Essays in Rebellion
Henry W. Nevinson

Part 1 out of 6

Produced by Garrett Alley and PG Distributed Proofreaders





NEIGHBOURS OF OURS: Scenes of East End Life.

IN THE VALLEY OF TOPHET: Scenes of Black Country Life.

THE THIRTY DAYS' WAR: Scenes in the Greek and Turkish War of 1897.

LADYSMITH: a Diary of the Siege.

Pictures of Greece.


BETWEEN THE ACTS: Scenes in the Author's Experience.

Hallam Murray's Pictures.

BOOKS AND PERSONALITIES: a volume of Criticism.

A MODERN SLAVERY: an Investigation of the Slave System in Angola
and the Islands of San Thome and Principe.

THE DAWN IN RUSSIA: Scenes in the Revolution of 1905-1906.

THE NEW SPIRIT IN INDIA: Scenes during the Unrest of 1907-1908.


THE GROWTH OF FREEDOM: a Summary of the History of Democracy.

[Illustration: HENRY W. NEVINSON]









_First published in_ 1913


When writers are so different, it is queer that every age should have a
distinguishing spirit. Each writer is as different in "style" as in
look, and his words reveal him just as the body reveals the soul,
blazoning its past or its future without possibility of concealment.
Paint a face, no matter how delicately or how thick; the very paint--the
very choice of colours red or white--betrays the nature lurking beneath
it, and no amount of artifice or imitation in a writer can obscure the
secret of self. Artifice and imitation reveal the finikin or uncertain
soul as surely as deliberate bareness reveals a conscious austerity.
Except, perhaps, in mathematics, there seems no escape from this
revelation. I am told that even in the "exact sciences" there is no
escape; even in physics the exposition is a matter of imagination, of
personality, of "style."

Next to mathematics and the exact sciences, I suppose, Bluebooks and
leading articles are taken as representing truth in the most absolute
and impersonal manner. We appeal to Bluebooks as confidently as to
astronomers, assuming that their statements will be impersonally true,
just as the curve of a comet will be the same for the Opposition as for
the Government, for Anarchists as for Fabians. Yet what a difference may
be detected in Bluebooks on the selfsame subject, and what an exciting
hide-and-seek for souls we may there enjoy! Behind one we catch sight of
the cautiously official mind, obsequious to established power,
observant of accepted fictions, contemptuous of zeal, apprehensive of
trouble, solicitous for the path of least resistance. Behind another we
feel the stirring spirit that no promotion will subdue, pitiless to
abomination, untouched by smooth excuses, regardless of official
sensibilities, and untamed to comfortable routine, which, in his case,
will probably be short.

Or take the leading article: hardly any form of words would appear less
personal. It is the abstract product of what the editor wants, what the
proprietor wants, what the Party wants, and what the readers want, just
flavoured sometimes with the very smallest suspicion of what the writer
wants. And yet, in leaders upon the same subject and in the same paper,
what a difference, again! Peruse leaders for a week, and in the week
following, with as much certainty as if you saw the animals emerging
from the Ark, you will be able to say, "Here comes the laboured Ox, here
the Wild Ass prances, here trips the Antelope with fairy footfall, here
the Dromedary froths beneath his hump; there soars the Crested Screamer,
there bolts the circuitous Hare, there old Behemoth wallows in the ooze,
and there the swivel-eyed Chameleon clings along the fence."

If even the writers of Bluebooks and leading articles are thus as
distinguishable as the animals which Noah had no difficulty in sorting
into couples, such writers as poets, essayists, and novelists, who have
no limit imposed upon their distinction, are likely to be still more
distinct. Indeed, we find it so, for their work needs no signature,
since the "style"--their way of looking at things--reveals it. And yet,
though it is only the sum of all these separate personalities so
diverse and distinct, each age or generation possesses a certain
"style" of its own, unconsciously revealing a kind of general
personality. Everyone knows it is as unnecessary to date a book as a
church or a candlestick, since church and candlestick and book always
bear the date written on the face. The literature of the last three or
four generations, for instance, has been distinguished by Rebellion as a
"style." Rebellion has been the characteristic expression of its most
vital self.

It has been an age of rebels in letters as in life. Of course,
acquiescent writers have existed as well, just as in the Ark (to keep up
the illustration) vegetarians stood side by side with carnivors, and
hoofs were intermixed with claws. The great majority have, as usual,
supported traditional order, have eulogised the past or present, and
been, not only at ease in their generation, but enraptured at the vision
of its beneficent prosperity. Such were the writers and orators whom
their contemporaries hailed as the distinctive spokesmen of a happy and
glorious time, leaping and bounding with income and population. But, on
looking back, we see their contemporaries were entirely mistaken. The
people of vital power and prolonged, far-reaching influence--the
"dynamic" people--have been the rebels. Wordsworth (it may seem strange
to include that venerable figure among rebels, but so long as he was
more poetic than venerable he stood in perpetual rebellion against the
motives, pursuits, and satisfactions of his time)--Wordsworth till he
was forty-five, Byron all his short life, Newman, Carlyle, Dickens,
Matthew Arnold, Ruskin--among English writers those have proved
themselves the dynamic people. There are many others, and many later;
but we need recall only these few great names, far enough distant to be
clearly visible. It was they who moved the country, shaking its torpor
like successive earthquakes. Risen against the conceit of riches, and
the hypocrisies of Society, against unimpassioned and unimaginative
religion, against ignoble success and the complacent economics that
hewed mankind into statistics to fit their abstractions--one and all, in
spite of their variety or mutual hostility, they were rebels, and their
personality expressed itself in rebellion. That was the common
characteristic of their "style."

In other parts of Europe, from _Faust_, which opened the nineteenth
century, onward through _Les Miserables_ to _The Doll's House_ and
_Resurrection_, it was the same. As, in political action, Russia hardly
ceased to rebel, France freed herself three times, Ireland gave us the
line of rebels from Robert Emmet to Michael Davitt, and all rebellion
culminated in Garibaldi, so the most vital spirits in every literature
of Europe were rebels. Perhaps it is so in all the greatest periods of
word and deed. For examples, one could point rapidly to Euripides,
Dante, Rabelais, Milton, Swift, Rousseau--men who have few attributes in
common except greatness and rebellion. But, to limit ourselves to the
familiar period of the last three or four generations, the words,
thoughts, and actions most pregnant with dynamic energy have been marked
with one mark. Rebellion has been the expression of a century's

Of course, it is very lamentable. _Otium divos_--the rebel, like the
storm-swept sailor, cries to heaven for tranquillity. It is not the
hardened warrior, but only the elegant writer who, having never seen
bloodshed, clamours to shed blood. All rebels long for a peace in which
it would be possible to acquiesce, while they cultivated their minds and
their gardens, employing the shining hour upon industry and intellectual
pursuits. "I can say in the presence of God," cried Cromwell, in the
last of his speeches, "I can say in the presence of God, in comparison
with whom we are but poor creeping ants upon the earth,--I would have
been glad to have lived under my woodside, to have kept a flock of
sheep, rather than undertaken such a Government as this." Every rebel is
a Quietist at heart, seeking peace and ensuing it, willing to let the
stream of time glide past without his stir, dreading the onset of
indignation's claws, stopping his ears to the trumpet-call of action,
and always tempted to leave vengeance to Him who has promised to repay.
If reason alone were his guide, undisturbed by rage he would enjoy such
pleasure as he could clutch, or sit like a Fakir in blissful isolation,
contemplating the aspect of eternity under which the difference between
a mouse and a man becomes imperceptible. But the age has grown a skin
too sensitive for such happiness. "For myself," said Goethe, in a
passage I quote again later in this book, "For myself, I am happy
enough. Joy comes streaming in upon me from every side. Only, for
others, I am not happy." So it is that the Hound of another's Hell gives
us no rest, and we are pursued by Furies not our own.

In spite of the longing for tranquillity, then, we cannot confidently
hope that rebellion will be less the characteristic of the present
generation than of the past. It is true, we are told that, in this
country at all events, the necessity for active and political rebellion
is past. However much a man may detest the Government, he is now, in a
sense, governed with his own consent, since he is free to persuade his
fellow-citizens that the Government is detestable, and, as far as his
vote goes, to dismiss his paid servants in the Ministry and to appoint
others. Such securities for freedom are thought to have made active and
political rebellion obsolete. This appears to be proved even by the
increasingly rebellious movement among women, as unenfranchised people,
excluded from citizenship and governed without consent. For women are in
rebellion only because they possess none of those securities, and the
moment that the securities are ensured them, their rebellion ceases. It
has only arisen because they are compelled to pay for the upkeep of the
State (including the upkeep of the statesmen) and to obey laws which
interfere increasingly more and more with their daily life, while they
are allowed no voice in the expenditure or the legislation. Whence have
originated, not only tangible and obvious hardships, but those feelings
of degradation, as of beings excluded from privileges owing to some
inferiority supposed inherent--those feelings of subjection, impotence,
and degradation which, more even than actual hardships, kindle the
spirit to the white-hot point of rebellion.

This democratic rising against a masculine oligarchy ceases when the
cause is removed, and the cause is simple. Similarly, the revolts of
nationalism against Imperial power, though the motives are more
complicated, usually cease at the concession of self-government. But
even if these political and fairly simple motives to rebellion are
likely soon to become obsolete in our country and Empire, other and
vaguer rebellious forms, neither nationalist nor directly political,
appear to stand close in front of us, and no one is yet sure what line
of action they will follow. Their line of action is still obscure,
though both England and Europe have felt the touch of general or
sympathetic strikes, and of "sabotage," or wilful destruction of
property rather than life--the method advocated by Syndicalists and
Suffragettes to rouse the sleepy world from indifference to their
wrongs. In this collection of essays, contributed during the last year
or two, as occasion arose, to the _Nation_ and other periodicals, I have
included some descriptions of the causes likely to incite people to
rebellion of this kind. Such causes, I mean, as the inequality that
comes from poverty alone--the physical unfitness or lack of mental
opportunity that is due only to poverty. Those things make happiness
impossible, for they frustrate the active exercise of vital powers, and
give life no scope. During a generation or so, people have looked to the
Government to mitigate the oppression of poverty, but some different
appeal now seems probable. For many despair of the goodwill or the power
of the State, finding little in it but hurried politicians, inhuman
officials, and the "experts" who docket and label the poor for
"institutional treatment," with results shown in my example of a
workhouse school.

The troubling and persistent alarum of rebellion calls from many sides,
and as instances of its call I have introduced mention of various
rebels, whether against authority or custom. I have once or twice
ventured also into those twilit regions where the spirit itself stands
rebellious against its limits, and questions even the ultimate insane
triumph of flesh and circumstance, closing its short-lived interlude.
The rebellion may appear to be vain, but when we consider the primitive
elements of life from which our paragon of animals has ascended, the
mere attempt at rebellion is more astonishing than the greatest recorded
miracle, and since man has grown to think that he possesses a soul,
there is no knowing what he may come to.

I have added a few other scenes from old times and new, just for
variety, or just to remind ourselves that, in the midst of all chaos and
perturbation and rage, it is possible for the world to go upon its way,
preserving, in spite of all, its most excellent gift of sanity.


LONDON, _Easter_, 1913.






Before the hustling days of ice and of "cutters" rushing to and fro
between Billingsgate and our fleets of steam-trawlers on the Dogger
Bank, most sailing trawlers and long-line fishing-boats were built with
a large tank in their holds, through which the sea flowed freely. Dutch
eel-boats are built so still, and along the quays of Amsterdam and
Copenhagen you may see such tanks in fishing-boats of almost every kind.
Our East Coast fishermen kept them chiefly for cod. They hoped thus to
bring the fish fresh and good to market, for, unless they were
overcrowded, the cod lived quite as contentedly in the tanks as in the
open sea. But in one respect the fishermen were disappointed. They found
that the fish arrived slack, flabby, and limp, though well fed and in
apparent health.

Perplexity reigned (for the value of the catch was much diminished)
until some fisherman of genius conjectured that the cod lived only too
contentedly in those tanks, and suffered from the atrophy of calm. The
cod is by nature a lethargic, torpid, and plethoric creature, prone to
inactivity, content to lie in comfort, swallowing all that comes, with
cavernous mouth wide open, big enough to gulp its own body down if that
could be. In the tanks the cod rotted at ease, rapidly deteriorating in
their flesh. So, as a stimulating corrective, that genius among
fishermen inserted one catfish into each of his tanks, and found that
his cod came to market firm, brisk, and wholesome. Which result remained
a mystery until his death, when the secret was published and a strange
demand for catfish arose. For the catfish is the demon of the deep, and
keeps things lively.

This irritating but salutary stimulant in the tank (to say nothing of
the myriad catfishes in the depths of ocean!) has often reminded me of
what the Lord says to Mephistopheles in the Prologue to _Faust_. After
observing that, of all the spirits that deny, He finds a knave the least
of a bore, the Lord proceeds:

"Des Menschen Thaetigkeit kann allzuleicht erschlaffen,
Er liebt sich bald die unbedingte Ruh;
Drum geb' ich ihm gern den Gesellen zu,
Der reizt und wirkt und muss als Teufel, schaffen."

Is not the parallel remarkable? Man's activity, like the cod's, turns
too readily to slumber; he is much too fond of unconditioned ease; and
so the Lord gives him a comrade like a catfish, to stimulate, rouse, and
drive to creation, as a devil may. There sprawls man, by nature
lethargic and torpid as a cod, prone to inactivity, content to lie in
comfort swallowing all that comes, with wide-open mouth, big enough to
gulp himself down, if that could be. There he sprawls, rotting at ease,
and rapidly deteriorating in body and soul, till one little demon of the
spiritual deep is inserted into his surroundings, and makes him firm,
brisk, and wholesome in a trice--"in half a jiffy," as people used to

"Der reizt und wirkt"--the words necessarily recall a much older parable
than the catfish--the parable of the little leaven inserted in a piece
of dough until it leavens the whole lump by its "working," as cooks and
bakers know. Goethe may have been thinking of that. Leaven is a sour,
almost poisonous kind of stuff, working as though by magic, moving in a
mysterious way, causing the solid and impracticable dough to upheave, to
rise, expand, bubble, swell, and spout like a volcano. To all races
there has been something devilish, or at least demonic, in the action of
leaven. It is true that in the ancient parable the comparison lay
between leaven and the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven was like
a little leaven that leavens the whole lump, and Goethe says that
Mephisto, one of the Princes of Evil, also works like that. But whether
we call the leaven a good or evil thing makes little difference. The
effect of its mysterious powers of movement and upheaval is in the end
salutary. It works upon the lump just as the catfish, that demon of the
deep, preserves the lumpish cod from the apathy and degeneration of
comfort, and as Mephisto, that demon of the world, acts upon the
lethargy of mankind working within him, stimulating, driving to
production as a devil may.

"A society needs to have a ferment in it," said Professor Sumner of
Yale, in his published essays. Sometimes, he said, the ferment takes the
form of an enthusiastic delusion or an adventurous folly; sometimes
merely of economic opportunity and hope of luxury; in other ages
frequently of war. And, indeed, it was of war that he was writing,
though himself a pacific man, and in all respects a thinker of
obstinate caution. A society needs to have a ferment in it--a leaven, a
catfish, a Mephisto, the queer, unpleasant, disturbing touch of the
kingdom of heaven. Take any period of calm and rest in the life of the
world or the history of the arts. Take that period which great
historians have agreed to praise as the happiest of human ages--the age
of the Antonines. How benign and unruffled it was! What bland and
leisurely culture could be enjoyed in exquisite villas beside the
Mediterranean, or in flourishing municipalities along the Rhone! Many a
cultivated and comfortable man must have wished that reasonable peace to
last for ever. The civilised world was bathed in the element of calm,
the element of gentle acquiescence. All looked so quiet, so
imperturbable; and yet all the time the little catfish of Christianity
(or the little leaven, if you will) was at its work, irritating,
disturbing, stimulating with salutary energy to upheaval, to rebellion,
to the soul's activity that saves from bland and reasonable despair.
Like a fisherman over-anxious for the peace of the cod in his tank, the
philosophic Emperor tried to stamp the catfish down, and hoped to
preserve a philosophic quietude by the martyrdom of Christians in those
flourishing municipalities on the Rhone. Of course he failed, as even
the most humane and philosophic persecutors usually fail, but had he
succeeded, would not the soul of Europe have degenerated into a
flabbiness, lethargy, and desperate peace?

Take history where you will, when a new driving force enters the world,
it is a nuisance, a disturbing upheaval, a troubling agitation, a
plaguey fish. Think how the tiresome Reformation disturbed the artists
of Italy and Renaissance scholars; or how Cromwell disgusted the
half-way moderates, how the Revolution jogged the sentimental theorists
of France, how Kant shattered the Supreme Being of the Deists, and Byron
set the conventions of art and life tottering aghast. Take it where you
will, the approach of the soul's catfish is watched with apprehension
and violent dislike, all the more because it saves from torpor. It saves
from what Hamlet calls--

"That monster, custom, who all sense doth eat--
Of habits devil."

In the Futurist exhibition held in Sackville Street in 1912, one of the
most notable pictures was called "Rebellion." The catalogue told us that
it represented "the collision of two forces, that of the revolutionary
element made up of enthusiasm and red lyricism against the force of
inertia and the reactionary resistance of tradition." The picture showed
a crowd of scarlet figures rushing forward in a wedge. Before them went
successive wedge-shaped lines, impinging upon dull blue. They
represented, we were told, the vibratory waves of the revolutionary
element in motion. The force of inertia and the reactionary resistance
of tradition were pictured as rows on rows of commonplace streets. The
waves of the revolutionary element had knocked them all askew. Though
they still stood firmly side by side to all appearance (to keep up
appearances, as we say) they were all knocked aslant, "just as a boxer
is bent double by receiving a blow in the wind."

We may be sure that inertia in all its monotonous streets does not like
such treatment. It likes it no more than the plethoric cod likes the
catfish close behind its tail. And it is no consolation either to
inertia or cod to say that this disturbing element serves an ultimate
good, rendering it alert, firm, and wholesome of flesh. However
salutary, the catfish is far from popular among the placid residents of
the tank, and it is fortunate that neither in tanks nor streets can the
advisability of catfish or change be submitted to the referendum of the
inert. In neither case would the necessary steps for advance in health
and activity be adopted. To be sure, it is just possible to overdo the
number of catfish in one tank. At present in this country, for instance,
and, indeed, in the whole world, there seem to be more catfish than cod,
and the resulting liveliness is perhaps a little excessive, a little
"jumpy." But in the midst of all the violence, turmoil, and upheaval, it
is hopeful to remember that of the deepest and most salutary change
which Europe has known it was divinely foretold that it would bring not
peace but a sword.



For certain crimes mankind has ordained penalties of exceptional
severity, in order to emphasise a general abhorrence. In Rome, for
example, a parricide, or the murderer of any near relation, was thrown
into deep water, tied up in a sack together with a dog, a cock, a viper,
and a monkey, which were probably symbols of his wickedness, and must
have given him a lively time before death supervened. Similarly, the
English law, always so careful of domestic sanctitude in women, provided
that a wife who killed her husband should be dragged by a horse to the
place of execution and burnt alive. We need not recall the penalties
considered most suitable for the crime of religious difference--the
rack, the fire, the boiling oil, the tearing pincers, the embrace of the
spiky virgin, the sharpened edge of stone on which the doubter sat, with
increasing weights tied to his feet, until his opinions upon heavenly
mysteries should improve under the stress of pain. When we come to
rebellion, the ordinance of English law was more express. In the case of
a woman, the penalty was the same as for killing her husband--that crime
being defined as "petty treason," since the husband is to her the sacred
emblem of God and King. So a woman rebel was burnt alive as she stood,
head, quarters, and all. But male rebels were specially treated, as may
be seen from the sentence passed upon them until the reign of George
III.[1] These were the words that Judge Jeffreys and Scroggs, for
instance, used to roll out with enjoyable eloquence upon the dazed
agricultural labourer before them:

"The sentence of the Court now is that you be conveyed
from hence to the place from where you came, and from there
be drawn to the place of execution upon hurdles; that you be
hanged by the neck; that you be cut down alive; that your
bowels be taken out and burnt in your view; that your head
be severed from your body; that your body be divided into
four quarters, and your quarters be at the disposition of the
King: and may the God of infinite mercy be merciful to your
soul. Amen."

"Why all this cookery?" once asked a Scottish rebel, quoted by Swift.
But the sentence, with its confiding appeal to a higher Court than
England's, was literally carried out upon rebels in this country for at
least four and a half centuries. Every detail of it (and one still more
disgusting) is recorded in the execution of Sir William Wallace, the
national hero of Scotland, more generally known to the English of the
time as "the man of Belial," who was executed at Tyburn in 1305.[2] The
rebels of 1745 were, apparently, the last upon whom the full ritual was
performed, and Elizabeth Gaunt, burnt alive at Tyburn in 1685 for
sheltering a conspirator in the Rye House Plot, was the last woman up to
now intentionally put to death in this country for a purely political
offence. The long continuance of so savage a sentence is proof of the
abhorrence in which the crime of rebellion has been held. And in many
minds the abhorrence still subsists. Sir James Fitzjames Stephen, for
instance, one of our greatest authorities on criminal law, wrote in

"My opinion is that we have gone too far in laying capital
punishment aside, and that it ought to be inflicted in many
cases not at present capital. I think, for instance, that political
offences should in some cases be punished with death. People
should be made to understand that to attack the existing state
of society is equivalent to risking their own lives."[3]

Among ourselves the opinion of this high authority has slowly declined.
No one supposed that Doctor Lynch, for instance, would be executed as a
rebel for commanding the Irish Brigade that fought for the Boers during
the South African War, though he was condemned to death by the highest
Court in the kingdom. No Irish rebel has been executed for about a
century, unless his offence involved some one's death. On the other
hand, during the Boer War, the devastation of the country and the
destruction of the farms were frequently defended on the ground that,
after the Queen's proclamations annexing the two Republics, all the
inhabitants were rebels; and some of the extreme newspapers even urged
that for that reason no Boer with arms in his hand should be given
quarter. On the strength of a passage in Scripture, Mr. Kipling, at the
time, wrote a pamphlet identifying rebellion with witchcraft. A few Cape
Boers who took up arms for the assistance of their race were shot
without benefit of prisoners of war. And in India during 1907 and 1908
men of unblemished private character were spirited away to jail without
charge or trial and kept there for months--a fate that could not have
befallen any but political prisoners.

Outside our own Empire, I have myself witnessed the suppression of
rebellions in Crete and Macedonia by the destruction of villages, the
massacre of men, women, and children, and the violation of women and
girls, many of whom disappeared into Turkish harems. And I have
witnessed similar suppressions of rebellion by Russia in Moscow, in the
Baltic Provinces, and the Caucasus, by the burning of villages, the
slaughter of prisoners, and the violation of women. All this has
happened within the last sixteen years, the worst part within nine and a
half. Indeed, in Russia the punishments of exile, torture, and hanging
have not ceased since 1905, though the death penalty has been long
abolished there except for political offences. In the summer of 1909 I
was also present during the suppression of the outbreak in Barcelona,
which culminated in the execution of Senor Ferrer under a military

From these recent events it is evident that Sir James Stephen's
attitude towards rebellion is shared by many civilised governments.
Belligerents--that is to say, subjects of one State engaged in war with
another State--have now nominally secured certain rights under
International Law. The first Hague Conference (1899) framed a
"Convention with respect to the Laws and Customs of Wars on Land" which
forbade the torture or cruel treatment of prisoners, the refusal of
quarter, the destruction of private property, unless such destruction
were imperatively demanded by the necessities of war, the pillage of
towns taken by assault, disrespect to religion and family honour
(including, I suppose, the honour of women and girls), and the
infliction of penalties on the population owing to the acts of
individuals for which it could not be regarded as collectively

In actual war this Convention is not invariably observed, as was seen at
Tripoli in 1911, but in the case of rebellion there is no such
Convention at all. I have known all those regulations broken with
impunity, and in most cases without protest from the other Powers. Just
as, under the old law of England, the rebel was executed with
circumstances of special atrocity, so at the present time, under the
name of crushing rebellion, men are tortured and flogged, no quarter is
given, they are executed without trial, their private property is
pillaged, their towns and villages are destroyed, their women violated,
their children killed, penalties are imposed on districts owing to acts
for which the population is not collectively responsible--and nothing
said. That each Power is allowed to deal with its own subjects in its
own way is becoming an accepted rule of international amenity. It was
not the rule of Cromwell, nor of Canning, nor of Gladstone, but it has
now been consecrated by the Liberal Government which came into power in

In the summer of 1909, it is true, the rule was broken. Mulai Hafid,
Sultan of Morocco, was reported to be torturing his rebel prisoners
according to ancestral custom, and rumours came that he had followed a
French king's example in keeping the rebel leader, El Roghi, in a cage
like a tame eagle, or had thrown him to the lions to be torn in pieces
before the eyes of the royal concubines. Then the European Powers
combined to protest in the name of humanity. It was something gained.
But no great courage was required to rebuke the Sultan of Morocco, if
England, France, Germany, Russia, Italy, and Spain combined to do it;
and his country was so desirable for its minerals, barley, and dates
that a little courage in dealing with him might even prove lucrative in
the end. When Russia treated her rebellious subjects with tortures and
executions more horrible than anything reported from Morocco, the case
was very different. Then alliances and understandings were confirmed,
substantial loans were arranged in France and England, Kings and
Emperors visited the Tsar, and the cannon of our fleet welcomed him to
our waters amid the applause of our newspapers and the congratulations
of a Liberal Government.

It is evident, then, that, in Sir James Stephen's words, subjects are in
most countries still made to understand that to attack the existing
state of society is equivalent to risking their own lives. Under our own
rule, no matter what statesmen like Gladstone and John Morley have in
past years urged in favour of the mitigation of penalties for political
offences, such offences are, as a matter of fact, punished with special
severity; unless, of course, the culprit is intimately connected with
great riches, like Dr. Jameson, who was imprisoned as a first-class
misdemeanant for the incalculable crime of making private war upon
another State; or unless the culprit is intimately connected with votes,
like Mr. Ginnell, the Irish cattle-driver, who was treated with similar
politeness. Otherwise, until quite lately, even in this country we
executed a political criminal with unusual pain. In India we recently
kept political suspects imprisoned without charge or trial. And in
England we have lately sentenced women to terms of imprisonment that
certainly would never have been imposed for their offences on any but
political offenders.

This exceptional severity springs from a primitive and natural
conception of the State--a conception most logically expressed by
Hobbes of Malmesbury under the similitude of a "mortal God" or
Leviathan, the almost omnipotent and unlimited source of authority.

"The Covenant of the State," says Hobbes, "is made in such
a manner as if every man should say to every man: 'I authorise
and give up my right of governing myself to this man, or to
this assembly of men, on this condition, that thou give up thy
right to him and authorise all his actions in like manner.' This
done, the multitude so united is called a Commonwealth, in
Latin Civitas. This is the generation of that great Leviathan,
that mortal God, to whom we owe, under the immortal God,
our peace and defence."

Hobbes considered the object of this Covenant to be peace and common
defence. "Without a State," he said, "the life of man is solitary, poor,
nasty, brutish, and short." The preservation of the State was to him of
transcendent importance.

"Loss of liberty," he wrote, "is really no inconvenience, for
it is the only means by which we have any possibility of preserving
ourselves. For if every man were allowed the liberty
of following his own conscience, in such differences of consciences,
they would not live together in peace an hour."

Under such a system, it follows that rebellion is the worst of crimes.
Hobbes calls it a war renewed--a renouncing of the Covenant. He was so
terrified of it that he dwelt upon the danger of reading Greek and Roman
history (probably having Plutarch and his praise of rebels most in
mind)--"which venom," he says, "I will not doubt to compare to the
biting of a mad dog." In all leaders of rebellion he found only three
conditions--to be discontented with their own lot, to be eloquent
speakers, and to be men of mean judgment and capacity _(De Corpore
Politico_, II.). And as to punishment:

"On rebels," he said, "vengeance is lawfully extended, not
only to the fathers, but also to the third and fourth generations
not yet in being, and consequently innocent of the fact for
which they are afflicted."

We may take Hobbes as the philosopher of the extreme idea of the State
and the consequent iniquity of rebellion. His is the ideal of the Hive,
in which the virgin workers devote their whole lives without complaint
to the service of the Queen and her State-supported grubs, while the
drones are mercilessly slaughtered as soon as one of them has fulfilled
his rapturous but suicidal functions for the future swarm. This ideal
found its highest human example in the Spartan State, which trained its
men to have no private existence at all, and even to visit their own
wives by stealth. But we find the ideal present in some degree among
Central Africans when they bury valuable slaves and women alive with
their chief; and among the Japanese when mothers kill themselves if
their sons are prevented from dying for their country; and among the
Germans when the drill-sergeant shouts his word of command.

In fact, all races and countries are disciples of Hobbes when they
address the Head of the State as "Your Majesty" or "Your Excellence,"
when they decorate him with fur and feathers, and put a gold hat on his
head and a gold walking-stick in his hand, and gird him with a sword
that he never uses, and play him the same tune wherever he goes, and
spread his platform with crimson though it is clean, and bow before him
though he is dishonourable, and call him gracious though he is
nasty-tempered, and august though he may be a fool. In the first
instance, we go through all this make-believe because the Leviathan of
the State is necessary for peace and self-defence, and without it our
life would be solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. But we further
endow the State with a personality we can almost see and handle, and we
regard it as something that is able not only to protect our peace but to
shed a reflected splendour on ourselves, giving us an importance not our
own--just as schoolboys glory in their school, or Churchmen in their
Church, or cricketers in their county, or fox-hunters in their pack of

It is this conception that makes rebellion so rare and so dangerous. In
hives it seems never to occur. In rookeries, the rebels are pecked to
death and their homes torn in pieces. In human communities we have seen
how they are treated. Rebellion is the one crime for which there is no
forgiveness--the one crime for which hanging is too good.

Why is it, then, that all the world loves a rebel? Provided he is
distant enough in time and space, all the world loves a rebel. Who are
the figures in history round whom the people's imagination has woven the
fondest dreams? Are they not such rebels as Deborah and Judith[4] and
Joan of Arc; as Harmodius and Aristogeiton, the Gracchi and Brutus,
William Tell, William Wallace, Simon de Montfort, Rienzi, Wat Tyler,
Jack Cade, Shan O'Neill, William the Silent, John Hampden and Pym, the
Highlanders of the Forty-five, Robert Emmet and Wolf Tone and Parnell,
Bolivar, John Brown of Harper's Ferry, Kossuth, Mazzini and Garibaldi,
Danton, Victor Hugo, and the Russian revolutionists? These are haphazard
figures of various magnitude, but all have the quality of rebellion in
common, and all have been honoured with affectionate glory, romance, and
even a mythology of worship.

So, too, the most attractive periods in history have been times of
rebellion--the Reformation in Germany, the Revolt of the Netherlands
from Spain, the Civil Wars in England, the War of Independence in
America, the prolonged revolution in Russia. Within the last hundred
years alone, how numerous the rebellions have been, as a rule how
successful, and in every case how much applauded, except by the dominant
authority attacked! We need only recall the French revolutions of 1832,
1848, and 1870 to 1871, including the Commune; the Greek War of
Independence up to 1829; the Polish insurrections of 1830, 1863, and
1905; the liberation of the Danubian Principalities, 1858; of Bulgaria
and Thessaly, 1878; of Crete, 1898; the revolution in Hungary, 1848; the
restoration of Italy, 1849 to 1860; the revolution in Spain, 1868; the
independence of the South American States, 1821 to 1825; the revolution
in Russia, Finland, the Caucasus and Baltic Provinces, 1905; the
revolution in Persia, 1907 to 1909; and the revolution of the Young
Turks, 1908 to 1909. Among these we must also count the Nationalist
movements in Ireland, Egypt, and India, as well as the present movement
of women against the Government in our own country.

Under these various instances two distinct kinds of rebellion are
obviously included--the rising of subject nationalities against a
dominant power, as in Greece, Italy, the Caucasus, India, and Ireland;
and the rising of subjects against their own Government, as in France,
Russia, Persia, and Turkey, or in England in the case of the
Suffragettes. It is difficult to say which kind is the more detested and
punished with the greater severity by the central authority attacked.
Was the Nationalist rising in the Caucasus or the Baltic Provinces
suppressed with greater brutality than the almost simultaneous rising of
Russian subjects in Moscow? I witnessed all three, and I think it was;
chiefly because soldiers have less scruple in the slaughter and
violation of people whose language they do not understand. Did our
Government feel greater animosity towards the recent Indian movement or
the Irish movement of thirty years ago than towards the rioters for the
Reform Bills of 1832 and 1867? I think they did. Vengeance upon
external or Nationalist rebels is incited by racial antipathy. But, on
the other hand, the outside world is more ready to applaud a Nationalist
rebellion, especially if it succeeds, and we feel a more romantic
affection for William Tell or Garibaldi than for Oliver Cromwell or
Danton; I suppose because it is easier to imagine the splendour of
liberty when a subject race throws off a foreign yoke.

So the history of rebellion involves us in a mesh of contradictions.
Rebels have been generally regarded as deserving more terrible penalties
than other criminals, yet all the world loves a rebel, at a distance.
Nationalist rebellions are crushed with even greater ferocity than the
internal rebellions of a State, and yet the leaders of Nationalist
rebellions are regarded by the common world with a special affection of
hero-worship. Obviously, we are here confronted with two different
standards of conduct. On one side is the standard of Government, the
States and Law, which denounces the rebel, and especially the
Nationalist rebel, as the worst of sinners; on the other side we have
the standard of the individual, the soul and liberty, which loves a
rebel, especially a Nationalist rebel, and denies that he is a sinner at

Let us leave the Nationalist rebel, whose justification is now almost
universally admitted (except by the dominant Power), even if he is
unsuccessful, and consider only the rebel inside the State--the rebel
against his own Leviathan--whose position is far more dubious. Job's
Leviathan appears to have been a more fearsome and powerful beast than
the elephant, but in India the elephant is taken as the symbol of
wisdom, and when an Indian boy goes in for a municipal examination, he
prays to the elephant-god for assistance. Now the ideal State of the
elephant is the herd, and yet this herd of wisdom sometimes develops a
rebel or "rogue" who seems to be striving after some fresh manner of
existence and works terrible havoc among the elephantine conventions.
Usually the herd combines to kill him and there is an end of the matter.
Yet I sometimes think that the occasional and inexplicable appearance of
the "rogue" at intervals during many thousand years may really have been
the origin of that wisdom to which the Indians pray.

Similarly, mankind, which sometimes surpasses even the elephant in
wisdom, has been continually torn between the idol of the Herd and the
profanity of the rebel or Rogue, and it is perhaps through the
rebel--the variation, as Darwin would call him--that man makes his
advance. The rebel is what distinguishes our States and cities from the
beehives and ant-heaps to which they are commonly compared. The progress
of ants and bees appears to have been arrested. They seem to have
developed a completely socialised polity thousands of years ago, perhaps
before man existed, and then to have stopped--stopped _dead_, as we say.
But mankind has never stopped. If a country's progress is arrested--if a
people becomes simply conservative in habits, they may die slowly, like
Egypt, or quickly, likes Sparta, but they die and disappear, unless
inspired by new life, like Japan, or by revolution, like France and
possibly Russia. For, as we are almost too frequently told, change is
the law of human life.

And may not this be just the very reason we are seeking for--the very
reason why all the world loves a rebel, at a distance? Perhaps the world
unconsciously recognises in him a symbol of change, a symbol of the law
of life. We may not like him very near us--not uncomfortably near, as we
say. For most change is uncomfortable. When I was shut up for many weeks
in a London hospital, I felt a shrinking horror of going out, as though
my skin had become too tender for this rough world. After I had been
shut up for four months in a siege, daily exposed to shells, bullets,
fever, and starvation, I felt no relief when the relief came, but rather
a dread of confronting the perils of ordinary life. So quickly does the
curse of stagnation fall upon us. And in support of stagnation are
always ranged the immense forces of Society, the prosperous, the
well-to-do, the people who are content if to-morrow is exactly like
to-day. In support of stagnation stands the power of every kind of
government--the King who sticks to his inherited importance, the Lords
who stick to their lands and titles, the experts who stick to their
theories, the officials who stick to their incomes, routine, and
leisure, the Members of Parliament who stick to their seats.

But even more powerful than all these forces in support of stagnation is
the enormous host of those whose first thought is necessarily their
daily bread--men and women who dare not risk a change for fear of
to-morrow's hunger--people for whom the crust is too uncertain for its
certainty to be questioned. We often ask why it is that the poor--the
working-people--endure their poverty and perpetual toil without
overwhelming revolt. The reason is that they have their eyes fixed on
the evening meal, and for the life of them they dare not lose sight of

So the rebel need never be afraid of going too fast. The violence of
inertia--the suction of the stagnant bog--is almost invincible. Like
the horse, we are creatures of cast-iron habit. We abandon ourselves
easily to careless acquiescence. We make much of external laws, and,
like a mother bemused with torpid beer when she overlays her child, we
stifle the law of the soul because its crying is such a nuisance. Like a
new baby, a new thought is fractious, restless, and incalculable. It
saps our strength; it gives us no peace; it exposes a wider surface to
pain. There is something indecent, uncontrolled, and unconscionable
about it. Our friends like it best when it is asleep, and they like us
better when it is buried.

There is very little danger of rebellion going too far. The barriers
confronting it are too solid, and the Idol of the Herd is too carefully
enshrined. A perpetual rebellion of every one against everything would
give us an insecure, though exciting, existence, and we are protected by
man's disposition to obedience and his solid love of custom. Against the
first vedettes of rebellion the army of routine will always muster, and
it gathers to itself the indifferent, the startled cowards, the thinkers
whose thought is finished, the lawyers whose laws are fixed--an
innumerable host. They proceed to treat the rebels as we have seen. In
all ages, rebellion has been met by the standing armies of permanence.
If captured, it is put to the ordeal of fire and water, so as to try
what stuff it is made of. Faith is rebellion's only inspiration and
support, and a deal of faith is needed to resist the battle and the
test. It was in thinking of the faith of rebels that an early Christian
writer told of those who, having walked by faith, have in all ages been
tortured, not accepting deliverance; and others have had trial of
mockings and scourgings, and of bonds and imprisonment; they were
stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword;
they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute,
afflicted, tormented (of whom the world was not worthy); they wandered
in deserts and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.[5] That
is the test and the reward of faith. So strong is the grip of the
Leviathan, so determined is mankind to allow no change in thought or
life to survive if he can possibly choke it.

One of the most learned and inspiring of writers on political philosophy
has said in a book published in 1910:

"It is advantageous to the organism [of the Slate] that
the rights of suggestion, protest, veto, and revolt should be
accorded to its members."[6]

That sounds very simple. We should all like to agree with it. But under
that apparently innocent sentence one of the most perplexing of human
problems lies hidden: what are the rights of liberty, what are the
limits of revolt? Only in a State of ideal anarchy can liberty be
complete and revolt universal, because there would be nothing to revolt
against. And anarchy, though it is the goal of every man's desire, seems
still far away, being, indeed, the Kingdom of Heaven, which that God
rules whose service is perfect freedom and which only angels are
qualified to inhabit. For though the law of the indwelling spirit is the
only law that ought to count, not many of us are so little lower than
the angels as to be a law unto ourselves.

In a really democratic State, where the whole people had equal voices
in the government and all could exercise free power of persuasion,
active rebellion, I think, would be very rare and seldom justified. But
there are, I believe, only four democratic States in the world. All four
are small, and of these Finland is overshadowed by despotism, and
Australia and New Zealand have their foreign relations controlled and
protected by the mother country. Hitherto the experiment of a really
democratic government has never been tried on this planet, except since
1909 in Norway, and even there with some limitations; and though
democracy might possibly avert the necessity of rebellion, I rather
doubt whether it can be called advantageous to any State to accord to
its members the right of revolt. The State that allows revolt--that
takes no notice of it--has abdicated; it has ceased to exist. But
whether advantageous or not, no State has ever accorded that right in
matters of government; nor does mankind accord it, without a prolonged
struggle, even in religious doctrine and ordinary life. Every revolt is
tested as by fire, and we do not otherwise know the temper of the rebels
or the value of their purpose. Is it a trick? Is it a fad? Is it a plot
for contemptible ends? Is it a riot--a moment's effervescence--or a
revolution glowing from volcanic depths? We only know by the tests of
ridicule, suffering, and death. In his "Ode to France," written in 1797,
Coleridge exclaimed:

"The Sensual and the Dark rebel in vain,
Slaves by their own compulsion."

They rebel in vain because the Sensual and the Dark cannot hold out long
against the pressure of the Herd--against the taunts of Society, against
poverty, the loss of friends, the ruin of careers, the discomforts of
prison, the misery of hunger and ill-treatment, and the terror of death.
It is only by the supreme triumph over such obstacles that revolt
vindicates its righteousness.

And so, if any one among us is driven to rebellion by an irresistible
necessity of soul, I would not have him wonder at the treatment he will
certainly receive. Such treatment is the hideous but inevitable test of
his rebellion's value, for so persecuted they the rebels that were
before him. Whether he rebels against a despotism like the Naples of
fifty years ago or the Russia of to-day; or whether he rebels against
the opinions or customs of his fellow-citizens, he will inevitably
suffer, and the success that justifies rebellion may not be of this
world. But if his cause is high, the shame of his suffering will
ultimately be attributed to the government or to the majority, never to
himself. There is a sense in which rebellion never fails. It is almost
always a symptom of intolerable wrong, for the penalties are so terrible
that it would not be attempted without terrible provocation.
"Rebellion," as Burke said, "does not arise from a desire for change,
but from the impossibility of suffering more." It concentrates attention
upon the wrong. At the worst, though it be stamped into a grave, its
spirit goes marching on, and the inspiration of all history would be
lost were it not for rebellions, no matter whether they have succeeded
or failed.

It may be said that if the State cannot accord the right of revolt, the
door is left open to all the violences, cruelty, and injustice with
which Rebellion is at present suppressed. But that does not follow. The
Liberal leaders of the last generation endeavoured to draw a
distinction whereby political offenders should be treated better than
ordinary criminals rather than worse, and, though their successors went
back from that position, we may perhaps discern a certain uneasiness
behind their appearance of cruelty, at all events in the case of titled
and distinguished offenders. In war we have lately introduced definite
rules for the exclusion of cruelty and injustice, and in some cases the
rules are observed. The same thing could be done in rebellion. I have
often urged that the rights of war, now guaranteed to belligerents,
should be extended to rebels. The chances are that a rebellion or civil
war has more justice on its side than international war, and there is no
more reason why men should be tortured and refused quarter, or why women
should be violated and have their children killed before their eyes by
the agents of their own government than by strangers. Yet these things
are habitually done, and my simple proposal appears ludicrously
impossible. Just in the same way, sixty years ago, it was thought
ludicrously impossible to deprive a man of his right to whip his slave.

But in any case, whether or not the rebel is to remain for all time an
object of special vengeance to the State and Society, he has
compensations. If he wins, the more barbarous his suppression has been,
so much the finer is his triumph, so much the sweeter the wild justice
of his revenge. It is a high reward when the slow world comes swinging
round to your despised and persecuted cause, while the defeated
persecutor whines at your feet that at heart he was with you all the
time. If the rebel fails--well, it is a terrible thing to fail in
rebellion. Bodily or social execution is almost inevitably the result.
But, if his cause has been high, whether he wins or loses, he will have
enjoyed a comradeship such as is nowhere else to be found--a
comradeship in a common service that transfigures daily life and takes
suffering and disgrace for honour. His spirit will have been illumined
by a hope and an indignation that make the usual aims and satisfactions
of the world appear trivial and fond. To him it has been granted to hand
on the torch of that impassioned movement and change by which the soul
of man appears slowly to be working out its transfiguration. And if he
dies in the race, he may still hope that some glimmer of freedom will
shine where he is buried.


[Footnote 1: The following extract from _Drakard's Paper_ for Feb. 23,
1813, shows the attempt at reform just a century ago, and the opposition
to reform characteristic of officials: "House of Commons, Wed., Feb. 17.
Sir Samuel Romilly rose, in pursuance of his notice, to move for leave
to bring in a bill to repeal an Act of King William, making it capital
to steal property above the value of 5s. in a dwelling house, &c.....

"The next bill he proposed to introduce related to a part of the
punishment for the crime of high treason, which was not at present
carried into execution. The sentence for this crime, however, was, that
the criminal should be dragged upon a hurdle to the place of execution,
that he should be hanged by the neck, but cut down before he was dead,
that his bowels should then be taken out and burnt before his face. As
to that part of the sentence which relates to embowelling, it was never
executed now, but this omission was owing to accident, or to the mercy
of the executioner, not to the discretion of the judge.

"The Solicitor-General stated general objections to the plan of his
learned friend.

"Leave was given to bring in the bills."]

[Footnote 2: See _The History of Tyburn_, by Alfred Marks.]

[Footnote 3: _History of the Criminal Law of England_, vol. i. p. 478.]

[Footnote 4: Judith was not strictly a rebel, except that Nabuchodonosor
claimed sovereignty over all the world and was avenging himself on all
the earth. See Judith ii. 1.]

[Footnote 5: Hebrews xi. 35-38.]

[Footnote 6: _The Crisis of Liberalism_, by J.A. Hobson, p. 82.]



Present grandeur is always hard to realise. The past and the distant are
easily perceived. Like a far-off mountain, their glory is conspicuous,
and the iridescent vapours of romance quickly gather round it. The main
outline of a distant peak is clear, for rival heights are plainly
surpassed, and sordid details, being invisible, cannot detract from it
or confuse. The comfortable spectator may contemplate it in peace. It
does not exact from him quick decisions or disquieting activity. The
storms that sweep over it contribute to his admiration without wetting
his feet, and his high estimate of its beauty and greatness may be
enjoyed without apprehension of an avalanche. So the historian is like a
picturesque spectator cultivating his sense of the sublime upon a
distant prospect of the Himalayas. It is easy for him to admire, and the
appreciation of a far-off heroic movement gives him quite a pleasant
time. At his leisure he may descant with enthusiasm upon the forlorn
courage of sacrificed patriots, and hymn, amidst general applause, the
battles of freedom long since lost or won.

But in the thick of present life it is different. The air is obscured by
murky doubt, and unaccustomed shapes stand along the path,
indistinguishable under the light malign. Uncertain hope scarcely
glimmers, nor can the termination of the struggle be divined.
Tranquillity, giving time for thought, and the security that leaves the
judgment clear, have both gone, and may never return. The ears are
haunted with the laughter of vulgarity, and the judicious discouragement
of prudence. Is there not as much to be said for taking one line as
another? If there is talk of conflict, were it not better to leave the
issue in the discriminating hands of One whose judgment is indisputable?
Yet in the very midst of hesitations, mockery, and good advice, the next
step must be taken, the decision must be swift, the choice is brief but
eternal. There is no clear evidence of heroism around. The lighters do
not differ much from the grotesque, the foolish, and the braggart ruck
of men. No wonder that culture smiles and passes aloof upon its pellucid
and elevating course. Culture smiles; the valet de chambre lurking in
most hearts sniffs at the name of hero; hideous applause comes from
securely sheltered crowds who hound victims to the combat, bloodthirsty
as spectators at a bull-fight. In the sweat and twilight and crudity of
the actual event, when so much is merely ludicrous and discomforting,
and all is enveloped in the element of fear, it is rare to perceive a
glory shining, or to distinguish greatness amid the mud of contumely and

Take the story of Italy's revival--the "Resurrection," as Italians call
it. In the summer of 1911, Italy was celebrating her jubilee of national
rebellion, and English writers who spend their years, day by day or week
by week, sneering at freedom, betraying nationality, and demanding
vengeance on rebels, burst into ecstatic rhapsodies about that glorious
but distant uprising. They raised the old war-cry of liberty over
battle-fields long silent; they extolled to heaven the renown of the
rebellious dead; their very periods glowed with Garibaldian red, white,
and green; and rising to Byronic exaltation they concluded their
nationalist effusions by adjuring freedom's weather-beaten flag:

"Yet, Freedom! yet thy banner, torn, but flying,
Streams like the thunder-storm against the wind!"

So they cried, echoing the voice of noble ghosts. But where in the
scenes of present life around them have they hailed that torn but flying
banner? What have they said or done for freedom's emblem in Persia, or
in Morocco, or in Turkey? What support have they given it in Finland, or
in the Caucasus, or in the Baltic Provinces? To come within our own
sphere, what ecstatic rhapsodies have they composed to greet the rising
nationalism of Ireland, or of India, or of Egypt? Or, in this country
herself, what movement of men or of women striving to be free have they
welcomed with their paeans of joy? Not once have they perceived a glory
in liberty's cause to-day. Wherever a rag of that torn banner fluttered,
they have denounced and stamped it down, declaring it should fly no
more. Their admiration and enthusiasm are reserved for a buried past,
and over triumphant rebellion they will sentimentalise for pages,
provided it is securely bestowed in some historic age that can trouble
them no more.

Leaving them to their peace, let us approach a great name among our
English singers of liberty. Swinburne stands in the foremost rank. In a
collection of "English Songs of Italian Freedom," edited by Mr. George
Trevelyan, who himself has so finely narrated the epic of Italy's
redemption--in that collection Swinburne occupies a place among the very
highest. No one has paid nobler tribute to the heroes of that amazing
revolution. No one has told the sorrow of their failures with more
sympathetic rage, or has poured so burning a scorn and so deep an
obloquy upon their oppressors, whether in treacherous Church or alien
State. It is magnificent, but alas! it was not war. By the time he
wrote, the war was over, the victory won. By that time, not only the
British crowd, but even people of rank, office, and culture could hardly
fail to applaud. The thing had become definite and conspicuous. It was
finished. It stood in quite visible splendour at a safe and comfortable
distance. Ridicule had fallen impotent. Hesitation could now put down
its foot. Superiority could smile, not in doubt, but in welcome. The
element of fear was dissipated. The coward could shout, "I was your
friend all along!" If a man wrote odes at all, he could write them to
freedom then.

"By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept,
Remembering Thee,
That for ages of agony hast endured and slept,
And would'st not see."

How superb! But when that was written the weeping and agony were over,
the sleeper had awakened, the eyes saw. It was easy then to sing the
heroism of rebellious sorrow. But afterwards, while an issue was still
doubtful, while the cry of freedom was rising amid the obscurity, the
dust, and uncertainty of actual combat, with how blind a scorn did that
great poet of freedom pour upon Irishman and Boer a poison as virulent
as he had once poured upon the priests and kings of Italy!

Let us emerge from the depression of such common blindness, and recall
the memory of one whose vision never failed even in the midst of present
gloom to detect the spark of freedom. A few great names stand beside
his. Shelley, Landor, the Brownings, all gave the cause of Italy great
and, in one case, the most exquisite verse, while the conflict was
uncertain still. Even the distracted and hesitating soul of Clough, amid
the dilettante contemplation of the arts in Rome, was rightly stirred.
The poem that declared, "'Tis better to have fought and lost than never
to have fought at all," displayed in him a rare decision, while, even
among his hideous hexameters, we find the great satiric line--fit motto
for spectators at the bull-fights of freedom--"So that I 'list not,
hurrah for the glorious army of martyrs!" But the name of Byron rises
above them all, not merely that he alone showed himself capable of deed,
but that the deed gave to his words a solidity and concrete power such
as deeds always give. First of Englishmen, as Mr. Trevelyan says, Byron
perceived that a living Italy was struggling beneath the outward
semblance of Metternich's "order"; and as early as 1821 he prepared to
join the Carbonari of Naples in their revolt for Italian liberty:

"I suppose that they consider me," he wrote, "as a depot
to be sacrificed, in case of accidents. It is no great matter,
supposing that Italy would he liberated, who or what is sacrificed.
It is a grand object--the very _poetry_ of politics. Only
think--a free Italy!"

That was written in freedom's darkest age, between Waterloo and the
appearance of Mazzini, and that grand object was not to be reached for
forty years. In the meantime, true to his guiding principle:

"Then battle for freedom whenever you can,
And, if not shot or hang'd, you'll get knighted,"

Byron had sacrificed himself for Greece as nobly as he was prepared to
sacrifice himself for Italy. It was a time of darkness hardly visible.
In the very year when Byron witnessed the collapse of the Carbonari
rebellion, Leopardi, as Mr. Trevelyan tells us, wrote to his sister on
her marriage: "The children you will have must be either cowards or
unhappy; choose the unhappy." The hope of freedom appeared extinct.
Tyrants, as Byron wrote, could be conquered but by tyrants, and freedom
found no champion. The Italians themselves were merged in the slime of
despairing satisfaction, and he watched them creeping, "crouching, and
crab-like," along their streets. But through that dark gate of
unhappiness which Leopardi named as the one choice for all but cowards,
led the thin path that freedom must always take. Great as were Mazzini's
services to all Europe, his greatest service to his countrymen lay in
arousing them from the slough of contentment to a life of hardship,
sacrifice, and unhappiness. When, after the loss of Rome in 1849,
Garibaldi called for volunteers to accompany his hazardous retreat, he
said to them: "I offer neither pay, nor quarters, nor provisions; I
offer hunger, thirst, forced marches, battles, and death." Swinburne
himself may have had those words in mind when, writing also of
Garibaldi, he said of freedom:

"She, without shelter or station,
She, beyond limit or bar,
Urges to slumberless speed
Armies that famish, that bleed,
Sowing their lives for her seed,
That their dust may rebuild her a nation,
That their souls may relight her a star."

"Happy are all they that follow her," he continued, and in a sense we
may well deem their fate happiness. But it is in the sense of what
Carlyle in a memorable passage called the allurements to action. "It is
a calumny on men," he wrote, "to say they are roused to heroic action by
ease, hope of pleasure, reward in this world or the next. Difficulty,
abnegation, martyrdom, death are the allurements that act on the heart
of man." Under the spell and with the reward of those grim allurements
the battles of freedom, so visible in the resurrection of Italy, so
unrecognised in freedom's recurrent and contemporary conflicts, must
invariably be fought. We may justly talk, if we please, of the joy in
such conflicts, but Thermopylae was a charnel, though, as Byron said, it
was a proud one; and it is always against the wind that the banner of
freedom streams.



As he wrote--as he wrote his best, while the shafts of the spirit
lightened in his brain--Heine would sometimes feel a mysterious figure
standing behind him, muffled in a cloak, and holding, beneath the cloak,
something that gleamed now and then like an executioner's axe. For a
long while he had not perceived that strange figure, when, on visiting
Germany, after fourteen years' exile in Paris, as he crossed the
Cathedral Square in Cologne one moonlight night, he became aware that it
was following him again. Turning impatiently, he asked who he was, why
he followed him, and what he was hiding under his cloak. In reply, the
figure, with ironic coolness, urged him not to get excited, nor to give
way to eloquent exorcism:

"I am no antiquated ghost," he continued. "I'm quite a
practical person, always silent and calm. But I must tell you,
the thoughts conceived in your soul--I carry them out, I bring
them to pass.

"And though years may go by, I take no rest until I transform
your thoughts into reality. You think; I act.

"You are the judge, I am the gaoler, and, like an obedient
servant, I fulfil the sentence which you have ordained, even if
it is unjust.

"In Rome of ancient days they carried an axe before the
Consul. You also have your Lictor, but the axe is carried
behind you.

"I am your Lictor, and I walk perpetually with bare executioner's
axe behind you--I am the deed of your thought."

No artist--no poet or writer, at all events--could enjoy a more
consolatory vision. The powerlessness of the word is the burden of
writers, and "Who hath believed our report?" cry all the prophets in
successive lamentation. They so naturally suppose that, when truth and
reason have spoken, truth and reason will prevail, but, as the years go
by, they mournfully discover that nothing of the kind occurs. Man, they
discover, does not live by truth and reason: he rather resents the
intrusion of such quietly argumentative forms. When they have spoken,
nothing whatever is yet accomplished, and the conflict has still to
begin. The dog returns to his own vomit; the soul convicted of sin
continues sinning, and he that was filthy is filthy still. Thence comes
the despair of all the great masters of the word. The immovable world
admires them, it praises their style, it forms aesthetic circles for
their perusal, and dines in their honour when they are dead. But it goes
on its way immovable, grinding the poor, enslaving the slave, admiring
hideousness, adulating vulgarity for its wealth and insignificance for
its pedigree. Grasping, pleasure-seeking, indifferent to reason, and
enamoured of the lie, so it goes on, and the masters of the word might
just as well have hushed their sweet or thunderous voices. For, though
they speak with the tongue of men and angels, and have not action, what
are they but sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal?

To such a mood, how consolatory must be the vision of that muffled
figure, with the two-handed engine, always following close! And to
Heine himself the consolation came with especial grace. He had been
virulently assailed by the leaders of the party to which he regarded
himself as naturally belonging--the party for whose sake he endured the
charming exile of Paris, then at the very height of her intellectual
supremacy. The exile was charming, but unbearable dreams and memories
would come. "When I am happy in your arms," he wrote, "you must never
speak to me of Germany, I cannot bear it; I have my reasons. I implore
you, leave Germany alone. You must not plague me with these eternal
questions about home, and friends, and the way of life. I have my
reasons; I cannot bear it." All this was suffered--for a quarter of a
century it was suffered--just for an imaginary and unrealised German
revolution. And, if Heine was not to be counted as a German
revolutionist, what was the good of it all? What did the sorrows of
exile profit him, if he had no part in the cause? He might just as well
have gone on eating, drinking, and being merry on German beer. Yet
Ludwig Boerne, acknowledged leader of German revolutionists, had
scornfully written of him (I translate from Heine's own quotation, in
his pamphlet on Boerne):

"I can make allowance for child's-play, and for the passions
of youth. But when, on the day of bloody conflict, a boy who
is chasing butterflies on the battle-field runs between my legs;
or when, on the day of our deepest need, while we are praying
earnestly to God, a young dandy at our side can see nothing
in the church but the pretty girls, and keeps whispering to
them and making eyes--then, I say, in spite of all philosophy
and humanity, one cannot restrain one's indignation."

Much more followed, but in those words lay the sting of the scorn. It
is a scorn that many poets and writers suffer when confronted by the man
of action, or even by the man of affairs. When it comes to action, all
the finest words ever spoken, and all the most beautiful poems and books
ever written, seem so irrelevant, as Hilda Wangel said of reading. "How
beggarly all arguments appear before a defiant deed!" cried Walt
Whitman. "Every man," said Ruskin, "feels instinctively that all the
beautiful sentiments in the world count less than a single lovely
action." The powerlessness of the word--that, as I said, has been the
burden of speakers and writers. That is what drove Dante to politics,
and Byron to Greece, and Goethe to the study of bones.

But Heine laid himself open more than most to such scorn as Boerne's.
There was little of the active revolutionist in his nature. About the
revolutionist hangs something Hebraic (if we may still use Heine's own
distinction, never very definite, and now worn so thin), but Heine
prided himself upon a sunlit cheerfulness that he called Greek. He loved
the garish world; he was in love with every woman; but the true
revolutionist must be the modern monk. It is no good asking the
revolutionist out to dinner; he will neither say anything amusing, nor
know the difference between chalk and cheese. But Heine's good sayings
went the round of Parisian society, and he loved the subtleties of wine
and the table. "That dish," he said once, "should be eaten on one's
knees." Only on paper, and then rarely, was his heart lacerated by
savage indignation. Except for brief periods of poverty, in the Zion of
exile he lived very much at ease, nor did the zeal of the Lord ever
consume him. Did it not seem that a true revolutionist was justified in
comparing him to a boy chasing butterflies on the battle-field? Here, if
anywhere, one might have thought, was one of those charming poets whom
the Philosopher would have honoured, and feasted, and loaded with
beautiful gifts, and then conducted, laurel-crowned, far outside the
walls of the perfect city, to the sound of flutes and soft recorders.

To such scorn Heine attempted the artist's common answer. He replied to
Boerne's revolutionary scorn of the mere poet, with a poet's fastidious
scorn of the smudgy revolutionist. He tells us of his visit to Boerne's
rooms, where he found such a menagerie as could hardly be seen in the
Jardin des Plantes--German polar bears, a Polish wolf, a French ape. Or
we read of the one revolutionary assembly he attended, and how up till
then he had always longed to be a popular orator, and had even practised
on oxen and sheep in the fields; but that one meeting, with its dirt,
and smells, and stifling tobacco smoke, sickened him of oratory. "I
saw," he writes,

"I saw that the path of a German tribune is not strewn
with roses--not with clean roses. For example, you have to
shake hands vigorously with all your auditors, your 'dear
brothers and cousins.' Perhaps Boerne means it metaphorically
when he says that, if a king shook him by the band, he would
at once hold it in the fire, so as to clean it; but I mean it
literally, and not metaphorically, when I say that, if the people
shook me by the hand, I should at once wash it."

We all know those meetings now--the fraternal handshake, the menagerie
smell, the reek of tobacco, the indistinguishable hubbub of tongues, the
frothy violence, the bottomless inanity of abstract dissensions, that
have less concern with human realities than the curve of the hyperbola
through space. We all know that, and sometimes, perhaps, at the sight of
some artist or poet like Heine--or, shall we say? like William
Morris--in the sulphurous crater of that volcanic tumult, we may have
been tempted to exclaim, "Not here, O Apollo, are haunts meet for thee!"
But we had best restrain such exclamation, for we have had quite enough
of the artistic or philanthropic temperaments that talk a deal about
fighting the battle of the poor and the oppressed, but take very good
care to keep at a clean and comfortable distance from those whose battle
they are fighting, and appear more than content to live among the
tyrants and oppressors they denounce. And we remind ourselves, further,
that what keeps the memory of William Morris sweet is not his
wall-papers, his beaten work of bronze or silver, his dreamy tapestries
of interwoven silks or verse, but just that strange attempt of his,
however vain, however often deceived, to convert the phrases of liberty
into realities, and to learn something more about democracy than the
spelling of its name.

Heine's first line of defence was quite worthless. It was the cheap and
common defence of the commonplace, fastidious nature that has hardly
courage to exist outside its nest of culture. His second line was
stronger, and it is most fully set out in the preface to his _Lutetia_,
written only a year before his death. He there expresses the artist's
fear of beauty's desecration by the crowd. He dreads the horny hand laid
upon the statues he had loved. He sees the laurel groves, the lilies,
the roses--"those idle brides of nightingales"--destroyed to make room
for useful potato-patches. He sees his _Book of Songs_ taken by the
grocer to wrap up coffee and snuff for old women, in a world where the
victorious proletariat triumphs. But that line of defence he voluntarily
abandons, knowing in his heart, as he said, that the present social
order could not endure, and that all beauty it preserved was not to be
counted against its horror.

It is at the end of the same preface that the well-known passage occurs,
thus translated by Matthew Arnold:

"I know not if I deserve that a laurel-wreath should one
day be laid on my coffin. Poetry, dearly as I have loved it,
has always been to me but a divine plaything. I have never
attached any great value to poetical fame; and I trouble myself
very little whether people praise my verses or blame them.
But lay on my coffin a _sword_; for I was a brave soldier in the
war of liberation of humanity."

The words appear strangely paradoxical. No one questions Heine's place
among the poets of the world. As a matter of fact, he was quite as
sensitive to criticism as other poets, and his courage was not more
conspicuous than most people's. But, nevertheless, those words contain
his last and true defence against the scorn of revolutionists, or men of
affairs, like Boerne. There is no need to make light of Boerne's
achievement; that also has its high place in the war of liberation. But,
powerless as the word may seem, there was in Heine's word a liberating
force that is felt in our battle to this day. He did not wield the axe
himself, but behind him has moved a mysterious figure, muffled in a
cloak--a Lictor following his footsteps with an axe--the deed of Heine's



"How beggarly appear arguments before a defiant deed!" cried Walt
Whitman, as I quoted in the last essay. He was thinking, perhaps, of
Harper's Ferry and of John Brown hanging on the crab-apple tree, while
his soul went marching on. It is the lament of all writers and speakers
who are driven by inward compulsion to be something more than artists in
words, and who seek to jog the slow-pacing world more hurriedly forward.
How long had preachers, essayists, orators, and journalists argued
slavery round and round before the defiant deed crashed and settled it!
"Who hath believed our report?" the prophets have always cried, until
the arm of the Lord was revealed; and the melancholy of all prophetic
writers is mainly due to the conscious helplessness of their words. If
men would only listen to reason--if they would listen even to the
appeals of justice and compassion, we suppose our prophets would grow
quite cheerful at last. But to justice and compassion men listen only at
a distance, and the prophet is near.

Nevertheless, in his address as Chancellor of Manchester University in
June 1912, Lord Morley, who has himself often sounded the prophetic
note, asserted that "a score of books in political literature rank as
acts, not books." He happened to be speaking on the anniversary of
Rousseau's birth, two hundred years ago, and in no list of such books
could Rousseau's name be forgotten. "Whether a score or a hundred," Lord
Morley went on, "the _Social Contract_ was one," and, as though to rouse
his audience with a spark, he quoted once more the celebrated opening
sentence, "Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains." That
sentence is not true either in history or in present life. It would be
truer to say that man has everywhere been born in chains and, very
slowly, in some few parts of the world, he is becoming free. The
sentence is neither scientific as historic theory nor true to present
life, and yet Lord Morley rightly called it electrifying. And the same
is true of the book which it so gloriously opens. As history and as
philosophy, it is neither original nor exact. It derived directly from
Locke, and many aspects of the world and thought since Darwin's time
confute it. But, however much anticipated, and however much exposed to
scientific ridicule, it remains one of the burning books of the
world--one of those books which, as Lord Morley said, rank as acts, not

"Let us realise," he continued, "with what effulgence such a book burst
upon communities oppressed by wrong, sunk in care, inflamed by passions
of religion or of liberty, the two eternal fields of mortal struggle."
So potent an influence depends much upon the opportunity of time--the
fulfilment of the hour's need. A book so abstract, so assertive of
theory, and standing so far apart from the world's actual course, would
hardly find an audience now. But in the eighteenth century, so gaily
confident in the power of reason, so trustful of good intentions, so
ready to acclaim noble phrase and generality, and so ignorant of the
past and of the poor--in the midst of such a century the _Social
Contract_ was born at the due time. Add the vivid imagination and the
genuine love for his fellow-men, to which Lord Morley told us Maine
attributed Rousseau's ineffaceable influence on history, and we are
shown some of the qualities and reasons that now and again make words
burn with that effulgence, and give even to a book the power of a deed.

Lord Morley thought there might be a score, or perhaps even a hundred,
of such books in political literature. He himself gave two other
instances beside the _Social Contract_. He mentioned _The Institutions of
the Christian Religion_, of Calvin, "whose own unconquerable will and
power to meet occasion made him one of the commanding forces in the
world's history." And he mentioned Tom Paine's _Common Sense_ as "the
most influential political piece ever composed." I could not, offhand,
give a list of seventeen other books of similar power to make up the
score. I do not believe so many exist, and as to ninety-seven, the idea
need not be considered. There have been books of wide and lasting
political influence--Plato's _Republic_, Aristotle's _Politics_,
Machiavelli's _Prince_, Hobbes's _Leviathan_, Locke's _Civil
Government_, Adam Smith's _Wealth of Nations_, Paine's _Right of Man_,
Mill's _Liberty_ and _The Subjection of Women_, Green's _Political
Obligation_, and many more. But these are not burning books in the sense
in which the _Social Contract_ was a burning book. With the possible
exception of _The Subjection of Women_, they were cool and philosophic.
With the possible exception of Machiavelli, their writers might have
been professors. The effect of the books was fine and lasting, but they
were not aflame. They did not rank as acts. The burning books that rank
as acts and devour like purifying fire must be endowed with other

Such books appear to have been very few, though, in a rapid survey, one
is likely to overlook some. In all minds there will arise at once the
great memory of Swift's _Drapier's Letters_, passionately uttering the
simple but continually neglected law that "all government without the
consent of the governed is the very definition of slavery." Carlyle's
_French Revolution_ and _Past and Present_ burnt with similar flame; so
did Ruskin's _Unto this Last_ and the series of _Fors Clavigera;_ so did
Mazzini's _God and the People_, Karl Marx's _Kapital_, Henry George's
_Progress and Poverty_, Tolstoy's _What shall we do?_ and so did
Proudhon's _Qu'est ce que la Propriete?_ at the time of its birth. Nor
from such a list could one exclude _Uncle Tom's Cabin_, by which Mrs.
Beecher Stowe anticipated the deed of Harper's Ferry nine years before
it came.

These are but few books and few authors. With Lord Morley's three thrown
in, they still fall far short of a score. Readers will add other names,
other books that ranked as acts and burnt like fire. To their brief but
noble roll, I would also add one name, and one brief set of speeches or
essays that hardly made a book, but to which Lord Morley himself, at all
events, would not be likely to take exception. He mentioned Burke's
famous denunciation of Rousseau, and, indeed, the natures and aspects of
no two distinguished and finely-tempered men could well be more opposed.
But none the less, I believe that in Burke, before growing age and
growing fears and habits chilled his blood, there kindled a fire
consuming in its indignation, and driving him to words that, equally
with Rousseau's, may rank among the acts of history. In support of what
may appear so violent a paradox when speaking of one so often claimed as
a model of Conservative moderation and constitutional caution, let me
recall a few actual sentences from the speech on "Conciliation with
America," published three years before Rousseau's death. The grounds of
Burke's imagination were not theoretic. He says nothing about abstract
man born free; but, as though quietly addressing the House of Commons
to-day, he remarks:

"The Colonies complain that they have not the characteristic
mark and seal of British freedom. They complain that they
are taxed in a Parliament in which they are not represented."

That simple complaint had roused in the Colonies, thus deprived of the
mark and seal of British freedom, a spirit of turbulence and disorder.
Already, under a policy of negation and suppression, the people were
driving towards the most terrible kind of war--a war between the members
of the same community. Already the cry of "no concession so long as
disorders continue" went up from the central Government, and, with
passionate wisdom, Burke replied:

"The question is not whether their spirit deserves blame or
praise, but what, in the name of God, shall we do with it?"

Then come two brief passages which ought to be bound as watchwords and
phylacteries about the foreheads of every legislator who presumes to
direct our country's destiny, and which stand as a perpetual indictment
against all who endeavour to exclude the men or women of this country
from constitutional liberties:

"In order to prove that the Americans have no right to
their liberties, we are every day endeavouring to subvert the
maxims which preserve the whole spirit of our own. To prove
that the Americans ought not to be free, we are obliged to
depreciate the value of freedom itself; and we never seem to
gain a paltry advantage over them in debate without attacking
some of those principles or deriding some of those feelings for
which our ancestors have shed their blood."

The second passage is finer still, and particularly apt to the present
civil contest over Englishwomen's enfranchisement:

"The temper and character which prevail in our Colonies
are, I am afraid, unalterable by any human art. We cannot,
I fear, falsify the pedigree of this fierce people, and persuade
them that they are not sprung from a nation in whose veins
the blood of freedom circulates. The language in which they
would hear you tell them this tale would detect the imposition.
Your speech would betray you. An Englishman is the unfittest
person on earth to argue another Englishman into slavery."

It may be said that these words, unlike the words with which Rousseau
kindled revolution, failed of their purpose. The Government remained
deaf and blind to the demand of British freedom; a terrible war was not
averted; one of the greatest disasters in our history ensued. None the
less, they glow with the true fire, and the book that contains them
ranks with acts, and, indeed, with battles. That we should thus be
coupling Rousseau and Burke--two men of naturally violent antipathy--is
but one of the common ironies of history, which in the course of years
obliterates differences and soothes so many hatreds. To be accepted and
honoured by the same mind, and even for similar service, the two
apparent opposites must have had something in common. What they had in
common was the great qualities that Maine discovered in Rousseau--the
vivid imagination and the genuine love for their fellow-men; and by
imagination I mean the power of realising the thoughts, feelings, and
sufferings of others. Thus from these two qualities combined in the
presence of oppression, cruelty, or the ordinary stupid and callous
denial of freedom, there sprang that flame of indignation from which
alone the burning book derives its fire. Examine those other books whose
titles I have mentioned, and their origin will in every case be found
the same. They are the flaming children of rage, and rage is begotten by
imaginative power out of love for the common human kind.



"Fret not thyself," sang the cheerful Psalmist--"fret not thyself
because of evildoers." For they shall soon be cut down like the grass;
they shall be rooted out; their sword shall go through their own heart;
their arms shall be broken; they shall consume as the fat of lambs, and
as the smoke they shall consume away; though they flourish like a green
bay-tree, they shall be gone, and though we seek them, their place shall
nowhere be found.

A soothing consolation lies in the thought. Why should we fluster
ourselves, why wax so hot, when time thus brings its inevitable
revenges? Composed in mind, let us pursue our own unruffled course, with
calm assurance that justice will at length prevail. Let us comply with
the dictates of sweetness and light, in reasonable expectation that
iniquity will melt away of itself, like a snail before the fire. If we
have confidence that vengeance is the Lord's and He will repay, where
but in that faith shall we find an outlet for our indignation at once so
secure, so consolatory, and so cheap?

It was the pious answer made by Dr. Delany to Swift at the time when,
torn by cruel rage, Swift was entering upon the struggle against
Ireland's misery. Swift appealed to him one day "whether the
corruptions and villainies of men in power did not eat his flesh and
exhaust his spirits?" But Delany answered, "That in truth they did not."
"Why--why, how can you help it? How can you avoid it?" asked the
indignant heart. And the judicious answer came: "Because I am commanded
to the contrary; 'Fret not thyself because of the ungodly.'" Under the
qualities revealed in Swift and Delany by that characteristic scene, is
also revealed a deeply-marked distinction between two orders of mankind,
and the two speakers stand as their types. Dr. Delany we all know. He
may be met in any agreeable society--himself agreeable and tolerant,
unwilling to judge lest he be judged, solicitous to please, careful not
to lose esteem, always welcome among his numerous acquaintances, sweetly
reasonable, and devoutly confident that the tale of hideous wrong will
right itself without his stir. No figure is more essential for social
intercourse, or moves round the cultivated or political circle of his
life with more serene success.

To the great comfort of cultivated and political circles, the type of
Swift is not so frequent or so comprehensible. What place have those who
fret not themselves because of evildoers--what place in their tolerant
society have they for uncouth personalities, terrible with indignation?
It is true that Swift was himself accounted a valued friend among the
best wits and writers of his time. Bolingbroke wrote to him: "I loved
you almost twenty years ago; I thought of you as well as I do now,
better was beyond the power of conception." Pope, also after twenty
years of intimate friendship, could write of him: "My sincere love of
that valuable, indeed incomparable, man will accompany him through life,
and pursue his memory were I to live a hundred lives." Arbuthnot could
write to him:

"DEAR FRIEND,--The last sentence of your letter plunged
a dagger in my heart. Never repeat those sad, but tender,
words, that you will try to forget me. For my part, I can never
forget you--at least till I discover, which is impossible, another
friend whose conversation could procure me the pleasure I
have found in yours."

The friends of Swift--the men who could write like this--men like
Bolingbroke, Pope, Arbuthnot, Addison, Steele, and Gay--were no
sentimentalists; they rank among the shrewdest and most clear-eyed
writers of our literature. And, indeed, to me at all events, the
difficulty of Swift's riddle lies, not in his savagery, but in his
charm. When we think of that tiger burning in the forests of the night,
how shall we reconcile his fearful symmetry with eyes "azure as the
heavens," which Pope describes as having a surprising archness in them?
Or when a man is reputed the most embittered misanthrope in history, how
was it that his intimate friend, Sheridan, could speak of that "spirit
of generosity and benevolence whose greatness, and vigour, when pent up
in his own breast by poverty and dependence, served only as an evil
spirit to torment him"? Of his private generosity, and his consideration
for the poor, for servants, and animals, there are many instances
recorded. For divergent types of womanhood, whether passionate, witty,
or intellectual, he possessed the attraction of sympathetic intimacy. A
woman of peculiar charm and noble character was his livelong friend from
girlhood, risking reputation, marriage, position, and all that many
women most value, just for that friendship and nothing more. Another
woman loved him with more tragic destiny. To Stella, in the midst of his
political warfare, he could write with the playfulness that nursemaids
use for children, and most men keep for their kittens or puppies. In the
"Verses on his own Death," how far removed from the envy, hatred, and
malice of the literary nature is the affectionate irony of those verses

"In Pope I cannot read a line,
But with a sigh I wish it mine;
When he can in one couplet fix
More sense than I can do in six,
It gives me such a jealous fit,
I cry, 'Plague take him and his wit.'
I grieve to be outdone by Gay
In my own humorous biting way;
Arbuthnot is no more my friend
Who dares to irony pretend,
Which I was born to introduce;
Refined it first, and showed its use."

And so on down to the lines:

"If with such talents Heaven has blest 'em,
Have I not reason to detest 'em?"

To damn with faint praise is the readiest defence of envious failure;
but to praise with jealous damnation reveals a delicate generosity that
few would look for in the hater of his kind. Nor let us forget that
Swift was himself the inventor of the phrase "Sweetness and light."

These elements of charm and generosity have been too much overlooked,
and they could not redeem the writer's savagery in popular opinion,
being overshadowed by that cruel indignation which ate his flesh and
exhausted his spirit. Yet it was, perhaps, just from such elements of
intuitive sympathy and affectionate goodwill that the indignation
sprang. Like most over-sensitive natures, he found that every new
relation in life, even every new friendship that he formed, only opened
a gate to new unhappiness. The sorrows of others were more to him than
to themselves, and, like a man or woman that loves a child, he
discovered that his affection only exposed a wider surface to pain. On
the death of a lady with whom he was not very intimately acquainted, "I
hate life," he cried, "when I think it exposed to such accidents: and to
see so many thousand wretches burdening the earth while such as her die,
makes me think God did never intend life for a blessing." It was not any
spirit of hatred or cruelty, but an intensely personal sympathy with
suffering, that tore his heart and kindled that furnace of indignation
against the stupid, the hateful, and the cruel to whom most suffering is
due; and it was a furnace in which he himself was consumed. Writing
whilst he was still a youth, in _The Tale of a Tub_, he composed a
terrible sentence, in which all his rage and pity and ironical bareness
of style seem foretold: "Last week," he says, "I saw a woman flayed, and
you will hardly believe how much it altered her person for the worse."
"Only a woman's hair," was found written on the packet in which the
memorial of Stella was preserved, and I do not know in what elegy there
breathes a prouder or more poignant sorrow.

When he wrote the _Drapier Letters_, Ireland lay before him like a woman
flayed. Of the misery of Ireland it was said (I think by Sheridan):

"It fevered his blood, it broke his rest, it drove him at times
half frantic with furious indignation, it sunk him at times in
abysses of sullen despondency, it awoke in him emotions
which in ordinary men are seldom excited save by personal

This cruel rage over the wrongs of a people whom he did not love, and
whom he repeatedly disowned, drove him to the savage denunciations in
which he said of England's nominee: "It is no dishonour to submit to the
lion, but who, with the figure of a man, can think with patience of
being devoured alive by a rat?" It drove him also to the great
principle, still too slowly struggling into recognition in this country,
that "all government without the consent of the governed is the very
definition of slavery." It inspired his _Proposal for the Universal Use
of Irish Manufactures_, in which the advice to "burn everything that
came from England except the coals and the people," might serve as the
motto of the Sinn Fein movement. And it inspired also that other "Modest
Proposal for Preventing the Children of Ireland from being a burden to
their Parents and Country, and making them beneficial to the Public.
Fatten them up for the Dublin market; they will be delicious roast,
baked, or boiled."

As wave after wave of indignation passed over him, his wrath at
oppression extended to all mankind. In _Gulliver's Travels_ it is the
human race that lies before him, how much altered for the worse by being
flayed! But it is not pity he feels for the victim now. In man he only
sees the littleness, the grossness, the stupidity, or the brutal
degradation of Yahoos. Unlike other satirists--unlike Juvenal or Pope or
the author of _Penguin Island_, who comes nearest to his manner--he
pours his contempt, not upon certain types of folly or examples of vice,
but upon the race of man as a whole. "I heartily hate," he wrote to
Pope soon after _Gulliver_ was published, "I heartily hate and detest
that animal called man, although I heartily love John, Peter, Thomas,
and so forth." The philanthropist will often idealise man in the
abstract and hate his neighbour at the back door, but that was not
Swift's way. He has been called an inverted hypocrite, as one who makes
himself out worse than he is. I should rather call him an inverted
idealist, for, with high hopes and generous expectations, he entered
into the world, and lacerated by rage at the cruelty, foulness, and
lunacy he there discovered, he poured out his denunciations upon the
crawling forms of life whose filthy minds were well housed in their
apelike and corrupting flesh--a bag of loathsome carrion, animated by
various lusts.

"Noli aemulari," sang the cheerful Psalmist; "Fret not thyself because
of evildoers." How easy for most of us it is to follow that comfortable
counsel! How little strain it puts upon our popularity or our courage!
And how amusing it is to watch the course of human affairs with tolerant
acquiescence! Yes, but, says Swift, "amusement is the happiness of those
who cannot think," and may we not say that acquiescence is the cowardice
of those who dare not feel? There will always be some, at least, in the
world whom savage indignation, like Swift's, will continually torment.
It will eat their flesh and exhaust their spirits. They would gladly be
rid of it, for, indeed, it stifles their existence, depriving them alike
of pleasure, friends, and the objects of ambition--isolating them in the
end as Swift was isolated. If only the causes of their indignation might
cease, how gladly they would welcome the interludes of quiet! But hardly
is one surmounted than another overtops them like a wave, nor have the
stern victims of indignation the smallest hope of deliverance from their
suffering, until they lie, as Swift has now lain for so many years,
where cruel rage can tear the heart no more--"Ubi saeva indignatio
ulterius cor lacerare nequit."



"It is time that I ceased to fill the world," said the dying Victor
Hugo, and we recognise the truth of the saying, though with a smile. For
each generation must find its own way, nor would it be a consolation to
have even the greatest of ancient prophets living still. But yet there
breathes from the living a more intimate influence, for which an
immortality of fame cannot compensate. When men like Tolstoy die, the
world is colder as well as more empty. They have passed outside the
common dangers and affections of man's warm-blooded circle, lighted by
the sun and moon. Their spirit may go marching on; it may become
immortal and shine with an increasing radiance, perpetual as the sweet
influences of the Pleiades. But their place in the heavens is fixed. We
can no longer watch how they will meet the glorious or inglorious
uncertainties of the daily conflict. We can no longer make appeal for
their succour against the new positions and new encroachments of the
eternal adversary. The sudden splendour of action is no longer theirs,
and if we would know the loss implied in that difference, let us imagine
that Tolstoy had died before the summer of 1908, when he uttered his
overwhelming protest against the political massacres ordained by Russia.
In place of that protest, in place of the poignant indignation which
appealed to Stolypin's hangmen to fix their well-soaped noose around his
own old neck, since, if any were guilty, it was he--in place of the
shame and wrath that cried, "I cannot be silent!" we should have had
nothing but our own memory and regret, murmuring to ourselves, "If only
Tolstoy had been living now! But perhaps, for his sake, it is better he
is not."

And now that he is dead, and the world is chilled by the loss of its
greatest and most fiery personality, the adversary may breathe more
freely. As Tolstoy was crossing a city square--I suppose the "Red
Square" in Moscow--on the day when the Holy Synod of Russia
excommunicated him from the Church, he heard someone say, "Look! There
goes the devil in human form!" And for the next few weeks he continued
to receive letters clotted with anathemas, damnations, threats, and
filthy abuse. It was no wonder. To all thrones, dominions,
principalities, and powers, to all priests of established religions, to
the officials of every kind of government, to the Ministers, whether of
parliaments or despots, to all naval and military officers, to all
lawyers, judges, jurymen, policemen, gaolers, and executioners, to all
tax-collectors, speculators, and financiers, Tolstoy was, indeed, the
devil in human form. To them he was the gainsayer, the destroyer, the
most shattering of existent forces. And, in themselves, how large and
powerful a section of every modern State they are! They may almost be
called the Church and State incarnate, and they seldom hesitate to call
themselves so. But, against all their authorities, formulae, and
traditions, Tolstoy stood in perpetual rebellion. To him their
parchments and wigs, their cells and rods and hang-ropes, their mitres,
chasubles, vestments, incense, chantings, services, bells, and books
counted as so much trumpery. For him external law had no authority. If
it conflicted with the law of the soul, it was the soul's right and duty
to disregard or break it. Speaking of the law which ordained the
flogging of peasants for taxes, he wrote: "There is but one thing to
say--that no such law can exist; that no ukase, or insignia, or seals,
or Imperial commands can make a law out of a crime." Similarly, the
doctrines of the Church, her traditions, sacraments, rituals, and
miracles--all that appeared to him to conflict with human intelligence
and the law of his soul--he disregarded or denied. "I deny them all," he
wrote in his answer to the Holy Synod's excommunication (1901); "I
consider all the sacraments to be coarse, degrading sorcery,
incompatible with the idea of God or with the Christian teaching." And,
as the briefest statement of the law of his soul, he added:

"I believe in this: I believe in God, whom I understand
as Spirit, as Love, as the Source of all. I believe that he is
in me, and I in him. I believe that the will of God is most
clearly and intelligibly expressed in the teaching of the man
Jesus, whom to consider as God, and pray to I esteem the
greatest blasphemy. I believe that man's true welfare lies
in fulfilling God's will, and his will is that men should love
one another, and should consequently do to others as they wish
others to do to them--of which it is said in the Gospels that this
is the law and the prophets."

The world has listened to rebels against Church and State before, and
still it goes shuffling along as best it can under external laws and
governments, seeking from symbols, rituals, and miraculous manifestation
such spiritual consolation as it may imbibe. To such rebels the world,
after burning, hanging, and quartering them for several centuries, has
now become fairly well accustomed, though it still shoots or hangs them
now and then as a matter of habit. But Tolstoy's rebellion did not stop
at Church and State. He rebelled against all the ordinary proposals and
ideals of rebels themselves, and to him there was not very much to
choose between the Socialism of Marxists and the despotism of Tsars.
Liberals, Radicals, Social Democrats, Social Revolutionists, and all the
rest of the reforming or rebellious parties--what were they doing but
struggling to re-establish external laws, external governments,
officials, and authorities under different forms and different names? In
the Liberal movements of the day he took no part, and he had little
influence upon the course of revolution. He formed no party; no band of
rebels followed the orders of the rebel-in-chief; among all the groups
of the first Duma there was no Tolstoyan group, nor could there have
been any. When we touch government, he would say, we touch the devil,
and it is only by admitting compromise or corruption that men seek to
maintain or readjust the power of officials over body and soul. "It
seems to me," he wrote to the Russian Liberals in 1896,

"It seems to me now specially important to do what is
right quietly and persistently, not only without asking permission
from Government, but consciously avoiding participation
in it.... What can a Government do with a man who
will not publicly lie with uplifted hand, or will not send his
children to a school he thinks bad, or will not learn to kill
people, or will not take part in idolatry, or in coronations,
deputations, and addresses, or who says and writes what he
thinks and feels?... It is only necessary for all these good,
enlightened, and honest people whose strength is now wasted
in Revolutionary, Socialistic, or Liberal activity (harmful to
themselves and to their cause) to begin to act thus, and a nucleus
of honest, enlightened, and moral people would form around
them, united in the same thoughts and the same feelings.
Public opinion--the only power which subdues Governments--would
become evident, demanding freedom of speech, freedom
of conscience, justice, and humanity."

From a distance, the bustling politicians and reformers of happier lands
might regard this quietism or wise passiveness as a mere counsel of
despair, suitable enough as a shelter in the storm of Russia's tyranny,
but having little significance for Western men of affairs. Yet even so
they had not silenced the voice of this persistent rebel; for he rose in
equal rebellion against the ideals, methods, and standards of European
cities. Wealth, commerce, industrial development, inventions, luxuries,
and all the complexity of civilisation were of no more account to him
than the toys of kings and the tag-rag of the churches. Other rebels had
preached the gospel of pleasure to the poor, and had themselves acted on
their precepts. Other reformers, even religious reformers, had extolled
the delights of women, wine, and song. But here was a man despising
these as the things after which the Gentiles seek. Love intrigues,
banquets, wealthy establishments, operas, theatres, poetry, and
fashionable novels--what had they to do with the kingdom of God that is
within? He touched nothing from which he did not strip the adornment. He
left life bare and stern as the starry firmament, and he felt awe at
nothing, not even at the starry firmament, but only at the sense of
right and wrong in man. He did not summon the poor to rise against "the
idle rich," but he summoned the idle rich, the well-to-do, the gentry of
independent means, the comfortable annuitants, the sportsmen, the
writers and dramatists of pleasure, the artists of triviality, the
pretty rhymers, and the people who are too busy for thought, to rise
against themselves. It was a much harder summons to obey, and generally
they answered with a shrug and a mutter of "madness," "mere asceticism,"
or "a fanatic's intolerance."

Yet they could not choose but hear. Mr. Kipling, in agreement with an
earlier prophet, once identified rebellion with the sin of witchcraft,
and about Tolstoy there was certainly a witching power, a magic or
demonic attraction, that gave the hearer no peace. Perhaps more even
than from his imaginative strength, it arose from his whole-hearted
sincerity, always looking reality straight in the face, always refusing
compromise, never hesitating to follow where reason led. Compromise and
temporise and choose the line of least resistance, as we habitually do,
there still remains in most people a fibre that vibrates to that iron
sincerity. And so it was that, from the first, Tolstoy brought with him
a disturbing and incalculable magic--an upheaving force, like leaven
stirring in the dough, or like a sword in unconditioned and unchartered

Critics have divided his life into artistic and prophetic hemispheres;
they have accused him of giving up for man what was meant for artistic
circles. But the seas of both hemispheres are the same, and there was no
division in Tolstoy's main purpose or outlook upon life from first to


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