First and Last
Part 1 out of 4
Tonya Allen, Eric Eldred, Charles Franks, and the Online Distributed
FIRST AND LAST
ON WEIGHING ANCHOR
THE CAPTAIN OF INDUSTRY
THE VIEWS OF ENGLAND
THE INHERITANCE OF HUMOUR
THE OLD GENTLEMAN'S OPINIONS
ON HISTORICAL EVIDENCE
THE ABSENCE OF THE PAST
THE LOST THINGS
ON THE READING OF HISTORY
ON THE DECLINE OF THE BOOK
JOSE MARIA DE HEREDIA
NORMANDY AND THE NORMANS
THE OLD THINGS
THE BATTLE OF HASTINGS
THE ROMAN ROADS IN PICARDY
THE REWARD OF LETTERS
COMPANIONS OF TRAVEL
ON THE SOURCES OF RIVERS
THE GREAT SIGHT
THE DECLINE OF A STATE
ON PAST GREATNESS
MR. THE DUKE: THE MAN OF MALPLAQUET
THE GAME OF CARDS
ON A GREAT WIND
THE END OF THE WORLD
FIRST AND LAST
On Weighing Anchor
Personally I should call it "Getting It up," but I have always seen it
in print called "weighing anchor"--and if it is in print one must bow to
it. It does weigh.
There are many ways of doing it. The best, like all good things, has
gone for ever, and this best way was for a thing called a capstan to
have sticking out from it, movable, and fitted into its upper rim, other
things called capstan--bars. These, men would push singing a song, while
on the top of the capstan sat a man playing the fiddle, or the flute, or
some other instrument of music. You and I have seen it in pictures. Our
sons will say that they wish they had seen it in pictures. Our sons'
sons will say it is all a lie and was never in anything but the
pictures, and they will explain it by some myth or other.
Another way is to take two turns of a rope round a donkey-engine, paying
in and coiling while the engine clanks. And another way on smaller boats
is a sort of jack arrangement by which you give little jerks to a
ratchet and wheel, and at last It looses Its hold. Sometimes (in this
last way) It will not loose Its hold at all.
Then there is a way of which I proudly boast that it is the only way I
know, which is to go forward and haul at the line until It comes--or
does not come. If It does not come, you will not be so cowardly or so
mean as to miss your tide for such a trifle. You will cut the line and
tie a float on and pray Heaven that into whatever place you run, that
place will have moorings ready and free.
When a man weighs anchor in a little ship or a large one he does a jolly
thing! He cuts himself off and he starts for freedom and for the chance
of things. He pulls the jib a-weather, he leans to her slowly pulling
round, he sees the wind getting into the mainsail, and he feels that she
feels the helm. He has her on a slant of the wind, and he makes out
between the harbour piers. I am supposing, for the sake of good luck,
that it is not blowing bang down the harbour mouth, nor, for the matter
of that, bang out of it. I am supposing, for the sake of good luck to
this venture, that in weighing anchor you have the wind so that you can
sail with it full and by, or freer still, right past the walls until you
are well into the tide outside. You may tell me that you are so rich and
your boat is so big that there have been times when you have anchored in
the very open, and that all this does not apply to you. Why, then, your
thoughts do not apply to me nor to the little boat I have in mind.
In the weighing of anchor and the taking of adventure and of the sea
there is an exact parallel to anything that any man can do in the
beginning of any human thing, from his momentous setting out upon his
life in early manhood to the least decision of his present passing day.
It is a very proper emblem of a beginning. It may lead him to that kind
of muddle and set-back which attaches only to beginnings, or it may get
him fairly into the weather, and yet he may find, a little way outside,
that he has to run for it, or to beat back to harbour. Or, more
generously, it may lead him to a long and steady cruise in which he
shall find profit and make distant rivers and continue to increase his
log by one good landfall after another. But the whole point of weighing
anchor is that he has chosen his weather and his tide, and that he is
setting out. The thing is done.
You will very commonly observe that, in land affairs, if good fortune
follows a venture it is due to the marvellous excellence of its
conductor, but if ill fortune, then to evil chance alone. Now, it is not
so with the sea.
The sea drives truth into a man like salt. A coward cannot long pretend
to be brave at sea, nor a fool to be wise, nor a prig to be a good
companion, and any venture connected with the sea is full of venture and
can pretend to be nothing more. Nevertheless there is a certain pride in
keeping a course through different weathers, in making the best of a
tide, in using cats' paws in a dull race, and, generally, in knowing how
to handle the thing you steer and to judge the water and the wind. Just
because men have to tell the truth once they get into tide water, what
little is due to themselves in their success thereon they are proud of
If your sailing venture goes well, sailing reader, take a just pride in
it; there will be the less need for me to write, some few years hence,
upon the art of picking up moorings, though I confess I would rather
have written on that so far as the fun of writing was concerned. For
picking up moorings is a far more tricky and amusing business than
Getting It up. It differs with every conceivable circumstance of wind,
and tide, and harbour, and rig, and freeboard, and light; and then there
are so many stories to tell about it! As--how once a poor man picked up
a rich man's moorings at Cowes and was visited by an aluminium boat, all
splendid in the morning sun. Or again--how a stranger who had made
Orford Haven (that very difficult place) on the very top of an
equinoctial springtide, picked up a racing mark-buoy, taking it to be
moorings, and dragged it with him all the way to Aldborough, and that
right before the town of Orford, so making himself hateful to the Orford
But I digress....
There was in the regiment with which I served a man called Frocot,
famous with his comrades because he had seen The Dead, for this
experience, though common among the Scotch, is rare among the French, a
sister nation. This man Frocot could neither write nor read, and was
also the strongest man I ever knew. He was quite short and exceedingly
broad, and he could break a penny with his hands, but this gift of
strength, though young men value it so much, was thought little of
compared with his perception of unseen things, for though the men, who
were peasants, professed to laugh at it, and him, in their hearts they
profoundly believed. It had been made clear to us that he could see and
hear The Dead one night in January during a snowstorm, when he came in
and woke me in barrack-room because he had heard the Loose Spur. Our
spurs were not buckled on like the officers'; they were fixed into the
heel of the boot, and if a nail loosened upon either side the spur
dragged with an unmistakable noise. There was a sergeant who (for some
reason) had one so loosened on the last night he had ever gone the
rounds before his death, for in the morning as he came off guard he
killed himself, and the story went about among the drivers that
sometimes on stable guard in the thick of the night, when you watched
all alone by the lantern (with your three comrades asleep in the straw
of an empty stall), your blood would stop and your skin tauten at the
sound of a loose spur dragging on the far side of the stable, in the
dark. But though many had heard the story, and though some had pretended
to find proof for it, I never knew a man to feel and know it except this
man Frocot on that night. I remember him at the foot of my bed with his
lantern waking me from the rooted sleep of bodily fatigue, standing
there in his dark blue driver's coat and staring with terrible eyes. He
had undoubtedly heard and seen, but whether of himself from within,
imagining, or, as I rather believe, from without and influenced, it is
impossible to say. He was rough and poor, and he came from the Forest of
The reason I remember him and write of him at this season is not,
however, this particular and dreadful visitation of his, but a folly or
a vision that befell him at this time of the year, now seventeen years
ago; for he had Christmas leave and was on his way from garrison to his
native place, and he was walking the last miles of the wood. It was the
night before Christmas. It was clear, and there was no wind, but the sky
was overcast with level clouds and the evening was very dark. He started
unfed since the first meal of the day; it was dark three hours before he
was up into the high wood. He met no one during all these miles, and his
body and his mind were lonely; he hoped to press on and be at his
father's door before two in the morning or perhaps at one. The night was
so still that he heard no noise in the high wood, not even the rustling
of a leaf or a twig crackling, and no animal ran in the undergrowth. The
moss of the ride was silent under his heavy tread, but now and then the
steel of his side-arm clicked against a metal button of the great cloak
he wore. This sharp sound made him so conscious of himself that he
seemed to fill that forest with his own presence and to be all that was,
there or elsewhere. He was in a mood of unreal and not holy things. The
mood, remaining, changed its aspect, and now he was so far from alone
that all the trunks around him and the glimmers of sky between bare
boughs held each a spirit of its own, and with the powerful imagination
of the unlearned he could have spoken and held communion with the trees;
but it would have an evil communion, for he felt this mood of his take
on a further phase as he went deeper and deeper still into these
forests. He felt about him uneasily the sense of doom. He was in that
exaltation of fancy or dream when faint appeals are half heard far off,
but not by our human ears, and when whatever attempts to pierce the
armour of our mortality appeals to us by wailing and by despairing
sighs. It seemed to him that most unhappy things passed near him in the
air, and that the wood about him was full of sobbing. Then, again, he
felt his own mind within him begin to be occupied by doubtful troubles
worse than these terrors, an anxious straining for ill news, for bitter
and dreadful news, mixed with a confused certitude that such news had
come indeed, disturbed and haunted him; and all the while about him in
that stillness the rushing of unhappy spirits went like a secret storm.
He was clouded with the mingled emotions of apprehension and of fatal
mourning; he attempted to remember the expectations that had failed him,
friends untrue, and the names of parents dead; but he was now the victim
of this strange night and unable (whether from hunger or fatigue, or
from that unique power of his to discern things beyond the world) to
remember his life or his definite aims at all, or even his own name. He
was mixed with the whole universe about him, and was suffering some loss
so grievous that very soon the gait of his march and his whole being
were informed by a large and final despair.
It was in this great and universal mood (granted to him as a seer,
though he was a common man) that he saw down the ride, but somewhat to
one side of it in the heart of the high wood, a great light shining from
a barn or shed that stood there in the undergrowth, and to this light,
though his way naturally led him to it, he felt also impelled by an
influence as strong as or stronger than the despair that had filled his
soul and all the woods around. He went on therefore quickly, straining
with his eyes, and when he came into the light that shone out from this
he saw a more brilliant light within, and men of his own kind adoring;
but the vision was confused, like light on light or like vapours moving
over bright metals in a cauldron, and as he gazed his mind became still
and the dread left him altogether. He said it was like shutting a
gentleman's great oaken door against a driving storm.
This is the story he told me weeks after as we rode together in the
battery, for he hid it in his heart till the spring. As I say, I
He was an unlearned man and a strong; he never worshipped. He was of
that plain stuff and clay on which has worked since all recorded time
the power of the Spirit.
He said that when he left (as he did rapidly leave) that light, peace
also left him, but that the haunting terror did not return. He found the
clearing and his father's hut; fatigue and the common world indeed
returned, but with them a permanent memory of things experienced.
Every word I have written of him is true.
If antiquity be the test of nobility, as many affirm and none deny
(saving, indeed, that family which takes for its motto "Sola Virtus
Nobilitas," which may mean that virtue is the only nobility, but which
may also mean, mark you, that nobility is the only virtue--and anyhow
denies that nobility is tested by the lapse of time), _if_, I say,
antiquity be the only test of nobility, then cheese is a very noble
But wait a moment: there was a digression in that first paragraph which
to the purist might seem of a complicated kind.
Were I writing algebra (I wish I were) I could have analysed my thoughts
by the use of square brackets, round brackets, twiddly brackets, and the
rest, all properly set out in order so that a Common Fool could follow
But no such luck! I may not write of algebra here; for there is a rule
current in all newspapers that no man may write upon any matter save
upon those in which he is more learned than all his human fellows that
drag themselves so slowly daily forward to the grave.
So I had to put the thing in the very common form of a digression, and
very nearly to forget that great subject of cheese which I had put at
the very head and title of this.
Which reminds me: had I followed the rule set down by a London
journalist the other day (and of the proprietor of his paper I will say
nothing--though I might have put down the remark to his proprietor) I
would have hesitated to write that first paragraph. I would have
hesitated, did I say? Griffins' tails! Nay--Hippogriffs and other things
of the night! I would not have dared to write it at all! For this
journalist made a law and promulgated it, and the law was this: that no
man should write that English which could not be understood if all the
punctuation were left out. Punctuation, I take it, includes brackets,
which the Lord of Printers knows are a very modern part of punctuation
Now let the horripilised reader look up again at the first paragraph (it
will do him no harm), and think how it would look all written out in
fair uncials like the beautiful Gospels of St. Chad, which anyone may
see for nothing in the cathedral of Lichfield, an English town famous
for eight or nine different things: as Garrick, Doctor Johnson, and its
two opposite inns. Come, read that first paragraph over now and see what
you could make of it if it were written out in uncials--that is, not
only without punctuation, but without any division between the words.
Wow! As the philosopher said when he was asked to give a plain answer
"Yes" or "No."
And now to cheese. I have had quite enough of digressions and of
follies. They are the happy youth of an article. They are the springtime
of it. They are its riot. I am approaching the middle age of this
article. Let us be solid upon the matter of cheese.
I have premised its antiquity, which is of two sorts, as is that of a
nobleman. First, the antiquity of its lineage; secondly, the antiquity
of its self. For we all know that when we meet a nobleman we revere his
nobility very much if he be himself old, and that this quality of age in
him seems to marry itself in some mysterious way with the antiquity of
The lineage of cheese is demonstrably beyond all record. What did the
faun in the beginning of time when a god surprised him or a mortal had
the misfortune to come across him in the woods? It is well known that
the faun offered either of them cheese. So he knew how to make it.
There are certain bestial men, hangers-on of the Germans, who would
contend that this would prove cheese to be acquired by the Aryan race
(or what not) from the Dolichocephalics (or what not), and there are
certain horrors who descend to imitate these barbarians--though
themselves born in these glorious islands, which are so steep upon their
western side. But I will not detain you upon these lest I should fall
head foremost into another digression and forget that my article,
already in its middle age, is now approaching grey hairs.
At any rate, cheese is very old. It is beyond written language. Whether
it is older than butter has been exhaustively discussed by several
learned men, to whom I do not send you because the road towards them
leads elsewhere. It is the universal opinion of all most accustomed to
weigh evidence (and in these I very properly include not only such
political hacks as are already upon the bench but sweepingly every
single lawyer in Parliament, since any one of them may tomorrow be a
judge) that milk is older than cheese, and that man had the use of milk
before he cunningly devised the trick of squeezing it in a press and by
sacrificing something of its sweetness endowed it with a sort of
The story of all this has perished. Do not believe any man who professes
to give it you. If he tells you some legend of a god who taught the
Wheat-eating Race, the Ploughers, and the Lords to make cheese, tell him
such tales are true symbols, but symbols only. If he tells you that
cheese was an evolution and a development, oh! then!--bring up your
guns! Open on the fellow and sweep his intolerable lack of intelligence
from the earth. Ask him if he discovers reality to be a function of
time, and Being to hide in clockwork. Keep him on the hop with ironical
comments upon how it may be that environment can act upon Will, while
Will can do nothing with environment--whose proper name is mud. Pester
the provincial. Run him off the field.
But about cheese. Its noble antiquity breeds in it a noble diffusion.
This happy Christendom of ours (which is just now suffering from an
indigestion and needs a doctor--but having also a complication of
insomnia cannot recollect his name) has been multifarious
incredibly--but in nothing more than in cheese!
One cheese differs from another, and the difference is in sweeps, and in
landscapes, and in provinces, and in countrysides, and in climates, and
in principalities, and in realms, and in the nature of things. Cheese
does most gloriously reflect the multitudinous effect of earthly things,
which could not be multitudinous did they not proceed from one mind.
Consider the cheese of Rocquefort: how hard it is in its little box.
Consider the cheese of Camembert, which is hard also, and also lives in
a little box, but must not be eaten until it is soft and yellow.
Consider the cheese of Stilton, which is not made there, and of Cheddar,
which is. Then there is your Parmesan, which idiots buy rancid in
bottles, but which the wise grate daily for their use: you think it is
hard from its birth? You are mistaken. It is the world that hardens the
Parmesan. In its youth the Parmesan is very soft and easy, and is
Then there is your cheese of Wensleydale, which is made in Wensleydale,
and your little Swiss cheese, which is soft and creamy and eaten with
sugar, and there is your Cheshire cheese and your little Cornish cheese,
whose name escapes me, and your huge round cheese out of the Midlands,
as big as a fort whose name I never heard. There is your toasted or
Welsh cheese, and your cheese of Pont-l'eveque, and your white cheese of
Brie, which is a chalky sort of cheese. And there is your cheese of
Neufchatel, and there is your Gorgonzola cheese, which is mottled all
over like some marbles, or like that Mediterranean soap which is made of
wood-ash and of olive oil. There is your Gloucester cheese called the
Double Gloucester, and I have read in a book of Dunlop cheese, which is
made in Ayrshire: they could tell you more about it in Kilmarnock. Then
Suffolk makes a cheese, but does not give it any name; and talking of
that reminds me how going to Le Quesnoy to pass the people there the
time of day, and to see what was left of that famous but forgotten
fortress, a young man there showed me a cheese, which he told me also
had no name, but which was native to the town, and in the valley of Ste.
Engrace, where is that great wood which shuts off all the world, they
make their cheese of ewe's milk and sell it in Tardets, which is their
only livelihood. They make a cheese in Port-Salut which is a very subtle
cheese, and there is a cheese of Limburg, and I know not how many
others, or rather I know them, but you have had enough: for a little
cheese goes a long way. No man is a glutton on cheese.
What other cheese has great holes in it like Gruyere, or what other is
as round as a cannon-ball like that cheese called Dutch? which reminds
Talking of Dutch cheese. Do you not notice how the intimate mind of
Europe is reflected in cheese? For in the centre of Europe, and where
Europe is most active, I mean in Britain and in Gaul and in Northern
Italy, and in the valley of the Rhine--nay, to some extent in Spain (in
her Pyrenean valleys at least)--there flourishes a vast burgeoning of
cheese, infinite in variety, one in goodness. But as Europe fades away
under the African wound which Spain suffered or the Eastern barbarism of
the Elbe, what happens to cheese? It becomes very flat and similar. You
can quote six cheeses perhaps which the public power of Christendom has
founded outside the limits of its ancient Empire--but not more than six.
I will quote you 253 between the Ebro and the Grampians, between
Brindisi and the Irish Channel.
I do not write vainly. It is a profound thing.
The Captain of Industry
The heir of the merchant Mahmoud had not disappointed that great
financier while he still lived, and when he died he had the satisfaction
of seeing the young man, now twenty-five years of age, successfully
conducting his numerous affairs, and increasing (fabulous as this may
seem) the millions with which his uncle entrusted him.
Shortly after Mahmoud's death the prosperity of the firm had already
given rise to a new proverb, and men said: "Do you think I am
Mahmoud's-Nephew?" when they were asked to lend money or in some other
way to jeopardize a few coppers in the service of God or their
It was also a current expression, "He's rich as Mahmoud's-Nephew," when
comrades would jest against some young fellow who was flusher than
usual, and could afford a quart or even a gallon of wine for the
company; while again the discontented and the oppressed would mutter
between their teeth: "Heaven will take vengeance at last upon these
Mahmoud's-Nephews!" In a word, "Mahmoud's-Nephew" came to mean
throughout the whole Caliphate and wherever the True Believers spread
their empire, an exceedingly wealthy man. But Mahmoud himself having
been dead ten years and his heir the fortunate head of the establishment
being now well over thirty years of age, there happened a very
inexplicable and outrageous accident: he died--and after his death no
instructions were discovered as to what should be done with this
enormous capital, no will could be found, and it happened moreover to be
a moment of great financial delicacy when the manager of each department
in the business needed all the credit he could get.
In such a quandary the Chief Organizer and confidential friend, Ahmed,
upon whom the business already largely depended, and who was so
circumstanced that he could draw almost at will upon the balances,
imagined a most intelligent way of escaping from the difficulties that
would arise when the death of the principal was known.
He caused a quantity of hay, of straw, of dust and of other worthless
materials to be stuffed into a figure of canvas; this he wrapped round
with the usual clothes that Mahmoud's-Nephew had worn in the office, he
shrouded the face with the hood which his chief had commonly worn during
life, and having so dressed the lay figure and secretly buried the real
body, he admitted upon the morning after the death those who first had
business with his master.
He met them at the door with smiles and bows, saying: "You know,
gentlemen, that like most really successful men, my chief is as silent
as his decisions are rapid; he will listen to what you have to say, and
it will be a plain yes or no at the end of it."
These gentlemen came with a proposal to sell to the firm for the sum of
one million dinars a barren rock in the Indian Sea, which was not even
theirs, and on which indeed not one of them had ever set eyes. Their
claim to advance so original a proposal was that to their certain
knowledge two thousand of the wealthiest citizens of their town were
willing to buy the rock again at a profit from whoever should be its
possessor during the next few weeks in the fond hope of selling it once
again to provincials, clerics, widows, orphans, and in general the
uninstructed and the credulous--among whom had been industriously spread
the report that the rock in question consisted of one solid and flawless
These gentlemen sitting round the table before the shrouded figure laid
down their proposals, whereupon the manager briefly summed up what they
had said, and having done so, replied: "Gentlemen, his lordship is a man
of few words; but you will have your answer in a moment if you will be
good enough to rise, as he is at this moment expecting a deputation from
the Holy Men who are entreating him to provide the cost of a mosque in
one of the suburbs."
The proposers of the bargain rose, greatly awed and pleased by the
silence and dignity of the financier who apparently remained for a
moment discussing their proposals without gesture and in a tone too low
for them to hear, while his manager bent over to listen.
"It is ever so," said one of them, "you may ever know the greatest men
by their silence."
"You are right," said another, "he is not one to be easily deceived."
The manager in a moment or two rejoined them at the door. "Gentlemen,"
he said, smiling, "my chief has heard your arguments and has expressed
his assent to your conditions."
They went out, delighted at the success of their mission, and
congratulated Ahmed upon the financier's genius.
"He does not," said the manager, laughing in hearty agreement, "bestow
himself as a present upon all and sundry. Nor is he often caught
indulging in short bouts of sleep, nor are flies diabolically left to
repose undisturbed upon his features--but you must excuse me, I hear the
Holy Men," and indeed from the inner room came a noise of speechifying
in that doleful sing-song which is associated in Bagdad with the
practice of religion.
The gentlemen who had thus had the luck to interview Mahmoud's-Nephew
with such success in the matter of the Diamond Island, soon spread about
the news, and confirmed their fellow-citizens in the certitude that a
great financier is neither talkative nor vivacious. "Still waters run
deep," they said, and all those to whom they said it nodded in a wise
acquiescence. Nor had the Manager the least difficulty in receiving one
set of customers after another and in negotiating within three weeks an
infinite amount of business, all of which confirmed those who had the
pleasure of an audience with the stuffed dummy that great fortunes were
made and retained by reticence and a contempt for convivial weakness.
At last the ingenious man of affairs, to whom the whole combination was
due, was not a little disturbed to receive from the Caliph a note
couched in the following terms:
"The Commander of the Faithful and the Servant of the Merciful whose
name be exalted, to the Nephew of Mahmoud:
"It has been the custom since the days of my grandfather (May his soul
see God!) for the more wealthy of the Faithful to be called to my
councils, and upon my summoning them thither it has not been unusual for
them to present sums varying in magnitude but always proportionate to
their total fortunes. My court will receive signal honour if you will
present yourself after the morning prayer of the day after to-morrow. My
treasurer will receive from you with gratitude and remembrance upon the
previous day and not later than noon, the sum of one million dinars."
Here, indeed, was a perplexity. The payment of the money was an easy
matter and was duly accomplished; but how should the lay figure which
did duty in such domestic scenes as the negotiation of loans, the
bullying of debtors, the purchase of options, and the cheating of the
innocent and the embarrassed, take his place in the Caliph's council and
remain undiscovered? For great as was the reputation of Mahmoud's-Nephew
for discretion and for golden silence, such as are proper to the
accumulation of great wealth, there would seem a necessity in any
political assembly to open the mouth from time to time, if only for the
giving of a vote.
But Ahmed, who had by this time accumulated into his own hands the
millions formerly his master's, finally solved the problem. Judicious
presents to the servants of the palace and the public criers made his
way the easier, and on the summoning of the council Mahmoud's-Nephew,
whose troublesome affection of the throat was now publicly discussed,
was permitted to bring into the council-room his private secretary and
Moreover at the council, as at his private office, the continued
taciturnity of the millionaire could not but impress the politicians as
it had already impressed the financial world.
"He does not waste his breath in tub-thumping," said one, looking
reverently at the sealed figure.
"No," another would reply, "they may ridicule our old-fashioned, honest,
quiet Mohammedan country gentlemen, but for common sense I will back
them against all the brilliant paradoxical young fellows of our day."
"They say he is very kind at heart and lovable," a third would then add,
upon which a fourth would bear his testimony thus:
"Yes, and though he says nothing about it, his charitable gifts are
By the second meeting of the council the lay figure had achieved a
reputation of so high a sort that the Caliph himself insisted upon
making him a domestic adviser, one of the three who perpetually
associated with the Commander of the _Faithful_ and directed his
policy. For the universal esteem in which the new councillor was held
had affected that Prince very deeply.
Here there arose a crux from which there could be no escape, as one of
the three chief councillors, Mahmoud's-Nephew, must speak at last and
The Manager, first considering the whole business, and next adding up
his private gains, which he had carefully laid out in estates of which
the firm and its employes knew nothing, decided that he could afford to
retire. What might happen to the general business after his withdrawal
would not be his concern.
He first gave out, therefore, that the millionaire was taken exceedingly
ill, and that his life was despaired of: later, within a few hours, that
he was dead.
So far from attempting to allay the panic which ensued, Ahmed frankly
admitted the worst.
With cries of despair and a confident appeal to the justice of Heaven
against such intrigues, the honest fellow permitted the whole of the
vast business to be wound up in favour of newcomers, who had not
forgotten to reward him, and soothing as best he could the ruined crowds
of small investors who thronged round him for help and advice, he
retired under an assumed name to his highly profitable estates, which
were situated in the most distant provinces of the known world.
As for Mahmoud's-Nephew, three theories arose about him which are still
disputed to this day:
The first was that his magnificent brain with its equitable judgment and
its power of strict secrecy, had designed plans too far advanced for his
time, and that his bankruptcy was due to excess of wisdom.
The second theory would have it that by "going into politics" (as the
phrase runs in Bagdad) he had dissipated his energies, neglected his
business, and that the inevitable consequences had followed.
The third theory was far more reasonable. Mahmoud's-Nephew, according to
this, had towards the end of his life lost judgment; his garrulous
indecision within the last few days before his death was notorious: in
the Caliph's council, as those who should best know were sure, one could
hardly get a word in edgewise for his bombastic self-assurance; while in
matters of business, to conduct a bargain with him was more like
attending a public meeting than the prosecution of negotiations with a
In a word, it was generally agreed that Mahmoud's-Nephew's success had
been bound up with his splendid silence, his fall, bankruptcy, and
death, with a lesion of the brain which had disturbed this miracle of
I had a day free between two lectures in the south-west of England, and
I spent it stopping at a town in which there was a large and very
comfortable old posting-house or coaching-inn. I had meant to stay some
few hours there and to take the last train out in the evening, and I had
meant to spend those hours alone and resting; but this was not permitted
me, for just as I had taken up the local paper, which was a humble,
reasonable thing, empty of any passion and violence and very reposeful
to read, a man came up and touched my left elbow sharply: a gesture not
at all to my taste nor, I think, to that of anyone who is trying to read
I looked up and saw a man who must have been quite sixty years of age.
He had on a soft, felt slouch hat, a very old and greenish black coat;
he stooped and shuffled; he was clean-shaven, with long grey hair, and
his eyes were astonishingly bright and piercing and set close together.
He said, "I beg your pardon."
I said, "Eh, what?"
He said again "I beg your pardon" in the tones of a man who almost
commands, and having said this he put his hat on the table, dragged a
chair quite close to mine, and pulled a folded bunch of foolscap sheets
out of his pocket. His manner was that of a man who engages your
attention and has a right to engage it. There were no preliminaries and
there was no introduction. This was apparently his manner, and I
"I have here," he said, fixing me with his intense eyes, "the plans for
"Oh!" said I.
"You know what a speedometer is?" he asked suspiciously.
I said yes. I said it was a machine for measuring the speed of vehicles,
and that it was compounded of two (or more) Greek words.
He nodded; he was pleased that I knew so much, and could therefore
listen to his tale and understand it. He pulled his grey baggy trousers
up over the knee, settled himself, sitting forward, and opened his
document. He cleared his throat, still fixing me with those eyes of his,
"Every speedometer up to now has depended upon the same principle as a
Watt's governor; that is, there are two little balls attached to each by
a limb to a central shaft: they rise and fall according to their speed
of rotation, and this movement is indicated upon a dial."
He cleared his throat again. "Of course, that is unsatisfactory."
"Damnably!" said I, but this reply did not check him.
"It works tolerably well at high speeds; at low speeds it is useless;
and then again there is a very rapid fluctuation, and the instrument is
of only approximate precision."
"Not it!" said I to encourage him.
"There is one exception," he continued, "to this principle, and that is
a speedometer which depends upon the introduction of resistance into a
current generated by a small magneto. The faster the magneto turns the
stronger the current generated, and the change is indicated upon a
"Yes," said I sadly, "as in the former case so in this; the change of
speed is indicated upon a dial." And I sighed.
"But this method also," he went on tenaciously, "has its defects."
"You may lay to that," I interrupted.
"It has the defect that at high speeds its readings are not quite
correct, and at very low speeds still less so. Moreover, it is said that
it slightly deteriorates with the passage of time."
"Now that," I broke in emphatically, "is a defect I have discovered
But he put up his hand to stop me. "It slightly deteriorates, I say,
with the passage of time." He paused a moment impressively. "No one has
hitherto discovered any system which will accurately record the speed of
a vehicle or of any rotary movement and register it at the lowest as at
the highest speeds." He paused again for a still longer period in order
to give still greater emphasis to what he had to say. He concluded in a
new note of sober triumph: "I have solved the problem!"
I thought this was the end of him, and I got up and beamed a
congratulation at him and asked if he would drink anything, but he only
said, "Please sit down again and I will explain."
There is no way of combating this sort of thing, and so I sat down, and
he went on:
"It is perfectly simple...." He passed his hand over his forehead. "It
is so simple that one would say it must have been thought of before; but
that is what is always said of a great invention.... Now I have here"
(and he opened out his foolscap) "the full details. But I will not read
them to you; I will summarize them briefly."
"Have you a plan or anything I could watch?" said I a little anxiously.
"No," he answered sharply, "I have not, but if you like I will draw a
rough sketch as I go along upon the margin of your newspaper."
"Thank you," I said.
He drew the newspaper towards him and put it on his knee. He pulled out
a pencil; he held the foolscap up before his eye, and he began to
"The general principle upon which my speedometer reposes," he said
solemnly, "is the coordination of the cylinder and the cone upon an
angle which will have to be determined in practice, and will probably
vary for different types. But it will never fall below 15 nor rise over
"I should have thought----" I began, but he told me I could not yet have
grasped it, and that he wished to be more explicit.
"On a king bolt," he said, occasionally consulting his notes, "runs a
pivot in bevel which is kept in place by a small hair-spring, which
spring fits loosely on the Conkling Shaft."
"Exactly," said I, "I see what is coming."
But he wouldn't let me off so easily.
"Yes, of course you are going to say that the whole will be keyed
together, and that the T-pattern nuts on a movable shank will be my
method of attachment to the fixed portion next to the cam? Eh? So it is,
but" (and here his eye brightened), "_anyone_ could have arranged
that. My particularity is that I have a freedom of movement even at the
lowest speeds, and an accuracy of notation even at the highest, which is
secured in a wholly novel manner ... and yet so simply. What do you
think it is?"
I affected to look puzzled, and thought for a moment. "I cannot
imagine," said I, "unless----"
"No," he interrupted, "do not try to guess it, for you never will. _I
turn the flange inward_ on a Wilkinson lathe and give it a parabolic
section so that the axes are always parallel to each other and to the
I had no idea the man could be so moved: there was jubilation in his
"There!" he said again, as though some effort of the brain had exhausted
him. "It can't be touched, mind you," he added suspiciously; "I've taken
out the provisional patents. There's one man I know wants to fight it in
the courts as an infringement on Wilkinson's own patent, but it can't be
touched!" He shook his head decisively. "No! my lawyer's certain of
that--and so'm I!"
Here there was a break in his communications, so to speak, and he had
apparently run out. It was not for me to wind him up again. I watched
him with a sombre relief as he stood up again to full height, leaned his
head back, and sighed profoundly with satisfaction and with completion.
He folded up his specification and put it in his pocket again. He tore
off the incomprehensible sketch he had made with his pencil while he was
speaking, and put it by me on the mantelshelf. "You might like to keep
it," he said pathetically; "it's a document, that is; it will be famous
some day." He looked at it lovingly, almost as though he was going to
take it back again: but he thought better of it.
I was waiting, I will not say itching, for him to take his leave, when a
god or demon, that same perhaps which had treated the poor fellow as a
jest for a whole lifetime, inspired him to take a very false step
indeed. He had already taken up his hat and was turning as though to go
to the door, when the unfortunate thought struck him.
"What would you do?" he said.
"How do you mean?" I answered.
"Why, what would you do to try and get it taken up and talked about?"
Then it was my turn, and I let him have it.
"You must get the Press and the Government to work together," I said
rapidly, "and particularly in connection with the new Government Service
of Camion's Fettle-Trains and Cursory Circuits."
He nodded like one who thoroughly understands and desires to hear more.
"Speed," I added nonchalantly, "and the measure of it are of course
essentials in their case."
He nodded again.
"And they have never really settled the problem ... especially about
"No," said he ponderously, "so I understand."
"Well now," I went on, full of the chase, "you will naturally ask me who
are you to go to?" I scratched my nose. "You know the Fusionary Office,
as we call it? It is really, of course, a part of the Stannaries. But
the Chief Permanent Secretary likes to have it called the Fusionary
Office; it's his vanity."
"Yes," said he eagerly, "yes, go on!"
"They always have the same hours," I said, "four to eleven."
"Four to _what_?" he asked, looking up.
"To eleven," I repeated sharply; "but you'd much better call round about
He looked bewildered.
"Don't interrupt," I said, seeing him open his lips, "or I shall lose
the thread. It's rather complicated. You call at three by the little
door in Whitehall on the Embankment side towards the Horse Guards
looking south, and _don't_ ring the bell."
"Why not?" he asked. I thought for the moment he might begin to cry.
"Oh, well," I said testily, "you mustn't ask those questions. All these
institutions are very old institutions with habits and prejudices of
their own. You mustn't ring the bell, that's all; they don't like it;
you must just wait until they open; and then, if you take _my_
advice, don't write a note or ask to interview the First Analyist. Don't
do any of the usual things, but just fill up one of the regular Treasury
forms and state that you have come with regard to the Perception and
His face was pained and wrinkled as he heard me, but he said, "I beg
your pardon ... but shall I have it all explained to me at the office?"
"Certainly not!" I said, aghast; "it's just because you might have so
much difficulty there that I'm explaining everything to you."
"Yes, I know," he said doubtfully; "thank you."
"I hope you'll try and follow what I say," I continued a little wearily;
"I have special opportunities for knowing.... Political, you know."
"Certainly," he said, "certainly; but about those forms?"
"Well," I said, "you didn't suppose they supplied them, did you?"
"I almost did," he ventured.
"Oh, you did," said I, with a loud laugh, "well, you're wrong there.
However, I dare say I've got one on me." He looked up eagerly as I felt
in my pockets. I brought out a telegraph blank, two letters, and a
tobacco pouch. I looked at them for a moment. "No," said I, "I haven't
got one; it's a pity, but I'll tell you who will give you one; you know
the place opposite, where the bills are drafted?"
"I'm afraid I don't," he said, admitting ignorance for the first time in
this conversation and perhaps in his life.
"Well," said I impatiently, "never mind, anyone will show you. Go there,
and if they don't give you a form they'll show you a copy of Paper B,
which is much the same thing."
"Thank you," said he humbly, and he got up to move out. He was going a
little groggily, his eyes were dull and sodden. He presented all the
aspect of a man under a heavy strain.
"You've got it all clear, I hope?" I asked cheerfully as he neared the
"Oh, yes!" he said. "Thank you; yes!"
"Anything else?" I shouted as he passed out into the courtyard.
"Anything else I can do? You'll always find me in the room over the
office, Room H, down the little iron staircase," I nodded genially to
him as he disappeared.
In this way did we exchange, the Inventor and I, those expert
confidences and mutual aids in either's technical skill which are too
rarely discovered in modern travel.
The Views of England
England is a country with edges and with a core. It is a country very
small for the number of people who live in it, and very appreciable to
the eye for the traveller who travels on foot or in a boat from place to
place. Considering the part it has in the making of the world, it might
justly be compared to a jewel which is very small and very valuable and
can almost be held in the hand. The physical appreciation of England is
to be reached by an appreciation of landscape.
It so happens that England is traversed by remarkable and sudden ranges;
hills with a sharp escarpment overlooking great undulating plains. This
is not true of any other one country of Europe, but it is true of
England, and a man who professes to consider, to understand, to
criticize, to defend, and to love this country, must know the Pennines,
the Cotswolds, the North and the South Downs, the Chilterns, the
Mendips, and the Malverns; he must know Delamere Forest, and he must
know the Hill of Beeston, from which all Cheshire may be perceived. If
he knows these heights and has long considered the prospects which they
afford, he can claim to have seen the face of England.
It is deplorable that our modern method of travel does cut us off from
such experiences. They were not only common to, they were necessary to
our fathers; the roads would not be at the expense of tunnelling through
hills, and (what is more important) when those men who most mould the
knowledge of the country by the country (the people who deal with its
soil, who live separate upon its separate farms) visited each other upon
horses; and horses, unlike railway trains, cannot climb hills. They
puff, they heave, they snort, as do railway trains, but they climb them
On this account, because the roads for the carriages went over hills,
and because the method of visiting even a near neighbour would permit
you to go over hills, the England of quite a little time ago was
familiar with the half-dozen great landscapes of England. You may see it
in that most individual, that most peculiar, and, I think, that most
glorious school of painters, the English landscape painter, Constable
with his thick colours, Turner with his wonderment, and even the
portrait painters in their backgrounds depend upon the view of the
plains from a height. To-day our landscape painters sometimes do the
same, but the market for that emotion is capricious, it is no longer the
secure and natural way of presenting England to English eyes.
If you will consider these plains at the foot of the English hills you
will find in them the whole history of the country, and the whole
meaning of it as well. Two occur to me first: The view of the Weald
(both Kentish and Sussex) through which the influence of Europe
perpetually approached the island, not only in the crisis of the Roman
or the Norman invasions, but in a hundred episodes stretched out through
two thousand years--and the view of the Thames Valley as one gets it on
a clear day from the summits of the North Downs when one looks northward
and sees very faintly the Chilterns along the horizon.
This last is obscured by London. One needs a very particular
circumstance in which to appreciate it. The air must be dry and clear,
there must be little or no wind, or if there is a wind it must be a
strong one from the south and west that has already driven the smoke
from the western edge of the town. When this is so, a man looks right
across to the sandy heights just north of the Thames, and far beyond he
sees the Chilterns, like a landfall upon the rim of the world. He looks
at all that soil on which the government of this country has been
rooted. He sees the hill of Windsor. He overlooks, though he cannot
perceive at so great a distance, the two great schools of the rich; he
has within one view the principal Castle of the Kings, the place of
their council, and the cathedral of their capital city: so true is it
that the Thames made England.
Then, if you consider the upper half of that valley, the view is from
the ridge of the Berkshire hills, or, better still, from Cumnor, or from
the clump of trees above Faringdon. From such look-outs the astonishing
loneliness which England has had the strength to preserve in this
historic belt of land profoundly strikes a man. You can see to your left
and, a long way off, the hill where, as is most probable, Alfred thrust
back the Pagans, and so saved one-half of Christendom. Oxford is within
your landscape. The roll upwards in a glacis of the Cotswold, the nodal
point of the Roman roads at Cirencester, and the ancient crossings of
From the Cotswold again westward you look over a sheer wall and see one
of those differences which make up England. For the passage from the
Upper Thames to the flat and luxuriant valley floor of the Severn is a
transition (if it be made by crossing the hills) more sudden than that
between many countries abroad. Had our feudalism cut England into
provinces we should here have two marked provincial histories marching
together, for the natural contrast is greater than between Normandy and
Brittany at any part of their march or between Aragon and Castile at any
part of theirs. I do not know what it is, but the view of the jagged
Malvern seen above the happy mists of autumn, when these mists lie like
a warm fleece upon the orchards of the vale, preserving them of a
morning until the strengthening of the sun, the sudden aspect, I say, of
those jagged peaks strikes one like a vision of a new world. How many
men have thought it! How often it ought to be written down! It hangs in
the memory of the traveller like a permanent benediction, and remains in
his mind a standing symbol of peace.
I have no space to speak of how from Beeston you see all Cheshire; the
Vale Royal to your left, and the main plain of the county to your right.
The whole stretch is framed in with definite hills, the last and highly
marked line of the Pennines bounds the view upon the east; upon the west
the first of the Welsh hills stands sharply in a long even line against
the fading sun; and on the north you see the height of Delamere. There
are three other views in the North of England, the first easy, the last
two difficult to obtain, all between them making up a true picture of
what the North of England is. The first (and it is very famous) is the
view over the industrial ferment of South Lancashire, seen from the
complete silence of the hills round the Peak. No matter where you cross
that summit, even if you take the high road from the Snake Inn to
Glossop, where the easiest, and therefore the least striking, passage
has been chosen, much more if you follow the wild heights a little to
the south until you come to a more abrupt descent on which there are not
even paths, there comes a point where there is presented to you in one
great offering, without introduction, a vision of the vast energies of
I remember once in winter when the sun sets early (it was December, and
seven years ago) coming upon this sight. The clouds were so arranged
after an Atlantic storm that all the heaven (which here is always
spacious and noble) was covered with a rolling curtain as though a man
had pulled it with his hands. But far off, westward, there was a broad
red band of sunset, and against this the smoke, the tall stacks, the
violence and the wealth of that cauldron. One could almost hear the
noise. It did arrest one; it was as though someone had painted something
unreal, to be a mystical emblem, and to sum up in one picture all those
million despairs, misfortunes, chances, disciplines, and acquirements
which make up the character of Lancashire men. This vision also many men
have seen and many men shall write of. Very rarely upon the surface of
the earth does the soul take on so immediate and obvious a physical body
as does the soul of that industrial world in the view of which I speak.
And the two other views are, first, that difficult one which one must
pick and choose but which can be obtained from several sites (especially
at the end of Wensleydale), and which is the view of that rich, old, and
agricultural Yorkshire, from which the county draws its traditions and
in which, perhaps, the truest spirit of the county still abides; for
Yorkshire is at heart farmer, and possibly after three generations of a
town, a man from this part of England still looks more lively when he
sees a lively horse put before him for judgment. Second, the view from
Cross Fell, very, very difficult to obtain, for often when one climbs
Cross Fell in sunny weather, one gets up over the Scar under the threat
of cloud, and one only reaches the summit by the time the evening or the
mist has fallen; but if one has the luck to see the view of which I
speak, then one sees all that rugged remaining part of the Northwest
exactly as the Romans saw it, and as it has been for two thousand years,
with the high land of the lakes and the stony nature and the sparseness
of all the stretch about one, and the approach to a foreign land.
I have often thought when I have heard men blaming the story of England
or her present mood for false reasons, or, what is worse, praising her
for false reasons; when I have heard the men of the cities talking wild
talk got from maps and from print, or the disappointed men talking wild
talk of another kind, expecting impossible or foreign perfections from
their own kindred--I have often thought, I say, when I have heard the
folly upon either side (and the mass of it daily increases)--that it
would be a wholesome thing if one could take such a talker and make him
walk from Dover to the Solway, exercising some care that he should rise
before the sun, and that he should see in clear weather the views of
which I speak. A man who has done that has seen England--not the name or
the map or the rhetorical catchword, but the thing. And it does not take
so very long.
Those who are interested in what simple straightforward people call the
Pathology of Consciousness have gathered a great body of evidence upon
the various manias that affect men, and there is an especially
interesting department of this which concerns illusion upon matters
which in the sane are determinable by the senses and common experience.
Thus one man will believe himself to be the Emperor of China, another to
be William Shakespeare or some other impossible person, though one would
imagine that his every accident of daily life would convince him to the
I had recently occasion to watch one of the most harmless and yet one of
the most striking of these illusions in a private asylum which has
specialized, if I may so express myself, upon men of letters. The case
was harmless and even benign, for the poor fellow was not of a combative
disposition to begin with, was of too careful and dignified a
temperament to show more than slight irritation if his delusion were
contradicted. This misfortune, however, very rarely overtook him, for
those who came to visit him were warned to humour his whim. This
eccentricity I will now describe.
He imagined, nay he was convinced, that he was existing fifty years in
the future, and that the interest of his conversation for others would
lie in his reminiscence of the state of society in which we are actually
living today. If anyone who had not been warned was imprudent enough to
suggest that the conversation was taking place in 1909 would smile
gently, nod, and say rather bitterly, "Yes, I know, I know," as though
recognizing a universal plot against him which he was too weary to
combat. But when he had said this he would continue to talk on as though
both parties to the conversation were equally convinced that the year
was really 1960 or thereabouts. Whether to add zest to what he said or
from some part of his malady consonant with all the rest, my poor friend
(who had been a journalist and will very possibly be a journalist again)
presupposed that the whole structure of society as we now know it had
changed and that his reminiscences were those of a past time which, on
account of some great revolution or other, men imperfectly comprehended,
so that it must be of the highest interest and advantage to listen to
the testimony of an eye-witness upon them.
What especially delighted him (for he was a zealous admirer of the
society he described) was the method of government.
"There was no possibility of going wrong," he said to me with curious
zeal, "not a shadow of danger! It would be difficult for you to
understand now how easily the system worked!" And here he sighed
profoundly. "And why on earth," he continued, "men should have destroyed
such an instrument when they had it is more than I can understand. There
it was in every country in Europe; there were elections; all the men
voted. And mind you, the elections were not so very far apart. Most
people living at one election could remember the last, so there was no
time for abuses to spring up.... Well, everybody voted. If a man wanted
one thing he voted one way, and if he wanted another thing he voted the
other way. The people for whom he voted would then meet, and with a
sense of duty which I cannot exaggerate they would work month after
month exactly to reproduce the will of those who had appointed them. It
was a great time!"
"Yet," said I, "even so there must have been occasional divergences
between what these people did and what the nation wanted."
"I see what you mean," he said, musing, "you mean that all the devotion
in the world, the purest of motives and the most devoted sense of duty,
could not keep the elected always in contact with the electors. You are
right. But you must remember that in every country there was a
machinery, with regard to the most important measures at least, which
could throw the matter before the electors to be re-decided. I can
remember no important occasion upon which the machinery was not brought
"But, after all, the value of the decisions of the electorate you are
describing," said I, continuing to humour him, "would depend upon the
information which the electorate had received as well as upon their
"As for their judgment," he said, a little shortly, "it is not for our
time to criticize theirs. Human judgment is not infallible, but I can
well remember how in every nation of Europe it was the fixed conviction
of the citizens that judgment was their chief characteristic, and
especially judgment in national affairs. I cannot believe that so
universal an attitude of the mind could have arisen had it not been
justified. But as for information, they had the Press ... a free Press!"
Here he fell into a reverie, so powerfully did his supposed memories
I was willing to lead him on, because this kind of illness is best met
by sympathy, and also because I was not uninterested to discover how his
own trade had affected him.
"You would hardly understand it," he said sadly; "what you hear from me
is nothing but words.... I wish I could have shown you one of those
great houses with information pouring in as rapid, as light, and as
clear, from every hidden corner of the world, digested by master brains
into the most lucid and terse presentment of it possible, and then
whirled out on great wheels to be distributed by the thousand and the
hundred thousand, to the hungry intelligence of Europe. There was
nothing escaped it--nothing. In every capital were crowds of men
dispatched from the other capitals of our civilization, moving with ease
in the wealthiest houses, and exquisitely in touch with the most
delicate phases of national life everywhere. And these men were such
experts in selection that a picture of Europe as a whole was presented
every morning to each particular part of Europe; and nowhere was this
more successfully accomplished than in my own beloved town of London."
"It must have been useful," I said, "not only for the political purposes
you describe, but also for investors. Indeed, I should imagine that the
two things ran together."
"You are right," he said with interest, "the wide knowledge which even
the poorest of the people possessed upon foreign affairs, through the
action of the Press, was, further, of the utmost and most beneficent
effect in teaching even the smallest proprietor what he need do with his
capital. A discovery of metallic ore--especially of gold--a new
invention, anything which might require development, was at once
presented in its most exact aspect to the reader."
"It was probably upon that account," said I, "that property was so
equally distributed, and that so general a prosperity reigned as you
have often described to me."
"You are right," said he; "it was mainly this accurate and universal
daily information which produced such excellent results."
"But it occurs to me," said I, by way of stimulating his conversation
with an objection, "that if so passionate and tenacious a habit of
telling the exact truth upon innumerable things was present in this old
institution of which you speak, it cannot but have bred a certain amount
of dissension, and it must sometimes even have done definite harm to
individuals whose private actions were thus exposed."
"You are right," said he; "the danger of such misfortunes was always
present, and with the greatest desire in the world to support only what
was worthy the writers of the journals of which I speak would
occasionally blunder against private interests; but there was a remedy."
"What was that?" I asked.
"Why, the law provided that in this matter twelve men called a jury,
instructed by a judge, after the matter had been fully explained to them
by two other men whose business it was to examine the truth boldly for
the sake of justice--I say the law provided that the twelve men after
this process should decide whether the person injured should receive
money from the newspaper or no, and if so, in what amount. And, lest
there should still be any manner of doubt, the judge was permitted to
set aside their verdict if he thought it unjust. To secure his absolute
impartiality as between rich and poor he was paid somewhat over L100 a
week, a large salary in those days, and he was further granted the right
of imprisoning people at will or of taking away their property if he
believed them to obstruct his judgment. Nor were these the only
safeguards. For in the case of very rich men, to whom justice might not
be done on account of the natural envy of their poorer fellow-citizens,
it was arranged that the jury should consist only of rich men. In this
way it was absolutely certain that a complete impartiality would reign.
We shall never see those days again," he concluded.
"But do you not think," I said before I left him, "that the social
perfection of the kind you have described must rather have been due to
some spirit of the time than to particular institutions? For after all
the zealous love of justice and the sense of duty which you describe are
not social elements to be produced by laws."
"Possibly," he said, wearily, "possibly, but we shall never see it
And I left him looking into the fire with infinite sadness and
reflecting upon his lost youth and the year 1909: a pathetic figure, and
one whose upkeep during the period of his deficiency was a very serious
drain upon the resources of his family.
The Inheritance of Humour
There are some truths which seem to get old almost as soon as they are
born, and that simply because they are so astonishingly true that people
soon get to feel as though they have known them all their lives; and
such a truth is that which first one writer and then another in the last
five years has been insisting upon, until it is already a perfect
commonplace that nations do not know their own qualities. The inmost,
the characteristic thing, that which differentiates one community from
another, as tastes or colours differentiate things--_that_ a
nation hardly ever knows until it is pointed out to it by some foreigner
or by some observer from within. It cannot know it, because one cannot
tell the very atmosphere in which one lives. It is universal and
therefore unnoticed. Now, if this is true of any nation, it is
particularly true of England. And English people need to be told
morning, noon, and night, not indeed the particular national
characteristic which they have, since for this no particular name could
be found, but rather what its evidences are; as, for instance,
spontaneity in design, a passion for the mystical in poetry and the
arts; a power in water-colour, in which they are perhaps quite alone,
and certainly the first in Europe; and, above all, the chief, the master
thing of all, humour.
There is not nor ever will be anything like English humour. It is a
thing quite apart, and by it for now more than two hundred years you may
know England. It does not puzzle the foreigner (as the more blatant kind
of intellectual man is too fond of boasting that it does); he simply
admires it as a rule and wonders at it always; sometimes he actually
dislikes it, but by it he knows that the thing he is reading is English
and has the savour and taste of England.
It is impossible to define it, because it is so full of stuff and so
organic a quality; but in our own time it was principally the pencil of
Charles Keene that has summed it up and presented it in a moment and at
once to the eye--the pencil of Charles Keene and that profound instinct
whereby he chose the legends for his drawing, whether he found them by
his own sympathy with the people or whether they were suggested to him
It is the verdict of the men most competent perhaps to judge upon these
things that he had the greatest graphic power of his time, and that no
one had had that power to such an extent since Hogarth. Upon these
things the men of the trade must dispute; the layman cannot doubt that
he had here a genius and a genius comprehensively national. It is the
essence of a good draughtsman that what he wants to draw, that he draws.
The line that he desires to see upon the paper appears there as his
fingers move. It is a quality extremely rare in its perfection. And
Charles Keene had it in perfection, as in totally different manner had
the offensive and diseased talent of Beardsley.
But more important than the power to do is the quality of the thing
done, and the work of Charles Keene, multitudinous, varied, always
great, is an inheritance for English people comparable to the
inheritance they have in Dickens. It has also what Dickens had, a power
of representing, as it were, the essential English. Just that which
makes people say (with some truth) that Dickens never drew a gentleman
would make them say with equal truth that what was interesting in the
gentlemen of Charles Keene (and he perpetually drew them) was not the
externals upon which gentlemen so pride themselves, but the soul. Thus I
have in mind one picture wherein Keene drew a gentleman; true, he was a
gentleman who had just swallowed a bad oyster, and therefore he was a
man as well. I recall another of an old gentleman complaining of the
caterpillar on his chop: he is a gentleman of the professional rather
than the territorial classes, and, great heavens! what a power of line!
All you see beneath the round of his hat is the end of his nose, the
curve of his mouth, and two bushy ends of whiskers. Yet one can tell all
about that man; one could write a book on him. One knows his economics,
his religion, his accent, and what he thought of the Third Napoleon and
what of Garibaldi. I have called draughtsmanship of this quality an
inheritance--I might have called it perhaps with better propriety a
monument. It is possible that England in the near future will look back
with great envy, as she will certainly look back with great pride, to
the generation preceding our own: they were a solid and a happy
community of men. How much they owed to fortune, how much to themselves,
it is not the place of such random stuff as mine to consider.
They were nearly impregnable in their island; they were not bellicose.
They made and sold for all the world. Whether the very different future
which we are now entering is to be laid to their door or to our own,
that generation will still remain one of the principal things in English
history, like the Elizabethan generation, or the group of men who
organized the Seven Years' War, or the group of men who fought in the
Peninsula. And of that generation the note of health and of stability is
represented by its humour. I am not sure that of all things educational
to young men with no personal memory of that time, and especially to
young men with no family tradition of it to reflect it in their books
and their furniture; and--this yet more particularly--to young men born
out of England yet claiming communion with England, the Anglo-Indians
and the Colonials--I am not sure, I say, that the thing most educational
to these would not be some hundred of Charles Keene's drawings, for
therein they would find what it was that gave them the power and the
wealth that can hardly be defended unless its traditions are continued.
Note how Victorian England dealt with the humour of a Volunteer review;
note how it dealt with the humour of excessive wealth; and note how it
dealt with the humour of schools and of Dons. One might almost define it
by negations. There is in all of it no--but here I lack a word.... When
things ring false it is because they have got by exaggeration or by some
other form of falsity _beside_ themselves. Appreciation of rank or
even of worth becomes snobbishness; appreciation of another's judgment
false taste; and patriotism, the most beautiful, the noblest, the most
necessary of the great emotions, corrupts into something very vile
Well, the Victorians, and notably this man of whose power of the pencil
I am speaking, did lack that false savour, that savour of just missing
what one wishes to say or to feel, which haunts us to-day; and I should
imagine that whether it were cause or effect the salt present in the
preservation of the moral health of that society was humour. Let us
enjoy it like an heirloom. It is more national than the language; at
least it is more national than what the language has become under
foreign pressure; it is infinitely more national than our problems and
our tragedies. It is so national that--who knows?--it may crop up again
of itself one of these days; and may that not be long.
The Old Gentleman's Opinions
I had occasion about a fortnight ago to meet a man more nearly ninety
than eighty years of age, who had had special opportunity for
discovering the changes of Europe during his long life. He was of the
English wealthier classes by lineage, but his mother had been of the
French nobility and a Huguenot. His father had been prominent in the
diplomacy of a couple of generations ago. He had travelled widely, read
perhaps less widely, but had known and appreciated an astonishing number
of his contemporaries.
I was interested (without any power of my own to judge whether his
decisions were right or wrong) to discover what most struck him in the
changes produced by that great stretch of years, all of which he had
personally observed: he was born just after Waterloo, and he could
remember the Reform Bill.
He surprised me by telling me, in the first place, that the material
changes and discoveries, enormous though they were in extent, were not,
in his view, the most striking. He was ready to leave it open whether
these material changes were the causes of moral changes more remarkable,
or merely effects concomitant with these. When I asked him what had
struck him most of the great material developments, he told me the
phonograph and the aeroplane among inventions; Mendel's observations in
the sphere of experimental knowledge; and, in the sphere of pure theory,
the breakdown of many things that had been dogmas of physical science in
his early manhood.
Since I did not quite understand what he meant by this last, he gave me,
after some hesitation, a few examples: That the interior of the earth
was molten; that a certain limited number of elements--not all yet
isolated, but certainly few in their total--were at the base of all
material forms, and were immutable; that the ultimate unit of each of
these was a certain indivisible, eternal thing called the Atom; and so
He assured me that views of this sort, extending over a hundred or a
thousand other points, were so universally accepted in his time that to
dispute them was to be ranked with the unlettered or the fantastic. I
asked him if it were so in economics. He said: Yes, in England, where
there was a similar dogma of Free Trade: not abroad.
When I asked him why Mendel's published experiments and the theory based
upon them had so much impressed him, he said because it was almost the
first attempt to apply to the speculative dogmas of biology some
standard demonstrably true; and here he wandered off to explain to me
why the commonly accepted views upon biology, which had so changed
thought in the latter part of his life, were associated with the name of
Darwin. Darwin, he assured me, had brought forward no new discovery, but
only a new hypothesis, and that only a small and particular hypothesis,
whereby to explain the general theory of transformism. This theory, he
told me--the unbroken descent of living organisms and their physical
connection with one another and with common parents--had been a
favourite idea from the beginning of history with many great thinkers,
from Lucretius to Buffon and from Augustus of Hippo to Lamarck.
Darwin's, the old gentleman assured me, which he had defended with
infinite toil, was that the method in which this continuity of descent
proceeded was by an infinitely slow process of very small changes
differentiating each minute step from the one before and the one after
it, and these small changes Darwin's hypothesis referred to a natural
selection. Nothing else in Darwin's work, he assured me, was novel, and
yet it was the one thing which subsequent research had rendered more and
more doubtful. Darwin (he said) said nothing new that was also true.
At this point I was moved to contradict the old gentleman, and to say
that one unquestioned contribution to science of Darwin, as novel as it
was secure, was his patient discovery of the work of earthworms, and of
its vast effect. The old gentleman was willing to admit that I was
right, but he said he was only speaking of Darwin in connection with
transformism and the whimsical way in which his private name (and his
errors) had become identified with evolution in general.
I asked him, since he had such a knowledge of men from observation, why
this was so.
"It seems at first sight," he said, "as ridiculous as though we should
associate the theory of light with the name of Newton, who inclined to
the exploded corpuscular hypothesis, or the general conception of
orbital motion in the universe to the great Bacon, who, in point of
fact, rudely repudiated the Copernican theory in particular."
"Did he, indeed?" said I, interested.
"I believe so," said the old gentleman; "at any rate you were asking me
why Darwin, with his single contribution to the theory of transformism,
and that a doubtful one--or, to be accurate, an exploded one--should be
associated in the popular mind with the invention of so ancient a theory
as that of evolution. The reason is, I think, no more than that he came
at a particular moment when any man doing great quantities of detailed
work in this field was bound to stand out exaggeratedly. The society in
which he appeared had, until just before his day, accepted a narrow
cosmogony, quite unknown to its ancestors. Darwin's book certainly
exploded that, and the mind of his time--ignorant as it was of the
past--was ready to accept the shattering of its father's idols as a new
"But you were saying," said I, when he had thus dealt harshly with a
great name, "that not the material but the moral changes of your time
seemed to you the greatest. Which did you mean?"
"Why, in the first place," said the old man thoughtfully and with some
hesitation, "the curiously rapid decline of intelligence, or if you will
have it differently, the clouding of thought that has marked the last
thirty years. Men in my youth knew what they held and what they did not
hold. They knew why they held it or why they did not hold it; but the
attempt to enjoy the advantages of two contradictory systems at the same
time, and, what is worse, the consulting of a man as an authority upon
subjects he had never professed to know, are intellectual phenomena
quite peculiar to the later years of my life."
I said we of the younger generation had all noticed it, as, for
instance, when an honest but imperfectly intelligent chemist was
listened to in his exposition of the nature of the soul, or a well-paid
religious official was content to expound the consolations of
Christianity while denying that Christianity was true.
"But," I continued, "we are usually told that this unfortunate decline
in the express powers of the brain is due to the wide and imperfect
education of the populace at the present moment."
"That is not the case," answered the old man sharply, when I had made
myself clear by repeating my remarks in a louder tone, for he was a
"That is not the case. The follies of which I speak are not particularly
to be discovered among the poorer classes who have passed through the
elementary schools. _These_" (it was to the schools that he was
alluding with a comprehensive pessimism) "may account for the gross
decline apparent in the public manners of our people, but not for faults
which are peculiar to the upper and middle classes. It is not in the
populace, but in those wealthier ranks that you will find the sort of
intellectual decay of which I spoke."
I asked him whether he thought the tricks it was now considered cultured
to play with mathematics came within the category of this intellectual
decay. The old gentleman answered me a little abruptly that he could not
judge what I was talking about.
"Why," said I, "do you believe that parallel straight lines
_converge_ or _diverge_?"
"Neither," said he, a little bewildered. "If they are parallel they
cannot by definition either diverge or converge."
"You are, then," said I, "an old-fashioned adherent of the theory of the
parabolic universe?" At which sensible reply of mine the old man
muttered rather ill-temperedly, and begged me to speak of something
I asked him whether the knowledge of languages had not declined in his
time. He said, somewhat emphatically, yes, and especially the knowledge
of French, assuring me that in his early years many a Fellow of a
College at Oxford or at Cambridge was capable of speaking that tongue in
such a fashion as to make himself understood. On the other hand, he
admitted that German and Spanish were more widely known than they had
been, and Arabic certainly far more widely diffused among those
officials of the Empire who took their work seriously.
When I asked him whether politics were more corrupt as time proceeded,
he said No, but more cynical; and as to morals he would not judge, for
he was certain that as one vice was corrected another appeared in its
What he told me he most deplored in the social system of his country was
the power of the police and of the statistician by whom the policeman
was guided. This he ascribed to the growth of great towns, to civic
cowardice, and to a new taboo laid upon uniformed and labelled public
authorities, who are now regarded as sacred, and also inordinately
"In my youth," he said, "there was a joke that every man in Paris was
known to the police. Today that is universally true, and no joke with
regard to every man in London. Our movements are marked, our earnings,
our expenses, and our most private affairs known to the innumerable
officials of the Treasury, our records of every sort, however intimate,
are exactly and correctly maintained. The obtaining of work and a
livelihood is dependent upon strong organizations. There is hardly an
ailment or a domestic habit, from drinking wine to eating turnips, which
some crank who has obtained the ear of a politician does not control or
threaten in the immediate future to control."
"As for doctors!" he began, his voice cracking with indignation, "their
abominable...." but here the old gentleman fell into so violent a fit of
coughing that he nearly turned black in the face, and when I
respectfully slapped him on the back, in the hopes of granting him
relief, he made matters worse by shaking himself at me with an energy
worthy of 1842. His nurse rushed in, clapped him upon his pillows, and
was prepared to vent her wrath upon me for having caused this paroxysm,
when the old man's exhaustion and laboured breathing captured all her
attention, and I had the opportunity to withdraw.
On Historical Evidence
The last book to be published upon the last Dauphin of France set me
thinking upon what seems to me the chief practical science in which
modern men should secure themselves. I mean the science of history--and
in this science almost all lies in the appreciation of evidence, for one
of the chief particular problems presented to the student of history at
the present moment is whether the Dauphin did or did not survive his
imprisonment in the Temple.
Let me first say why, to so many of us, the science of history and the
appreciation of the evidence upon which it depends is of the first
moment. It is because, short of vision or revelation, history is our
only extension of human experience. It is true that a philosophy common
to all citizens is necessary for a State if it is to, live--but short
of that necessity the next most necessary factor is a knowledge of the
stuff of mankind: of how men act under certain conditions and impulses.
This knowledge may be acquired, and is in some measure, during the
experience of one wise lifetime, but it is indefinitely extended by the
accumulation of experience which history affords.
And what history so gives us is always of immediate and practical
For instance, men sometimes speak with indifference of the rival
theories as to the origin of European land tenure; they talk as though
it were a mere academic debate whether the conception of private
property in land arose comparatively late among Europeans or was native
and original in our race. But you have only to watch a big popular
discussion on that very great and at the present moment very living
issue, the moral right to the private ownership in land, to see how
heavily the historic argument weighs with every type of citizen. The
instinct that gives that argument weight is a sound one, and not less
sound in those who have least studied the matter than in those who have
most studied it; for if our race from its immemorial origins has desired
to own land as a private thing side by side with communal tenures, then
it is pretty certain that we shall not modify that intention, however
much we change our laws. If, on the other hand, it could be shown that
before the advent of a complex civilization Europeans had no conception
of private property in land, but treated land as a thing necessarily and
always communal, then you could ascribe modern Socialist theories with
regard to the land to that general movement of harking back to the
origins which Europe has been assisting at through over a hundred years
of revolution and of change.
It sounds cynical, but it is perfectly true, that much the largest
factor in the historical conception of men is assertion. It is literally
true that when men (with the exception of a very small proportion of
scholars who are also intelligent) consider the past, the picture on which
they dwell is a picture conveyed to them wholly by authority and by
unquestioned authority. There was never a time when the original sources
of history were more easily to be consulted by the plain man; but whether
because of their very number, or because the habit is not yet formed, or
because there are traditions of imaginary difficulty surrounding such
reading, original sources were perhaps never less familiar to fairly
educated opinion than they are today; and therefore no type of book gives
more pleasure when one comes across it than those little cheap books, now
becoming fairly numerous, in which the original sources, and the
original sources alone, are put before the reader. Mr. Rait has already
done such work in connection with Mary Queen of Scots, and Mr. Archer
did it admirably in connection with the Third Crusade.
But apart from the importance of consulting original sources--which is
like hearing the very witnesses themselves in court--there is a factor
in historical judgment which by some unhappy accident is peculiarly
lacking in the professional historian. It is a factor to which no
particular name can be attached, though it may be called a department of
common sense. But it is a mental power or attitude easily recognizable
in those who possess it, and perhaps atrophied by the very atmosphere of
the study. It goes with the open air with a general knowledge of men and
with that rapid recognition of the way in which things "fit in" which is
necessarily developed by active life.
For instance, when you know the pace at which Harold marched down from
the north to Hastings you recognize, if you use that factor of historic
judgment of which I spake, that the affair was not barbaric. There must
have been fairly good roads, and there must have been a high
organization of transport. You have only to consider for a moment what a
column looks like, even if it be only a brigade, to see the truth of
that. Again, this type of judgment forbids anyone who uses it to ascribe
great popular movements (great massacres, great turmoils, and so forth)
to craft. It is a very common thing, especially in modern history, to
lay such things to the power of one or two wealthy or one or two bloody
leaders, but you have only to think for a few moments of what a mob is
to see the falsity of that. Craft can harness this sort of explosive
force, it can control it, or persuade it, or canalize it to certain
issues, but it cannot create it.
Again, this sort of sense easily recognizes in historic types the
parallels of modern experience. It avoids the error of thinking history
a mistake and making of the men and women who appear there something
remote from humanity, extreme, and either stilted or grandiose.
In aid of this last feature in historical judgment there is nothing of
such permanent value as a portrait. Obtain your conception (as, indeed,
most boys do) of the English early sixteenth century from a text, then
go and live with the Holbeins for a week and see what an enormously
greater thing you will possess at the end of it. It is indeed one of the
misfortunes of European history that from the fifth century to at least
the eleventh we are, so far as Western European history is concerned,
deprived of portraits. And by an interesting parallel the writers of the
dark time seemed to have had neither the desire nor the gift of vivid
description. Consider the dreariness of the hagiographers, every one of
them boasting the noble rank and the conventional status of his hero,
and you may say not one giving the least conception of the man's
personality. You have the great Gallo-Roman noble family of Ferreolus
running down the centuries from the Decline of the Empire to the climax
of Charlemagne. Many of those names stand for some most powerful
individuality, yet all we have is a formula, a lineage, with symbols and
names in the place of living beings, and even that established only by
careful work, picking out and sifting relationships from various lives.
The men of that time did not even think to tell us that there was such a
thing as a family tradition, nor did it seem important to them to
establish its Roman origin and its long succession in power.
Next it must be protested that the smallness and particularity of the
questions upon which historical discussion rages are no proof either of
its general purposelessness nor of _their_ insignificance. All
advance of knowledge proceeds in this fashion. Physical science affords
innumerable examples of the way in which progress has depended upon a
curiosity directed towards apparently insignificant things, and there is
something in the mind which compels it to select a narrow field for the
exercise of its acutest powers. Moreover, special points, discussion
upon which must evidently be lengthy and may be indefinite, are
peculiarly attractive to just that kind of man who by a love of
prolonged research enlarges the bounds of knowledge and at the same time
strengthens and improves for his fellows by continual exercise all the
instruments of their common trade. Take, for instance, this case of the
little Dauphin, Louis XVII. It really does not matter to day whether the
boy got away or whether he died in prison. It does not prolong the line
of the Capetians--the heir to that is present in the Duke of Orleans. It
does not even affect our view of any other considerable part of
history--save possibly the policy of Louis XVIII--and it is of no direct
interest to our pockets or to our affections. Yet the masses of work
which have accumulated round that one doubt have solved twenty other
doubts. They have illuminated all the close of the Terror; they are
beginning to make us understand that most difficult piece of political
psychology, the reaction of Thermidor, and with it how Europeans lose
their balance and regain it in the course of their quasi-religious wars;
for all our wars have something in them of religion.
Three elements appear to enter into the judgment of history. First,
there is the testimony of human witnesses; next, there are the non-human
boundaries wherein the action took place, boundaries which, by all our
experience, impose fixed limits to action; thirdly, there is that
indefinable thing, that mystic power, which all nations deriving from
the theology of the Western Church have agreed to call, with the
schoolman, _common sense_; a general appreciation which transcends
particular appreciations and which can integrate the differentials of
evidence. Of this last it is quite impossible to afford a test or to
construct a measure; its presence in an argument is none the less as
readily felt as fresh air in a room; without it nothing is convincing
however laboured, with it, even though it rely upon slight evidence, one
has the feeling of walking on a firm road. But it must be "common
sense"--it must be of the sort, that is, which is common to man various
and general, and it is in this perhaps that history suffers most from
the charlatanism and ritual common to all great matters.
Men will have pomp and mystery surrounding important things, and
therefore the historians must, consciously or unconsciously, tend to
strut, to quote solemn authorities in support, and to make out the
vulgar unworthy of their confidence. Hence, by the way, the plague of
These had their origin in two sources: the desire to show that one was
honest and to prove it by a reference; the desire to elucidate some
point which it was not easy to elucidate in the text itself without
making the sentence too elaborate and clumsy. Either use may be seen at
its best in Gibbon. With the last generation they have served mainly,
and sometimes merely, for ritual adornment and terror, not to make
clearer or more honest, but to deceive. Thus Taine in his monstrously
false history of the Revolution revels in footnotes; you have but to
examine a batch of them with care to turn them completely against his
own conclusions--they are only put there as a sort of spiked paling to
warn off trespassers. Or, again, M. Thibaut, who writes under the name
of "Anatole France," gives footnotes by the score in his romance of Joan
of Arc, apparently not even caring to examine whether they so much as
refer to his text, let alone support it. They seem to have been done by
Another ailment in this department is the negative one, whereby an
historian will leave out some aspect which to him, cramped in a study,
seems unimportant, but which any plain man moving in the world would
have told him to be the essential aspect of the whole matter. For
instance, when Napoleon left Madrid on his forced march to intercept Sir
John Moore before that general should have reached Benevente, he thought
Moore was at Valladolid, when as a fact he was at Sahagun. In Mr. Oman's
history of the Peninsular War the error is put thus: "Napoleon had not
the comparatively easy task of cutting the road between Valladolid and
Astorga, but the much harder one of intercepting that between Sahagun
Why is this egregious nonsense? The facts are right and so are the dates
and the names, yet it makes one blush for Oxford history. Why? Because
the all-important element of _distance_ is omitted. The very first
question a plain man would ask about the case would be, "What were the
distances involved?" The academic historian doesn't know, or, at least,
doesn't say; yet without an appreciation of the distances the statement
has no value. As a fact the distances were such that in the first case
(supposing Moore had been at Valladolid) Napoleon would have had to
cover nearly three miles to Moore's one to intercept him--an almost
superhuman task. In the second case (Moore being as a fact at Sahagun)
he would have had to go over _four miles_ to his opponent's one--an
absolutely impossible feat.
To march _three_ miles to the enemy's _one_ is what Mr. Oman
calls "a comparatively easy task"; to march four to his one is what Mr.
Oman calls a "much harder" task; and to write like that is what an
informed critic calls bad history.
The other two factors in an historical judgment can be more easily
The non-human elements which, as I have said, are irremovable (save to
miracle), are topography, climate, season, local physical conditions,
and so forth. They have two valuable characters in aid of history; the
first is that they correct the errors of human memory and support the
accuracy of details; the second is that they enable us to complete a
picture. We can by their aid "see" the physical framework in which an
action took place, and such a landscape helps the judgment of things
past as it does of things contemporary. Thus the map, the date, the
soil, the contours of Crecy field make the traditional spot at which the
King of Bohemia fell doubtful; the same factors make it certain that
Drouet did not plunge haphazard through Argonne on the night of June 21,
1791, but that he must have gone by one path--which can be determined.
Or, again, take that prime question, why the Prussians did not charge at
Valmy. On their failure to do so all the success of the Revolution
turned. A man may read Dumouriez, Kellermann, Pully, Botidoux,
Massenback, Goethe--there are fifty eye-witnesses at least whose
evidence we can collect, and I defy anyone to decide. (Brunswick himself
never knew.) But go to that roll of land between Valmy and the high
road; go after three days' rain as the allies did, and you will
immediately learn. That field between the heights of "The Moon" and the
site of old Valmy mill, which is as hard as a brick in summer (when the
experts visit it), is a marsh of the worst under an autumn drizzle; no
one could have charged.
As for human testimony, three things appear: first, that the witness is
not, as in a law court, circumscribed. His relation may vary infinitely
in degree of proximity of time or space to the action, from that of an
eye-witness writing within the hour to that of a partisan writing at
tenth hand a lifetime after. That question of proximity comes first,
from the known action of the human mind whereby it transforms colours
and changes remembered things. Next there is the character of the
witness _for the purposes of his testimony_. Historians write, too
often, as though virtue--or wealth (with which they often confound
it)--were the test. It is not, short of a known motive for lying; a
murderer or a thief casually witnessing to a thing with which he is
familiar is worth more than the best man witnessing in a matter which he
understands ill. It was this error which ruined Croker's essay on
Charlotte Robespierre's Memoirs. Croker thought, perhaps wisely, that
all radicals were scoundrels; he could not accept her editor's evidence,
and (by the way) the view of this amateur collector without a tincture
of historical scholarship actually imposed itself on Europe for nearly
And the third character in the witness is support: the support upon
converging lines of other human testimony, most of it indifferent, some
(this is essential) casual and by the way--deprived therefore of motive.
When I shall find these canons satisfied to oppose the strong
probability and tradition of the Dauphin's death in prison I shall doubt
that death, but not before.
The Absence of the Past
It is perhaps not possible to put into human language that emotion
which rises when a man stands upon some plot of European soil and can
say with certitude to himself: "Such and such great, or wonderful, or
beautiful things happened here."
Touch that emotion ever so lightly and it tumbles into the commonplace,
and the deadest of commonplace. Neglect it ever so little and the
Present (which is never really there, for even as you walk across
Trafalgar Square it is yesterday and tomorrow that are in your mind),
the Present, I say, or rather the immediate flow of things, occupies you
altogether. But there is a mood, and it is a mood common in men who have
read and who have travelled, in which one is overwhelmed by the sanctity
of a place on which men have done this or that a long, long time ago.
Here it is that the gentle supports which have been framed for human
life by that power which launched it come in and help a man. Time does
not remain, but space does, and though we cannot seize the Past
physically we can stand physically upon the site, and we can have (if I
may so express myself) a physical communion with the Past by occupying
that very spot which the past greatness of man or of event has occupied.
It was but the other day that, with an American friend at my side, I
stood looking at the little brass plate which says that here Charles
Stuart faced (he not only faced, but he refused) the authority of his
judges. I know not by what delicate mechanism of the soul that record
may seem at one moment a sort of tourist thing, to be neglected or
despised, and at another moment a portent. But I will confess that all
of a sudden, pointing out this very well-known record upon the brass let
into the stone in Westminster Hall, I suddenly felt the presence of the
thing. Here all that business was done: they were alive; they were in
the Present as we are. Here sat that tender-faced, courageous man, with
his pointed beard and his luminous eyes; here he was a living man
holding his walking-stick with the great jewel in the handle of it; here
was spoken in the very tones of his voice (and how a human voice
perishes!--how we forget the accents of the most loved and the most
familiar voices within a few days of their disappearance!); here the
small gestures, and all the things that make up a personality, marked
out Charles Stuart. When the soul is seized with such sudden and
positive conviction of the substantial past it is overwhelmed; and
Europe is full of such ghosts.
As you take the road to Paradise, about halfway there you come to an
inn, which even as inns go is admirable. You go into the garden of it,
and see the great trees and the wall of Box Hill shrouding you all
around. It is beautiful enough (in all conscience) to arrest one without
the need of history or any admixture of the pride of race; but as you
sit there on a seat in that garden you are sitting where Nelson sat when
he said goodbye to his Emma, and if you will move a yard or two you will
be sitting where Keats sat biting his pen and thinking out some new line
of his poem.
What has happened? These two men with their keen, feminine faces, these
two great heroes of a great time in the great story of a great people of
this world, are not there. They are nowhere. But the site remains.
Philosophers can put in formulae the crowd of suggestions that rush into
the mind when one's soul contemplates the perpetual march and passage of
mortality. But they can do no more than give us formularies: they cannot
give us replies. What are we? What is all this business? Why does the
mere space remain and all the rest dissolve?
There is a lonely place in the woods of Chilham, in the County of Kent,
above the River Stour, where a man comes upon an irregular earthwork
still plainly marked upon the brow of the bluff. Nobody comes near this
place. A vague country lane, or rather track; goes past the wet soil of
it, plunges into the valley beyond, and after serving a windmill joins
the high road to Canterbury. Well, that vague track is the ancient
British road, as old as anything in this Island, that took men from
Winchester to the Straits of Dover. That earthwork is the earthwork (I
could prove it, but this is not the place) where the British stood
against the charge of the Tenth Legion, and first heard, sounding on
their bronze, the arms of Caesar. Here the river was forded; here the
little men of the South went up in formation; here the Barbarian broke
and took his way, as the opposing General has recorded, through devious
woodland paths, scattering in the pursuit; here began the great history
Is it not an enormous business merely to stand in such a place? I think
I know a field to the left of the Chalons Road, some few miles before
you get to Ste. Menehould. There used to be an inn by the roadside
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