Notes on Life and Letters
Joseph Conrad

Part 2 out of 4

the road salutation of passing wayfarers: "And on you be peace! .
. . You have chosen your ideal, and it is a good choice. There's
nothing like giving up one's life to an unselfish passion. Let the
rich and the powerful of this globe preach their sound gospel of
palpable progress. The part of the ideal you embrace is the better
one, if only in its illusions. No great passion can be barren.
May a world of gracious and poignant images attend the lofty
solitude of your renunciation!"


You have no doubt noticed that certain books produce a sort of
physical effect on one--mostly an audible effect. I am not
alluding here to Blue books or to books of statistics. The effect
of these is simply exasperating and no more. No! the books I have
in mind are just the common books of commerce you and I read when
we have five minutes to spare, the usual hired books published by
ordinary publishers, printed by ordinary printers, and censored
(when they happen to be novels) by the usual circulating libraries,
the guardians of our firesides, whose names are household words
within the four seas.

To see the fair and the brave of this free country surrendering
themselves with unbounded trust to the direction of the circulating
libraries is very touching. It is even, in a sense, a beautiful
spectacle, because, as you know, humility is a rare and fragrant
virtue; and what can be more humble than to surrender your morals
and your intellect to the judgment of one of your tradesmen? I
suppose that there are some very perfect people who allow the Army
and Navy Stores to censor their diet. So much merit, however, I
imagine, is not frequently met with here below. The flesh, alas!
is weak, and--from a certain point of view--so important!

A superficial person might be rendered miserable by the simple
question: What would become of us if the circulating libraries
ceased to exist? It is a horrid and almost indelicate supposition,
but let us be brave and face the truth. On this earth of ours
nothing lasts. TOUT PASSE, TOUT CASSE, TOUT LASSE. Imagine the
utter wreck overtaking the morals of our beautiful country-houses
should the circulating libraries suddenly die! But pray do not
shudder. There is no occasion.

Their spirit shall survive. I declare this from inward conviction,
and also from scientific information received lately. For observe:
the circulating libraries are human institutions. I beg you to
follow me closely. They are human institutions, and being human,
they are not animal, and, therefore, they are spiritual. Thus, any
man with enough money to take a shop, stock his shelves, and pay
for advertisements shall be able to evoke the pure and censorious
spectre of the circulating libraries whenever his own commercial
spirit moves him.

For, and this is the information alluded to above, Science, having
in its infinite wanderings run up against various wonders and
mysteries, is apparently willing now to allow a spiritual quality
to man and, I conclude, to all his works as well.

I do not know exactly what this "Science" may be; and I do not
think that anybody else knows; but that is the information stated
shortly. It is contained in a book reposing under my thoughtful
eyes. {5} I know it is not a censored book, because I can see for
myself that it is not a novel. The author, on his side, warns me
that it is not philosophy, that it is not metaphysics, that it is
not natural science. After this comprehensive warning, the
definition of the book becomes, you will admit, a pretty hard nut
to crack.

But meantime let us return for a moment to my opening remark about
the physical effect of some common, hired books. A few of them
(not necessarily books of verse) are melodious; the music some
others make for you as you read has the disagreeable emphasis of a
barrel-organ; the tinkling-cymbals book (it was not written by a
humorist) I only met once. But there is infinite variety in the
noises books do make. I have now on my shelves a book apparently
of the most valuable kind which, before I have read half-a-dozen
lines, begins to make a noise like a buzz-saw. I am inconsolable;
I shall never, I fear, discover what it is all about, for the
buzzing covers the words, and at every try I am absolutely forced
to give it up ere the end of the page is reached.

The book, however, which I have found so difficult to define, is by
no means noisy. As a mere piece of writing it may be described as
being breathless itself and taking the reader's breath away, not by
the magnitude of its message but by a sort of anxious volubility in
the delivery. The constantly elusive argument and the illustrative
quotations go on without a single reflective pause. For this
reason alone the reading of that work is a fatiguing process.

The author himself (I use his own words) "suspects" that what he
has written "may be theology after all." It may be. It is not my
place either to allay or to confirm the author's suspicion of his
own work. But I will state its main thesis: "That science
regarded in the gross dictates the spirituality of man and strongly
implies a spiritual destiny for individual human beings." This
means: Existence after Death--that is, Immortality.

To find out its value you must go to the book. But I will observe
here that an Immortality liable at any moment to betray itself
fatuously by the forcible incantations of Mr. Stead or Professor
Crookes is scarcely worth having. Can you imagine anything more
squalid than an Immortality at the beck and call of Eusapia
Palladino? That woman lives on the top floor of a Neapolitan
house, and gets our poor, pitiful, august dead, flesh of our flesh,
bone of our bone, spirit of our spirit, who have loved, suffered
and died, as we must love, suffer, and die--she gets them to beat
tambourines in a corner and protrude shadowy limbs through a
curtain. This is particularly horrible, because, if one had to put
one's faith in these things one could not even die safely from
disgust, as one would long to do.

And to believe that these manifestations, which the author
evidently takes for modern miracles, will stay our tottering faith;
to believe that the new psychology has, only the other day,
discovered man to be a "spiritual mystery," is really carrying
humility towards that universal provider, Science, too far.

We moderns have complicated our old perplexities to the point of
absurdity; our perplexities older than religion itself. It is not
for nothing that for so many centuries the priest, mounting the
steps of the altar, murmurs, "Why art thou sad, my soul, and why
dost thou trouble me?" Since the day of Creation two veiled
figures, Doubt and Melancholy, are pacing endlessly in the sunshine
of the world. What humanity needs is not the promise of scientific
immortality, but compassionate pity in this life and infinite mercy
on the Day of Judgment.

And, for the rest, during this transient hour of our pilgrimage, we
may well be content to repeat the Invocation of Sar Peladan. Sar
Peladan was an occultist, a seer, a modern magician. He believed
in astrology, in the spirits of the air, in elves; he was
marvellously and deliciously absurd. Incidentally he wrote some
incomprehensible poems and a few pages of harmonious prose, for,
you must know, "a magician is nothing else but a great harmonist."
Here are some eight lines of the magnificent Invocation. Let me,
however, warn you, strictly between ourselves, that my translation
is execrable. I am sorry to say I am no magician.

"O Nature, indulgent Mother, forgive! Open your arms to the son,
prodigal and weary.

"I have attempted to tear asunder the veil you have hung to conceal
from us the pain of life, and I have been wounded by the mystery. .
. . OEdipus, half way to finding the word of the enigma, young
Faust, regretting already the simple life, the life of the heart, I
come back to you repentant, reconciled, O gentle deceiver!"


Much good paper has been lamentably wasted to prove that science
has destroyed, that it is destroying, or, some day, may destroy
poetry. Meantime, unblushing, unseen, and often unheard, the
guileless poets have gone on singing in a sweet strain. How they
dare do the impossible and virtually forbidden thing is a cause for
wonder but not for legislation. Not yet. We are at present too
busy reforming the silent burglar and planning concerts to soothe
the savage breast of the yelling hooligan. As somebody--perhaps a
publisher--said lately: "Poetry is of no account now-a-days."

But it is not totally neglected. Those persons with gold-rimmed
spectacles whose usual occupation is to spy upon the obvious have
remarked audibly (on several occasions) that poetry has so far not
given to science any acknowledgment worthy of its distinguished
position in the popular mind. Except that Tennyson looked down the
throat of a foxglove, that Erasmus Darwin wrote THE LOVES OF THE
PLANTS and a scoffer THE LOVES OF THE TRIANGLES, poets have been
supposed to be indecorously blind to the progress of science. What
tribute, for instance, has poetry paid to electricity? All I can
remember on the spur of the moment is Mr. Arthur Symons' line about
arc lamps: "Hung with the globes of some unnatural fruit."

Commerce and Manufacture praise on every hand in their not mute but
inarticulate way the glories of science. Poetry does not play its
part. Behold John Keats, skilful with the surgeon's knife; but
when he writes poetry his inspiration is not from the operating
table. Here I am reminded, though, of a modern instance to the
contrary in prose. Mr. H. G. Wells, who, as far as I know, has
never written a line of verse, was inspired a few years ago to
write a short story, UNDER THE KNIFE. Out of a clock-dial, a brass
rod, and a whiff of chloroform, he has conjured for us a sensation
of space and eternity, evoked the face of the Unknowable, and an
awesome, august voice, like the voice of the Judgment Day; a great
voice, perhaps the voice of science itself, uttering the words:
"There shall be no more pain!" I advise you to look up that story,
so human and so intimate, because Mr. Wells, the writer of prose
whose amazing inventiveness we all know, remains a poet even in his
most perverse moments of scorn for things as they are. His poetic
imagination is sometimes even greater than his inventiveness, I am
not afraid to say. But, indeed, imaginative faculty would make any
man a poet--were he born without tongue for speech and without
hands to seize his fancy and fasten her down to a wretched piece of

The book {6} which in the course of the last few days I have opened
and shut several times is not imaginative. But, on the other hand,
it is not a dumb book, as some are. It has even a sort of sober
and serious eloquence, reminding us that not poetry alone is at
fault in this matter. Mr. Bourne begins his ASCENDING EFFORT with
a remark by Sir Francis Galton upon Eugenics that "if the
principles he was advocating were to become effective they must be
introduced into the national conscience, like a new religion."
"Introduced" suggests compulsory vaccination. Mr. Bourne, who is
not a theologian, wishes to league together not science and
religion, but science and the arts. "The intoxicating power of
art," he thinks, is the very thing needed to give the desired
effect to the doctrines of science. In uninspired phrase he points
to the arts playing once upon a time a part in "popularising the
Christian tenets." With painstaking fervour as great as the
fervour of prophets, but not so persuasive, he foresees the arts
some day popularising science. Until that day dawns, science will
continue to be lame and poetry blind. He himself cannot smooth or
even point out the way, though he thinks that "a really prudent
people would be greedy of beauty," and their public authorities "as
careful of the sense of comfort as of sanitation."

As the writer of those remarkable rustic notebooks, THE BETTESWORTH
BOOK and MEMOIRS OF A SURREY LABOURER, the author has a claim upon
our attention. But his seriousness, his patience, his almost
touching sincerity, can only command the respect of his readers and
nothing more. He is obsessed by science, haunted and shadowed by
it, until he has been bewildered into awe. He knows, indeed, that
art owes its triumphs and its subtle influence to the fact that it
issues straight from our organic vitality, and is a movement of
life-cells with their matchless unintellectual knowledge. But the
fact that poetry does not seem obviously in love with science has
never made him doubt whether it may not be an argument against his
haste to see the marriage ceremony performed amid public

Many a man has heard or read and believes that the earth goes round
the sun; one small blob of mud among several others, spinning
ridiculously with a waggling motion like a top about to fall. This
is the Copernican system, and the man believes in the system
without often knowing as much about it as its name. But while
watching a sunset he sheds his belief; he sees the sun as a small
and useful object, the servant of his needs and the witness of his
ascending effort, sinking slowly behind a range of mountains, and
then he holds the system of Ptolemy. He holds it without knowing
it. In the same way a poet hears, reads, and believes a thousand
undeniable truths which have not yet got into his blood, nor will
do after reading Mr. Bourne's book; he writes, therefore, as if
neither truths nor book existed. Life and the arts follow dark
courses, and will not turn aside to the brilliant arc-lights of
science. Some day, without a doubt,--and it may be a consolation
to Mr. Bourne to know it--fully informed critics will point out
that Mr. Davies's poem on a dark woman combing her hair must have
been written after the invasion of appendicitis, and that Mr.
Yeats's "Had I the heaven's embroidered cloths" came before radium
was quite unnecessarily dragged out of its respectable obscurity in
pitchblende to upset the venerable (and comparatively naive)
chemistry of our young days.

There are times when the tyranny of science and the cant of science
are alarming, but there are other times when they are entertaining-
-and this is one of them. "Many a man prides himself" says Mr.
Bourne, "on his piety or his views of art, whose whole range of
ideas, could they be investigated, would be found ordinary, if not
base, because they have been adopted in compliance with some
external persuasion or to serve some timid purpose instead of
proceeding authoritatively from the living selection of his
hereditary taste." This extract is a fair sample of the book's
thought and of its style. But Mr. Bourne seems to forget that
"persuasion" is a vain thing. The appreciation of great art comes
from within.

It is but the merest justice to say that the transparent honesty of
Mr. Bourne's purpose is undeniable. But the whole book is simply
an earnest expression of a pious wish; and, like the generality of
pious wishes, this one seems of little dynamic value--besides being

Yes, indeed. Art has served Religion; artists have found the most
exalted inspiration in Christianity; but the light of
Transfiguration which has illuminated the profoundest mysteries of
our sinful souls is not the light of the generating stations, which
exposes the depths of our infatuation where our mere cleverness is
permitted for a while to grope for the unessential among invincible


A couple of years ago I was moved to write a one-act play--and I
lived long enough to accomplish the task. We live and learn. When
the play was finished I was informed that it had to be licensed for
performance. Thus I learned of the existence of the Censor of
Plays. I may say without vanity that I am intelligent enough to
have been astonished by that piece of information: for facts must
stand in some relation to time and space, and I was aware of being
in England--in the twentieth-century England. The fact did not fit
the date and the place. That was my first thought. It was, in
short, an improper fact. I beg you to believe that I am writing in
all seriousness and am weighing my words scrupulously.

Therefore I don't say inappropriate. I say improper--that is:
something to be ashamed of. And at first this impression was
confirmed by the obscurity in which the figure embodying this after
all considerable fact had its being. The Censor of Plays! His
name was not in the mouths of all men. Far from it. He seemed
stealthy and remote. There was about that figure the scent of the
far East, like the peculiar atmosphere of a Mandarin's back yard,
and the mustiness of the Middle Ages, that epoch when mankind tried
to stand still in a monstrous illusion of final certitude attained
in morals, intellect and conscience.

It was a disagreeable impression. But I reflected that probably
the censorship of plays was an inactive monstrosity; not exactly a
survival, since it seemed obviously at variance with the genius of
the people, but an heirloom of past ages, a bizarre and imported
curiosity preserved because of that weakness one has for one's old
possessions apart from any intrinsic value; one more object of
exotic VIRTU, an Oriental POTICHE, a MAGOT CHINOIS conceived by a
childish and extravagant imagination, but allowed to stand in
stolid impotence in the twilight of the upper shelf.

Thus I quieted my uneasy mind. Its uneasiness had nothing to do
with the fate of my one-act play. The play was duly produced, and
an exceptionally intelligent audience stared it coldly off the
boards. It ceased to exist. It was a fair and open execution.
But having survived the freezing atmosphere of that auditorium I
continued to exist, labouring under no sense of wrong. I was not
pleased, but I was content. I was content to accept the verdict of
a free and independent public, judging after its conscience the
work of its free, independent and conscientious servant--the

Only thus can the dignity of artistic servitude be preserved--not
to speak of the bare existence of the artist and the self-respect
of the man. I shall say nothing of the self-respect of the public.
To the self-respect of the public the present appeal against the
censorship is being made and I join in it with all my heart.

For I have lived long enough to learn that the monstrous and
outlandish figure, the MAGOT CHINOIS whom I believed to be but a
memorial of our forefathers' mental aberration, that grotesque
POTICHE, works! The absurd and hollow creature of clay seems to be
alive with a sort of (surely) unconscious life worthy of its
traditions. It heaves its stomach, it rolls its eyes, it
brandishes a monstrous arm: and with the censorship, like a Bravo
of old Venice with a more carnal weapon, stabs its victim from
behind in the twilight of its upper shelf. Less picturesque than
the Venetian in cloak and mask, less estimable, too, in this, that
the assassin plied his moral trade at his own risk deriving no
countenance from the powers of the Republic, it stands more
malevolent, inasmuch that the Bravo striking in the dusk killed but
the body, whereas the grotesque thing nodding its mandarin head may
in its absurd unconsciousness strike down at any time the spirit of
an honest, of an artistic, perhaps of a sublime creation.

This Chinese monstrosity, disguised in the trousers of the Western
Barbarian and provided by the State with the immortal Mr.
Stiggins's plug hat and umbrella, is with us. It is an office. An
office of trust. And from time to time there is found an official
to fill it. He is a public man. The least prominent of public
men, the most unobtrusive, the most obscure if not the most modest.

But however obscure, a public man may be told the truth if only
once in his life. His office flourishes in the shade; not in the
rustic shade beloved of the violet but in the muddled twilight of
mind, where tyranny of every sort flourishes. Its holder need not
have either brain or heart, no sight, no taste, no imagination, not
even bowels of compassion. He needs not these things. He has
power. He can kill thought, and incidentally truth, and
incidentally beauty, providing they seek to live in a dramatic
form. He can do it, without seeing, without understanding, without
feeling anything; out of mere stupid suspicion, as an irresponsible
Roman Caesar could kill a senator. He can do that and there is no
one to say him nay. He may call his cook (Moliere used to do that)
from below and give her five acts to judge every morning as a
matter of constant practice and still remain the unquestioned
destroyer of men's honest work. He may have a glass too much.
This accident has happened to persons of unimpeachable morality--to
gentlemen. He may suffer from spells of imbecility like Clodius.
He may . . . what might he not do! I tell you he is the Caesar of
the dramatic world. There has been since the Roman Principate
nothing in the way of irresponsible power to compare with the
office of the Censor of Plays.

Looked at in this way it has some grandeur, something colossal in
the odious and the absurd. This figure in whose power it is to
suppress an intellectual conception--to kill thought (a dream for a
mad brain, my masters!)--seems designed in a spirit of bitter
comedy to bring out the greatness of a Philistine's conceit and his
moral cowardice.

But this is England in the twentieth century, and one wonders that
there can be found a man courageous enough to occupy the post. It
is a matter for meditation. Having given it a few minutes I come
to the conclusion in the serenity of my heart and the peace of my
conscience that he must be either an extreme megalomaniac or an
utterly unconscious being.

He must be unconscious. It is one of the qualifications for his
magistracy. Other qualifications are equally easy. He must have
done nothing, expressed nothing, imagined nothing. He must be
obscure, insignificant and mediocre--in thought, act, speech and
sympathy. He must know nothing of art, of life--and of himself.
For if he did he would not dare to be what he is. Like that much
questioned and mysterious bird, the phoenix, he sits amongst the
cold ashes of his predecessor upon the altar of morality, alone of
his kind in the sight of wondering generations.

And I will end with a quotation reproducing not perhaps the exact
words but the true spirit of a lofty conscience.

"Often when sitting down to write the notice of a play, especially
when I felt it antagonistic to my canons of art, to my tastes or my
convictions, I hesitated in the fear lest my conscientious blame
might check the development of a great talent, my sincere judgment
condemn a worthy mind. With the pen poised in my hand I hesitated,
whispering to myself 'What if I were perchance doing my part in
killing a masterpiece.'"

Such were the lofty scruples of M. Jules Lemaitre--dramatist and
dramatic critic, a great citizen and a high magistrate in the
Republic of Letters; a Censor of Plays exercising his august office
openly in the light of day, with the authority of a European
reputation. But then M. Jules Lemaitre is a man possessed of
wisdom, of great fame, of a fine conscience--not an obscure hollow
Chinese monstrosity ornamented with Mr. Stiggins's plug hat and
cotton umbrella by its anxious grandmother--the State.

Frankly, is it not time to knock the improper object off its shelf?
It has stood too long there. Hatched in Pekin (I should say) by
some Board of Respectable Rites, the little caravan monster has
come to us by way of Moscow--I suppose. It is outlandish. It is
not venerable. It does not belong here. Is it not time to knock
it off its dark shelf with some implement appropriate to its worth
and status? With an old broom handle for instance.



From the firing of the first shot on the banks of the Sha-ho, the
fate of the great battle of the Russo-Japanese war hung in the
balance for more than a fortnight. The famous three-day battles,
for which history has reserved the recognition of special pages,
sink into insignificance before the struggles in Manchuria engaging
half a million men on fronts of sixty miles, struggles lasting for
weeks, flaming up fiercely and dying away from sheer exhaustion, to
flame up again in desperate persistence, and end--as we have seen
them end more than once--not from the victor obtaining a crushing
advantage, but through the mortal weariness of the combatants.

We have seen these things, though we have seen them only in the
cold, silent, colourless print of books and newspapers. In
stigmatising the printed word as cold, silent and colourless, I
have no intention of putting a slight upon the fidelity and the
talents of men who have provided us with words to read about the
battles in Manchuria. I only wished to suggest that in the nature
of things, the war in the Far East has been made known to us, so
far, in a grey reflection of its terrible and monotonous phases of
pain, death, sickness; a reflection seen in the perspective of
thousands of miles, in the dim atmosphere of official reticence,
through the veil of inadequate words. Inadequate, I say, because
what had to be reproduced is beyond the common experience of war,
and our imagination, luckily for our peace of mind, has remained a
slumbering faculty, notwithstanding the din of humanitarian talk
and the real progress of humanitarian ideas. Direct vision of the
fact, or the stimulus of a great art, can alone make it turn and
open its eyes heavy with blessed sleep; and even there, as against
the testimony of the senses and the stirring up of emotion, that
saving callousness which reconciles us to the conditions of our
existence, will assert itself under the guise of assent to fatal
necessity, or in the enthusiasm of a purely aesthetic admiration of
the rendering. In this age of knowledge our sympathetic
imagination, to which alone we can look for the ultimate triumph of
concord and justice, remains strangely impervious to information,
however correctly and even picturesquely conveyed. As to the
vaunted eloquence of a serried array of figures, it has all the
futility of precision without force. It is the exploded
superstition of enthusiastic statisticians. An over-worked horse
falling in front of our windows, a man writhing under a cart-wheel
in the streets awaken more genuine emotion, more horror, pity, and
indignation than the stream of reports, appalling in their
monotony, of tens of thousands of decaying bodies tainting the air
of the Manchurian plains, of other tens of thousands of maimed
bodies groaning in ditches, crawling on the frozen ground, filling
the field hospitals; of the hundreds of thousands of survivors no
less pathetic and even more tragic in being left alive by fate to
the wretched exhaustion of their pitiful toil.

An early Victorian, or perhaps a pre-Victorian, sentimentalist,
looking out of an upstairs window, I believe, at a street--perhaps
Fleet Street itself--full of people, is reported, by an admiring
friend, to have wept for joy at seeing so much life. These
arcadian tears, this facile emotion worthy of the golden age, comes
to us from the past, with solemn approval, after the close of the
Napoleonic wars and before the series of sanguinary surprises held
in reserve by the nineteenth century for our hopeful grandfathers.
We may well envy them their optimism of which this anecdote of an
amiable wit and sentimentalist presents an extreme instance, but
still, a true instance, and worthy of regard in the spontaneous
testimony to that trust in the life of the earth, triumphant at
last in the felicity of her children. Moreover, the psychology of
individuals, even in the most extreme instances, reflects the
general effect of the fears and hopes of its time. Wept for joy!
I should think that now, after eighty years, the emotion would be
of a sterner sort. One could not imagine anybody shedding tears of
joy at the sight of much life in a street, unless, perhaps, he were
an enthusiastic officer of a general staff or a popular politician,
with a career yet to make. And hardly even that. In the case of
the first tears would be unprofessional, and a stern repression of
all signs of joy at the provision of so much food for powder more
in accord with the rules of prudence; the joy of the second would
be checked before it found issue in weeping by anxious doubts as to
the soundness of these electors' views upon the question of the
hour, and the fear of missing the consensus of their votes.

No! It seems that such a tender joy would be misplaced now as much
as ever during the last hundred years, to go no further back. The
end of the eighteenth century was, too, a time of optimism and of
dismal mediocrity in which the French Revolution exploded like a
bomb-shell. In its lurid blaze the insufficiency of Europe, the
inferiority of minds, of military and administrative systems, stood
exposed with pitiless vividness. And there is but little courage
in saying at this time of the day that the glorified French
Revolution itself, except for its destructive force, was in
essentials a mediocre phenomenon. The parentage of that great
social and political upheaval was intellectual, the idea was
elevated; but it is the bitter fate of any idea to lose its royal
form and power, to lose its "virtue" the moment it descends from
its solitary throne to work its will among the people. It is a
king whose destiny is never to know the obedience of his subjects
except at the cost of degradation. The degradation of the ideas of
freedom and justice at the root of the French Revolution is made
manifest in the person of its heir; a personality without law or
faith, whom it has been the fashion to represent as an eagle, but
who was, in truth, more like a sort of vulture preying upon the
body of a Europe which did, indeed, for some dozen of years, very
much resemble a corpse. The subtle and manifold influence for evil
of the Napoleonic episode as a school of violence, as a sower of
national hatreds, as the direct provocator of obscurantism and
reaction, of political tyranny and injustice, cannot well be

The nineteenth century began with wars which were the issue of a
corrupted revolution. It may be said that the twentieth begins
with a war which is like the explosive ferment of a moral grave,
whence may yet emerge a new political organism to take the place of
a gigantic and dreaded phantom. For a hundred years the ghost of
Russian might, overshadowing with its fantastic bulk the councils
of Central and Western Europe, sat upon the gravestone of
autocracy, cutting off from air, from light, from all knowledge of
themselves and of the world, the buried millions of Russian people.
Not the most determined cockney sentimentalist could have had the
heart to weep for joy at the thought of its teeming numbers! And
yet they were living, they are alive yet, since, through the mist
of print, we have seen their blood freezing crimson upon the snow
of the squares and streets of St. Petersburg; since their
generations born in the grave are yet alive enough to fill the
ditches and cover the fields of Manchuria with their torn limbs; to
send up from the frozen ground of battlefields a chorus of groans
calling for vengeance from Heaven; to kill and retreat, or kill and
advance, without intermission or rest for twenty hours, for fifty
hours, for whole weeks of fatigue, hunger, cold, and murder--till
their ghastly labour, worthy of a place amongst the punishments of
Dante's Inferno, passing through the stages of courage, of fury, of
hopelessness, sinks into the night of crazy despair.

It seems that in both armies many men are driven beyond the bounds
of sanity by the stress of moral and physical misery. Great
numbers of soldiers and regimental officers go mad as if by way of
protest against the peculiar sanity of a state of war: mostly
among the Russians, of course. The Japanese have in their favour
the tonic effect of success; and the innate gentleness of their
character stands them in good stead. But the Japanese grand army
has yet another advantage in this nerve-destroying contest, which
for endless, arduous toil of killing surpasses all the wars of
history. It has a base for its operations; a base of a nature
beyond the concern of the many books written upon the so-called art
of war, which, considered by itself, purely as an exercise of human
ingenuity, is at best only a thing of well-worn, simple artifices.
The Japanese army has for its base a reasoned conviction; it has
behind it the profound belief in the right of a logical necessity
to be appeased at the cost of so much blood and treasure. And in
that belief, whether well or ill founded, that army stands on the
high ground of conscious assent, shouldering deliberately the
burden of a long-tried faithfulness. The other people (since each
people is an army nowadays), torn out from a miserable quietude
resembling death itself, hurled across space, amazed, without
starting-point of its own or knowledge of the aim, can feel nothing
but a horror-stricken consciousness of having mysteriously become
the plaything of a black and merciless fate.

The profound, the instructive nature of this war is resumed by the
memorable difference in the spiritual state of the two armies; the
one forlorn and dazed on being driven out from an abyss of mental
darkness into the red light of a conflagration, the other with a
full knowledge of its past and its future, "finding itself" as it
were at every step of the trying war before the eyes of an
astonished world. The greatness of the lesson has been dwarfed for
most of us by an often half-conscious prejudice of race-difference.
The West having managed to lodge its hasty foot on the neck of the
East, is prone to forget that it is from the East that the wonders
of patience and wisdom have come to a world of men who set the
value of life in the power to act rather than in the faculty of
meditation. It has been dwarfed by this, and it has been obscured
by a cloud of considerations with whose shaping wisdom and
meditation had little or nothing to do; by the weary platitudes on
the military situation which (apart from geographical conditions)
is the same everlasting situation that has prevailed since the
times of Hannibal and Scipio, and further back yet, since the
beginning of historical record--since prehistoric times, for that
matter; by the conventional expressions of horror at the tale of
maiming and killing; by the rumours of peace with guesses more or
less plausible as to its conditions. All this is made legitimate
by the consecrated custom of writers in such time as this--the time
of a great war. More legitimate in view of the situation created
in Europe are the speculations as to the course of events after the
war. More legitimate, but hardly more wise than the irresponsible
talk of strategy that never changes, and of terms of peace that do
not matter.

And above it all--unaccountably persistent--the decrepit, old,
hundred years old, spectre of Russia's might still faces Europe
from across the teeming graves of Russian people. This dreaded and
strange apparition, bristling with bayonets, armed with chains,
hung over with holy images; that something not of this world,
partaking of a ravenous ghoul, of a blind Djinn grown up from a
cloud, and of the Old Man of the Sea, still faces us with its old
stupidity, with its strange mystical arrogance, stamping its
shadowy feet upon the gravestone of autocracy already cracked
beyond repair by the torpedoes of Togo and the guns of Oyama,
already heaving in the blood-soaked ground with the first stirrings
of a resurrection.

Never before had the Western world the opportunity to look so deep
into the black abyss which separates a soulless autocracy posing
as, and even believing itself to be, the arbiter of Europe, from
the benighted, starved souls of its people. This is the real
object-lesson of this war, its unforgettable information. And this
war's true mission, disengaged from the economic origins of that
contest, from doors open or shut, from the fields of Korea for
Russian wheat or Japanese rice, from the ownership of ice-free
ports and the command of the waters of the East--its true mission
was to lay a ghost. It has accomplished it. Whether Kuropatkin
was incapable or unlucky, whether or not Russia issuing next year,
or the year after next, from behind a rampart of piled-up corpses
will win or lose a fresh campaign, are minor considerations. The
task of Japan is done, the mission accomplished; the ghost of
Russia's might is laid. Only Europe, accustomed so long to the
presence of that portent, seems unable to comprehend that, as in
the fables of our childhood, the twelve strokes of the hour have
rung, the cock has crowed, the apparition has vanished--never to
haunt again this world which has been used to gaze at it with vague
dread and many misgivings.

It was a fascination. And the hallucination still lasts as
inexplicable in its persistence as in its duration. It seems so
unaccountable, that the doubt arises as to the sincerity of all
that talk as to what Russia will or will not do, whether it will
raise or not another army, whether it will bury the Japanese in
Manchuria under seventy millions of sacrificed peasants' caps (as
her Press boasted a little more than a year ago) or give up to
Japan that jewel of her crown, Saghalien, together with some other
things; whether, perchance, as an interesting alternative, it will
make peace on the Amur in order to make war beyond the Oxus.

All these speculations (with many others) have appeared gravely in
print; and if they have been gravely considered by only one reader
out of each hundred, there must be something subtly noxious to the
human brain in the composition of newspaper ink; or else it is that
the large page, the columns of words, the leaded headings, exalt
the mind into a state of feverish credulity. The printed page of
the Press makes a sort of still uproar, taking from men both the
power to reflect and the faculty of genuine feeling; leaving them
only the artificially created need of having something exciting to
talk about.

The truth is that the Russia of our fathers, of our childhood, of
our middle-age; the testamentary Russia of Peter the Great--who
imagined that all the nations were delivered into the hand of
Tsardom--can do nothing. It can do nothing because it does not
exist. It has vanished for ever at last, and as yet there is no
new Russia to take the place of that ill-omened creation, which,
being a fantasy of a madman's brain, could in reality be nothing
else than a figure out of a nightmare seated upon a monument of
fear and oppression.

The true greatness of a State does not spring from such a
contemptible source. It is a matter of logical growth, of faith
and courage. Its inspiration springs from the constructive
instinct of the people, governed by the strong hand of a collective
conscience and voiced in the wisdom and counsel of men who seldom
reap the reward of gratitude. Many States have been powerful, but,
perhaps, none have been truly great--as yet. That the position of
a State in reference to the moral methods of its development can be
seen only historically, is true. Perhaps mankind has not lived
long enough for a comprehensive view of any particular case.
Perhaps no one will ever live long enough; and perhaps this earth
shared out amongst our clashing ambitions by the anxious
arrangements of statesmen will come to an end before we attain the
felicity of greeting with unanimous applause the perfect fruition
of a great State. It is even possible that we are destined for
another sort of bliss altogether: that sort which consists in
being perpetually duped by false appearances. But whatever
political illusion the future may hold out to our fear or our
admiration, there will be none, it is safe to say, which in the
magnitude of anti-humanitarian effect will equal that phantom now
driven out of the world by the thunder of thousands of guns; none
that in its retreat will cling with an equally shameless sincerity
to more unworthy supports: to the moral corruption and mental
darkness of slavery, to the mere brute force of numbers.

This very ignominy of infatuation should make clear to men's
feelings and reason that the downfall of Russia's might is
unavoidable. Spectral it lived and spectral it disappears without
leaving a memory of a single generous deed, of a single service
rendered--even involuntarily--to the polity of nations. Other
despotisms there have been, but none whose origin was so grimly
fantastic in its baseness, and the beginning of whose end was so
gruesomely ignoble. What is amazing is the myth of its
irresistible strength which is dying so hard.

Considered historically, Russia's influence in Europe seems the
most baseless thing in the world; a sort of convention invented by
diplomatists for some dark purpose of their own, one would suspect,
if the lack of grasp upon the realities of any given situation were
not the main characteristic of the management of international
relations. A glance back at the last hundred years shows the
invariable, one may say the logical, powerlessness of Russia. As a
military power it has never achieved by itself a single great
thing. It has been indeed able to repel an ill-considered
invasion, but only by having recourse to the extreme methods of
desperation. In its attacks upon its specially selected victim
this giant always struck as if with a withered right hand. All the
campaigns against Turkey prove this, from Potemkin's time to the
last Eastern war in 1878, entered upon with every advantage of a
well-nursed prestige and a carefully fostered fanaticism. Even the
half-armed were always too much for the might of Russia, or,
rather, of the Tsardom. It was victorious only against the
practically disarmed, as, in regard to its ideal of territorial
expansion, a glance at a map will prove sufficiently. As an ally,
Russia has been always unprofitable, taking her share in the
defeats rather than in the victories of her friends, but always
pushing her own claims with the arrogance of an arbiter of military
success. She has been unable to help to any purpose a single
principle to hold its own, not even the principle of authority and
legitimism which Nicholas the First had declared so haughtily to
rest under his special protection; just as Nicholas the Second has
tried to make the maintenance of peace on earth his own exclusive
affair. And the first Nicholas was a good Russian; he held the
belief in the sacredness of his realm with such an intensity of
faith that he could not survive the first shock of doubt. Rightly
envisaged, the Crimean war was the end of what remained of
absolutism and legitimism in Europe. It threw the way open for the
liberation of Italy. The war in Manchuria makes an end of
absolutism in Russia, whoever has got to perish from the shock
behind a rampart of dead ukases, manifestoes, and rescripts. In
the space of fifty years the self-appointed Apostle of Absolutism
and the self-appointed Apostle of Peace, the Augustus and the
Augustulus of the REGIME that was wont to speak contemptuously to
European Foreign Offices in the beautiful French phrases of Prince
Gorchakov, have fallen victims, each after his kind, to their
shadowy and dreadful familiar, to the phantom, part ghoul, part
Djinn, part Old Man of the Sea, with beak and claws and a double
head, looking greedily both east and west on the confines of two

That nobody through all that time penetrated the true nature of the
monster it is impossible to believe. But of the many who must have
seen, all were either too modest, too cautious, perhaps too
discreet, to speak; or else were too insignificant to be heard or
believed. Yet not all.

In the very early sixties, Prince Bismarck, then about to leave his
post of Prussian Minister in St. Petersburg, called--so the story
goes--upon another distinguished diplomatist. After some talk upon
the general situation, the future Chancellor of the German Empire
remarked that it was his practice to resume the impressions he had
carried out of every country where he had made a long stay, in a
short sentence, which he caused to be engraved upon some trinket.
"I am leaving this country now, and this is what I bring away from
it," he continued, taking off his finger a new ring to show to his
colleague the inscription inside: "La Russie, c'est le neant."

Prince Bismarck had the truth of the matter and was neither too
modest nor too discreet to speak out. Certainly he was not afraid
of not being believed. Yet he did not shout his knowledge from the
house-tops. He meant to have the phantom as his accomplice in an
enterprise which has set the clock of peace back for many a year.

He had his way. The German Empire has been an accomplished fact
for more than a third of a century--a great and dreadful legacy
left to the world by the ill-omened phantom of Russia's might.

It is that phantom which is disappearing now--unexpectedly,
astonishingly, as if by a touch of that wonderful magic for which
the East has always been famous. The pretence of belief in its
existence will no longer answer anybody's purposes (now Prince
Bismarck is dead) unless the purposes of the writers of sensational
paragraphs as to this NEANT making an armed descent upon the plains
of India. That sort of folly would be beneath notice if it did not
distract attention from the real problem created for Europe by a
war in the Far East.

For good or evil in the working out of her destiny, Russia is bound
to remain a NEANT for many long years, in a more even than a
Bismarckian sense. The very fear of this spectre being gone, it
behoves us to consider its legacy--the fact (no phantom that)
accomplished in Central Europe by its help and connivance.

The German Empire may feel at bottom the loss of an old accomplice
always amenable to the confidential whispers of a bargain; but in
the first instance it cannot but rejoice at the fundamental
weakening of a possible obstacle to its instincts of territorial
expansion. There is a removal of that latent feeling of restraint
which the presence of a powerful neighbour, however implicated with
you in a sense of common guilt, is bound to inspire. The common
guilt of the two Empires is defined precisely by their frontier
line running through the Polish provinces. Without indulging in
excessive feelings of indignation at that country's partition, or
going so far as to believe--with a late French politician--in the
"immanente justice des choses," it is clear that a material
situation, based upon an essentially immoral transaction, contains
the germ of fatal differences in the temperament of the two
partners in iniquity--whatever the iniquity is. Germany has been
the evil counsellor of Russia on all the questions of her Polish
problem. Always urging the adoption of the most repressive
measures with a perfectly logical duplicity, Prince Bismarck's
Empire has taken care to couple the neighbourly offers of military
assistance with merciless advice. The thought of the Polish
provinces accepting a frank reconciliation with a humanised Russia
and bringing the weight of homogeneous loyalty within a few miles
of Berlin, has been always intensely distasteful to the arrogant
Germanising tendencies of the other partner in iniquity. And,
besides, the way to the Baltic provinces leads over the Niemen and
over the Vistula.

And now, when there is a possibility of serious internal
disturbances destroying the sort of order autocracy has kept in
Russia, the road over these rivers is seen wearing a more inviting
aspect. At any moment the pretext of armed intervention may be
found in a revolutionary outbreak provoked by Socialists, perhaps--
but at any rate by the political immaturity of the enlightened
classes and by the political barbarism of the Russian people. The
throes of Russian resurrection will be long and painful. This is
not the place to speculate upon the nature of these convulsions,
but there must be some violent break-up of the lamentable
tradition, a shattering of the social, of the administrative--
certainly of the territorial--unity.

Voices have been heard saying that the time for reforms in Russia
is already past. This is the superficial view of the more profound
truth that for Russia there has never been such a time within the
memory of mankind. It is impossible to initiate a rational scheme
of reform upon a phase of blind absolutism; and in Russia there has
never been anything else to which the faintest tradition could,
after ages of error, go back as to a parting of ways.

In Europe the old monarchical principle stands justified in its
historical struggle with the growth of political liberty by the
evolution of the idea of nationality as we see it concreted at the
present time; by the inception of that wider solidarity grouping
together around the standard of monarchical power these larger,
agglomerations of mankind. This service of unification, creating
close-knit communities possessing the ability, the will, and the
power to pursue a common ideal, has prepared the ground for the
advent of a still larger understanding: for the solidarity of
Europeanism, which must be the next step towards the advent of
Concord and Justice; an advent that, however delayed by the fatal
worship of force and the errors of national selfishness, has been,
and remains, the only possible goal of our progress.

The conceptions of legality, of larger patriotism, of national
duties and aspirations have grown under the shadow of the old
monarchies of Europe, which were the creations of historical
necessity. There were seeds of wisdom in their very mistakes and
abuses. They had a past and a future; they were human. But under
the shadow of Russian autocracy nothing could grow. Russian
autocracy succeeded to nothing; it had no historical past, and it
cannot hope for a historical future. It can only end. By no
industry of investigation, by no fantastic stretch of benevolence,
can it be presented as a phase of development through which a
Society, a State, must pass on the way to the full consciousness of
its destiny. It lies outside the stream of progress. This
despotism has been utterly un-European. Neither has it been
Asiatic in its nature. Oriental despotisms belong to the history
of mankind; they have left their trace on our minds and our
imagination by their splendour, by their culture, by their art, by
the exploits of great conquerors. The record of their rise and
decay has an intellectual value; they are in their origins and
their course the manifestations of human needs, the instruments of
racial temperament, of catastrophic force, of faith and fanaticism.
The Russian autocracy as we see it now is a thing apart. It is
impossible to assign to it any rational origin in the vices, the
misfortunes, the necessities, or the aspirations of mankind. That
despotism has neither an European nor an Oriental parentage; more,
it seems to have no root either in the institutions or the follies
of this earth. What strikes one with a sort of awe is just this
something inhuman in its character. It is like a visitation, like
a curse from Heaven falling in the darkness of ages upon the
immense plains of forest and steppe lying dumbly on the confines of
two continents: a true desert harbouring no Spirit either of the
East or of the West.

This pitiful fate of a country held by an evil spell, suffering
from an awful visitation for which the responsibility cannot be
traced either to her sins or her follies, has made Russia as a
nation so difficult to understand by Europe. From the very first
ghastly dawn of her existence as a State she had to breathe the
atmosphere of despotism; she found nothing but the arbitrary will
of an obscure autocrat at the beginning and end of her
organisation. Hence arises her impenetrability to whatever is true
in Western thought. Western thought, when it crosses her frontier,
falls under the spell of her autocracy and becomes a noxious parody
of itself. Hence the contradictions, the riddles of her national
life, which are looked upon with such curiosity by the rest of the
world. The curse had entered her very soul; autocracy, and nothing
else in the world, has moulded her institutions, and with the
poison of slavery drugged the national temperament into the apathy
of a hopeless fatalism. It seems to have gone into the blood,
tainting every mental activity in its source by a half-mystical,
insensate, fascinating assertion of purity and holiness. The
Government of Holy Russia, arrogating to itself the supreme power
to torment and slaughter the bodies of its subjects like a God-sent
scourge, has been most cruel to those whom it allowed to live under
the shadow of its dispensation. The worst crime against humanity
of that system we behold now crouching at bay behind vast heaps of
mangled corpses is the ruthless destruction of innumerable minds.
The greatest horror of the world--madness--walked faithfully in its
train. Some of the best intellects of Russia, after struggling in
vain against the spell, ended by throwing themselves at the feet of
that hopeless despotism as a giddy man leaps into an abyss. An
attentive survey of Russia's literature, of her Church, of her
administration and the cross-currents of her thought, must end in
the verdict that the Russia of to-day has not the right to give her
voice on a single question touching the future of humanity, because
from the very inception of her being the brutal destruction of
dignity, of truth, of rectitude, of all that is faithful in human
nature has been made the imperative condition of her existence.
The great governmental secret of that imperium which Prince
Bismarck had the insight and the courage to call LE NEANT, has been
the extirpation of every intellectual hope. To pronounce in the
face of such a past the word Evolution, which is precisely the
expression of the highest intellectual hope, is a gruesome
pleasantry. There can be no evolution out of a grave. Another
word of less scientific sound has been very much pronounced of late
in connection with Russia's future, a word of more vague import, a
word of dread as much as of hope--Revolution.

In the face of the events of the last four months, this word has
sprung instinctively, as it were, on grave lips, and has been heard
with solemn forebodings. More or less consciously, Europe is
preparing herself for a spectacle of much violence and perhaps of
an inspiring nobility of greatness. And there will be nothing of
what she expects. She will see neither the anticipated character
of the violence, nor yet any signs of generous greatness. Her
expectations, more or less vaguely expressed, give the measure of
her ignorance of that NEANT which for so many years had remained
hidden behind this phantom of invincible armies.

NEANT! In a way, yes! And yet perhaps Prince Bismarck has let
himself be led away by the seduction of a good phrase into the use
of an inexact form. The form of his judgment had to be pithy,
striking, engraved within a ring. If he erred, then, no doubt, he
erred deliberately. The saying was near enough the truth to serve,
and perhaps he did not want to destroy utterly by a more severe
definition the prestige of the sham that could not deceive his
genius. Prince Bismarck has been really complimentary to the
useful phantom of the autocratic might. There is an awe-inspiring
idea of infinity conveyed in the word NEANT--and in Russia there is
no idea. She is not a NEANT, she is and has been simply the
negation of everything worth living for. She is not an empty void,
she is a yawning chasm open between East and West; a bottomless
abyss that has swallowed up every hope of mercy, every aspiration
towards personal dignity, towards freedom, towards knowledge, every
ennobling desire of the heart, every redeeming whisper of
conscience. Those that have peered into that abyss, where the
dreams of Panslavism, of universal conquest, mingled with the hate
and contempt for Western ideas, drift impotently like shapes of
mist, know well that it is bottomless; that there is in it no
ground for anything that could in the remotest degree serve even
the lowest interests of mankind--and certainly no ground ready for
a revolution. The sin of the old European monarchies was not the
absolutism inherent in every form of government; it was the
inability to alter the forms of their legality, grown narrow and
oppressive with the march of time. Every form of legality is bound
to degenerate into oppression, and the legality in the forms of
monarchical institutions sooner, perhaps, than any other. It has
not been the business of monarchies to be adaptive from within.
With the mission of uniting and consolidating the particular
ambitions and interests of feudalism in favour of a larger
conception of a State, of giving self-consciousness, force and
nationality to the scattered energies of thought and action, they
were fated to lag behind the march of ideas they had themselves set
in motion in a direction they could neither understand nor approve.
Yet, for all that, the thrones still remain, and what is more
significant, perhaps, some of the dynasties, too, have survived.
The revolutions of European States have never been in the nature of
absolute protests EN MASSE against the monarchical principle; they
were the uprising of the people against the oppressive degeneration
of legality. But there never has been any legality in Russia; she
is a negation of that as of everything else that has its root in
reason or conscience. The ground of every revolution had to be
intellectually prepared. A revolution is a short cut in the
rational development of national needs in response to the growth of
world-wide ideals. It is conceivably possible for a monarch of
genius to put himself at the head of a revolution without ceasing
to be the king of his people. For the autocracy of Holy Russia the
only conceivable self-reform is--suicide.

The same relentless fate holds in its grip the all-powerful ruler
and his helpless people. Wielders of a power purchased by an
unspeakable baseness of subjection to the Khans of the Tartar
horde, the Princes of Russia who, in their heart of hearts had come
in time to regard themselves as superior to every monarch of
Europe, have never risen to be the chiefs of a nation. Their
authority has never been sanctioned by popular tradition, by ideas
of intelligent loyalty, of devotion, of political necessity, of
simple expediency, or even by the power of the sword. In whatever
form of upheaval autocratic Russia is to find her end, it can never
be a revolution fruitful of moral consequences to mankind. It
cannot be anything else but a rising of slaves. It is a tragic
circumstance that the only thing one can wish to that people who
had never seen face to face either law, order, justice, right,
truth about itself or the rest of the world; who had known nothing
outside the capricious will of its irresponsible masters, is that
it should find in the approaching hour of need, not an organiser or
a law-giver, with the wisdom of a Lycurgus or a Solon for their
service, but at least the force of energy and desperation in some
as yet unknown Spartacus.

A brand of hopeless mental and moral inferiority is set upon
Russian achievements; and the coming events of her internal
changes, however appalling they may be in their magnitude, will be
nothing more impressive than the convulsions of a colossal body.
As her boasted military force that, corrupt in its origin, has ever
struck no other but faltering blows, so her soul, kept benumbed by
her temporal and spiritual master with the poison of tyranny and
superstition, will find itself on awakening possessed of no
language, a monstrous full-grown child having first to learn the
ways of living thought and articulate speech. It is safe to say
tyranny, assuming a thousand protean shapes, will remain clinging
to her struggles for a long time before her blind multitudes
succeed at last in trampling her out of existence under their
millions of bare feet.

That would be the beginning. What is to come after? The conquest
of freedom to call your soul your own is only the first step on the
road to excellence. We, in Europe, have gone a step or two
further, have had the time to forget how little that freedom means.
To Russia it must seem everything. A prisoner shut up in a noisome
dungeon concentrates all his hope and desire on the moment of
stepping out beyond the gates. It appears to him pregnant with an
immense and final importance; whereas what is important is the
spirit in which he will draw the first breath of freedom, the
counsels he will hear, the hands he may find extended, the endless
days of toil that must follow, wherein he will have to build his
future with no other material but what he can find within himself.

It would be vain for Russia to hope for the support and counsel of
collective wisdom. Since 1870 (as a distinguished statesman of the
old tradition disconsolately exclaimed) "il n'y a plus d'Europe!"
There is, indeed, no Europe. The idea of a Europe united in the
solidarity of her dynasties, which for a moment seemed to dawn on
the horizon of the Vienna Congress through the subsiding dust of
Napoleonic alarums and excursions, has been extinguished by the
larger glamour of less restraining ideals. Instead of the
doctrines of solidarity it was the doctrine of nationalities much
more favourable to spoliations that came to the front, and since
its greatest triumphs at Sadowa and Sedan there is no Europe.
Meanwhile till the time comes when there will be no frontiers,
there are alliances so shamelessly based upon the exigencies of
suspicion and mistrust that their cohesive force waxes and wanes
with every year, almost with the event of every passing month.
This is the atmosphere Russia will find when the last rampart of
tyranny has been beaten down. But what hands, what voices will she
find on coming out into the light of day? An ally she has yet who
more than any other of Russia's allies has found that it had parted
with lots of solid substance in exchange for a shadow. It is true
that the shadow was indeed the mightiest, the darkest that the
modern world had ever known--and the most overbearing. But it is
fading now, and the tone of truest anxiety as to what is to take
its place will come, no doubt, from that and no other direction,
and no doubt, also, it will have that note of generosity which even
in the moments of greatest aberration is seldom wanting in the
voice of the French people.

Two neighbours Russia will find at her door. Austria,
traditionally unaggressive whenever her hand is not forced, ruled
by a dynasty of uncertain future, weakened by her duality, can only
speak to her in an uncertain, bilingual phrase. Prussia, grown in
something like forty years from an almost pitiful dependant into a
bullying friend and evil counsellor of Russia's masters, may,
indeed, hasten to extend a strong hand to the weakness of her
exhausted body, but if so it will be only with the intention of
tearing away the long-coveted part of her substance.

Pan-Germanism is by no means a shape of mists, and Germany is
anything but a NEANT where thought and effort are likely to lose
themselves without sound or trace. It is a powerful and voracious
organisation, full of unscrupulous self-confidence, whose appetite
for aggrandisement will only be limited by the power of helping
itself to the severed members of its friends and neighbours. The
era of wars so eloquently denounced by the old Republicans as the
peculiar blood guilt of dynastic ambitions is by no means over yet.
They will be fought out differently, with lesser frequency, with an
increased bitterness and the savage tooth-and-claw obstinacy of a
struggle for existence. They will make us regret the time of
dynastic ambitions, with their human absurdity moderated by
prudence and even by shame, by the fear of personal responsibility
and the regard paid to certain forms of conventional decency. For,
if the monarchs of Europe have been derided for addressing each
other as "brother" in autograph communications, that relationship
was at least as effective as any form of brotherhood likely to be
established between the rival nations of this continent, which, we
are assured on all hands, is the heritage of democracy. In the
ceremonial brotherhood of monarchs the reality of blood-ties, for
what little it is worth, acted often as a drag on unscrupulous
desires of glory or greed. Besides, there was always the common
danger of exasperated peoples, and some respect for each other's
divine right. No leader of a democracy, without other ancestry but
the sudden shout of a multitude, and debarred by the very condition
of his power from even thinking of a direct heir, will have any
interest in calling brother the leader of another democracy--a
chief as fatherless and heirless as himself.

The war of 1870, brought about by the third Napoleon's half-
generous, half-selfish adoption of the principle of nationalities,
was the first war characterised by a special intensity of hate, by
a new note in the tune of an old song for which we may thank the
Teutonic thoroughness. Was it not that excellent bourgeoise,
Princess Bismarck (to keep only to great examples), who was so
righteously anxious to see men, women and children--emphatically
the children, too--of the abominable French nation massacred off
the face of the earth? This illustration of the new war-temper is
artlessly revealed in the prattle of the amiable Busch, the
Chancellor's pet "reptile" of the Press. And this was supposed to
be a war for an idea! Too much, however, should not be made of
that good wife's and mother's sentiments any more than of the good
First Emperor William's tears, shed so abundantly after every
battle, by letter, telegram, and otherwise, during the course of
the same war, before a dumb and shamefaced continent. These were
merely the expressions of the simplicity of a nation which more
than any other has a tendency to run into the grotesque. There is
worse to come.

To-day, in the fierce grapple of two nations of different race, the
short era of national wars seems about to close. No war will be
waged for an idea. The "noxious idle aristocracies" of yesterday
fought without malice for an occupation, for the honour, for the
fun of the thing. The virtuous, industrious democratic States of
to-morrow may yet be reduced to fighting for a crust of dry bread,
with all the hate, ferocity, and fury that must attach to the vital
importance of such an issue. The dreams sanguine humanitarians
raised almost to ecstasy about the year fifty of the last century
by the moving sight of the Crystal Palace--crammed full with that
variegated rubbish which it seems to be the bizarre fate of
humanity to produce for the benefit of a few employers of labour--
have vanished as quickly as they had arisen. The golden hopes of
peace have in a single night turned to dead leaves in every drawer
of every benevolent theorist's writing table. A swift
disenchantment overtook the incredible infatuation which could put
its trust in the peaceful nature of industrial and commercial

Industrialism and commercialism--wearing high-sounding names in
many languages (WELT-POLITIK may serve for one instance) picking up
coins behind the severe and disdainful figure of science whose
giant strides have widened for us the horizon of the universe by
some few inches--stand ready, almost eager, to appeal to the sword
as soon as the globe of the earth has shrunk beneath our growing
numbers by another ell or so. And democracy, which has elected to
pin its faith to the supremacy of material interests, will have to
fight their battles to the bitter end, on a mere pittance--unless,
indeed, some statesman of exceptional ability and overwhelming
prestige succeeds in carrying through an international
understanding for the delimitation of spheres of trade all over the
earth, on the model of the territorial spheres of influence marked
in Africa to keep the competitors for the privilege of improving
the nigger (as a buying machine) from flying prematurely at each
other's throats.

This seems the only expedient at hand for the temporary maintenance
of European peace, with its alliances based on mutual distrust,
preparedness for war as its ideal, and the fear of wounds, luckily
stronger, so far, than the pinch of hunger, its only guarantee.
The true peace of the world will be a place of refuge much less
like a beleaguered fortress and more, let us hope, in the nature of
an Inviolable Temple. It will be built on less perishable
foundations than those of material interests. But it must be
confessed that the architectural aspect of the universal city
remains as yet inconceivable--that the very ground for its erection
has not been cleared of the jungle.

Never before in history has the right of war been more fully
admitted in the rounded periods of public speeches, in books, in
public prints, in all the public works of peace, culminating in the
establishment of the Hague Tribunal--that solemnly official
recognition of the Earth as a House of Strife. To him whose
indignation is qualified by a measure of hope and affection, the
efforts of mankind to work its own salvation present a sight of
alarming comicality. After clinging for ages to the steps of the
heavenly throne, they are now, without much modifying their
attitude, trying with touching ingenuity to steal one by one the
thunderbolts of their Jupiter. They have removed war from the list
of Heaven-sent visitations that could only be prayed against; they
have erased its name from the supplication against the wrath of
war, pestilence, and famine, as it is found in the litanies of the
Roman Catholic Church; they have dragged the scourge down from the
skies and have made it into a calm and regulated institution. At
first sight the change does not seem for the better. Jove's
thunderbolt looks a most dangerous plaything in the hands of the
people. But a solemnly established institution begins to grow old
at once in the discussion, abuse, worship, and execration of men.
It grows obsolete, odious, and intolerable; it stands fatally
condemned to an unhonoured old age.

Therein lies the best hope of advanced thought, and the best way to
help its prospects is to provide in the fullest, frankest way for
the conditions of the present day. War is one of its conditions;
it is its principal condition. It lies at the heart of every
question agitating the fears and hopes of a humanity divided
against itself. The succeeding ages have changed nothing except
the watchwords of the armies. The intellectual stage of mankind
being as yet in its infancy, and States, like most individuals,
having but a feeble and imperfect consciousness of the worth and
force of the inner life, the need of making their existence
manifest to themselves is determined in the direction of physical
activity. The idea of ceasing to grow in territory, in strength,
in wealth, in influence--in anything but wisdom and self-knowledge-
-is odious to them as the omen of the end. Action, in which is to
be found the illusion of a mastered destiny, can alone satisfy our
uneasy vanity and lay to rest the haunting fear of the future--a
sentiment concealed, indeed, but proving its existence by the force
it has, when invoked, to stir the passions of a nation. It will be
long before we have learned that in the great darkness before us
there is nothing that we need fear. Let us act lest we perish--is
the cry. And the only form of action open to a State can be of no
other than aggressive nature.

There are many kinds of aggressions, though the sanction of them is
one and the same--the magazine rifle of the latest pattern. In
preparation for or against that form of action the States of Europe
are spending now such moments of uneasy leisure as they can snatch
from the labours of factory and counting-house.

Never before has war received so much homage at the lips of men,
and reigned with less disputed sway in their minds. It has
harnessed science to its gun-carriages, it has enriched a few
respectable manufacturers, scattered doles of food and raiment
amongst a few thousand skilled workmen, devoured the first youth of
whole generations, and reaped its harvest of countless corpses. It
has perverted the intelligence of men, women, and children, and has
made the speeches of Emperors, Kings, Presidents, and Ministers
monotonous with ardent protestations of fidelity to peace. Indeed,
war has made peace altogether its own, it has modelled it on its
own image: a martial, overbearing, war-lord sort of peace, with a
mailed fist, and turned-up moustaches, ringing with the din of
grand manoeuvres, eloquent with allusions to glorious feats of
arms; it has made peace so magnificent as to be almost as expensive
to keep up as itself. It has sent out apostles of its own, who at
one time went about (mostly in newspapers) preaching the gospel of
the mystic sanctity of its sacrifices, and the regenerating power
of spilt blood, to the poor in mind--whose name is legion.

It has been observed that in the course of earthly greatness a day
of culminating triumph is often paid for by a morrow of sudden
extinction. Let us hope it is so. Yet the dawn of that day of
retribution may be a long time breaking above a dark horizon. War
is with us now; and, whether this one ends soon or late, war will
be with us again. And it is the way of true wisdom for men and
States to take account of things as they are.

Civilisation has done its little best by our sensibilities for
whose growth it is responsible. It has managed to remove the
sights and sounds of battlefields away from our doorsteps. But it
cannot be expected to achieve the feat always and under every
variety of circumstance. Some day it must fail, and we shall have
then a wealth of appallingly unpleasant sensations brought home to
us with painful intimacy. It is not absurd to suppose that
whatever war comes to us next it will NOT be a distant war waged by
Russia either beyond the Amur or beyond the Oxus.

The Japanese armies have laid that ghost for ever, because the
Russia of the future will not, for the reasons explained above, be
the Russia of to-day. It will not have the same thoughts,
resentments and aims. It is even a question whether it will
preserve its gigantic frame unaltered and unbroken. All
speculation loses itself in the magnitude of the events made
possible by the defeat of an autocracy whose only shadow of a title
to existence was the invincible power of military conquest. That
autocratic Russia will have a miserable end in harmony with its
base origin and inglorious life does not seem open to doubt. The
problem of the immediate future is posed not by the eventual manner
but by the approaching fact of its disappearance.

The Japanese armies, in laying the oppressive ghost, have not only
accomplished what will be recognised historically as an important
mission in the world's struggle against all forms of evil, but have
also created a situation. They have created a situation in the
East which they are competent to manage by themselves; and in doing
this they have brought about a change in the condition of the West
with which Europe is not well prepared to deal. The common ground
of concord, good faith and justice is not sufficient to establish
an action upon; since the conscience of but very few men amongst
us, and of no single Western nation as yet, will brook the
restraint of abstract ideas as against the fascination of a
material advantage. And eagle-eyed wisdom alone cannot take the
lead of human action, which in its nature must for ever remain
short-sighted. The trouble of the civilised world is the want of a
common conservative principle abstract enough to give the impulse,
practical enough to form the rallying point of international action
tending towards the restraint of particular ambitions. Peace
tribunals instituted for the greater glory of war will not replace
it. Whether such a principle exists--who can say? If it does not,
then it ought to be invented. A sage with a sense of humour and a
heart of compassion should set about it without loss of time, and a
solemn prophet full of words and fire ought to be given the task of
preparing the minds. So far there is no trace of such a principle
anywhere in sight; even its plausible imitations (never very
effective) have disappeared long ago before the doctrine of
national aspirations. IL N'Y A PLUS D'EUROPE--there is only an
armed and trading continent, the home of slowly maturing economical
contests for life and death and of loudly proclaimed world-wide
ambitions. There are also other ambitions not so loud, but deeply
rooted in the envious acquisitive temperament of the last corner
amongst the great Powers of the Continent, whose feet are not
exactly in the ocean--not yet--and whose head is very high up--in
Pomerania, the breeding place of such precious Grenadiers that
Prince Bismarck (whom it is a pleasure to quote) would not have
given the bones of one of them for the settlement of the old
Eastern Question. But times have changed, since, by way of keeping
up, I suppose, some old barbaric German rite, the faithful servant
of the Hohenzollerns was buried alive to celebrate the accession of
a new Emperor.

Already the voice of surmises has been heard hinting tentatively at
a possible re-grouping of European Powers. The alliance of the
three Empires is supposed possible. And it may be possible. The
myth of Russia's power is dying very hard--hard enough for that
combination to take place--such is the fascination that a
discredited show of numbers will still exercise upon the
imagination of a people trained to the worship of force. Germany
may be willing to lend its support to a tottering autocracy for the
sake of an undisputed first place, and of a preponderating voice in
the settlement of every question in that south-east of Europe which
merges into Asia. No principle being involved in such an alliance
of mere expediency, it would never be allowed to stand in the way
of Germany's other ambitions. The fall of autocracy would bring
its restraint automatically to an end. Thus it may be believed
that the support Russian despotism may get from its once humble
friend and client will not be stamped by that thoroughness which is
supposed to be the mark of German superiority. Russia weakened
down to the second place, or Russia eclipsed altogether during the
throes of her regeneration, will answer equally well the plans of
German policy--which are many and various and often incredible,
though the aim of them all is the same: aggrandisement of
territory and influence, with no regard to right and justice,
either in the East or in the West. For that and no other is the
true note of your WELT-POLITIK which desires to live.

The German eagle with a Prussian head looks all round the horizon,
not so much for something to do that would count for good in the
records of the earth, as simply for something good to get. He
gazes upon the land and upon the sea with the same covetous
steadiness, for he has become of late a maritime eagle, and has
learned to box the compass. He gazes north and south, and east and
west, and is inclined to look intemperately upon the waters of the
Mediterranean when they are blue. The disappearance of the Russian
phantom has given a foreboding of unwonted freedom to the WELT-
POLITIK. According to the national tendency this assumption of
Imperial impulses would run into the grotesque were it not for the
spikes of the PICKELHAUBES peeping out grimly from behind.
Germany's attitude proves that no peace for the earth can be found
in the expansion of material interests which she seems to have
adopted exclusively as her only aim, ideal, and watchword. For the
use of those who gaze half-unbelieving at the passing away of the
Russian phantom, part Ghoul, part Djinn, part Old Man of the Sea,
and wait half-doubting for the birth of a nation's soul in this age
which knows no miracles, the once-famous saying of poor Gambetta,
tribune of the people (who was simple and believed in the "immanent
justice of things"), may be adapted in the shape of a warning that,
so far as a future of liberty, concord, and justice is concerned:
"Le Prussianisme--voile l'ennemi!"


At the end of the eighteenth century, when the partition of Poland
had become an accomplished fact, the world qualified it at once as
a crime. This strong condemnation proceeded, of course, from the
West of Europe; the Powers of the Centre, Prussia and Austria, were
not likely to admit that this spoliation fell into the category of
acts morally reprehensible and carrying the taint of anti-social
guilt. As to Russia, the third party to the crime, and the
originator of the scheme, she had no national conscience at the
time. The will of its rulers was always accepted by the people as
the expression of an omnipotence derived directly from God. As an
act of mere conquest the best excuse for the partition lay simply
in the fact that it happened to be possible; there was the plunder
and there was the opportunity to get hold of it. Catherine the
Great looked upon this extension of her dominions with a cynical
satisfaction. Her political argument that the destruction of
Poland meant the repression of revolutionary ideas and the checking
of the spread of Jacobinism in Europe was a characteristically
impudent pretence. There may have been minds here and there
amongst the Russians that perceived, or perhaps only felt, that by
the annexation of the greater part of the Polish Republic, Russia
approached nearer to the comity of civilised nations and ceased, at
least territorially, to be an Asiatic Power.

It was only after the partition of Poland that Russia began to play
a great part in Europe. To such statesmen as she had then that act
of brigandage must have appeared inspired by great political
wisdom. The King of Prussia, faithful to the ruling principle of
his life, wished simply to aggrandise his dominions at a much
smaller cost and at much less risk than he could have done in any
other direction; for at that time Poland was perfectly defenceless
from a material point of view, and more than ever, perhaps,
inclined to put its faith in humanitarian illusions. Morally, the
Republic was in a state of ferment and consequent weakness, which
so often accompanies the period of social reform. The strength
arrayed against her was just then overwhelming; I mean the
comparatively honest (because open) strength of armed forces. But,
probably from innate inclination towards treachery, Frederick of
Prussia selected for himself the part of falsehood and deception.
Appearing on the scene in the character of a friend he entered
deliberately into a treaty of alliance with the Republic, and then,
before the ink was dry, tore it up in brazen defiance of the
commonest decency, which must have been extremely gratifying to his
natural tastes.

As to Austria, it shed diplomatic tears over the transaction. They
cannot be called crocodile tears, insomuch that they were in a
measure sincere. They arose from a vivid perception that Austria's
allotted share of the spoil could never compensate her for the
accession of strength and territory to the other two Powers.
Austria did not really want an extension of territory at the cost
of Poland. She could not hope to improve her frontier in that way,
and economically she had no need of Galicia, a province whose
natural resources were undeveloped and whose salt mines did not
arouse her cupidity because she had salt mines of her own. No
doubt the democratic complexion of Polish institutions was very
distasteful to the conservative monarchy; Austrian statesmen did
see at the time that the real danger to the principle of autocracy
was in the West, in France, and that all the forces of Central
Europe would be needed for its suppression. But the movement
towards a PARTAGE on the part of Russia and Prussia was too
definite to be resisted, and Austria had to follow their lead in
the destruction of a State which she would have preferred to
preserve as a possible ally against Prussian and Russian ambitions.
It may be truly said that the destruction of Poland secured the
safety of the French Revolution. For when in 1795 the crime was
consummated, the Revolution had turned the corner and was in a
state to defend itself against the forces of reaction.

In the second half of the eighteenth century there were two centres
of liberal ideas on the continent of Europe: France and Poland.
On an impartial survey one may say without exaggeration that then
France was relatively every bit as weak as Poland; even, perhaps,
more so. But France's geographical position made her much less
vulnerable. She had no powerful neighbours on her frontier; a
decayed Spain in the south and a conglomeration of small German
Principalities on the east were her happy lot. The only States
which dreaded the contamination of the new principles and had
enough power to combat it were Prussia, Austria, and Russia, and
they had another centre of forbidden ideas to deal with in
defenceless Poland, unprotected by nature, and offering an
immediate satisfaction to their cupidity. They made their choice,
and the untold sufferings of a nation which would not die was the
price exacted by fate for the triumph of revolutionary ideals.

Thus even a crime may become a moral agent by the lapse of time and
the course of history. Progress leaves its dead by the way, for
progress is only a great adventure as its leaders and chiefs know
very well in their hearts. It is a march into an undiscovered
country; and in such an enterprise the victims do not count. As an
emotional outlet for the oratory of freedom it was convenient
enough to remember the Crime now and then: the Crime being the
murder of a State and the carving of its body into three pieces.
There was really nothing to do but to drop a few tears and a few
flowers of rhetoric upon the grave. But the spirit of the nation
refused to rest therein. It haunted the territories of the Old
Republic in the manner of a ghost haunting its ancestral mansion
where strangers are making themselves at home; a calumniated,
ridiculed, and pooh-pooh'd ghost, and yet never ceasing to inspire
a sort of awe, a strange uneasiness, in the hearts of the unlawful
possessors. Poland deprived of its independence, of its historical
continuity, with its religion and language persecuted and
repressed, became a mere geographical expression. And even that,
itself, seemed strangely vague, had lost its definite character,
was rendered doubtful by the theories and the claims of the
spoliators who, by a strange effect of uneasy conscience, while
strenuously denying the moral guilt of the transaction, were always
trying to throw a veil of high rectitude over the Crime. What was
most annoying to their righteousness was the fact that the nation,
stabbed to the heart, refused to grow insensible and cold. That
persistent and almost uncanny vitality was sometimes very
inconvenient to the rest of Europe also. It would intrude its
irresistible claim into every problem of European politics, into
the theory of European equilibrium, into the question of the Near
East, the Italian question, the question of Schleswig-Holstein, and
into the doctrine of nationalities. That ghost, not content with
making its ancestral halls uncomfortable for the thieves, haunted
also the Cabinets of Europe, waved indecently its bloodstained
robes in the solemn atmosphere of Council-rooms, where congresses
and conferences sit with closed windows. It would not be exorcised
by the brutal jeers of Bismarck and the fine railleries of

As a Polish friend observed to me some years ago: "Till the year
'48 the Polish problem has been to a certain extent a convenient
rallying-point for all manifestations of liberalism. Since that
time we have come to be regarded simply as a nuisance. It's very

I agreed that it was, and he continued: "What are we to do? We
did not create the situation by any outside action of ours.
Through all the centuries of its existence Poland has never been a
menace to anybody, not even to the Turks, to whom it has been
merely an obstacle."

Nothing could be more true. The spirit of aggressiveness was
absolutely foreign to the Polish temperament, to which the
preservation of its institutions and its liberties was much more
precious than any ideas of conquest. Polish wars were defensive,
and they were mostly fought within Poland's own borders. And that
those territories were often invaded was but a misfortune arising
from its geographical position. Territorial expansion was never
the master-thought of Polish statesmen. The consolidation of the
territories of the SERENISSIME Republic, which made of it a Power
of the first rank for a time, was not accomplished by force. It
was not the consequence of successful aggression, but of a long and
successful defence against the raiding neighbours from the East.
The lands of Lithuanian and Ruthenian speech were never conquered
by Poland. These peoples were not compelled by a series of
exhausting wars to seek safety in annexation. It was not the will
of a prince or a political intrigue that brought about the union.
Neither was it fear. The slowly-matured view of the economical and
social necessities and, before all, the ripening moral sense of the
masses were the motives that induced the forty three
representatives of Lithuanian and Ruthenian provinces, led by their
paramount prince, to enter into a political combination unique in
the history of the world, a spontaneous and complete union of
sovereign States choosing deliberately the way of peace. Never was
strict truth better expressed in a political instrument than in the
preamble of the first Union Treaty (1413). It begins with the
words: "This Union, being the outcome not of hatred, but of love"-
-words that Poles have not heard addressed to them politically by
any nation for the last hundred and fifty years.

This union being an organic, living thing capable of growth and
development was, later, modified and confirmed by two other
treaties, which guaranteed to all the parties in a just and eternal
union all their rights, liberties, and respective institutions.
The Polish State offers a singular instance of an extremely liberal
administrative federalism which, in its Parliamentary life as well
as its international politics, presented a complete unity of
feeling and purpose. As an eminent French diplomatist remarked
many years ago: "It is a very remarkable fact in the history of
the Polish State, this invariable and unanimous consent of the
populations; the more so that, the King being looked upon simply as
the chief of the Republic, there was no monarchical bond, no
dynastic fidelity to control and guide the sentiment of the
nations, and their union remained as a pure affirmation of the
national will." The Grand Duchy of Lithuania and its Ruthenian
Provinces retained their statutes, their own administration, and
their own political institutions. That those institutions in the
course of time tended to assimilation with the Polish form was not
the result of any pressure, but simply of the superior character of
Polish civilisation.

Even after Poland lost its independence this alliance and this
union remained firm in spirit and fidelity. All the national
movements towards liberation were initiated in the name of the
whole mass of people inhabiting the limits of the old Republic, and
all the Provinces took part in them with complete devotion. It is
only in the last generation that efforts have been made to create a
tendency towards separation, which would indeed serve no one but
Poland's common enemies. And, strangely enough, it is the
internationalists, men who professedly care nothing for race or
country, who have set themselves this task of disruption, one can
easily see for what sinister purpose. The ways of the
internationalists may be dark, but they are not inscrutable.

From the same source no doubt there will flow in the future a
poisoned stream of hints of a reconstituted Poland being a danger
to the races once so closely associated within the territories of
the Old Republic. The old partners in "the Crime" are not likely
to forgive their victim its inconvenient and almost shocking
obstinacy in keeping alive. They had tried moral assassination
before and with some small measure of success, for, indeed, the
Polish question, like all living reproaches, had become a nuisance.
Given the wrong, and the apparent impossibility of righting it
without running risks of a serious nature, some moral alleviation
may be found in the belief that the victim had brought its
misfortunes on its own head by its own sins. That theory, too, had
been advanced about Poland (as if other nations had known nothing
of sin and folly), and it made some way in the world at different
times, simply because good care was taken by the interested parties
to stop the mouth of the accused. But it has never carried much
conviction to honest minds. Somehow, in defiance of the cynical
point of view as to the Force of Lies and against all the power of
falsified evidence, truth often turns out to be stronger than
calumny. With the course of years, however, another danger sprang
up, a danger arising naturally from the new political alliances
dividing Europe into two armed camps. It was the danger of
silence. Almost without exception the Press of Western Europe in
the twentieth century refused to touch the Polish question in any
shape or form whatever. Never was the fact of Polish vitality more
embarrassing to European diplomacy than on the eve of Poland's

When the war broke out there was something gruesomely comic in the
proclamations of emperors and archdukes appealing to that
invincible soul of a nation whose existence or moral worth they had
been so arrogantly denying for more than a century. Perhaps in the
whole record of human transactions there have never been
performances so brazen and so vile as the manifestoes of the German
Emperor and the Grand Duke Nicholas of Russia; and, I imagine, no
more bitter insult has been offered to human heart and intelligence
than the way in which those proclamations were flung into the face
of historical truth. It was like a scene in a cynical and sinister
farce, the absurdity of which became in some sort unfathomable by
the reflection that nobody in the world could possibly be so
abjectly stupid as to be deceived for a single moment. At that
time, and for the first two months of the war, I happened to be in
Poland, and I remember perfectly well that, when those precious
documents came out, the confidence in the moral turpitude of
mankind they implied did not even raise a scornful smile on the
lips of men whose most sacred feelings and dignity they outraged.
They did not deign to waste their contempt on them. In fact, the
situation was too poignant and too involved for either hot scorn or
a coldly rational discussion. For the Poles it was like being in a
burning house of which all the issues were locked. There was
nothing but sheer anguish under the strange, as if stony, calmness
which in the utter absence of all hope falls on minds that are not
constitutionally prone to despair. Yet in this time of dismay the
irrepressible vitality of the nation would not accept a neutral
attitude. I was told that even if there were no issue it was
absolutely necessary for the Poles to affirm their national
existence. Passivity, which could be regarded as a craven
acceptance of all the material and moral horrors ready to fall upon
the nation, was not to be thought of for a moment. Therefore, it
was explained to me, the Poles MUST act. Whether this was a
counsel of wisdom or not it is very difficult to say, but there are
crises of the soul which are beyond the reach of wisdom. When
there is apparently no issue visible to the eyes of reason,
sentiment may yet find a way out, either towards salvation or to
utter perdition, no one can tell--and the sentiment does not even
ask the question. Being there as a stranger in that tense
atmosphere, which was yet not unfamiliar to me, I was not very
anxious to parade my wisdom, especially after it had been pointed
out in answer to my cautious arguments that, if life has its values
worth fighting for, death, too, has that in it which can make it
worthy or unworthy.

Out of the mental and moral trouble into which the grouping of the
Powers at the beginning of war had thrown the counsels of Poland
there emerged at last the decision that the Polish Legions, a peace
organisation in Galicia directed by Pilsudski (afterwards given the
rank of General, and now apparently the Chief of the Government in
Warsaw), should take the field against the Russians. In reality it
did not matter against which partner in the "Crime" Polish
resentment should be directed. There was little to choose between
the methods of Russian barbarism, which were both crude and rotten,
and the cultivated brutality tinged with contempt of Germany's
superficial, grinding civilisation. There was nothing to choose
between them. Both were hateful, and the direction of the Polish
effort was naturally governed by Austria's tolerant attitude, which
had connived for years at the semi-secret organisation of the
Polish Legions. Besides, the material possibility pointed out the
way. That Poland should have turned at first against the ally of
Western Powers, to whose moral support she had been looking for so
many years, is not a greater monstrosity than that alliance with
Russia which had been entered into by England and France with
rather less excuse and with a view to eventualities which could
perhaps have been avoided by a firmer policy and by a greater
resolution in the face of what plainly appeared unavoidable.

For let the truth be spoken. The action of Germany, however cruel,
sanguinary, and faithless, was nothing in the nature of a stab in
the dark. The Germanic Tribes had told the whole world in all
possible tones carrying conviction, the gently persuasive, the
coldly logical; in tones Hegelian, Nietzschean, war-like, pious,
cynical, inspired, what they were going to do to the inferior races
of the earth, so full of sin and all unworthiness. But with a
strange similarity to the prophets of old (who were also great
moralists and invokers of might) they seemed to be crying in a
desert. Whatever might have been the secret searching of hearts,
the Worthless Ones would not take heed. It must also be admitted
that the conduct of the menaced Governments carried with it no
suggestion of resistance. It was no doubt, the effect of neither
courage nor fear, but of that prudence which causes the average man
to stand very still in the presence of a savage dog. It was not a
very politic attitude, and the more reprehensible in so far that it
seemed to arise from the mistrust of their own people's fortitude.
On simple matters of life and death a people is always better than
its leaders, because a people cannot argue itself as a whole into a
sophisticated state of mind out of deference for a mere doctrine or
from an exaggerated sense of its own cleverness. I am speaking now
of democracies whose chiefs resemble the tyrant of Syracuse in
this, that their power is unlimited (for who can limit the will of
a voting people?) and who always see the domestic sword hanging by
a hair above their heads.

Perhaps a different attitude would have checked German self-
confidence, and her overgrown militarism would have died from the
excess of its own strength. What would have been then the moral
state of Europe it is difficult to say. Some other excess would
probably have taken its place, excess of theory, or excess of
sentiment, or an excess of the sense of security leading to some
other form of catastrophe; but it is certain that in that case the
Polish question would not have taken a concrete form for ages.
Perhaps it would never have taken form! In this world, where
everything is transient, even the most reproachful ghosts end by
vanishing out of old mansions, out of men's consciences. Progress
of enlightenment, or decay of faith? In the years before the war
the Polish ghost was becoming so thin that it was impossible to get
for it the slightest mention in the papers. A young Pole coming to
me from Paris was extremely indignant, but I, indulging in that
detachment which is the product of greater age, longer experience,
and a habit of meditation, refused to share that sentiment. He had
gone begging for a word on Poland to many influential people, and
they had one and all told him that they were going to do no such
thing. They were all men of ideas and therefore might have been
called idealists, but the notion most strongly anchored in their
minds was the folly of touching a question which certainly had no
merit of actuality and would have had the appalling effect of
provoking the wrath of their old enemies and at the same time
offending the sensibilities of their new friends. It was an
unanswerable argument. I couldn't share my young friend's surprise
and indignation. My practice of reflection had also convinced me
that there is nothing on earth that turns quicker on its pivot than
political idealism when touched by the breath of practical

It would be good to remember that Polish independence as embodied
in a Polish State is not the gift of any kind of journalism,
neither is it the outcome even of some particularly benevolent idea
or of any clearly apprehended sense of guilt. I am speaking of
what I know when I say that the original and only formative idea in
Europe was the idea of delivering the fate of Poland into the hands
of Russian Tsarism. And, let us remember, it was assumed then to
be a victorious Tsarism at that. It was an idea talked of openly,
entertained seriously, presented as a benevolence, with a curious
blindness to its grotesque and ghastly character. It was the idea
of delivering the victim with a kindly smile and the confident
assurance that "it would be all right" to a perfectly unrepentant
assassin, who, after sawing furiously at its throat for a hundred
years or so, was expected to make friends suddenly and kiss it on
both cheeks in the mystic Russian fashion. It was a singularly
nightmarish combination of international polity, and no whisper of
any other would have been officially tolerated. Indeed, I do not
think in the whole extent of Western Europe there was anybody who
had the slightest mind to whisper on that subject. Those were the
days of the dark future, when Benckendorf put down his name on the
Committee for the Relief of Polish Populations driven by the
Russian armies into the heart of Russia, when the Grand Duke
Nicholas (the gentleman who advocated a St. Bartholomew's Night for
the suppression of Russian liberalism) was displaying his "divine"
(I have read the very word in an English newspaper of standing)
strategy in the great retreat, where Mr. Iswolsky carried himself
haughtily on the banks of the Seine; and it was beginning to dawn
upon certain people there that he was a greater nuisance even than
the Polish question.

But there is no use in talking about all that. Some clever person
has said that it is always the unexpected that happens, and on a
calm and dispassionate survey the world does appear mainly to one
as a scene of miracles. Out of Germany's strength, in whose
purpose so many people refused to believe, came Poland's
opportunity, in which nobody could have been expected to believe.
Out of Russia's collapse emerged that forbidden thing, the Polish
independence, not as a vengeful figure, the retributive shadow of
the crime, but as something much more solid and more difficult to
get rid of--a political necessity and a moral solution. Directly
it appeared its practical usefulness became undeniable, and also
the fact that, for better or worse, it was impossible to get rid of
it again except by the unthinkable way of another carving, of
another partition, of another crime.

Therein lie the strength and the future of the thing so strictly
forbidden no farther back than two years or so, of the Polish
independence expressed in a Polish State. It comes into the world
morally free, not in virtue of its sufferings, but in virtue of its
miraculous rebirth and of its ancient claim for services rendered
to Europe. Not a single one of the combatants of all the fronts of
the world has died consciously for Poland's freedom. That supreme
opportunity was denied even to Poland's own children. And it is
just as well! Providence in its inscrutable way had been merciful,
for had it been otherwise the load of gratitude would have been too
great, the sense of obligation too crushing, the joy of deliverance
too fearful for mortals, common sinners with the rest of mankind
before the eye of the Most High. Those who died East and West,
leaving so much anguish and so much pride behind them, died neither
for the creation of States, nor for empty words, nor yet for the
salvation of general ideas. They died neither for democracy, nor
leagues, nor systems, nor yet for abstract justice, which is an
unfathomable mystery. They died for something too deep for words,
too mighty for the common standards by which reason measures the
advantages of life and death, too sacred for the vain discourses
that come and go on the lips of dreamers, fanatics, humanitarians,
and statesmen. They died . . . .

Poland's independence springs up from that great immolation, but
Poland's loyalty to Europe will not be rooted in anything so
trenchant and burdensome as the sense of an immeasurable
indebtedness, of that gratitude which in a worldly sense is
sometimes called eternal, but which lies always at the mercy of
weariness and is fatally condemned by the instability of human
sentiments to end in negation. Polish loyalty will be rooted in
something much more solid and enduring, in something that could
never be called eternal, but which is, in fact, life-enduring. It
will be rooted in the national temperament, which is about the only
thing on earth that can be trusted. Men may deteriorate, they may
improve too, but they don't change. Misfortune is a hard school
which may either mature or spoil a national character, but it may
be reasonably advanced that the long course of adversity of the
most cruel kind has not injured the fundamental characteristics of
the Polish nation which has proved its vitality against the most
demoralising odds. The various phases of the Polish sense of self-
preservation struggling amongst the menacing forces and the no less
threatening chaos of the neighbouring Powers should be judged
impartially. I suggest impartiality and not indulgence simply
because, when appraising the Polish question, it is not necessary
to invoke the softer emotions. A little calm reflection on the
past and the present is all that is necessary on the part of the
Western world to judge the movements of a community whose ideals
are the same, but whose situation is unique. This situation was
brought vividly home to me in the course of an argument more than
eighteen months ago. "Don't forget," I was told, "that Poland has
got to live in contact with Germany and Russia to the end of time.
Do you understand the force of that expression: 'To the end of
time'? Facts must be taken into account, and especially appalling
facts, such as this, to which there is no possible remedy on earth.
For reasons which are, properly speaking, physiological, a prospect
of friendship with Germans or Russians even in the most distant
future is unthinkable. Any alliance of heart and mind would be a
monstrous thing, and monsters, as we all know, cannot live. You
can't base your conduct on a monstrous conception. We are either
worth or not worth preserving, but the horrible psychology of the
situation is enough to drive the national mind to distraction. Yet
under a destructive pressure, of which Western Europe can have no
notion, applied by forces that were not only crushing but
corrupting, we have preserved our sanity. Therefore there can be
no fear of our losing our minds simply because the pressure is
removed. We have neither lost our heads nor yet our moral sense.
Oppression, not merely political, but affecting social relations,
family life, the deepest affections of human nature, and the very
fount of natural emotions, has never made us vengeful. It is
worthy of notice that with every incentive present in our emotional
reactions we had no recourse to political assassination. Arms in
hand, hopeless or hopefully, and always against immeasurable odds,
we did affirm ourselves and the justice of our cause; but wild
justice has never been a part of our conception of national
manliness. In all the history of Polish oppression there was only
one shot fired which was not in battle. Only one! And the man who
fired it in Paris at the Emperor Alexander II. was but an
individual connected with no organisation, representing no shade of
Polish opinion. The only effect in Poland was that of profound
regret, not at the failure, but at the mere fact of the attempt.
The history of our captivity is free from that stain; and whatever
follies in the eyes of the world we may have perpetrated, we have
neither murdered our enemies nor acted treacherously against them,
nor yet have been reduced to the point of cursing each other."

I could not gainsay the truth of that discourse, I saw as clearly
as my interlocutor the impossibility of the faintest sympathetic
bond between Poland and her neighbours ever being formed in the
future. The only course that remains to a reconstituted Poland is
the elaboration, establishment, and preservation of the most
correct method of political relations with neighbours to whom
Poland's existence is bound to be a humiliation and an offence.
Calmly considered it is an appalling task, yet one may put one's
trust in that national temperament which is so completely free from
aggressiveness and revenge. Therein lie the foundations of all
hope. The success of renewed life for that nation whose fate is to
remain in exile, ever isolated from the West, amongst hostile
surroundings, depends on the sympathetic understanding of its
problems by its distant friends, the Western Powers, which in their
democratic development must recognise the moral and intellectual
kinship of that distant outpost of their own type of civilisation,
which was the only basis of Polish culture.

Whatever may be the future of Russia and the final organisation of
Germany, the old hostility must remain unappeased, the fundamental
antagonism must endure for years to come. The Crime of the
Partition was committed by autocratic Governments which were the
Governments of their time; but those Governments were characterised
in the past, as they will be in the future, by their people's
national traits, which remain utterly incompatible with the Polish
mentality and Polish sentiment. Both the German submissiveness
(idealistic as it may be) and the Russian lawlessness (fed on the
corruption of all the virtues) are utterly foreign to the Polish
nation, whose qualities and defects are altogether of another kind,
tending to a certain exaggeration of individualism and, perhaps, to
an extreme belief in the Governing Power of Free Assent: the one
invariably vital principle in the internal government of the Old
Republic. There was never a history more free from political
bloodshed than the history of the Polish State, which never knew
either feudal institutions or feudal quarrels. At the time when
heads were falling on the scaffolds all over Europe there was only
one political execution in Poland--only one; and as to that there
still exists a tradition that the great Chancellor who democratised
Polish institutions, and had to order it in pursuance of his
political purpose, could not settle that matter with his conscience
till the day of his death. Poland, too, had her civil wars, but
this can hardly be made a matter of reproach to her by the rest of
the world. Conducted with humanity, they left behind them no
animosities and no sense of repression, and certainly no legacy of
hatred. They were but a recognised argument in political
discussion and tended always towards conciliation.

I cannot imagine, whatever form of democratic government Poland
elaborates for itself, that either the nation or its leaders would
do anything but welcome the closest scrutiny of their renewed
political existence. The difficulty of the problem of that
existence will be so great that some errors will be unavoidable,
and one may be sure that they will be taken advantage of by its
neighbours to discredit that living witness to a great historical
crime. If not the actual frontiers, then the moral integrity of
the new State is sure to be assailed before the eyes of Europe.
Economical enmity will also come into play when the world's work is
resumed again and competition asserts its power. Charges of
aggression are certain to be made, especially as related to the
small States formed of the territories of the Old Republic. And
everybody knows the power of lies which go about clothed in coats
of many colours, whereas, as is well known, Truth has no such
advantage, and for that reason is often suppressed as not
altogether proper for everyday purposes. It is not often
recognised, because it is not always fit to be seen.

Already there are innuendoes, threats, hints thrown out, and even
awful instances fabricated out of inadequate materials, but it is
historically unthinkable that the Poland of the future, with its
sacred tradition of freedom and its hereditary sense of respect for
the rights of individuals and States, should seek its prosperity in
aggressive action or in moral violence against that part of its
once fellow-citizens who are Ruthenians or Lithuanians. The only
influence that cannot be restrained is simply the influence of
time, which disengages truth from all facts with a merciless logic
and prevails over the passing opinions, the changing impulses of
men. There can be no doubt that the moral impulses and the
material interests of the new nationalities, which seem to play now
the game of disintegration for the benefit of the world's enemies,
will in the end bring them nearer to the Poland of this war's
creation, will unite them sooner or later by a spontaneous movement
towards the State which had adopted and brought them up in the
development of its own humane culture--the offspring of the West.


We must start from the assumption that promises made by
proclamation at the beginning of this war may be binding on the
individuals who made them under the stress of coming events, but
cannot be regarded as binding the Governments after the end of the

Poland has been presented with three proclamations. Two of them
were in such contrast with the avowed principles and the historic
action for the last hundred years (since the Congress of Vienna) of
the Powers concerned, that they were more like cynical insults to
the nation's deepest feelings, its memory and its intelligence,
than state papers of a conciliatory nature.

The German promises awoke nothing but indignant contempt; the
Russian a bitter incredulity of the most complete kind. The
Austrian proclamation, which made no promises and contented itself
with pointing out the Austro-Polish relations for the last forty-
five years, was received in silence. For it is a fact that in
Austrian Poland alone Polish nationality was recognised as an
element of the Empire, and individuals could breathe the air of
freedom, of civil life, if not of political independence.

But for Poles to be Germanophile is unthinkable. To be Russophile
or Austrophile is at best a counsel of despair in view of a
European situation which, because of the grouping of the powers,


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