A Miscellany of Men
G. K. Chesterton

Part 2 out of 3

about petrol; the third is a paper called The Christian Commonwealth. He
opens it anyhow, and sees in the middle of a page a sentence with which he
honestly disagrees. It says that the sense of beauty in Nature is a new
thing, hardly felt before Wordsworth. A stream of images and pictures
pour through his head, like skies chasing each other or forests running by.
"Not felt before Wordsworth!" he thinks. "Oh, but this won't do...
bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang...night's candles are
burnt out... glowed with living sapphires. leaving their moon-loved
maze...antique roots fantastic... antique roots wreathed high...what is
it in As You Like It?"

He sits down desperately; the messenger rings at the bell; the children
drum on the door; the servants run up from time to time to say the
messenger is getting bored; and the pencil staggers along, making the
world a present of fifteen hundred unimportant words, and making
Shakespeare a present of a portion of Gray's Elegy; putting "fantastic
roots wreathed high" instead of "antique roots peep out." Then the
journalist sends off his copy and turns his attention to the enigma of
whether a brother should commandeer a sister's necklace because the sister
pinched him at Littlehampton. That is the first scene; that is how an
article is really written.

The scene now changes to the newspaper office. The writer of the article
has discovered his mistake and wants to correct it by the next day: but
the next day is Sunday. He cannot post a letter, so he rings up the paper
and dictates a letter by telephone. He leaves the title to his friends at
the other end; he knows that they can spell "Gray," as no doubt they can:
but the letter is put down by journalistic custom in a pencil scribble and
the vowel may well be doubtful. The friend writes at the top of the
letter "'G. K. C.' Explains," putting the initials in quotation marks.
The next man passing it for press is bored with these initials (I am with
him there) and crosses them out, substituting with austere civility, "Mr.
Chesterton Explains." But and now he hears the iron laughter of the Fates,
for the blind bolt is about to fall--but he neglects to cross out the
second "quote" (as we call it) and it goes up to press with a "quote"
between the last words. Another quotation mark at the end of "explains"
was the work of one merry moment for the printers upstairs. So the
inverted commas were lifted entirely off one word on to the other and a
totally innocent title suddenly turned into a blasting sneer. But that
would have mattered nothing so far, for there was nothing to sneer at. In
the same dark hour, however, there was a printer who was (I suppose) so
devoted to this Government that he could think of no Gray but Sir Edward
Grey. He spelt it "Grey" by a mere misprint, and the whole tale was
complete: first blunder, second blunder, and final condemnation.

That is a little tale of journalism as it is; if you call it egotistic and
ask what is the use of it I think I could tell you. You might remember it
when next some ordinary young workman is going to be hanged by the neck on
circumstantial evidence.


Of all the great nations of Christendom, the Scotch are by far the most
romantic. I have just enough Scotch experience and just enough Scotch
blood to know this in the only way in which a thing can really be known;
that is, when the outer world and the inner world are at one. I know it
is always said that the Scotch are practical, prosaic, and puritan; that
they have an eye to business. I like that phrase "an eye" to business.

Polyphemus had an eye for business; it was in the middle of his forehead.
It served him admirably for the only two duties which are demanded in a
modern financier and captain of industry: the two duties of counting sheep
and of eating men. But when that one eye was put out he was done for.
But the Scotch are not one-eyed practical men, though their best friends
must admit that they are occasionally business-like. They are, quite
fundamentally, romantic and sentimental, and this is proved by the very
economic argument that is used to prove their harshness and hunger for the
material. The mass of Scots have accepted the industrial civilisation,
with its factory chimneys and its famine prices, with its steam and smoke
and steel--and strikes. The mass of the Irish have not accepted it. The
mass of the Irish have clung to agriculture with claws of iron; and have
succeeded in keeping it. That is because the Irish, though far inferior
to the Scotch in art and literature, are hugely superior to them in
practical politics. You do need to be very romantic to accept the
industrial civilisation. It does really require all the old Gaelic
glamour to make men think that Glasgow is a grand place. Yet the miracle
is achieved; and while I was in Glasgow I shared the illusion. I have
never had the faintest illusion about Leeds or Birmingham. The industrial
dream suited the Scots. Here was a really romantic vista, suited to a
romantic people; a vision of higher and higher chimneys taking hold upon
the heavens, of fiercer and fiercer fires in which adamant could evaporate
like dew. Here were taller and taller engines that began already to
shriek and gesticulate like giants. Here were thunderbolts of
communication which already flashed to and fro like thoughts. It was
unreasonable to expect the rapt, dreamy, romantic Scot to stand still in
such a whirl of wizardry to ask whether he, the ordinary Scot, would be
any the richer.

He, the ordinary Scot, is very much the poorer. Glasgow is not a rich
city. It is a particularly poor city ruled by a few particularly rich men.
It is not, perhaps, quite so poor a city as Liverpool, London,
Manchester, Birmingham, or Bolton. It is vastly poorer than Rome, Rouen,
Munich, or Cologne. A certain civic vitality notable in Glasgow may,
perhaps, be due to the fact that the high poetic patriotism of the Scots
has there been reinforced by the cutting common sense and independence of
the Irish. In any case, I think there can be no doubt of the main
historical fact. The Scotch were tempted by the enormous but unequal
opportunities of industrialism, because the Scotch are romantic. The
Irish refused those enormous and unequal opportunities, because the Irish
are clear-sighted. They would not need very clear sight by this time to
see that in England and Scotland the temptation has been a betrayal. The
industrial system has failed.

I was coming the other day along a great valley road that strikes out of
the westland counties about Glasgow, more or less towards the east and the
widening of the Forth. It may, for all I know (I amused myself with the
fancy), be the way along which Wallace came with his crude army, when he
gave battle before Stirling Brig; and, in the midst of mediaeval
diplomacies, made a new nation possible. Anyhow, the romantic quality of
Scotland rolled all about me, as much in the last reek of Glasgow as in
the first rain upon the hills. The tall factory chimneys seemed trying to
be taller than the mountain peaks; as if this landscape were full (as its
history has been full) of the very madness of ambition. The wageslavery
we live in is a wicked thing. But there is nothing in which the Scotch
are more piercing and poetical, I might say more perfect, than in their
Scotch wickedness. It is what makes the Master of Ballantrae the most
thrilling of all fictitious villains. It is what makes the Master of
Lovat the most thrilling of all historical villains. It is poetry. It
is an intensity which is on the edge of madness or (what is worse) magic.
Well, the Scotch have managed to apply something of this fierce
romanticism even to the lowest of all lordships and serfdoms; the
proletarian inequality of today. You do meet now and then, in Scotland,
the man you never meet anywhere else but in novels; I mean the self-made
man; the hard, insatiable man, merciless to himself as well as to others.
It is not "enterprise"; it is kleptomania. He is quite mad, and a much
more obvious public pest than any other kind of kleptomaniac; but though
he is a cheat, he is not an illusion. He does exist; I have met quite two
of him. Him alone among modern merchants we do not weakly flatter when we
call him a bandit. Something of the irresponsibility of the true dark
ages really clings about him. Our scientific civilisation is not a
civilisation; it is a smoke nuisance. Like smoke it is choking us; like
smoke it will pass away. Only of one or two Scotsmen, in my experience,
was it true that where there is smoke there is fire.

But there are other kinds of fire; and better. The one great advantage of
this strange national temper is that, from the beginning of all chronicles,
it has provided resistance as well as cruelty. In Scotland nearly
everything has always been in revolt--especially loyalty. If these people
are capable of making Glasgow, they are also capable of wrecking it; and
the thought of my many good friends in that city makes me really doubtful
about which would figure in human memories as the more huge calamity of
the two. In Scotland there are many rich men so weak as to call
themselves strong. But there are not so many poor men weak enough to
believe them.

As I came out of Glasgow I saw men standing about the road. They had
little lanterns tied to the fronts of their caps, like the fairies who
used to dance in the old fairy pantomimes. They were not, however,
strictly speaking, fairies. They might have been called gnomes, since
they worked in the chasms of those purple and chaotic hills. They worked
in the mines from whence comes the fuel of our fires. Just at the moment
when I saw them, moreover, they were not dancing; nor were they working.
They were doing nothing. Which, in my opinion (and I trust yours), was
the finest thing they could do.


A fixed creed is absolutely indispensable to freedom. For while men are
and should be various, there must be some communication between them if
they are to get any pleasure out of their variety. And an intellectual
formula is the only thing that can create a communication that does not
depend on mere blood, class, or capricious sympathy. If we all start with
the agreement that the sun and moon exist, we can talk about our different
visions of them. The strong-eyed man can boast that he sees the sun as a
perfect circle. The shortsighted man may say (or if he is an
impressionist, boast) that he sees the moon as a silver blur. The
colour-blind man may rejoice in the fairy-trick which enables him to live
under a green sun and a blue moon. But if once it be held that there is
nothing but a silver blur in one man's eye or a bright circle (like a
monocle) in the other man's, then neither is free, for each is shut up in
the cell of a separate universe.

But, indeed, an even worse fate, practically considered, follows from the
denim of the original intellectual formula. Not only does the individual
become narrow, but he spreads narrowness across the world like a cloud; he
causes narrowness to increase and multiply like a weed. For what happens
is this: that all the shortsighted people come together and build a city
called Myopia, where they take short-sightedness for granted and paint
short-sighted pictures and pursue very short-sighted policies. Meanwhile
all the men who can stare at the sun get together on Salisbury Plain and
do nothing but stare at the sun; and all the men who see a blue moon band
themselves together and assert the blue moon, not once in a blue moon, but
incessantly. So that instead of a small and varied group, you have
enormous monotonous groups. Instead of the liberty of dogma, you have the
tyranny of taste.

Allegory apart, instances of what I mean will occur to every one; perhaps
the most obvious is Socialism. Socialism means the ownership by the organ
of government (whatever it is) of all things necessary to production. If
a man claims to be a Socialist in that sense he can be any kind of man he
likes in any other sense--a bookie, a Mahatma, a man about town, an
archbishop, a Margate nigger. Without recalling at the moment
clear-headed Socialists in all of these capacities, it is obvious that a
clear-headed Socialist (that is, a Socialist with a creed) can be a
soldier, like Mr. Blatchford, or a Don, like Mr. Ball, or a Bathchairman
like Mr. Meeke, or a clergyman like Mr. Conrad Noel, or an artistic
tradesman like the late Mr. William Morris.

But some people call themselves Socialists, and will not be bound by what
they call a narrow dogma; they say that Socialism means far, far more than
this; all that is high, all that is free, all that is, etc., etc. Now
mark their dreadful fate; for they become totally unfit to be tradesmen,
or soldiers, or clergymen, or any other stricken human thing, but become a
particular sort of person who is always the same. When once it has been
discovered that Socialism does not mean a narrow economic formula, it is
also discovered that Socialism does mean wearing one particular kind of
clothes, reading one particular kind of books, hanging up one particular
kind of pictures, and in the majority of cases even eating one particular
kind of food. For men must recognise each other somehow. These men will
not know each other by a principle, like fellow citizens. They cannot know
each other by a smell, like dogs. So they have to fall back on general
colouring; on the fact that a man of their sort will have a wife in pale
green and Walter Crane's "Triumph of Labour" hanging in the hall.

There are, of course, many other instances; for modern society is almost
made up of these large monochrome patches. Thus I, for one, regret the
supersession of the old Puritan unity, founded on theology, but embracing
all types from Milton to the grocer, by that newer Puritan unity which is
founded rather on certain social habits, certain common notions, both
permissive and prohibitive, in connection with Particular social pleasures.

Thus I, for one, regret that (if you are going to have an aristocracy) it
did not remain a logical one founded on the science of heraldry; a thing
asserting and defending the quite defensible theory that physical
genealogy is the test; instead of being, as it is now, a mere machine of
Eton and Oxford for varnishing anybody rich enough with one monotonous

And it is supremely so in the case of religion. As long as you have a
creed, which every one in a certain group believes or is supposed to
believe, then that group will consist of the old recurring figures of
religious history, who can be appealed to by the creed and judged by it;
the saint, the hypocrite, the brawler, the weak brother. These people do
each other good; or they all join together to do the hypocrite good, with
heavy and repeated blows. But once break the bond of doctrine which alone
holds these people together and each will gravitate to his own kind
outside the group. The hypocrites will all get together and call each
other saints; the saints will get lost in a desert and call themselves
weak brethren; the weak brethren will get weaker and weaker in a general
atmosphere of imbecility; and the brawler will go off looking for somebody
else with whom to brawl.

This has very largely happened to modern English religion; I have been in
many churches, chapels, and halls where a confident pride in having got
beyond creeds was coupled with quite a paralysed incapacity to get beyond
catchwords. But wherever the falsity appears it comes from neglect of the
same truth: that men should agree on a principle, that they may differ on
everything else; that God gave men a law that they might turn it into

There was hugely more sense in the old people who said that a wife and
husband ought to have the same religion than there is in all the
contemporary gushing about sister souls and kindred spirits and auras of
identical colour. As a matter of fact, the more the sexes are in violent
contrast the less likely they are to be in violent collision. The more
incompatible their tempers are the better. Obviously a wife's soul cannot
possibly be a sister soul. It is very seldom so much as a first cousin.
There are very few marriages of identical taste and temperament; they are
generally unhappy. But to have the same fundamental theory, to think the
same thing a virtue, whether you practise or neglect it, to think the same
thing a sin, whether you punish or pardon or laugh at it, in the last
extremity to call the same thing duty and the same thing disgrace--this
really is necessary to a tolerably happy marriage; and it is much better
represented by a common religion than it is by affinities and auras. And
what applies to the family applies to the nation. A nation with a root
religion will be tolerant. A nation with no religion will be bigoted.
Lastly, the worst effect of all is this: that when men come together to
profess a creed, they come courageously, though it is to hide in catacombs
and caves. But when they come together in a clique they come sneakishly,
eschewing all change or disagreement, though it is to dine to a brass band
in a big London hotel. For birds of a feather flock together, but birds
of the white feather most of all.


For many years I had sought him, and at last I found him in a club. I had
been told that he was everywhere; but I had almost begun to think that he
was nowhere. I had been assured that there were millions of him; but
before my late discovery I inclined to think that there were none of him.
After my late discovery I am sure that there is one; and I incline to
think that there are several, say, a few hundreds; but unfortunately most
of them occupying important positions. When I say "him," I mean the
entire idiot.

I have never been able to discover that "stupid public" of which so many
literary men complain. The people one actually meets in trains or at
tea parties seem to me quite bright and interesting; certainly quite enough
so to call for the full exertion of one's own wits. And even when I have
heard brilliant "conversationalists" conversing with other people, the
conversation had much more equality and give and take than this age of
intellectual snobs will admit. I have sometimes felt tired, like other
people; but rather tired with men's talk and variety than with their
stolidity or sameness; therefore it was that I sometimes longed to find
the refreshment of a single fool.

But it was denied me. Turn where I would I found this monotonous
brilliancy of the general intelligence, this ruthless, ceaseless sparkle
of humour and good sense. The "mostly fools" theory has been used in an
anti-democratic sense; but when I found at last my priceless ass, I did
not find him in what is commonly called the democracy; nor in the
aristocracy either. The man of the democracy generally talks quite
rationally, sometimes on the anti-democratic side, but always with an idea
of giving reasons for what he says and referring to the realities of his
experience. Nor is it the aristocracy that is stupid; at least, not that
section of the aristocracy which represents it in politics. They are
often cynical, especially about money, but even their boredom tends to
make them a little eager for any real information or originality. If a
man like Mr. Winston Churchill or Mr. Wyndham made up his mind for any
reason to attack Syndicalism he would find out what it was first. Not so
the man I found in the club.

He was very well dressed; he had a heavy but handsome face; his black
clothes suggested the City and his gray moustaches the Army; but the whole
suggested that he did not really belong to either, but was one of those
who dabble in shares and who play at soldiers. There was some third
element about him that was neither mercantile nor military. His manners
were a shade too gentlemanly to be quite those of a gentleman. They
involved an unction and over-emphasis of the club-man: then I suddenly
remembered feeling the same thing in some old actors or old playgoers who
had modelled themselves on actors. As I came in he said, "If I was the
Government," and then put a cigar in his mouth which he lit carefully with
long intakes of breath. Then he took the cigar out of his mouth again and
said, "I'd give it 'em," as if it were quite a separate sentence. But
even while his mouth was stopped with the cigar his companion or
interlocutor leaped to his feet and said with great heartiness, snatching
up a hat, "Well, I must be off. Tuesday!". I dislike these dark
suspicions, but I certainly fancied I recognised the sudden geniality with
which one takes leave of a bore.

When, therefore, he removed the narcotic stopper from his mouth it was to
me that he addressed the belated epigram. "I'd give it 'em."

"What would you give them," I asked, "the minimum wage?"

"I'd give them beans," he said. "I'd shoot 'em down shoot 'em down, every
man Jack of them. I lost my best train yesterday, and here's the whole
country paralysed, and here's a handful of obstinate fellows standing
between the country and coal. I'd shoot 'em down!"

"That would surely be a little harsh," I pleaded. "After all, they are
not under martial law, though I suppose two or three of them have
commissions in the Yeomanry."

"Commissions in the Yeomanry!" he repeated, and his eyes and face, which
became startling and separate, like those of a boiled lobster, made me
feel sure that he had something of the kind himself.

"Besides," I continued, "wouldn't it be quite enough to confiscate their

"Well, I'd send them all to penal servitude, anyhow," he said, "and I'd
confiscate their funds as well."

"The policy is daring and full of difficulty," I replied, "but I do not
say that it is wholly outside the extreme rights of the republic. But you
must remember that though the facts of property have become quite
fantastic, yet the sentiment of property still exists. These coal-owners,
though they have not earned the mines, though they could not work the
mines, do quite honestly feel that they own the mines. Hence your
suggestion of shooting them down, or even of confiscating their property,
raises very--"

"What do you mean?" asked the man with the cigar, with a bullying eye.
"Who yer talking about?"

"I'm talking about what you were talking about," I replied; "as you put it
so perfectly, about the handful of obstinate fellows who are standing
between the country and the coal. I mean the men who are selling their
own coal for fancy prices, and who, as long as they can get those prices,
care as little for national starvation as most merchant princes and
pirates have cared for the provinces that were wasted or the peoples that
were enslaved just before their ships came home. But though I am a bit of
a revolutionist myself, I cannot quite go with you in the extreme violence
you suggest. You say--"

"I say," he cried, bursting through my speech with a really splendid
energy like that of some noble beast, "I say I'd take all these blasted
miners and--"

I had risen slowly to my feet, for I was profoundly moved; and I stood
staring at that mental monster.

"Oh," I said, "so it is the miners who are all to be sent to penal
servitude, so that we may get more coal. It is the miners who are to be
shot dead, every man Jack of them; for if once they are all shot dead they
will start mining again...You must forgive me, sir; I know I seem somewhat
moved. The fact is, I have just found something. Something I have been
looking for four years."

"Well," he asked, with no unfriendly stare, "and what have you found?"

"No," I answered, shaking my head sadly, "I do not think it would be quite
kind to tell you what I have found."

He had a hundred virtues, including the capital virtue of good humour, and
we had no difficulty in changing the subject and forgetting the
disagreement. He talked about society, his town friends and his country
sports, and I discovered in the course of it that he was a county
magistrate, a Member of Parliament, and a director of several important
companies. He was also that other thing, which I did not tell him.

The moral is that a certain sort of person does exist, to whose glory this
article is dedicated. He is not the ordinary man. He is not the miner,
who is sharp enough to ask for the necessities of existence. He is not
the mine-owner, who is sharp enough to get a great deal more, by selling
his coal at the best possible moment. He is not the aristocratic
politician, who has a cynical but a fair sympathy with both economic
opportunities. But he is the man who appears in scores of public places
open to the upper middle class or (that less known but more powerful
section) the lower upper class. Men like this all over the country are
really saying whatever comes into their heads in their capacities of
justice of the peace, candidate for Parliament, Colonel of the Yeomanry,
old family doctor, Poor Law guardian, coroner, or above all, arbiter in
trade disputes. He suffers, in the literal sense, from softening of the
brain; he has softened it by always taking the view of everything most
comfortable for his country, his class, and his private personality. He
is a deadly public danger. But as I have given him his name at the
beginning of this article there is no need for me to repeat it at the end.


Very few of us ever see the history of our own time happening. And I
think the best service a modern journalist can do to society is to record
as plainly as ever he can exactly what impression was produced on his mind
by anything he has actually seen and heard on the outskirts of any modern
problem or campaign. Though all he saw of a railway strike was a flat
meadow in Essex in which a train was becalmed for an hour or two, he will
probably throw more light on the strike by describing this which he has
seen than by describing the steely kings of commerce and the bloody
leaders of the mob whom he has never seen--nor any one else either. If he
comes a day too late for the battle of Waterloo (as happened to a friend
of my grandfather) he should still remember that a true account of the day
after Waterloo would be a most valuable thing to have. Though he was on
the wrong side of the door when Rizzio was being murdered, we should still
like to have the wrong side described in the right way. Upon this
principle I, who know nothing of diplomacy or military arrangements, and
have only held my breath like the rest of the world while France and
Germany were bargaining, will tell quite truthfully of a small scene I saw,
one of the thousand scenes that were, so to speak, the anterooms of that
inmost chamber of debate.

In the course of a certain morning I came into one of the quiet squares of
a small French town and found its cathedral. It was one of those gray and
rainy days which rather suit the Gothic. The clouds were leaden, like the
solid blue-gray lead of the spires and the jewelled windows; the sloping
roofs and high-shouldered arches looked like cloaks drooping with damp;
and the stiff gargoyles that stood out round the walls were scoured with
old rains and new. I went into the round, deep porch with many doors and
found two grubby children playing there out of the rain. I also found a
notice of services, etc., and among these I found the announcement that at
11.30 (that is about half an hour later) there would be a special service
for the Conscripts, that is to say, the draft of young men who were being
taken from their homes in that little town and sent to serve in the French
Army; sent (as it happened) at an awful moment, when the French Army was
encamped at a parting of the ways. There were already a great many people
there when I entered, not only of all kinds, but in all attitudes,
kneeling, sitting, or standing about. And there was that general sense
that strikes every man from a Protestant country, whether he dislikes the
Catholic atmosphere or likes it; I mean, the general sense that the thing
was "going on all the time"; that it was not an occasion, but a perpetual
process, as if it were a sort of mystical inn.

Several tricolours were hung quite near to the altar, and the young men,
when they came in, filed up the church and sat right at the front. They
were, of course, of every imaginable social grade; for the French
conscription is really strict and universal. Some looked like young
criminals, some like young priests, some like both. Some were so
obviously prosperous and polished that a barrack-room must seem to them
like hell; others (by the look of them) had hardly ever been in so decent
a place. But it was not so much the mere class variety that most sharply
caught an Englishman's eye. It was the presence of just those one or two
kinds of men who would never have become soldiers in any other way.

There are many reasons for becoming a soldier. It may be a matter of
hereditary luck or abject hunger or heroic virtue or fugitive vice; it may
be an interest in the work or a lack of interest in any other work. But
there would always be two or three kinds of people who would never tend to
soldiering; all those kinds of people were there. A lad with red hair,
large ears, and very careful clothing, somehow conveyed across the church
that he had always taken care of his health, not even from thinking about
it, but simply because he was told, and that he was one of those who pass
from childhood to manhood without any shock of being a man. In the row
in front of him there was a very slight and vivid little Jew, of the sort
that is a tailor and a Socialist. By one of those accidents that make
real life so unlike anything else, he was the one of the company who
seemed especially devout. Behind these stiff or sensitive boys were
ranged the ranks of their mothers and fathers, with knots and bunches of
their little brothers and sisters.

The children kicked their little legs, wriggled about the seats, and gaped
at the arched roof while their mothers were on their knees praying their
own prayers, and here and there crying. The gray clouds of rain outside
gathered, I suppose, more and more; for the deep church continuously
darkened. The lads in front began to sing a military hymn in odd, rather
strained voices; I could not disentangle the words, but only one perpetual
refrain; so that it sounded like

Sacrarterumbrrar pour la patrie,
Valdarkararump pour la patrie.

Then this ceased; and silence continued, the coloured windows growing
gloomier and gloomier with the clouds. In the dead stillness a child
started crying suddenly and incoherently. In a city far to the north a
French diplomatist and a German aristocrat were talking.

I will not make any commentary on the thing that could blur the outline of
its almost cruel actuality. I will not talk nor allow any one else to
talk about "clericalism" and "militarism." Those who talk like that are
made of the same mud as those who call all the angers of the unfortunate
"Socialism." The women who were calling in the gloom around me on God and
the Mother of God were not "clericalists "; or, if they were, they had
forgotten it. And I will bet my boots the young men were not
"militarists"--quite the other way just then. The priest made a short
speech; he did not utter any priestly dogmas (whatever they are), he
uttered platitudes. In such circumstances platitudes are the only
possible things to say; because they are true. He began by saying that he
supposed a large number of them would be uncommonly glad not to go. They
seemed to assent to this particular priestly dogma with even more than
their alleged superstitious credulity. He said that war was hateful, and
that we all hated it; but that "in all things reasonable" the law of one's
own commonwealth was the voice of God. He spoke about Joan of Arc; and
how she had managed to be a bold and successful soldier while still
preserving her virtue and practising her religion; then he gave them each
a little paper book. To which they replied (after a brief interval for

Pongprongperesklang pour la patrie,
Tambraugtararronc pour la patrie.

which I feel sure was the best and most pointed reply.

While all this was happening feelings quite indescribable crowded about my
own darkening brain, as the clouds crowded above the darkening church.
They were so entirely of the elements and the passions that I cannot utter
them in an idea, but only in an image. It seemed to me that we were
barricaded in this church, but we could not tell what was happening
outside the church. The monstrous and terrible jewels of the windows
darkened or glistened under moving shadow or light, but the nature of that
light and the shapes of those shadows we did not know and hardly dared to
guess. The dream began, I think, with a dim fancy that enemies were
already in the town, and that the enormous oaken doors were groaning under
their hammers. Then I seemed to suppose that the town itself had been
destroyed by fire, and effaced, as it may be thousands of years hence, and
that if I opened the door I should come out on a wilderness as flat and
sterile as the sea. Then the vision behind the veil of stone and slate
grew wilder with earthquakes. I seemed to see chasms cloven to the
foundations of all things, and letting up an infernal dawn. Huge things
happily hidden from us had climbed out of the abyss, and were striding
about taller than the clouds. And when the darkness crept from the
sapphires of Mary to the sanguine garments of St. John I fancied that some
hideous giant was walking round the church and looking in at each window
in turn.

Sometimes, again, I thought of that church with coloured windows as a ship
carrying many lanterns struggling in a high sea at night. Sometimes I
thought of it as a great coloured lantern itself, hung on an iron chain
out of heaven and tossed and swung to and fro by strong wings, the wings
of the princes of the air. But I never thought of it or the young men
inside it save as something precious and in peril, or of the things
outside but as something barbaric and enormous.

I know there are some who cannot sympathise with such sentiments of
limitation; I know there are some who would feel no touch of the heroic
tenderness if some day a young man, with red hair, large ears, and his
mother's lozenges in his pocket, were found dead in uniform in the passes
of the Vosges. But on this subject I have heard many philosophies and
thought a good deal for myself; and the conclusion I have come to is
Sacrarterumbrrar pour la Pattie, and it is not likely that I shall alter
it now.

But when I came out of the church there were none of these things, but
only a lot of Shops, including a paper-shop, on which the posters
announced that the negotiations were proceeding satisfactorily.


It is a sign of sharp sickness in a society when it is actually led by
some special sort of lunatic. A mild touch of madness may even keep a man
sane; for it may keep him modest. So some exaggerations in the State may
remind it of its own normal. But it is bad when the head is cracked; when
the roof of the commonwealth has a tile loose.

The two or three cases of this that occur in history have always been
gibbeted gigantically. Thus Nero has become a black proverb, not merely
because he was an oppressor, but because he was also an aesthete--that is,
an erotomaniac. He not only tortured other people's bodies; he tortured
his own soul into the same red revolting shapes. Though he came quite
early in Roman Imperial history and was followed by many austere and noble
emperors, yet for us the Roman Empire was never quite cleansed of that
memory of the sexual madman. The populace or barbarians from whom we come
could not forget the hour when they came to the highest place of the earth,
saw the huge pedestal of the earthly omnipotence, read on it Divus Caesar,
and looked up and saw a statue without a head.

It is the same with that ugly entanglement before the Renaissance, from
which, alas, most memories of the Middle Ages are derived. Louis XI was a
very patient and practical man of the world; but (like many good business
men) he was mad. The morbidity of the intriguer and the torturer clung
about everything he did, even when it was right. And just as the great
Empire of Antoninus and Aurelius never wiped out Nero, so even the silver
splendour of the latter saints, such as Vincent de Paul, has never painted
out for the British public the crooked shadow of Louis XI. Whenever the
unhealthy man has been on top, he has left a horrible savour that humanity
finds still in its nostrils. Now in our time the unhealthy man is on top;
but he is not the man mad on sex, like Nero; or mad on statecraft, like
Louis XI; he is simply the man mad on money. Our tyrant is not the satyr
or the torturer; but the miser.

The modern miser has changed much from the miser of legend and anecdote;
but only because he has grown yet more insane. The old miser had some
touch of the human artist about him in so far that he collected gold--a
substance that can really be admired for itself, like ivory or old oak.
An old man who picked up yellow pieces had something of the simple ardour,
something of the mystical materialism, of a child who picks out yellow
flowers. Gold is but one kind of coloured clay, but coloured clay can be
very beautiful. The modern idolater of riches is content with far less
genuine things. The glitter of guineas is like the glitter of buttercups,
the chink of pelf is like the chime of bells, compared with the dreary
papers and dead calculations which make the hobby of the modern miser.

The modern millionaire loves nothing so lovable as a coin. He is content
sometimes with the dead crackle of notes; but far more often with the mere
repetition of noughts in a ledger, all as like each other as eggs to eggs.
And as for comfort, the old miser could be comfortable, as many tramps
and savages are, when he was once used to being unclean. A man could find
some comfort in an unswept attic or an unwashed shirt. But the Yankee
millionaire can find no comfort with five telephones at his bed-head and
ten minutes for his lunch. The round coins in the miser's stocking were
safe in some sense. The round noughts in the millionaire's ledger are
safe in no sense; the same fluctuation which excites him with their
increase depresses him with their diminution. The miser at least collects
coins; his hobby is numismatics. The man who collects noughts collects

It may be admitted that the man amassing millions is a bit of an idiot;
but it may be asked in what sense does he rule the modern world. The
answer to this is very important and rather curious. The evil enigma for
us here is not the rich, but the Very Rich. The distinction is important;
because this special problem is separate from the old general quarrel
about rich and poor that runs through the Bible and all strong books, old
and new. The special problem to-day is that certain powers and privileges
have grown so world-wide and unwieldy that they are out of the power of
the moderately rich as well as of the moderately poor. They are out of
the power of everybody except a few millionaires--that is, misers. In
the old normal friction of normal wealth and poverty I am myself on the
Radical side. I think that a Berkshire squire has too much power over his
tenants; that a Brompton builder has too much power over his workmen; that
a West London doctor has too much power over the poor patients in the West
London Hospital.

But a Berkshire squire has no power over cosmopolitan finance, for
instance. A Brompton builder has not money enough to run a Newspaper
Trust. A West End doctor could not make a corner in quinine and freeze
everybody out. The merely rich are not rich enough to rule the modern
market. The things that change modern history, the big national and
international loans, the big educational and philanthropic foundations,
the purchase of numberless newspapers, the big prices paid for peerages,
the big expenses often incurred in elections--these are getting too big
for everybody except the misers; the men with the largest of earthly
fortunes and the smallest of earthly aims.

There are two other odd and rather important things to be said about them.
The first is this: that with this aristocracy we do not have the chance
of a lucky variety in types which belongs to larger and looser
aristocracies. The moderately rich include all kinds of people even good
people. Even priests are sometimes saints; and even soldiers are
sometimes heroes. Some doctors have really grown wealthy by curing their
patients and not by flattering them; some brewers have been known to sell
beer. But among the Very Rich you will never find a really generous man,
even by accident. They may give their money away, but they will never
give themselves away; they are egoistic, secretive, dry as old bones. To
be smart enough to get all that money you must be dull enough to want it.

Lastly, the most serious point about them is this: that the new miser is
flattered for his meanness and the old one never was. It was never called
self-denial in the old miser that he lived on bones. It is called
self-denial in the new millionaire if he lives on beans. A man like
Dancer was never praised as a Christian saint for going in rags. A man
like Rockefeller is praised as a sort of pagan stoic for his early rising
or his unassuming dress. His "simple" meals, his "simple" clothes, his
"simple" funeral, are all extolled as if they were creditable to him.
They are disgraceful to him: exactly as disgraceful as the tatters and
vermin of the old miser were disgraceful to him. To be in rags for
charity would be the condition of a saint; to be in rags for money was
that of a filthy old fool. Precisely in the same way, to be "simple" for
charity is the state of a saint; to be "simple" for money is that of a
filthy old fool. Of the two I have more respect for the old miser,
gnawing bones in an attic: if he was not nearer to God, he was at least a
little nearer to men. His simple life was a little more like the life of
the real poor.


Whenever you hear much of things being unutterable and indefinable and
impalpable and unnamable and subtly indescribable, then elevate your
aristocratic nose towards heaven and snuff up the smell of decay. It is
perfectly true that there is something in all good things that is beyond
all speech or figure of speech. But it is also true that there is in all
good things a perpetual desire for expression and concrete embodiment; and
though the attempt to embody it is always inadequate, the attempt is
always made. If the idea does not seek to be the word, the chances are
that it is an evil idea. If the word is not made flesh it is a bad word.

Thus Giotto or Fra Angelieo would have at once admitted theologically that
God was too good to be painted; but they would always try to paint Him.
And they felt (very rightly) that representing Him as a rather quaint old
man with a gold crown and a white beard, like a king of the elves, was
less profane than resisting the sacred impulse to express Him in some way.
That is why the Christian world is full of gaudy pictures and twisted
statues which seem, to many refined persons, more blasphemous than the
secret volumes of an atheist. The trend of good is always towards
Incarnation. But, on the other hand, those refined thinkers who worship
the Devil, whether in the swamps of Jamaica or the salons of Paris, always
insist upon the shapelessness, the wordlessness, the unutterable character
of the abomination. They call him "horror of emptiness," as did the black
witch in Stevenson's Dynamiter; they worship him as the unspeakable name;
as the unbearable silence. They think of him as the void in the heart of
the whirlwind; the cloud on the brain of the maniac; the toppling turrets
of vertigo or the endless corridors of nightmare. It was the Christians
who gave the Devil a grotesque and energetic outline, with sharp horns and
spiked tail. It was the saints who drew Satan as comic and even lively.
The Satanists never drew him at all.

And as it is with moral good and evil, so it is also with mental clarity
and mental confusion. There is one very valid test by which we may
separate genuine, if perverse and unbalanced, originality and revolt from
mere impudent innovation and bluff. The man who really thinks he has an
idea will always try to explain that idea. The charlatan who has no idea
will always confine himself to explaining that it is much too subtle to be
explained. The first idea may really be very outree or specialist; it may
really be very difficult to express to ordinary people. But because the
man is trying to express it, it is most probable that there is something
in it, after all. The honest man is he who is always trying to utter the
unutterable, to describe the indescribable; but the quack lives not by
plunging into mystery, but by refusing to come out of it.

Perhaps this distinction is most comically plain in the case of the thing
called Art, and the people called Art Critics. It is obvious that an
attractive landscape or a living face can only half express the holy
cunning that has made them what they are. It is equally obvious that a
landscape painter expresses only half of the landscape; a portrait painter
only half of the person; they are lucky if they express so much. And
again it is yet more obvious that any literary description of the pictures
can only express half of them, and that the less important half. Still,
it does express something; the thread is not broken that connects God With
Nature, or Nature with men, or men with critics. The "Mona Lisa" was in
some respects (not all, I fancy) what God meant her to be. Leonardo's
picture was, in some respects, like the lady. And Walter Pater's rich
description was, in some respects, like the picture. Thus we come to the
consoling reflection that even literature, in the last resort, can express
something other than its own unhappy self.

Now the modern critic is a humbug, because he professes to be entirely
inarticulate. Speech is his whole business; and he boasts of being
speechless. Before Botticelli he is mute. But if there is any good in
Botticelli (there is much good, and much evil too) it is emphatically the
critic's business to explain it: to translate it from terms of painting
into terms of diction. Of course, the rendering will be inadequate--but
so is Botticelli. It is a fact he would be the first to admit. But
anything which has been intelligently received can at least be
intelligently suggested. Pater does suggest an intelligent cause for the
cadaverous colour of Botticelli's "Venus Rising from the Sea." Ruskin
does suggest an intelligent motive for Turner destroying forests and
falsifying landscapes. These two great critics were far too fastidious
for my taste; they urged to excess the idea that a sense of art was a sort
of secret; to be patiently taught and slowly learnt. Still, they thought
it could be taught: they thought it could be learnt. They constrained
themselves, with considerable creative fatigue, to find the exact
adjectives which might parallel in English prose what has been clone in
Italian painting. The same is true of Whistler and R. A. M. Stevenson
and many others in the exposition of Velasquez. They had something to say
about the pictures; they knew it was unworthy of the pictures, but they
said it.

Now the eulogists of the latest artistic insanities (Cubism and
Post Impressionism and Mr. Picasso) are eulogists and nothing else. They
are not critics; least of all creative critics. They do not attempt to
translate beauty into language; they merely tell you that it is
untranslatable--that is, unutterable, indefinable, indescribable,
impalpable, ineffable, and all the rest of it. The cloud is their banner;
they cry to chaos and old night. They circulate a piece of paper on which
Mr. Picasso has had the misfortune to upset the ink and tried to dry it
with his boots, and they seek to terrify democracy by the good old
anti-democratic muddlements: that "the public" does not understand these
things; that "the likes of us" cannot dare to question the dark decisions
of our lords.

I venture to suggest that we resist all this rubbish by the very simple
test mentioned above. If there were anything intelligent in such art,
something of it at least could be made intelligible in literature. Man is
made with one head, not with two or three. No criticism of Rembrandt is
as good as Rembrandt; but it can be so written as to make a man go back
and look at his pictures. If there is a curious and fantastic art, it is
the business of the art critics to create a curious and fantastic literary
expression for it; inferior to it, doubtless, but still akin to it. If
they cannot do this, as they cannot; if there is nothing in their eulogies,
as there is nothing except eulogy--then they are quacks or the
high-priests of the unutterable. If the art critics can say nothing about
the artists except that they are good it is because the artists are bad.
They can explain nothing because they have found nothing; and they have
found nothing because there is nothing to be found.


The one case for Revolution is that it is the only quite clean and
complete road to anything--even to restoration. Revolution alone can be
not merely a revolt of the living, but also a resurrection of the dead.

A friend of mine (one, in fact, who writes prominently on this paper) was
once walking down the street in a town of Western France, situated in that
area that used to be called La Vendee; which in that great creative crisis
about 1790 formed a separate and mystical soul of its own, and made a
revolution against a revolution. As my friend went down this street he
whistled an old French air which he had found, like Mr. Gandish, "in his
researches into 'istry," and which had somehow taken his fancy; the song
to which those last sincere loyalists went into battle. I think the
words ran:

Monsieur de Charette.
Dit au gens d'ici.
Le roi va remettre.
Le fleur de lys.

My friend was (and is) a Radical, but he was (and is) an Englishman, and
it never occurred to him that there could be any harm in singing archaic
lyrics out of remote centuries; that one had to be a Catholic to enjoy the
"Dies Irae," or a Protestant to remember "Lillibullero." Yet he was
stopped and gravely warned that things so politically provocative might
get him at least into temporary trouble.

A little time after I was helping King George V to get crowned, by walking
round a local bonfire and listening to a local band. Just as a bonfire
cannot be too big, so (by my theory of music) a band cannot be too loud,
and this band was so loud, emphatic, and obvious, that I actually
recognised one or two of the tunes. And I noticed that quite a formidable
proportion of them were Jacobite tunes; that is, tunes that had been
primarily meant to keep George V out of his throne for ever. Some of the
real airs of the old Scottish rebellion were played, such as "Charlie is
My Darling," or "What's a' the steer, kimmer?" songs that men had sung
while marching to destroy and drive out the monarchy under which we live.
They were songs in which the very kinsmen of the present King were swept
aside as usurpers. They were songs in which the actual words "King
George" occurred as a curse and a derision. Yet they were played to
celebrate his very Coronation; played as promptly and innocently as if
they had been "Grandfather's Clock" or "Rule Britannia" or "The
Honeysuckle and the Bee."

That contrast is the measure, not only between two nations, but between
two modes of historical construction and development. For there is not
really very much difference, as European history goes, in the time that
has elapsed between us and the Jacobite and between us and the Jacobin.
When George III was crowned the gauntlet of the King's Champion was picked
up by a partisan of the Stuarts. When George III was still on the throne
the Bourbons were driven out of France as the Stuarts had been driven out
of England. Yet the French are just sufficiently aware that the Bourbons
might possibly return that they will take a little trouble to discourage
it; whereas we are so certain that the Stuarts will never return that we
actually play their most passionate tunes as a compliment to their rivals.
And we do not even do it tauntingly. I examined the faces of all the
bandsmen; and I am sure they were devoid of irony: indeed, it is difficult
to blow a wind instrument ironically. We do it quite unconsciously;
because we have a huge fundamental dogma, which the French have not. We
really believe that the past is past. It is a very doubtful point.

Now the great gift of a revolution (as in France) is that it makes men
free in the past as well as free in the future. Those who have cleared
away everything could, if they liked, put back everything. But we who
have preserved everything--we cannot restore anything. Take, for the sake
of argument, the complex and many coloured ritual of the Coronation
recently completed. That rite is stratified with the separate centuries;
from the first rude need of discipline to the last fine shade of culture
or corruption, there is nothing that cannot be detected or even dated.
The fierce and childish vow of the lords to serve their lord "against all
manner of folk" obviously comes from the real Dark Ages; no longer
confused, even by the ignorant, with the Middle Ages. It comes from some
chaos of Europe, when there was one old Roman road across four of our
counties; and when hostile "folk" might live in the next village. The
sacramental separation of one man to be the friend of the fatherless and
the nameless belongs to the true Middle Ages; with their great attempt to
make a moral and invisible Roman Empire; or (as the Coronation Service
says) to set the cross for ever above the ball. Elaborate local
tomfooleries, such as that by which the Lord of the Manor of Work-sop is
alone allowed to do something or other, these probably belong to the decay
of the Middle Ages, when that great civilisation died out in grotesque
literalism and entangled heraldry. Things like the presentation of the
Bible bear witness to the intellectual outburst at the Reformation; things
like the Declaration against the Mass bear witness to the great wars of
the Puritans; and things like the allegiance of the Bishops bear witness
to the wordy and parenthetical political compromises which (to my deep
regret) ended the wars of religion.

But my purpose here is only to point out one particular thing. In all
that long list of variations there must be, and there are, things which
energetic modern minds would really wish, with the reasonable modification,
to restore. Dr. Clifford would probably be glad to see again the great
Puritan idealism that forced the Bible into an antique and almost frozen
formality. Dr. Horton probably really regrets the old passion that
excommunicated Rome. In the same way Mr. Belloc would really prefer the
Middle Ages; as Lord Rosebery would prefer the Erastian oligarchy of the
eighteenth century. The Dark Ages would probably be disputed (from widely
different motives) by Mr. Rudyard Kipling and Mr. Cunninghame Graham.
But Mr. Cunninghame Graham would win.

But the black case against Conservative (or Evolutionary) politics is that
none of these sincere men can win. Dr. Clifford cannot get back to the
Puritans; Mr. Belloc cannot get back to the mediaevals; because (alas)
there has been no Revolution to leave them a clear space for building or
rebuilding. Frenchmen have all the ages behind them, and can wander back
and pick and choose. But Englishmen have all the ages on top of them, and
can only lie groaning under that imposing tower, without being able to
take so much as a brick out of it. If the French decide that their
Republic is bad they can get rid of it; but if we decide that a Republic
was good, we should have much more difficulty. If the French democracy
actually desired every detail of the mediaeval monarchy, they could have
it. I do not think they will or should, but they could. If another
Dauphin were actually crowned at Rheims; if another Joan of Arc actually
bore a miraculous banner before him; if mediaeval swords shook and.
blazed in every gauntlet; if the golden lilies glowed from every tapestry;
if this were really proved to be the will of France and the purpose of
Providence--such a scene would still be the lasting and final
justification of the French Revolution.

For no such scene could conceivably have happened under Louis XVI.


In the very laudable and fascinating extensions of our interest in Asiatic
arts or faiths, there are two incidental injustices which we tend nowadays
to do to our own records and our own religion. The first is a tendency to
talk as if certain things were not only present in the higher Orientals,
but were peculiar to them. Thus our magazines will fall into a habit of
wondering praise of Bushido, the Japanese chivalry, as if no Western
knights had ever vowed noble vows, or as if no Eastern knights had ever
broken them. Or again, our drawing-rooms will be full of the praises of
Indian renunciation and Indian unworldliness, as if no Christians had been
saints, or as if all Buddhists had been. But if the first injustice is to
think of human virtues as peculiarly Eastern, the other injustice is a
failure to appreciate what really is peculiarly Eastern. It is too much
taken for granted that the Eastern sort of idealism is certainly superior
and convincing; whereas in truth it is only separate and peculiar. All
that is richest, deepest, and subtlest in the East is rooted in Pantheism;
but all that is richest, deepest, and subtlest in us is concerned with
denying passionately that Pantheism is either the highest or the purest

Thus, in turning over some excellent books recently written on the spirit
of Indian or Chinese art and decoration, I found it quietly and curiously
assumed that the artist must be at his best if he flows with the full
stream of Nature; and identifies himself with all things; so that the
stars are his sleepless eyes and the forests his far-flung arms. Now in
this way of talking both the two injustices will be found. In so far as
what is claimed is a strong sense of the divine in all things, the Eastern
artists have no more monopoly of it than they have of hunger and thirst.

I have no doubt that the painters and poets of the Far East do exhibit
this; but I rebel at being asked to admit that we must go to the Far East
to find it. Traces of such sentiments can be found, I fancy, even in
other painters and poets. I do not question that the poet Wo Wo (that
ornament of the eighth dynasty) may have written the words: "Even the most
undignified vegetable is for this person capable of producing meditations
not to be exhibited by much weeping." But, I do not therefore admit that
a Western gentleman named Wordsworth (who made a somewhat similar remark)
had plagiarised from Wo Wo, or was a mere Occidental fable and travesty of
that celebrated figure. I do not deny that Tinishona wrote that exquisite
example of the short Japanese poem entitled "Honourable Chrysanthemum in
Honourable Hole in Wall." But I do not therefore admit that Tennyson's
little verse about the flower in the cranny was not original and even

It is recorded (for all I know) of the philanthropic Emperor Bo, that when
engaged in cutting his garden lawn with a mower made of alabaster and
chrysoberyl, he chanced to cut down a small flower; whereupon, being much
affected, he commanded his wise men immediately to take down upon tablets
of ivory the lines beginning: "Small and unobtrusive blossom with ruby
extremities." But this incident, touching as it is, does not shake my
belief in the incident of Robert Burns and the daisy; and I am left with
an impression that poets are pretty much the same everywhere in their
poetry--and in their prose.

I have tried to convey my sympathy and admiration for Eastern art and its
admirers, and if I have not conveyed them I must give it up and go on to
more general considerations. I therefore proceed to say--with the utmost
respect, that it is Cheek, a rarefied and etherealised form of Cheek, for
this school to speak in this way about the mother that bore them, the
great civilisation of the West. The West also has its magic landscapes,
only through our incurable materialism they look like landscapes as well
as like magic. The West also has its symbolic figures, only they look
like men as well as symbols. It will be answered (and most justly) that
Oriental art ought to be free to follow its own instinct and tradition;
that its artists are concerned to suggest one thing and our artists
another; that both should be admired in their difference. Profoundly true;
but what is the difference? It is certainly not as the Orientalisers
assert, that we must go to the Far East for a sympathetic and
transcendental interpretation of Nature. We have paid a long enough toll
of mystics and even of madmen to be quit of that disability.

Yet there is a difference, and it is just what I suggested. The Eastern
mysticism is an ecstasy of unity; the Christian mysticism is an ecstasy of
creation, that is of separation and mutual surprise. The latter says,
like St. Francis, "My brother fire and my sister water "; the former says,
"Myself fire and myself water." Whether you call the Eastern attitude an
extension of oneself into everything or a contraction of oneself into
nothing is a matter of metaphysical definition. The effect is the same,
an effect which lives and throbs throughout all the exquisite arts of the
East. This effect is the Sing called rhythm, a pulsation of pattern, or
of ritual, or of colours, or of cosmic theory, but always suggesting the
unification of the individual with the world. But there is quite another
kind of sympathy the sympathy with a thing because it is different. No
one will say that Rembrandt did not sympathise with an old woman; but no
one will say that Rembrandt painted like an old woman. No one will say
that Reynolds did not appreciate children; but no one will say he did it
childishly. The supreme instance of this divine division is sex, and that
explains (what I could never understand in my youth) why Christendom
called the soul the bride of God. For real love is an intense
realisation of the "separateness" of all our souls. The most heroic and
human love-poetry of the world is never mere passion; precisely because
mere passion really is a melting back into Nature, a meeting of the waters.
And water is plunging and powerful; but it is only powerful downhill.
The high and human love-poetry is all about division rather than identity;
and in the great love-poems even the man as he embraces the woman sees her,
in the same instant, afar off; a virgin and a stranger.

For the first injustice, of which we have spoken, still recurs; and if we
grant that the East has a right to its difference, it is not realised in
what we differ. That nursery tale from nowhere about St. George and the
Dragon really expresses best the relation between the West and the East.
There were many other differences, calculated to arrest even the
superficial eye, between a saint and a dragon. But the essential
difference was simply this: that the Dragon did want to eat St. George;
whereas St. George would have felt a strong distaste for eating the Dragon.
In most of the stories he killed the Dragon. In many of the stories he
not only spared, but baptised it. But in neither case did the Christian
have any appetite for cold dragon. The Dragon, however, really has an
appetite for cold Christian--and especially for cold Christianity. This
blind intention to absorb, to change the shape of everything and digest it
in the darkness of a dragon's stomach; this is what is really meant by the
Pantheism and Cosmic Unity of the East. The Cosmos as such is cannibal;
as old Time ate his children. The Eastern saints were saints because they
wanted to be swallowed up. The Western saint, like St. George, was
sainted by the Western Church precisely because he refused to be swallowed.
The same process of thought that has prevented nationalities
disappearing in Christendom has prevented the complete appearance of
Pantheism. All Christian men instinctively resist the idea of being
absorbed into an Empire; an Austrian, a Spanish, a British, or a Turkish
Empire. But there is one empire, much larger and much more tyrannical,
which free men will resist with even stronger passion. The free man
violently resists being absorbed into the empire which is called the
Universe. He demands Home Rule for his nationality, but still more Home
Rule for his home. Most of all he demands Home Rule for himself. He
claims the right to be saved, in spite of Moslem fatalism. He claims the
right to be damned in spite of theosophical optimism. He refuses to be
the Cosmos; because he refuses to forget it.


The night before Christmas Eve I heard a burst of musical voices so close
that they might as well have been inside the house instead of just outside;
so I asked them inside, hoping that they might then seem farther away.
Then I realised that they were the Christmas Mummers, who come every year
in country parts to enact the rather rigid fragments of the old Christmas
play of St. George, the Turkish Knight, and the Very Venal Doctor. I will
not describe it; it is indescribable; but I will describe my parallel
sentiments as it passed.

One could see something of that half-failure that haunts our artistic
revivals of mediaeval dances, carols, or Bethlehem Plays. There are
elements in all that has come to us from the more morally simple society
of the Middle Ages: elements which moderns, even when they are
mediaevalists, find it hard to understand and harder to imitate. The
first is the primary idea of Mummery itself. If you will observe a child
just able to walk, you will see that his first idea is not to dress up as
anybody--but to dress up. Afterwards, of course, the idea of being the
King or Uncle William will leap to his lips. But it is generally
suggested by the hat he has already let fall over his nose, from far
deeper motives. Tommy does not assume the hat primarily because it is
Uncle William's hat, but because it is not Tommy's hat. It is a ritual
investiture; and is akin to those Gorgon masks that stiffened the dances
of Greece or those towering mitres that came from the mysteries of Persia.
For the essence of such ritual is a profound paradox: the concealment of
the personality combined with the exaggeration of the person. The man
performing a rite seeks to be at once invisible and conspicuous. It is
part of that divine madness which all other creatures wonder at in Man,
that he alone parades this pomp of obliteration and anonymity. Man is not,
perhaps, the only creature who dresses himself, but he is the only
creature who disguises himself. Beasts and birds do indeed take the
colours of their environment; but that is not in order to be watched, but
in order not to be watched; it is not the formalism of rejoicing, but the
formlessness of fear. It is not so with men, whose nature is the
unnatural. Ancient Britons did not stain themselves blue because they
lived in blue forests; nor did Georgian beaux and belles powder their hair
to match an Arctic landscape; the Britons were not dressing up as
kingfishers nor the beaux pretending to be polar bears. Nay, even when
modern ladies paint their faces a bright mauve, it is doubted by some
naturalists whether they do it with the idea of escaping notice. So
merry-makers (or Mummers) adopt their costume to heighten and exaggerate
their own bodily presence and identity; not to sink it, primarily speaking,
in another identity. It is not Acting--that comparatively low
profession-comparatively I mean. It is Mummery; and, as Mr. Kensit would
truly say, all elaborate religious ritual is Mummery. That is, it is the
noble conception of making Man something other and more than himself when
he stands at the limit of human things. It is only careful faddists and
feeble German philosophers who want to wear no clothes; and be "natural"
in their Dionysian revels. Natural men, really vigorous and exultant men,
want to wear more and more clothes when they are revelling. They want
worlds of waistcoats and forests of trousers and pagodas of tall hats
toppling up to the stars.

Thus it is with the lingering Mummers at Christmas in the country. If our
more refined revivers of Miracle Plays or Morrice Dances tried to
reconstruct the old Mummers' Play of St. George and the Turkish Knight (I
do not know why they do not) they would think at once of picturesque and
appropriate dresses. St. George's panoply would be pictured from the best
books of armour and blazonry: the Turkish Knight's arms and ornaments
would be traced from the finest Saracenic arabesques. When my garden door
opened on Christmas Eve and St. George of England entered, the appearance
of that champion was slightly different. His face was energetically
blacked all over with soot, above which he wore an aged and very tall top
hat; he wore his shirt outside his coat like a surplice, and he flourished
a thick umbrella. Now do not, I beg you, talk about "ignorance"; or
suppose that the Mummer in question (he is a very pleasant Ratcatcher,
with a tenor voice) did this because he knew no better. Try to realise
that even a Ratcatcher knows St. George of England was not black, and did
not kill the Dragon with an umbrella. The Rat-catcher is not under this
delusion; any more than Paul Veronese thought that very good men have
luminous rings round their heads; any more than the Pope thinks that
Christ washed the feet of the twelve in a Cathedral; any more than the
Duke of Norfolk thinks the lions on a tabard are like the lions at the Zoo.
These things are denaturalised because they are symbols; because the
extraordinary occasion must hide or even disfigure the ordinary people.
Black faces were to mediaeval mummeries what carved masks were to Greek
plays: it was called being "vizarded." My Rat-catcher is not sufficiently
arrogant to suppose for a moment that he looks like St. George. But he is
sufficiently humble to be convinced that if he looks as little like
himself as he can, he will be on the right road.

This is the soul of Mumming; the ostentatious secrecy of men in disguise.
There are, of course, other mediaeval elements in it which are also
difficult to explain to the fastidious mediaevalists of to-day. There is,
for instance, a certain output of violence into the void. It can best be
defined as a raging thirst to knock men down without the faintest desire
to hurt them. All the rhymes with the old ring have the trick of turning
on everything in which the rhymsters most sincerely believed, merely for
the pleasure of blowing off steam in startling yet careless phrases. When
Tennyson says that King Arthur "drew all the petty princedoms under him,"
and "made a realm and ruled," his grave Royalism is quite modern. Many
mediaevals, outside the mediaeval republics, believed in monarchy as
solemnly as Tennyson. But that older verse

When good King Arthur ruled this land
He was a goodly King--
He stole three pecks of barley-meal
To make a bag-pudding.

is far more Arthurian than anything in The Idylls of the King. There are
other elements; especially that sacred thing that can perhaps be called
Anachronism. All that to us is Anachronism was to mediaevals merely
Eternity. But the main excellence of the Mumming Play lies still, I think,
in its uproarious secrecy. If we cannot hide our hearts in healthy
darkness, at least we can hide our faces in healthy blacking. If you
cannot escape like a philosopher into a forest, at least you can carry the
forest with you, like a Jack-in-the-Green. It is well to walk under
universal ensigns; and there is an old tale of a tyrant to whom a walking
forest was the witness of doom. That, indeed, is the very intensity of
the notion: a masked man is ominous; but who shall face a mob of masks?


The Cheap Tripper, pursued by the curses of the aesthetes and the
antiquaries, really is, I suppose, a symptom of the strange and almost
unearthly ugliness of our diseased society. The costumes and customs of a
hundred peasantries are there to prove that such ugliness does not
necessarily follow from mere poverty, or mere democracy, or mere
unlettered simplicity of mind.

But though the tripper, artistically considered, is a sign of our
decadence, he is not one of its worst signs, but relatively one of its
best; one of its most innocent and most sincere. Compared with many of
the philosophers and artists who denounce him; he looks like a God fearing
fisher or a noble mountaineer. His antics with donkeys and concertinas,
crowded charabancs, and exchanged hats, though clumsy, are not so vicious
or even so fundamentally vulgar as many of the amusements of the
overeducated. People are not more crowded on a char-a-banc than they are
at a political "At Home," or even an artistic soiree; and if the female
trippers are overdressed, at least they are not overdressed and
underdressed at the same time. It is better to ride a donkey than to be a
donkey. It is better to deal with the Cockney festival which asks men and
women to change hats, rather than with the modern Utopia that wants them
to change heads.

But the truth is that such small, but real, element of vulgarity as there
is indeed in the tripper, is part of a certain folly and falsity which is
characteristic of much modernity, and especially of the very people who
persecute the poor tripper most. There is something in the whole society,
and even especially in the cultured part of it, that does things in a
clumsy and unbeautiful way.

A case occurs to me in the matter of Stonehenge, which I happened to visit
yesterday. Now to a person really capable of feeling the poetry of
Stonehenge it is almost a secondary matter whether he sees Stonehenge at
all. The vast void roll of the empty land towards Salisbury, the gray
tablelands like primeval altars, the trailing rain-clouds, the vapour of
primeval sacrifices, would all tell him of a very ancient and very lonely
Britain. It would not spoil his Druidic mood if he missed Stonehenge.
But it does spoil his mood to find Stonehenge--surrounded by a brand-new
fence of barbed wire, with a policeman and a little shop selling picture

Now if you protest against this, educated people will instantly answer you,
"Oh, it was done to prevent the vulgar trippers who chip stones and carve
names and spoil the look of Stonehenge." It does not seem to occur to
them that barbed wire and a policeman rather spoil the look of Stonehenge.
The scratching of a name, particularly when performed with blunt penknife
or pencil by a person of imperfect School Board education, can be trusted
in a little while to be indistinguishable from the grayest hieroglyphic by
the grandest Druid of old. But nobody could get a modern policeman into
the same picture with a Druid. This really vital piece of vandalism was
done by the educated, not the uneducated; it was done by the influence of
the artists or antiquaries who wanted to preserve the antique beauty of
Stonehenge. It seems to me curious to preserve your lady's beauty from
freckles by blacking her face all over; or to protect the pure whiteness
of your wedding garment by dyeing it green.

And if you ask, "But what else could any one have done, what could the
most artistic age have done to save the monument?" I reply, "There are
hundreds of things that Greeks or Mediaevals might have done; and I have
no notion what they would have chosen; but I say that by an instinct in
their whole society they would have done something that was decent and
serious and suitable to the place. Perhaps some family of knights or
warriors would have the hereditary duty of guarding such a place. If so
their armour would be appropriate; their tents would be appropriate; not
deliberately--they would grow like that. Perhaps some religious order
such as normally employ nocturnal watches and the relieving of guard would
protect such a place. Perhaps it would be protected by all sorts of
rituals, consecrations, or curses, which would seem to you mere raving
superstition and silliness. But they do not seem to me one twentieth part
so silly, from a purely rationalist point of view, as calmly making a spot
hideous in order to keep it beautiful."

The thing that is really vulgar, the thing that is really vile, is to live
in a good place Without living by its life. Any one who settles down in a
place without becoming part of it is (barring peculiar personal cases, of
course) a tripper or wandering cad. For instance, the Jew is a genuine
peculiar case. The Wandering Jew is not a wandering cad. He is a highly
civilised man in a highly difficult position; the world being divided, and
his own nation being divided, about whether he can do anything else except

The best example of the cultured, but common, tripper is the educated
Englishman on the Continent. We can no longer explain the quarrel by
calling Englishmen rude and foreigners polite. Hundreds of Englishmen are
extremely polite, and thousands of foreigners are extremely rude. The
truth of the matter is that foreigners do not resent the rude Englishman.
What they do resent, what they do most justly resent, is the polite
Englishman. He visits Italy for Botticellis or Flanders for Rembrandts,
and he treats the great nations that made these things courteously--as he
would treat the custodians of any museum. It does not seem to strike him
that the Italian is not the custodian of the pictures, but the creator of
them. He can afford to look down on such nations--when he can paint such

That is, in matters of art and travel, the psychology of the cad. If,
living in Italy, you admire Italian art while distrusting Italian
character, you are a tourist, or cad. If, living in Italy, you admire
Italian art while despising Italian religion, you are a tourist, or cad.
It does not matter how many years you have lived there. Tourists will
often live a long time in hotels without discovering the nationality of
the waiters. Englishmen will often live a long time in Italy without
discovering the nationality of the Italians. But the test is simple. If
you admire what Italians did without admiring Italians--you are a cheap

The same, of course, applies much nearer home. I have remarked elsewhere
that country shopkeepers are justly offended by London people, who, coming
among them, continue to order all their goods from London. It is caddish
to wink and squint at the colour of a man's wine, like a wine taster; and
then refuse to drink it. It is equally caddish to wink and squint at the
colour of a man's orchard, like a landscape painter; and then refuse to
buy the apples. It is always an insult to admire a thing and not use it.
But the main point is that one has no right to see Stonehenge without
Salisbury Plain and Salisbury: One has no right to respect the dead
Italians without respecting the live ones. One has no right to visit a
Christian society like a diver visiting the deep-sea fishes--fed along a
lengthy tube by another atmosphere, and seeing the sights without
breathing the air. It is very real bad manners.


It is an old story that names do not fit things; it is an old story that
the oldest forest is called the New Forest, and that Irish stew is almost
peculiar to England. But these are traditional titles that tend, of their
nature, to stiffen; it is the tragedy of to-day that even phrases invented
for to-day do not fit it. The forest has remained new while it is nearly
a thousand years old; but our fashions have grown old while they were
still new.

The extreme example of this is that when modern wrongs are attacked, they
are almost always attacked wrongly. People seem to have a positive
inspiration for finding the inappropriate phrase to apply to an offender;
they are always accusing a man of theft when he has been convicted of
murder. They must accuse Sir Edward Carson of outrageous rebellion, when
his offence has really been a sleek submission to the powers that be.
They must describe Mr. Lloyd George as using his eloquence to rouse the
mob, whereas he has really shown considerable cleverness in damping it
down. It was probably under the same impulse towards a mysterious misfit
of names that people denounced Dr. Inge as "the Gloomy Dean."

Now there is nothing whatever wrong about being a Dean; nor is there
anything wrong about being gloomy. The only question is what dark but
sincere motives have made you gloomy. What dark but sincere motives have
made you a Dean. Now the address of Dr. Inge which gained him this
erroneous title was mostly concerned with a defence of the modern
capitalists against the modern strikers, from whose protest he appeared to
anticipate appalling results. Now if we look at the facts about that
gentleman's depression and also about his Deanery, we shall find a very
curious state of things.

When Dr. Inge was called "the Gloomy Dean" a great injustice was done him.
He had appeared as the champion of our capitalist community against the
forces of revolt; and any one who does that exceeds in optimism rather
than pessimism. A man who really thinks that strikers have suffered no
wrong, or that employers have done no wrong--such a man is not a Gloomy
Dean, but a quite wildly and dangerously happy Dean. A man who can feel
satisfied with modern industrialism must be a man with a mysterious
fountain of high spirits. And the actual occasion is not less curious;
because, as far as I can make out, his title to gloom reposes on his
having said that our worker's demand high wages, while the placid people
of the Far East will quite cheerfully work for less.

This is true enough, of course, and there does not seem to be much
difficulty about the matter. Men of the Far East will submit to very low
wages for the same reason that they will submit to "the punishment known
as Li, or Slicing"; for the same reason that they will praise polygamy and
suicide; for the same reason that they subject the wife utterly to the
husband or his parents; for the same reason that they serve their temples
with prostitutes for priests; for the same reason that they sometimes seem
to make no distinction between sexual passion and sexual perversion. They
do it, that is, because they are Heathens; men with traditions different
from ours about the limits of endurance and the gestures of self-respect.
They may be very much better than we are in hundreds of other ways; and I
can quite understand a man (though hardly a Dean) really preferring their
historic virtues to those of Christendom. A man may perhaps feel more
comfortable among his Asiatic coolies than among his European comrades:
and as we are to allow the Broadest Thought in the Church, Dr. Inge has as
much right to his heresy as anybody else. It is true that, as Dr. Inge
says, there are numberless Orientals who will do a great deal of work for
very little money; and it is most undoubtedly true that there are several
high-placed and prosperous Europeans who like to get work done and pay as
little as possible for it.

But I cannot make out why, with his enthusiasm for heathen habits and
traditions, the Dean should wish to spread in the East the ideas which he
has found so dreadfully unsettling in the West. If some thousands of
years of paganism have produced the patience and industry that Dean Inge
admires, and if some thousand years of Christianity have produced the
sentimentality and sensationalism which he regrets, the obvious deduction
is that Dean Inge would be much happier if he were a heathen Chinese.
Instead of supporting Christian missions to Korea or Japan, he ought to be
at the head of a great mission in London for converting the English to
Taoism or Buddhism. There his passion for the moral beauties of paganism
would have free and natural play; his style would improve; his mind would
begin slowly to clear; and he would be free from all sorts of little
irritating scrupulosities which must hamper even the most Conservative
Christian in his full praise of sweating and the sack.

In Christendom he will never find rest. The perpetual public criticism
and public change which is the note of all our history springs from a
certain spirit far too deep to be defined. It is deeper than democracy;
nay, it may often appear to be non-democratic; for it may often be the
special defence of a minority or an individual. It will often leave the
ninety-and-nine in the wilderness and go after that which is lost. It
will often risk the State itself to right a single wrong; and do justice
though the heavens fall. Its highest expression is not even in the
formula of the great gentlemen of the French Revolution who said that all
men were free and equal. Its highest expression is rather in the formula
of the peasant who said that a man's a man for a' that. If there were but
one slave in England, and he did all the work while the rest of us made
merry, this spirit that is in us would still cry aloud to God night and
day. Whether or no this spirit was produced by, it clearly works with, a
creed which postulates a humanised God and a vividly personal immortality.
Men must not be busy merely like a swarm, or even happy merely like a
herd; for it is not a question of men, but of a man. A man's meals may be
poor, but they must not be bestial; there must always be that about the
meal which permits of its comparison to the sacrament. A man's bed may
be hard, but it must not be abject or unclean: there must always be about
the bed something of the decency of the death-bed.

This is the spirit which makes the Christian poor begin their terrible
murmur whenever there is a turn of prices or a deadlock of toil that
threatens them with vagabondage or pauperisation; and we cannot encourage
the Dean with any hope that this spirit can be cast out. Christendom will
continue to suffer all the disadvantages of being Christian: it is the
Dean who must be gently but firmly altered. He had absent-mindedly
strayed into the wrong continent and the wrong creed. I advise him to
chuck it.

But the case is more curious still. To connect the Dean with Confucian
temples or traditions may have appeared fantastic; but it is not. Dr.
Inge is not a stupid old Tory Rector, strict both on Church and State.
Such a man might talk nonsense about the Christian Socialists being "court
chaplains of King Demos" or about his own superb valour in defying the
democracy that rages in the front pews of Anglican churches. We should
not expect a mere old-fashioned country clergyman to know that Demos has
never been king in England and precious seldom anywhere else; we should
not expect him to realise that if King Demos had any chaplains they would
be uncommonly poorly paid. But Dr. Inge is not old-fashioned; he
considers himself highly progressive and advanced. He is a New Theologian;
that is, he is liberal in theology--and nothing else. He is apparently
in sober fact, and not as in any fantasy, in sympathy with those who would
soften the superior claim of our creed by urging the rival creeds of the
East; with those who would absorb the virtues of Buddhism or of Islam. He
holds a high seat in that modern Parliament of Religions where all
believers respect each other's unbelief.

Now this has a very sharp moral for modern religious reformers. When next
you hear the "liberal" Christian say that we should take what is best in
Oriental faiths, make quite sure what are the things that people like Dr.
Inge call best; what are the things that people like Dr. Inge propose to
take. You will not find them imitating the military valour of the Moslem.
You will not find them imitating the miraculous ecstasy of the Hindoo.
The more you study the "broad" movement of today, the more you will find
that these people want something much less like Chinese metaphysics, and
something much more like Chinese Labour. You will find the levelling of
creeds quite unexpectedly close to the lowering of wages. Dr. Inge is
the typical latitudinarian of to-day; and was never more so than when he
appeared not as the apostle of the blacks, but as the apostle of the
blacklegs. Preached, as it is, almost entirely among the prosperous and
polite, our brotherhood with Buddhism or Mohammedanism practically means
this--that the poor must be as meek as Buddhists, while the rich may be as
ruthless as Mohammedans. That is what they call the reunion of all


The middle classes of modern England are quite fanatically fond of washing;
and are often enthusiastic for teetotalism. I cannot therefore
comprehend why it is that they exhibit a mysterious dislike of rain.
Rain, that inspiring and delightful thing, surely combines the qualities
of these two ideals with quite a curious perfection. Our philanthropists
are eager to establish public baths everywhere. Rain surely is a public
bath; it might almost be called mixed bathing. The appearance of persons
coming fresh from this great natural lustration is not perhaps polished or
dignified; but for the matter of that, few people are dignified when
coming out of a bath. But the scheme of rain in itself is one of an
enormous purification. It realises the dream of some insane hygienist: it
scrubs the sky. Its giant brooms and mops seem to reach the starry
rafters and Starless corners of the cosmos; it is a cosmic spring cleaning.

If the Englishman is really fond of cold baths, he ought not to grumble at
the English climate for being a cold bath. In these days we are
constantly told that we should leave our little special possessions and
join in the enjoyment of common social institutions and a common social
machinery. I offer the rain as a thoroughly Socialistic institution. It
disregards that degraded delicacy which has hitherto led each gentleman to
take his shower-bath in private. It is a better shower-bath, because it
is public and communal; and, best of all, because somebody else pulls the

As for the fascination of rain for the water drinker, it is a fact the
neglect of which I simply cannot comprehend. The enthusiastic water
drinker must regard a rainstorm as a sort of universal banquet and debauch
of his own favourite beverage. Think of the imaginative intoxication of
the wine drinker if the crimson clouds sent down claret or the golden
clouds hock. Paint upon primitive darkness some such scenes of apocalypse,
towering and gorgeous skyscapes in which champagne falls like fire from
heaven or the dark skies grow purple and tawny with the terrible colours
of port. All this must the wild abstainer feel, as he rolls in the long
soaking grass, kicks his ecstatic heels to heaven, and listens to the
roaring rain. It is he, the water drinker, who ought to be the true
bacchanal of the forests; for all the forests are drinking water.
Moreover, the forests are apparently enjoying it: the trees rave and reel
to and fro like drunken giants; they clash boughs as revellers clash cups;
they roar undying thirst and howl the health of the world.

All around me as I write is a noise of Nature drinking: and Nature makes a
noise when she is drinking, being by no means refined. If I count it
Christian mercy to give a cup of cold water to a sufferer, shall I
complain of these multitudinous cups of cold water handed round to all
living things; a cup of water for every shrub; a cup of water for every
weed? I would be ashamed to grumble at it. As Sir Philip Sidney said,
their need is greater than mine--especially for water.

There is a wild garment that still carries nobly the name of a wild
Highland clan: a elan come from those hills where rain is not so much an
incident as an atmosphere. Surely every man of imagination must feel a
tempestuous flame of Celtic romance spring up within him whenever he puts
on a mackintosh. I could never reconcile myself to carrying all umbrella;
it is a pompous Eastern business, carried over the heads of despots in the
dry, hot lands. Shut up, an umbrella is an unmanageable walkingstick;
open, it is an inadequate tent. For my part, I have no taste for
pretending to be a walking pavilion; I think nothing of my hat, and
precious little of my head. If I am to be protected against wet, it must
be by some closer and more careless protection, something that I can
forget altogether. It might be a Highland plaid. It might be that yet
more Highland thing, a mackintosh.

And there is really something in the mackintosh of the military qualities
of the Highlander. The proper cheap mackintosh has a blue and white sheen
as of steel or iron; it gleams like armour. I like to think of it as the
uniform of that ancient clan in some of its old and misty raids. I like
to think of all the Macintoshes, in their mackintoshes, descending on some
doomed Lowland village, their wet waterproofs flashing in the sun or moon.
For indeed this is one of the real beauties of rainy weather, that while
the amount of original and direct light is commonly lessened, the number
of things that reflect light is unquestionably increased. There is less
sunshine; but there are more shiny things; such beautifully shiny things
as pools and puddles and mackintoshes. It is like moving in a world of

And indeed this is the last and not the least gracious of the casual works
of magic wrought by rain: that while it decreases light, yet it doubles it.
If it dims the sky, it brightens the earth. It gives the roads (to the
sympathetic eye) something of the beauty of Venice. Shallow lakes of
water reiterate every detail of earth and sky; we dwell in a double
universe. Sometimes walking upon bare and lustrous pavements, wet under
numerous lamps, a man seems a black blot on all that golden looking-glass,
and could fancy he was flying in a yellow sky. But wherever trees and
towns hang head downwards in a pigmy puddle, the sense of Celestial
topsy-turvydom is the same. This bright, wet, dazzling confusion of shape
and shadow, of reality and reflection, will appeal strongly to any one
with the transcendental instinct about this dreamy and dual life of ours.
It will always give a man the strange sense of looking down at the skies.


When, as lately, events have happened that seem (to the fancy, at least)
to test if not stagger the force of official government, it is amusing to
ask oneself what is the real weakness of civilisation, ours especially,
when it contends with the one lawless man. I was reminded of one weakness
this morning in turning over an old drawerful of pictures.

This weakness in civilisation is best expressed by saying that it cares
more for science than for truth. It prides itself on its "methods" more
than its results; it is satisfied with precision, discipline, good
communications, rather than with the sense of reality. But there are
precise falsehoods as well as precise facts. Discipline may only mean a
hundred men making the same mistake at the same minute. And good
communications may in practice be very like those evil communications
which are said to corrupt good manners. Broadly, we have reached a
"scientific age," which wants to know whether the train is in the
timetable, but not whether the train is in the station. I take one
instance in our police inquiries that I happen to have come across: the
case of photography.

Some years ago a poet of considerable genius tragically disappeared, and
the authorities or the newspapers circulated a photograph of him, so that
he might be identified. The photograph, as I remember it, depicted or
suggested a handsome, haughty, and somewhat pallid man with his head
thrown back, with long distinguished features, colourless thin hair and
slight moustache, and though conveyed merely by the head and shoulders, a
definite impression of height. If I had gone by that photograph I should
have gone about looking for a long soldierly but listless man, with a
profile rather like the Duke of Connaught's.

Only, as it happened, I knew the poet personally; I had seen him a great
many times, and he had an appearance that nobody could possibly forget, if
seen only once. He had the mark of those dark and passionate Westland
Scotch, who before Burns and after have given many such dark eyes and dark
emotions to the world. But in him the unmistakable strain, Gaelic or
whatever it is, was accentuated almost to oddity; and he looked like some
swarthy elf. He was small, with a big head and a crescent of coalblack
hair round the back of a vast dome of baldness. Immediately under his
eyes his cheekbones had so high a colour that they might have been painted
scarlet; three black tufts, two on the upper lip and one under the lower,
seemed to touch up the face with the fierce moustaches of Mephistopheles.
His eyes had that "dancing madness" in them which Stevenson saw in the
Gaelic eyes of Alan Breck; but he sometimes distorted the expression by
screwing a monstrous monocle into one of them. A man more unmistakable
would have been hard to find. You could have picked him out in any
crowd--so long as you had not seen his photograph.

But in this scientific picture of him twenty causes, accidental and
conventional, had combined to obliterate him altogether. The limits of
photography forbade the strong and almost melodramatic colouring of cheek
and eyebrow. The accident of the lighting took nearly all the darkness
out of the hair and made him look almost like a fair man. The framing and
limitation of the shoulders made him look like a big man; and the
devastating bore of being photographed when you want to write poetry made
him look like a lazy man. Holding his head back, as people do when they
are being photographed (or shot), but as he certainly never held it
normally, accidentally concealed the bald dome that dominated his slight
figure. Here we have a clockwork picture, begun and finished by a button
and a box of chemicals, from which every projecting feature has been more
delicately and dexterously omitted than they could have been by the most
namby-pamby flatterer, painting in the weakest water-colours, on the
smoothest ivory.

I happen to possess a book of Mr. Max Beerbohm's caricatures, one of which
depicts the unfortunate poet in question. To say it represents an utterly
incredible hobgoblin is to express in faint and inadequate language the
license of its sprawling lines. The authorities thought it strictly safe
and scientific to circulate the poet's photograph. They would have
clapped me in an asylum if I had asked them to circulate Max's caricature.
But the caricature would have been far more likely to find the man.

This is a small but exact symbol of the failure of scientific civilisation.
It is so satisfied in knowing it has a photograph of a man that it never
asks whether it has a likeness of him. Thus declarations, seemingly most
detailed, have flashed along the wires of the world ever since I was a boy.
We were told that in some row Boer policemen had shot an Englishman, a
British subject, an English citizen. A long time afterwards we were quite
casually informed that the English citizen was quite black. Well, it
makes no difference to the moral question; black men should be shot on the
same ethical principles as white men. But it makes one distrust
scientific communications which permitted so startling an alteration of
the photograph. I am sorry we got hold of a photographic negative in
which a black man came out white. Later we were told that an Englishman
had fought for the Boers against his own flag, which would have been a
disgusting thing to do. Later, it was admitted that he was an Irishman;
which is exactly as different as if he had been a Pole. Common sense,
with all the facts before it, does see that black is not white, and that a
nation that has never submitted has a right to moral independence. But
why does it so seldom have all the facts before it? Why are the big
aggressive features, such as blackness or the Celtic wrath, always left
out in such official communications, as they were left out in the
photograph? My friend the poet had hair as black as an African and eyes
as fierce as an Irishman; why does our civilisation drop all four of the
facts? Its error is to omit the arresting thing--which might really
arrest the criminal. It strikes first the chilling note of science,
demanding a man "above the middle height, chin shaven, with gray
moustache," etc., which might mean Mr. Balfour or Sir Redvers Buller.
It does not seize the first fact of impression, as that a man is
obviously a sailor or a Jew or a drunkard or a gentleman or a nigger
or an albino or a prize-fighter or an imbecile or an American. These
are the realities by which the people really recognise each other.
They are almost always left out of the inquiry.


There is one deep defect in our extension of cosmopolitan and Imperial
cultures. That is, that in most human things if you spread your butter
far you spread it thin. But there is an odder fact yet: rooted in
something dark and irrational in human nature. That is, that when you
find your butter thin, you begin to spread it. And it is just when you
find your ideas wearing thin in your own mind that you begin to spread
them among your fellow-creatures. It is a paradox; but not my paradox.
There are numerous cases in history; but I think the strongest case is
this. That we have Imperialism in all our clubs at the very time when we
have Orientalism in all our drawing-rooms.

I mean that the colonial ideal of such men as Cecil Rhodes did not arise
out of any fresh creative idea of the Western genius, it was a fad, and
like most fads an imitation. For what was wrong with Rhodes was not that,
like Cromwell or Hildebrand, he made huge mistakes, nor even that he
committed great crimes. It was that he committed these crimes and errors
in order to spread certain ideas. And when one asked for the ideas they
could not be found. Cromwell stood for Calvinism, Hildebrand for
Catholicism: but Rhodes had no principles whatever to give to the world.
He had only a hasty but elaborate machinery for spreading the principles
that he hadn't got. What he called his ideals were the dregs of a
Darwinism which had already grown not only stagnant, but poisonous. That
the fittest must survive, and that any one like himself must be the
fittest; that the weakest must go to the wall, and that any one he could
not understand must be the weakest; that was the philosophy which he
lumberingly believed through life, like many another agnostic old bachelor
of the Victorian era. All his views on religion (reverently quoted in the
Review of Reviews) were simply the stalest ideas of his time. It was not
his fault, poor fellow, that he called a high hill somewhere in South
Africa "his church." It was not his fault, I mean, that he could not see
that a church all to oneself is not a church at all. It is a madman's
cell. It was not his fault that he "figured out that God meant as much of
the planet to be Anglo-Saxon as possible." Many evolutionists much wiser
had "figured out" things even more babyish. He was an honest and humble
recipient of the plodding popular science of his time; he spread no ideas
that any cockney clerk in Streatham could not have spread for him. But it
was exactly because he had no ideas to spread that he invoked slaughter,
violated justice, and ruined republics to spread them.

But the case is even stronger and stranger. Fashionable Imperialism not
only has no ideas of its own to extend; but such ideas as it has are
actually borrowed from the brown and black peoples to whom it seeks to
extend them. The Crusading kings and knights might be represented as
seeking to spread Western ideas in the East. But all that our Imperialist
aristocrats could do would be to spread Eastern ideas in the East. For
that very governing class which urges Occidental Imperialism has been
deeply discoloured with Oriental mysticism and Cosmology.

The same society lady who expects the Hindoos to accept her view of
politics has herself accepted their view of religion. She wants first to
steal their earth, and then to share their heaven. The same Imperial
cynic who wishes the Turks to submit to English science has himself
submitted to Turkish philosophy, to a wholly Turkish view of despotism and

There is an obvious and amusing proof of this in a recent life of Rhodes.
The writer admits with proper Imperial gloom the fact that Africa is
still chiefly inhabited by Africans. He suggests Rhodes in the South
confronting savages and Kitchener in the North facing Turks, Arabs, and
Soudanese, and then he quotes this remark of Cecil Rhodes: "It is
inevitable fate that all this should be changed; and I should like to be
the agent of fate." That was Cecil Rhodes's one small genuine idea; and
it is an Oriental idea.

Here we have evident all the ultimate idiocy of the present Imperial
position. Rhodes and Kitchener are to conquer Moslem bedouins and
barbarians, in order to teach them to believe only in inevitable fate.
We are to wreck provinces and pour blood like Niagara, all in order to
teach a Turk to say "Kismet "; which he has said since his cradle. We are
to deny Christian justice and destroy international equality, all in order
to teach an Arab to believe he is "an agent of fate," when he has never
believed anything else. If Cecil Rhodes's vision could come true (which
fortunately is increasingly improbable), such countries as Persia or
Arabia would simply be filled with ugly and vulgar fatalists in billycocks,
instead of with graceful and dignified fatalists in turbans. The best
Western idea, the idea of spiritual liberty and danger, of a doubtful and
romantic future in which all things may happen--this essential Western
idea Cecil Rhodes could not spread, because (as he says himself) he did
not believe in it.

It was an Oriental who gave to Queen Victoria the crown of an Empress in
addition to that of a Queen. He did not understand that the title of King
is higher than that of Emperor. For in the East titles are meant to be
vast and wild; to be extravagant poems: the Brother of the Sun and Moon,
the Caliph who lives for ever. But a King of England (at least in the
days of real kings) did not bear a merely poetical title; but rather a
religious one. He belonged to his people and not merely they to him. He
was not merely a conqueror, but a father--yes, even when he was a bad
father. But this sort of solid sanctity always goes with local affections
and limits: and the Cecil Rhodes Imperialism set up not the King, but the
Sultan; with all the typically Eastern ideas of the magic of money, of
luxury without uproar; of prostrate provinces and a chosen race. Indeed
Cecil Rhodes illustrated almost every quality essential to the Sultan,
from the love of diamonds to the scorn of woman.


The other day, in the town of Lincoln, I suffered an optical illusion
which accidentally revealed to me the strange greatness of the Gothic
architecture. Its secret is not, I think, satisfactorily explained in
most of the discussions on the subject. It is said that the Gothic
eclipses the classical by a certain richness and complexity, at once
lively and mysterious. This is true; but Oriental decoration is equally
rich and complex, yet it awakens a widely different sentiment. No man
ever got out of a Turkey carpet the emotions that he got from a cathedral
tower. Over all the exquisite ornament of Arabia and India there is the
presence of something stiff and heartless, of something tortured and
silent. Dwarfed trees and crooked serpents, heavy flowers and hunchbacked
birds accentuate by the very splendour and contrast of their colour the
servility and monotony of their shapes. It is like the vision of a
sneering sage, who sees the whole universe as a pattern. Certainly no one
ever felt like this about Gothic, even if he happens to dislike it. Or,
again, some will say that it is the liberty of the Middle Ages in the use
of the comic or even the coarse that makes the Gothic more interesting
than the Greek. There is more truth in this; indeed, there is real truth
in it. Few of the old Christian cathedrals would have passed the Censor
of Plays. We talk of the inimitable grandeur of the old cathedrals; but
indeed it is rather their gaiety that we do not dare to imitate. We
should be rather surprised if a chorister suddenly began singing "Bill
Bailey" in church. Yet that would be only doing in music what the
mediaevals did in sculpture. They put into a Miserere seat the very
scenes that we put into a music hall song: comic domestic scenes similar to
the spilling of the beer and the hanging out of the washing. But though
the gaiety of Gothic is one of its features, it also is not the secret of
its unique effect. We see a domestic topsy-turvydom in many Japanese
sketches. But delightful as these are, with their fairy tree-tops, paper
houses, and toddling, infantile inhabitants, the pleasure they give is of
a kind quite different from the joy and energy of the gargoyles. Some
have even been so shallow and illiterate as to maintain that our pleasure
in medieval building is a mere pleasure in what is barbaric, in what is
rough, shapeless, or crumbling like the rocks. This can be dismissed
after the same fashion; South Sea idols, with painted eyes and radiating
bristles, are a delight to the eye; but they do not affect it in at all
the same way as Westminster Abbey. Some again (going to another and
almost equally foolish extreme) ignore the coarse and comic in
mediaevalism; and praise the pointed arch only for its utter purity and
simplicity, as of a saint with his hands joined in prayer. Here, again,
the uniqueness is missed. There are Renaissance things (such as the
ethereal silvery drawings of Raphael), there are even pagan things (such
as the Praying Boy) which express as fresh and austere a piety. None of
these explanations explain. And I never saw what was the real point about
Gothic till I came into the town of Lincoln, and saw it behind a row of

I did not know they were furniture-vans; at the first glance and in the
smoky distance I thought they were a row of cottages. A low stone wall
cut off the wheels, and the vans were somewhat of the same colour as the
yellowish clay or stone of the buildings around them. I had come across
that interminable Eastern plain which is like the open sea, and all the
more so because the one small hill and tower of Lincoln stands up in it
like a light-house. I had climbed the sharp, crooked streets up to this
ecclesiastical citadel; just in front of me was a flourishing and richly
coloured kitchen garden; beyond that was the low stone wall; beyond that
the row of vans that looked like houses; and beyond and above that,
straight and swift and dark, light as a flight of birds, and terrible as
the Tower of Babel, Lincoln Cathedral seemed to rise out of human sight.

As I looked at it I asked myself the questions that I have asked here;
what was the soul in all those stones? They were varied, but it was not
variety; they were solemn, but it was not solemnity; they were farcical,
but it was not farce. What is it in them that thrills and soothes a man
of our blood and history, that is not there in an Egyptian pyramid or an
Indian temple or a Chinese pagoda? All of a sudden the vans I had
mistaken for cottages began to move away to the left. In the start this
gave to my eye and mind I really fancied that the Cathedral was moving
towards the right. The two huge towers seemed to start striding across
the plain like the two legs of some giant whose body was covered with the
clouds. Then I saw what it was.

The truth about Gothic is, first, that it is alive, and second, that it is
on the march. It is the Church Militant; it is the only fighting
architecture. All its spires are spears at rest; and all its stones are
stones asleep in a catapult. In that instant of illusion, I could hear the
arches clash like swords as they crossed each other. The mighty and
numberless columns seemed to go swinging by like the huge feet of imperial
elephants. The graven foliage wreathed and blew like banners going into
battle; the silence was deafening with ail the mingled noises of a
military march; the great bell shook down, as the organ shook up its
thunder. The thirsty-throated gargoyles shouted like trumpets from all
the roofs and pinnacles as they passed; and from the lectern in the core
of the cathedral the eagle of the awful evangelist clashed his wings of

And amid all the noises I seemed to hear the voice of a man shouting in
the midst like one ordering regiments hither and thither in the fight; the
voice of the great half-military master-builder; the architect of spears.
I could almost fancy he wore armour while he made that church; and I knew
indeed that, under a scriptural figure, he had borne in either hand the
trowel and the sword.

I could imagine for the moment that the whole of that house of life had
marched out of the sacred East, alive and interlocked, like an army.
Some Eastern nomad had found it solid and silent in the red circle of the
desert. He had slept by it as by a world-forgotten pyramid; and been woke
at midnight by the wings of stone and brass, the tramping of the tall
pillars, the trumpets of the waterspouts. On such a night every snake or
sea-beast must have turned and twisted in every crypt or corner of the
architecture. And the fiercely coloured saints marching eternally in the
flamboyant windows would have carried their glorioles like torches across
dark lands and distant seas; till the whole mountain of music and darkness
and lights descended roaring on the lonely Lincoln hill. So for some
hundred and sixty seconds I saw the battle-beauty of the Gothic; then the
last furniture-van shifted itself away; and I saw only a church tower in a
quiet English town, round which the English birds were floating.


There is a fact at the root of all realities to-day which cannot be stated
too simply. It is that the powers of this world are now not trusted
simply because they are not trustworthy. This can be quite clearly seen
and said without any reference to our several passions or partisanships.
It does not follow that we think such a distrust a wise sentiment to
express; it does not even follow that we think it a good sentiment to
entertain. But such is the sentiment, simply because such is the fact.
The distinction can be quite easily defined in an example. I do not
think that private workers owe an indefinite loyalty to their employer.
But I do think that patriotic soldiers owe a more or less indefinite
loyalty to their leader in battle. But even if they ought to trust their
captain, the fact remains that they often do not trust him; and the fact
remains that he often is not fit to be trusted.

Most of the employers and many of the Socialists seem to have got a very
muddled ethic about the basis of such loyalty; and perpetually try to put
employers and officers upon the same disciplinary plane. I should have
thought myself that the difference was alphabetical enough. It has
nothing to do with the idealising of war or the materialising of trade; it
is a distinction in the primary purpose. There might be much more
elegance and poetry in a shop under William Morris than in a regiment
under Lord Kitchener. But the difference is not in the persons or the
atmosphere, but in the aim. The British Army does not exist in order to
pay Lord Kitchener. William Morris's shop, however artistic and
philanthropic, did exist to pay William Morris. If it did not pay the
shopkeeper it failed as a shop; but Lord Kitchener does not fail if he is
underpaid, but only if he is defeated. The object of the Army is the
safety of the nation from one particular class of perils; therefore, since
all citizens owe loyalty to the nation, all citizens who are soldiers owe
loyalty to the Army. But nobody has any obligation to make some
particular rich man richer. A man is bound, of course, to consider the
indirect results of his action in a strike; but he is bound to consider
that in a swing, or a giddy-go-round, or a smoking concert; in his wildest
holiday or his most private conversation. But direct responsibility like
that of a soldier he has none. He need not aim solely and directly at the
good of the shop; for the simple reason that the shop is not aiming solely
and directly at the good of the nation. The shopman is, under decent
restraints, let us hope, trying to get what he can out of the nation; the
shop assistant may, under the same decent restraints, get what he can out
of the shopkeeper. All this distinction is very obvious. At least I
should have thought so.

But the primary point which I mean is this. That even if we do take the
military view of mercantile service, even if we do call the rebellious
shop assistant "disloyal"--that leaves exactly where it was the question
of whether he is, in point of fact, in a good or bad shop. Granted that
all Mr. Poole's employees are bound to follow for ever the cloven pennon
of the Perfect Pair of Trousers, it is all the more true that the pennon
may, in point of fact, become imperfect. Granted that all Barney Barnato's
workers ought to have followed him to death or glory, it is still a
Perfectly legitimate question to ask which he was likely to lead them to.
Granted that Dr. Sawyer's boy ought to die for his master's medicines, we
may still hold an inquest to find out if he died of them. While we
forbid the soldier to shoot the general, we may still wish the general
were shot.

The fundamental fact of our time is the failure of the successful man.
Somehow we have so arranged the rules of the game that the winners are
worthless for other purposes; they can secure nothing except the prize.
The very rich are neither aristocrats nor self-made men; they are
accidents--or rather calamities. All revolutionary language is a
generation behind the times in talking of their futility. A revolutionist
would say (with perfect truth) that coal-owners know next to nothing about
coal-mining. But we are past that point. Coal-owners know next to
nothing about coal-owning. They do not develop and defend the nature of
their own monopoly with any consistent and courageous policy, however
wicked, as did the old aristocrats with the monopoly of land. They have
not the virtues nor even the vices of tyrants; they have only their powers.
It is the same with all the powerful of to-day; it is the same, for
instance, with the high-placed and high-paid official. Not only is the
judge not judicial, but the arbiter is not even arbitrary. The arbiter
decides, not by some gust of justice or injustice in his soul like the old
despot dooming men under a tree, but by the permanent climate of the class
to which he happens to belong. The ancient wig of the judge is often
indistinguishable from the old wig of the flunkey.

To judge about success or failure one must see things very simply; one
must see them in masses, as the artist, half closing his eyes against
details, sees light and shade. That is the only way in which a just
judgment can be formed as to whether any departure or development, such as
Islam or the American Republic, has been a benefit upon the whole. Seen
close, such great erections always abound in ingenious detail and
impressive solidity; it is only by seeing them afar off that one can tell
if the Tower leans.

Now if we thus take in the whole tilt or posture of our modern state, we
shall simply see this fact: that those classes who have on the whole
governed, have on the whole failed. If you go to a factory you will see
some very wonderful wheels going round; you will be told that the employer
often comes there early in the morning; that he has great organising power;
that if he works over the colossal accumulation of wealth he also works
over its wise distribution. All this may be true of many employers, and
it is practically said of all.

But if we shade our eyes from all this dazzle of detail; if we simply ask
what has been the main feature, the upshot, the final fruit of the


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