Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

All Things Considered by G. K. Chesterton

Part 3 out of 3

Adobe PDF icon
Download All Things Considered pdf
File size: 0.3 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

subject of politeness. Yet the idea of the sacred city is not only the
link of them both, it is the only serious justification and the only
serious corrective of them both. If politeness means too often a mere
frippery, it is because it has not enough to do with serious patriotism
and public dignity; if policemen are coarse or casual, it is because
they are not sufficiently convinced that they are the servants of the
beautiful city and the agents of sweetness and light. Politeness is not
really a frippery. Politeness is not really even a thing merely suave
and deprecating. Politeness is an armed guard, stern and splendid and
vigilant, watching over all the ways of men; in other words, politeness
is a policeman. A policeman is not merely a heavy man with a truncheon:
a policeman is a machine for the smoothing and sweetening of the
accidents of everyday existence. In other words, a policeman is
politeness; a veiled image of politeness--sometimes impenetrably veiled.
But my point is here that by losing the original idea of the city, which
is the force and youth of both the words, both the things actually
degenerate. Our politeness loses all manliness because we forget that
politeness is only the Greek for patriotism. Our policemen lose all
delicacy because we forget that a policeman is only the Greek for
something civilised. A policeman should often have the functions of a
knight-errant. A policeman should always have the elegance of a
knight-errant. But I am not sure that he would succeed any the better n
remembering this obligation of romantic grace if his name were spelt
phonetically, supposing that it could be spelt phonetically. Some
spelling-reformers, I am told, in the poorer parts of London do spell
his name phonetically, very phonetically. They call him a "pleeceman."
Thus the whole romance of the ancient city disappears from the word, and
the policeman's reverent courtesy of demeanour deserts him quite
suddenly. This does seem to me the case against any extreme revolution
in spelling. If you spell a word wrong you have some temptation to think
it wrong.


Somebody writes complaining of something I said about progress. I have
forgotten what I said, but I am quite certain that it was (like a
certain Mr. Douglas in a poem which I have also forgotten) tender and
true. In any case, what I say now is this. Human history is so rich and
complicated that you can make out a case for any course of improvement
or retrogression. I could make out that the world has been growing more
democratic, for the English franchise has certainly grown more
democratic. I could also make out that the world has been growing more
aristocratic, for the English Public Schools have certainly grown more
aristocratic I could prove the decline of militarism by the decline of
flogging; I could prove the increase of militarism by the increase of
standing armies and conscription. But I can prove anything in this way.
I can prove that the world has always been growing greener. Only lately
men have invented absinthe and the _Westminster Gazette_. I could prove
the world has grown less green. There are no more Robin Hood foresters,
and fields are being covered with houses. I could show that the world
was less red with khaki or more red with the new penny stamps. But in
all cases progress means progress only in some particular thing. Have
you ever noticed that strange line of Tennyson, in which he confesses,
half consciously, how very _conventional_ progress is?--

"Let the great world spin for ever down the ringing
grooves of change."

Even in praising change, he takes for a simile the most unchanging
thing. He calls our modern change a groove. And it is a groove; perhaps
there was never anything so groovy.

Nothing would induce me in so idle a monologue as this to discuss
adequately a great political matter like the question of the military
punishments in Egypt. But I may suggest one broad reality to be observed
by both sides, and which is, generally speaking, observed by neither.
Whatever else is right, it is utterly wrong to employ the argument that
we Europeans must do to savages and Asiatics whatever savages and
Asiatics do to us. I have even seen some controversialists use the
metaphor, "We must fight them with their own weapons." Very well; let
those controversialists take their metaphor, and take it literally. Let
us fight the Soudanese with their own weapons. Their own weapons are
large, very clumsy knives, with an occasional old-fashioned gun. Their
own weapons are also torture and slavery. If we fight them with torture
and slavery, we shall be fighting badly, precisely as if we fought them
with clumsy knives and old guns. That is the whole strength of our
Christian civilisation, that it does fight with its own weapons and not
with other people's. It is not true that superiority suggests a tit for
tat. It is not true that if a small hooligan puts his tongue out at the
Lord Chief Justice, the Lord Chief Justice immediately realises that his
only chance of maintaining his position is to put his tongue out at the
little hooligan. The hooligan may or may not have any respect at all for
the Lord Chief Justice: that is a matter which we may contentedly leave
as a solemn psychological mystery. But if the hooligan has any respect
at all for the Lord Chief Justice, that respect is certainly extended to
the Lord Chief Justice entirely because he does not put his tongue out.

Exactly in the same way the ruder or more sluggish races regard the
civilisation of Christendom. If they have any respect for it, it is
precisely because it does not use their own coarse and cruel expedients.
According to some modern moralists whenever Zulus cut off the heads of
dead Englishmen, Englishmen must cut off the heads of dead Zulus.
Whenever Arabs or Egyptians constantly use the whip to their slaves,
Englishmen must use the whip to their subjects. And on a similar
principle (I suppose), whenever an English Admiral has to fight
cannibals the English Admiral ought to eat them. However unattractive a
menu consisting entirely of barbaric kings may appear to an English
gentleman, he must try to sit down to it with an appetite. He must fight
the Sandwich Islanders with their own weapons; and their own weapons are
knives and forks. But the truth of the matter is, of course, that to do
this kind of thing is to break the whole spell of our supremacy. All the
mystery of the white man, all the fearful poetry of the white man, so
far as it exists in the eyes of these savages, consists in the fact that
we do not do such things. The Zulus point at us and say, "Observe the
advent of these inexplicable demi-gods, these magicians, who do not cut
off the noses of their enemies." The Soudanese say to each other, "This
hardy people never flogs its servants; it is superior to the simplest
and most obvious human pleasures." And the cannibals say, "The austere
and terrible race, the race that denies itself even boiled missionary,
is upon us: let us flee."

Whether or no these details are a little conjectural, the general
proposition I suggest is the plainest common sense. The elements that
make Europe upon the whole the most humanitarian civilisation are
precisely the elements that make it upon the whole the strongest. For
the power which makes a man able to entertain a good impulse is the same
as that which enables him to make a good gun; it is imagination. It is
imagination that makes a man outwit his enemy, and it is imagination
that makes him spare his enemy. It is precisely because this picturing
of the other man's point of view is in the main a thing in which
Christians and Europeans specialise that Christians and Europeans, with
all their faults, have carried to such perfection both the arts of peace
and war.

They alone have invented machine-guns, and they alone have invented
ambulances; they have invented ambulances (strange as it may sound) for
the same reason for which they have invented machine-guns. Both involve
a vivid calculation of remote events. It is precisely because the East,
with all its wisdom, is cruel, that the East, with all its wisdom, is
weak. And it is precisely because savages are pitiless that they are
still--merely savages. If they could imagine their enemy's sufferings
they could also imagine his tactics. If Zulus did not cut off the
Englishman's head they might really borrow it. For if you do not
understand a man you cannot crush him. And if you do understand him,
very probably you will not.

When I was about seven years old I used to think that the chief modern
danger was a danger of over-civilisation. I am inclined to think now
that the chief modern danger is that of a slow return towards barbarism,
just such a return towards barbarism as is indicated in the suggestions
of barbaric retaliation of which I have just spoken. Civilisation in the
best sense merely means the full authority of the human spirit over all
externals. Barbarism means the worship of those externals in their crude
and unconquered state. Barbarism means the worship of Nature; and in
recent poetry, science, and philosophy there has been too much of the
worship of Nature. Wherever men begin to talk much and with great
solemnity about the forces outside man, the note of it is barbaric.
When men talk much about heredity and environment they are almost
barbarians. The modern men of science are many of them almost
barbarians. Mr. Blatchford is in great danger of becoming a barbarian.
For barbarians (especially the truly squalid and unhappy barbarians) are
always talking about these scientific subjects from morning till night.
That is why they remain squalid and unhappy; that is why they remain
barbarians. Hottentots are always talking about heredity, like Mr.
Blatchford. Sandwich Islanders are always talking about environment,
like Mr. Suthers. Savages--those that are truly stunted or
depraved--dedicate nearly all their tales and sayings to the subject of
physical kinship, of a curse on this or that tribe, of a taint in this
or that family, of the invincible law of blood, of the unavoidable evil
of places. The true savage is a slave, and is always talking about what
he must do; the true civilised man is a free man and is always talking
about what he may do. Hence all the Zola heredity and Ibsen heredity
that has been written in our time affects me as not merely evil, but as
essentially ignorant and retrogressive. This sort of science is almost
the only thing that can with strict propriety be called reactionary.
Scientific determinism is simply the primal twilight of all mankind; and
some men seem to be returning to it.

Another savage trait of our time is the disposition to talk about
material substances instead of about ideas. The old civilisation talked
about the sin of gluttony or excess. We talk about the Problem of
Drink--as if drink could be a problem. When people have come to call the
problem of human intemperance the Problem of Drink, and to talk about
curing it by attacking the drink traffic, they have reached quite a dim
stage of barbarism. The thing is an inverted form of fetish worship; it
is no sillier to say that a bottle is a god than to say that a bottle is
a devil. The people who talk about the curse of drink will probably
progress down that dark hill. In a little while we shall have them
calling the practice of wife-beating the Problem of Pokers; the habit of
housebreaking will be called the Problem of the Skeleton-Key Trade; and
for all I know they may try to prevent forgery by shutting up all the
stationers' shops by Act of Parliament.

I cannot help thinking that there is some shadow of this uncivilised
materialism lying at present upon a much more dignified and valuable
cause. Every one is talking just now about the desirability of
ingeminating peace and averting war. But even war and peace are physical
states rather than moral states, and in talking about them only we have
by no means got to the bottom of the matter. How, for instance, do we as
a matter of fact create peace in one single community? We do not do it
by vaguely telling every one to avoid fighting and to submit to anything
that is done to him. We do it by definitely defining his rights and then
undertaking to avenge his wrongs. We shall never have a common peace in
Europe till we have a common principle in Europe. People talk of "The
United States of Europe;" but they forget that it needed the very
doctrinal "Declaration of Independence" to make the United States of
America. You cannot agree about nothing any more than you can quarrel
about nothing.


I suppose that there will be some wigs on the green in connection with
the recent manifesto signed by a string of very eminent doctors on the
subject of what is called "alcohol." "Alcohol" is, to judge by the sound
of it, an Arabic word, like "algebra" and "Alhambra," those two other
unpleasant things. The Alhambra in Spain I have never seen; I am told
that it is a low and rambling building; I allude to the far more
dignified erection in Leicester Square. If it is true, as I surmise,
that "alcohol" is a word of the Arabs, it is interesting to realise that
our general word for the essence of wine and beer and such things comes
from a people which has made particular war upon them. I suppose that
some aged Moslem chieftain sat one day at the opening of his tent and,
brooding with black brows and cursing in his black beard over wine as
the symbol of Christianity, racked his brains for some word ugly enough
to express his racial and religious antipathy, and suddenly spat out the
horrible word "alcohol." The fact that the doctors had to use this word
for the sake of scientific clearness was really a great disadvantage to
them in fairly discussing the matter. For the word really involves one
of those beggings of the question which make these moral matters so
difficult. It is quite a mistake to suppose that, when a man desires an
alcoholic drink, he necessarily desires alcohol.

Let a man walk ten miles steadily on a hot summer's day along a dusty
English road, and he will soon discover why beer was invented. The fact
that beer has a very slight stimulating quality will be quite among the
smallest reasons that induce him to ask for it. In short, he will not be
in the least desiring alcohol; he will be desiring beer. But, of course,
the question cannot be settled in such a simple way. The real difficulty
which confronts everybody, and which especially confronts doctors, is
that the extraordinary position of man in the physical universe makes it
practically impossible to treat him in either one direction or the other
in a purely physical way. Man is an exception, whatever else he is. If
he is not the image of God, then he is a disease of the dust. If it is
not true that a divine being fell, then we can only say that one of the
animals went entirely off its head. In neither case can we really argue
very much from the body of man simply considered as the body of an
innocent and healthy animal. His body has got too much mixed up with his
soul, as we see in the supreme instance of sex. It may be worth while
uttering the warning to wealthy philanthropists and idealists that this
argument from the animal should not be thoughtlessly used, even against
the atrocious evils of excess; it is an argument that proves too little
or too much.

Doubtless, it is unnatural to be drunk. But then in a real sense it is
unnatural to be human. Doubtless, the intemperate workman wastes his
tissues in drinking; but no one knows how much the sober workman wastes
his tissues by working. No one knows how much the wealthy philanthropist
wastes his tissues by talking; or, in much rarer conditions, by
thinking. All the human things are more dangerous than anything that
affects the beasts--sex, poetry, property, religion. The real case
against drunkenness is not that it calls up the beast, but that it calls
up the Devil. It does not call up the beast, and if it did it would not
matter much, as a rule; the beast is a harmless and rather amiable
creature, as anybody can see by watching cattle. There is nothing
bestial about intoxication; and certainly there is nothing intoxicating
or even particularly lively about beasts. Man is always something worse
or something better than an animal; and a mere argument from animal
perfection never touches him at all. Thus, in sex no animal is either
chivalrous or obscene. And thus no animal ever invented anything so bad
as drunkenness--or so good as drink.

The pronouncement of these particular doctors is very clear and
uncompromising; in the modern atmosphere, indeed, it even deserves some
credit for moral courage. The majority of modern people, of course, will
probably agree with it in so far as it declares that alcoholic drinks
are often of supreme value in emergencies of illness; but many people, I
fear, will open their eyes at the emphatic terms in which they describe
such drink as considered as a beverage; but they are not content with
declaring that the drink is in moderation harmless: they distinctly
declare that it is in moderation beneficial. But I fancy that, in saying
this, the doctors had in mind a truth that runs somewhat counter to the
common opinion. I fancy that it is the experience of most doctors that
giving any alcohol for illness (though often necessary) is about the
most morally dangerous way of giving it. Instead of giving it to a
healthy person who has many other forms of life, you are giving it to a
desperate person, to whom it is the only form of life. The invalid can
hardly be blamed if by some accident of his erratic and overwrought
condition he comes to remember the thing as the very water of vitality
and to use it as such. For in so far as drinking is really a sin it is
not because drinking is wild, but because drinking is tame; not in so
far as it is anarchy, but in so far as it is slavery. Probably the worst
way to drink is to drink medicinally. Certainly the safest way to drink
is to drink carelessly; that is, without caring much for anything, and
especially not caring for the drink.

The doctor, of course, ought to be able to do a great deal in the way of
restraining those individual cases where there is plainly an evil
thirst; and beyond that the only hope would seem to be in some increase,
or, rather, some concentration of ordinary public opinion on the
subject. I have always held consistently my own modest theory on the
subject. I believe that if by some method the local public-house could
be as definite and isolated a place as the local post-office or the
local railway station, if all types of people passed through it for all
types of refreshment, you would have the same safeguard against a man
behaving in a disgusting way in a tavern that you have at present
against his behaving in a disgusting way in a post-office: simply the
presence of his ordinary sensible neighbours. In such a place the kind
of lunatic who wants to drink an unlimited number of whiskies would be
treated with the same severity with which the post office authorities
would treat an amiable lunatic who had an appetite for licking an
unlimited number of stamps. It is a small matter whether in either case
a technical refusal would be officially employed. It is an essential
matter that in both cases the authorities could rapidly communicate with
the friends and family of the mentally afflicted person. At least, the
postmistress would not dangle a strip of tempting sixpenny stamps before
the enthusiast's eyes as he was being dragged away with his tongue out.
If we made drinking open and official we might be taking one step
towards making it careless. In such things to be careless is to be sane:
for neither drunkards nor Moslems can be careless about drink.


I once heard a man call this age the age of demagogues. Of this I can
only say, in the admirably sensible words of the angry coachman in
"Pickwick," that "that remark's political, or what is much the same, it
ain't true." So far from being the age of demagogues, this is really and
specially the age of mystagogues. So far from this being a time in which
things are praised because they are popular, the truth is that this is
the first time, perhaps, in the whole history of the world in which
things can be praised because they are unpopular. The demagogue succeeds
because he makes himself understood, even if he is not worth
understanding. But the mystagogue succeeds because he gets himself
misunderstood; although, as a rule, he is not even worth
misunderstanding. Gladstone was a demagogue: Disraeli a mystagogue. But
ours is specially the time when a man can advertise his wares not as a
universality, but as what the tradesmen call "a speciality." We all know
this, for instance, about modern art. Michelangelo and Whistler were
both fine artists; but one is obviously public, the other obviously
private, or, rather, not obvious at all. Michelangelo's frescoes are
doubtless finer than the popular judgment, but they are plainly meant to
strike the popular judgment. Whistler's pictures seem often meant to
escape the popular judgment; they even seem meant to escape the popular
admiration. They are elusive, fugitive; they fly even from praise.
Doubtless many artists in Michelangelo's day declared themselves to be
great artists, although they were unsuccessful. But they did not declare
themselves great artists because they were unsuccessful: that is the
peculiarity of our own time, which has a positive bias against the

Another case of the same kind of thing can be found in the latest
conceptions of humour. By the wholesome tradition of mankind, a joke was
a thing meant to amuse men; a joke which did not amuse them was a
failure, just as a fire which did not warm them was a failure. But we
have seen the process of secrecy and aristocracy introduced even into
jokes. If a joke falls flat, a small school of aesthetes only ask us to
notice the wild grace of its falling and its perfect flatness after its
fall. The old idea that the joke was not good enough for the company has
been superseded by the new aristocratic idea that the company was not
worthy of the joke. They have introduced an almost insane individualism
into that one form of intercourse which is specially and uproariously
communal. They have made even levities into secrets. They have made
laughter lonelier than tears.

There is a third thing to which the mystagogues have recently been
applying the methods of a secret society: I mean manners. Men who sought
to rebuke rudeness used to represent manners as reasonable and ordinary;
now they seek to represent them as private and peculiar. Instead of
saying to a man who blocks up a street or the fireplace, "You ought to
know better than that," the moderns say, "You, of course, don't know
better than that."

I have just been reading an amusing book by Lady Grove called "The
Social Fetich," which is a positive riot of this new specialism and
mystification. It is due to Lady Grove to say that she has some of the
freer and more honourable qualities of the old Whig aristocracy, as well
as their wonderful worldliness and their strange faith in the passing
fashion of our politics. For instance, she speaks of Jingo Imperialism
with a healthy English contempt; and she perceives stray and striking
truths, and records them justly--as, for instance, the greater democracy
of the Southern and Catholic countries of Europe. But in her dealings
with social formulae here in England she is, it must frankly be said, a
common mystagogue. She does not, like a decent demagogue, wish to make
people understand; she wishes to make them painfully conscious of not
understanding. Her favourite method is to terrify people from doing
things that are quite harmless by telling them that if they do they are
the kind of people who would do other things, equally harmless. If you
ask after somebody's mother (or whatever it is), you are the kind of
person who would have a pillow-case, or would not have a pillow-case. I
forget which it is; and so, I dare say, does she. If you assume the
ordinary dignity of a decent citizen and say that you don't see the harm
of having a mother or a pillow-case, she would say that of course _you_
wouldn't. This is what I call being a mystagogue. It is more vulgar than
being a demagogue; because it is much easier.

The primary point I meant to emphasise is that this sort of aristocracy
is essentially a new sort. All the old despots were demagogues; at
least, they were demagogues whenever they were really trying to please
or impress the demos. If they poured out beer for their vassals it was
because both they and their vassals had a taste for beer. If (in some
slightly different mood) they poured melted lead on their vassals, it
was because both they and their vassals had a strong distaste for
melted lead. But they did not make any mystery about either of the two
substances. They did not say, "You don't like melted lead?.... Ah! no,
of course, _you_ wouldn't; you are probably the kind of person who would
prefer beer.... It is no good asking you even to imagine the curious
undercurrent of psychological pleasure felt by a refined person under
the seeming shock of melted lead." Even tyrants when they tried to be
popular, tried to give the people pleasure; they did not try to overawe
the people by giving them something which they ought to regard as
pleasure. It was the same with the popular presentment of aristocracy.
Aristocrats tried to impress humanity by the exhibition of qualities
which humanity admires, such as courage, gaiety, or even mere splendour.
The aristocracy might have more possession in these things, but the
democracy had quite equal delight in them. It was much more sensible to
offer yourself for admiration because you had drunk three bottles of
port at a sitting, than to offer yourself for admiration (as Lady Grove
does) because you think it right to say "port wine" while other people
think it right to say "port." Whether Lady Grove's preference for port
wine (I mean for the phrase port wine) is a piece of mere nonsense I do
not know; but at least it is a very good example of the futility of such
tests in the matter even of mere breeding. "Port wine" may happen to be
the phrase used n certain good families; but numberless aristocrats say
"port," and all barmaids say "port wine." The whole thing is rather
more trivial than collecting tram-tickets; and I will not pursue Lady
Grove's further distinctions. I pass over the interesting theory that I
ought to say to Jones (even apparently if he is my dearest friend), "How
is Mrs. Jones?" instead of "How is your wife?" and I pass over an
impassioned declamation about bedspreads (I think) which has failed to
fire my blood.

The truth of the matter is really quite simple. An aristocracy is a
secret society; and this is especially so when, as in the modern world,
it is practically a plutocracy. The one idea of a secret society is to
change the password. Lady Grove falls naturally into a pure perversity
because she feels subconsciously that the people of England can be more
effectively kept at a distance by a perpetual torrent of new tests than
by the persistence of a few old ones. She knows that in the educated
"middle class" there is an idea that it is vulgar to say port wine;
therefore she reverses the idea--she says that the man who would say
"port" is a man who would say, "How is your wife?" She says it because
she knows both these remarks to be quite obvious and reasonable.

The only thing to be done or said in reply, I suppose, would be to apply
the same principle of bold mystification on our own part. I do not see
why I should not write a book called "Etiquette in Fleet Street," and
terrify every one else out of that thoroughfare by mysterious allusions
to the mistakes that they generally make. I might say: "This is the kind
of man who would wear a green tie when he went into a tobacconist's," or
"You don't see anything wrong in drinking a Benedictine on
Thursday?.... No, of course _you_ wouldn't." I might asseverate with
passionate disgust and disdain: "The man who is capable of writing
sonnets as well as triolets is capable of climbing an omnibus while
holding an umbrella." It seems a simple method; if ever I should master
it perhaps I may govern England.


The other day some one presented me with a paper called the _Eatanswill
Gazette_. I need hardly say that I could not have been more startled if
I had seen a coach coming down the road with old Mr. Tony Weller on the
box. But, indeed, the case is much more extraordinary than that would
be. Old Mr. Weller was a good man, a specially and seriously good man, a
proud father, a very patient husband, a sane moralist, and a reliable
ally. One could not be so very much surprised if somebody pretended to
be Tony Weller. But the _Eatanswill Gazette_ is definitely depicted in
"Pickwick" as a dirty and unscrupulous rag, soaked with slander and
nonsense. It was really interesting to find a modern paper proud to take
its name. The case cannot be compared to anything so simple as a
resurrection of one of the "Pickwick" characters; yet a very good
parallel could easily be found. It is almost exactly as if a firm of
solicitors were to open their offices to-morrow under the name of
Dodson and Fogg.

It was at once apparent, of course, that the thing was a joke. But what
was not apparent, what only grew upon the mind with gradual wonder and
terror, was the fact that it had its serious side. The paper is
published in the well-known town of Sudbury, in Suffolk. And it seems
that there is a standing quarrel between Sudbury and the county town of
Ipswich as to which was the town described by Dickens in his celebrated
sketch of an election. Each town proclaims with passion that it was
Eatanswill. If each town proclaimed with passion that it was not
Eatanswill, I might be able to understand it. Eatanswill, according to
Dickens, was a town alive with loathsome corruption, hypocritical in all
its public utterances, and venal in all its votes. Yet, two highly
respectable towns compete for the honour of having been this particular
cesspool, just as ten cities fought to be the birthplace of Homer. They
claim to be its original as keenly as if they were claiming to be the
original of More's "Utopia" or Morris's "Earthly Paradise." They grow
seriously heated over the matter. The men of Ipswich say warmly, "It
must have been our town; for Dickens says it was corrupt, and a more
corrupt town than our town you couldn't have met in a month." The men of
Sudbury reply with rising passion, "Permit us to tell you, gentlemen,
that our town was quite as corrupt as your town any day of the week. Our
town was a common nuisance; and we defy our enemies to question it."
"Perhaps you will tell us," sneer the citizens of Ipswich, "that your
politics were ever as thoroughly filthy as----" "As filthy as anything,"
answer the Sudbury men, undauntedly. "Nothing in politics could be
filthier. Dickens must have noticed how disgusting we were." "And could
he have failed to notice," the others reason indignantly, "how
disgusting we were? You could smell us a mile off. You Sudbury fellows
may think yourselves very fine, but let me tell you that, compared to
our city, Sudbury was an honest place." And so the controversy goes on.
It seems to me to be a new and odd kind of controversy.

Naturally, an outsider feels inclined to ask why Eatanswill should be
either one or the other. As a matter of fact, I fear Eatanswill was
every town in the country. It is surely clear that when Dickens
described the Eatanswill election he did not mean it as a satire on
Sudbury or a satire on Ipswich; he meant it as a satire on England. The
Eatanswill election is not a joke against Eatanswill; it is a joke
against elections. If the satire is merely local, it practically loses
its point; just as the "Circumlocution Office" would lose its point if
it were not supposed to be a true sketch of all Government offices; just
as the Lord Chancellor in "Bleak House" would lose his point if he were
not supposed to be symbolic and representative of all Lord Chancellors.
The whole moral meaning would vanish if we supposed that Oliver Twist
had got by accident into an exceptionally bad workhouse, or that Mr.
Dorrit was in the only debtors' prison that was not well managed.
Dickens was making game, not of places, but of methods. He poured all
his powerful genius into trying to make the people ashamed of the
methods. But he seems only to have succeeded in making people proud of
the places. In any case, the controversy is conducted in a truly
extraordinary way. No one seems to allow for the fact that, after all,
Dickens was writing a novel, and a highly fantastic novel at that. Facts
in support of Sudbury or Ipswich are quoted not only from the story
itself, which is wild and wandering enough, but even from the yet wilder
narratives which incidentally occur in the story, such as Sam Weller's
description of how his father, on the way to Eatanswill, tipped all the
voters into the canal. This may quite easily be (to begin with) an
entertaining tarradiddle of Sam's own invention, told, like many other
even more improbable stories, solely to amuse Mr. Pickwick. Yet the
champions of these two towns positively ask each other to produce a
canal, or to fail for ever in their attempt to prove themselves the most
corrupt town in England. As far as I remember, Sam's story of the canal
ends with Mr. Pickwick eagerly asking whether everybody was rescued, and
Sam solemnly replying that one old gentleman's hat was found, but that
he was not sure whether his head was in it. If the canal is to be taken
as realistic, why not the hat and the head? If these critics ever find
the canal I recommend them to drag it for the body of the old gentleman.

Both sides refuse to allow for the fact that the characters in the story
are comic characters. For instance, Mr. Percy Fitzgerald, the eminent
student of Dickens, writes to the _Eatanswill Gazette_ to say that
Sudbury, a small town, could not have been Eatanswill, because one of
the candidates speaks of its great manufactures. But obviously one of
the candidates would have spoken of its great manufactures if it had had
nothing but a row of apple-stalls. One of the candidates might have said
that the commerce of Eatanswill eclipsed Carthage, and covered every
sea; it would have been quite in the style of Dickens. But when the
champion of Sudbury answers him, he does not point out this plain
mistake. He answers by making another mistake exactly of the same kind.
He says that Eatanswill was not a busy, important place. And his odd
reason is that Mrs. Pott said she was dull there. But obviously Mrs.
Pott would have said she was dull anywhere. She was setting her cap at
Mr. Winkle. Moreover, it was the whole point of her character in any
case. Mrs. Pott was that kind of woman. If she had been in Ipswich she
would have said that she ought to be in London. If she was in London she
would have said that she ought to be in Paris. The first disputant
proves Eatanswill grand because a servile candidate calls it grand. The
second proves it dull because a discontented woman calls it dull.

The great part of the controversy seems to be conducted in the spirit of
highly irrelevant realism. Sudbury cannot be Eatanswill, because there
was a fancy-dress shop at Eatanswill, and there is no record of a
fancy-dress shop at Sudbury. Sudbury must be Eatanswill because there
were heavy roads outside Eatanswill, and there are heavy roads outside
Sudbury. Ipswich cannot be Eatanswill, because Mrs. Leo Hunter's country
seat would not be near a big town. Ipswich must be Eatanswill because
Mrs. Leo Hunter's country seat would be near a large town. Really,
Dickens might have been allowed to take liberties with such things as
these, even if he had been mentioning the place by name. If I were
writing a story about the town of Limerick, I should take the liberty of
introducing a bun-shop without taking a journey to Limerick to see
whether there was a bun-shop there. If I wrote a romance about Torquay,
I should hold myself free to introduce a house with a green door without
having studied a list of all the coloured doors in the town. But if, in
order to make it particularly obvious that I had not meant the town for
a photograph either of Torquay or Limerick, I had gone out of my way to
give the place a wild, fictitious name of my own, I think that in that
case I should be justified in tearing my hair with rage if the people of
Limerick or Torquay began to argue about bun-shops and green doors. No
reasonable man would expect Dickens to be so literal as all that even
about Bath or Bury St. Edmunds, which do exist; far less need he be
literal about Eatanswill, which didn't exist.

I must confess, however, that I incline to the Sudbury side of the
argument. This does not only arise from the sympathy which all healthy
people have for small places as against big ones; it arises from some
really good qualities in this particular Sudbury publication. First of
all, the champions of Sudbury seem to be more open to the sensible and
humorous view of the book than the champions of Ipswich--at least, those
that appear in this discussion. Even the Sudbury champion, bent on
finding realistic clothes, rebels (to his eternal honour) when Mr. Percy
Fitzgerald tries to show that Bob Sawyer's famous statement that he was
neither Buff nor Blue, "but a sort of plaid," must have been copied from
some silly man at Ipswich who said that his politics were "half and
half." Anybody might have made either of the two jokes. But it was the
whole glory and meaning of Dickens that he confined himself to making
jokes that anybody might have made a little better than anybody would
have made them.


Some solemn and superficial people (for nearly all very superficial
people are solemn) have declared that the fairy-tales are immoral; they
base this upon some accidental circumstances or regrettable incidents in
the war between giants and boys, some cases in which the latter indulged
in unsympathetic deceptions or even in practical jokes. The objection,
however, is not only false, but very much the reverse of the facts. The
fairy-tales are at root not only moral in the sense of being innocent,
but moral in the sense of being didactic, moral in the sense of being
moralising. It is all very well to talk of the freedom of fairyland, but
there was precious little freedom in fairyland by the best official
accounts. Mr. W.B. Yeats and other sensitive modern souls, feeling that
modern life is about as black a slavery as ever oppressed mankind (they
are right enough there), have especially described elfland as a place of
utter ease and abandonment--a place where the soul can turn every way at
will like the wind. Science denounces the idea of a capricious God; but
Mr. Yeats's school suggests that in that world every one is a capricious
god. Mr. Yeats himself has said a hundred times in that sad and splendid
literary style which makes him the first of all poets now writing in
English (I will not say of all English poets, for Irishmen are familiar
with the practice of physical assault), he has, I say, called up a
hundred times the picture of the terrible freedom of the fairies, who
typify the ultimate anarchy of art--

"Where nobody grows old or weary or wise,
Where nobody grows old or godly or grave."

But, after all (it is a shocking thing to say), I doubt whether Mr.
Yeats really knows the real philosophy of the fairies. He is not simple
enough; he is not stupid enough. Though I say it who should not, in good
sound human stupidity I would knock Mr. Yeats out any day. The fairies
like me better than Mr. Yeats; they can take me in more. And I have my
doubts whether this feeling of the free, wild spirits on the crest of
hill or wave is really the central and simple spirit of folk-lore. I
think the poets have made a mistake: because the world of the
fairy-tales is a brighter and more varied world than ours, they have
fancied it less moral; really it is brighter and more varied because it
is more moral. Suppose a man could be born in a modern prison. It is
impossible, of course, because nothing human can happen in a modern
prison, though it could sometimes in an ancient dungeon. A modern prison
is always inhuman, even when it is not inhumane. But suppose a man were
born in a modern prison, and grew accustomed to the deadly silence and
the disgusting indifference; and suppose he were then suddenly turned
loose upon the life and laughter of Fleet Street. He would, of course,
think that the literary men in Fleet Street were a free and happy race;
yet how sadly, how ironically, is this the reverse of the case! And so
again these toiling serfs in Fleet Street, when they catch a glimpse of
the fairies, think the fairies are utterly free. But fairies are like
journalists in this and many other respects. Fairies and journalists
have an apparent gaiety and a delusive beauty. Fairies and journalists
seem to be lovely and lawless; they seem to be both of them too
exquisite to descend to the ugliness of everyday duty. But it is an
illusion created by the sudden sweetness of their presence. Journalists
live under law; and so in fact does fairyland.

If you really read the fairy-tales, you will observe that one idea runs
from one end of them to the other--the idea that peace and happiness can
only exist on some condition. This idea, which is the core of ethics, is
the core of the nursery-tales. The whole happiness of fairyland hangs
upon a thread, upon one thread. Cinderella may have a dress woven on
supernatural looms and blazing with unearthly brilliance; but she must
be back when the clock strikes twelve. The king may invite fairies to
the christening, but he must invite all the fairies or frightful results
will follow. Bluebeard's wife may open all doors but one. A promise is
broken to a cat, and the whole world goes wrong. A promise is broken to
a yellow dwarf, and the whole world goes wrong. A girl may be the bride
of the God of Love himself if she never tries to see him; she sees him,
and he vanishes away. A girl is given a box on condition she does not
open it; she opens it, and all the evils of this world rush out at her.
A man and woman are put in a garden on condition that they do not eat
one fruit: they eat it, and lose their joy in all the fruits of the

This great idea, then, is the backbone of all folk-lore--the idea that
all happiness hangs on one thin veto; all positive joy depends on one
negative. Now, it is obvious that there are many philosophical and
religious ideas akin to or symbolised by this; but it is not with them I
wish to deal here. It is surely obvious that all ethics ought to be
taught to this fairy-tale tune; that, if one does the thing forbidden,
one imperils all the things provided. A man who breaks his promise to
his wife ought to be reminded that, even if she is a cat, the case of
the fairy-cat shows that such conduct may be incautious. A burglar just
about to open some one else's safe should be playfully reminded that he
is in the perilous posture of the beautiful Pandora: he is about to
lift the forbidden lid and loosen evils unknown. The boy eating some
one's apples in some one's apple tree should be a reminder that he has
come to a mystical moment of his life, when one apple may rob him of all
others. This is the profound morality of fairy-tales; which, so far from
being lawless, go to the root of all law. Instead of finding (like
common books of ethics) a rationalistic basis for each Commandment, they
find the great mystical basis for all Commandments. We are in this
fairyland on sufferance; it is not for us to quarrel with the conditions
under which we enjoy this wild vision of the world. The vetoes are
indeed extraordinary, but then so are the concessions. The idea of
property, the idea of some one else's apples, is a rum idea; but then
the idea of there being any apples is a rum idea. It is strange and
weird that I cannot with safety drink ten bottles of champagne; but then
the champagne itself is strange and weird, if you come to that. If I
have drunk of the fairies' drink it is but just I should drink by the
fairies' rules. We may not see the direct logical connection between
three beautiful silver spoons and a large ugly policeman; but then who
in fairy tales ever could see the direct logical connection between
three bears and a giant, or between a rose and a roaring beast? Not only
can these fairy-tales be enjoyed because they are moral, but morality
can be enjoyed because it puts us in fairyland, in a world at once of
wonder and of war.


The two hundredth anniversary of Henry Fielding is very justly
celebrated, even if, as far as can be discovered, it is only celebrated
by the newspapers. It would be too much to expect that any such merely
chronological incident should induce the people who write about Fielding
to read him; this kind of neglect is only another name for glory. A
great classic means a man whom one can praise without having read. This
is not in itself wholly unjust; it merely implies a certain respect for
the realisation and fixed conclusions of the mass of mankind. I have
never read Pindar (I mean I have never read the Greek Pindar; Peter
Pindar I have read all right), but the mere fact that I have not read
Pindar, I think, ought not to prevent me and certainly would not prevent
me from talking of "the masterpieces of Pindar," or of "great poets like
Pindar or AEschylus." The very learned men are angularly unenlightened on
this as on many other subjects; and the position they take up is really
quite unreasonable. If any ordinary journalist or man of general reading
alludes to Villon or to Homer, they consider it a quite triumphant sneer
to say to the man, "You cannot read mediaeval French," or "You cannot
read Homeric Greek." But it is not a triumphant sneer--or, indeed, a
sneer at all. A man has got as much right to employ in his speech the
established and traditional facts of human history as he has to employ
any other piece of common human information. And it is as reasonable for
a man who knows no French to assume that Villon was a good poet as it
would be for a man who has no ear for music to assume that Beethoven was
a good musician. Because he himself has no ear for music, that is no
reason why he should assume that the human race has no ear for music.
Because I am ignorant (as I am), it does not follow that I ought to
assume that I am deceived. The man who would not praise Pindar unless he
had read him would be a low, distrustful fellow, the worst kind of
sceptic, who doubts not only God, but man. He would be like a man who
could not call Mount Everest high unless he had climbed it. He would be
like a man who would not admit that the North Pole was cold until he had
been there.

But I think there is a limit, and a highly legitimate limit, to this
process. I think a man may praise Pindar without knowing the top of a
Greek letter from the bottom. But I think that if a man is going to
abuse Pindar, if he is going to denounce, refute, and utterly expose
Pindar, if he is going to show Pindar up as the utter ignoramus and
outrageous impostor that he is, then I think it will be just as well
perhaps--I think, at any rate, it would do no harm--if he did know a
little Greek, and even had read a little Pindar. And I think the same
situation would be involved if the critic were concerned to point out
that Pindar was scandalously immoral, pestilently cynical, or low and
beastly in his views of life. When people brought such attacks against
the morality of Pindar, I should regret that they could not read Greek;
and when they bring such attacks against the morality of Fielding, I
regret very much that they cannot read English.

There seems to be an extraordinary idea abroad that Fielding was in some
way an immoral or offensive writer. I have been astounded by the number
of the leading articles, literary articles, and other articles written
about him just now in which there is a curious tone of apologising for
the man. One critic says that after all he couldn't help it, because he
lived in the eighteenth century; another says that we must allow for the
change of manners and ideas; another says that he was not altogether
without generous and humane feelings; another suggests that he clung
feebly, after all, to a few of the less important virtues. What on earth
does all this mean? Fielding described Tom Jones as going on in a
certain way, in which, most unfortunately, a very large number of young
men do go on. It is unnecessary to say that Henry Fielding knew that it
was an unfortunate way of going on. Even Tom Jones knew that. He said in
so many words that it was a very unfortunate way of going on; he said,
one may almost say, that it had ruined his life; the passage is there
for the benefit of any one who may take the trouble to read the book.
There is ample evidence (though even this is of a mystical and indirect
kind), there is ample evidence that Fielding probably thought that it
was better to be Tom Jones than to be an utter coward and sneak. There
is simply not one rag or thread or speck of evidence to show that
Fielding thought that it was better to be Tom Jones than to be a good
man. All that he is concerned with is the description of a definite and
very real type of young man; the young man whose passions and whose
selfish necessities sometimes seemed to be stronger than anything else
in him.

The practical morality of Tom Jones is bad, though not so bad,
_spiritually_ speaking, as the practical morality of Arthur Pendennis or
the practical morality of Pip, and certainly nothing like so bad as the
profound practical immorality of Daniel Deronda. The practical morality
of Tom Jones is bad; but I cannot see any proof that his theoretical
morality was particularly bad. There is no need to tell the majority of
modern young men even to live up to the theoretical ethics of Henry
Fielding. They would suddenly spring into the stature of archangels if
they lived up to the theoretic ethics of poor Tom Jones. Tom Jones is
still alive, with all his good and all his evil; he is walking about the
streets; we meet him every day. We meet with him, we drink with him, we
smoke with him, we talk with him, we talk about him. The only difference
is that we have no longer the intellectual courage to write about him.
We split up the supreme and central human being, Tom Jones, into a
number of separate aspects. We let Mr. J.M. Barrie write about him in
his good moments, and make him out better than he is. We let Zola write
about him in his bad moments, and make him out much worse than he is. We
let Maeterlinck celebrate those moments of spiritual panic which he
knows to be cowardly; we let Mr. Rudyard Kipling celebrate those
moments of brutality which he knows to be far more cowardly. We let
obscene writers write about the obscenities of this ordinary man. We let
puritan writers write about the purities of this ordinary man. We look
through one peephole that makes men out as devils, and we call it the
new art. We look through another peephole that makes men out as angels,
and we call it the New Theology. But if we pull down some dusty old
books from the bookshelf, if we turn over some old mildewed leaves, and
if in that obscurity and decay we find some faint traces of a tale about
a complete man, such a man as is walking on the pavement outside, we
suddenly pull a long face, and we call it the coarse morals of a bygone

The truth is that all these things mark a certain change in the general
view of morals; not, I think, a change for the better. We have grown to
associate morality in a book with a kind of optimism and prettiness;
according to us, a moral book is a book about moral people. But the old
idea was almost exactly the opposite; a moral book was a book about
immoral people. A moral book was full of pictures like Hogarth's "Gin
Lane" or "Stages of Cruelty," or it recorded, like the popular
broadsheet, "God's dreadful judgment" against some blasphemer or
murderer. There is a philosophical reason for this change. The homeless
scepticism of our time has reached a sub-conscious feeling that morality
is somehow merely a matter of human taste--an accident of psychology.
And if goodness only exists in certain human minds, a man wishing to
praise goodness will naturally exaggerate the amount of it that there
is in human minds or the number of human minds in which it is supreme.
Every confession that man is vicious is a confession that virtue is
visionary. Every book which admits that evil is real is felt in some
vague way to be admitting that good is unreal. The modern instinct is
that if the heart of man is evil, there is nothing that remains good.
But the older feeling was that if the heart of man was ever so evil,
there was something that remained good--goodness remained good. An
actual avenging virtue existed outside the human race; to that men rose,
or from that men fell away. Therefore, of course, this law itself was as
much demonstrated in the breach as in the observance. If Tom Jones
violated morality, so much the worse for Tom Jones. Fielding did not
feel, as a melancholy modern would have done, that every sin of Tom
Jones was in some way breaking the spell, or we may even say destroying
the fiction of morality. Men spoke of the sinner breaking the law; but
it was rather the law that broke him. And what modern people call the
foulness and freedom of Fielding is generally the severity and moral
stringency of Fielding. He would not have thought that he was serving
morality at all if he had written a book all about nice people. Fielding
would have considered Mr. Ian Maclaren extremely immoral; and there is
something to be said for that view. Telling the truth about the terrible
struggle of the human soul is surely a very elementary part of the
ethics of honesty. If the characters are not wicked, the book is. This
older and firmer conception of right as existing outside human weakness
and without reference to human error can be felt in the very lightest
and loosest of the works of old English literature. It is commonly
unmeaning enough to call Shakspere a great moralist; but in this
particular way Shakspere is a very typical moralist. Whenever he alludes
to right and wrong it is always with this old implication. Right is
right, even if nobody does it. Wrong is wrong, even if everybody is
wrong about it.


A considerable time ago (at far too early an age, in fact) I read
Voltaire's "La Pucelle," a savage sarcasm on the traditional purity of
Joan of Arc, very dirty, and very funny. I had not thought of it again
for years, but it came back into my mind this morning because I began to
turn over the leaves of the new "Jeanne d'Arc," by that great and
graceful writer, Anatole France. It is written in a tone of tender
sympathy, and a sort of sad reverence; it never loses touch with a noble
tact and courtesy, like that of a gentleman escorting a peasant girl
through the modern crowd. It is invariably respectful to Joan, and even
respectful to her religion. And being myself a furious admirer of Joan
the Maid, I have reflectively compared the two methods, and I come to
the conclusion that I prefer Voltaire's.

When a man of Voltaire's school has to explode a saint or a great
religious hero, he says that such a person is a common human fool, or a
common human fraud. But when a man like Anatole France has to explode a
saint, he explains a saint as somebody belonging to his particular fussy
little literary set. Voltaire read human nature into Joan of Arc, though
it was only the brutal part of human nature. At least it was not
specially Voltaire's nature. But M. France read M. France's nature into
Joan of Arc--all the cold kindness, all the homeless sentimental sin of
the modern literary man. There is one book that it recalled to me with
startling vividness, though I have not seen the matter mentioned
anywhere; Renan's "Vie de Jesus." It has just the same general
intention: that if you do not attack Christianity, you can at least
patronise it. My own instinct, apart from my opinions, would be quite
the other way. If I disbelieved in Christianity, I should be the loudest
blasphemer in Hyde Park. Nothing ought to be too big for a brave man to
attack; but there are some things too big for a man to patronise.

And I must say that the historical method seems to me excessively
unreasonable. I have no knowledge of history, but I have as much
knowledge of reason as Anatole France. And, if anything is irrational,
it seems to me that the Renan-France way of dealing with miraculous
stories is irrational. The Renan-France method is simply this: you
explain supernatural stories that have some foundation simply by
inventing natural stories that have no foundation. Suppose that you are
confronted with the statement that Jack climbed up the beanstalk into
the sky. It is perfectly philosophical to reply that you do not think
that he did. It is (in my opinion) even more philosophical to reply that
he may very probably have done so. But the Renan-France method is to
write like this: "When we consider Jack's curious and even perilous
heredity, which no doubt was derived from a female greengrocer and a
profligate priest, we can easily understand how the ideas of heaven and
a beanstalk came to be combined in his mind. Moreover, there is little
doubt that he must have met some wandering conjurer from India, who told
him about the tricks of the mango plant, and how t is sent up to the
sky. We can imagine these two friends, the old man and the young,
wandering in the woods together at evening, looking at the red and level
clouds, as on that night when the old man pointed to a small beanstalk,
and told his too imaginative companion that this also might be made to
scale the heavens. And then, when we remember the quite exceptional
psychology of Jack, when we remember how there was in him a union of the
prosaic, the love of plain vegetables, with an almost irrelevant
eagerness for the unattainable, for invisibility and the void, we shall
no longer wonder that it was to him especially that was sent this sweet,
though merely symbolic, dream of the tree uniting earth and heaven."
That is the way that Renan and France write, only they do it better.
But, really, a rationalist like myself becomes a little impatient and
feels inclined to say, "But, hang it all, what do you know about the
heredity of Jack or the psychology of Jack? You know nothing about Jack
at all, except that some people say that he climbed up a beanstalk.
Nobody would ever have thought of mentioning him if he hadn't. You must
interpret him in terms of the beanstalk religion; you cannot merely
interpret religion in terms of him. We have the materials of this story,
and we can believe them or not. But we have not got the materials to
make another story."

It is no exaggeration to say that this is the manner of M. Anatole
France in dealing with Joan of Arc. Because her miracle is incredible to
his somewhat old-fashioned materialism, he does not therefore dismiss it
and her to fairyland with Jack and the Beanstalk. He tries to invent a
real story, for which he can find no real evidence. He produces a
scientific explanation which is quite destitute of any scientific proof.
It is as if I (being entirely ignorant of botany and chemistry) said
that the beanstalk grew to the sky because nitrogen and argon got into
the subsidiary ducts of the corolla. To take the most obvious example,
the principal character in M. France's story is a person who never
existed at all. All Joan's wisdom and energy, it seems, came from a
certain priest, of whom there is not the tiniest trace in all the
multitudinous records of her life. The only foundation I can find for
this fancy is the highly undemocratic idea that a peasant girl could not
possibly have any ideas of her own. It is very hard for a freethinker to
remain democratic. The writer seems altogether to forget what is meant
by the moral atmosphere of a community. To say that Joan must have
learnt her vision of a virgin overthrowing evil from _a_ priest, is
like saying that some modern girl in London, pitying the poor, must have
learnt it from _a_ Labour Member. She would learn it where the Labour
Member learnt it--in the whole state of our society.

But that is the modern method: the method of the reverent sceptic. When
you find a life entirely incredible and incomprehensible from the
outside, you pretend that you understand the inside. As Renan, the
rationalist, could not make any sense out of Christ's most public acts,
he proceeded to make an ingenious system out of His private thoughts. As
Anatole France, on his own intellectual principle, cannot believe in
what Joan of Arc did, he professes to be her dearest friend, and to know
exactly what she meant. I cannot feel it to be a very rational manner of
writing history; and sooner or later we shall have to find some more
solid way of dealing with those spiritual phenomena with which all
history is as closely spotted and spangled as the sky is with stars.

Joan of Arc is a wild and wonderful thing enough, but she is much saner
than most of her critics and biographers. We shall not recover the
common sense of Joan until we have recovered her mysticism. Our wars
fail, because they begin with something sensible and obvious--such as
getting to Pretoria by Christmas. But her war succeeded--because it
began with something wild and perfect--the saints delivering France. She
put her idealism in the right place, and her realism also in the right
place: we moderns get both displaced. She put her dreams and her
sentiment into her aims, where they ought to be; she put her
practicality into her practice. In modern Imperial wars, the case is
reversed. Our dreams, our aims are always, we insist, quite practical.
It is our practice that is dreamy.

It is not for us to explain this flaming figure in terms of our tired
and querulous culture. Rather we must try to explain ourselves by the
blaze of such fixed stars. Those who called her a witch hot from hell
were much more sensible than those who depict her as a silly sentimental
maiden prompted by her parish priest. If I have to choose between the
two schools of her scattered enemies, I could take my place with those
subtle clerks who thought her divine mission devilish, rather than with
those rustic aunts and uncles who thought it impossible.


With Francis Thompson we lose the greatest poetic energy since Browning.
His energy was of somewhat the same kind. Browning was intellectually
intricate because he was morally simple. He was too simple to explain
himself; he was too humble to suppose that other people needed any
explanation. But his real energy, and the real energy of Francis
Thompson, was best expressed in the fact that both poets were at once
fond of immensity and also fond of detail. Any common Imperialist can
have large ideas so long as he is not called upon to have small ideas
also. Any common scientific philosopher can have small ideas so long as
he is not called upon to have large ideas as well. But great poets use
the telescope and also the microscope. Great poets are obscure for two
opposite reasons; now, because they are talking about something too
large for any one to understand, and now again because they are talking
about something too small for any one to see. Francis Thompson possessed
both these infinities. He escaped by being too small, as the microbe
escapes; or he escaped by being too large, as the universe escapes. Any
one who knows Francis Thompson's poetry knows quite well the truth to
which I refer. For the benefit of any person who does not know it, I may
mention two cases taken from memory. I have not the book by me, so I can
only render the poetical passages in a clumsy paraphrase. But there was
one poem of which the image was so vast that it was literally difficult
for a time to take it in; he was describing the evening earth with its
mist and fume and fragrance, and represented the whole as rolling
upwards like a smoke; then suddenly he called the whole ball of the
earth a thurible, and said that some gigantic spirit swung it slowly
before God. That is the case of the image too large for comprehension.
Another instance sticks in my mind of the image which is too small. In
one of his poems, he says that abyss between the known and the unknown
is bridged by "Pontifical death." There are about ten historical and
theological puns in that one word. That a priest means a pontiff, that a
pontiff means a bridge-maker, that death is certainly a bridge, that
death may turn out after all to be a reconciling priest, that at least
priests and bridges both attest to the fact that one thing can get
separated from another thing--these ideas, and twenty more, are all
actually concentrated in the word "pontifical." In Francis Thompson's
poetry, as in the poetry of the universe, you can work infinitely out
and out, but yet infinitely in and in. These two infinities are the mark
of greatness; and he was a great poet.

Beneath the tide of praise which was obviously due to the dead poet,
there is an evident undercurrent of discussion about him; some charges
of moral weakness were at least important enough to be authoritatively
contradicted in the _Nation_; and, in connection with this and other
things, there has been a continuous stir of comment upon his attraction
to and gradual absorption in Catholic theological ideas. This question
is so important that I think it ought to be considered and understood
even at the present time. It is, of course, true that Francis Thompson
devoted himself more and more to poems not only purely Catholic, but,
one may say, purely ecclesiastical. And it is, moreover, true that (if
things go on as they are going on at present) more and more good poets
will do the same. Poets will tend towards Christian orthodoxy for a
perfectly plain reason; because it is about the simplest and freest
thing now left in the world. On this point it is very necessary to be
clear. When people impute special vices to the Christian Church, they
seem entirely to forget that the world (which is the only other thing
there is) has these vices much more. The Church has been cruel; but the
world has been much more cruel. The Church has plotted; but the world
has plotted much more. The Church has been superstitious; but it has
never been so superstitious as the world is when left to itself.

Now, poets in our epoch will tend towards ecclesiastical religion
strictly because it is just a little more free than anything else. Take,
for instance, the case of symbol and ritualism. All reasonable men
believe in symbol; but some reasonable men do not believe in ritualism;
by which they mean, I imagine, a symbolism too complex, elaborate, and
mechanical. But whenever they talk of ritualism they always seem to mean
the ritualism of the Church. Why should they not mean the ritual of the
world? It is much more ritualistic. The ritual of the Army, the ritual
of the Navy, the ritual of the Law Courts, the ritual of Parliament are
much more ritualistic. The ritual of a dinner-party is much more
ritualistic. Priests may put gold and great jewels on the chalice; but
at least there is only one chalice to put them on. When you go to a
dinner-party they put in front of you five different chalices, of five
weird and heraldic shapes, to symbolise five different kinds of wine; an
insane extension of ritual from which Mr. Percy Dearmer would fly
shrieking. A bishop wears a mitre; but he is not thought more or less of
a bishop according to whether you can see the very latest curves in his
mitre. But a swell is thought more or less of a swell according to
whether you can see the very latest curves in his hat. There is more
_fuss_ about symbols in the world than in the Church.

And yet (strangely enough) though men fuss more about the worldly
symbols, they mean less by them. It is the mark of religious forms that
they declare something unknown. But it is the mark of worldly forms that
they declare something which is known, and which is known to be untrue.
When the Pope in an Encyclical calls himself your father, it is a matter
of faith or of doubt. But when the Duke of Devonshire in a letter calls
himself yours obediently, you know that he means the opposite of what he
says. Religious forms are, at the worst, fables; they might be true.
Secular forms are falsehoods; they are not true. Take a more topical
case. The German Emperor has more uniforms than the Pope. But, moreover,
the Pope's vestments all imply a claim to be something purely mystical
and doubtful. Many of the German Emperor's uniforms imply a claim to be
something which he certainly is not and which it would be highly
disgusting if he were. The Pope may or may not be the Vicar of Christ.
But the Kaiser certainly is not an English Colonel. If the thing were
reality it would be treason. If it is mere ritual, it is by far the most
unreal ritual on earth.

Now, poetical people like Francis Thompson will, as things stand, tend
away from secular society and towards religion for the reason above
described: that there are crowds of symbols in both, but that those of
religion are simpler and mean more. To take an evident type, the Cross
is more poetical than the Union Jack, because it is simpler. The more
simple an idea is, the more it is fertile in variations. Francis
Thompson could have written any number of good poems on the Cross,
because it is a primary symbol. The number of poems which Mr. Rudyard
Kipling could write on the Union Jack is, fortunately, limited, because
the Union Jack is too complex to produce luxuriance. The same principle
applies to any possible number of cases. A poet like Francis Thompson
could deduce perpetually rich and branching meanings out of two plain
facts like bread and wine; with bread and wine he can expand everything
to everywhere. But with a French menu he cannot expand anything; except
perhaps himself. Complicated ideas do not produce any more ideas.
Mongrels do not breed. Religious ritual attracts because there is some
sense in it. Religious imagery, so far from being subtle, is the only
simple thing left for poets. So far from being merely superhuman, it is
the only human thing left for human beings.


There is no more dangerous or disgusting habit than that of celebrating
Christmas before it comes, as I am doing in this article. It is the very
essence of a festival that it breaks upon one brilliantly and abruptly,
that at one moment the great day is not and the next moment the great
day is. Up to a certain specific instant you are feeling ordinary and
sad; for it is only Wednesday. At the next moment your heart leaps up
and your soul and body dance together like lovers; for in one burst and
blaze it has become Thursday. I am assuming (of course) that you are a
worshipper of Thor, and that you celebrate his day once a week, possibly
with human sacrifice. If, on the other hand, you are a modern Christian
Englishman, you hail (of course) with the same explosion of gaiety the
appearance of the English Sunday. But I say that whatever the day is
that is to you festive or symbolic, it is essential that there should be
a quite clear black line between it and the time going before. And all
the old wholesome customs in connection with Christmas were to the
effect that one should not touch or see or know or speak of something
before the actual coming of Christmas Day. Thus, for instance, children
were never given their presents until the actual coming of the appointed
hour. The presents were kept tied up in brown-paper parcels, out of
which an arm of a doll or the leg of a donkey sometimes accidentally
stuck. I wish this principle were adopted in respect of modern Christmas
ceremonies and publications. Especially it ought to be observed in
connection with what are called the Christmas numbers of magazines. The
editors of the magazines bring out their Christmas numbers so long
before the time that the reader is more likely to be still lamenting for
the turkey of last year than to have seriously settled down to a solid
anticipation of the turkey which is to come. Christmas numbers of
magazines ought to be tied up in brown paper and kept for Christmas Day.
On consideration, I should favour the editors being tied up in brown
paper. Whether the leg or arm of an editor should ever be allowed to
protrude I leave to individual choice.

Of course, all this secrecy about Christmas is merely sentimental and
ceremonial; if you do not like what is sentimental and ceremonial, do
not celebrate Christmas at all. You will not be punished if you don't;
also, since we are no longer ruled by those sturdy Puritans who won for
us civil and religious liberty, you will not even be punished if you do.
But I cannot understand why any one should bother about a ceremonial
except ceremonially. If a thing only exists in order to be graceful, do
it gracefully or do not do it. If a thing only exists as something
professing to be solemn, do it solemnly or do not do it. There is no
sense in doing it slouchingly; nor is there even any liberty. I can
understand the man who takes off his hat to a lady because it is the
customary symbol. I can understand him, I say; in fact, I know him quite
intimately. I can also understand the man who refuses to take off his
hat to a lady, like the old Quakers, because he thinks that a symbol is
superstition. But what point would there be in so performing an
arbitrary form of respect that it was not a form of respect? We respect
the gentleman who takes off his hat to the lady; we respect the fanatic
who will not take off his hat to the lady. But what should we think of
the man who kept his hands in his pockets and asked the lady to take his
hat off for him because he felt tired?

This is combining insolence and superstition; and the modern world is
full of the strange combination. There is no mark of the immense
weak-mindedness of modernity that is more striking than this general
disposition to keep up old forms, but to keep them up informally and
feebly. Why take something which was only meant to be respectful and
preserve it disrespectfully? Why take something which you could easily
abolish as a superstition and carefully perpetuate it as a bore? There
have been many instances of this half-witted compromise. Was it not
true, for instance, that the other day some mad American was trying to
buy Glastonbury Abbey and transfer it stone by stone to America? Such
things are not only illogical, but idiotic. There is no particular
reason why a pushing American financier should pay respect to
Glastonbury Abbey at all. But if he is to pay respect to Glastonbury
Abbey, he must pay respect to Glastonbury. If it is a matter of
sentiment, why should he spoil the scene? If it is not a matter of
sentiment, why should he ever have visited the scene? To call this kind
of thing Vandalism is a very inadequate and unfair description. The
Vandals were very sensible people. They did not believe in a religion,
and so they insulted it; they did not see any use for certain buildings,
and so they knocked them down. But they were not such fools as to
encumber their march with the fragments of the edifice they had
themselves spoilt. They were at least superior to the modern American
mode of reasoning. They did not desecrate the stones because they held
them sacred.

Another instance of the same illogicality I observed the other day at
some kind of "At Home." I saw what appeared to be a human being dressed
in a black evening-coat, black dress-waistcoat, and black
dress-trousers, but with a shirt-front made of Jaegar wool. What can be
the sense of this sort of thing? If a man thinks hygiene more important
than convention (a selfish and heathen view, for the beasts that perish
are more hygienic than man, and man is only above them because he is
more conventional), if, I say, a man thinks that hygiene is more
important than convention, what on earth is there to oblige him to wear
a shirt-front at all? But to take a costume of which the only
conceivable cause or advantage is that it is a sort of uniform, and then
not wear it in the uniform way--this is to be neither a Bohemian nor a
gentleman. It is a foolish affectation, I think, in an English officer
of the Life Guards never to wear his uniform if he can help it. But it
would be more foolish still if he showed himself about town in a scarlet
coat and a Jaeger breast-plate. It is the custom nowadays to have Ritual
Commissions and Ritual Reports to make rather unmeaning compromises in
the ceremonial of the Church of England. So perhaps we shall have an
ecclesiastical compromise by which all the Bishops shall wear Jaeger
copes and Jaeger mitres. Similarly the King might insist on having a
Jaeger crown. But I do not think he will, for he understands the logic
of the matter better than that. The modern monarch, like a reasonable
fellow, wears his crown as seldom as he can; but if he does it at all,
then the only point of a crown is that it is a crown. So let me assure
the unknown gentleman in the woollen vesture that the only point of a
white shirt-front is that it is a white shirt-front. Stiffness may be
its impossible defect; but it is certainly its only possible merit.

Let us be consistent, therefore, about Christmas, and either keep
customs or not keep them. If you do not like sentiment and symbolism,
you do not like Christmas; go away and celebrate something else; I
should suggest the birthday of Mr. M'Cabe. No doubt you could have a
sort of scientific Christmas with a hygienic pudding and highly
instructive presents stuffed into a Jaeger stocking; go and have it
then. If you like those things, doubtless you are a good sort of fellow,
and your intentions are excellent. I have no doubt that you are really
interested in humanity; but I cannot think that humanity will ever be
much interested in you. Humanity is unhygienic from its very nature and
beginning. It is so much an exception in Nature that the laws of Nature
really mean nothing to it. Now Christmas is attacked also on the
humanitarian ground. Ouida called it a feast of slaughter and gluttony.
Mr. Shaw suggested that it was invented by poulterers. That should be
considered before it becomes more considerable.

I do not know whether an animal killed at Christmas has had a better or
a worse time than it would have had if there had been no Christmas or no
Christmas dinners. But I do know that the fighting and suffering
brotherhood to which I belong and owe everything, Mankind, would have a
much worse time if there were no such thing as Christmas or Christmas
dinners. Whether the turkey which Scrooge gave to Bob Cratchit had
experienced a lovelier or more melancholy career than that of less
attractive turkeys is a subject upon which I cannot even conjecture.
But that Scrooge was better for giving the turkey and Cratchit happier
for getting it I know as two facts, as I know that I have two feet. What
life and death may be to a turkey is not my business; but the soul of
Scrooge and the body of Cratchit are my business. Nothing shall induce
me to darken human homes, to destroy human festivities, to insult human
gifts and human benefactions for the sake of some hypothetical knowledge
which Nature curtained from our eyes. We men and women are all in the
same boat, upon a stormy sea. We owe to each other a terrible and tragic
loyalty. If we catch sharks for food, let them be killed most
mercifully; let any one who likes love the sharks, and pet the sharks,
and tie ribbons round their necks and give them sugar and teach them to
dance. But if once a man suggests that a shark is to be valued against a
sailor, or that the poor shark might be permitted to bite off a nigger's
leg occasionally; then I would court-martial the man--he is a traitor to
the ship.

And while I take this view of humanitarianism of the anti-Christmas
kind, it is cogent to say that I am a strong anti-vivisectionist. That
is, if there is any vivisection, I am against it. I am against the
cutting-up of conscious dogs for the same reason that I am in favour of
the eating of dead turkeys. The connection may not be obvious; but that
is because of the strangely unhealthy condition of modern thought. I am
against cruel vivisection as I am against a cruel anti-Christmas
asceticism, because they both involve the upsetting of existing
fellowships and the shocking of normal good feelings for the sake of
something that is intellectual, fanciful, and remote. It is not a human
thing, it is not a humane thing, when you see a poor woman staring
hungrily at a bloater, to think, not of the obvious feelings of the
woman, but of the unimaginable feelings of the deceased bloater.
Similarly, it is not human, it is not humane, when you look at a dog to
think about what theoretic discoveries you might possibly make if you
were allowed to bore a hole in his head. Both the humanitarians' fancy
about the feelings concealed inside the bloater, and the
vivisectionists' fancy about the knowledge concealed inside the dog, are
unhealthy fancies, because they upset a human sanity that is certain for
the sake of something that is of necessity uncertain. The
vivisectionist, for the sake of doing something that may or may not be
useful, does something that certainly is horrible. The anti-Christmas
humanitarian, in seeking to have a sympathy with a turkey which no man
can have with a turkey, loses the sympathy he has already with the
happiness of millions of the poor.

It is not uncommon nowadays for the insane extremes in reality to meet.
Thus I have always felt that brutal Imperialism and Tolstoian
non-resistance were not only not opposite, but were the same thing. They
are the same contemptible thought that conquest cannot be resisted,
looked at from the two standpoints of the conqueror and the conquered.
Thus again teetotalism and the really degraded gin-selling and
dram-drinking have exactly the same moral philosophy. They are both
based on the idea that fermented liquor is not a drink, but a drug. But
I am specially certain that the extreme of vegetarian humanity is, as I
have said, akin to the extreme of scientific cruelty--they both permit a
dubious speculation to interfere with their ordinary charity. The sound
moral rule in such matters as vivisection always presents itself to me
in this way. There is no ethical necessity more essential and vital than
this: that casuistical exceptions, though admitted, should be admitted
as exceptions. And it follows from this, I think, that, though we may do
a horrid thing in a horrid situation, we must be quite certain that we
actually and already are in that situation. Thus, all sane moralists
admit that one may sometimes tell a lie; but no sane moralist would
approve of telling a little boy to practise telling lies, in case he
might one day have to tell a justifiable one. Thus, morality has often
justified shooting a robber or a burglar. But it would not justify going
into the village Sunday school and shooting all the little boys who
looked as if they might grow up into burglars. The need may arise; but
the need must have arisen. It seems to me quite clear that if you step
across this limit you step off a precipice.

Now, whether torturing an animal is or is not an immoral thing, it is,
at least, a dreadful thing. It belongs to the order of exceptional and
even desperate acts. Except for some extraordinary reason I would not
grievously hurt an animal; with an extraordinary reason I would
grievously hurt him. If (for example) a mad elephant were pursuing me
and my family, and I could only shoot him so that he would die in
agony, he would have to die in agony. But the elephant would be there. I
would not do it to a hypothetical elephant. Now, it always seems to me
that this is the weak point in the ordinary vivisectionist argument,
"Suppose your wife were dying." Vivisection is not done by a man whose
wife is dying. If it were it might be lifted to the level of the moment,
as would be lying or stealing bread, or any other ugly action. But this
ugly action is done in cold blood, at leisure, by men who are not sure
that it will be of any use to anybody--men of whom the most that can be
said is that they may conceivably make the beginnings of some discovery
which may perhaps save the life of some one else's wife in some remote
future. That is too cold and distant to rob an act of its immediate
horror. That is like training the child to tell lies for the sake of
some great dilemma that may never come to him. You are doing a cruel
thing, but not with enough passion to make it a kindly one.

So much for why I am an anti-vivisectionist; and I should like to say,
in conclusion, that all other anti-vivisectionists of my acquaintance
weaken their case infinitely by forming this attack on a scientific
speciality in which the human heart is commonly on their side, with
attacks upon universal human customs in which the human heart is not at
all on their side. I have heard humanitarians, for instance, speak of
vivisection and field sports as if they were the same kind of thing. The
difference seems to me simple and enormous. In sport a man goes into a
wood and mixes with the existing life of that wood; becomes a destroyer
only in the simple and healthy sense in which all the creatures are
destroyers; becomes for one moment to them what they are to him--another
animal. In vivisection a man takes a simpler creature and subjects it to
subtleties which no one but man could inflict on him, and for which man
is therefore gravely and terribly responsible.

Meanwhile, it remains true that I shall eat a great deal of turkey this
Christmas; and it is not in the least true (as the vegetarians say) that
I shall do it because I do not realise what I am doing, or because I do
what I know is wrong, or that I do it with shame or doubt or a
fundamental unrest of conscience. In one sense I know quite well what I
am doing; in another sense I know quite well that I know not what I do.
Scrooge and the Cratchits and I are, as I have said, all in one boat;
the turkey and I are, to say the most of it, ships that pass in the
night, and greet each other in passing. I wish him well; but it is
really practically impossible to discover whether I treat him well. I
can avoid, and I do avoid with horror, all special and artificial
tormenting of him, sticking pins in him for fun or sticking knives in
him for scientific investigation. But whether by feeding him slowly and
killing him quickly for the needs of my brethren, I have improved in his
own solemn eyes his own strange and separate destiny, whether I have
made him in the sight of God a slave or a martyr, or one whom the gods
love and who die young--that is far more removed from my possibilities
of knowledge than the most abstruse intricacies of mysticism or
theology. A turkey is more occult and awful than all the angels and
archangels In so far as God has partly revealed to us an angelic world,
he has partly told us what an angel means. But God has never told us
what a turkey means. And if you go and stare at a live turkey for an
hour or two, you will find by the end of it that the enigma has rather
increased than diminished.

Facebook Google Reddit Twitter Pinterest