A Miscellany of Men
G. K. Chesterton

Part 3 out of 3

capitalist system, there is no doubt about the answer. The special and
solid result of the reign of the employers has been--unemployment.
Unemployment not only increasing, but becoming at last the very pivot upon
which the whole process turns.

Or, again, if you visit the villages that depend on one of the great
squires, you will hear praises, often just, of the landlord's good sense
or good nature; you will hear of whole systems of pensions or of care for
the sick, like those of a small and separate nation; you will see much
cleanliness, order, and business habits in the offices and accounts of the
estate. But if you ask again what has been the upshot, what has been the
actual result of the reign of landlords, again the answer is plain. At
the end of the reign of landlords men will not live on the land. The
practical effect of having landlords is not having tenants. The practical
effect of having employers is that men are not employed. The unrest of
the populace is therefore more than a murmur against tyranny; it is
against a sort of treason. It is the suspicion that even at the top of
the tree, even in the seats of the mighty, our very success is


There are some who are conciliated by Conciliation Boards. There are some
who, when they hear of Royal Commissions, breathe again--or snore again.
There are those who look forward to Compulsory Arbitration Courts as to
the islands of the blest. These men do not understand the day that they
look upon or the sights that their eyes have seen.

The almost sacramental idea of representation, by which the few may
incarnate the many, arose in the Middle Ages, and has done great things
for justice and liberty. It has had its real hours of triumph, as when
the States General met to renew France's youth like the eagle's; or when
all the virtues of the Republic fought and ruled in the figure of
Washington. It is not having one of its hours of triumph now. The real
democratic unrest at this moment is not an extension of the representative
process, but rather a revolt against it. It is no good giving those now
in revolt more boards and committees and compulsory regulations. It is
against these very things that they are revolting. Men are not only
rising against their oppressors, but against their representatives or, as
they would say, their misrepresentatives. The inner and actual spirit of
workaday England is coming out not in applause, but in anger, as a god who
should come out of his tabernacle to rebuke and confound his priests.

There is a certain kind of man whom we see many times in a day, but whom
we do not, in general, bother very much about. He is the kind of man of
whom his wife says that a better husband when he's sober you couldn't have.
She sometimes adds that he never is sober; but this is in anger and
exaggeration. Really he drinks much less and works much more than the
modern legend supposes. But it is quite true that he has not the horror
of bodily outbreak, natural to the classes that contain ladies; and it is
quite true that he never has that alert and inventive sort of industry
natural to the classes from which men can climb into great wealth. He has
grown, partly by necessity, but partly also by temper, accustomed to have
dirty clothes and dirty hands normally and without discomfort. He regards
cleanliness as a kind of separate and special costume; to be put on for
great festivals. He has several really curious characteristics, which
would attract the eyes of sociologists, if they had any eyes. For
instance, his vocabulary is coarse and abusive, in marked contrast to his
actual spirit, which is generally patient and civil. He has an odd way of
using certain words of really horrible meaning, but using them quite
innocently and without the most distant taint of the evils to which they
allude. He is rather sentimental; and, like most sentimental people, not
devoid of snobbishness. At the same time, he believes the ordinary manly
commonplaces of freedom and fraternity as he believes most of the decent
traditions of Christian men: he finds it very difficult to act according
to them, but this difficulty is not confined to him. He has a strong and
individual sense of humour, and not much power of corporate or militant
action. He is not a Socialist. Finally, he bears no more resemblance to
a Labour Member than he does to a City Alderman or a Die-Hard Duke. This
is the Common Labourer of England; and it is he who is on the march at

See this man in your mind as you see him in the street, realise that it is
his open mind we wish to influence or his empty stomach we wish to cure,
and then consider seriously (if you can) the five men, including two of
his own alleged oppressors, who were summoned as a Royal Commission to
consider his claims when he or his sort went out on strike upon the
railways. I knew nothing against, indeed I knew nothing about, any of the
gentlemen then summoned, beyond a bare introduction to Mr. Henderson,
whom I liked, but whose identity I was in no danger of confusing with that
of a railway-porter. I do not think that any old gentleman, however
absent-minded, would be likely on arriving at Euston, let us say, to hand
his Gladstone-bag to Mr. Henderson or to attempt to reward that politician
with twopence. Of the others I can only judge by the facts about their
status as set forth in the public Press. The Chairman, Sir David Harrell,
appeared to be an ex-official distinguished in (of all things in the
world) the Irish Constabulary. I have no earthly reason to doubt that the
Chairman meant to be fair; but I am not talking about what men mean to be,
but about what they are. The police in Ireland are practically an army of
occupation; a man serving in them or directing them is practically a
soldier; and, of course, he must do his duty as such. But it seems truly
extraordinary to select as one likely to sympathise with the democracy of
England a man whose whole business in life it has been to govern against
its will the democracy of Ireland. What should we say if Russian strikers
were offered the sympathetic arbitration of the head of the Russian Police
in Finland or Poland? And if we do not know that the whole civilised
world sees Ireland with Poland as a typical oppressed nation, it is time
we did. The Chairman, whatever his personal virtues, must be by instinct
and habit akin to the capitalists in the dispute. Two more of the
Commissioners actually were the capitalists in the dispute. Then came Mr.
Henderson (pushing his trolley and cheerily crying, "By your leave."),
and then another less known gentleman who had "corresponded" with the
Board of Trade, and had thus gained some strange claim to represent the
very poor.

Now people like this might quite possibly produce a rational enough report,
and in this or that respect even improve things. Men of that kind are
tolerably kind, tolerably patriotic, and tolerably business-like. But if
any one supposes that men of that kind can conceivably quiet any real
'quarrel with the Man of the Other Kind, the man whom I first described,
it is frantic. The common worker is angry exactly because he has found
out that all these boards consist of the same well-dressed Kind of Man,
whether they are called Governmental or Capitalist. If any one hopes that
he will reconcile the poor, I say, as I said at the beginning, that such a
one has not looked on the light of day or dwelt in the land of the living.

But I do not criticise such a Commission except for one most practical and
urgent purpose. It will be answered to me that the first Kind of Man of
whom I spoke could not really be on boards and committees, as modern
England is managed. His dirt, though necessary and honourable, would be
offensive: his speech, though rich and figurative, would be almost
incomprehensible. Let us grant, for the moment, that this is so. This
Kind of Man, with his sooty hair or sanguinary adjectives, cannot be
represented at our committees of arbitration. Therefore, the other Kind
of Man, fairly prosperous, fairly plausible, at home at least with the
middle class, capable at least of reaching and touching the upper class,
he must remain the only Kind of Man for such councils.

Very well. If then, you give at any future time any kind of compulsory
powers to such councils to prevent strikes, you will be driving the first
Kind of Man to work for a particular master as much as if you drove him
with a whip.


I see that there have been more attempts at the whitewashing of King John.

But the gentleman who wrote has a further interest in the matter; for he
believes that King John was innocent, not only on this point, but as a
whole. He thinks King John has been very badly treated; though I am not
sure whether he would attribute to that Plantagenet a saintly merit or
merely a humdrum respectability.

I sympathise with the whitewashing of King John, merely because it is a
protest against our waxwork style of history. Everybody is in a
particular attitude, with particular moral attributes; Rufus is always
hunting and Coeur-de-Lion always crusading; Henry VIII always marrying,
and Charles I always having his head cut off; Alfred rapidly and in
rotation making his people's clocks and spoiling their cakes; and King
John pulling out Jews' teeth with the celerity and industry of an American
dentist. Anything is good that shakes all this stiff simplification, and
makes us remember that these men were once alive; that is, mixed, free,
flippant, and inconsistent. It gives the mind a healthy kick to know that
Alfred had fits, that Charles I prevented enclosures, that Rufus was
really interested in architecture, that Henry VIII was really interested
in theology.

And as these scraps of reality can startle us into more solid imagination
of events, so can even errors and exaggerations if they are on the right
side. It does some good to call Alfred a prig, Charles I a Puritan, and
John a jolly good fellow; if this makes us feel that they were people whom
we might have liked or disliked. I do not myself think that John was a
nice gentleman; but for all that the popular picture of him is all wrong.
Whether he had any generous qualities or not, he had what commonly makes
them possible, dare-devil courage, for instance, and hotheaded decision.
But, above all, he had a morality which he broke, but which we

The mediaeval mind turned centrally upon the pivot of Free Will. In their
social system the mediaevals were too much PARTI-PER-PALE, as their
heralds would say, too rigidly cut up by fences and quarterings of guild
or degree. But in their moral philosophy they always thought of man as
standing free and doubtful at the cross-roads in a forest. While they
clad and bound the body and (to some extent) the mind too stiffly and
quaintly for our taste, they had a much stronger sense than we have of the
freedom of the soul. For them the soul always hung poised like an eagle
in the heavens of liberty. Many of the things that strike a modern as
most fantastic came from their keen sense of the power of choice.

For instance, the greatest of the Schoolmen devotes folios to the minute
description of what the world would have been like if Adam had refused the
apple; what kings, laws, babies, animals, planets would have been in an
unfallen world. So intensely does he feel that Adam might have decided
the other way that he sees a complete and complex vision of another world,
a world that now can never be.

This sense of the stream of life in a man that may turn either way can be
felt through all their popular ethics in legend, chronicle, and ballad.
It is a feeling which has been weakened among us by two heavy intellectual
forces. The Calvinism of the seventeenth century and the physical science
of the nineteenth, whatever other truths they may have taught, have
darkened this liberty with a sense of doom. We think of bad men as
something like black men, a separate and incurable kind of people. The
Byronic spirit was really a sort of operatic Calvinism. It brought the
villain upon the stage; the lost soul; the modern version of King John.
But the contemporaries of King John did not feel like that about him, even
when they detested him. They instinctively felt him to be a man of mixed
passions like themselves, who was allowing his evil passions to have much
too good a time of it. They might have spoken of him as a man in
considerable danger of going to hell; but they would have not talked of
him as if he had come from there. In the ballads of Percy or Robin Hood
it frequently happens that the King comes upon the scene, and his ultimate
decision makes the climax of the tale. But we do not feel, as we do in
the Byronic or modern romance, that there is a definite stage direction
"Enter Tyrant." Nor do we behold a deus ex machina who is certain to do
all that is mild and just. The King in the ballad is in a state of virile
indecision. Sometimes he will pass from a towering passion to the most
sweeping magnanimity and friendliness; sometimes he will begin an act of
vengeance and be turned from it by a jest. Yet this august levity is not
moral indifference; it is moral freedom. It is the strong sense in the
writer that the King, being the type of man with power, will probably
sometimes use it badly and sometimes well. In this sense John is
certainly misrepresented, for he is pictured as something that none of his
own friends or enemies saw. In that sense he was certainly not so black
as he is painted, for he lived in a world where every one was piebald.

King John would be represented in a modern play or novel as a kind of
degenerate; a shifty-eyed moral maniac with a twist in his soul's backbone
and green blood in his veins. The mediaevals were quite capable of
boiling him in melted lead, but they would have been quite incapable of
despairing of his soul in the modern fashion. A striking a fortiori case
is that of the strange mediaeval legend of Robert the Devil. Robert was
represented as a monstrous birth sent to an embittered woman actually in
answer to prayers to Satan, and his earlier actions are simply those of
the infernal fire let loose upon earth. Yet though he can be called
almost literally a child of hell, yet the climax of the story is his
repentance at Rome and his great reparation. That is the paradox of
mediaeval morals: as it must appear to the moderns. We must try to
conceive a race of men who hated John, and sought his blood, and believed
every abomination about him, who would have been quite capable of
assassinating or torturing him in the extremity of their anger. And yet
we must admit that they would not really have been fundamentally surprised
if he had shaved his head in humiliation, given all his goods to the poor,
embraced the lepers in a lazar-house, and been canonised as a saint in
heaven. So strongly did they hold that the pivot of Will should turn
freely, which now is rusted, and sticks.

For we, whatever our political opinions, certainly never think of our
public men like that. If we hold the opinion that Mr. Lloyd George is a
noble tribune of the populace and protector of the poor, we do not admit
that he can ever have paltered with the truth or bargained with the
powerful. If we hold the equally idiotic opinion that he is a red and
rabid Socialist, maddening mobs into mutiny and theft, then we expect him
to go on maddening them--and us. We do not expect him, let us say,
suddenly to go into a monastery. We have lost the idea of repentance;
especially in public things; that is why we cannot really get rid of our
great national abuses of economic tyranny and aristocratic avarice.
Progress in the modern sense is a very dismal drudge; and mostly consists
of being moved on by the police. We move on because we are not allowed to
move back. But the really ragged prophets, the real revolutionists who
held high language in the palaces of kings, they did not confine
themselves to saying, "Onward, Christian soldiers," still less, "Onward,
Futurist soldiers"; what they said to high emperors and to whole empires
was, "Turn ye, turn ye, why will ye die?"


Every person of sound education enjoys detective stories, and there are
even several points on which they have a hearty superiority to most modern
books. A detective story generally describes six living men discussing
how it is that a man is dead. A modern philosophic story generally
describes six dead men discussing how any man can possibly be alive. But
those who have enjoyed the roman policier must have noted one thing, that
when the murderer is caught he is hardly ever hanged. "That," says
Sherlock Holmes, "is the advantage of being a private detective"; after he
has caught he can set free. The Christian Church can best be defined as
an enormous private detective, correcting that official detective--the
State. This, indeed, is one of the injustices done to historic
Christianity; injustices which arise from looking at complex exceptions
and not at the large and simple fact. We are constantly being told that
theologians used racks and thumbscrews, and so they did. Theologians
used racks and thumbscrews just as they used thimbles and three-legged
stools, because everybody else used them. Christianity no more created
the mediaeval tortures than it did the Chinese tortures; it inherited them
from any empire as heathen as the Chinese.

The Church did, in an evil hour, consent to imitate the commonwealth and
employ cruelty. But if we open our eyes and take in the whole picture, if
we look at the general shape and colour of the thing, the real difference
between the Church and the State is huge and plain. The State, in all
lands and ages, has created a machinery of punishment, more bloody and
brutal in some places than others, but bloody and brutal everywhere. The
Church is the only institution that ever attempted to create a machinery
of pardon. The Church is the only thing that ever attempted by system to
pursue and discover crimes, not in order to avenge, but in order to
forgive them. The stake and rack were merely the weaknesses of the
religion; its snobberies, its surrenders to the world. Its
speciality--or, if you like, its oddity--was this merciless mercy; the
unrelenting sleuthhound who seeks to save and not slay.

I can best illustrate what I mean by referring to two popular plays on
somewhat parallel topics, which have been successful here and in America.
The Passing of the Third Floor Back is a humane and reverent experiment,
dealing with the influence of one unknown but divine figure as he passes
through a group of Squalid characters. I have no desire to make cheap fun
of the extremely abrupt conversions of all these people; that is a point
of art, not of morals; and, after all, many conversions have been abrupt.
This saviour's method of making people good is to tell them how good they
are already; and in the case of suicidal outcasts, whose moral backs are
broken, and who are soaked with sincere self-contempt, I can imagine that
this might be quite the right way. I should not deliver this message to
authors or members of Parliament, because they would so heartily agree
with it.

Still, it is not altogether here that I differ from the moral of Mr.
Jerome's play. I differ vitally from his story because it is not a
detective story. There is in it none of this great Christian idea of
tearing their evil out of men; it lacks the realism of the saints.
Redemption should bring truth as well as peace; and truth is a fine thing,
though the materialists did go mad about it. Things must be faced, even
in order to be forgiven; the great objection to "letting sleeping dogs
lie" is that they lie in more senses than one. But in Mr. Jerome's
Passing of the Third Floor Back the redeemer is not a divine detective,
pitiless in his resolve to know and pardon. Rather he is a sort of divine
dupe, who does not pardon at all, because he does not see anything that is
going on. It may, or may not, be true to say, "Tout comprendre est tout
pardonner." But it is much more evidently true to say, "Rien comprendre
est rien Pardonner," and the "Third Floor Back" does not seem to
comprehend anything. He might, after all, be a quite selfish
sentimentalist, who found it comforting to think well of his neighbours.
There is nothing very heroic in loving after you have been deceived. The
heroic business is to love after you have been undeceived.

When I saw this play it was natural to compare it with another play which
I had not seen, but which I have read in its printed version. I mean Mr.
Rann Kennedy's Servant in the House, the success of which sprawls over so
many of the American newspapers. This also is concerned with a dim, yet
evidently divine, figure changing the destinies of a whole group of
persons. It is a better play structurally than the other; in fact, it is
a very fine play indeed; but there is nothing aesthetic or fastidious
about it. It is as much or more than the other sensational, democratic,
and (I use the word in a sound and good sense) Salvationist.

But the difference lies precisely in this--that the Christ of Mr.
Kennedy's play insists on really knowing all the souls that he loves; he
declines to conquer by a kind of supernatural stupidity. He pardons evil,
but he will not ignore it. In other words, he is a Christian, and not a
Christian Scientist. The distinction doubtless is partly explained by the
problems severally selected. Mr. Jerome practically supposes Christ to be
trying to save disreputable people; and that, of course, is naturally a
simple business. Mr. Kennedy supposes Him to be trying to save the
reputable people, which is a much larger affair. The chief characters in
The Servant in the House are a popular and strenuous vicar, universally
respected, and his fashionable and forcible wife. It would have been no
good to tell these people they had some good in them--for that was what
they were telling themselves all day long. They had to be reminded that
they had some bad in them--instinctive idolatries and silent treasons
which they always tried to forget. It is in connection with these crimes
of wealth and culture that we face the real problem of positive evil. The
whole of Mr. Blatchford's controversy about sin was vitiated throughout by
one's consciousness that whenever he wrote the word "sinner" he thought of
a man in rags. But here, again, we can find truth merely by referring to
vulgar literature--its unfailing fountain. Whoever read a detective
story about poor people? The poor have crimes; but the poor have no
secrets. And it is because the proud have secrets that they need to be
detected before they are forgiven.


There are things in this world of which I can say seriously that I love
them but I do not like them. The point is not merely verbal, but
psychologically quite valid. Cats are the first things that occur to me
as examples of the principle. Cats are so beautiful that a creature from
another star might fall in love with them, and so incalculable that he
might kill them. Some of my friends take quite a high moral line about
cats. Some, like Mr. Titterton, I think, admire a cat for its moral
independence and readiness to scratch anybody "if he does not behave
himself." Others, like Mr. Belloe, regard the cat as cruel and secret, a
fit friend for witches; one who will devour everything, except, indeed,
poisoned food, "so utterly lacking is it in Christian simplicity and
humility." For my part, I have neither of these feelings. I admire cats
as I admire catkins; those little fluffy things that hang on trees. They
are both pretty and both furry, and both declare the glory of God. And
this abstract exultation in all living things is truly to be called Love;
for it is a higher feeling than mere affectional convenience; it is a
vision. It is heroic, and even saintly, in this: that it asks for nothing
in return. I love all the eats in the street as St. Francis of Assisi
loved all the birds in the wood or all the fishes in the sea; not so much,
of course, but then I am not a saint. But he did not wish to bridle a
bird and ride on its back, as one bridles and rides on a horse. He did
not wish to put a collar round a fish's neck, marked with the name
"Francis," and the address "Assisi"--as one does with a dog. He did not
wish them to belong to him or himself to belong to them; in fact, it would
be a very awkward experience to belong to a lot of fishes. But a man does
belong to his dog, in another but an equally real sense with that in which
the dog belongs to him. The two bonds of obedience and responsibility
vary very much with the dogs and the men; but they are both bonds. In
other words, a man does not merely love a dog; as he might (in a mystical
moment) love any sparrow that perched on his windowsill or any rabbit that
ran across his path. A man likes a dog; and that is a serious matter.

To me, unfortunately perhaps (for I speak merely of individual taste), a
cat is a wild animal. A cat is Nature personified. Like Nature, it is so
mysterious that one cannot quite repose even in its beauty. But like
Nature again, it is so beautiful that one cannot believe that it is really
cruel. Perhaps it isn't; and there again it is like Nature. Men of old
time worshipped cats as they worshipped crocodiles; and those magnificent
old mystics knew what they were about. The moment in which one really
loves cats is the same as that in which one (moderately and within reason)
loves crocodiles. It is that divine instant when a man feels himself--no,
not absorbed into the unity of all things (a loathsome fancy)--but
delighting in the difference of all things. At the moment when a man
really knows he is a man he will feel, however faintly, a kind of
fairy-tale pleasure in the fact that a crocodile is a crocodile. All the
more will he exult in the things that are more evidently beautiful than
crocodiles, such as flowers and birds and eats--which are more beautiful
than either. But it does not follow that he will wish to pick all the
flowers or to cage all the birds or to own all the cats.

No one who still believes in democracy and the rights of man will admit
that any division between men and men can be anything but a fanciful
analogy to the division between men and animals. But in the sphere of
such fanciful analogy there are even human beings whom I feel to be like
eats in this respect: that I can love them without liking them. I feel it
about certain quaint and alien societies, especially about the Japanese.
The exquisite old Japanese draughtsmanship (of which we shall see no more,
now Japan has gone in for Progress and Imperialism) had a quality that was
infinitely attractive and intangible. Japanese pictures were really
rather like pictures made by cats. They were full of feathery softness
and of sudden and spirited scratches. If any one will wander in some
gallery fortunate enough to have a fine collection of those slight
water-colour sketches on rice paper which come from the remote East, he
will observe many elements in them which a fanciful person might consider
feline. There is, for instance, that odd enjoyment of the tops of trees;
those airy traceries of forks and fading twigs, up to which certainly no
artist, but only a cat could climb. There is that elvish love of the full
moon, as large and lucid as a Chinese lantern, hung in these tenuous
branches. That moon is so large and luminous that one can imagine a
hundred cats howling under it. Then there is the exhaustive treatment of
the anatomy of birds and fish; subjects in which cats are said to be
interested. Then there is the slanting cat-like eye of all these Eastern
gods and men--but this is getting altogether too coincident. We shall
have another racial theory in no time (beginning "Are the Japs Cats?"),
and though I shall not believe in my theory, somebody else might. There
are people among my esteemed correspondents who might believe anything.
It is enough for me to say here that in this small respect Japs affect me
like cats. I mean that I love them. I love their quaint and native
poetry, their instinct of easy civilisation, their unique unreplaceable
art, the testimony they bear to the bustling, irrepressible activities of
nature and man. If I were a real mystic looking down on them from a real
mountain, I am sure I should love them more even than the strong winged and
unwearied birds or the fruitful, ever multiplying fish. But, as for liking
them, as one likes a dog--that is quite another matter. That would mean
trusting them.

In the old English and Scotch ballads the fairies are regarded very much
in the way that I feel inclined to regard Japs and cats. They are not
specially spoken of as evil; they are enjoyed as witching and wonderful;
but they are not trusted as good. You do not say the wrong words or give
the wrong gifts to them; and there is a curious silence about what would
happen to you if you did. Now to me, Japan, the Japan of Art, was always
a fairyland. What trees as gay as flowers and peaks as white as wedding
cakes; what lanterns as large as houses and houses as frail as lanterns!
but... but... the missionary explained (I read in the paper) that the
assertion and denial about the Japanese use of torture was a mere matter
of verbal translation. "The Japanese would not call twisting the thumbs
back 'torture.'"


I find myself in agreement with Mr. Robert Lynd for his most just remark
in connection with the Malatesta case, that the police are becoming a
peril to society. I have no attraction to that sort of atheist asceticism
to which the purer types of Anarchism tend; but both an atheist and an
ascetic are better men than a spy; and it is ignominious to see one's
country thus losing her special point of honour about asylum and liberty.
It will be quite a new departure if we begin to protect and whitewash
foreign policemen. I always understood it was only English policemen who
were absolutely spotless. A good many of us, however, have begun to feel
with Mr. Lynd, and on all sides authorities and officials are being
questioned. But there is one most graphic and extraordinary fact, which
it did not lie in Mr. Lynd's way to touch upon, but which somebody really
must seize and emphasise. It is this: that at the very time when we are
all beginning to doubt these authorities, we are letting laws pass to
increase their most capricious powers. All our commissions, petitions,
and letters to the papers are asking whether these authorities can give an
account of their stewardship. And at the same moment all our laws are
decreeing that they shall not give any account of their stewardship, but
shall become yet more irresponsible stewards. Bills like the
Feeble-Minded Bill and the Inebriate Bill (very appropriate names for
them) actually arm with scorpions the hand that has chastised the
Malatestas and Maleckas with whips. The inspector, the doctor, the police
sergeant, the well-paid person who writes certificates and "passes" this,
that, or the other; this sort of man is being trusted with more authority,
apparently because he is being doubted with more reason. In one room we
are asking why the Government and the great experts between them cannot
sail a ship. In another room we are deciding that the Government and
experts shall be allowed, without trial or discussion, to immure any one's
body, damn any one's soul, and dispose of unborn generations with the
levity of a pagan god. We are putting the official on the throne while he
is still in the dock.

The mere meaning of words is now strangely forgotten and falsified; as
when people talk of an author's "message," without thinking whom it is
from; and I have noted in these connections the strange misuse of another
word. It is the excellent mediaeval word "charter." I remember the Act
that sought to save gutter-boys from cigarettes was called "The Children's
Charter." Similarly the Act which seeks to lock up as lunatics people who
are not lunatics was actually called a "charter" of the feeble-minded.
Now this terminology is insanely wrong, even if the Bills are right. Even
were they right in theory they would be applied only to the poor, like
many better rules about education and cruelty. A woman was lately
punished for cruelty because her children were not washed when it was
proved that she had no water. From that it will be an easy step in
Advanced Thought to punishing a man for wine-bibbing when it is proved
that he had no wine. Rifts in right reason widen down the ages. And
when we have begun by shutting up a confessedly kind person for cruelty,
we may yet come to shutting up Mr. Tom Mann for feeblemindedness.

But even if such laws do good to children or idiots, it is wrong to use
the word "charter." A charter does not mean a thing that does good to
people. It means a thing that grants people more rights and liberties.
It may be a good thing for gutter-boys to be deprived of their cigarettes:
it might be a good thing for aldermen to be deprived of their cigars.
But I think the Goldsmiths' Company would be very much surprised if the
King granted them a new charter (in place of their mediaeval charter), and
it only meant that policemen might pull the cigars out of their mouths.
It may be a good thing that all drunkards should be locked up: and many
acute statesmen (King John, for instance) would certainly have thought it
a good thing if all aristocrats could be locked up. But even that
somewhat cynical prince would scarcely have granted to the barons a thing
called "the Great Charter" and then locked them all up on the strength of
it. If he had, this interpretation of the word "charter" would have
struck the barons with considerable surprise. I doubt if their narrow
mediaeval minds could have taken it in.

The roots of the real England are in the early Middle Ages, and no
Englishman will ever understand his own language (or even his own
conscience) till he understands them. And he will never understand them
till he understands this word "charter." I will attempt in a moment to
state in older, more suitable terms, what a charter was. In modern,
practical, and political terms, it is quite easy to state what a charter
was. A charter was the thing that the railway workers wanted last
Christmas and did not get; and apparently will never get. It is called in
the current jargon "recognition"; the acknowledgment in so many words by
society of the immunities or freedoms of a certain set of men. If there
had been railways in the Middle Ages there would probably have been a
railwaymen's guild; and it would have had a charter from the King,
defining their rights. A charter is the expression of an idea still true
and then almost universal: that authority is necessary for nothing so much
as for the granting of liberties. Like everything mediaeval, it ramified
back to a root in religion; and was a sort of small copy of the Christian
idea of man's creation. Man was free, not because there was no God, but
because it needed a God to set him free. By authority he was free. By
authority the craftsmen of the guilds were free. Many other great
philosophers took and take the other view: the Lucretian pagans, the
Moslem fatalists, the modern monists and determinists, all roughly confine
themselves to saying that God gave man a law. The mediaeval Christian
insisted that God gave man a charter. Modern feeling may not sympathise
with its list of liberties, which included the liberty to be damned; but
that has nothing to do with the fact that it was a gift of liberties and
not of laws. This was mirrored, however dimly, in the whole system.
There was a great deal of gross inequality; and in other aspects absolute
equality was taken for granted. But the point is that equality and
inequality were ranks--or rights. There were not only things one was
forbidden to do; but things one was forbidden to forbid. A man was not
only definitely responsible, but definitely irresponsible. The holidays
of his soul were immovable feasts. All a charter really meant lingers
alive in that poetic phrase that calls the wind a "chartered" libertine.

Lie awake at night and hear the wind blowing; hear it knock at every man's
door and shout down every man's chimney. Feel how it takes liberties with
everything, having taken primary liberty for itself; feel that the wind is
always a vagabond and sometimes almost a housebreaker. But remember that
in the days when free men had charters, they held that the wind itself was
wild by authority; and was only free because it had a father.


The word content is not inspiring nowadays; rather it is irritating
because it is dull. It prepares the mind for a little sermon in the style
of the Vicar of Wakefield about how you and I should be satisfied with our
countrified innocence and our simple village sports. The word, however,
has two meanings, somewhat singularly connected; the "sweet content" of
the poet and the "cubic content" of the mathematician. Some distinguish
these by stressing the different syllables. Thus, it might happen to any
of us, at some social juncture, to remark gaily, "Of the content of the
King of the Cannibal Islands' Stewpot I am content to be ignorant"; or
"Not content with measuring the cubic content of my safe, you are stealing
the spoons." And there really is an analogy between the mathematical and
the moral use of the term, for lack of the observation of which the latter
has been much weakened and misused.

The preaching of contentment is in disrepute, well deserved in so far that
the moral is really quite inapplicable to the anarchy and insane peril of
our tall and toppling cities. Content suggests some kind of security; and
it is not strange that our workers should often think about rising above
their position, since they have so continually to think about sinking
below it. The philanthropist who urges the poor to saving and simple
pleasures deserves all the derision that he gets. To advise people to be
content with what they have got may or may not be sound moral philosophy.

But to urge people to be content with what they haven't got is a piece of
impudence hard for even the English poor to pardon. But though the creed
of content is unsuited to certain special riddles and wrongs, it remains
true for the normal of mortal life. We speak of divine discontent;
discontent may sometimes be a divine thing, but content must always be the
human thing. It may be true that a particular man, in his relation to
his master or his neighbour, to his country or his enemies, will do well
to be fiercely unsatisfied or thirsting for an angry justice. But it is
not true, no sane person can call it true, that man as a whole in his
general attitude towards the world, in his posture towards death or green
fields, towards the weather or the baby, will be wise to cultivate
dissatisfaction. In a broad estimate of our earthly experience, the great
truism on the tablet remains: he must not covet his neighbour's ox nor his
ass nor anything that is his. In highly complex and scientific
civilisations he may sometimes find himself forced into an exceptional
vigilance. But, then, in highly complex and scientific civilisations,
nine times out of ten, he only wants his own ass back.

But I wish to urge the case for cubic content; in which (even more than in
moral content) I take a personal interest. Now, moral content has been
undervalued and neglected because of its separation from the other meaning.
It has become a negative rather than a positive thing. In some accounts
of contentment it seems to be little more than a meek despair.

But this is not the true meaning of the term; it should stand for the idea
of a positive and thorough appreciation of the content of anything; for
feeling the substance and not merely the surface of experience.
"Content" ought to mean in English, as it does in French, being pleased;
placidly, perhaps, but still positively pleased. Being contented with
bread and cheese ought not to mean not caring what you eat. It ought to
mean caring for bread and cheese; handling and enjoying the cubic content
of the bread and cheese and adding it to your own. Being content with an
attic ought not to mean being unable to move from it and resigned to
living in it. It ought to mean appreciating what there is to appreciate
in such a position; such as the quaint and elvish slope of the ceiling or
the sublime aerial view of the opposite chimney-pots. And in this sense
contentment is a real and even an active virtue; it is not only
affirmative, but creative. The poet in the attic does not forget the
attic in poetic musings; he remembers whatever the attic has of poetry; he
realises how high, how starry, how cool, how unadorned and simple--in
short, how Attic is the attic.

True contentment is a thing as active as agriculture. It is the power of
getting out of any situation all that there is in it. It is arduous and
it is rare. The absence of this digestive talent is what makes so cold
and incredible the tales of so many people who say they have been
"through" things; when it is evident that they have come out on the other
side quite unchanged. A man might have gone "through" a plum pudding as a
bullet might go through a plum pudding; it depends on the size of the
pudding--and the man. But the awful and sacred question is "Has the
pudding been through him?" Has he tasted, appreciated, and absorbed the
solid pudding, with its three dimensions and its three thousand tastes and
smells? Can he offer himself to the eyes of men as one who has cubically
conquered and contained a pudding?

In the same way we may ask of those who profess to have passed through
trivial or tragic experiences whether they have absorbed the content of
them; whether they licked up such living water as there was. It is a
pertinent question in connection with many modern problems.

Thus the young genius says, "I have lived in my dreary and squalid village
before I found success in Paris or Vienna." The sound philosopher will
answer, "You have never lived in your village, or you would not call it
dreary and squalid."

Thus the Imperialist, the Colonial idealist (who commonly speaks and
always thinks with a Yankee accent) will say, "I've been right away from
these little muddy islands, and seen God's great seas and prairies." The
sound philosopher will reply, "You have never been in these islands; you
have never seen the weald of Sussex or the plain of Salisbury; otherwise
you could never have called them either muddy or little."

Thus the Suffragette will say, "I have passed through the paltry duties of
pots and pans, the drudgery of the vulgar kitchen; but I have come out to
intellectual liberty." The sound philosopher will answer, "You have never
passed through the kitchen, or you never would call it vulgar. Wiser and
stronger women than you have really seen a poetry in pots and pans;
naturally, because there is a poetry in them." It is right for the
village violinist to climb into fame in Paris or Vienna; it is right for
the stray Englishman to climb across the high shoulder of the world; it is
right for the woman to climb into whatever cathedrae or high places she
can allow to her sexual dignity. But it is wrong that any of these
climbers should kick the ladder by which they have climbed. But indeed
these bitter people who record their experiences really record their lack
of experiences. It is the countryman who has not succeeded in being a
countryman who comes up to London. It is the clerk who has not succeeded
in being a clerk who tries (on vegetarian principles) to be a countryman.
And the woman with a past is generally a woman angry about the past she
never had.

When you have really exhausted an experience you always reverence and love
it. The two things that nearly all of us have thoroughly and really been
through are childhood and youth. And though we would not have them back
again on any account, we feel that they are both beautiful, because we
have drunk them dry.


I have republished all these old articles of mine because they cover a
very controversial period, in which I was in nearly all the controversies,
whether I was visible there or no. And I wish to gather up into this last
article a valedictory violence about all such things; and then pass to
where, beyond these voices, there is peace--or in other words, to the
writing of Penny Dreadfuls; a noble and much-needed work. But before I
finally desert the illusions of rationalism for the actualities of romance,
I should very much like to write one last roaring, raging book telling
all the rationalists not to be so utterly irrational. The book would be
simply a string of violent vetoes, like the Ten Commandments. I would
call it "Don'ts for Dogmatists; or Things I am Tired Of."

This book of intellectual etiquette, like most books of etiquette, would
begin with superficial things; but there would be, I fancy, a wailing
imprecation in the words that could not be called artificial; it might
begin thus:-(1) Don't use a noun and then an adjective that crosses out
the noun. An adjective qualifies, it cannot contradict. Don't say, "Give
me a patriotism that is free from all boundaries." It is like saying,
"Give me a pork pie with no pork in it." Don't say, "I look forward to
that larger religion that shall have no special dogmas." It is like
saying, "I look forward to that larger quadruped who shall have no feet."
A quadruped means something with four feet; and a religion means something
that commits a man to some doctrine about the universe. Don't let the
meek substantive be absolutely murdered by the joyful, exuberant adjective.

(2) Don't say you are not going to say a thing, and then say it. This
practice is very flourishing and successful with public speakers. The
trick consists of first repudiating a certain view in unfavourable terms,
and then repeating the same view in favourable terms. Perhaps the
simplest form of it may be found in a landlord of my neighbourhood, who
said to his tenants in an election speech, "Of course I'm not going to
threaten you, but if this Budget passes the rents will go up." The thing
can be done in many forms besides this. "I am the last man to mention
party politics; but when I see the Empire rent in pieces by irresponsible
Radicals," etc. "In this hall we welcome all creeds. We have no hostility
against any honest belief; but only against that black priestcraft and
superstition which can accept such a doctrine as," etc. "I would not say
one word that could ruffle our relations with Germany. But this I will
say; that when I see ceaseless and unscrupulous armament," etc. "Please
don't do it. Decide to make a remark or not to make a remark. But don't
fancy that you have somehow softened the saying of a thing by having just
promised not to say it.

(3) Don't use secondary words as primary words. "Happiness" (let us say)
is a primary word. You know when you have the thing, and you jolly well
know when you haven't. "Progress" is a secondary word; it means the
degree of one's approach to happiness, or to some such solid ideal. But
modern controversies constantly turn on asking, "Does Happiness help
Progress?" Thus, I see in the New Age this week a letter from Mr.
Egerton Swann, in which he warns the world against me and my friend Mr.
Belloc, on the ground that our democracy is "spasmodic" (whatever that
means); while our "reactionism is settled and permanent." It never
strikes Mr. Swann that democracy means something in itself; while
"reactionism" means nothing--except in connection with democracy. You
cannot react except from something. If Mr. Swann thinks I have ever
reacted from the doctrine that the people should rule, I wish he would
give me the reference.

(4) Don't say, "There is no true creed; for each creed believes itself
right and the others wrong." Probably one of the creeds is right and the
others are wrong. Diversity does show that most of the views must be
wrong. It does not by the faintest logic show that they all must be wrong.
I suppose there is no subject on which opinions differ with more
desperate sincerity than about which horse will win the Derby. These are
certainly solemn convictions; men risk ruin for them. The man who puts
his shirt on Potosi must believe in that animal, and each of the other men
putting their last garments upon other quadrupeds must believe in them
quite as sincerely. They are all serious, and most of them are wrong.
But one of them is right. One of the faiths is justified; one of the
horses does win; not always even the dark horse which might stand for
Agnosticism, but often the obvious and popular horse of Orthodoxy.
Democracy has its occasional victories; and even the Favourite has been
known to come in first. But the point here is that something comes in
first. That there were many beliefs does not destroy the fact that there
was one well-founded belief. I believe (merely upon authority) that the
world is round. That there may be tribes who believe it to be triangular
or oblong does not alter the fact that it is certainly some shape, and
therefore not any other shape. Therefore I repeat, with the wail of
imprecation, don't say that the variety of creeds prevents you from
accepting any creed. It is an unintelligent remark.

(5) Don't (if any one calls your doctrine mad, which is likely enough),
don't answer that madmen are only the minority and the sane only the
majority. The sane are sane because they are the corporate substance of
mankind; the insane are not a minority because they are not a mob. The
man who thinks himself a man thinks the next man a man; he reckons his
neighbour as himself. But the man who thinks he is a chicken does not try
to look through the man who thinks he is glass. The man who thinks
himself Jesus Christ does not quarrel with the man who thinks himself
Rockefeller; as would certainly happen if the two had ever met. But
madmen never meet. It is the only thing they cannot do. They can talk,
they can inspire, they can fight, they can found religions; but they
cannot meet. Maniacs can never be the majority; for the simple reason
that they can never be even a minority. If two madmen had ever agreed
they might have conquered the world.

(6) Don't say that the idea of human equality is absurd, because some men
are tall and some short, some clever and some stupid. At the height of
the French Revolution it was noticed that Danton was tall and Murat short.
In the wildest popular excitement of America it is known that
Rockefeller is stupid and that Bryan is clever. The doctrine of human
equality reposes upon this: That there is no man really clever who has not
found that he is stupid. That there is no big man who has not felt small.
Some men never feel small; but these are the few men who are.

(7) Don't say (O don't say) that Primitive Man knocked down a woman with a
club and carried her away. Why on earth should he? Does the male sparrow
knock down the female sparrow with a twig? Does the male giraffe knock
down the female giraffe with a palm tree? Why should the male have had to
use any violence at any time in order to make the female a female? Why
should the woman roll herself in the mire lower than the sow or the
she-bear; and profess to have been a slave where all these creatures were
creators; where all these beasts were gods? Do not talk such bosh. I
implore you, I supplicate you not to talk such bosh. Utterly and
absolutely abolish all such bosh--and we may yet begin to discuss these
public questions properly. But I fear my list of protests grows too long;
and I know it could grow longer for ever. The reader must forgive my
elongations and elaborations. I fancied for the moment that I was writing
a book.


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