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At Large by Arthur Christopher Benson

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mysterious, moving, shifting light, like a pale flame, above it?
The gloomy spot is a rent in the side of Vesuvius where the
smouldering heat has burnt through the crust, and where a day or
two before I saw a viscid stream of molten liquor, with the flames
playing over it, creeping, creeping through the tunnelled ashes;
and in the light above is the lip of Vesuvius itself, with its
restless furnace at work, casting up a billowy swell of white oily
smoke, while the glare of the fiery pit lights up the underside of
the rising vapours. A ghastly manifestation, that, of sleepless and
stern forces, ever at work upon some eternal and bewildering task;
and yet so strangely made am I, that these fierce signal-fires,
seen afar, but blend with the scents of the musky alleys for me
into a thrill of unutterable wonder.

There are hundreds of such pictures stored in my mind, each stamped
upon some sensitive particle of the brain, that cannot be
obliterated, and each of which the mind can recall at will. And
that, too, is a fact of surpassing wonder: what is the delicate
instrument that registers, with no seeming volition, these amazing
pictures, and preserves them thus with so fantastic a care,
retouching them, fashioning them anew, detaching from the picture
every sordid detail, till each is as a lyric, inexpressible,
exquisite, too fine for words to touch?

Now it is useless to dictate to others the aims and methods of
travel: each must follow his own taste. To myself the acquisition
of knowledge and information is in these matters an entirely
negligible thing. To me the one and supreme object is the gathering
of a gallery of pictures; and yet that is not a definite object
either, for the whimsical and stubborn spirit refuses to be bound
by any regulations in the matter. It will garner up with the most
poignant care a single vignette, a tiny detail. I see, as I write,
the vision of a great golden-grey carp swimming lazily in the clear
pool of Arethusa, the carpet of mesembryanthemum that, for some
fancy of its own, chose to involve the whole of a railway viaduct
with its flaunting magenta flowers and its fleshy leaves. I see the
edge of the sea, near Syracuse, rimmed with a line of the intensest
yellow, and I hear the voice of a guide explaining that it was
caused by the breaking up of a stranded orange-boat, so that the
waves for many hundred yards threw up on the beach a wrack of
fruit; yet the same wilful and perverse mind will stand
impenetrably dumb and blind before the noblest and sweetest
prospect, and decline to receive any impression at all. What is
perhaps the oddest characteristic of the tricksy spirit is that it
often chooses moments of intense discomfort and fatigue to master
some scene, and take its indelible picture. I suppose that the
reason of this is that the mind makes, at such moments, a vigorous
effort to protest against the tyranny of the vile body, and to
distract itself from instant cares.

But another man may travel for archaeological or even statistical
reasons. He may wish, like Ulysses, to study "manners, councils,
customs, governments." He may be preoccupied with questions of
architectural style or periods of sculpture. I have a friend who
takes up at intervals the study of the pictures of a particular
master, and will take endless trouble and undergo incredible
discomfort, in order to see the vilest daubs, if only he can make
his list complete, and say that he has seen all the reputed works
of the master. This instinct is, I believe, nothing but the
survival of the childish instinct for collecting, and though I can
reluctantly admire any man who spares no trouble to gain an end,
the motive is dark and unintelligible to me.

There are some travellers, like Dean Stanley, who drift from the
appreciation of natural scenery into the pursuit of historical
associations. The story of Stanley as a boy, when he had his first
sight of the snowy Alps on the horizon, always delights me. He
danced about saying, "Oh, what shall I do, what shall I do?" But,
in later days, Stanley would not go a mile to see a view, while he
would travel all night to see a few stones of a ruin, jutting out
of a farmyard wall, if only there was some human and historical
tradition connected with the place. I do not myself understand
that. I should not wish to see Etna merely because Empedocles is
supposed to have jumped down the crater, nor the site of Jericho
because the walls fell down at the trumpets of the host. The only
interest to me in an historical scene is that it should be in such
a condition as that one can to a certain extent reconstruct the
original drama, and be sure that one's eyes rest upon very much the
same scene as the actors saw. The reason why Syracuse moved me by
its acquired beauty, and not for its historical associations, was
because I felt convinced that Thucydides, who gives so picturesque
a description of the sea-fight, can never have set eyes on the
place, and must have embroidered his account from scanty hearsay.
But, on the other hand, there are few things in the world more
profoundly moving than to see a place where great thoughts have
been conceived and great books written, when one is able to feel
that the scene is hardly changed. The other day, as I passed before
the sacred gate of Rydal Mount, I took my hat off my head with a
sense of indescribable reverence. My companion asked me laughingly
why I did so. "Why?" I said. "From natural piety, of course! I know
every detail here as well as if I had lived here, and I have walked
in thought a hundred times with the poet, to and fro in the
laurelled walks of the garden, up the green shoulder of Nab Scar,
and sat in the little parlour, while the fire leapt on the hearth,
and heard him 'booing' his verses, to be copied by some friendly

I thrill to see the stately rooms of Abbotsford, with all their
sham feudal decorations, the little staircase by which Scott stole
away to his solitary work, the folded clothes, the shapeless hat,
the ugly shoes, laid away in the glass case; the plantations where
he walked with his shrewd bailiff, the place where he stopped so
often on the shoulder of the slope, to look at the Eildon Hills,
the rooms where he sat, a broken and bereaved man, yet with so
gallant a spirit, to wrestle with sorrow and adversity. I wept, I
am not ashamed to say, at Abbotsford, at the sight of the stately
Tweed rolling his silvery flood past lawns and shrubberies, to
think of that kindly, brave, and honourable heart, and his
passionate love of all the goodly and cheerful joys of life and

Or, again, it was a solemn day for me to pass from the humble
tenement where Coleridge lived, at Nether Stowey, before the cloud
of sad habit had darkened his horizon, and turned him away from the
wells of poetry into the deserts of metaphysical speculation, to
find, if he could, some medicine for his tortured spirit. I walked
with a holy awe along the leafy lanes to Alfoxden, where the
beautiful house nestles in the green combe among its oaks, thinking
how here, and here, Wordsworth and Coleridge had walked together in
the glad days of youth, and planned, in obscurity and secluded joy,
the fresh and lovely lyrics of their matin-prime.

I turn, I confess, more eagerly to scenes like these than to scenes
of historical and political tradition, because there hangs for me a
glory about the scene of the conception and genesis of beautiful
imaginative work that is unlike any glory that the earth holds. The
natural joy of the youthful spirit receiving the impact of mighty
thoughts, of poignant impressions, has for me a liberty and a grace
which no historical or political associations could ever possess. I
could not glow to see the room in which a statesman worked out the
details of a Bill for the extension of the franchise, or a
modification of the duties upon imports and exports, though I
respect the growing powers of democracy and the extinction of
privilege and monopoly; but these measures are dimmed and tainted
with intrigue and manoeuvre and statecraft. I do not deny their
importance, their worth, their nobleness. But not by committees and
legislation does humanity triumph. In the vanguard go the blessed
adventurous spirits that quicken the moral temperature, and uplift
the banner of simplicity and sincerity. The host marches heavily
behind, and the commissariat rolls grumbling in the rear of all;
and though my place may be with the work-a-day herd, I will send my
fancy afar among the leafy valleys and the far-off hills of hope.

But I would not here quarrel with the taste of any man. If a mortal
chooses to travel in search of comfortable rooms, new cookery and
wines, the livelier gossip of unknown people, in heaven's name let
him do so. If another wishes to study economic conditions,
standards of life, rates of wages, he has my gracious leave for his
pilgrimage. If another desires to amass historical and
archaeological facts, measurements of hypaethral temples, modes of
burial, folk-lore, fortification, God forbid that I should throw
cold water on the quest. But the only traveller whom I recognise as
a kindred spirit is the man who goes in search of impressions and
effects, of tone and atmosphere, of rare and curious beauty, of
uplifting association. Nothing that has ever moved the interest, or
the anxiety, or the care, or the wonder, of human beings can ever
wholly lose its charm. I have felt my skin prickle and creep at the
sight of that amazing thing in the Dublin museum, a section dug
bodily out of a claypit, and showing the rough-hewn stones of a
cist, deep in the earth, the gravel over it and around it, the
roots of the withered grass forming a crust many feet above, and,
inside the cist, the rude urn, reversed over a heap of charred
ashes; it was not the curiosity of the sight that moved me, but the
thought of the old dark life revealed, the dim and savage world,
that was yet shot through and pierced, even as now, with sorrow for
death, and care for the beloved ashes of a friend and chieftain.
Such a sight sets a viewless network of emotion, which seems to
interlace far back into the ages, all pulsating and stirring. One
sees in a flash that humanity lived, carelessly and brutally
perhaps, as we too live, and were confronted, as we are confronted,
with the horror of the gap, the intolerable mystery of life lapsing
into the dark. Ah, the relentless record, the impenetrable mystery!
I care very little, I fear, for the historical development of
funereal rites, and hardly more for the light that such things
throw on the evolution of society. I leave that gratefully enough
to the philosophers. What I care for is the touch of nature that
shows me my ancient brethren of the dim past--who would have mocked
and ridiculed me, I doubt not, if I had fallen into their hands,
and killed me as carelessly as one throws aside the rind of a
squeezed fruit--yet I am one of them, and perhaps even something of
their blood flows in my veins yet.

As I grow older, I tend to travel less and less, and I do not care
if I never cross the Channel again. Is there a right and a wrong in
the matter, an advisability or an inadvisability, an expediency or
an inexpediency? I do not think so. Travelling is a pleasure, if it
is anything, and a pleasure pursued from a sense of duty is a very
fatuous thing. I have no good reason to give, only an accumulation
of small reasons. Dr. Johnson once said that any number of
insufficient reasons did not make a sufficient one, just as a
number of rabbits did not make a horse. A lively but misleading
illustration: he might as well have said that any number of
sovereigns did not make a cheque for a hundred pounds. I suppose
that I do not like the trouble, to start with; and then I do not
like being adrift from my own beloved country. Then I cannot
converse in any foreign language, and half the pleasure of
travelling comes from being able to lay oneself alongside of a new
point of view. Then, too, I realise, as I grow older, how little I
have really seen of my own incomparably beautiful and delightful
land, so that, like the hero of Newman's hymn,

"I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me."

And, lastly, I have a reason which will perhaps seem a far-fetched
one. Travel is essentially a distraction, and I do not want to be
distracted any more. One of the mistakes that people make, in these
Western latitudes, is to be possessed by an inordinate desire to
drown thought. The aim of many men whom I know seems to me to be
occupied in some absolutely definite way, so that they may be as
far as possible unaware of their own existence. Anything to avoid
reflection! A normal Englishman does not care very much what the
work and value of his occupation is, as long as he is occupied; and
I am not at all sure that we came into the world to be occupied.
Christ, in the Gospel story, rebuked the busy Martha for her
bustling anxieties, her elaborate attentions to her guests, and
praised the leisurely Mary for desiring to sit and hear Him talk.
Socrates spent his life in conversation. I do not say that
contemplation is a duty, but I cannot help thinking that we are not
forbidden to scrutinise life, to wonder what it is all about, to
study its problems, to apprehend its beauty and significance. We
admire a man who goes on making money long after he has made far
more than he needs; we think a life honourably spent in editing
Greek books. Socrates in one of Plato's dialogues quotes the
opinion of a philosopher to the effect that when a man has made
enough to live upon, he should begin to practise virtue. "I think
he should begin even earlier," says the interlocutor; and I am
wholly in agreement with him. Travel is one of the expedients to
which busy men resort, in order that they may forget their
existence. I do not venture to think this exactly culpable, but I
feel sure that it is a pity that people do not do less and think
more. If a man asks what good comes from thinking, I can only
retort by asking what good comes from the multiplication of
unnecessary activity. I am quite as much at a loss as any one else
to say what is the object of life, but I do not feel any doubt that
we are not sent into the world to be in a fuss. Like the lobster in
The Water-Babies, I cry, "Let me alone; I want to think!" because I
believe that that occupation is at least as profitable as many

And then, too, without travelling more than a few miles from my
door, I can see things fully as enchanting as I can see by ranging
Europe. I went to-day along a well-known road; just where the
descent begins to fall into a quiet valley, there stands a
windmill--not one of the ugly black circular towers that one
sometimes sees, but one of the old crazy boarded sort, standing on
a kind of stalk; out of the little loopholes of the mill the flour
had dusted itself prettily over the weather-boarding. From a
mysterious hatch half-way up leaned the miller, drawing up a sack
of grain with a little pulley. There is nothing so enchanting as to
see a man leaning out of a dark doorway high up in the air. He drew
the sack in, he closed the panel. The sails whirled, flapping and
creaking; and I loved to think of him in the dusty gloom, with the
gear grumbling among the rafters, tipping the golden grain into its
funnel, while the rattling hopper below poured out its soft stream
of flour. Beyond the mill, the ground sank to a valley; the roofs
clustered round a great church tower, the belfry windows blinking
solemnly. Hard by the ancient Hall peeped out from its avenue of
elms. That was a picture as sweet as anything I have ever seen
abroad, as perfect a piece of art as could be framed, and more
perfect than anything that could be painted, because it was a piece
out of the old kindly, quiet life of the world. One ought to learn,
as the years flow on, to love such scenes as that, and not to need
to have the blood and the brain stirred by romantic prospects,
peaked hills, well-furnished galleries, magnificent buildings:
mutare animum, that is the secret, to grow more hopeful, more alive
to delicate beauties, more tender, less exacting. Nothing, it is
true, can give us peace; but we get nearer it by loving the
familiar scene, the old homestead, the tiny valley, the wayside
copse, than we do by racing over Europe on the track of Giorgione,
or over Asia in pursuit of local colour. After all, everything has
its appointed time. It is good to range in youth, to rub elbows
with humanity, and then, as the days go on, to take stock, to
remember, to wonder, "To be content with little, to serve beauty



It is a very curious thing to reflect how often an old platitude or
axiom retains its vitality, long after the conditions which gave it
birth have altered, and it no longer represents a truth. It would
not matter if such platitudes only lived on dustily in vapid and
ill-furnished minds, like the vases of milky-green opaque glass
decorated with golden stars, that were the joy of Early Victorian
chimney-pieces, and now hold spills in the second-best spare
bedroom. But like the psalmist's enemies, platitudes live and are
mighty. They remain, and, alas! they have the force of arguments in
the minds of sturdy unreflective men, who describe themselves as
plain, straightforward people, and whose opinions carry weight in a
community whose feelings are swayed by the statements of successful
men rather than by the conclusions of reasonable men.

One of these pernicious platitudes is the statement that every one
ought to know something about everything and everything about
something. It has a speciously epigrammatic air about it, dazzling
enough to persuade the common-sense person that it is an
intellectual judgment.

As a matter of fact, under present conditions, it represents an
impossible and even undesirable ideal. A man who tried to know
something about everything would end in knowing very little about
anything; and the most exhaustive programme that could be laid down
for the most erudite of savants nowadays would be that he should
know anything about anything, while the most resolute of
specialists must be content with knowing something about something.

A well-informed friend told me, the other day, the name and date of
a man who, he said, could be described as the last person who knew
practically everything at his date that was worth knowing. I have
forgotten both the name and the date and the friend who told me,
but I believe that the learned man in question was a cardinal in
the sixteenth century. At the present time, the problem of the
accumulation of knowledge and the multiplication of books is a very
serious one indeed. It is, however, morbid to allow it to trouble
the mind. Like all insoluble problems, it will settle itself in a
way so obvious that the people who solve it will wonder that any
one could ever have doubted what the solution would be, just as the
problem of the depletion of the world's stock of coal will no doubt
be solved in some perfectly simple fashion.

The dictum in question is generally quoted as an educational
formula in favour of giving every one what is called a sound
general education. And it is probably one of the contributory
causes which account for the present chaos of curricula. All
subjects are held to be so important, and each subject is thought
by its professors to be so peculiarly adapted for educational
stimulus, that a resolute selection of subjects, which is the only
remedy, is not attempted; and accordingly the victim of educational
theories is in the predicament of the man described by Dr. Johnson
who could not make up his mind which leg of his breeches he would
put his foot into first. Meanwhile, said the Doctor, with a
directness of speech which requires to be palliated, the process of
investiture is suspended.

But the practical result of the dilemma is the rise of specialism.
The savant is dead and the specialist rules. It is interesting to
try to trace the effect of this revolution upon our national

Now, I have no desire whatever to take up the cudgels against the
specialists: they are a harmless and necessary race, so long as
they are aware of their limitations. But the tyranny of an
oligarchy is the worst kind of tyranny, because it means the
triumph of an average over individuals, whereas the worst that can
be said of a despotism is that it is the triumph of an individual
over an average. The tyranny of the specialistic oligarchy is
making itself felt to-day, and I should like to fortify the
revolutionary spirit of liberty, whose boast it is to detest
tyranny in all its forms, whether it is the tyranny of an
enlightened despot, or the tyranny of a virtuous oligarchy, or the
tyranny of an intelligent democracy.

The first evil which results from the rule of the specialist is the
destruction of the AMATEUR. So real a fact is the tyranny of the
specialist that the very word "amateur," which means a leisurely
lover of fine things, is beginning to be distorted into meaning an
inefficient performer. As an instance of its correct and idiomatic
use, I often think of the delightful landlord whom Stevenson
encountered somewhere, and upon whom he pressed some Burgundy which
he had with him. The generous host courteously refused a second
glass, saying, "You see I am an amateur of these things, and I am
capable of leaving you not sufficient." Now, I shall concern myself
here principally with literature, because, in England at all
events, literature plays the largest part in general culture. It
may be said that we owe some of the best literature we have to
amateurs. To contrast a few names, taken at random, Shakespeare,
Dryden, Pope, Dr. Johnson, De Quincey, Tennyson, and Carlyle were
professionals, it is true; but, on the other hand, Milton, Gray,
Boswell, Walter Scott, Charles Lamb, Shelley, Browning, and Ruskin
were amateurs. It is not a question of how much a man writes or
publishes, it is a question of the spirit in which a man writes.
Walter Scott became a professional in the last years of his life,
and for the noblest of reasons; but he also became a bad writer. A
good pair to contrast are Southey and Coleridge. They began as
amateurs. Southey became a professional writer, and his sun set in
the mists of valuable information. Coleridge, as an amateur,
enriched the language with a few priceless poems, and then got
involved in the morass of dialectical metaphysics. The point is
whether a man writes simply because he cannot help it, or whether
he writes to make an income. The latter motive does not by any
means prevent his doing first-rate artistic work--indeed, there
are certain persons who seem to have required the stimulus of
necessity to make them break through an initial indolence of
nature. When Johnson found fault with Gray for having times of the
year when he wrote more easily, from the vernal to the autumnal
equinox, he added that a man could write at any time if he set
himself doggedly to it. True, no doubt! But to write doggedly is
not to court favourable conditions for artistic work. It may be a
finer sight for a moralist to see a man performing an appointed
task heavily and faithfully, with grim tenacity, than it is to see
an artist in a frenzy of delight dashing down an overpowering
impression of beauty; but what has always hampered the British
appreciation of literature is that we cannot disentangle the moral
element from it: we are interested in morals, not in art, and we
require a dash of optimistic piety in all writing that we propose
to enjoy.

The real question is whether, if a man sets himself doggedly to
work, the appetite comes with eating, and whether the caged bird
begins to flutter its wings and to send out the song that it learnt
in the green heart of the wood. When Byron said that easy writing
made damned hard reading, he meant that careless conception and
hasty workmanship tend to blur the pattern and the colour of work.
The fault of the amateur is that he can make the coat, but he
cannot be bothered to make it fit. But it is not by any means true
that hard writing makes easy reading. The spirit of the amateur is
the spirit of the lover, who trembles at the thought that the
delicate creature he loves may learn to love him in return, if he
can but praise her worthily. The professional spirit is the spirit
in which a man carefully and courteously woos an elderly spinster
for the sake of her comfortable fortune. The amateur has an
irresponsible joy in his work; he is like the golfer who dreams of
mighty drives, and practises "putting" on his back lawn: the
professional writer gives his solid hours to his work in a
conscientious spirit, and is glad in hours of freedom to put the
tiresome business away. Yet neither the amateur nor the
professional can hope to capture the spirit of art by joy or
faithfulness. It is a kind of divine felicity, when all is said and
done, the kindly gift of God.

Now into this free wild world of art and literature and music comes
the specialist and pegs out his claim, fencing out the amateur, who
is essentially a rambler, from a hundred eligible situations. In
literature this is particularly the case: the amateur is told by
the historian that he must not intrude upon history; that history
is a science, and not a province of literature; that the time has
not come to draw any conclusions or to summarise any tendencies;
that picturesque narrative is an offence against the spirit of
Truth; that no one is as black or as white as he is painted; and
that to trifle with history is to commit a sin compounded of the
sin of Ananias and Simon Magus. The amateur runs off, his hands
over his ears, and henceforth hardly dares even to read history, to
say nothing of writing it. Perhaps I draw too harsh a picture, but
the truth is that I did, as a very young man, with no training
except that provided by a sketchy knowledge of the classics, once
attempt to write an historical biography. I shudder to think of my
method and equipment; I skipped the dull parts, I left all tiresome
documents unread. It was a sad farrago of enthusiasm and levity and
heady writing. But Jove's thunder rolled and the bolt fell. A just
man, whom I have never quite forgiven, to tell the truth, told me
with unnecessary rigour and acrimony that I had made a pitiable
exhibition of myself. But I have thanked God ever since, for I
turned to literature pure and simple.

Then, too, it is the same with art-criticism; here the amateur
again, who, poor fool, is on the look-out for what is beautiful, is
told that he must not meddle with art unless he does it seriously,
which means that he must devote himself mainly to the study of
inferior masterpieces, and schools, and tendencies. In literature
it is the same; he must not devote himself to reading and loving
great books, he must disentangle influences; he must discern the
historical importance of writers, worthless in themselves, who form
important links. In theology and in philosophy it is much the same:
he must not read the Bible and say what he feels about it; he must
unravel Rabbinical and Talmudic tendencies; he must acquaint
himself with the heretical leanings of a certain era, and the
shadow cast upon the page by apocryphal tradition. In philosophy he
is still worse off, because he must plumb the depths of
metaphysical jargon and master the criticism of methods.

Now, this is in a degree both right and necessary, because the
blind must not attempt to lead the blind; but it is treating the
whole thing in too strictly scientific a spirit for all that. The
misery of it is that the work of the specialist in all these
regions tends to set a hedge about the law; it tends to accumulate
and perpetuate a vast amount of inferior work. The result of it is,
in literature, for instance, that an immense amount of second-rate
and third-rate books go on being reprinted; and instead of the
principle of selection being applied to great authors, and their
inferior writings being allowed to lapse into oblivion, they go on
being re-issued, not because they have any direct value for the
human spirit, but because they have a scientific importance from
the point of view of development. Yet for the ordinary human being
it is far more important that he should read great masterpieces in
a spirit of lively and enthusiastic sympathy than that he should
wade into them through a mass of archaeological and philological
detail. As a boy I used to have to prepare, on occasions, a play of
Shakespeare for a holiday task. I have regarded certain plays with
a kind of horror ever since, because one ended by learning up the
introduction, which concerned itself with the origin of the play,
and the notes which illustrated the meaning of such words as "kerns
and gallowglasses," and left the action and the poetry and the
emotion of the play to take care of themselves. This was due partly
to the blighting influence of examination-papers set by men of
sterile, conscientious brains, but partly to the terrible value set
by British minds upon correct information. The truth really is that
if one begins by caring for a work of art, one also cares to
understand the medium through which it is conveyed; but if one
begins by studying the medium first, one is apt to end by loathing
the masterpiece, because of the dusty apparatus that it seems
liable to collect about itself.

The result of the influence of the specialist upon literature is
that the amateur, hustled from any region where the historical and
scientific method can be applied, turns his attention to the field
of pure imagination, where he cannot be interfered with. And this,
I believe, is one of the reasons why belles-lettres in the more
precise sense tend to be deserted in favour of fiction. Sympathetic
and imaginative criticism is so apt to be stamped upon by the
erudite, who cry out so lamentably over errors and minute slips,
that the novel seems to be the only safe vantage-ground in which
the amateur may disport himself.

But if the specialist is to the amateur what the hawk is to the
dove, let us go further, and in a spirit of love, like Mr.
Chadband, inquire what is the effect of specialism on the mind of
the specialist. I have had the opportunity of meeting many
specialists, and I say unhesitatingly that the effect largely
depends upon the natural temperament of the individual. As a
general rule, the great specialist is a wise, kindly, humble,
delightful man. He perceives that though he has spent his whole
life upon a subject or a fraction of a subject, he knows hardly
anything about it compared to what there is to know. The track of
knowledge glimmers far ahead of him, rising and falling like a road
over solitary downs. He knows that it will not be given to him to
advance very far upon the path, and he half envies those who shall
come after, to whom many things that are dark mysteries to himself
will be clear and plain. But he sees, too, how the dim avenues of
knowledge reach out in every direction, interlacing and combining,
and when he contrasts the tiny powers of the most subtle brain with
all the wide range of law--for the knowledge which is to be, not
invented, but simply discovered, is all assuredly there, secret and
complex as it seems--there is but little room for complacency or
pride. Indeed, I think that a great savant, as a rule, feels that
instead of being separated by his store of knowledge, as by a wide
space that he has crossed, from smaller minds, he is brought closer
to the ignorant by the presence of the vast unknown. Instead of
feeling that he has soared like a rocket away from the ground, he
thinks of himself rather as a flower might think whose head was an
inch or two higher than a great company of similar flowers; he has
perhaps a wider view; he sees the bounding hedgerow, the distant
line of hills, whereas the humbler flower sees little but a forest
of stems and blooms, with the light falling dimly between. And a
great savant, too, is far more ready to credit other people with a
wider knowledge than they possess. It is the lesser kind of savant,
the man of one book, of one province, of one period, who is
inclined to think that he is differentiated from the crowd. The
great man is far too much preoccupied with real progress to waste
time and energy in showing up the mistakes of others. It is the
lesser kind of savant, jealous of his own reputation, anxious to
show his superiority, who loves to censure and deride the feebler
brother. If one ever sees a relentless and pitiless review of a
book--an exposure, as it is called, by one specialist of another's
work--one may be fairly certain that the critic is a minute kind of
person. Again, the great specialist is never anxious to obtrude his
subject; he is rather anxious to hear what is going on in other
regions of mental activity, regions which he would like to explore
but cannot. It is the lesser light that desires to dazzle and
bewilder his company, to tyrannise, to show off. It is the most
difficult thing to get a great savant to talk about his subject,
though, if he is kind and patient, will answer unintelligent
questions, and help a feeble mind along, it is one of the most
delightful things in the world. I seized the opportunity some
little while ago, on finding myself sitting next to a great
physicist, of asking him a series of fumbling questions on the
subject of modern theories of matter; for an hour I stumbled like a
child, supported by a strong hand, in a dim and unfamiliar world,
among the mysterious essences of things. I should like to try to
reproduce it here, but I have no doubt I should reproduce it all
wrong. Still, it was deeply inspiring to look out into chaos, to
hear the rush and motion of atoms, moving in vast vortices, to
learn that inside the hardest and most impenetrable of substances
there was probably a feverish intensity of inner motion. I do not
know that I acquired any precise knowledge, but I drank deep
draughts of wonder and awe. The great man, with his amused and
weary smile, was infinitely gentle, and left me, I will say, far
more conscious of the beauty and the holiness of knowledge. I said
something to him about the sense of power that such knowledge must
give. "Ah!" he said, "much of what I have told you is not proved,
it is only suspected. We are very much in the dark about these
things yet. Probably if a physicist of a hundred years hence could
overhear me, he would be amazed to think that a sensible man could
make such puerile statements. Power--no, it is not that! It rather
makes one realise one's feebleness in being so uncertain about
things that are absolutely certain and precise in themselves, if we
could but see the truth. It is much more like the apostle who said,
'Lord, I believe; help Thou my unbelief.' The thing one wonders at
is the courage of the men who dare to think they KNOW."

In one region I own that I dread and dislike the tyranny of the
specialist, and that is the region of metaphysical and religious
speculation. People who indulge themselves in this form of
speculation are apt to be told by theologians and metaphysicians
that they ought to acquaint themselves with the trend of
theological and metaphysical criticism. It seems to me like telling
people that they must not ascend mountains unless they are
accompanied by guides, and have studied the history of previous
ascents. "Yes," the professional says, "that is just what I mean;
it is mere foolhardiness to attempt these arduous places unless you
know exactly what you are about."

To that I reply that no one is bound to go up hills, but that every
one who reflects at all is confronted by religious and
philosophical problems. We all have to live, and we are all more or
less experts in life. When one considers the infinite importance to
every human spirit of these problems, and when one further
considers how very little theologians and philosophers have ever
effected in the direction of enlightening us as to the object of
life, the problem of pain and evil, the preservation of identity
after death, the question of necessity and free-will, surely, to
attempt to silence people on these matters because they have not
had a technical training is nothing more than an attempt wilfully
to suppress evidence on these points? The only way in which it may
be possible to arrive at the solution of these things is to know
how they appeal to and affect normal minds. I would rather hear the
experience of a life-long sufferer on the problem of pain, or of a
faithful lover on the mystery of love, or of a poet on the
influence of natural beauty, or of an unselfish and humble saint on
the question of faith in the unseen, than the evidence of the most
subtle theologian or metaphysician in the world. Many of us, if we
are specialists in nothing else, are specialists in life; we have
arrived at a point of view; some particular aspect of things has
come home to us with a special force; and what really enriches the
hope and faith of the world is the experience of candid and sincere
persons. The specialist has often had no time or opportunity to
observe life; all he has observed is the thought of other secluded
persons, persons whose view has been both narrow and conventional,
because they have not had the opportunity of correcting their
traditional preconceptions by life itself.

I call, with all the earnestness that I can muster, upon all
intelligent, observant, speculative people, who have felt the
problems of life weigh heavily upon them, not to be dismayed by the
disapproval of technical students, but to come forward and tell us
what conclusions they have formed. The work of the trained
specialist is essentially, in religion and philosophy, a negative
work. He can show us how erroneous beliefs, which coloured the
minds of men at certain ages and eras, grew up. He can show us what
can be disregarded, as being only the conventional belief of the
time; he can indicate, for instance, how a false conception of
supernatural interference with natural law grew up in an age when,
for want of trained knowledge, facts seemed fortuitous occurrences
which were really conditioned by natural laws. The poet and the
idealist make and cast abroad the great vital ideas, which the
specialist picks up and analyses. But we must not stop at analysis;
we want positive progress as well. We want people to tell us,
candidly and simply, how their own soul grew, how it cast off
conventional beliefs, how it justified itself in being hopeful or
the reverse. There never was a time when more freedom of thought
and expression was conceded to the individual. A man is no longer
socially banned for being heretical, schismatic, or liberal-
minded. I want people to say frankly what real part spiritual
agencies or religious ideas have played in their lives, whether
such agencies and ideas have modified their conduct, or have been
modified by their inclinations and habits. I long to know a
thousand things about my fellow-men--how they bear pain, how they
confront the prospect of death, the hopes by which they live, the
fears that overshadow them, the stuff of their lives, the influence
of their emotions. It has long been thought, and it is still
thought by many narrow precisians, indelicate and egotistical to do
this. And the result is that we can find in books all the things
that do not matter, while the thoughts that are of deep and vital
interest are withheld.

Such books as Montaigne's Essays, Rousseau's Confessions, Mrs.
Carlyle's Letters, Mrs. Oliphant's Memoirs, the Autobiography of B.
R. Haydon, to name but a few books that come into my mind, are the
sort of books that I crave for, because they are books in which one
sees right into the heart and soul of another. Men can confess to a
book what they cannot confess to a friend. Why should it be
necessary to veil this essence of humanity in the dreary melodrama,
the trite incident of a novel or a play? Things in life do not
happen as they happen in novels or plays. Oliver Twist, in real
life, does not get accidentally adopted by his grandfather's oldest
friend, and commit his sole burglary in the house of his aunt. We
do not want life to be transplanted into trim garden-plots; we want
to see it at home, as it grows in all its native wildness, on the
one hand; and to know the idea, the theory, the principle that
underlie it on the other. How few of us there are who MAKE our
lives into anything! We accept our limitations, we drift with them,
while we indignantly assert the freedom of the will. The best
sermon in the world is to hear of one who has struggled with life,
bent or trained it to his will, plucked or rejected its fruit, but
all upon some principle. It matters little what we do; it matters
enormously how we do it. Considering how much has been said, and
sung, and written, and recorded, and prated, and imagined, it is
strange to think how little is ever told us directly about life; we
see it in glimpses and flashes, through half-open doors, or as one
sees it from a train gliding into a great town, and looks into back
windows and yards sheltered from the street. We philosophise, most
of us, about anything but life; and one of the reasons why
published sermons have such vast sales is because, however clumsily
and conventionally, it is with life that they try to deal.

This kind of specialising is not recognised as a technical form of
it at all, and yet how far nearer and closer and more urgent it is
for us than any other kind. I have a hope that we are at the
beginning of an era of plain-speaking in these matters. Too often,
with the literary standard of decorum which prevails, such self-
revelations are brushed aside as morbid, introspective,
egotistical. They are no more so than any other kind of
investigation, for all investigation is conditioned by the
personality of the investigator. All that is needed is that an
observer of life should be perfectly candid and sincere, that he
should not speak in a spirit of vanity or self-glorification, that
he should try to disentangle what are the real motives that make
him act or refrain from acting.

As an instance of what I mean by confession of the frankest order,
dealing in this case not only with literature but also with
morality, let me take the sorrowful words which Ruskin wrote in his
Praeterita, as a wearied and saddened man, when there was no longer
any need for him to pretend anything, or to involve any of his own
thoughts or beliefs in any sort of disguise. He took up Shakespeare
at Macugnaga, in 1840, and he asks why the loveliest of
Shakespeare's plays should be "all mixed and encumbered with
languid and common work--to one's best hope spurious certainly, so
far as original, idle and disgraceful--and all so inextricably and
mysteriously that the writer himself is not only unknowable, but
inconceivable; and his wisdom so useless, that at this time of
being and speaking, among active and purposeful Englishmen, I know
not one who shows a trace of ever having felt a passion of
Shakespeare's, or learnt a lesson from him."

That is of course the sad cry of one who is interested in life
primarily, and in art only so far as it can minister to life. It
may be strained and exaggerated, but how far more vital a saying
than to expand in voluble and vapid enthusiasm over the insight and
nobleness of Shakespeare, if one has not really felt one's life
modified by that mysterious mind!

Of course such self-revelation as I speak of will necessarily fall
into the hands of unquiet, dissatisfied, melancholy people. If life
is a common-place and pleasant sort of business, there is nothing
particular to say or to think about it. But for all those--and they
are many--who feel that life misses, by some blind, inevitable
movement, being the gracious and beautiful thing it seems framed to
be, how can such as these hold their peace? And how, except by
facing it all, and looking patiently and bravely at it, can we find
a remedy for its sore sicknesses? That method has been used, and
used with success in every other kind of investigation, and we must
investigate life too, even if it turns out to be all a kind of
Mendelism, moved and swayed by absolutely fixed laws, which take no
account of what we sorrowfully desire.

Let us, then, gather up our threads a little. Let us first confront
the fact that, under present conditions, in the face of the mass of
records and books and accumulated traditions, arts and sciences
must make progress little by little, line by line, in skilled
technical hands. Fine achievement in every region becomes more
difficult every day, because there is so much that is finished and
perfected behind us; and if the conditions of our lives call us to
some strictly limited path, let us advance wisely and humbly, step
by step, without pride or vanity. But let us not forget, in the
face of the frigidities of knowledge, that if they are the
mechanism of life, emotion and hope and love and admiration are the
steam. Knowledge is only valuable in so far as it makes the force
of life effective and vigorous. And thus if we have breasted the
strange current of life, or even if we have been ourselves
overpowered and swept away by it, let us try, in whatever region we
have the power, to let that experience have some value for
ourselves and others. If we can say it or write it, so much the
better. There are thousands of people moving through the world who
are wearied and bewildered, and who are looking out for any message
of hope and joy that may give them courage to struggle on; but if
we cannot do that, we can at least live life temperately and
cheerfully and sincerely: if we have bungled, if we have slipped,
we can do something to help others not to go light-heartedly down
the miry path; we can raise them up if they have fallen, we can
cleanse the stains, or we can at least give them the comfort of
feeling that they are not sadly and insupportably alone.



It is often mournfully reiterated that the present age is not an
age of great men, and I have sometimes wondered if it is true. In
the first place I do not feel sure that an age is the best judge of
its own greatness; a great age is generally more interested in
doing the things which afterwards cause it to be considered great,
than in wondering whether it is great. Perhaps the fact that we are
on the look-out for great men, and complaining because we cannot
find them, is the best proof of our second-rateness; I do not
imagine that the Elizabethan writers were much concerned with
thinking whether they were great or not; they were much more
occupied in having a splendid time, and in saying as eagerly as
they could all the delightful thoughts which came crowding to the
utterance, than in pondering whether they were worthy of
admiration. In the annals of the Renaissance one gets almost weary
of the records of brilliant persons, like Leo Battista Alberti and
Leonardo da Vinci, who were architects, sculptors, painters,
musicians, athletes, and writers all in one; who could make crowds
weep by twanging a lute, ride the most vicious horses, take
standing jumps over the heads of tall men, and who were, moreover,
so impressionable that books were to them as jewels and flowers,
and who "grew faint at the sight of sunsets and stately persons."
Such as these, we may depend upon it, had little time to give to
considering their own effect upon posterity. When the sun rules the
day, there is no question about his supremacy; it is when we are
concerned with scanning the sky for lesser lights to rule the night
that we are wasting time. To go about searching for somebody to
inspire one testifies, no doubt, to a certain lack of fire and
initiative. But, on the other hand, there have been many great men
whose greatness their contemporaries did not recognise. We tend at
the present time to honour achievements when they have begun to
grow a little mouldy; we seldom accord ungrudging admiration to a
prophet when he is at his best. Moreover, in an age like the
present, when the general average of accomplishment is remarkably
high, it is more difficult to detect greatness. It is easier to see
big trees when they stand out over a copse than when they are lost
in the depths of the forest.

Now there are two modes and methods of being great; one is by
largeness, the other by intensity. A great man can be cast in a
big, magnanimous mould, without any very special accomplishments or
abilities; it may be very difficult to praise any of his faculties
very highly, but he is there. Such men are the natural leaders of
mankind; they effect what they effect not by any subtlety or
ingenuity. They see in a wide, general way what they want, they
gather friends and followers and helpers round them, and put the
right man on at the right piece of work. They perform what they
perform by a kind of voluminous force, which carries other
personalities away; for lesser natures, as a rule, do not like
supreme responsibility; they enjoy what is to ordinary people the
greatest luxury in the world, namely, the being sympathetically
commandeered, and duly valued. Inspiration and leadership are not
common gifts, and there are abundance of capable people who cannot
strike out a novel line of their own, but can do excellent work if
they can be inspired and led. I was once for a short time brought
into close contact with a man of this kind; it was impossible to
put down on paper or to explain to those who did not know him what
his claim to greatness was. I remember being asked by an
incredulous outsider where his greatness lay, and I could not name
a single conspicuous quality that my hero possessed. But he
dominated his circle for all that, and many of them were men of far
greater intellectual force than himself. He had his own way; if he
asked one to do a particular thing, one felt proud to be entrusted
with it, and amply rewarded by a word of approval. It was possible
to take a different view from the view which he took of a matter or
a situation, but it was impossible to express one's dissent in his
presence. A few halting, fumbling words of his were more weighty
than many a facile and voluble oration. Personally I often
mistrusted his judgment, but I followed him with an eager delight.
With such men as these, posterity is often at a loss to know why
they impressed their contemporaries, or why they continue to be
spoken of with reverence and enthusiasm. The secret is that it is a
kind of moral and magnetic force, and the lamentable part of it is
that such men, if they are not enlightened and wise, may do more
harm than good, because they tend to stereotype what ought to be
changed and renewed.

That is one way of greatness; a sort of big, blunt force that
overwhelms and uplifts, like a great sea-roller, yielding at a
hundred small points, yet crowding onwards in soft volume and
ponderous weight.

Two interesting examples of this impressive and indescribable
greatness seem to have been Arthur Hallam and the late Mr. W. E.
Henley. In the case of Arthur Hallam, the eulogies which his
friends pronounced upon him seem couched in terms of an intemperate
extravagance. The fact that the most splendid panegyrics upon him
were uttered by men of high genius is not in itself more conclusive
than if such panegyrics had been conceived by men of lesser
quality, because the greater that a man is the more readily does he
perceive and more magniloquently acknowledge greatness. Apart from
In Memoriam, Tennyson's recorded utterances about Arthur Hallam are
expressed in terms of almost hyperbolical laudation. I once was
fortunate enough to have the opportunity of asking Mr. Gladstone
about Arthur Hallam. Mr. Gladstone had been his close friend at
Eton and his constant companion. His eye flashed, his voice
gathered volume, and with a fine gesture of his hand he said that
he could only deliberately affirm that physically, intellectually,
and morally, Arthur Hallam approached more nearly to an ideal of
human perfection than any one whom he had ever seen. And yet the
picture of Hallam at Eton represents a young man of an apparently
solid and commonplace type, with a fresh colour, and almost wholly
destitute of distinction or charm; while his extant fragments of
prose and poetry are heavy, verbose, and elaborate, and without any
memorable quality. It appears indeed as if he had exercised a sort
of hypnotic influence upon his contemporaries. Neither does he seem
to have produced a very gracious impression upon outsiders who
happened to meet him. There is a curious anecdote told by some one
who met Arthur Hallam travelling with his father on the Continent
only a short time before his sudden death. The narrator says that
he saw with a certain satisfaction how mercilessly the young man
criticised and exposed his father's statements, remembering how
merciless the father had often been in dealing summarily with the
arguments and statements of his own contemporaries. One asks
oneself in vain what the magnetic charm of his presence and
temperament can have been. It was undoubtedly there, and yet it
seems wholly irrecoverable. The same is true, in a different
region, with the late Mr. W. E. Henley. His literary performances,
with the exception of some half-a-dozen poetical pieces, have no
great permanent value. His criticisms were vehement and complacent,
but represent no great delicacy of analysis nor breadth of view.
His treatment of Stevenson, considering the circumstances of the
case, was ungenerous and irritable. Yet those who were brought into
close contact with Henley recognised something magnanimous, noble,
and fiery about him, which evoked a passionate devotion. I remember
shortly before his death reading an appreciation of his work by a
faithful admirer, who described him as "another Dr. Johnson," and
speaking of his critical judgment, said, "Mr. Henley is pontifical
in his wrath; it pleased him, for example, to deny to De Quincey
the title to write English prose." That a criticism so arrogant, so
saugrenu, should be re-echoed with such devoted commendation is a
proof that the writer's independent judgment was simply swept away
by Henley's personality; and in both these cases one is merely
brought face to face with the fact that though men can earn the
admiration of the world by effective performance, the most
spontaneous and enduring gratitude is given to individuality.

The other way of greatness is the way of intensity, that focuses
all its impact at some brilliant point, like a rapier-thrust or a
flash of lightning. Men with this kind of greatness have generally
some supreme and dazzling accomplishment, and the rest of their
nature is often sacrificed to one radiant faculty. Their power, in
some one single direction, is absolutely distinct and unquestioned;
and these are the men who, if they can gather up and express the
forces of some vague and widespread tendency, some blind and
instinctive movement of men's minds, form as it were the cutting
edge of a weapon. They do not supply the force, but they
concentrate it; and it is men of this type who are often credited
with the bringing about of some profound and revolutionary change,
because they summarise and define some huge force that is abroad.
Not to travel far for instances, such a man was Rousseau. The air
of his period was full of sentiments and emotions and ideas; he was
not himself a man of force; he was a dreamer and a poet; but he had
the matchless gift of ardent expression, and he was able to say
both trenchantly and attractively exactly what every one was
vaguely meditating.

Now let us take some of the chief departments of human effort, some
of the provinces in which men attain supreme fame, and consider
what kinds of greatness we should expect the present day to evoke.
In the department of warfare, we have had few opportunities of late
to discover high strategical genius. Our navy has been practically
unemployed, and the South African war was just the sort of campaign
to reveal the deficiencies of an elaborate and not very practical
peace establishment. Though it solidified a few reputations and
pricked the bubble of some few others, it certainly did not reveal
any subtle adaptability in our generals. It was Lord North, I
think, who, when discussing with his Cabinet a list of names of
officers suggested for the conduct of a campaign, said, "I do not
know what effect these names produce upon you, gentlemen, but I
confess they make me tremble." The South African war can hardly be
said to have revealed that we have many generals who closely
corresponded to Wordsworth's description of the Happy Warrior, but
rather induced the tremulousness which Lord North experienced.
Still, if, in the strategical region, our solitary recent campaign
rather tends to prove a deficiency of men of supreme gifts, it at
all events proved a considerable degree of competence and devotion.
I could not go so far as a recent writer who regretted the
termination of the Boer War because it interrupted the evolution of
tactical science, but it is undoubtedly true that the growing
aversion to war, the intense dislike to the sacrifice of human
life, creates an atmosphere unfavourable to the development of high
military genius; because great military reputations in times past
have generally been acquired by men who had no such scruples, but
who treated the material of their armies as pawns to be freely
sacrificed to the attainment of victory.

Then there is the region of statesmanship; and here it is
abundantly clear that the social conditions of the day, the
democratic current which runs with increasing spirit in political
channels, is unfavourable to the development of individual genius.
The prize falls to the sagacious opportunist; the statesman is less
and less of a navigator, and more and more of a pilot, in times
when popular feeling is conciliated and interpreted rather than
inspired and guided. To be far-seeing and daring is a disadvantage;
the most approved leader is the man who can harmonise discordant
sections, and steer round obvious and pressing difficulties.
Geniality and bonhomie are more valuable qualities than prescience
or nobility of aim. The more representative that government
becomes, the more does originality give place to malleability. The
more fluid that the conceptions of a statesman are, the greater
that his adaptability is, the more acceptable he becomes. Since
Lord Beaconsfield, with all his trenchant mystery, and Mr.
Gladstone, with his voluble candour, there have been no figures of
unquestioned supremacy on the political stage. Even so, the effect
in both cases was to a great extent the effect of personality. The
further that these two men retire into the past, the more that they
are judged by the written record, the more does the tawdriness of
Lord Beaconsfield's mind, his absence of sincere convictions
appear, as well as the pedestrianism of Mr. Gladstone's mind, and
his lack of critical perception. I have heard Mr. Gladstone speak,
and on one occasion I had the task of reporting for a daily paper a
private oration on a literary subject. I was thrilled to the very
marrow of my being by the address. The parchment pallor of the
orator, his glowing and blazing eyes, his leonine air, the voice
that seemed to have a sort of physical effect on the nerves, his
great sweeping gestures, all held the audience spellbound. I felt
at the time that I had never before realised the supreme and vital
importance of the subject on which he spoke. But when I tried to
reconstruct from the ashes of my industrious notes the mental
conflagration which I had witnessed, I was at a complete loss to
understand what had happened. The records were not only dull, they
seemed essentially trivial, and almost overwhelmingly unimportant.
But the magic had been there. Apart from the substance, the
performance had been literally enchanting. I do not honestly
believe that Mr. Gladstone was a man of great intellectual force,
or even of very deep emotions. He was a man of extraordinarily
vigorous and robust brain, and he was a supreme oratorical artist.

There is intellect, charm, humour in abundance in the parliamentary
forces; there was probably never a time when there were so many
able and ambitious men to be found in the rank and file of
parliamentarians. But that is not enough. There is no supremely
impressive and commanding figure on the stage; greatness seems to
be distributed rather than concentrated; but probably neither this,
nor political conditions, would prevent the generous recognition of
supreme genius, if it were there to recognise.

In art and literature, I am inclined to believe that we shall look
back to the Victorian era as a time of great activity and high
performance. The two tendencies here which militate against the
appearance of the greatest figures are, in the first place, the
great accumulations of art and literature, and in the second place
the democratic desire to share those treasures. The accumulation of
pictures, music, and books makes it undoubtedly very hard for a new
artist, in whatever region, to gain prestige. There is so much that
is undoubtedly great and good for a student of art and literature
to make acquaintance with, that we are apt to be content with the
old vintages. The result is that there are a good many artists who
in a time of less productivity would have made themselves an
enduring reputation, and who now must be content to be recognised
only by a few. The difficulty can, I think, only be met by some
principle of selection being more rigidly applied. We shall have to
be content to skim the cream of the old as well as of the new, and
to allow the second-rate work of first-rate performers to sink into
oblivion. But at the same time there might be a great future before
any artist who could discover a new medium of utterance. It seems
at present, to take literature, as if every form of human
expression had been exploited. We have the lyric, the epic, the
satire, the narrative, the letter, the diary, conversation, all
embalmed in art. But there is probably some other medium possible
which will become perfectly obvious the moment it is seized upon
and used. To take an instance from pictorial art. At present,
colour is only used in a genre manner, to clothe some dramatic
motive. But there seems no prima facie reason why colour should not
be used symphonically like music. In music we obtain pleasure from
an orderly sequence of vibrations, and there seems no real reason
why the eye should not be charmed with colour-sequences just as the
ear is charmed with sound-sequences. So in literature it would seem
as though we might get closer still to the expression of mere
personality, by the medium of some sublimated form of reverie, the
thought blended and tinged in the subtlest gradations, without the
clumsy necessity of sacrificing the sequence of thought to the
barbarous devices of metre and rhyme, or to the still more childish
devices of incident and drama. Flaubert, it will be remembered,
looked forward to a time when a writer would not require a subject
at all, but would express emotion and thought directly rather than
pictorially. To utter the unuttered thought--that is really the
problem of literature in the future; and if a writer could be found
to free himself from all stereotyped forms of expression, and to
give utterance to the strange texture of thought and fancy, which
differentiates each single personality so distinctly, so
integrally, from other personalities, and which we cannot
communicate to our dearest and nearest, he might enter upon a new
province of art.

But the second tendency which at the present moment dominates
writers is, as I have said, the rising democratic interest in the
things of the mind. This is at present a very inchoate and
uncultivated interest: but in days of cheap publication and large
audiences it dominates many writers disastrously. The temptation is
a grievous one--to take advantage of a market--not to produce what
is absolutely the best, but what is popular and effective. It is
not a wholly ignoble temptation. It is not only the temptation of
wealth, though in an age of comfort, which values social
respectability so highly, wealth is a great temptation. But the
temptation is rather to gauge success by the power of appeal. If a
man has ideas at all, he is naturally anxious to make them felt;
and if he can do it best by spreading his ideas rather thinly, by
making them attractive to enthusiastic people of inferior
intellectual grip, he feels he is doing a noble work. The truth is
that in literature the democracy desires not ideas but morality.
All the best-known writers of the Victorian age have been
optimistic moralists, Browning, Ruskin, Carlyle, Tennyson. They
have been admired because they concealed their essential
conventionality under a slight perfume of unorthodoxy. They all in
reality pandered to the complacency of the age, in a way in which
Byron, Wordsworth, Shelley, and Keats did not pander. The democracy
loves to be assured that it is generous, high-minded, and sensible.
It is in reality timid, narrow-minded, and Pharisaical. It hates
independence and originality, and loves to believe that it adores
both. It loves Mr. Kipling because he assures them that vulgarity
is not a sin; it loves Mr. Bernard Shaw because he persuades them
that they are cleverer than they imagined. The fact is that great
men, in literature at all events, must be content, at the present
time, to be unrecognised and unacclaimed. They must be content to
be of the happy company of whom Mr. Swinburne writes:--

"In the garden of death, where the singers, whose names are deathless,
One with another make music unheard of men."

Then there is the region of Science, and here I am not qualified
to speak, because I know no science, and have not even taught it,
as Mr. Arthur Sidgwick said. I do not really know what constitutes
greatness in science. I suppose that the great man of science is
the man who to a power of endlessly patient investigation joins a
splendid imaginative, or perhaps deductive power, like Newton or
Darwin. But we who stand at the threshold of the scientific era are
perhaps too near the light, and too much dazzled by the results of
scientific discovery to say who is great and who is not great. I
have met several distinguished men of science, and I have thought
some of them to be men of obviously high intellectual gifts, and
some of them men of inert and secretive temperaments. But that is
only natural, for to be great in other departments generally
implies a certain knowledge of the world, or at all events of the
thought of the world; whereas the great man of science may be
moving in regions of thought that may be absolutely incommunicable
to the ordinary person. But I do not suppose that scientific
greatness is a thing which can be measured by the importance of the
practical results of a discovery. I mean that a man may hit upon
some process, or some treatment of disease, which may be of
incalculable benefit to humanity, and yet not be really a great man
of science, only a fortunate discoverer, and incidentally a great
benefactor to humanity. The unknown discoverers of things like the
screw or the wheel, persons lost in the mists of antiquity, could
not, I suppose, be ranked as great men of science. The great man of
science is the man who can draw some stupendous inference, which
revolutionises thought and sets men hopefully at work on some
problem which does not so much add to the convenience of humanity
as define the laws of nature. We are still surrounded by
innumerable and awful mysteries of life and being; the evidence
which will lead to their solution is probably in our hands and
plain enough, if any one could but see the bearing of facts which
are known to the simplest child. There is little doubt, I suppose,
that the greatest reputations of recent years have been made in
science; and perhaps when our present age has globed itself into a
cycle, we shall be amazed at the complaint that the present era is
lacking in great men. We are busy in looking for greatness in so
many directions, and we are apt to suppose, from long use, that
greatness is so inseparably connected with some form of human
expression, whether it be the utterance of thought, or the
marshalling of armies, that we may be overlooking a more stable
form of greatness, which will be patent to those that come after.
My own belief is that the condition of science at the present day
answers best to the conditions which we have learnt to recognise in
the past as the fruitful soil of greatness. I mean that when we put
our finger, in the past, on some period which seems to have been
producing great work in a great way, we generally find it in some
knot or school of people, intensely absorbed in what they were
doing, and doing it with a whole-hearted enjoyment, loving the work
more than the rewards of it, and indifferent to the pursuit of
fame. Such it seems to me is the condition of science at the
present time, and it is in science, I am inclined to think, that
our heroes are probably to be found.

I do not, then, feel at all sure that we are lacking in great men,
though it must be admitted that we are lacking in men whose
supremacy is recognised. I suppose we mean by a great man one who
in some region of human performance is confessedly pre-eminent; and
he must further have a theory of his own, and a power of pursuing
that theory in the face of depreciation and even hostility. I do
not think that great men have often been indifferent to criticism.
Often, indeed, by virtue of a greater sensitiveness and a keener
perception, they have been profoundly affected by unpopularity and
the sense of being misunderstood. Carlyle, Tennyson, Ruskin, for
instance, were men of almost morbid sensibility, and lived in
sadness; and, on the other hand, there are few great men who have
not been affected for the worse by premature success. The best soil
for greatness to grow up in would seem to be an early isolation,
sustained against the disregard of the world by the affection and
admiration of a few kindred minds. Then when the great man has
learned his method and his message, and learned too not to over-
value the popular verdict, success may mature and mellow his
powers. Yet of how many great men can this be said? As a rule,
indeed, a great man's best work has been done in solitude and
disfavour, and he has attained his sunshine when he can no longer
do his best work.

The question is whether the modern conditions of life are
unfavourable to greatness; and I think that it must be confessed
that they are. In the first place, we all know so much too about
each other, and there is so eager a personal curiosity abroad, a
curiosity about the smallest details of the life of any one who
seems to have any power of performance, that it encourages men to
over-confidence, egotism, and mannerism. Again, the world is so
much in love with novelty and sensation of all kinds, that facile
successes are easily made and as easily obliterated. What so many
people admire is not greatness, but the realisation of greatness
and its tangible rewards. The result of this is that men who show
any faculty for impressing the world are exploited and caressed,
are played with as a toy, and as a toy neglected. And then, too,
the age is deeply permeated by social ambitions. Men love to be
labelled, ticketed, decorated, differentiated from the crowd.
Newspapers pander to this taste; and then the ease and rapidity of
movement tempt men to a restless variety of experience, of travel,
of society, of change, which is alien to the settled and sober
temper in which great designs are matured. There is a story, not
uncharacteristic, of modern social life, of a hostess who loved to
assemble about her, in the style of Mrs. Leo Hunter, notabilities
small and great, who was reduced to presenting a young man who made
his appearance at one of her gatherings as "Mr. ----, whose uncle,
you will remember, was so terribly mangled in the railway accident
at S----." It is this feverish desire to be distinguished at any
price which has its counterpart in the feverish desire to find
objects of admiration. Not so can solid greatness be achieved.

The plain truth is that no one can become great by taking thought,
and still less by desiring greatness. It is not an attainable
thing; fame only is attainable. A man must be great in his own
quiet way, and the greater he is, the less likely is he to concern
himself with fame. It is useless to try and copy some one else's
greatness; that is like trying to look like some one else's
portrait, even if it be a portrait by Velasquez. Not that modesty
is inseparable from greatness; there are abundance of great men who
have been childishly and grotesquely vain; but in such cases it has
been a greatness of performance, a marvellous faculty, not a
greatness of soul. Hazlitt says somewhere that modesty is the
lowest of the virtues, and a real confession of the deficiency
which it indicates. He adds that a man who underrates himself is
justly undervalued by others. This is a cynical and a vulgar maxim.
It is true that a great man must have a due sense of the dignity
and importance of his work; but if he is truly great, he will have
also a sense of relation and proportion, and not forget the
minuteness of any individual atom. If he has a real greatness of
soul, he will not be apt to compare himself with others, and he
will be inclined to an even over-generous estimate of the value of
the work of others. In no respect was the greatness of D. G.
Rossetti more exemplified than in his almost extravagant
appreciation of the work of his friends; and it was to this royalty
of temperament that he largely owed his personal supremacy.

I would believe then that the lack of conspicuous greatness is due
at this time to the overabundant vitality and eagerness of the
world, rather than to any languor or listlessness of spirit. The
rise of the decadent school in art and literature is not the least
sign of any indolent or corrupt deterioration. It rather shows a
desperate appetite for testing sensation, a fierce hunger for
emotional experience, a feverish ambition to impress a point-of-
view. It is all part of a revolt against settled ways and
conventional theories. I do not mean that we can expect to find
greatness in this direction, for greatness is essentially well-
balanced, calm, deliberate, and decadence is a sign of a neurotic
and over-vitalised activity.

Our best hope is that this excessive restlessness of spirit will
produce a revolt against itself. The essence of greatness is
unconventionality, and restlessness is now becoming conventional.
In education, in art, in literature, in politics, in social life,
we lose ourselves in denunciations of the dreamer and the loafer.
We cannot bear to see a slowly-moving, deliberate, self-contained
spirit, advancing quietly on its discerned path. Instead of being
content to perform faithfully and conscientiously our allotted
task, which is the way in which we can best help the world, we
demand that every one should want to do good, to be responsible for
some one else, to exhort, urge, beckon, restrain, manage. That is
all utterly false and hectic. Our aim should be patience rather
than effectiveness, sincerity rather than adaptability, to learn
rather than to teach, to ponder rather than to persuade, to know
the truth rather than to create illusion, however comforting,
however delightful such illusion may be.



I have no doubt that shyness is one of the old, primitive,
aboriginal qualities that lurk in human nature--one of the crude
elements that ought to have been uprooted by civilisation, and
security, and progress, and enlightened ideals, but which have not
been uprooted, and are only being slowly eliminated. It is seen, as
all aboriginal qualities are seen, at its barest among children,
who often reflect the youth of the world, and are like little wild
animals or infant savages, in spite of all the frenzied
idealisation that childhood receives from well-dressed and amiable

Shyness is thus like those little bits of woods and copses which
one finds in a country-side that has long been subdued and
replenished, turned into arable land and pasture, with all the
wildness and the irregularity ploughed and combed out of it; but
still one comes upon some piece of dingle, where there is perhaps
an awkward tilt in the ground, or some ancient excavation, or where
a stream-head has cut out a steep channel, and there one finds a
scrap of the old forest, a rood or two that has never been anything
but woodland. So with shyness; many of our old, savage qualities
have been smoothed out, or glazed over, by education and
inheritance, and only emerge in moments of passion and emotion. But
shyness is no doubt the old suspicion of the stranger, the belief
that his motives are likely to be predatory and sinister; it is the
tendency to bob the head down into the brushwood, or to sneak
behind the tree-bole on his approach. One sees a little child,
washed and brushed and delicately apparelled, with silken locks and
clear complexion, brought into a drawing-room to be admired; one
sees the terror come upon her; she knows by experience that she has
nothing to expect but attention, and admiration, and petting; but
you will see her suddenly cover her face with a tiny hand, relapse
into dismal silence, even burst into tears and refuse to be
comforted, till she is safely entrenched upon some familiar knee.

I have a breezy, boisterous, cheerful friend, of transparent
simplicity and goodness, who has never known the least touch of
shyness from his cradle, who always says, if the subject is
introduced, that shyness is all mere self-consciousness, and that
it comes from thinking about oneself. That is true, in a limited
degree; but the diagnosis is no remedy for the disease, because
shyness is as much a disease as a cold in the head, and no amount
of effort can prevent the attacks of the complaint; the only remedy
is either to avoid the occasions of the attacks,--and that is
impossible, unless one is to abjure the society of other people for
good and all;--or else to practise resolutely the hardening process
of frequenting society, until one gets a sort of courage out of
familiarity. Yet even so, who that has ever really suffered from
shyness does not feel his heart sink as he drives up in a brougham
to the door of some strange house, and sees a grave butler
advancing out of an unknown corridor, with figures flitting to and
fro in the background; what shy person is there who at such a
moment would not give a considerable sum to be able to go back to
the station and take the first train home? Or who again, as he
gives his name to a servant in some brightly-lighted hall, and
advances, with a hurried glance at his toilet, into a roomful of
well-dressed people, buzzing with what Rossetti calls a "din of
doubtful talk," would not prefer to sink into the earth like Korah,
Dathan, and Abiram, and be reckoned no more among the living?

It is recorded in Tennyson's Life that he used to recommend to a
younger brother the thought of the stellar spaces, swarming with
constellations and traversed by planets at ineffable distances, as
a cure for shyness; and a lady of my acquaintance used to endeavour
as a girl to stay her failing heart on the thought of Eternity at
such moments. It is all in vain; at the urgent moment one cares
very little about the stellar motions, or the dim vistas of
futurity, and very much indeed about the cut of one's coat, and the
appearance of one's collar, and the glances of one's enemies; the
doctrines of the Church, and the prospects of ultimate salvation,
are things very light in the scales in comparison with the pressing
necessities of the crisis, and the desperate need to appear wholly

The wild and fierce shyness of childhood is superseded in most
sensitive people, as life goes on, by a very different feeling--the
shyness of adolescence, of which the essence, as has been well
said, is "a shamefaced pride." The shyness of early youth is a
thing which springs from an intense desire to delight, and impress,
and interest other people, from wanting to play a far larger and
brighter part in the lives of every one else than any one in the
world plays in any one else's life. Who does not recognise, with a
feeling that is half contempt and half compassion, the sight of the
eager pretentiousness of youth, the intense shame of confessing
ignorance on any point, the deep desire to appear to have a stake
in the world, and a well-defined, respected position? I met the
other day a young man, of no particular force or distinction, who
was standing in a corner at a big social gathering, bursting with
terror and importance combined. He was inspired, I would fain
believe, by discerning a vague benevolence in my air and demeanour,
to fix his attention on me. He had been staying at a house where
there had been some important guests, and by some incredibly rapid
transition of eloquence he was saying to me in a minute or two,
"The Commander-in-Chief said to me the other day," and "The
Archbishop pointed out to me a few days ago," giving, as personal
confidences, scraps of conversation which he had no doubt overheard
as an unwelcome adjunct to a crowded smoking-room, with the busy
and genial elders wondering when the boys would have the grace to
go to bed. My heart bled for him as I saw the reflection of my own
pushing and pretentious youth, and I only desired that the curse
should not fall upon him which has so often fallen upon myself, to
recall ineffaceably, with a blush that still mantles my cheek in
the silence and seclusion of my bedroom, in a wakeful hour, the
thought of some such piece of transparent and ridiculous self-
importance, shamefully uttered by myself, in a transport of
ambitious vanity, long years ago. How out of proportion to the
offence is the avenging phantom of memory which dogs one through
the years for such stupidities! I remember that as a youthful
undergraduate I went to stay in the house of an old family friend
in the neighbourhood of Cambridge. The only other male guest was a
grim and crusty don, sharp and trenchant in speech, and with a
determination to keep young men in their place. At Cambridge he
would have taken no notice whatever of me; but there, on alien
ground, with some lurking impulse of far-off civility, he said to
me when the ladies retired, "I am going to have a cigar; you know
your way to the smoking-room?" I did not myself smoke in those
days, so foolish was I and innocent; but recalling, I suppose, some
similar remark made by an elderly and genial non-smoker under the
same circumstances, I said pompously--I can hardly bring myself
even now to write the words--"I don't smoke, but I will come and
sit with you for the pleasure of a talk." He gave a derisive snort,
looked at me and said, "What! not allowed to smoke yet? Pray don't
trouble to come on my account." It was not a genial speech, and it
made me feel, as it was intended to do, insupportably silly. I did
not make matters better, I recollect, on the following day, when on
returning to Cambridge I offered to carry his bag up from the
station, for he insisted on walking. He refused testily, and no
doubt thought me, as in fact I was, a very spiritless young man.

I remember, too, another incident of the same kind, happening about
the same time. I was invited by a fellow-undergraduate to come to
tea in his rooms, and to meet his people. After tea, in the
lightness of his heart, my friend performed some singular antics,
such as standing on his head like a clown, and falling over the
back of his sofa, alighting on his feet. I, who would not have
executed such gambols for the world in the presence of the fairer
sex, but anxious in an elderly way to express my sympathy with the
performer, said, with what was meant to be a polite admiration: "I
can't think how you do that!" Upon which a shrewd and trenchant
maiden-aunt who was present, and was delighting in the exuberance
of her nephew, said to me briskly, "Mr. Benson, have you never been
young?" I should be ashamed to say how often since I have arranged
a neat repartee to that annoying question. At the same time I think
that the behaviour both of the don and the aunt was distinctly
unjust and unadvisable. I am sure that the one way to train young
people out of the miseries of shyness is for older people never to
snub them in public, or make them appear in the light of a fool.
Such snubs fall plentifully and naturally from contemporaries. An
elder person is quite within his rights in inflicting a grave and
serious remonstrance in private. I do not believe that young people
ever resent that, if at the same time they are allowed to defend
themselves and state their case. But a merciless elder who inflicts
a public mortification is terribly unassailable and impregnable.
For the shy person, who is desperately anxious to bear a
sympathetic part, is quite incapable of retort; and that is why
such assaults are unpardonable, because they are the merest

The nicest people that I have known in life have been the people of
kindly and sensible natures, who have been thoroughly spoilt as
children, encouraged to talk, led to expect not only toleration,
but active kindness and sympathy from all. The worst of it is that
such kindness is generally reserved for pretty and engaging
children, and it is the awkward, unpleasing, ungainly child who
gets the slaps in public. But, as in Tennyson-Turner's pretty poem
of "Letty's Globe," a child's hand should be "welcome at all
frontiers." Only deliberate rudeness and insolence on the part of
children should be publicly rebuked; and as a matter of fact both
rudeness and insolence are far oftener the result of shyness than
is easily supposed.

After the shyness of adolescence there often follows a further
stage. The shy person has learnt a certain wisdom; he becomes aware
how easily he detects pretentiousness in other people, and realises
that there is nothing to be gained by claiming a width of
experience which he does not possess, and that the being unmasked
is even more painful than feeling deficient and ill-equipped. Then
too he learns to suspect that when he has tried to be impressive,
he has often only succeeded in being priggish; and the result is
that he falls into a kind of speechlessness, comforting himself, as
he sits mute and awkward, unduly elongated, and with unaccountable
projections of limb and feature, that if only other people were a
little less self-absorbed, had the gift of perceiving hidden worth
and real character, and could pierce a little below the surface,
they would realise what reserves of force and tenderness lay
beneath the heavy shapelessness of which he is still conscious.
Then is the time for the shy person to apply himself to social
gymnastics. He is not required to be voluble; but if he will
practise bearing a hand, seeing what other people need and like,
carrying on their line of thought, constructing small
conversational bridges, asking the right questions, perhaps
simulating an interest in the pursuits of others which he does not
naturally feel, he may unloose the burden from his back. Then is
the time to practise a sympathetic smile, or better still to allow
oneself to indicate and even express the sympathy one feels; and
the experimentalist will soon become aware how welcome such
unobtrusive sympathy is. He will be amazed at first to find that,
instead of being tolerated, he will be confided in; he will be
regarded as a pleasant adjunct to a party, and he will soon have
the even pleasanter experience of finding that his own opinions and
adventures, if they are not used to cap and surpass the opinions
and adventures of others, but to elicit them, will be duly valued.
Yet, alas, a good many shy people never reach that stage, but take
refuge in a critical and fastidious attitude. I had an elderly
relative of this kind--who does not know the type?--who was a man
of wide interests and accurate information, but a perfect terror in
the domestic circle. He was too shy to mingle in general talk, but
sat with an air of acute observation, with a dry smile playing over
his face; later on, when the circle diminished, it pleased him to
retail the incautious statements made by various members of the
party, and correct them with much acerbity. There are few things
more terrific than a man who is both speechless and distinguished.
I have known several such, and their presence lies like a blight
over the most cheerful party. It is unhappily often the case that
shyness is apt to exist side by side with considerable ability, and
a shy man of this type regards distinction as a kind of defensive
armour, which may justify him in applying to others the contempt
which he has himself been conscious of incurring. One of the most
disagreeable men I know is a man of great ability, who was bullied
in his youth. The result upon him has been that he tends to believe
that most people are inspired by a vague malevolence, and he uses
his ability and his memory, not to add to the pleasure of a party,
but to make his own power felt. I have seen this particular man
pass from an ungainly speechlessness into brutal onslaughts on
inoffensive persons; and it is one of the most unpleasant
transformations in the world. On the other hand, the modest and
amiable man of distinction is one of the most agreeable figures it
is possible to encounter. He is kind and deferential, and the
indulgent deference of a distinguished man is worth its weight in

I was lately told a delightful story of a great statesman staying
with a humble and anxious host, who had invited a party of simple
and unimportant people to meet the great man. The statesman came in
late for dinner, and was introduced to the party; he made a series
of old-fashioned bows in all directions, but no one felt in a
position to offer any observations. The great man, at the
conclusion of the ceremony, turned to his host, and said, in tones
that had often thrilled a listening senate: "What very convenient
jugs you have in your bedrooms! They pour well!" The social frost
broke up; the company were delighted to find that the great man was
interested in mundane matters of a kind on which every one might be
permitted to have an opinion, and the conversation, starting from
the humblest conveniences of daily life, melted insensibly into
more liberal subjects. The fact is that, in ordinary life, kindness
and simplicity are valued far more than brilliance; and the best
brilliance is that which throws a novel and lambent light upon
ordinary topics, rather than the brilliance which disports itself
in unfamiliar and exalted regions. The hero only ceases to be a
hero to his valet if he is too lofty-minded to enter into the
workings of his valet's mind, and cannot duly appraise the quality
of his services.

And then, too, to go back a little, there are certain defects,
after all, which are appropriate at different times of life. A
certain degree of shyness and even awkwardness is not at all a
disagreeable thing--indeed it is rather a desirable quality--in the
young. A perfectly self-possessed and voluble young man arouses in
one a vague sense of hostility, unless it is accompanied by great
modesty and ingenuousness. The artless prattler, who, in his teens,
has an opinion on all subjects, and considers that opinion worth
expressing, is pleasant enough, and saves one some embarrassment;
but such people, alas, too often degenerate into the bores of later
life. If a man's opinion is eventually going to be worth anything,
he ought, I think, to pass through a tumultuous and even prickly
stage, when he believes that he has an opinion, but cannot find the
aplomb to formulate it. He ought to be feeling his way, to be in a
vague condition of revolt against what is conventional. This is
likely to be true not only in his dealings with his elders, but
also in his dealings with his contemporaries. Young people are apt
to regard a youthful doctrinaire, who has an opinion on everything,
with sincere abhorrence. He bores them, and to the young boredom is
not a condition of passive suffering, it is an acute form of
torture. Moreover, the stock of opinions which a young man holds
are apt to be parrot-cries repeated without any coherence from
talks overheard and books skimmed. But in a modest and ingenuous
youth, filled to the brim with eager interest and alert curiosity,
a certain deference is an adorable thing, one of the most delicate
of graces; and it is a delightful task for an older person, who
feels the sense of youthful charm, to melt stiffness away by kindly
irony and gentle provocation, as Socrates did with his sweet-
natured and modest boy-friends, so many centuries ago.

The aplomb of the young generally means complacency; but one who is
young and shy, and yet has the grace to think about the convenience
and pleasure of others, can be the most perfect companion in the
world. One has then a sense of the brave and unsophisticated
freshness of youth, that believes all things and hopes all things,
the bloom of which has not been rubbed away by the rough touch of
the world. It is only when that shyness is prolonged beyond the
appropriate years, when it leaves a well-grown and hard-featured
man gasping and incoherent, jerky and ungracious, that it is a
painful and disconcerting deformity. The only real shadow of early
shyness is the quite disproportionate amount of unhappiness that
conscious gaucherie brings with it. Two incidents connected with a
ceremony most fruitful in nervousness come back to my mind.

When I was an Eton boy, I was staying with a country squire, a most
courteous old gentleman with a high temper. The first morning, I
contrived to come down a minute or two late for prayers. There was
no chair for me. The Squire suspended his reading of the Bible with
a deadly sort of resignation, and made a gesture to the portly
butler. That functionary rose from his own chair, and with loudly
creaking boots carried it across the room for my acceptance. I sat
down, covered with confusion. The butler returned; and two footmen,
who were sitting on a little form, made reluctant room for him. The
butler sat down on one end of the form, unfortunately before his
equipoise, the second footman, had taken his place at the other
end. The result was that the form tipped up, and a cataract of
flunkies poured down upon the floor. There was a ghastly silence;
then the Gadarene herd slowly recovered itself, and resumed its
place. The Squire read the chapter in an accent of suppressed fury,
while the remainder of the party, with handkerchiefs pressed to
their faces, made the most unaccountable sounds and motions for the
rest of the proceeding. I was really comparatively guiltless, but
the shadow of that horrid event sensibly clouded the whole of my

I was only a spectator of the other event. We had assembled for
prayers in the dimly-lighted hall of the house of a church
dignitary, and the chapter had begun, when a man of almost
murderous shyness, who was a guest, opened his bedroom door and
came down the stairs. Our host suspended his reading. The unhappy
man came down, but, instead of slinking to his place, went and
stood in front of the fire, under the impression that the
proceedings had not taken shape, and addressed some remarks upon
the weather to his hostess. In the middle of one of his sentences,
he suddenly divined the situation, on seeing the row of servants
sitting in a thievish corner of the hall. He took his seat with the
air of a man driving to the guillotine, and I do not think I ever
saw any one so much upset as he was for the remainder of his stay.
Of course it may be said that a sense of humour should have saved a
man from such a collapse of moral force, but a sense of humour
requires to be very strong to save a man from the sense of having
made a conspicuous fool of himself.

I would add one more small reminiscence, of an event from which I
can hardly say with honesty that I have yet quite recovered,
although it took place nearly thirty years ago. I went, as a
schoolboy, with my parents, to stay at a very big country house,
the kind of place to which I was little used, where the advent of a
stately footman to take away my clothes in the morning used to fill
me with misery. The first evening there was a big dinner-party. I
found myself sitting next my delightful and kindly hostess, my
father being on the other side of her. All went well till dessert,
when an amiable, long-haired spaniel came to my side to beg of me.
I had nothing but grapes on my plate, and purely out of compliment
I offered him one. He at once took it in his mouth, and hurried to
a fine white fur rug in front of the hearth, where he indulged in
some unaccountable convulsions, rolling himself about and growling
in an ecstasy of delight. My host, an irascible man, looked round,
and then said: "Who the devil has given that dog a grape?" He added
to my father, by way of explanation, "The fact is that if he can
get hold of a grape, he rolls it on that rug, and it is no end of a
nuisance to get the stain out." I sat crimson with guilt, and was
just about to falter out a confession, when my hostess looked up,
and, seeing what had happened, said, "It was me, Frank--I forgot
for the moment what I was doing." My gratitude for this angelic
intervention was so great that I had not even the gallantry to own
up, and could only repay my protectress with an intense and lasting
devotion. I have no doubt that she explained matters afterwards to
our host; and I contrived to murmur my thanks later in the evening.
But the shock had been a terrible one, and taught me not only
wisdom, but the Christian duty of intervening, if I could, to save
the shy from their sins and sufferings.

"Taught by the Power that pities me,
I learn to pity them."

But the consideration that emerges from these reminiscences is the
somewhat bewildering one, that shyness is a thing which seems to be
punished, both by immediate discomfort and by subsequent fantastic
remorse, far more heavily than infinitely more serious moral
lapses. The repentance that follows sin can hardly be more poignant
than the agonising sense of guilt which steals over the waking
consciousness on the morning that follows some such social lapse.
In fact it must be confessed that most of us dislike appearing
fools far more than we dislike feeling knaves; so that one wonders
whether one does not dread the ridicule and disapproval of society
more than one dreads the sense of a lapse from morality; the
philosophical outcome of which would seem to be that the verdict of
society upon our actions is at the base of morality. We may feel
assured that the result of moral lapses will ultimately be that we
shall have to face the wrath of our Creator; but one hopes that
side by side with justice will be found a merciful allowance for
the force of temptation. But the final judgment is in any case not
imminent, while the result of a social lapse is that we have to
continue to face a disapproving and even a contemptuous circle, who
will remember our failure with malicious pleasure, and whose sense
of justice will not be tempered by any appreciable degree of mercy.
Here again is a discouraging circumstance, that when we call to
mind some similarly compromising and grotesque adventure in the
life of one of our friends, in spite of the fact that we well know
the distress that the incident must have caused him, we still
continue to hug, and even to repeat, our recollection of the
occasion with a rich sense of joy. Is it that we do not really
desire the peace and joy of others? It would seem so. How many of
us are not conscious of feeling extremely friendly and helpful when
our friend is in sorrow, or difficulty, or discredit, and yet of
having no taste for standing by and applauding when our friend is
joyful and successful! There is nothing, it seems, that we can
render to our friend in the latter case, except the praise of which
he has already had enough!

It seems then that the process of anatomising the nature and
philosophy of shyness only ends in stripping off, one by one, as
from an onion, the decent integuments of the human spirit, and
revealing it every moment more and more in its native rankness. Let
me forbear, consoling myself with the thought that the qualities of
human beings are not meant to be taken up one by one, like coins
from a tray, and scrutinised; but that what matters is the general
effect, the blending, the grouping, the mellowed surface, the
warped line. I was only yesterday in an old church, where I saw an
ancient font-cover--a sort of carved extinguisher--and some dark
panels of a rood-screen. They had been, both cover and panels,
coarsely and brightly painted and gilt; and, horrible to reflect,
it flashed upon me that they must have once been both glaring and
vulgar. Yet to-day the dim richness of the effect, the dints, the
scaling-off of the flakes, the fading of the pigment, the dulling
of the gold, were incomparable; and I began to wonder if perhaps
that was not what happened to us in life; and that though we
foolishly regretted the tarnishing of the bright surfaces of soul
and body with our passions and tempers and awkwardnesses and
feeblenesses, yet perhaps it was, after all, that we were taking on
an unsuspected beauty, and making ourselves fit, some far-off day,
for the Communion of Saints!



It is often said that the Anglo-Saxon races suffer from a lack of
ideals, that they do not hold enough things sacred. But there is
assuredly one thing which the most elementary and barbarous Anglo-
Saxon holds sacred, beyond creed and Decalogue and fairplay and
morality, and that is property. At inquests, for instance, it may
be noted how often inquiries are solicitously made, not whether the
deceased had religious difficulties or was disappointed in love,
but whether he had any financial worries. We hold our own property
to be very sacred indeed, and our respect for other men's rights in
the matter is based on the fact that we wish our own rights to be
respected. If I were asked what other ideals were held widely
sacred in England and America I should find it very difficult to
reply. I think that there is a good deal of interest taken in
America in education and culture; whereas in England I do not
believe that there is very much interest taken in either; almost
the only thing which is valued in England, romantically, and with a
kind of enthusiasm, besides property, is social distinction; the
democracy in England is sometimes said to be indignant at the
existence of so much social privilege; the word "class" is said to
be abhorrent to the democrat; but the only classes that he detests
are the classes above him in the social scale, and the democrat is
extremely indignant if he is assigned to a social station which he
considers to be below his own. I have met democrats who despise and
contemn the social tradition of the so-called upper classes, but I
have never met a democrat who is not much more infuriated if it is
supposed that he has not social traditions of his own vastly
superior to the social traditions of the lowest grade of precarious
mendicity. The reason why socialism has never had any great hold in
England is because equality is only a word, and in no sense a real
sentiment in England. The reason why members of the lowest class in
England are not as a rule convinced socialists is because their one
ambition is to become members of the middle-class, and to have
property of their own; and while the sense of personal possession
is so strong as it is, no socialism worthy of the name has a
chance. It is possible for any intelligent, virtuous, and capable
member of the lower class to transfer himself to the middle class;
and once there he does not favour any system of social equality.
Socialism can never prevail as a political system, until we get a
majority of disinterested men, who do not want to purchase freedom
from daily work by acquiring property, and who desire the
responsibility rather than the influence of administrative office.
But administrative office is looked upon in England as an important
if indirect factor in acquiring status and personal property for
oneself and one's friends.

I am myself a sincere believer in socialism; that is to say, I do
not question the right of society to deprive me of my private
property if it chooses to do so. It does choose to do so to a
certain extent through the medium of the income-tax. Such property
as I possess has, I think it as well to state, been entirely
acquired by my own exertions. I have never inherited a penny, or
received any money except what I have earned. I am quite willing to
admit that my work was more highly paid than it deserved; but I
shall continue to cling tenaciously to that property until I am
convinced that it will be applied for the benefit of every one; I
should not think it just if it was taken from me for the benefit of
the idle and incompetent; and I should be reluctant to part with it
unless I felt sure that it would pass into the hands of those who
are as just-minded and disinterested as myself, and be fairly
administered. I should not think it just if it were taken from me
by people who intended to misuse it, as I have misused it, for
their own personal gratification.

It was made a matter of merriment in the case of William Morris
that he preached the doctrines of socialism while he was a
prosperous manufacturer; but I see that he was perfectly
consistent. There is no justice, for instance, about the principle
of disarmament, unless all nations loyally disarm at the same time.
A person cannot be called upon to strip himself of his personal
property for disinterested reasons, if he feels that he is
surrounded by people who would use the spoils for their own
interest. The process must be carried out by a sincere majority,
who may then coerce the selfish minority. I have no conception what
I should do with my money if I determined that I ought not to
possess it. It ought not to be applied to any public purpose,
because under a socialist regime all public institutions would be
supported by the public, and they ought not to depend upon private
generosity. Still less do I think that it ought to be divided among
individuals, because, if they were disinterested persons, they
ought to refuse to accept it. The only good reason I should have
for disencumbering myself of my possessions would be that I might
set a good example of the simple life, by working hard for a
livelihood, which is exactly what I do; and my only misfortune is
that my earnings and the interest of my accumulated earnings
produce a sum which is far larger than the average man ought to
possess. Thus the difficulty is a very real one. Moreover the evil
of personal property is that it tends to emphasise class-
distinctions and to give the possessors of it a sense of undue
superiority. Now I am democratic enough to maintain that I have no
sense whatever of personal superiority. I do not allow my
possession of property to give me a life of vacuous amusement, for
the simple reason that my work amuses me far more than any other
form of occupation, If it is asked why I tend to live by preference
among what may be called my social equals, I reply that the only
people one is at ease with are the people whose social traditions
are the same as one's own, for the simple reason that one does not
then have to think about social traditions at all. I do not think
my social traditions are better than the social traditions of any
other stratum of society, whether it be described as above or below
my own; all I would say is that they are different from the social
traditions of other strata, and I much prefer to live without
having to consider such matters at all. The manners of the upper
middle-class to which scientifically I belong, are different from
the manners of the upper, lower-middle, and lower class, and I feel
out of my element in the upper class, just as I feel out of my
element in the lower class. Of course if I were perfectly simple-
minded and sincere, this would not be so; but, as it is, I am at
ease with professional persons of my own standing; I understand
their point-of-view without any need of explanation; in any class
but my own, I am aware of the constant strain of trying to grasp
another point-of-view; and to speak frankly, it is not worth the
trouble. I do not at all desire to migrate out of my own class, and
I have never been able to sympathise with people who did. The
motive for doing so is not generally a good one, though it is of
course possible to conceive a high-minded aristocrat who from
motives based upon our common humanity might desire to apprehend
the point-of-view of an artisan, or a high-minded artisan who for
the same motive desired to apprehend the point-of-view of an earl.
But one requires to feel sure that this is based upon a strong
sense of charity and responsibility, and I can only say that I have
not found that the desire to migrate into a different class is
generally based upon these qualities.

The question is, what ought a man who believes sincerely in the
principle of equality to do in the matter, if he is situated as I
am situated? What I admire and desire in life is friendly contact
with my fellows, interesting work, leisure for following the
pursuits I enjoy, such as art and literature. I honestly confess
that I am not interested in what are called Social Problems, or
rather I am not at all interested in the sort of people who study
them. Such problems have hardly reached the vital stage; they are
in the highly technical stage, and are mixed up with such things as
political economy, politics, organisation, and so forth, which, to
be perfectly frank, are to me blighting and dreary objects of
study. I honour profoundly the people who engage in such pursuits;
but life is not long enough to take up work, however valuable, from
a sense of duty, if one realises one's own unfitness for such
labours. I wish with all my heart that all classes cared equally
for the things which I love. I should like to be able to talk
frankly and unaffectedly about books, and interesting people, and
the beauties of nature, and abstract topics of a mild kind, with
any one I happened to meet. But, as a rule, to speak frankly, I
find that people of what I must call the lower class are not
interested in these things; people in what I will call the upper
class are faintly interested, in a horrible and condescending way,
in them--which is worse than no interest at all. A good many people
in my own class are impatient of them, and think of them as
harmless recreations; I fall back upon a few like-minded friends,
with whom I can talk easily and unreservedly of such things,
without being thought priggish or donnish or dilettanteish or
unintelligible. The subjects in which I find the majority of people
interested are personal gossip, money, success, business, politics.
I love personal gossip, but that can only be enjoyed in a circle
well acquainted with each other's faults and foibles; and I do not
sincerely care for talking about the other matters I have
mentioned. Hitherto I have always had a certain amount of
educational responsibility, and that has furnished an abundance of
material for pleasant talk and interesting thoughts; but then I
have always suffered from the Anglo-Saxon failing of disliking
responsibility except in the case of those for whom one's efforts
are definitely pledged on strict business principles. I cannot
deliberately assume a sense of responsibility towards people in
general; to do that implies a sense of the value of one's own
influence and example, which I have never possessed; and, indeed, I
have always heartily disliked the manifestation of it in others.
Indeed, I firmly believe that the best and most fruitful part of a
man's influence, is the influence of which he is wholly
unconscious; and I am quite sure that no one who has a strong sense
of responsibility to the world in general can advance the cause of
equality, because such a sense implies at all events a
consciousness of moral superiority. Moreover, my educational
experience leads me to believe that one cannot do much to form
character. The most one can do is to guard the young against
pernicious influences, and do one's best to recommend one's own
disinterested enthusiasms. One cannot turn a violet into a rose by
any horticultural effort; one can only see that the violet or the
rose has the best chance of what is horribly called self-

My own belief is that these great ideas like Equality and Justice
are things which, like poetry, are born and cannot be made. That a
number of earnest people should be thinking about them shows that
they are in the air; but the interest felt in them is the sign and
not the cause of their increase. I believe that one must go
forwards, trying to avoid anything that is consciously harsh or
pompous or selfish or base, and the great ideas will take care of

The two great obvious difficulties which seem to me to lie at the
root of all schemes for producing a system of social equality are
first the radical inequality of character, temperament, and
equipment in human beings. No system can ever hope to be a
practical system unless we can eliminate the possibility of
children being born, some of them perfectly qualified for life and
citizenship, and others hopelessly disqualified. If such
differences were the result of environment it would be a remediable
thing. But one can have a strong, vigorous, naturally temperate
child born and brought up under the meanest and most sordid
conditions, and, on the other hand, a thoroughly worthless and
detestable person may be the child of high-minded, well-educated
people, with every social advantage. My work as a practical
educationalist enforced this upon me. One would find a boy, born
under circumstances as favourable for the production of virtue and
energy as any socialistic system could provide, who was really only
fitted for the lowest kind of mechanical work, and whose instincts
were utterly gross. Even if the State could practise a kind of
refined Mendelism, it would be impossible to guard against the
influences of heredity. If one traces back the hereditary
influences of a child for ten generations, it will be found that he
has upwards of two thousand progenitors, any one of whom may give
him a bias.

And secondly, I cannot see that any system of socialism is
consistent with the system of the family. The parents in a
socialistic state can only be looked upon as brood stock, and the
nurture of the rising generation must be committed to some State
organisation, if one is to secure an equality of environing
influences. Of course, this is done to a certain extent by the
boarding-schools of the upper classes; and here again my experience
has shown me that the system, though a good one for the majority,
is not the best system invariably for types with marked
originality--the very type that one most desires to propagate.

These are, of course, very crude and elementary objections to the
socialistic scheme; all that I say is that until these difficulties
seem more capable of solution, I cannot throw myself with any
interest into the speculation; I cannot continue in the path of
logical deduction, while the postulates and axioms remain so

What then can a man who has resources that he cannot wisely dispose
of, and happiness that he cannot impart to others, but yet who
would only too gladly share his gladness with the world, do to
advance the cause of the general weal? Must he plunge into
activities for which he has no aptitude or inclination, and which
have as their aim objects for which he does not think that the
world is ripe? Every one will remember the figure of Mrs. Pardiggle
in Bleak House, that raw-boned lady who enjoyed hard work, and did
not know what it was to be tired, who went about rating inefficient
people, and "boned" her children's pocket-money for charitable
objects. It seems to me that many of the people who work at social
reforms do so because, like Mrs. Pardiggle, they enjoy hard work
and love ordering other people about. In a society wisely and
rationally organised, there would be no room for Mrs. Pardiggle at
all; the question is whether things must first pass through the
Pardiggle stage. I do not in my heart believe it. Mrs. Pardiggle
seems to me to be not part of the cure of the disease, but rather
one of the ugliest of its symptoms. I think that she is on the
wrong tack altogether, and leading other people astray. I do know
some would-be social reformers, whom I respect and commiserate with
all my heart, who see what is amiss, and have no idea how to mend
it, and who lose themselves, like Hamlet, in a sort of hopeless
melancholy about it all, with a deep-seated desire to give others a
kind of happiness which they ought to desire, but which, as a
matter of fact, they do not desire. Such men are often those upon
whom early youth broke, like a fresh wave, with an incomparable
sense of rapture, in the thought of all the beauty and loveliness
of nature and art; and who lived for a little in a Paradise of
delicious experiences and fine emotions, believing that there must
be some strange mistake, and that every one must in reality desire
what seemed so utterly desirable; and then, as life went on, there
fell upon these the shadow of the harsh facts of life; the
knowledge that the majority of the human race had no part or lot in
such visions, but loved rather food and drink and comfort and money
and rude mirth; who did not care a pin what happened to other
people, or how frail and suffering beings spent their lives, so
long as they themselves were healthy and jolly. Then that shadow
deepens and thickens, until the sad dreamers do one of two things--
either immure themselves in a tiny scented garden of their own, and
try to drown the insistent noises without; or, on the other hand,
if they are of the nobler sort, lose heart and hope, and even
forfeit their own delight in things that are sweet and generous and
pleasant and pure. A mournful and inextricable dilemma!

Perhaps one or two of such visionaries, who are made of sterner
stuff, have deliberately embarked, hopefully and courageously, upon

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