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From a College Window by Arthur Christopher Benson

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clearly and lucidly. The only piece of literary advice that I have
ever found to be of real and abiding use, is the advice I once
heard given by Professor Seeley to a youthful essayist, who had
involved a simple subject in mazes of irrelevant intricacy. "Don't
be afraid," said the Professor, "of letting the bones show." That
is the secret: a piece of literary art must not be merely dry
bones; the skeleton must be overlaid with delicate flesh and
appropriate muscle; but the structure must be there, and it must be

The perfection of lucid writing, which one sees in books such as
Newman's Apologia or Ruskin's Praeterita, seems to resemble a
crystal stream, which flows limpidly and deliciously over its
pebbly bed; the very shape of the channel is revealed; there are
transparent glassy water-breaks over the pale gravel; but though
the very stream has a beauty of its own, a beauty of liquid curve
and delicate murmur, its chief beauty is in the exquisite
transfiguring effect which it has over the shingle, the vegetation
that glimmers and sways beneath the surface. How dry, how
commonplace the pebbles on the edge look! How stiff and ruinous the
plants from which the water has receded! But seen through the
hyaline medium, what coolness, what romance, what secret and remote
mystery, lingers over the tiny pebbles, the little reefs of rock,
the ribbons of weed, that poise so delicately in the gliding
stream! What a vision of unimagined peace, of cool refreshment, of
gentle tranquillity, it all gives!

Thus it is with the transfiguring power of art, of style. The
objects by themselves, in the commonplace light, in the dreary air,
are trivial and unromantic enough; one can hold them in one's hand,
one seems to have seen them a hundred times before; but, plunged
beneath that clear and fresh medium, they have a unity, a softness,
a sweetness which seem the result of a magical spell, an
incommunicable influence; they bring all heaven before the eyes;
they whisper the secrets of a region which is veritably there,
which we can discern and enjoy, but the charm of which we can
neither analyse nor explain; we can only confess its existence with
a grateful heart. One who devotes himself to writing should find,
then, his chief joy in the practice of his art, not in the rewards
of it; publication has its merits, because it entails upon one the
labour of perfecting the book as far as possible; if one wrote
without publication in view, one would be tempted to shirk the
final labour of the file; one would leave sentences incomplete,
paragraphs unfinished; and then, too, imperfect as reviews often
are, it is wholesome as well as interesting to see the impression
that one's work makes on others. If one's work is generally
contemned, it is bracing to know that one fails in one's appeal,
that one cannot amuse and interest readers. High literature has
often met at first with unmerited neglect and even obloquy; but to
incur neglect and obloquy is not in itself a proof that one's
standard is high and one's taste fastidious. Moreover, if one has
done one's best, and expressed sincerely what one feels and
believes, one sometimes has the true and rare pleasure of eliciting
a grateful letter from an unknown person, who has derived pleasure,
perhaps even encouragement, from a book. These are some of the
pleasant rewards of writing, and though one should not write with
one's eye on the rewards, yet they may be accepted with a sober

Of course there will come moods of discouragement to all authors,
when they will ask themselves, as even Tennyson confesses that he
was tempted to do, what, after all, it amounts to? The author must
beware of rating his own possibilities too high. In looking back at
one's own life, in trying to trace what are the things that have
had a deep and permanent influence on one's character, how rarely
is it possible to point to a particular book, and say, "That book
gave me the message I most needed, made me take the right turn,
gave me the requisite bias, the momentous impulse"? We tend to want
to do things on too large a scale, to affect great masses of
people, to influence numerous hearts. An author should be more than
content if he finds he has made a difference to a handful of
people, or given innocent pleasure to a small company. Only to
those whose heart is high, whose patience is inexhaustible, whose
vigour is great, whose emotion is passionate, is it given to make a
deep mark upon the age; and there is needed too the magical charm
of personality, overflowing in "thoughts that breathe and words
that burn." But we can all take a hand in the great game; and if
the leading parts are denied us, if we are told off to sit among a
row of supers, drinking and whispering on a bench, while the great
characters soliloquize, let us be sure that we drain our empty cup
with zest, and do our whispering with intentness; not striving to
divert attention to ourselves, but contributing with all our might
to the naturalness, the effectiveness of the scene.



I was staying the other day in the house of an old friend, a public
man, who is a deeply interesting character, energetic, able,
vigorous, with very definite limitations. The only male guest in
the house, it so happened, was also an old friend of mine, a
serious man. One night, when we were all three in the smoking-room,
our host rose, and excused himself, saying that he had some letters
to write. When he was gone, I said to my serious friend: "What an
interesting fellow our host is! He is almost more interesting
because of the qualities that he does not possess, than because of
the qualities that he does possess." My companion, who is
remarkable for his power of blunt statement, looked at me gravely,
and said: "If you propose to discuss our host, you must find some
one else to conduct the argument; he is my friend, whom I esteem
and love, and I am not in a position to criticise him." I laughed,
and said: "Well, he is my friend, too, and _I_ esteem and love him;
and that is the very reason why I should like to discuss him.
Nothing that either you or I could say would make me love him less;
but I wish to understand him. I have a very clear impression of
him, and I have no doubt you have a very clear impression too; yet
we should probably differ about him in many points, and I should
like to see what light you could throw upon his character." My
companion said: "No; it is inconsistent with my idea of loyalty to
criticise my friends. Besides, you know I am an old-fashioned
person, and I disapprove of criticising people altogether. I think
it is a violation of the ninth commandment; I do not think we are
justified in bearing false witness against our neighbour."

"But you beg the question," I said, "by saying 'FALSE witness.' I
quite agree that to discuss people in a malicious spirit, or in a
spirit of mockery, with the intention of exaggerating their faults
and making a grotesque picture of their foibles, is wrong. But two
just persons, such as you and I are, may surely talk over our
friends, in what Mr. Chadband called a spirit of love?" My
companion shook his head. "No," he said, "I think it is altogether
wrong. Our business is to see the good points of our friends, and
to be blind to their faults." "Well," I said, "then let us 'praise
him soft and low, call him worthiest to be loved,' like the people
in 'The Princess.' You shall make a panegyric, and I will say
'Hear, hear!'" "You are making a joke out of it," said my
companion, "and I shall stick to my principles--and you won't mind
my saying," he went on, "that I think your tendency is to criticise
people much too much. You are always discussing people's faults,
and I think it ends in your having a lower estimate of human nature
than is either kind or necessary. To-night, at dinner, it made me
quite melancholy to hear the way in which you spoke of several of
our best friends." "Not leaving Lancelot brave nor Galahad pure!" I
said; "in fact you think that I behaved like the ingenious demon in
the Acts, who always seems to me to have had a strong sense of
humour. It was the seven sons of one Sceva, a Jew, was it not, who
tried to exorcise an evil spirit? But he 'leapt upon them and
overcame them, so that they fled out of the house naked and
wounded.' You mean that I use my friends like that, strip off their
reputations, belabour them, and leave them without a rag of virtue
or honour?" My companion frowned, and said: "Yes; that is more or
less what I mean, though I think your illustration is needlessly
profane. My idea is that we ought to make the best of people, and
try as far as possible to be blind to their faults." "Unless their
fault happens to be criticism?" I said. My companion turned to me
very solemnly, and said: "I think we ought not to be afraid, if
necessary, of telling our friends about their faults; but that is
quite a different thing from amusing oneself by discussing their
faults with others." "Well" I said, "I believe that one is in a
much better position to speak to people about their faults, if one
knows them; and personally I think I arrive at a juster view both
of my friends' faults and virtues by discussing them with others. I
think one takes a much fairer view, by seeing the impression that
one's friends make on other people; and I think that I generally
arrive at admiring my friends more by seeing them reflected in the
mind of another, than I do when they are merely reflected in my own
mind. Besides, if one is possessed of critical faculties, it seems
to me absurd to rule out one part of life, and that, perhaps, the
most important--one's fellow-beings, I mean--and to say that one is
not to exercise the faculty of criticism there. You would not think
it wrong, for instance, to criticise books?" "No," said my
companion, "certainly not. I think that it is not only legitimate,
but a duty, to bring one's critical faculties to bear on books; it
is one of the most valuable methods of self-education." "And yet
books are nothing but an expression of an author's personality," I
said. "Would you go so far as to say that one has no business to
criticise one's friends' books?" "You are only arguing for the sake
of arguing," said my companion. "With books it is quite different;
they are a public expression of a man's opinions, and consequently
they are submitted to the world for criticism." "I confess," I
said, "that I do not think the distinction is a real one. I feel
sure one has a right to criticise a man's opinions, delivered in
conversation; and I think that much of our lives is nothing but a
more or less public expression of ourselves. Your position seems to
me no more reasonable than if a man was to say: 'I look upon the
whole world, and all that is in it, as the work of God; and I am
not in a position to criticise any of the works of God.' If one may
not criticise the character of a friend whom one esteems and loves,
surely, a fortiori, we ought not to criticise anything in the world
at all. The whole of ethics, the whole of religion, is nothing else
than bringing our critical faculties to bear upon actions and
qualities; and it seems to me that if our critical faculty means
anything at all, we are bound to apply it to all the phenomena we
see about us." My companion said disdainfully that I was indulging
in the merest sophistry, and that he thought that we had better go
to bed, which we presently did.

I have, since this conversation, been reflecting about the whole
subject, and I am not inclined to admit that my companion was
right. In the first place, if every one were to follow the
principle that one had no business to criticise one's friends, it
would end in being deplorably dull. Imagine the appalling
ponderosity of a conversation in which one felt bound to praise
every one who was mentioned. Think of the insensate chorus which
would arise. "How tall and stately A---- is! How sturdy and compact
B---- is! Then there is dear C----; how wise, judicious, prudent,
and sensible! And the excellent D----, what candour, what
impulsiveness! E----, how worthy, how business-like! Yes, how true
that is! How thankful we should be for the examples of A----, B----,
C----, D----, and E----!" A very little of such conversation
would go a long way. How it would refresh and invigorate the mind!
What a field for humour and subtlety it would open up!

It may be urged that we ought not to regulate our conduct upon the
basis of trying to avoid what is dull; but I am myself of opinion
that dulness is responsible for a large amount of human error and
misery. Readers of The Pilgrim's Progress will no doubt remember
the young woman whose name was Dull, and her choice of companions--
Simple, Sloth, Presumption, Short-mind, Slow-pace, No-heart,
Linger-after-lust, and Sleepy-head. These are the natural
associates of Madam Dull. The danger of dulness, whether natural or
acquired, is the danger of complacently lingering among stupid and
conventional ideas, and losing all the bright interchange of the
larger world. The dull people are not, as a rule, the simple
people--they are generally provided with a narrow and self-
sufficient code; they are often entirely self-satisfied, and apt to
disapprove of everything that is lively, romantic, and vigorous.
Simplicity, as a rule, is either a natural gift, or else can be
attained only by people of strong critical powers, who will, firmly
and vigorously, test, examine, and weigh motives, and arrive
through experience at a direct and natural method of dealing with
men and circumstances. True simplicity is not an inherited poverty
of spirit; it is rather like the poverty of one who has
deliberately discarded what is hampering, vexatious, and
unnecessary, and has learnt that the art of life consists in
disentangling the spirit from all conventional claims, in living by
trained impulse and fine instinct, rather than by tradition and
authority. I do not say that the dull people are not probably, in a
way, the happier people; I suppose that anything that leads to
self-satisfaction is, in a sense, a cause of happiness; but it is
not a species of happiness that people ought to pursue.

Perhaps one ought not to use the word dulness, because it may be
misunderstood. The kind of dulness of which I speak is not
inconsistent with a high degree, not only of practical, but even of
mental, ability. I know several people of very great intellectual
power who are models of dulness. Their memories are loaded with
what is no doubt very valuable information, and their conclusions
are of the weightiest character; but they have no vivid perception,
no alertness, they are not open to new ideas, they never say an
interesting or a suggestive thing; their presence is a load on the
spirits of a lively party, their very facial expression is a rebuke
to all light-mindedness and triviality. Sometimes these people are
silent, and then to be in their presence is like being in a thick
mist; there is no outlook, no enlivening prospect. Sometimes they
are talkers; and I am not sure that that is not even worse, because
they generally discourse on their own subjects with profound and
serious conviction. They have no power of conversation, because
they are not interested in any one else's point of view; they care
no more who their companions are, than a pump cares what sort of a
vessel is put under it--they only demand that people should listen
in silence. I remember not long ago meeting one of the species, in
this case an antiquarian. He discoursed continuously, with a hard
eye, fixed as a rule upon the table, about the antiquities of the
neighbourhood. I was on one side of him, and was far too much
crushed to attempt resistance. I ate and drank mechanically; I said
"Yes" and "Very interesting" at intervals; and the only ray of hope
upon the horizon was that the hands of the clock upon the
mantelpiece did undoubtedly move, though they moved with leaden
slowness. On the other side of the savant was a lively talker,
Matthews by name, who grew very restive under the process. The
great man had selected Dorchester as his theme, because he had
unhappily discovered that I had recently visited it. My friend
Matthews, who had been included in the audience, made desperate
attempts to escape; and once, seeing that I was fairly grappled,
began a conversation with his next neighbour. But the antiquary was
not to be put off. He stopped, and looked at Matthews with a
relentless eye. "Matthews," he said, "MATTHEWS!" raising his voice.
Matthews looked round. "I was saying that Dorchester was a very
interesting place." Matthews made no further attempt to escape, and
resigned himself to his fate.

Such men as the antiquary are certainly very happy people; they are
absorbed in their subject, and consider it to be of immense
importance. I suppose that their lives are, in a sense, well spent,
and that the world is in a way the gainer by their labours. My
friend the antiquary has certainly, according to his own account,
proved that certain ancient earthworks near Dorchester are of a
date at least five hundred years anterior to the received date. It
took him a year or two to find out, and I suppose that the human
race has benefited in some way or other by the conclusion; but, on
the other hand, the antiquary seems to miss all the best things of
life. If life is an educative process, people who have lived and
loved, who have smiled and suffered, who have perceived beautiful
things, who have felt the rapturous and bewildering mysteries of
the world--well, they have learnt something of the mind of God,
and, when they close their eyes upon the world, take with them an
alert, a hopeful, an inquisitive, an ardent spirit, into whatever
may be the next act of the drama; but my friend the antiquary, when
he crosses the threshold of the unseen, when he is questioned as to
what has been his relation to life, will have seen and perceived,
and learnt nothing, except the date of the Dorchester earthworks,
and similar monuments of history.

And of all the shifting pageant of life, by far the most
interesting and exquisite part is our relations with the other
souls who are bound on the same pilgrimage. One desires ardently to
know what other people feel about it all--what their points of view
are, what their motives are, what are the data on which they form
their opinions--so that to cut off the discussion of other
personalities, on ethical grounds, is like any other stiff and
Puritanical attempt to limit interests, to circumscribe experience,
to maim life. The criticism, then, or the discussion, of other
people is not so much a CAUSE of interest in life, as a SIGN of it;
it is no more to be suppressed by codes or edicts than any other
form of temperamental activity. It is no more necessary to justify
the habit, than it is necessary to give good reasons for eating or
for breathing; the only thing that it is advisable to do, is to lay
down certain rules about it, and prescribe certain methods of
practising it. The people who do not desire to discuss others, or
who disapprove of doing it, may be pronounced to be, as a rule,
either stupid, or egotistical, or Pharisaical; and sometimes they
are all three. The only principle to bear in mind is the principle
of justice. If a man discusses others spitefully or malevolently,
with the sole intention of either extracting amusement out of their
foibles, or with the still more odious intention of emphasizing his
own virtues by discovering the weakness of others, or with the
cynical desire--which is perhaps the lowest of all--of proving the
whole business of human life to be a vile and sordid spectacle,
then he may be frankly disapproved of, and if possible avoided; but
if a man takes a generous view of humanity, if he admires what is
large and noble, if he gives full credit for kindliness, strength,
usefulness, vigour, sympathy, then his humorous perception of
faults and deficiencies, of whims and mannerisms, of prejudices and
unreasonablenesses, will have nothing that is hard or bitter about
it. For the truth is that, if we are sure that a man is generous
and just, his little mannerisms, his fads, his ways, are what
mostly endear him to us. The man of lavish liberality is all the
more lovable if he has an intense dislike to cutting the string of
a parcel, and loves to fill his drawers with little hanks of twine,
the untying of which stands for many wasted hours. If we know a man
to be simple-minded, forbearing, and conscientious, we like him all
the better when he tells for the fiftieth time an ancient story,
prefacing it by anxious inquiries, which are smilingly rebutted, as
to whether any of his hearers have ever heard the anecdote before.

But we must not let this tendency, to take a man in his entirety,
to love him as he is, carry us too far; we must be careful that the
foibles that endear him to us are in themselves innocent.

There is one particular form of priggishness, in this matter of
criticism of others, which is apt to beset literary people, and
more especially at a time when it seems to be considered by many
writers that the first duty of a critic--they would probably call
him an artist for the sake of the associations--is to get rid of
all sense of right and wrong. I was reading the other day a
sensible and appreciative review of Mr. Lucas's new biography of
Charles Lamb. The reviewer quoted with cordial praise Mr. Lucas's
remark--referring, of course, to the gin-and-water, which casts, I
fear, in my own narrow view, something of a sordid shadow over
Lamb's otherwise innocent life--"A man must be very secure in his
own righteousness who would pass condemnatory judgment upon Charles
Lamb's only weakness." I do not myself think this a sound
criticism. We ought not to abstain from condemning the weakness, we
must abstain from condemning Charles Lamb. His beautiful virtues,
his tenderness, his extraordinary sweetness and purity of nature,
far outweigh this weakness. But what are we to do? Are we to
ignore, to condone, to praise the habit? Are we to think the better
of Charles Lamb and love him more because he tippled? Would he not
have been more lovable without it?

And the fact that one may be conscious of similar faults and moral
weaknesses, ought not to make one more, but less, indulgent to such
a fault when we see it in a beautiful nature. The fault in question
is no more in itself adorable, than it is in another man who does
not possess Lamb's genius.

We have a perfect right--nay, we do well--to condemn in others
faults which we frankly condemn in ourselves. It does not help on
the world if we go about everywhere slobbering with forgiveness and
affection; it is the most mawkish sentimentality to love people in
such a way that we condone grave faults in them; and to condone a
fault because a man is great, when we condemn it if he is not
great, is only a species of snobbishness. It is right to
compassionate sinners, to find excuse for the faults of every one
but ourselves; but we ought not to love so foolishly and
irrationally, that we cannot even bring ourselves to wish our
hero's faults away.

I confess to feeling the most minute and detailed interest in the
smallest matters connected with other people's lives and
idiosyncrasies. I cannot bear biographies of the dignified order,
which do not condescend to give what are called personal details,
but confine themselves to matters of undoubted importance. When I
have finished reading such books I feel as if I had been reading
The Statesman's Year-book, or The Annual Register. I have no mental
picture of the hero; he is merely like one of those bronze statues,
in frockcoat and trousers, that decorate our London squares.

I was reading, the other day, an ecclesiastical biography. The
subject of it, a high dignitary of the Church, had attended the
funeral of one of his episcopal colleagues, with whom he had had
several technical controversies. On the evening of the day he wrote
a very tender and beautiful account of the funeral in his diary,
which is quoted at length: "How little," he wrote, "the sense of
difference, and how strong my feeling of his power and solid sense;
how little I care that he was wrong about the Discipline Bill, how
much that he was so happy with us in the summer; how much that he
was, as all the family told me, so 'devoted' to my Nellie!"

That is a thoroughly human statement, and preserves a due sense of
proportion. In the presence of death it is the kindly human
relations that matter more than policies and statesmanship.

And so it may be said, in conclusion, that we cannot taste the
fulness of life, unless we can honestly say, Nihil humani a me
alienum puto. If we grow absorbed in work, in business, in
literature, in art, in policy, to the exclusion of the nearer human
elements, we dock and maim our lives. We cannot solve the mystery
of this difficult world; but we may be sure of this--that it is
not for nothing that we are set in the midst of interests and
relationships, of liking and loving, of tenderness and mirth, of
sorrow and pain. If we are to get the most and the best out of
life, we must not seclude ourselves from these things; and one of
the nearest and simplest of duties is the perception of others'
points of view, of sympathy, in no limited sense; and that sympathy
we can only gain through looking at humanity in its wholeness. If
we allow ourselves to be blinded by false conscience, by tradition,
by stupidity, even by affection, from realizing what others are, we
suffer, as we always suffer from any wilful blindness; indeed,
wilful blindness is the most desperate of all faults, perhaps the
only one that can hardly be condoned, because it argues a
confidence in one's own opinion, a self-sufficiency, a self-
estimation, which shut out, as by an opaque and sordid screen, the
light of heaven from the soul.



I have been fortunate in the course of my life in knowing, more or
less intimately, several eminent priests; and by this I do not mean
necessarily eminent ecclesiastics; several famous ecclesiastics
with whom circumstances have brought me into contact have not been
priestly persons at all; they have been vigorous, wise, energetic,
statesmanlike men, such as I suppose the Pontifex Maximus at Rome
might have been, with a kind of formal, almost hereditary,
priesthood. And, on the other hand, I have known more than one
layman of distinctly priestly character, priestly after the order
of Melchizedek, who had not, I suppose, received any religious
consecration for his ministry, apart from perhaps a kingly

The essence of the priest is that he should believe himself,
however humbly and secretly, to be set in a certain sense between
humanity and God. He is conscious, if not of a mission, at least of
a vocation, as an interpreter of secrets, a guardian of mysteries;
he would believe that there are certain people in the world who are
called to be apostles, whose work it is to remind men of God, and
to justify the ways of God to men. He feels that he stands, like
Aaron, to make atonement; that he is in a certain definite relation
to God, a relation which all do not share; and that this gives him,
in a special sense, something of the divine and fatherly relation
to men. In the hands of a perfectly humble, perfectly disinterested
man, this may become a very beautiful and tender thing. Such a man,
from long and intimate relations with humanity, will have a very
deep knowledge of the human heart. He will be surprised at no
weakness or frailty; he will be patient with all perverseness and
obduracy; he will be endlessly compassionate, because he will
realize the strength and insistence of temptation; he will be
endlessly hopeful, because he will have seen, a hundred times over,
the flower of virtue and love blooming in an arid and desolate
heart. He will have seen close at hand the transforming power of
faith, even in natures which have become the shuddering victims of
evil habit.

Such a priest as I describe had occasion once to interview a great
doctor about the terrible case of a woman of high social position
who had become the slave of drink. The doctor was a man of great
force and ability, and of unwearying devotion; but he was what
would be called a sceptic and a materialist. The priest asked if
the case was hopeless; the great doctor shrugged his shoulders.
"Yes," he said, "pathologically speaking, it is hopeless; there may
be periods of recovery, but the course that the case will normally
run will be a series of relapses, each more serious and of longer
duration than the last." "Is there no chance of recovery on any
line that you could suggest?" said the priest. The two looked at
each other, both good men and true. "Well," said the doctor after a
pause, "this is more in your line than mine; the only possible
chance lies in the will, and that can only be touched through an
emotion. I have seen a religious emotion successful, where
everything else failed." The priest smiled and said, "I suppose
that would seem to you a species of delusion? You would not admit
that there was any reality behind it?" "Yes," said the doctor, "a
certain reality, no doubt; the emotional processes are at present
somewhat obscure from the scientific point of view: it is a forlorn
hope." "Yes," said the priest, "and it is thus the kind of task for
which I and those of my calling feel bound to volunteer."

Of course one of the difficulties that the priest has to struggle
against is his inheritance. If we trace back the vocation of the
priest to the earliest times, we find their progenitors connected
with some of the darkest and saddest things in human history. They
are of the same tribe as wizards and magicians, sorcerers and
medicine-men, the celebrators of cruel and unholy rites. The
priests of Moloch, of Chemosh, of Baal, are the dark and ancient
ancestors of the same vocation. All who have trafficked in the
terrors of mankind, who have gained power by trading on
superstitious imaginings, who have professed to propitiate wrathful
and malignant spirits, to stand between men and their dreadful
Maker--all these have contributed their share to the dark and sad
burden which the priest has to bear. As soon as man, rising out of
pure savagery, began to have any conception of the laws of nature,
he found in himself a deep instinct for happiness, a terror of
suffering and death; yet, at the same time, he found himself set in
a world where afflictions seemed to be rained down upon humanity by
some mysterious, unseen, and awful power. Could man believe that
God wished him well, who racked him with cruel pain, sent plagues
among his cattle, swept away those whom he loved, destroyed his
crops with hail and thunderbolts, and at the end of all dragged him
reluctant and shuddering into the darkness, out of a world where so
much was kind and cheerful, and where, after all, it was sweet to

He turned in his despair to any one who could profess to hold out
any shield over him, who could claim to read the dreadful mind of
God, and to propitiate His mercy. Even then a demand created a
supply. Men have always loved power and influence; and so spirits
of sterner and more tenacious mould, who could perhaps despise the
lesser terrors of mankind, and who desired, above all things, to
hold the destinies of others in their hands, to make themselves
felt, naturally seized the opportunity of surrounding themselves
with the awe and dignity that the supposed possession of deeper
knowledge and more recondite powers offered them.

Then as the world broadened and widened, as reason began to extend
its sway, the work of the priest became more beneficent, and tended
to bless and hallow rather than to blast and curse. But still the
temptation remains a terribly strong one for men of a certain type,
men who can afford to despise the more material successes of the
world, who can merge their personal ambition in ambitions for an
order and a caste, still to claim to stand between man and God, to
profess to withhold His blessings, to grasp the keys of His
mysteries, to save men from the consequences of sin. As long as
human terror exists, as long as men fear suffering and darkness and
death, they will turn to any one who can profess to give them
relief; and relief, too, will come; for the essence of courage is,
for many timid hearts, the dependence upon a stronger will. And if
a man can say, with a tranquil conviction, to a suffering and
terrified comrade, "There is no need to fear," the fear loses half
its terrors and half its sting.

Now, when religion of any kind becomes a part of the definite
social life of the world, there must of course be an order of
ministers whose business it is to preach it, and to bring it home
to the minds of men. Such men will be set apart by a solemn
initiation to their office; the more solemn the initiation is, the
more faithful they will be. The question rather is what extent of
spiritual power such ministers may claim. The essence of religious
liberty is that men should feel that there is nothing whatever that
stands between themselves and God; that they can approach God with
perfect and simple access; that they can speak to Him without
concealment of their sins, and receive from Him the comforting
sense of the possibility of forgiveness. Of course the sense of sin
is a terribly complicated one, because it seems to be made up
partly of an inner sense of transgression, a sense of failure, a
consciousness that we have acted unworthily, meanly, miserably. Yet
the sense of sin follows many acts that are not in themselves
necessarily disastrous either to oneself or the community. Then
there is a further sense of sin, perhaps developed by long
inheritance of instinct, which seems to attend acts not in
themselves sinful, but which menace the security of society. For
instance, there is nothing sinful in a man's desiring to save
himself, and in fact saving himself, from a sudden danger. If a man
leaps out of the way of a runaway cart, or throws himself on the
ground to avoid the accidental discharge of a gun, he would never
be blamed, nor would he blame himself, for any want of courage. Yet
if a man in a battle saves himself from death by flight, he would
regard himself, and be regarded by others, as having failed in his
duty, and he would be apt to feel a lifelong shame and remorse for
having yielded to the impulse. Again, the deliberate killing of
another human being in a fit of anger, however just, would be
regarded by the offender as a deeply sinful act, and he would not
quarrel with the justice of the sentence of death which would be
meted out to him; but when we transfer the same act to the region
of war, which is consecrated by the usage of society, a man who had
slain a hundred enemies would regard the fact with a certain
complacency, and would not be even encouraged by a minister of
religion to repent of his hundred heinous crimes upon his deathbed.

The sense, then, of sin is in a certain degree an artificial sense,
and would seem to consist partly of a deep and divine instinct
which arraigns the soul for acts, which may be in themselves
trifling, but which seem to possess the sinful quality; and partly
of a conventional instinct which considers certain things to be
abominable, which are not necessarily in themselves sinful, because
it is the custom of the world to consider them so.

And then to the philosopher there falls a darker tinge upon the
whole matter, when he considers that the evil impulses, to yield to
which is sin, are in themselves deliberately implanted in man by
his Creator, or at least not apparently eradicated; and that many
of those whose whole life has been darkened, embittered, and
wrecked by sin, have incurred their misery by yielding to
tendencies which in themselves are, by inheritance, practically

What room is there, then, in these latter days, when reason and
science together have dispelled the darkness of superstition, have
diminished the possibility of miraculous occurrences, have laughed
empirical occultism out of the field, for the priest?

There is no room for him if there lingers in the depth of his mind
any taint of the temptation to serve his own ends, or to exalt
himself or his order, by trading on the fears of irrational and
credulous humanity. Against such priestcraft as this the true
priest must array himself, together with the scientist, the
statesman, the physician. Against all personal and priestly
domination all lovers of liberty and God must combine. Theirs is
the sin of Simon Magus, the sin of Hophni, the sin of Caiaphas; the
sin that desires that men should still be bound, in order that they
may themselves win worship and honour. It is the deadliest and
vilest tyranny in the world.

But of the true priesthood there is more need than there ever was,
as the minds of men awaken to the truth; for in a world where there
is so much that is dark, men need to be constantly encouraged,
reminded, even rebuked. The true priest must leave the social
conscience alone, and entrust it to the hands of statesmen and
officials. His concern must be with the individual; he must
endeavour to make men realize that tranquillity and security of
heart can only be won by victories over self, that law is only a
cumbrous and incomplete organization for enforcing upon men a sense
of equality; and he must show how far law lags behind morality, and
that a man may be legally respectable yet morally abominable. The
true priest must not obscure the oracles of God; he must beware of,
teaching that faith is an intricate intellectual process. He must
pare religion to the bone, and show that the essence of it is a
perfectly simple relation with God and neighbour. He must not
concern himself with policy or ceremony; he must warn men against
mistaking aesthetic impulse for the perception of virtue; he must
fight against precedent and tradition and custom; he must realize
that one point of union is more important than a hundred points of
difference. He must set himself against upholsteries and uniforms,
against formalities and rituals. He must abjure wealth and
position, in favour of humble kindliness and serviceableness. He
must have a sense of poetry and romance and beauty about life;
where other men are artists in words, in musical tones, in pigments
or sculptured stone, he must be an artist in virtue. He must be the
friend and lover of humble, inefficient, inarticulate, unpleasing
persons; and he must be able to show that there is a desirable
quality of beauty in the most sordid and commonplace action, if
faithfully performed.

Against such an ideal are arrayed all the forces of the world.
Christ and Christ-like men have held up such an ideal to humanity;
and the sorrow of it is that, the moment that such thoughts have
won for themselves the incredible and instant power that they do
win among mortals, men of impure motive, who have desired the power
more than the service, have seized upon the source, have fenced it
off, have systematized its distribution, have enriched themselves
by withholding and denying it to all but those who can pay a price,
if not of wealth, at all events of submission and obedience and

A man who desires the true priesthood may perhaps find it readiest
to his hand in some ecclesiastical organization; yet there he is
surrounded by danger; his impulses are repressed; he must sacrifice
them for the sake of the caste to which he belongs; he is told to
be cautious and prudent; he is praised and rewarded for being
conventional. But a man may also take such a consecration for
himself, as a king takes a crown from the altar and crowns himself
with might; he need not require it at the hands of another. If a
man resolves not to live for himself or his own ambitions, but to
walk up and down in the earth, praising simplicity and virtue and
the love of God wherever he sees it, protesting against tyranny and
selfishness, bearing others' burdens as far as he can, he may
exercise the priesthood of God. Such men are to be found in every
Church, and even holding the highest places in them; but such a
priesthood is found, though perhaps few suspect it, by thousands
among women where it is found by tens among men. Perhaps it may be
said that if a man adds the tenderness of a woman to the serene
strength of a man, he is best fitted for the task; but the truth
lies in the fact that the qualities for the exercise of such an
influence are to be found far more commonly among women than among
men, though accompanied as a rule by less consciousness of it, and
little desire to exercise it officially; indeed it is the very
absence of egotism among women, the absence of the personal claim,
that makes them less effective than they otherwise might be,
because they do not hold an object or an aim dear enough. They
desire to achieve, rather than to be known to have achieved; and
yet in this unperceptive world, human beings are apt to choose for
their guides and counsellors people whom they know by reputation,
rather than those whom they know familiarly. And thus mere
recognition often brings with it a power of wider influence,
because people are apt to trust the judgment of others rather than
their own. In seeking for an adviser, men are apt to consider who
has the greatest reputation for wisdom, rather than whom they
themselves have found wisest; and thus the man who seeks for
influence often attains it, because he has a wider circle of those
who recommend him. It is this absence of independent judgment that
gives strength to the self-seeking priest; while the natural
priesthood of women is less recognized because it is attended with
no advertisement.

The natural priest is one whom one can instinctively and utterly
trust, in whom one can deposit secrets as one deposits them in the
custody of a bank, without any fear that they will be used for
other purposes. In the true priest one finds a tender compassion, a
deep and patient love; it is not worth while to wear disguises
before him, because his keen, weary, and amused eye sees through
the mask. It is not worth while to keep back, as Ananias did, part
of the price of the land, to leave sordid temptations untold,
because the true priest loves the sinner even more than he hates
the sin; it is best to be utterly sincere with him, because he
loves sincerity even more than unstained virtue; and one can
confess to him one's desires for good with as little false shame as
one can confess one's hankering after evil. Perhaps in one respect
the man is more fitted to be a confessor than a woman, because he
has a deeper experience of the ardour and the pleasure of
temptation; and yet the deeper tenderness of the woman gives her a
sympathy for the tempted, which is not even communicated by a wider
experience of sin.

Perhaps there is nothing that reflects our anthropomorphic ideas of
God more strongly than the fact that no revelation of prophets has
ever conceived of the Supreme Deity as other than masculine; and no
doubt the Mariolatry of the Church of Rome is the reflection of the
growing influence in the world of the feminine element; and yet the
conception of God as masculine is in itself a limitation of His
infinite perfection. That we should carry our conception of sex
into the infinite is perhaps a mere failure of imagination, and if
we could divest ourselves of a thought which possibly has no
reality in it, we should perhaps grow to feel that the true
priesthood of life could be exercised as well by women as by men,
or even better. The true principle is that all those who are set
free by a natural grace, a divine instinct, from grosser
temptations, and whose freedom leads them not to a cold self-
sufficiency, to a contempt for what is weaker, but to an ardent
desire to save, to renew, to upraise, are the natural priests or
priestesses of the world; for the only way in which the priest can
stand between man and God is, when smaller and more hampered
natures realize that he has a divine freedom and compassion
conferred upon him, which sets him above themselves; when they can
feel that in religion it is better to agree with the saints than to
differ from them; when they can see that there are certain people
whose religious intuitions can be trusted, because they are wider
and deeper than the narrower intuitions of more elementary natures.

The priest, then, that I would recognize is not the celebrator of
lonely and forlorn mysteries, the proprietor of divine blessings,
the posturer in solemn ceremonies, but the man or woman of candid
gaze, of fearless heart, of deep compassion, of infinite concern.
It is these qualities which, if they are there, lend to rite and
solemnity a holiness and a significance which they cannot win from
antiquity or tradition. Such priests as these are the interpreters
of the Divine will, the channels of Divine grace; and the hope of
the race lies in the fact that such men and women are sent into the
world, and go in and out among us, more than in all the stately
organizations, the mysterious secrets, the splendid shrines,
devised by the art of man to make fences about the healing spring;
shrines where, though sound and colour may lavish their rich hues,
their moving tones, yet the raiment of the priest may hide a proud
and greedy heart, and the very altar may be cold.



I am afraid that Milton's great line about ambition,

"That last infirmity of noble minds,"

is responsible for a good deal of harm, because it induces high-
minded persons of inexact ideas to think ambition a noble
infirmity, or at least to believe that they need not try to get rid
of their personal ambitions until they have conquered all their
other evil dispositions. I suppose that what Milton meant was that
it was the hardest of all faults to get rid of; and the reason why
it is so difficult to eject it, is because it is so subtle and
ingenious a spirit, and masquerades under such splendid disguises,
arrayed in robes of light. A man who desires to fill a high
position in the world is so apt to disguise his craving to himself
by thinking, or trying to think, that he desires a great place
because of the beneficent influence he can exert, and all the good
that he will be able to do, which shall stream from him as light
from the sun. Of course to a high-minded man that is naturally one
of the honest pleasures of an important post; but he ought to be
quite sure that his motive is that the good should be done, and not
that he should have the credit of doing it. I have burnt my own
fingers not once nor twice at the fire of ambition, and the subject
has been often in my mind. But my experiences were so wholly unlike
anything that I had anticipated, though I suppose they are in
reality normal enough, that I will venture to set them down here.
The first curious experience was how, on a nearer survey of the
prospect of obtaining an important post, all the incidental
advantages and conveniences of the position sank into nothingness.
This was a quite unexpected development; I had imagined that a
prospect of dignity and importance would have had something vaguely
sustaining about it. A brilliant satirist once said that a curate
did not as a rule desire to be a bishop that he might exercise a
wide and useful influence, but primarily that he might be called
"my lord." I myself was brought, as a child, in contact with one
who was somewhat unexpectedly called to a high office. I was much
with him in the days when his honours first invested him, and I
confess with a certain shame that it did undoubtedly seem to me
that the dignity of the office, the sense of power, the obvious
respect paid to him by people of position, were things that must
pleasantly sweeten a mortal cup. The other day I was in the company
of an eminent prelate; there were three curates present: they
hovered round the great man like bees round a flower; they gazed
with innocent rapture upon his shapely legs, somewhat strangely
swathed, as Carlyle said, his bright, grotesque hat; and I could
not help feeling that they thought how well such raiment would
become themselves. It is of course a childish view; but then how
long our childish views survive, though hidden under grave
pretences! To see a great personage move with dignity to his
appointed place in a great ceremony, attended by all the
circumstances of pomp, a congregation gazing, with an organ above
thundering out rich and solemn music, how impressive it all
appears! How hard to think that the central actor in such a scene
does not feel his heart swell with a complacent joy! And yet I
suppose that any sensible man under such conditions is far more
likely to be oppressed with a sense of weakness and anxious
responsibility; how soon such surroundings ought to, nay, do find
their true value in a wise man's mind! The triumph rather is if, in
the midst of all this glitter and glory, when a silence is made,
the worshipful man speaks simple and strong words out of a pure and
noble heart; and then one can feel that the pomp is nothing but the
due homage of mankind for real greatness, and that it has followed
him rather than been followed by him.

It was a relief to find, as I say, that, on a nearer prospect, all
the circumstance of greatness vanished into shadow--indeed more
than that--it became one of the distinct disadvantages of the
position. I felt that time and money and thought would have to be
spent on the useless and fatiguing mise-en-scene, and that it
would all entail a quantity of futile worry, of tiresome publicity,
of intolerable functions, that meant nothing but weariness of
spirit. I think that men of high official position are most to be
pitied because of the time that they have to spend, not in their
work, but in the ornamental appearances entailed on them by their
duties. These things have a certain value, I suppose, in
stimulating the imagination of gazers; but surely it is a poor
value after all. A secretary of state in his study, working out the
hard and tiresome details of a plan that will benefit perhaps a
whole nation in humble ways, is a more admirable figure than the
same man, in ribbon and star, bowing and smiling at an evening
party. And yet the dignified trappings of the post are what
ordinary men desire.

The next step in my own progress when confronted, as I say, with
the prospect of the possibility that I might feel bound to accept
an important position, was the consciousness of the anxious and
wearing responsibilities that it involved. I felt that a millstone
was to be bound round my neck, and that I must bid farewell to what
is after all the best gift of heaven, my liberty; a liberty won by
anxious years of hard toil.

And here I have no doubt, though I tried hard not to let it affect
me, that my desire not to sacrifice my liberty did make me
exaggerate the difficulties that lay before me; difficulties which
I should probably have unconsciously minimized if I had desired the
position which was in prospect. It was a happy moment when I found
myself relieved from the responsibility of undertaking an
impossible task. I felt, too, that I was further disqualified by my
reluctance to attempt the task; a reluctance which a near prospect
of the position had poignantly revealed to me. A great task ought
to be taken up with a certain buoyancy and eagerness of spirit, not
in heaviness and sadness. A certain tremor of nerves, a stage
fright, is natural to all sensitive performers. But this is merely
a kind of anteroom through which one must needs pass to a part
which one desires to play; but if one does not sincerely desire to
play the part, it is clear that to attempt it merely from a sense
of duty is an ill omen for success. And so I felt sincerely and
humbly that I ought not to feel compelled to attempt it. The
conviction came in a flash like a divine intuition, and was
followed by a peace of mind which showed me that I was acting
rightly. I seemed too to perceive that the best work in the world
was not the work of administration and organization, but humble and
individual ministries performed in a corner without tangible
rewards. For such work I was both equipped and prepared, and I
turned back to the fallentis semita vitae, which is the true path
for the sincere spirit, aware that I had been truly and tenderly
saved from committing a grave mistake.

Perhaps if one could have looked at the whole question in a simpler
and larger-minded way, the result might have been different. But
here temperament comes in, and the very complexities and
intricacies that clouded the matter were of themselves evidence
that after all it was the temperament that was at fault. Cecil
Rhodes, it is recorded, once asked Lord Acton why Mr. Bent, the
explorer, did not pronounce certain ruins to be of Phoenician
origin. Lord Acton replied with a smile that it was probably
because he was not sure. "Ah!" said Cecil Rhodes, "that is not the
way that Empires are made." A true, interesting, and characteristic
comment; but it also contains a lesson that people who are not sure
should not attempt to make empires, or undertake tasks that involve
the welfare of many.

And so there remains the duty to me, after my piece of experience,
to gather up the fragments that remain, to interpret. Dante assigns
the lowest place in the lower world to those who refuse a great
opportunity, but he is speaking of those who perversely reject a
great task, which is plainly in their power, for some false and low
motive. But the case is different for those who have a great
temptation put before them, and who, desiring to do what is right,
have it brought home to them in a convincing way that it is not
their opportunity. No one ought to assume great responsibilities if
he is not equal to them. One of the saddest things ever said on a
human deathbed was what was said by a great ecclesiastic, who had
disappointed the hopes that had been formed of him. In his last
moments he turned to one who stood near him and murmured, "I have
held a great post, and I have not been equal to it." The misery was
that no one could sincerely contradict him. It is not a piece of
noble self-sacrifice to have assumed confidently a great
responsibility to which one is not equal. It is a mere mistake, and
a mistake which is even more reprehensible than the mistake of
being over-persuaded into attempting a task for which one is not
fitted. One is given reason and common sense and prudence that one
may use them, and to act contrary to their dictates because those
who do not know you so well as you know yourself advise you
cheerfully that it will probably be all right, is an act of
criminal folly. Heavy responsibilities are lightly assumed
nowadays, because the temptations of power and publicity are very
strong, and because too high a value is set upon worldly success.
It is a plainer and simpler duty for those who wish to act rightly,
and who have formed a deliberate idea of own limitations, to refuse
great positions humbly and seriously, if they know that they will
be unequal to them.

Of course I knew that I should be reproached with indolence and
even cowardice. I knew that I should be supposed to be one of those
consistently impracticable people who insist on going off at a
tangent when the straight course lies before them. That I should be
relegated to the class of persons who have failed in life through
some deep-seated defect of will. The worst of a serious decision of
the kind is that, whichever step one takes, one is sure to be
blamed. I saw all this with painful clearness, but it is better to
be arraigned before the tribunal of other men's consciences than to
be condemned before one's own. It is better to refuse and be
disappointed, than to accept and be disappointed. Failure in the
course marked out, in the event of acceptance, would have been
disastrous, not only to myself but to the institution I was to be
set to rule and guide. Far better that the task should be entrusted
to one who had no diffidence, no hesitation, but a sincere
confidence in his power of dealing with the difficulties of the
situation, and an ardent desire to grapple with them.

The only difficulty, if one believes very strongly, as I do, in a
great and wise Providence that guides our path, is to interpret why
the possibility of a great task is indicated to one if it is not
intended that one should perform it. But the essence of a true
belief in the call of Providence seems to me to lie not in the rash
acceptance of any invitation that happens to come in one's way, but
a stern and austere judgment of one's own faculties and powers. I
have not the smallest doubt that Providence intended that this
great task should be refused by me; my only difficulty is to see
what to make of it, and why it was even suggested. One lesson is
that one must beware of personal vanity, another that one should
not indulge in the temptation to desire important posts for any
reason except the best: the humble hope to do work that is useful
and valuable. If I had sternly repressed these tendencies at an
earlier stage of life, this temptation would not have been
necessary, nor the humiliation which inevitably succeeds it.


that is down need fear no fall,
He that is low no pride.

And there can be now no more chance of these bitter and self-
revealing incidents, which show one, as in a clear mirror, the
secret weaknesses of the heart.

But in setting aside the desire for the crowns and thrones of
ambition, we must be very careful that we are not merely yielding
to temptations of indolence, of fastidiousness, of cowardice, and
calling a personal motive unworldliness for the sake of the
associations. No man need set himself to seek great positions, but
a man who is diffident, and possibly indolent, will do well to pin
himself down in a position of responsibility and influence, if it
comes naturally in his way. There are a good many men with high
natural gifts of an instinctive kind who are yet averse to using
them diligently, who, indeed, from the very facility with which
they exercise them, hardly know their value. Such men as these--and
I have known several--undertake a great responsibility if they
refuse to take advantage of obvious opportunities to use their
gifts. Men of this kind have often a certain vague, poetical, and
dreamy quality of mind; a contemplative gift. They see and
exaggerate the difficulties and perils of posts of high
responsibility. If they yield to temptations of temperament, they
often become ineffective, dilettante, half-hearted natures,
playing with life and speculating over it, instead of setting to
work on a corner of the tangle. They hang spiritless upon the verge
of the battle instead of mingling with the fray. The curse of such
temperaments is that they seem destined to be unhappy whichever way
they decide. If they accept positions of responsibility, they are
fretted and strained by difficulties and obstacles; they live
uneasily and anxiously; they lose the buoyancy with which great
work should be done; if, on the other hand, they refuse to come
forward, they are tortured with regrets for having abstained; they
become conscious of ineffectiveness and indecision; they are
haunted by the spectres of what might have been.

The only course for such natures is to endeavour to see where their
true life lies, and to follow the dictates of reason and conscience
as far as possible. They must resolve not to be tempted by the
glamour of possible success, but to take the true measure of their
powers. They must not yield to the temptation to trust to the
flattering judgment that others may form of their capacities, nor
light-heartedly to shoulder a burden which they may be able to lift
but not to carry. Such natures will sometimes attempt a great task
with a certain glow and enthusiasm; but they must ask themselves
humbly how they will continue to discharge it when the novelty has
worn off, and when the prospect that lies before them is one of
patient and unpraised labour. It leads to worse disasters to over-
estimate one's powers than to under-estimate them. A man who over-
estimates his capacities is apt to grow impatient, and even
tyrannical, in the presence of difficulties.

And after all it may be said that humility is a rarer virtue than
confidence; and though it is not so popular, though it does not
appeal so much to the imagination, it is a quality that may well be
exercised, if it is done without self-consciousness, in these busy
days and in these active western climes. The best work of the world
is done, as I have said, not by those who organize on a large
scale, but by those who work faithfully on individual lines, in
corners and byways. Indeed, the success of those who organize and
rule is due in part no doubt to the power that they may possess of
inspiring silent effort, but is still more largely due to the
faithful workers whose labours are unnoted, who carry out great
designs in a simple and quiet spirit. There is strong warrant in
the teaching of Christ for the work of those who are faithful in a
few things. There is no warrant for the action of those who stride
into the front, and clamour to be entrusted with the destinies of
others. There can be no question that Christ does not admit the
value of ambition in any form as a motive for character. The lives
that He praises are the lives of quiet, affectionate persons, more
concerned with the things of the spirit than with the things of the
intellect. The Christian must concern himself, not with grasping at
influence, not even with setting his mark upon the world, but with
the quality of his decisions, his work, his words, his thoughts.
The only thing possible for him is to go forward step by step,
trusting more to the guidance of God than to his own designs, to
what are called intuitions more than to reasoned conclusions. In
that spirit, if he can attain to it, he begins to be able to
estimate things at their true value. Instead of being dazzled with
the bright glare which the world throws upon the objects of his
desire, he sees all things in a pale, clear light of dawn, and true
aims begin to glow with an inner radiance. He may tremble and
hesitate before a decision, but once taken there is no looking
back; he knows that he has been guided, and that God has told him,
by silent and eloquent motions of the spirit, what it is that He
would have him to do; he has but to interpret and to trust.

But even supposing that one has learnt one's own lesson in the
school of ambition, the question comes in as to how far it should
be used as a motive for the young, by those who are entrusted with
educational responsibilities. It is one of the most difficult
things to decide as to what extent it is permissible to use motives
that are lower than the highest, because they may possess a greater
effectiveness in the case of immature minds. It is easy enough to
say sincerely that one ought always to appeal to the highest
possible motive; but when one is conscious that the highest motive
is quite out of the horizon of the person concerned, and
practically is no motive at all, is it not merely pedantry to
insist upon appealing to the highest motive for one's own
satisfaction? It is not perhaps so difficult where the lower reason
for a course of action is still a sound reason in itself, as, for
instance, if one is trying to help a man out of drunken habits. The
highest motive to appeal to is the truth that in yielding to
sensual impulses, in such a matter, a man is falling short of his
best ideal; but a more practical motive is to point out the loss of
health and respectability that results from the practice. Yet when
one appeals to a boy's ambition, and encourages him to be
ambitious, one cannot be quite certain whether one is not appealing
to a false motive altogether. The excuse for using it is the hope
that, when for the sake of ambition he has learnt diligence and
perseverance, he may grow to perceive that the competitive
instinct, which in its barest form is the desire to obtain
desirable things at the expense of others, is not in reality a good
motive at all. With immature characters part of the joy of success
is that others have been beaten, the pride of having carried off a
prize which others are disappointed of obtaining. And if one talks
to an ambitious boy, and tries to inculcate the principle that one
should do one's best without caring about results, one is generally
conscious that he believes it to be only a tiresome professional
platitude, the kind of sentiment in which older people think fit to
indulge for the purpose, if possible, of throwing cold water on
innocent enjoyment.

Yet, after all, how very few people there are who do learn the
further lesson! The successful man generally continues to show to
the end of his life a contempt for unsuccessful persons, which is
only good-humoured because of the consciousness of his own triumph;
how rare, again, it is to find an unsuccessful person who does not
attempt, if he can, to belittle the attainments of his successful
rival, or who at least, if he overcomes that temptation from a
sense of propriety, feels entitled to nourish a secret satisfaction
at any indication of failure on the part of the man who has
obtained the prize that he himself coveted in vain. Yet if one has
ever seen, as I have, the astonishing change of both work and even
character which may come over a boy or a young man who is perhaps
diffident and indolent, if one can get him to do a successful piece
of work, or push an opportunity in his way and help him to seize
it, one hesitates before ruling out the use of ambition as an
incentive. Perhaps it is uneasy and casuistical morality to shrink
from using this incentive, so long as one faithfully puts the
higher side of the question before a boy as well. But when one is
quite sure that the larger aspect of the case will fall on deaf
ears, and that only the lower stimulus will be absorbed, one is apt
to hesitate. I am inclined, however, to think that such hesitation
is on the whole misplaced, and that in dealing with immature minds
one must be content to use immature motives. There is a temptation
to try and keep the education of people too much in one's own
hands, and to feel oneself to be too responsible in the matter. I
have a friend who errs in this respect, and who is apt to assume
too wide a responsibility in dealing with others, who was gently
rebuked by a wise-hearted teacher of wide and deep experience, who
said on one occasion, when over-anxiety had spoilt the effect of my
friend's attempts, that he ought to be content to leave something
for God to do.

But for oneself, one must try to learn the large lesson in the
course of time, to learn that the sense of ambition is often, in
reality, only a sense of personal vanity and self-confidence
disguised; and that the one possible attitude of mind is to go
humbly and patiently forward, desiring the best, labouring
faithfully and abundantly, neither seeking nor avoiding great
opportunities, not failing in courage nor giving way to rash
impulses, and realizing the truth of the wise old Greek proverb
that the greatest of all disasters for a man is to be opened and
found to be empty; the wise application of which to life is not to
avoid the occasions of opening, but to make sure that if the
opening comes inevitably, we shall be found not to have devoted
ourselves to the adorning of the casket, but to have piled with
careful hands the treasure high within.



There is a good deal of talk just now about "the simple life," and
though I would not go so far as to say that there is a movement in
the direction of it, yet the talk that one hears on many sides
proves, at all events, that people take a certain interest in the

Part of it is a pose no doubt; there is a distinguished, and I
would add very charming, lady of my acquaintance, who has the
subject constantly on her lips. Her method of practising simplicity
is a delightful one, as all her methods are. In addition to the
three magnificent residences which she already possesses, she has
bought a cottage in a secluded part of the country; she has spent a
large sum of money in adding to it; it is furnished with that
stately austerity which can only be achieved at great expense. She
motors down there, perhaps three times in the year, and spends
three days there, on each visit, with two or three friends who are
equally in love with simplicity; I was fortunate enough, the other
day, to be included in one of these parties; the only signs of
simplicity to the complex mind were that there were only five
courses at dinner, that we drank champagne out of rather old-
fashioned long glasses, and that two goats were tethered in a
corner of the lawn. The goats I understood were the seal and symbol
of the simple life. No use was made of them, and they were
decidedly in the way, but without them life would have been
complicated at once.

When we went off again in the motor, my charming hostess waved her
hand at the little cottage, as we turned the corner, with a sigh,
as of one condemned by a stern fate to abjure the rural felicity
which she loved, and then settled down with delighted zest to
discuss her programme of social engagements for the next few weeks.

It had certainly been very delightful; we had talked all day long;
we had wandered, adoring simplicity, on the village green; we had
attended an evening service in the church; we had consumed
exquisitely cooked meals about an hour before the usual time,
because to breakfast at eight and to dine at seven was all part of
the pretty game. I ventured to ask my hostess how she would like to
spend six months in her cottage comparatively alone, and she
replied with deep conviction, "I should adore it; I would give all
I possess to be able to do it." "Then it is nothing," I said, "but
a sense of duty that tears you away?" To which she made no answer
except to shake her head mournfully, and to give me a penetrating

I cannot help wondering whether the people who talk about the
simple life have any idea what it means; I do not think that my
fair hostess's desire for it is altogether a pose. One who lives,
as she does, in the centre of the fashionable world, must
inevitably tire of it from time to time. She meets the same people
over and over again, she hears the same stories, the same jokes;
she is not exactly an intellectual woman, though she has a taste
for books and music; the interest for her, in the world in which
she lives, is the changing relations of people, their affinities,
their aversions, their loves and hates, their warmth and their
coldness. What underlies the shifting scene, the endless
entertainments, the country-house visits, the ebb and flow of
society, is really the mystery of sex. People with not very much to
do but to amuse themselves, with no prescribed duties, with few
intellectual interests, become preoccupied in what is the great
underlying force in the world, the passion of love; the talk that
goes on, dull and tiresome as it appears to an outsider, is all
charged with the secret influence; it is not what is said that
matters; it is what is implied by manner and glance and inflection
of tone. This atmosphere of electrical emotion is, for a good many
years of their lives, the native air of these fair and unoccupied
women. Men drift into it and out of it, and it provides for them
often no more than a beautiful and thrilling episode; they become
interested in sport, in agriculture, in politics, in business; but
with women it is different; lovers and husbands, emotional
friendships with other women--these constitute the business of life
for a time; and then perhaps the tranquillizing and purer love of
children, the troubles and joys of growing boys and girls, come in
to fill the mind with a serener and kindlier, though not less
passionate an emotion; and so life passes, and age draws near.

It is thus easier for men to lead the simple life than women,
because they find it natural to grow absorbed in some definite and
tangible occupation; and, after all, the essence of the simple life
is that it can be lived in any milieu and under any circumstances.
It does not require a cottage orne and a motor, though these are
not inconsistent with it, if only they are natural.

I would try to trace what I believe the essence of the simple life
to be; it lies very far down in the spirit, among the roots of
life. The first requisite is a perfect sincerity of character. This
implies many things: it means a joyful temperance of soul, a
certain clearness and strength of temperament. The truly simple
person must not be vague and indeterminate, swayed by desire or
shifting emotion; he must meet others with a candid frankness, he
must have no petty ambitions, he must have wide and genial
interests, he must be quick to discern what is beautiful and wise;
he must have a clear and straightforward point of view; he must act
on his own intuitions and beliefs, not simply try to find out what
other people are thinking and try to think it too; he must in short
be free from conventionality. The essence of the really simple
character is that a man should accept his environment and circle;
if he is born in the so-called world, he need not seek to fly from
it. Such a character as I have described has a marvellous power of
evoking what is sincere and simple in other natures; such a one
will tend to believe that other people are as straightforward and
genuine as himself; and he will not be wholly mistaken, because
when they are with him, they will be simple too. The simple person
will have a strong, but not a Pharisaical, sense of duty; he will
probably credit other people with the same sense of duty, and he
will not often feel himself bound to disapprove of others,
reserving his indignation for any instances of cruelty, meanness,
falseness, and selfishness that he may encounter. He will not be
suspicious or envious. Yet he will not necessarily be what is
called a religious man, because his religion will be rather vital
than technical. To be religious in the technical sense of the word
--to care, that is, for religious services and solemnities, for
priestly influences, for intricate doctrinal emotions--implies a
strong artistic sense, and is often very far removed from any
simplicity of conduct. But on the other hand the simple man will
have a strong sense of responsibility, a deep confidence in the
Will of God and His high purposes.

And thus the simple man will scarcely be a man of leisure, because
there is so much that he will desire to do, and which he will feel
called upon to do. Whatever he considers to be his work, he will do
with a cheerful energy, which will sustain him far beyond the
threshold of fatigue. His personal wants will be few; he will not
care for spending money for the sake of spending it, but he will be
liberal and generous whenever there is need. He will be uneasy in
luxury. He will be a lover of the open air and of the country, but
his aim will be exercise, and the sense of health and vigour,
rather than amusement. He will never be reduced to asking himself
how he is going to spend the day, for the present day, and a long
perspective of days ahead, will already be full by anticipation. He
will take work, amusement, people, as they come, and he will not be
apt to make plans or to arrange parties, because he will expect to
find in ordinary life the amusement and the interest that he
desires. He will be above all things tender-hearted, kind, and
fearless. He will not take fancies to people, or easily discard a
friend; but he will be courteous, kind to all weakness,
compassionate to awkwardness, fond of children, good-natured,
loving laughter and peacefulness; he will not be easily
disappointed, and he will have no time to be fretful, if things do
not turn out exactly as he desires.

I have known such persons in every rank of life. They are the
people who can be depended upon to do what they undertake, to
understand the difficulties of others, to sympathize, to help. The
essence of it all is a great absence of self-consciousness, and
such people as I have described would be genuinely surprised, as a
rule, if they were told that they were living a different life from
the lives of others.

This simplicity of nature is not often found in conjunction with
very great artistic or intellectual gifts; but when it is so found,
it is one of the most perfect combinations in the world.

The one thing that is entirely fatal to simplicity is the desire to
stimulate the curiosity of others in the matter. The most
conspicuous instance of this, in literature, is the case of
Thoreau, who is by many regarded as the apostle of the simple life.
Thoreau was a man of extremely simple tastes, it is true. He ate
pulse, whatever that may be, and drank water; he was deeply
interested in the contemplation of nature, and he loved to
disembarrass himself of all the apparatus of life. It was really
that he hated trouble more than anything in the world; he found
that by working six weeks in the year, he could earn enough to
enable him to live in a hut in a wood for the rest of the
twelvemonth; he did his household work himself, and his little
stock of money sufficed to buy him food and clothes, and to meet
his small expenses. But Thoreau was indolent rather than simple;
and what spoilt his simplicity was that he was for ever hoping that
he would be observed and admired; he was for ever peeping out of
the corner of his eye, to see if inquisitive strangers were
hovering about to observe the hermit at his contemplation. If he
had really loved simplicity best, he would have lived his life and
not troubled himself about what other people thought of him; but
instead of that he found his own simplicity a deeply interesting
and refreshing subject of contemplation. He was for ever looking at
himself in the glass, and describing to others the rugged,
sunbrowned, slovenly, solemn person that he saw there.

And then, too, it was easier for Thoreau to make money than it
would be for the ordinary artisan. When Thoreau wrote his famous
maxim, "To maintain oneself on this earth is not a hardship but a
pastime," he did not add that he was himself a man of remarkable
mechanical gifts; he made, when he was disposed, admirable pencils,
he was an excellent land-surveyor, and an author as well; moreover,
he was a celibate by nature. He would no doubt have found, if he
had had a wife and children, and no aptitude for skilled labour,
that he would have had to work as hard as any one else.

Thoreau had, too, a quality which is in itself an economical thing.
He did not care in the least for society. He said that he would
rather "keep bachelor's hall in hell than go to board in heaven."
He was not a sociable man, and sociability is in itself expensive.
He had, it is true, some devoted friends, but it seems that he
would have done anything for them except see them. He was a man of
many virtues and no vices, but he was most at his ease with
faddists. Not that he avoided his fellow-men; he was always ready
to see people, to talk, to play with children, but on the other
hand society was not essential to him. Yet, just and virtuous as he
was, there was something radically unamiable about him: "I love
Henry," one of his friends said of him, "but I cannot like him; and
as for taking his arm I should as soon think of taking the arm of
an elm-tree." He was in fact an egotist with strong fancies and
preferences; and, though he was an ascetic by preference, he cannot
be called a simple-minded man, because the essence of simplicity is
not to ride a hobby hard. He thought and talked too much about
simplicity; and the fact is that simplicity, like humility, cannot
exist side by side with self-consciousness. The moment that a man
is conscious that he is simple and humble, he is simple and humble
no longer. You cannot become humble by reminding people constantly,
like Uriah Heep, of your humility; similarly you cannot become
simple, by doing elaborately, and making a parade of doing, the
things that the simple man would do without thinking about them.

It is almost true to say that the people who are most in love with
simplicity are often the most complicated natures. They become
weary of their own complexity, and they fancy that by acting on a
certain regimen they can arrive at tranquillity of soul. It is in
reality just the other way. One must become simple in soul first,
and the simple setting follows as a matter of course. If a man can
purge himself of ambition, and social pride, and ostentation, and
the desire of praise, his life falls at once into a simple mould,
because keeping up appearances is the most expensive thing in the
world; to begin with eating pulse and drinking water, is as if a
man were to wear his hair like Tennyson, and expect to become a
poet thereby. Asceticism is the sign and not the cause of
simplicity. The simple life will become easy and common enough when
people have simple minds and hearts, when they do the duties that
lie ready to their hand, and do not crave for recognition.

Neither can simplicity be brought about by a movement. There is
nothing which is more fatal to it than that people should meet to
discuss the subject; it can only be done by individuals, and in
comparative isolation. A friend of mine dreamed the other day that
she was discussing the subject of mission services with a stranger;
she defended them in her dream with great warmth and rhetoric: when
she had done, her companion said, "Well, to tell you the truth, I
don't believe in people being inspired IN ROWS." This oracular
saying has a profound truth in it--that salvation is not to be
found in public meetings; and that to assemble a number of persons,
and to address them on the subject of simplicity, is the surest way
to miss the charm of that secluded virtue.

The worst of it is that the real, practical, moral simplicity of
which I have been speaking is not an attractive thing to a
generation fond of movement and excitement; what they desire is a
picturesque mise-en-scene, a simplicity which comes as a little
pretty interlude to busy life; they do not desire it in its
entirety and continuously. They would find it dull, triste,

Thus it must fall into the hands of individuals to practise it, who
are sincerely enamoured of quietness and peace. The simple man must
have a deep fund of natural joy and zest; he must bring his own
seasoning to the plain fare of life; but if he loves the face of
nature, and books, and his fellow-men, and above all, work, there
is no need for him to go out into the wilderness in pursuit of a
transcendental ideal. But those whose spirits flag and droop in
solitude; who open their eyes upon the world, and wonder what they
will find to do; who love talk and laughter and amusement; who
crave for alcoholic mirth, and the song of them that feast, had
better make no pretence of pursuing a spirit which haunts the
country lane and the village street, the rough pasture beside the
brimming stream, the forest glade, with the fragrant breeze blowing
cool out of the wood. Simplicity, to be successfully attained, must
be the result of a passionate instinct, not of a picturesque
curiosity; and it is useless to lament that one has no time to
possess one's soul, if, when one visits the innermost chamber,
there is nothing there but cobwebs and ugly dust.



It requires almost more courage to write about games nowadays than
it does to write about the Decalogue, because the higher criticism
is tending to make a belief in the Decalogue a matter of taste,
while to the ordinary Englishman a belief in games is a matter of
faith and morals.

I will begin by saying frankly that I do not like games; but I say
it, not because any particular interest attaches to my own dislikes
and likes, but to raise a little flag of revolt against a species
of social tyranny. I believe that there are a good many people who
do not like games, but who do not dare to say so. Perhaps it may be
thought that I am speaking from the point of view of a person who
has never been able to play them. A vision rises in the mind of a
spectacled owlish man, trotting feebly about a football field, and
making desperate attempts to avoid the proximity of the ball; or
joining in a game of cricket, and fielding a drive with the air of
a man trying to catch an insect on the ground, or sitting in a boat
with the oar fixed under his chin, being forced backwards with an
air of smiling and virtuous confusion. I hasten to say that this is
not a true picture. I arrived at a reasonable degree of proficiency
in several games: I was a competent, though not a zealous, oar; I
captained a college football team, and I do not hesitate to say
that I have derived more pleasure from football than from any other
form of exercise. I have climbed some mountains, and am even a
member of the Alpine Club; I may add that I am a keen, though not a
skilful, sportsman, and am indeed rather a martyr to exercise and
open air. I make these confessions simply to show that I do not
approach the subject from the point of view of a sedentary person
but indeed rather the reverse. No weather appears to me to be too
bad to go out in, and I do not suppose there are a dozen days in
the year in which I do not contrive to get exercise.

But exercise in the open air is one thing, and games are quite
another. It seems to me that when a man has reached an age of
discretion, he ought no longer to need the stimulus of competition,
the desire to hit or kick balls about, the wish to do such things
better than other people. It seems to me that the elaborate
organization of athletics is a really rather serious thing, because
it makes people unable to get on without some species of
excitement. I was staying the other day at a quiet house in the
country, where there was nothing particular to do; there was not,
strange to say, even a golf course within reach. There came to stay
there for a few days an eminent golfer, who fell into a condition
of really pitiable dejection. The idea of taking a walk or riding a
bicycle was insupportable to him; and I think he never left the
house except for a rueful stroll in the garden. When I was a
schoolmaster it used to distress me to find how invariably the
parents of boys discoursed with earnestness and solemnity about a
boy's games; one was told that a boy was a good field, and really
had the makings of an excellent bat; eager inquiries were made as
to whether it was possible for the boy to get some professional
coaching; in the case of more philosophically inclined parents it
generally led on to a statement of the social advantages of being a
good cricketer, and often to the expression of a belief that virtue
was in some way indissolubly connected with keenness in games. For
one parent who said anything about a boy's intellectual interests,
there were ten whose preoccupation in the boy's athletics was deep
and vital.

It is no wonder that, with all this parental earnestness, boys
tended to consider success in games the one paramount object of
their lives; it was all knit up with social ambitions, and it was
viewed, I do not hesitate to say, as of infinitely more importance
than anything else. I do not mean to say that many of the boys did
not consider it important to be good, and did not desire to be
conscientious about their work. But as a practical matter games
were what they thought about and talked about, and what aroused
genuine enthusiasm. They were disposed to despise boys who could
not play games, however virtuous, kindly, and sensible they might
be; an entire lack of conscientiousness, and even grave moral
obliquity, were apt to be condoned in the case of a successful
athlete. We masters, I must frankly confess, did not make any
serious attempt to fight the tendency. We spent our spare time in
walking about the cricket and football fields, in looking on, in
discussing the fine nuances in the style of individual players. It
was very natural to take an interest in the thing which was to the
boys a matter of profound concern; but what I should be inclined to
censure was that it was really a matter of profound concern with
ourselves; and we did not take a kindly and paternal interest in
the matter, so much as the interest of enthusiasts and partisans.

It is very difficult to see how to alter this. Probably, like other
deep-seated national tendencies, it will have to cure itself. It
would be impossible to insist that the educators of youth should
suppress the interest which they instinctively and genuinely feel
in games, and profess an interest in intellectual matters which
they do not really feel. No good would come out of practising
hypocrisy in the matter, from however high a motive. While
schoolmasters rush off to golf whenever they get a chance, and fill
their holidays to the brim with games of various kinds, it would be
simply hypocritical to attempt to conceal the truth; and the
difficulty is increased by the fact that, while parents and boys
alike feel as they do about the essential importance of games,
head-masters are more or less bound to select men for masterships
who are proficient in them; because whatever else has to be
attended to at school, games have to be attended to; and, moreover,
a man whom the boys respect as an athlete is likely to be more
effective both as a disciplinarian and a teacher. If a man is a
first-rate slow bowler, the boys will consider his views on
Thucydides and Euclid more worthy of consideration than the views
of a man who has only a high university degree.

The other day I was told of the case of a head-master of a small
proprietary private school, who was treated with open insolence and
contempt by one of his assistants, who neglected his work, smoked
in his class-room, and even absented himself on occasions without
leave. It may be asked why the head-master did not dismiss his
recalcitrant assistant. It was because he had secured a man who was
a 'Varsity cricket-blue, and whose presence on the staff gave the
parents confidence, and provided an excellent advertisement. The
assistant, on the other hand, knew that he could get a similar post
for the asking, and on the whole preferred a school where he might
consult his own convenience. This is, of course, an extreme case;
but would to God, as Dr. Johnson said, that it were an impossible
one! I do not wish to tilt against athletics, nor do I at all
undervalue the benefits of open air and exercise for growing boys.
But surely there is a lamentable want of proportion about the whole
view! The truth is that we English are in many respects barbarians
still, and as we happen at the present time to be wealthy
barbarians, we devote our time and our energies to the things for
which we really care. I do not at all want to see games diminished,
or played with less keenness. I only desire to see them duly
subordinated. I do not think it ought to be considered slightly
eccentric for a boy to care very much about his work, or to take an
interest in books. I should like it to be recognized at schools
that the one quality that was admirable was keenness, and that it
was admirable in whatever department it was displayed; but nowadays
keenness about games is considered admirable and heroic, while
keenness about work or books is considered slightly grovelling and

The same spirit has affected what is called sport. People no longer
look upon it as an agreeable interlude, but as a business in
itself; they will not accept invitations to shoot, unless the sport
is likely to be good; a moderate performer with the gun is treated
as if it was a crime for him to want to shoot at all; then the
motoring craze has come in upon the top of the golfing craze; and
all the spare time of people of leisure tends to be filled up with
bridge. The difficulty in dealing with the situation is that the
thing itself is not only not wrong, but really beneficial; it is
better to be occupied than to be idle, and it is hard to preach
against a thing which is excellent in moderation and only
mischievous in excess.

Personally I am afraid that I only look upon games as a pis-aller.
I would always rather take a walk than play golf, and read a book
than play bridge. Bridge, indeed, I should regard as only one
degree better than absolutely vacuous conversation, which is
certainly the most fatiguing thing in the world. But the odd thing
is that while it is regarded as rather vicious to do nothing, it is
regarded as positively virtuous to play a game. Personally I think
competition always a more or less disagreeable thing. I dislike it
in real life, and I do not see why it should be introduced into
one's amusements. If it amuses me to do a thing, I do not very much
care whether I do it better than another person. I have no desire
to be always comparing my skill with the skill of others.

Then, too, I am afraid that I must confess to lamentably feeble
pleasure in mere country sights and sounds. I love to watch the
curious and beautiful things that go on in every hedgerow and every
field; it is a ceaseless delight to see the tender uncrumpling
leaves of the copse in spring, and no a pleasure to see the
woodland streaked and stained with the flaming glories of autumn.
It is a joy in high midsummer to see the clear dwindled stream run
under the thick hazels, among the lush water-plants; it is no less
a joy to see the same stream running full and turbid in winter,
when the banks are bare, and the trees are leafless, and the
pasture is wrinkled with frost. Half the joy, for instance, of
shooting, in which I frankly confess I take a childish delight, is
the quiet tramping over the clean-cut stubble, the distant view of
field and wood, the long, quiet wait at the covert-end, where the
spindle-wood hangs out her quaint rosy berries, and the rabbits
come scampering up the copse, as the far-off tapping of the beaters
draws near in the frosty air. The delights of the country-side grow
upon me every month and every year. I love to stroll in the lanes
in spring, with white clouds floating in the blue above, and to see
the glade carpeted with steel-blue hyacinths. I love to walk on
country roads or by woodland paths, on a rain-drenched day of
summer, when the sky is full of heavy inky clouds, and the earth
smells fresh and sweet; I love to go briskly homeward on a winter
evening, when the sunset smoulders low in the west, when the
pheasants leap trumpeting to their roosts, and the lights begin to
peep in cottage windows.

Such joys as these are within the reach of every one; and to call
the country dull because one has not the opportunity of hitting and
pursuing a little white ball round and round among the same fields,
with elaborately contrived obstacles to test the skill and the
temper, seems to me to be grotesque, if it were not also so

I cannot help feeling that games are things that are appropriate to
the restless days of boyhood, when one will take infinite trouble
and toil over anything of the nature of a make-believe, so long as
it is understood not to be work; but as one gets older and perhaps
wiser, a simpler and quieter range of interests ought to take their
place. I can humbly answer for it that it need imply no loss of
zest; my own power of enjoyment is far deeper and stronger than it
was in early years; the pleasures I have described, of sight and
sound, mean infinitely more to me than the definite occupations of
boyhood ever did. But the danger is that if we are brought up
ourselves to depend upon games, and if we bring up all our boys to
depend on them, we are not able to do without them as we grow
older; and thus we so often have the melancholy spectacle of the
elderly man, who is hopelessly bored with existence, and who is the
terror of the smoking-room and the dinner-table, because he is only
capable of indulging in lengthy reminiscences of his own
astonishing athletic performances, and in lamentations over the
degeneracy of the human race.

Another remarkable fact about the conventionality that attends
games is that certain games are dismissed as childish and
contemptible while others are crowned with glory and worship. One
knows of eminent clergymen who play golf; and that they should do
so seems to constitute so high a title to the respect and regard
with which normal persons view them, that one sometimes wonders
whether they do not take up the practice with the wisdom of the
serpent that is recommended in the Gospels, or because of the
Pauline doctrine of adaptability, that by all means they may save

But as far as mere air and exercise goes, the childish game of
playing at horses is admirably calculated to increase health and
vigour and needs no expensive resources. Yet what would be said and
thought if a prelate and his suffragan ran nimbly out of a palace
gate in a cathedral close, with little bells tinkling, whips
cracking, and reins of red ribbon drawn in to repress the
curvetting of the gaitered steed? There is nothing in reality more
undignified about that than in hitting a little ball about over
sandy bunkers. If the Prime Minister and the Lord Chief Justice
trundled hoops round and round after breakfast in the gravelled
space behind the Horse Guards, who could allege that they would not
be the better for the exercise? Yet they would be held for some
mysterious reason to have forfeited respect. To the mind of the
philosopher all games are either silly or reasonable; and nothing
so reveals the stupid conventionality of the ordinary mind as the
fact that men consider a series of handbooks on Great Bowlers to be
a serious and important addition to literature, while they would
hold that a little manual on Blind-man's Buff was a fit subject for
derision. St. Paul said that when he became a man he put away
childish things. He could hardly afford to say that now, if he
hoped to be regarded as a man of sense and weight.

I do not wish to be a mere Jeremiah in the region of prophecy, and
to deplore, sarcastically and incisively, what I cannot amend. What
I rather wish to do is to make a plea for greater simplicity in the
matter, and to try and destroy some of the terrible priggishness in
the matter of athletics, which appears to me to prevail. After all,
athletics are only one form of leisurely amusement; and I maintain
that it is of the essence of priggishness to import solemnity into
a matter which does not need it, and which would be better without
it. Because the tyranny is a real one; the man of many games is not
content with simply enjoying them; he has a sense of complacent
superiority, and a hardly disguised contempt for the people who do
not play them.

I was staying in a house the other day where a distinguished
philosopher had driven over to pay an afternoon call. The call
concluded, he wished to make a start, so I went down to the stable
with him to see about putting his pony in. The stables were
deserted. I was forced to confess that I knew nothing about the
harnessing of steeds, however humble. We discovered portions of
what appeared to be the equipment of a pony, and I held them for
him, while he gingerly tried them on, applying them cautiously to
various portions of the innocent animal's person. Eventually we had
to give it up as a bad job, and seek for professional assistance. I
described the scene for the benefit of a lively lady of my
acquaintance, who is a devotee of anything connected with horses,
and she laughed unmercifully at the description, and expressed the
contempt, which she sincerely felt, in no measured terms. But,
after all, it is no part of my business to harness horses; it is a
convenience that there should be persons who possess the requisite
knowledge; for me horses only represent a convenient form of
locomotion. I did not mind her being amused--indeed, that was the
object of my narrative--but her contempt was just as much misplaced
as if I had despised her for not being able to tell the difference
between sapphics and alcaics, which it was my business to know.

It is the complacency, the self-satisfaction, that results from the
worship of games, which is one of its most serious features. I wish
with all my heart that I could suggest a remedy for it; but the
only thing that I can do is to pursue my own inclinations, with a
fervent conviction that they are at least as innocent as the
pursuit of athletic exercises; and I can also, as I have said, wave
a little flag of revolt, and rally to my standard the quieter and
more simple-minded persons, who love their liberty, and decline to
part with it unless they can find a better reason than the merely
comfortable desire to do what every one else is doing.



I was sitting the other day in a vicarage garden with my friend the
vicar. It was a pretty, well-kept place, with old shrubberies and
umbrageous trees; to the right, the tower of the church rose among
its elms. We sate out of the wind, looking over a rough pasture
field, apparently a common, divided from the garden by a little ha-
ha of brick. The surface of the field was very irregular, as though
there had been excavations made in it for gravel at some time or
other; in certain parts of the field there appeared fragments of a
stone wall, just showing above the ground.

The vicar pointed to the field. "Do you see that wall?" he said; "I
will tell you a very curious story about that. When I came here,
forty years ago, I asked the old gardener what the field was, as I
never saw any one in it, or any beasts grazing there; and yet it
was unfenced, and appeared to be common land--it was full of
little thickets and thorn-bushes then. He was not very willing to
tell me, I thought, but by dint of questions I discovered that it
was a common, and that it was known locally by the curious name of
Heaven's Walls. He went on to say that it was considered unlucky to
set foot in it; and that, as a matter of fact, no villager would
ever dream of going there; he would not say why, but at last it
came out that it was supposed to be haunted by a spirit. No one, it
seemed, had ever seen anything there, but it was an unlucky place.

"Well, I thought no more of it at the time, though I often went
into the field. It was a quiet and pretty place enough; full of
thickets, as I have said, where the birds built unmolested--there
was generally a goldfinch's nest there.

"It became necessary to lay a drain across it, and a big trench was
dug. One day they came and told me that the workmen had found
something--would I go and look at it? I went out and found that
they had unearthed a large Roman cinerary urn, containing some
calcined bones. I told the lord of the manor, who is a squire in
the next parish, and he and I after that kept a look-out over the
workmen. We found another urn, and another, both full of bones.
Then we found a big glass vessel, also containing bones. The squire
got interested in the thing, and eventually had the whole place dug
out. We found a large enclosure, once surrounded by a stone wall,
of which you see the remains; in two of the corners there was an
enormous deposit of wood ashes, in deep pits, which looked as if
great fires had burnt there; and the walls in those two corners
were all calcined and smoke-stained. We found fifty or sixty urns,
all full of bones; and in another corner there was a deep shaft,
like a well, dug in the chalk, with handholds down the sides, also
full of calcined bones. We found a few coins, and in one place a
conglomeration of rust that looked as if it might have been a heap
of tools or weapons. We set the antiquaries to work, and they
pronounced it to be what is called a Roman Ustrinum--that is to
say, a public crematorium, where people who could not afford a
separate funeral might bring a corpse to be burnt. If they had no
place to deposit the urn, in which the bones were enclosed, they
were allowed, it seems, to bury the urn there, until such time as
they cared to remove it. There was a big Roman settlement here, you
know. There was a fort on the hill there, and the sites of several
large Roman villas have been discovered in the neighbourhood. This
place must have stood rather lonely, away from the town, probably
in the wood which then covered the whole of this county; but it is
curious, is it not?" said the vicar, "that the tradition should
have been handed down through all these centuries of its being an
ill-omened place, long after any tradition of what the uses of the
spot were!"

It was curious indeed! The vicar was presently called away, and I
sate musing over the strange old story. I could fancy the place as
it must have been, standing with its high blank walls in a clearing
of the forest, with perhaps a great column of evil-smelling smoke
drifting in oily waves over the corner of the wall, telling of the
sad rites that were going on within. I could fancy heavy-eyed
mourners dragging a bier up to the gates, with a silent form lying
upon it, waiting in pale dismay until the great doors were flung
open by the sombre rough attendants of the place; until they could
see the ugly enclosure, with the wood piled high in the pit for the
last sad service. Then would follow the burning and the drenching
of the ashes, the gathering of the bones--all that was left of one
so dear, father or mother, boy or maiden--the enclosing of them in
the urn, and the final burial. What agonies of simple grief the
place must have witnessed! Then, I suppose, the place was deserted
by the Romans, the walls crumbled down into ruin, grass and bushes
grew over the place. Then perhaps the forest was gradually felled
and stubbed up, as the area of cultivation widened; but still the
sad tradition of the spot left it desolate, until all recollection
of its purpose was gone. No doubt, in Saxon days, it was thought to
be haunted by the old wailing, restless spirits of those who had
suffered the last rites there; so that still the place was
condemned to a sinister solitude.

I went on to reflect over the strange and obstinate tradition that
lingers still with such vitality among the human race, that certain
places are haunted by the spirits of the dead. It is hard to
believe that such tradition, so widespread, so universal, should
have no kind of justification in fact. And yet there appears to be
no justification for the idea, unless the spiritual conditions of
the world have altered, unless there were real phenomena, which
have for some cause ceased to manifest themselves, which originated
the tradition. But there is certainly no scientific evidence of the
fact. The Psychical Society, which has faced some ridicule for its
serious attempt to find out the truth about these matters, have
announced that investigations of so-called haunted houses have
produced no evidence whatever. They seem to be a wholly unreliable
type of stories, which always break down under careful inquiry. I
am inclined myself to believe that such stories arose in a
perfectly natural way. It is perfectly natural to simple people to
believe that the spirit which animated a mortal body would, on
leaving it, tend to linger about the scene of suffering and death.
Indeed, it is impossible not to feel that, if the spirit has any
conscious identity, it would be sure to desire to remain in the
neighbourhood of those whom it loved so well. But the
unsatisfactory element in these stories is that it generally
appears to be the victim of some heinous deed, and not the
perpetrator, who is condemned to make its sad presence known, by
wailing and by sorrowful gestures, on the scene of its passion. But
once given the belief that a spirit might tend to remain for a time
in the place where its earthly life was lived, the terrors of man,
his swift imagination, his power of self-delusion, would do the

The only class of stories, say the investigators, which appear to
be proved beyond the possibility of reasonable doubt, is the class
of stories dealing with apparitions at the time of death; and this
they explain by supposing a species of telepathy, which is indeed
an obscure force, but obviously an existing one, though its
conditions and limitations are not clearly understood. Telepathy is
the power of communication between mind and mind without the medium
of speech, and indeed in certain cases exercised at an immense
distance. The theory is that the thought of the dying person is so
potently exercised on some particular living person, as to cause
the recipient to project a figure of the other upon the air. That
power of visualization is not a very uncommon one; indeed, we all
possess it more or less; we can all remember what we believe we
have seen in our dreams, and we remember the figures of our dreams
as optical images, though they have been purely mental conceptions,
translated into the terms of actual sight. The impression of a
dream-figure, indeed, appears to us to be as much the impression of
an image received upon the retina of the eye, as our impressions of
images actually so received. The whole thing is strange, of course,
but not stranger than wireless telegraphy. It may be that the
conditions of telepathy may some day be scientifically defined; and
in that case it will probably make a clear and coherent connection
between a number of phenomena which we do not connect together,
just as the discovery of electricity connected together phenomena
which all had observed, like the adhering of substances to charged
amber, as well as the lightning-flash which breaks from the
thunder-cloud. No one in former days traced any connection between
these two phenomena, but we now know that they are only two
manifestations of the same force. In the same way we may find that
phenomena of which we are all conscious, but of which we do not
know the reason, may prove to be manifestations of some central
telepathic force--such phenomena, I mean, as the bravery of armies
in action, or the excitement which may seize upon a large gathering
of men.

We ought, I think, to admire and praise the patient work of the
Psychical Society,--though is common enough to hear quite sensible
people deride it,--because it is an attempt to treat a subject
scientifically. What we have every right to deride is the dabbling
in spiritualistic things by credulous and feeble-minded persons.
These practices open to our view one of the most lamentable and
deplorable provinces of the human mind, its power of convincing
itself of anything which it desires to believe, its debility, its
childishness. If the professions of so-called mediums were true,
why cannot they exhibit their powers in some open and incontestable
way, not surrounding themselves with all the conditions of darkness
and excitability, in which the human power of self-delusion finds
its richest field?

A friend of mine told me the other day what he evidently felt to be
an extremely impressive story about a dignitary of the Church. This
clergyman was overcome one day by an intense mental conviction that
he was wanted at Bristol. He accordingly went there by train,
wandered about aimlessly, and finally put up at a hotel for the
night. In the morning he found a friend in the coffee-room, to whom
he confided the cause of his presence in Bristol, and announced his
intention of going away by the next train. The friend then told him
that an Australian was dying in the hotel, and that his wife was
very anxious to find a clergyman. The dignitary went to see the
lady, with the intention of offering her his services, when he
discovered that he had met her when travelling in Australia, and
that her husband had been deeply impressed by a sermon which he had
then delivered, and had been entreating for some days that he might
be summoned to administer the last consolations of religion. The
clergyman went in to see the patient, administered the last rites,
comforted and encouraged him, and was with him when he died. He
afterwards told the widow the story of his mysterious summons to
Bristol, and she replied that she had been praying night and day
that he might come and that he had no doubt come in answer to her

But the unsatisfactory part of the story is that one is asked to
condone the extremely unbusinesslike, sloppy, and troublesome
methods employed by this spiritual agency. The lady knew the name
and position of the clergyman perfectly well, and might have
written or wired to him. He could thus have been spared his aimless
and mysterious journey, the expense of spending a night at the
hotel; and moreover it was only the fortuitous meeting with a third
person, not closely connected with the story, which prevented the
clergyman from leaving the place, his mission unfulfilled. One
cannot help feeling that, if a spiritual agency was at work, it was
working either in a very clumsy way, or with a relish for mystery
which reminds one of the adventures of Sherlock Holmes; if one is
expected to accept the story as a manifestation of supernatural
power, one can only conceive of it as the work of a very tricksy
spirit, like Ariel in the "Tempest"; it seems like a very elaborate
and melodramatic attempt to bring about a result, that could have
been far more satisfactorily achieved by a little common sense. If
instead of inspiring the lady to earnest prayer--which appears too
to have been very slow in its action--why could not the
supernatural power at work have inspired her with the much simpler
idea of looking at the Clergy List? And yet the story no doubt
produces on the ordinary mind an impressive effect, when as a
matter of fact, if it is fairly considered, it can only be
regarded, if true, as the work of an amiable and rather dilettante
power, with a strong relish for the elaborately marvellous.

The truth is that what the ordinary human being desires, in matters
of this kind, is not scientific knowledge but picturesqueness. As
long as people frankly confess that it is the latter element of
which they are in search, that, like the fat boy in Pickwick, they
merely want to make their flesh creep, no harm is done. The harm is
done by people who are really in search of sensation, who yet
profess to be approaching the question in a scientific spirit of
inquiry. I enjoy a good ghost story as much as any one; and I am
interested, too, in hearing the philosophical conclusions of
earnest-minded people; but to hear the question discussed, as one
so often hears it, with a pretentious attempt to treat it
scientifically, by people who, like the White Queen in Through the
Looking-glass, find it pleasant to train themselves to believe a
dozen impossible things before breakfast, afflicts me with a deep
mental and moral nausea.

One, at least, of the patient investigators of this accumulated
mass of human delusion, took up the quest in the hope that he might
receive scientific evidence of the continued existence of identity.
He was forced to confess that the evidence went all the other way,
and that all the tales which appeared to substantiate the fact,
were hopelessly discredited. The only thing, as I have said, that
the investigations seem to have substantiated, is evidence which
none but a determinedly sceptical mind would disallow, that there
does exist, in certain abnormal cases, a possibility of direct
communication between two or more living minds.

But, as I pondered thus, the day began to darken over the rough

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