crowd of suggestions that rush into the mind when one’s soul contemplates the perpetual march and passage of mortality. But they can do no more than give us formularies: they cannot give us replies. What are we? What is all this business? Why does the mere space remain and all the rest dissolve?
There is a lonely place in the woods of Chilham, in the County of Kent, above the River Stour, where a man comes upon an irregular earthwork still plainly marked upon the brow of the bluff. Nobody comes near this place. A vague country lane, or rather track; goes past the wet soil of it, plunges into the valley beyond, and after serving a windmill joins the high road to Canterbury. Well, that vague track is the ancient British road, as old as anything in this Island, that took men from Winchester to the Straits of Dover. That earthwork is the earthwork (I could prove it, but this is not the place) where the British stood against the charge of the Tenth Legion, and first heard, sounding on their bronze, the arms of Caesar. Here the river was forded; here the little men of the South went up in formation; here the Barbarian broke and took his way, as the opposing General has recorded, through devious woodland paths, scattering in the pursuit; here began the great history of England.
Is it not an enormous business merely to stand in such a place? I think so.
I know a field to the left of the Chalons Road, some few miles before you get to Ste. Menehould. There used to be an inn by the roadside