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The New Machiavelli by H. G. Wells [Herbert George Wells]

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by H. G. Wells



















Since I came to this place I have been very restless, wasting my
energies in the futile beginning of ill-conceived books. One does
not settle down very readily at two and forty to a new way of
living, and I have found myself with the teeming interests of the
life I have abandoned still buzzing like a swarm of homeless bees in
my head. My mind has been full of confused protests and
justifications. In any case I should have found difficulties enough
in expressing the complex thing I have to tell, but it has added
greatly to my trouble that I have a great analogue, that a certain
Niccolo Machiavelli chanced to fall out of politics at very much the
age I have reached, and wrote a book to engage the restlessness of
his mind, very much as I have wanted to do. He wrote about the
relation of the great constructive spirit in politics to individual
character and weaknesses, and so far his achievement lies like a
deep rut in the road of my intention. It has taken me far astray.
It is a matter of many weeks now--diversified indeed by some long
drives into the mountains behind us and a memorable sail to Genoa
across the blue and purple waters that drowned Shelley--since I
began a laboured and futile imitation of "The Prince." I sat up
late last night with the jumbled accumulation; and at last made a
little fire of olive twigs and burnt it all, sheet by sheet--to
begin again clear this morning.

But incidentally I have re-read most of Machiavelli, not excepting
those scandalous letters of his to Vettori, and it seems to me, now
that I have released myself altogether from his literary precedent,
that he still has his use for me. In spite of his vast prestige I
claim kindred with him and set his name upon my title-page, in
partial intimation of the matter of my story. He takes me with
sympathy not only by reason of the dream he pursued and the humanity
of his politics, but by the mixture of his nature. His vices come
in, essential to my issue. He is dead and gone, all his immediate
correlations to party and faction have faded to insignificance,
leaving only on the one hand his broad method and conceptions, and
upon the other his intimate living personality, exposed down to its
salacious corners as the soul of no contemporary can ever be
exposed. Of those double strands it is I have to write, of the
subtle protesting perplexing play of instinctive passion and desire
against too abstract a dream of statesmanship. But things that
seemed to lie very far apart in Machiavelli's time have come near to
one another; it is no simple story of white passions struggling
against the red that I have to tell.

The state-making dream is a very old dream indeed in the world's
history. It plays too small a part in novels. Plato and Confucius
are but the highest of a great host of minds that have had a kindred
aspiration, have dreamt of a world of men better ordered, happier,
finer, securer. They imagined cities grown more powerful and
peoples made rich and multitudinous by their efforts, they thought
in terms of harbours and shining navies, great roads engineered
marvellously, jungles cleared and deserts conquered, the ending of
muddle and diseases and dirt and misery; the ending of confusions
that waste human possibilities; they thought of these things with
passion and desire as other men think of the soft lines and tender
beauty of women. Thousands of men there are to-day almost mastered
by this white passion of statecraft, and in nearly every one who
reads and thinks you could find, I suspect, some sort of answering
response. But in every one it presents itself extraordinarily
entangled and mixed up with other, more intimate things.

It was so with Machiavelli. I picture him at San Casciano as he
lived in retirement upon his property after the fall of the
Republic, perhaps with a twinge of the torture that punished his
conspiracy still lurking in his limbs. Such twinges could not stop
his dreaming. Then it was "The Prince" was written. All day he
went about his personal affairs, saw homely neighbours, dealt with
his family, gave vent to everyday passions. He would sit in the
shop of Donato del Corno gossiping curiously among vicious company,
or pace the lonely woods of his estate, book in hand, full of bitter
meditations. In the evening he returned home and went to his study.
At the entrance, he says, he pulled off his peasant clothes covered
with the dust and dirt of that immediate life, washed himself, put
on his "noble court dress," closed the door on the world of toiling
and getting, private loving, private hating and personal regrets,
sat down with a sigh of contentment to those wider dreams.

I like to think of him so, with brown books before him lit by the
light of candles in silver candlesticks, or heading some new chapter
of "The Prince," with a grey quill in his clean fine hand.

So writing, he becomes a symbol for me, and the less none because of
his animal humour, his queer indecent side, and because of such
lapses into utter meanness as that which made him sound the note of
the begging-letter writer even in his "Dedication," reminding His
Magnificence very urgently, as if it were the gist of his matter, of
the continued malignity of fortune in his affairs. These flaws
complete him. They are my reason for preferring him as a symbol to
Plato, of whose indelicate side we know nothing, and whose
correspondence with Dionysius of Syracuse has perished; or to
Confucius who travelled China in search of a Prince he might
instruct, with lapses and indignities now lost in the mists of ages.
They have achieved the apotheosis of individual forgetfulness, and
Plato has the added glory of that acquired beauty, that bust of the
Indian Bacchus which is now indissolubly mingled with his tradition.
They have passed into the world of the ideal, and every humbug takes
his freedoms with their names. But Machiavelli, more recent and
less popular, is still all human and earthly, a fallen brother--and
at the same time that nobly dressed and nobly dreaming writer at the

That vision of the strengthened and perfected state is protagonist
in my story. But as I re-read "The Prince" and thought out the
manner of my now abandoned project, I came to perceive how that stir
and whirl of human thought one calls by way of embodiment the French
Revolution, has altered absolutely the approach to such a question.
Machiavelli, like Plato and Pythagoras and Confucius two hundred odd
decades before him, saw only one method by which a thinking man,
himself not powerful, might do the work of state building, and that
was by seizing the imagination of a Prince. Directly these men
turned their thoughts towards realisation, their attitudes became--
what shall I call it?--secretarial. Machiavelli, it is true, had
some little doubts about the particular Prince he wanted, whether it
was Caesar Borgia of Giuliano or Lorenzo, but a Prince it had to be.
Before I saw clearly the differences of our own time I searched my
mind for the modern equivalent of a Prince. At various times I
redrafted a parallel dedication to the Prince of Wales, to the
Emperor William, to Mr. Evesham, to a certain newspaper proprietor
who was once my schoolfellow at City Merchants', to Mr. J. D.
Rockefeller--all of them men in their several ways and circumstances
and possibilities, princely. Yet in every case my pen bent of its
own accord towards irony because--because, although at first I did
not realise it, I myself am just as free to be a prince. The appeal
was unfair. The old sort of Prince, the old little principality has
vanished from the world. The commonweal is one man's absolute
estate and responsibility no more. In Machiavelli's time it was
indeed to an extreme degree one man's affair. But the days of the
Prince who planned and directed and was the source and centre of all
power are ended. We are in a condition of affairs infinitely more
complex, in which every prince and statesman is something of a
servant and every intelligent human being something of a Prince. No
magnificent pensive Lorenzos remain any more in this world for
secretarial hopes.

In a sense it is wonderful how power has vanished, in a sense
wonderful how it has increased. I sit here, an unarmed discredited
man, at a small writing-table in a little defenceless dwelling among
the vines, and no human being can stop my pen except by the
deliberate self-immolation of murdering me, nor destroy its fruits
except by theft and crime. No King, no council, can seize and
torture me; no Church, no nation silence me. Such powers of
ruthless and complete suppression have vanished. But that is not
because power has diminished, but because it has increased and
become multitudinous, because it has dispersed itself and
specialised. It is no longer a negative power we have, but
positive; we cannot prevent, but we can do. This age, far beyond
all previous ages, is full of powerful men, men who might, if they
had the will for it, achieve stupendous things.

The things that might be done to-day! The things indeed that are
being done! It is the latter that give one so vast a sense of the
former. When I think of the progress of physical and mechanical
science, of medicine and sanitation during the last century, when I
measure the increase in general education and average efficiency,
the power now available for human service, the merely physical
increment, and compare it with anything that has ever been at man's
disposal before, and when I think of what a little straggling,
incidental, undisciplined and uncoordinated minority of inventors,
experimenters, educators, writers and organisers has achieved this
development of human possibilities, achieved it in spite of the
disregard and aimlessness of the huge majority, and the passionate
resistance of the active dull, my imagination grows giddy with
dazzling intimations of the human splendours the justly organised
state may yet attain. I glimpse for a bewildering instant the
heights that may be scaled, the splendid enterprises made possible.

But the appeal goes out now in other forms, in a book that catches
at thousands of readers for the eye of a Prince diffused. It is the
old appeal indeed for the unification of human effort, the ending of
confusions, but instead of the Machiavellian deference to a
flattered lord, a man cries out of his heart to the unseen
fellowship about him. The last written dedication of all those I
burnt last night, was to no single man, but to the socially
constructive passion--in any man. . . .

There is, moreover, a second great difference in kind between my
world and Machiavelli's. We are discovering women. It is as if
they had come across a vast interval since his time, into the very
chamber of the statesman.


In Machiavelli's outlook the interest of womanhood was in a region
of life almost infinitely remote from his statecraft. They were the
vehicle of children, but only Imperial Rome and the new world of to-
day have ever had an inkling of the significance that might give
them in the state. They did their work, he thought, as the ploughed
earth bears its crops. Apart from their function of fertility they
gave a humorous twist to life, stimulated worthy men to toil, and
wasted the hours of Princes. He left the thought of women outside
with his other dusty things when he went into his study to write,
dismissed them from his mind. But our modern world is burthened
with its sense of the immense, now half articulate, significance of
women. They stand now, as it were, close beside the silver
candlesticks, speaking as Machiavelli writes, until he stays his pen
and turns to discuss his writing with them.

It is this gradual discovery of sex as a thing collectively
portentous that I have to mingle with my statecraft if my picture is
to be true which has turned me at length from a treatise to the
telling of my own story. In my life I have paralleled very closely
the slow realisations that are going on in the world about me. I
began life ignoring women, they came to me at first perplexing and
dishonouring; only very slowly and very late in my life and after
misadventure, did I gauge the power and beauty of the love of man
and woman and learnt how it must needs frame a justifiable vision of
the ordered world. Love has brought me to disaster, because my
career had been planned regardless of its possibility and value.
But Machiavelli, it seems to me, when he went into his study, left
not only the earth of life outside but its unsuspected soul.


Like Machiavelli at San Casciano, if I may take this analogy one
step further, I too am an exile. Office and leading are closed to
me. The political career that promised so much for me is shattered
and ended for ever.

I look out from this vine-wreathed veranda under the branches of a
stone pine; I see wide and far across a purple valley whose sides
are terraced and set with houses of pine and ivory, the Gulf of
Liguria gleaming sapphire blue, and cloud-like baseless mountains
hanging in the sky, and I think of lank and coaly steamships heaving
on the grey rollers of the English Channel and darkling streets wet
with rain, I recall as if I were back there the busy exit from
Charing Cross, the cross and the money-changers' offices, the
splendid grime of giant London and the crowds going perpetually to
and fro, the lights by night and the urgency and eventfulness of
that great rain-swept heart of the modern world.

It is difficult to think we have left that--for many years if not
for ever. In thought I walk once more in Palace Yard and hear the
clink and clatter of hansoms and the quick quiet whirr of motors; I
go in vivid recent memories through the stir in the lobbies, I sit
again at eventful dinners in those old dining-rooms like cellars
below the House--dinners that ended with shrill division bells, I
think of huge clubs swarming and excited by the bulletins of that
electoral battle that was for me the opening opportunity. I see the
stencilled names and numbers go up on the green baize, constituency
after constituency, amidst murmurs or loud shouting. . . .

It is over for me now and vanished. That opportunity will come no
more. Very probably you have heard already some crude inaccurate
version of our story and why I did not take office, and have formed
your partial judgement on me. And so it is I sit now at my stone
table, half out of life already, in a warm, large, shadowy leisure,
splashed with sunlight and hung with vine tendrils, with paper
before me to distil such wisdom as I can, as Machiavelli in his
exile sought to do, from the things I have learnt and felt during
the career that has ended now in my divorce.

I climbed high and fast from small beginnings. I had the mind of my
party. I do not know where I might not have ended, but for this red
blaze that came out of my unguarded nature and closed my career for




I dreamt first of states and cities and political things when I was
a little boy in knickerbockers.

When I think of how such things began in my mind, there comes back
to me the memory of an enormous bleak room with its ceiling going up
to heaven and its floor covered irregularly with patched and
defective oilcloth and a dingy mat or so and a "surround" as they
call it, of dark stained wood. Here and there against the wall are
trunks and boxes. There are cupboards on either side of the
fireplace and bookshelves with books above them, and on the wall and
rather tattered is a large yellow-varnished geological map of the
South of England. Over the mantel is a huge lump of white coral
rock and several big fossil bones, and above that hangs the portrait
of a brainy gentleman, sliced in half and displaying an interior of
intricate detail and much vigour of coloring. It is the floor I
think of chiefly; over the oilcloth of which, assumed to be land,
spread towns and villages and forts of wooden bricks; there are
steep square hills (geologically, volumes of Orr's CYCLOPAEDIA OF
THE SCIENCES) and the cracks and spaces of the floor and the bare
brown surround were the water channels and open sea of that
continent of mine.

I still remember with infinite gratitude the great-uncle to whom I
owe my bricks. He must have been one of those rare adults who have
not forgotten the chagrins and dreams of childhood. He was a
prosperous west of England builder; including my father he had three
nephews, and for each of them he caused a box of bricks to be made
by an out-of-work carpenter, not the insufficient supply of the
toyshop, you understand, but a really adequate quantity of bricks
made out of oak and shaped and smoothed, bricks about five inches by
two and a half by one, and half-bricks and quarter-bricks to
correspond. There were hundreds of them, many hundreds. I could
build six towers as high as myself with them, and there seemed quite
enough for every engineering project I could undertake. I could
build whole towns with streets and houses and churches and citadels;
I could bridge every gap in the oilcloth and make causeways over
crumpled spaces (which I feigned to be morasses), and on a keel of
whole bricks it was possible to construct ships to push over the
high seas to the remotest port in the room. And a disciplined
population, that rose at last by sedulous begging on birthdays and
all convenient occasions to well over two hundred, of lead sailors
and soldiers, horse, foot and artillery, inhabited this world.

Justice has never been done to bricks and soldiers by those who
write about toys. The praises of the toy theatre have been a common
theme for essayists, the planning of the scenes, the painting and
cutting out of the caste, penny plain twopence coloured, the stink
and glory of the performance and the final conflagration. I had
such a theatre once, but I never loved it nor hoped for much from
it; my bricks and soldiers were my perpetual drama. I recall an
incessant variety of interests. There was the mystery and charm of
the complicated buildings one could make, with long passages and
steps and windows through which one peeped into their intricacies,
and by means of slips of card one could make slanting ways in them,
and send marbles rolling from top to base and thence out into the
hold of a waiting ship. Then there were the fortresses and gun
emplacements and covered ways in which one's soldiers went. And
there was commerce; the shops and markets and store-rooms full of
nasturtium seed, thrift seed, lupin beans and suchlike provender
from the garden; such stuff one stored in match-boxes and pill-
boxes, or packed in sacks of old glove fingers tied up with thread
and sent off by waggons along the great military road to the
beleaguered fortress on the Indian frontier beyond the worn places
that were dismal swamps. And there were battles on the way.

That great road is still clear in my memory. I was given, I forget
by what benefactor, certain particularly fierce red Indians of lead--
I have never seen such soldiers since--and for these my father
helped me to make tepees of brown paper, and I settled them in a
hitherto desolate country under the frowning nail-studded cliffs of
an ancient trunk. Then I conquered them and garrisoned their land.
(Alas! they died, no doubt through contact with civilisation--one my
mother trod on--and their land became a wilderness again and was
ravaged for a time by a clockwork crocodile of vast proportions.)
And out towards the coal-scuttle was a region near the impassable
thickets of the ragged hearthrug where lived certain china Zulus
brandishing spears, and a mountain country of rudely piled bricks
concealing the most devious and enchanting caves and several mines
of gold and silver paper. Among these rocks a number of survivors
from a Noah's Ark made a various, dangerous, albeit frequently
invalid and crippled fauna, and I was wont to increase the
uncultivated wildness of this region further by trees of privet-
twigs from the garden hedge and box from the garden borders. By
these territories went my Imperial Road carrying produce to and fro,
bridging gaps in the oilcloth, tunnelling through Encyclopaedic
hills--one tunnel was three volumes long--defended as occasion
required by camps of paper tents or brick blockhouses, and ending at
last in a magnificently engineered ascent to a fortress on the
cliffs commanding the Indian reservation.

My games upon the floor must have spread over several years and
developed from small beginnings, incorporating now this suggestion
and now that. They stretch, I suppose, from seven to eleven or
twelve. I played them intermittently, and they bulk now in the
retrospect far more significantly than they did at the time. I
played them in bursts, and then forgot them for long periods;
through the spring and summer I was mostly out of doors, and school
and classes caught me early. And in the retrospect I see them all
not only magnified and transfigured, but fore-shortened and confused
together. A clockwork railway, I seem to remember, came and went;
one or two clockwork boats, toy sailing ships that, being keeled,
would do nothing but lie on their beam ends on the floor; a
detestable lot of cavalrymen, undersized and gilt all over, given me
by a maiden aunt, and very much what one might expect from an aunt,
that I used as Nero used his Christians to ornament my public
buildings; and I finally melted some into fratricidal bullets, and
therewith blew the rest to flat splashes of lead by means of a brass
cannon in the garden.

I find this empire of the floor much more vivid and detailed in my
memory now than many of the owners of the skirts and legs and boots
that went gingerly across its territories. Occasionally, alas! they
stooped to scrub, abolishing in one universal destruction the slow
growth of whole days of civilised development. I still remember the
hatred and disgust of these catastrophes. Like Noah I was given
warnings. Did I disregard them, coarse red hands would descend,
plucking garrisons from fortresses and sailors from ships, jumbling
them up in their wrong boxes, clumsily so that their rifles and
swords were broken, sweeping the splendid curves of the Imperial
Road into heaps of ruins, casting the jungle growth of Zululand into
the fire.

"Well, Master Dick," the voice of this cosmic calamity would say,
"you ought to have put them away last night. No! I can't wait until
you've sailed them all away in ships. I got my work to do, and do
it I will."

And in no time all my continents and lands were swirling water and
swiping strokes of house-flannel.

That was the worst of my giant visitants, but my mother too, dear
lady, was something of a terror to this microcosm. She wore spring-
sided boots, a kind of boot now vanished, I believe, from the world,
with dull bodies and shiny toes, and a silk dress with flounces that
were very destructive to the more hazardous viaducts of the Imperial
Road. She was always, I seem to remember, fetching me; fetching me
for a meal, fetching me for a walk or, detestable absurdity!
fetching me for a wash and brush up, and she never seemed to
understand anything whatever of the political Systems across which
she came to me. Also she forbade all toys on Sundays except the
bricks for church-building and the soldiers for church parade, or a
Scriptural use of the remains of the Noah's Ark mixed up with a
wooden Swiss dairy farm. But she really did not know whether a
thing was a church or not unless it positively bristled with cannon,
and many a Sunday afternoon have I played Chicago (with the fear of
God in my heart) under an infidel pretence that it was a new sort of
ark rather elaborately done.

Chicago, I must explain, was based upon my father's description of
the pig slaughterings in that city and certain pictures I had seen.
You made your beasts--which were all the ark lot really,
provisionally conceived as pigs--go up elaborate approaches to a
central pen, from which they went down a cardboard slide four at a
time, and dropped most satisfyingly down a brick shaft, and pitter-
litter over some steep steps to where a head slaughterman (ne Noah)
strung a cotton loop round their legs and sent them by pin hooks
along a wire to a second slaughterman with a chipped foot (formerly
Mrs. Noah) who, if I remember rightly, converted them into Army
sausage by means of a portion of the inside of an old alarum clock.

My mother did not understand my games, but my father did. He wore
bright-coloured socks and carpet slippers when he was indoors--my
mother disliked boots in the house--and he would sit down on my
little chair and survey the microcosm on the floor with admirable
understanding and sympathy.

It was he who gave me most of my toys and, I more than suspect, most
of my ideas. "Here's some corrugated iron," he would say, "suitable
for roofs and fencing," and hand me a lump of that stiff crinkled
paper that is used for packing medicine bottles. Or, "Dick, do you
see the tiger loose near the Imperial Road?--won't do for your
cattle ranch." And I would find a bright new lead tiger like a
special creation at large in the world, and demanding a hunting
expedition and much elaborate effort to get him safely housed in the
city menagerie beside the captured dragon crocodile, tamed now, and
his key lost and the heart and spring gone out of him.

And to the various irregular reading of my father I owe the
inestimable blessing of never having a boy's book in my boyhood
except those of Jules Verne. But my father used to get books for
himself and me from the Bromstead Institute, Fenimore Cooper and
Mayne Reid and illustrated histories; one of the Russo-Turkish war
and one of Napier's expedition to Abyssinia I read from end to end;
Stanley and Livingstone, lives of Wellington, Napoleon and
Garibaldi, and back volumes of PUNCH, from which I derived
conceptions of foreign and domestic politics it has taken years of
adult reflection to correct. And at home permanently we had Wood's
NATURAL HISTORY, a brand-new illustrated Green's HISTORY OF THE
unbound parts of some geographical work, a VOYAGE ROUND THE WORLD I
think it was called, with pictures of foreign places, and Clarke's
NEW TESTAMENT with a map of Palestine, and a variety of other
informing books bought at sales. There was a Sowerby's BOTANY also,
with thousands of carefully tinted pictures of British plants, and
one or two other important works in the sitting-room. I was allowed
to turn these over and even lie on the floor with them on Sundays
and other occasions of exceptional cleanliness.

And in the attic I found one day a very old forgotten map after the
fashion of a bird's-eye view, representing the Crimea, that
fascinated me and kept me for hours navigating its waters with a


My father was a lank-limbed man in easy shabby tweed clothes and
with his hands in his trouser pockets. He was a science teacher,
taking a number of classes at the Bromstead Institute in Kent under
the old Science and Art Department, and "visiting" various schools;
and our resources were eked out by my mother's income of nearly a
hundred pounds a year, and by his inheritance of a terrace of three
palatial but structurally unsound stucco houses near Bromstead

They were big clumsy residences in the earliest Victorian style,
interminably high and with deep damp basements and downstairs
coal-cellars and kitchens that suggested an architect
vindictively devoted to the discomfort of the servant class. If so,
he had overreached himself and defeated his end, for no servant
would stay in them unless for exceptional wages or exceptional
tolerance of inefficiency or exceptional freedom in repartee. Every
storey in the house was from twelve to fifteen feet high (which
would have been cool and pleasant in a hot climate), and the stairs
went steeply up, to end at last in attics too inaccessible for
occupation. The ceilings had vast plaster cornices of classical
design, fragments of which would sometimes fall unexpectedly, and
the wall-papers were bold and gigantic in pattern and much
variegated by damp and ill-mended rents.

As my father was quite unable to let more than one of these houses
at a time, and that for the most part to eccentric and undesirable
tenants, he thought it politic to live in one of the two others, and
devote the rent he received from the let one, when it was let, to
the incessant necessary repairing of all three. He also did some of
the repairing himself and, smoking a bull-dog pipe the while, which
my mother would not allow him to do in the house, he cultivated
vegetables in a sketchy, unpunctual and not always successful manner
in the unoccupied gardens. The three houses faced north, and the
back of the one we occupied was covered by a grape-vine that
yielded, I remember, small green grapes for pies in the spring, and
imperfectly ripe black grapes in favourable autumns for the purposes
of dessert. The grape-vine played an important part in my life, for
my father broke his neck while he was pruning it, when I was

My father was what is called a man of ideas, but they were not
always good ideas. My grandfather had been a private schoolmaster
and one of the founders of the College of Preceptors, and my father
had assisted him in his school until increasing competition and
diminishing attendance had made it evident that the days of small
private schools kept by unqualified persons were numbered.
Thereupon my father had roused himself and had qualified as a
science teacher under the Science and Art Department, which in these
days had charge of the scientific and artistic education of the mass
of the English population, and had thrown himself into science
teaching and the earning of government grants therefor with great if
transitory zeal and success.

I do not remember anything of my father's earlier and more energetic
time. I was the child of my parents' middle years; they married
when my father was thirty-five and my mother past forty, and I saw
only the last decadent phase of his educational career.

The Science and Art Department has vanished altogether from the
world, and people are forgetting it now with the utmost readiness
and generosity. Part of its substance and staff and spirit survive,
more or less completely digested into the Board of Education.

The world does move on, even in its government. It is wonderful how
many of the clumsy and limited governing bodies of my youth and
early manhood have given place now to more scientific and efficient
machinery. When I was a boy, Bromstead, which is now a borough, was
ruled by a strange body called a Local Board--it was the Age of
Boards--and I still remember indistinctly my father rejoicing at the
breakfast-table over the liberation of London from the corrupt and
devastating control of a Metropolitan Board of Works. Then there
were also School Boards; I was already practically in politics
before the London School Board was absorbed by the spreading
tentacles of the London County Council.

It gives a measure of the newness of our modern ideas of the State
to remember that the very beginnings of public education lie within
my father's lifetime, and that many most intelligent and patriotic
people were shocked beyond measure at the State doing anything of
the sort. When he was born, totally illiterate people who could
neither read a book nor write more than perhaps a clumsy signature,
were to be found everywhere in England; and great masses of the
population were getting no instruction at all. Only a few schools
flourished upon the patronage of exceptional parents; all over the
country the old endowed grammar schools were to be found sinking and
dwindling; many of them had closed altogether. In the new great
centres of population multitudes of children were sweated in the
factories, darkly ignorant and wretched and the under-equipped and
under-staffed National and British schools, supported by voluntary
contributions and sectarian rivalries, made an ineffectual fight
against this festering darkness. It was a condition of affairs
clamouring for remedies, but there was an immense amount of
indifference and prejudice to be overcome before any remedies were
possible. Perhaps some day some industrious and lucid historian
will disentangle all the muddle of impulses and antagonisms, the
commercialism, utilitarianism, obstinate conservatism, humanitarian
enthusiasm, out of which our present educational organisation arose.
I have long since come to believe it necessary that all new social
institutions should be born in confusion, and that at first they
should present chiefly crude and ridiculous aspects. The distrust
of government in the Victorian days was far too great, and the
general intelligence far too low, to permit the State to go about
the new business it was taking up in a businesslike way, to train
teachers, build and equip schools, endow pedagogic research, and
provide properly written school-books. These things it was felt
MUST be provided by individual and local effort, and since it was
manifest that it was individual and local effort that were in
default, it was reluctantly agreed to stimulate them by money
payments. The State set up a machinery of examination both in
Science and Art and for the elementary schools; and payments, known
technically as grants, were made in accordance with the examination
results attained, to such schools as Providence might see fit to
send into the world. In this way it was felt the Demand would be
established that would, according to the beliefs of that time,
inevitably ensure the Supply. An industry of "Grant earning" was
created, and this would give education as a necessary by-product.

In the end this belief was found to need qualification, but Grant-
earning was still in full activity when I was a small boy. So far
as the Science and Art Department and my father are concerned, the
task of examination was entrusted to eminent scientific men, for the
most part quite unaccustomed to teaching. You see, if they also
were teaching similar classes to those they examined, it was feared
that injustice might be done. Year after year these eminent persons
set questions and employed subordinates to read and mark the
increasing thousands of answers that ensued, and having no doubt the
national ideal of fairness well developed in their minds, they were
careful each year to re-read the preceding papers before composing
the current one, in order to see what it was usual to ask. As a
result of this, in the course of a few years the recurrence and
permutation of questions became almost calculable, and since the
practical object of the teaching was to teach people not science,
but how to write answers to these questions, the industry of Grant-
earning assumed a form easily distinguished from any kind of genuine
education whatever.

Other remarkable compromises had also to be made with the spirit of
the age. The unfortunate conflict between Religion and Science
prevalent at this time was mitigated, if I remember rightly, by
making graduates in arts and priests in the established church
Science Teachers EX OFFICIO, and leaving local and private
enterprise to provide schools, diagrams, books, material, according
to the conceptions of efficiency prevalent in the district. Private
enterprise made a particularly good thing of the books. A number of
competing firms of publishers sprang into existence specialising in
Science and Art Department work; they set themselves to produce
text-books that should supply exactly the quantity and quality of
knowledge necessary for every stage of each of five and twenty
subjects into which desirable science was divided, and copies and
models and instructions that should give precisely the method and
gestures esteemed as proficiency in art. Every section of each book
was written in the idiom found to be most satisfactory to the
examiners, and test questions extracted from papers set in former
years were appended to every chapter. By means of these last the
teacher was able to train his class to the very highest level of
grant-earning efficiency, and very naturally he cast all other
methods of exposition aside. First he posed his pupils with
questions and then dictated model replies.

That was my father's method of instruction. I attended his classes
as an elementary grant-earner from the age of ten until his death,
and it is so I remember him, sitting on the edge of a table,
smothering a yawn occasionally and giving out the infallible
formulae to the industriously scribbling class sitting in rows of
desks before him. Occasionally he would slide to his feet and go to
a blackboard on an easel and draw on that very slowly and
deliberately in coloured chalks a diagram for the class to copy in
coloured pencils, and sometimes he would display a specimen or
arrange an experiment for them to see. The room in the Institute in
which he taught was equipped with a certain amount of apparatus
prescribed as necessary for subject this and subject that by the
Science and Art Department, and this my father would supplement with
maps and diagrams and drawings of his own.

But he never really did experiments, except that in the class in
systematic botany he sometimes made us tease common flowers to
pieces. He did not do experiments if he could possibly help it,
because in the first place they used up time and gas for the Bunsen
burner and good material in a ruinous fashion, and in the second
they were, in his rather careless and sketchy hands, apt to endanger
the apparatus of the Institute and even the lives of his students.
Then thirdly, real experiments involved washing up. And moreover
they always turned out wrong, and sometimes misled the too observant
learner very seriously and opened demoralising controversies. Quite
early in life I acquired an almost ineradicable sense of the
unscientific perversity of Nature and the impassable gulf that is
fixed between systematic science and elusive fact. I knew, for
example, that in science, whether it be subject XII., Organic
Chemistry, or subject XVII., Animal Physiology, when you blow into a
glass of lime-water it instantly becomes cloudy, and if you continue
to blow it clears again, whereas in truth you may blow into the
stuff from the lime-water bottle until you are crimson in the face
and painful under the ears, and it never becomes cloudy at all. And
I knew, too, that in science if you put potassium chlorate into a
retort and heat it over a Bunsen burner, oxygen is disengaged and
may be collected over water, whereas in real life if you do anything
of the sort the vessel cracks with a loud report, the potassium
chlorate descends sizzling upon the flame, the experimenter says
"Oh! Damn!" with astonishing heartiness and distinctness, and a lady
student in the back seats gets up and leaves the room.

Science is the organised conquest of Nature, and I can quite
understand that ancient libertine refusing to co-operate in her own
undoing. And I can quite understand, too, my father's preference
for what he called an illustrative experiment, which was simply an
arrangement of the apparatus in front of the class with nothing
whatever by way of material, and the Bunsen burner clean and cool,
and then a slow luminous description of just what you did put in it
when you were so ill-advised as to carry the affair beyond
illustration, and just exactly what ought anyhow to happen when you
did. He had considerable powers of vivid expression, so that in
this way he could make us see all he described. The class, freed
from any unpleasant nervous tension, could draw this still life
without flinching, and if any part was too difficult to draw, then
my father would produce a simplified version on the blackboard to be
copied instead. And he would also write on the blackboard any
exceptionally difficult but grant-earning words, such as
"empyreumatic" or "botryoidal."

Some words in constant use he rarely explained. I remember once
sticking up my hand and asking him in the full flow of description,
"Please, sir, what is flocculent?"

"The precipitate is."

"Yes, sir, but what does it mean?"

"Oh! flocculent!" said my father, "flocculent! Why--" he extended
his hand and arm and twiddled his fingers for a second in the air.
"Like that," he said.

I thought the explanation sufficient, but he paused for a moment
after giving it. "As in a flock bed, you know," he added and
resumed his discourse.


My father, I am afraid, carried a natural incompetence in practical
affairs to an exceptionally high level. He combined practical
incompetence, practical enterprise and a thoroughly sanguine
temperament, in a manner that I have never seen paralleled in any
human being. He was always trying to do new things in the briskest
manner, under the suggestion of books or papers or his own
spontaneous imagination, and as he had never been trained to do
anything whatever in his life properly, his futilities were
extensive and thorough. At one time he nearly gave up his classes
for intensive culture, so enamoured was he of its possibilities; the
peculiar pungency of the manure he got, in pursuit of a chemical
theory of his own, has scarred my olfactory memories for a lifetime.
The intensive culture phase is very clear in my memory; it came near
the end of his career and when I was between eleven and twelve. I
was mobilised to gather caterpillars on several occasions, and
assisted in nocturnal raids upon the slugs by lantern-light that
wrecked my preparation work for school next day. My father dug up
both lawns, and trenched and manured in spasms of immense vigour
alternating with periods of paralysing distaste for the garden. And
for weeks he talked about eight hundred pounds an acre at every

A garden, even when it is not exasperated by intensive methods, is a
thing as exacting as a baby, its moods have to be watched; it does
not wait upon the cultivator's convenience, but has times of its
own. Intensive culture greatly increases this disposition to
trouble mankind; it makes a garden touchy and hysterical, a drugged
and demoralised and over-irritated garden. My father got at cross
purposes with our two patches at an early stage. Everything grew
wrong from the first to last, and if my father's manures intensified
nothing else, they certainly intensified the Primordial Curse. The
peas were eaten in the night before they were three inches high, the
beans bore nothing but blight, the only apparent result of a
spraying of the potatoes was to develop a PENCHANT in the cat for
being ill indoors, the cucumber frames were damaged by the
catapulting of boys going down the lane at the back, and all your
cucumbers were mysteriously embittered. That lane with its
occasional passers-by did much to wreck the intensive scheme,
because my father always stopped work and went indoors if any one
watched him. His special manure was apt to arouse a troublesome
spirit of inquiry in hardy natures.

In digging his rows and shaping his patches he neglected the guiding
string and trusted to his eye altogether too much, and the
consequent obliquity and the various wind-breaks and scare-crows he
erected, and particularly an irrigation contrivance he began and
never finished by which everything was to be watered at once by
means of pieces of gutter from the roof and outhouses of Number 2,
and a large and particularly obstinate clump of elder-bushes in the
abolished hedge that he had failed to destroy entirely either by axe
or by fire, combined to give the gardens under intensive culture a
singularly desolate and disorderly appearance. He took steps
towards the diversion of our house drain under the influence of the
Sewage Utilisation Society; but happily he stopped in time. He
hardly completed any of the operations he began; something else
became more urgent or simply he tired; a considerable area of the
Number 2 territory was never even dug up.

In the end the affair irritated him beyond endurance. Never was a
man less horticulturally-minded. The clamour of these vegetables he
had launched into the world for his service and assistance, wore out
his patience. He would walk into the garden the happiest of men
after a day or so of disregard, talking to me of history perhaps or
social organisation, or summarising some book he had read. He
talked to me of anything that interested him, regardless of my
limitations. Then he would begin to note the growth of the weeds.
"This won't do," he would say and pull up a handful.

More weeding would follow and the talk would become fragmentary.
His hands would become earthy, his nails black, weeds would snap off
in his careless grip, leaving the roots behind. The world would
darken. He would look at his fingers with disgusted astonishment.
"CURSE these weeds!" he would say from his heart. His discourse was
at an end.

I have memories, too, of his sudden unexpected charges into the
tranquillity of the house, his hands and clothes intensively
enriched. He would come in like a whirlwind. "This damned stuff
all over me and the Agricultural Chemistry Class at six! Bah!

My mother would never learn not to attempt to break him of swearing
on such occasions. She would remain standing a little stiffly in
the scullery refusing to assist him to the adjectival towel he

"If you say such things--"

He would dance with rage and hurl the soap about. "The towel!" he
would cry, flicking suds from big fingers in every direction; "the
towel! I'll let the blithering class slide if you don't give me the
towel! I'll give up everything, I tell you--everything!" . . .

At last with the failure of the lettuces came the breaking point. I
was in the little arbour learning Latin irregular verbs when it
happened. I can see him still, his peculiar tenor voice still
echoes in my brain, shouting his opinion of intensive culture for
all the world to hear, and slashing away at that abominable mockery
of a crop with a hoe. We had tied them up with bast only a week or
so before, and now half were rotten and half had shot up into tall
slender growths. He had the hoe in both hands and slogged. Great
wipes he made, and at each stroke he said, "Take that!"

The air was thick with flying fragments of abortive salad. It was a
fantastic massacre. It was the French Revolution of that cold
tyranny, the vindictive overthrow of the pampered vegetable
aristocrats. After he had assuaged his passion upon them, he turned
for other prey; he kicked holes in two of our noblest marrows,
flicked off the heads of half a row of artichokes, and shied the hoe
with a splendid smash into the cucumber frame. Something of the awe
of that moment returns to me as I write of it.

"Well, my boy," he said, approaching with an expression of beneficent
happiness, "I've done with gardening. Let's go for a walk like
reasonable beings. I've had enough of this"--his face was convulsed
for an instant with bitter resentment--"Pandering to cabbages."


That afternoon's walk sticks in my memory for many reasons. One is
that we went further than I had ever been before; far beyond Keston
and nearly to Seven-oaks, coming back by train from Dunton Green,
and the other is that my father as he went along talked about
himself, not so much to me as to himself, and about life and what he
had done with it. He monologued so that at times he produced an
effect of weird world-forgetfulness. I listened puzzled, and at
that time not understanding many things that afterwards became plain
to me. It is only in recent years that I have discovered the pathos
of that monologue; how friendless my father was and uncompanioned in
his thoughts and feelings, and what a hunger he may have felt for
the sympathy of the undeveloped youngster who trotted by his side.

"I'm no gardener," he said, "I'm no anything. Why the devil did I
start gardening?

"I suppose man was created to mind a garden. . . But the Fall let
us out of that! What was I created for? God! what was I created
for? . . .

"Slaves to matter! Minding inanimate things! It doesn't suit me,
you know. I've got no hands and no patience. I've mucked about
with life. Mucked about with life." He suddenly addressed himself
to me, and for an instant I started like an eavesdropper discovered.
"Whatever you do, boy, whatever you do, make a Plan. Make a good
Plan and stick to it. Find out what life is about--I never have--
and set yourself to do whatever you ought to do. I admit it's a
puzzle. . . .

"Those damned houses have been the curse of my life. Stucco white
elephants! Beastly cracked stucco with stains of green--black and
green. Conferva and soot. . . . Property, they are! . . . Beware
of Things, Dick, beware of Things! Before you know where you are
you are waiting on them and minding them. They'll eat your life up.
Eat up your hours and your blood and energy! When those houses came
to me, I ought to have sold them--or fled the country. I ought to
have cleared out. Sarcophagi--eaters of men! Oh! the hours and
days of work, the nights of anxiety those vile houses have cost me!
The painting! It worked up my arms; it got all over me. I stank of
it. It made me ill. It isn't living--it's minding. . . .

"Property's the curse of life. Property! Ugh! Look at this
country all cut up into silly little parallelograms, look at all
those villas we passed just now and those potato patches and that
tarred shanty and the hedge! Somebody's minding every bit of it
like a dog tied to a cart's tail. Patching it and bothering about
it. Bothering! Yapping at every passer-by. Look at that notice-
board! One rotten worried little beast wants to keep us other
rotten little beasts off HIS patch,--God knows why! Look at the
weeds in it. Look at the mended fence! . . . There's no property
worth having, Dick, but money. That's only good to spend. All
these things. Human souls buried under a cartload of blithering
rubbish. . . .

"I'm not a fool, Dick. I have qualities, imagination, a sort of go.
I ought to have made a better thing of life.

"I'm sure I could have done things. Only the old people pulled my
leg. They started me wrong. They never started me at all. I only
began to find out what life was like when I was nearly forty.

"If I'd gone to a university; if I'd had any sort of sound training,
if I hadn't slipped into the haphazard places that came easiest. . . .

"Nobody warned me. Nobody. It isn't a world we live in, Dick; it's
a cascade of accidents; it's a chaos exasperated by policemen! YOU
be warned in time, Dick. You stick to a plan. Don't wait for any
one to show you the way. Nobody will. There isn't a way till you
make one. Get education, get a good education. Fight your way to
the top. It's your only chance. I've watched you. You'll do no
good at digging and property minding. There isn't a neighbour in
Bromstead won't be able to skin you at suchlike games. You and I
are the brainy unstable kind, topside or nothing. And if ever those
blithering houses come to you--don't have 'em. Give them away!
Dynamite 'em--and off! LIVE, Dick! I'll get rid of them for you if
I can, Dick, but remember what I say." . . .

So it was my father discoursed, if not in those particular words,
yet exactly in that manner, as he slouched along the southward road,
with resentful eyes becoming less resentful as he talked, and
flinging out clumsy illustrative motions at the outskirts of
Bromstead as we passed along them. That afternoon he hated
Bromstead, from its foot-tiring pebbles up. He had no illusions
about Bromstead or himself. I have the clearest impression of him
in his garden-stained tweeds with a deer-stalker hat on the back of
his head and presently a pipe sometimes between his teeth and
sometimes in his gesticulating hand, as he became diverted by his
talk from his original exasperation. . . .

This particular afternoon is no doubt mixed up in my memory with
many other afternoons; all sorts of things my father said and did at
different times have got themselves referred to it; it filled me at
the time with a great unprecedented sense of fellowship and it has
become the symbol now for all our intercourse together. If I didn't
understand the things he said, I did the mood he was in. He gave me
two very broad ideas in that talk and the talks I have mingled with
it; he gave them to me very clearly and they have remained
fundamental in my mind; one a sense of the extraordinary confusion
and waste and planlessness of the human life that went on all about
us; and the other of a great ideal of order and economy which he
called variously Science and Civilisation, and which, though I do
not remember that he ever used that word, I suppose many people
nowadays would identify with Socialism,--as the Fabians expound it.

He was not very definite about this Science, you must understand,
but he seemed always to be waving his hand towards it,--just as his
contemporary Tennyson seems always to be doing--he belonged to his
age and mostly his talk was destructive of the limited beliefs of
his time, he led me to infer rather than actually told me that this
Science was coming, a spirit of light and order, to the rescue of a
world groaning and travailing in muddle for the want of it. . . .


When I think of Bromstead nowadays I find it inseparably bound up
with the disorders of my father's gardening, and the odd patchings
and paintings that disfigured his houses. It was all of a piece
with that.

Let me try and give something of the quality of Bromstead and
something of its history. It is the quality and history of a
thousand places round and about London, and round and about the
other great centres of population in the world. Indeed it is in a
measure the quality of the whole of this modern world from which we
who have the statesman's passion struggle to evolve, and dream still
of evolving order.

First, then, you must think of Bromstead a hundred and fifty years
ago, as a narrow irregular little street of thatched houses strung
out on the London and Dover Road, a little mellow sample unit of a
social order that had a kind of completeness, at its level, of its
own. At that time its population numbered a little under two
thousand people, mostly engaged in agricultural work or in trades
serving agriculture. There was a blacksmith, a saddler, a chemist,
a doctor, a barber, a linen-draper (who brewed his own beer); a
veterinary surgeon, a hardware shop, and two capacious inns. Round
and about it were a number of pleasant gentlemen's seats, whose
owners went frequently to London town in their coaches along the
very tolerable high-road. The church was big enough to hold the
whole population, were people minded to go to church, and indeed a
large proportion did go, and all who married were married in it, and
everybody, to begin with, was christened at its font and buried at
last in its yew-shaded graveyard. Everybody knew everybody in the
place. It was, in fact, a definite place and a real human community
in those days. There was a pleasant old market-house in the middle
of the town with a weekly market, and an annual fair at which much
cheerful merry making and homely intoxication occurred; there was a
pack of hounds which hunted within five miles of London Bridge, and
the local gentry would occasionally enliven the place with valiant
cricket matches for a hundred guineas a side, to the vast excitement
of the entire population. It was very much the same sort of place
that it had been for three or four centuries. A Bromstead Rip van
Winkle from 1550 returning in 1750 would have found most of the old
houses still as he had known them, the same trades a little improved
and differentiated one from the other, the same roads rather more
carefully tended, the Inns not very much altered, the ancient
familiar market-house. The occasional wheeled traffic would have
struck him as the most remarkable difference, next perhaps to the
swaggering painted stone monuments instead of brasses and the
protestant severity of the communion-table in the parish church,--
both from the material point of view very little things. A Rip van
Winkle from 1350, again, would have noticed scarcely greater
changes; fewer clergy, more people, and particularly more people of
the middling sort; the glass in the windows of many of the houses,
the stylish chimneys springing up everywhere would have impressed
him, and suchlike details. The place would have had the same
boundaries, the same broad essential features, would have been still
itself in the way that a man is still himself after he has "filled
out" a little and grown a longer beard and changed his clothes.

But after 1750 something got hold of the world, something that was
destined to alter the scale of every human affair.

That something was machinery and a vague energetic disposition to
improve material things. In another part of England ingenious
people were beginning to use coal in smelting iron, and were
producing metal in abundance and metal castings in sizes that had
hitherto been unattainable. Without warning or preparation,
increment involving countless possibilities of further increment was
coming to the strength of horses and men. "Power," all
unsuspected, was flowing like a drug into the veins of the social

Nobody seems to have perceived this coming of power, and nobody had
calculated its probable consequences. Suddenly, almost
inadvertently, people found themselves doing things that would have
amazed their ancestors. They began to construct wheeled vehicles
much more easily and cheaply than they had ever done before, to make
up roads and move things about that had formerly been esteemed too
heavy for locomotion, to join woodwork with iron nails instead of
wooden pegs, to achieve all sorts of mechanical possibilities, to
trade more freely and manufacture on a larger scale, to send goods
abroad in a wholesale and systematic way, to bring back commodities
from overseas, not simply spices and fine commodities, but goods in
bulk. The new influence spread to agriculture, iron appliances
replaced wooden, breeding of stock became systematic, paper-making
and printing increased and cheapened. Roofs of slate and tile
appeared amidst and presently prevailed over the original Bromstead
thatch, the huge space of Common to the south was extensively
enclosed, and what had been an ill-defined horse-track to Dover,
only passable by adventurous coaches in dry weather, became the
Dover Road, and was presently the route first of one and then of
several daily coaches. The High Street was discovered to be too
tortuous for these awakening energies, and a new road cut off its
worst contortions. Residential villas appeared occupied by retired
tradesmen and widows, who esteemed the place healthy, and by others
of a strange new unoccupied class of people who had money invested
in joint-stock enterprises. First one and then several boys'
boarding-schools came, drawing their pupils from London,--my
grandfather's was one of these. London, twelve miles to the north-
west, was making itself felt more and more.

But this was only the beginning of the growth period, the first
trickle of the coming flood of mechanical power. Away in the north
they were casting iron in bigger and bigger forms, working their way
to the production of steel on a large scale, applying power in
factories. Bromstead had almost doubted in size again long before
the railway came; there was hardly any thatch left in the High
Street, but instead were houses with handsome brass-knockered front
doors and several windows, and shops with shop-fronts all of square
glass panes, and the place was lighted publicly now by oil lamps--
previously only one flickering lamp outside each of the coaching
inns had broken the nocturnal darkness. And there was talk, it long
remained talk,--of gas. The gasworks came in 1834, and about that
date my father's three houses must have been built convenient for
the London Road. They mark nearly the beginning of the real
suburban quality; they were let at first to City people still
engaged in business.

And then hard on the gasworks had come the railway and cheap coal;
there was a wild outbreak of brickfields upon the claylands to the
east, and the Great Growth had begun in earnest. The agricultural
placidities that had formerly come to the very borders of the High
Street were broken up north, west and south, by new roads. This
enterprising person and then that began to "run up" houses,
irrespective of every other enterprising person who was doing the
same thing. A Local Board came into existence, and with much
hesitation and penny-wise economy inaugurated drainage works. Rates
became a common topic, a fact of accumulating importance. Several
chapels of zinc and iron appeared, and also a white new church in
commercial Gothic upon the common, and another of red brick in the
residential district out beyond the brickfields towards Chessington.

The population doubled again and doubled again, and became
particularly teeming in the prolific "working-class" district about
the deep-rutted, muddy, coal-blackened roads between the gasworks,
Blodgett's laundries, and the railway goods-yard. Weekly
properties, that is to say small houses built by small property
owners and let by the week, sprang up also in the Cage Fields, and
presently extended right up the London Road. A single national
school in an inconvenient situation set itself inadequately to
collect subscriptions and teach the swarming, sniffing, grimy
offspring of this dingy new population to read. The villages of
Beckington, which used to be three miles to the west, and Blamely
four miles to the east of Bromstead, were experiencing similar
distensions and proliferations, and grew out to meet us. All effect
of locality or community had gone from these places long before I
was born; hardly any one knew any one; there was no general meeting
place any more, the old fairs were just common nuisances haunted by
gypsies, van showmen, Cheap Jacks and London roughs, the churches
were incapable of a quarter of the population. One or two local
papers of shameless veniality reported the proceedings of the local
Bench and the local Board, compelled tradesmen who were interested
in these affairs to advertise, used the epithet "Bromstedian" as one
expressing peculiar virtues, and so maintained in the general mind a
weak tradition of some local quality that embraced us all. Then the
parish graveyard filled up and became a scandal, and an ambitious
area with an air of appetite was walled in by a Bromstead Cemetery
Company, and planted with suitably high-minded and sorrowful
varieties of conifer. A stonemason took one of the earlier villas
with a front garden at the end of the High Street, and displayed a
supply of urns on pillars and headstones and crosses in stone,
marble, and granite, that would have sufficed to commemorate in
elaborate detail the entire population of Bromstead as one found it
in 1750.

The cemetery was made when I was a little boy of five or six; I was
in the full tide of building and growth from the first; the second
railway with its station at Bromstead North and the drainage
followed when I was ten or eleven, and all my childish memories are
of digging and wheeling, of woods invaded by building, roads gashed
open and littered with iron pipes amidst a fearful smell of gas, of
men peeped at and seen toiling away deep down in excavations, of
hedges broken down and replaced by planks, of wheelbarrows and
builders' sheds, of rivulets overtaken and swallowed up by drain-
pipes. Big trees, and especially elms, cleared of undergrowth and
left standing amid such things, acquired a peculiar tattered
dinginess rather in the quality of needy widow women who have seen
happier days.

The Ravensbrook of my earlier memories was a beautiful stream. It
came into my world out of a mysterious Beyond, out of a garden,
splashing brightly down a weir which had once been the weir of a
mill. (Above the weir and inaccessible there were bulrushes growing
in splendid clumps, and beyond that, pampas grass, yellow and
crimson spikes of hollyhock, and blue suggestions of wonderland.)
From the pool at the foot of this initial cascade it flowed in a
leisurely fashion beside a footpath,--there were two pretty thatched
cottages on the left, and here were ducks, and there were willows on
the right,--and so came to where great trees grew on high banks on
either hand and bowed closer, and at last met overhead. This part
was difficult to reach because of an old fence, but a little boy
might glimpse that long cavern of greenery by wading. Either I have
actually seen kingfishers there, or my father has described them so
accurately to me that he inserted them into my memory. I remember
them there anyhow. Most of that overhung part I never penetrated at
all, but followed the field path with my mother and met the stream
again, where beyond there were flat meadows, Roper's meadows. The
Ravensbrook went meandering across the middle of these, now between
steep banks, and now with wide shallows at the bends where the
cattle waded and drank. Yellow and purple loose-strife and ordinary
rushes grew in clumps along the bank, and now and then a willow. On
rare occasions of rapture one might see a rat cleaning his whiskers
at the water's edge. The deep places were rich with tangled weeds,
and in them fishes lurked--to me they were big fishes--water-boatmen
and water-beetles traversed the calm surface of these still deeps;
in one pool were yellow lilies and water-soldiers, and in the shoaly
places hovering fleets of small fry basked in the sunshine--to
vanish in a flash at one's shadow. In one place, too, were Rapids,
where the stream woke with a start from a dreamless brooding into
foaming panic and babbled and hastened. Well do I remember that
half-mile of rivulet; all other rivers and cascades have their
reference to it for me. And after I was eleven, and before we left
Bromstead, all the delight and beauty of it was destroyed.

The volume of its water decreased abruptly--I suppose the new
drainage works that linked us up with Beckington, and made me first
acquainted with the geological quality of the London clay, had to do
with that--until only a weak uncleansing trickle remained. That at
first did not strike me as a misfortune. An adventurous small boy
might walk dryshod in places hitherto inaccessible. But hard upon
that came the pegs, the planks and carts and devastation. Roper's
meadows, being no longer in fear of floods, were now to be slashed
out into parallelograms of untidy road, and built upon with rows of
working-class cottages. The roads came,--horribly; the houses
followed. They seemed to rise in the night. People moved into them
as soon as the roofs were on, mostly workmen and their young wives,
and already in a year some of these raw houses stood empty again
from defaulting tenants, with windows broken and wood-work warping
and rotting. The Ravensbrook became a dump for old iron, rusty
cans, abandoned boots and the like, and was a river only when
unusual rains filled it for a day or so with an inky flood of
surface water. . . .

That indeed was my most striking perception in the growth of
Bromstead. The Ravensbrook had been important to my imaginative
life; that way had always been my first choice in all my walks with
my mother, and its rapid swamping by the new urban growth made it
indicative of all the other things that had happened just before my
time, or were still, at a less dramatic pace, happening. I realised
that building was the enemy. I began to understand why in every
direction out of Bromstead one walked past scaffold-poles into
litter, why fragments of broken brick and cinder mingled in every
path, and the significance of the universal notice-boards, either
white and new or a year old and torn and battered, promising sites,
proffering houses to be sold or let, abusing and intimidating
passers-by for fancied trespass, and protecting rights of way.

It is difficult to disentangle now what I understood at this time
and what I have since come to understand, but it seems to me that
even in those childish days I was acutely aware of an invading and
growing disorder. The serene rhythms of the old established
agriculture, I see now, were everywhere being replaced by
cultivation under notice and snatch crops; hedges ceased to be
repaired, and were replaced by cheap iron railings or chunks of
corrugated iron; more and more hoardings sprang up, and contributed
more and more to the nomad tribes of filthy paper scraps that flew
before the wind and overspread the country. The outskirts of
Bromstead were a maze of exploitation roads that led nowhere, that
ended in tarred fences studded with nails (I don't remember barbed
wire in those days; I think the Zeitgeist did not produce that until
later), and in trespass boards that used vehement language. Broken
glass, tin cans, and ashes and paper abounded. Cheap glass, cheap
tin, abundant fuel, and a free untaxed Press had rushed upon a world
quite unprepared to dispose of these blessings when the fulness of
enjoyment was past.

I suppose one might have persuaded oneself that all this was but the
replacement of an ancient tranquillity, or at least an ancient
balance, by a new order. Only to my eyes, quickened by my father's
intimations, it was manifestly no order at all. It was a multitude
of incoordinated fresh starts, each more sweeping and destructive
than the last, and none of them ever really worked out to a ripe and
satisfactory completion. Each left a legacy of products, houses,
humanity, or what not, in its wake. It was a sort of progress that
had bolted; it was change out of hand, and going at an unprecedented
pace nowhere in particular.

No, the Victorian epoch was not the dawn of a new era; it was a
hasty, trial experiment, a gigantic experiment of the most slovenly
and wasteful kind. I suppose it was necessary; I suppose all things
are necessary. I suppose that before men will discipline themselves
to learn and plan, they must first see in a hundred convincing forms
the folly and muddle that come from headlong, aimless and haphazard
methods. The nineteenth century was an age of demonstrations, some
of them very impressive demonstrations, of the powers that have come
to mankind, but of permanent achievement, what will our descendants
cherish? It is hard to estimate what grains of precious metal may
not be found in a mud torrent of human production on so large a
scale, but will any one, a hundred years from now, consent to live
in the houses the Victorians built, travel by their roads or
railways, value the furnishings they made to live among or esteem,
except for curious or historical reasons, their prevalent art and
the clipped and limited literature that satisfied their souls?

That age which bore me was indeed a world full of restricted and
undisciplined people, overtaken by power, by possessions and great
new freedoms, and unable to make any civilised use of them whatever;
stricken now by this idea and now by that, tempted first by one
possession and then another to ill-considered attempts; it was my
father's exploitation of his villa gardens on the wholesale level.
The whole of Bromstead as I remember it, and as I saw it last--it is
a year ago now--is a dull useless boiling-up of human activities, an
immense clustering of futilities. It is as unfinished as ever; the
builders' roads still run out and end in mid-field in their old
fashion; the various enterprises jumble in the same hopeless
contradiction, if anything intensified. Pretentious villas jostle
slums, and public-house and tin tabernacle glower at one another
across the cat-haunted lot that intervenes. Roper's meadows are now
quite frankly a slum; back doors and sculleries gape towards the
railway, their yards are hung with tattered washing unashamed; and
there seem to be more boards by the railway every time I pass,
advertising pills and pickles, tonics and condiments, and suchlike
solicitudes of a people with no natural health nor appetite left in
them. . . .

Well, we have to do better. Failure is not failure nor waste wasted
if it sweeps away illusion and lights the road to a plan.


Chaotic indiscipline, ill-adjusted effort, spasmodic aims, these
give the quality of all my Bromstead memories. The crowning one of
them all rises to desolating tragedy. I remember now the wan spring
sunshine of that Sunday morning, the stiff feeling of best clothes
and aggressive cleanliness and formality, when I and my mother
returned from church to find my father dead. He had been pruning
the grape vine. He had never had a ladder long enough to reach the
sill of the third-floor windows--at house-painting times he had
borrowed one from the plumber who mixed his paint--and he had in his
own happy-go-lucky way contrived a combination of the garden fruit
ladder with a battered kitchen table that served all sorts of odd
purposes in an outhouse. He had stayed up this arrangement by means
of the garden roller, and the roller had at the critical moment--
rolled. He was lying close by the garden door with his head queerly
bent back against a broken and twisted rainwater pipe, an expression
of pacific contentment on his face, a bamboo curtain rod with a
tableknife tied to end of it, still gripped in his hand. We had
been rapping for some time at the front door unable to make him
hear, and then we came round by the door in the side trellis into
the garden and so discovered him.

"Arthur!" I remember my mother crying with the strangest break in
her voice, "What are you doing there? Arthur! And--SUNDAY!"

I was coming behind her, musing remotely, when the quality of her
voice roused me. She stood as if she could not go near him. He had
always puzzled her so, he and his ways, and this seemed only another
enigma. Then the truth dawned on her, she shrieked as if afraid of
him, ran a dozen steps back towards the trellis door and stopped and
clasped her ineffectual gloved hands, leaving me staring blankly,
too astonished for feeling, at the carelessly flung limbs.

The same idea came to me also. I ran to her. "Mother!" I cried,
pale to the depths of my spirit, "IS HE DEAD?"

I had been thinking two minutes before of the cold fruit pie that
glorified our Sunday dinner-table, and how I might perhaps get into
the tree at the end of the garden to read in the afternoon. Now an
immense fact had come down like a curtain and blotted out all my
childish world. My father was lying dead before my eyes. . . . I
perceived that my mother was helpless and that things must be done.

"Mother!" I said, "we must get Doctor Beaseley,--and carry him




My formal education began in a small preparatory school in
Bromstead. I went there as a day boy. The charge for my
instruction was mainly set off by the periodic visits of my father
with a large bag of battered fossils to lecture to us upon geology.
I was one of those fortunate youngsters who take readily to school
work, I had a good memory, versatile interests and a considerable
appetite for commendation, and when I was barely twelve I got a
scholarship at the City Merchants School and was entrusted with a
scholar's railway season ticket to Victoria. After my father's
death a large and very animated and solidly built uncle in tweeds
from Staffordshire, Uncle Minter, my mother's sister's husband, with
a remarkable accent and remarkable vowel sounds, who had plunged
into the Bromstead home once or twice for the night but who was
otherwise unknown to me, came on the scene, sold off the three gaunt
houses with the utmost gusto, invested the proceeds and my father's
life insurance money, and got us into a small villa at Penge within
sight of that immense facade of glass and iron, the Crystal Palace.
Then he retired in a mood of good-natured contempt to his native
habitat again. We stayed at Penge until my mother's death.

School became a large part of the world to me, absorbing my time and
interest, and I never acquired that detailed and intimate knowledge
of Penge and the hilly villadom round about, that I have of the town
and outskirts of Bromstead.

It was a district of very much the same character, but it was more
completely urbanised and nearer to the centre of things; there were
the same unfinished roads, the same occasional disconcerted hedges
and trees, the same butcher's horse grazing under a builder's
notice-board, the same incidental lapses into slum. The Crystal
Palace grounds cut off a large part of my walking radius to the west
with impassable fences and forbiddingly expensive turnstiles, but it
added to the ordinary spectacle of meteorology a great variety of
gratuitous fireworks which banged and flared away of a night after
supper and drew me abroad to see them better. Such walks as I took,
to Croydon, Wembledon, West Wickham and Greenwich, impressed upon me
the interminable extent of London's residential suburbs; mile after
mile one went, between houses, villas, rows of cottages, streets of
shops, under railway arches, over railway bridges. I have forgotten
the detailed local characteristics--if there were any--of much of
that region altogether. I was only there two years, and half my
perambulations occurred at dusk or after dark. But with Penge I
associate my first realisations of the wonder and beauty of twilight
and night, the effect of dark walls reflecting lamplight, and the
mystery of blue haze-veiled hillsides of houses, the glare of shops
by night, the glowing steam and streaming sparks of railway trains
and railway signals lit up in the darkness. My first rambles in the
evening occurred at Penge--I was becoming a big and independent-
spirited boy--and I began my experience of smoking during these
twilight prowls with the threepenny packets of American cigarettes
then just appearing in the world.

My life centred upon the City Merchants School. Usually I caught
the eight-eighteen for Victoria, I had a midday meal and tea; four
nights a week I stayed for preparation, and often I was not back
home again until within an hour of my bedtime. I spent my half
holidays at school in order to play cricket and football. This, and
a pretty voracious appetite for miscellaneous reading which was
fostered by the Penge Middleton Library, did not leave me much
leisure for local topography. On Sundays also I sang in the choir
at St. Martin's Church, and my mother did not like me to walk out
alone on the Sabbath afternoon, she herself slumbered, so that I
wrote or read at home. I must confess I was at home as little as I
could contrive.

Home, after my father's death, had become a very quiet and
uneventful place indeed. My mother had either an unimaginative
temperament or her mind was greatly occupied with private religious
solicitudes, and I remember her talking to me but little, and that
usually upon topics I was anxious to evade. I had developed my own
view about low-Church theology long before my father's death, and my
meditation upon that event had finished my secret estrangement from
my mother's faith. My reason would not permit even a remote chance
of his being in hell, he was so manifestly not evil, and this
religion would not permit him a remote chance of being out yet.
When I was a little boy my mother had taught me to read and write
and pray and had done many things for me, indeed she persisted in
washing me and even in making my clothes until I rebelled against
these things as indignities. But our minds parted very soon. She
never began to understand the mental processes of my play, she never
interested herself in my school life and work, she could not
understand things I said; and she came, I think, quite insensibly to
regard me with something of the same hopeless perplexity she had
felt towards my father.

Him she must have wedded under considerable delusions. I do not
think he deceived her, indeed, nor do I suspect him of mercenariness
in their union; but no doubt he played up to her requirements in the
half ingenuous way that was and still is the quality of most wooing,
and presented himself as a very brisk and orthodox young man. I
wonder why nearly all love-making has to be fraudulent. Afterwards
he must have disappointed her cruelly by letting one aspect after
another of his careless, sceptical, experimental temperament appear.
Her mind was fixed and definite, she embodied all that confidence in
church and decorum and the assurances of the pulpit which was
characteristic of the large mass of the English people--for after
all, the rather low-Church section WAS the largest single mass--in
early Victorian times. She had dreams, I suspect, of going to
church with him side by side; she in a little poke bonnet and a
large flounced crinoline, all mauve and magenta and starched under a
little lace-trimmed parasol, and he in a tall silk hat and peg-top
trousers and a roll-collar coat, and looking rather like the Prince
Consort,--white angels almost visibly raining benedictions on their
amiable progress. Perhaps she dreamt gently of much-belaced babies
and an interestingly pious (but not too dissenting or fanatical)
little girl or boy or so, also angel-haunted. And I think, too, she
must have seen herself ruling a seemly "home of taste," with a
vivarium in the conservatory that opened out of the drawing-room, or
again, making preserves in the kitchen. My father's science-
teaching, his diagrams of disembowelled humanity, his pictures of
prehistoric beasts that contradicted the Flood, his disposition
towards soft shirts and loose tweed suits, his inability to use a
clothes brush, his spasmodic reading fits and his bulldog pipes,
must have jarred cruelly with her rather unintelligent
anticipations. His wild moments of violent temper when he would
swear and smash things, absurd almost lovable storms that passed
like summer thunder, must have been starkly dreadful to her. She
was constitutionally inadaptable, and certainly made no attempt to
understand or tolerate these outbreaks. She tried them by her
standards, and by her standards they were wrong. Her standards hid
him from her. The blazing things he said rankled in her mind

As I remember them together they chafed constantly. Her attitude to
nearly all his moods and all his enterprises was a sceptical
disapproval. She treated him as something that belonged to me and
not to her. "YOUR father," she used to call him, as though I had
got him for her.

She had married late and she had, I think, become mentally self-
subsisting before her marriage. Even in those Herne Hill days I
used to wonder what was going on in her mind, and I find that old
speculative curiosity return as I write this. She took a
considerable interest in the housework that our generally
servantless condition put upon her--she used to have a charwoman in
two or three times a week--but she did not do it with any great
skill. She covered most of our furniture with flouncey ill-fitting
covers, and she cooked plainly and without very much judgment. The
Penge house, as it contained nearly all our Bromstead things, was
crowded with furniture, and is chiefly associated in my mind with
the smell of turpentine, a condiment she used very freely upon the
veneered mahogany pieces. My mother had an equal dread of "blacks"
by day and the "night air," so that our brightly clean windows were
rarely open.

She took a morning paper, and she would open it and glance at the
headlines, but she did not read it until the afternoon and then, I
think, she was interested only in the more violent crimes, and in
railway and mine disasters and in the minutest domesticities of the
Royal Family. Most of the books at home were my father's, and I do
not think she opened any of them. She had one or two volumes that
dated from her own youth, and she tried in vain to interest me in
them; there was Miss Strickland's QUEENS OF ENGLAND, a book I
remember with particular animosity, and QUEECHY and the WIDE WIDE
WORLD. She made these books of hers into a class apart by sewing
outer covers upon them of calico and figured muslin. To me in these
habiliments they seemed not so much books as confederated old

My mother was also very punctual with her religious duties, and
rejoiced to watch me in the choir.

On winter evenings she occupied an armchair on the other side of the
table at which I sat, head on hand reading, and she would be darning
stockings or socks or the like. We achieved an effect of rather
stuffy comfortableness that was soporific, and in a passive way I
think she found these among her happy times. On such occasions she
was wont to put her work down on her knees and fall into a sort of
thoughtless musing that would last for long intervals and rouse my
curiosity. For like most young people I could not imagine mental
states without definite forms.

She carried on a correspondence with a number of cousins and
friends, writing letters in a slanting Italian hand and dealing
mainly with births, marriages and deaths, business starts (in the
vaguest terms) and the distresses of bankruptcy.

And yet, you know, she did have a curious intimate life of her own
that I suspected nothing of at the time, that only now becomes
credible to me. She kept a diary that is still in my possession, a
diary of fragmentary entries in a miscellaneous collection of pocket
books. She put down the texts of the sermons she heard, and queer
stiff little comments on casual visitors,--"Miss G. and much noisy
shrieking talk about games and such frivolities and CROQUAY. A.
delighted and VERY ATTENTIVE." Such little human entries abound.
She had an odd way of never writing a name, only an initial; my
father is always "A.," and I am always "D." It is manifest she
followed the domestic events in the life of the Princess of Wales,
who is now Queen Mother, with peculiar interest and sympathy. "Pray
G. all may be well," she writes in one such crisis.

But there are things about myself that I still find too poignant to
tell easily, certain painful and clumsy circumstances of my birth in
very great detail, the distresses of my infantile ailments. Then
later I find such things as this: "Heard D. s----." The "s" is
evidently "swear "--"G. bless and keep my boy from evil." And
again, with the thin handwriting shaken by distress: "D. would not
go to church, and hardened his heart and said wicked infidel things,
much disrespect of the clergy. The anthem is tiresome!!! That men
should set up to be wiser than their maker!!!" Then trebly
underlined: "I FEAR HIS FATHER'S TEACHING." Dreadful little tangle
of misapprehensions and false judgments! More comforting for me to
read, "D. very kind and good. He grows more thoughtful every day."
I suspect myself of forgotten hypocrisies.

At just one point my mother's papers seem to dip deeper. I think
the death of my father must have stirred her for the first time for
many years to think for herself. Even she could not go on living in
any peace at all, believing that he had indeed been flung headlong
into hell. Of this gnawing solicitude she never spoke to me, never,
and for her diary also she could find no phrases. But on a loose
half-sheet of notepaper between its pages I find this passage that
follows, written very carefully. I do not know whose lines they are
nor how she came upon them. They run:--

"And if there be no meeting past the grave;
If all is darkness, silence, yet 'tis rest.
Be not afraid ye waiting hearts that weep,
For God still giveth His beloved sleep,
And if an endless sleep He wills, so best."

That scrap of verse amazed me when I read it. I could even wonder
if my mother really grasped the import of what she had copied out.
It affected me as if a stone-deaf person had suddenly turned and
joined in a whispered conversation. It set me thinking how far a
mind in its general effect quite hopelessly limited, might range.
After that I went through all her diaries, trying to find something
more than a conventional term of tenderness for my father. But I
found nothing. And yet somehow there grew upon me the realisation
that there had been love. . . . Her love for me, on the other hand,
was abundantly expressed.

I knew nothing of that secret life of feeling at the time; such
expression as it found was all beyond my schoolboy range. I did not
know when I pleased her and I did not know when I distressed her.
Chiefly I was aware of my mother as rather dull company, as a mind
thorny with irrational conclusions and incapable of explication, as
one believing quite wilfully and irritatingly in impossible things.
So I suppose it had to be; life was coming to me in new forms and
with new requirements. It was essential to our situation that we
should fail to understand. After this space of years I have come to
realisations and attitudes that dissolve my estrangement from her, I
can pierce these barriers, I can see her and feel her as a loving
and feeling and desiring and muddle-headed person. There are times
when I would have her alive again, if only that I might be kind to
her for a little while and give her some return for the narrow
intense affection, the tender desires, she evidently lavished so
abundantly on me. But then again I ask how I could make that
return? And I realise the futility of such dreaming. Her demand
was rigid, and to meet it I should need to act and lie.

So she whose blood fed me, whose body made me, lies in my memory as
I saw her last, fixed, still, infinitely intimate, infinitely
remote. . . .

My own case with my mother, however, does not awaken the same regret
I feel when I think of how she misjudged and irked my father, and
turned his weaknesses into thorns for her own tormenting. I wish I
could look back without that little twinge to two people who were
both in their different quality so good. But goodness that is
narrow is a pedestrian and ineffectual goodness. Her attitude to my
father seems to me one of the essentially tragic things that have
come to me personally, one of those things that nothing can
transfigure, that REMAIN sorrowful, that I cannot soothe with any
explanation, for as I remember him he was indeed the most lovable of
weak spasmodic men. But my mother had been trained in a hard and
narrow system that made evil out of many things not in the least
evil, and inculcated neither kindliness nor charity. All their
estrangement followed from that.

These cramping cults do indeed take an enormous toll of human love
and happiness, and not only that but what we Machiavellians must
needs consider, they make frightful breaches in human solidarity. I
suppose I am a deeply religious man, as men of my quality go, but I
hate more and more, as I grow older, the shadow of intolerance cast
by religious organisations. All my life has been darkened by
irrational intolerance, by arbitrary irrational prohibitions and
exclusions. Mahometanism with its fierce proselytism, has, I
suppose, the blackest record of uncharitableness, but most of the
Christian sects are tainted, tainted to a degree beyond any of the
anterior paganisms, with this same hateful quality. It is their
exclusive claim that sends them wrong, the vain ambition that
inspires them all to teach a uniform one-sided God and be the one
and only gateway to salvation. Deprecation of all outside the
household of faith, an organised undervaluation of heretical
goodness and lovableness, follows, necessarily. Every petty
difference is exaggerated to the quality of a saving grace or a
damning defect. Elaborate precautions are taken to shield the
believer's mind against broad or amiable suggestions; the faithful
are deterred by dark allusions, by sinister warnings, from books,
from theatres, from worldly conversation, from all the kindly
instruments that mingle human sympathy. For only by isolating its
flock can the organisation survive.

Every month there came to my mother a little magazine called, if I
remember rightly, the HOME CHURCHMAN, with the combined authority of
print and clerical commendation. It was the most evil thing that
ever came into the house, a very devil, a thin little pamphlet with
one woodcut illustration on the front page of each number; now the
uninviting visage of some exponent of the real and only doctrine and
attitudes, now some coral strand in act of welcoming the
missionaries of God's mysterious preferences, now a new church in
the Victorian Gothic. The vile rag it was! A score of vices that
shun the policeman have nothing of its subtle wickedness. It was an
outrage upon the natural kindliness of men. The contents were all
admirably adjusted to keep a spirit in prison. Their force of
sustained suggestion was tremendous. There would be dreadful
intimations of the swift retribution that fell upon individuals for
Sabbath-breaking, and upon nations for weakening towards Ritualism,
or treating Roman Catholics as tolerable human beings; there would
be great rejoicings over the conversion of alleged Jews, and
terrible descriptions of the death-beds of prominent infidels with
boldly invented last words,--the most unscrupulous lying; there
would be the appallingly edifying careers of "early piety"
lusciously described, or stories of condemned criminals who traced
their final ruin unerringly to early laxities of the kind that leads
people to give up subscribing to the HOME CHURCHMAN.

Every month that evil spirit brought about a slump in our mutual
love. My mother used to read the thing and become depressed and
anxious for my spiritual welfare, used to be stirred to
unintelligent pestering. . . .


A few years ago I met the editor of this same HOME CHURCHMAN. It
was at one of the weekly dinners of that Fleet Street dining club,
the Blackfriars.

I heard the paper's name with a queer little shock and surveyed the
man with interest. No doubt he was only a successor of the purveyor
of discords who darkened my boyhood. It was amazing to find an
influence so terrible embodied in a creature so palpably petty. He
was seated some way down a table at right angles to the one at which
I sat, a man of mean appearance with a greyish complexion, thin,
with a square nose, a heavy wiry moustache and a big Adam's apple
sticking out between the wings of his collar. He ate with
considerable appetite and unconcealed relish, and as his jaw was
underhung, he chummed and made the moustache wave like reeds in the
swell of a steamer. It gave him a conscientious look. After dinner
he a little forced himself upon me. At that time, though the shadow
of my scandal was already upon me, I still seemed to be shaping for
great successes, and he was glad to be in conversation with me and
anxious to intimate political sympathy and support. I tried to make
him talk of the HOME CHURCHMAN and the kindred publications he ran,
but he was manifestly ashamed of his job so far as I was concerned.

"One wants," he said, pitching himself as he supposed in my key, "to
put constructive ideas into our readers, but they are narrow, you
know, very narrow. Very." He made his moustache and lips express
judicious regret. "One has to consider them carefully, one has to
respect their attitudes. One dare not go too far with them. One
has to feel one's way."

He chummed and the moustache bristled.

A hireling, beyond question, catering for a demand. I gathered
there was a home in Tufnell Park, and three boys to be fed and
clothed and educated. . . .

I had the curiosity to buy a copy of his magazine afterwards, and it
seemed much the same sort of thing that had worried my mother in my
boyhood. There was the usual Christian hero, this time with mutton-
chop whiskers and a long bare upper lip. The Jesuits, it seemed,
were still hard at it, and Heaven frightfully upset about the Sunday
opening of museums and the falling birth-rate, and as touchy and
vindictive as ever. There were two vigorous paragraphs upon the
utter damnableness of the Rev. R. J. Campbell, a contagious
damnableness I gathered, one wasn't safe within a mile of Holborn
Viaduct, and a foul-mouthed attack on poor little Wilkins the
novelist--who was being baited by the moralists at that time for
making one of his big women characters, not being in holy wedlock,
desire a baby and say so. . . .

The broadening of human thought is a slow and complex process. We
do go on, we do get on. But when one thinks that people are living
and dying now, quarrelling and sulking, misled and misunderstanding,
vaguely fearful, condemning and thwarting one another in the close
darknesses of these narrow cults--Oh, God! one wants a gale out of
Heaven, one wants a great wind from the sea!


While I lived at Penge two little things happened to me, trivial in
themselves and yet in their quality profoundly significant. They
had this in common, that they pierced the texture of the life I was
quietly taking for granted and let me see through it into realities--
realities I had indeed known about before but never realised. Each
of these experiences left me with a sense of shock, with all the
values in my life perplexingly altered, attempting readjustment.
One of these disturbing and illuminating events was that I was
robbed of a new pocket-knife and the other that I fell in love. It
was altogether surprising to me to be robbed. You see, as an only
child I had always been fairly well looked after and protected, and
the result was an amazing confidence in the practical goodness of
the people one met in the world. I knew there were robbers in the
world, just as I knew there were tigers; that I was ever likely to
meet robber or tiger face to face seemed equally impossible.

The knife as I remember it was a particularly jolly one with all
sorts of instruments in it, tweezers and a thing for getting a stone
out of the hoof of a horse, and a corkscrew; it had cost me a
carefuly accumulated half-crown, and amounted indeed to a new
experience in knives. I had had it for two or three days, and then
one afternoon I dropped it through a hole in my pocket on a footpath
crossing a field between Penge and Anerley. I heard it fall in the
way one does without at the time appreciating what had happened,
then, later, before I got home, when my hand wandered into my pocket
to embrace the still dear new possession I found it gone, and
instantly that memory of something hitting the ground sprang up into
consciousness. I went back and commenced a search. Almost
immediately I was accosted by the leader of a little gang of four or
five extremely dirty and ragged boys of assorted sizes and slouching
carriage who were coming from the Anerley direction.

"Lost anythink, Matey?" said he.

I explained.

"'E's dropped 'is knife," said my interlocutor, and joined in the

"What sort of 'andle was it, Matey?" said a small white-faced
sniffing boy in a big bowler hat.

I supplied the information. His sharp little face scrutinised the
ground about us.

"GOT it," he said, and pounced.

"Give it 'ere," said the big boy hoarsely, and secured it.

I walked towards him serenely confident that he would hand it over
to me, and that all was for the best in the best of all possible

"No bloomin' fear!" he said, regarding me obliquely. "Oo said it
was your knife?"

Remarkable doubts assailed me. "Of course it's my knife," I said.
The other boys gathered round me.

"This ain't your knife," said the big boy, and spat casually.

"I dropped it just now."

"Findin's keepin's, I believe," said the big boy.

"Nonsense," I said. "Give me my knife."

"'Ow many blades it got?"


"And what sort of 'andle?"


"Got a corkscrew like?"


"Ah! This ain't your knife no'ow. See?"

He made no offer to show it to me. My breath went.

"Look here!" I said. "I saw that kid pick it up. It IS my knife."

"Rot!" said the big boy, and slowly, deliberately put my knife into
his trouser pocket.

I braced my soul for battle. All civilisation was behind me, but I
doubt if it kept the colour in my face. I buttoned my jacket and
clenched my fists and advanced on my antagonist--he had, I suppose,
the advantage of two years of age and three inches of height. "Hand
over that knife," I said.

Then one of the smallest of the band assailed me with extraordinary
vigour and swiftness from behind, had an arm round my neck and a
knee in my back before I had the slightest intimation of attack, and
so got me down. "I got 'im, Bill," squeaked this amazing little
ruffian. My nose was flattened by a dirty hand, and as I struck out
and hit something like sacking, some one kicked my elbow. Two or
three seemed to be at me at the same time. Then I rolled over and
sat up to discover them all making off, a ragged flight, footballing
my cap, my City Merchants' cap, amongst them. I leapt to my feet in
a passion of indignation and pursued them.

But I did not overtake them. We are beings of mixed composition,
and I doubt if mine was a single-minded pursuit. I knew that honour
required me to pursue, and I had a vivid impression of having just
been down in the dust with a very wiry and active and dirty little
antagonist of disagreeable odour and incredible and incalculable
unscrupulousness, kneeling on me and gripping my arm and neck. I
wanted of course to be even with him, but also I doubted if catching
him would necessarily involve that. They kicked my cap into the
ditch at the end of the field, and made off compactly along a cinder
lane while I turned aside to recover my dishonoured headdress. As I
knocked the dust out of that and out of my jacket, and brushed my
knees and readjusted my very crumpled collar, I tried to focus this
startling occurrence in my mind.

I had vague ideas of going to a policeman or of complaining at a
police station, but some boyish instinct against informing prevented
that. No doubt I entertained ideas of vindictive pursuit and
murderous reprisals. And I was acutely enraged whenever I thought
of my knife. The thing indeed rankled in my mind for weeks and
weeks, and altered all the flavour of my world for me. It was the
first time I glimpsed the simple brute violence that lurks and peeps
beneath our civilisation. A certain kindly complacency of attitude
towards the palpably lower classes was qualified for ever.


But the other experience was still more cardinal. It was the first
clear intimation of a new motif in life, the sex motif, that was to
rise and increase and accumulate power and enrichment and interweave
with and at last dominate all my life.

It was when I was nearly fifteen this happened. It is inseparably
connected in my mind with the dusk of warm September evenings. I
never met the girl I loved by daylight, and I have forgotten her
name. It was some insignificant name.

Yet the peculiar quality of the adventure keeps it shining darkly
like some deep coloured gem in the common setting of my memories.
It came as something new and strange, something that did not join on
to anything else in my life or connect with any of my thoughts or
beliefs or habits; it was a wonder, a mystery, a discovery about
myself, a discovery about the whole world. Only in after years did
sexual feeling lose that isolation and spread itself out to
illuminate and pervade and at last possess the whole broad vision of

It was in that phase of an urban youth's development, the phase of
the cheap cigarette, that this thing happened. One evening I came
by chance on a number of young people promenading by the light of a
row of shops towards Beckington, and, with all the glory of a
glowing cigarette between my lips, I joined their strolling number.
These twilight parades of young people, youngsters chiefly of the
lower middle-class, are one of the odd social developments of the
great suburban growths--unkindly critics, blind to the inner
meanings of things, call them, I believe, Monkeys' Parades--the shop
apprentices, the young work girls, the boy clerks and so forth,
stirred by mysterious intimations, spend their first-earned money
upon collars and ties, chiffon hats, smart lace collars, walking-
sticks, sunshades or cigarettes, and come valiantly into the vague
transfiguring mingling of gaslight and evening, to walk up and down,
to eye meaningly, even to accost and make friends. It is a queer
instinctive revolt from the narrow limited friendless homes in which
so many find themselves, a going out towards something, romance if
you will, beauty, that has suddenly become a need--a need that
hitherto has lain dormant and unsuspected. They promenade.

Vulgar!--it is as vulgar as the spirit that calls the moth abroad in
the evening and lights the body of the glow-worm in the night. I
made my way through the throng, a little contemptuously as became a
public schoolboy, my hands in my pockets--none of your cheap canes
for me!--and very careful of the lie of my cigarette upon my lips.
And two girls passed me, one a little taller than the other, with
dim warm-tinted faces under clouds of dark hair and with dark eyes
like pools reflecting stars.

I half turned, and the shorter one glanced back at me over her
shoulder--I could draw you now the pose of her cheek and neck and
shoulder--and instantly I was as passionately in love with the girl
as I have ever been before or since, as any man ever was with any
woman. I turned about and followed them, I flung away my cigarette
ostentatiously and lifted my school cap and spoke to them.

The girl answered shyly with her dark eyes on my face. What I said
and what she said I cannot remember, but I have little doubt it was
something absolutely vapid. It really did not matter; the thing was
we had met. I felt as I think a new-hatched moth must feel when
suddenly its urgent headlong searching brings it in tremulous
amazement upon its mate.

We met, covered from each other, with all the nets of civilisation
keeping us apart. We walked side by side.

It led to scarcely more than that. I think we met four or five
times altogether, and always with her nearly silent elder sister on
the other side of her. We walked on the last two occasions arm in
arm, furtively caressing each other's hands, we went away from the
glare of the shops into the quiet roads of villadom, and there we
whispered instead of talking and looked closely into one another's
warm and shaded face. "Dear," I whispered very daringly, and she
answered, "Dear!" We had a vague sense that we wanted more of that
quality of intimacy and more. We wanted each other as one wants
beautiful music again or to breathe again the scent of flowers.

And that is all there was between us. The events are nothing, the
thing that matters is the way in which this experience stabbed
through the common stuff of life and left it pierced, with a light,
with a huge new interest shining through the rent.

When I think of it I can recall even now the warm mystery of her
face, her lips a little apart, lips that I never kissed, her soft
shadowed throat, and I feel again the sensuous stir of her
proximity. . . .

Those two girls never told me their surname nor let me approach
their house. They made me leave them at the corner of a road of
small houses near Penge Station. And quite abruptly, without any
intimation, they vanished and came to the meeting place no more,
they vanished as a moth goes out of a window into the night, and
left me possessed of an intolerable want. . . .

The affair pervaded my existence for many weeks. I could not do my
work and I could not rest at home. Night after night I promenaded
up and down that Monkeys' Parade full of an unappeasable desire,
with a thwarted sense of something just begun that ought to have
gone on. I went backwards and forwards on the way to the vanishing

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