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First and Last by H. Belloc

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called "The Sign of the Moon." It has disappeared. There used to be a
ramshackle windmill beyond the field, a mile or so from the road, on an
upland swell of land, but that also has gone, and had been gone for some
time before I knew the field of which I write. It is a bare fold of land
with one or two little scrubby spinneys alongside the plough. And for
the rest, just the brown earth and the sky. There are days on which you
will see a man at work somewhere within that mile, others on which it is
completely deserted. Here it is that the French Revolution was
preserved. Here was the Prussian charge. On the deserted, ugly lump of
empty earth beyond you were the three batteries that checked the
invaders. It was all alive and crowded for one intense moment with the
fate of Christendom. Here, on the place in which you are standing and
gazing, young Goethe stood and gazed. That meaningless stretch of coarse
grass supported Brunswick and the King of Prussia, and the brothers of
the King of France, as they stood windswept in the rain, watching the
failure of the charge. It is the field of Valmy. Turn on that height and
look back westward and you see the plains rolling out infinitely; they
are the plains upon which Attila was crushed; but there is no one there.

All men have remarked that night and silence are august, and I think
that if this quality in night and silence be closely examined it will be
found to consist, in part at least, in this: that either of them
symbolizes Absence. By a paradox which I will not attempt to explain,
but which all have felt, it is in silence and in darkness that the Past
most vividly returns, and that this absence of what once was possesses,
nay, obtrudes itself upon the mind: it becomes almost a sensible thing.
There is much to be said for those who pretend, imagine, or perhaps have
experienced under such conditions the return of the dead. The mood of
darkness and of silence is a mood crammed with something that does not
remain, as space remains, that is limited by time, and is a creature of
time, and yet something that has an immortal right to remain.

Now, I suppose that in that sentence where I say things mortal have
immortal rights to permanence, the core of the whole business is touched
upon. And I suppose that the great men who could really think and did
not merely fire off fireworks to dazzle their contemporaries--I suppose
that Descartes, for instance, if he were here sitting at my table--could
help me to solve that contradiction; but I sit and think and cannot
solve it.

"What," says the man upon his own land, inherited perhaps and certainly
intended for his posterity--"what! Can you separate me from this? Are
not this and I bound up inextricably?" The answer is "No; you are not so
far as any observer of this world can discover. Space is in no way
possessed by man, and he who may render a site immortal in one of our
various ways, the captain who there conquered, the poet who there
established his sequence of words, cannot himself put forward a claim to
permanence within it at all."

There was a woman of charming vivacity, whose eyes were ever ready for
laughter, and whose tone of address of itself provoked the noblest of
replies. Many loved her; all admired. She passed (I will suppose) by
this street or by that; she sat at table in such and such a house;
Gainsborough painted her; and all that time ago there were men who had
the luck to meet her and to answer her laughter with their own. And the
house where she moved is there and the street in which she walked, and
the very furniture she used and touched with her hands you may touch
with your hands. You shall come into the rooms that she inhabited, and
there you shall see her portrait, all light and movement and grace and

She is gone altogether, the voice will never return, the gestures will
never be seen again. She was under a law; she changed, she suffered, she
grew old, she died; and there was her place left empty. The not living
things remain; but what counted, what gave rise to them, what made them
all that they are, has pitifully disappeared, and the greater, the
infinitely greater, thing was subject to a doom perpetually of change
and at last of vanishing. The dead surroundings are not subject to such
a doom. Why?

All those boys who held the line of the low ridge or rather swell of
land from Hougoumont through the Belle Alliance have utterly gone. More
than dust goes, more than wind goes; they will never be seen again.
Their voices will never be heard--they are not. But what is the mere
soil of the field without them? What meaning has it save for their

I could wish to understand these things.

St. Patrick

If there is one thing that people who are not Catholic have gone wrong
upon more than another in the intellectual things of life, it is the
conception of a Personality. They are muddled about it where their own
little selves are concerned, they misappreciate it when they deal with
the problems of society, and they have a very weak hold of it when they
consider (if they do consider) the nature of Almighty God.

Now, personality is everything. It was a Personal Will that made all
things, visible and invisible. Our hope of immortality resides in this,
that we are persons, and half our frailties proceed from a
misapprehension of the awful responsibilities which personality involves
or a cowardly ignorance of its powers of self-government.

The hundred and one errors which this main error leads to include a bad
error on the nature of history. Your modern non-Catholic or
anti-Catholic historian is always misunderstanding, underestimating, or
muddling the role played in the affairs of men by great and individual
Personalities. That is why he is so lamentably weak upon the function of
legend; that is why he makes a fetish of documentary evidence and has no
grip upon the value of tradition. For traditions spring from some
personality invariably, and the function of legend, whether it be a
rigidly true legend or one tinged with make-believe, is to interpret
Personality. Legends have vitality and continue, because in their origin
they so exactly serve to explain or illustrate some personal character
in a man which no cold statement could give.

Now St. Patrick, the whole story and effect of him, is a matter of
Personality. There was once--twenty or thirty years ago--a whole school
of dunderheads who wondered whether St. Patrick ever existed, because
the mass of legends surrounding his name troubled them. How on earth
(one wonders) do such scholars consider their fellow-beings! Have they
ever seen a crowd cheering a popular hero, or noticed the expression
upon men's faces when they spoke of some friend of striking power
recently dead? A great growth of legends around a man is the very best
proof you could have not only of his existence but of the fact that he
was an origin and a beginning, and that things sprang from his will or
his vision. There were some who seemed to think it a kind of favour done
to the indestructible body of Irish Catholicism when Mr. Bury wrote his
learned Protestant book upon St. Patrick. It was a critical and very
careful bit of work, and was deservedly praised; but the favour done us
I could not see! It is all to the advantage of non-Catholic history that
it should be sane, and that a great Protestant historian should make
true history out of a great historical figure was a very good sign. It
was a long step back towards common sense compared with the German
absurdities which had left their victims doubting almost all the solid
foundation of the European story; but as for us Catholics, we had no
need to be told it. Not only was there a St. Patrick in history, but
there is a St. Patrick on the shores of his eastern sea and throughout
all Ireland to-day. It is a presence that stares you in the face, and
physically almost haunts you. Let a man sail along the Leinster coast on
such a day as renders the Wicklow Mountains clear up-weather behind him,
and the Mourne Mountains perhaps in storm, lifted clearly above the sea
down the wind. He is taking some such course as that on which St.
Patrick sailed, and if he will land from time to time from his little
boat at the end of each day's sailing, and hear Mass in the morning
before he sails further northward, he will know in what way St. Patrick
inhabits the soil which he rendered sacred.

We know that among the marks of holiness is the working of miracles.
Ireland is the greatest miracle any saint ever worked. It is a miracle
and a nexus of miracles. Among other miracles it is a nation raised from
the dead.

The preservation of the Faith by the Irish is an historical miracle
comparable to nothing else in Europe. There never was, and please God
never can be, so prolonged and insanely violent a persecution of men by
their fellow-men as was undertaken for centuries against the Faith in
Ireland: and it has completely failed. I know of no example in history
of failure following upon such effort. It had behind it in combination
the two most powerful of the evil passions of men, terror and greed. And
so amazing is it that they did not attain their end, that perpetually as
one reads one finds the authors of the dreadful business now at one
period, now at another, assuming with certitude that their success is
achieved. Then, after centuries, it is almost suddenly perceived--and in
our own time--that it has not been achieved and never will be.

What a complexity of strange coincidences combined, coming out of
nothing as it were, advancing like spirits summoned on to the stage, all
to effect this end! Think of the American Colonies; with one little
exception they were perhaps the most completely non-Catholic society of
their time. Their successful rebellion against the mother country meant
many things, and led to many prophecies. Who could have guessed that one
of its chief results would be the furnishing of a free refuge for the

The famine, all human opinion imagined, and all human judgment was bound
to conclude, was a mortal wound, coming in as the ally of the vile
persecution I have named. It has turned out the very contrary. From it
there springs indirectly the dispersion, and that power which comes from
unity in dispersion, of Irish Catholicism.

Who, looking at the huge financial power that dominated Europe, and
England in particular, during the youth of our own generation, could
have dreamt that in any corner of Europe, least of all in the poorest
and most ruined corner of Christendom, an effective resistance could be

Behind the enemies of Ireland, furnishing them with all their modern
strength, was that base and secret master of modern things, the usurer.
He it was far more than the gentry of the island who demanded toll, and,
through the mortgages on the Irish estates, had determined to drain
Ireland as he has drained and rendered desert so much else. Is it not a
miracle that he has failed?

Ireland is a nation risen from the dead; and to raise one man from the
dead is surely miraculous enough to convince one of the power of a great
spirit. This miracle, as I am prepared to believe, is the last and the
greatest of St. Patrick's.

When I was last in Ireland, I bought in the town of Wexford a coloured
picture of St. Patrick which greatly pleased me. Most of it was green in
colour, and St. Patrick wore a mitre and had a crosier in his hand. He
was turning into the sea a number of nasty reptiles: snakes and toads
and the rest. I bought this picture because it seemed to me as modern a
piece of symbolism as ever I had seen: and that was why I bought it for
my children and for my home.

There was a few pence change, but I did not want it. The person who sold
me the picture said they would spend the change in candles for St.
Patrick's altar. So St. Patrick is still alive.

The Lost Things

I never remember an historian yet, nor a topographer either, who could
tell me, or even pretend to explain by a theory, how it was that certain
things of the past utterly and entirely disappear.

It is a commonplace that everything is subject to decay, and a
commonplace which the false philosophy of our time is too apt to forget.
Did we remember that commonplace we should be a little more humble in
our guesswork, especially where it concerns prehistory; and we should
not make so readily certain where the civilization of Europe began, nor
limit its immense antiquity. But though it is a commonplace, and a true
one, that all human work is subject to decay, there seems to be an
inexplicable caprice in the method and choice of decay.

Consider what a body of written matter there must have been to instruct
and maintain the technical excellence of Roman work. What a mass of
books on engineering and on ship-building and on road-making; what
quantities of tables and ready-reckoners, all that civilization must
have produced and depended upon. Time has preserved much verse, and not
only the best by any means, more prose, particularly the theological
prose of the end of the Roman time. The technical stuff, which must, in
the nature of things, have been indefinitely larger in amount, has (save
in one or two instances and allusions) gone.

Consider, again, all that mass of seven hundred years which was called
Carthage. It was not only seven hundred years of immense wealth, of
oligarchic government, of a vast population, and of what so often goes
with commerce and oligarchy--civil and internal peace. A few stones to
prove the magnitude of its municipal work, a few ornaments, a few
graves--all the rest is absolutely gone. A few days' marches away there
is an example I have quoted so often elsewhere that I am ashamed of
referring to it again, but it does seem to me the most amazing example
of historical loss in the world. It is the site of Hippo Regius. Here
was St. Augustine's town, one of the greatest and most populous of a
Roman province. It was so large that an army of eighty thousand men
could not contain it, and even with such a host its siege dragged on for
a year. There is not a sign of that great town today.

A suburb, well without the walls--to be more accurate, a neighbouring
village--carries on the name under the form of Bona, and that is all. A
vast, fertile plain of black rich earth, now largely planted with
vineyards, stands where Hippo stood. How can the stones have gone? How
can it have been worth while to cart away the marble columns? Why are
there no broken statues on such a ground, and no relics of the gods?

Nay, the wells are stopped up from which the people drank, and the
lining of the wells is not to be discovered in the earth, and the
foundations of the walls, and even the ornaments of the people and their
coins, all these have been spirited away.

Then there are the roads. Consider that great road which reached from
Amiens to the main port of Gaul, the Portus Itius at Boulogne. It is
still in use. It was in use throughout the Middle Ages. Up that road the
French Army marched to Crecy. It points straight to its goal upon the
sea coast. Its whole purpose lay in reaching the goal. For some
extraordinary reason, which I have never seen explained or even guessed
at, there comes a point as it nears the coast where it suddenly ceases
to be.

No sand has blown over it. It runs through no marshes; the land is firm
and fertile. Why should that, the most important section of the great
road which led northward from Rome, have failed, and have failed so
recently, in the history of man? Where this great road crosses streams
and might reasonably be lost, at its _pontes_, its bridges, it has
remained, and is of such importance as to have given a name to a whole
countryside--_Ponthieu_. But north of that it is gone.

Nearly every Roman road of Gaul and Britain presents something of the
same puzzle in some parts of its course. It will run clear and
followable enough, or form a modern highway for mile upon mile, and then
not at a marsh where one would expect its disappearance, nor in some
desolate place where it might have fallen out of use, but in the
neighbourhood of a great city and at the very chief of its purpose, it
is gone. It is so with the Stane Street that led up from the garrison of
Chichester and linked it with the garrison of London. You can
reconstruct it almost to a yard until you reach Epsom Downs. There you
find it pointing to London Bridge, and remaining as clear as in any
other part of its course: much clearer than in most other sections. But
try to follow it on from Epsom Racecourse, and you entirely fail. The
soil is the same; the conditions of that soil are excellent for its
retention; but a year's work has taught me that there is no
reconstructing it save by hypothesis and guesswork from this point to
the crossing of the Thames.

What happened to all that mass of local documents whereby we ought to be
able to build up the territorial scheme and the landed regime of old
France? Much remains, if you will, in the shape of chance charters and
family papers. Even in the archives of Paris you can get enough to whet
your curiosity. But not even in one narrow district can you obtain
enough to reconstruct the whole truth. There is not a scholar in Europe
who can tell you exactly how land was owned and held, even, let us say,
on the estates of Rheims or by the family of Conde. And men are ready to
quarrel as to how many peasants owned and how much of their present
ownership was due to the Revolution, evidence has already become so
wholly imperfect in that tiny stretch of historical time.

But, after all, perhaps one ought not to wonder too much that material
things should thus capriciously vanish. Time, which has secured Timgad
so that it looks like an unroofed city of yesterday, has swept and razed
Laimboesis. The two towns were neighbours--one was taken and the other
left--and there is no sort of reason any man can give for it. Perhaps
one ought not too much to wonder, for a greater wonder still is the
sudden evaporation and loss of the great movements of the human soul.
That what our ancestors passionately believed or passionately disputed
should, by their descendants in one generation or in two, become
meaningless, absurd, or false--this is the greatest marvel and the
greatest tragedy of all.

On the Reading of History

Let me at the beginning of this short article present two facts to the
reader. Neither can be disputed, and that is why I call them facts and
put them in the forefront before I begin upon my theories.

The first fact is that the record of what men have done in the past and
how they have done it is the chief positive guide to present action. The
second fact is that most men must now receive the impression of the past
through reading.

Put these two facts together and you get the fundamental truth that upon
the right reading of history the right use of citizenship in England
today will depend. It will of course depend upon other things as well:
chiefly upon the human conscience; for if you were to pack off to an
island a hundred families as ignorant as any human families can be of
tradition, and wholly ignorant of positive history, those families would
yet be able to create a human society and the voice of God within them
would give just limits to their actions.

Still, of those factors in civic action amenable to civic direction,
conscious and positively effective, there is nothing to compare with the
right teaching and the right reading of history. Now teaching is today
ruined. The old machinery by which the whole nation could be got to know
all essential human things, has been destroyed, and the teaching of
history in particular has been not only ruined but rendered ridiculous.
There is no historical school properly so-called in modern England; that
is, there is no organization framed with the sole object of extending
and co-ordinating historical knowledge and of choosing men for their
capacity to discover upon the one hand and to teach upon the other.
There is nothing approaching to it in the two ancient universities,
because the choice of teachers there depends upon a multitude of
considerations quite separate from those mentioned, and the capacity to
discover, to know, and to teach history, though it _may_ be present
in a tutor, will only be accidentally so present: while as for
co-ordination of knowledge, there is no attempt at it. Even where very
hard work is done, and, when it concerns local history, very useful
work, history as a general study is not grasped because the universities
have not grasped it.

History is to be had by the modern Englishman from his own reading only;
and I am here concerned with the question how he shall read history with

To read history with profit, history must be true, or at any rate the
reader must have a power of discerning what is true in the midst of much
that may be false. I will bargain, for instance, that in the summer of
1899 the great mass of men, and especially the great mass of men who had
passed through the universities, were under the impression that armies
had left England for the purpose of conquest in distant countries with
invariable success: that that success had been unique, unsupported and
always decisive, and that the wealth of the country after each success
had increased, not diminished. In other words, had history been studied
even by the tiny minority who have education today in England, Sir
William Butler would have counted more than the Joels, and the late Mr.
Barnato (as he called himself); the South African War would not have
taken place in a society which knew its past.

Again, you may pick almost any phrase referring to the Middle Ages out
of any newspaper--if you are a man read in the Middle Ages--and you will
find in it not only a definite historical falsehood with regard to the
fact referred to, or the analogy drawn, but also a false philosophy.

For instance, the other day I read this phrase with regard to the burial
of a certain gentleman of my neighbourhood in Sussex: "We are surely
past the phase of mediaeval thought in which it was imagined that a few
words spoken over the lifeless clay would determine the fate of the soul
for all eternity." Just notice the myriad falsehoods of a phrase like
that! I will not discuss what is connoted by the words "past the phase
of mediaeval thought"--it connotes of course that the human mind changes
fundamentally with the centuries, and therefore that whatever we think
is probably wrong, and that what we are sure of we cannot be sure of, an
absurd conclusion. I will only note the historical falsehoods. When on
earth did the "Middle Ages" lay down that a "few words over lifeless
clay determined the fate of the soul for all eternity"? On the contrary,
the Middle Ages laid it down--it was their peculiar doctrine--that it
was impossible to determine the fate of the soul; that no one could tell
the fate of any one individual soul; that it was a grievous sin, among
the most grievous of sins, to affirm positive knowledge that any
individual had lost his soul. More than this, the Middle Ages were
peculiar in their insistence upon the doctrine that a man might have
been very bad and might have had all the appearance of having lost his
soul so far as human judgment went, and yet was liable to a midway place
between salvation and damnation, and they affirmed that this midway
place did not lead to either fate but necessarily to salvation and to
salvation only.

Again, whatever could help the human soul to salvation was by the most
rigorous theological definition of the Middle Ages applicable only
before death. After death the fate of the soul was sealed, and the man
once dead, the "lifeless clay" (as the journalist put it--and the Middle
Ages was the only source from which he got the idea of clay at all),
whether it were that of a Pope or of some random highwayman, had no
effect whatsoever upon the fate of the soul. The greatest saint might
have offered the most solemn sacrifice on its behalf for years, and if
the soul were damned his sacrifice would have been of no avail.

I have taken this example absolutely at random. But the modern reader,
apart from sentences as clearly provocative of criticism as this, is
perpetually coming across references, allusions, and parallels which
take a certain course of human European and English history for granted.
How is he to distinguish when that course is rightly drawn from when it
is wrongly drawn?

Thus in some newspaper article written by an able man, and dealing, let
us say, with the territorial army, one might come across a sentence like
this: "Napoleon himself used troops so raw that they were actually
drilled on the march to the battlefield." That would be a perfectly true
statement. Any amount of criticism of it lies in connexion with Mr.
Haldane's scheme, but still it is a true piece of history. Napoleon did
get raw recruits into his battalions just before any one of his famous
marches began, and drill them on the way to victory. In the next column
of the newspaper the reader may be presented with a sentence like this:
"The captures of English by privateers in the Revolutionary War should
teach us what foreign cruisers can do."

There were plenty of captures by privateers in the Revolutionary Wars;
if I remember rightly, many many hundreds, all discreetly hidden from
the common or garden reader until party politics necessitated their
resurrection a hundred years after the event, but they have nothing
whatsoever to do with modern circumstances.

Both statements are true then, and yet one can be truthfully applied
today, while the other cannot.

How is the plain reader to distinguish between two historical truths,
one of which is a useful modern analogy, the other of which is a
ludicrously misleading one?

The reader, it would seem, has no criterion by which to distinguish what
has been withheld from him and what has been emphasized; he may, from
his knowledge of the historian's character or bias, stand upon his
guard, but he can do little more.

There is another difficulty. It is less subtle and less common, but it
exists. I mean brute lying. You do not often get the lie direct in
official history; it would be too dangerous a game to play in the face
of the critics, though some historians, and notably the French historian
Taine, have played it boldly enough, and have stated dogmatically, as
historical happenings, things that never happened and that they knew
never happened. But the plain or brute historical lie is more commonly
found in the pages of ephemeral journalism. Thus the other day, with
regard to the Budget, I saw some financial operation alluded to as
comparable with "the pulling out of Jews' teeth for money in the Middle
Ages." When did anyone in the Middle Ages pull out a Jew's teeth for
money? There is just one very doubtful story told about King John, and
that story is told without proof by one of John's worst enemies, in a
mass of other accusations many of which can be proved to be false.

Again, I turn to an Oxford History of the French Revolution, and I find
the remark that the massacres of September were organized by the men
from Marseilles. They were not organized by the men from Marseilles. The
men from Marseilles had nothing to do with them, and the fact has been
public property since the publication of Pollio and Marcel's monograph
twenty years ago.

What criterion can the ordinary reader choose when he is confronted by
difficulties of this sort? I will suggest to him one which seems to me
by far the most valuable. It is the reading of firsthand authorities. It
is all a matter of habit. When the original authorities upon which
history is based were difficult to get at, when few of those in foreign
tongues had been translated, and when those that had been published were
published in the most expensive form, the ordinary reader had to depend
upon an historian who would summarize for him the reading of another.
The ordinary reader was compelled to read secondary history or none. Now
secondary history is among the most valuable of literary efforts; where
evidence is slight, the judgment of an historian who knows from other
reading the general character of the period, is most valuable. Where
evidence is abundant, and therefore confusing, the historian used to the
selection and weighing of it performs a most valuable function. Still,
the reader who is not acquainted with original authorities does not
really know history and is at the mercy of whatever myth or tradition
may be handed to him in print.

We should remember that today, even in England, original authorities are
quite easy to get at. Two little books, for instance, occur to me out of
hundreds: Mr. Rait's book on Mary Stuart and Mr. Archer's on the Third
Crusade. In each of these the reader gets in a cheap form, in modern and
readable English, the kind of evidence upon which historians base their
history, and he can use that evidence in the light of his own knowledge
of human nature and his own judgment of human life.

Or again, if he wants to know what the Romans really knew or said they
knew about the German tribes who, as pirates, so greatly influenced the
history of England, let him get Mr. Rouse's edition of Grenewey's
translation of the Germania in Blackie's series of English texts; it
will only cost sixpence, and for that money he will get a bit of
Caesar's Gallic War and the Agricola as well. But the list nowadays is a
very long one, luckily, and the lay reader has only to choose what
period he would like to read up, and he will find for nearly every one
first-hand evidence ready, cheap and published in a readable modern
form. That he should take such first-hand evidence is the very best
advice that any honest historian can give.

The Victory

The study of history, like the exploration, the thorough exploration, of
any other field, leads one to perpetual novelties, miracles, and
unexpected things; and I, in the study of the revolutionary wars, came
across the story of a battle which completely possessed my spirit.

It would not be to my purpose here to give its name. It is not among the
most famous; it is not Waterloo, nor Leipsic, nor Austerlitz, nor even
Jemappes. The more I read into the night the more I perceived that upon
the issue of that struggle depended the fate of the modern world. So
completely did the notes of Carnot and a few private letters that had
been put before me absorb my attention that I will swear the bugle-calls
of those two days (for it was a two-days' struggle) sounded more clearly
in my ears than the rumble of the London streets, and, as this died out
with the advance of the night and the approach of morning, I was living
entirely upon that ridge in Flanders, watching, as a man watches an
arena, whether the new things or the old should be victorious. It was
the new that conquered.

From that evening I was determined to visit this place of which so far I
had but read, and to see how far it might agree with the vision I had
had of it, and to people actual fields with the ghosts of dead soldiers.
And for the better appreciation of the drama I chose the season and the
days on which the fight had been driven across that rolling land, and I
came there, as the Republicans had come, a little before the dawn.

The hillside was silent and deserted, more even than are commonly such
places, though silence and desertion seem the common atmosphere of all
the fields on which such fates have been decided. A man looking over
Carthage Bay, especially a man looking at those sodden pools that were
the sound harbours of Carthage, might be in an uninhabited world; and
the loop of the Trebbia is the same, and the edge of Fontenoy; and even
here in England that hillside looking south up which the Normans charged
at Battle is a quiet and a drowsy sort of place.... So it was here in

For two miles as I ascended by the little sunken lane which the extreme
right wing had followed in the last attack I saw neither man nor beast,
but only the same stubble of the same autumn fields, and the same colder
sun shining upon the empty uplands until I reached the crest where the
Hungarian and the Croat had met the charge, and had disputed the little
village for two hours--a dispute upon which hung your fate and mine and
that of Europe.

It was a tiny little village, seven or eight houses together and no
more, with a crazy little wooden steeple to its church all twisted awry,
large barns, and comfortable hedgerows of the Northern kind; and from it
one looked out westwards over an infinity of country, following low
crest after low crest, down on to the French plains. I went into the inn
of the place to drink, and found the cobbler there complaining that
wealth disturbed the natural equality of men. Then I wandered out,
pacing this point and that which I knew accurately from my maps, and
thinking of the noise of the war. Behind the little church, upon a
ramshackle green not large enough to pitch the stumps for single-wicket,
was the modest monument, a cock in bronze, crowing, and the word
"Victory" stamped into the granite of the pedestal; the whole thing, I
suppose, not ten feet high. The bronze was very well done; it savoured
strongly of Paris and looked odd in this abandoned little place. But
every time my eyes sank from the bronze, to look at some other point in
the landscape to identify the emplacement of such and such a battery or
the gully that had concealed the advance of such and such a troop, my
glance perpetually returned to that word "VICTORY," sculptured by itself
upon the stone. It was indeed a victory; it was a victory which, for its
huge unexpectedness, for the noise of it, for the length of time during
which it was in doubt, for its final success, there is no parallel, and
yet it is by no means among the famous battles of the world. And though
the French count it one among the thousand of their battles, I doubt
whether even in Paris most men would recognize it for the hammer-blow it
was. The men of the time hardly knew it, though Carnot guessed at it, and
now to-day in Sorbonne I think that regal fight is taking its true place.

So I went down the eight miles of front northward along the ridge; for
even that battle, a hundred and more years ago, had an extended front of
this kind. I recognized the tall majestic fringe of beeches from which
had issued the last of the Royalist regiments bearing for the last time
upon a European field the white flag of the Bourbon Monarchy; I came
beyond it to the combe fringed with its semicircle of underbrush in
which Coburg had massed his guns in the last effort to break the French
centre when his flank was turned. I came to the main highway, very
broad, straight, and paved, which cuts this battlefield in two, and then
beyond it to the central position whose capture had made the final
manoeuvre possible.

All Wednesday the Grenadiers, German, tall, padded, smart, and stout,
had held their ground. It was not until Thursday, and by noon, that they
were slowly driven up the hill by the ragged lads, the Gauls, shoeless,
some not in uniform at all, half-mutinous, drunk with pain and glory.
And I remembered, as the scene returned to me, that this battle, like so
many of the Revolution, had been a battle of men against boys; how grey
and veteran and trained in arms were the Austrians and the Prussians,
their allies, how strict in orders, how calm: and what children the
Terror had called up by force from the exhausted fields of remote French
provinces, to break them here against the frontier, like water against a

There was a little chap, twelve years old, a drummer; he had crept and
crawled by hedgerows till he found himself behind the line of those
volleying Grenadiers. There, "before his side," and breaking all rules,
he had sounded the roll of the charge. They cut him down and killed him,
and the roll of his drum ceased hard. A generation or more later,
digging for foundations at this spot, the builders of the Peace came
upon his bones, the little bones of a child heaped pell-mell with
skeletons of the fallen giants round him.

I went back into the town in whose defence the battle had been waged,
and there I saw again in bronze this little lad, head high and mouth
open, a-beating of his drum, and again the word "VICTORY."

All that effort was undertaken, all those young men and children killed,
for something that was to happen for the salvation of the world; it has
not come. All that iron resistance of the German line had been forged
and organized till it almost conquered, till it almost thwarted, the
Republic, and it also had been organized for the defence, and, as some
thought, for the salvation, of the world. Some great good was to have
come by the storming of that hill, or some great good by the defeat of
the impetuous charge. Well, the hill was stormed, and (if you will) at
Leipsic the effort which had stormed it was rolled back. What has
happened to the High Goddess whom that youth followed, and worshipped as
they say, and what to the Gods whom their enemies defended? The ridge is
exactly the same.


A couple of generations ago there was a sort of man going mournfully
about who complained of the spread of education. He had an ill-ease in
his mind. He feared that book learning would bring us no good, and he
was called a fool for his pains. Not undeservedly--for his thoughts were
muddled, and if his heart was good it was far better than his head. He
argued badly or he merely affirmed, but he had strong allies (Ruskin was
one of them), and, like every man who is sincere, there was something in
what he said; like every type which is numerous, there was a human
feeling behind him: and he was very numerous.

Now that he is pretty well extinct we are beginning to understand what
he meant and what there was to be said for him. The greatest of the
French Revolutionists was right--"After bread, the most crying need of
the populace is knowledge." But what knowledge?

The truth is that secondary impressions, impressions gathered from books
and from maps, are valuable as adjuncts to primary impressions (that is,
impressions gathered through the channel of our senses), or, what is
always almost as good and sometimes better, the interpreting voice of
the living man. For you must allow me the paradox that in some
mysterious way the voice and gesture of a living witness always convey
something of the real impression he has had, and sometimes convey more
than we should have received ourselves from our own sight and hearing of
the thing related.

Well, I say, these secondary impressions are valuable as adjuncts to
primary impressions. But when they stand absolute and have hardly any
reference to primary impressions, then they may deceive. When they stand
not only absolute but clothed with authority, and when they pretend to
convince us even against our own experience, they are positively undoing
the work which education was meant to do. When we receive them merely as
an enlargement of what we know and make of the unseen things of which we
read, things in the image of the seen, then they quite distort our
appreciation of the world.

Consider so simple a thing as a river. A child learns its map and knows,
or thinks it knows, that such and such rivers characterize such and such
nations and their territories. Paris stands upon the River Seine, Rome
upon the River Tiber, New Orleans on the Mississippi, Toledo upon the
River Tagus, and so forth. That child will know one river, the river
near his home. And he will think of all those other rivers in its image.
He will think of the Tagus and the Tiber and the Seine and the
Mississippi--and they will all be the river near his home. Then let him
travel, and what will he come across? The Seine, if he is from these
islands, may not disappoint him or astonish him with a sense of novelty
and of ignorance. It will indeed look grander and more majestic, seen
from the enormous forest heights above its lower course, than what,
perhaps, he had thought possible in a river, but still it will be a
river of water out of which a man can drink, with clear-cut banks and
with bridges over it, and with boats that ply up and down. But let him
see the Tagus at Toledo, and what he finds is brown rolling mud, pouring
solid after the rains, or sluggish and hardly a river after long
drought. Let him go down the Tiber, down the Valley of the Tiber, on
foot, and he will retain until the last miles an impression of nothing
but a turbid mountain torrent, mixed with the friable soil in its bed.
Let him approach the Mississippi in the most part of its long course and
the novelty will be more striking still. It will not seem to him a river
at all (if he be from Northern Europe); it will seem a chance flood. He
will come to it through marshes and through swamps, crossing a deserted
backwater, finding firm land beyond, then coming to further shallow
patches of wet, out of which the tree-stumps stand, and beyond which
again mud-heaps and banks and groups of reeds leave undetermined, for
one hundred yards after another, the limits of the vast stream. At last,
if he has a boat with him, he may make some place where he has a clear
view right across to low trees, tiny from their distance, similarly half
swamped upon a further shore, and behind them a low escarpment of bare
earth. That is the Mississippi nine times out of ten, and to an
Englishman who had expected to find from his early reading or his maps a
larger Thames it seems for all the world like a stretch of East Anglian
flood, save that it is so much more desolate.

The maps are coloured to express the claims of Governments. What do they
tell you of the social truth? Go on foot or bicycling through the more
populated upland belt of Algiers and discover the curious mixture of
security and war which no map can tell you of and which none of the
geographies make you understand. The excellent roads, trodden by men
that cannot make a road; the walls as ready loopholed for fighting; the
Christian church and the mosque in one town; the necessity for and the
hatred of the European; the indescribable difference of the sun, which
here, even in winter, has something malignant about it, and strikes as
well as warms; the mountains odd, unlike our mountains; the forests,
which stand as it were by hardihood, and seem at war against the
influence of dryness and the desert winds, with their trees far apart,
and between them no grass, but bare earth alone.

So it is with the reality of arms and with the reality of the sea. Too
much reading of battles has ever unfitted men for war; too much talk of
the sea is a poison in these great town populations of ours which know
nothing of the sea. Who that knows anything of the sea will claim
certitude in connexion with it? And yet there is a school which has by
this time turned its mechanical system almost into a commonplace upon
our lips, and talks of that most perilous thing, the fortunes of a
fleet, as though it were a merely numerical and calculable thing! The
greatest of Armadas may set out and not return.

There is one experience of travel and of the physical realities of the
world which has been so widely repeated, and which men have so
constantly verified, that I could mention it as a last example of my
thesis without fear of misunderstanding. I mean the quality of a great

To one that has never seen a mountain it may seem a full and a fine
piece of knowledge to be acquainted with its height in feet exactly, its
situation; nay, many would think themselves learned if they know no more
than its conventional name. But the thing itself! The curious sense of
its isolation from the common world, of its being the habitation of awe,
perhaps the brooding-place of a god!

I had seen many mountains, I had travelled in many places, and I had
read many particular details in the books--and so well noted them upon
the maps that I could have re-drawn the maps--concerning the Cerdagne.
None the less the sight of that wall of the Cerdagne, when first it
struck me, coming down the pass from Tourcarol, was as novel as though
all my life had been spent upon empty plains. By the map it was 9000
feet. It might have been 90,000! The wonderment as to what lay beyond,
the sense that it was a limit to known things, its savage intangibility,
its sheer silence! Nothing but the eye seeing could give one all those

The old complain that the young will not take advice. But the wisest
will tell them that, save blindly and upon authority, the young cannot
take it. For most of human and social experience is words to the young,
and the reality can come only with years. The wise complain of the jingo
in every country; and properly, for he upsets the plans of statesmen,
miscalculates the value of national forces, and may, if he is powerful
enough, destroy the true spirit of armies. But the wise would be wiser
still if, while they blamed the extravagance of this sort of man, they
would recognize that it came from that half-knowledge of mere names and
lists which excludes reality. It is maps and newspapers that turn an
honest fool into a jingo.

It is so again with distance, and it is so with time. Men will not grasp
distance unless they have traversed it, or unless it be represented to
them vividly by the comparison of great landscapes. Men will not grasp
historical time unless the historian shall be at the pains to give them
what historians so rarely give, the measure of a period in terms of a
human life. It is from secondary impressions divorced from reality that
a contempt for the past arises, and that the fatal illusion of some
gradual process of betterment of "progress" vulgarizes the minds of men
and wastes their effort. It is from secondary impressions divorced from
reality that a society imagines itself diseased when it is healthy, or
healthy when it is diseased. And it is from secondary impressions
divorced from reality that springs the amazing power of the little
second-rate public man in those modern machines that think themselves
democracies. This last is a power which, luckily, cannot be greatly
abused, for the men upon whom it is thrust are not capable even of abuse
upon a great scale. It is none the less marvellous in its falsehood.

Now you will say at the end of this, Since you blame so much the power
for distortion and for ill residing in our great towns, in our system of
primary education and in our papers and in our books, what remedy can
you propose? Why, none, either immediate or mechanical. The best and the
greatest remedy is a true philosophy, which shall lead men always to ask
themselves what they really know and in what order of certitude they
know it; where authority actually resides and where it is usurped. But,
apart from the advent, or rather the recapture, of a true philosophy by
a European society, two forces are at work which will always bring
reality back, though less swiftly and less whole. The first is the poet,
and the second is Time.

Sooner or later Time brings the empty phrase and the false conclusion up
against what is; the empty imaginary looks reality in the face and the
truth at once conquers. In war a nation learns whether it is strong or
no, and how it is strong and how weak; it learns it as well in defeat as
in victory. In the long processes of human lives, in the succession of
generations, the real necessities and nature of a human society destroy
any false formula upon which it was attempted to conduct it. Time must
always ultimately teach.

The poet, in some way it is difficult to understand (unless we admit
that he is a seer), is also very powerful as the ally of such an
influence. He brings out the inner part of things and presents them to
men in such a way that they cannot refuse but must accept it. But how
the mere choice and rhythm of words should produce so magical an effect
no one has yet been able to comprehend, and least of all the poets

On the Decline of the Book: [And Especially of the Historical Book]

It is an interesting speculation by what means the Book lost its old
position in this country. This is not only an interesting speculation,
but one which nearly concerns a vital matter. For if men fall into the
habit of neglecting true books in an old and traditional civilization,
the inaccuracy of their judgments and the illusions to which they will
be subject, must increase.

To take but one example: history. The less the true historical book is
read and the more men depend upon ephemeral statement, the more will
legend crystallize, the harder will it be to destroy in the general mind
some comforting lie, and the great object-lesson of politics (which is
an accurate knowledge of how men have acted in the past) will become at
last unknown.

There are many, especially among younger men, who would contest the
premiss upon which all this is founded. They may point out, for
instance, that the actual number of bound books bought in a given time
at present is much larger than ever it was before. They may point out
again, and with justice, that the proportion of the population which
reads books of any sort, though perhaps not larger than it was three
hundred years ago, is very much larger than it was one hundred years
ago. And it may further be affirmed with truth that the range of
subjects now covered by books produced and sold is much wider than ever
it was before.

All this is true; and yet it is also true that the Book as a factor in
our civilization has not only declined but has almost disappeared. Were
many more dogs to be possessed in England than are now possessed, but
were they to be all mongrels, among which none could be found capable of
retrieving, or of following a fox or a hare with any discipline, one
would have a right to say that the dog as a factor of our civilization
had declined. Were many more men in England able to ride horses more or
less, but were the number of those who rode constantly and for pleasure
enormously to diminish, and were the new millions who could just manage
to keep on horseback to prefer animals without spirit on which they
would feel safe, one would have a right to say that the horse was
declining as a factor in our civilization; and this is exactly what has
happened with the Book.

The excellence of a book and its value as a book depend upon two
factors, which are usually, though not always, united in varied
proportions: first, that it should put something of value to the reader,
whether of value as a discovery and an enlargement of wisdom or of value
as a new emphasis laid upon old and sound morals; secondly, that this
thing added or renewed in human life should be presented in such a
manner as to give permanent aesthetic pleasure.

That is not a first-rate book which, while it is admirably written,
teaches something false or something evil; nor is that a first-rate book
which, though it discover a completely new thing, or emphasize the most
valuable department of morals, is so constructed as to be unreadable.
Now it will not be denied that as far as these two factors are
concerned--and I repeat they are almost always found in combination--the
position of the Book has dwindled almost to nothingness. One could give
examples of almost every kind: one could show how poetry, no matter how
appreciated or praised, no longer sells. One could show--and this is one
of the worst signs of all--how men will buy by the hundred thousand
anything at all which has the hall mark of an established reputation,
quite careless as to their love of it or their appetite for it. One
could further show how more than one book of permanent value in English
life has been discovered in our generation outside England, and has been
as it were thrust upon the English public by foreign opinion.

But for my purpose it will be sufficient to take one very important
branch which I can claim to have watched with some care, and that is the
branch of History.

It may be said with truth that in our generation no single first-rate
piece of history has enjoyed an appreciable sale. That is not true of
France, it is not true of the United States, it is not even true of
Germany in her intellectual decline, but it is true of England.

History is an excellent test. No man will read history, at least history
of an instructive sort, unless he is a man who can read a book, and
desires to possess one. To read History involves not only some permanent
interest in things not immediately sensible, but also some permanent
brain-work in the reader; for as one reads history one cannot, if one is
an intelligent being, forbear perpetually to contrast the lessons it
teaches with the received opinions of our time. Again, History is
valuable as an example in the general thesis I am maintaining, because
no good history can be written without a great measure of hard work. To
make a history at once accurate, readable, useful, and new, is probably
the hardest of all literary efforts; a man writing such history is
driving more horses abreast in his team than a man writing any other
kind of literary matter. He must keep his imagination active; his style
must be not only lucid, but also must arrest the reader; he must
exercise perpetually a power of selection which plays over innumerable
details; he must, in the midst of such occupations, preserve unity of
design, as much as must the novelist or the playwright; and yet with all
this there is not a verb, an adjective or a substantive which, if it
does not repose upon established evidence, will not mar the particular
type of work on which he is engaged.

As an example of what I mean, consider two sentences: The first is taken
from the 432nd page of that exceedingly unequal publication, the
_Cambridge History of the French Revolution_; the second I have
made up on the spur of the moment; both deal with the Battle of
Wattignies. The "Cambridge History" version runs as follows:--

On October 15 the relieving force, 50,000 strong, attacked the Austrian
covering force at Wattignies; the battle raged all that day and was most
furious on the right, in front of the village of Wattignies, which was
taken and lost three times; on the 17th the French expected another
general engagement but the enemy had drawn off.

There are here five great positive errors in six lines. The French were
not 50,000 strong, the attack on the 15th was not on Wattignies, but on
Dourlers; Wattignies was not taken and lost three times; the fight of
the 15th was _least_ pressed on the right (harder on the left and
hardest in the centre) and no one--not the least recruit--expected
Coburg to come _back_ on the 17th. Why, he had crossed the Sambre
at every point the day before! As for negative errors, or errors of
omission, they are capital, and the chief is that the victory was won on
the second day, the 16th, of which no mention is made.

Now contrast such a sentence with the following:--

On October 15th the relieving force, 42,000 strong, attacked the
Austrian centre at Dourlers, and made demonstrations upon its wings; the
attack upon Dourlers (which village had been taken and lost three times)
having failed, upon the following day, October 16th, the extreme left of
the enemy's position at Wattignies was attacked and carried; the enemy
thus outflanked was compelled to retreat, and Maubeuge was relieved the
same evening.

In the first sentence (which bears the hall mark of the University)
every error that could possibly be made in so few lines has been made.
The numbers are wrong; the nature of the fighting is misstated; the
village in the centre is confused with that on the extreme right; the
critical second day is altogether omitted, and every portion of the
sentence, verb, adjective, and substantive, is either directly
inaccurate or indirectly conveys an inaccurate impression. The second
sentence, bald in style and uninteresting in presentation as the first,
has the merit of telling the truth. But--and here is the point--it would
be impossible to criticize the first sentence unless someone had read up
the battle, and to read up that battle one has to depend on five or six
documents, some unpublished (like much of Jourdan's Memoirs), some of
them involving a visit to Maubeuge itself, some, like Pierrat's book,
very difficult to obtain (for it is neither in the British Museum nor in
the Bodleian) some few the writings of contemporary eyewitnesses, and
yet themselves demonstrably inaccurate. All these must be read and
collated, and if possible the actual ground of the battle visited,
before the first simple inaccurate sentence can be properly criticized
or the second bald but accurate sentence framed. None of these
authorities can have been so much as heard of by the official historian
I have quoted.

It would be redundant to press the point. Most readers know well enough
what labour the just writing of history involves, and how excellent a
type it is of that "making of a book" which art is, as I have said,
imperilled by apathy at the present day.

Consider for a moment who were those that purchased historical works in
this country in the past. There were, first of all, the landed gentry.
In almost every great country-house you will find a good old library,
and that good old library you will discover to be, as a rule, most
valuable and most complete in what concerns the end of the eighteenth
and the beginning of the nineteenth centuries. A very large proportion
of history, and history of the best sort, is to be found upon those
shelves. The standard dwindles, though it is fairly well maintained
during the first two-thirds of the nineteenth century. Then--as a
rule--it abruptly comes to an end. One may take as a sort of bourne, the
two great books Macaulay's _History_ and Kinglake's, for an earlier
and a later limit. Most of these libraries contain Macaulay; some few
Kinglake; hardly one possesses later works of value.

It may be urged in defence of the buyer that no later works of value
exist. Put so broadly, the statement is erroneous; but the truth which
it contains is in itself dependent upon the lack of public support for
good historical work. When there is a fortune for the man who writes in
accordance with whatever form of self-appreciation happens for the
moment to be popular, while a steady view and an accurate presentation
of the past can find no sale, then that steady view and that accurate
presentation cannot be pursued save by men who are wealthy, or by men
who are endowed, but even wealthy men will hesitate to write what they
know will not be read, and for history no one is endowed.

Our Universities were framed for many purposes, of which the cultivation
of learning was but one; in that one field, however, a particular form
of learning was taken very seriously, and was pursued with admirable
industry; I mean an acquaintance with and an imitation of the Latin and
Greek Classics.

It was a particular character of this form of learning that proficiency
in it would lead to undisputed honours. The scholar recognized the
superior scholar; the field of inquiry was by convention highly limited;
it had been thoroughly explored; discussion upon such results as were
doubtful did not involve a difference in general philosophy.

With history it is otherwise. Whether such things have or have not
happened, and, above all, if they have happened, the _way_ in which
they have happened, is to our general judgment of contemporary men what
evidence is to a criminal trial. Facts won't give way. If, therefore,
there are vested interests, moral or material, to be maintained, history
is, of all the sciences or arts, that one most likely to suffer at the
hands of those connected with such interests. Even where the truth will
be of advantage to those interests, they are afraid of it, because the
thorough discussion of it will involve the presentation of views
disadvantageous to privilege.

Where, as is much more commonly the case (for vested interests, moral or
material, are unreasoning and selfish things), the truth would certainly
offend them, they are the more determined to prevent its appearance.

But of all vested interests none deal with such assured incomes, none
are so immune by influence and tradition as the Universities.

Now, if the rich man has no temptation by way of popular fame, and the
poor man no opportunity for endowment, in any branch of letters, there
remains but a third form of support, and that is the support of the
buying public. And the public will not buy.

I will suppose the case of a popular novelist, who in a few months shall
write, not an historical novel, but a piece of so-called history. He
shall call it, for instance, "England's Heroes." Before you tell me his
name, or what he has written, I can tell you here and now what he will
write on any number of points. He will call Hastings Senlac. In the
Battle of Hastings he will make out Harold to be the head of a highly
patriotic nation called the "Anglo-Saxons"; they shall be desperately
defending themselves against certain French-speaking Scandinavians
called Normans. He will deplore the defeat, but will say it was all for
the best. Magna Charta he will have signed at Runnymede--probably he
will have it drawn up there as well. He will translate the most famous
clause by the modern words "Judgment of his peers" and "law of the
land." He will represent the Barons as having behind them the voice of
the whole nation--and so forth. When he comes to Crecy he will make
Edward III speak English. When he comes to Agincourt he will leave his
readers as ignorant as himself upon the boundaries, numbers and power of
the Burgundian faction. In the Civil War Oliver Cromwell will be an
honest and not very rich gentleman of the middle-classes. The
Parliamentary force will be that of the mass of the people against a few
gallant but wicked aristocrats who follow the perfidious Charles. He
will make no mention of the pay of the Ironsides. James II will be
driven out by a popular uprising, in which the great Churchill will play
an honourable and chivalric part. The loss of the American Colonies will
be deplored, and will be ascribed to the folly of attempting to tax men
of "Anglo-Saxon" blood, unless you grant them representation. The
Continental troops will be treated as the descendants of Englishmen! The
guns at Saratoga will be Colonial guns; the incapacity of the Fleet will
not be touched upon. Here again, as in the case of the Battle of
Hastings, all will be for the best, and there will be a few touching
words upon the passionate affection now felt for Great Britain by the
inhabitants of the United States. The defensive genius of Wellington
will be represented as that of a general particularly great in the
offensive. Talavera will be a victory. The Spanish Auxiliaries in the
Peninsula will be contemptible. No guns will be abandoned before Coruna,
but what are left at Coruna will be mentioned and re-embarked. The
character of Nelson will receive a curious sort of glutinous praise; Emma
Hamilton, not Naples, will be the stain upon his name; the Battle of
Trafalgar will prevent the invasion of England.

This is a lengthy but not unjust description of what this gentleman
would write; it is rubbish from beginning to end. It would sell, because
every word of it would foster in the reader the illusion that the
community of which he is a member is invincible under all circumstances,
that effort and self-denial and suffering are spared him alone out of
all mankind, and that a little pleasurable excitement, preferably that
to be obtained from his favourite game, is the chief factor in military

I have omitted Alfred. Alfred in such a book will be the "teller of
truth"--but he will not go to Mass.

Given that the name is sufficiently well known, there is hardly any
limit to the sale of a book modelled upon these lines. Contrast with its
fate the fate of a book, written no matter how powerfully, that should
insist upon truths, no matter how valuable to the English people at the
present moment. These truths need by no means be unpleasant, though at
the present moment an unpleasant truth is undoubtedly more valuable than
a pleasant one. They could make as much or more for the glory of the
country; they could be at any rate of infinitely greater service, but
they would not be received, simply because they would compel close
attention and brain-work in the reader as well as in the writer of them.
An established groove would have to be abandoned; to use a strong
metaphor, the reader would have to get out of bed, and that is what the
modern reader will not do. Tell him that the men who fought on either
side at Hastings' plain cared nothing for national but everything for
feudal allegiance; that _lex terrae_ means the local custom of
ordeal and not the "law of the land"; tell him that _judicium
parium_ means the right of a noble to be judged by nobles, and has
nothing to do with the jury system; tell him that Magna Charta was
certainly drawn up before the meeting at Runnymede; that not until the
Lancastrians did English kings speak English; that Oliver Cromwell owed
his position to the enormous wealth of the Williamses, of whom had he
not been a cadet, he would never have been known; tell him that the
whole force of the Parliament resided in the squires and that the Civil
Wars turned England into an oligarchy; tell him the exact truth about
the infamy of Churchill; tell him what proportion of Englishmen during
the American War were taxed without being represented; tell him what
proportion of Washington's troops were of English blood; tell him any
one illuminating and true thing about the history of his country, and
the novelty will so offend him that a direct insult would have pleased
him better.

What is true of history is true of nearly all the rest, and the upshot
of the whole matter is that there is not, either in private patronage or
in popular demand, a chance for history in modern England.

You can have excellent literature in journalism, and it will be widely
read. I would say more--I would say that the better literature a
newspaper admits, the more widely will that paper be read, or at any
rate the greater will its influence be on modern Englishmen. But when it
comes to the kneaded and wrought matter of the true Book, neither the
public nor the centres of learning will have any of it, and the last
medium which might make it possible, patronage, has equally disappeared,
because the modern patron does not work in the daylight in the full view
of the nation and with its full approbation, and he is no longer a public
man (though he is richer than ever he was before). His patronage,
therefore, though it is still considerable, is expended in satisfying his
private demand. Private architects build him doubtful castles, private
collectors get him manuscripts and jewels, but Letters, which are a public
thing, he can no longer command.

It might be asked, by way of conclusion, whether there is any remedy for
this state of things. There is none. Its prime cause resides in a
certain attitude of the national mind, and this kind of broadly held
philosophy is not changed save by slow preaching or external shock. As
long as modern England remains what we know it, and follows the lines of
change which we see it following, the Book will necessarily decline more
and more, and we must make up our minds to it.

Of other evil tendencies of our time, one can say of some that they are
obviously mending, of others that such and such an applicable remedy
would mend them. Our public architecture is certainly getting better; so
is our painting. Our gross and increasing contempt of self-government
(to take quite another sphere) is curable by one or two simple reforms
in procedure, registration, the expenses of election, and voting at the
polls, which would restore the House of Commons to life, and give it
power to express English will. But a regard for, a cultivation of, above
all a sinking of wealth upon, English Letters is past praying for. We
must wait until the tide changes; we can do nothing, and the waiting
will be long.

Jose Maria de Heredia

The French have a phrase "la beaute du verbe" by which they would
express a something in the sound and in the arrangement of words which
supplements whatever mere thought those words were intended to express.
It is evident that no definition of this beauty can be given, but it is
also evident that without it letters would not exist. How it arises we
cannot explain, yet the process is familiar to us in everything we do
when we are attempting to fulfil an impulse towards whatever is good. An
integration not of many small things but of an infinite series of
infinitely small things build up the perfect gesture, the perfect line,
the perfect intonation, and the perfect phrase. So indeed are all things
significant built up: every tone of the voice, every arrangement of
landscape or of notes in music which awake us and reveal the things
beyond. But when one says that this is especially true of perfect
expression one means that sometimes, rarely, the integration achieves a
steadfast and sufficient formula. The mind is satisfied rather than
replete. It asks no more; and if it desires to enjoy further the
pleasure such completion has given it, it does not attempt to prolong or
to develop the pleasure under which it has leapt; it is content to wait
a while and to return, knowing well that it has here a treasure laid up
for ever.

All this may be expressed in two words: the Classical Spirit. That is
Classic of which it is true that the enjoyment is sufficient when it is
terminated and that in the enjoyment of it an entity is revealed.

When men propose to bequeath to their fellows work of so supreme a kind
it is to be noticed that they choose by instinct a certain material.

It has been said that the material in which he works affects the
achievement of the artist: it is truer to say that it helps him. A man
designing a sculpture in marble knows very well what he is about to do.
A man attempting the exact and restrained rendering of tragedy upon the
stage does not choose the stage as one among many methods, he is drawn
to it: he needs it; the audience, the light, the evening, the very slope
of the boards, all minister to his efforts. And so a man determined to
produce the greatest things in verse takes up by nature exact and
thoughtful words and finds that their rhythm, their combination, and
their sound turn under his hand to something greater than he himself at
first intended; he becomes a creator, and his name is linked with the
name of a masterpiece. The material in which he has worked is hard; the
price he has paid is an exceeding effect; the reward he has earned is

Jose de Heredia was an artist of this kind. The mass of the verse he
produced, or rather published, was small. It might have been very large.
It is not (as a foolish modern affectation will sometimes pretend)
necessary to the endurance or even the excellence of work that it should
be the product of exceptional moments; nor is it even true (as the wise
Ancients believed) that great length of time must always mature it. But
the small volume of Heredia's legacy to European letters does argue this
at least in the poet, that he passionately loved perfection and that,
finding himself able to achieve it (for perfection can be achieved) but
now and then, he chose only to be remembered by the contentment which,
now and then, his own genius had given him.

He worked upon verse as men work upon the harder metals; all that he did
was chiselled very finely, then sawn to an exact configuration and at
last inlaid, for when he published his completed volume it is true to
say that every piece fitted in with the sound of one before and of one
after. He was careful in the heroic degree.

His blood and descent are worthy of notice. He was a Spaniard,
inheriting from the first Conquerors of the New World, nor was it
remarkable to those who have received a proper enthusiasm for the
classical spirit that the energy and even the violence natural to such a
lineage should express themselves in the coldest and the most exalted
form when, for the second time, a member of the family attempted verse.
It is in the essence of that spirit that it alone can dare to be
disciplined. It never doubts the motive power that will impel it; it is
afraid, if anything, of an excess of power, and consciously imposes upon
itself the limits which give it form.

Heredia in his person expressed the activity which impelled him, for he
was strong, brown, erect, a rapid walker, and a man whose voice was
perpetually modulated in resonant and powerful tones. In his last years
during his administration of the Library at the Arsenal this vitality of
his took on an aspect of good nature very charming and very fruitful.
His organization of the place was thorough, his knowledge of the readers
intimate. He refused the manuscripts of none, he advised, laughed, and
consoled. His criticism was sure. Several, notably Marcel Prevost, were
launched by his authority. The same deep security of literary judgment
which had permitted him to chastise and to perfect his impeccable
sonnets into their final form permitted him also to hold up before his
eyes, grasp, and judge the work of every other man.

His frailty, as must always be the frailty of such men, was
fastidiousness. The same sensitive consciousness which is said to have
all but lost us the Aeneid, and which certainly all but lost us the
Apologia, dominated his otherwise vigorous soul. It is more than forty
years since his first verse, written just upon achieving his majority,
appeared in the old _Revue de Paris_ and in the _Revue des Deux
Mondes_. It was not till 1893 that he collected in one volume the
scattered sonnets of his youth and middle age: the collection won him
somewhat tardily his chair in the Academy. There is irony in the
reminiscence that the man he defeated in that election was Zola.

All the great men who saluted his advent are dead. Theophile Gautier,
who first established his fame; Hugo, who addressed to him, perhaps,
that vigorous appeal in which strict labour is deified, and the medal
and the marble bust are shown to outlive the greatest glories, are
sometimes quoted as the last among the great French writers.

The immediate future will show that the stream of French excellence in
this department, as in any other of human activity, is full, deep, and
steady. The work of Heredia will help to prove it. He was a Spaniard,
and a Colonial Spaniard. No other nation, perhaps, except the modern
French, so inherit the romantic appetite of the later Roman Empire as to
be able to mould and absorb every exterior element of excellence. It is
remarkable that at the same moment Paris contemplated the funeral of the
Italian de Brazza and the death of the Cuban Heredia. It is probable
that those of us who are still young will live to see either name at the
head of a new tradition. Heredia proved it possible not so much to
imitate as to recapture the secure tradition of an older time. Perhaps
the truest generalization that can be made with regard to the French
people is to say that they especially in Western Europe (whose quality
it is ever to transform itself but never to die) discover new springs of
vitality after every period of defeat and aridity which they are
compelled to cross. Heredia will prove in the near future a capital
example of this power. He will increase silently in reputation until we,
in old age, shall be surprised to find our sons and grandsons taking him
for granted and speaking of him as one speaks of the Majores, of the
permanent lights of poetry.

Normandy and the Normans

There is no understanding a country unless one gets to know the nature
of its sub-units. In some way not easy to comprehend, impossible to
define, and yet very manifest, each of the great national organisms of
which Christendom is built up is itself a body of many regions whose
differences and interaction endow it with a corporate life. No one could
understand the past of England who did not grasp the local genius of the
counties--Lancashire, cut off eastward by the Pennines, southward by the
belt of marsh, with no natural entry save by the gate of Stockport;
Sussex, which was and is a bishopric and a kingdom; Kent, Devon, the
East Anglian meres. No one could (or does) understand modern England who
does not see its sub-units to have become by now the great industrial
towns, or who fails to seize the spirit of each group of such
towns--with London lying isolated in the south, a negative to the rest.

France is built of such sub-units: it is the peculiarity of French
development that these are not small territories mainly of an average
extent with government answerable in a long day's ride to one centre,
such as most English counties are; nor city States such as form the
piles upon which the structure of Italy has been raised; nor kingdoms
such as coalesced to reform the Spanish people; but _provinces_,
differing greatly in area, from little plains enclosed, like the
Rousillon, to great stretches of landscape succeeding landscape like the
Bourbonnais or the Perigord.

The real continuity with an immemorial past which inspires all Gallic
things is discoverable in this arrangement of Gaul. At the first glance
one might imagine a French province to be a chance growth of the feudal
ties and of the Middle Ages. A further effort of scholarship will prove
it essentially Roman. An intimate acquaintance with its customs and with
the site of its strongholds, coupled with a comparison of the most
recent and most fruitful hypotheses of historians, will convince you
that it is earlier than the Roman conquest; it is tribal, or the home of
a group of cognate tribes, and its roots are lost in prehistory. So it
is with Normandy.

This vast territory--larger (I think) than all North England from the
Humber to Cheviot and from Chester to the Solway--has never formed a
nation. It is typical of the national idea in France that Normandy
should have "held" of the political centre of the country, probably
since the first Gallic confederations were formed, certainly since the
organization of the Empire. It is equally typical of the local life of a
French province that, thus dependent, Normandy should have strictly
preserved its manner and its spirit, and should have readily made war
upon the Crown and resisted, as it still resists and will perhaps for
ever, the centralizing forces of the national temper.

If you will travel day after day, and afoot, westward across the length
of Normandy, you will have, if you are a good walker, a fortnight's
task ahead of you; even if you are walking for a wager, a week's. It is
the best way in which to possess a knowledge of that great land, and my
advice would be to come in from the Picards over the bridge of Aumale
across the little River Bresle (which is the boundary of Normandy to the
east), and to go out by way of Pontorson, there crossing into Brittany
over the little River Couesnon, which is the boundary of Normandy upon
the west and beyond which lie the Bretons. In this way will you be best
acquainted with the sharp differentiation of the French provinces
passing into Normandy from Picardy, brick-built, horse-breeding, and
slow, passing out of Normandy into the desolation and dreams of
Brittany, and having known between the one and the other the chalk
streams, the day-long beechen forests, the valley pastures, and the
flamboyant churches of the Normans. You will do well to go by
Neufchatel, where the cheese is made, and by Rouen, then by Lisieux to
Falaise, where the Conqueror was born, and thence by Vive to Avranches
and so to the Breton border, taking care to choose the forests between
one town and another for your road, since these many and deep
woods--much wider than any we know in England--are in great part the
soul of the country.

By this itinerary you will not have taken all you should into view; you
will not have touched the coast nor seen how Normandy is based upon the
sea, and you will not have known the Cotentin, which is a little State
of its own and is the quadrilateral which Normandy thrusts forth into
the Channel. If you have the leisure, therefore, return by the north.
Pass through Coutances and Valognes to Cherbourg, thence through Caen
and Bayeux to the crossing of Seine at Honfleur, and then on by the
chalk uplands and edges of the cliffs till you reach Eu upon the Bresle
again. In such a double journey the character of the whole will be
revealed, and if you have studied the past of the place before starting
you will find your journey full. Avranches, Coutances, Lisieux, Bayeux,
Rouen are not chance sites. Their great churches mark the bishoprics;
the bishoprics in turn were the administrative centres of Rome, and Rome
chose them because they were the strongholds or the sacred cities each
of a Gallic tribe. The wealth of the valleys permitted everywhere that
astonishing richness of detail which marks the stonework in village
after village; the connexion with England, especially the last connexion
under Henry V, explains the innumerable churches, splendid even in
hamlets as are our own. The Bresle and the Couesnon, those little
streams, are boundaries not of these last few centuries, but of a time
beyond view; the Romans found them so. Diocletian made them the limits
of the "Second Lyonesse," "Lugdunensis Secunda," which was the last
Roman name of the province.

Here and there, near the west especially, you will discover names which
recall the chief adventure of Normandy, the accident which baptized it
with its Christian name, the landing of the Scandinavian pirates, the
thousandth anniversary of which is now being celebrated. They came--we
cannot tell in what numbers, some thousands--and harried the land. The
old policy of the Empire, the policy already seven hundred years old,
was had recourse to; the barbarians were granted settlement,
inheritance, marriage, and partnership with the Lords of the Villae;
their chief was permitted to hold local government, to tax and to levy
men as the administrator of the whole province; but there followed
something which wherever else the experiment had been tried had not
followed: something of a new race arose. In Burgundy, in the northeast,
in Visigothic Aquitaine the slight admixture of foreign blood had not
changed the people, it was absorbed; the slight admixture of
Scandinavian blood, coming so much later, in a time so degraded in
government and therefore so open to natural influence, did change the
Gallo-Romans of the Second Lyonesse. Few as the newcomers may have been
in number, the new element transformed the mass, and when a century had
permitted the union to work and settle, the great soldiers who founded
us appeared. The Norman lords ordered, surveyed, codified, and ruled.
They let Europe into England, they organized Sicily, they confirmed the
New Papacy, they were the framework of the Crusades.

The phenomenon was brief. It lasted little more than a hundred years,
but it transformed Europe and launched the Middle Ages. When it had
passed, Normandy stood confirmed for centuries (and is still confirmed)
in a character of its own. No longer adventurous but mercantile, apt, of
a resisting courage, sober in thought, leaning upon tradition, not
imperially but domestically strong: the country of Corneille and of
Malesherbes, a reflection of that spirit in letters; the conservative
body of to-day--for in our generation that is the mark of Normandy--and,
in arms, the recruitment to which Napoleon addressed his short and
famous order that "the Normans that day should do their duty."

The Old Things

Those who travel about England for their pleasure, or, for that matter,
about any part of Western Europe, rightly associate with such travel the
pleasure of history; for history adds to a man, giving him, as it were,
a great memory of things--like a human memory, but stretched over a far
longer space than that of one human life. It makes him, I do not say
wise and great, but certainly in communion with wisdom and greatness.

It adds also to the soil he treads, for to this it adds meaning. How
good it is when you come out of Tewkesbury by the Cheltenham road to
look upon those fields to the left and know that they are not only
pleasant meadows, but also the place in which a great battle of the
mediaeval monarchy was decided, or as you stand by that ferry, which is
not known enough to Englishmen (for it is one of the most beautiful
things in England), and look back and see Tewkesbury tower, framed
between tall trees over the level of the Severn, to see also the Abbey
buildings in your eye of the mind--a great mass of similar stone with
solid Norman walls, stretching on hugely to the right of the Minster.

All this historical sense and the desire to marry History with Travel is
very fruitful and nourishing, but there is another interest, allied to
it, which is very nearly neglected, and which is yet in a way more
fascinating and more full of meaning. This interest is the interest in
such things as lie behind recorded history, and have survived into our
own times. For underneath the general life of Europe, with its splendid
epic of great Rome turned Christian, crusading, discovering, furnishing
the springs of the Renaissance, and flowering at last materially into
this stupendous knowledge of today, the knowledge of all the Arts, the
power to construct and to do--underneath all that is the foundation on
which Europe is built, the stem from which Europe springs; and that stem
is far, far older than any recorded history, and far, far more vital
than any of the phenomena which recorded history presents.

Recorded history for this island and for Northern France and for the
Rhine Valley is a matter of two thousand years; for the Western
Mediterranean of three; but the things of which I speak are to be
reckoned in tens of thousands of years. Their interest does not lie only
nor even chiefly in things that have disappeared. It is indeed a great
pleasure to rummage in the earth and find polished stones wrought by men
who came so many centuries before us, and of whose blood we certainly
are; and it is a great pleasure to find, or to guess that we find, under
Canterbury the piles of a lake or marsh dwelling, proving that
Canterbury has been there from all time; and that the apparently
defenceless Valley City was once chosen as an impregnable site, when the
water-meadows of the Stour were impassable as marsh, or with difficulty
passable as a shallow lagoon. And it is delightful to stand on the
earthwork a few miles west and to say to oneself (as one can say with a
fair certitude), "Here was the British camp defending the south-east;
here the tenth legion charged." All these are pleasant, but more
pleasant, I think, to follow the thing where it actually survives.

Consider the track-ways, for instance. How rich is England in these! No
other part of Europe will afford the traveller so permanent and so
fascinating a problem. Elsewhere Rome hardened and straightened every
barbaric trail until the original line and level disappeared; but in
this distant province of Britain she could only afford just so much
energy as made them a foothold for her soldiery; and all over England
you can go, if you choose, foot by foot, along the ancient roads that
were made by the men of your blood before they had heard of brick or of
stone or of iron or of written laws.

I wonder that more men do not set out to follow, let us say, the
Fosse-Way. There it runs right across Western England from the
south-west to the north-east in a line direct yet sinuous, characters
which are the very essence of a savage trail. It is a modern road for
many miles, and you are tramping, let us say, along the Cotswold on a
hard metalled modern English highway, with milestones and notices from
the County Council telling you that the culverts will not bear a
steam-engine, if so be you were to travel on one. Then suddenly this
road comes up against a cross-road and apparently ceases, making what
map draughtsmen call a "T"; but right in the same line you see a gate,
and beyond it a farm lane, and so you follow. You come to a spinney
where a ride has been cut through by the woodreeve, and it is all in the
same line. The Fosse-Way turns into a little path, but you are still on
it; it curves over a marshy brook-valley, picking out the firm land, and
as you go you see old stones put there heaven knows how many (or how
few) generations ago--or perhaps yesterday, for the tradition remains,
and the country-folk strengthen their wet lands as they have
strengthened them all these thousands of years; you climb up out of that
depression, you get you over a stile, and there you are again upon a
lane. You follow that lane, and once more it stops dead. This time there
is a field before you. No right of way, no trace of a path, nothing but
grass rounded into those parallel ridges which mark the modern decay of
the corn lands and pasture--alas!--taking the place of ploughing. Now
your pleasure comes in casting about for the trail; you look back along
the line of the Way; you look forward in the same line till you find
some indication, a boundary between two parishes, perhaps upon your map,
or two or three quarries set together, or some other sign, and very soon
you have picked up the line again.

So you go on mile after mile, and as you tread that line you have in the
horizons that you see, in the very nature and feel of the soil beneath
your feet, in the skies of England above you, the ancient purpose and
soul of this Kingdom. Up this same line went the Clans marching when
they were called Northward to the host; and up this went slow, creaking
wagons with the lead of the Mendips or the tin of Cornwall or the gold
of Wales.

And it is still there; it is still used from place to place as a high
road, it still lives in modern England. There are some of its peers, as
for instance the Ermine Street, far more continuous, and affording
problems more rarely; others like the ridgeway of the Berkshire Downs,
which Rome hardly touched, and of which the last two thousand years has,
therefore, made hardly anything; you may spend a delightful day piecing
out exactly where it crossed the Thames, making your guess at it, and
wondering as you sit there by Streatley Vicarage whether those islands
did not form a natural weir below which lay the ford.

The roads are the most obvious things. There are many more; for
instance, thatch. The same laying of the straw in the same manner, with
the same art, has continued, we may be certain, from a time long before
the beginning of history. See how in the Fen Land they thatch with
reeds, and how upon the Chalk Downs with straw from the Lowlands. I
remember once being told of a record in a manor, which held of the
Church and which lay upon the southern slope of the Downs, that so much
was entered for "straw from the Lowlands": then, years afterwards, when
I had to thatch a Bethlehem in an orchard underneath tall elms--a
pleasant place to write in, with the noise of bees in the air--the man
who came to thatch said to me: "We must have straw from the Lowlands;
this upland straw is no good for thatching." Immediately when I heard
him say this there was added to me ten thousand years. And I know
another place in England, far distant from this, where a man said to me
that if I wished to cross in a winter mist, as I had determined to do,
Cross-Fell, that great summit of the Pennines, I must watch the drift of
the snow, for there was no other guide to one's direction in such
weather. And I remember another man in a little boat in the North Sea,
as we came towards the Foreland, talking to me of the two tides, and
telling me how if one caught the tide all the way up to Long Nose and
then went round it on the end of the flood, one caught a new tide up
London river, and so made two tides in one day. He spoke with the same
pleasure that silly men show when they talk about an accumulation of
money. He felt wealthy and proud from the knowledge, for by this
knowledge he had two tides in one day. Now knowledge of this sort is
older than ten thousand years; and so is the knowledge of how birds fly,
and of how they call, and of how the weather changes with the moon.

Very many things a man might add to the list that I am making. Dew-pans
are older than the language or the religion; and the finding of water
with a stick; and the catching of that smooth animal, the mole; and the
building of flints into mortar, which if one does it in the old way (as
you may see at Pevensey) the work lasts for ever, but if you do it in
any new way it does not last ten years; then there is the knowledge of
planting during the crescent part of the month, but not before the new
moon shows; and there is the influence of the moon on cider, and to a
less extent upon the brewing of ale; and talking of ale, the knowledge
of how ale should be drawn from the brewing just when a man can see his
face without mist upon the surface of the hot brew. And there is the
knowledge of how to bank rivers, which is called "throwing the rives" in
the South, but in the Fen Land by some other name; and how to bank them
so that they do not silt, but scour themselves. There are these things
and a thousand others. All are immemorial.

The Battle of Hastings. Related in the Manner of Oxford and Dedicated
to that University

So careless were the French commanders (or more properly the French
commander, for the rest were cowed by the bullying swagger of William)
that the night, which should have been devoted to some sort of
reconnaissance, if not of a preparation of the ground, was devoted to
nothing more practical than the religious exercises peculiar to

Their army, as we have seen, was not drawn from any one land, but it was
in the majority composed of Normans and Bretons; we can therefore
understand the extravagant superstition which must bear the blame for
what followed.

Meanwhile, upon the heights above, the English host calmly prepared for
battle. Fires were lit each in its appointed place, and at these meat
was cooked under the stern but kindly eyes of the sergeant-majors. These
also distributed at an appointed price liquor, of which the British
soldier is never willing to be deprived, and as the hours advanced
towards morning, the songs in which our adventurous race has ever
delighted rose from the heights above the Brede.

The morning was misty, as is often the case over damp and marshy lands
in the month of October, but the inclemency of the weather, or, to speak
more accurately, the superfluous moisture precipitated from an already
saturated atmosphere, was of no effect upon those silent and tenacious
troops of Harold. It was far other with the so-called "Norman" host, who
were full of forebodings--only too amply to be justified--of the fate
that lay before them upon the morrow.

It is curious to contrast the quiet skill and sagacity which marked the
disposition of Harold with the almost childish simplicity of William's
plan--if plan it may be called.

The Saxon hosts were drawn along the ridge in a position chosen with
masterly skill. It afforded (as may still be seen) no dead ground for an
attacking force and little cover. [Footnote: The Rhododendrons on the
great lawn are modern.] Their left was arranged _en potence_, their
right was drawn up in echelon. The centre followed the plan usual at
that time, reposing upon the wings to its right and left and extended.
The reserves were, of course, posted behind. Cavalry, as at Omdurman,
played but a slight role in this typically national action and such
mounted troops as were present seem to have been intermixed with the
line in the fashion later known, in the jargon of the service, as "The
Beggar's Quadrille." The Brigade of Guards is not mentioned in any
record that I can discover, but was probably set by reversed companies
in a square perpendicular to the main ravine and a little in front of
the salient angle which appears upon the map at the point marked A.

The terrain can be clearly determined at the present day in spite of the
changes that have taken place in the intervening years. It is a fairly
steep slope of hemispherical contour interspersed with low bushes; the
summit (upon which now stands our lovely English village of Battle and
the residence of one of those cultured and leisured men who form the
framework of our commonwealth) was then but a wild heath.

Harold himself could be distinguished in the centre of the line by his
handsome features, restrained deportment, and unfailing gentlemanly good
sense as he spoke to staff officer, orderly, and even groom with
indefatigable skill.

In spite of the determination observable from a great distance upon the
faces of the tall Saxon line, William with characteristic lack of
balance opened the action by ordering a charge uphill with cavalry
alone; it was a piece of tactics absurdly incongruous and one even he
would never have attempted had he understood the foe that was before
him, or the fate to which that foe had doomed him.

The lesson dealt him was as immediate as it was severe. The foreigners
were thrust headlong down the hill, and a private letter tells us how
the Men of Kent in particular buffeted the Normans about "as though they
were boys." But even in the heat of this initial success Harold had the
self-command to order the retirement upon the main position: and with
troops such as his the order was equivalent to its execution.

This rude blow would have sufficed for any commander less vain than
William, but he seems to have lost all judgment in a fit of personal
vanity and to have ordered a second charge which could not but prove as
futile as the first, delivered as it was up a perfect glacis
strengthened by epaulements, reverses and countersunk galvon work and
one whose natural strength was heightened by the stockade which the
indomitable energy of Harold's troops had perfected in the early hours
of the morning. Many of the stakes in this, the reader may note with
pardonable pride, were of English oak--sharpened at the tip.

William's plan (if plan it may be called) was, as we have seen,
necessarily futile and was foredoomed to failure. But Harold had no
intention to let the action bear no more fruit than a tactical victory
upon this particular field. The brain that had designed the exact
synchrony of Stamford Bridge and the famous march southward from the
Humber was of that sort which is only found once in many centuries of
the history of war and which is (it may be said without boasting)
peculiar to this island.

Another general would have awaited the second charge with its useless
butchery and still more useless contest for the barren name of victory.
Not so Harold. Those commanding, cold grey eyes of his swept the line in
a comprehensive glance, and though no written record of the detail
remains, he must know little of the character of the man who does not
understand that from Harold certainly proceeded the order for what

The forces at the centre, which he commanded in person, deftly withdrew
before the futile gallop of William's cavalry, leaving, with that
coolness which has ever distinguished our troops, the laggards to their
fate. At the same moment, and with marvellous precision, the left and
right were withdrawn from the plateau rapidly and as by magic, and the
old-fashioned tactics of mere impact (which William of Normandy seems
seriously to have relied on!) were spent and wasted upon the now
evacuated summit of the hill.

What followed is famous in history.

The cohesion of the Saxon force and the exactitude and coolness with
which its great operation was performed is of good augury for the future
of our country. Though it was now thick night, by no set road and with
no cumbersome machinery of train and rear-guard, the whole of the vast
assembly masked itself behind the woodlands of the Weald.

The Norman horsemen, bewildered and fatigued, gazed on the many that had
fallen in defence of the masking position and wondered whether such
novel happenings were victory or no, but the army whose concentration
upon the Thames it was William's whole object to prevent, was already
miles northward, each unit proceeding by exactly co-ordinated routes
towards London.

There is perhaps no more difficult task set before soldiers than the
quiet execution of such a manoeuvre after the heat of a heavy action,
and none have performed it more magnificently than the veteran troop of

When (luckily) all the orders had been finally distributed a great
tragedy marred the completeness of the day.

Just before the execution of this masterpiece of strategy, and as the
autumn sun was sinking, the inevitable price which war demands of all
its darlings was paid.

Harold himself, the artist of the great victory, fell. But we have no
reason to believe that his loss retarded the retrograding movement in
any degree. Men who create as Harold created have not their creations
spoilt by death.

* * * * *

The shameful history of the close of the campaign is familiar to every
schoolboy, and the military historian must be pardoned if he deals with
a purely civilian blunder in a few brief words.

Parliament interfered--as it always does--with what should have been a
matter for soldiers alone. Intrigues, bribery, or worse (with which the
military historian has no concern) ruined what had been, in the field,
one of the principal achievements of the Saxon arms. And William, who
could not count to hold his own against regular forces and who was
astonished to find himself free to retreat precipitately on Dover, was
still more astonished to find himself accepted a few weeks later after
an aimless march to the west and north by the politicians--or worse--at
Berkhampstead. He and England were equally astounded to find that a
broken and defeated invader could actually be accepted by the intriguers
at Westminster and crowned King of England as the price of a secret

Such was the fruit of as great and successful an effort as ever Saxon
soldier made: the Battle of Senlac: for such--as I am now free to
reveal--was the true name of the field of action.

The ineptitude or avarice of politicians had undone the work of
soldiers, and it is no wonder that the last of Harold's veterans, who
retired in disgust to impregnable fortresses in Ely, Arthur's Seat, and
Pudsey, are recorded to have gnashed their teeth and shed tears of
indignation at the dispatches from the metropolis. At Crecy they were to
be avenged.

The Roman Roads in Picardy

If a man were asked where he would find upon the map the sharpest
impress of Rome and of the memories of Rome, and where he would most
easily discover in a few days on foot the foundations upon which our
civilization still rests, he might, in proportion to his knowledge of
history and of Europe, be puzzled to reply. He might say that a week
along the wall from Tyne to Solway would be the answer; or a week in the
great Roman cities of Provence with their triumphal arches and their
vast arenas and their Roman stone cropping out everywhere: in old quays,
in ruined bridges, in the very pavement of the streets they use to-day,
and in the columns of their living churches.

Now I was surprised to find myself after many years of dabbling in such
things, furnishing myself the answer in quite a different place. It was
in Picardy during the late manoeuvres of the French Army that, in the
intervals of watching those great buzzing flies, the aeroplanes, and in
the intervals of long tramps after the regiments or of watching the
massed guns, the necessity for perpetually consulting the map brought
home to me for the first time this truth--that Picardy is the
province--or to be more accurate, Picardy with its marches in the Ile de
France, the edge of Normandy and the edge of Flanders--which retains
to-day the most vivid impress of Rome. For though the great buildings
are lacking, and the Roman work, which must here have been mainly of
brick, has crumbled, and though I can remember nothing upstanding and
patently of the Empire between the gate of Rheims and the frontier of
Artois, yet one feature--the Roman road--is here so evident, so
multiple, and so enduring that it makes up for all the rest.

One discovers the old roads upon the map, one after the other, with a
sort of surprise. The scheme develops before one as one looks, and
always when one thinks one has completed the web another and yet another
straight arrow of a line reveals itself across the page.

The map is a sort of palimpsest. A mass of fine modern roads, a whole
red blur of lanes and local ways, the big, rare black lines of the
railway--these are the recent writing, as it were; but underneath the
whole, more and more apparent and in greater and greater numbers as one
learns to discover them, are the strict, taut lines which Rome stretched
over all those plains.

There is something most fascinating in noting them, and discovering them
one after the other.

For they need discovering. No one of them is still in complete use. The
greater part must be pieced together from lengths of lanes which turn
into broad roads, and then suddenly sink again into footpaths, rights of
way, or green forest rides.

Often, as with our rarer Roman roads in England, all trace of the thing
disappears under the plough or in the soft crossings of the river
valleys; one marks them by the straightness of their alignment, by the
place names which lie upon them (the repeated name Estree, for instance,
which is like the place name "street" upon the Roman roads of England);
by the recovery of them after a gap; by the discoveries which local
archaeology has made.

Different men have different pastimes, and I dare say that most of those
who read this will wonder that such a search should be a pastime for any
man, but I confess it is a pastime for me. To discover these things, to
recreate them, to dig out on foot the base upon which two thousand years
of history repose, is the most fascinating kind of travel.

And then, the number of them! You may take an oblong of country with
Maubeuge at one corner, Pontoise at another, Yvetot and some frontier
town such as Fumes for the other two corners, and in that stretch of
country a hundred and fifty miles by perhaps two hundred, you can build
up a scheme of Roman ways almost as complete as the scheme of the great
roads to-day.

That one which most immediately strikes the eye is the great line which
darts upon Rouen from Paris.

Twice broken at the crossing of the river valleys, and lost altogether
in the last twelve miles before the capital of Normandy, it still stands
on the modern map a great modern road with every aspect of purpose and
of intention in its going.

From Amiens again they radiate out, these roads, some, like the way to
Cambray, in use every mile; some, like the old marching road to the sea,
to the Portus Itius, to Boulogne, a mere lane often wholly lost and
never used as a great modern road. This was the way along which the
French feudal cavalry trailed to the disaster of Crecy, and just beyond
Crecy it goes and loses itself in that exasperating but fascinating
manner which is the whole charm of Roman roads wherever the hunter finds
them. You may lay a ruler along this old forgotten track, all the way
past Domqueur, Novelle (which is called Novelle-en-Chaussee, that is
Novelle on the paved road), on past Estree (where from the height you
overlook the battlefield of Crecy), and that ruler so lying on your map
points right at Boulogne Harbour, thirty odd miles away--and in all
those thirty odd remaining miles I could not find another yard of it.
But what an interest! What a hobby to develop! There is nothing like it
in all the kinds of hunting that have ever been invented for filling up
the whole of the mind. True, you will get no sauce of danger, but, on
the other hand, you will hunt for weeks and weeks, and you will come
back year after year and go on with your hunting, and sometimes you
actually find--which is more than can be said for hunting some animals
in the Weald.

How was it lost, this great main road of Europe, this marching road of
the legions, linking up Gaul and Britain, the way that Hadrian went, and
the way down which the usurper Constantine III must have come during
that short adventure of his which lends such a romance to the end of the
Empire? One cannot conceive why it should have disappeared. It is a
sunken way down the hillside across the light railway which serves
Crecy, it gets vaguer and vaguer, for all the world like those ridges
upon the chalk that mark the Roman roads in England, and then it is
gone. It leaves you pointing, I say, at that distant harbour, thirty odd
miles off, but over all those miles it has vanished. The ghost of the
legends cannot march along it any more. In one place you find a few
yards of it about three miles south and east of Montreuil. It may be
that the little lane leading into Estree shows where it crossed the
valley of the Cauche, but it is all guesswork, and therefore very proper
to the huntsman.

Then there is that unbroken line by which St. Martin came, I think, when
he rode into Amiens, and at the gate of the town cut his cloak in two to
cover the beggar. It drives across country for Roye and on to Noyon, the
old centre of the Kings. It is a great modern road all the way, and it
stretches before you mile after mile after mile, until suddenly, without
explanation and for no reason, it ends sharply, like the life of a man.
It ends on the slopes of the hill called Choisy, at the edge of the wood
which is there. And seek as you will, you will never find it again.

From that road also, near Amiens, branches out another, whose object was
St. Quentin, first as a great high road, lost in the valley of the
Somme, a lesser road again, still in one strict alignment, it reaches on
to within a mile of Vermand, and there it stops dead. I do not think
that between Vermand and St. Quentin you will find it. Go out
north-westward from Vermand and walk perhaps five miles, or seven: there
is no trace of a road, only the rare country lanes winding in and out,
and the open plough of the rolling land. But continue by your compass so
and you will come (suddenly again and with no apparent reason for its
abrupt origin) upon the dead straight line that ran from the capital of
the Nervii, three days' march and more, and pointing all the time
straight at Vermand.

And so it is throughout the province and its neighbourhood. Here and
there, as at Bavai, a great capital has decayed. Here and there (but
more rarely), a town wholly new has sprung up since the Romans, but the
plan of the country is the same as that which they laid down, and the
roads as you discover them, mark it out and establish it. The armies
that you see marching to-day in their manoeuvres follow for half a
morning the line which was taken by the Legions.

The Reward of Letters

It has often been remarked that while all countries in the world possess
some sort of literature, as Iceland her Sagas, England her daily papers,
France her prose writers and dramatists, and even Prussia her railway
guides, one nation and one alone, the Empire of Monomotopa, is utterly
innocent of this embellishment or frill.

No traveller records the existence of any Monomotopan quill-driver; no
modern visitor to that delightful island has come across a
_litterateur_ whether in the worse or in the best hotels; and such
reading as the inhabitants enjoy is entirely confined to works imported
by large steamers from the neighbouring Antarctic Continent.

The causes of this singular and happy state of affairs were unknown
(since the common histories did not mention them) until the recent
discovery by Mr. Paley, the chief authority upon Monomotopan hieratic
script, of a very ancient inscription which clearly sets forth the whole

It seems that an Emperor of Monomotopa, whose date can be accurately
fixed by internal evidence to lie after the universal deluge and before
the building of the Pyramid of Cheops, was, upon his accession to the
throne, particularly concerned with the just repartition of taxes among
his beloved subjects.

It would seem (if we are to trust the inscription) that in a past still
more remote the taxes were so light that even the richest men would meet
them promptly and without complaining, but this was at a period when the
enemies of Monomotopa were at once distant and actively engaged in
quarrelling among themselves. With sickening treachery these distant
rival nations had determined to produce wealth and to live in amity, so
that it was incumbent upon the Monomotopans not only to build ships, but
actually to provide an army, and at last (what broke the camel's back)
to establish fortifications of a very useless but expensive sort upon a
dozen points of their Imperial coast.

Under the increasing strain the old fiscal system broke down. The poor
were clearly embarrassed, as might be seen in their emaciated visages
and from the terrible condition of their boots. The rich had reached the
point after which it was inconvenient to them to pay any more. The
middle classes were spending the greater part of their time in devising
methods by which the exorbitant and intempestive demands of the
collectors could be either evaded or, more rarely, complied with. In a
word, a new and juster system of taxation was an imperative need, and
the Emperor, who had just ascended the throne at the age of eighteen,
and whom a sort of greenness had preserved from the iniquities of this
world, was determined to effect the great reform.

With the advice of his Ministers (all of whom had had considerable
experience in the handling of money), the Emperor at last determined
that each man and woman should pay to the State one-tenth and no more of
the wealth which he or she produced; those who produced nothing it was
but common justice and reason to exempt, and the effect of this tardy
act of justice upon the very rich was observed in the sudden increase of
the death-rate from all those diseases that are the peculiar product of
luxury and evil living. Paupers also, the unemployed, cripples,
imbeciles, deaf mutes, and the clergy escaped under this beneficent and
equable statute, and we may sum up the whole policy by saying that never
was a law acclaimed with so much happy bewilderment nor subject to less
expressed criticism than this.

It was, moreover, easy to estimate in this new fashion the total revenue
of the State, since its produce had been accurately set down by
statisticians of the utmost eminence, and one of these diverse documents
had been taken for the basis of the new fiscal regime.

In practice also the collection was easy. Overseers would attend the
harvest with large carts, prong the tenth turnip, hoick up the tenth
sheaf of wheat, bucket out the tenth gallon of ale, and so forth. In the
markets every tenth animal was removed by Imperial officers, every tenth
newspaper was impounded as it left the press, and every tenth drink
about to be consumed in the hostelries of the Empire was, after a
simulacrum of proffering it, suddenly removed by the waiter and poured
into a receptacle, the keys of which were very jealously guarded.

It was the same with the liberal professions: of the fee received by a
barrister in the Criminal Courts a tenth was regularly demanded at the
door when the verdict had been given and the prisoner whom he had
defended passed out to execution. The tenth knock-out in the prize ring
received by the professional pugilist was followed by the immediate
sequestration of his fee for that particular encounter, and the tenth
aria vibrating from the lips of a prima donna was either compounded for
at a certain rate or taken in kind by the official who attended at every
performance of grand opera.

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