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All Things Considered by G. K. Chesterton

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Ninth Edition







































I cannot understand the people who take literature seriously; but I can
love them, and I do. Out of my love I warn them to keep clear of this
book. It is a collection of crude and shapeless papers upon current or
rather flying subjects; and they must be published pretty much as they
stand. They were written, as a rule, at the last moment; they were
handed in the moment before it was too late, and I do not think that our
commonwealth would have been shaken to its foundations if they had been
handed in the moment after. They must go out now, with all their
imperfections on their head, or rather on mine; for their vices are too
vital to be improved with a blue pencil, or with anything I can think
of, except dynamite.

Their chief vice is that so many of them are very serious; because I had
no time to make them flippant. It is so easy to be solemn; it is so hard
to be frivolous. Let any honest reader shut his eyes for a few moments,
and approaching the secret tribunal of his soul, ask himself whether he
would really rather be asked in the next two hours to write the front
page of the _Times_, which is full of long leading articles, or the
front page of _Tit-Bits,_ which is full of short jokes. If the reader
is the fine conscientious fellow I take him for, he will at once reply
that he would rather on the spur of the moment write ten _Times_
articles than one _Tit-Bits_ joke. Responsibility, a heavy and cautious
responsibility of speech, is the easiest thing in the world; anybody can
do it. That is why so many tired, elderly, and wealthy men go in for
politics. They are responsible, because they have not the strength of
mind left to be irresponsible. It is more dignified to sit still than to
dance the Barn Dance. It is also easier. So in these easy pages I keep
myself on the whole on the level of the _Times_: it is only occasionally
that I leap upwards almost to the level of _Tit-Bits._

I resume the defence of this indefensible book. These articles have
another disadvantage arising from the scurry in which they were written;
they are too long-winded and elaborate. One of the great disadvantages
of hurry is that it takes such a long time. If I have to start for
High-gate this day week, I may perhaps go the shortest way. If I have to
start this minute, I shall almost certainly go the longest. In these
essays (as I read them over) I feel frightfully annoyed with myself for
not getting to the point more quickly; but I had not enough leisure to
be quick. There are several maddening cases in which I took two or three
pages in attempting to describe an attitude of which the essence could
be expressed in an epigram; only there was no time for epigrams. I do
not repent of one shade of opinion here expressed; but I feel that they
might have been expressed so much more briefly and precisely. For
instance, these pages contain a sort of recurring protest against the
boast of certain writers that they are merely recent. They brag that
their philosophy of the universe is the last philosophy or the new
philosophy, or the advanced and progressive philosophy. I have said much
against a mere modernism. When I use the word "modernism," I am not
alluding specially to the current quarrel in the Roman Catholic Church,
though I am certainly astonished at any intellectual group accepting so
weak and unphilosophical a name. It is incomprehensible to me that any
thinker can calmly call himself a modernist; he might as well call
himself a Thursdayite. But apart altogether from that particular
disturbance, I am conscious of a general irritation expressed against
the people who boast of their advancement and modernity in the
discussion of religion. But I never succeeded in saying the quite clear
and obvious thing that is really the matter with modernism. The real
objection to modernism is simply that it is a form of snobbishness. It
is an attempt to crush a rational opponent not by reason, but by some
mystery of superiority, by hinting that one is specially up to date or
particularly "in the know." To flaunt the fact that we have had all the
last books from Germany is simply vulgar; like flaunting the fact that
we have had all the last bonnets from Paris. To introduce into
philosophical discussions a sneer at a creed's antiquity is like
introducing a sneer at a lady's age. It is caddish because it is
irrelevant. The pure modernist is merely a snob; he cannot bear to be a
month behind the fashion Similarly I find that I have tried in these
pages to express the real objection to philanthropists and have not
succeeded. I have not seen the quite simple objection to the causes
advocated by certain wealthy idealists; causes of which the cause called
teetotalism is the strongest case. I have used many abusive terms about
the thing, calling it Puritanism, or superciliousness, or aristocracy;
but I have not seen and stated the quite simple objection to
philanthropy; which is that it is religious persecution. Religious
persecution does not consist in thumbscrews or fires of Smithfield; the
essence of religious persecution is this: that the man who happens to
have material power in the State, either by wealth or by official
position, should govern his fellow-citizens not according to their
religion or philosophy, but according to his own. If, for instance,
there is such a thing as a vegetarian nation; if there is a great united
mass of men who wish to live by the vegetarian morality, then I say in
the emphatic words of the arrogant French marquis before the French
Revolution, "Let them eat grass." Perhaps that French oligarch was a
humanitarian; most oligarchs are. Perhaps when he told the peasants to
eat grass he was recommending to them the hygienic simplicity of a
vegetarian restaurant. But that is an irrelevant, though most
fascinating, speculation. The point here is that if a nation is really
vegetarian let its government force upon it the whole horrible weight of
vegetarianism. Let its government give the national guests a State
vegetarian banquet. Let its government, in the most literal and awful
sense of the words, give them beans. That sort of tyranny is all very
well; for it is the people tyrannising over all the persons. But
"temperance reformers" are like a small group of vegetarians who should
silently and systematically act on an ethical assumption entirely
unfamiliar to the mass of the people. They would always be giving
peerages to greengrocers. They would always be appointing Parliamentary
Commissions to enquire into the private life of butchers. Whenever they
found a man quite at their mercy, as a pauper or a convict or a lunatic,
they would force him to add the final touch to his inhuman isolation by
becoming a vegetarian. All the meals for school children will be
vegetarian meals. All the State public houses will be vegetarian public
houses. There is a very strong case for vegetarianism as compared with
teetotalism. Drinking one glass of beer cannot by any philosophy be
drunkenness; but killing one animal can, by this philosophy, be murder.
The objection to both processes is not that the two creeds, teetotal and
vegetarian, are not admissible; it is simply that they are not admitted.
The thing is religious persecution because it is not based on the
existing religion of the democracy. These people ask the poor to accept
in practice what they know perfectly well that the poor would not accept
in theory. That is the very definition of religious persecution. I was
against the Tory attempt to force upon ordinary Englishmen a Catholic
theology in which they do not believe. I am even more against the
attempt to force upon them a Mohamedan morality which they actively

Again, in the case of anonymous journalism I seem to have said a great
deal without getting out the point very clearly. Anonymous journalism is
dangerous, and is poisonous in our existing life simply because it is so
rapidly becoming an anonymous life. That is the horrible thing about our
contemporary atmosphere. Society is becoming a secret society. The
modern tyrant is evil because of his elusiveness. He is more nameless
than his slave. He is not more of a bully than the tyrants of the past;
but he is more of a coward. The rich publisher may treat the poor poet
better or worse than the old master workman treated the old apprentice.
But the apprentice ran away and the master ran after him. Nowadays it is
the poet who pursues and tries in vain to fix the fact of
responsibility. It is the publisher who runs away. The clerk of Mr.
Solomon gets the sack: the beautiful Greek slave of the Sultan Suliman
also gets the sack; or the sack gets her. But though she is concealed
under the black waves of the Bosphorus, at least her destroyer is not
concealed. He goes behind golden trumpets riding on a white elephant.
But in the case of the clerk it is almost as difficult to know where the
dismissal comes from as to know where the clerk goes to. It may be Mr.
Solomon or Mr. Solomon's manager, or Mr. Solomon's rich aunt in
Cheltenham, or Mr. Soloman's rich creditor in Berlin. The elaborate
machinery which was once used to make men responsible is now used solely
in order to shift the responsibility. People talk about the pride of
tyrants; but we in this age are not suffering from the pride of tyrants.
We are suffering from the shyness of tyrants; from the shrinking
modesty of tyrants. Therefore we must not encourage leader-writers to
be shy; we must not inflame their already exaggerated modesty. Rather we
must attempt to lure them to be vain and ostentatious; so that through
ostentation they may at last find their way to honesty.

The last indictment against this book is the worst of all. It is simply
this: that if all goes well this book will be unintelligible gibberish.
For it is mostly concerned with attacking attitudes which are in their
nature accidental and incapable of enduring. Brief as is the career of
such a book as this, it may last just twenty minutes longer than most of
the philosophies that it attacks. In the end it will not matter to us
whether we wrote well or ill; whether we fought with flails or reeds. It
will matter to us greatly on what side we fought.


A writer in the _Yorkshire Evening Post_ is very angry indeed with my
performances in this column. His precise terms of reproach are, "Mr. G.
K. Chesterton is not a humourist: not even a Cockney humourist." I do
not mind his saying that I am not a humourist--in which (to tell the
truth) I think he is quite right. But I do resent his saying that I am
not a Cockney. That envenomed arrow, I admit, went home. If a French
writer said of me, "He is no metaphysician: not even an English
metaphysician," I could swallow the insult to my metaphysics, but I
should feel angry about the insult to my country. So I do not urge that
I am a humourist; but I do insist that I am a Cockney. If I were a
humourist, I should certainly be a Cockney humourist; if I were a saint,
I should certainly be a Cockney saint. I need not recite the splendid
catalogue of Cockney saints who have written their names on our noble
old City churches. I need not trouble you with the long list of the
Cockney humourists who have discharged their bills (or failed to
discharge them) in our noble old City taverns. We can weep together
over the pathos of the poor Yorkshireman, whose county has never
produced some humour not intelligible to the rest of the world. And we
can smile together when he says that somebody or other is "not even" a
Cockney humourist like Samuel Johnson or Charles Lamb. It is surely
sufficiently obvious that all the best humour that exists in our
language is Cockney humour. Chaucer was a Cockney; he had his house
close to the Abbey. Dickens was a Cockney; he said he could not think
without the London streets. The London taverns heard always the
quaintest conversation, whether it was Ben Johnson's at the Mermaid or
Sam Johnson's at the Cock. Even in our own time it may be noted that the
most vital and genuine humour is still written about London. Of this
type is the mild and humane irony which marks Mr. Pett Ridge's studies
of the small grey streets. Of this type is the simple but smashing
laughter of the best tales of Mr. W. W. Jacobs, telling of the smoke and
sparkle of the Thames. No; I concede that I am not a Cockney humourist.
No; I am not worthy to be. Some time, after sad and strenuous
after-lives; some time, after fierce and apocalyptic incarnations; in
some strange world beyond the stars, I may become at last a Cockney
humourist. In that potential paradise I may walk among the Cockney
humourists, if not an equal, at least a companion. I may feel for a
moment on my shoulder the hearty hand of Dryden and thread the
labyrinths of the sweet insanity of Lamb. But that could only be if I
were not only much cleverer, but much better than I am. Before I reach
that sphere I shall have left behind, perhaps, the sphere that is
inhabited by angels, and even passed that which is appropriated
exclusively to the use of Yorkshiremen.

No; London is in this matter attacked upon its strongest ground. London
is the largest of the bloated modern cities; London is the smokiest;
London is the dirtiest; London is, if you will, the most sombre; London
is, if you will, the most miserable. But London is certainly the most
amusing and the most amused. You may prove that we have the most
tragedy; the fact remains that we have the most comedy, that we have the
most farce. We have at the very worst a splendid hypocrisy of humour. We
conceal our sorrow behind a screaming derision. You speak of people who
laugh through their tears; it is our boast that we only weep through our
laughter. There remains always this great boast, perhaps the greatest
boast that is possible to human nature. I mean the great boast that the
most unhappy part of our population is also the most hilarious part.
The poor can forget that social problem which we (the moderately rich)
ought never to forget. Blessed are the poor; for they alone have not the
poor always with them. The honest poor can sometimes forget poverty. The
honest rich can never forget it.

I believe firmly in the value of all vulgar notions, especially of
vulgar jokes. When once you have got hold of a vulgar joke, you may be
certain that you have got hold of a subtle and spiritual idea. The men
who made the joke saw something deep which they could not express except
by something silly and emphatic. They saw something delicate which they
could only express by something indelicate. I remember that Mr. Max
Beerbohm (who has every merit except democracy) attempted to analyse the
jokes at which the mob laughs. He divided them into three sections:
jokes about bodily humiliation, jokes about things alien, such as
foreigners, and jokes about bad cheese. Mr. Max Beerbohm thought he
understood the first two forms; but I am not sure that he did. In order
to understand vulgar humour it is not enough to be humorous. One must
also be vulgar, as I am. And in the first case it is surely obvious that
it is not merely at the fact of something being hurt that we laugh (as I
trust we do) when a Prime Minister sits down on his hat. If that were so
we should laugh whenever we saw a funeral. We do not laugh at the mere
fact of something falling down; there is nothing humorous about leaves
falling or the sun going down. When our house falls down we do not
laugh. All the birds of the air might drop around us in a perpetual
shower like a hailstorm without arousing a smile. If you really ask
yourself why we laugh at a man sitting down suddenly in the street you
will discover that the reason is not only recondite, but ultimately
religious. All the jokes about men sitting down on their hats are really
theological jokes; they are concerned with the Dual Nature of Man. They
refer to the primary paradox that man is superior to all the things
around him and yet is at their mercy.

Quite equally subtle and spiritual is the idea at the back of laughing
at foreigners. It concerns the almost torturing truth of a thing being
like oneself and yet not like oneself. Nobody laughs at what is entirely
foreign; nobody laughs at a palm tree. But it is funny to see the
familiar image of God disguised behind the black beard of a Frenchman or
the black face of a Negro. There is nothing funny in the sounds that are
wholly inhuman, the howling of wild beasts or of the wind. But if a man
begins to talk like oneself, but all the syllables come out different,
then if one is a man one feels inclined to laugh, though if one is a
gentleman one resists the inclination.

Mr. Max Beerbohm, I remember, professed to understand the first two
forms of popular wit, but said that the third quite stumped him. He
could not see why there should be anything funny about bad cheese. I can
tell him at once. He has missed the idea because it is subtle and
philosophical, and he was looking for something ignorant and foolish.
Bad cheese is funny because it is (like the foreigner or the man fallen
on the pavement) the type of the transition or transgression across a
great mystical boundary. Bad cheese symbolises the change from the
inorganic to the organic. Bad cheese symbolises the startling prodigy of
matter taking on vitality. It symbolises the origin of life itself. And
it is only about such solemn matters as the origin of life that the
democracy condescends to joke. Thus, for instance, the democracy jokes
about marriage, because marriage is a part of mankind. But the democracy
would never deign to joke about Free Love, because Free Love is a piece
of priggishness.

As a matter of fact, it will be generally found that the popular joke is
not true to the letter, but is true to the spirit. The vulgar joke is
generally in the oddest way the truth and yet not the fact. For
instance, it is not in the least true that mothers-in-law are as a class
oppressive and intolerable; most of them are both devoted and useful.
All the mothers-in-law I have ever had were admirable. Yet the legend of
the comic papers is profoundly true. It draws attention to the fact that
it is much harder to be a nice mother-in-law than to be nice in any
other conceivable relation of life. The caricatures have drawn the worst
mother-in-law a monster, by way of expressing the fact that the best
mother-in-law is a problem. The same is true of the perpetual jokes in
comic papers about shrewish wives and henpecked husbands. It is all a
frantic exaggeration, but it is an exaggeration of a truth; whereas all
the modern mouthings about oppressed women are the exaggerations of a
falsehood. If you read even the best of the intellectuals of to-day you
will find them saying that in the mass of the democracy the woman is the
chattel of her lord, like his bath or his bed. But if you read the comic
literature of the democracy you will find that the lord hides under the
bed to escape from the wrath of his chattel. This is not the fact, but
it is much nearer the truth. Every man who is married knows quite well,
not only that he does not regard his wife as a chattel, but that no man
can conceivably ever have done so. The joke stands for an ultimate
truth, and that is a subtle truth. It is one not very easy to state
correctly. It can, perhaps, be most correctly stated by saying that,
even if the man is the head of the house, he knows he is the figurehead.

But the vulgar comic papers are so subtle and true that they are even
prophetic. If you really want to know what is going to happen to the
future of our democracy, do not read the modern sociological prophecies,
do not read even Mr. Wells's Utopias for this purpose, though you should
certainly read them if you are fond of good honesty and good English. If
you want to know what will happen, study the pages of _Snaps_ or
_Patchy Bits_ as if they were the dark tablets graven with the
oracles of the gods. For, mean and gross as they are, in all seriousness,
they contain what is entirely absent from all Utopias and all the
sociological conjectures of our time: they contain some hint of the
actual habits and manifest desires of the English people. If we are
really to find out what the democracy will ultimately do with itself,
we shall surely find it, not in the literature which studies the people,
but in the literature which the people studies.

I can give two chance cases in which the common or Cockney joke was a
much better prophecy than the careful observations of the most cultured
observer. When England was agitated, previous to the last General
Election, about the existence of Chinese labour, there was a distinct
difference between the tone of the politicians and the tone of the
populace. The politicians who disapproved of Chinese labour were most
careful to explain that they did not in any sense disapprove of Chinese.
According to them, it was a pure question of legal propriety, of whether
certain clauses in the contract of indenture were not inconsistent with
our constitutional traditions: according to them, the case would have
been the same if the people had been Kaffirs or Englishmen. It all
sounded wonderfully enlightened and lucid; and in comparison the popular
joke looked, of course, very poor. For the popular joke against the
Chinese labourers was simply that they were Chinese; it was an objection
to an alien type; the popular papers were full of gibes about pigtails
and yellow faces. It seemed that the Liberal politicians were raising an
intellectual objection to a doubtful document of State; while it seemed
that the Radical populace were merely roaring with idiotic laughter at
the sight of a Chinaman's clothes. But the popular instinct was
justified, for the vices revealed were Chinese vices.

But there is another case more pleasant and more up to date. The popular
papers always persisted in representing the New Woman or the
Suffragette as an ugly woman, fat, in spectacles, with bulging clothes,
and generally falling off a bicycle. As a matter of plain external fact,
there was not a word of truth in this. The leaders of the movement of
female emancipation are not at all ugly; most of them are
extraordinarily good-looking. Nor are they at all indifferent to art or
decorative costume; many of them are alarmingly attached to these
things. Yet the popular instinct was right. For the popular instinct was
that in this movement, rightly or wrongly, there was an element of
indifference to female dignity, of a quite new willingness of women to
be grotesque. These women did truly despise the pontifical quality of
woman. And in our streets and around our Parliament we have seen the
stately woman of art and culture turn into the comic woman of _Comic
Bits_. And whether we think the exhibition justifiable or not, the
prophecy of the comic papers is justified: the healthy and vulgar masses
were conscious of a hidden enemy to their traditions who has now come
out into the daylight, that the scriptures might be fulfilled. For the
two things that a healthy person hates most between heaven and hell are
a woman who is not dignified and a man who is.


There has appeared in our time a particular class of books and articles
which I sincerely and solemnly think may be called the silliest ever
known among men. They are much more wild than the wildest romances of
chivalry and much more dull than the dullest religious tract. Moreover,
the romances of chivalry were at least about chivalry; the religious
tracts are about religion. But these things are about nothing; they are
about what is called Success. On every bookstall, in every magazine, you
may find works telling people how to succeed. They are books showing men
how to succeed in everything; they are written by men who cannot even
succeed in writing books. To begin with, of course, there is no such
thing as Success. Or, if you like to put it so, there is nothing that is
not successful. That a thing is successful merely means that it is; a
millionaire is successful in being a millionaire and a donkey in being a
donkey. Any live man has succeeded in living; any dead man may have
succeeded in committing suicide. But, passing over the bad logic and bad
philosophy in the phrase, we may take it, as these writers do, in the
ordinary sense of success in obtaining money or worldly position. These
writers profess to tell the ordinary man how he may succeed in his trade
or speculation--how, if he is a builder, he may succeed as a builder;
how, if he is a stockbroker, he may succeed as a stockbroker. They
profess to show him how, if he is a grocer, he may become a sporting
yachtsman; how, if he is a tenth-rate journalist, he may become a peer;
and how, if he is a German Jew, he may become an Anglo-Saxon. This is a
definite and business-like proposal, and I really think that the people
who buy these books (if any people do buy them) have a moral, if not a
legal, right to ask for their money back. Nobody would dare to publish
a book about electricity which literally told one nothing about
electricity; no one would dare to publish an article on botany which
showed that the writer did not know which end of a plant grew in the
earth. Yet our modern world is full of books about Success and
successful people which literally contain no kind of idea, and scarcely
any kind of verbal sense.

It is perfectly obvious that in any decent occupation (such as
bricklaying or writing books) there are only two ways (in any special
sense) of succeeding. One is by doing very good work, the other is by
cheating. Both are much too simple to require any literary explanation.
If you are in for the high jump, either jump higher than any one else,
or manage somehow to pretend that you have done so. If you want to
succeed at whist, either be a good whist-player, or play with marked
cards. You may want a book about jumping; you may want a book about
whist; you may want a book about cheating at whist. But you cannot want
a book about Success. Especially you cannot want a book about Success
such as those which you can now find scattered by the hundred about the
book-market. You may want to jump or to play cards; but you do not want
to read wandering statements to the effect that jumping is jumping, or
that games are won by winners. If these writers, for instance, said
anything about success in jumping it would be something like this: "The
jumper must have a clear aim before him. He must desire definitely to
jump higher than the other men who are in for the same competition. He
must let no feeble feelings of mercy (sneaked from the sickening Little
Englanders and Pro-Boers) prevent him from trying to _do his best_. He
must remember that a competition in jumping is distinctly competitive,
and that, as Darwin has gloriously demonstrated, THE WEAKEST GO TO THE
WALL." That is the kind of thing the book would say, and very useful it
would be, no doubt, if read out in a low and tense voice to a young man
just about to take the high jump. Or suppose that in the course of his
intellectual rambles the philosopher of Success dropped upon our other
case, that of playing cards, his bracing advice would run--"In playing
cards it is very necessary to avoid the mistake (commonly made by
maudlin humanitarians and Free Traders) of permitting your opponent to
win the game. You must have grit and snap and go _in to win_. The days
of idealism and superstition are over. We live in a time of science
and hard common sense, and it has now been definitely proved that in any
game where two are playing IF ONE DOES NOT WIN THE OTHER WILL." It is
all very stirring, of course; but I confess that if I were playing cards
I would rather have some decent little book which told me the rules of
the game. Beyond the rules of the game it is all a question either of
talent or dishonesty; and I will undertake to provide either one or the
other--which, it is not for me to say.

Turning over a popular magazine, I find a queer and amusing example.
There is an article called "The Instinct that Makes People Rich." It is
decorated in front with a formidable portrait of Lord Rothschild. There
are many definite methods, honest and dishonest, which make people rich;
the only "instinct" I know of which does it is that instinct which
theological Christianity crudely describes as "the sin of avarice."
That, however, is beside the present point. I wish to quote the
following exquisite paragraphs as a piece of typical advice as to how to
succeed. It is so practical; it leaves so little doubt about what should
be our next step--"The name of Vanderbilt is synonymous with wealth
gained by modern enterprise. 'Cornelius,' the founder of the family, was
the first of the great American magnates of commerce. He started as the
son of a poor farmer; he ended as a millionaire twenty times over."

"He had the money-making instinct. He seized his opportunities, the
opportunities that were given by the application of the steam-engine to
ocean traffic, and by the birth of railway locomotion in the wealthy but
undeveloped United States of America, and consequently he amassed an
immense fortune.

"Now it is, of course, obvious that we cannot all follow exactly in the
footsteps of this great railway monarch. The precise opportunities that
fell to him do not occur to us. Circumstances have changed. But,
although this is so, still, in our own sphere and in our own
circumstances, we _can_ follow his general methods; we can seize those
opportunities that are given us, and give ourselves a very fair chance
of attaining riches."

In such strange utterances we see quite clearly what is really at the
bottom of all these articles and books. It is not mere business; it is
not even mere cynicism. It is mysticism; the horrible mysticism of
money. The writer of that passage did not really have the remotest
notion of how Vanderbilt made his money, or of how anybody else is to
make his. He does, indeed, conclude his remarks by advocating some
scheme; but it has nothing in the world to do with Vanderbilt. He merely
wished to prostrate himself before the mystery of a millionaire. For
when we really worship anything, we love not only its clearness but its
obscurity. We exult in its very invisibility. Thus, for instance, when a
man is in love with a woman he takes special pleasure in the fact that a
woman is unreasonable. Thus, again, the very pious poet, celebrating his
Creator, takes pleasure in saying that God moves in a mysterious way.
Now, the writer of the paragraph which I have quoted does not seem to
have had anything to do with a god, and I should not think (judging by
his extreme unpracticality) that he had ever been really in love with a
woman. But the thing he does worship--Vanderbilt--he treats in exactly
this mystical manner. He really revels in the fact his deity Vanderbilt
is keeping a secret from him. And it fills his soul with a sort of
transport of cunning, an ecstasy of priestcraft, that he should pretend
to be telling to the multitude that terrible secret which he does not

Speaking about the instinct that makes people rich, the same writer

"In olden days its existence was fully understood. The Greeks enshrined
it in the story of Midas, of the 'Golden Touch.' Here was a man who
turned everything he laid his hands upon into gold. His life was a
progress amidst riches. Out of everything that came in his way he
created the precious metal. 'A foolish legend,' said the wiseacres of
the Victorian age. 'A truth,' say we of to-day. We all know of such men.
We are ever meeting or reading about such persons who turn everything
they touch into gold. Success dogs their very footsteps. Their life's
pathway leads unerringly upwards. They cannot fail."

Unfortunately, however, Midas could fail; he did. His path did not lead
unerringly upward. He starved because whenever he touched a biscuit or a
ham sandwich it turned to gold. That was the whole point of the story,
though the writer has to suppress it delicately, writing so near to a
portrait of Lord Rothschild. The old fables of mankind are, indeed,
unfathomably wise; but we must not have them expurgated in the interests
of Mr. Vanderbilt. We must not have King Midas represented as an example
of success; he was a failure of an unusually painful kind. Also, he had
the ears of an ass. Also (like most other prominent and wealthy persons)
he endeavoured to conceal the fact. It was his barber (if I remember
right) who had to be treated on a confidential footing with regard to
this peculiarity; and his barber, instead of behaving like a go-ahead
person of the Succeed-at-all-costs school and trying to blackmail King
Midas, went away and whispered this splendid piece of society scandal to
the reeds, who enjoyed it enormously. It is said that they also
whispered it as the winds swayed them to and fro. I look reverently at
the portrait of Lord Rothschild; I read reverently about the exploits
of Mr. Vanderbilt. I know that I cannot turn everything I touch to gold;
but then I also know that I have never tried, having a preference for
other substances, such as grass, and good wine. I know that these people
have certainly succeeded in something; that they have certainly overcome
somebody; I know that they are kings in a sense that no men were ever
kings before; that they create markets and bestride continents. Yet it
always seems to me that there is some small domestic fact that they are
hiding, and I have sometimes thought I heard upon the wind the laughter
and whisper of the reeds.

At least, let us hope that we shall all live to see these absurd books
about Success covered with a proper derision and neglect. They do not
teach people to be successful, but they do teach people to be snobbish;
they do spread a sort of evil poetry of worldliness. The Puritans are
always denouncing books that inflame lust; what shall we say of books
that inflame the viler passions of avarice and pride? A hundred years
ago we had the ideal of the Industrious Apprentice; boys were told that
by thrift and work they would all become Lord Mayors. This was
fallacious, but it was manly, and had a minimum of moral truth. In our
society, temperance will not help a poor man to enrich himself, but it
may help him to respect himself. Good work will not make him a rich man,
but good work may make him a good workman. The Industrious Apprentice
rose by virtues few and narrow indeed, but still virtues. But what shall
we say of the gospel preached to the new Industrious Apprentice; the
Apprentice who rises not by his virtues, but avowedly by his vices?


I feel an almost savage envy on hearing that London has been flooded in
my absence, while I am in the mere country. My own Battersea has been, I
understand, particularly favoured as a meeting of the waters. Battersea
was already, as I need hardly say, the most beautiful of human
localities. Now that it has the additional splendour of great sheets of
water, there must be something quite incomparable in the landscape (or
waterscape) of my own romantic town. Battersea must be a vision of
Venice. The boat that brought the meat from the butcher's must have shot
along those lanes of rippling silver with the strange smoothness of the
gondola. The greengrocer who brought cabbages to the corner of the
Latchmere Road must have leant upon the oar with the unearthly grace of
the gondolier. There is nothing so perfectly poetical as an island; and
when a district is flooded it becomes an archipelago.

Some consider such romantic views of flood or fire slightly lacking in
reality. But really this romantic view of such inconveniences is quite
as practical as the other. The true optimist who sees in such things an
opportunity for enjoyment is quite as logical and much more sensible
than the ordinary "Indignant Ratepayer" who sees in them an opportunity
for grumbling. Real pain, as in the case of being burnt at Smithfield or
having a toothache, is a positive thing; it can be supported, but
scarcely enjoyed. But, after all, our toothaches are the exception, and
as for being burnt at Smithfield, it only happens to us at the very
longest intervals. And most of the inconveniences that make men swear or
women cry are really sentimental or imaginative inconveniences--things
altogether of the mind. For instance, we often hear grown-up people
complaining of having to hang about a railway station and wait for a
train. Did you ever hear a small boy complain of having to hang about a
railway station and wait for a train? No; for to him to be inside a
railway station is to be inside a cavern of wonder and a palace of
poetical pleasures. Because to him the red light and the green light on
the signal are like a new sun and a new moon. Because to him when the
wooden arm of the signal falls down suddenly, it is as if a great king
had thrown down his staff as a signal and started a shrieking tournament
of trains. I myself am of little boys' habit in this matter. They also
serve who only stand and wait for the two fifteen. Their meditations may
be full of rich and fruitful things. Many of the most purple hours of my
life have been passed at Clapham Junction, which is now, I suppose,
under water. I have been there in many moods so fixed and mystical that
the water might well have come up to my waist before I noticed it
particularly. But in the case of all such annoyances, as I have said,
everything depends upon the emotional point of view. You can safely
apply the test to almost every one of the things that are currently
talked of as the typical nuisance of daily life.

For instance, there is a current impression that it is unpleasant to
have to run after one's hat. Why should it be unpleasant to the
well-ordered and pious mind? Not merely because it is running, and
running exhausts one. The same people run much faster in games and
sports. The same people run much more eagerly after an uninteresting;
little leather ball than they will after a nice silk hat. There is an
idea that it is humiliating to run after one's hat; and when people say
it is humiliating they mean that it is comic. It certainly is comic; but
man is a very comic creature, and most of the things he does are
comic--eating, for instance. And the most comic things of all are
exactly the things that are most worth doing--such as making love. A man
running after a hat is not half so ridiculous as a man running after a

Now a man could, if he felt rightly in the matter, run after his hat
with the manliest ardour and the most sacred joy. He might regard
himself as a jolly huntsman pursuing a wild animal, for certainly no
animal could be wilder. In fact, I am inclined to believe that
hat-hunting on windy days will be the sport of the upper classes in the
future. There will be a meet of ladies and gentlemen on some high ground
on a gusty morning. They will be told that the professional attendants
have started a hat in such-and-such a thicket, or whatever be the
technical term. Notice that this employment will in the fullest degree
combine sport with humanitarianism. The hunters would feel that they
were not inflicting pain. Nay, they would feel that they were inflicting
pleasure, rich, almost riotous pleasure, upon the people who were
looking on. When last I saw an old gentleman running after his hat in
Hyde Park, I told him that a heart so benevolent as his ought to be
filled with peace and thanks at the thought of how much unaffected
pleasure his every gesture and bodily attitude were at that moment
giving to the crowd.

The same principle can be applied to every other typical domestic worry.
A gentleman trying to get a fly out of the milk or a piece of cork out
of his glass of wine often imagines himself to be irritated. Let him
think for a moment of the patience of anglers sitting by dark pools, and
let his soul be immediately irradiated with gratification and repose.
Again, I have known some people of very modern views driven by their
distress to the use of theological terms to which they attached no
doctrinal significance, merely because a drawer was jammed tight and
they could not pull it out. A friend of mine was particularly afflicted
in this way. Every day his drawer was jammed, and every day in
consequence it was something else that rhymes to it. But I pointed out
to him that this sense of wrong was really subjective and relative; it
rested entirely upon the assumption that the drawer could, should, and
would come out easily. "But if," I said, "you picture to yourself that
you are pulling against some powerful and oppressive enemy, the struggle
will become merely exciting and not exasperating. Imagine that you are
tugging up a lifeboat out of the sea. Imagine that you are roping up a
fellow-creature out of an Alpine crevass. Imagine even that you are a
boy again and engaged in a tug-of-war between French and English."
Shortly after saying this I left him; but I have no doubt at all that my
words bore the best possible fruit. I have no doubt that every day of
his life he hangs on to the handle of that drawer with a flushed face
and eyes bright with battle, uttering encouraging shouts to himself, and
seeming to hear all round him the roar of an applauding ring.

So I do not think that it is altogether fanciful or incredible to
suppose that even the floods in London may be accepted and enjoyed
poetically. Nothing beyond inconvenience seems really to have been
caused by them; and inconvenience, as I have said, is only one aspect,
and that the most unimaginative and accidental aspect of a really
romantic situation. An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly
considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.
The water that girdled the houses and shops of London must, if anything,
have only increased their previous witchery and wonder. For as the Roman
Catholic priest in the story said: "Wine is good with everything except
water," and on a similar principle, water is good with everything except


Most of us will be canvassed soon, I suppose; some of us may even
canvass. Upon which side, of course, nothing will induce me to state,
beyond saying that by a remarkable coincidence it will in every case be
the only side in which a high-minded, public-spirited, and patriotic
citizen can take even a momentary interest. But the general question of
canvassing itself, being a non-party question, is one which we may be
permitted to approach. The rules for canvassers are fairly familiar to
any one who has ever canvassed. They are printed on the little card
which you carry about with you and lose. There is a statement, I think,
that you must not offer a voter food or drink. However hospitable you
may feel towards him in his own house, you must not carry his lunch
about with you. You must not produce a veal cutlet from your tail-coat
pocket. You must not conceal poached eggs about your person. You must
not, like a kind of conjurer, produce baked potatoes from your hat. In
short, the canvasser must not feed the voter in any way. Whether the
voter is allowed to feed the canvasser, whether the voter may give the
canvasser veal cutlets and baked potatoes, is a point of law on which I
have never been able to inform myself. When I found myself canvassing a
gentleman, I have sometimes felt tempted to ask him if there was any
rule against his giving me food and drink; but the matter seemed a
delicate one to approach. His attitude to me also sometimes suggested a
doubt as to whether he would, even if he could. But there are voters who
might find it worth while to discover if there is any law against
bribing a canvasser. They might bribe him to go away.

The second veto for canvassers which was printed on the little card said
that you must not persuade any one to personate a voter. I have no idea
what it means. To dress up as an average voter seems a little vague.
There is no well-recognised uniform, as far as I know, with civic
waistcoat and patriotic whiskers. The enterprise resolves itself into
one somewhat similar to the enterprise of a rich friend of mine who went
to a fancy-dress ball dressed up as a gentleman. Perhaps it means that
there is a practice of personating some individual voter. The canvasser
creeps to the house of his fellow-conspirator carrying a make-up in a
bag. He produces from it a pair of white moustaches and a single
eyeglass, which are sufficient to give the most common-place person a
startling resemblance to the Colonel at No. 80. Or he hurriedly affixes
to his friend that large nose and that bald head which are all that is
essential to an illusion of the presence of Professor Budger. I do not
undertake to unravel these knots. I can only say that when I was a
canvasser I was told by the little card, with every circumstance of
seriousness and authority, that I was not to persuade anybody to
personate a voter: and I can lay my hand upon my heart and affirm that I
never did.

The third injunction on the card was one which seemed to me, if
interpreted exactly and according to its words, to undermine the very
foundations of our politics. It told me that I must not "threaten a
voter with any consequence whatever." No doubt this was intended to
apply to threats of a personal and illegitimate character; as, for
instance, if a wealthy candidate were to threaten to raise all the
rents, or to put up a statue of himself. But as verbally and
grammatically expressed, it certainly would cover those general threats
of disaster to the whole community which are the main matter of
political discussion. When a canvasser says that if the opposition
candidate gets in the country will be ruined, he is threatening the
voters with certain consequences. When the Free Trader says that if
Tariffs are adopted the people in Brompton or Bayswater will crawl about
eating grass, he is threatening them with consequences. When the Tariff
Reformer says that if Free Trade exists for another year St. Paul's
Cathedral will be a ruin and Ludgate Hill as deserted as Stonehenge, he
is also threatening. And what is the good of being a Tariff Reformer if
you can't say that? What is the use of being a politician or a
Parliamentary candidate at all if one cannot tell the people that if the
other man gets in, England will be instantly invaded and enslaved, blood
be pouring down the Strand, and all the English ladies carried off into
harems. But these things are, after all, consequences, so to speak.

The majority of refined persons in our day may generally be heard
abusing the practice of canvassing. In the same way the majority of
refined persons (commonly the same refined persons) may be heard
abusing the practice of interviewing celebrities. It seems a very
singular thing to me that this refined world reserves all its
indignation for the comparatively open and innocent element in both
walks of life. There is really a vast amount of corruption and hypocrisy
in our election politics; about the most honest thing in the whole mess
is the canvassing. A man has not got a right to "nurse" a constituency
with aggressive charities, to buy it with great presents of parks and
libraries, to open vague vistas of future benevolence; all this, which
goes on unrebuked, is bribery and nothing else. But a man has got the
right to go to another free man and ask him with civility whether he
will vote for him. The information can be asked, granted, or refused
without any loss of dignity on either side, which is more than can be
said of a park. It is the same with the place of interviewing in
journalism. In a trade where there are labyrinths of insincerity,
interviewing is about the most simple and the most sincere thing there
is. The canvasser, when he wants to know a man's opinions, goes and asks
him. It may be a bore; but it is about as plain and straight a thing as
he could do. So the interviewer, when he wants to know a man's opinions,
goes and asks him. Again, it may be a bore; but again, it is about as
plain and straight as anything could be. But all the other real and
systematic cynicisms of our journalism pass without being vituperated
and even without being known--the financial motives of policy, the
misleading posters, the suppression of just letters of complaint. A
statement about a man may be infamously untrue, but it is read calmly.
But a statement by a man to an interviewer is felt as indefensibly
vulgar. That the paper should misrepresent him is nothing; that he
should represent himself is bad taste. The whole error in both cases
lies in the fact that the refined persons are attacking politics and
journalism on the ground of vulgarity. Of course, politics and
journalism are, as it happens, very vulgar. But their vulgarity is not
the worst thing about them. Things are so bad with both that by this
time their vulgarity is the best thing about them. Their vulgarity is at
least a noisy thing; and their great danger is that silence that always
comes before decay. The conversational persuasion at elections is
perfectly human and rational; it is the silent persuasions that are
utterly damnable.

If it is true that the Commons' House will not hold all the Commons, it
is a very good example of what we call the anomalies of the English
Constitution. It is also, I think, a very good example of how highly
undesirable those anomalies really are. Most Englishmen say that these
anomalies do not matter; they are not ashamed of being illogical; they
are proud of being illogical. Lord Macaulay (a very typical Englishman,
romantic, prejudiced, poetical), Lord Macaulay said that he would not
lift his hand to get rid of an anomaly that was not also a grievance.
Many other sturdy romantic Englishmen say the same. They boast of our
anomalies; they boast of our illogicality; they say it shows what a
practical people we are. They are utterly wrong. Lord Macaulay was in
this matter, as in a few others, utterly wrong. Anomalies do matter
very much, and do a great deal of harm; abstract illogicalities do
matter a great deal, and do a great deal of harm. And this for a reason
that any one at all acquainted with human nature can see for himself.
All injustice begins in the mind. And anomalies accustom the mind to the
idea of unreason and untruth. Suppose I had by some prehistoric law the
power of forcing every man in Battersea to nod his head three times
before he got out of bed. The practical politicians might say that this
power was a harmless anomaly; that it was not a grievance. It could do
my subjects no harm; it could do me no good. The people of Battersea,
they would say, might safely submit to it. But the people of Battersea
could not safely submit to it, for all that. If I had nodded their heads
for them for fifty years I could cut off their heads for them at the end
of it with immeasurably greater ease. For there would have permanently
sunk into every man's mind the notion that it was a natural thing for me
to have a fantastic and irrational power. They would have grown
accustomed to insanity.

For, in order that men should resist injustice, something more is
necessary than that they should think injustice unpleasant. They must
think injustice _absurd_; above all, they must think it startling. They
must retain the violence of a virgin astonishment. That is the
explanation of the singular fact which must have struck many people in
the relations of philosophy and reform. It is the fact (I mean) that
optimists are more practical reformers than pessimists. Superficially,
one would imagine that the railer would be the reformer; that the man
who thought that everything was wrong would be the man to put everything
right. In historical practice the thing is quite the other way;
curiously enough, it is the man who likes things as they are who really
makes them better. The optimist Dickens has achieved more reforms than
the pessimist Gissing. A man like Rousseau has far too rosy a theory of
human nature; but he produces a revolution. A man like David Hume thinks
that almost all things are depressing; but he is a Conservative, and
wishes to keep them as they are. A man like Godwin believes existence to
be kindly; but he is a rebel. A man like Carlyle believes existence to
be cruel; but he is a Tory. Everywhere the man who alters things begins
by liking things. And the real explanation of this success of the
optimistic reformer, of this failure of the pessimistic reformer, is,
after all, an explanation of sufficient simplicity. It is because the
optimist can look at wrong not only with indignation, but with a
startled indignation. When the pessimist looks at any infamy, it is to
him, after all, only a repetition of the infamy of existence. The Court
of Chancery is indefensible--like mankind. The Inquisition is
abominable--like the universe. But the optimist sees injustice as
something discordant and unexpected, and it stings him into action. The
pessimist can be enraged at wrong; but only the optimist can be
surprised at it.

And it is the same with the relations of an anomaly to the logical
mind. The pessimist resents evil (like Lord Macaulay) solely because it
is a grievance. The optimist resents it also, because it is an anomaly;
a contradiction to his conception of the course of things. And it is not
at all unimportant, but on the contrary most important, that this course
of things in politics and elsewhere should be lucid, explicable and
defensible. When people have got used to unreason they can no longer be
startled at injustice. When people have grown familiar with an anomaly,
they are prepared to that extent for a grievance; they may think the
grievance grievous, but they can no longer think it strange. Take, if
only as an excellent example, the very matter alluded to before; I mean
the seats, or rather the lack of seats, in the House of Commons. Perhaps
it is true that under the best conditions it would never happen that
every member turned up. Perhaps a complete attendance would never
actually be. But who can tell how much influence in keeping members away
may have been exerted by this calm assumption that they would stop away?
How can any man be expected to help to make a full attendance when he
knows that a full attendance is actually forbidden? How can the men who
make up the Chamber do their duty reasonably when the very men who built
the House have not done theirs reasonably? If the trumpet give an
uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself for the battle? And what if
the remarks of the trumpet take this form, "I charge you as you love
your King and country to come to this Council. And I know you won't."


If a man must needs be conceited, it is certainly better that he should
be conceited about some merits or talents that he does not really
possess. For then his vanity remains more or less superficial; it
remains a mere mistake of fact, like that of a man who thinks he
inherits the royal blood or thinks he has an infallible system for Monte
Carlo. Because the merit is an unreal merit, it does not corrupt or
sophisticate his real merits. He is vain about the virtue he has not
got; but he may be humble about the virtues that he has got. His truly
honourable qualities remain in their primordial innocence; he cannot see
them and he cannot spoil them. If a man's mind is erroneously possessed
with the idea that he is a great violinist, that need not prevent his
being a gentleman and an honest man. But if once his mind is possessed
in any strong degree with the knowledge that he is a gentleman, he will
soon cease to be one.

But there is a third kind of satisfaction of which I have noticed one or
two examples lately--another kind of satisfaction which is neither a
pleasure in the virtues that we do possess nor a pleasure in the virtues
we do not possess. It is the pleasure which a man takes in the presence
or absence of certain things in himself without ever adequately asking
himself whether in his case they constitute virtues at all. A man will
plume himself because he is not bad in some particular way, when the
truth is that he is not good enough to be bad in that particular way.
Some priggish little clerk will say, "I have reason to congratulate
myself that I am a civilised person, and not so bloodthirsty as the Mad
Mullah." Somebody ought to say to him, "A really good man would be less
bloodthirsty than the Mullah. But you are less bloodthirsty, not because
you are more of a good man, but because you are a great deal less of a
man. You are not bloodthirsty, not because you would spare your enemy,
but because you would run away from him." Or again, some Puritan with a
sullen type of piety would say, "I have reason to congratulate myself
that I do not worship graven images like the old heathen Greeks." And
again somebody ought to say to him, "The best religion may not worship
graven images, because it may see beyond them. But if you do not worship
graven images, it is only because you are mentally and morally quite
incapable of graving them. True religion, perhaps, is above idolatry.
But you are below idolatry. You are not holy enough yet to worship a
lump of stone."

Mr. F. C. Gould, the brilliant and felicitous caricaturist, recently
delivered a most interesting speech upon the nature and atmosphere of
our modern English caricature. I think there is really very little to
congratulate oneself about in the condition of English caricature. There
are few causes for pride; probably the greatest cause for pride is Mr.
F. C. Gould. But Mr. F. C. Gould, forbidden by modesty to adduce this
excellent ground for optimism, fell back upon saying a thing which is
said by numbers of other people, but has not perhaps been said lately
with the full authority of an eminent cartoonist. He said that he
thought "that they might congratulate themselves that the style of
caricature which found acceptation nowadays was very different from the
lampoon of the old days." Continuing, he said, according to the
newspaper report, "On looking back to the political lampoons of
Rowlandson's and Gilray's time they would find them coarse and brutal.
In some countries abroad still, 'even in America,' the method of
political caricature was of the bludgeon kind. The fact was we had
passed the bludgeon stage. If they were brutal in attacking a man, even
for political reasons, they roused sympathy for the man who was
attacked. What they had to do was to rub in the point they wanted to
emphasise as gently as they could." (Laughter and applause.)

Anybody reading these words, and anybody who heard them, will certainly
feel that there is in them a great deal of truth, as well as a great
deal of geniality. But along with that truth and with that geniality
there is a streak of that erroneous type of optimism which is founded on
the fallacy of which I have spoken above. Before we congratulate
ourselves upon the absence of certain faults from our nation or society,
we ought to ask ourselves why it is that these faults are absent. Are we
without the fault because we have the opposite virtue? Or are we without
the fault because we have the opposite fault? It is a good thing
assuredly, to be innocent of any excess; but let us be sure that we are
not innocent of excess merely by being guilty of defect. Is it really
true that our English political satire is so moderate because it is so
magnanimous, so forgiving, so saintly? Is it penetrated through and
through with a mystical charity, with a psychological tenderness? Do we
spare the feelings of the Cabinet Minister because we pierce through all
his apparent crimes and follies down to the dark virtues of which his
own soul is unaware? Do we temper the wind to the Leader of the
Opposition because in our all-embracing heart we pity and cherish the
struggling spirit of the Leader of the Opposition? Briefly, have we left
off being brutal because we are too grand and generous to be brutal? Is
it really true that we are _better_ than brutality? Is it really true
that we have _passed_ the bludgeon stage?

I fear that there is, to say the least of it, another side to the
matter. Is it not only too probable that the mildness of our political
satire, when compared with the political satire of our fathers, arises
simply from the profound unreality of our current politics? Rowlandson
and Gilray did not fight merely because they were naturally pothouse
pugilists; they fought because they had something to fight about. It is
easy enough to be refined about things that do not matter; but men
kicked and plunged a little in that portentous wrestle in which swung to
and fro, alike dizzy with danger, the independence of England, the
independence of Ireland, the independence of France. If we wish for a
proof of this fact that the lack of refinement did not come from mere
brutality, the proof is easy. The proof is that in that struggle no
personalities were more brutal than the really refined personalities.
None were more violent and intolerant than those who were by nature
polished and sensitive. Nelson, for instance, had the nerves and good
manners of a woman: nobody in his senses, I suppose, would call Nelson
"brutal." But when he was touched upon the national matter, there sprang
out of him a spout of oaths, and he could only tell men to "Kill! kill!
kill the d----d Frenchmen." It would be as easy to take examples on the
other side. Camille Desmoulins was a man of much the same type, not only
elegant and sweet in temper, but almost tremulously tender and
humanitarian. But he was ready, he said, "to embrace Liberty upon a pile
of corpses." In Ireland there were even more instances. Robert Emmet was
only one famous example of a whole family of men at once sensitive and
savage. I think that Mr. F.C. Gould is altogether wrong in talking of
this political ferocity as if it were some sort of survival from ruder
conditions, like a flint axe or a hairy man. Cruelty is, perhaps, the
worst kind of sin. Intellectual cruelty is certainly the worst kind of
cruelty. But there is nothing in the least barbaric or ignorant about
intellectual cruelty. The great Renaissance artists who mixed colours
exquisitely mixed poisons equally exquisitely; the great Renaissance
princes who designed instruments of music also designed instruments of
torture. Barbarity, malignity, the desire to hurt men, are the evil
things generated in atmospheres of intense reality when great nations or
great causes are at war. We may, perhaps, be glad that we have not got
them: but it is somewhat dangerous to be proud that we have not got
them. Perhaps we are hardly great enough to have them. Perhaps some
great virtues have to be generated, as in men like Nelson or Emmet,
before we can have these vices at all, even as temptations. I, for one,
believe that if our caricaturists do not hate their enemies, it is not
because they are too big to hate them, but because their enemies are not
big enough to hate. I do not think we have passed the bludgeon stage. I
believe we have not come to the bludgeon stage. We must be better,
braver, and purer men than we are before we come to the bludgeon stage.

Let us then, by all means, be proud of the virtues that we have not got;
but let us not be too arrogant about the virtues that we cannot help
having. It may be that a man living on a desert island has a right to
congratulate himself upon the fact that he can meditate at his ease. But
he must not congratulate himself on the fact that he is on a desert
island, and at the same time congratulate himself on the self-restraint
he shows in not going to a ball every night. Similarly our England may
have a right to congratulate itself upon the fact that her politics are
very quiet, amicable, and humdrum. But she must not congratulate herself
upon that fact and also congratulate herself upon the self-restraint she
shows in not tearing herself and her citizens into rags. Between two
English Privy Councillors polite language is a mark of civilisation, but
really not a mark of magnanimity.

Allied to this question is the kindred question on which we so often
hear an innocent British boast--the fact that our statesmen are
privately on very friendly relations, although in Parliament they sit on
opposite sides of the House. Here, again, it is as well to have no
illusions. Our statesmen are not monsters of mystical generosity or
insane logic, who are really able to hate a man from three to twelve and
to love him from twelve to three. If our social relations are more
peaceful than those of France or America or the England of a hundred
years ago, it is simply because our politics are more peaceful; not
improbably because our politics are more fictitious. If our statesmen
agree more in private, it is for the very simple reason that they agree
more in public. And the reason they agree so much in both cases is
really that they belong to one social class; and therefore the dining
life is the real life. Tory and Liberal statesmen like each other, but
it is not because they are both expansive; it is because they are both

* * * * *


I notice that some papers, especially papers that call themselves
patriotic, have fallen into quite a panic over the fact that we have
been twice beaten in the world of sport, that a Frenchman has beaten us
at golf, and that Belgians have beaten us at rowing. I suppose that the
incidents are important to any people who ever believed in the
self-satisfied English legend on this subject. I suppose that there are
men who vaguely believe that we could never be beaten by a Frenchman,
despite the fact that we have often been beaten by Frenchmen, and once
by a Frenchwoman. In the old pictures in _Punch_ you will find a
recurring piece of satire. The English caricaturists always assumed that
a Frenchman could not ride to hounds or enjoy English hunting. It did
not seem to occur to them that all the people who founded English
hunting were Frenchmen. All the Kings and nobles who originally rode to
hounds spoke French. Large numbers of those Englishmen who still ride to
hounds have French names. I suppose that the thing is important to any
one who is ignorant of such evident matters as these. I suppose that if
a man has ever believed that we English have some sacred and separate
right to be athletic, such reverses do appear quite enormous and
shocking. They feel as if, while the proper sun was rising in the east,
some other and unexpected sun had begun to rise in the north-north-west
by north. For the benefit, the moral and intellectual benefit of such
people, it may be worth while to point out that the Anglo-Saxon has in
these cases been defeated precisely by those competitors whom he has
always regarded as being out of the running; by Latins, and by Latins of
the most easy and unstrenuous type; not only by Frenchman, but by
Belgians. All this, I say, is worth telling to any intelligent person
who believes in the haughty theory of Anglo-Saxon superiority. But,
then, no intelligent person does believe in the haughty theory of
Anglo-Saxon superiority. No quite genuine Englishman ever did believe in
it. And the genuine Englishman these defeats will in no respect dismay.

The genuine English patriot will know that the strength of England has
never depended upon any of these things; that the glory of England has
never had anything to do with them, except in the opinion of a large
section of the rich and a loose section of the poor which copies the
idleness of the rich. These people will, of course, think too much of
our failure, just as they thought too much of our success. The typical
Jingoes who have admired their countrymen too much for being conquerors
will, doubtless, despise their countrymen too much for being conquered.
But the Englishman with any feeling for England will know that athletic
failures do not prove that England is weak, any more than athletic
successes proved that England was strong. The truth is that athletics,
like all other things, especially modern, are insanely individualistic.
The Englishmen who win sporting prizes are exceptional among Englishmen,
for the simple reason that they are exceptional even among men. English
athletes represent England just about as much as Mr. Barnum's freaks
represent America. There are so few of such people in the whole world
that it is almost a toss-up whether they are found in this or that

If any one wants a simple proof of this, it is easy to find. When the
great English athletes are not exceptional Englishmen they are generally
not Englishmen at all. Nay, they are often representatives of races of
which the average tone is specially incompatible with athletics. For
instance, the English are supposed to rule the natives of India in
virtue of their superior hardiness, superior activity, superior health
of body and mind. The Hindus are supposed to be our subjects because
they are less fond of action, less fond of openness and the open air. In
a word, less fond of cricket. And, substantially, this is probably true,
that the Indians are less fond of cricket. All the same, if you ask
among Englishmen for the very best cricket-player, you will find that he
is an Indian. Or, to take another case: it is, broadly speaking, true
that the Jews are, as a race, pacific, intellectual, indifferent to war,
like the Indians, or, perhaps, contemptuous of war, like the Chinese:
nevertheless, of the very good prize-fighters, one or two have been

This is one of the strongest instances of the particular kind of evil
that arises from our English form of the worship of athletics. It
concentrates too much upon the success of individuals. It began, quite
naturally and rightly, with wanting England to win. The second stage was
that it wanted some Englishmen to win. The third stage was (in the
ecstasy and agony of some special competition) that it wanted one
particular Englishman to win. And the fourth stage was that when he had
won, it discovered that he was not even an Englishman.

This is one of the points, I think, on which something might really be
said for Lord Roberts and his rather vague ideas which vary between
rifle clubs and conscription. Whatever may be the advantages or
disadvantages otherwise of the idea, it is at least an idea of procuring
equality and a sort of average in the athletic capacity of the people;
it might conceivably act as a corrective to our mere tendency to see
ourselves in certain exceptional athletes. As it is, there are millions
of Englishmen who really think that they are a muscular race because
C.B. Fry is an Englishman. And there are many of them who think vaguely
that athletics must belong to England because Ranjitsinhji is an Indian.

But the real historic strength of England, physical and moral, has never
had anything to do with this athletic specialism; it has been rather
hindered by it. Somebody said that the Battle of Waterloo was won on
Eton playing-fields. It was a particularly unfortunate remark, for the
English contribution to the victory of Waterloo depended very much more
than is common in victories upon the steadiness of the rank and file in
an almost desperate situation. The Battle of Waterloo was won by the
stubbornness of the common soldier--that is to say, it was won by the
man who had never been to Eton. It was absurd to say that Waterloo was
won on Eton cricket-fields. But it might have been fairly said that
Waterloo was won on the village green, where clumsy boys played a very
clumsy cricket. In a word, it was the average of the nation that was
strong, and athletic glories do not indicate much about the average of a
nation. Waterloo was not won by good cricket-players. But Waterloo was
won by bad cricket-players, by a mass of men who had some minimum of
athletic instincts and habits.

It is a good sign in a nation when such things are done badly. It shows
that all the people are doing them. And it is a bad sign in a nation
when such things are done very well, for it shows that only a few
experts and eccentrics are doing them, and that the nation is merely
looking on. Suppose that whenever we heard of walking in England it
always meant walking forty-five miles a day without fatigue. We should
be perfectly certain that only a few men were walking at all, and that
all the other British subjects were being wheeled about in Bath-chairs.
But if when we hear of walking it means slow walking, painful walking,
and frequent fatigue, then we know that the mass of the nation still is
walking. We know that England is still literally on its feet.

The difficulty is therefore that the actual raising of the standard of
athletics has probably been bad for national athleticism. Instead of the
tournament being a healthy _melee_ into which any ordinary man would
rush and take his chance, it has become a fenced and guarded
tilting-yard for the collision of particular champions against whom no
ordinary man would pit himself or even be permitted to pit himself. If
Waterloo was won on Eton cricket-fields it was because Eton cricket was
probably much more careless then than it is now. As long as the game was
a game, everybody wanted to join in it. When it becomes an art, every
one wants to look at it. When it was frivolous it may have won Waterloo:
when it was serious and efficient it lost Magersfontein.

In the Waterloo period there was a general rough-and-tumble athleticism
among average Englishmen. It cannot be re-created by cricket, or by
conscription, or by any artificial means. It was a thing of the soul. It
came out of laughter, religion, and the spirit of the place. But it was
like the modern French duel in this--that it might happen to anybody. If
I were a French journalist it might really happen that Monsieur
Clemenceau might challenge me to meet him with pistols. But I do not
think that it is at all likely that Mr. C. B. Fry will ever challenge me
to meet him with cricket-bats.


A little while ago I fell out of England into the town of Paris. If a
man fell out of the moon into the town of Paris he would know that it
was the capital of a great nation. If, however, he fell (perhaps off
some other side of the moon) so as to hit the city of London, he would
not know so well that it was the capital of a great nation; at any rate,
he would not know that the nation was so great as it is. This would be
so even on the assumption that the man from the moon could not read our
alphabet, as presumably he could not, unless elementary education in
that planet has gone to rather unsuspected lengths. But it is true that
a great part of the distinctive quality which separates Paris from
London may be even seen in the names. Real democrats always insist that
England is an aristocratic country. Real aristocrats always insist (for
some mysterious reason) that it is a democratic country. But if any one
has any real doubt about the matter let him consider simply the names of
the streets. Nearly all the streets out of the Strand, for instance, are
named after the first name, second name, third name, fourth, fifth, and
sixth names of some particular noble family; after their relations,
connections, or places of residence--Arundel Street, Norfolk Street,
Villiers Street, Bedford Street, Southampton Street, and any number of
others. The names are varied, so as to introduce the same family under
all sorts of different surnames. Thus we have Arundel Street and also
Norfolk Street; thus we have Buckingham Street and also Villiers Street.
To say that this is not aristocracy is simply intellectual impudence. I
am an ordinary citizen, and my name is Gilbert Keith Chesterton; and I
confess that if I found three streets in a row in the Strand, the first
called Gilbert Street, the second Keith Street, and the third Chesterton
Street, I should consider that I had become a somewhat more important
person in the commonwealth than was altogether good for its health. If
Frenchmen ran London (which God forbid!), they would think it quite as
ludicrous that those streets should be named after the Duke of
Buckingham as that they should be named after me. They are streets out
of one of the main thoroughfares of London. If French methods were
adopted, one of them would be called Shakspere Street, another Cromwell
Street, another Wordsworth Street; there would be statues of each of
these persons at the end of each of these streets, and any streets left
over would be named after the date on which the Reform Bill was passed
or the Penny Postage established.

Suppose a man tried to find people in London by the names of the places.
It would make a fine farce, illustrating our illogicality. Our hero
having once realised that Buckingham Street was named after the
Buckingham family, would naturally walk into Buckingham Palace in search
of the Duke of Buckingham. To his astonishment he would meet somebody
quite different. His simple lunar logic would lead him to suppose that
if he wanted the Duke of Marlborough (which seems unlikely) he would
find him at Marlborough House. He would find the Prince of Wales. When
at last he understood that the Marlboroughs live at Blenheim, named
after the great Marlborough's victory, he would, no doubt, go there. But
he would again find himself in error if, acting upon this principle, he
tried to find the Duke of Wellington, and told the cabman to drive to
Waterloo. I wonder that no one has written a wild romance about the
adventures of such an alien, seeking the great English aristocrats, and
only guided by the names; looking for the Duke of Bedford in the town of
that name, seeking for some trace of the Duke of Norfolk in Norfolk. He
might sail for Wellington in New Zealand to find the ancient seat of the
Wellingtons. The last scene might show him trying to learn Welsh in
order to converse with the Prince of Wales.

But even if the imaginary traveller knew no alphabet of this earth at
all, I think it would still be possible to suppose him seeing a
difference between London and Paris, and, upon the whole, the real
difference. He would not be able to read the words "Quai Voltaire;" but
he would see the sneering statue and the hard, straight roads; without
having heard of Voltaire he would understand that the city was
Voltairean. He would not know that Fleet Street was named after the
Fleet Prison. But the same national spirit which kept the Fleet Prison
closed and narrow still keeps Fleet Street closed and narrow. Or, if you
will, you may call Fleet Street cosy, and the Fleet Prison cosy. I think
I could be more comfortable in the Fleet Prison, in an English way of
comfort, than just under the statue of Voltaire. I think that the man
from the moon would know France without knowing French; I think that he
would know England without having heard the word. For in the last resort
all men talk by signs. To talk by statues is to talk by signs; to talk
by cities is to talk by signs. Pillars, palaces, cathedrals, temples,
pyramids, are an enormous dumb alphabet: as if some giant held up his
fingers of stone. The most important things at the last are always said
by signs, even if, like the Cross on St. Paul's, they are signs in
heaven. If men do not understand signs, they will never understand

For my part, I should be inclined to suggest that the chief object of
education should be to restore simplicity. If you like to put it so, the
chief object of education is not to learn things; nay, the chief object
of education is to unlearn things. The chief object of education is to
unlearn all the weariness and wickedness of the world and to get back
into that state of exhilaration we all instinctively celebrate when we
write by preference of children and of boys. If I were an examiner
appointed to examine all examiners (which does not at present appear
probable), I would not only ask the teachers how much knowledge they had
imparted; I would ask them how much splendid and scornful ignorance they
had erected, like some royal tower in arms. But, in any case, I would
insist that people should have so much simplicity as would enable them
to see things suddenly and to see things as they are. I do not care so
much whether they can read the names over the shops. I do care very much
whether they can read the shops. I do not feel deeply troubled as to
whether they can tell where London is on the map so long as they can
tell where Brixton is on the way home. I do not even mind whether they
can put two and two together in the mathematical sense; I am content if
they can put two and two together in the metaphorical sense. But all
this longer statement of an obvious view comes back to the metaphor I
have employed. I do not care a dump whether they know the alphabet, so
long as they know the dumb alphabet.

Unfortunately, I have noticed in many aspects of our popular education
that this is not done at all. One teaches our London children to see
London with abrupt and simple eyes. And London is far more difficult to
see properly than any other place. London is a riddle. Paris is an
explanation. The education of the Parisian child is something
corresponding to the clear avenues and the exact squares of Paris. When
the Parisian boy has done learning about the French reason and the
Roman order he can go out and see the thing repeated in the shapes of
many shining public places, in the angles of many streets. But when the
English boy goes out, after learning about a vague progress and
idealism, he cannot see it anywhere. He cannot see anything anywhere,
except Sapolio and the _Daily Mail_. We must either alter London to suit
the ideals of our education, or else alter our education to suit the
great beauty of London.


It is obvious that there is a great deal of difference between being
international and being cosmopolitan. All good men are international.
Nearly all bad men are cosmopolitan. If we are to be international we
must be national. And it is largely because those who call themselves
the friends of peace have not dwelt sufficiently on this distinction
that they do not impress the bulk of any of the nations to which they
belong. International peace means a peace between nations, not a peace
after the destruction of nations, like the Buddhist peace after the
destruction of personality. The golden age of the good European is like
the heaven of the Christian: it is a place where people will love each
other; not like the heaven of the Hindu, a place where they will be each
other. And in the case of national character this can be seen in a
curious way. It will generally be found, I think, that the more a man
really appreciates and admires the soul of another people the less he
will attempt to imitate it; he will be conscious that there is something
in it too deep and too unmanageable to imitate. The Englishman who has a
fancy for France will try to be French; the Englishman who admires
France will remain obstinately English. This is to be particularly
noticed in the case of our relations with the French, because it is one
of the outstanding peculiarities of the French that their vices are all
on the surface, and their extraordinary virtues concealed. One might
almost say that their vices are the flower of their virtues.

Thus their obscenity is the expression of their passionate love of
dragging all things into the light. The avarice of their peasants means
the independence of their peasants. What the English call their rudeness
in the streets is a phase of their social equality. The worried look of
their women is connected with the responsibility of their women; and a
certain unconscious brutality of hurry and gesture in the men is related
to their inexhaustible and extraordinary military courage. Of all
countries, therefore, France is the worst country for a superficial fool
to admire. Let a fool hate France: if the fool loves it he will soon be
a knave. He will certainly admire it, not only for the things that are
not creditable, but actually for the things that are not there. He will
admire the grace and indolence of the most industrious people in the
world. He will admire the romance and fantasy of the most determinedly
respectable and commonplace people in the world. This mistake the
Englishman will make if he admires France too hastily; but the mistake
that he makes about France will be slight compared with the mistake that
he makes about himself. An Englishman who professes really to like
French realistic novels, really to be at home in a French modern
theatre, really to experience no shock on first seeing the savage French
caricatures, is making a mistake very dangerous for his own sincerity.
He is admiring something he does not understand. He is reaping where he
has not sown, and taking up where he has not laid down; he is trying to
taste the fruit when he has never toiled over the tree. He is trying to
pluck the exquisite fruit of French cynicism, when he has never tilled
the rude but rich soil of French virtue.

The thing can only be made clear to Englishmen by turning it round.
Suppose a Frenchman came out of democratic France to live in England,
where the shadow of the great houses still falls everywhere, and where
even freedom was, in its origin, aristocratic. If the Frenchman saw our
aristocracy and liked it, if he saw our snobbishness and liked it, if he
set himself to imitate it, we all know what we should feel. We all know
that we should feel that that particular Frenchman was a repulsive
little gnat. He would be imitating English aristocracy; he would be
imitating the English vice. But he would not even understand the vice he
plagiarised: especially he would not understand that the vice is partly
a virtue. He would not understand those elements in the English which
balance snobbishness and make it human: the great kindness of the
English, their hospitality, their unconscious poetry, their sentimental
conservatism, which really admires the gentry. The French Royalist sees
that the English like their King. But he does not grasp that while it is
base to worship a King, it is almost noble to worship a powerless King.
The impotence of the Hanoverian Sovereigns has raised the English loyal
subject almost to the chivalry and dignity of a Jacobite. The Frenchman
sees that the English servant is respectful: he does not realise that he
is also disrespectful; that there is an English legend of the humorous
and faithful servant, who is as much a personality as his master; the
Caleb Balderstone, the Sam Weller. He sees that the English do admire a
nobleman; he does not allow for the fact that they admire a nobleman
most when he does not behave like one. They like a noble to be
unconscious and amiable: the slave may be humble, but the master must
not be proud. The master is Life, as they would like to enjoy it; and
among the joys they desire in him there is none which they desire more
sincerely than that of generosity, of throwing money about among
mankind, or, to use the noble mediaeval word, largesse--the joy of
largeness. That is why a cabman tells you are no gentleman if you
give him his correct fare. Not only his pocket, but his soul is hurt.
You have wounded his ideal. You have defaced his vision of the perfect
aristocrat. All this is really very subtle and elusive; it is very
difficult to separate what is mere slavishness from what is a sort of
vicarious nobility in the English love of a lord. And no Frenchman
could easily grasp it at all. He would think it was mere slavishness;
and if he liked it, he would be a slave. So every Englishman must (at
first) feel French candour to be mere brutality. And if he likes it, he
is a brute. These national merits must not be understood so easily. It
requires long years of plenitude and quiet, the slow growth of great
parks, the seasoning of oaken beams, the dark enrichment of red wine in
cellars and in inns, all the leisure and the life of England through
many centuries, to produce at last the generous and genial fruit of
English snobbishness. And it requires battery and barricade, songs in
the streets, and ragged men dead for an idea, to produce and justify the
terrible flower of French indecency.

When I was in Paris a short time ago, I went with an English friend of
mine to an extremely brilliant and rapid succession of French plays,
each occupying about twenty minutes. They were all astonishingly
effective; but there was one of them which was so effective that my
friend and I fought about it outside, and had almost to be separated by
the police. It was intended to indicate how men really behaved in a
wreck or naval disaster, how they break down, how they scream, how they
fight each other without object and in a mere hatred of everything. And
then there was added, with all that horrible irony which Voltaire began,
a scene in which a great statesman made a speech over their bodies,
saying that they were all heroes and had died in a fraternal embrace. My
friend and I came out of this theatre, and as he had lived long in
Paris, he said, like a Frenchman: "What admirable artistic arrangement!
Is it not exquisite?" "No," I replied, assuming as far as possible the
traditional attitude of John Bull in the pictures in _Punch_--"No, it is
not exquisite. Perhaps it is unmeaning; if it is unmeaning I do not
mind. But if it has a meaning I know what the meaning is; it is that
under all their pageant of chivalry men are not only beasts, but even
hunted beasts. I do not know much of humanity, especially when humanity
talks in French. But I know when a thing is meant to uplift the human
soul, and when it is meant to depress it. I know that 'Cyrano de
Bergerac' (where the actors talked even quicker) was meant to encourage
man. And I know that this was meant to discourage him." "These
sentimental and moral views of art," began my friend, but I broke into
his words as a light broke into my mind. "Let me say to you," I said,
"what Jaures said to Liebknecht at the Socialist Conference: 'You have
not died on the barricades'. You are an Englishman, as I am, and you
ought to be as amiable as I am. These people have some right to be
terrible in art, for they have been terrible in politics. They may
endure mock tortures on the stage; they have seen real tortures in the
streets. They have been hurt for the idea of Democracy. They have been
hurt for the idea of Catholicism. It is not so utterly unnatural to them
that they should be hurt for the idea of literature. But, by blazes, it
is altogether unnatural to me! And the worst thing of all is that I, who
am an Englishman, loving comfort, should find comfort in such things as
this. The French do not seek comfort here, but rather unrest. This
restless people seeks to keep itself in a perpetual agony of the
revolutionary mood. Frenchmen, seeking revolution, may find the
humiliation of humanity inspiring. But God forbid that two
pleasure-seeking Englishmen should ever find it pleasant!"


The difference between two great nations can be illustrated by the
coincidence that at this moment both France and England are engaged in
discussing the memorial of a literary man. France is considering the
celebration of the late Zola, England is considering that of the
recently deceased Shakspere. There is some national significance, it may
be, in the time that has elapsed. Some will find impatience and
indelicacy in this early attack on Zola or deification of him; but the
nation which has sat still for three hundred years after Shakspere's
funeral may be considered, perhaps, to have carried delicacy too far.
But much deeper things are involved than the mere matter of time. The
point of the contrast is that the French are discussing whether there
shall be any monument, while the English are discussing only what the
monument shall be. In other words, the French are discussing a living
question, while we are discussing a dead one. Or rather, not a dead one,
but a settled one, which is quite a different thing.

When a thing of the intellect is settled it is not dead: rather it is
immortal. The multiplication table is immortal, and so is the fame of
Shakspere. But the fame of Zola is not dead or not immortal; it is at
its crisis, it is in the balance; and may be found wanting. The French,
therefore, are quite right in considering it a living question. It is
still living as a question, because it is not yet solved. But Shakspere
is not a living question: he is a living answer.

For my part, therefore, I think the French Zola controversy much more
practical and exciting than the English Shakspere one. The admission of
Zola to the Pantheon may be regarded as defining Zola's position. But
nobody could say that a statue of Shakspere, even fifty feet high, on
the top of St. Paul's Cathedral, could define Shakspere's position. It
only defines our position towards Shakspere. It is he who is fixed; it
is we who are unstable. The nearest approach to an English parallel to
the Zola case would be furnished if it were proposed to put some
savagely controversial and largely repulsive author among the ashes of
the greatest English poets. Suppose, for instance, it were proposed to
bury Mr. Rudyard Kipling in Westminster Abbey. I should be against
burying him in Westminster Abbey; first, because he is still alive (and
here I think even he himself might admit the justice of my protest); and
second, because I should like to reserve that rapidly narrowing space
for the great permanent examples, not for the interesting foreign
interruptions, of English literature. I would not have either Mr.
Kipling or Mr. George Moore in Westminster Abbey, though Mr. Kipling
has certainly caught even more cleverly than Mr. Moore the lucid and
cool cruelty of the French short story. I am very sure that Geoffrey
Chaucer and Joseph Addison get on very well together in the Poets'
Corner, despite the centuries that sunder them. But I feel that Mr.
George Moore would be much happier in Pere-la-Chaise, with a riotous
statue by Rodin on the top of him; and Mr. Kipling much happier under
some huge Asiatic monument, carved with all the cruelties of the gods.

As to the affair of the English monument to Shakspere, every people has
its own mode of commemoration, and I think there is a great deal to be
said for ours. There is the French monumental style, which consists in
erecting very pompous statues, very well done. There is the German
monumental style, which consists in erecting very pompous statues, badly
done. And there is the English monumental method, the great English way
with statues, which consists in not erecting them at all. A statue may
be dignified; but the absence of a statue is always dignified. For my
part, I feel there is something national, something wholesomely
symbolic, in the fact that there is no statue of Shakspere. There is, of
course, one in Leicester Square; but the very place where it stands
shows that it was put up by a foreigner for foreigners. There is surely
something modest and manly about not attempting to express our greatest
poet in the plastic arts in which we do not excel. We honour Shakspere
as the Jews honour God--by not daring to make of him a graven image. Our
sculpture, our statues, are good enough for bankers and
philanthropists, who are our curse: not good enough for him, who is our
benediction. Why should we celebrate the very art in which we triumph by
the very art in which we fail?

England is most easily understood as the country of amateurs. It is
especially the country of amateur soldiers (that is, of Volunteers), of
amateur statesmen (that is, of aristocrats), and it is not unreasonable
or out of keeping that it should be rather specially the country of a
careless and lounging view of literature. Shakspere has no academic
monument for the same reason that he had no academic education. He had
small Latin and less Greek, and (in the same spirit) he has never been
commemorated in Latin epitaphs or Greek marble. If there is nothing
clear and fixed about the emblems of his fame, it is because there was
nothing clear and fixed about the origins of it. Those great schools and
Universities which watch a man in his youth may record him in his death;
but Shakspere had no such unifying traditions. We can only say of him
what we can say of Dickens. We can only say that he came from nowhere
and that he went everywhere. For him a monument in any place is out of
place. A cold statue in a certain square is unsuitable to him as it
would be unsuitable to Dickens. If we put up a statue of Dickens in
Portland Place to-morrow we should feel the stiffness as unnatural. We
should fear that the statue might stroll about the street at night.

But in France the question of whether Zola shall go to the Pantheon when
he is dead is quite as practicable as the question whether he should go
to prison when he was alive. It is the problem of whether the nation
shall take one turn of thought or another. In raising a monument to Zola
they do not raise merely a trophy, but a finger-post. The question is
one which will have to be settled in most European countries; but like
all such questions, it has come first to a head in France; because
France is the battlefield of Christendom. That question is, of course,
roughly this: whether in that ill-defined area of verbal licence on
certain dangerous topics it is an extenuation of indelicacy or an
aggravation of it that the indelicacy was deliberate and solemn. Is
indecency more indecent if it is grave, or more indecent if it is gay?
For my part, I belong to an old school in this matter. When a book or a
play strikes me as a crime, I am not disarmed by being told that it is a
serious crime. If a man has written something vile, I am not comforted
by the explanation that he quite meant to do it. I know all the evils of
flippancy; I do not like the man who laughs at the sight of virtue. But
I prefer him to the man who weeps at the sight of virtue and complains
bitterly of there being any such thing. I am not reassured, when ethics
are as wild as cannibalism, by the fact that they are also as grave and
sincere as suicide. And I think there is an obvious fallacy in the
bitter contrasts drawn by some moderns between the aversion to Ibsen's
"Ghosts" and the popularity of some such joke as "Dear Old Charlie."
Surely there is nothing mysterious or unphilosophic in the popular
preference. The joke of "Dear Old Charlie" is passed--because it is a
joke. "Ghosts" are exorcised--because they are ghosts.

This is, of course, the whole question of Zola. I am grown up, and I do
not worry myself much about Zola's immorality. The thing I cannot stand
is his morality. If ever a man on this earth lived to embody the
tremendous text, "But if the light in your body be darkness, how great
is the darkness," it was certainly he. Great men like Ariosto, Rabelais,
and Shakspere fall in foul places, flounder in violent but venial sin,
sprawl for pages, exposing their gigantic weakness, are dirty, are
indefensible; and then they struggle up again and can still speak with a
convincing kindness and an unbroken honour of the best things in the
world: Rabelais, of the instruction of ardent and austere youth;
Ariosto, of holy chivalry; Shakspere, of the splendid stillness of
mercy. But in Zola even the ideals are undesirable; Zola's mercy is
colder than justice--nay, Zola's mercy is more bitter in the mouth than
injustice. When Zola shows us an ideal training he does not take us,
like Rabelais, into the happy fields of humanist learning. He takes us
into the schools of inhumanist learning, where there are neither books
nor flowers, nor wine nor wisdom, but only deformities in glass bottles,
and where the rule is taught from the exceptions. Zola's truth answers
the exact description of the skeleton in the cupboard; that is, it is
something of which a domestic custom forbids the discovery, but which is
quite dead, even when it is discovered. Macaulay said that the Puritans
hated bear-baiting, not because it gave pain to the bear, but because it
gave pleasure to the spectators. Of such substance also was this
Puritan who had lost his God. A Puritan of this type is worse than the
Puritan who hates pleasure because there is evil in it. This man
actually hates evil because there is pleasure in it. Zola was worse than
a pornographer, he was a pessimist. He did worse than encourage sin: he
encouraged discouragement. He made lust loathsome because to him lust
meant life.


Some time ago I ventured to defend that race of hunted and persecuted
outlaws, the Bishops; but until this week I had no idea of how much
persecuted they were. For instance, the Bishop of Birmingham made some
extremely sensible remarks in the House of Lords, to the effect that
Oxford and Cambridge were (as everybody knows they are) far too much
merely plutocratic playgrounds. One would have thought that an Anglican
Bishop might be allowed to know something about the English University
system, and even to have, if anything, some bias in its favour. But (as
I pointed out) the rollicking Radicalism of Bishops has to be
restrained. The man who writes the notes in the weekly paper called the
_Outlook_ feels that it is his business to restrain it. The passage has
such simple sublimity that I must quote it--

"Dr. Gore talked unworthily of his reputation when he spoke of the
older Universities as playgrounds for the rich and idle. In the first
place, the rich men there are not idle. Some of the rich men are, and so
are some of the poor men. On the whole, the sons of noble and wealthy
families keep up the best traditions of academic life."

So far this seems all very nice. It is a part of the universal principle
on which Englishmen have acted in recent years. As you will not try to
make the best people the most powerful people, persuade yourselves that
the most powerful people are the best people. Mad Frenchmen and Irishmen
try to realise the ideal. To you belongs the nobler (and much easier)
task of idealising the real. First give your Universities entirely into
the power of the rich; then let the rich start traditions; and then
congratulate yourselves on the fact that the sons of the rich keep up
these traditions. All that is quite simple and jolly. But then this
critic, who crushes Dr. Gore from the high throne of the _Outlook_, goes
on in a way that is really perplexing. "It is distinctly advantageous,"
he says, "that rich and poor--_i. e._, young men with a smooth path in
life before them, and those who have to hew out a road for
themselves--should be brought into association. Each class learns a
great deal from the other. On the one side, social conceit and
exclusiveness give way to the free spirit of competition amongst all
classes; on the other side, angularities and prejudices are rubbed
away." Even this I might have swallowed. But the paragraph concludes
with this extraordinary sentence: "We get the net result in such careers
as those of Lord Milner, Lord Curzon, and Mr. Asquith."

Those three names lay my intellect prostrate. The rest of the argument I
understand quite well. The social exclusiveness of aristocrats at Oxford
and Cambridge gives way before the free spirit of competition amongst
all classes. That is to say, there is at Oxford so hot and keen a
struggle, consisting of coal-heavers, London clerks, gypsies, navvies,
drapers' assistants, grocers' assistants--in short, all the classes that
make up the bulk of England--there is such a fierce competition at
Oxford among all these people that in its presence aristocratic
exclusiveness gives way. That is all quite clear. I am not quite sure
about the facts, but I quite understand the argument. But then, having
been called upon to contemplate this bracing picture of a boisterous
turmoil of all the classes of England, I am suddenly asked to accept as
example of it, Lord Milner, Lord Curzon, and the present Chancellor of
the Exchequer. What part do these gentlemen play in the mental process?
Is Lord Curzon one of the rugged and ragged poor men whose angularities
have been rubbed away? Or is he one of those whom Oxford immediately
deprived of all kind of social exclusiveness? His Oxford reputation does
not seem to bear out either account of him. To regard Lord Milner as a
typical product of Oxford would surely be unfair. It would be to deprive
the educational tradition of Germany of one of its most typical
products. English aristocrats have their faults, but they are not at all
like Lord Milner. What Mr. Asquith was meant to prove, whether he was a
rich man who lost his exclusiveness, or a poor man who lost his angles,
I am utterly unable to conceive.

There is, however, one mild but very evident truth that might perhaps be
mentioned. And it is this: that none of those three excellent persons
is, or ever has been, a poor man in the sense that that word is
understood by the overwhelming majority of the English nation. There are
no poor men at Oxford in the sense that the majority of men in the
street are poor. The very fact that the writer in the _Outlook_ can talk
about such people as poor shows that he does not understand what the
modern problem is. His kind of poor man rather reminds me of the Earl in
the ballad by that great English satirist, Sir W.S. Gilbert, whose
angles (very acute angles) had, I fear, never been rubbed down by an old
English University. The reader will remember that when the
Periwinkle-girl was adored by two Dukes, the poet added--

"A third adorer had the girl,
A man of lowly station;
A miserable grovelling Earl
Besought her approbation."

Perhaps, indeed, some allusion to our University system, and to the
universal clash in it of all the classes of the community, may be found
in the verse a little farther on, which says--

"He'd had, it happily befell,
A decent education;
His views would have befitted well
A far superior station."

Possibly there was as simple a chasm between Lord Curzon and Lord
Milner. But I am afraid that the chasm will become almost imperceptible,
a microscopic crack, if we compare it with the chasm that separates
either or both of them from the people of this country.

Of course the truth is exactly as the Bishop of Birmingham put it. I am
sure that he did not put it in any unkindly or contemptuous spirit
towards those old English seats of learning, which whether they are or
are not seats of learning, are, at any rate, old and English, and those
are two very good things to be. The Old English University is a
playground for the governing class. That does not prove that it is a bad
thing; it might prove that it was a very good thing. Certainly if there
is a governing class, let there be a playground for the governing class.
I would much rather be ruled by men who know how to play than by men who
do not know how to play. Granted that we are to be governed by a rich
section of the community, it is certainly very important that that
section should be kept tolerably genial and jolly. If the sensitive man
on the _Outlook_ does not like the phrase, "Playground of the rich," I
can suggest a phrase that describes such a place as Oxford perhaps with
more precision. It is a place for humanising those who might otherwise
be tyrants, or even experts.

To pretend that the aristocrat meets all classes at Oxford is too
ludicrous to be worth discussion. But it may be true that he meets more
different kinds of men than he would meet under a strictly aristocratic
_regime_ of private tutors and small schools. It all comes back to the
fact that the English, if they were resolved to have an aristocracy,
were at least resolved to have a good-natured aristocracy. And it is due
to them to say that almost alone among the peoples of the world, they
have succeeded in getting one. One could almost tolerate the thing, if
it were not for the praise of it. One might endure Oxford, but not the

When the poor man at Oxford loses his angles (which means, I suppose,
his independence), he may perhaps, even if his poverty is of that highly
relative type possible at Oxford, gain a certain amount of worldly
advantage from the surrender of those angles. I must confess, however,
that I can imagine nothing nastier than to lose one's angles. It seems
to me that a desire to retain some angles about one's person is a desire
common to all those human beings who do not set their ultimate hopes
upon looking like Humpty-Dumpty. Our angles are simply our shapes. I
cannot imagine any phrase more full of the subtle and exquisite vileness
which is poisoning and weakening our country than such a phrase as this,
about the desirability of rubbing down the angularities of poor men.
Reduced to permanent and practical human speech, it means nothing
whatever except the corrupting of that first human sense of justice
which is the critic of all human institutions.

It is not in any such spirit of facile and reckless reassurance that we
should approach the really difficult problem of the delicate virtues and
the deep dangers of our two historic seats of learning. A good son does
not easily admit that his sick mother is dying; but neither does a good
son cheerily assert that she is "all right." There are many good
arguments for leaving the two historic Universities exactly as they are.
There are many good arguments for smashing them or altering them
entirely. But in either case the plain truth told by the Bishop of
Birmingham remains. If these Universities were destroyed, they would not
be destroyed as Universities. If they are preserved, they will not be
preserved as Universities. They will be preserved strictly and literally
as playgrounds; places valued for their hours of leisure more than for
their hours of work. I do not say that this is unreasonable; as a matter
of private temperament I find it attractive. It is not only possible to
say a great deal in praise of play; it is really possible to say the
highest things in praise of it. It might reasonably be maintained that
the true object of all human life is play. Earth is a task garden;
heaven is a playground. To be at last in such secure innocence that one
can juggle with the universe and the stars, to be so good that one can
treat everything as a joke--that may be, perhaps, the real end and final
holiday of human souls. When we are really holy we may regard the
Universe as a lark; so perhaps it is not essentially wrong to regard the
University as a lark. But the plain and present fact is that our upper
classes do regard the University as a lark, and do not regard it as a
University. It also happens very often that through some oversight they
neglect to provide themselves with that extreme degree of holiness which
I have postulated as a necessary preliminary to such indulgence in the
higher frivolity.

Humanity, always dreaming of a happy race, free, fantastic, and at
ease, has sometimes pictured them in some mystical island, sometimes in
some celestial city, sometimes as fairies, gods, or citizens of
Atlantis. But one method in which it has often indulged is to picture
them as aristocrats, as a special human class that could actually be
seen hunting in the woods or driving about the streets. And this never
was (as some silly Germans say) a worship of pride and scorn; mankind
never really admired pride; mankind never had any thing but a scorn for
scorn. It was a worship of the spectacle of happiness; especially of the
spectacle of youth. This is what the old Universities in their noblest
aspect really are; and this is why there is always something to be said
for keeping them as they are. Aristocracy is not a tyranny; it is not
even merely a spell. It is a vision. It is a deliberate indulgence in a
certain picture of pleasure painted for the purpose; every Duchess is
(in an innocent sense) painted, like Gainsborough's "Duchess of
Devonshire." She is only beautiful because, at the back of all, the
English people wanted her to be beautiful. In the same way, the lads at
Oxford and Cambridge are only larking because England, in the depths of
its solemn soul, really wishes them to lark. All this is very human and
pardonable, and would be even harmless if there were no such things in
the world as danger and honour and intellectual responsibility. But if
aristocracy is a vision, it is perhaps the most unpractical of all
visions. It is not a working way of doing things to put all your
happiest people on a lighted platform and stare only at them. It is not
a working way of managing education to be entirely content with the mere
fact that you have (to a degree unexampled in the world) given the
luckiest boys the jolliest time. It would be easy enough, like the
writer in the _Outlook_, to enjoy the pleasures and deny the perils. Oh
what a happy place England would be to live in if only one did not love


A correspondent has written me an able and interesting letter in the
matter of some allusions of mine to the subject of communal kitchens. He
defends communal kitchens very lucidly from the standpoint of the
calculating collectivist; but, like many of his school, he cannot
apparently grasp that there is another test of the whole matter, with
which such calculation has nothing at all to do. He knows it would be
cheaper if a number of us ate at the same time, so as to use the same
table. So it would. It would also be cheaper if a number of us slept at
different times, so as to use the same pair of trousers. But the
question is not how cheap are we buying a thing, but what are we buying?
It is cheap to own a slave. And it is cheaper still to be a slave.

My correspondent also says that the habit of dining out in restaurants,
etc., is growing. So, I believe, is the habit of committing suicide. I
do not desire to connect the two facts together. It seems fairly clear
that a man could not dine at a restaurant because he had just committed
suicide; and it would be extreme, perhaps, to suggest that he commits
suicide because he has just dined at a restaurant. But the two cases,
when put side by side, are enough to indicate the falsity and
poltroonery of this eternal modern argument from what is in fashion. The
question for brave men is not whether a certain thing is increasing; the
question is whether we are increasing it. I dine very often in
restaurants because the nature of my trade makes it convenient: but if I
thought that by dining in restaurants I was working for the creation of
communal meals, I would never enter a restaurant again; I would carry
bread and cheese in my pocket or eat chocolate out of automatic
machines. For the personal element in some things is sacred. I heard Mr.
Will Crooks put it perfectly the other day: "The most sacred thing is to
be able to shut your own door."

My correspondent says, "Would not our women be spared the drudgery of
cooking and all its attendant worries, leaving them free for higher
culture?" The first thing that occurs to me to say about this is very
simple, and is, I imagine, a part of all our experience. If my
correspondent can find any way of preventing women from worrying, he
will indeed be a remarkable man. I think the matter is a much deeper
one. First of all, my correspondent overlooks a distinction which is
elementary in our human nature. Theoretically, I suppose, every one would
like to be freed from worries. But nobody in the world would always
like to be freed from worrying occupations. I should very much like (as
far as my feelings at the moment go) to be free from the consuming
nuisance of writing this article. But it does not follow that I should
like to be free from the consuming nuisance of being a journalist.
Because we are worried about a thing, it does not follow that we are not
interested in it. The truth is the other way. If we are not interested,
why on earth should we be worried? Women are worried about housekeeping,
but those that are most interested are the most worried. Women are still
more worried about their husbands and their children. And I suppose if
we strangled the children and poleaxed the husbands it would leave women
free for higher culture. That is, it would leave them free to begin to
worry about that. For women would worry about higher culture as much as
they worry about everything else.

I believe this way of talking about women and their higher culture is
almost entirely a growth of the classes which (unlike the journalistic
class to which I belong) have always a reasonable amount of money. One
odd thing I specially notice. Those who write like this seem entirely to
forget the existence of the working and wage-earning classes. They say
eternally, like my correspondent, that the ordinary woman is always a
drudge. And what, in the name of the Nine Gods, is the ordinary man?
These people seem to think that the ordinary man is a Cabinet Minister.
They are always talking about man going forth to wield power, to carve
his own way, to stamp his individuality on the world, to command and to
be obeyed. This may be true of a certain class. Dukes, perhaps, are not
drudges; but, then, neither are Duchesses. The Ladies and Gentlemen of
the Smart Set are quite free for the higher culture, which consists
chiefly of motoring and Bridge. But the ordinary man who typifies and
constitutes the millions that make up our civilisation is no more free
for the higher culture than his wife is.

Indeed, he is not so free. Of the two sexes the woman is in the more
powerful position. For the average woman is at the head of something
with which she can do as she likes; the average man has to obey orders
and do nothing else. He has to put one dull brick on another dull brick,
and do nothing else; he has to add one dull figure to another dull
figure, and do nothing else. The woman's world is a small one, perhaps,
but she can alter it. The woman can tell the tradesman with whom she
deals some realistic things about himself. The clerk who does this to
the manager generally gets the sack, or shall we say (to avoid the
vulgarism), finds himself free for higher culture. Above all, as I said
in my previous article, the woman does work which is in some small
degree creative and individual. She can put the flowers or the furniture
in fancy arrangements of her own. I fear the bricklayer cannot put the
bricks in fancy arrangements of his own, without disaster to himself and
others. If the woman is only putting a patch into a carpet, she can
choose the thing with regard to colour. I fear it would not do for the
office boy dispatching a parcel to choose his stamps with a view to
colour; to prefer the tender mauve of the sixpenny to the crude scarlet
of the penny stamp. A woman cooking may not always cook artistically;
still she can cook artistically. She can introduce a personal and
imperceptible alteration into the composition of a soup. The clerk is
not encouraged to introduce a personal and imperceptible alteration into

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