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An Englishman Looks at the World by H. G. Wells

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Knowing, as I do, the imaginative indolence of my countrymen, it is a
question I face with something very near to dismay.

But it is one that has to be faced. The question that should occupy our
directing minds now is no longer "How can we get more Dreadnoughts?" but
"What have we to follow the Dreadnought?"

To the Power that has most nearly guessed the answer to that riddle
belongs the future Empire of the Seas. It is interesting to guess for
oneself and to speculate upon the possibility of a kind of armoured
mother-ship for waterplanes and submarines and torpedo craft, but
necessarily that would be a mere journalistic and amateurish guessing. I
am not guessing, but asking urgent questions. What force, what council,
how many imaginative and inventive men has the country got at the
present time employed not casually but professionally in anticipating
the new strategy, the new tactics, the new material, the new training
that invention is so rapidly rendering necessary? I have the gravest
doubts whether we are doing anything systematic at all in this way.

Now, it is the tremendous seriousness of this deficiency to which I want
to call attention. Great Britain has in her armour a gap more dangerous
and vital than any mere numerical insufficiency of men or ships. She is
short of minds. Behind its strength of current armaments to-day, a
strength that begins to evaporate and grow obsolete from the very moment
it comes into being, a country needs more and more this profounder
strength of intellectual and creative activity.

This country most of all, which was left so far behind in the production
of submarines, airships and aeroplanes, must be made to realise the
folly of its trust in established things. Each new thing we take up more
belatedly and reluctantly than its predecessor. The time is not far
distant when we shall be "caught" lagging unless we change all this.

We need a new arm to our service; we need it urgently, and we shall need
it more and more, and that arm is Research. We need to place inquiry and
experiment upon a new footing altogether, to enlist for them and
organise them, to secure the pick of our young chemists and physicists
and engineers, and to get them to work systematically upon the
anticipation and preparation of our future war equipment. We need a
service of invention to recover our lost lead in these matters.

And it is because I feel so keenly the want of such a service, and the
want of great sums of money for it, that I deplore the disposition to
waste millions upon the hasty creation of a universal service army and
upon excessive Dreadnoughting. I am convinced that we are spending upon
the things of yesterday the money that is sorely needed for the things
of to-morrow.

With our eyes averted obstinately from the future we are backing towards

Sec. 3

In the present armament competition there are certain considerations
that appear to be almost universally overlooked, and which tend to
modify our views profoundly of what should be done. Ultimately they will
affect our entire expenditure upon war preparation.

Expenditure upon preparation for war falls, roughly, into two classes:
there is expenditure upon things that have a diminishing value, things
that grow old-fashioned and wear out, such as fortifications, ships,
guns, and ammunition, and expenditure upon things that have a permanent
and even growing value, such as organised technical research, military
and naval experiment, and the education and increase of a highly trained
class of war experts.

I want to suggest that we are spending too much money in the former and
not enough in the latter direction We are buying enormous quantities of
stuff that will be old iron in twenty years' time, and we are starving
ourselves of that which cannot be bought or made in a hurry, and upon
which the strength of nations ultimately rests altogether; we are
failing to get and maintain a sufficiency of highly educated and
developed men inspired by a tradition of service and efficiency.

No doubt we must be armed to-day, but every penny we divert from
men-making and knowledge-making to armament beyond the margin of bare
safety is a sacrifice of the future to the present. Every penny we
divert from national wealth-making to national weapons means so much
less in resources, so much more strain in the years ahead. But a great
system of laboratories and experimental stations, a systematic,
industrious increase of men of the officer-aviator type, of the
research student type, of the engineer type, of the naval-officer type,
of the skilled sergeant-instructor type, a methodical development of a
common sentiment and a common zeal among such a body of men, is an added
strength that grows greater from the moment you call it into being. In
our schools and military and naval colleges lies the proper field for
expenditure upon preparation for our ultimate triumph in war. All other
war preparation is temporary but that.

This would be obvious in any case, but what makes insistence upon it
peculiarly urgent is the manifestly temporary nature of the present
European situation and the fact that within quite a small number of
years our war front will be turned in a direction quite other than that
to which it faces now.

For a decade and more all Western Europe has been threatened by German
truculence; the German, inflamed by the victories of 1870 and 1871, has
poured out his energy in preparation for war by sea and land, and it has
been the difficult task of France and England to keep the peace with
him. The German has been the provocator and leader of all modern
armaments. But that is not going on. It is already more than half over.
If we can avert war with Germany for twenty years, we shall never have
to fight Germany. In twenty years' time we shall be talking no more of
sending troops to fight side by side on the frontier of France; we shall
be talking of sending troops to fight side by side with French and
Germans on the frontiers of Poland.

And the justification of that prophecy is a perfectly plain one. The
German has filled up his country, his birth-rate falls, and the very
vigour of his military and naval preparations, by raising the cost of
living, hurries it down. His birth-rate falls as ours and the
Frenchman's falls, because he is nearing his maximum of population It is
an inevitable consequence of his geographical conditions. But eastward
of him, from his eastern boundaries to the Pacific, is a country already
too populous to conquer, but with possibilities of further expansion
that are gigantic. The Slav will be free to increase and multiply for
another hundred years. Eastward and southward bristle the Slavs, and
behind the Slavs are the colossal possibilities of Asia.

Even German vanity, even the preposterous ambitions that spring from
that brief triumph of Sedan, must awaken at last to these manifest
facts, and on the day when Germany is fully awake we may count the
Western European Armageddon as "off" and turn our eyes to the greater
needs that will arise beyond Germany. The old game will be over and a
quite different new game will begin in international relations.

During these last few years of worry and bluster across the North Sea we
have a little forgotten India in our calculations. As Germany faces
round eastward again, as she must do before very long, we shall find
India resuming its former central position in our ideas of international
politics. With India we may pursue one of two policies: we may keep her
divided and inefficient for war, as she is at present, and hold her and
own her and defend her as a prize, or we may arm her and assist her
development into a group of quasi-independent English-speaking
States--in which case she will become our partner and possibly at last
even our senior partner. But that is by the way. What I am pointing out
now is that whether we fight Germany or not, a time is drawing near
when Germany will cease to be our war objective and we shall cease to be
Germany's war objective, and when there will have to be a complete
revision of our military and naval equipment in relation to those
remoter, vaster Asiatic possibilities.

Now that possible campaign away there, whatever its particular nature
may be, which will be shaping our military and naval policy in the year
1933 or thereabouts, will certainly be quite different in its conditions
from the possible campaign in Europe and the narrow seas which
determines all our preparations now. We cannot contemplate throwing an
army of a million British conscripts on to the North-West Frontier of
India, and a fleet of Super-Dreadnoughts will be ineffective either in
Thibet or the Baltic shallows. All our present stuff, indeed, will be on
the scrap-heap then. What will not be on the scrap-heap will be such
enterprise and special science and inventive power as we have got
together. That is versatile. That is good to have now and that will be
good to have then.

Everyone nowadays seems demanding increased expenditure upon war
preparation. I will follow the fashion. I will suggest that we have the
courage to restrain and even to curtail our monstrous outlay upon war
material and that we begin to spend lavishly upon military and naval
education and training, upon laboratories and experimental stations,
upon chemical and physical research and all that makes knowledge and
leading, and that we increase our expenditure upon these things as fast
as we can up to ten or twelve millions a year. At present we spend about
eighteen and a half millions a year upon education out of our national
funds, but fourteen and a half of this, supplemented by about as much
again from local sources, is consumed in merely elementary teaching. So
that we spend only about four millions a year of public money on every
sort of research and education above the simple democratic level. Nearly
thirty millions for the foundations and only a seventh for the edifice
of will and science! Is it any marvel that we are a badly organised
nation, a nation of very widely diffused intelligence and very
second-rate guidance and achievement? Is it any marvel that directly we
are tested by such a new development as that of aeroplanes or airships
we show ourselves in comparison with the more braced-up nations of the
Continent backward, unorganised unimaginative, unenterprising?

Our supreme want to-day, if we are to continue a belligerent people, is
a greater supply of able educated men, versatile men capable of engines,
of aviation, of invention, of leading and initiative. We need more
laboratories, more scholarships out of the general mass of elementary
scholars, a quasi-military discipline in our colleges and a great array
of new colleges, a much readier access to instruction in aviation and
military and naval practice. And if we are to have national service let
us begin with it where it is needed most and where it is least likely to
disorganise our social and economic life; let us begin at the top. Let
us begin with the educated and propertied classes and exact a couple of
years' service in a destroyer or a waterplane, or an airship, or a,
research laboratory, or a training camp, from the sons of everybody who,
let us say, pays income tax without deductions. Let us mix with these a
big proportion--a proportion we may increase steadily--of keen
scholarship men from the elementary schools. Such a braced-up class as
we should create in this way would give us the realities of military
power, which are enterprise, knowledge, and invention; and at the same
time it would add to and not subtract from the economic wealth of the
community Make men; that is the only sane, permanent preparation for
war. So we should develop a strength and create a tradition that would
not rust nor grow old-fashioned in all the years to come.


Circumstances have made me think a good deal at different times about
the business of writing novels, and what it means, and is, and may be;
and I was a professional critic of novels long before I wrote them. I
have been writing novels, or writing about novels, for the last twenty
years. It seems only yesterday that I wrote a review--the first long and
appreciative review he had--of Mr. Joseph Conrad's "Almayer's Folly" in
the _Saturday Review_. When a man has focussed so much of his life upon
the novel, it is not reasonable to expect him to take too modest or
apologetic a view of it. I consider the novel an important and necessary
thing indeed in that complicated system of uneasy adjustments and
readjustments which is modern civilisation I make very high and wide
claims for it. In many directions I do not think we can get along
without it.

Now this, I know, is not the usually received opinion. There is, I am
aware, the theory that the novel is wholly and solely a means of
relaxation. In spite of manifest facts, that was the dominant view of
the great period that we now in our retrospective way speak of as the
Victorian, and it still survives to this day. It is the man's theory of
the novel rather than the woman's. One may call it the Weary Giant
theory. The reader is represented as a man, burthened, toiling, worn. He
has been in his office from ten to four, with perhaps only two hours'
interval at his club for lunch; or he has been playing golf; or he has
been waiting about and voting in the House; or he has been fishing; or
he has been disputing a point of law; or writing a sermon; or doing one
of a thousand other of the grave important things which constitute the
substance of a prosperous man's life. Now at last comes the little
precious interval of leisure, and the Weary Giant takes up a book.
Perhaps he is vexed: he may have been bunkered, his line may have been
entangled in the trees, his favourite investment may have slumped, or
the judge have had indigestion and been extremely rude to him. He wants
to forget the troublesome realities of life. He wants to be taken out of
himself, to be cheered, consoled, amused--above all, amused. He doesn't
want ideas, he doesn't want facts; above all, he doesn't
want--_Problems_. He wants to dream of the bright, thin, gay excitements
of a phantom world--in which he can be hero--of horses ridden and lace
worn and princesses rescued and won. He wants pictures of funny slums,
and entertaining paupers, and laughable longshoremen, and kindly
impulses making life sweet. He wants romance without its defiance, and
humour without its sting; and the business of the novelist, he holds, is
to supply this cooling refreshment. That is the Weary Giant theory of
the novel. It ruled British criticism up to the period of the Boer
war--and then something happened to quite a lot of us, and it has never
completely recovered its old predominance. Perhaps it will; perhaps
something else may happen to prevent its ever doing so.

Both fiction and criticism to-day are in revolt against that tired
giant, the prosperous Englishman. I cannot think of a single writer of
any distinction to-day, unless it is Mr. W.W. Jacobs, who is content
merely to serve the purpose of those slippered hours. So far from the
weary reader being a decently tired giant, we realise that he is only an
inexpressibly lax, slovenly and under-trained giant, and we are all out
with one accord resolved to exercise his higher ganglia in every
possible way. And so I will say no more of the idea that the novel is
merely a harmless opiate for the vacant hours of prosperous men. As a
matter of fact, it never has been, and by its nature I doubt if it ever
can be.

I do not think that women have ever quite succumbed to the tired giant
attitude in their reading. Women are more serious, not only about life,
but about books. No type or kind of woman is capable of that lounging,
defensive stupidity which is the basis of the tired giant attitude, and
all through the early 'nineties, during which the respectable frivolity
of Great Britain left its most enduring marks upon our literature, there
was a rebel undertow of earnest and aggressive writing and reading,
supported chiefly by women and supplied very largely by women, which
gave the lie to the prevailing trivial estimate of fiction. Among
readers, women and girls and young men at least will insist upon having
their novels significant and real, and it is to these perpetually
renewed elements in the public that the novelist must look for his
continuing emancipation from the wearier and more massive influences at
work in contemporary British life.

And if the novel is to be recognised as something more than a
relaxation, it has also, I think, to be kept free from the restrictions
imposed upon it by the fierce pedantries of those who would define a
general form for it. Every art nowadays must steer its way between the
rocks of trivial and degrading standards and the whirlpool of arbitrary
and irrational criticism. Whenever criticism of any art becomes
specialised and professional whenever a class of adjudicators is brought
into existence, those adjudicators are apt to become as a class
distrustful of their immediate impressions, and anxious for methods of
comparison between work and work, they begin to emulate the
classifications and exact measurements of a science, and to set up
ideals and rules as data for such classification and measurements. They
develop an alleged sense of technique, which is too often no more than
the attempt to exact a laboriousness of method, or to insist upon
peculiarities of method which impress the professional critic not so
much as being merits as being meritorious. This sort of thing has gone
very far with the critical discussion both of the novel and the play.
You have all heard that impressive dictum that some particular
theatrical display, although moving, interesting, and continually
entertaining from start to finish, was for occult technical reasons "not
a play," and in the same way you are continually having your
appreciation of fiction dashed by the mysterious parallel condemnation,
that the story you like "isn't a novel." The novel has been treated as
though its form was as well-defined as the sonnet. Some year or so ago,
for example, there was a quite serious discussion, which began, I
believe, in a weekly paper devoted to the interests of various
nonconformist religious organisations, about the proper length for a
novel. The critic was to begin his painful duties with a yard measure.
The matter was taken up with profound gravity by the _Westminster
Gazette_, and a considerable number of literary men and women were
circularised and asked to state, in the face of "Tom Jones," "The Vicar
of Wakefield," "The Shabby-Genteel Story," and "Bleak House," just
exactly how long the novel ought to be. Our replies varied according to
the civility of our natures, but the mere attempt to raise the question
shows, I think, how widespread among the editorial, paragraph-writing,
opinion-making sort of people is this notion of prescribing a definite
length and a definite form for the novel. In the newspaper
correspondence that followed, our friend the weary giant made a
transitory appearance again. We were told the novel ought to be long
enough for him to take up after dinner and finish before his whisky at

That was obviously a half-forgotten echo of Edgar Allan Poe's discussion
of the short story. Edgar Allan Poe was very definite upon the point
that the short story should be finished at a sitting. But the novel and
short story are two entirely different things, and the train of
reasoning that made the American master limit the short story to about
an hour of reading as a maximum, does not apply to the longer work. A
short story is, or should be, a simple thing; it aims at producing one
single, vivid effect; it has to seize the attention at the outset, and
never relaxing, gather it together more and more until the climax is
reached. The limits of the human capacity to attend closely therefore
set a limit to it; it must explode and finish before interruption occurs
or fatigue sets in. But the novel I hold to be a discursive thing; it is
not a single interest, but a woven tapestry of interests; one is drawn
on first by this affection and curiosity, and then by that; it is
something to return to, and I do not see that we can possibly set any
limit to its extent. The distinctive value of the novel among written
works of art is in characterisation, and the charm of a well-conceived
character lies, not in knowing its destiny, but in watching its
proceedings. For my own part, I will confess that I find all the novels
of Dickens, long as they are, too short for me. I am sorry they do not
flow into one another more than they do. I wish Micawber and Dick
Swiveller and Sairey Gamp turned up again in other novels than their
own, just as Shakespeare ran the glorious glow of Falstaff through a
group of plays. But Dickens tried this once when he carried on the
Pickwick Club into "Master Humphrey's Clock." That experiment was
unsatisfactory, and he did not attempt anything of the sort again.
Following on the days of Dickens, the novel began to contract, to
subordinate characterisation to story and description to drama;
considerations of a sordid nature, I am told, had to do with that;
something about a guinea and a half and six shillings with which we will
not concern ourselves--but I rejoice to see many signs to-day that that
phase of narrowing and restriction is over, and that there is every
encouragement for a return towards a laxer, more spacious form of
novel-writing. The movement is partly of English origin, a revolt
against those more exacting and cramping conceptions of artistic
perfection to which I will recur in a moment, and a return to the lax
freedom of form, the rambling discursiveness, the right to roam, of the
earlier English novel, of "Tristram Shandy" and of "Tom Jones"; and
partly it comes from abroad, and derives a stimulus from such bold and
original enterprises as that of Monsieur Rolland in his "Jean
Christophe." Its double origin involves a double nature; for while the
English spirit is towards discursiveness and variety, the new French
movement is rather towards exhaustiveness. Mr. Arnold Bennett has
experimented in both forms of amplitude. His superb "Old Wives' Tale,"
wandering from person to person and from scene to scene, is by far the
finest "long novel" that has been written in English in the English
fashion in this generation, and now in "Clayhanger" and its promised
collaterals, he undertakes that complete, minute, abundant presentation
of the growth and modification of one or two individual minds, which is
the essential characteristic of the Continental movement towards the
novel of amplitude. While the "Old Wives' Tale" is discursive,
"Clayhanger" is exhaustive; he gives us both types of the new movement
in perfection.

I name "Jean Christophe" as a sort of archetype in this connection,
because it is just at present very much in our thoughts by reason of the
admirable translation Mr. Cannan is giving us; but there is a greater
predecessor to this comprehensive and spectacular treatment of a single
mind and its impressions and ideas, or of one or two associated minds,
that comes to us now _via_ Mr. Bennett and Mr. Cannan from France. The
great original of all this work is that colossal last unfinished book of
Flaubert, "Bouvard et Pecuchet." Flaubert, the bulk of whose life was
spent upon the most austere and restrained fiction--Turgenev was not
more austere and restrained--broke out at last into this gay, sad
miracle of intellectual abundance. It is not extensively read in this
country; it is not yet, I believe, translated into English; but there it
is--and if it is new to the reader I make him this present of the secret
of a book that is a precious wilderness of wonderful reading. But if
Flaubert is really the Continental emancipator of the novel from the
restrictions of form, the master to whom we of the English persuasion,
we of the discursive school, must for ever recur is he, whom I will
maintain against all comers to be the subtlest and greatest _artist_--I
lay stress upon that word artist--that Great Britain has ever produced
in all that is essentially the novel, Laurence Sterne....

The confusion between the standards of a short story and the standards
of the novel which leads at last to these--what shall I call
them?--_Westminster Gazettisms?_--about the correct length to which the
novelist should aspire, leads also to all kinds of absurd condemnations
and exactions upon matters of method and style. The underlying fallacy
is always this: the assumption that the novel, like the story, aims at a
single, concentrated impression. From that comes a fertile growth of
error. Constantly one finds in the reviews of works of fiction the
complaint that this, that or the other thing in a novel is irrelevant.
Now it is the easiest thing, and most fatal thing, to become irrelevant
in a short story. A short story should go to its point as a man flies
from a pursuing tiger: he pauses not for the daisies in his path, or to
note the pretty moss on the tree he climbs for safety. But the novel by
comparison is like breakfasting in the open air on a summer morning;
nothing is irrelevant if the waiter's mood is happy, and the tapping of
the thrush upon the garden path, or the petal of apple-blossom that
floats down into my coffee, is as relevant as the egg I open or the
bread and butter I bite. And all sorts of things that inevitably mar the
tense illusion which is the aim of the short story--the introduction,
for example, of the author's personality--any comment that seems to
admit that, after all, fiction is fiction, a change in manner between
part and part, burlesque, parody, invective, all such thing's are not
necessarily wrong in the novel. Of course, all these things may fail in
their effect; they may jar, hinder, irritate, and all are difficult to
do well; but it is no artistic merit to evade a difficulty any more than
it is a merit in a hunter to refuse even the highest of fences. Nearly
all the novels that have, by the lapse of time, reached an assured
position of recognised greatness, are not only saturated in the
personality of the author, but have in addition quite unaffected
personal outbreaks. The least successful instance the one that is made
the text against all such first-personal interventions, is, of course,
Thackeray. But I think the trouble with Thackeray is not that he makes
first-personal interventions, but that he does so with a curious touch
of dishonesty. I agree with the late Mrs. Craigie that there was
something profoundly vulgar about Thackeray. It was a sham thoughtful,
sham man-of-the-world pose he assumed; it is an aggressive, conscious,
challenging person astride before a fire, and a little distended by
dinner and a sense of social and literary precedences, who uses the
first person in Thackeray's novels. It isn't the real Thackeray; it
isn't a frank man who looks you in the eyes and bares his soul and
demands your sympathy. That is a criticism of Thackeray, but it isn't a
condemnation of intervention.

I admit that for a novelist to come in person in this way before his
readers involves grave risks; but when it is done without affectations,
starkly as a man comes in out of the darkness to tell of perplexing
things without--as, for instance, Mr. Joseph Conrad does for all
practical purposes in his "Lord Jim"--then it gives a sort of depth, a
sort of subjective reality, that no such cold, almost affectedly
ironical detachment as that which distinguishes the work of Mr. John
Galsworthy, for example, can ever attain. And in some cases the whole
art and delight of a novel may lie in the author's personal
interventions; let such novels as "Elizabeth and her German Garden," and
the same writer's "Elizabeth in Ruegen," bear witness.

Now, all this time I have been hacking away at certain hampering and
limiting beliefs about the novel, letting it loose, as it were, in form
and purpose; I have still to say just what I think the novel is, and
where, if anywhere, its boundary-line ought to be drawn. It is by no
means an easy task to define the novel. It is not a thing premeditated.
It is a thing that has grown up into modern life, and taken upon itself
uses and produced results that could not have been foreseen by its
originators. Few of the important things in the collective life of man
started out to be what they are. Consider, for example, all the
unexpected aesthetic values, the inspiration and variety of emotional
result which arises out of the cross-shaped plan of the Gothic
cathedral, and the undesigned delight and wonder of white marble that
has ensued, as I have been told, through the ageing and whitening of the
realistically coloured statuary of the Greeks and Romans. Much of the
charm of the old furniture and needlework, again, upon which the present
time sets so much store, lies in acquired and unpremeditated qualities.
And no doubt the novel grew up out of simple story-telling, and the
universal desire of children, old and young alike, for a story. It is
only slowly that we have developed the distinction of the novel from the
romance, as being a story of human beings, absolutely credible and
conceivable as distinguished from human beings frankly endowed with the
glamour, the wonder, the brightness, of a less exacting and more vividly
eventful world. The novel is a story that demands, or professes to
demand, no make-believe. The novelist undertakes to present you people
and things as real as any that you can meet in an omnibus. And I suppose
it is conceivable that a novel might exist which was just purely a story
of that kind and nothing more. It might amuse you as one is amused by
looking out of a window into a street, or listening to a piece of
agreeable music, and that might be the limit of its effect. But almost
always the novel is something more than that, and produces more effect
than that. The novel has inseparable moral consequences. It leaves
impressions, not simply of things seen, but of acts judged and made
attractive or unattractive. They may prove very slight moral
consequences, and very shallow moral impressions in the long run, but
there they are, none the less, its inevitable accompaniments. It is
unavoidable that this should be so. Even if the novelist attempts or
affects to be impartial, he still cannot prevent his characters setting
examples; he still cannot avoid, as people say, putting ideas into his
readers' heads. The greater his skill, the more convincing his treatment
the more vivid his power of suggestion. And it is equally impossible for
him not to betray his sense that the proceedings of this person are
rather jolly and admirable, and of that, rather ugly and detestable. I
suppose Mr. Bennett, for example, would say that he should not do so;
but it is as manifest to any disinterested observer that he greatly
loves and admires his Card, as that Richardson admired his Sir Charles
Grandison, or that Mrs. Humphry Ward considers her Marcella a very fine
and estimable young woman. And I think it is just in this, that the
novel is not simply a fictitious record of conduct, but also a study and
judgment of conduct, and through that of the ideas that lead to conduct,
that the real and increasing value--or perhaps to avoid controversy I
had better say the real and increasing importance--of the novel and of
the novelist in modern life comes in.

It is no new discovery that the novel, like the drama, is a powerful
instrument of moral suggestion. This has been understood in England ever
since there has been such a thing as a novel in England. This has been
recognised equally by novelists, novel-readers, and the people who
wouldn't read novels under any condition whatever. Richardson wrote
deliberately for edification, and "Tom Jones" is a powerful and
effective appeal for a charitable, and even indulgent, attitude towards
loose-living men. But excepting Fielding and one or two other of those
partial exceptions that always occur in the case of critical
generalisations, there is a definable difference between the novel of
the past and what I may call the modern novel. It is a difference that
is reflected upon the novel from a difference in the general way of
thinking. It lies in the fact that formerly there was a feeling of
certitude about moral values and standards of conduct that is altogether
absent to-day. It wasn't so much that men were agreed upon these
things--about these things there have always been enormous divergences
of opinion--as that men were emphatic, cocksure, and unteachable about
whatever they did happen to believe to a degree that no longer obtains.
This is the Balfourian age, and even religion seeks to establish itself
on doubt. There were, perhaps, just as many differences in the past as
there are now, but the outlines were harder--they were, indeed, so hard
as to be almost, to our sense, savage. You might be a Roman Catholic,
and in that case you did not want to hear about Protestants, Turks,
Infidels, except in tones of horror and hatred. You knew exactly what
was good and what was evil. Your priest informed you upon these points,
and all you needed in any novel you read was a confirmation, implicit or
explicit, of these vivid, rather than charming, prejudices. If you were
a Protestant you were equally clear and unshakable. Your sect, whichever
sect you belonged to, knew the whole of truth and included all the nice
people. It had nothing to learn in the world, and it wanted to learn
nothing outside its sectarian convictions. The unbelievers you know,
were just as bad, and said their creeds with an equal fury--merely
interpolating _nots_. People of every sort--Catholic, Protestant,
Infidel, or what not--were equally clear that good was good and bad was
bad, that the world was made up of good characters whom you had to love,
help and admire, and of bad characters to whom one might, in the
interests of goodness, even lie, and whom one had to foil, defeat and
triumph over shamelessly at every opportunity. That was the quality of
the times. The novel reflected this quality of assurance, and its utmost
charity was to unmask an apparent villain and show that he or she was
really profoundly and correctly good, or to unmask an apparent saint
and show the hypocrite. There was no such penetrating and pervading
element of doubt and curiosity--and charity, about the rightfulness and
beauty of conduct, such as one meets on every hand to-day.

The novel-reader of the past, therefore, like the novel-reader of the
more provincial parts of England to-day, judged a novel by the
convictions that had been built up in him by his training and his priest
or his pastor. If it agreed with these convictions he approved; if it
did not agree he disapproved--often with great energy. The novel, where
it was not unconditionally banned altogether as a thing disturbing and
unnecessary, was regarded as a thing subordinated to the teaching of the
priest or pastor, or whatever director and dogma was followed. Its
modest moral confirmations began when authority had completed its
direction. The novel was good--if it seemed to harmonise with the graver
exercises conducted by Mr. Chadband--and it was bad and outcast if Mr.
Chadband said so. And it is over the bodies of discredited and
disgruntled Chadbands that the novel escapes from its servitude and

Now the conflict of authority against criticism is one of the eternal
conflicts of humanity. It is the conflict of organisation against
initiative, of discipline against freedom. It was the conflict of the
priest against the prophet in ancient Judaea, of the Pharisee against
the Nazarene, of the Realist against the Nominalist, of the Church
against the Franciscan and the Lollard, of the Respectable Person
against the Artist, of the hedge-clippers of mankind against the
shooting buds. And to-day, while we live in a period of tightening and
extending social organisation, we live also in a period of adventurous
and insurgent thought, in an intellectual spring unprecedented in the
world's history. There is an enormous criticism going on of the faiths
upon which men's lives and associations are based, and of every standard
and rule of conduct. And it is inevitable that the novel, just in the
measure of its sincerity and ability, should reflect and co-operate in
the atmosphere and uncertainties and changing variety of this seething
and creative time.

And I do not mean merely that the novel is unavoidably charged with the
representation of this wide and wonderful conflict. It is a necessary
part of the conflict. The essential characteristic of this great
intellectual revolution amidst which we are living to-day, that
revolution of which the revival and restatement of nominalism under the
name of pragmatism is the philosophical aspect, consists in the
reassertion of the importance of the individual instance as against the
generalisation. All our social, political, moral problems are being
approached in a new spirit, in an inquiring and experimental spirit,
which has small respect for abstract principles and deductive rules. We
perceive more and more clearly, for example, that the study of social
organisation is an empty and unprofitable study until we approach it as
a study of the association and inter-reaction of individualised human
beings inspired by diversified motives, ruled by traditions, and swayed
by the suggestions of a complex intellectual atmosphere. And all our
conceptions of the relationships between man and man, and of justice and
rightfulness and social desirableness, remain something misfitting and
inappropriate, something uncomfortable and potentially injurious, as if
we were trying to wear sharp-edged clothes made for a giant out of tin,
until we bring them to the test and measure of realised individualities.

And this is where the value and opportunity of the modern novel comes
in. So far as I can see, it is the only medium through which we can
discuss the great majority of the problems which are being raised in
such bristling multitude by our contemporary social development Nearly
every one of those problems has at its core a psychological problem, and
not merely a psychological problem, but one in which the idea of
individuality is an essential factor. Dealing with most of these
questions by a rule or a generalisation is like putting a cordon round a
jungle full of the most diversified sort of game. The hunting only
begins when you leave the cordon behind you and push into the thickets.

Take, for example, the immense cluster of difficulties that arises out
of the increasing complexity of our state. On every hand we are creating
officials, and compared with only a few years ago the private life in a
dozen fresh directions comes into contact with officialdom. But we still
do practically nothing to work out the interesting changes that occur in
this sort of man and that, when you withdraw him as it were from the
common crowd of humanity, put his mind if not his body into uniform and
endow him with powers and functions and rules. It is manifestly a study
of the profoundest public and personal importance. It is manifestly a
study of increasing importance. The process of social and political
organisation that has been going on for the last quarter of a century is
pretty clearly going on now if anything with increasing vigour--and for
the most part the entire dependence of the consequences of the whole
problem upon the reaction between the office on the one hand and the
weak, uncertain, various human beings who take office on the other,
doesn't seem even to be suspected by the energetic, virtuous and more or
less amiable people whose activities in politics and upon the backstairs
of politics bring about these developments. They assume that the sort of
official they need, a combination of god-like virtue and intelligence
with unfailing mechanical obedience, can be made out of just any young
nephew. And I know of no means of persuading people that this is a
rather unjustifiable assumption, and of creating an intelligent
controlling criticism of officials and of assisting conscientious
officials to an effective self-examination, and generally of keeping the
atmosphere of official life sweet and healthy, except the novel. Yet so
far the novel has scarcely begun its attack upon this particular field
of human life, and all the attractive varied play of motive it contains.

Of course we have one supreme and devastating study of the illiterate
minor official in Bumble. That one figure lit up and still lights the
whole problem of Poor Law administration for the English reading
community. It was a translation of well-meant regulations and
pseudo-scientific conceptions of social order into blundering, arrogant,
ill-bred flesh and blood. It was worth a hundred Royal Commissions. You
may make your regulations as you please, said Dickens in effect; this is
one sample of the stuff that will carry them out. But Bumble stands
almost alone. Instead of realising that he is only one aspect of
officialdom, we are all too apt to make him the type of all officials,
and not an urban district council can get into a dispute about its
electric light without being denounced as a Bumbledom by some whirling
enemy or other. The burthen upon Bumble's shoulders is too heavy to be
borne, and we want the contemporary novel to give us a score of other
figures to put beside him, other aspects and reflections upon this great
problem of officialism made flesh. Bumble is a magnificent figure of the
follies and cruelties of ignorance in office--I would have every
candidate for the post of workhouse master pass a severe examination
upon "Oliver Twist"--but it is not only caricature and satire I demand.
We must have not only the fullest treatment of the temptations,
vanities, abuses, and absurdities of office, but all its dreams, its
sense of constructive order, its consolations, its sense of service, and
its nobler satisfactions. You may say that is demanding more insight and
power in our novels and novelists than we can possibly hope to find in
them. So much the worse for us. I stick to my thesis that the
complicated social organisation of to-day cannot get along without the
amount of mutual understanding and mutual explanation such a range of
characterisation in our novels implies. The success of civilisation
amounts ultimately to a success of sympathy and understanding. If people
cannot be brought to an interest in one another greater than they feel
to-day, to curiosities and criticisms far keener, and co-operations far
subtler, than we have now; if class cannot be brought to measure itself
against, and interchange experience and sympathy with class, and
temperament with temperament then we shall never struggle very far
beyond the confused discomforts and uneasiness of to-day, and the
changes and complications of human life will remain as they are now,
very like the crumplings and separations and complications of an immense
avalanche that is sliding down a hill. And in this tremendous work of
human reconciliation and elucidation, it seems to me it is the novel
that must attempt most and achieve most.

You may feel disposed to say to all this: We grant the major premises,
but why look to the work of prose fiction as the main instrument in this
necessary process of, so to speak, sympathising humanity together?
Cannot this be done far more effectively through biography and
autobiography, for example? Isn't there the lyric; and, above all, isn't
there the play? Well, so far as the stage goes, I think it is a very
charming and exciting form of human activity, a display of actions and
surprises of the most moving and impressive sort; but beyond the
opportunity it affords for saying startling and thought-provoking
things--opportunities Mr. Shaw, for example, has worked to the utmost
limit--I do not see that the drama does much to enlarge our sympathies
and add to our stock of motive ideas. And regarded as a medium for
startling and thought-provoking things, the stage seems to me an
extremely clumsy and costly affair. One might just as well go about with
a pencil writing up the thought-provoking phrase, whatever it is, on
walls. The drama excites our sympathies intensely, but it seems to me it
is far too objective a medium to widen them appreciably, and it is that
widening, that increase in the range of understanding, at which I think
civilisation is aiming. The case for biography, and more particularly
autobiography, as against the novel, is, I admit, at the first blush
stronger. You may say: Why give us these creatures of a novelist's
imagination, these phantom and fantastic thinkings and doings, when we
may have the stories of real lives, really lived--the intimate record of
actual men and women? To which one answers: "Ah, if one could!" But it
is just because biography does deal with actual lives, actual facts,
because it radiates out to touch continuing interests and sensitive
survivors, that it is so unsatisfactory, so untruthful. Its inseparable
falsehood is the worst of all kinds of falsehood--the falsehood of
omission. Think what an abounding, astonishing, perplexing person
Gladstone must have been in life, and consider Lord Morley's "Life of
Gladstone," cold, dignified--not a life at all, indeed, so much as
embalmed remains; the fire gone, the passions gone, the bowels carefully
removed. All biography has something of that post-mortem coldness and
respect, and as for autobiography--a man may show his soul in a thousand
half-conscious ways, but to turn upon oneself and explain oneself is
given to no one. It is the natural liars and braggarts, your Cellinis
and Casanovas, men with a habit of regarding themselves with a kind of
objective admiration, who do best in autobiography. And, on the other
hand, the novel has neither the intense self-consciousness of
autobiography nor the paralysing responsibilities of the biographer. It
is by comparison irresponsible and free. Because its characters are
figments and phantoms, they can be made entirely transparent. Because
they are fictions, and you know they are fictions, so that they cannot
hold you for an instant so soon as they cease to be true, they have a
power of veracity quite beyond that of actual records. Every novel
carries its own justification and its own condemnation in its success or
failure to convince you that _the thing was so_. Now history, biography,
blue-book and so forth, can hardly ever get beyond the statement that
the superficial fact was so.

You see now the scope of the claim I am making for the novel; it is to
be the social mediator, the vehicle of understanding, the instrument of
self-examination, the parade of morals and the exchange of manners, the
factory of customs, the criticism of laws and institutions and of social
dogmas and ideas. It is to be the home confessional, the initiator of
knowledge, the seed of fruitful self-questioning. Let me be very clear
here. I do not mean for a moment that the novelist is going to set up as
a teacher, as a sort of priest with a pen, who will make men and women
believe and do this and that. The novel is not a new sort of pulpit;
humanity is passing out of the phase when men _sit under_ preachers and
dogmatic influences. But the novelist is going to be the most potent of
artists, because he is going to present conduct, devise beautiful
conduct, discuss conduct analyse conduct, suggest conduct, illuminate it
through and through. He will not teach, but discuss, point out, plead,
and display. And this being my view you will be prepared for the demand
I am now about to make for an absolutely free hand for the novelist in
his choice of topic and incident and in his method of treatment; or
rather, if I may presume to speak for other novelists, I would say it is
not so much a demand we make as an intention we proclaim. We are going
to write, subject only to our limitations, about the whole of human
life. We are going to deal with political questions and religious
questions and social questions. We cannot present people unless we have
this free hand, this unrestricted field. What is the good of telling
stories about people's lives if one may not deal freely with the
religious beliefs and organisations that have controlled or failed to
control them? What is the good of pretending to write about love, and
the loyalties and treacheries and quarrels of men and women, if one must
not glance at those varieties of physical temperament and organic
quality, those deeply passionate needs and distresses from which half
the storms of human life are brewed? We mean to deal with all these
things, and it will need very much more than the disapproval of
provincial librarians, the hostility of a few influential people in
London, the scurrility of one paper, and the deep and obstinate silences
of another, to stop the incoming tide of aggressive novel-writing. We
are going to write about it all. We are going to write about business
and finance and politics and precedence and pretentiousness and decorum
and indecorum, until a thousand pretences and ten thousand impostures
shrivel in the cold, clear air of our elucidations. We are going to
write of wasted opportunities and latent beauties until a thousand new
ways of living open to men and women. We are going to appeal to the
young and the hopeful and the curious, against the established, the
dignified, and defensive. Before we have done, we will have all life
within the scope of the novel.


Suppose a philosopher had a great deal of money to spend--though this is
not in accordance with experience, it is not inherently impossible--and
suppose he thought, as any philosopher does think, that the British
public ought to read much more and better books than they do, and that
founding public libraries was the way to induce them to do so, what sort
of public libraries would he found? That, I submit, is a suitable topic
for a disinterested speculator.

He would, I suppose, being a philosopher, begin by asking himself what a
library essentially was, and he would probably come to the eccentric
conclusion that it was essentially a collection of books. He would, in
his unworldliness, entirely overlook the fact that it might be a job for
a municipally influential builder, a costly but conspicuous monument to
opulent generosity, a news-room, an employment bureau, or a
meeting-place for the glowing young; he would never think for a moment
of a library as a thing one might build, it would present itself to him
with astonishing simplicity as a thing one would collect. Bricks ceased
to be literature after Babylon.

His first proceeding would be, I suppose, to make a list of that
collection. What books, he would say, have all my libraries to possess
anyhow? And he would begin to jot down--with the assistance of a few
friends, perhaps--this essential list.

He would, being a philosopher, insist on good editions, and he would
also take great pains with the selection. It would not be a limited or
an exclusive list--when in doubt he would include. He would disregard
modern fiction very largely, because any book that has any success can
always be bought for sixpence, and modern poetry, because, with an
exception or so, it does not signify at all. He would set almost all the
Greek and Roman literature in well-printed translations and with
luminous introductions--and if there were no good translations he would
give some good man L500 or so to make one--translations of all that is
good in modern European literatures, and, last but largest portion of
his list, editions of all that is worthy of our own. He would make a
very careful list of thoroughly modern encyclopaedias, atlases, and
volumes of information, and a particularly complete catalogue of all
literature that is still copyright; and then--with perhaps a secretary
or so--he would revise all his lists and mark against every book whether
he would have two, five or ten or twenty copies, or whatever number of
copies of it he thought proper in each library.

Then next, being a philosopher, he would decide that if he was going to
buy a great number of libraries in this way, he was going to make an
absolutely new sort of demand for these books, and that he was entitled
to a special sort of supply.

He would not expect the machinery of retail book-selling to meet the
needs of wholesale buying. So he would go either to wholesale
booksellers, or directly to the various publishers of the books and
editions he had chosen, and ask for reasonable special prices for the
two thousand or seven thousand or fifty thousand of each book he
required. And the publishers would, of course, give him very special
prices, more especially in the case of the out-of-copyright books. He
would probably find it best to buy whole editions in sheets and bind
them himself in strong bindings. And he would emerge from these
negotiations in possession of a number of complete libraries each
of--how many books? Less than twenty thousand ought to do it, I think,
though that is a matter for separate discussion, and that should cost
him, buying in this wholesale way, under rather than over L2,000 a

And next he would bethink himself of the readers of these books. "These
people," he would say, "do not know very much about books, which,
indeed, is why I am giving them this library."

Accordingly, he would get a number of able and learned people to write
him guides to his twenty thousand books, and, in fact, to the whole
world of reading, a guide, for example, to the books on history in
general, a special guide to books on English history, or French or
German history, a guide to the books on geology, a guide to poetry and
poetical criticisms, and so forth.

Some such books our philosopher would find already done--the
"Bibliography of American History," of the American Libraries'
Association, for example, and Mr. Nield's "Guide to Historical
Fiction"--and what are not done he would commission good men to do for
him. Suppose he had to commission forty such guides altogether and that
they cost him on the average L500 each, for he would take care not to
sweat their makers, then that would add another L20,000 to his
expenditure. But if he was going to found 400 libraries, let us say,
that would only be L50 a library--a very trivial addition to his

The rarer books mentioned in these various guides would remind him,
however, of the many even his ample limit of twenty thousand forced him
to exclude, and he would, perhaps, consider the need of having two or
three libraries each for the storage of a hundred thousand books or so
not kept at the local libraries, but which could be sent to them at a
day's notice at the request of any reader. And then, and only then,
would he give his attention to the housing and staffing that this
reality of books would demand.

Being a philosopher and no fool, he would draw a very clear, hard
distinction between the reckless endowment of the building trade and the
dissemination of books. He would distinguish, too, between a library and
a news-room, and would find no great attraction in the prospect of
supplying the national youth with free but thumby copies of the sixpenny
magazines. He would consider that all that was needed for his library
was, first, easily accessible fireproof shelving for his collection,
with ample space for his additions, an efficient distributing office, a
cloak-room, and so forth, and eight or nine not too large, well lit,
well carpeted, well warmed and well ventilated rooms radiating from that
office, in which the guides and so forth could be consulted, and where
those who had no convenient, quiet room at home could read.

He would find that, by avoiding architectural vulgarities, a simple,
well proportioned building satisfying all these requirements and
containing housing for the librarian, assistant, custodian and staff
could be built for between L4,000 and L5,000, excluding the cost of
site, and his sites, which he would not choose for their
conspicuousness, might average something under another L1,000.

He would try to make a bargain with the local people for their
co-operation in his enterprise, though he would, as a philosopher,
understand that where a public library is least wanted it is generally
most needed. But in most cases he would succeed in stipulating for a
certain standard of maintenance by the local authority. Since moderately
prosperous illiterate men undervalue education and most town councillors
are moderately illiterate men, he would do his best to keep the salary
and appointment of the librarian out of such hands. He would stipulate
for a salary of at least L400, in addition to housing, light and heat,
and he would probably find it advisable to appoint a little committee of
visitors who would have the power to examine qualifications, endorse the
appointment, and recommend the dismissal of all his four hundred
librarians. He would probably try to make the assistantship at L100 a
year or thereabout a sort of local scholarship to be won by competition,
and only the cleaner and caretaker's place would be left to the local
politician. And, of course, our philosopher would stipulate that, apart
from all other expenditure, a sum of at least L200 a year should be set
aside for buying new books.

So our rich philosopher would secure at the minimum cost a number of
efficiently equipped libraries throughout the country. Eight thousand
pounds down and L900 a year is about as cheap as a public library can
be. Below that level, it would be cheaper to have no public library.
Above that level, a public library that is not efficient is either
dishonestly or incapably organised or managed, or it is serving too
large a district and needs duplication, or it is trying to do too much.


It has been one of the less possible dreams of my life to be a painted
Pagan God and live upon a ceiling. I crown myself becomingly in stars or
tendrils or with electric coruscations (as the mood takes me), and wear
an easy costume free from complications and appropriate to the climate
of those agreeable spaces. The company about me on the clouds varies
greatly with the mood of the vision, but always it is in some way, if
not always a very obvious way, beautiful. One frequent presence is G.K.
Chesterton, a joyous whirl of brush work, appropriately garmented and
crowned. When he is there, I remark, the whole ceiling is by a sort of
radiation convivial. We drink limitless old October from handsome
flagons, and we argue mightily about Pride (his weak point) and the
nature of Deity. A hygienic, attentive, and essentially anaesthetic
Eagle checks, in the absence of exercise, any undue enlargement of our
Promethean livers.... Chesterton often--but never by any chance Belloc.
Belloc I admire beyond measure, but there is a sort of partisan
viciousness about Belloc that bars him from my celestial dreams. He
never figures, no, not even in the remotest corner, on my ceiling. And
yet the divine artist, by some strange skill that my ignorance of his
technique saves me from the presumption of explaining, does indicate
exactly where Belloc is. A little quiver of the paint, a faint aura,
about the spectacular masses of Chesterton? I am not certain. But no
intelligent beholder can look up and miss the remarkable fact that
Belloc exists--and that he is away, safely away, away in his heaven,
which is, of course, the Park Lane Imperialist's hell. There he

But in this life I do not meet Chesterton exalted upon clouds, and there
is but the mockery of that endless leisure for abstract discussion
afforded by my painted entertainments. I live in an urgent and incessant
world, which is at its best a wildly beautiful confusion of impressions
and at its worst a dingy uproar. It crowds upon us and jostles us, we
get our little interludes for thinking and talking between much rough
scuffling and laying about us with our fists. And I cannot afford to be
continually bickering with Chesterton and Belloc about forms of
expression. There are others for whom I want to save my knuckles. One
may be wasteful in peace and leisure, but economies are the soul of

In many ways we three are closely akin; we diverge not by necessity but
accident, because we speak in different dialects and have divergent
metaphysics. All that I can I shall persuade to my way of thinking about
thought and to the use of words in my loose, expressive manner, but
Belloc and Chesterton and I are too grown and set to change our
languages now and learn new ones; we are on different roads, and so we
must needs shout to one another across intervening abysses. These two
say Socialism is a thing they do not want for men, and I say Socialism
is above all what I want for men. We shall go on saying that now to the
end of our days. But what we do all three want is something very alike.
Our different roads are parallel. I aim at a growing collective life, a
perpetually enhanced inheritance for our race, through the fullest,
freest development of the individual life. What they aim at ultimately I
do not understand, but it is manifest that its immediate form is the
fullest and freest development of the individual life. We all three hate
equally and sympathetically the spectacle of human beings blown up with
windy wealth and irresponsible power as cruelly and absurdly as boys
blow up frogs; we all three detest the complex causes that dwarf and
cripple lives from the moment of birth and starve and debase great
masses of mankind. We want as universally as possible the jolly life,
men and women warm-blooded and well-aired, acting freely and joyously,
gathering life as children gather corn-cockles in corn. We all three
want people to have property of a real and personal sort, to have the
son, as Chesterton put it, bringing up the port his father laid down,
and pride in the pears one has grown in one's own garden. And I agree
with Chesterton that giving--giving oneself out of love and
fellowship--is the salt of life.

But there I diverge from him, less in spirit, I think, than in the
manner of his expression. There is a base because impersonal way of
giving. "Standing drink," which he praises as noble, is just the thing I
cannot stand, the ultimate mockery and vulgarisation of that fine act of
bringing out the cherished thing saved for the heaven-sent guest. It is
a mere commercial transaction, essentially of the evil of our time.
Think of it! Two temporarily homeless beings agree to drink together,
and they turn in and face the public supply of drink (a little vitiated
by private commercial necessities) in the public-house. (It is horrible
that life should be so wholesale and heartless.) And Jones, with a
sudden effusion of manner, thrusts twopence or ninepence (got God knows
how) into the economic mysteries and personal delicacy of Brown. I'd as
soon a man slipped sixpence down my neck. If Jones has used love and
sympathy to detect a certain real thirst and need in Brown and knowledge
and power in its assuaging by some specially appropriate fluid, then we
have an altogether different matter; but the common business of
"standing treat" and giving presents and entertainments is as proud and
unspiritual as cock-crowing, as foolish and inhuman as that sorry
compendium of mercantile vices, the game of poker, and I am amazed to
find Chesterton commend it.

But that is a criticism by the way. Chesterton and Belloc agree with the
Socialist that the present world does not give at all what they want.
They agree that it fails to do so through a wild derangement of our
property relations. They are in agreement with the common contemporary
man (whose creed is stated, I think, not unfairly, but with the omission
of certain important articles by Chesterton), that the derangements of
our property relations are to be remedied by concerted action and in
part by altered laws. The land and all sorts of great common interests
must be, if not owned, then at least controlled, managed, checked,
redistributed by the State. Our real difference is only about a little
more or a little less owning. I do not see how Belloc and Chesterton can
stand for anything but a strong State as against those wild monsters of
property, the strong, big private owners. The State must be complex and
powerful enough to prevent them. State or plutocrat there is really no
other practical alternative before the world at the present time. Either
we have to let the big financial adventurers, the aggregating capitalist
and his Press, in a loose, informal combination, rule the earth, either
we have got to stand aside from preventive legislation and leave things
to work out on their present lines, or we have to construct a collective
organisation sufficiently strong for the protection of the liberties of
the some-day-to-be-jolly common man. So far we go in common. If Belloc
and Chesterton are not Socialists, they are at any rate not
anti-Socialists. If they say they want an organised Christian State
(which involves practically seven-tenths of the Socialist desire), then,
in the face of our big common enemies, of adventurous capital, of alien
Imperialism, base ambition, base intelligence, and common prejudice and
ignorance, I do not mean to quarrel with them politically, so long as
they force no quarrel on me. Their organised Christian State is nearer
the organised State I want than our present plutocracy. Our ideals will
fight some day, and it will be, I know, a first-rate fight, but to fight
now is to let the enemy in. When we have got all we want in common, then
and only then can we afford to differ. I have never believed that a
Socialist Party could hope to form a Government in this country in my
lifetime; I believe it less now than ever I did. I don't know if any of
my Fabian colleagues entertain so remarkable a hope. But if they do not,
then unless their political aim is pure cantankerousness, they must
contemplate a working political combination between the Socialist
members in Parliament and just that non-capitalist section of the
Liberal Party for which Chesterton and Belloc speak. Perpetual
opposition is a dishonourable aim in politics; and a man who mingles in
political development with no intention of taking on responsible tasks
unless he gets all his particular formulae accepted is a pervert, a
victim of Irish bad example, and unfit far decent democratic
institutions ...

I digress again, I see, but my drift I hope is clear. Differ as we may,
Belloc and Chesterton are with all Socialists in being on the same side
of the great political and social cleavage that opens at the present
time. We and they are with the interests of the mass of common men as
against that growing organisation of great owners who have common
interests directly antagonistic to those of the community and State. We
Socialists are only secondarily politicians. Our primary business is not
to impose upon, but to ram right into the substance of that object of
Chesterton's solicitude, the circle of ideas of the common man, the idea
of the State as his own, as a thing he serves and is served by. We want
to add to his sense of property rather than offend it. If I had my way I
would do that at the street corners and on the trams, I would take down
that alien-looking and detestable inscription "L.C.C.," and put up,
"This Tram, this Street, belongs to the People of London." Would
Chesterton or Belloc quarrel with that? Suppose that Chesterton is
right, and that there are incurable things in the mind of the common man
flatly hostile to our ideals; so much of our ideals will fail. But we
are doing our best by our lights, and all we can. What are Chesterton
and Belloc doing? If our ideal is partly right and partly wrong, are
they trying to build up a better ideal? Will they state a Utopia and how
they propose it shall be managed? If they lend their weight only to such
fine old propositions as that a man wants freedom, that he has a right
to do as he likes with his own, and so on, they won't help the common
man much. All that fine talk, without some further exposition, goes to
sustain Mr. Rockefeller's simple human love of property, and the woman
and child sweating manufacturer in his fight for the inspector-free
home industry. I bought on a bookstall the other day a pamphlet full of
misrepresentation and bad argument against Socialism by an Australian
Jew, published by the Single-Tax people apparently in a disinterested
attempt to free the land from the landowner by the simple expedient of
abusing anyone else who wanted to do as much but did not hold Henry
George to be God and Lord; and I know Socialists who will protest with
tears in their eyes against association with any human being who sings
any song but the "Red Flag" and doubts whether Marx had much experience
of affairs. Well, there is no reason why Chesterton and Belloc should at
their level do the same sort of thing. When we talk on a ceiling or at a
dinner-party with any touch of the celestial in its composition,
Chesterton and I, Belloc and I, are antagonists with an undying feud,
but in the fight against human selfishness and narrowness and for a
finer, juster law, we are brothers--at the remotest, half-brothers.

Chesterton isn't a Socialist--agreed! But now, as between us and the
Master of Elibank or Sir Hugh Bell or any other Free Trade Liberal
capitalist or landlord, which side is he on? You cannot have more than
one fight going on in the political arena at the same time, because only
one party or group of parties can win.

And going back for a moment to that point about a Utopia, I want one
from Chesterton. Purely unhelpful criticism isn't enough from a man of
his size. It isn't justifiable for him to go about sitting on other
people's Utopias. I appeal to his sense of fair play. I have done my
best to reconcile the conception of a free and generous style of
personal living with a social organisation that will save the world from
the harsh predominance of dull, persistent, energetic, unscrupulous
grabbers tempered only by the vulgar extravagance of their wives and
sons. It isn't an adequate reply to say that nobody stood treat there,
and that the simple, generous people like to beat their own wives and
children on occasion in a loving and intimate manner, and that they
won't endure the spirit of Mr. Sidney Webb.


There are some writers who are chiefly interesting in themselves, and
some whom chance and the agreement of men have picked out as symbols and
convenient indications of some particular group or temperament of
opinions. To the latter it is that Sir Thomas More belongs. An age and a
type of mind have found in him and his Utopia a figurehead and a token;
and pleasant and honourable as his personality and household present
themselves to the modern reader, it is doubtful if they would by this
time have retained any peculiar distinction among the many other
contemporaries of whom we have chance glimpses in letters and suchlike
documents, were it not that he happened to be the first man of affairs
in England to imitate the "Republic" of Plato. By that chance it fell to
him to give the world a noun and an adjective of abuse, "Utopian," and
to record how under the stimulus of Plato's releasing influence the
opening problems of our modern world presented themselves to the English
mind of his time. For the most part the problems that exercised him are
the problems that exercise us to-day, some of them, it may be, have
grown up and intermarried, new ones have joined their company, but few,
if any, have disappeared, and it is alike in his resemblances to and
differences from the modern speculative mind that his essential interest

The portrait presented by contemporary mention and his own intentional
and unintentional admissions, is of an active-minded and
agreeable-mannered man, a hard worker, very markedly prone to quips and
whimsical sayings and plays upon words, and aware of a double reputation
as a man of erudition and a wit. This latter quality it was that won him
advancement at court, and it may have been his too clearly confessed
reluctance to play the part of an informal table jester to his king that
laid the grounds of that deepening royal resentment that ended only with
his execution. But he was also valued by the king for more solid merits,
he was needed by the king, and it was more than a table scorned or a
clash of opinion upon the validity of divorce; it was a more general
estrangement and avoidance of service that caused that fit of regal
petulance by which he died.

It would seem that he began and ended his career in the orthodox
religion and a general acquiescence in the ideas and customs of his
time, and he played an honourable and acceptable part in that time; but
his permanent interest lies not in his general conformity but in his
incidental scepticism, in the fact that underlying the observances and
recognised rules and limitations that give the texture of his life were
the profoundest doubts, and that, stirred and disturbed by Plato, he saw
fit to write them down. One may question if such scepticism is in itself
unusual, whether any large proportion of great statesmen, great
ecclesiastics and administrators have escaped phases of destructive
self-criticism of destructive criticism of the principles upon which
their general careers were framed. But few have made so public an
admission as Sir Thomas More. A good Catholic undoubtedly he was, and
yet we find him capable of conceiving a non-Christian community
excelling all Christendom in wisdom and virtue; in practice his sense
of conformity and orthodoxy was manifest enough, but in his "Utopia" he
ventures to contemplate, and that not merely wistfully, but with some
confidence, the possibility of an absolute religious toleration.

The "Utopia" is none the less interesting because it is one of the most
inconsistent of books. Never were the forms of Socialism and Communism
animated by so entirely an Individualist soul. The hands are the hands
of Plato, the wide-thinking Greek, but the voice is the voice of a
humane, public-spirited, but limited and very practical English
gentleman who takes the inferiority of his inferiors for granted,
dislikes friars and tramps and loafers and all undisciplined and
unproductive people, and is ruler in his own household. He abounds in
sound practical ideas, for the migration of harvesters, for the
universality of gardens and the artificial incubation of eggs, and he
sweeps aside all Plato's suggestion of the citizen woman as though it
had never entered his mind. He had indeed the Whig temperament, and it
manifested itself down even to the practice of reading aloud in company,
which still prevails among the more representative survivors of the Whig
tradition. He argues ably against private property, but no thought of
any such radicalism as the admission of those poor peons of his, with
head half-shaved and glaring uniform against escape, to participation in
ownership appears in his proposals. His communism is all for the
convenience of his Syphogrants and Tranibores, those gentlemen of
gravity and experience, lest one should swell up above the others. So
too is the essential Whiggery of the limitation of the Prince's
revenues. It is the very spirit of eighteenth century Constitutionalism.
And his Whiggery bears Utilitarianism instead of the vanity of a
flower. Among his cities, all of a size, so that "he that knoweth one
knoweth all," the Benthamite would have revised his sceptical theology
and admitted the possibility of heaven.

Like any Whig, More exalted reason above the imagination at every point,
and so he fails to understand the magic prestige of gold, making that
beautiful metal into vessels of dishonour to urge his case against it,
nor had he any perception of the charm of extravagance, for example, or
the desirability of various clothing. The Utopians went all in coarse
linen and undyed wool--why should the world be coloured?--and all the
economy of labour and shortening of the working day was to no other end
than to prolong the years of study and the joys of reading aloud, the
simple satisfactions of the good boy at his lessons, to the very end of
life. "In the institution of that weal publique this end is only and
chiefly pretended and minded, that what time may possibly be spared from
the necessary occupations and affairs of the commonwealth, all that the
citizens should withdraw from the bodily service to the free liberty of
the mind and garnishing of the same. For herein they suppose the
felicity of this life to consist."

Indeed, it is no paradox to say that "Utopia," which has by a conspiracy
of accidents become a proverb for undisciplined fancifulness in social
and political matters, is in reality a very unimaginative work. In that,
next to the accident of its priority, lies the secret of its continuing
interest. In some respects it is like one of those precious and
delightful scrapbooks people disinter in old country houses; its very
poverty of synthetic power leaves its ingredients, the cuttings from and
imitations of Plato, the recipe for the hatching of eggs, the stern
resolutions against scoundrels and rough fellows, all the sharper and
brighter. There will always be found people to read in it, over and
above the countless multitudes who will continue ignorantly to use its
name for everything most alien to More's essential quality.


The London traffic problem is just one of those questions that appeal
very strongly to the more prevalent and less charitable types of English
mind. It has a practical and constructive air, it deals with
impressively enormous amounts of tangible property, it rests with a
comforting effect of solidity upon assumptions that are at once doubtful
and desirable. It seems free from metaphysical considerations, and it
has none of those disconcerting personal applications, those
penetrations towards intimate qualities, that makes eugenics, for
example, faintly but persistently uncomfortable. It is indeed an ideal
problem for a healthy, hopeful, and progressive middle-aged public man.
And, as I say, it deals with enormous amounts of tangible property.

Like all really serious and respectable British problems it has to be
handled gently to prevent its coming to pieces in the gift. It is safest
in charge of the expert, that wonderful last gift of time. He will talk
rapidly about congestion, long-felt wants, low efficiency, economy, and
get you into his building and rebuilding schemes with the minimum of
doubt and head-swimming. He is like a good Hendon pilot. Unspecialised
writers have the destructive analytical touch. They pull the wrong
levers. So far as one can gather from the specialists on the question,
there is very considerable congestion in many of the London
thoroughfares, delays that seem to be avoidable occur in the delivery of
goods, multitudes of empty vans cumber the streets, we have hundreds of
acres of idle trucks--there are more acres of railway sidings than of
public parks in Greater London--and our Overseas cousins find it
ticklish work crossing Regent Street and Piccadilly. Regarding life
simply as an affair of getting people and things from where they are to
where they appear to be wanted, this seems all very muddled and wanton.
So far it is quite easy to agree with the expert. And some of the
various and entirely incompatible schemes experts are giving us by way
of a remedy, appeal very strongly to the imagination. For example, there
is the railway clearing house, which, it is suggested, should cover I do
not know how many acres of what is now slumland in Shoreditch. The
position is particularly convenient for an underground connection with
every main line into London. Upon the underground level of this great
building every goods train into London will run. Its trucks and vans
will be unloaded, the goods passed into lifts, which will take every
parcel, large and small, at once to a huge, ingeniously contrived
sorting-floor above. There in a manner at once simple, ingenious and
effective, they will be sorted and returned, either into delivery vans
at the street level or to the trains emptied and now reloading on the
train level. Above and below these three floors will be extensive
warehouse accommodation. Such a scheme would not only release almost all
the vast area of London now under railway yards for parks and housing,
but it would give nearly every delivery van an effective load, and
probably reduce the number of standing and empty vans or half-empty vans
on the streets of London to a quarter or an eighth of the present
number. Mostly these are heavy horse vans, and their disappearance would
greatly facilitate the conversion of the road surfaces to the hard and
even texture needed for horseless traffic.

But that is a scheme too comprehensive and rational for the ordinary
student of the London traffic problem, whose mind runs for the most part
on costly and devastating rearrangements of the existing roadways.
Moreover, it would probably secure a maximum of effect with a minimum of
property manipulation; always an undesirable consideration in practical
politics. And it would commit London and England to goods transit by
railway for another century. Far more attractive to the expert advisers
of our various municipal authorities are such projects as a new Thames
bridge scheme, which will (with incalculable results) inject a new
stream of traffic into Saint Paul's Churchyard; and the removal of
Charing Cross Station to the south side of the river. Then, again, we
have the systematic widening of various thoroughfares, the shunting of
tramways into traffic streams, and many amusing, expensive, and
interesting tunnellings and clearances. Taken together, these huge
reconstructions of London are incoherent and conflicting; each is based
on its own assumptions and separate "expert" advice, and the resulting
new opening plays its part in the general circulation as duct or
aspirator, often with the most surprising results. The discussion of the
London traffic problem as we practise it in our clubs is essentially the
sage turning over and over again of such fragmentary schemes,
headshakings over the vacant sites about Aldwych and the Strand,
brilliant petty suggestions and--dispersal. Meanwhile the experts
intrigue; one partial plan after another gets itself accepted, this and
that ancient landmark perish, builders grow rich, and architects
infamous, and some Tower Bridge horror, some vulgarity of the
Automobile Club type, some Buckingham Palace atrocity, some Regent
Street stupidity, some such cramped and thwarted thing as that new arch
which gives upon Charing Cross is added to the confusion. I do not see
any reason to suppose that this continuous muddle of partial destruction
and partial rebuilding is not to constitute the future history of

Let us, however, drop the expert methods and handle this question rather
more rudely. Do we want London rebuilt? If we do, is there, after all,
any reason why we should rebuild it on its present site? London is where
it is for reasons that have long ceased to be valid; it grew there, it
has accumulated associations, an immense tradition, that this constant
mucking about of builders and architects is destroying almost as
effectually as removal to a new site. The old sort of rebuilding was a
natural and picturesque process, house by house, and street by street, a
thing as pleasing and almost as natural in effect as the spreading and
interlacing of trees; as this new building, this clearance of areas, the
piercing of avenues, becomes more comprehensive, it becomes less
reasonable. If we can do such big things we may surely attempt bigger
things, so that whether we want to plan a new capital or preserve the
old, it comes at last to the same thing, that it is unreasonable to be
constantly pulling down the London we have and putting it up again. Let
us drain away our heavy traffic into tunnels, set up that clearing-house
plan, and control the growth at the periphery, which is still so witless
and ugly, and, save for the manifest tidying and preserving that is
needed, begin to leave the central parts of London, which are extremely
interesting even where they are not quite beautiful, in peace.


It has long been generally recognised that there are two quite divergent
ways of attacking sociological and economic questions, one that is
called scientific and one that is not, and I claim no particular virtue
in the recognition of that; but I do claim a certain freshness in my
analysis of this difference, and it is to that analysis that your
attention is now called. When I claim freshness I do not make, you
understand, any claim to original discovery. What I have to say, and
have been saying for some time, is also more or less, and with certain
differences to be found in the thought of Professor Bosanquet, for
example, in Alfred Sidgwick's "Use of Words in Reasoning," in Sigwart's
"Logic," in contemporary American metaphysical speculation. I am only
one incidental voice speaking in a general movement of thought. My trend
of thought leads me to deny that sociology is a science, or only a
science in the same loose sense that modern history is a science, and to
throw doubt upon the value of sociology that follows too closely what is
called the scientific method.

The drift of my argument is to dispute not only that sociology is a
science, but also to deny that Herbert Spencer and Comte are to be
exalted as the founders of a new and fruitful system of human inquiry. I
find myself forced to depreciate these modern idols, and to reinstate
the Greek social philosophers in their vacant niches, to ask you rather
to go to Plato for the proper method, the proper way of thinking

We certainly owe the word Sociology to Comte, a man of exceptionally
methodical quality. I hold he developed the word logically from an
arbitrary assumption that the whole universe of being was reducible to
measurable and commeasurable and exact and consistent expressions.

In a very obvious way, sociology seemed to Comte to crown the edifice of
the sciences; it was to be to the statesman what pathology and
physiology were to the doctor; and one gathers that, for the most part,
he regarded it as an intellectual procedure in no way differing from
physics. His classification of the sciences shows pretty clearly that he
thought of them all as exact logical systematisations of fact arising
out of each other in a synthetic order, each lower one containing the
elements of a lucid explanation of those above it--physics explaining
chemistry; chemistry, physiology; physiology, sociology; and so forth.
His actual method was altogether unscientific; but through all his work
runs the assumption that in contrast with his predecessors he is really
being as exact and universally valid as mathematics. To Herbert
Spencer--very appropriately since his mental characteristics make him
the English parallel to Comte--we owe the naturalisation of the word in
English. His mind being of greater calibre than Comte's, the subject
acquired in his hands a far more progressive character. Herbert Spencer
was less unfamiliar with natural history than with any other branch of
practical scientific work; and it was natural he should turn to it for
precedents in sociological research. His mind was invaded by the idea
of classification, by memories of specimens and museums; and he
initiated that accumulation of desiccated anthropological anecdotes that
still figures importantly in current sociological work. On the lines he
initiated sociological investigation, what there is of it, still tends
to go.

From these two sources mainly the work of contemporary sociologists
derives. But there persists about it a curious discursiveness that
reflects upon the power and value of the initial impetus. Mr. V.V.
Branford, the able secretary of the Sociological Society, recently
attempted a useful work in a classification of the methods of what he
calls "approach," a word that seems to me eminently judicious and
expressive. A review of the first volume the Sociological Society has
produced brings home the aptness of this image of exploratory
operations, of experiments in "taking a line." The names of Dr. Beattie
Crozier and Mr. Benjamin Kidd recall works that impress one as
large-scale sketches of a proposed science rather than concrete
beginnings and achievements. The search for an arrangement, a "method,"
continues as though they were not. The desperate resort to the
analogical method of Commenius is confessed by Dr. Steinmetz, who talks
of social morphology, physiology, pathology, and so forth. There is also
a less initiative disposition in the Vicomte Combes de Lestrade and in
the work of Professor Giddings. In other directions sociological work is
apt to lose its general reference altogether, to lapse towards some
department of activity not primarily sociological at all. Examples of
this are the works of Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Webb, M. Ostrogorski and M.
Gustave le Bon. From a contemplation of all this diversity Professor
Durkheim emerges, demanding a "synthetic science," "certain synthetic
conceptions"--and Professor Karl Pearson endorses the demand--to fuse
all these various activities into something that will live and grow.
What is it that tangles this question so curiously that there is not
only a failure to arrive at a conclusion, but a failure to join issue?

Well, there is a certain not too clearly recognised order in the
sciences to which I wish to call your attention, and which forms the
gist of my case against this scientific pretension. There is a gradation
in the importance of the instance as one passes from mechanics and
physics and chemistry through the biological sciences to economics and
sociology, a gradation whose correlatives and implications have not yet
received adequate recognition, and which do profoundly affect the method
of study and research in each science.

Let me begin by pointing out that, in the more modern conceptions of
logic, it is recognised that there are no identically similar objective
experiences; the disposition is to conceive all real objective being as
individual and unique. This is not a singular eccentric idea of mine; it
is one for which ample support is to be found in the writings of
absolutely respectable contemporaries, who are quite untainted by
association with fiction. It is now understood that conceivably only in
the subjective world, and in theory and the imagination, do we deal with
identically similar units, and with absolutely commensurable quantities.
In the real world it is reasonable to suppose we deal at most with
_practically_ similar units and _practically_ commensurable quantities.
But there is a strong bias, a sort of labour-saving bias in the normal
human mind to ignore this, and not only to speak but to think of a
thousand bricks or a thousand sheep or a thousand sociologists as though
they were all absolutely true to sample. If it is brought before a
thinker for a moment that in any special case this is not so, he slips
back to the old attitude as soon as his attention is withdrawn. This
source of error has, for instance, caught nearly the whole race of
chemists, with one or two distinguished exceptions, and _atoms_ and
_ions_ and so forth of the same species are tacitly assumed to be
similar one to another. Be it noted that, so far as the practical
results of chemistry and physics go, it scarcely matters which
assumption we adopt. For purposes of inquiry and discussion the
incorrect one is infinitely more convenient.

But this ceases to be true directly we emerge from the region of
chemistry and physics. In the biological sciences of the eighteenth
century, commonsense struggled hard to ignore individuality in shells
and plants and animals. There was an attempt to eliminate the more
conspicuous departures as abnormalities, as sports, nature's weak
moments, and it was only with the establishment of Darwin's great
generalisation that the hard and fast classificatory system broke down,
and individuality came to its own. Yet there had always been a clearly
felt difference between the conclusions of the biological sciences and
those dealing with lifeless substance, in the relative vagueness, the
insubordinate looseness and inaccuracy of the former. The naturalist
accumulated facts and multiplied names, but he did not go triumphantly
from generalisation to generalisation after the fashion of the chemist
or physicist. It is easy to see, therefore, how it came about that the
inorganic sciences were regarded as the true scientific bed-rock. It
was scarcely suspected that the biological sciences might perhaps, after
all, be _truer_ than the experimental, in spite of the difference in
practical value in favour of the latter. It was, and is by the great
majority of people to this day, supposed to be the latter that are
invincibly true; and the former are regarded as a more complex set of
problems merely, with obliquities and refractions that presently will be
explained away. Comte and Herbert Spencer certainly seem to me to have
taken that much for granted. Herbert Spencer no doubt talked of the
unknown and the unknowable, but not in this sense, as an element of
inexactness running through all things. He thought of the unknown as the
indefinable beyond to an immediate world that might be quite clearly and
exactly known.

Well, there is a growing body of people who are beginning to hold the
converse view--that counting, classification, measurement, the whole
fabric of mathematics, is subjective and deceitful, and that the
uniqueness of individuals is the objective truth. As the number of units
taken diminishes, the amount of variety and inexactness of
generalisation increases, because individuality tells more and more.
Could you take men by the thousand billion, you could generalise about
them as you do about atoms; could you take atoms singly, it may be you
would find them as individual as your aunts and cousins. That concisely
is the minority belief, and it is the belief on which this present paper
is based.

Now, what is called the scientific method is the method of ignoring
individualities; and, like many mathematical conventions, its great
practical convenience is no proof whatever of its final truth. Let me
admit the enormous value, the wonder of its results in mechanics, in all
the physical sciences, in chemistry, even in physiology--but what is its
value beyond that? Is the scientific method of value in biology? The
great advances made by Darwin and his school in biology were not made,
it must be remembered, by the scientific method, as it is generally
conceived, at all. He conducted a research into pre-documentary history.
He collected information along the lines indicated by certain
interrogations; and the bulk of his work was the digesting and critical
analysis of that. For documents and monuments he had fossils and
anatomical structures and germinating eggs too innocent to lie, and so
far he was nearer simplicity. But, on the other hand, he had to
correspond with breeders and travellers of various sorts, classes
entirely analogous, from the point of view of evidence, to the writers
of history and memoirs. I question profoundly whether the word
"science," in current usage anyhow, ever means such patient
disentanglement as Darwin pursued. It means the attainment of something
positive and emphatic in the way of a conclusion, based on amply
repeated experiments capable of infinite repetition, "proved," as they
say, "up to the hilt."

It would be, of course, possible to dispute whether the word "science"
should convey this quality of certitude; but to most people it certainly
does at the present time. So far as the movements of comets and electric
trams go, there is, no doubt, practically cocksure science; and
indisputably Comte and Herbert Spencer believed that cocksure could be
extended to every conceivable finite thing. The fact that Herbert
Spencer called a certain doctrine Individualism reflects nothing on the
non-individualising quality of his primary assumptions and of his mental
texture. He believed that individuality (heterogeneity) was and is an
evolutionary product from an original homogeneity. It seems to me that
the general usage is entirely for the limitation of the use of the word
"science" to knowledge and the search after knowledge of a high degree
of precision. And not simply the general usage: "Science is
measurement," Science is "organised common sense," proud, in fact, of
its essential error, scornful of any metaphysical analysis of its terms.

If we quite boldly face the fact that hard positive methods are less and
less successful just in proportion as our "ologies" deal with larger and
less numerous individuals; if we admit that we become less "scientific"
as we ascend the scale of the sciences, and that we do and must change
our method, then, it is humbly submitted we shall be in a much better
position to consider the question of "approaching" sociology. We shall
realise that all this talk of the organisation of sociology, as though
presently the sociologist would be going about the world with the
authority of a sanitary engineer, is and will remain nonsense.

In one respect we shall still be in accordance with the Positivist map
of the field of human knowledge; with us as with that, sociology stands
at the extreme end of the scale from the molecular sciences. In these
latter there is an infinitude of units; in sociology, as Comte
perceived, there is only one unit. It is true that Herbert Spencer, in
order to get classification somehow, did, as Professor Durkheim has
pointed out, separate human society into societies, and made believe
they competed one with another and died and reproduced just like
animals, and that economists, following List, have for the purposes of
fiscal controversy discovered economic types; but this is a transparent
device, and one is surprised to find thoughtful and reputable writers
off their guard against such bad analogy. But, indeed, it is impossible
to isolate complete communities of men, or to trace any but rude general
resemblances between group and group. These alleged units have as much
individuality as pieces of cloud; they come, they go, they fuse and
separate. And we are forced to conclude that not only is the method of
observation, experiment, and verification left far away down the scale,
but that the method of classification under types, which has served so
useful a purpose in the middle group of subjects, the subjects involving
numerous but a finite number of units, has also to be abandoned here. We
cannot put Humanity into a museum, or dry it for examination; our one
single still living specimen is all history, all anthropology, and the
fluctuating world of men. There is no satisfactory means of dividing it,
and nothing else in the real world with which to compare it. We have
only the remotest ideas of its "life-cycle" and a few relics of its
origin and dreams of its destiny ...

Sociology, it is evident, is, upon any hypothesis, no less than the
attempt to bring that vast, complex, unique Being, its subject, into
clear, true relations with the individual intelligence. Now, since
individual intelligences are individual, and each is a little
differently placed in regard to the subject under consideration, since
the personal angle of vision is much wider towards humanity than towards
the circumambient horizon of matter, it should be manifest that no
sociology of universal compulsion, of anything approaching the general
validity of the physical sciences, is ever to be hoped for--at least
upon the metaphysical assumptions of this paper. With that conceded, we
may go on to consider the more hopeful ways in which that great Being
may be presented in a comprehensible manner. Essentially this
presentation must involve an element of self-expression must partake
quite as much of the nature of art as of science. One finds in the first
conference of the Sociological Society, Professor Stein, speaking,
indeed a very different philosophical dialect from mine, but coming to
the same practical conclusion in the matter, and Mr. Osman Newland
counting "evolving ideals for the future" as part of the sociologist's
work. Mr. Alfred Fouillee also moves very interestingly in the region of
this same idea; he concedes an essential difference between sociology
and all other sciences in the fact of a "certain kind of liberty
belonging to society in the exercise of its higher functions." He says
further: "If this view be correct, it will not do for us to follow in
the steps of Comte and Spencer, and transfer, bodily and ready-made, the
conceptions and the methods of the natural sciences into the science of
society. For here the fact of _consciousness_ entails a reaction of the
whole assemblage of social phenomena upon themselves, such as the
natural sciences have no example of." And he concludes: "Sociology
ought, therefore, to guard carefully against the tendency to crystallise
that which is essentially fluid and moving, the tendency to consider as
given fact or dead data that which creates itself and gives itself into
the world of phenomena continually by force of its own ideal
conception." These opinions do, in their various keys, sound a similar
_motif_ to mine. If, indeed, the tendency of these remarks is
justifiable, then unavoidably the subjective element, which is beauty,
must coalesce with the objective, which is truth; and sociology mast be
neither art simply, nor science in the narrow meaning of the word at
all, but knowledge rendered imaginatively, and with an element of
personality that is to say, in the highest sense of the term,

If this contention is sound, if therefore we boldly set aside Comte and
Spencer altogether, as pseudo-scientific interlopers rather than the
authoritative parents of sociology, we shall have to substitute for the
classifications of the social sciences an inquiry into the chief
literary forms that subserve sociological purposes. Of these there are
two, one invariably recognised as valuable and one which, I think, under
the matter-of-fact scientific obsession, is altogether underrated and
neglected The first, which is the social side of history, makes up the
bulk of valid sociological work at the present time. Of history there is
the purely descriptive part, the detailed account of past or
contemporary social conditions, or of the sequence of such conditions;
and, in addition, there is the sort of historical literature that seeks
to elucidate and impose general interpretations upon the complex of
occurrences and institutions, to establish broad historical
generalisations, to eliminate the mass of irrelevant incident, to
present some great period of history, or all history, in the light of
one dramatic sequence, or as one process. This Dr. Beattie Crozier, for
example, attempts in his "History of Intellectual Development." Equally
comprehensive is Buckle's "History of Civilisation." Lecky's "History of
European Morals," during the onset of Christianity again, is essentially
sociology. Numerous works--Atkinson's "Primal Law," and Andrew Lang's
"Social Origins," for example--may be considered, as it were, to be
fragments to the same purport. In the great design of Gibbon's "Decline
and Fall of the Roman Empire," or Carlyle's "French Revolution," you
have a greater insistence upon the dramatic and picturesque elements in
history, but in other respects an altogether kindred endeavour to impose
upon the vast confusions of the past a scheme of interpretation,
valuable just to the extent of its literary value, of the success with
which the discrepant masses have been fused and cast into the shape the
insight of the writer has determined. The writing of great history is
entirely analogous to fine portraiture, in which fact is indeed
material, but material entirely subordinate to vision.

One main branch of the work of a Sociological Society therefore should
surely be to accept and render acceptable, to provide understanding,
criticism, and stimulus for such literary activities as restore the dead
bones of the past to a living participation in our lives.

But it is in the second and at present neglected direction that I
believe the predominant attack upon the problem implied by the word
"sociology" must lie; the attack that must be finally driven home. There
is no such thing in sociology as dispassionately considering what _is_,
without considering what is _intended to be_. In sociology, beyond any
possibility of evasion, ideas are facts. The history of civilisation is
really the history of the appearance and reappearance, the tentatives
and hesitations and alterations, the manifestations and reflections in
this mind and that, of a very complex, imperfect elusive idea, the
Social Idea. It is that idea struggling to exist and realise itself in
a world of egotisms, animalisms, and brute matter. Now, I submit it is
not only a legitimate form of approach, but altogether the most
promising and hopeful form of approach, to endeavour to disentangle and
express one's personal version of that idea, and to measure realities
from the stand-point of that idealisation. I think, in fact, that the
creation of Utopias--and their exhaustive criticism--is the proper and
distinctive method of sociology.

Suppose now the Sociological Society, or some considerable proportion of
it, were to adopt this view, that sociology is the description of the
Ideal Society and its relation to existing societies, would not this
give the synthetic framework Professor Durkheim, for example, has said
to be needed?

Almost all the sociological literature beyond the province of history
that has stood the test of time and established itself in the esteem of
men is frankly Utopian. Plato, when his mind turned to schemes of social
reconstruction thrust his habitual form of dialogue into a corner; both
the "Republic" and the "Laws" are practically Utopias in monologue; and
Aristotle found the criticism of the Utopian suggestions of his
predecessors richly profitable. Directly the mind of the world emerged
again at the Renascence from intellectual barbarism in the brief
breathing time before Sturm and the schoolmasters caught it and birched
it into scholarship and a new period of sterility, it went on from Plato
to the making of fresh Utopias. Not without profit did More discuss
pauperism in this form and Bacon the organisation of research; and the
yeast of the French Revolution was Utopias. Even Comte, all the while
that he is professing science, fact, precision, is adding detail after
detail to the intensely personal Utopia of a Western Republic that
constitutes his one meritorious gift to the world. Sociologists cannot
help making Utopias; though they avoid the word, though they deny the
idea with passion, their very silences shape a Utopia. Why should they
not follow the precedent of Aristotle, and accept Utopias as material?

There used to be in my student days, and probably still flourishes, a
most valuable summary of fact and theory in comparative anatomy, called
Rolleston's "Forms of Animal Life." I figure to myself a similar book, a
sort of dream book of huge dimensions, in reality perhaps dispersed in
many volumes by many hands, upon the Ideal Society. This book, this
picture of the perfect state, would be the backbone of sociology. It
would have great sections devoted to such questions as the extent of the
Ideal Society, its relation to racial differences, the relations of the
sexes in it, its economic organisations, its organisation for thought
and education, its "Bible"--as Dr. Beattie Crozier would say--its
housing and social atmosphere, and so forth. Almost all the divaricating
work at present roughly classed together as sociological could be
brought into relation in the simplest manner, either as new suggestions,
as new discussion or criticism, as newly ascertained facts bearing upon
such discussions and sustaining or eliminating suggestions. The
institutions of existing states would come into comparison with the
institutions of the Ideal State, their failures and defects would be
criticised most effectually in that relation, and the whole science of
collective psychology, the psychology of human association, would be
brought to bear upon the question of the practicability of this proposed

This method would give not only a boundary shape to all sociological
activities, but a scheme of arrangement for text books and lectures, and
points of direction and reference for the graduation and post graduate
work of sociological students.

Only one group of inquiries commonly classed as sociological would have
to be left out of direct relationship with this Ideal State; and that is
inquiries concerning the rough expedients to meet the failure of
imperfect institutions. Social emergency work of all sorts comes under
this head. What to do with the pariah dogs of Constantinople, what to do
with the tramps who sleep in the London parks, how to organise a soup
kitchen or a Bible coffee van, how to prevent ignorant people, who have
nothing else to do, getting drunk in beer-houses, are no doubt serious
questions for the practical administrator, questions of primary
importance to the politician; but they have no more to do with sociology
than the erection of a temporary hospital after the collision of two
trains has to do with railway engineering.

So much for my second and most central and essential portion of
sociological work. It should be evident that the former part, the
historical part, which conceivably will be much the bulkier and more
abundant of the two, will in effect amount to a history of the
suggestions in circumstance and experience of that Idea of Society of
which the second will consist, and of the instructive failures in
attempting its incomplete realisation.


The time is fast approaching when it will be necessary for the general
citizen to form definite opinions upon proposals for probably quite
extensive alterations of our present divorce laws, arising out of the
recommendations of the recent Royal Commission on the subject. It may
not be out of place, therefore, to run through some of the chief points
that are likely to be raised, and to set out the main considerations
affecting these issues.

Divorce is not one of those things that stand alone, and neither divorce
law nor the general principles of divorce are to be discussed without a
reference to antecedent arrangements. Divorce is a sequel to marriage,
and a change in the divorce law is essentially a change in the marriage
law. There was a time in this country when our marriage was a
practically divorceless bond, soluble only under extraordinary
circumstances by people in situations of exceptional advantage for doing
so. Now it is a bond under conditions, and in the event of the adultery
of the wife, or of the adultery plus cruelty or plus desertion of the
husband, and of one or two other rarer and more dreadful offences, it
can be broken at the instance of the aggrieved party. A change in the
divorce law is a change in the dissolution clauses, so to speak, of the
contract for the marriage partnership. It is a change in the marriage

A great number of people object to divorce under any circumstances
whatever. This is the case with the orthodox Catholic and with the
orthodox Positivist. And many religious and orthodox people carry their
assertion of the indissolubility of marriage to the grave; they demand
that the widow or widower shall remain unmarried, faithful to the vows
made at the altar until death comes to the release of the lonely
survivor also. Re-marriage is regarded by such people as a posthumous
bigamy. There is certainly a very strong and logical case to be made out
for a marriage bond that is indissoluble even by death. It banishes
step-parents from the world. It confers a dignity of tragic
inevitability upon the association of husband and wife, and makes a love
approach the gravest, most momentous thing in life. It banishes for ever
any dream of escape from the presence and service of either party, or of
any separation from the children of the union. It affords no alternative
to "making the best of it" for either husband or wife; they have taken a
step as irrevocable as suicide. And some logical minds would even go
further, and have no law as between the members of a family, no rights,
no private property within that limit. The family would be the social
unit and the father its public representative, and though the law might
intervene if he murdered or ill-used wife or children, or they him, it
would do so in just the same spirit that it might prevent him from
self-mutilation or attempted suicide, for the good of the State simply,
and not to defend any supposed independence of the injured member. There
is much, I assert, to be said for such a complete shutting up of the
family from the interference of the law, and not the least among these
reasons is the entire harmony of such a view with the passionate
instincts of the natural man and woman in these matters. All
unsophisticated human beings appear disposed to a fierce proprietorship
in their children and their sexual partners, and in no respect is the
ordinary mortal so easily induced to vehemence and violence.

For my own part, I do not think the maintenance of a marriage that is
indissoluble, that precludes the survivor from re-marriage, that gives
neither party an external refuge from the misbehaviour of the other, and
makes the children the absolute property of their parents until they
grow up, would cause any very general unhappiness Most people are
reasonable enough, good-tempered enough, and adaptable enough to shake
down even in a grip so rigid, and I would even go further and say that
its very rigidity, the entire absence of any way out at all, would
oblige innumerable people to accommodate themselves to its conditions
and make a working success of unions that, under laxer conditions, would
be almost certainly dissolved. We should have more people of what I may
call the "broken-in" type than an easier release would create, but to
many thinkers the spectacle of a human being thoroughly "broken-in" is
in itself extremely satisfactory. A few more crimes of desperation
perhaps might occur, to balance against an almost universal effort to
achieve contentment and reconciliation. We should hear more of the
"natural law" permitting murder by the jealous husband or by the jealous
wife, and the traffic in poisons would need a sedulous attention--but
even there the impossibility of re-marriage would operate to restrain
the impatient. On the whole, I can imagine the world rubbing along very
well with marriage as unaccommodating as a perfected steel trap.
Exceptional people might suffer or sin wildly--to the general amusement
or indignation.

But when once we part from the idea of such a rigid and eternal
marriage bond--and the law of every civilised country and the general
thought and sentiment everywhere have long since done so--then the whole
question changes. If marriage is not so absolutely sacred a bond, if it
is not an eternal bond, but a bond we may break on this account or that,
then at once we put the question on a different footing. If we may
terminate it for adultery or cruelty, or any cause whatever, if we may
suspend the intimacy of husband and wife by separation orders and the
like, if we recognise their separate property and interfere between them
and their children to ensure the health and education of the latter,
then we open at once the whole question of a terminating agreement.
Marriage ceases to be an unlimited union and becomes a definite
contract. We raise the whole question of "What are the limits in
marriage, and how and when may a marriage terminate?"

Now, many answers are being given to that question at the present time.
We may take as the extremest opposite to the eternal marriage idea the
proposal of Mr. Bernard Shaw, that marriage should be terminable at the
instance of either party. You would give due and public notice that your
marriage was at an end, and it would be at an end. This is marriage at
its minimum, as the eternal indissoluble marriage is marriage at its
maximum, and the only conceivable next step would be to have a marriage
makeable by the oral declaration of both parties and terminable by the
oral declaration of either, which would be, indeed, no marriage at all,
but an encounter. You might marry a dozen times in that way in a day....
Somewhere between these extremes lies the marriage law of a civilised
state. Let us, rather than working down from the eternal marriage of
the religious idealists, work up from Mr. Shaw. The former course is,
perhaps, inevitable for the legislator, but the latter is much more
convenient for our discussion.

Now, the idea of a divorce so easy and wilful as Mr. Shaw proposes
arises naturally out of an exclusive consideration of what I may call
the amorous sentimentalities of marriage. If you regard marriage as
merely the union of two people in love, then, clearly, it is
intolerable, an outrage upon human dignity, that they should remain
intimately united when either ceases to love. And in that world of Mr.
Shaw's dreams, in which everybody is to have an equal income and nobody
is to have children, in that culminating conversazione of humanity, his
marriage law will, no doubt, work with the most admirable results. But
if we make a step towards reality and consider a world in which incomes
are unequal, and economic difficulties abound--for the present we will
ignore the complication of offspring--we at once find it necessary to
modify the first fine simplicity of divorce at either partner's request.
Marriage is almost always a serious economic disturbance for both man
and woman: work has to be given up and rearranged, resources have to be
pooled; only in the rarest cases does it escape becoming an indefinite
business partnership. Accordingly, the withdrawal of one partner raises
at once all sorts of questions of financial adjustment, compensation for
physical, mental, and moral damage, division of furniture and effects
and so forth. No doubt a very large part of this could be met if there
existed some sort of marriage settlement providing for the dissolution
of the partnership. Otherwise the petitioner for a Shaw-esque divorce
must be prepared for the most exhaustive and penetrating examination
before, say, a court of three assessors--representing severally the
husband, the wife, and justice--to determine the distribution of the
separation. This point, however, leads me to note in passing the need
that does exist even to-day for a more precise business supplement to
marriage as we know it in England and America. I think there ought to be
a very definite and elaborate treaty of partnership drawn up by an
impartial private tribunal for every couple that marries, providing for
most of the eventualities of life, taking cognizance of the earning
power, the property and prospects of either party, insisting upon due
insurances, ensuring private incomes for each partner, securing the
welfare of the children, and laying down equitable conditions in the
event of a divorce or separation. Such a treaty ought to be a necessary
prelude to the issue of a licence to marry. And given such a basis to go
upon, then I see no reason why, in the case of couples who remain
childless for five or six years, let us say, and seem likely to remain
childless, the Shaw-esque divorce at the instance of either party,
without reason assigned, should not be a very excellent thing indeed.

And I take up this position because I believe in the family as the
justification of marriage. Marriage to me is no mystical and eternal
union, but a practical affair, to be judged as all practical things are
judged--by its returns in happiness and human welfare. And directly we
pass from the mists and glamours of amorous passion to the warm
realities of the nursery, we pass into a new system of considerations
altogether. We are no longer considering A. in relation to Mrs. A., but
A. and Mrs. A. in relation to an indefinite number of little A.'s, who
are the very life of the State in which they live. Into the case of Mr.
A. _v_. Mrs. A. come Master A. and Miss A. intervening. They have the
strongest claim against both their parents for love, shelter and
upbringing, and the legislator and statesman, concerned as he is chiefly
with the future of the community, has the strongest reasons for seeing
that they get these things, even at the price of considerable vexation,
boredom or indignity to Mr. and Mrs. A. And here it is that there arises
the rational case against free and frequent divorce and the general
unsettlement and fluctuation of homes that would ensue.

At this point we come to the verge of a jungle of questions that would
demand a whole book for anything like a complete answer. Let us try as
swiftly and simply as possible to form a general idea at least of the
way through. Remember that we are working upward from Mr. Shaw's
question of "Why not separate at the choice of either party?" We have
got thus far, that no two people who do not love each other should be
compelled to live together, except where the welfare of their children
comes in to override their desire to separate, and now we have to
consider what may or may not be for the welfare of the children. Mr.
Shaw, following the late Samuel Butler, meets this difficulty by the
most extravagant abuse of parents. He would have us believe that the
worst enemies a child can have are its mother and father, and that the
only civilised path to citizenship is by the incubator, the creche, and
the mixed school and college. In these matters he is not only ignorant,
but unfeeling and unsympathetic, extraordinarily so in view of his great
capacity for pity and sweetness in other directions and of his indignant
hatred of cruelty and unfairness, and it is not necessary to waste time
in discussing what the common experience confutes Neither is it
necessary to fly to the other extreme, and indulge in preposterous
sentimentalities about the magic of fatherhood and a mother's love.
These are not magic and unlimited things, but touchingly qualified and
human things. The temperate truth of the matter is that in most parents
there are great stores of pride, interest, natural sympathy, passionate
love and devotion which can be tapped in the interests of the children
and the social future, and that it is the mere commonsense of statecraft
to use their resources to the utmost. It does not follow that every
parent contains these reservoirs, and that a continual close association
with the parents is always beneficial to children. If it did, we should
have to prosecute everyone who employed a governess or sent away a
little boy to a preparatory school. And our real task is to establish a
test that will gauge the desirability and benefit of a parent's
continued parentage. There are certainly parents and homes from which
the children might be taken with infinite benefit to themselves and to
society, and whose union it is ridiculous to save from the divorce court

Suppose, now, we made the willingness of a parent to give up his or her
children the measure of his beneficialness to them. There is no reason
why we should restrict divorce only to the relation of husband and wife.
Let us broaden the word and make it conceivable for a husband or wife to
divorce not only the partner, but the children. Then it might be
possible to meet the demands of the Shaw-esque extremist up to the point
of permitting a married parent, who desired freedom, to petition for a
divorce, not from his or her partner simply, but from his or her
family, and even for a widow or widower to divorce a family. Then would
come the task of the assessors. They would make arrangements for the
dissolution of the relationship, erring from justice rather in the
direction of liberality towards the divorced group, they would determine
contributions, exact securities appoint trustees and guardians.... On
the whole, I do not see why such a system should not work very well. It
would break up many loveless homes, quarrelling and bickering homes, and
give a safety-valve for that hate which is the sinister shadow of love.
I do not think it would separate one child from one parent who was
really worthy of its possession.

So far I have discussed only the possibility of divorce without
offences, the sort of divorce that arises out of estrangement and
incompatibilities. But divorce, as it is known in most Christian
countries, has a punitive element, and is obtained through the failure
of one of the parties to observe the conditions of the bond and the
determination of the other to exact suffering. Divorce as it exists at
present is not a readjustment but a revenge. It is the nasty exposure of
a private wrong. In England a husband may divorce his wife for a single
act of infidelity, and there can be little doubt that we are on the eve
of an equalisation of the law in this respect. I will confess I consider
this an extreme concession to the passion of jealousy, and one likely to
tear off the roof from many a family of innocent children. Only
infidelity leading to supposititious children in the case of the wife,
or infidelity obstinately and offensively persisted in or endangering
health in the case of the husband, really injure the home sufficiently
to justify a divorce on the assumptions of our present argument. If we
are going to make the welfare of the children our criterion in these

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