The Soul of Man
Oscar Wilde

Transcribed by David Price, email


The chief advantage that would result from the establishment of
Socialism is, undoubtedly, the fact that Socialism would relieve us
from that sordid necessity of living for others which, in the
present condition of things, presses so hardly upon almost
everybody. In fact, scarcely anyone at all escapes.

Now and then, in the course of the century, a great man of science,
like Darwin; a great poet, like Keats; a fine critical spirit, like
M. Renan; a supreme artist, like Flaubert, has been able to isolate
himself, to keep himself out of reach of the clamorous claims of
others, to stand 'under the shelter of the wall,' as Plato puts it,
and so to realise the perfection of what was in him, to his own
incomparable gain, and to the incomparable and lasting gain of the
whole world. These, however, are exceptions. The majority of
people spoil their lives by an unhealthy and exaggerated altruism--
are forced, indeed, so to spoil them. They find themselves
surrounded by hideous poverty, by hideous ugliness, by hideous
starvation. It is inevitable that they should be strongly moved by
all this. The emotions of man are stirred more quickly than man's
intelligence; and, as I pointed out some time ago in an article on
the function of criticism, it is much more easy to have sympathy
with suffering than it is to have sympathy with thought.
Accordingly, with admirable, though misdirected intentions, they
very seriously and very sentimentally set themselves to the task of
remedying the evils that they see. But their remedies do not cure
the disease: they merely prolong it. Indeed, their remedies are
part of the disease.

They try to solve the problem of poverty, for instance, by keeping
the poor alive; or, in the case of a very advanced school, by
amusing the poor.

But this is not a solution: it is an aggravation of the
difficulty. The proper aim is to try and reconstruct society on
such a basis that poverty will be impossible. And the altruistic
virtues have really prevented the carrying out of this aim. Just
as the worst slave-owners were those who were kind to their slaves,
and so prevented the horror of the system being realised by those
who suffered from it, and understood by those who contemplated it,
so, in the present state of things in England, the people who do
most harm are the people who try to do most good; and at last we
have had the spectacle of men who have really studied the problem
and know the life--educated men who live in the East End--coming
forward and imploring the community to restrain its altruistic
impulses of charity, benevolence, and the like. They do so on the
ground that such charity degrades and demoralises. They are
perfectly right. Charity creates a multitude of sins.

There is also this to be said. It is immoral to use private
property in order to alleviate the horrible evils that result from
the institution of private property. It is both immoral and

Under Socialism all this will, of course, be altered. There will
be no people living in fetid dens and fetid rags, and bringing up
unhealthy, hunger-pinched children in the midst of impossible and
absolutely repulsive surroundings. The security of society will
not depend, as it does now, on the state of the weather. If a
frost comes we shall not have a hundred thousand men out of work,
tramping about the streets in a state of disgusting misery, or
whining to their neighbours for alms, or crowding round the doors
of loathsome shelters to try and secure a hunch of bread and a
night's unclean lodging. Each member of the society will share in
the general prosperity and happiness of the society, and if a frost
comes no one will practically be anything the worse.

Upon the other hand, Socialism itself will be of value simply
because it will lead to Individualism.

Socialism, Communism, or whatever one chooses to call it, by
converting private property into public wealth, and substituting
co-operation for competition, will restore society to its proper
condition of a thoroughly healthy organism, and insure the material
well-being of each member of the community. It will, in fact, give
Life its proper basis and its proper environment. But for the full
development of Life to its highest mode of perfection, something
more is needed. What is needed is Individualism. If the Socialism
is Authoritarian; if there are Governments armed with economic
power as they are now with political power; if, in a word, we are
to have Industrial Tyrannies, then the last state of man will be
worse than the first. At present, in consequence of the existence
of private property, a great many people are enabled to develop a
certain very limited amount of Individualism. They are either
under no necessity to work for their living, or are enabled to
choose the sphere of activity that is really congenial to them, and
gives them pleasure. These are the poets, the philosophers, the
men of science, the men of culture--in a word, the real men, the
men who have realised themselves, and in whom all Humanity gains a
partial realisation. Upon the other hand, there are a great many
people who, having no private property of their own, and being
always on the brink of sheer starvation, are compelled to do the
work of beasts of burden, to do work that is quite uncongenial to
them, and to which they are forced by the peremptory, unreasonable,
degrading Tyranny of want. These are the poor, and amongst them
there is no grace of manner, or charm of speech, or civilisation,
or culture, or refinement in pleasures, or joy of life. From their
collective force Humanity gains much in material prosperity. But
it is only the material result that it gains, and the man who is
poor is in himself absolutely of no importance. He is merely the
infinitesimal atom of a force that, so far from regarding him,
crushes him: indeed, prefers him crushed, as in that case he is
far more obedient.

Of course, it might be said that the Individualism generated under
conditions of private property is not always, or even as a rule, of
a fine or wonderful type, and that the poor, if they have not
culture and charm, have still many virtues. Both these statements
would be quite true. The possession of private property is very
often extremely demoralising, and that is, of course, one of the
reasons why Socialism wants to get rid of the institution. In
fact, property is really a nuisance. Some years ago people went
about the country saying that property has duties. They said it so
often and so tediously that, at last, the Church has begun to say
it. One hears it now from every pulpit. It is perfectly true.
Property not merely has duties, but has so many duties that its
possession to any large extent is a bore. It involves endless
claims upon one, endless attention to business, endless bother. If
property had simply pleasures, we could stand it; but its duties
make it unbearable. In the interest of the rich we must get rid of
it. The virtues of the poor may be readily admitted, and are much
to be regretted. We are often told that the poor are grateful for
charity. Some of them are, no doubt, but the best amongst the poor
are never grateful. They are ungrateful, discontented,
disobedient, and rebellious. They are quite right to be so.
Charity they feel to be a ridiculously inadequate mode of partial
restitution, or a sentimental dole, usually accompanied by some
impertinent attempt on the part of the sentimentalist to tyrannise
over their private lives. Why should they be grateful for the
crumbs that fall from the rich man's table? They should be seated
at the board, and are beginning to know it. As for being
discontented, a man who would not be discontented with such
surroundings and such a low mode of life would be a perfect brute.
Disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who has read history, is man's
original virtue. It is through disobedience that progress has been
made, through disobedience and through rebellion. Sometimes the
poor are praised for being thrifty. But to recommend thrift to the
poor is both grotesque and insulting. It is like advising a man
who is starving to eat less. For a town or country labourer to
practise thrift would be absolutely immoral. Man should not be
ready to show that he can live like a badly-fed animal. He should
decline to live like that, and should either steal or go on the
rates, which is considered by many to be a form of stealing. As
for begging, it is safer to beg than to take, but it is finer to
take than to beg. No: a poor man who is ungrateful, unthrifty,
discontented, and rebellious, is probably a real personality, and
has much in him. He is at any rate a healthy protest. As for the
virtuous poor, one can pity them, of course, but one cannot
possibly admire them. They have made private terms with the enemy,
and sold their birthright for very bad pottage. They must also be
extraordinarily stupid. I can quite understand a man accepting
laws that protect private property, and admit of its accumulation,
as long as he himself is able under those conditions to realise
some form of beautiful and intellectual life. But it is almost
incredible to me how a man whose life is marred and made hideous by
such laws can possibly acquiesce in their continuance.

However, the explanation is not really difficult to find. It is
simply this. Misery and poverty are so absolutely degrading, and
exercise such a paralysing effect over the nature of men, that no
class is ever really conscious of its own suffering. They have to
be told of it by other people, and they often entirely disbelieve
them. What is said by great employers of labour against agitators
is unquestionably true. Agitators are a set of interfering,
meddling people, who come down to some perfectly contented class of
the community, and sow the seeds of discontent amongst them. That
is the reason why agitators are so absolutely necessary. Without
them, in our incomplete state, there would be no advance towards
civilisation. Slavery was put down in America, not in consequence
of any action on the part of the slaves, or even any express desire
on their part that they should be free. It was put down entirely
through the grossly illegal conduct of certain agitators in Boston
and elsewhere, who were not slaves themselves, nor owners of
slaves, nor had anything to do with the question really. It was,
undoubtedly, the Abolitionists who set the torch alight, who began
the whole thing. And it is curious to note that from the slaves
themselves they received, not merely very little assistance, but
hardly any sympathy even; and when at the close of the war the
slaves found themselves free, found themselves indeed so absolutely
free that they were free to starve, many of them bitterly regretted
the new state of things. To the thinker, the most tragic fact in
the whole of the French Revolution is not that Marie Antoinette was
killed for being a queen, but that the starved peasant of the
Vendee voluntarily went out to die for the hideous cause of

It is clear, then, that no Authoritarian Socialism will do. For
while under the present system a very large number of people can
lead lives of a certain amount of freedom and expression and
happiness, under an industrial-barrack system, or a system of
economic tyranny, nobody would be able to have any such freedom at
all. It is to be regretted that a portion of our community should
be practically in slavery, but to propose to solve the problem by
enslaving the entire community is childish. Every man must be left
quite free to choose his own work. No form of compulsion must be
exercised over him. If there is, his work will not be good for
him, will not be good in itself, and will not be good for others.
And by work I simply mean activity of any kind.

I hardly think that any Socialist, nowadays, would seriously
propose that an inspector should call every morning at each house
to see that each citizen rose up and did manual labour for eight
hours. Humanity has got beyond that stage, and reserves such a
form of life for the people whom, in a very arbitrary manner, it
chooses to call criminals. But I confess that many of the
socialistic views that I have come across seem to me to be tainted
with ideas of authority, if not of actual compulsion. Of course,
authority and compulsion are out of the question. All association
must be quite voluntary. It is only in voluntary associations that
man is fine.

But it may be asked how Individualism, which is now more or less
dependent on the existence of private property for its development,
will benefit by the abolition of such private property. The answer
is very simple. It is true that, under existing conditions, a few
men who have had private means of their own, such as Byron,
Shelley, Browning, Victor Hugo, Baudelaire, and others, have been
able to realise their personality more or less completely. Not one
of these men ever did a single day's work for hire. They were
relieved from poverty. They had an immense advantage. The
question is whether it would be for the good of Individualism that
such an advantage should be taken away. Let us suppose that it is
taken away. What happens then to Individualism? How will it

It will benefit in this way. Under the new conditions
Individualism will be far freer, far finer, and far more
intensified than it is now. I am not talking of the great
imaginatively-realised Individualism of such poets as I have
mentioned, but of the great actual Individualism latent and
potential in mankind generally. For the recognition of private
property has really harmed Individualism, and obscured it, by
confusing a man with what he possesses. It has led Individualism
entirely astray. It has made gain not growth its aim. So that man
thought that the important thing was to have, and did not know that
the important thing is to be. The true perfection of man lies, not
in what man has, but in what man is.

Private property has crushed true Individualism, and set up an
Individualism that is false. It has debarred one part of the
community from being individual by starving them. It has debarred
the other part of the community from being individual by putting
them on the wrong road, and encumbering them. Indeed, so
completely has man's personality been absorbed by his possessions
that the English law has always treated offences against a man's
property with far more severity than offences against his person,
and property is still the test of complete citizenship. The
industry necessary for the making money is also very demoralising.
In a community like ours, where property confers immense
distinction, social position, honour, respect, titles, and other
pleasant things of the kind, man, being naturally ambitious, makes
it his aim to accumulate this property, and goes on wearily and
tediously accumulating it long after he has got far more than he
wants, or can use, or enjoy, or perhaps even know of. Man will
kill himself by overwork in order to secure property, and really,
considering the enormous advantages that property brings, one is
hardly surprised. One's regret is that society should be
constructed on such a basis that man has been forced into a groove
in which he cannot freely develop what is wonderful, and
fascinating, and delightful in him--in which, in fact, he misses
the true pleasure and joy of living. He is also, under existing
conditions, very insecure. An enormously wealthy merchant may be--
often is--at every moment of his life at the mercy of things that
are not under his control. If the wind blows an extra point or so,
or the weather suddenly changes, or some trivial thing happens, his
ship may go down, his speculations may go wrong, and he finds
himself a poor man, with his social position quite gone. Now,
nothing should be able to harm a man except himself. Nothing
should be able to rob a man at all. What a man really has, is what
is in him. What is outside of him should be a matter of no

With the abolition of private property, then, we shall have true,
beautiful, healthy Individualism. Nobody will waste his life in
accumulating things, and the symbols for things. One will live.
To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that
is all.

It is a question whether we have ever seen the full expression of a
personality, except on the imaginative plane of art. In action, we
never have. Caesar, says Mommsen, was the complete and perfect
man. But how tragically insecure was Caesar! Wherever there is a
man who exercises authority, there is a man who resists authority.
Caesar was very perfect, but his perfection travelled by too
dangerous a road. Marcus Aurelius was the perfect man, says Renan.
Yes; the great emperor was a perfect man. But how intolerable were
the endless claims upon him! He staggered under the burden of the
empire. He was conscious how inadequate one man was to bear the
weight of that Titan and too vast orb. What I mean by a perfect
man is one who develops under perfect conditions; one who is not
wounded, or worried or maimed, or in danger. Most personalities
have been obliged to be rebels. Half their strength has been
wasted in friction. Byron's personality, for instance, was
terribly wasted in its battle with the stupidity, and hypocrisy,
and Philistinism of the English. Such battles do not always
intensify strength: they often exaggerate weakness. Byron was
never able to give us what he might have given us. Shelley escaped
better. Like Byron, he got out of England as soon as possible.
But he was not so well known. If the English had had any idea of
what a great poet he really was, they would have fallen on him with
tooth and nail, and made his life as unbearable to him as they
possibly could. But he was not a remarkable figure in society, and
consequently he escaped, to a certain degree. Still, even in
Shelley the note of rebellion is sometimes too strong. The note of
the perfect personality is not rebellion, but peace.

It will be a marvellous thing--the true personality of man--when we
see it. It will grow naturally and simply, flowerlike, or as a
tree grows. It will not be at discord. It will never argue or
dispute. It will not prove things. It will know everything. And
yet it will not busy itself about knowledge. It will have wisdom.
Its value will not be measured by material things. It will have
nothing. And yet it will have everything, and whatever one takes
from it, it will still have, so rich will it be. It will not be
always meddling with others, or asking them to be like itself. It
will love them because they will be different. And yet while it
will not meddle with others, it will help all, as a beautiful thing
helps us, by being what it is. The personality of man will be very
wonderful. It will be as wonderful as the personality of a child.

In its development it will be assisted by Christianity, if men
desire that; but if men do not desire that, it will develop none
the less surely. For it will not worry itself about the past, nor
care whether things happened or did not happen. Nor will it admit
any laws but its own laws; nor any authority but its own authority.
Yet it will love those who sought to intensify it, and speak often
of them. And of these Christ was one.

'Know thyself' was written over the portal of the antique world.
Over the portal of the new world, 'Be thyself' shall be written.
And the message of Christ to man was simply 'Be thyself.' That is
the secret of Christ.

When Jesus talks about the poor he simply means personalities, just
as when he talks about the rich he simply means people who have not
developed their personalities. Jesus moved in a community that
allowed the accumulation of private property just as ours does, and
the gospel that he preached was not that in such a community it is
an advantage for a man to live on scanty, unwholesome food, to wear
ragged, unwholesome clothes, to sleep in horrid, unwholesome
dwellings, and a disadvantage for a man to live under healthy,
pleasant, and decent conditions. Such a view would have been wrong
there and then, and would, of course, be still more wrong now and
in England; for as man moves northward the material necessities of
life become of more vital importance, and our society is infinitely
more complex, and displays far greater extremes of luxury and
pauperism than any society of the antique world. What Jesus meant,
was this. He said to man, 'You have a wonderful personality.
Develop it. Be yourself. Don't imagine that your perfection lies
in accumulating or possessing external things. Your affection is
inside of you. If only you could realise that, you would not want
to be rich. Ordinary riches can be stolen from a man. Real riches
cannot. In the treasury-house of your soul, there are infinitely
precious things, that may not be taken from you. And so, try to so
shape your life that external things will not harm you. And try
also to get rid of personal property. It involves sordid
preoccupation, endless industry, continual wrong. Personal
property hinders Individualism at every step.' It is to be noted
that Jesus never says that impoverished people are necessarily
good, or wealthy people necessarily bad. That would not have been
true. Wealthy people are, as a class, better than impoverished
people, more moral, more intellectual, more well-behaved. There is
only one class in the community that thinks more about money than
the rich, and that is the poor. The poor can think of nothing
else. That is the misery of being poor. What Jesus does say is
that man reaches his perfection, not through what he has, not even
through what he does, but entirely through what he is. And so the
wealthy young man who comes to Jesus is represented as a thoroughly
good citizen, who has broken none of the laws of his state, none of
the commandments of his religion. He is quite respectable, in the
ordinary sense of that extraordinary word. Jesus says to him, 'You
should give up private property. It hinders you from realising
your perfection. It is a drag upon you. It is a burden. Your
personality does not need it. It is within you, and not outside of
you, that you will find what you really are, and what you really
want.' To his own friends he says the same thing. He tells them
to be themselves, and not to be always worrying about other things.
What do other things matter? Man is complete in himself. When
they go into the world, the world will disagree with them. That is
inevitable. The world hates Individualism. But that is not to
trouble them. They are to be calm and self-centred. If a man
takes their cloak, they are to give him their coat, just to show
that material things are of no importance. If people abuse them,
they are not to answer back. What does it signify? The things
people say of a man do not alter a man. He is what he is. Public
opinion is of no value whatsoever. Even if people employ actual
violence, they are not to be violent in turn. That would be to
fall to the same low level. After all, even in prison, a man can
be quite free. His soul can be free. His personality can be
untroubled. He can be at peace. And, above all things, they are
not to interfere with other people or judge them in any way.
Personality is a very mysterious thing. A man cannot always be
estimated by what he does. He may keep the law, and yet be
worthless. He may break the law, and yet be fine. He may be bad,
without ever doing anything bad. He may commit a sin against
society, and yet realise through that sin his true perfection.

There was a woman who was taken in adultery. We are not told the
history of her love, but that love must have been very great; for
Jesus said that her sins were forgiven her, not because she
repented, but because her love was so intense and wonderful. Later
on, a short time before his death, as he sat at a feast, the woman
came in and poured costly perfumes on his hair. His friends tried
to interfere with her, and said that it was an extravagance, and
that the money that the perfume cost should have been expended on
charitable relief of people in want, or something of that kind.
Jesus did not accept that view. He pointed out that the material
needs of Man were great and very permanent, but that the spiritual
needs of Man were greater still, and that in one divine moment, and
by selecting its own mode of expression, a personality might make
itself perfect. The world worships the woman, even now, as a

Yes; there are suggestive things in Individualism. Socialism
annihilates family life, for instance. With the abolition of
private property, marriage in its present form must disappear.
This is part of the programme. Individualism accepts this and
makes it fine. It converts the abolition of legal restraint into a
form of freedom that will help the full development of personality,
and make the love of man and woman more wonderful, more beautiful,
and more ennobling. Jesus knew this. He rejected the claims of
family life, although they existed in his day and community in a
very marked form. 'Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?' he
said, when he was told that they wished to speak to him. When one
of his followers asked leave to go and bury his father, 'Let the
dead bury the dead,' was his terrible answer. He would allow no
claim whatsoever to be made on personality.

And so he who would lead a Christlike life is he who is perfectly
and absolutely himself. He may be a great poet, or a great man of
science; or a young student at a University, or one who watches
sheep upon a moor; or a maker of dramas, like Shakespeare, or a
thinker about God, like Spinoza; or a child who plays in a garden,
or a fisherman who throws his net into the sea. It does not matter
what he is, as long as he realises the perfection of the soul that
is within him. All imitation in morals and in life is wrong.
Through the streets of Jerusalem at the present day crawls one who
is mad and carries a wooden cross on his shoulders. He is a symbol
of the lives that are marred by imitation. Father Damien was
Christlike when he went out to live with the lepers, because in
such service he realised fully what was best in him. But he was
not more Christlike than Wagner when he realised his soul in music;
or than Shelley, when he realised his soul in song. There is no
one type for man. There are as many perfections as there are
imperfect men. And while to the claims of charity a man may yield
and yet be free, to the claims of conformity no man may yield and
remain free at all.

Individualism, then, is what through Socialism we are to attain to.
As a natural result the State must give up all idea of government.
It must give it up because, as a wise man once said many centuries
before Christ, there is such a thing as leaving mankind alone;
there is no such thing as governing mankind. All modes of
government are failures. Despotism is unjust to everybody,
including the despot, who was probably made for better things.
Oligarchies are unjust to the many, and ochlocracies are unjust to
the few. High hopes were once formed of democracy; but democracy
means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the
people. It has been found out. I must say that it was high time,
for all authority is quite degrading. It degrades those who
exercise it, and degrades those over whom it is exercised. When it
is violently, grossly, and cruelly used, it produces a good effect,
by creating, or at any rate bringing out, the spirit of revolt and
Individualism that is to kill it. When it is used with a certain
amount of kindness, and accompanied by prizes and rewards, it is
dreadfully demoralising. People, in that case, are less conscious
of the horrible pressure that is being put on them, and so go
through their lives in a sort of coarse comfort, like petted
animals, without ever realising that they are probably thinking
other people's thoughts, living by other people's standards,
wearing practically what one may call other people's second-hand
clothes, and never being themselves for a single moment. 'He who
would be free,' says a fine thinker, 'must not conform.' And
authority, by bribing people to conform, produces a very gross kind
of over-fed barbarism amongst us.

With authority, punishment will pass away. This will be a great
gain--a gain, in fact, of incalculable value. As one reads
history, not in the expurgated editions written for school-boys and
passmen, but in the original authorities of each time, one is
absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have
committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted; and
a community is infinitely more brutalised by the habitual
employment of punishment, than it is by the occurrence of crime.
It obviously follows that the more punishment is inflicted the more
crime is produced, and most modern legislation has clearly
recognised this, and has made it its task to diminish punishment as
far as it thinks it can. Wherever it has really diminished it, the
results have always been extremely good. The less punishment, the
less crime. When there is no punishment at all, crime will either
cease to exist, or, if it occurs, will be treated by physicians as
a very distressing form of dementia, to be cured by care and
kindness. For what are called criminals nowadays are not criminals
at all. Starvation, and not sin, is the parent of modern crime.
That indeed is the reason why our criminals are, as a class, so
absolutely uninteresting from any psychological point of view.
They are not marvellous Macbeths and terrible Vautrins. They are
merely what ordinary, respectable, commonplace people would be if
they had not got enough to eat. When private property is abolished
there will be no necessity for crime, no demand for it; it will
cease to exist. Of course, all crimes are not crimes against
property, though such are the crimes that the English law, valuing
what a man has more than what a man is, punishes with the harshest
and most horrible severity, if we except the crime of murder, and
regard death as worse than penal servitude, a point on which our
criminals, I believe, disagree. But though a crime may not be
against property, it may spring from the misery and rage and
depression produced by our wrong system of property-holding, and
so, when that system is abolished, will disappear. When each
member of the community has sufficient for his wants, and is not
interfered with by his neighbour, it will not be an object of any
interest to him to interfere with anyone else. Jealousy, which is
an extraordinary source of crime in modern life, is an emotion
closely bound up with our conceptions of property, and under
Socialism and Individualism will die out. It is remarkable that in
communistic tribes jealousy is entirely unknown.

Now as the State is not to govern, it may be asked what the State
is to do. The State is to be a voluntary association that will
organise labour, and be the manufacturer and distributor of
necessary commodities. The State is to make what is useful. The
individual is to make what is beautiful. And as I have mentioned
the word labour, I cannot help saying that a great deal of nonsense
is being written and talked nowadays about the dignity of manual
labour. There is nothing necessarily dignified about manual labour
at all, and most of it is absolutely degrading. It is mentally and
morally injurious to man to do anything in which he does not find
pleasure, and many forms of labour are quite pleasureless
activities, and should be regarded as such. To sweep a slushy
crossing for eight hours, on a day when the east wind is blowing is
a disgusting occupation. To sweep it with mental, moral, or
physical dignity seems to me to be impossible. To sweep it with
joy would be appalling. Man is made for something better than
disturbing dirt. All work of that kind should be done by a

And I have no doubt that it will be so. Up to the present, man has
been, to a certain extent, the slave of machinery, and there is
something tragic in the fact that as soon as man had invented a
machine to do his work he began to starve. This, however, is, of
course, the result of our property system and our system of
competition. One man owns a machine which does the work of five
hundred men. Five hundred men are, in consequence, thrown out of
employment, and, having no work to do, become hungry and take to
thieving. The one man secures the produce of the machine and keeps
it, and has five hundred times as much as he should have, and
probably, which is of much more importance, a great deal more than
he really wants. Were that machine the property of all, every one
would benefit by it. It would be an immense advantage to the
community. All unintellectual labour, all monotonous, dull labour,
all labour that deals with dreadful things, and involves unpleasant
conditions, must be done by machinery. Machinery must work for us
in coal mines, and do all sanitary services, and be the stoker of
steamers, and clean the streets, and run messages on wet days, and
do anything that is tedious or distressing. At present machinery
competes against man. Under proper conditions machinery will serve
man. There is no doubt at all that this is the future of
machinery, and just as trees grow while the country gentleman is
asleep, so while Humanity will be amusing itself, or enjoying
cultivated leisure--which, and not labour, is the aim of man--or
making beautiful things, or reading beautiful things, or simply
contemplating the world with admiration and delight, machinery will
be doing all the necessary and unpleasant work. The fact is, that
civilisation requires slaves. The Greeks were quite right there.
Unless there are slaves to do the ugly, horrible, uninteresting
work, culture and contemplation become almost impossible. Human
slavery is wrong, insecure, and demoralising. On mechanical
slavery, on the slavery of the machine, the future of the world
depends. And when scientific men are no longer called upon to go
down to a depressing East End and distribute bad cocoa and worse
blankets to starving people, they will have delightful leisure in
which to devise wonderful and marvellous things for their own joy
and the joy of everyone else. There will be great storages of
force for every city, and for every house if required, and this
force man will convert into heat, light, or motion, according to
his needs. Is this Utopian? A map of the world that does not
include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the
one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity
lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail.
Progress is the realisation of Utopias.

Now, I have said that the community by means of organisation of
machinery will supply the useful things, and that the beautiful
things will be made by the individual. This is not merely
necessary, but it is the only possible way by which we can get
either the one or the other. An individual who has to make things
for the use of others, and with reference to their wants and their
wishes, does not work with interest, and consequently cannot put
into his work what is best in him. Upon the other hand, whenever a
community or a powerful section of a community, or a government of
any kind, attempts to dictate to the artist what he is to do, Art
either entirely vanishes, or becomes stereotyped, or degenerates
into a low and ignoble form of craft. A work of art is the unique
result of a unique temperament. Its beauty comes from the fact
that the author is what he is. It has nothing to do with the fact
that other people want what they want. Indeed, the moment that an
artist takes notice of what other people want, and tries to supply
the demand, he ceases to be an artist, and becomes a dull or an
amusing craftsman, an honest or a dishonest tradesman. He has no
further claim to be considered as an artist. Art is the most
intense mode of Individualism that the world has known. I am
inclined to say that it is the only real mode of Individualism that
the world has known. Crime, which, under certain conditions, may
seem to have created Individualism, must take cognisance of other
people and interfere with them. It belongs to the sphere of
action. But alone, without any reference to his neighbours,
without any interference, the artist can fashion a beautiful thing;
and if he does not do it solely for his own pleasure, he is not an
artist at all.

And it is to be noted that it is the fact that Art is this intense
form of Individualism that makes the public try to exercise over it
in an authority that is as immoral as it is ridiculous, and as
corrupting as it is contemptible. It is not quite their fault.
The public has always, and in every age, been badly brought up.
They are continually asking Art to be popular, to please their want
of taste, to flatter their absurd vanity, to tell them what they
have been told before, to show them what they ought to be tired of
seeing, to amuse them when they feel heavy after eating too much,
and to distract their thoughts when they are wearied of their own
stupidity. Now Art should never try to be popular. The public
should try to make itself artistic. There is a very wide
difference. If a man of science were told that the results of his
experiments, and the conclusions that he arrived at, should be of
such a character that they would not upset the received popular
notions on the subject, or disturb popular prejudice, or hurt the
sensibilities of people who knew nothing about science; if a
philosopher were told that he had a perfect right to speculate in
the highest spheres of thought, provided that he arrived at the
same conclusions as were held by those who had never thought in any
sphere at all--well, nowadays the man of science and the
philosopher would be considerably amused. Yet it is really a very
few years since both philosophy and science were subjected to
brutal popular control, to authority--in fact the authority of
either the general ignorance of the community, or the terror and
greed for power of an ecclesiastical or governmental class. Of
course, we have to a very great extent got rid of any attempt on
the part of the community, or the Church, or the Government, to
interfere with the individualism of speculative thought, but the
attempt to interfere with the individualism of imaginative art
still lingers. In fact, it does more than linger; it is
aggressive, offensive, and brutalising.

In England, the arts that have escaped best are the arts in which
the public take no interest. Poetry is an instance of what I mean.
We have been able to have fine poetry in England because the public
do not read it, and consequently do not influence it. The public
like to insult poets because they are individual, but once they
have insulted them, they leave them alone. In the case of the
novel and the drama, arts in which the public do take an interest,
the result of the exercise of popular authority has been absolutely
ridiculous. No country produces such badly-written fiction, such
tedious, common work in the novel form, such silly, vulgar plays as
England. It must necessarily be so. The popular standard is of
such a character that no artist can get to it. It is at once too
easy and too difficult to be a popular novelist. It is too easy,
because the requirements of the public as far as plot, style,
psychology, treatment of life, and treatment of literature are
concerned are within the reach of the very meanest capacity and the
most uncultivated mind. It is too difficult, because to meet such
requirements the artist would have to do violence to his
temperament, would have to write not for the artistic joy of
writing, but for the amusement of half-educated people, and so
would have to suppress his individualism, forget his culture,
annihilate his style, and surrender everything that is valuable in
him. In the case of the drama, things are a little better: the
theatre-going public like the obvious, it is true, but they do not
like the tedious; and burlesque and farcical comedy, the two most
popular forms, are distinct forms of art. Delightful work may be
produced under burlesque and farcical conditions, and in work of
this kind the artist in England is allowed very great freedom. It
is when one comes to the higher forms of the drama that the result
of popular control is seen. The one thing that the public dislike
is novelty. Any attempt to extend the subject-matter of art is
extremely distasteful to the public; and yet the vitality and
progress of art depend in a large measure on the continual
extension of subject-matter. The public dislike novelty because
they are afraid of it. It represents to them a mode of
Individualism, an assertion on the part of the artist that he
selects his own subject, and treats it as he chooses. The public
are quite right in their attitude. Art is Individualism, and
Individualism is a disturbing and disintegrating force. Therein
lies its immense value. For what it seeks to disturb is monotony
of type, slavery of custom, tyranny of habit, and the reduction of
man to the level of a machine. In Art, the public accept what has
been, because they cannot alter it, not because they appreciate it.
They swallow their classics whole, and never taste them. They
endure them as the inevitable, and as they cannot mar them, they
mouth about them. Strangely enough, or not strangely, according to
one's own views, this acceptance of the classics does a great deal
of harm. The uncritical admiration of the Bible and Shakespeare in
England is an instance of what I mean. With regard to the Bible,
considerations of ecclesiastical authority enter into the matter,
so that I need not dwell upon the point. But in the case of
Shakespeare it is quite obvious that the public really see neither
the beauties nor the defects of his plays. If they saw the
beauties, they would not object to the development of the drama;
and if they saw the defects, they would not object to the
development of the drama either. The fact is, the public make use
of the classics of a country as a means of checking the progress of
Art. They degrade the classics into authorities. They use them as
bludgeons for preventing the free expression of Beauty in new
forms. They are always asking a writer why he does not write like
somebody else, or a painter why he does not paint like somebody
else, quite oblivious of the fact that if either of them did
anything of the kind he would cease to be an artist. A fresh mode
of Beauty is absolutely distasteful to them, and whenever it
appears they get so angry, and bewildered that they always use two
stupid expressions--one is that the work of art is grossly
unintelligible; the other, that the work of art is grossly immoral.
What they mean by these words seems to me to be this. When they
say a work is grossly unintelligible, they mean that the artist has
said or made a beautiful thing that is new; when they describe a
work as grossly immoral, they mean that the artist has said or made
a beautiful thing that is true. The former expression has
reference to style; the latter to subject-matter. But they
probably use the words very vaguely, as an ordinary mob will use
ready-made paving-stones. There is not a single real poet or
prose-writer of this century, for instance, on whom the British
public have not solemnly conferred diplomas of immorality, and
these diplomas practically take the place, with us, of what in
France, is the formal recognition of an Academy of Letters, and
fortunately make the establishment of such an institution quite
unnecessary in England. Of course, the public are very reckless in
their use of the word. That they should have called Wordsworth an
immoral poet, was only to be expected. Wordsworth was a poet. But
that they should have called Charles Kingsley an immoral novelist
is extraordinary. Kingsley's prose was not of a very fine quality.
Still, there is the word, and they use it as best they can. An
artist is, of course, not disturbed by it. The true artist is a
man who believes absolutely in himself, because he is absolutely
himself. But I can fancy that if an artist produced a work of art
in England that immediately on its appearance was recognised by the
public, through their medium, which is the public press, as a work
that was quite intelligible and highly moral, he would begin to
seriously question whether in its creation he had really been
himself at all, and consequently whether the work was not quite
unworthy of him, and either of a thoroughly second-rate order, or
of no artistic value whatsoever.

Perhaps, however, I have wronged the public in limiting them to
such words as 'immoral,' 'unintelligible,' 'exotic,' and
'unhealthy.' There is one other word that they use. That word is
'morbid.' They do not use it often. The meaning of the word is so
simple that they are afraid of using it. Still, they use it
sometimes, and, now and then, one comes across it in popular
newspapers. It is, of course, a ridiculous word to apply to a work
of art. For what is morbidity but a mood of emotion or a mode of
thought that one cannot express? The public are all morbid,
because the public can never find expression for anything. The
artist is never morbid. He expresses everything. He stands
outside his subject, and through its medium produces incomparable
and artistic effects. To call an artist morbid because he deals
with morbidity as his subject-matter is as silly as if one called
Shakespeare mad because he wrote 'King Lear.'

On the whole, an artist in England gains something by being
attacked. His individuality is intensified. He becomes more
completely himself. Of course, the attacks are very gross, very
impertinent, and very contemptible. But then no artist expects
grace from the vulgar mind, or style from the suburban intellect.
Vulgarity and stupidity are two very vivid facts in modern life.
One regrets them, naturally. But there they are. They are
subjects for study, like everything else. And it is only fair to
state, with regard to modern journalists, that they always
apologise to one in private for what they have written against one
in public.

Within the last few years two other adjectives, it may be
mentioned, have been added to the very limited vocabulary of art-
abuse that is at the disposal of the public. One is the word
'unhealthy,' the other is the word 'exotic.' The latter merely
expresses the rage of the momentary mushroom against the immortal,
entrancing, and exquisitely lovely orchid. It is a tribute, but a
tribute of no importance. The word 'unhealthy,' however, admits of
analysis. It is a rather interesting word. In fact, it is so
interesting that the people who use it do not know what it means.

What does it mean? What is a healthy, or an unhealthy work of art?
All terms that one applies to a work of art, provided that one
applies them rationally, have reference to either its style or its
subject, or to both together. From the point of view of style, a
healthy work of art is one whose style recognises the beauty of the
material it employs, be that material one of words or of bronze, of
colour or of ivory, and uses that beauty as a factor in producing
the aesthetic effect. From the point of view of subject, a healthy
work of art is one the choice of whose subject is conditioned by
the temperament of the artist, and comes directly out of it. In
fine, a healthy work of art is one that has both perfection and
personality. Of course, form and substance cannot be separated in
a work of art; they are always one. But for purposes of analysis,
and setting the wholeness of aesthetic impression aside for a
moment, we can intellectually so separate them. An unhealthy work
of art, on the other hand, is a work whose style is obvious, old-
fashioned, and common, and whose subject is deliberately chosen,
not because the artist has any pleasure in it, but because he
thinks that the public will pay him for it. In fact, the popular
novel that the public calls healthy is always a thoroughly
unhealthy production; and what the public call an unhealthy novel
is always a beautiful and healthy work of art.

I need hardly say that I am not, for a single moment, complaining
that the public and the public press misuse these words. I do not
see how, with their lack of comprehension of what Art is, they
could possibly use them in the proper sense. I am merely pointing
out the misuse; and as for the origin of the misuse and the meaning
that lies behind it all, the explanation is very simple. It comes
from the barbarous conception of authority. It comes from the
natural inability of a community corrupted by authority to
understand or appreciate Individualism. In a word, it comes from
that monstrous and ignorant thing that is called Public Opinion,
which, bad and well-meaning as it is when it tries to control
action, is infamous and of evil meaning when it tries to control
Thought or Art.

Indeed, there is much more to be said in favour of the physical
force of the public than there is in favour of the public's
opinion. The former may be fine. The latter must be foolish. It
is often said that force is no argument. That, however, entirely
depends on what one wants to prove. Many of the most important
problems of the last few centuries, such as the continuance of
personal government in England, or of feudalism in France, have
been solved entirely by means of physical force. The very violence
of a revolution may make the public grand and splendid for a
moment. It was a fatal day when the public discovered that the pen
is mightier than the paving-stone, and can be made as offensive as
the brickbat. They at once sought for the journalist, found him,
developed him, and made him their industrious and well-paid
servant. It is greatly to be regretted, for both their sakes.
Behind the barricade there may be much that is noble and heroic.
But what is there behind the leading-article but prejudice,
stupidity, cant, and twaddle? And when these four are joined
together they make a terrible force, and constitute the new

In old days men had the rack. Now they have the press. That is an
improvement certainly. But still it is very bad, and wrong, and
demoralising. Somebody--was it Burke?--called journalism the
fourth estate. That was true at the time, no doubt. But at the
present moment it really is the only estate. It has eaten up the
other three. The Lords Temporal say nothing, the Lords Spiritual
have nothing to say, and the House of Commons has nothing to say
and says it. We are dominated by Journalism. In America the
President reigns for four years, and Journalism governs for ever
and ever. Fortunately in America Journalism has carried its
authority to the grossest and most brutal extreme. As a natural
consequence it has begun to create a spirit of revolt. People are
amused by it, or disgusted by it, according to their temperaments.
But it is no longer the real force it was. It is not seriously
treated. In England, Journalism, not, except in a few well-known
instances, having been carried to such excesses of brutality, is
still a great factor, a really remarkable power. The tyranny that
it proposes to exercise over people's private lives seems to me to
be quite extraordinary. The fact is, that the public have an
insatiable curiosity to know everything, except what is worth
knowing. Journalism, conscious of this, and having tradesman-like
habits, supplies their demands. In centuries before ours the
public nailed the ears of journalists to the pump. That was quite
hideous. In this century journalists have nailed their own ears to
the keyhole. That is much worse. And what aggravates the mischief
is that the journalists who are most to blame are not the amusing
journalists who write for what are called Society papers. The harm
is done by the serious, thoughtful, earnest journalists, who
solemnly, as they are doing at present, will drag before the eyes
of the public some incident in the private life of a great
statesman, of a man who is a leader of political thought as he is a
creator of political force, and invite the public to discuss the
incident, to exercise authority in the matter, to give their views,
and not merely to give their views, but to carry them into action,
to dictate to the man upon all other points, to dictate to his
party, to dictate to his country; in fact, to make themselves
ridiculous, offensive, and harmful. The private lives of men and
women should not be told to the public. The public have nothing to
do with them at all. In France they manage these things better.
There they do not allow the details of the trials that take place
in the divorce courts to be published for the amusement or
criticism of the public. All that the public are allowed to know
is that the divorce has taken place and was granted on petition of
one or other or both of the married parties concerned. In France,
in fact, they limit the journalist, and allow the artist almost
perfect freedom. Here we allow absolute freedom to the journalist,
and entirely limit the artist. English public opinion, that is to
say, tries to constrain and impede and warp the man who makes
things that are beautiful in effect, and compels the journalist to
retail things that are ugly, or disgusting, or revolting in fact,
so that we have the most serious journalists in the world, and the
most indecent newspapers. It is no exaggeration to talk of
compulsion. There are possibly some journalists who take a real
pleasure in publishing horrible things, or who, being poor, look to
scandals as forming a sort of permanent basis for an income. But
there are other journalists, I feel certain, men of education and
cultivation, who really dislike publishing these things, who know
that it is wrong to do so, and only do it because the unhealthy
conditions under which their occupation is carried on oblige them
to supply the public with what the public wants, and to compete
with other journalists in making that supply as full and satisfying
to the gross popular appetite as possible. It is a very degrading
position for any body of educated men to be placed in, and I have
no doubt that most of them feel it acutely.

However, let us leave what is really a very sordid side of the
subject, and return to the question of popular control in the
matter of Art, by which I mean Public Opinion dictating to the
artist the form which he is to use, the mode in which he is to use
it, and the materials with which he is to work. I have pointed out
that the arts which have escaped best in England are the arts in
which the public have not been interested. They are, however,
interested in the drama, and as a certain advance has been made in
the drama within the last ten or fifteen years, it is important to
point out that this advance is entirely due to a few individual
artists refusing to accept the popular want of taste as their
standard, and refusing to regard Art as a mere matter of demand and
supply. With his marvellous and vivid personality, with a style
that has really a true colour-element in it, with his extraordinary
power, not over mere mimicry but over imaginative and intellectual
creation, Mr Irving, had his sole object been to give the public
what they wanted, could have produced the commonest plays in the
commonest manner, and made as much success and money as a man could
possibly desire. But his object was not that. His object was to
realise his own perfection as an artist, under certain conditions,
and in certain forms of Art. At first he appealed to the few: now
he has educated the many. He has created in the public both taste
and temperament. The public appreciate his artistic success
immensely. I often wonder, however, whether the public understand
that that success is entirely due to the fact that he did not
accept their standard, but realised his own. With their standard
the Lyceum would have been a sort of second-rate booth, as some of
the popular theatres in London are at present. Whether they
understand it or not the fact however remains, that taste and
temperament have, to a certain extent been created in the public,
and that the public is capable of developing these qualities. The
problem then is, why do not the public become more civilised? They
have the capacity. What stops them?

The thing that stops them, it must be said again, is their desire
to exercise authority over the artist and over works of art. To
certain theatres, such as the Lyceum and the Haymarket, the public
seem to come in a proper mood. In both of these theatres there
have been individual artists, who have succeeded in creating in
their audiences--and every theatre in London has its own audience--
the temperament to which Art appeals. And what is that
temperament? It is the temperament of receptivity. That is all.

If a man approaches a work of art with any desire to exercise
authority over it and the artist, he approaches it in such a spirit
that he cannot receive any artistic impression from it at all. The
work of art is to dominate the spectator: the spectator is not to
dominate the work of art. The spectator is to be receptive. He is
to be the violin on which the master is to play. And the more
completely he can suppress his own silly views, his own foolish
prejudices, his own absurd ideas of what Art should be, or should
not be, the more likely he is to understand and appreciate the work
of art in question. This is, of course, quite obvious in the case
of the vulgar theatre-going public of English men and women. But
it is equally true of what are called educated people. For an
educated person's ideas of Art are drawn naturally from what Art
has been, whereas the new work of art is beautiful by being what
Art has never been; and to measure it by the standard of the past
is to measure it by a standard on the rejection of which its real
perfection depends. A temperament capable of receiving, through an
imaginative medium, and under imaginative conditions, new and
beautiful impressions, is the only temperament that can appreciate
a work of art. And true as this is in the case of the appreciation
of sculpture and painting, it is still more true of the
appreciation of such arts as the drama. For a picture and a statue
are not at war with Time. They take no count of its succession.
In one moment their unity may be apprehended. In the case of
literature it is different. Time must be traversed before the
unity of effect is realised. And so, in the drama, there may occur
in the first act of the play something whose real artistic value
may not be evident to the spectator till the third or fourth act is
reached. Is the silly fellow to get angry and call out, and
disturb the play, and annoy the artists? No. The honest man is to
sit quietly, and know the delightful emotions of wonder, curiosity,
and suspense. He is not to go to the play to lose a vulgar temper.
He is to go to the play to realise an artistic temperament. He is
to go to the play to gain an artistic temperament. He is not the
arbiter of the work of art. He is one who is admitted to
contemplate the work of art, and, if the work be fine, to forget in
its contemplation and the egotism that mars him--the egotism of his
ignorance, or the egotism of his information. This point about the
drama is hardly, I think, sufficiently recognised. I can quite
understand that were 'Macbeth' produced for the first time before a
modern London audience, many of the people present would strongly
and vigorously object to the introduction of the witches in the
first act, with their grotesque phrases and their ridiculous words.
But when the play is over one realises that the laughter of the
witches in 'Macbeth' is as terrible as the laughter of madness in
'Lear,' more terrible than the laughter of Iago in the tragedy of
the Moor. No spectator of art needs a more perfect mood of
receptivity than the spectator of a play. The moment he seeks to
exercise authority he becomes the avowed enemy of Art and of
himself. Art does not mind. It is he who suffers.

With the novel it is the same thing. Popular authority and the
recognition of popular authority are fatal. Thackeray's 'Esmond'
is a beautiful work of art because he wrote it to please himself.
In his other novels, in 'Pendennis,' in 'Philip,' in 'Vanity Fair'
even, at times, he is too conscious of the public, and spoils his
work by appealing directly to the sympathies of the public, or by
directly mocking at them. A true artist takes no notice whatever
of the public. The public are to him non-existent. He has no
poppied or honeyed cakes through which to give the monster sleep or
sustenance. He leaves that to the popular novelist. One
incomparable novelist we have now in England, Mr George Meredith.
There are better artists in France, but France has no one whose
view of life is so large, so varied, so imaginatively true. There
are tellers of stories in Russia who have a more vivid sense of
what pain in fiction may be. But to him belongs philosophy in
fiction. His people not merely live, but they live in thought.
One can see them from myriad points of view. They are suggestive.
There is soul in them and around them. They are interpretative and
symbolic. And he who made them, those wonderful quickly-moving
figures, made them for his own pleasure, and has never asked the
public what they wanted, has never cared to know what they wanted,
has never allowed the public to dictate to him or influence him in
any way but has gone on intensifying his own personality, and
producing his own individual work. At first none came to him.
That did not matter. Then the few came to him. That did not
change him. The many have come now. He is still the same. He is
an incomparable novelist. With the decorative arts it is not
different. The public clung with really pathetic tenacity to what
I believe were the direct traditions of the Great Exhibition of
international vulgarity, traditions that were so appalling that the
houses in which people lived were only fit for blind people to live
in. Beautiful things began to be made, beautiful colours came from
the dyer's hand, beautiful patterns from the artist's brain, and
the use of beautiful things and their value and importance were set
forth. The public were really very indignant. They lost their
temper. They said silly things. No one minded. No one was a whit
the worse. No one accepted the authority of public opinion. And
now it is almost impossible to enter any modern house without
seeing some recognition of good taste, some recognition of the
value of lovely surroundings, some sign of appreciation of beauty.
In fact, people's houses are, as a rule, quite charming nowadays.
People have been to a very great extent civilised. It is only fair
to state, however, that the extraordinary success of the revolution
in house-decoration and furniture and the like has not really been
due to the majority of the public developing a very fine taste in
such matters. It has been chiefly due to the fact that the
craftsmen of things so appreciated the pleasure of making what was
beautiful, and woke to such a vivid consciousness of the
hideousness and vulgarity of what the public had previously wanted,
that they simply starved the public out. It would be quite
impossible at the present moment to furnish a room as rooms were
furnished a few years ago, without going for everything to an
auction of second-hand furniture from some third-rate lodging-
house. The things are no longer made. However they may object to
it, people must nowadays have something charming in their
surroundings. Fortunately for them, their assumption of authority
in these art-matters came to entire grief.

It is evident, then, that all authority in such things is bad.
People sometimes inquire what form of government is most suitable
for an artist to live under. To this question there is only one
answer. The form of government that is most suitable to the artist
is no government at all. Authority over him and his art is
ridiculous. It has been stated that under despotisms artists have
produced lovely work. This is not quite so. Artists have visited
despots, not as subjects to be tyrannised over, but as wandering
wonder-makers, as fascinating vagrant personalities, to be
entertained and charmed and suffered to be at peace, and allowed to
create. There is this to be said in favour of the despot, that he,
being an individual, may have culture, while the mob, being a
monster, has none. One who is an Emperor and King may stoop down
to pick up a brush for a painter, but when the democracy stoops
down it is merely to throw mud. And yet the democracy have not so
far to stoop as the emperor. In fact, when they want to throw mud
they have not to stoop at all. But there is no necessity to
separate the monarch from the mob; all authority is equally bad.

There are three kinds of despots. There is the despot who
tyrannises over the body. There is the despot who tyrannises over
the soul. There is the despot who tyrannises over the soul and
body alike. The first is called the Prince. The second is called
the Pope. The third is called the People. The Prince may be
cultivated. Many Princes have been. Yet in the Prince there is
danger. One thinks of Dante at the bitter feast in Verona, of
Tasso in Ferrara's madman's cell. It is better for the artist not
to live with Princes. The Pope may be cultivated. Many Popes have
been; the bad Popes have been. The bad Popes loved Beauty, almost
as passionately, nay, with as much passion as the good Popes hated
Thought. To the wickedness of the Papacy humanity owes much. The
goodness of the Papacy owes a terrible debt to humanity. Yet,
though the Vatican has kept the rhetoric of its thunders, and lost
the rod of its lightning, it is better for the artist not to live
with Popes. It was a Pope who said of Cellini to a conclave of
Cardinals that common laws and common authority were not made for
men such as he; but it was a Pope who thrust Cellini into prison,
and kept him there till he sickened with rage, and created unreal
visions for himself, and saw the gilded sun enter his room, and
grew so enamoured of it that he sought to escape, and crept out
from tower to tower, and falling through dizzy air at dawn, maimed
himself, and was by a vine-dresser covered with vine leaves, and
carried in a cart to one who, loving beautiful things, had care of
him. There is danger in Popes. And as for the People, what of
them and their authority? Perhaps of them and their authority one
has spoken enough. Their authority is a thing blind, deaf,
hideous, grotesque, tragic, amusing, serious, and obscene. It is
impossible for the artist to live with the People. All despots
bribe. The people bribe and brutalise. Who told them to exercise
authority? They were made to live, to listen, and to love.
Someone has done them a great wrong. They have marred themselves
by imitation of their inferiors. They have taken the sceptre of
the Prince. How should they use it? They have taken the triple
tiara of the Pope. How should they carry its burden? They are as
a clown whose heart is broken. They are as a priest whose soul is
not yet born. Let all who love Beauty pity them. Though they
themselves love not Beauty, yet let them pity themselves. Who
taught them the trick of tyranny?

There are many other things that one might point out. One might
point out how the Renaissance was great, because it sought to solve
no social problem, and busied itself not about such things, but
suffered the individual to develop freely, beautifully, and
naturally, and so had great and individual artists, and great and
individual men. One might point out how Louis XIV., by creating
the modern state, destroyed the individualism of the artist, and
made things monstrous in their monotony of repetition, and
contemptible in their conformity to rule, and destroyed throughout
all France all those fine freedoms of expression that had made
tradition new in beauty, and new modes one with antique form. But
the past is of no importance. The present is of no importance. It
is with the future that we have to deal. For the past is what man
should not have been. The present is what man ought not to be.
The future is what artists are.

It will, of course, be said that such a scheme as is set forth here
is quite unpractical, and goes against human nature. This is
perfectly true. It is unpractical, and it goes against human
nature. This is why it is worth carrying out, and that is why one
proposes it. For what is a practical scheme? A practical scheme
is either a scheme that is already in existence, or a scheme that
could be carried out under existing conditions. But it is exactly
the existing conditions that one objects to; and any scheme that
could accept these conditions is wrong and foolish. The conditions
will be done away with, and human nature will change. The only
thing that one really knows about human nature is that it changes.
Change is the one quality we can predicate of it. The systems that
fail are those that rely on the permanency of human nature, and not
on its growth and development. The error of Louis XIV. was that he
thought human nature would always be the same. The result of his
error was the French Revolution. It was an admirable result. All
the results of the mistakes of governments are quite admirable.

It is to be noted also that Individualism does not come to man with
any sickly cant about duty, which merely means doing what other
people want because they want it; or any hideous cant about self-
sacrifice, which is merely a survival of savage mutilation. In
fact, it does not come to man with any claims upon him at all. It
comes naturally and inevitably out of man. It is the point to
which all development tends. It is the differentiation to which
all organisms grow. It is the perfection that is inherent in every
mode of life, and towards which every mode of life quickens. And
so Individualism exercises no compulsion over man. On the
contrary, it says to man that he should suffer no compulsion to be
exercised over him. It does not try to force people to be good.
It knows that people are good when they are let alone. Man will
develop Individualism out of himself. Man is now so developing
Individualism. To ask whether Individualism is practical is like
asking whether Evolution is practical. Evolution is the law of
life, and there is no evolution except towards Individualism.
Where this tendency is not expressed, it is a case of artificially-
arrested growth, or of disease, or of death.

Individualism will also be unselfish and unaffected. It has been
pointed out that one of the results of the extraordinary tyranny of
authority is that words are absolutely distorted from their proper
and simple meaning, and are used to express the obverse of their
right signification. What is true about Art is true about Life. A
man is called affected, nowadays, if he dresses as he likes to
dress. But in doing that he is acting in a perfectly natural
manner. Affectation, in such matters, consists in dressing
according to the views of one's neighbour, whose views, as they are
the views of the majority, will probably be extremely stupid. Or a
man is called selfish if he lives in the manner that seems to him
most suitable for the full realisation of his own personality; if,
in fact, the primary aim of his life is self-development. But this
is the way in which everyone should live. Selfishness is not
living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one
wishes to live. And unselfishness is letting other people's lives
alone, not interfering with them. Selfishness always aims at
creating around it an absolute uniformity of type. Unselfishness
recognises infinite variety of type as a delightful thing, accepts
it, acquiesces in it, enjoys it. It is not selfish to think for
oneself. A man who does not think for himself does not think at
all. It is grossly selfish to require of ones neighbour that he
should think in the same way, and hold the same opinions. Why
should he? If he can think, he will probably think differently.
If he cannot think, it is monstrous to require thought of any kind
from him. A red rose is not selfish because it wants to be a red
rose. It would be horribly selfish if it wanted all the other
flowers in the garden to be both red and roses. Under
Individualism people will be quite natural and absolutely
unselfish, and will know the meanings of the words, and realise
them in their free, beautiful lives. Nor will men be egotistic as
they are now. For the egotist is he who makes claims upon others,
and the Individualist will not desire to do that. It will not give
him pleasure. When man has realised Individualism, he will also
realise sympathy and exercise it freely and spontaneously. Up to
the present man has hardly cultivated sympathy at all. He has
merely sympathy with pain, and sympathy with pain is not the
highest form of sympathy. All sympathy is fine, but sympathy with
suffering is the least fine mode. It is tainted with egotism. It
is apt to become morbid. There is in it a certain element of
terror for our own safety. We become afraid that we ourselves
might be as the leper or as the blind, and that no man would have
care of us. It is curiously limiting, too. One should sympathise
with the entirety of life, not with life's sores and maladies
merely, but with life's joy and beauty and energy and health and
freedom. The wider sympathy is, of course, the more difficult. It
requires more unselfishness. Anybody can sympathise with the
sufferings of a friend, but it requires a very fine nature--it
requires, in fact, the nature of a true Individualist--to
sympathise with a friend's success.

In the modern stress of competition and struggle for place, such
sympathy is naturally rare, and is also very much stifled by the
immoral ideal of uniformity of type and conformity to rule which is
so prevalent everywhere, and is perhaps most obnoxious in England.

Sympathy with pain there will, of course, always be. It is one of
the first instincts of man. The animals which are individual, the
higher animals, that is to say, share it with us. But it must be
remembered that while sympathy with joy intensifies the sum of joy
in the world, sympathy with pain does not really diminish the
amount of pain. It may make man better able to endure evil, but
the evil remains. Sympathy with consumption does not cure
consumption; that is what Science does. And when Socialism has
solved the problem of poverty, and Science solved the problem of
disease, the area of the sentimentalists will be lessened, and the
sympathy of man will be large, healthy, and spontaneous. Man will
have joy in the contemplation of the joyous life of others.

For it is through joy that the Individualism of the future will
develop itself. Christ made no attempt to reconstruct society, and
consequently the Individualism that he preached to man could be
realised only through pain or in solitude. The ideals that we owe
to Christ are the ideals of the man who abandons society entirely,
or of the man who resists society absolutely. But man is naturally
social. Even the Thebaid became peopled at last. And though the
cenobite realises his personality, it is often an impoverished
personality that he so realises. Upon the other hand, the terrible
truth that pain is a mode through which man may realise himself
exercises a wonderful fascination over the world. Shallow speakers
and shallow thinkers in pulpits and on platforms often talk about
the world's worship of pleasure, and whine against it. But it is
rarely in the world's history that its ideal has been one of joy
and beauty. The worship of pain has far more often dominated the
world. Mediaevalism, with its saints and martyrs, its love of
self-torture, its wild passion for wounding itself, its gashing
with knives, and its whipping with rods--Mediaevalism is real
Christianity, and the mediaeval Christ is the real Christ. When
the Renaissance dawned upon the world, and brought with it the new
ideals of the beauty of life and the joy of living, men could not
understand Christ. Even Art shows us that. The painters of the
Renaissance drew Christ as a little boy playing with another boy in
a palace or a garden, or lying back in his mother's arms, smiling
at her, or at a flower, or at a bright bird; or as a noble, stately
figure moving nobly through the world; or as a wonderful figure
rising in a sort of ecstasy from death to life. Even when they
drew him crucified they drew him as a beautiful God on whom evil
men had inflicted suffering. But he did not preoccupy them much.
What delighted them was to paint the men and women whom they
admired, and to show the loveliness of this lovely earth. They
painted many religious pictures--in fact, they painted far too
many, and the monotony of type and motive is wearisome, and was bad
for art. It was the result of the authority of the public in art-
matters, and is to be deplored. But their soul was not in the
subject. Raphael was a great artist when he painted his portrait
of the Pope. When he painted his Madonnas and infant Christs, he
is not a great artist at all. Christ had no message for the
Renaissance, which was wonderful because it brought an ideal at
variance with his, and to find the presentation of the real Christ
we must go to mediaeval art. There he is one maimed and marred;
one who is not comely to look on, because Beauty is a joy; one who
is not in fair raiment, because that may be a joy also: he is a
beggar who has a marvellous soul; he is a leper whose soul is
divine; he needs neither property nor health; he is a God realising
his perfection through pain.

The evolution of man is slow. The injustice of men is great. It
was necessary that pain should be put forward as a mode of self-
realisation. Even now, in some places in the world, the message of
Christ is necessary. No one who lived in modern Russia could
possibly realise his perfection except by pain. A few Russian
artists have realised themselves in Art; in a fiction that is
mediaeval in character, because its dominant note is the
realisation of men through suffering. But for those who are not
artists, and to whom there is no mode of life but the actual life
of fact, pain is the only door to perfection. A Russian who lives
happily under the present system of government in Russia must
either believe that man has no soul, or that, if he has, it is not
worth developing. A Nihilist who rejects all authority, because he
knows authority to be evil, and welcomes all pain, because through
that he realises his personality, is a real Christian. To him the
Christian ideal is a true thing.

And yet, Christ did not revolt against authority. He accepted the
imperial authority of the Roman Empire and paid tribute. He
endured the ecclesiastical authority of the Jewish Church, and
would not repel its violence by any violence of his own. He had,
as I said before, no scheme for the reconstruction of society. But
the modern world has schemes. It proposes to do away with poverty
and the suffering that it entails. It desires to get rid of pain,
and the suffering that pain entails. It trusts to Socialism and to
Science as its methods. What it aims at is an Individualism
expressing itself through joy. This Individualism will be larger,
fuller, lovelier than any Individualism has ever been. Pain is not
the ultimate mode of perfection. It is merely provisional and a
protest. It has reference to wrong, unhealthy, unjust
surroundings. When the wrong, and the disease, and the injustice
are removed, it will have no further place. It will have done its
work. It was a great work, but it is almost over. Its sphere
lessens every day.

Nor will man miss it. For what man has sought for is, indeed,
neither pain nor pleasure, but simply Life. Man has sought to live
intensely, fully, perfectly. When he can do so without exercising
restraint on others, or suffering it ever, and his activities are
all pleasurable to him, he will be saner, healthier, more
civilised, more himself. Pleasure is Nature's test, her sign of
approval. When man is happy, he is in harmony with himself and his
environment. The new Individualism, for whose service Socialism,
whether it wills it or not, is working, will be perfect harmony.
It will be what the Greeks sought for, but could not, except in
Thought, realise completely, because they had slaves, and fed them;
it will be what the Renaissance sought for, but could not realise
completely except in Art, because they had slaves, and starved
them. It will be complete, and through it each man will attain to
his perfection. The new Individualism is the new Hellenism.


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