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A Miscellany of Men by G. K. Chesterton

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This Etext prepared by Michael Pullen with proofreading assistance
by Michael K. Johnson and Joe Moretti






Rightly or wrongly, it is certain that a man both liberal and chivalric,
can and very often does feel a dis-ease and distrust touching those
political women we call Suffragettes. Like most other popular sentiments,
it is generally wrongly stated even when it is rightly felt. One part of
it can be put most shortly thus: that when a woman puts up her fists to a
man she is putting herself in the only posture in which he is not afraid
of her. He can be afraid of her speech and still more of her silence; but
force reminds him of a rusted but very real weapon of which he has grown
ashamed. But these crude summaries are never quite accurate in any matter
of the instincts. For the things which are the simplest so long as they
are undisputed invariably become the subtlest when once they are disputed:
which was what Joubert meant, I suppose, when he said, "It is not hard to
believe in God if one does not define Him." When the evil instincts of
old Foulon made him say of the poor, "Let them eat grass," the good and
Christian instincts of the poor made them hang him on a lamppost with his
mouth stuffed full of that vegetation. But if a modern vegetarian
aristocrat were to say to the poor, "But why don't you like grass?" their
intelligences would be much more taxed to find such an appropriate
repartee. And this matter of the functions of the sexes is primarily a
matter of the instincts; sex and breathing are about the only two things
that generally work best when they are least worried about. That, I
suppose, is why the same sophisticated age that has poisoned the world
with Feminism is also polluting it with Breathing Exercises. We plunge at
once into a forest of false analogies and bad blundering history; while
almost any man or woman left to themselves would know at least that sex is
quite different from anything else in the world.

There is no kind of comparison possible between a quarrel of man and woman
(however right the woman may be) and the other quarrels of slave and
master, of rich and poor, or of patriot and invader, with which the
Suffragists deluge us every day. The difference is as plain as noon;
these other alien groups never came into contact until they came into
collision. Races and ranks began with battle, even if they afterwards
melted into amity. But the very first fact about the sexes is that they
like each other. They seek each other: and awful as are the sins and
sorrows that often come of their mating, it was not such things that made
them meet. It is utterly astounding to note the way in which modern
writers and talkers miss this plain, wide, and overwhelming fact: one
would suppose woman a victim and nothing else. By this account ideal,
emancipated woman has, age after age, been knocked silly with a stone axe.
But really there is no fact to show that ideal, emancipated woman was
ever knocked silly; except the fact that she is silly. And that might
have arisen in so many other ways. Real responsible woman has never been
silly; and any one wishing to knock her would be wise (like the
streetboys) to knock and run away. It is ultimately idiotic to compare
this prehistoric participation with any royalties or rebellions. Genuine
royalties wish to crush rebellions. Genuine rebels wish to destroy kings.
The sexes cannot wish to abolish each other; and if we allow them any
sort of permanent opposition it will sink into something as base as a
party system.

As marriage, therefore, is rooted in an aboriginal unity of instincts, you
cannot compare it, even in its quarrels, with any of the mere collisions
of separate institutions. You could compare it with the emancipation of
negroes from planters--if it were true that a white man in early youth
always dreamed of the abstract beauty of a black man. You could compare
it with the revolt of tenants against a landlord--if it were true that
young landlords wrote sonnets to invisible tenants. You could compare it
to the fighting policy of the Fenians--if it were true that every normal
Irishman wanted an Englishman to come and live with him. But as we know
there are no instincts in any of these directions, these analogies are not
only false but false on the cardinal fact. I do not speak of the
comparative comfort or merit of these different things: I say they are
different. It may be that love turned to hate is terribly common in
sexual matters: it may be that hate turned to love is not uncommon in the
rivalries of race or class. But any philosophy about the sexes that
begins with anything but the mutual attraction of the sexes, begins with a
fallacy; and all its historical comparisons are as irrelevant and
impertinent as puns.

But to expose such cold negation of the instincts is easy: to express or
even half express the instincts is very hard. The instincts are very much
concerned with what literary people call "style" in letters or more vulgar
people call "style" in dress. They are much concerned with how a thing is
done, as well as whether one may do it: and the deepest elements in their
attraction or aversion can often only be conveyed by stray examples or
sudden images. When Danton was defending himself before the Jacobin
tribunal he spoke so loud that his voice was heard across the Seine, in
quite remote streets on the other side of the river. He must have
bellowed like a bull of Bashan. Yet none of us would think of that
prodigy except as something poetical and appropriate. None of us would
instinctively feel that Danton was less of a man or even less of a
gentleman, for speaking so in such an hour. But suppose we heard that
Marie Antoinette, when tried before the same tribunal, had howled so that
she could be heard in the Faubourg St. Germain--well, I leave it to the
instincts, if there are any left. It is not wrong to howl. Neither is it
right. It is simply a question of the instant impression on the artistic
and even animal parts of humanity, if the noise were heard suddenly like a

Perhaps the nearest verbal analysis of the instinct may be found in the
gestures of the orator addressing a crowd. For the true orator must
always be a demagogue: even if the mob be a small mob, like the French
committee or the English House of Lords. And "demagogue," in the good
Greek meaning, does not mean one who pleases the populace, but one who
leads it: and if you will notice, you will see that all the instinctive
gestures of oratory are gestures of military leadership; pointing the
people to a path or waving them on to an advance. Notice that long sweep
of the arm across the body and outward, which great orators use naturally
and cheap orators artificially. It is almost the exact gesture of the
drawing of a sword.

The point is not that women are unworthy of votes; it is not even that
votes are unworthy of women. It is that votes are unworthy of men, so
long as they are merely votes; and have nothing in them of this ancient
militarism of democracy. The only crowd worth talking to is the crowd
that is ready to go somewhere and do something; the only demagogue worth
hearing is he who can point at something to be done: and, if he points
with a sword, will only feel it familiar and useful like an elongated
finger. Now, except in some mystical exceptions which prove the rule,
these are not the gestures, and therefore not the instincts, of women.
No honest man dislikes the public woman. He can only dislike the
political woman; an entirely different thing. The instinct has nothing to
do with any desire to keep women curtained or captive: if such a desire
exists. A husband would be pleased if his wife wore a gold crown and
proclaimed laws from a throne of marble; or if she uttered oracles from
the tripod of a priestess; or if she could walk in mystical motherhood
before the procession of some great religious order. But that she should
stand on a platform in the exact altitude in which he stands; leaning
forward a little more than is graceful and holding her mouth open a little
longer and wider than is dignified--well, I only write here of the facts
of natural history; and the fact is that it is this, and not publicity or
importance, that hurts. It is for the modern world to judge whether such
instincts are indeed danger signals; and whether the hurting of moral as
of material nerves is a tocsin and a warning of nature.


There is something creepy in the flat Eastern Counties; a brush of the
white feather. There is a stillness, which is rather of the mind than of
the bodily senses. Rapid changes and sudden revelations of scenery, even
when they are soundless, have something in them analogous to a movement of
music, to a crash or a cry. Mountain hamlets spring out on us with a
shout like mountain brigands. Comfortable valleys accept us with open
arms and warm words, like comfortable innkeepers. But travelling in the
great level lands has a curiously still and lonely quality; lonely even
when there are plenty of people on the road and in the market-place.
One's voice seems to break an almost elvish silence, and something
unreasonably weird in the phrase of the nursery tales, "And he went a
little farther and came to another place," comes back into the mind.

In some such mood I came along a lean, pale road south of the fens, and
found myself in a large, quiet, and seemingly forgotten village. It was
one of those places that instantly produce a frame of mind which, it may
be, one afterwards decks out with unreal details. I dare say that grass
did not really grow in the streets, but I came away with a curious
impression that it did. I dare say the marketplace was not literally
lonely and without sign of life, but it left the vague impression of being
so. The place was large and even loose in design, yet it had the air of
something hidden away and always overlooked. It seemed shy, like a big
yokel; the low roofs seemed to be ducking behind the hedges and railings;
and the chimneys holding their breath. I came into it in that dead hour
of the afternoon which is neither after lunch nor before tea, nor anything
else even on a half-holiday; and I had a fantastic feeling that I had
strayed into a lost and extra hour that is not numbered in the twenty-four.

I entered an inn which stood openly in the market-place yet was almost as
private as a private house. Those who talk of "public-houses" as if they
were all one problem would have been both puzzled and pleased with such a
place. In the front window a stout old lady in black with an elaborate
cap sat doing a large piece of needlework. She had a kind of comfortable
Puritanism about her; and might have been (perhaps she was) the original
Mrs. Grundy. A little more withdrawn into the parlour sat a tall, strong,
and serious girl, with a face of beautiful honesty and a pair of scissors
stuck in her belt, doing a small piece of needlework. Two feet behind
them sat a hulking labourer with a humorous face like wood painted scarlet,
with a huge mug of mild beer which he had not touched, and probably would
not touch for hours. On the hearthrug there was an equally motionless cat;
and on the table a copy of 'Household Words'.

I was conscious of some atmosphere, still and yet bracing, that I had met
somewhere in literature. There was poetry in it as well as piety; and yet
it was not poetry after my particular taste. It was somehow at once solid
and airy. Then I remembered that it was the atmosphere in some of
Wordsworth's rural poems; which are full of genuine freshness and wonder,
and yet are in some incurable way commonplace. This was curious; for
Wordsworth's men were of the rocks and fells, and not of the fenlands or
flats. But perhaps it is the clearness of still water and the mirrored
skies of meres and pools that produces this crystalline virtue. Perhaps
that is why Wordsworth is called a Lake Poet instead of a mountain poet.
Perhaps it is the water that does it. Certainly the whole of that town
was like a cup of water given at morning.

After a few sentences exchanged at long intervals in the manner of rustic
courtesy, I inquired casually what was the name of the town. The old lady
answered that its name was Stilton, and composedly continued her
needlework. But I had paused with my mug in air, and was gazing at her
with a suddenly arrested concern. "I suppose," I said, "that it has
nothing to do with the cheese of that name." "Oh, yes," she answered,
with a staggering indifference, "they used to make it here."

I put down my mug with a gravity far greater than her own. "But this
place is a Shrine!" I said. "Pilgrims should be pouring into it from
wherever the English legend has endured alive. There ought to be a
colossal statue in the market-place of the man who invented Stilton cheese.
There ought to be another colossal statue of the first cow who provided
the foundations of it. There should be a burnished tablet let into the
ground on the spot where some courageous man first ate Stilton cheese, and
survived. On the top of a neighbouring hill (if there are any
neighbouring hills) there should be a huge model of a Stilton cheese, made
of some rich green marble and engraven with some haughty motto: I suggest
something like 'Ver non semper viret; sed Stiltonia semper virescit.'"
The old lady said, "Yes, sir," and continued her domestic occupations.

After a strained and emotional silence, I said, "If I take a meal here
tonight can you give me any Stilton?"

"No, sir; I'm afraid we haven't got any Stilton," said the immovable one,
speaking as if it were something thousands of miles away.

"This is awful," I said: for it seemed to me a strange allegory of England
as she is now; this little town that had lost its glory; and forgotten, so
to speak, the meaning of its own name. And I thought it yet more symbolic
because from all that old and full and virile life, the great cheese was
gone; and only the beer remained. And even that will be stolen by the
Liberals or adulterated by the Conservatives. Politely disengaging myself,
I made my way as quickly as possible to the nearest large, noisy, and
nasty town in that neighbourhood, where I sought out the nearest vulgar,
tawdry, and avaricious restaurant.

There (after trifling with beef, mutton, puddings, pies, and so on) I got
a Stilton cheese. I was so much moved by my memories that I wrote a
sonnet to the cheese. Some critical friends have hinted to me that my
sonnet is not strictly new; that it contains "echoes" (as they express it)
of some other poem that they have read somewhere. Here, at least, are the
lines I wrote :


Stilton, thou shouldst be living at this hour
And so thou art. Nor losest grace thereby;
England has need of thee, and so have I--
She is a Fen. Far as the eye can scour,
League after grassy league from Lincoln tower
To Stilton in the fields, she is a Fen.
Yet this high cheese, by choice of fenland men,
Like a tall green volcano rose in power.

Plain living and long drinking are no more,
And pure religion reading 'Household Words',
And sturdy manhood sitting still all day
Shrink, like this cheese that crumbles to its core;
While my digestion, like the House of Lords,
The heaviest burdens on herself doth lay.

I confess I feel myself as if some literary influence, something that has
haunted me, were present in this otherwise original poem; but it is
hopeless to disentangle it now.


The wind awoke last night with so noble a violence that it was like the
war in heaven; and I thought for a moment that the Thing had broken free.
For wind never seems like empty air. Wind always sounds full and
physical, like the big body of something; and I fancied that the Thing
itself was walking gigantic along the great roads between the forests of

Let me explain. The vitality and recurrent victory of Christendom have
been due to the power of the Thing to break out from time to time from its
enveloping words and symbols. Without this power all civilisations tend
to perish under a load of language and ritual. One instance of this we
hear much in modern discussion: the separation of the form from the spirit
of religion. But we hear too little of numberless other cases of the same
stiffening and falsification; we are far too seldom reminded that just as
church-going is not religion, so reading and writing are not knowledge,
and voting is not self-government. It would be easy to find people in the
big cities who can read and write quickly enough to be clerks, but who are
actually ignorant of the daily movements of the sun and moon.

The case of self-government is even more curious, especially as one
watches it for the first time in a country district. Self-government arose
among men (probably among the primitive men, certainly among the ancients)
out of an idea which seems now too simple to be understood. The notion
of self-government was not (as many modern friends and foes of it seem to
think) the notion that the ordinary citizen is to be consulted as one
consults an Encyclopaedia. He is not there to be asked a lot of fancy
questions, to see how he answers them. He and his fellows are to be,
within reasonable human limits, masters of their own lives. They shall
decide whether they shall be men of the oar or the wheel, of the spade or
the spear. The men of the valley shall settle whether the valley shall be
devastated for coal or covered with corn and vines; the men of the town
shall decide whether it shall be hoary with thatches or splendid with
spires. Of their own nature and instinct they shall gather under a
patriarchal chief or debate in a political market-place. And in case the
word "man" be misunderstood, I may remark that in this moral atmosphere,
this original soul of self-government, the women always have quite as much
influence as the men. But in modern England neither the men nor the women
have any influence at all. In this primary matter, the moulding of the
landscape, the creation of a mode of life, the people are utterly impotent.
They stand and stare at imperial and economic processes going on, as
they might stare at the Lord Mayor's Show.

Round about where I live, for instance, two changes are taking place which
really affect the land and all things that live on it, whether for good or
evil. The first is that the urban civilisation (or whatever it is) is
advancing; that the clerks come out in black swarms and the villas advance
in red battalions. The other is that the vast estates into which England
has long been divided are passing out of the hands of the English gentry
into the hands of men who are always upstarts and often actually

Now, these are just the sort of things with which self-government was
really supposed to grapple. People were supposed to be able to indicate
whether they wished to live in town or country, to be represented by a
gentleman or a cad. I do not presume to prejudge their decision; perhaps
they would prefer the cad; perhaps he is really preferable. I say that
the filling of a man's native sky with smoke or the selling of his roof
over his head illustrate the sort of things he ought to have some say in,
if he is supposed to be governing himself. But owing to the strange trend
of recent society, these enormous earthquakes he has to pass over and
treat as private trivialities. In theory the building of a villa is as
incidental as the buying of a hat. In reality it is as if all Lancashire
were laid waste for deer forests; or as if all Belgium were flooded by the
sea. In theory the sale of a squire's land to a moneylender is a minor
and exceptional necessity. In reality it is a thing like a German
invasion. Sometimes it is a German invasion.

Upon this helpless populace, gazing at these prodigies and fates, comes
round about every five years a thing called a General Election. It is
believed by antiquarians to be the remains of some system of
self-government; but it consists solely in asking the citizen questions
about everything except what he understands. The examination paper of the
Election generally consists of some such queries as these: "I. Are the
green biscuits eaten by the peasants of Eastern Lithuania in your opinion
fit for human food? II. Are the religious professions of the President of
the Orange Free State hypocritical or sincere? III. Do you think that the
savages in Prusso-Portuguese East Bunyipland are as happy and hygienic as
the fortunate savages in Franco-British West Bunyipland? IV. Did the
lost Latin Charter said to have been exacted from Henry III reserve the
right of the Crown to create peers? V. What do you think of what America
thinks of what Mr. Roosevelt thinks of what Sir Eldon Gorst thinks of the
state of the Nile? VI. Detect some difference between the two persons in
frock-coats placed before you at this election."

Now, it never was supposed in any natural theory of self-government that
the ordinary man in my neighbourhood need answer fantastic questions like
these. He is a citizen of South Bucks, not an editor of 'Notes and
Queries'. He would be, I seriously believe, the best judge of whether
farmsteads or factory chimneys should adorn his own sky-line, of whether
stupid squires or clever usurers should govern his own village. But these
are precisely the things which the oligarchs will not allow him to touch
with his finger. Instead, they allow him an Imperial destiny and divine
mission to alter, under their guidance, all the things that he knows
nothing about. The name of self-government is noisy everywhere: the Thing
is throttled.

The wind sang and split the sky like thunder all the night through; in
scraps of sleep it filled my dreams with the divine discordances of
martyrdom and revolt; I heard the horn of Roland and the drums of Napoleon
and all the tongues of terror with which the Thing has gone forth: the
spirit of our race alive. But when I came down in the morning only a
branch or two was broken off the tree in my garden; and none of the great
country houses in the neighbourhood were blown down, as would have
happened if the Thing had really been abroad.


The man who thinks backwards is a very powerful person to-day: indeed, if
he is not omnipotent, he is at least omnipresent. It is he who writes
nearly all the learned books and articles, especially of the scientific or
skeptical sort; all the articles on Eugenics and Social Evolution and
Prison Reform and the Higher Criticism and all the rest of it. But
especially it is this strange and tortuous being who does most of the
writing about female emancipation and the reconsidering of marriage. For
the man who thinks backwards is very frequently a woman.

Thinking backwards is not quite easy to define abstractedly; and, perhaps,
the simplest method is to take some object, as plain as possible, and from
it illustrate the two modes of thought: the right mode in which all real
results have been rooted; the wrong mode, which is confusing all our
current discussions, especially our discussions about the relations of the
sexes. Casting my eye round the room, I notice an object which is often
mentioned in the higher and subtler of these debates about the sexes: I
mean a poker. I will take a poker and think about it; first forwards and
then backwards; and so, perhaps, show what I mean.

The sage desiring to think well and wisely about a poker will begin
somewhat as follows: Among the live creatures that crawl about this star
the queerest is the thing called Man. This plucked and plumeless bird,
comic and forlorn, is the butt of all the philosophies. He is the only
naked animal; and this quality, once, it is said, his glory, is now his
shame. He has to go outside himself for everything that he wants. He
might almost be considered as an absent-minded person who had gone bathing
and left his clothes everywhere, so that he has hung his hat upon the
beaver and his coat upon the sheep. The rabbit has white warmth for a
waistcoat, and the glow-worm has a lantern for a head. But man has no
heat in his hide, and the light in his body is darkness; and he must look
for light and warmth in the wild, cold universe in which he is cast.
This is equally true of his soul and of his body; he is the one creature
that has lost his heart as much as he has lost his hide. In a spiritual
sense he has taken leave of his senses; and even in a literal sense he has
been unable to keep his hair on. And just as this external need of his
has lit in his dark brain the dreadful star called religion, so it has lit
in his hand the only adequate symbol of it: I mean the red flower called
Fire. Fire, the most magic and startling of all material things, is a
thing known only to man and the expression of his sublime externalism. It
embodies all that is human in his hearths and all that is divine on his
altars. It is the most human thing in the world; seen across wastes of
marsh or medleys of forest, it is veritably the purple and golden flag of
the sons of Eve. But there is about this generous and rejoicing thing an
alien and awful quality: the quality of torture. Its presence is life;
its touch is death. Therefore, it is always necessary to have an
intermediary between ourselves and this dreadful deity; to have a priest
to intercede for us with the god of life and death; to send an ambassador
to the fire. That priest is the poker. Made of a material more merciless
and warlike than the other instruments of domesticity, hammered on the
anvil and born itself in the flame, the poker is strong enough to enter
the burning fiery furnace, and, like the holy children, not be consumed.
In this heroic service it is often battered and twisted, but is the more
honourable for it, like any other soldier who has been under fire.

Now all this may sound very fanciful and mystical, but it is the right
view of pokers, and no one who takes it will ever go in for any wrong view
of pokers, such as using them to beat one's wife or torture one's children,
or even (though that is more excusable) to make a policeman jump, as the
clown does in the pantomime. He who has thus gone back to the beginning,
and seen everything as quaint and new, will always see things in their
right order, the one depending on the other in degree of purpose and
importance: the poker for the fire and the fire for the man and the man
for the glory of God.

This is thinking forwards. Now our modern discussions about everything,
Imperialism, Socialism, or Votes for Women, are all entangled in an
opposite train of thought, which runs as follows:--A modern intellectual
comes in and sees a poker. He is a positivist; he will not begin with any
dogmas about the nature of man, or any day-dreams about the mystery of
fire. He will begin with what he can see, the poker; and the first thing
he sees about the poker is that it is crooked. He says, "Poor poker; it's
crooked." Then he asks how it came to be crooked; and is told that there
is a thing in the world (with which his temperament has hitherto left him
unacquainted)--a thing called fire. He points out, very kindly and
clearly, how silly it is of people, if they want a straight poker, to put
it into a chemical combustion which will very probably heat and warp it.
"Let us abolish fire," he says, "and then we shall have perfectly straight
pokers. Why should you want a fire at all?" They explain to him that a
creature called Man wants a fire, because he has no fur or feathers. He
gazes dreamily at the embers for a few seconds, and then shakes his head.
"I doubt if such an animal is worth preserving," he says. "He must
eventually go under in the cosmic struggle when pitted against
well-armoured and warmly protected species, who have wings and trunks and
spires and scales and horns and shaggy hair. If Man cannot live without
these luxuries, you had better abolish Man." At this point, as a rule, the
crowd is convinced; it heaves up all its clubs and axes, and abolishes him.
At least, one of him.

Before we begin discussing our various new plans for the people's welfare,
let us make a kind of agreement that we will argue in a straightforward
way, and not in a tail-foremost way. The typical modern movements may be
right; but let them be defended because they are right, not because they
are typical modern movements. Let us begin with the actual woman or man
in the street, who is cold; like mankind before the finding of fire. Do
not let us begin with the end of the last red-hot discussion--like the end
of a red hot poker. Imperialism may be right. But if it is right, it is
right because England has some divine authority like Israel, or some human
authority like Rome; not because we have saddled ourselves with South
Africa, and don't know how to get rid of it. Socialism may be true. But
if it is true, it is true because the tribe or the city can really declare
all land to be common land, not because Harrod's Stores exist and the
commonwealth must copy them. Female suffrage may be just. But if it is
just, it is just because women are women, not because women are sweated
workers and white slaves and all sorts of things that they ought never to
have been. Let not the Imperialist accept a colony because it is there,
nor the Suffragist seize a vote because it is lying about, nor the
Socialist buy up an industry merely because it is for sale.

Let us ask ourselves first what we really do want, not what recent legal
decisions have told us to want, or recent logical philosophies proved
that we must want, or recent social prophecies predicted that we shall
some day want. If there must be a British Empire, let it be British, and
not, in mere panic, American or Prussian. If there ought to be female
suffrage, let it be female, and not a mere imitation as coarse as the male
blackguard or as dull as the male clerk. If there is to be Socialism, let
it be social; that is, as different as possible from all the big
commercial departments of to-day. The really good journeyman tailor does
not cut his coat according to his cloth; he asks for more cloth. The
really practical statesman does not fit himself to existing conditions, he
denounces the conditions as unfit. History is like some deeply planted
tree which, though gigantic in girth, tapers away at last into tiny twigs;
and we are in the topmost branches. Each of us is trying to bend the tree
by a twig: to alter England through a distant colony, or to capture the
State through a small State department, or to destroy all voting through a
vote. In all such bewilderment he is wise who resists this temptation of
trivial triumph or surrender, and happy (in an echo of the Roman poet) who
remembers the roots of things.


There are only two forms of government the monarchy or personal government,
and the republic or impersonal government. England is not a government;
England is an anarchy, because there are so many kings. But there is one
real advantage (among many real disadvantages) in the method of abstract
democracy, and that is this: that under impersonal government politics are
so much more personal. In France and America, where the State is an
abstraction, political argument is quite full of human details--some might
even say of inhuman details. But in England, precisely because we are
ruled by personages, these personages do not permit personalities. In
England names are honoured, and therefore names are suppressed. But in
the republics, in France especially, a man can put his enemies' names into
his article and his own name at the end of it.

This is the essential condition of such candour. If we merely made our
anonymous articles more violent, we should be baser than we are now. We
should only be arming masked men with daggers instead of cudgels. And I,
for one, have always believed in the more general signing of articles, and
have signed my own articles on many occasions when, heaven knows, I had
little reason to be vain of them. I have heard many arguments for
anonymity; but they all seem to amount to the statement that anonymity is
safe, which is just what I complain of. In matters of truth the fact that
you don't want to publish something is, nine times out of ten, a proof
that you ought to publish it.

But there is one answer to my perpetual plea for a man putting his name to
his writing. There is one answer, and there is only one answer, and it is
never given. It is that in the modern complexity very often a man's name
is almost as false as his pseudonym. The prominent person today is
eternally trying to lose a name, and to get a title. For instance, we all
read with earnestness and patience the pages of the 'Daily Mail', and
there are times when we feel moved to cry, "Bring to us the man who
thought these strange thoughts! Pursue him, capture him, take great care
of him. Bring him back to us tenderly, like some precious bale of silk,
that we may look upon the face of the man who desires such things to be
printed. Let us know his name; his social and medical pedigree." But in
the modern muddle (it might be said) how little should we gain if those
frankly fatuous sheets were indeed subscribed by the man who had inspired
them. Suppose that after every article stating that the Premier is a
piratical Socialist there were printed the simple word "Northcliffe." What
does that simple word suggest to the simple soul? To my simple soul
(uninstructed otherwise) it suggests a lofty and lonely crag somewhere in
the wintry seas towards the Orkheys or Norway; and barely clinging to the
top of this crag the fortress of some forgotten chieftain. As it happens,
of course, I know that the word does not mean this; it means another Fleet
Street journalist like myself or only different from myself in so far as
he has sought to secure money while I have sought to secure a jolly time.

A title does not now even serve as a distinction: it does not distinguish.
A coronet is not merely an extinguisher: it is a hiding-place.

But the really odd thing is this. This false quality in titles does not
merely apply to the new and vulgar titles, but to the old and historic
titles also. For hundreds of years titles in England have been
essentially unmeaning; void of that very weak and very human instinct in
which titles originated. In essential nonsense of application there is
nothing to choose between Northcliffe and Norfolk. The Duke of Norfolk
means (as my exquisite and laborious knowledge of Latin informs me) the
Leader of Norfolk. It is idle to talk against representative government
or for it. All government is representative government until it begins to
decay. Unfortunately (as is also evident) all government begins to decay
the instant it begins to govern. All aristocrats were first meant as
envoys of democracy; and most envoys of democracy lose no time in becoming
aristocrats. By the old essential human notion, the Duke of Norfolk ought
simply to be the first or most manifest of Norfolk men.

I see growing and filling out before me the image of an actual Duke of
Norfolk. For instance, Norfolk men all make their voices run up very high
at the end of a sentence. The Duke of Norfolk's voice, therefore, ought
to end in a perfect shriek. They often (I am told) end sentences with the
word "together"; entirely irrespective of its meaning. Thus I shall
expect the Duke of Norfolk to say: "I beg to second the motion together";
or "This is a great constitutional question together." I shall expect him
to know much about the Broads and the sluggish rivers above them; to know
about the shooting of water-fowl, and not to know too much about anything
else. Of mountains he must be wildly and ludicrously ignorant. He must
have the freshness of Norfolk; nay, even the flatness of Norfolk. He must
remind me of the watery expanses, the great square church towers and the
long level sunsets of East England. If he does not do this, I decline to
know him.

I need not multiply such cases; the principle applies everywhere. Thus I
lose all interest in the Duke of Devonshire unless he can assure me that
his soul is filled with that strange warm Puritanism, Puritanism shot with
romance, which colours the West Country. He must eat nothing but clotted
cream, drink nothing but cider, reading nothing but 'Lorna Doone', and be
unacquainted with any town larger than Plymouth, which he must regard with
some awe, as the Central Babylon of the world. Again, I should expect the
Prince of Wales always to be full of the mysticism and dreamy ardour of
the Celtic fringe.

Perhaps it may be thought that these demands are a little extreme; and
that our fancy is running away with us. Nevertheless, it is not my Duke
of Devonshire who is funny; but the real Duke of Devonshire. The point is
that the scheme of titles is a misfit throughout: hardly anywhere do we
find a modern man whose name and rank represent in any way his type, his
locality, or his mode of life. As a mere matter of social comedy, the
thing is worth noticing. You will meet a man whose name suggests a gouty
admiral, and you will find him exactly like a timid organist: you will
hear announced the name of a haughty and almost heathen grande dame, and
behold the entrance of a nice, smiling Christian cook. These are light
complications of the central fact of the falsification of all names and
ranks. Our peers are like a party of mediaeval knights who should have
exchanged shields, crests, and pennons. For the present rule seems to be
that the Duke of Sussex may lawfully own the whole of Essex; and that the
Marquis of Cornwall may own all the hills and valleys so long as they are
not Cornish.

The clue to all this tangle is as simple as it is terrible. If England is
an aristocracy, England is dying. If this system IS the country, as some
say, the country is stiffening into more than the pomp and paralysis of
China. It is the final sign of imbecility in a people that it calls cats
dogs and describes the sun as the moon--and is very particular about the
preciseness of these pseudonyms. To be wrong, and to be carefully wrong,
that is the definition of decadence. The disease called aphasia, in which
people begin by saying tea when they mean coffee, commonly ends in their
silence. Silence of this stiff sort is the chief mark of the powerful
parts of modern society. They all seem straining to keep things in rather
than to let things out. For the kings of finance speechlessness is
counted a way of being strong, though it should rather be counted a way of
being sly. By this time the Parliament does not parley any more than the
Speaker speaks. Even the newspaper editors and proprietors are more
despotic and dangerous by what they do not utter than by what they do. We
have all heard the expression "golden silence." The expression "brazen
silence" is the only adequate phrase for our editors. If we wake out of
this throttled, gaping, and wordless nightmare, we must awake with a yell.
The Revolution that releases England from the fixed falsity of its
present position will be not less noisy than other revolutions. It will
contain, I fear, a great deal of that rude accomplishment described among
little boys as "calling names"; but that will not matter much so long as
they are the right names.


Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as an English Peasant. Indeed,
the type can only exist in community, so much does it depend on
cooperation and common laws. One must not think primarily of a French
Peasant; any more than of a German Measle. The plural of the word is its
proper form; you cannot have a Peasant till you have a peasantry. The
essence of the Peasant ideal is equality; and you cannot be equal all by

Nevertheless, because human nature always craves and half creates the
things necessary to its happiness, there are approximations and
suggestions of the possibility of such a race even here. The nearest
approach I know to the temper of a Peasant in England is that of the
country gardener; not, of course, the great scientific gardener attached
to the great houses; he is a rich man's servant like any other. I mean
the small jobbing gardener who works for two or three moderate-sized
gardens; who works on his own; who sometimes even owns his house; and who
frequently owns his tools. This kind of man has really some of the
characteristics of the true Peasant--especially the characteristics that
people don't like. He has none of that irresponsible mirth which is the
consolation of most poor men in England. The gardener is even disliked
sometimes by the owners of the shrubs and flowers; because (like Micaiah)
he prophesies not good concerning them, but evil. The English gardener is
grim, critical, self-respecting; sometimes even economical. Nor is this
(as the reader's lightning wit will flash back at me) merely because the
English gardener is always a Scotch gardener. The type does exist in pure
South England blood and speech; I have spoken to the type. I was speaking
to the type only the other evening, when a rather odd little incident

It was one of those wonderful evenings in which the sky was warm and
radiant while the earth was still comparatively cold and wet. But it is
of the essence of Spring to be unexpected; as in that heroic and hackneyed
line about coming "before the swallow dares." Spring never is Spring
unless it comes too soon. And on a day like that one might pray, without
any profanity, that Spring might come on earth as it was in heaven. The
gardener was gardening. I was not gardening. It is needless to explain
the causes of this difference; it would be to tell the tremendous history
of two souls. It is needless because there is a more immediate
explanation of the case: the gardener and I, if not equal in agreement,
were at least equal in difference. It is quite certain that he would not
have allowed me to touch the garden if I had gone down on my knees to him.
And it is by no means certain that I should have consented to touch the
garden if he had gone down on his knees to me. His activity and my
idleness, therefore, went on steadily side by side through the long sunset

And all the time I was thinking what a shame it was that he was not
sticking his spade into his own garden, instead of mine: he knew about the
earth and the underworld of seeds, the resurrection of Spring and the
flowers that appear in order like a procession marshalled by a herald.
He possessed the garden intellectually and spiritually, while I only
possessed it politically. I know more about flowers than coal-owners know
about coal; for at least I pay them honour when they are brought above the
surface of the earth. I know more about gardens than railway shareholders
seem to know about railways: for at least I know that it needs a man to
make a garden; a man whose name is Adam. But as I walked on that grass my
ignorance overwhelmed me--and yet that phrase is false, because it
suggests something like a storm from the sky above. It is truer to say
that my ignorance exploded underneath me, like a mine dug long before; and
indeed it was dug before the beginning of the ages. Green bombs of bulbs
and seeds were bursting underneath me everywhere; and, so far as my
knowledge went, they had been laid by a conspirator. I trod quite
uneasily on this uprush of the earth; the Spring is always only a fruitful
earthquake. With the land all alive under me I began to wonder more and
more why this man, who had made the garden, did not own the garden. If I
stuck a spade into the ground, I should be astonished at what I found
there...and just as I thought this I saw that the gardener was astonished

Just as I was wondering why the man who used the spade did not profit by
the spade, he brought me something he had found actually in my soil. It
was a thin worn gold piece of the Georges, of the sort which are called, I
believe, Spade Guineas. Anyhow, a piece of gold.

If you do not see the parable as I saw it just then, I doubt if I can
explain it just now. He could make a hundred other round yellow fruits:
and this flat yellow one is the only sort that I can make. How it came
there I have not a notion--unless Edmund Burke dropped it in his hurry to
get back to Butler's Court. But there it was: this is a cold recital of
facts. There may be a whole pirate's treasure lying under the earth there,
for all I know or care; for there is no interest in a treasure without a
Treasure Island to sail to. If there is a treasure it will never be found,
for I am not interested in wealth beyond the dreams of avarice since I
know that avarice has no dreams, but only insomnia. And, for the other
party, my gardener would never consent to dig up the garden.

Nevertheless, I was overwhelmed with intellectual emotions when I saw that
answer to my question; the question of why the garden did not belong to
the gardener. No better epigram could be put in reply than simply putting
the Spade Guinea beside the Spade. This was the only underground seed
that I could understand. Only by having a little more of that dull,
battered yellow substance could I manage to be idle while he was active.
I am not altogether idle myself; but the fact remains that the power is in
the thin slip of metal we call the Spade Guinea, not in the strong square
and curve of metal which we call the Spade. And then I suddenly
remembered that as I had found gold on my ground by accident, so richer
men in the north and west counties had found coal in their ground, also by

I told the gardener that as he had found the thing he ought to keep it,
but that if he cared to sell it to me it could be valued properly, and
then sold. He said at first, with characteristic independence, that he
would like to keep it. He said it would make a brooch for his wife. But
a little later he brought it back to me without explanation. I could not
get a ray of light on the reason of his refusal; but he looked lowering
and unhappy. Had he some mystical instinct that it is just such
accidental and irrational wealth that is the doom of all peasantries?
Perhaps he dimly felt that the boy's pirate tales are true; and that
buried treasure is a thing for robbers and not for producers. Perhaps he
thought there was a curse on such capital: on the coal of the coal-owners,
on the gold of the gold-seekers. Perhaps there is.


The real evil of our Party System is commonly stated wrong. It was stated
wrong by Lord Rosebery, when he said that it prevented the best men from
devoting themselves to politics, and that it encouraged a fanatical
conflict. I doubt whether the best men ever would devote themselves to
politics. The best men devote themselves to pigs and babies and things
like that. And as for the fanatical conflict in party politics, I wish
there was more of it. The real danger of the two parties with their two
policies is that they unduly limit the outlook of the ordinary citizen.
They make him barren instead of creative, because he is never allowed to
do anything except prefer one existing policy to another. We have not got
real Democracy when the decision depends upon the people. We shall have
real Democracy when the problem depends upon the people. The ordinary man
will decide not only how he will vote, but what he is going to vote about.

It is this which involves some weakness in many current aspirations
towards the extension of the suffrage; I mean that, apart from all
questions of abstract justice, it is not the smallness or largeness of the
suffrage that is at present the difficulty of Democracy. It is not the
quantity of voters, but the quality of the thing they are voting about. A
certain alternative is put before them by the powerful houses and the
highest political class. Two roads are opened to them; but they must go
down one or the other. They cannot have what they choose, but only which
they choose. To follow the process in practice we may put it thus. The
Suffragettes--if one may judge by their frequent ringing of his bell--want
to do something to Mr. Asquith. I have no notion what it is. Let us say
(for the sake of argument) that they want to paint him green. We will
suppose that it is entirely for that simple purpose that they are always
seeking to have private interviews with him; it seems as profitable as any
other end that I can imagine to such an interview. Now, it is possible
that the Government of the day might go in for a positive policy of
painting Mr. Asquith green; might give that reform a prominent place in
their programme. Then the party in opposition would adopt another policy,
not a policy of leaving Mr. Asquith alone (which would be considered
dangerously revolutionary), but some alternative course of action, as, for
instance, painting him red. Then both sides would fling themselves on the
people, they would both cry that the appeal was now to the Caesar of
Democracy. A dark and dramatic air of conflict and real crisis would
arise on both sides; arrows of satire would fly and swords of eloquence
flame. The Greens would say that Socialists and free lovers might well
want to paint Mr. Asquith red; they wanted to paint the whole town red.
Socialists would indignantly reply that Socialism was the reverse of
disorder, and that they only wanted to paint Mr. Asquith red so that he
might resemble the red pillar-boxes which typified State control. The
Greens would passionately deny the charge so often brought against them by
the Reds; they would deny that they wished Mr. Asquith green in order that
he might be invisible on the green benches of the Commons, as certain
terrified animals take the colour of their environment.

There would be fights in the street perhaps, and abundance of ribbons,
flags, and badges, of the two colours. One crowd would sing, "Keep the
Red Flag Flying," and the other, "The Wearing of the Green." But when the
last effort had been made and the last moment come, when two crowds were
waiting in the dark outside the public building to hear the declaration of
the poll, then both sides alike would say that it was now for democracy to
do exactly what it chose. England herself, lifting her head in awful
loneliness and liberty, must speak and pronounce judgment. Yet this
might not be exactly true. England herself, lifting her head in awful
loneliness and liberty, might really wish Mr. Asquith to be pale blue.
The democracy of England in the abstract, if it had been allowed to make
up a policy for itself, might have desired him to be black with pink spots.
It might even have liked him as he is now. But a huge apparatus of
wealth, power, and printed matter has made it practically impossible for
them to bring home these other proposals, even if they would really prefer
them. No candidates will stand in the spotted interest; for candidates
commonly have to produce money either from their own pockets or the
pasty's; and in such circles spots are not worn. No man in the social
position of a Cabinet Minister, perhaps, will commit himself to the
pale-blue theory of Mr. Asquith; therefore it cannot be a Government
measure, therefore it cannot pass.

Nearly all the great newspapers, both pompous and frivolous, will declare
dogmatically day after day, until every one half believes it, that red and
green are the only two colours in the paint-box. THE OBSERVER will say:
"No one who knows the solid framework of politics or the emphatic first
principles of an Imperial people can suppose for a moment that there is
any possible compromise to be made in such a matter; we must either fulfill
our manifest racial destiny and crown the edifice of ages with the august
figure of a Green Premier, or we must abandon our heritage, break our
promise to the Empire, fling ourselves into final anarchy, and allow the
flaming and demoniac image of a Red Premier to hover over our dissolution
and our doom." The DAILY MAIL would say: "There is no halfway house in
this matter; it must be green or red. We wish to see every honest
Englishman one colour or the other." And then some funny man in the
popular Press would star the sentence with a pun, and say that the DAILY
MAIL liked its readers to be green and its paper to be read. But no one
would even dare to whisper that there is such a thing as yellow.

For the purposes of pure logic it is clearer to argue with silly examples
than with sensible ones: because silly examples are simple. But I could
give many grave and concrete cases of the kind of thing to which I refer.
In the later part of the Boer War both parties perpetually insisted in
every speech and pamphlet that annexation was inevitable and that it was
only a question whether Liberals or Tories should do it. It was not
inevitable in the least; it would have been perfectly easy to make peace
with the Boers as Christian nations commonly make peace with their
conquered enemies. Personally I think that it would have been better for
us in the most selfish sense, better for our pocket and prestige, if we
had never effected the annexation at all; but that is a matter of opinion.
What is plain is that it was not inevitable; it was not, as was said,
the only possible course; there were plenty of other courses; there were
plenty of other colours in the box. Again, in the discussion about
Socialism, it is repeatedly rubbed into the public mind that we must
choose between Socialism and some horrible thing that they call
Individualism. I don't know what it means, but it seems to mean that
anybody who happens to pull out a plum is to adopt the moral philosophy of
the young Horner--and say what a good boy he is for helping himself.

It is calmly assumed that the only two possible types of society are a
Collectivist type of society and the present society that exists at this
moment and is rather like an animated muck-heap. It is quite unnecessary
to say that I should prefer Socialism to the present state of things. I
should prefer anarchism to the present state of things. But it is simply
not the fact that Collectivism is the only other scheme for a more equal
order. A Collectivist has a perfect right to think it the only sound
scheme; but it is not the only plausible or possible scheme. We might
have peasant proprietorship; we might have the compromise of Henry George;
we might have a number of tiny communes; we might have co-operation; we
might have Anarchist Communism; we might have a hundred things. I am not
saying that any of these are right, though I cannot imagine that any of
them could be worse than the present social madhouse, with its top-heavy
rich and its tortured poor; but I say that it is an evidence of the stiff
and narrow alternative offered to the civic mind, that the civic mind is
not, generally speaking, conscious of these other possibilities. The
civic mind is not free or alert enough to feel how much it has the world
before it. There are at least ten solutions of the Education question,
and no one knows which Englishmen really want. For Englishmen are only
allowed to vote about the two which are at that moment offered by the
Premier and the Leader of the Opposition. There are ten solutions of the
drink question; and no one knows which the democracy wants; for the
democracy is only allowed to fight about one Licensing Bill at a time.

So that the situation comes to this: The democracy has a right to answer
questions, but it has no right to ask them. It is still the political
aristocracy that asks the questions. And we shall not be unreasonably
cynical if we suppose that the political aristocracy will always be rather
careful what questions it asks. And if the dangerous comfort and
self-flattery of modern England continues much longer there will be less
democratic value in an English election than in a Roman saturnalia of
slaves. For the powerful class will choose two courses of action, both of
them safe for itself, and then give the democracy the gratification of
taking one course or the other. The lord will take two things so much
alike that he would not mind choosing from them blindfold--and then for a
great jest he will allow the slaves to choose.


Going mad is the slowest and dullest business in the world. I have very
nearly done it more than once in my boyhood, and so have nearly all my
friends, born under the general doom of mortals, but especially of moderns;
I mean the doom that makes a man come almost to the end of thinking
before he comes to the first chance of living.

But the process of going mad is dull, for the simple reason that a man
does not know that it is going on. Routine and literalism and a certain
dry-throated earnestness and mental thirst, these are the very atmosphere
of morbidity. If once the man could become conscious of his madness, he
would cease to be man. He studies certain texts in Daniel or cryptograms
in Shakespeare through monstrously magnifying spectacles, which are on his
nose night and day. If once he could take off the spectacles he would
smash them. He deduces all his fantasies about the Sixth Seal or the
Anglo-Saxon Race from one unexamined and invisible first principle. If
he could once see the first principle, he would see that it is not there.

This slow and awful self-hypnotism of error is a process that can occur
not only with individuals, but also with whole societies. It is hard to
pick out and prove; that is why it is hard to cure. But this mental
degeneration may be brought to one test, which I truly believe to be a
real test. A nation is not going mad when it does extravagant things, so
long as it does them in an extravagant spirit. Crusaders not cutting
their beards till they found Jerusalem, Jacobins calling each other
Harmodius and Epaminondas when their names were Jacques and Jules, these
are wild things, but they were done in wild spirits at a wild moment.

But whenever we see things done wildly, but taken tamely, then the State
is growing insane. For instance, I have a gun license. For all I know,
this would logically allow me to fire off fifty-nine enormous field-guns
day and night in my back garden. I should not be surprised at a man doing
it; for it would be great fun. But I should be surprised at the
neighbours putting up with it, and regarding it as an ordinary thing
merely because it might happen to fulfill the letter of my license.

Or, again, I have a dog license; and I may have the right (for all I know)
to turn ten thousand wild dogs loose in Buckinghamshire. I should not be
surprised if the law were like that; because in modern England there is
practically no law to be surprised at. I should not be surprised even at
the man who did it; for a certain kind of man, if he lived long under the
English landlord system, might do anything. But I should be surprised at
the people who consented to stand it. I should, in other words, think the
world a little mad if the incident, were received in silence.

Now things every bit as wild as this are being received in silence every
day. All strokes slip on the smoothness of a polished wall. All blows
fall soundless on the softness of a padded cell. For madness is a passive
as well as an active state: it is a paralysis, a refusal of the nerves to
respond to the normal stimuli, as well as an unnatural stimulation. There
are commonwealths, plainly to be distinguished here and there in history,
which pass from prosperity to squalor, or from glory to insignificance, or
from freedom to slavery, not only in silence, but with serenity. The face
still smiles while the limbs, literally and loathsomely, are dropping from
the body. These are peoples that have lost the power of astonishment at
their own actions. When they give birth to a fantastic fashion or a
foolish law, they do not start or stare at the monster they have brought
forth. They have grown used to their own unreason; chaos is their cosmos;
and the whirlwind is the breath of their nostrils. These nations are
really in danger of going off their heads en masse; of becoming one vast
vision of imbecility, with toppling cities and crazy country-sides, all
dotted with industrious lunatics. One of these countries is modern

Now here is an actual instance, a small case of how our social conscience
really works: tame in spirit, wild in result, blank in realisation; a
thing without the light of mind in it. I take this paragraph from a daily
paper:--"At Epping, yesterday, Thomas Woolbourne, a Lambourne labourer,
and his wife were summoned for neglecting their five children. Dr. Alpin
said he was invited by the inspector of the N.S.P.C.C. to visit
defendants' cottage. Both the cottage and the children were dirty. The
children looked exceedingly well in health, but the conditions would be
serious in case of illness. Defendants were stated to be sober. The man
was discharged. The woman, who said she was hampered by the cottage
having no water supply and that she was ill, was sentenced to six weeks'
imprisonment. The sentence caused surprise, and the woman was removed
crying, 'Lord save me!'"

I know no name for this but Chinese. It calls up the mental picture of
some archaic and changeless Eastern Court, in which men with dried faces
and stiff ceremonial costumes perform some atrocious cruelty to the
accompaniment of formal proverbs and sentences of which the very meaning
has been forgotten. In both cases the only thing in the whole farrago
that can be called real is the wrong. If we apply the lightest touch of
reason to the whole Epping prosecution it dissolves into nothing.

I here challenge any person in his five wits to tell me what that woman
was sent to prison for. Either it was for being poor, or it was for being
ill. Nobody could suggest, nobody will suggest, nobody, as a matter of
fact, did suggest, that she had committed any other crime. The doctor was
called in by a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Was
this woman guilty of cruelty to children? Not in the least. Did the
doctor say she was guilty of cruelty to children? Not in the least. Was
these any evidence even remotely bearing on the sin of cruelty? Not a rap.
The worse that the doctor could work himself up to saying was that
though the children were "exceedingly" well, the conditions would be
serious in case of illness. If the doctor will tell me any conditions
that would be comic in case of illness, I shall attach more weight to his

Now this is the worst effect of modern worry. The mad doctor has gone mad.
He is literally and practically mad; and still he is quite literally and
practically a doctor. The only question is the old one, Quis docebit
ipsum doctorem? Now cruelty to children is an utterly unnatural thing;
instinctively accursed of earth and heaven. But neglect of children is a
natural thing; like neglect of any other duty, it is a mere difference of
degree that divides extending arms and legs in calisthenics and extending
them on the rack. It is a mere difference of degree that separates any
operation from any torture. The thumb-screw can easily be called Manicure.
Being pulled about by wild horses can easily be called Massage. The
modern problem is not so much what people will endure as what they will
not endure. But I fear I interrupt.... The boiling oil is boiling; and
the Tenth Mandarin is already reciting the "Seventeen Serious Principles
and the Fifty-three Virtues of the Sacred Emperor."


When I arrived to see the performance of the Buckinghamshire Players, who
acted Miss Gertrude Robins's POT LUCK at Naphill a short time ago, it is
the distressing, if scarcely surprising, truth that I entered very late.
This would have mattered little, I hope, to any one, but that late comers
had to be forced into front seats. For a real popular English audience
always insists on crowding in the back part of the hall; and (as I have
found in many an election) will endure the most unendurable taunts rather
than come forward. The English are a modest people; that is why they are
entirely ruled and run by the few of them that happen to be immodest. In
theatrical affairs the fact is strangely notable; and in most playhouses
we find the bored people in front and the eager people behind.

As far as the performance went I was quite the reverse of a bored person;
but I may have been a boring person, especially as I was thus required to
sit in the seats of the scornful. It will be a happy day in the dramatic
world when all ladies have to take off their hats and all critics have to
take off their heads. The people behind will have a chance then. And as
it happens, in this case, I had not so much taken off my head as lost it.
I had lost it on the road; on that strange journey that was the cause of
my coming in late. I have a troubled recollection of having seen a very
good play and made a very bad speech; I have a cloudy recollection of
talking to all sorts of nice people afterwards, but talking to them
jerkily and with half a head, as a man talks when he has one eye on a

And the truth is that I had one eye on an ancient and timeless clock, hung
uselessly in heaven; whose very name has passed into a figure for such
bemused folly. In the true sense of an ancient phrase, I was moonstruck.
A lunar landscape a scene of winter moonlight had inexplicably got in
between me and all other scenes. If any one had asked me I could not have
said what it was; I cannot say now. Nothing had occurred to me; except
the breakdown of a hired motor on the ridge of a hill. It was not an
adventure; it was a vision.

I had started in wintry twilight from my own door; and hired a small car
that found its way across the hills towards Naphill. But as night
blackened and frost brightened and hardened it I found the way
increasingly difficult; especially as the way was an incessant ascent.
Whenever we topped a road like a staircase it was only to turn into a yet
steeper road like a ladder.

At last, when I began to fancy that I was spirally climbing the Tower of
Babel in a dream, I was brought to fact by alarming noises, stoppage, and
the driver saying that "it couldn't be done." I got out of the car and
suddenly forgot that I had ever been in it.

From the edge of that abrupt steep I saw something indescribable, which I
am now going to describe. When Mr. Joseph Chamberlain delivered his great
patriotic speech on the inferiority of England to the Dutch parts of South
Africa, he made use of the expression "the illimitable veldt." The word
"veldt" is Dutch, and the word "illimitable" is Double Dutch. But the
meditative statesman probably meant that the new plains gave him a sense
of largeness and dreariness which he had never found in England. Well,
if he never found it in England it was because he never looked for it in
England. In England there is an illimitable number of illimitable veldts.
I saw six or seven separate eternities in cresting as many different
hills. One cannot find anything more infinite than a finite horizon, free
and lonely and innocent. The Dutch veldt may be a little more desolate
than Birmingham. But I am sure it is not so desolate as that English hill
was, almost within a cannon-shot of High Wycombe.

I looked across a vast and voiceless valley straight at the moon, as if at
a round mirror. It may have been the blue moon of the proverb; for on
that freezing night the very moon seemed blue with cold. A deathly frost
fastened every branch and blade to its place. The sinking and softening
forests, powdered with a gray frost, fell away underneath me into an abyss
which seemed unfathomable. One fancied the world was soundless only
because it was bottomless: it seemed as if all songs and cries had been
swallowed in some unresisting stillness under the roots of the hills. I
could fancy that if I shouted there would be no echo; that if I hurled
huge stones there would be no noise of reply. A dumb devil had bewitched
the landscape: but that again does not express the best or worst of it.
All those hoary and frosted forests expressed something so inhuman that it
has no human name. A horror of unconsciousness lay on them; that is the
nearest phrase I know. It was as if one were looking at the back of the
world; and the world did not know it. I had taken the universe in the
rear. I was behind the scenes. I was eavesdropping upon an unconscious

I shall not express what the place expressed. I am not even sure that it
is a thing that ought to be expressed. There was something heathen about
its union of beauty and death; sorrow seemed to glitter, as it does in
some of the great pagan poems. I understood one of the thousand poetical
phrases of the populace, "a God-forsaken place." Yet something was
present there; and I could not yet find the key to my fixed impression.
Then suddenly I remembered the right word. It was an enchanted place.
It had been put to sleep. In a flash I remembered all the fairy-tales
about princes turned to marble and princesses changed to snow. We were in
a land where none could strive or cry out; a white nightmare. The moon
looked at me across the valley like the enormous eye of a hypnotist; the
one white eye of the world.

There was never a better play than POT LUCK; for it tells a tale with a
point and a tale that might happen any day among English peasants. There
were never better actors than the local Buckinghamshire Players: for they
were acting their own life with just that rise into exaggeration which is
the transition from life to art. But all the time I was mesmerised by the
moon; I saw all these men and women as enchanted things. The poacher shot
pheasants; the policeman tracked pheasants; the wife hid pheasants; they
were all (especially the policeman) as true as death. But there was
something more true to death than true to life about it all: the figures
were frozen with a magic frost of sleep or fear or custom such as does not
cramp the movements of the poor men of other lands. I looked at the
poacher and the policeman and the gun; then at the gun and the policeman
and the poacher; and I could find no name for the fancy that haunted and
escaped me. The poacher believed in the Game Laws as much as the
policeman. The poacher's wife not only believed in the Game Laws, but
protected them as well as him. She got a promise from her husband that he
would never shoot another pheasant. Whether he kept it I doubt; I fancy
he sometimes shot a pheasant even after that. But I am sure he never shot
a policeman. For we live in an enchanted land.


There is a shrewd warning to be given to all people who are in revolt.
And in the present state of things, I think all men are revolting in that
sense; except a few who are revolting in the other sense. But the warning
to Socialists and other revolutionaries is this: that as sure as fate, if
they use any argument which is atheist or materialistic, that argument
will always be turned against them at last by the tyrant and the slave.
To-day I saw one too common Socialist argument turned Tory, so to speak,
in a manner quite startling and insane. I mean that modern doctrine,
taught, I believe, by most followers of Karl Marx, which is called the
materialist theory of history. The theory is, roughly, this: that all the
important things in history are rooted in an economic motive. In short,
history is a science; a science of the search for food.

Now I desire, in passing only, to point out that this is not merely untrue,
but actually the reverse of the truth. It is putting it too feebly to
say that the history of man is not only economic. Man would not have any
history if he were only economic. The need for food is certainly
universal, so universal that it is not even human. Cows have an economic
motive, and apparently (I dare not say what ethereal delicacies may be in
a cow) only an economic motive. The cow eats grass anywhere and never
eats anything else. In short, the cow does fulfill the materialist theory
of history: that is why the cow has no history. "A History of Cows" would
be one of the simplest and briefest of standard works. But if some cows
thought it wicked to eat long grass and persecuted all who did so; if the
cow with the crumpled horn were worshipped by some cows and gored to death
by others; if cows began to have obvious moral preferences over and above
a desire for grass, then cows would begin to have a history. They would
also begin to have a highly unpleasant time, which is perhaps the same

The economic motive is not merely not inside all history; it is actually
outside all history. It belongs to Biology or the Science of Life; that
is, it concerns things like cows, that are not so very much alive. Men
are far too much alive to get into the science of anything; for them we
have made the art of history. To say that human actions have depended on
economic support is like saying that they have depended on having two legs.
It accounts for action, but not for such varied action; it is a
condition, but not a motive; it is too universal to be useful. Certainly
a soldier wins the Victoria Cross on two legs; he also runs away on two
legs. But if our object is to discover whether he will become a V.C. or a
coward the most careful inspection of his legs will yield us little or no
information. In the same way a man will want food if he is a dreamy
romantic tramp, and will want food if he is a toiling and sweating
millionaire. A man must be supported on food as he must be supported on
legs. But cows (who have no history) are not only furnished more
generously in the matter of legs, but can see their food on a much grander
and more imaginative scale. A cow can lift up her eyes to the hills and
see uplands and peaks of pure food. Yet we never see the horizon broken
by crags of cake or happy hills of cheese.

So far the cow (who has no history) seems to have every other advantage.
But history--the whole point of history--precisely is that some two legged
soldiers ran away while others, of similar anatomical structure, did not.
The whole point of history precisely is: some people (like poets and
tramps) chance getting money by disregarding it, while others (such as
millionaires) will absolutely lose money for the fun of bothering about it.
There would be no history if there were only economic history. All the
historical events have been due to the twists and turns given to the
economic instinct by forces that were not economic. For instance, this
theory traces the French war of Edward III to a quarrel about the French
wines. Any one who has even smelt the Middle Ages must feel fifty answers
spring to his lips; but in this cause one will suffice. There would have
been no such war, then, if we all drank water like cows. But when one is
a man one enters the world of historic choice. The act of drinking wine
is one that requires explanation. So is the act of not drinking wine.

But the capitalist can get much more fun out of the doctrine.

When strikes were splitting England right and left a little while ago, an
ingenious writer, humorously describing himself as a Liberal, said that
they were entirely due to the hot weather. The suggestion was eagerly
taken up by other creatures of the same kind, and I really do not see why
it was not carried farther and applied to other lamentable uprisings in
history. Thus, it is a remarkable fact that the weather is generally
rather warm in Egypt; and this cannot but throw a light on the sudden and
mysterious impulse of the Israelites to escape from captivity. The
English strikers used some barren republican formula (and as the
definitions of the medieval schoolmen), some academic shibboleth about
being free men and not being forced to work except for a wage accepted by
them. Just in the same way the Israelites in Egypt employed some dry
scholastic quibble about the extreme difficulty of making bricks with
nothing to make them of. But whatever fantastic intellectual excuses they
may have put forward for their strange and unnatural conduct in walking
out when the prison door was open, there can be no doubt that the real
cause was the warm weather. Such a climate notoriously also produces
delusions and horrible fancies, such as Mr. Kipling describes. And it
was while their brains were disordered by the heat that the Jews fancied
that they were founding a nation, that they were led by a prophet, and, in
short, that they were going to be of some importance in the affairs of the

Nor can the historical student fail to note that the French monarchy was
pulled down in August; and that August is a month in summer.

In spite of all this, however, I have some little difficulty myself in
accepting so simple a form of the Materialist Theory of History (at these
words all Marxian Socialists will please bow their heads three times), and
I rather think that exceptions might be found to the principle. Yet it is
not chiefly such exceptions that embarrass my belief in it.

No; my difficulty is rather in accounting for the strange coincidence by
which the shafts of Apollo split us exclusively along certain lines of
class and of economics. I cannot understand why all solicitors did not
leave off soliciting, all doctors leave off doctoring, all judges leave
off judging, all benevolent bankers leave off lending money at high
interest, and all rising politicians leave off having nothing to add to
what their right honourable friend told the House about eight years ago.
The quaint theoretic plea of the workers, that they were striking because
they were ill paid, seems to receive a sort of wild and hazy confirmation
from the fact that, throughout the hottest weather, judges and other
persons who are particularly well paid showed no disposition to strike.
I have to fall back therefore on metaphysical fancies of my own; and I
continue to believe that the anger of the English poor (to steal a phrase
from Sir Thomas Browne) came from something in man that is other than the
elements and that owes no homage unto the sun.

When comfortable people come to talking stuff of that sort, it is really
time that the comfortable classes made a short summary and confession of
what they have really done with the very poor Englishman. The dawn of the
mediaeval civilisation found him a serf; which is a different thing from a
slave. He had security; although the man belonged to the land rather than
the land to the man. He could not be evicted; his rent could not be
raised. In practice, it came to something like this: that if the lord
rode down his cabbages he had not much chance of redress; but he had the
chance of growing more cabbages. He had direct access to the means of

Since then the centuries in England have achieved something different; and
something which, fortunately, is perfectly easy to state. There is no
doubt about what we have done. We have kept the inequality, but we have
destroyed the security. The man is not tied to the land, as in serfdom;
nor is the land tied to the man, as in a peasantry. The rich man has
entered into an absolute ownership of farms and fields; and (in the modern
industrial phrase) he has locked out the English people. They can only
find an acre to dig or a house to sleep in by accepting such competitive
and cruel terms as he chooses to impose.

Well, what would happen then, over the larger parts of the planet, parts
inhabited by savages? Savages, of course, would hunt and fish. That
retreat for the English poor was perceived; and that retreat was cut off.
Game laws were made to extend over districts like the Arctic snows or the
Sahara. The rich man had property over animals he had no more dreamed of
than a governor of Roman Africa had dreamed of a giraffe. He owned all
the birds that passed over his land: he might as well have owned all the
clouds that passed over it. If a rabbit ran from Smith's land to Brown's
land, it belonged to Brown, as if it were his pet dog. The logical
answer to this would be simple: Any one stung on Brown's land ought to be
able to prosecute Brown for keeping a dangerous wasp without a muzzle.

Thus the poor man was forced to be a tramp along the roads and to sleep in
the open. That retreat was perceived; and that retreat was cut off. A
landless man in England can be punished for behaving in the only way that
a landless man can behave: for sleeping under a hedge in Surrey or on a
seat on the Embankment. His sin is described (with a hideous sense of
fun) as that of having no visible means of subsistence.

The last possibility, of course, is that upon which all human beings would
fall back if they were sinking in a swamp or impaled on a spike or
deserted on an island. It is that of calling out for pity to the passerby.
That retreat was perceived; and that retreat was cut off. A man in
England can be sent to prison for asking another man for help in the name
of God.

You have done all these things, and by so doing you have forced the poor
to serve the rich, and to serve them on the terms of the rich. They have
still one weapon left against the extremes of insult and unfairness: that
weapon is their numbers and the necessity of those numbers to the working
of that vast and slavish machine. And because they still had this last
retreat (which we call the Strike), because this retreat was also
perceived, there was talk of this retreat being also cut off. Whereupon
the workmen became suddenly and violently angry; and struck at your Boards
and Committees here, there, and wherever they could. And you opened on
them the eyes of owls, and said, "It must be the sunshine." You could only
go on saying, "The sun, the sun." That was what the man in Ibsen said,
when he had lost his wits.


I stood looking at the Coronation Procession--I mean the one in
Beaconsfield; not the rather elephantine imitation of it which, I believe,
had some success in London--and I was seriously impressed. Most of my
life is passed in discovering with a deathly surprise that I was quite
right. Never before have I realised how right I was in maintaining that
the small area expresses the real patriotism: the smaller the field the
taller the tower. There were things in our local procession that did not
(one might even reverently say, could not) occur in the London procession.
One of the most prominent citizens in our procession (for instance) had
his face blacked. Another rode on a pony which wore pink and blue
trousers. I was not present at the Metropolitan affair, and therefore my
assertion is subject to such correction as the eyewitness may always offer
to the absentee. But I believe with some firmness that no such features
occurred in the London pageant.

But it is not of the local celebration that I would speak, but of
something that occurred before it. In the field beyond the end of my
garden the materials for a bonfire had been heaped; a hill of every kind
of rubbish and refuse and things that nobody wants; broken chairs, dead
trees, rags, shavings, newspapers, new religions, in pamphlet form,
reports of the Eugenic Congress, and so on. All this refuse, material and
mental, it was our purpose to purify and change to holy flame on the day
when the King was crowned. The following is an account of the rather
strange thing that really happened. I do not know whether it was any sort
of symbol; but I narrate it just as it befell.

In the middle of the night I woke up slowly and listened to what I
supposed to be the heavy crunching of a cart-wheel along a road of loose
stones. Then it grew louder, and I thought somebody was shooting out
cartloads of stones; then it seemed as if the shock was breaking big
stones into pieces. Then I realised that under this sound there was also
a strange, sleepy, almost inaudible roar; and that on top of it every now
and then came pigmy pops like a battle of penny pistols. Then I knew what
it was. I went to the window; and a great firelight flung across two
meadows smote me where I stood. "Oh, my holy aunt," I thought, "they've
mistaken the Coronation Day."

And yet when I eyed the transfigured scene it did not seem exactly like a
bonfire or any ritual illumination. It was too chaotic, and too close to
the houses of the town. All one side of a cottage was painted pink with
the giant brush of flame; the next side, by contrast, was painted as black
as tar. Along the front of this ran a blackening rim or rampart edged
with a restless red ribbon that danced and doubled and devoured like a
scarlet snake; and beyond it was nothing but a deathly fulness of light.

I put on some clothes and went down the road; all the dull or startling
noises in that din of burning growing louder and louder as I walked. The
heaviest sound was that of an incessant cracking and crunching, as if some
giant with teeth of stone was breaking up the bones of the world. I had
not yet come within sight of the real heart and habitat of the fire; but
the strong red light, like an unnatural midnight sunset, powdered the
grayest grass with gold and flushed the few tall trees up to the last
fingers of their foliage. Behind them the night was black and cavernous;
and one could only trace faintly the ashen horizon beyond the dark and
magic Wilton Woods. As I went, a workman on a bicycle shot a rood past me;
then staggered from his machine and shouted to me to tell him where the
fire was. I answered that I was going to see, but thought it was the
cottages by the wood-yard. He said, "My God!" and vanished.

A little farther on I found grass and pavement soaking and flooded, and
the red and yellow flames repainted in pools and puddles. Beyond were dim
huddles of people and a small distant voice shouting out orders. The
fire-engines were at work. I went on among the red reflections, which
seemed like subterranean fires; I had a singular sensation of being in a
very important dream. Oddly enough, this was increased when I found that
most of my friends and neighbours were entangled in the crowd. Only in
dreams do we see familiar faces so vividly against a black background of
midnight. I was glad to find (for the workman cyclist's sake) that the
fire was not in the houses by the wood-yard, but in the wood-yard itself.
There was no fear for human life, and the thing was seemingly accidental;
though there were the usual ugly whispers about rivalry and revenge. But
for all that I could not shake off my dream-drugged soul a swollen, tragic,
portentous sort of sensation, that it all had something to do with the
crowning of the English King, and the glory or the end of England. It was
not till I saw the puddles and the ashes in broad daylight next morning
that I was fundamentally certain that my midnight adventure had not
happened outside this world.

But I was more arrogant than the ancient Emperors Pharaoh or
Nebuchadnezzar; for I attempted to interpret my own dream. The fire was
feeding upon solid stacks of unused beech or pine, gray and white piles of
virgin wood. It was an orgy of mere waste; thousands of good things were
being killed before they had ever existed. Doors, tables, walkingsticks,
wheelbarrows, wooden swords for boys, Dutch dolls for girls I could hear
the cry of each uncreated thing as it expired in the flames. And then I
thought of that other noble tower of needless things that stood in the
field beyond my garden; the bonfire, the mountain of vanities, that is
meant for burning; and how it stood dark and lonely in the meadow, and the
birds hopped on its corners and the dew touched and spangled its twigs.
And I remembered that there are two kinds of fires, the Bad Fire and the
Good Fire the last must surely be the meaning of Bonfire. And the paradox
is that the Good Fire is made of bad things, of things that we do not want;
but the Bad Fire is made of good things, of things that we do want; like
all that wealth of wood that might have made dolls and chairs and tables,
but was only making a hueless ash.

And then I saw, in my vision, that just as there are two fires, so there
are two revolutions. And I saw that the whole mad modern world is a race
between them. Which will happen first--the revolution in which bad things
shall perish, or that other revolution, in which good things shall perish
also? One is the riot that all good men, even the most conservative,
really dream of, when the sneer shall be struck from the face of the
well-fed; when the wine of honour shall be poured down the throat of
despair; when we shall, so far as to the sons of flesh is possible, take
tyranny and usury and public treason and bind them into bundles and burn
them. And the other is the disruption that may come prematurely,
negatively, and suddenly in the night; like the fire in my little town.

It may come because the mere strain of modern life is unbearable; and in
it even the things that men do desire may break down; marriage and fair
ownership and worship and the mysterious worth of man. The two
revolutions, white and black, are racing each other like two railway
trains; I cannot guess the issue...but even as I thought of it, the
tallest turret of the timber stooped and faltered and came down in a
cataract of noises. And the fire, finding passage, went up with a spout
like a fountain. It stood far up among the stars for an instant, a
blazing pillar of brass fit for a pagan conqueror, so high that one could
fancy it visible away among the goblin trees of Burnham or along the
terraces of the Chiltern Hills.


The idea of liberty has ultimately a religious root; that is why men find
it so easy to die for and so difficult to define. It refers finally to
the fact that, while the oyster and the palm tree have to save their lives
by law, man has to save his soul by choice. Ruskin rebuked Coleridge for
praising freedom, and said that no man would wish the sun to be free. It
seems enough to answer that no man would wish to be the sun. Speaking as
a Liberal, I have much more sympathy with the idea of Joshua stopping the
sun in heaven than with the idea of Ruskin trotting his daily round in
imitation of its regularity. Joshua was a Radical, and his astronomical
act was distinctly revolutionary. For all revolution is the mastering of
matter by the spirit of man, the emergence of that human authority within
us which, in the noble words of Sir Thomas Browne, "owes no homage unto
the sun."

Generally, the moral substance of liberty is this: that man is not meant
merely to receive good laws, good food or good conditions, like a tree in
a garden, but is meant to take a certain princely pleasure in selecting
and shaping like the gardener. Perhaps that is the meaning of the trade
of Adam. And the best popular words for rendering the real idea of
liberty are those which speak of man as a creator. We use the word "make"
about most of the things in which freedom is essential, as a country walk
or a friendship or a love affair. When a man "makes his way" through a
wood he has really created, he has built a road, like the Romans. When a
man "makes a friend," he makes a man. And in the third case we talk of a
man "making love," as if he were (as, indeed, he is) creating new masses
and colours of that flaming material an awful form of manufacture. In its
primary spiritual sense, liberty is the god in man, or, if you like the
word, the artist.

In its secondary political sense liberty is the living influence of the
citizen on the State in the direction of moulding or deflecting it. Men
are the only creatures that evidently possess it. On the one hand, the
eagle has no liberty; he only has loneliness. On the other hand, ants,
bees, and beavers exhibit the highest miracle of the State influencing the
citizen; but no perceptible trace of the citizen influencing the State.
You may, if you like, call the ants a democracy as you may call the bees a
despotism. But I fancy that the architectural ant who attempted to
introduce an art nouveau style of ant-hill would have a career as curt and
fruitless as the celebrated bee who wanted to swarm alone. The isolation
of this idea in humanity is akin to its religious character; but it is not
even in humanity by any means equally distributed. The idea that the
State should not only be supported by its children, like the ant-hill, but
should be constantly criticised and reconstructed by them, is an idea
stronger in Christendom than any other part of the planet; stronger in
Western than Eastern Europe. And touching the pure idea of the individual
being free to speak and act within limits, the assertion of this idea, we
may fairly say, has been the peculiar honour of our own country. For my
part I greatly prefer the Jingoism of Rule Britannia to the Imperialism of
The Recessional. I have no objection to Britannia ruling the waves. I
draw the line when she begins to rule the dry land--and such damnably dry
land too--as in Africa. And there was a real old English sincerity in the
vulgar chorus that "Britons never shall be slaves." We had no equality
and hardly any justice; but freedom we were really fond of. And I think
just now it is worth while to draw attention to the old optimistic
prophecy that "Britons never shall be slaves."

The mere love of liberty has never been at a lower ebb in England than it
has been for the last twenty years. Never before has it been so easy to
slip small Bills through Parliament for the purpose of locking people up.
Never was it so easy to silence awkward questions, or to protect
highplaced officials. Two hundred years ago we turned out the Stuarts
rather than endanger the Habeas Corpus Act. Two years ago we abolished the
Habeas Corpus Act rather than turn out the Home Secretary. We passed a
law (which is now in force) that an Englishman's punishment shall not
depend upon judge and jury, but upon the governors and jailers who have
got hold of him. But this is not the only case. The scorn of liberty is
in the air. A newspaper is seized by the police in Trafalgar Square
without a word of accusation or explanation. The Home Secretary says that
in his opinion the police are very nice people, and there is an end of the
matter. A Member of Parliament attempts to criticise a peerage. The
Speaker says he must not criticise a peerage, and there the matter drops.

Political liberty, let us repeat, consists in the power of criticising
those flexible parts of the State which constantly require reconsideration,
not the basis, but the machinery. In plainer words, it means the power
of saying the sort of things that a decent but discontented citizen wants
to say. He does not want to spit on the Bible, or to run about without
clothes, or to read the worst page in Zola from the pulpit of St. Paul's.
Therefore the forbidding of these things (whether just or not) is only
tyranny in a secondary and special sense. It restrains the abnormal, not
the normal man. But the normal man, the decent discontented citizen, does
want to protest against unfair law courts. He does want to expose
brutalities of the police. He does want to make game of a vulgar
pawnbroker who is made a Peer. He does want publicly to warn people
against unscrupulous capitalists and suspicious finance. If he is run in
for doing this (as he will be) he does want to proclaim the character or
known prejudices of the magistrate who tries him. If he is sent to prison
(as he will be) he does want to have a clear and civilised sentence,
telling him when he will come out. And these are literally and exactly
the things that he now cannot get. That is the almost cloying humour of
the present situation. I can say abnormal things in modern magazines. It
is the normal things that I am not allowed to say. I can write in some
solemn quarterly an elaborate article explaining that God is the devil; I
can write in some cultured weekly an aesthetic fancy describing how I
should like to eat boiled baby. The thing I must not write is rational
criticism of the men and institutions of my country.

The present condition of England is briefly this: That no Englishman can
say in public a twentieth part of what he says in private. One cannot say,
for instance, that--But I am afraid I must leave out that instance,
because one cannot say it. I cannot prove my case--because it is so true.


We have read of some celebrated philosopher who was so absent-minded that
he paid a call at his own house. My own absent-mindedness is extreme, and
my philosophy, of course, is the marvel of men and angels. But I never
quite managed to be so absent-minded as that. Some yards at least from my
own door, something vaguely familiar has always caught my eye; and thus
the joke has been spoiled. Of course I have quite constantly walked into
another man's house, thinking it was my own house; my visits became almost
monotonous. But walking into my own house and thinking it was another
man's house is a flight of poetic detachment still beyond me. Something
of the sensations that such an absent-minded man must feel I really felt
the other day; and very pleasant sensations they were. The best parts of
every proper romance are the first chapter and the last chapter; and to
knock at a strange door and find a nice wife would be to concentrate the
beginning and end of all romance.

Mine was a milder and slighter experience, but its thrill was of the same
kind. For I strolled through a place I had imagined quite virgin and
unvisited (as far as I was concerned), and I suddenly found I was treading
in my own footprints, and the footprints were nearly twenty years old.

It was one of those stretches of country which always suggests an almost
unnatural decay; thickets and heaths that have grown out of what were once
great gardens. Garden flowers still grow there as wild flowers, as it
says in some good poetic couplet which I forget; and there is something
singularly romantic and disastrous about seeing things that were so long a
human property and care fighting for their own hand in the thicket. One
almost expects to find a decayed dog-kennel; with the dog evolved into a

This desolate garden-land had been even in my youth scrappily planned out
for building. The half-built or empty houses had appeared quite
threateningly on the edge of this heath even when I walked over it years
ago and almost as a boy. I was astonished that the building had gone no
farther; I suppose somebody went bankrupt and somebody else disliked
building. But I remember, especially along one side of this tangle or
coppice, that there had once been a row of half-built houses. The brick
of which they were built was a sort of plain pink; everything else was a
blinding white; the houses smoked with white dust and white sawdust; and
on many of the windows were rubbed those round rough disks of white which
always delighted me as a child. They looked like the white eyes of some
blind giant.

I could see the crude, parched pink-and-white villas still; though I had
not thought at all of them for a quarter of my life; and had not thought
much of them even when I saw them. Then I was an idle, but eager youth
walking out from London; now I was a most reluctantly busy middle-aged
person, coming in from the country. Youth, I think, seems farther off
than childhood, for it made itself more of a secret. Like a prenatal
picture, distant, tiny, and quite distinct, I saw this heath on which I
stood; and I looked around for the string of bright, half-baked villas.
They still stood there; but they were quite russet and weather-stained, as
if they had stood for centuries.

I remembered exactly what I had done on that day long ago. I had half
slid on a miry descent; it was still there; a little lower I had knocked
off the top of a thistle; the thistles had not been discouraged, but were
still growing. I recalled it because I had wondered why one knocks off
the tops of thistles; and then I had thought of Tarquin; and then I had
recited most of Macaulay's VIRGINIA to myself, for I was young. And then
I came to a tattered edge where the very tuft had whitened with the
sawdust and brick-dust from the new row of houses; and two or three green
stars of dock and thistle grew spasmodically about the blinding road.

I remembered how I had walked up this new one-sided street all those years
ago; and I remembered what I had thought. I thought that this red and
white glaring terrace at noon was really more creepy and more lonesome
than a glimmering churchyard at midnight. The churchyard could only be
full of the ghosts of the dead; but these houses were full of the ghosts
of the unborn. And a man can never find a home in the future as he can
find it in the past. I was always fascinated by that mediaeval notion of
erecting a rudely carpentered stage in the street, and acting on it a
miracle play of the Holy Family or the Last Judgment. And I thought to
myself that each of these glaring, gaping, new jerry-built boxes was
indeed a rickety stage erected for the acting of a real miracle play; that
human family that is almost the holy one, and that human death that is
near to the last judgment.

For some foolish reason the last house but one in that imperfect row
especially haunted me with its hollow grin and empty window-eyes.
Something in the shape of this brick-and-mortar skeleton was attractive;
and there being no workmen about, I strolled into it for curiosity and
solitude. I gave, with all the sky-deep gravity of youth, a benediction
upon the man who was going to live there. I even remember that for the
convenience of meditation I called him James Harrogate.

As I reflected it crawled back into my memory that I had mildly played the
fool in that house on that distant day. I had some red chalk in my pocket,
I think, and I wrote things on the unpapered plaster walls; things
addressed to Mr. Harrogate. A dim memory told me that I had written up in
what I supposed to be the dining-room:

James Harrogate, thank God for meat,
Then eat and eat and eat and eat,

or something of that kind. I faintly feel that some longer lyric was
scrawled on the walls of what looked like a bedroom, something beginning:

When laying what you call your head,
O Harrogate, upon your bed,

and there all my memory dislimns and decays. But I could still see quite
vividly the plain plastered walls and the rude, irregular writing, and the
places where the red chalk broke. I could see them, I mean, in memory;
for when I came down that road again after a sixth of a century the house
was very different.

I had seen it before at noon, and now I found it in the dusk. But its
windows glowed with lights of many artificial sorts; one of its low square
windows stood open; from this there escaped up the road a stream of
lamplight and a stream of singing. Some sort of girl, at least, was
standing at some sort of piano, and singing a song of healthy
sentimentalism in that house where long ago my blessing had died on the
wind and my poems been covered up by the wallpaper. I stood outside that
lamplit house at dusk full of those thoughts that I shall never express if
I live to be a million any better than I expressed them in red chalk upon
the wall. But after I had hovered a little, and was about to withdraw, a
mad impulse seized me. I rang the bell. I said in distinct accents to a
very smart suburban maid, "Does Mr. James Harrogate live here?"

She said he didn't; but that she would inquire, in case I was looking for
him in the neighbourhood; but I excused her from such exertion. I had one
moment's impulse to look for him all over the world; and then decided not
to look for him at all.


The sun has strengthened and the air softened just before Easter Day.
But it is a troubled brightness which has a breath not only of novelty but
of revolution, There are two great armies of the human intellect who will
fight till the end on this vital point, whether Easter is to be
congratulated on fitting in with the Spring--or the Spring on fitting in
with Easter.

The only two things that can satisfy the soul are a person and a story;
and even a story must be about a person. There are indeed very voluptuous
appetites and enjoyments in mere abstractions like mathematics, logic, or
chess. But these mere pleasures of the mind are like mere pleasures of
the body. That is, they are mere pleasures, though they may be gigantic
pleasures; they can never by a mere increase of themselves amount to
happiness. A man just about to be hanged may enjoy his breakfast;
especially if it be his favourite breakfast; and in the same way he may
enjoy an argument with the chaplain about heresy, especially if it is his
favourite heresy. But whether he can enjoy either of them does not depend
on either of them; it depends upon his spiritual attitude towards a
subsequent event. And that event is really interesting to the soul;
because it is the end of a story and (as some hold) the end of a person.

Now it is this simple truth which, like many others, is too simple for our
scientists to see. This is where they go wrong, not only about true
religion, but about false religions too; so that their account of
mythology is more mythical than the myth itself. I do not confine myself
to saying that they are quite incorrect when they state (for instance)
that Christ was a legend of dying and reviving vegetation, like Adonis or
Persephone. I say that even if Adonis was a god of vegetation, they have
got the whole notion of him wrong. Nobody, to begin with, is sufficiently
interested in decaying vegetables, as such, to make any particular mystery
or disguise about them; and certainly not enough to disguise them under
the image of a very handsome young man, which is a vastly more interesting
thing. If Adonis was connected with the fall of leaves in autumn and the
return of flowers in spring, the process of thought was quite different.
It is a process of thought which springs up spontaneously in all children
and young artists; it springs up spontaneously in all healthy societies.
It is very difficult to explain in a diseased society.

The brain of man is subject to short and strange snatches of sleep. A
cloud seals the city of reason or rests upon the sea of imagination; a
dream that darkens as much, whether it is a nightmare of atheism or a
daydream of idolatry. And just as we have all sprung from sleep with a
start and found ourselves saying some sentence that has no meaning, save
in the mad tongues of the midnight; so the human mind starts from its
trances of stupidity with some complete phrase upon its lips; a complete
phrase which is a complete folly. Unfortunately it is not like the dream
sentence, generally forgotten in the putting on of boots or the putting in
of breakfast. This senseless aphorism, invented when man's mind was
asleep, still hangs on his tongue and entangles all his relations to
rational and daylight things. All our controversies are confused by
certain kinds of phrases which are not merely untrue, but were always
unmeaning; which are not merely inapplicable, but were always
intrinsically useless. We recognise them wherever a man talks of "the
survival of the fittest," meaning only the survival of the survivors; or
wherever a man says that the rich "have a stake in the country," as if the
poor could not suffer from misgovernment or military defeat; or where a
man talks about "going on towards Progress," which only means going on
towards going on; or when a man talks about "government by the wise few,"
as if they could be picked out by their pantaloons. "The wise few" must
mean either the few whom the foolish think wise or the very foolish who
think themselves wise.

There is one piece of nonsense that modern people still find themselves
saying, even after they are more or less awake, by which I am particularly
irritated. It arose in the popularised science of the nineteenth century,
especially in connection with the study of myths and religions. The
fragment of gibberish to which I refer generally takes the form of saying
"This god or hero really represents the sun." Or "Apollo killing the
Python MEANS that the summer drives out the winter." Or "The King dying in
a western battle is a SYMBOL of the sun setting in the west." Now I
should really have thought that even the skeptical professors, whose
skulls are as shallow as frying-pans, might have reflected that human
beings never think or feel like this. Consider what is involved in this
supposition. It presumes that primitive man went out for a walk and saw
with great interest a big burning spot on the sky. He then said to
primitive woman, "My dear, we had better keep this quiet. We mustn't let
it get about. The children and the slaves are so very sharp. They might
discover the sun any day, unless we are very careful. So we won't call
it 'the sun,' but I will draw a picture of a man killing a snake; and
whenever I do that you will know what I mean. The sun doesn't look at all
like a man killing a snake; so nobody can possibly know. It will be a
little secret between us; and while the slaves and the children fancy I am
quite excited with a grand tale of a writhing dragon and a wrestling
demigod, I shall really MEAN this delicious little discovery, that there
is a round yellow disc up in the air." One does not need to know much
mythology to know that this is a myth. It is commonly called the Solar

Quite plainly, of course, the case was just the other way. The god was
never a symbol or hieroglyph representing the sun. The sun was a
hieroglyph representing the god. Primitive man (with whom my friend
Dombey is no doubt well acquainted) went out with his head full of gods
and heroes, because that is the chief use of having a head. Then he saw
the sun in some glorious crisis of the dominance of noon on the distress
of nightfall, and he said, "That is how the face of the god would shine
when he had slain the dragon," or "That is how the whole world would bleed
to westward, if the god were slain at last."

No human being was ever really so unnatural as to worship Nature. No man,
however indulgent (as I am) to corpulency, ever worshipped a man as round
as the sun or a woman as round as the moon. No man, however attracted to
an artistic attenuation, ever really believed that the Dryad was as lean
and stiff as the tree. We human beings have never worshipped Nature; and
indeed, the reason is very simple. It is that all human beings are
superhuman beings. We have printed our own image upon Nature, as God has
printed His image upon us. We have told the enormous sun to stand still;
we have fixed him on our shields, caring no more for a star than for a
starfish. And when there were powers of Nature we could not for the time
control, we have conceived great beings in human shape controlling them.
Jupiter does not mean thunder. Thunder means the march and victory of
Jupiter. Neptune does not mean the sea; the sea is his, and he made it.
In other words, what the savage really said about the sea was, "Only my
fetish Mumbo could raise such mountains out of mere water." What the
savage really said about the sun was, "Only my great great-grandfather
Jumbo could deserve such a blazing crown."

About all these myths my own position is utterly and even sadly simple.
I say you cannot really understand any myths till you have found that one
of them is not a myth. Turnip ghosts mean nothing if there are no real
ghosts. Forged bank-notes mean nothing if there are no real bank-notes.
Heathen gods mean nothing, and must always mean nothing, to those of us
that deny the Christian God. When once a god is admitted, even a false
god, the Cosmos begins to know its place: which is the second place. When
once it is the real God the Cosmos falls down before Him, offering flowers
in spring as flames in winter. "My love is like a red, red rose" does not
mean that the poet is praising roses under the allegory of a young lady.
"My love is an arbutus" does not mean that the author was a botanist so
pleased with a particular arbutus tree that he said he loved it. "Who art
the moon and regent of my sky" does not mean that Juliet invented Romeo to
account for the roundness of the moon. "Christ is the Sun of Easter" does
not mean that the worshipper is praising the sun under the emblem of
Christ. Goddess or god can clothe themselves with the spring or summer;
but the body is more than raiment. Religion takes almost disdainfully the
dress of Nature; and indeed Christianity has done as well with the snows
of Christmas as with the snow-drops of spring. And when I look across
the sun-struck fields, I know in my inmost bones that my joy is not solely
in the spring, for spring alone, being always returning, would be always
sad. There is somebody or something walking there, to be crowned with
flowers: and my pleasure is in some promise yet possible and in the
resurrection of the dead.


Our age which has boasted of realism will fail chiefly through lack of
reality. Never, I fancy, has there been so grave and startling a divorce
between the real way a thing is done and the look of it when it is done.
I take the nearest and most topical instance to hand a newspaper.
Nothing looks more neat and regular than a newspaper, with its parallel
columns, its mechanical printing, its detailed facts and figures, its
responsible, polysyllabic leading articles. Nothing, as a matter of fact,
goes every night through more agonies of adventure, more hairbreadth
escapes, desperate expedients, crucial councils, random compromises, or
barely averted catastrophes. Seen from the outside, it seems to come
round as automatically as the clock and as silently as the dawn. Seen
from the inside, it gives all its organisers a gasp of relief every
morning to see that it has come out at all; that it has come out without
the leading article upside down or the Pope congratulated on discovering
the North Pole.

I will give an instance (merely to illustrate my thesis of unreality) from
the paper that I know best. Here is a simple story, a little episode in
the life of a journalist, which may be amusing and instructive: the tale
of how I made a great mistake in quotation. There are really two stories:
the story as seen from the outside, by a man reading the paper; and the
story seen from the inside, by the journalists shouting and telephoning
and taking notes in shorthand through the night.

This is the outside story; and it reads like a dreadful quarrel. The
notorious G. K. Chesterton, a reactionary Torquemada whose one gloomy
pleasure was in the defence of orthodoxy and the pursuit of heretics, long
calculated and at last launched a denunciation of a brilliant leader of
the New Theology which he hated with all the furnace of his fanatic soul.
In this document Chesterton darkly, deliberately, and not having the fear
of God before his eyes, asserted that Shakespeare wrote the line "that
wreathes its old fantastic roots so high." This he said because he had
been kept in ignorance by Priests; or, perhaps, because he thought
craftily that none of his dupes could discover a curious and forgotten
rhyme called 'Elegy in a Country Churchyard'. Anyhow, that orthodox
gentleman made a howling error; and received some twenty-five letters and
post-cards from kind correspondents who pointed out the mistake.

But the odd thing is that scarcely any of them could conceive that it was
a mistake. The first wrote in the tone of one wearied of epigrams, and
cried, "What is the joke NOW?" Another professed (and practised, for all
I know, God help him) that he had read through all Shakespeare and failed
to find the line. A third wrote in a sort of moral distress, asking, as
in confidence, if Gray was really a plagiarist. They were a noble
collection; but they all subtly assumed an element of leisure and
exactitude in the recipient's profession and character which is far from
the truth. Let us pass on to the next act of the external tragedy.

In Monday's issue of the same paper appeared a letter from the same
culprit. He ingenuously confessed that the line did not belong to
Shakespeare, but to a poet whom he called Grey. Which was another
cropper--or whopper. This strange and illiterate outbreak was printed by
the editor with the justly scornful title, "Mr. Chesterton 'Explains'?"
Any man reading the paper at breakfast saw at once the meaning of the
sarcastic quotation marks. They meant, of course, "Here is a man who
doesn't know Gray from Shakespeare; he tries to patch it up and he can't
even spell Gray. And that is what he calls an Explanation." That is the
perfectly natural inference of the reader from the letter, the mistake,
and the headline--as seen from the outside. The falsehood was serious;
the editorial rebuke was serious. The stern editor and the sombre,
baffled contributor confront each other as the curtain falls.

And now I will tell you exactly what really happened. It is honestly
rather amusing; it is a story of what journals and journalists really are.
A monstrously lazy man lives in South Bucks partly by writing a column
in the Saturday Daily News. At the time he usually writes it (which is
always at the last moment) his house is unexpectedly invaded by infants of
all shapes and sizes. His Secretary is called away; and he has to cope
with the invading pigmies. Playing with children is a glorious thing; but
the journalist in question has never understood why it was considered a
soothing or idyllic one. It reminds him, not of watering little budding
flowers, but of wrestling for hours with gigantic angels and devils.
Moral problems of the most monstrous complexity besiege him incessantly.
He has to decide before the awful eyes of innocence, whether, when a
sister has knocked down a brother's bricks, in revenge for the brother
having taken two sweets out of his turn, it is endurable that the brother
should retaliate by scribbling on the sister's picture book, and whether
such conduct does not justify the sister in blowing out the brother's
unlawfully lighted match.

Just as he is solving this problem upon principles of the highest morality,
it occurs to him suddenly that he has not written his Saturday article;
and that there is only about an hour to do it in. He wildly calls to
somebody (probably the gardener) to telephone to somewhere for a messenger;
he barricades himself in another room and tears his hair, wondering what
on earth he shall write about. A drumming of fists on the door outside
and a cheerful bellowing encourage and clarify his thoughts; and he is
able to observe some newspapers and circulars in wrappers lying on the
table. One is a dingy book catalogue; the second is a shiny pamphlet

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