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IMPRESSIONS AND COMMENTS
For many years I have been accustomed to make notes on random leaves of the things in Life and Thought which have chanced to strike my attention. Such records of personal reaction to the outer and inner world have been helpful to my work, and so had their uses.
But as one grows older the possibilities of these uses become more limited. One realises in the Autumn that leaves no longer have a vital function to perform; there is no longer any need why they should cling to the tree. So let them be scattered to the winds!
It is inevitable that such Leaves cannot be judged in the same way as though they constituted a Book. They are much more like loose pages from a Journal. Thus they tend to be more personal, more idiosyncratic, than in a book it would be lawful for a writer to be. Often, also, they show blanks which the intelligence of the reader must fill in. At the best they merely present the aspect of the moment, the flash of a single facet of life, only to be held in the brain provided one also holds therein many other facets, for the fair presentation of the great crystal of life. So it comes about that much is here demanded of the Reader, so much that I feel it rather my duty to warn him away than to hold out any fallacious lures.
The fact has especially to be reckoned with that such Impressions and Comments, stated absolutely and without consideration for divergent Impressions and Comments, may seem, as a friend who has read some of them points out, to lack explicit reasonableness. I trust they are not lacking in implicit reasonableness. They spring, even when they seem to contradict one another, from a central vision, and from a central faith too deeply rooted to care to hasten unduly towards the most obvious goal. From that central core these Impressions and Comments are concerned with many things, with the miracles of Nature, with the Charms and Absurdities of the Human Worm, that Golden Wire wherefrom hang all the joys and the mysteries of Art. I am only troubled because I know how very feebly these things are imaged here. For I have only the medium of words to work in, only words, words that are flung about in the street and often in the mud, only words with which to mould all my images of the Beauty and Gaiety of the World.
Such as they are, these random leaves are here scattered to the winds. It may be that as they flutter to the earth one or another may be caught by the hand of the idle passer-by, and even seem worthy of contemplation. For no two leaves are alike even when they fall from the same tree.
IMPRESSIONS AND COMMENTS
_July 24, 1912_.–I looked out from my room about ten o’clock at night. Almost below the open window a young woman was clinging to the flat wall for support, with occasional floundering movements towards the attainment of a firmer balance. In the dim light she seemed decently dressed in black; her handkerchief was in her hand; she had evidently been sick.
Every few moments some one passed by. It was quite clear that she was helpless and distressed. No one turned a glance towards her–except a policeman. He gazed at her searchingly as he passed, but without stopping or speaking; she was drunk, no doubt, but not too obtrusively incapable; he mercifully decided that she was of no immediate professional concern to him. She soon made a more violent effort to gain muscular control of herself, but merely staggered round her own escaping centre of gravity and sank gently on to the pavement in a sitting posture.
Every few moments people continued to pass within a few inches of her–men, women, couples. Unlike the priest and the Levite in the parable, they never turned away, but pursued their straight course with callous rectitude. Not one seemed so much as to see her. In a minute or two, stimulated perhaps by some sense of the impropriety of her position, she rose to her feet again, without much difficulty, and returned to cling to the wall.
A few minutes later I saw a decently-dressed young woman, evidently of the working class, walk quietly, but without an instant’s hesitation, straight up to the figure against the wall. (It was what, in Moscow, the first passer-by would have done.) I could hear her speaking gently and kindly, though of what she said I could only catch, “Where do you live?” No answers were audible, and perhaps none were given. But the sweet Samaritan continued speaking gently. At last I heard her say, “Come round the corner,” and with only the gentle pressure of a hand on the other’s arm she guided her round the corner near which they stood, away from the careless stream of passengers, to recover at leisure. I saw no more.
Our modern civilisation, it is well known, long since transformed “chivalry”; it was once an offer of help to distressed women; it is now exclusively reserved for women who are not distressed and clearly able to help themselves. We have to realise that it can scarcely even be said that our growing urban life, however it fosters what has been called “urbanity,” has any equally fostering influence on instinctive mutual helpfulness as an element of that urbanity. We do not even see the helpless people who go to the wall or to the pavement. This is true of men and women alike. But when instinctive helpfulness is manifested it seems most likely to reveal itself in a woman. That is why I would like to give to women all possible opportunities–rights and privileges alike–for social service.
_July 27_.–A gentle rain was falling, and on this my first day in Paris since the unveiling of the Verlaine monument in the Luxembourg Gardens, immediately after I left Paris last year, I thought there could be no better moment to visit the spot so peculiarly fit to be dedicated to the poet who loved such spots–a “coin exquis” where the rain may fall peacefully among the trees, on his image as once on his heart, and the tender mists enfold him from the harsh world.
I scarcely think the sculptor quite happily inspired in his conception of the face of the charming old man I knew of old in his haunts of the Boulevard Saint-Michel. It is too strong a face, too disdainful, with too much character. Verlaine was sympathetic, simple, childlike, humble; when he put on an air of pride it was with a deliberate yet delightful pose, a child’s pose. There is an air of almost military rigidity about the pride of this bust; I do not find Verlaine in that trait.
Verlaine’s strength was not that of character; it was that of Nature. I could imagine that the Silenus, whom we see with his satellites near by, might be regarded in its expression, indeed in the whole conception of the group–with its helpless languor and yet its divine dominance–as the monument of that divine and helpless poet whom I still recall so well, as with lame leg and stick he would drift genially along the Boulevard a few yards away.
_July 31._–At the hotel in Dijon, the flourishing capital of Burgundy, I was amused to note how curiously my room differed from what I once regarded as the type of the French room in the hotels I used to frequent. There is still a Teutonic touch in the Burgundian; he is meticulously thorough. I had six electric lights in different positions, a telephone, hot and cold water laid on into a huge basin, a foot-bath, and, finally, a wastepaper-basket. For the rest, a severely simple room, no ornaments, nothing to remind one of the brace of glass pistols and all the other ugly and useless things which filled my room at the ancient hotel in Rouen where I stayed two years ago. And the “lavabo,” as it is here called, a spacious room with an ostentatiously noisy rush of water which may be heard afar and awakens one at night. The sanitary and mechanical age we are now entering makes up for the mercy it grants to our sense of smell by the ferocity with which it assails our sense of hearing. As usual, what we call “Progress” is the exchange of one Nuisance for another Nuisance.
_August 5._–It is an idea of mine that a country with a genius for architecture is only able to show that genius supremely in one style, not in all styles. The Catalans have a supreme genius for architecture, but they have only achieved a single style. The English have attempted all styles of architecture, but it was only in Perpendicular that we attained a really free and beautiful native style in our domestic buildings and what one might call our domestic churches. Strassburg Cathedral is thoroughly German and acceptable as such, but Cologne Cathedral is an exotic, and all the energy and the money of Germany through a thousand years can never make it anything but cold, mechanical, and artificial. When I was in Burgundy I felt that the Burgundians had a genius for Romanesque, and that their Gothic is for the most part feeble and insipid. Now, how about the Normans? One cannot say their Romanesque is not fine, in the presence of William the Conqueror’s Abbaye aux Hommes, here at Caen. But I should be inclined to ask (without absolutely affirming) whether the finest Norman Romanesque can be coupled with the finest Burgundian Romanesque. The Norman genius was, I think, really for Gothic, and not for what we in England call “Norman” because it happened to come to us through Normandy. Without going to Rouen it is enough to look at many a church here. The Normans had a peculiar plastic power over stone which Gothic alone could give free scope to. Stone became so malleable in their hands that they seem as if working in wood. Probably it really was the case that their familiarity with wood-carving influenced their work in architecture. And they possessed so fine a taste that while they seem to be freely abandoning themselves to their wildest fantasies, the outcome is rarely extravagant (Flaubert in his _Tentation_ is a great Norman architect), and at the best attains a ravishing beauty of flowing and interwoven lines. At its worst, as in St. Sauveur, which is a monstrosity like the Siamese twins, a church with two naves and no aisles, the general result still has its interest, even apart from the exquisite beauty of the details. It is here in Gothic, and not in Romanesque, that the Normans attained full scope. We miss the superb repose, the majestic strength, of the Romanesque of Burgundy and the south-west of France. There is something daring and strange and adventurous in Norman Romanesque. It was by no accident, I think, that the ogive, in which lay the secret of Gothic, appeared first in Norman Romanesque.
_August 8._–I have sometimes thought when in Spain that in ancient university towns the women tend to be notably beautiful or attractive, and I have imagined that this might be due to the continuous influence of student blood through many centuries in refining the population, the finest specimens of the young students proving irresistible to the women of the people, and so raising the level of the population by sexual selection. At Salamanca I was impressed by the unusual charm of the women, and even at Palencia to some extent noticed it, though Palencia ceased to be the great university of Spain nearly eight centuries ago. At Fecamp I have been struck by the occasional occurrence of an unusual type of feminine beauty, not, it seems to me, peculiarly Norman, with dark, ardent, spiritual eyes, and a kind of proud hierarchical bearing. I have wondered how far the abbots and monks of this great and ancient abbey of Benedictines were occupied–in the intervals of more supra-mundane avocations–in perfecting, not only the ancient recipe of their liqueur, but also the physical type of the feminine population among which they laboured. The type I have in mind sometimes rather recalls the face of Baudelaire, who, by his mother’s family from which he chiefly inherited, the Dufays, belonged, it is held probable, to Normandy.
_August 9._–Typical women of Normandy often have a certain highly-bred air. They are slender when young, sometimes inclined to be tall, and the face–of course beautiful in complexion, for they dwell near the sea–is not seldom refined and distinguished. See the proud, sensitive nostrils of that young woman sweeping the pavement with her broom in front of the house this morning; one can tell she is of the same race as Charlotte Corday. And I have certainly never found anywhere in France women who seem to me so naturally charming and so sympathetic as the women who dwell in all this north-western district from Paris to the sea. They are often, as one might expect, a little English-like (it might be in Suffolk on the other side of the Channel, and Beauvais, I recall, has something of the air of old Ipswich), but with a vivacity of movement, and at the same time an aristocratic precision and subtlety one fails to find in the English. When a pretty English girl of the people opens her mouth the charm is often gone. On the contrary, I have often noticed in Normandy that a seemingly commonplace unattractive girl only becomes charming when she does open her mouth, to reveal her softness of speech, the delicately-inflexed and expressive tones, while her face lights up in harmony with her speech. Now–to say nothing of the women of the south, whose hard faces and harsh voices are often so distressing–in Dijon, whence I came to Normandy this time, the women are often sweet, even angelic of aspect, looking proper material for nuns and saints, but, to me at all events, not personally so sympathetic as the Norman women, who are no doubt quite as good but never express the fact with the same air of slightly Teutonic insipidity. The men of Normandy I regard as of finer type than the Burgundian men, and this time it is the men who express goodness more than the women. The Burgundian men, with their big moustaches turned up resolutely at the points and their wickedly-sparkling eyes, have evidently set before themselves the task of incorporating a protest against the attitude of their women. But the Norman men, who allow their golden moustaches to droop, are a fine frank type of manhood at the best, pleasantly honest and unspoilt. I know, indeed, how skilful, how wily, how noble even, in their aristocratic indifference to detail, these Normans can be in extracting money from the stranger (have I not lunched simply at the Hostel Guillaume-le-Conquerant in the village of Dives for the same sum on which I have lived sumptuously for three days at the Hotel Victoria in the heart of Seville?), but the manner of their activity in this matter scarcely seems to me to be happily caught by those Parisians who delight to caricature, as mere dull, avaricious plebeians, “Ces bons Normands.” Their ancient chronicler said a thousand years ago of the Normans that their unbounded avarice was balanced by their equally unbounded extravagance. That, perhaps, is a clue to the magnificent achievements of the Normans, in the spiritual world even more than in the material world.
_August_ 10.–On leaving France by the boat from Dieppe I selected a seat close to which, shortly afterwards, three English people–two young women and a man–came to occupy deck-chairs already placed for them by a sailor and surrounded by their bags and wraps. Immediately one of the women began angrily asking her companions why her bag had not been placed the right side up; _she_ would not have her things treated like that, etc. Her companions were gentle and conciliatory,–though I noticed they left her alone during most of the passage,–and the man had with attentive forethought made all arrangements for his companions’ comfort. But, somehow, I looked in wonder at her discontented face and heard with surprise her peevish voice. She was just an ordinary stolid nourishing young Englishwoman. But I had been in France, and though I had been travelling for a whole fortnight I had seen nothing like this. She lay back and began reading a novel, which she speedily exchanged for a basin. I fear I felt a certain satisfaction at the spectacle. It is good for the English barbarian to be chastised with scorpions.
How pleasant at Newhaven to find myself near another woman, a young Frenchwoman, with the firm, disciplined, tender face, the sweetly-modulated voice, the air of fine training, the dignified self-respect which also involves respect for others. I realised in a flash the profound contrast to that fellow-countrywoman of mine who had fascinated my attention on board the boat.
But one imagines a French philosopher, a new Taine, let us suppose, setting out from Dieppe for the “land of Suffragettes” to write another _Notes sur l’Angleterre_. How finely he would build a great generalisation on narrow premises! How acutely he would point out the dependence of the English “gentleman’s” good qualities or the ill-conditioned qualities of his women-folk!
_August 15._–I enter an empty suburban railway carriage and take up a common-looking little periodical lying on the seat beside me. It is a penny weekly I had never heard of before, written for feminine readers and evidently enjoying an immense circulation. I turn over the pages. One might possibly suppose that at the present moment the feminine world is greatly excited, or at all events mildly interested, by the suffrage movement. But there is not a word in this paper from beginning to end with the faintest reference to the suffrage, nor is there anything bearing on any single great social movement of the day in which, it may seem to us, women are taking a part. Nor, again, is there anything to be found touching on ideas, not even on religion. There are, on the other hand, evidently three great interests dominating the thoughts of the readers of this paper: Clothes, Cookery, Courtship. How to make an old hat look new, how to make sweetmeats, how to behave when a man makes advances to you–these are the problems in which the readers of this journal are profoundly interested, and one can scarcely gather that they are interested in anything else. Very instructive is the long series of questions, problems posed by anxious correspondents for the editor to answer. One finds such a problem as this: Suppose you like a man, and suppose you think he likes you, and suppose he never says so–what ought you to do? The answers, fully accepting the serious nature of the problems, are kindly and sensible enough, almost maternal, admirably adapted to the calibre and outlook of the readers in this little world. But what a little world! So narrow, so palaeolithically ancient, so pathetically simple, so good, so sweet, so humble, so essentially and profoundly feminine! It is difficult not to drop a tear on the thin, common, badly-printed pages.
And then, in the very different journal I have with me, I read the enthusiastic declaration of an ardent masculine feminist–a man of the study–that the executive power of the world is to-day being transferred to women; they alone possess “psychic vision,” they alone are interested in the great questions which men ignore–and I realise what those great questions are: Clothes, Cookery, Courtship.
_August 23._–I stood on the platform at Paddington station as the Plymouth Express slowly glided out. Leaning out of a third-class compartment stood the figure that attracted my attention. His head was bare and so revealed his harmoniously wavy and carefully-tended grey hair. The expression of his shaven and disciplined face was sympathetic and kindly, evidently attuned to expected emotions of sorrowful farewell, yet composed, clearly not himself overwhelmed by those emotions. His right arm and open hand were held above his head, in an attitude that had in it a not too ostentatious hint of benediction. When he judged that the gracious vision was no longer visible to the sorrowing friends left behind he discreetly withdrew into the carriage. There was a feminine touch about this figure; there was also a touch of the professional actor. But on the whole it was absolutely, without the shadow of a doubt, the complete Anglican Clergyman.
_September_ 2.–Nearly every day just now I have to enter a certain shop where I am served by a young woman. She is married, a mother, at the same time a businesslike young woman who is proud of her businesslike qualities. But she is also pleasant to look upon in her healthy young maternity, her frank open face, her direct speech, her simple natural manner and instinctive friendliness. From her whole body radiates the healthy happiness of her gracious personality. A businesslike person, certainly, and I receive nothing beyond my due money’s worth. But I always carry away something that no money can buy, and that is even more nourishing than the eggs and butter and cream she sells.
How few, it seems to me, yet realise the vast importance in civilisation of the quality of the people one is necessarily brought into contact with! Consider the vast number of people in our present communities who are harsh, ugly, ineradically discourteous, selfish, or insolent–the people whose lives are spent in diminishing the joy of the community in which not so much Providence as the absence of providence has placed them, in impeding that community’s natural activity, in diminishing its total output of vital force. Lazy and impertinent clerks, stuck-up shop assistants, inconsiderate employers, brutal employees, unendurable servants, and no less unendurable mistresses–what place will be left for them as civilisation advances?
We have assumed, in the past, that these things and the likes of these are modifiable by nurture, and that where they cannot be cured they must be endured. But with the realisation that breeding can be, and eventually must be, controlled by social opinion, a new horizon has opened to civilisation, a new light has come into the world, the glimpse of a new Heaven is revealed.
Animals living in nature are everywhere beautiful; it is only among men that ugliness flourishes. Savages, nearly everywhere, are gracious and harmonious; it is only among the civilised that harshness and discord are permitted to prevail. Henry Ellis, in the narrative of his experiences in Hudson’s Bay in the eighteenth century, tells how a party of Eskimo–a people peculiarly tender to their children–came to the English settlement, told heart-brokenly of hardship and famine so severe that one of the children had been eaten. The English only laughed and the indignant Eskimo went on their way. What savages anywhere in the world would have laughed? I recall seeing, years ago, a man enter a railway carriage, fling aside the rug a traveller had deposited to retain a corner seat and obstinately hold that seat. Would such a man be permitted to live among savages? If the eugenic ideals that are now floating before men’s eyes never lead us to any Heaven at all, but merely discourage among us the generation of human creatures below the level of decent savagery, they will serve their turn.
_September_ 7.–The music of Cesar Franck always brings before me a man who is seeking peace with himself and consolation with God, at a height, above the crowd, in isolation, as it were in the uppermost turret of a church tower. It recalls the memory of the unforgettable evening when Denyn played on the carillon at Malines, and from the canal side I looked up at the little red casement high in the huge Cathedral tower where the great player seemed to be breathing out his soul, in solitude, among the stars. Always when I hear the music of Franck–a Fleming, also, it may well be by no accident–I seem to be in contact with a sensitive and solitary spirit, absorbed in self-communion, weaving the web of its own Heaven and achieving the fulfilment of its own rapture.
In this symphonic poem, “Les Djinns,” the attitude more tenderly revealed in the “Variations Symphoniques,” and, above all, the sonata in A Major, is dramatically represented. The solitary dreamer in his tower is surrounded and assailed by evil spirits, we hear the beating of their great wings as they troop past, but the dreamer is strong and undismayed, and in the end he is left in peace, alone.
_September 10_.–It was an overture by Elgar, and the full solemn sonorous music had drawn to its properly majestic close. Beside me sat an artist friend who is a lover of music, and regularly attends these Promenade Concerts. He removed the cigarette from his lips and chuckled softly to himself for some moments. Then he replaced the cigarette and joined in the tempestuous and prolonged applause. I looked at him inquiringly. “It is a sort of variation of the theme,” he said, “that he sometimes calls the Cosmic Angels Working Together or the Soul of Man Striving with the Divine Essence.” I glanced at the programme again. The title was “Cockaigne.”
_September_ 17.–It has often seemed to me that the bearing of musical conductors is significant for the study of national characteristics, and especially for the difference between the English and the Continental neuro-psychic systems. One always feels inhibition and suppression (such as a Freudian has found characteristic of the English) in the movements of the English conductor, some psychic element holding the nervous play in check, and producing a stiff wooden embarrassed rigidity or an ostentatiously languid and careless indifference. At the extreme remove from this is Birnbaum, that gigantic and feverishly active spider, whose bent body seems to crouch over the whole orchestra, his magically elongated arms to stretch out so far that his wand touches the big drum. But even the quietest of these foreign conductors, Nikisch, for example, gives no impression of psychic inhibition, but rather of that refined and deliberate economy of means which marks the accomplished artist. Among English conductors one may regard Wood (_lucus a non lucendo!_) as an exception. Most of the rest–I speak of those of the old school, since those of the new school can sometimes be volatile and feverish enough–seem to be saying all the time: “I am in an awkward and embarrassing position, though I shall muddle through successfully. The fact is I am rather out of my element here. I am really a Gentleman.”
_October_ 2.–Whenever I come down to Cornwall I realise the curious contradiction which lies in this region as at once a Land of Granite and a Land of Mist. On the one hand archaic rocks, primitive, mighty, unchanging, deep-rooted in the bases of the world. On the other hand, iridescent vapour, for ever changing, one moment covering the land with radiant colour, another enveloping it in a pall of gloom.
I can also see two contradictory types of people among the inhabitants of this land. On the one hand, a people of massive and solid build, a slow-moving people of firm, primitive nature, that for all their calm stolidity may give out a fiery ring if struck, and will fearlessly follow the lure of Adventure or of Right. On the other hand, a race of soft and flexible build, of shifting and elusive mind, alert to speak and slow to act, of rainbow temperament, fascinating and uncertain. Other types there may be, but certainly these two, whatever their racial origin, Children of the Granite and Children of the Mist. _October_ 3.–It has often interested me to observe how a nation of ancient civilisation differs from a nation of new civilisation by what may be called the ennoblement of its lower classes. Among new peoples the lower classes–whatever fine qualities they may possess–are still barbarians, if not savages. Plebeian is written all over them, in their vulgar roughly-moulded faces, in their awkward movements, in their manners, in their servility or in their insolence. But among the peoples of age-long culture, that culture has had time to enter the blood of even the lowest social classes, so that the very beggars may sometimes be fine gentlemen. The features become firmly or delicately moulded, the movements graceful, the manners as gracious; there is an instinctive courtesy and ease, as of equal to equal, even when addressing a social superior. One has only to think of the contrast between Poland and Russia, between Spain and Germany.
I am frequently reminded of that difference here in Cornwall. Anywhere in Cornwall you may see a carter, a miner, a fisherman, a bricklayer, who with the high distinction of his finely cast face, the mingling in his manner of easy nonchalance and old-world courtesy, seems only to need a visit to the tailor to add dignity to a Pall Mall club. No doubt England is not a new country, and the English lower social classes have become in a definite degree more aristocratic than those of Russia or even Germany. But the forefathers of the Cornish were civilised when we English were a horde of savages. One may still find humble families with ancient surnames living in the same spot as lived, we find, if we consult the Heralds’ Visitations, armigerous families of the same name in the sixteenth century, already ancient, and perhaps bearing, it is curious to note, the same Christian names as the family which has forgotten them bears to-day.
So it is that in that innate ennoblement which implies no superiority either of the intellect or of the heart, but merely a greater refinement of the nervous tissue, the Cornish have displayed, from the earliest period we can discern, a slight superiority over us English. Drake, a man of this district if not a Cornish-man, when sailing on his daring buccaneering adventures, dined and supped to the music of violins, a refinement which even his Pole-hunting successors of our own day scarcely achieved. Raleigh, partly a Cornishman, still retains popular fame as the man who flung his rich cloak in the mud for the Queen to step on. To-day a poet of Cornish race when introduced in public to Sarah Bernhardt, the goddess of his youthful adoration, at once kissed her hand and declared to her that that was the moment he had all his life been looking for. But we English are not descended from the men who wrote the _Mabinogian_; our hearts and souls are expressed in _Beowulf_ and _Havelok_, and more remotely in the _Chanson de Roland_. We could not imitate the Cornish if we would; and sometimes, perhaps, we would not if we could.
_October_ 4.–I lay with a book on the rocks, overlooking a familiar scene, the great expanse of the sands at low tide. In the far distance near the river was a dim feminine figure in a long coat, accompanied by three dogs. Half an hour later, when I glanced up from my book, I chanced to notice that the slender feminine figure was marching down to the sea, leaving a little pile of garments on the middle of the sands, just now completely deserted. The slender figure leisurely and joyously disported itself in the water. Then at length it returned to the little pile, negligently guarded by the dogs, there was a faint radiance of flesh, a white towel flashed swiftly to and fro for a few moments. Then with amazing celerity the figure had resumed its original appearance, and, decorously proceeding shorewards, disappeared among the sand dunes on the way to its unknown home.
In an age when savagery has passed and civilisation has not arrived, it is only by stealth, at rare moments, that the human form may emerge from the prison house of its garments, it is only from afar that the radiance of its beauty–if beauty is still left to it–may faintly flash before us.
Among pseudo-Christian barbarians, as Heine described them, the Olympian deities still wander homelessly, scarce emerging from beneath obscure disguises, and half ashamed of their own divinity.
_October_ 5.–I made again to-day an observation concerning a curious habit of birds and small mammals which I first made many years ago and have frequently confirmed. If when I am walking along near banks and hedges, absorbed in my own thoughts, and chance suddenly to stand still, any wild creature in covert near the spot will at once scuttle hastily and noisily away: the creature which had awaited the approaching tramp in quiet confidence that the moment of danger would soon be overpast if only he kept quiet and concealed, is overcome by so sudden a panic of terror at the arrest of movement in his neighbourhood that he betrays his own presence in the impulse to escape. The silence which one might imagine to be reassuring to the nervous animal is precisely the cause of his terror. It is a useful adaptation to the ways of the great enemy Man, whether it is an adaptation resulting from individual experience or acquired by natural selection. From the stand-point of wild animality it is the Silence of Man that is ominous.
_October_ 11.–When I come, as now, from Cornwall to West Suffolk, I feel that I have left behind a magic land of sea and sky and exquisite atmosphere. But I have entered a land of humanity, and a land whose humanity–it may be in part from ancestral reasons–I find peculiarly congenial. Humanity is not the chief part of the charm of Cornwall, though sometimes it may seem the very efflorescence of the land. It often seems almost a parasite there. It cannot mould the barren and stubborn soil to any ideal human shapes, or develop upon it any rich harmonious human life, such as I inhale always, with immense satisfaction, in this reposeful and beautifully wrought land of Suffolk.
On this evening of my arrival in the charming old town by the quiet river, how delicious–with remembrance still fresh of the square heavy little granite boxes in which the Cornish live–to find once more these ancient, half-timbered houses reminiscent of the Norman houses, but lighter and more various, wrought with an art at once so admirable and so homely, with such delicate detail, the lovely little old windows with the soft light shining through to reveal their pattern.
The musically voiced bells sound the hour from the great church, rich in beauty and tradition, and we walk across the market-place, this side the castle hill–the hill which held for six hundred years the precious jewelled crucifix, with the splinter of the “True Cross” in its secret recess, a careless English queen once lost from her neck–towards our quiet inn, a real museum of interesting things fittingly housed, for supper of Suffolk ham and country ale, and then to bed, before the long walk of the morrow.
_October_ 14.–The Raphaels and the Peruginos are now ranged side by side along a great wall of the National Gallery. I am able more clearly than ever to realise how much more the early master appeals to me than his greater pupil. I well remember how, as a boy of fifteen, in the old National Gallery, I would linger long before Raphael’s “St. Catherine.” There was no picture in the whole gallery that appealed to my youthful brain as that picture appealed, with its seductive blend of feminine grace and heavenly aspiration. But a little later the glory of Rubens suddenly broke on my vision. I could never look again with the same eyes on Raphael. By an intellectual effort I can appreciate the gracious plenitude of his accomplishment, his copious facility, his immense variety, the beauty of his draughtsmanship, and the felicity of his decorative design. But all this self-conscious skill, this ingenious affectation, this ostentatious muscularity, this immense superficiality–I feel always now a spiritual vacuity behind it which leaves me cold and critical. Every famous achievement of Raphael’s, when I come upon it for the first time, repels me with a fresh shock of disillusionment. I am unpleasantly reminded of Andrea del Sarto and even of lesser men; I see the frescoes of Vasari in the distance. It is all the work of a divinely gifted youth who swiftly ran to waste, carrying with him all the art of his day and land to the same fatal abyss.
But the art of Perugino is still solid and beautiful, immutably serene. It radiates peace and strength. I neither criticise nor admire; my attitude is much more nearly that of worship, not of Perugino’s images, but of a far-away ineffable mystery, which he in his time humbly sought to make a little more symbolically visible to men than any that came before him. For here we are in the presence of a great tradition which a long series of artists have in succession wrought, each adding a little that expressed the noblest insight of his own soul at its highest and best moments, and the newest acquirement of his technical skill. Raphael broke up painting, as later on Beethoven broke up music. Not that that blow destroyed the possibility of rare and wonderful developments in special directions. But painting and music alike lost for ever the radiant beauty of their prime and its unconscious serenity.
In a certain sense, if one thinks, it is the ripeness of Raphael’s perfection which falls short of Perfection. In all Perfection that satisfies we demand the possibility of a Beyond which enfolds a further Perfection. It is not the fully blown rose which entrances us, but rather that which in its half-blown loveliness suggests a Perfection which no full-blown rose ever reached. In that the rose is the symbol of all vitally beautiful things. Raphael is the full-blown rose; the only Beyond is Dissolution and the straggling of faded petals.
_October_ 17.–“War, that simple-looking word which lightly comes tripping from the lips of unthinking men, and even women.” So writes a famous war-correspondent, a man in the midst of war and telling of war as it really is. Now hear a woman war-correspondent, writing about this same war: “I was so proud to see the first gun fired on Wednesday. … I liked to hear the shells swishing. … To women keen on this war it seems almost too good to be true.” That is not an extract from one of the poignant satires of Janson. This woman, who writes of war as a girl might write of her first long frock, is an actual woman, a war-correspondent, with a special permit to be at the front. We are told, moreover, that she is, at the same time, actively nursing the wounded in the hospital.
To those psychologists who like large generalisations, how this figure must appeal as a type of the ancient conventional conception of what women are supposed to be–Incarnate Devils, Angels of Mercy, blended together.
_October_ 18.–Stanley Hall has lately pointed out how much we have lost by eliminating the Devil from our theology. He is the inseparable Companion of God, and when faith in the Devil grows dim God fades away. Not only has the Devil been the Guardian of innocent pleasure, of the theatre, of dancing, of sports, Hall observes, but he preserved the virility of God. “Ought not we to rehabilitate and reinstall the Devil?”
There is much psychological truth in this contention, even for those who are not concerned, with Stanley Hall, for the maintenance of orthodox Christian theology. By eliminating one of the Great Persons from our theology we not only emasculate, we dissolve it. We cannot with impunity pick and choose what we will dispense with and what we will preserve in our traditional myths. Let us take another sacred myth, as it may well have been, “Jack and the Bean Stalk.” Suppose that our refined civilised impulses lead us to reject Jack, the reckless, mischievous, and irresponsible youth, who, after a brief but discreditable career on earth, climbed up into the clouds and fraudulently deprived the Great Giant in the sky of his most precious possessions. But if the revolted moral sense rejects Jack, is it likely that even the Great Giant himself will much longer retain our faith?
In any case it must still be said that mere grandeur, creativeness, the apotheosis of virtue and benevolence, fail to constitute an adequate theological symbol for the complex human animal. Man needs to deify not only his moments of moral subjection and rectitude, but his moments of orgy and revolt. He has attained the height of civilisation, not along the one line only, but along both lines, and we cannot even be sure that the virtue line is the most important. Even the Puritan Milton (“a true poet and of the Devil’s party without knowing it,” as Blake said) made Satan the real hero of his theological epic, while the austere Carducci addressed a famous ode to Satan as the creator of human civilisation. And if you suspect that European culture may be only an eccentric aberration, then let us wander to the other side of the world, and we find, for instance, that the great Hawaiian goddess Kapo had a double life–now an angel of grace and beauty, now a demon of darkness and lust. Every profound vision of the world must recognise these two equally essential aspects of Nature and of Man; every vital religion must embody both aspects in superb and ennobling symbols. A religion can no more afford to degrade its Devil than to degrade its God.
That is the error Christianity fell into at last. There can be no doubt that the Christian Devil had grown quite impossible, and his disappearance was imperative. Neither Milton nor Carducci could keep him alive. His palmy days were in the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries, before the Renaissance had grown powerful enough to influence European life. Even during those palmy days he exercised a power that for the most part was not virile, but crushing and inhuman. It has been set forth in Dr. Paul Carus’s _History of the Devil_. In the light of such a history as that I doubt much whether even Professor Stanley Hall himself would lift a finger to bring the Devil back among us again.
_October_ 22.–Gaby Deslys is just now a great attraction at the Palace Theatre. One is amused to note how this very Parisian person and her very Parisian performance are with infinite care adapted to English needs, and attuned to this comfortably respectable, not to say stolidly luxurious, house. We are shown a bedroom with a bed in it, and a little dressing-room by the side. Her task is to undress and go to bed. It is the sort of scene that may be seen anywhere in any music-hall all over Europe. But in the capital city of British propriety, and in a music-hall patronised by Royalty, this delicate task is surrounded and safeguarded by infinite precautions. One seems to detect that the scene has been rehearsed before a committee of ambiguously mixed composition. One sees the care with which they determined the precise moment at which the electric light should be switched off in the dressing-room; one realises their firm decision that the lady must, after all, go to bed fully clothed. One is conscious throughout of a careful anxiety that every avenue to “suggestiveness” shall be just hinted and at once decently veiled. There is something unpleasant, painful, degrading in this ingenious mingling of prurience and prudery. The spectators, if they think of it at all, must realise that throughout the whole trivial performance their emotions are being basely played upon, and yet that they are being treated with an insulting precaution which would be more in place in a lunatic asylum than in a gathering of presumably responsible men and women. In the end one is made to feel how far more purifying and ennobling than this is the spectacle of absolute nakedness, even on the stage, yes, even on the stage.
And my thoughts go back to the day, less than two years ago, when for the first time this was clearly brought home to me by a performance–like this and yet so unlike–in a very different place, the simple, bare, almost sordid Teatro Gayarre. Most of the turns were of the same ordinary sort that might be seen in many another music-hall of the long Calle Marques del Duero. But at the end came on a performer who was, I soon found, of altogether another order. The famous Bianca Stella, as the programme announced, shortly to start on her South American tour, was appearing for a limited number of nights. I had never heard of Bianca Stella. She might, to look at, be Austrian, and one could imagine, from some of her methods, that she was a pupil of Isadora Duncan. She was certainly a highly trained and accomplished artist; though peculiarly fitted for her part by Nature, still an artist, not a child of Nature.
Of fine and high type, tall and rather slim, attractive in face, almost faultless in proportion and detail, playing her difficult part with unfailing dignity and grace, Bianca Stella might in general type be a Bohemian out of Stratz’s _Schoenheit des weiblichen Koerpers_, or even an aristocratic young Englishwoman. She comes on fully dressed, like Gaby Deslys, but with no such luxurious environment, and slowly disrobes, dancing all the while, one delicate garment at a time, until only a gauzy chemise is left and she flings herself on the bed. Then she rises, fastens on a black mantle which floats behind concealing nothing, at the same moment removing her chemise. There is now no concealment left save by a little close-fitting triangular shield of spangled silver, as large as the palm of her hand, fastened round her waist by an almost invisible cord, and she dances again with her beautiful, dignified air. Once more, this time in the afternoon, I went to see Bianca Stella dance. Now there was a dark curtain as a background. She came on with a piece of simple white drapery wound round her body; as she dances she unfolds it, holds it behind her as she dances, finally flings it away, dancing with her fleckless and delicately proportioned body before the dark curtain. Throughout the dances her dignity and grace, untouched by voluptuous appeal and yet always human, remained unfailing. Other dancers who came on before her, clothed dancers, had been petulantly wanton to their hearts’ desire. Bianca Stella seemed to belong to another world. As she danced, when I noted the spectators, I could see here and there a gleam in the eyes of coarse faces, though there was no slightest movement or gesture or look of the dancer to evoke it. For these men Bianca Stella had danced in vain, for–it remains symbolically true–only the pure in heart can see God. To see Bianca Stella truly was to realise that it is not desire but a sacred awe which nakedness inspires, an intoxication of the spirit rather than of the senses, no flame of lust but rather a purifying and exalting fire. To feel otherwise has merely been the unhappy privilege of men intoxicated by the stifling and unwholesome air of modern artificiality. To the natural man, always and everywhere, even to-day, nakedness has in it a power of divine terror, which ancient men throughout the world crystallised into beautiful rites, so that when a woman unveiled herself it seemed to them that thunderstorms were silenced, and that noxious animals were killed, and that vegetation flourished, and that all the powers of evil were put to flight. That was their feeling, and, absurd as it may seem to us, a right and natural instinct lay beneath it. Some day, perhaps, a new moral reformer, a great apostle of purity, will appear among us, having his scourge in his hand, and enter our theatres and music-halls to purge them. Since I have seen Bianca Stella I know something of what he will do. It is not nakedness that he will cast out. It will more likely be clothes.
So it is that when I contemplate Gaby Deslys or her sort, it is of Bianca Stella that I think.
_November_ 1.–“The way to spiritual life,” wrote George Meredith in one of his recently published letters, “lies in the complete unfolding of the creature, not in the nipping of his passions. … To the flourishing of the spirit, then, through the healthy exercise of the senses!”
Yes, all that is very good, I heartily subscribe. And yet, and yet, there lingers a certain hesitation; one vaguely feels that, as a complete statement of the matter, it hardly satisfies all the demands of to-day. George Meredith belonged to the early Victorian period which had encased its head in a huge bonnet and girdled its loins with a stiff crinoline. His function was to react vitally to that state of things, and he performed his function magnificently, evoking, of course, from the _Ordeal of Richard Feverel_ onwards, a doubtless salutary amount of scandal and amazement. The time demanded that its preachers should take their text from the spiritually excessive Blake: “Damn braces, bless relaxes.” On that text, throughout his life, Meredith heroically and eloquently preached.
But nowadays that seems a long time ago. The great preacher of to-day cannot react against the attraction to braces, for it no longer exists. We are all quite ready to “damn braces.” The moralist, therefore, may now legitimately hold the balance fair and firm, without giving it a little pressure in one direction for wholesome ends of admonition.
When we so look at the matter we have to realise that, biologically and morally alike, healthy restraint is needed for “the flourishing of the spirit” quite as much as healthy exercise; that bracing as well as relaxing is part of the soul’s hygiene; that the directive force of a fine asceticism, exerted towards positive and not towards negative ends, is an essential part of life itself.
You might say that a fountain that leaps largely and exquisitely up towards the sky only needs freedom and space. But no, it also needs compression and force, a mighty restrained energy at its roots, of which it is the gay and capricious flower. That, you may say, is not really a vital thing. But take a real flower, the same mechanism is still at work. The flexible convolvulus that must cling to any support from which to expand its delicate bells needs not only freedom to expand but much more the marvellous energy that was wound up and confined, like a spring, in the seed. It will find its own freedom, but it will not find its own force.
Therefore let us hold the moral balance fair and firm. The utmost freedom, the utmost restraint, we need them both. They are two aspects of the same thing. We cannot have freedom in any triumphant degree unless we have restraint. The main point is, that we should not fossilise either our freedoms or our restraints. Every individual needs–harmoniously with the needs of other individuals–the freedoms and restraints his own nature demands. Every age needs new freedoms and new restraints. In the making of New Freedoms and New Restraints lies the rhythm of Life.
_November_ 11.–The psychology of the crowd is interesting, even when it is an educated and well-fed crowd. I take up the newspaper and see the announcement of a “momentous” declaration by the Premier at a Lord Mayor’s banquet at the Guildhall. I have the curiosity to read, and I find it to be that the “victors are not to be robbed of the fruits which have cost them so dear.” This declaration was followed by “loud and prolonged cheers,” as evidently the speaker, being a sagacious lawyer, knew it would be when he chose to put his declaration into this cynical shape, as an appeal to mob feeling, rather than in the form of a statement concerning the rights of the case, whatever the rights may be. Yet not one of those rapturous applauders would for a moment have tolerated that doctrine if it had been proposed to apply it to his own possessions. As a mob they applaud what as individuals they would disclaim with such moral energy as they might be capable of. The spectacle of the big robber is always impressive, and the most respectable of mobs is carried away by it. “Who was ever a pirate for millions?” as Raleigh protested to Bacon.
If we imagine the “victors” in this case to have been on a rather smaller scale the enthusiasm of the Guildhall mob would have been considerably damped. Let us imagine they were a band of burglars who had broken in the night before and carried off the materials for the forthcoming banquet, leaving one of the band behind dead and two wounded. When the guests seated at the bare board heard the emphatic declaration that the victors are not to be robbed of “the fruits which have cost them so dear,” would they have raised quite such “loud and prolonged cheers”?
_November_ 12.–The Divine Ironist who surely rules the world seldom leaves Himself without witness. On Lord Mayor’s Day this witness appeared in the form of an ignorant ruffian. Within a few yards of the Mansion House, within a few hours of that “momentous declaration” which followed the turtle soup, in Liverpool Street–a street crowded not with ruffians but with business people and bankers’ clerks, all the people who carry on the daily routine of civilisation–a man of the people smashed a jeweller’s window and flung the jewelry into the street, shouting “Help yourselves.” And they helped themselves. In a brief terrific scramble several hundred pounds’ worth of jewelry was seized. Two men only of this respectable crowd brought what they had secured into the shop; the rest decamped with the booty. They had scarcely had time to read the “momentous declaration.” But they agreed with it. They were not to be “robbed of the fruits which had cost them so dear.”
Clearly, again, the Premier had rightly gauged the moral capacities of the mob. We sometimes think that the fundamental instincts of the crowd are, after all, sound; leave them to themselves and they will do the right thing. But, on the other hand, those who despise and contemn the mob will always have a sadly large amount of evidence to support their case, even in the most “respectable” centres of civilisation.
_November_ 20.–The Archbishop of Canterbury, I understand, has publicly expressed his approval of the application of the lash to those persons who are engaged in the so-called “White Slave Traffic.” There is always a certain sociological interest in the public utterances of an Archbishop of Canterbury. He is a great State official who automatically registers the level of the public opinion of the respectable classes. The futility for deterrence or reform of the lash or other physical torture as applied to adults has long been a commonplace of historical criminology, and Collas, the standard historian of flagellation, pointing out that the lash can at best only breed the virtues of slavery, declares that “the history of flagellation is that of a moral bankruptcy.” Moreover, criminals who are engaged in low-grade commercial affairs, with the large lure that makes them worth while, can usually arrange that the lash should fall on a subordinate’s shoulders. It has been ascertained that the “capitalised value” of the average prostitute is nearly four times as great as that of the average respectable working-girl; how many lashes will alter that? But the sadistic impulse, in all its various degrees, is independent of facts. Of late it appears to have been rising. Now it has reached that percentage of the respectable population which automatically puts the archiepiscopal apparatus in motion. For an Archbishop of Canterbury has a public function to perform (has not Sydney Smith described a “foolometer”?) altogether independent of such reasonable and human functions as he may privately perform.
Is this love of torture, by the way, possibly one of the fruits of Empire? We see it in the Roman Empire, too, and how vigorously it was applied to Christians and other criminals. _Christianos ad leones!_ But it was a disastrously unsuccessful policy–or we should not have an Archbishop of Canterbury with us now.
No disrespect for Archbishops of Canterbury is involved in this recognition of their public function, and I have no wish to be (as Laud wrote of one of my ancestors) “a very troublesome man” to archbishops. They act automatically for the measurement of society, merely in the same sense as an individual is automatically acting for the measurement of himself when he states how profoundly he admires Mendelssohn or R. L. Stevenson. He thereby registers the particular degree of his own spiritual state. And when an Archbishop of Canterbury, with all that sensitiveness to the atmosphere which his supreme office involves, publicly Professes an Opinion, he is necessarily registering a particular degree in the Spiritual State of Society. It is an important function which was never vouchsafed to his Master.
One wonders how many centuries it is since an Archbishop of Canterbury was known to express any public opinion on non-ecclesiastical affairs which was not that of the great majority of Respectable People. Of course in ecclesiastical matters, and in political matters which are ecclesiastical, he is professionally bound, and Beckett and Sudbury and Laud–though one was a victim to the hostility of a King, another to the hostility of the lower class, and the third to the middle class–were all faithful to the death to their profession and their class, as an Archbishop is bound to be even when his profession and his class are in a minority; I speak of the things to which he is not so bound. I have no doubt that at some recent period an Archbishop has archiepiscopally blessed the Temperance Movement. He is opposed to drunkenness, because we all are, even Licensed Victuallers, and because drunkenness is fast dying out. But imagine an Archbishop of Canterbury preaching Temperance in the eighteenth century when nearly every one was liable to be drunk! He would have been mistaken for a Methodist. I must confess it would be to me a great satisfaction to find an Archbishop of Canterbury earnestly pleading in the House of Lords in favour of gambling, or the unrestricted opening of public-houses on Sunday, or some relaxation in the prosecution of pornographic literature. Not by any means that I should agree with his point of view. But the spectacle offered of a morally courageous and intellectually independent Archbishop of Canterbury would be so stimulating, the presence of a Live Person at the head of the Church instead of a glorified Penny-in-the-Slot Machine would be so far-reaching in its results, that all questions of agreement and disagreement would sink into insignificance.
_December_ 5.–I think we under-estimate our ancestors’ regard for ease. Whenever I have occasion to go to my “Jacobean” chest of drawers (chests of this type are said really to belong to the end of the seventeenth century) the softness and ease with which the drawers run always gives me a slight thrill of pleasure. They run on grooves along the side of each drawer, so that they can never catch, and when one examines them one finds that grease, now black with age, had been applied to the grooves. (In chests which have passed through the dealers’ hands it is not usually easy to find traces of this grease.) The chests of modified “Jacobean” type–belonging, one may suppose, to the early eighteenth century–still show these grooves for the drawers to run on. And then, as the eighteenth century advances, they are no longer found. But that by no means meant that the eighteenth-century craftsman had resolved to be content with such articles of furniture as millions of our patient contemporaries tug and push and more or less mildly curse at. No, the eighteenth-century craftsman said to himself: I have gone beyond those “Jacobean” fellows; I can make drawers so accurately, so exquisitely fitted, that they no longer need grooves, and move as well as though they had them. And he was justified. A beautiful eighteenth-century chest of drawers really is almost as easy to manipulate as my “Jacobean” chest. One realises that the device of grooves, ingenious and successful as it was, rested on an imperfection; it was evidently an effort to overcome the crude and heavy work of earlier imperfect craftsmen.
There is evolution in the vital progress of furniture as in all other vital progress. The Jacobean chest with its oak substance and its panels and its great depth is apparently massive; this is an inherited ancestral trait due to the fact that it developed out of the earlier coffers that really were massive; in reality it is rather light. The later modified Jacobean chest shows only an attenuated appearance of massiveness, and the loss is real, for there are no fresh compensating qualities. But the developed eighteenth-century walnut chest is the unmistakable expression of a new feeling in civilisation, a new feeling of delicacy and refinement, a lovely superficiality such as civilisation demands, alike in furniture and in social intercourse. There is not even the appearance of massiveness now; the panels have gone and the depth has been notably reduced. The final goal of development was reached, and nothing was left to the nineteenth century but degeneration.
An interesting evolution in details is instructive to note. In the Jacobean chest, while the drooping loops of the handles are small and simple, the keyholes are elaborately adorned with beautiful brass scroll-work, the hereditary vestige of mediaeval days when the chest was a coffer, and the key, insistently demanded for security, was far more important than handles, which then indeed had no existence. In the unsatisfactory transitional stage of the later Jacobean chest the keyhole is less beautifully adorned, but the handles remain of similar type. Here, again, the eighteenth-century craftsman shows the fine artist he was. He instinctively felt that the handles must be developed, for not only were they more functionally important than the lock had become, but in dispensing with the grooves for the drawers to run on he had made necessary a somewhat firmer grip. So he made his handles more solid and fastened them in with beautifully-cut fingers of brass. Then he realised that the keyhole with all its fine possibilities must be sacrificed because it clashed with his handles and produced a distracting confusion. He contented himself with a simple narrow rim of brass for his keyholes, and the effect is perfectly right.
Furniture is the natural expression of the civilisation producing it. I sometimes think that there is even an intimate relation between the furniture of an epoch and its other art forms, even its literary style. The people who delighted in Cowley used these Jacobean chests, and in his style there is precisely the same blending of the seemingly massive and the really light, a blending perhaps more incongruous in poetry than in furniture. And the eighteenth-century chests were made for people who had been penetrated by the spirit of the _Spectator_; their craftsmen put into furniture precisely that exquisite superficiality, that social amenity, that fine conventionism which Addison and Steele put into their essays. I find it hard not to believe that delicate feminine hands once stored away the _Spectator_ in these drawers, and sometimes think I have seen those hands on the canvases of Gainsborough and Romney.
_December_ 7.–One is perhaps too easily disquieted by the incompetence and disaster of our typically modern things. Rotten aeroplanes for fools to ride to destruction, motorcars for drunkards and imbeciles to use as the ancient war-chariots were used, telephones and a thousand other devices which are always out of order–our civilisation after all is not made up of these. I take up _Le Rire_ and I gaze at its coloured pictures again and again. One realises that these are the things that people will turn to when they think of the twentieth century. Our aeroplanes and our motor-cars and our telephones will no doubt be carefully displayed in a neglected cellar of their museums. But here are things they will cherish and admire, and as one gazes at them one grows more at peace with one’s own time.
It is easy to detect the influence of Rowlandson and of Hiroshige and the other Japanese designers in the methods of these French artists of to-day, and there could be no better influences. Rowlandson’s _Dr. Syntax_ was the delight of my childhood, and is equally a solace to-day when I am better able to understand what that great artist accomplished; Hiroshige’s daring and lovely visions of some remote Japanese fairyland are always consoling to take out and gaze at when one is weary or depressed or disgusted. There could be no better influences.
But while it is not difficult to detect such influences in _Le Hire’s_ best artists at their best moments,–not so very often attained,–they are yet always themselves and true to their own spirit and vision, or they would have no message to deliver. These pictures have their supreme value because, whether or not they are a true picture of French life, they are a true presentation of the essential French spirit, so recklessly gay and so daringly poignant, so happily exquisite in its methods, and so relentlessly direct in its moral. For some people, who take what they are able to receive, the French spirit seems trivial and superficial, merely wanton and gay, chiefly characterised by that Lubricity which worried the pedagogic Matthew Arnold. The French spirit is more specifically distinguished by its profundity and its seriousness. Without profundity and seriousness, indeed, gaiety and wantonness have no significance. If the Seven Sins had not been Deadly, the Christian Church could never have clothed them in garments of tragic dignity. Unless you cut deep into life, wantonness and gaiety lose their savour and are not fit for the ends of art. The French spirit is not only embodied in Rabelais and Montaigne and Moliere–if these are your superficial men!–but also in Pascal. Was there so great a gulf between Pascal and Daumier? And I find not only the spirit of Pascal in some of these pictures in _Le Rire_, but sometimes even his very phrases used as the titles of them.
_December_ 9.–The Australians, it appears, have been much worried over Chidley. Here was a man who would not fit into their conventional moulds. He was stern, resolute, inflexible, convinced that he carried a Gospel which Australia and the world at large needed. It was a Gospel so eccentrically related to the accepted scheme of things that only he himself could accept it in its entirety. His method of preaching this gospel, moreover, was as eccentric as the gospel itself. It seemed to him that men need to live closer to Nature, that a simpler diet is necessary to salvation, and less clothing, and greater sexual continence. He approved his gospel by being a model of physical muscular fitness. As I have sometimes seen a Rifian from the hills, with bare magnificent limbs, striding down from the heights carolling a song, to enter the bastardly-civilised city of Tangier, so, it would seem, Chidley descended on to the city of Sydney. Having written a book in which to contain the pith of his message, he proceeded to clothe himself in a sort of scanty bathing dress, to lecture the public in the most fashionable streets of the city, and to sell his book to those who might desire it.
Three centuries ago a man of the same type as Chidley, the eminent Quaker, Solomon Eccles, who had his gospel too, would now and then come to Westminster Hall, “very civilly tied about the privities to avoid scandal” (as Pepys, a great stickler for propriety, noted with satisfaction), to call to repentance the wicked generation of Charles II.’s day. But the people of that day were not altogether without wisdom. They let the strenuous Quaker alone. He was doubtless the better, and they were none the worse.
Nowadays, it seems, we need more than a loincloth to protect our hyperaesthetic eyes from the Splendour of Nature. The Australians, afflicted by our modern nervous fussiness, could not leave Chidley alone. The police moved him on, worried him as well as they could, invented reasons for locking him up now and then, and finally, by what seemed a masterstroke, they persuaded the doctors to shut him up in the Asylum. That, however, proved to be too much for Australian popular opinion. The voice of the people began to be heard in the press; there were long debates in Parliament; the Premier sent to the Asylum to inquire on what grounds Chidley had been placed there, and the doctors, who really had no evil intent in the matter, though their mental equilibrium had been momentarily disturbed by this unique Chidley, honourably opened the Asylum doors, and Chidley has returned to preach the Gospel in George Street until new reasons can be puzzled out for harassing him, neurotic, without doubt, but now hall-marked sane.
Like the Athenians of old, the Australians are not averse to hearing some new thing, and they have bought Chidley’s book by the thousand. But the Athenians, notwithstanding their love of novelty, offered the cup of hemlock to Socrates. Chidley, if not exactly the Australian Socrates, clearly resembles his disciples, those great Cynics who in the Greek market-places were wont to preach and to practise a philosophy of stern simplicity, often akin to his own. The Athenians killed Socrates, but they produced a Plato to idealise and even to immortalise him. The Australians have drawn the line at killing Chidley. So he still awaits his Plato.
_December_ 15.–Like a Gargantuan _casserole_ outside, but modelled on a kettle inside, the Albert Hall, more or less filled with people, is often to me a delightful spectacle. It is so at this Sunday afternoon concert, when the lights are blended, and the bottom of the kettle is thickspread with humanity, and sprinkled with splashes of dusky crimson or purple on women’s hats, while the sides are more slightly spread with the same humanity up to the galleries. The spectacle so fascinates me sometimes that I cannot listen to the music. At such moments the Albert Hall faintly recalls a miniature Spanish bull-ring. It is a far-off resemblance, even farther than the resemblance of St. Paul’s Cathedral, with its enclosed dome and its worrying detail, to the simple and superb strength of the Pantheon, which lives in memory through the years as a great consoling Presence, but it often comes to me and brings with it an inspiring sense of dignity and colour and light before which the actual spectacle grows dim.
_January_ 3, 1913.–I chanced to walk along the village street behind two little girls of the people, evidently sisters, with ribbons round their uncovered heads, filleting the hair which fell in careless ringlets on their backs. It was hair of the bright flaxen sort, which the poets have conventionally called “golden,” the hair one sees so often on the angels of the Italian primitive painters–though not so often on living Italians. It is the hair which always seems to me more beautiful than any other, and I felt as if I wanted to follow these plain commonplace children as the rats followed the Pied Piper.
The vision brought to my mind the fact I have so often had occasion to realise, that aesthetic attraction has nothing to do with erotic attraction, however at their origins, it may have been, the two attractions were identical or sprang from the same source, and though they have constantly reacted on, and sometimes deflected, each other. Aesthetically this hair fascinates me; it is an exhilarating delight whenever I meet it. But I have never felt any personal attraction in association with this hair, or any great personal interest in the people it belonged to.
What one aesthetically craves is the outcome of one set of influences, due to one’s special vision, one’s traditions, one’s training and environment, influences that are no doubt mainly objective and impersonal, operative on most of one’s fellows. But what one personally craves is the outcome of another set of influences, due to one’s peculiar and instinctive organic constitution; it is based on one’s individual instinctive needs and may not be precisely the same for any two persons.
The Aestheticians are not here indeed altogether in harmony. But it would seem that, while the aesthetic and the sexual must frequently and legitimately overlap, they are definitely separate, that it is possible to distinguish the aesthetically-from the sexually-attractive in different persons and even in different features of the same person, that while it is frequently natural and right to love a “beautiful” woman, to love a woman because she is beautiful is as unreasonable as to fall in love with a beautiful statue. The aesthetically-attractive and the sexually-attractive tend to be held apart. They are two different “substances,” as the mediaeval metaphysician would have said. From the standpoint of clear thinking, and also of social well-being, the confusion of them is, in theological language, damnable. In so far as Beauty is a personal lust it is unfit for wholesome social ends. Only in so far as it is lifted above personal desire is it fitted to become a social inspiration.
_January_ 10.–Yesterday I waited for a friend at a London Underground railway station. She was delayed, and I stood for a quarter of an hour at the bottom of a flight of steps, watching the continuous stream of descending passengers, mostly women, and generally young. Some among the less young were swollen, heavy, and awkward; most were slack, drooping, limp, bony, or bent; a few were lithe and lissom; one or two had the emotional vivacity and muscular tone of abounding vitality. Not one plainly indicated that, stripped of her clothing, she would have transformed those Underground steps into the Golden Stairway of Heaven.
“The average civilised woman sags.” That is the conclusion lately reached by Dickinson and Truslow after the examination of a very large number of American women, and it is a conclusion which applies without doubt far beyond the limits of the United States. Her breasts droop down, these investigators assert, her buttocks sweep low, her abdomen protrudes. While these defects are general, the modern woman has cultivated two extreme and opposite defects of physical carriage which Dickinson and Truslow picturesquely describe as the Kangaroo Type and the Gorilla Type. In the kangaroo type of civilised woman the upper part of the trunk is carried too much in front of the line of gravity, and the lower part too much behind that line. In the gorilla type of woman, on the contrary, the upper part of the body is carried too much behind the line of gravity, and the lower part too much in front. So far Dickinson and Truslow.
If this were a purely aesthetic matter, though it would still have its importance, it would only intrude to a slight degree into the moral and social sphere. We should simply have to recognise that these defects of the modern woman must be a frequent cause of depression to her more intimate friends, and that that may have its consequences.
There is more in it than that. All such defects of tone and posture (as indeed Dickinson and Truslow realise) have their inevitable reaction on the nervous system: they produce a constant wearing stress, a perpetual liability to pain. The women who have fallen into these habits are inadequate to life, and their inadequacy is felt in all that they are and in all that they attempt to do. Each of them is a stone flung into the social pool to disperse around it an ever-widening circle of disturbance and irritation.
It may be argued that one has seen women–working women especially–whose breasts were firm bowls of beauty, whose buttocks were exquisitely curved, whose bellies would have satisfied the inspired author of _The Song of Songs_, and yet the women who owned such physical graces have not conspicuously possessed the finer spiritual graces. But we do not enhance one half of human perfection by belittling the other half. And we rarely conceive of any high perfection on one side without some approach to it on the other. Even Jesus–though the whole of his story demands that his visage should be more marred than any man’s–is always pictured as beautiful. And do you suppose that the slave girl Blandina would have gone into the arena at Lyons to present her white body as the immortal symbol of the love of Jesus if her breasts had drooped down, and her buttocks swept low, and her abdomen protruded? The human heart is more subtly constructed. Those romantic Christian hagiologists saw to that. And–to come nearer to the point–could her fine tension of soul have been built up on a body as dissolute and weak as a candle in the sun?
We need to-day a great revival of the sense of responsibility, not only in the soul but in the body. We want a new sort of _esprit de corps_. We need it especially for women, for women, under modern conditions, even less than men, have no use for sagging bodies or sagging souls. It is only by the sanction of nakedness that this can be achieved. “Take this hint from the dancer,” a distinguished American dancer has said, “the fewer clothes the better; woman is clumsy because she is overweighted with clothes.” With whatever terror we may view any general claim to the right of nakedness, the mere liability to nakedness, the mere freedom to be naked, at once introduces a new motive into life. It becomes a moralising force of the most strenuous urgency. Clothes can no more be put before us as a substitute for the person. The dressmaker can no longer arrogate the functions of a Creator. The way is opened for the appearance in civilisation of a real human race.
_January_ 11.–There seem to be two extreme and opposed styles of writing: the liquid style that flows, and the bronze or marmoreal style that is moulded or carved. Thus there is in English the style of Jeremy Taylor and Newman and Ruskin, and there is the style of Bacon and Landor and Pater, the lyrically-impetuous men and the artistically-deliberate men.
One may even say that a whole language may fall into one or the other of these two groups, according to the temper of the people which created it. There is the Greek tongue, for instance, and there is the Latin tongue. Greek is the embodiment of the fluent speech that runs or soars, the speech of a people which could not help giving winged feet to its god of art. Latin is the embodiment of the weighty and concentrated speech which is hammered and pressed and polished into the shape of its perfection, as the ethically-minded Romans believed that the soul also should be wrought. Virgil said that he licked his poems into shape as a she-bear licks her cubs, and Horace, the other supreme literary artist of Rome, compared the writing of poems to working in bronze. No Greek could have said these things. Whether Plato or Aristophanes or even Thucydides, the Greek’s feet touched the earth, touched it lovingly, though it might only be with the pressure of a toe, but there were always wings to his feet, he was always the embodiment of all that he symbolised in Hermes. The speech of the Greek flies, but the speech of the Roman sinks. The Roman’s word in art, as in life, was still _gravitas_, and he contrived to infuse a shade of contempt into the word _levis_. With the inspired Greek we rise, with the inspired Roman we sink. With the Greek poet, it may be any poet of the Anthology, I am uplifted, I am touched by the breath of rapture. But if it is a Latin poet–Lucretius or Catullus, the quintessential Latin poets–I am hit by something pungent and poignant (they are really the same word, one notes, and that a Latin word) which pierces the flesh and sinks into the heart.
One resents the narrow and defective intelligence of the spirit embodied in Latin, its indifference to Nature, its refusal to hallow the freedom and beauty and gaiety of things, its ever-recurring foretaste of Christianity. But one must not refuse to recognise the superb and eternal morality of that spirit, whether in language or in life. It consecrates struggle, the conquest of brute matter, the perpetual and patient effort after perfection. So Rome is an everlasting challenge to the soul of Man, and the very stones of its city the mightiest of inspirations.
_January_ 13.–An American physician, we are told, paid a visit to the famous dog-kennels on the Vanderbilt estate. He was surprised at the intelligence and gentleness of the animals. “Have you no vicious animals at all?” he asked. And the keeper in surprise answered him: “Do you suppose we would be so foolish as to permit vicious animals to breed?”
Human beings ought surely to be worth more to us than dogs. Yet here in England-and I do not know in what “civilised” country any different order prevails–we gather together all our physical and moral defectives, we bring them into our Workhouses to have babies, under the superintendence of Boards of Guardians, and every one knows that these babies are born in the image of their parents, and will perpetuate the same cycle of misery. Yet, so far as I know, not one of these “Guardians” ever so much as attempts to make clear to those hapless mothers why and how they should avoid having other children. And no one proposes to shut up as dangerous lunatics these precious Guardians of Private Misery and Public Incapacity!
We look down with lofty moral superiority on our ancestors in these islands who were accustomed to eat their fellow-creatures. We do not eat them. We only torture them. That is what we call Progress. At all events we are laying up a bountiful supply of moral superiority for our own descendants. It is not probable that they will be able to read in their newspaper (if newspaper they will still possess) as we can in ours: “At an inquest at Dudley yesterday on a woman who was fatally scalded whilst in a fit, it was stated that she had been an epileptic for years, and that her seven children had all been epileptics, and all had died when young.”
_January_ 14.–There are few things that make one so doubtful about the civilising power of England as our indifference to the smoke problem in London. If we were Neapolitan ragamuffins, who could lie in the sun with bare limbs, sucking oranges, there would be nothing to say; under such conditions indolence might be pardonable, almost justified. But we English are feverishly active, we run over the whole world, and we utilise all this energy to build up the biggest and busiest city in the world. Yet we have never created an atmosphere for our great city. Mist is beautiful, with its power of radiant transformation, and London could never, under any circumstances, and need never, be absolutely without mist; it is part of the physical genius of our land, and even perhaps of the spiritual genius of our people. But the black fogs of London are mist soaked with preventable coal smoke; their evils have been recognised from the first. Evelyn protested against this “hellish and dismal cloud of sea-coal,” and Charles II. desired Evelyn to prepare a Bill on this nuisance to put before Parliament. But there the matter rested. For three centuries we have been in the position of the Russian gentleman who could not prevent his dilapidated roof from letting in the rain; for, as he pointed out, in wet weather it was quite impossible to effect any repairs, and in dry weather there was really nothing to complain of. In the meanwhile this “cloud of sea-coal” has continued to produce not only actual death and injury in particular cases, but a general diminution of human vitality and the wholesale destruction of plant life. It eats away our most beautiful public buildings; it covers everything and everybody with soot; it is responsible, directly and indirectly, for a financial loss so vast and manifold as to be incalculable.
Yesterday Lord Curzon delivered an address at the Mansion House on the Beautiful London of the Future. He dwelt eloquently on its noble buildings and its long embankments, and its wide streets and its finely placed statues. But of the smoke which nullifies and destroys all these things, not a word! Yet, as he was speaking, outside the Mansion House the people of London were almost feeling their way about, scarce knowing where they were, timidly crawling across motor-infested roads with their hearts in their mouths, all the time permanently ingraining their lungs with black filth. An able man, Lord Curzon, skilful to gauge the British Idealist, ever so absorbed in his own dream of comfort or of cash that he is even blind to the world he lives in, “pinnacled dim in the intense inane” in another sense than the poet intended.
If we were mediaeval monks, who spent our time chanting the rhyme of Bernard of Morlaix, there might seem to be a reason in our madness. To make a Hell of earth is doubtless a useful method of rendering more joyous the transition to Heaven, and less overwhelming the transition to Purgatory. Yet the mediaeval monks burnt no coal and were careful to live in beautiful sites and fine air. The prospect of Purgatory made them epicures in the fine things of Earth. Now we, apparently, care not a snap for any Hereafter. It is therefore a curious psychological problem why we should have chosen to take up our cross in this peculiarly repulsive shape. Apparently our traditions are too strong for us, we cannot dispense with Hell; if robbed of it in the future we must have it Here and Now.
_January_ 15.–When English days are dark and dreary, and the rain falls, and cold winds blow, then it is that memory brings back the full joy of ancient beauty and sunshine. (How could Dante have written “Nessun maggior dolore”! But he had to write of Hell, and Hell were no longer Hell if the lovely memory of Earth still cheered its inmates.) Especially I love to think of that two days’ brief journey-the most delightful journey there can be in the world, it sometimes seems–which separates me from Spain. I think of it as it is in early Spring, in the April month, when Browning longed to be in England and most people long to be out of it. I think of the swift passage across the Channel, of the ever-new impression of the light-toned greenery of France and the subtle difference of the beautiful trees, of Paris, of the Quai d’Orsay early next morning, of the mediaeval cities that flash into view on their ancient hills, of the vast stretch of beautiful and varied French land, of Limoges, the last outpost of the Northern French, whom it is sad to leave even when one is bound for Spain, of Rocamadour (and I think of that fantastic old-world shrine, with the legendary blade of Roland’s Durandel still struck into its walls, and of the long delicious day on the solitary brooding height over the exquisite ravine), the night at Toulouse at the Hotel Bayard, and the sour bread that marks the Puritanic Southern French, the keen winds and the dreary rain that comes from Provence,–delicious to leave behind. Then Carcassonne and the momentary vision of its turrets, the embodiment of one’s dream of the past; lunch at Narbonne with the unfailing cold asparagus of the south, Perpignan, where now at last one is haunted by the fragrance of a city that once was Spanish. Then creeping along by the broken coast, and the rocky creeks up to the outermost edge of the Pyrenees, leaving to the north the ancient path which Pompey and Caesar climbed, and feeling the winds that descend mysteriously from its gorges:
Le vent qui vient a travers la montagne Me rendra fou.
Lo, at once a new Heaven and a new Earth and a new People. A sky that is ever soft and radiant; a land on which strange and fragrant plants flourish, and lakes of crimson poppies glimmer afar; men and women into whose veins seems to have passed something of the lazy sunshine of their sky, something of the rich colour of their earth. Then at last the great city of Barcelona, where work and play are mingled as nowhere else so harmoniously in the whole European world; and, beyond, the sacred height of Montserrat; and, beyond that, all the magic of Spain at my feet.
_January_ 19.–“For three days I have observed two large pictures in solid frames hanging on the wall before me, supported by a cord fastened horizontally behind the frames; these pictures have only one point of support, so that they are sensitive to the slightest movement. The wall goes from east to west, or the other way about, it makes no difference. Now, every morning when I wake, I find these works of art a little askew, the left corner inclined down and the right up!” I came upon that passage in _Sylva Sylvarum_, the first book of Strindberg’s I ever read, and it pleased me so much that I believe I read no further.
I am reminded of it now when Strindberg’s fame has grown so great in England.
It really seems to me that that fantastic image is an excellent symbol of Strindberg himself. For his picture of the world fails to swing concordantly with the world. He has lagged behind in the cosmic rhythm, he has fallen out of the dance of the stars. So that the whole universe is to him an exquisitely keen jar of the nerves, and he hangs awry. That may well make him an extraordinarily interesting person, and, indeed, perhaps he is thereby an index of the world’s vital movement, registering it by not moving with it. We have to read Strindberg, but to read him _a rebours_.
So I experience some amusement when I see to-day the solemn statement in an American journal which claims–I do not say with no reason–to be portentously clever and superior, that Strindberg is destined to become in America the voice of the masculine reaction in favour of “the corrective influence of a matter-of-fact attitude towards woman.” One wonders by what strange fatality Strindberg-the most fantastic genius that ever lived–can appeal to an American as “matter-of-fact.” And one wonders why Americans, anyway, should go to this distinguished Swede for such a “corrective,” when in their own country, to mention but a single name, they have a writer like Robert Herrick, whose novels are surely so admirably subtle and profound an analysis of the position of womanhood in America, and quite reasonably sane. But it is still true, as Jesus sighed two thousand years ago, that a prophet is no prophet in his own country.
_January_ 29.–For supper, we are told, Milton used often to eat a few olives. That statement has frequently recurred to my mind. I never grow weary of the significance of little things. What do the so-called great things of life count for in the end, the fashion of a man’s showing-off for the benefit of his fellows? It is the little things that give its savour or its bitterness to life, the little things that direct the currents of activity, the little things that alone really reveal the intimate depths of personality. _De minimis non curat lex_. But against that dictum of human law one may place the Elder Pliny’s maxim concerning natural law: _Nusquam magis quam in minimis tota est Natura_. For in the sphere of Nature’s Laws it is only the minimal things that are worth caring about, the least things in the world, mere specks on the Walls of Life, as it seems to you. But one sets one’s eyes to them, and, behold, they are chinks that look out into Infinity.
Milton is one of the “great” things in English life and literature, and his admirers dwell on his great achievements. These achievements often leave me a little cold, intellectually acquiescent, nothing more. But when I hear of these olives which the blind old scholar-poet was wont to eat for supper I am at once brought nearer to him. I intuitively divine what they meant to him.
Olives are not the most obvious food for an English Puritan of the seventeenth century, though olive-oil is said to have been used here even in the fourteenth century. Milton might more naturally, one supposes, like his arch-Puritanic foe, Prynne, have “refocillated” his brain with ale and bread, and indeed he was still too English, and perhaps too wise, to disdain either.
But Milton had lived in Italy. There the most brilliant and happy days of his life had been spent. All the rest of his real and inner life was but an echo of the music he had heard in Italy. For Milton was only on one side of his nature the austere Latin secretary of Cromwell and the ferocious opponent of Salmasius. He was also the champion of the tardy English Renaissance, the grave and beautiful youth whose every fibre thrilled to the magic of Italy. For two rich months he had lived in Florence, then the most attractive of Italian cities, with Gaddi, Dati, Coltellini, and the rest for his friends. He had visited Galileo, then just grown blind, as he was himself destined to be. His inner sight always preserved the old visions he had garnered
At evening from the top of Fesole,
Or in Valdarno.
Now at last, in the company of sour and ignorant Puritans who counted him one of themselves, while a new generation grew up which ignored him and which he disdained, in this sulphurous atmosphere of London which sickened and drove away his secretary Ellwood, Milton ate a handful of olives. And all Italy came to him in those olives.
“What! when the sun rises do you not see a round disc of fire, somewhat like a guinea?” “Oh no, no, no!” said Blake, “I see an innumerable company of the heavenly host.” And these dull green exotic fruits which the blind Milton ate bedwards were the heralds of dreams diviner than he freighted with magnificent verse.
_February_ 3.–“Every well-written novel,” I find Remy de Gourmont stating, “seems immoral.” A paradox? By no means; Gourmont, the finest of living critics, is not a paradox-monger. He is referring to the prosecution of _Madame Bovary_, a book which Taine said might profitably be used in Sunday Schools; and he points out that Flaubert–and every other profoundly original writer–by avoiding the commonplace phrase, the familiar counter, by deliberately choosing each word, by moulding his language to a personal rhythm, imparts such novelty to his descriptions that the reader seems to himself to be assisting for the first time at a scene which is yet exactly the same as those described in all novels. Hence inevitable scandal.
One may very well add that in this matter Life follows the same law as Art. It is the common fate of all creative work (and “non merita nome di Creatore se non Iddio ed il Poeta”). Whoso lives well, as whoso writes well, cannot fail to convey an alarming impression of novelty, precisely because he is in accurate personal adjustment to the facts of his own time. So he is counted immoral and criminal, as Nietzsche delighted to explain. Has not Nietzsche himself been counted, in his own playful phrase, an “immoralist”? Yet the path of life that Nietzsche proposed to follow was just the same ancient, old-fashioned, in the true sense trivial path which all the world has trodden. Only his sensitive feet felt that path so keenly, with such a new grip of the toes on the asperities of it, that the mob cried: Why, this man cannot possibly be on our good old well-worn comfortable highway; he must have set off on some new path, no doubt a very bad and wicked path, where trespassers must be prosecuted. And it was just the same venerable path that all humanity has travelled, the path that Adam and Eve scuttled over, in hairy nakedness, through the jungle of the Garden of Eden!
That is one of the reasons–and there are many of them–why the social ideal of Herbert Spencer, in which the adjustment of life is so perfect that friction is impossible, can never be attained. Putting aside the question of the desirability of such an ideal it is impossible to see how it could be achieved, either along the line of working at Heredity, or along the line of working at the Environment. Even the most keenly intellectual people that ever existed, the most amorous of novelty, the most supple-minded, could not permit Socrates to live, though all the time Socrates was going their own way, his feet pressing the same path; they still could not understand his prosaic way of looking intently where his feet fell. It must always happen so, and it always means conflict. Even a flower cannot burst into bloom without conflict, the balance of forces can never be quite equal and opposite, there must be a breaking down somewhere, there must always be conflict. We may regulate and harmonise the conditions, we cannot abolish the conflict. For Conflict is implicit in Life.
_February_ 5.–I note that Charles Dudley Warner (that splendid type of American man as I recall him in old age, pacing up and down my room, pondering out some serious problem of life), when half a century ago he came over to London for the first time on a visit from Paris, was struck by the contrast between the light luminosity of one city and the prevailing gloomy dirt of the other. The contrast may not be so pronounced to-day. Yet that same dirt–which has its beautiful side no doubt–remains the note of London, brown dirt all over the streets, black dirt all over the buildings, yellow dirt all over the sky, and those who live in it become subdued to what they live in, “like the dyer’s hand,” even literally.
So the sight of the Cornish coast, the prospect of seeing it, the very thought of its existence, has the exhilaration of a rapturous prayer. There–sometimes, at all events–the earth is exquisitely clean, the bright sea bubbles like champagne, and its mere mists are rainbow-hued dreams; the sky has flung off its dingy robe and is naked, beautiful, alive. Profoundly alien to me as I always feel this land of Cornwall to be, it is much to feel there something of that elemental reality of which men count God the symbol. Here the city-stained soul may become the sacramental agent of a Divine Transubstantiation of the elements of earth, of air, of water, of fire.
_February_ 8.–It was a fine and deep saying of Aristotle’s that “the greatest thing by far is to be a master of metaphor.” That is the mark of genius, for, said he, it implies an intuitive perception of the similarity in dissimilars.
All the great thinkers have been masters of metaphor, because all vivid thinking must be in images, and the philosopher whose metaphors are blurred or diluted is one whose thinking is blurred and diluted. Thus it comes about that the thinkers who survive are the thinkers who wrote well and are most nearly poets. Not that they need have attained to that which we, individually or collectively, may be pleased to consider “Truth.” But they were alive; they had realised what they meant; they embodied their thoughts in definite images which are a perpetual challenge to thought for all who come after. One may agree or disagree with Schopenhauer or with Nietzsche. But they were vitally and intensely alive; they transformed their thought into wonderful imagery; or they sang it and they danced it; and they are alive for ever. People talk of “the passing of Kant.” It may be. But who will talk of the passing of Plato or even of the passing of Hobbes? No thinker has been so buffeted as Hobbes, and there is no school to accept his central thesis. It is no matter. Hobbes flung aside all the armour of tradition and met the giant problem that faced him with his own sling and any stones out of the brook. It was enough to make him immortal. His achievement has receded into the past. The _Leviathan_ is now an ancient tapestry which generations of street urchins have thrown mud at; and yet it remains radiantly beautiful.
All great thinkers are great masters of metaphor because all thinking of any kind must be by analogy. It may often be a misleading guide, but it remains the only guide. To say that thinking is by metaphor is merely the same thing as to say that the world is an infinite series of analogies enclosed one within another in a succession of Chinese boxes. Even the crowd recognises this. The story that Newton first saw the gravitation of the earth in the fall of an apple in the orchard, which Voltaire has transmitted to us from a fairly good source, has no first-hand authority. But the crowd has always accepted it as a gospel truth, and by a sound instinct. The Milky Way itself is pictured by its latest investigators as a vague spiral scarcely to be distinguished from the ascending smoke of a cigarette.
_February_ 10.–A French soprano, and it is the first time she has sung on an English platform. She walks on slowly and stands statuesquely motionless while the preliminary bars are being played. One notes her elegant Parisian costume, clinging and very low-cut, every detail of her appearance carefully thought out, constituting a harmony in itself, though not perhaps a harmony with this negligent Sunday afternoon environment in which the singer finds herself. Her voice is finely trained and under complete control, she enters into the spirit of the operatic scene she sings, dramatically, yet with restraint, with modulated movements, now of her arms, now of her whole supple body. In her voice, as in her body, there is always a reserve of energy, a dignified self-respect; there is never any self-abandonment. She has sung first in French, now she comes on in an Italian air, and afterwards is not too coyly reticent in taking an encore which is in English, to a piano accompaniment, and when that is over she hastens to bring the accompanist by the hand to her side before the audience, and bows, sweetly and graciously, with a gesture of the whole body, yet again with a certain reserve, not, as one may see some great singers, symbolically clasping her arms round the public and kissing it with humble gratitude. She is a complete success with her audience.
Yet she is really, one divines, a fairly commonplace person. And she is not beautiful. And even her voice has no marvellous original quality. She has on her side a certain quality of nervous texture to mould artistically, but that is not a personal possession but merely a quality of her race. She has laboriously wrought this ductile nervous tissue to her own ends. By force of long training, discipline, art, she has made herself what she desired to be. She has become all that she had in her to be. She has given to the world all that the world has any right to ask of her.
That is all. But this training and this discipline, the ability to be oneself and to impart graciously to others the utmost that they have any right to demand–is not that the whole Art of Living and the entire Code of Morality?
_February_ 15.–“There is no Excellent Beauty that hath not some Strangeness in the Proportion.” That saying of Bacon’s–one of the profoundest of human utterances–is significant not only for all life but for all art. In the sphere of literature, for instance, it makes impossible the use of counters.
The counter or the _cliche_–no doubt it is better known for what it is to good French writers–is the word or the phrase which has lost the original contour of its mintage and become a mere featureless coin, having still, as it were, its metallic meaning but no longer its fresh beauty and expressiveness. The young novelist whose hero “wends his way,” and the journalist for whom a party of fifteen persons may be “literally decimated,” are both adepts in the use of the counter. They use ancient worn words, such as leap first into the mind, words which are too effaced to be beautiful, and sometimes too effaced to be accurate. They are just counters for careless writers to pass on to careless readers, and not always reliable as counters.
We are all of us using these counters; they are convenient for the ordinary purposes of life, whenever the search for beauty and rarity and expressiveness may seem uncalled for. Even the master of style uses them unquestioned, so long as he uses them consciously, deliberately, of set purpose, with a sense of their just value for his purpose. When they are used, as sometimes happens, heedlessly and helplessly, by writers who are dealing with beautiful and expressive things, they become jarring vulgarisms which set the teeth on edge. Even a poet of real inspiration, like Francis Thompson, may seek to carry, “hiddenly,” as he would express it, beneath the cloak of his rapture, all sorts of absurd archaisms, awkwardly conventional inversions, hideous neologisms like false antiques, all mere counters. A born writer with a personal instinct for expression, like Arthur Symons, is not apt to resort to the use of counters, even when he is seemingly careless; a carefully trained artist in the use of words, like Stevenson, evidently rejects counters immediately; the man who is not a writer, born or made, sometimes uses nothing but counters.
A casual acquaintance once presented to me an epic he had written in rhymed couplets, extending to many cantos. He was a man of bright and vigorous mind, but no poet. So when he set himself to write verse it is clear that he instinctively tested every word or phrase, and rejected those that failed to sound smooth, familiar, “poetic,” to his reminiscent ear. The result is that the whole of his book is made up of counters, and every epithet is studiously obvious. The hero is “dauntless,” and his “steed” is “noble,” and the sky at night is a “spangled vault,” and “spicy perfumes load the balmy air.” It is thirty years since that epic was placed in my hands, and I have often since had occasion to think that it might profitably be used by any teacher of English literature as a text for an ever needed lesson on the counter. “There is no Excellent Beauty that hath not some Strangeness in the Proportion.” Or, as Aristotle had said long before, there must be “a certain admixture of unfamiliarity,” a continual slight novelty.
That is the Law of Beauty in Art because it is the Law of Morality in Life. Our acts so easily become defaced and conventionalised, mere uniform counters that have been used a thousand times before and rarely with any special applicability–often, indeed, a flagrant inapplicability–to the case in hand. The demand upon us in Life is to fling away counters, to react vitally to the vital circumstances of the situation. All the teachers of Excellent Beauty in the Moral Life bear witness to the truth of Bacon’s saying. Look at the Sermon on the Mount: no doubt about the “Strangeness in the Proportion” there! Socrates and Jesus, unlike as they were, so far as we are able to discern, were yet both marked by the same horror of counters. Sooner than employ them they would die. And indeed, if the Moral Life could be reduced to the simplicity of a slot-machine, it would still be necessary to put real pennies in.
_February_ 23.–Some time ago a navvy working in Sussex came upon a round object like a cocoa-nut which he flung carelessly out of the way. It would soon have disappeared for ever. But by an almost miraculous chance a man of science passed that way and secured the object, easily discernible as a portion of a human skull. Now that, with all that appertains to it, the fragment has been investigated, the Sussex navvy’s unconscious find is revealed as perhaps the most precious and interesting thing that has ever been discovered in the earth, the earliest Charter in the History of Man.
Whenever I read of the chance discovery of fossils or human remains, of buried cities in Yucatan or Roman pavements beneath Gloucestershire meadows, or beautiful statues fished out of the Tiber, or mediaeval treasures dug from below old castles, it grows an ever greater wonder to me that no one has yet proposed a systematic exploration of the whole earth beneath our feet. Here is this earth, a marvellous onion, a series of encapsuled worlds, each successive foliation preserving the intimate secrets of its own irrecoverable life. And Man the Baby, neglecting the wonderful Earth he crawls on, has cried for the barren Moon! All science has begun with the stars, and Early Man seemed to himself merely the by-play of a great cosmic process. God was first, and Man who had created Him–out of less than dust–was nowhere. Even in mediaeval days we knew much more about Heaven and Hell than about Earth. The Earth comes last into man’s view,–even after Heaven and Hell and Purgatory,–but it will surely be a puzzle for our successors that after a million years, even in our present little era, we had still not begun to scratch up systematically the soil we stand on and could scarcely so much as uncover Pompeii. For though the under-world is not all a buried Pompeii, it is a vast treasure-house. One cannot so much as put a spade into the garden-mould of one’s cottage-garden without now and then finding ancient coins and shards of strange pottery; and for all that you know, the clue to some mystery that has puzzled mankind for ages may at this moment lie a few inches below your feet.
It would be the task of an International Exfodiation Commission to dig up the whole earth systematically, leaving no inch of it untouched except on definitely determined grounds, the depth explored in each region being duly determined by experts. One might make a beginning with the banks of the Nile where the task is comparatively easy, and Nature has packed such fragile treasures in such antiseptic sand. Italy with its soil laden with marvellous things could be investigated at the same time, with all the shores of the Mediterranean. The work would take many centuries to complete and would cost vast sums of money. But when the nations are no longer engaged in the task of building warships which are obsolete a few weeks after they are launched, if not before, how vast a sum of money will be saved! The money which is wasted on the armies and navies of Europe alone during a single century would furnish a very respectable credit for the International Exfodiation Commission to begin work with. At the same time the men now employed in laboriously learning the trade of war, which they are seldom or never called upon to exercise, could be given something useful to do. In the meanwhile Exfodiation must wait until what an old English writer called “the essential oil of democracy” is poured over the stormy waves of human society. You doubt whether that oil will calm the waves? But if your essential oil of democracy fails to possess that elementary property of oil it is hardly worth while to manufacture it.
Once achieved, whenever or however it is achieved, the task will be achieved for ever. It would be the greatest task man has ever attempted, and the most inspiring. He would for the first time become fully conscious of himself. He would know all that he once was, and all that he has ever accomplished so far as its record survives. He would read clearly in the earth for the first time the title-deeds that make him the owner of the world. All that is involved is Exfodiation.
I call this process Exfodiation, because if our descendants happen to be at all like us they would much rather Exfodiate than Dig. As for us, we dare not so much as call our bodily organs and functions by their beautifully common names, and to Dig we are even more ashamed than to Beg.
_March_ 3.–Some one was telling me yesterday how lately in Wales he stood in a wood by a little stream that ran swiftly over the stones, babbling and chattering–the poets have wisely said–as children babble and chatter. “It is certainly the stream,” he said to himself; “no, it must be children; no, it is the stream.” And then a band of careless children, whose voices had mingled with the brook’s voice, emerged from amidst the wood.
Children are more than murmuring streams, and women are more than fragrant flowers, and men are more than walking trees. But on one side they are all part of the vision and music of Nature, not merely the creators of pictures and melodies, but even yet more fundamentally themselves the music and the vision. We cannot too often remember that not only is the art of man an art that Nature makes, but that Man himself is Nature. Accordingly as we cherish that faith, and seek to live by it, we vindicate our right to the Earth, and preserve our sane and vital relations to the Earth’s life. The poets love to see human emotions in the procession of cosmic phenomena. But we have also to see the force of the sun and the dust of the earth in the dance of the blood through the veins of Man.
Civilisation and Morals may seem to hold us apart from Nature. Yet the world has, even literally, been set in our hearts. We are of the Stuff of the Universe. In comparison with that fact Morals and Civilisation sink into Nothingness.
_March_ 7.–So fine a critic of art as Remy de Gourmont finds it difficult, to his own regret, to admire Shakespeare on the stage, at all events in France in French translations. This is not, he says, what in France is counted great dramatic art; there is no beginning and there is no real end, except such as may be due to the slaughter of the characters; throughout it is possible to interpolate scenes or to subtract scenes. He is referring more especially to _Macbeth_.
It cannot be denied that there is truth in this plaint. In France, from a French standpoint,–or, for the matter of that, from a Greek standpoint,–Shakespeare must always be a barbarian. It is the same feeling–though not indeed in so great a degree–that one experiences when one looks at the picturesque disorder and irregularity of English Gothic churches from the standpoint of the severely ordered majesty of Chartres, or even of Amiens, which yet has so much about it that recalls its neighbourhood to England. From the right standpoint, however, English Gothic architecture is full of charm, and even of art. In the same way I cannot at all admit that Shakespeare is unsuited for the stage. One has only to remember that it is the Romantic not the Classic stage. It is the function of the Shakespearian drama, and of the whole school of which Shakespeare is the supreme representative (I put aside Marlowe who died in the making of a greater classic tradition), to evoke a variegated vision of the tragi-comedy of life in its height and its depth, its freedom, and its wide horizon. This drama has for the most part little to do with the operation of the Fate which works itself out when a man’s soul is in the stern clutch of Necessity. We are far here from Euripides and from Ibsen. Life is always a pageant here, a tragi-comedy, which may lean sometimes more to comedy, and sometimes more to tragedy, but has in it always, even in _Lear_, an atmosphere of enlarging and exhilarating gaiety.
Shakespeare is for the stage. But what stage? We were cut off for ever from the Shakesperian tradition in the very generation after Shakespeare died, and have not acquired a sound new tradition even yet. The device of substituting drapery for scenery and relying exclusively on the gorgeous flow of words for decorative purposes fails to satisfy us, and we fall back on the foolish trick of submerging Shakespeare in upholstery and limelight.
It seems to me that we may discern the beginning of a more rational tradition in Granville Barker’s staging of _Twelfth Night_ at the Savoy. There is something here of the romantic suggestion and the easy freedom which are of the essence of the Shakesperian drama. The creamy walls, possibly an approximation to the courtyard-like theatre of the Elizabethans, are a perfect background for the play of brilliant figures; the light curtains furnish precisely the desired suggestion of scenery; and when at last all the figures wander up the stairway in the background as the Fool sings his inconsequent song, “With hey ho the wind and the rain,” the whole gracious dream melts away deliriously, as it seemed to Prospero, and surely to Shakespeare himself, the dream of life in the end melts away in the wind or the rain of the grave.
Thus conceived, the Shakesperian drama has surely as good a right to exist on the stage as the drama of Moliere. There cannot be the same perfection of finish and detail, for this is only an experiment, and there is inevitably a total difference of method. Yet, as thus presented, _Twelfth Night_ lingers in my mind with _Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme_ as presented at the Comedie Francaise, so presented that, by force of tradition wrought with faultless art, a play becomes an embodied symphony, a visible manifestation of gracious music.
_March_ 13.–I passed in the village street the exotic figure of a fat man in a flat cap and a dark blue costume, with very wide baggy trousers down to the ground. He was reading a newspaper as he walked with an easy slouch. His fat shaven face was large and round and wrinkled, yet not flabby. Altogether there was something irresistibly Chinese about him. Strange that this curious figure should be the typical English sailor, the legendary Hero of the British People, and the person on whose existence that of the English nation is held to depend.
_March_ 16.–Two feminine idealists. I read of an English suffragette trying to address a meeting and pelted with tomatoes by a crowd grown weary of suffragette outrages. And shortly after I read of a young German dancer in a small Paris theatre who in the course of her dance is for a few moments absolutely naked, whereupon the Chief of Police sends for her and draws up a charge of “outrage aux moeurs.” To a journalist she expresses her indignation at this insult to her art: “Let there be no mistake; when I remove my chemise to come on the stage it is in order to bare my soul.” Not quite a wise thing to say to a journalist, but it is in effect what the suffragette also says, and is rewarded with rotten tomatoes as her sister with a _proces-verbal._
One sees the whole-hearted enthusiasm of both the suffragette and the dancer. Unwise, no doubt, unable to discern the perspective of life, or to measure the inevitable social reactions of their time. Yet idealists, even martyrs, for Art or for Justice, exposed in the arena of the world, as the Perpetuas and Blandinas of old were exposed out of love for Jesus, all moved by the Spirit of Life, though, as the ages pass, the Excuses for Life differ. Many Masks, but one Face and one Arena.
For the Mob, huddled like sheep around this Arena of Life, and with no vital instinct to play therein any part of their own, it is not for these to cast contumely. Let them be well content that for a brief moment it is theirs to gaze at the Spectacle of Divine Gaiety and then be thrust into outer Darkness.
_March_ 17.–Yet, when one thinks of it, why should the mob in the galleries not hiss, when they so please, the spectacle they were not made to take part in? They are what they are born to be and what circumstances have made them, the legitimate outcome of your Random Procreation, and your Compulsory Education, your Regulations and By-laws, spread thick over every inch of Land and Sea and Air. And if they still throw rotten tomatoes and draw up charge sheets in police stations, why should they not enjoy their brief moment of Living Action, and be Damned?
We may even go a step further. It has to be remembered that the Actors of Life, interesting as they are, exist for the audience, and not the audience for the Actors. The Actors are the abnormal and exceptional people, born out of due time, at variance with the environment; that is why they are Actors. This vast inert mass of people, with no definite individualities of their own, they are normal and healthy Humanity, born to consume the Earth’s fruits, even when these fruits happen to be dancers and suffragettes. It is thus that harmony is established between Actors and Spectators; neither could exist without the other. Both are needed in any Cosmic Arena.
_March 18_.–I always recall with a certain surprise how many years ago a fine critic who is also a fine writer told me he had no admiration for Addison, and even seemed to feel a certain disdain. This attitude caused me no resentment, for Addison makes no personal appeal to me, and I experience no great interest in the things he writes about. I am content to read a page of him in bed, and therewith peacefully fall asleep.
Yet surely Addison, and still more Steele, the authors of the _Spectator_ and the _Tatler_, represent the high-water mark of English Speech. The mere rubbish left by the tide, if you like, for I am not asserting that the position of Addison and of Steele is necessarily the sole result of individual desert. They mark a special moment in the vital growth of language, if only by revealing the Charm of Triviality, and they stood among a crowd–Defoe, Temple, Swift, and the rest–who at various points surpassed them. A magnificent growth had preceded them. The superb and glowing weight of Bacon had become the tumultuous splendour of Milton, which subsided into the unconscious purity of Bunyan, the delicate simplicity of Cowley, and the muscular orderliness of Dryden. Every necessary quality of prose had been separately conquered. An instrument had been created that contained all the stops, and might be used not only for the deepest things of life, but equally for the lightest. And then, suddenly, the whole English world began to use words beautifully, and not only so, but to spell, to punctuate, to use their capital letters with corresponding beauty. So it was at the end of the seventeenth century and during the first quarter of the eighteenth. Addison and Steele stand for that epoch.
Then the tide began to ebb. That fine equilibrium of all the elements of speech could not be maintained indefinitely. Its poise and equability began to grow trivial, its exalted familiarity to become mere vulgarity. So violent reactions became necessary. Johnson and Johnsonese swept heavily over the retreating tide and killed what natural grace and vivacity might have been left in Goldsmith or in Graves. But even had there been no Johnson the reaction was inevitable. Every great writer began to be an isolated grandee who lost the art of familiarity, for he had no one to be familiar with. Consider Gibbon, in his own domain supreme, but the magnificent fall of his cadences, however fit for his subject, was fit for no other; and look at Landor, the last great writer of English, though even he never quite scoured off the lingering dross of Johnsonese, and at the best has the air of a giant conversing with pigmies.
Then we come to the nineteenth century, where we find writing that is bad, indifferent, good, rarely perfect save now and again for a brief moment, as in Lamb, who incarnated again the old familiar touch on great things and little things alike, and into that was only driven, likely enough, by the scourge of madness. Then there was Pater, who was exquisite, even a magician, yet scarcely great. And there was Stevenson,–prototype of a vast band of accomplished writers of to-day,–the hollow image of a great