Twelve Types
G.K. Chesterton

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Proofreading Team.





These papers, with certain alterations and additions, are reprinted with
the kind permission of the Editors of _The Daily News_ and _The Speaker_.





Objection is often raised against realistic biography because it reveals
so much that is important and even sacred about a man's life. The real
objection to it will rather be found in the fact that it reveals about a
man the precise points which are unimportant. It reveals and asserts and
insists on exactly those things in a man's life of which the man himself
is wholly unconscious; his exact class in society, the circumstances of
his ancestry, the place of his present location. These are things which
do not, properly speaking, ever arise before the human vision. They do
not occur to a man's mind; it may be said, with almost equal truth, that
they do not occur in a man's life. A man no more thinks about himself as
the inhabitant of the third house in a row of Brixton villas than he
thinks about himself as a strange animal with two legs. What a man's
name was, what his income was, whom he married, where he lived, these
are not sanctities; they are irrelevancies.

A very strong case of this is the case of the Brontes. The Bronte is in
the position of the mad lady in a country village; her eccentricities
form an endless source of innocent conversation to that exceedingly mild
and bucolic circle, the literary world. The truly glorious gossips of
literature, like Mr Augustine Birrell and Mr Andrew Lang, never tire of
collecting all the glimpses and anecdotes and sermons and side-lights
and sticks and straws which will go to make a Bronte museum. They are
the most personally discussed of all Victorian authors, and the
limelight of biography has left few darkened corners in the dark old
Yorkshire house. And yet the whole of this biographical investigation,
though natural and picturesque, is not wholly suitable to the Brontes.
For the Bronte genius was above all things deputed to assert the supreme
unimportance of externals. Up to that point truth had always been
conceived as existing more or less in the novel of manners. Charlotte
Bronte electrified the world by showing that an infinitely older and
more elemental truth could be conveyed by a novel in which no person,
good or bad, had any manners at all. Her work represents the first great
assertion that the humdrum life of modern civilisation is a disguise as
tawdry and deceptive as the costume of a 'bal masque.' She showed that
abysses may exist inside a governess and eternities inside a
manufacturer; her heroine is the commonplace spinster, with the dress of
merino and the soul of flame. It is significant to notice that Charlotte
Bronte, following consciously or unconsciously the great trend of her
genius, was the first to take away from the heroine not only the
artificial gold and diamonds of wealth and fashion, but even the natural
gold and diamonds of physical beauty and grace. Instinctively she felt
that the whole of the exterior must be made ugly that the whole of the
interior might be made sublime. She chose the ugliest of women in the
ugliest of centuries, and revealed within them all the hells and heavens
of Dante.

It may, therefore, I think, be legitimately said that the externals of
the Brontes' life, though singularly picturesque in themselves, matter
less than the externals of almost any other writers. It is interesting
to know whether Jane Austen had any knowledge of the lives of the
officers and women of fashion whom she introduced into her masterpieces.
It is interesting to know whether Dickens had ever seen a shipwreck or
been inside a workhouse. For in these authors much of the conviction is
conveyed, not always by adherence to facts, but always by grasp of them.
But the whole aim and purport and meaning of the work of the Brontes is
that the most futile thing in the whole universe is fact. Such a story
as 'Jane Eyre' is in itself so monstrous a fable that it ought to be
excluded from a book of fairy tales. The characters do not do what they
ought to do, nor what they would do, nor, it might be said, such is the
insanity of the atmosphere, not even what they intend to do. The conduct
of Rochester is so primevally and superhumanly caddish that Bret Harte
in his admirable travesty scarcely exaggerated it. 'Then, resuming his
usual manner, he threw his boots at my head and withdrew,' does perhaps
reach to something resembling caricature. The scene in which Rochester
dresses up as an old gipsy has something in it which is really not to be
found in any other branch of art, except in the end of the pantomime,
where the Emperor turns into a pantaloon. Yet, despite this vast
nightmare of illusion and morbidity and ignorance of the world, 'Jane
Eyre' is perhaps the truest book that was ever written. Its essential
truth to life sometimes makes one catch one's breath. For it is not true
to manners, which are constantly false, or to facts, which are almost
always false; it is true to the only existing thing which is true,
emotion, the irreducible minimum, the indestructible germ. It would not
matter a single straw if a Bronte story were a hundred times more
moonstruck and improbable than 'Jane Eyre,' or a hundred times more
moonstruck and improbable than 'Wuthering Heights.' It would not matter
if George Read stood on his head, and Mrs Read rode on a dragon, if
Fairfax Rochester had four eyes and St John Rivers three legs, the story
would still remain the truest story in the world. The typical Bronte
character is, indeed, a kind of monster. Everything in him except the
essential is dislocated. His hands are on his legs and his feet on his
arms, his nose is above his eyes, but his heart is in the right place.

The great and abiding truth for which the Bronte cycle of fiction stands
is a certain most important truth about the enduring spirit of youth,
the truth of the near kinship between terror and joy. The Bronte
heroine, dingily dressed, badly educated, hampered by a humiliating
inexperience, a kind of ugly innocence, is yet, by the very fact of her
solitude and her gaucherie, full of the greatest delight that is
possible to a human being, the delight of expectation, the delight of an
ardent and flamboyant ignorance. She serves to show how futile it is of
humanity to suppose that pleasure can be attained chiefly by putting on
evening dress every evening, and having a box at the theatre every first
night. It is not the man of pleasure who has pleasure; it is not the man
of the world who appreciates the world. The man who has learnt to do all
conventional things perfectly has at the same time learnt to do them
prosaically. It is the awkward man, whose evening dress does not fit
him, whose gloves will not go on, whose compliments will not come off,
who is really full of the ancient ecstasies of youth. He is frightened
enough of society actually to enjoy his triumphs. He has that element
of fear which is one of the eternal ingredients of joy. This spirit is
the central spirit of the Bronte novel. It is the epic of the
exhilaration of the shy man. As such it is of incalculable value in our
time, of which the curse is that it does not take joy reverently because
it does not take it fearfully. The shabby and inconspicuous governess of
Charlotte Bronte, with the small outlook and the small creed, had more
commerce with the awful and elemental forces which drive the world than
a legion of lawless minor poets. She approached the universe with real
simplicity, and, consequently, with real fear and delight. She was, so
to speak, shy before the multitude of the stars, and in this she had
possessed herself of the only force which can prevent enjoyment being
as black and barren as routine. The faculty of being shy is the first
and the most delicate of the powers of enjoyment. The fear of the Lord
is the beginning of pleasure.

Upon the whole, therefore, I think it may justifiably be said that the
dark wild youth of the Brontes in their dark wild Yorkshire home has
been somewhat exaggerated as a necessary factor in their work and their
conception. The emotions with which they dealt were universal emotions,
emotions of the morning of existence, the springtide joy and the
springtide terror. Every one of us as a boy or girl has had some
midnight dream of nameless obstacle and unutterable menace, in which
there was, under whatever imbecile forms, all the deadly stress and
panic of 'Wuthering Heights.' Every one of us has had a day-dream of our
own potential destiny not one atom more reasonable than 'Jane Eyre.' And
the truth which the Brontes came to tell us is the truth that many
waters cannot quench love, and that suburban respectability cannot touch
or damp a secret enthusiasm. Clapham, like every other earthly city, is
built upon a volcano. Thousands of people go to and fro in the
wilderness of bricks and mortar, earning mean wages, professing a mean
religion, wearing a mean attire, thousands of women who have never found
any expression for their exaltation or their tragedy but to go on
working harder and yet harder at dull and automatic employments, at
scolding children or stitching shirts. But out of all these silent ones
one suddenly became articulate, and spoke a resonant testimony, and her
name was Charlotte Bronte. Spreading around us upon every side to-day
like a huge and radiating geometrical figure are the endless branches of
the great city. There are times when we are almost stricken crazy, as
well we may be, by the multiplicity of those appalling perspectives, the
frantic arithmetic of that unthinkable population. But this thought of
ours is in truth nothing but a fancy. There are no chains of houses;
there are no crowds of men. The colossal diagram of streets and houses
is an illusion, the opium dream of a speculative builder. Each of these
men is supremely solitary and supremely important to himself. Each of
these houses stands in the centre of the world. There is no single
house of all those millions which has not seemed to some one at some
time the heart of all things and the end of travel.


It is proper enough that the unveiling of the bust of William Morris
should approximate to a public festival, for while there have been many
men of genius in the Victorian era more despotic than he, there have
been none so representative. He represents not only that rapacious
hunger for beauty which has now for the first time become a serious
problem in the healthy life of humanity, but he represents also that
honourable instinct for finding beauty in common necessities of
workmanship which gives it a stronger and more bony structure. The time
has passed when William Morris was conceived to be irrelevant to be
described as a designer of wall-papers. If Morris had been a hatter
instead of a decorator, we should have become gradually and painfully
conscious of an improvement in our hats. If he had been a tailor, we
should have suddenly found our frock-coats trailing on the ground with
the grandeur of mediaeval raiment. If he had been a shoemaker, we should
have found, with no little consternation, our shoes gradually
approximating to the antique sandal. As a hairdresser, he would have
invented some massing of the hair worthy to be the crown of Venus; as an
ironmonger, his nails would have had some noble pattern, fit to be the
nails of the Cross. The limitations of William Morris, whatever they
were, were not the limitations of common decoration. It is true that all
his work, even his literary work, was in some sense decorative, had in
some degree the qualities of a splendid wall-paper. His characters, his
stories, his religious and political views, had, in the most emphatic
sense, length and breadth without thickness. He seemed really to believe
that men could enjoy a perfectly flat felicity. He made no account of
the unexplored and explosive possibilities of human nature, of the
unnameable terrors, and the yet more unnameable hopes. So long as a man
was graceful in every circumstance, so long as he had the inspiring
consciousness that the chestnut colour of his hair was relieved against
the blue forest a mile behind, he would be serenely happy. So he would
be, no doubt, if he were really fitted for a decorative existence; if he
were a piece of exquisitely coloured cardboard.

But although Morris took little account of the terrible solidity of
human nature--took little account, so to speak, of human figures in the
round, it is altogether unfair to represent him as a mere aesthete. He
perceived a great public necessity and fulfilled it heroically. The
difficulty with which he grappled was one so immense that we shall have
to be separated from it by many centuries before we can really judge of
it. It was the problem of the elaborate and deliberate ugliness of the
most self-conscious of centuries. Morris at least saw the absurdity of
the thing. He felt that it was monstrous that the modern man, who was
pre-eminently capable of realising the strangest and most contradictory
beauties, who could feel at once the fiery aureole of the ascetic, and
the colossal calm of the Hellenic god, should himself, by a farcical
bathos, be buried in a black coat, and hidden under a chimney-pot hat.
He could not see why the harmless man who desired to be an artist in
raiment should be condemned to be, at best, a black and white artist. It
is indeed difficult to account for the clinging curse of ugliness which
blights everything brought forth by the most prosperous of centuries. In
all created nature there is not, perhaps, anything so completely ugly as
a pillar-box. Its shape is the most unmeaning of shapes, its height and
thickness just neutralising each other; its colour is the most
repulsive of colours--a fat and soulless red, a red without a touch of
blood or fire, like the scarlet of dead men's sins. Yet there is no
reason whatever why such hideousness should possess an object full of
civic dignity, the treasure-house of a thousand secrets, the fortress of
a thousand souls. If the old Greeks had had such an institution, we may
be sure that it would have been surmounted by the severe, but graceful,
figure of the god of letter-writing. If the mediaeval Christians had
possessed it, it would have had a niche filled with the golden aureole
of St Rowland of the Postage Stamps. As it is, there it stands at all
our street-corners, disguising one of the most beautiful of ideas under
one of the most preposterous of forms. It is useless to deny that the
miracles of science have not been such an incentive to art and
imagination as were the miracles of religion. If men in the twelfth
century had been told that the lightning had been driven for leagues
underground, and had dragged at its destroying tail loads of laughing
human beings, and if they had then been told that the people alluded to
this pulverising portent chirpily as 'The Twopenny Tube,' they would
have called down the fire of Heaven on us as a race of half-witted
atheists. Probably they would have been quite right.

This clear and fine perception of what may be called the anaesthetic
element in the Victorian era was, undoubtedly, the work of a great
reformer: it requires a fine effort of the imagination to see an evil
that surrounds us on every side. The manner in which Morris carried out
his crusade may, considering the circumstances, be called triumphant.
Our carpets began to bloom under our feet like the meadows in spring,
and our hitherto prosaic stools and sofas seemed growing legs and arms
at their own wild will. An element of freedom and rugged dignity came in
with plain and strong ornaments of copper and iron. So delicate and
universal has been the revolution in domestic art that almost every
family in England has had its taste cunningly and treacherously
improved, and if we look back at the early Victorian drawing-rooms it is
only to realise the strange but essential truth that art, or human
decoration, has, nine times out of ten in history, made things uglier
than they were before, from the 'coiffure' of a Papuan savage to the
wall-paper of a British merchant in 1830.

But great and beneficent as was the aesthetic revolution of Morris, there
was a very definite limit to it. It did not lie only in the fact that
his revolution was in truth a reaction, though this was a partial
explanation of his partial failure. When he was denouncing the dresses
of modern ladies, 'upholstered like arm-chairs instead of being draped
like women,' as he forcibly expressed it, he would hold up for practical
imitation the costumes and handicrafts of the Middle Ages. Further than
this retrogressive and imitative movement he never seemed to go. Now,
the men of the time of Chaucer had many evil qualities, but there was at
least one exhibition of moral weakness they did not give. They would
have laughed at the idea of dressing themselves in the manner of the
bowmen at the battle of Senlac, or painting themselves an aesthetic blue,
after the custom of the ancient Britons. They would not have called that
a movement at all. Whatever was beautiful in their dress or manners
sprang honestly and naturally out of the life they led and preferred to
lead. And it may surely be maintained that any real advance in the
beauty of modern dress must spring honestly and naturally out of the
life we lead and prefer to lead. We are not altogether without hints and
hopes of such a change, in the growing orthodoxy of rough and athletic
costumes. But if this cannot be, it will be no substitute or
satisfaction to turn life into an interminable historical fancy-dress
ball. But the limitation of Morris's work lay deeper than this. We may
best suggest it by a method after his own heart. Of all the various
works he performed, none, perhaps, was so splendidly and solidly
valuable as his great protest for the fables and superstitions of
mankind. He has the supreme credit of showing that the fairy-tales
contain the deepest truth of the earth, the real record of men's feeling
for things. Trifling details may be inaccurate, Jack may not have
climbed up so tall a beanstalk, or killed so tall a giant; but it is not
such things that make a story false; it is a far different class of
things that makes every modern book of history as false as the father of
lies; ingenuity, self-consciousness, hypocritical impartiality. It
appears to us that of all the fairy-tales none contains so vital a
moral truth as the old story, existing in many forms, of Beauty and the
Beast. There is written, with all the authority of a human scripture,
the eternal and essential truth that until we love a thing in all its
ugliness we cannot make it beautiful. This was the weak point in William
Morris as a reformer: that he sought to reform modern life, and that he
hated modern life instead of loving it. Modern London is indeed a beast,
big enough and black enough to be the beast in Apocalypse, blazing with
a million eyes, and roaring with a million voices. But unless the poet
can love this fabulous monster as he is, can feel with some generous
excitement his massive and mysterious 'joie-de-vivre,' the vast scale of
his iron anatomy and the beating of his thunderous heart, he cannot and
will not change the beast into the fairy prince. Morris's disadvantage
was that he was not honestly a child of the nineteenth century: he could
not understand its fascination, and consequently he could not really
develop it. An abiding testimony to his tremendous personal influence in
the aesthetic world is the vitality and recurrence of the Arts and Crafts
Exhibitions, which are steeped in his personality like a chapel in that
of a saint. If we look round at the exhibits in one of these aesthetic
shows, we shall be struck by the large mass of modern objects that the
decorative school leaves untouched. There is a noble instinct for giving
the right touch of beauty to common and necessary things, but the things
that are so touched are the ancient things, the things that always to
some extent commended themselves to the lover of beauty. There are
beautiful gates, beautiful fountains, beautiful cups, beautiful chairs,
beautiful reading-desks. But there are no modern things made beautiful.
There are no beautiful lamp-posts, beautiful letter-boxes, beautiful
engines, beautiful bicycles. The spirit of William Morris has not seized
hold of the century and made its humblest necessities beautiful. And
this was because, with all his healthiness and energy, he had not the
supreme courage to face the ugliness of things; Beauty shrank from the
Beast and the fairy-tale had a different ending.

But herein, indeed, lay Morris's deepest claim to the name of a great
reformer: that he left his work incomplete. There is, perhaps, no better
proof that a man is a mere meteor, merely barren and brilliant, than
that his work is done perfectly. A man like Morris draws attention to
needs he cannot supply. In after-years we may have perhaps a newer and
more daring Arts and Crafts Exhibition. In it we shall not decorate the
armour of the twelfth century but the machinery of the twentieth. A
lamp-post shall be wrought nobly in twisted iron, fit to hold the
sanctity of fire. A pillar-box shall be carved with figures emblematical
of the secrets of comradeship and the silence and honour of the State.
Railway signals, of all earthly things the most poetical, the coloured
stars of life and death, shall be lamps of green and crimson worthy of
their terrible and faithful service. But if ever this gradual and
genuine movement of our time towards beauty--not backwards, but
forwards--does truly come about, Morris will be the first prophet of it.
Poet of the childhood of nations, craftsman in the new honesties of art,
prophet of a merrier and wiser life, his full-blooded enthusiasm will be
remembered when human life has once more assumed flamboyant colours and
proved that this painful greenish grey of the aesthetic twilight in which
we now live is, in spite of all the pessimists, not of the greyness of
death, but the greyness of dawn.


Everything is against our appreciating the spirit and the age of Byron.
The age that has just passed from us is always like a dream when we wake
in the morning, a thing incredible and centuries away. And the world of
Byron seems a sad and faded world, a weird and inhuman world, where men
were romantic in whiskers, ladies lived, apparently, in bowers, and the
very word has the sound of a piece of stage scenery. Roses and
nightingales recur in their poetry with the monotonous elegance of a
wall-paper pattern. The whole is like a revel of dead men, a revel with
splendid vesture and half-witted faces.

But the more shrewdly and earnestly we study the histories of men, the
less ready shall we be to make use of the word "artificial." Nothing in
the world has ever been artificial. Many customs, many dresses, many
works of art are branded with artificiality because they exhibit vanity
and self-consciousness: as if vanity were not a deep and elemental
thing, like love and hate and the fear of death. Vanity may be found in
darkling deserts, in the hermit and in the wild beasts that crawl around
him. It may be good or evil, but assuredly it is not artificial: vanity
is a voice out of the abyss.

The remarkable fact is, however, and it bears strongly on the present
position of Byron, that when a thing is unfamiliar to us, when it is
remote and the product of some other age or spirit, we think it not
savage or terrible, but merely artificial. There are many instances of
this: a fair one is the case of tropical plants and birds. When we see
some of the monstrous and flamboyant blossoms that enrich the equatorial
woods, we do not feel that they are conflagrations of nature; silent
explosions of her frightful energy. We simply find it hard to believe
that they are not wax flowers grown under a glass case. When we see some
of the tropic birds, with their tiny bodies attached to gigantic beaks,
we do not feel that they are freaks of the fierce humour of Creation. We
almost believe that they are toys out of a child's play-box,
artificially carved and artificially coloured. So it is with the great
convulsion of Nature which was known as Byronism. The volcano is not an
extinct volcano now; it is the dead stick of a rocket. It is the remains
not of a natural but of an artificial fire.

But Byron and Byronism were something immeasurably greater than anything
that is represented by such a view as this: their real value and meaning
are indeed little understood. The first of the mistakes about Byron lies
in the fact that he is treated as a pessimist. True, he treated himself
as such, but a critic can hardly have even a slight knowledge of Byron
without knowing that he had the smallest amount of knowledge of himself
that ever fell to the lot of an intelligent man. The real character of
what is known as Byron's pessimism is better worth study than any real
pessimism could ever be.

It is the standing peculiarity of this curious world of ours that almost
everything in it has been extolled enthusiastically and invariably
extolled to the disadvantage of everything else.

One after another almost every one of the phenomena of the universe has
been declared to be alone capable of making life worth living. Books,
love, business, religion, alcohol, abstract truth, private emotion,
money, simplicity, mysticism, hard work, a life close to nature, a life
close to Belgrave Square are every one of them passionately maintained
by somebody to be so good that they redeem the evil of an otherwise
indefensible world. Thus while the world is almost always condemned in
summary, it is always justified, and indeed extolled, in detail after

Existence has been praised and absolved by a chorus of pessimists. The
work of giving thanks to Heaven is, as it were, divided ingeniously
among them. Schopenhauer is told off as a kind of librarian in the House
of God, to sing the praises of the austere pleasures of the mind.
Carlyle, as steward, undertakes the working department and eulogises a
life of labour in the fields. Omar Khayyam is established in the cellar
and swears that it is the only room in the house. Even the blackest of
pessimistic artists enjoys his art. At the precise moment that he has
written some shameless and terrible indictment of Creation, his one pang
of joy in the achievement joins the universal chorus of gratitude, with
the scent of the wild flower and the song of the bird.

Now Byron had a sensational popularity, and that popularity was, as far
as words and explanations go, founded upon his pessimism. He was adored
by an overwhelming majority, almost every individual of which despised
the majority of mankind. But when we come to regard the matter a little
more deeply we tend in some degree to cease to believe in this
popularity of the pessimist. The popularity of pure and unadulterated
pessimism is an oddity; it is almost a contradiction in terms. Men would
no more receive the news of the failure of existence or of the
harmonious hostility of the stars with ardour or popular rejoicing than
they would light bonfires for the arrival of cholera or dance a
breakdown when they were condemned to be hanged. When the pessimist is
popular it must always be not because he shows all things to be bad, but
because he shows some things to be good. Men can only join in a chorus
of praise even if it is the praise of denunciation. The man who is
popular must be optimistic about something even if he is only optimistic
about pessimism. And this was emphatically the case with Byron and the
Byronists. Their real popularity was founded not upon the fact that they
blamed everything, but upon the fact that they praised something. They
heaped curses upon man, but they used man merely as a foil. The things
they wished to praise by comparison were the energies of Nature. Man was
to them what talk and fashion were to Carlyle, what philosophical and
religious quarrels were to Omar, what the whole race after practical
happiness was to Schopenhauer, the thing which must be censured in order
that somebody else may be exalted. It was merely a recognition of the
fact that one cannot write in white chalk except on a blackboard.

Surely it is ridiculous to maintain seriously that Byron's love of the
desolate and inhuman in nature was the mark of vital scepticism and
depression. When a young man can elect deliberately to walk alone in
winter by the side of the shattering sea, when he takes pleasure in
storms and stricken peaks, and the lawless melancholy of the older
earth, we may deduce with the certainty of logic that he is very young
and very happy. There is a certain darkness which we see in wine when
seen in shadow; we see it again in the night that has just buried a
gorgeous sunset. The wine seems black, and yet at the same time
powerfully and almost impossibly red; the sky seems black, and yet at
the same time to be only too dense a blend of purple and green. Such was
the darkness which lay around the Byronic school. Darkness with them was
only too dense a purple. They would prefer the sullen hostility of the
earth because amid all the cold and darkness their own hearts were
flaming like their own firesides.

Matters are very different with the more modern school of doubt and
lamentation. The last movement of pessimism is perhaps expressed in Mr
Aubrey Beardsley's allegorical designs. Here we have to deal with a
pessimism which tends naturally not towards the oldest elements of the
cosmos, but towards the last and most fantastic fripperies of artificial
life. Byronism tended towards the desert; the new pessimism towards the
restaurant. Byronism was a revolt against artificiality; the new
pessimism is a revolt in its favour. The Byronic young man had an
affectation of sincerity; the decadent, going a step deeper into the
avenues of the unreal, has positively an affectation of affectation. And
it is by their fopperies and their frivolities that we know that their
sinister philosophy is sincere; in their lights and garlands and ribbons
we read their indwelling despair. It was so, indeed, with Byron himself;
his really bitter moments were his frivolous moments. He went on year
after year calling down fire upon mankind, summoning the deluge and the
destructive sea and all the ultimate energies of nature to sweep away
the cities of the spawn of man. But through all this his sub-conscious
mind was not that of a despairer; on the contrary, there is something of
a kind of lawless faith in thus parleying with such immense and
immemorial brutalities. It was not until the time in which he wrote 'Don
Juan' that he really lost this inward warmth and geniality, and a sudden
shout of hilarious laughter announced to the world that Lord Byron had
really become a pessimist.

One of the best tests in the world of what a poet really means is his
metre. He may be a hypocrite in his metaphysics, but he cannot be a
hypocrite in his prosody. And all the time that Byron's language is of
horror and emptiness, his metre is a bounding 'pas de quatre.' He may
arraign existence on the most deadly charges, he may condemn it with the
most desolating verdict, but he cannot alter the fact that on some walk
in a spring morning when all the limbs are swinging and all the blood
alive in the body, the lips may be caught repeating:

'Oh, there's not a joy the world can give like that it takes away,
When the glow of early youth declines in beauty's dull decay;
'Tis not upon the cheek of youth the blush that fades so fast,
But the tender bloom of heart is gone ere youth itself be past.'

That automatic recitation is the answer to the whole pessimism of Byron.

The truth is that Byron was one of a class who may be called the
unconscious optimists, who are very often, indeed, the most
uncompromising conscious pessimists, because the exuberance of their
nature demands for an adversary a dragon as big as the world. But the
whole of his essential and unconscious being was spirited and confident,
and that unconscious being, long disguised and buried under emotional
artifices, suddenly sprang into prominence in the face of a cold, hard,
political necessity. In Greece he heard the cry of reality, and at the
time that he was dying, he began to live. He heard suddenly the call of
that buried and sub-conscious happiness which is in all of us, and which
may emerge suddenly at the sight of the grass of a meadow or the spears
of the enemy.


The general critical theory common in this and the last century is that
it was very easy for the imitators of Pope to write English poetry. The
classical couplet was a thing that anyone could do. So far as that goes,
one may justifiably answer by asking any one to try. It may be easier
really to have wit, than really, in the boldest and most enduring sense,
to have imagination. But it is immeasurably easier to pretend to have
imagination than to pretend to have wit. A man may indulge in a sham
rhapsody, because it may be the triumph of a rhapsody to be
unintelligible. But a man cannot indulge in a sham joke, because it is
the ruin of a joke to be unintelligible. A man may pretend to be a poet:
he can no more pretend to be a wit than he can pretend to bring rabbits
out of a hat without having learnt to be a conjuror. Therefore, it may
be submitted, there was a certain discipline in the old antithetical
couplet of Pope and his followers. If it did not permit of the great
liberty of wisdom used by the minority of great geniuses, neither did it
permit of the great liberty of folly which is used by the majority of
small writers. A prophet could not be a poet in those days, perhaps, but
at least a fool could not be a poet. If we take, for the sake of
example, such a line as Pope's

'Damn with faint praise, assent with civil leer,'

the test is comparatively simple. A great poet would not have written
such a line, perhaps. But a minor poet could not.

Supposing that a lyric poet of the new school really had to deal with
such an idea as that expressed in Pope's line about Man:

'A being darkly wise and rudely great.'

Is it really so certain that he would go deeper into the matter than
that old antithetical jingle goes? I venture to doubt whether he would
really be any wiser or weirder or more imaginative or more profound. The
one thing that he would really be, would be longer. Instead of writing

'A being darkly wise and rudely great,'

the contemporary poet, in his elaborately ornamented book of verses,
would produce something like the following:--

'A creature
Of feature
More dark, more dark, more dark than skies,
Yea, darkly wise, yea, darkly wise:
Darkly wise as a formless fate
And if he be great
If he be great, then rudely great,
Rudely great as a plough that plies,
And darkly wise, and darkly wise.'

Have we really learnt to think more broadly? Or have we only learnt to
spread our thoughts thinner? I have a dark suspicion that a modern poet
might manufacture an admirable lyric out of almost every line of Pope.

There is, of course, an idea in our time that the very antithesis of
the typical line of Pope is a mark of artificiality. I shall have
occasion more than once to point out that nothing in the world has ever
been artificial. But certainly antithesis is not artificial. An element
of paradox runs through the whole of existence itself. It begins in the
realm of ultimate physics and metaphysics, in the two facts that we
cannot imagine a space that is infinite, and that we cannot imagine a
space that is finite. It runs through the inmost complications of
divinity, in that we cannot conceive that Christ in the wilderness was
truly pure, unless we also conceive that he desired to sin. It runs, in
the same manner, through all the minor matters of morals, so that we
cannot imagine courage existing except in conjunction with fear, or
magnanimity existing except in conjunction with some temptation to
meanness. If Pope and his followers caught this echo of natural
irrationality, they were not any the more artificial. Their antitheses
were fully in harmony with existence, which is itself a contradiction in

Pope was really a great poet; he was the last great poet of
civilisation. Immediately after the fall of him and his school come
Burns and Byron, and the reaction towards the savage and the elemental.
But to Pope civilisation was still an exciting experiment. Its perruques
and ruffles were to him what feathers and bangles are to a South Sea
Islander--the real romance of civilisation. And in all the forms of art
which peculiarly belong to civilisation, he was supreme. In one
especially he was supreme--the great and civilised art of satire. And
in this we have fallen away utterly.

We have had a great revival in our time of the cult of violence and
hostility. Mr Henley and his young men have an infinite number of
furious epithets with which to overwhelm any one who differs from them.
It is not a placid or untroubled position to be Mr Henley's enemy,
though we know that it is certainly safer than to be his friend. And
yet, despite all this, these people produce no satire. Political and
social satire is a lost art, like pottery and stained glass. It may be
worth while to make some attempt to point out a reason for this.

It may seem a singular observation to say that we are not generous
enough to write great satire. This, however, is approximately a very
accurate way of describing the case. To write great satire, to attack a
man so that he feels the attack and half acknowledges its justice, it is
necessary to have a certain intellectual magnanimity which realises the
merits of the opponent as well as his defects. This is, indeed, only
another way of putting the simple truth that in order to attack an army
we must know not only its weak points, but also its strong points.
England in the present season and spirit fails in satire for the same
simple reason that it fails in war: it despises the enemy. In matters of
battle and conquest we have got firmly rooted in our minds the idea (an
idea fit for the philosophers of Bedlam) that we can best trample on a
people by ignoring all the particular merits which give them a chance
of trampling upon us. It has become a breach of etiquette to praise the
enemy; whereas when the enemy is strong every honest scout ought to
praise the enemy. It is impossible to vanquish an army without having a
full account of its strength. It is impossible to satirise a man without
having a full account of his virtues. It is too much the custom in
politics to describe a political opponent as utterly inhumane, as
utterly careless of his country, as utterly cynical, which no man ever
was since the beginning of the world. This kind of invective may often
have a great superficial success: it may hit the mood of the moment; it
may raise excitement and applause; it may impress millions. But there is
one man among all those millions whom it does not impress, whom it
hardly even touches; that is the man against whom it is directed. The
one person for whom the whole satire has been written in vain is the man
whom it is the whole object of the institution of satire to reach. He
knows that such a description of him is not true. He knows that he is
not utterly unpatriotic, or utterly self-seeking, or utterly barbarous
and revengeful. He knows that he is an ordinary man, and that he can
count as many kindly memories, as many humane instincts, as many hours
of decent work and responsibility as any other ordinary man. But behind
all this he has his real weaknesses, the real ironies of his soul:
behind all these ordinary merits lie the mean compromises, the craven
silences, the sullen vanities, the secret brutalities, the unmanly
visions of revenge. It is to these that satire should reach if it is to
touch the man at whom it is aimed. And to reach these it must pass and
salute a whole army of virtues.

If we turn to the great English satirists of the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries, for example, we find that they had this rough but
firm grasp of the size and strength, the value and the best points of
their adversary. Dryden, before hewing Ahitophel in pieces, gives a
splendid and spirited account of the insane valour and inspired cunning
of the

'daring pilot in extremity,'

who was more untrustworthy in calm than in storm, and

'Steered too near the rocks to boast his wit.'

The whole is, so far as it goes, a sound and picturesque version of the
great Shaftesbury. It would, in many ways, serve as a very sound and
picturesque account of Lord Randolph Churchill. But here comes in very
pointedly the difference between our modern attempts at satire and the
ancient achievement of it. The opponents of Lord Randolph Churchill,
both Liberal and Conservative, did not satirise him nobly and honestly,
as one of those great wits to madness near allied. They represented him
as a mere puppy, a silly and irreverent upstart whose impudence supplied
the lack of policy and character. Churchill had grave and even gross
faults, a certain coarseness, a certain hard boyish assertiveness, a
certain lack of magnanimity, a certain peculiar patrician vulgarity. But
he was a much larger man than satire depicted him, and therefore the
satire could not and did not overwhelm him. And here we have the cause
of the failure of contemporary satire, that it has no magnanimity, that
is to say, no patience. It cannot endure to be told that its opponent
has his strong points, just as Mr Chamberlain could not endure to be
told that the Boers had a regular army. It can be content with nothing
except persuading itself that its opponent is utterly bad or utterly
stupid--that is, that he is what he is not and what nobody else is. If
we take any prominent politician of the day--such, for example, as Sir
William Harcourt--we shall find that this is the point in which all
party invective fails. The Tory satire at the expense of Sir William
Harcourt is always desperately endeavouring to represent that he is
inept, that he makes a fool of himself, that he is disagreeable and
disgraceful and untrustworthy. The defect of all this is that we all
know that it is untrue. Everyone knows that Sir William Harcourt is not
inept, but is almost the ablest Parliamentarian now alive. Everyone
knows that he is not disagreeable or disgraceful, but a gentleman of the
old school who is on excellent social terms with his antagonists.
Everyone knows that he is not untrustworthy, but a man of unimpeachable
honour who is much trusted. Above all, he knows it himself, and is
therefore affected by the satire exactly as any one of us would be if we
were accused of being black or of keeping a shop for the receiving of
stolen goods. We might be angry at the libel, but not at the satire; for
a man is angry at a libel because it is false, but at a satire because
it is true.

Mr Henley and his young men are very fond of invective and satire: if
they wish to know the reason of their failure in these things, they need
only turn to the opening of Pope's superb attack upon Addison. The
Henleyite's idea of satirising a man is to express a violent contempt
for him, and by the heat of this to persuade others and himself that the
man is contemptible. I remember reading a satiric attack on Mr Gladstone
by one of the young anarchic Tories, which began by asserting that Mr
Gladstone was a bad public speaker. If these people would, as I have
said, go quietly and read Pope's 'Atticus,' they would see how a great
satirist approaches a great enemy:

'Peace to all such! But were there one whose fires
True genius kindles, and fair fame inspires,
Blest with each talent, and each art to please,
And born to write, converse, and live with ease.
Should such a man--'

And then follows the torrent of that terrible criticism. Pope was not
such a fool as to try to make out that Addison was a fool. He knew that
Addison was not a fool, and he knew that Addison knew it. But hatred, in
Pope's case, had become so great and, I was almost going to say, so
pure, that it illuminated all things, as love illuminates all things. He
said what was really wrong with Addison; and in calm and clear and
everlasting colours he painted the picture of the evil of the literary

'Bear like the Turk, no brother near the throne,
View him with scornful, yet with jealous eyes,
And hate for arts that caused himself to rise.

* * * * *

Like Cato give his little Senate laws,
And sit attentive to his own applause.
While wits and templars every sentence raise,
And wonder with a foolish face of praise.'

This is the kind of thing which really goes to the mark at which it
aims. It is penetrated with sorrow and a kind of reverence, and it is
addressed directly to a man. This is no mock-tournament to gain the
applause of the crowd. It is a deadly duel by the lonely seashore.

In current political materialism there is everywhere the assumption
that, without understanding anything of his case or his merits, we can
benefit a man practically. Without understanding his case and his
merits, we cannot even hurt him.


Asceticism is a thing which in its very nature, we tend in these days to
misunderstand. Asceticism, in the religious sense, is the repudiation of
the great mass of human joys because of the supreme joyfulness of the
one joy, the religious joy. But asceticism is not in the least confined
to religious asceticism: there is scientific asceticism which asserts
that truth is alone satisfying: there is aesthetic asceticism which
asserts that art is alone satisfying: there is amatory asceticism which
asserts that love is alone satisfying. There is even epicurean
asceticism, which asserts that beer and skittles are alone satisfying.
Wherever the manner of praising anything involves the statement that the
speaker could live with that thing alone, there lies the germ and
essence of asceticism. When William Morris, for example, says that 'love
is enough,' it is obvious that he asserts in those words that art,
science, politics, ambition, money, houses, carriages, concerts, gloves,
walking-sticks, door-knockers, railway-stations, cathedrals and any
other things one may choose to tabulate are unnecessary. When Omar
Khayyam says:

'A book of verse beneath the bough
A loaf of bread, a jug of wine and thou
Sitting beside me in the wilderness
O wilderness were Paradise enow.'

It is clear that he speaks fully as much ascetically as he does
aesthetically. He makes a list of things and says that he wants no more.
The same thing was done by a mediaeval monk. Examples might, of course,
be multiplied a hundred-fold. One of the most genuinely poetical of our
younger poets says, as the one thing certain, that

'From quiet home and first beginning
Out to the undiscovered ends--
There's nothing worth the wear of winning
But laughter and the love of friends.'

Here we have a perfect example of the main important fact, that all true
joy expresses itself in terms of asceticism.

But if in any case it should happen that a class or a generation lose
the sense of the peculiar kind of joy which is being celebrated, they
immediately begin to call the enjoyers of that joy gloomy and
self-destroying. The most formidable liberal philosophers have called
the monks melancholy because they denied themselves the pleasures of
liberty and marriage. They might as well call the trippers on a Bank
Holiday melancholy because they deny themselves, as a rule, the
pleasures of silence and meditation. A simpler and stronger example is,
however, to hand. If ever it should happen that the system of English
athletics should vanish from the public schools and the universities, if
science should supply some new and non-competitive manner of perfecting
the physique, if public ethics swung round to an attitude of absolute
contempt and indifference towards the feeling called sport, then it is
easy to see what would happen. Future historians would simply state
that in the dark days of Queen Victoria young men at Oxford and
Cambridge were subjected to a horrible sort of religious torture. They
were forbidden, by fantastic monastic rules, to indulge in wine or
tobacco during certain arbitrarily fixed periods of time, before certain
brutal fights and festivals. Bigots insisted on their rising at
unearthly hours and running violently around fields for no object. Many
men ruined their health in these dens of superstition, many died there.
All this is perfectly true and irrefutable. Athleticism in England is an
asceticism, as much as the monastic rules. Men have over-strained
themselves and killed themselves through English athleticism. There is
one difference and one only: we do feel the love of sport; we do not
feel the love of religious offices. We see only the price in the one
case and only the purchase in the other.

The only question that remains is what was the joy of the old Christian
ascetics of which their ascetism was merely the purchasing price. The
mere possibility of the query is an extraordinary example of the way in
which we miss the main points of human history. We are looking at
humanity too close, and see only the details and not the vast and
dominant features. We look at the rise of Christianity, and conceive it
as a rise of self-abnegation and almost of pessimism. It does not occur
to us that the mere assertion that this raging and confounding universe
is governed by justice and mercy is a piece of staggering optimism fit
to set all men capering. The detail over which these monks went mad with
joy was the universe itself; the only thing really worthy of enjoyment.
The white daylight shone over all the world, the endless forests stood
up in their order. The lightning awoke and the tree fell and the sea
gathered into mountains and the ship went down, and all these
disconnected and meaningless and terrible objects were all part of one
dark and fearful conspiracy of goodness, one merciless scheme of mercy.
That this scheme of Nature was not accurate or well founded is perfectly
tenable, but surely it is not tenable that it was not optimistic. We
insist, however, upon treating this matter tail foremost. We insist that
the ascetics were pessimists because they gave up threescore years and
ten for an eternity of happiness. We forget that the bare proposition
of an eternity of happiness is by its very nature ten thousand times
more optimistic than ten thousand pagan saturnalias.

Mr Adderley's life of Francis of Assisi does not, of course, bring this
out; nor does it fully bring out the character of Francis. It has rather
the tone of a devotional book. A devotional book is an excellent thing,
but we do not look in it for the portrait of a man, for the same reason
that we do not look in a love-sonnet for the portrait of a woman,
because men in such conditions of mind not only apply all virtues to
their idol, but all virtues in equal quantities. There is no outline,
because the artist cannot bear to put in a black line. This blaze of
benediction, this conflict between lights, has its place in poetry, not
in biography. The successful examples of it may be found, for instance,
in the more idealistic odes of Spenser. The design is sometimes almost
indecipherable, for the poet draws in silver upon white.

It is natural, of course, that Mr Adderley should see Francis primarily
as the founder of the Franciscan Order. We suspect this was only one,
perhaps a minor one, of the things that he was; we suspect that one of
the minor things that Christ did was to found Christianity. But the vast
practical work of Francis is assuredly not to be ignored, for this
amazingly unworldly and almost maddeningly simple--minded infant was one
of the most consistently successful men that ever fought with this
bitter world. It is the custom to say that the secret of such men is
their profound belief in themselves, and this is true, but not all the
truth. Workhouses and lunatic asylums are thronged with men who believe
in themselves. Of Francis it is far truer to say that the secret of his
success was his profound belief in other people, and it is the lack of
this that has commonly been the curse of these obscure Napoleons.
Francis always assumed that everyone must be just as anxious about their
common relative, the water-rat, as he was. He planned a visit to the
Emperor to draw his attention to the needs of 'his little sisters the
larks.' He used to talk to any thieves and robbers he met about their
misfortune in being unable to give rein to their desire for holiness. It
was an innocent habit, and doubtless the robbers often 'got round him,'
as the phrase goes. Quite as often, however, they discovered that he had
'got round' them, and discovered the other side, the side of secret

Conceiving of St Francis as primarily the founder of the Franciscan
Order, Mr Adderley opens his narrative with an admirable sketch of the
history of Monasticism in Europe, which is certainly the best thing in
the book. He distinguishes clearly and fairly between the Manichaean
ideal that underlies so much of Eastern Monasticism and the ideal of
self-discipline which never wholly vanished from the Christian form. But
he does not throw any light on what must be for the outsider the
absorbing problem of this Catholic asceticism, for the excellent reason
that not being an outsider he does not find it a problem at all.

To most people, however, there is a fascinating inconsistency in the
position of St Francis. He expressed in loftier and bolder language than
any earthly thinker the conception that laughter is as divine as tears.
He called his monks the mountebanks of God. He never forgot to take
pleasure in a bird as it flashed past him, or a drop of water as it fell
from his finger: he was, perhaps, the happiest of the sons of men. Yet
this man undoubtedly founded his whole polity on the negation of what we
think the most imperious necessities; in his three vows of poverty,
chastity, and obedience, he denied to himself and those he loved most,
property, love, and liberty. Why was it that the most large-hearted and
poetic spirits in that age found their most congenial atmosphere in
these awful renunciations? Why did he who loved where all men were
blind, seek to blind himself where all men loved? Why was he a monk, and
not a troubadour? These questions are far too large to be answered fully
here, but in any life of Francis they ought at least to have been asked;
we have a suspicion that if they were answered we should suddenly find
that much of the enigma of this sullen time of ours was answered also.
So it was with the monks. The two great parties in human affairs are
only the party which sees life black against white, and the party which
sees it white against black, the party which macerates and blackens
itself with sacrifice because the background is full of the blaze of an
universal mercy, and the party which crowns itself with flowers and
lights itself with bridal torches because it stands against a black
curtain of incalculable night. The revellers are old, and the monks are
young. It was the monks who were the spendthrifts of happiness, and we
who are its misers.

Doubtless, as is apparent from Mr Adderley's book, the clear and
tranquil life of the Three Vows had a fine and delicate effect on the
genius of Francis. He was primarily a poet. The perfection of his
literary instinct is shown in his naming the fire 'brother,' and the
water 'sister,' in the quaint demagogic dexterity of the appeal in the
sermon to the fishes 'that they alone were saved in the Flood.' In the
amazingly minute and graphic dramatisation of the life, disappointments
and excuses of any shrub or beast that he happened to be addressing,
his genius has a curious resemblance to that of Burns. But if he avoided
the weakness of Burns' verses to animals, the occasional morbidity,
bombast and moralisation on himself, the credit is surely due to a
cleaner and more transparent life.

The general attitude of St Francis, like that of his Master, embodied a
kind of terrible common-sense. The famous remark of the Caterpillar in
'Alice in Wonderland'--'Why not?' impresses us as his general motto. He
could not see why he should not be on good terms with all things. The
pomp of war and ambition, the great empire of the Middle Ages and all
its fellows begin to look tawdry and top-heavy, under the rationality of
that innocent stare. His questions were blasting and devastating, like
the questions of a child. He would not have been afraid even of the
nightmares of cosmogony, for he had no fear in him. To him the world was
small, not because he had any views as to its size, but for the reason
that gossiping ladies find it small, because so many relatives were to
be found in it. If you had taken him to the loneliest star that the
madness of an astronomer can conceive, he would have only beheld in it
the features of a new friend.


When 'Cyrano de Bergerac' was published, it bore the subordinate title
of a heroic comedy. We have no tradition in English literature which
would justify us in calling a comedy heroic, though there was once a
poet who called a comedy divine. By the current modern conception, the
hero has his place in a tragedy, and the one kind of strength which is
systematically denied to him is the strength to succeed. That the power
of a man's spirit might possibly go to the length of turning a tragedy
into a comedy is not admitted; nevertheless, almost all the primitive
legends of the world are comedies, not only in the sense that they have
a happy ending, but in the sense that they are based upon a certain
optimistic assumption that the hero is destined to be the destroyer of
the monster. Singularly enough, this modern idea of the essential
disastrous character of life, when seriously considered, connects itself
with a hyper-aesthetic view of tragedy and comedy which is largely due to
the influence of modern France, from which the great heroic comedies of
Monsieur Rostand have come. The French genius has an instinct for
remedying its own evil work, and France gives always the best cure for
'Frenchiness.' The idea of comedy which is held in England by the school
which pays most attention to the technical niceties of art is a view
which renders such an idea as that of heroic comedy quite impossible.
The fundamental conception in the minds of the majority of our younger
writers is that comedy is, 'par excellence,' a fragile thing. It is
conceived to be a conventional world of the most absolutely delicate and
gimcrack description. Such stories as Mr Max Beerbohm's 'Happy
Hypocrite' are conceptions which would vanish or fall into utter
nonsense if viewed by one single degree too seriously. But great comedy,
the comedy of Shakespeare or Sterne, not only can be, but must be, taken
seriously. There is nothing to which a man must give himself up with
more faith and self-abandonment than to genuine laughter. In such
comedies one laughs with the heroes and not at them. The humour which
steeps the stories of Falstaff and Uncle Toby is a cosmic and
philosophic humour, a geniality which goes down to the depths. It is not
superficial reading, it is not even, strictly speaking, light reading.
Our sympathies are as much committed to the characters as if they were
the predestined victims in a Greek tragedy. The modern writer of
comedies may be said to boast of the brittleness of his characters. He
seems always on the eve of knocking his puppets to pieces. When John
Oliver Hobbes wrote for the first time a comedy of serious emotions, she
named it, with a thinly-disguised contempt for her own work, 'A
Sentimental Comedy.' The ground of this conception of the artificiality
of comedy is a profound pessimism. Life in the eyes of these mournful
buffoons is itself an utterly tragic thing; comedy must be as hollow as
a grinning mask. It is a refuge from the world, and not even, properly
speaking, a part of it. Their wit is a thin sheet of shining ice over
the eternal waters of bitterness.

'Cyrano de Bergerac' came to us as the new decoration of an old truth,
that merriment was one of the world's natural flowers, and not one of
its exotics. The gigantesque levity, the flamboyant eloquence, the
Rabelaisian puns and digressions were seen to be once more what they had
been in Rabelais, the mere outbursts of a human sympathy and bravado as
old and solid as the stars. The human spirit demanded wit as headlong
and haughty as its will. All was expressed in the words of Cyrano at
his highest moment of happiness. 'Il me faut des geants.' An essential
aspect of this question of heroic comedy is the question of drama in
rhyme. There is nothing that affords so easy a point of attack for the
dramatic realist as the conduct of a play in verse. According to his
canons, it is indeed absurd to represent a number of characters facing
some terrible crisis in their lives by capping rhymes like a party
playing 'bouts rimes.' In his eyes it must appear somewhat ridiculous
that two enemies taunting each other with insupportable insults should
obligingly provide each other with metrical spacing and neat and
convenient rhymes. But the whole of this view rests finally upon the
fact that few persons, if any, to-day understand what is meant by a
poetical play. It is a singular thing that those poetical plays which
are now written in England by the most advanced students of the drama
follow exclusively the lines of Maeterlinck, and use verse and rhyme for
the adornment of a profoundly tragic theme. But rhyme has a supreme
appropriateness for the treatment of the higher comedy. The land of
heroic comedy is, as it were, a paradise of lovers, in which it is not
difficult to imagine that men could talk poetry all day long. It is far
more conceivable that men's speech should flower naturally into these
harmonious forms, when they are filled with the essential spirit of
youth, than when they are sitting gloomily in the presence of immemorial
destiny. The great error consists in supposing that poetry is an
unnatural form of language. We should all like to speak poetry at the
moment when we truly live, and if we do not speak it, it is because we
have an impediment in our speech. It is not song that is the narrow or
artificial thing, it is conversation that is a broken and stammering
attempt at song. When we see men in a spiritual extravaganza, like
Cyrano de Bergerac, speaking in rhyme, it is not our language disguised
or distorted, but our language rounded and made whole. Rhymes answer
each other as the sexes in flowers and in humanity answer each other.
Men do not speak so, it is true. Even when they are inspired or in love
they talk inanities. But the poetic comedy does not misrepresent the
speech one half so much, as the speech misrepresents the soul. Monsieur
Rostand showed even more than his usual insight when he called 'Cyrano
de Bergerac' a comedy, despite the fact that, strictly speaking, it ends
with disappointment and death. The essence of tragedy is a spiritual
breakdown or decline, and in the great French play the spiritual
sentiment mounts unceasingly until the last line. It is not the facts
themselves, but our feeling about them, that makes tragedy and comedy,
and death is more joyful in Rostand than life in Maeterlinck. The same
apparent contradiction holds good in the case of the drama of
'L'Aiglon,' now being performed with so much success. Although the hero
is a weakling, the subject a fiasco, the end a premature death and a
personal disillusionment, yet, in spite of this theme, which might have
been chosen for its depressing qualities, the unconquerable paean of the
praise of things, the ungovernable gaiety of the poet's song swells so
high that at the end it seems to drown all the weak voices of the
characters in one crashing chorus of great things and great men. A
multitude of mottoes might be taken from the play to indicate and
illustrate, not only its own spirit, but much of the spirit of modern
life. When in the vision of the field of Wagram the horrible voices of
the wounded cry out, 'Les corbeaux, les corbeaux,' the Duke, overwhelmed
with a nightmare of hideous trivialities, cries out, 'Ou, ou sont les
aigles?' That antithesis might stand alone as an invocation at the
beginning of the twentieth century to the spirit of heroic comedy. When
an ex-General of Napoleon is asked his reason for having betrayed the
Emperor, he replies, 'La fatigue,' and at that a veteran private of the
Great Army rushes forward, and crying passionately, 'Et nous?' pours out
a terrible description of the life lived by the common soldier. To-day
when pessimism is almost as much a symbol of wealth and fashion as
jewels or cigars, when the pampered heirs of the ages can sum up life in
few other words but 'la fatigue,' there might surely come a cry from the
vast mass of common humanity from the beginning 'et nous?' It is this
potentiality for enthusiasm among the mass of men that makes the
function of comedy at once common and sublime. Shakespeare's 'Much Ado
about Nothing' is a great comedy, because behind it is the whole
pressure of that love of love which is the youth of the world, which is
common to all the young, especially to those who swear they will die
bachelors and old maids. 'Love's Labour Lost' is filled with the same
energy, and there it falls even more definitely into the scope of our
subject since it is a comedy in rhyme in which all men speak lyrically
as naturally as the birds sing in pairing time. What the love of love is
to the Shakespearian comedies, that other and more mysterious human
passion, the love of death, is to 'L'Aiglon.' Whether we shall ever have
in England a new tradition of poetic comedy it is difficult at present
to say, but we shall assuredly never have it until we realise that
comedy is built upon everlasting foundations in the nature of things,
that it is not a thing too light to capture, but too deep to plumb.
Monsieur Rostand, in his description of the Battle of Wagram, does not
shrink from bringing about the Duke's ears the frightful voices of
actual battle, of men torn by crows, and suffocated with blood, but when
the Duke, terrified at these dreadful appeals, asks them for their final
word, they all cry together 'Vive l'Empereur!' Monsieur Rostand,
perhaps, did not know that he was writing an allegory. To me that field
of Wagram is the field of the modern war of literature. We hear nothing
but the voices of pain; the whole is one phonograph of horror. It is
right that we should hear these things, it is right that not one of them
should be silenced; but these cries of distress are not in life as they
are in modern art the only voices, they are the voices of men, but not
the voice of man. When questioned finally and seriously as to their
conception of their destiny, men have from the beginning of time
answered in a thousand philosophies and religions with a single voice
and in a sense most sacred and tremendous, 'Vive l'Empereur.'


There are a great many bonds which still connect us with Charles II.,
one of the idlest men of one of the idlest epochs. Among other things
Charles II. represented one thing which is very rare and very
satisfying; he was a real and consistent sceptic. Scepticism both in its
advantages and disadvantages is greatly misunderstood in our time. There
is a curious idea abroad that scepticism has some connection with such
theories as materialism and atheism and secularism. This is of course a
mistake; the true sceptic has nothing to do with these theories simply
because they are theories. The true sceptic is as much a spiritualist as
he is a materialist. He thinks that the savage dancing round an African
idol stands quite as good a chance of being right as Darwin. He thinks
that mysticism is every bit as rational as rationalism. He has indeed
the most profound doubts as to whether St Matthew wrote his own gospel.
But he has quite equally profound doubts as to whether the tree he is
looking at is a tree and not a rhinoceros.

This is the real meaning of that mystery which appears so prominently in
the lives of great sceptics, which appears with especial prominence in
the life of Charles II. I mean their constant oscillation between
atheism and Roman Catholicism. Roman Catholicism is indeed a great and
fixed and formidable system, but so is atheism. Atheism is indeed the
most daring of all dogmas, more daring than the vision of a palpable day
of judgment. For it is the assertion of a universal negative; for a man
to say that there is no God in the universe is like saying that there
are no insects in any of the stars.

Thus it was with that wholesome and systematic sceptic, Charles II. When
he took the Sacrament according to the forms of the Roman Church in his
last hour he was acting consistently as a philosopher. The wafer might
not be God; similarly it might not be a wafer. To the genuine and
poetical sceptic the whole world is incredible, with its bulbous
mountains and its fantastic trees. The whole order of things is as
outrageous as any miracle which could presume to violate it.
Transubstantiation might be a dream, but if it was, it was assuredly a
dream within a dream. Charles II. sought to guard himself against hell
fire because he could not think hell itself more fantastic than the
world as it was revealed by science. The priest crept up the staircase,
the doors were closed, the few of the faithful who were present hushed
themselves respectfully, and so, with every circumstance of secrecy and
sanctity, with the cross uplifted and the prayers poured out, was
consummated the last great act of logical unbelief.

The problem of Charles II. consists in this, that he has scarcely a
moral virtue to his name, and yet he attracts us morally. We feel that
some of the virtues have been dropped out in the lists made by all the
saints and sages, and that Charles II. was pre-eminently successful in
these wild and unmentionable virtues. The real truth of this matter and
the real relation of Charles II. to the moral ideal is worth somewhat
more exhaustive study.

It is a commonplace that the Restoration movement can only be understood
when considered as a reaction against Puritanism. But it is
insufficiently realised that the tyranny which half frustrated all the
good work of Puritanism was of a very peculiar kind. It was not the fire
of Puritanism, the exultation in sobriety, the frenzy of a restraint,
which passed away; that still burns in the heart of England, only to be
quenched by the final overwhelming sea. But it is seldom remembered that
the Puritans were in their day emphatically intellectual bullies, that
they relied swaggeringly on the logical necessity of Calvinism, that
they bound omnipotence itself in the chains of syllogism. The Puritans
fell, through the damning fact that they had a complete theory of life,
through the eternal paradox that a satisfactory explanation can never
satisfy. Like Brutus and the logical Romans, like the logical French
Jacobins, like the logical English utilitarians, they taught the lesson
that men's wants have always been right and their arguments always
wrong. Reason is always a kind of brute force; those who appeal to the
head rather than the heart, however pallid and polite, are necessarily
men of violence. We speak of 'touching' a man's heart, but we can do
nothing to his head but hit it. The tyranny of the Puritans over the
bodies of men was comparatively a trifle; pikes, bullets, and
conflagrations are comparatively a trifle. Their real tyranny was the
tyranny of aggressive reason over the cowed and demoralised human
spirit. Their brooding and raving can be forgiven, can in truth be loved
and reverenced, for it is humanity on fire; hatred can be genial,
madness can be homely. The Puritans fell, not because they were
fanatics, but because they were rationalists.

When we consider these things, when we remember that Puritanism, which
means in our day a moral and almost temperamental attitude, meant in
that day a singularly arrogant logical attitude, we shall comprehend a
little more the grain of good that lay in the vulgarity and triviality
of the Restoration. The Restoration, of which Charles II. was a
pre-eminent type, was in part a revolt of all the chaotic and unclassed
parts of human nature, the parts that are left over, and will always be
left over, by every rationalistic system of life. This does not merely
account for the revolt of the vices and of that empty recklessness and
horseplay which is sometimes more irritating than any vice. It accounts
also for the return of the virtue of politeness, for that also is a
nameless thing ignored by logical codes. Politeness has indeed about it
something mystical; like religion, it is everywhere understood and
nowhere defined. Charles is not entirely to be despised because, as the
type of this movement, he let himself float upon this new tide of
politeness. There was some moral and social value in his perfection in
little things. He could not keep the Ten Commandments, but he kept the
ten thousand commandments. His name is unconnected with any great acts
of duty or sacrifice, but it is connected with a great many of those
acts of magnanimous politeness, of a kind of dramatic delicacy, which
lie on the dim borderland between morality and art. 'Charles II.,' said
Thackeray, with unerring brevity, 'was a rascal but not a snob.' Unlike
George IV. he was a gentleman, and a gentleman is a man who obeys
strange statutes, not to be found in any moral text-book, and practises
strange virtues nameless from the beginning of the world.

So much may be said and should be said for the Restoration, that it was
the revolt of something human, if only the debris of human nature. But
more cannot be said. It was emphatically a fall and not an ascent, a
recoil and not an advance, a sudden weakness and not a sudden strength.
That the bow of human nature was by Puritanism bent immeasurably too
far, that it overstrained the soul by stretching it to the height of an
almost horrible idealism, makes the collapse of the Restoration
infinitely more excusable, but it does not make it any the less a
collapse. Nothing can efface the essential distinction that Puritanism
was one of the world's great efforts after the discovery of the true
order, whereas it was the essence of the Restoration that it involved no
effort at all. It is true that the Restoration was not, as has been
widely assumed, the most immoral epoch of our history. Its vices cannot
compare for a moment in this respect with the monstrous tragedies and
almost suffocating secrecies and villainies of the Court of James I. But
the dram-drinking and nose-slitting of the saturnalia of Charles II.
seem at once more human and more detestable than the passions and
poisons of the Renaissance, much in the same way that a monkey appears
inevitably more human and more detestable than a tiger. Compared with
the Renaissance, there is something Cockney about the Restoration. Not
only was it too indolent for great morality, it was too indolent even
for great art. It lacked that seriousness which is needed even for the
pursuit of pleasure, that discipline which is essential even to a game
of lawn tennis. It would have appeared to Charles II.'s poets quite as
arduous to write 'Paradise Lost' as to regain Paradise.

All old and vigorous languages abound in images and metaphors, which,
though lightly and casually used, are in truth poems in themselves, and
poems of a high and striking order. Perhaps no phrase is so terribly
significant as the phrase 'killing time.' It is a tremendous and
poetical image, the image of a kind of cosmic parricide. There is on the
earth a race of revellers who do, under all their exuberance,
fundamentally regard time as an enemy. Of these were Charles II. and the
men of the Restoration. Whatever may have been their merits, and as we
have said we think that they had merits, they can never have a place
among the great representatives of the joy of life, for they belonged
to those lower epicureans who kill time, as opposed to those higher
epicureans who make time live.

Of a people in this temper Charles II. was the natural and rightful
head. He may have been a pantomime King, but he was a King, and with all
his geniality he let nobody forget it. He was not, indeed, the aimless
flaneur that he has been represented. He was a patient and cunning
politician, who disguised his wisdom under so perfect a mask of folly
that he not only deceived his allies and opponents, but has deceived
almost all the historians that have come after him. But if Charles was,
as he emphatically was, the only Stuart who really achieved despotism,
it was greatly due to the temper of the nation and the age. Despotism is
the easiest of all governments, at any rate for the governed.

It is indeed a form of slavery, and it is the despot who is the slave.
Men in a state of decadence employ professionals to fight for them,
professionals to dance for them, and a professional to rule them.

Almost all the faces in the portraits of that time look, as it were,
like masks put on artificially with the perruque. A strange unreality
broods over the period. Distracted as we are with civic mysteries and
problems, we can afford to rejoice. Our tears are less desolate than
their laughter, our restraints are larger than their liberty.


A recent incident has finally convinced us that Stevenson was, as we
suspected, a great man. We knew from recent books that we have noticed,
from the scorn of 'Ephemera Critica' and Mr George Moore, that Stevenson
had the first essential qualification of a great man: that of being
misunderstood by his opponents. But from the book which Messrs Chatto &
Windus have issued, in the same binding as Stevenson's works, 'Robert
Louis Stevenson,' by Mr H. Bellyse Baildon, we learn that he
has the other essential qualification, that of being misunderstood by
his admirers. Mr Baildon has many interesting things to tell us about
Stevenson himself, whom he knew at college. Nor are his criticisms by
any means valueless. That upon the plays, especially 'Beau Austin,' is
remarkably thoughtful and true. But it is a very singular fact, and goes
far, as we say, to prove that Stevenson had that unfathomable quality
which belongs to the great, that this admiring student of Stevenson can
number and marshal all the master's work and distribute praise and blame
with decision and even severity, without ever thinking for a moment of
the principles of art and ethics which would have struck us as the very
things that Stevenson nearly killed himself to express.

Mr Baildon, for example, is perpetually lecturing Stevenson for his
'pessimism'; surely a strange charge against the man who has done more
than any modern artist to make men ashamed of their shame of life. But
he complains that, in 'The Master of Ballantrae' and 'Dr Jekyll and Mr
Hyde,' Stevenson gives evil a final victory over good. Now if there was
one point that Stevenson more constantly and passionately emphasised
than any other it was that we must worship good for its own value and
beauty, without any reference whatever to victory or failure in space
and time. 'Whatever we are intended to do,' he said, 'we are not
intended to succeed.' That the stars in their courses fight against
virtue, that humanity is in its nature a forlorn hope, this was the very
spirit that through the whole of Stevenson's work sounded a trumpet to
all the brave. The story of Henry Durie is dark enough, but could anyone
stand beside the grave of that sodden monomaniac and not respect him? It
is strange that men should see sublime inspiration in the ruins of an
old church and see none in the ruins of a man.

The author has most extraordinary ideas about Stevenson's tales of blood
and spoil; he appears to think that they prove Stevenson to have had (we
use Mr Baildon's own phrase) a kind of 'homicidal mania.' 'He
(Stevenson) arrives pretty much at the paradox that one can hardly be
better employed than in taking life.' Mr Baildon might as well say that
Dr Conan Doyle delights in committing inexplicable crimes, that Mr Clark
Russell is a notorious pirate, and that Mr Wilkie Collins thought that
one could hardly be better employed than in stealing moonstones and
falsifying marriage registers. But Mr Baildon is scarcely alone in this
error: few people have understood properly the goriness of Stevenson.
Stevenson was essentially the robust schoolboy who draws skeletons and
gibbets in his Latin grammar. It was not that he took pleasure in death,
but that he took pleasure in life, in every muscular and emphatic action
of life, even if it were an action that took the life of another.

Let us suppose that one gentleman throws a knife at another gentleman
and pins him to the wall. It is scarcely necessary to remark that there
are in this transaction two somewhat varying personal points of view.
The point of view of the man pinned is the tragic and moral point of
view, and this Stevenson showed clearly that he understood in such
stories as 'The Master of Ballantrae' and 'Weir of Hermiston.' But there
is another view of the matter--that in which the whole act is an abrupt
and brilliant explosion of bodily vitality, like breaking a rock with a
blow of a hammer, or just clearing a five-barred gate. This is the
standpoint of romance, and it is the soul of 'Treasure Island' and 'The
Wrecker.' It was not, indeed, that Stevenson loved men less, but that he
loved clubs and pistols more. He had, in truth, in the devouring
universalism of his soul, a positive love for inanimate objects such as
has not been known since St Francis called the sun brother and the well
sister. We feel that he was actually in love with the wooden crutch
that Silver sent hurtling in the sunlight, with the box that Billy Bones
left at the 'Admiral Benbow,' with the knife that Wicks drove through
his own hand and the table. There is always in his work a certain
clean-cut angularity which makes us remember that he was fond of cutting
wood with an axe.

Stevenson's new biographer, however, cannot make any allowance for this
deep-rooted poetry of mere sight and touch. He is always imputing
something to Stevenson as a crime which Stevenson really professed as an
object. He says of that glorious riot of horror, 'The Destroying Angel,'
in 'The Dynamiter,' that it is 'highly fantastic and putting a strain on
our credulity.' This is rather like describing the travels of Baron
Munchausen as 'unconvincing.' The whole story of 'The Dynamiter' is a
kind of humorous nightmare, and even in that story 'The Destroying
Angel' is supposed to be an extravagant lie made up on the spur of the
moment. It is a dream within a dream, and to accuse it of improbability
is like accusing the sky of being blue. But Mr Baildon, whether from
hasty reading or natural difference of taste, cannot in the least
comprehend the rich and romantic irony of Stevenson's London stories. He
actually says of that portentous monument of humour, Prince Florizel of
Bohemia, that, 'though evidently admired by his creator, he is to me on
the whole rather an irritating presence.' From this we are almost driven
to believe (though desperately and against our will) that Mr Baildon
thinks that Prince Florizel is to be taken seriously, as if he were a
man in real life. For ourselves, Prince Florizel is almost our favourite
character in fiction; but we willingly add the proviso that if we met
him in real life we should kill him.

The fact is, that the whole mass of Stevenson's spiritual and
intellectual virtues have been partly frustrated by one additional
virtue--that of artistic dexterity. If he had chalked up his great
message on a wall, like Walt Whitman, in large and straggling letters,
it would have startled men like a blasphemy. But he wrote his
light-headed paradoxes in so flowing a copy-book hand that everyone
supposed they must be copy-book sentiments. He suffered from his
versatility, not, as is loosely said, by not doing every department well
enough, but by doing every department too well. As child, cockney,
pirate, or Puritan, his disguises were so good that most people could
not see the same man under all. It is an unjust fact that if a man can
play the fiddle, give legal opinions, and black boots just tolerably, he
is called an Admirable Crichton, but if he does all three thoroughly
well, he is apt to be regarded, in the several departments, as a common
fiddler, a common lawyer, and a common boot-black. This is what has
happened in the case of Stevenson. If 'Dr Jekyll,' 'The Master of
Ballantrae,' 'The Child's Garden of Verses,' and 'Across the Plains' had
been each of them one shade less perfectly done than they were, everyone
would have seen that they were all parts of the same message; but by
succeeding in the proverbial miracle of being in five places at once,
he has naturally convinced others that he was five different people. But
the real message of Stevenson was as simple as that of Mahomet, as moral
as that of Dante, as confident as that of Whitman, and as practical as
that of James Watt.

The conception which unites the whole varied work of Stevenson was that
romance, or the vision of the possibilities of things, was far more
important than mere occurrences: that one was the soul of our life, the
other the body, and that the soul was the precious thing. The germ of
all his stories lies in the idea that every landscape or scrap of
scenery has a soul: and that soul is a story. Standing before a stunted
orchard with a broken stone wall, we may know as a mere fact that no one
has been through it but an elderly female cook. But everything exists
in the human soul: that orchard grows in our own brain, and there it is
the shrine and theatre of some strange chance between a girl and a
ragged poet and a mad farmer. Stevenson stands for the conception that
ideas are the real incidents: that our fancies are our adventures. To
think of a cow with wings is essentially to have met one. And this is
the reason for his wide diversities of narrative: he had to make one
story as rich as a ruby sunset, another as grey as a hoary monolith: for
the story was the soul, or rather the meaning, of the bodily vision. It
is quite inappropriate to judge 'The Teller of Tales' (as the Samoans
called him) by the particular novels he wrote, as one would judge Mr
George Moore by 'Esther Waters.' These novels were only the two or
three of his soul's adventures that he happened to tell. But he died
with a thousand stories in his heart.

[Footnote A: 'Robert Louis Stevenson: A Life Study in Criticism.' By H.
Bellyse Baildon. Chatto & Windus.]


There are two main moral necessities for the work of a great man: the
first is that he should believe in the truth of his message; the second
is that he should believe in the acceptability of his message. It was
the whole tragedy of Carlyle that he had the first and not the second.

The ordinary capital, however, which is made out of Carlyle's alleged
gloom is a very paltry matter. Carlyle had his faults, both as a man and
as a writer, but the attempt to explain his gospel in terms of his
'liver' is merely pitiful. If indigestion invariably resulted in a
'Sartor Resartus,' it would be a vastly more tolerable thing than it is.
Diseases do not turn into poems; even the decadent really writes with
the healthy part of his organism. If Carlyle's private faults and
literary virtues ran somewhat in the same line, he is only in the
situation of every man; for every one of us it is surely very difficult
to say precisely where our honest opinions end and our personal
predilections begin. But to attempt to denounce Carlyle as a mere savage
egotist cannot arise from anything but a pure inability to grasp
Carlyle's gospel. 'Ruskin,' says a critic, 'did, all the same, verily
believe in God; Carlyle believed only in himself.' This is certainly a
distinction between the author he has understood and the author he has
not understood. Carlyle believed in himself, but he could not have
believed in himself more than Ruskin did; they both believed in God,
because they felt that if everything else fell into wrack and ruin,
themselves were permanent witnesses to God. Where they both failed was
not in belief in God or in belief in themselves; they failed in belief
in other people. It is not enough for a prophet to believe in his
message; he must believe in its acceptability. Christ, St Francis,
Bunyan, Wesley, Mr Gladstone, Walt Whitman, men of indescribable
variety, were all alike in a certain faculty of treating the average man
as their equal, of trusting to his reason and good feeling without fear
and without condescension. It was this simplicity of confidence, not
only in God, but in the image of God, that was lacking in Carlyle.

But the attempts to discredit Carlyle's religious sentiment must
absolutely fall to the ground. The profound security of Carlyle's sense
of the unity of the Cosmos is like that of a Hebrew prophet; and it has
the same expression that it had in the Hebrew prophets--humour. A man
must be very full of faith to jest about his divinity. No Neo-Pagan
delicately suggesting a revival of Dionysius, no vague, half-converted
Theosophist groping towards a recognition of Buddha, would ever think of
cracking jokes on the matter. But to the Hebrew prophets their religion
was so solid a thing, like a mountain or a mammoth, that the irony of
its contact with trivial and fleeting matters struck them like a blow.
So it was with Carlyle. His supreme contribution, both to philosophy and
literature, was his sense of the sarcasm of eternity. Other writers had
seen the hope or the terror of the heavens, he alone saw the humour of
them. Other writers had seen that there could be something elemental and
eternal in a song or statute, he alone saw that there could be something
elemental and eternal in a joke. No one who ever read it will forget the
passage, full of dark and agnostic gratification, in which he narrates
that some Court chronicler described Louis XV. as 'falling asleep in the
Lord.' 'Enough for us that he did fall asleep; that, curtained in thick
night, under what keeping we ask not, he at least will never, through
unending ages, insult the face of the sun any more ... and we go on, if
not to better forms of beastliness, at least to fresher ones.'

The supreme value of Carlyle to English literature was that he was the
founder of modern irrationalism; a movement fully as important as modern
rationalism. A great deal is said in these days about the value or
valuelessness of logic. In the main, indeed, logic is not a productive
tool so much as a weapon of defence. A man building up an intellectual
system has to build like Nehemiah, with the sword in one hand and the
trowel in the other. The imagination, the constructive quality, is the
trowel, and argument is the sword. A wide experience of actual
intellectual affairs will lead most people to the conclusion that logic
is mainly valuable as a weapon wherewith to exterminate logicians.

But though this may be true enough in practice, it scarcely clears up
the position of logic in human affairs. Logic is a machine of the mind,
and if it is used honestly it ought to bring out an honest conclusion.
When people say that you can prove anything by logic, they are not using
words in a fair sense. What they mean is that you can prove anything by
bad logic. Deep in the mystic ingratitude of the soul of man there is an
extraordinary tendency to use the name for an organ, when what is meant
is the abuse or decay of that organ. Thus we speak of a man suffering
from 'nerves,' which is about as sensible as talking about a man
suffering from ten fingers. We speak of 'liver' and 'digestion' when we
mean the failure of liver and the absence of digestion. And in the same
manner we speak of the dangers of logic, when what we really mean is the
danger of fallacy.

But the real point about the limitation of logic and the partial
overthrow of logic by writers like Carlyle is deeper and somewhat
different. The fault of the great mass of logicians is not that they
bring out a false result, or, in other words, are not logicians at all.
Their fault is that by an inevitable psychological habit they tend to
forget that there are two parts of a logical process--the first the
choosing of an assumption, and the second the arguing upon it; and
humanity, if it devotes itself too persistently to the study of sound
reasoning, has a certain tendency to lose the faculty of sound
assumption. It is astonishing how constantly one may hear from rational
and even rationalistic persons such a phrase as 'He did not prove the
very thing with which he started,' or 'The whole of his case rested upon
a pure assumption,' two peculiarities which may be found by the curious
in the works of Euclid. It is astonishing, again, how constantly one
hears rationalists arguing upon some deep topic, apparently without
troubling about the deep assumptions involved, having lost their sense,
as it were, of the real colour and character of a man's assumption. For
instance, two men will argue about whether patriotism is a good thing
and never discover until the end, if at all, that the cosmopolitan is
basing his whole case upon the idea that man should, if he can, become
as God, with equal sympathies and no prejudices, while the nationalist
denies any such duty at the very start, and regards man as an animal
who has preferences, as a bird has feathers.

* * * * *

Thus it was with Carlyle: he startled men by attacking not arguments but
assumptions. He simply brushed aside all the matters which the men of
the nineteenth century held to be incontrovertible, and appealed
directly to the very different class of matters which they knew to be
true. He induced men to study less the truth of their reasoning, and
more the truth of the assumptions upon which they reasoned. Even where
his view was not the highest truth, it was always a refreshing and
beneficent heresy. He denied every one of the postulates upon which the
age of reason based itself. He denied the theory of progress which
assumed that we must be better off than the people of the twelfth
century. Whether we were better than the people of the twelfth century
according to him depended entirely upon whether we chose or deserved to

He denied every type and species of prop or association or support which
threw the responsibility upon civilisation or society, or anything but
the individual conscience. He has often been called a prophet. The real
ground of the truth of this phrase is often neglected. Since the last
era of purely religious literature, the era of English Puritanism, there
has been no writer in whose eyes the soul stood so much alone.

Carlyle was, as we have suggested, a mystic, and mysticism was with him,
as with all its genuine professors, only a transcendent form of
common-sense. Mysticism and common-sense alike consist in a sense of the
dominance of certain truths and tendencies which cannot be formally
demonstrated or even formally named. Mysticism and common-sense are
alike appeals to realities that we all know to be real, but which have
no place in argument except as postulates. Carlyle's work did consist in
breaking through formulas, old and new, to these old and silent and
ironical sanities. Philosophers might abolish kings a hundred times
over, he maintained, they could not alter the fact that every man and
woman does choose a king and repudiate all the pride of citizenship for
the exultation of humility. If inequality of this kind was a weakness,
it was a weakness bound up with the very strength of the universe.
About hero worship, indeed, few critics have done the smallest justice
to Carlyle. Misled by those hasty and choleric passages in which he
sometimes expressed a preference for mere violence, passages which were
a great deal more connected with his temperament than with his
philosophy, they have finally imbibed the notion that Carlyle's theory
of hero worship was a theory of terrified submission to stern and
arrogant men. As a matter of fact, Carlyle is really inhumane about some
questions, but he is never inhumane about hero worship. His view is not
that human nature is so vulgar and silly a thing that it must be guided
and driven; it is, on the contrary, that human nature is so chivalrous
and fundamentally magnanimous a thing that even the meanest have it in
them to love a leader more than themselves, and to prefer loyalty to
rebellion. When he speaks of this trait in human nature Carlyle's tone
invariably softens. We feel that for the moment he is kindled with
admiration of mankind, and almost reaches the verge of Christianity.
Whatever else was acid and captious about Carlyle's utterances, his hero
worship was not only humane, it was almost optimistic. He admired great
men primarily, and perhaps correctly, because he thought that they were
more human than other men. The evil side of the influence of Carlyle and
his religion of hero worship did not consist in the emotional worship of
valour and success; that was a part of him, as, indeed, it is a part of
all healthy children. Where Carlyle really did harm was in the fact that
he, more than any modern man, is responsible for the increase of that
modern habit of what is vulgarly called 'Going the whole hog.' Often in
matters of passion and conquest it is a singularly hoggish hog. This
remarkable modern craze for making one's philosophy, religion, politics,
and temper all of a piece, of seeking in all incidents for opportunities
to assert and reassert some favourite mental attitude, is a thing which
existed comparatively little in other centuries. Solomon and Horace,
Petrarch and Shakespeare were pessimists when they were melancholy, and
optimists when they were happy. But the optimist of to-day seems obliged
to prove that gout and unrequited love make him dance with joy, and the
pessimist of to-day to prove that sunshine and a good supper convulse
him with inconsolable anguish. Carlyle was strongly possessed with this
mania for spiritual consistency. He wished to take the same view of the
wars of the angels and of the paltriest riot at Donnybrook Fair. It was
this species of insane logic which led him into his chief errors, never
his natural enthusiasms. Let us take an example. Carlyle's defence of
slavery is a thoroughly ridiculous thing, weak alike in argument and in
moral instinct. The truth is, that he only took it up from the passion
for applying everywhere his paradoxical defence of aristocracy. He
blundered, of course, because he did not see that slavery has nothing in
the world to do with aristocracy, that it is, indeed, almost its
opposite. The defence which Carlyle and all its thoughtful defenders
have made for aristocracy was that a few persons could more rapidly and
firmly decide public affairs in the interests of the people. But slavery
is not even supposed to be a government for the good of the governed. It
is a possession of the governed avowedly for the good of the governors.
Aristocracy uses the strong for the service of the weak; slavery uses
the weak for the service of the strong. It is no derogation to man as a
spiritual being, as Carlyle firmly believed he was, that he should be
ruled and guided for his own good like a child--for a child who is
always ruled and guided we regard as the very type of spiritual
existence. But it is a derogation and an absolute contradiction to that
human spirituality in which Carlyle believed that a man should be owned
like a tool for someone else's good, as if he had no personal destiny
in the Cosmos. We draw attention to this particular error of Carlyle's
because we think that it is a curious example of the waste and unclean
places into which that remarkable animal, 'the whole hog,' more than
once led him.

In this respect Carlyle has had unquestionably long and an
unquestionably bad influence. The whole of that recent political ethic
which conceives that if we only go far enough we may finish a thing for
once and all, that being strong consists chiefly in being deliberately
deaf and blind, owes a great deal of its complete sway to his example.
Out of him flows most of the philosophy of Nietzsche, who is in modern
times the supreme maniac of this moonstruck consistency. Though
Nietzsche and Carlyle were in reality profoundly different, Carlyle
being a stiff-necked peasant and Nietzsche a very fragile aristocrat,
they were alike in this one quality of which we speak, the strange and
pitiful audacity with which they applied their single ethical test to
everything in heaven and earth. The disciple of Nietzsche, indeed,
embraces immorality like an austere and difficult faith. He urges
himself to lust and cruelty with the same tremulous enthusiasm with
which a Christian urges himself to purity and patience; he struggles as
a monk struggles with bestial visions and temptations with the ancient
necessities of honour and justice and compassion. To this madhouse, it
can hardly be denied, has Carlyle's intellectual courage brought many at


The whole world is certainly heading for a great simplicity, not
deliberately, but rather inevitably. It is not a mere fashion of false
innocence, like that of the French aristocrats before the Revolution,
who built an altar to Pan, and who taxed the peasantry for the enormous
expenditure which is needed in order to live the simple life of
peasants. The simplicity towards which the world is driving is the
necessary outcome of all our systems and speculations and of our deep
and continuous contemplation of things. For the universe is like
everything in it; we have to look at it repeatedly and habitually before
we see it. It is only when we have seen it for the hundredth time that
we see it for the first time. The more consistently things are
contemplated, the more they tend to unify themselves and therefore to
simplify themselves. The simplification of anything is always
sensational. Thus monotheism is the most sensational of things: it is as
if we gazed long at a design full of disconnected objects, and,
suddenly, with a stunning thrill, they came together into a huge and
staring face.

Few people will dispute that all the typical movements of our time are
upon this road towards simplification. Each system seeks to be more
fundamental than the other; each seeks, in the literal sense, to
undermine the other. In art, for example, the old conception of man,
classic as the Apollo Belvedere, has first been attacked by the realist,
who asserts that man, as a fact of natural history, is a creature with
colourless hair and a freckled face. Then comes the Impressionist, going
yet deeper, who asserts that to his physical eye, which alone is
certain, man is a creature with purple hair and a grey face. Then comes
the Symbolist, and says that to his soul, which alone is certain, man is
a creature with green hair and a blue face. And all the great writers of
our time represent in one form or another this attempt to re-establish
communication with the elemental, or, as it is sometimes more roughly
and fallaciously expressed, to return to nature. Some think that the
return to nature consists in drinking no wine; some think that it
consists in drinking a great deal more than is good for them. Some think
that the return to nature is achieved by beating swords into
ploughshares; some think it is achieved by turning ploughshares into
very ineffectual British War Office bayonets. It is natural, according
to the Jingo, for a man to kill other people with gunpowder and himself
with gin. It is natural, according to the humanitarian revolutionist, to
kill other people with dynamite and himself with vegetarianism. It would
be too obviously Philistine a sentiment, perhaps, to suggest that the
claim of either of these persons to be obeying the voice of nature is
interesting when we consider that they require huge volumes of
paradoxical argument to persuade themselves or anyone else of the truth
of their conclusions. But the giants of our time are undoubtedly alike
in that they approach by very different roads this conception of the
return to simplicity. Ibsen returns to nature by the angular exterior of
fact, Maeterlinck by the eternal tendencies of fable. Whitman returns to
nature by seeing how much he can accept, Tolstoy by seeing how much he
can reject.

Now, this heroic desire to return to nature is, of course, in some
respects, rather like the heroic desire of a kitten to return to its own
tail. A tail is a simple and beautiful object, rhythmic in curve and
soothing in texture; but it is certainly one of the minor but
characteristic qualities of a tail that it should hang behind. It is
impossible to deny that it would in some degree lose its character if
attached to any other part of the anatomy. Now, nature is like a tail in
the sense that it is vitally important if it is to discharge its real
duty that it should be always behind. To imagine that we can see nature,
especially our own nature, face to face is a folly; it is even a
blasphemy. It is like the conduct of a cat in some mad fairy-tale, who
should set out on his travels with the firm conviction that he would
find his tail growing like a tree in the meadows at the end of the
world. And the actual effect of the travels of the philosopher in search
of nature when seen from the outside looks very like the gyrations of
the tail-pursuing kitten, exhibiting much enthusiasm but little dignity,
much cry and very little tail. The grandeur of nature is that she is
omnipotent and unseen, that she is perhaps ruling us most when we think
that she is heeding us least. 'Thou art a God that hidest Thyself,' said
the Hebrew poet. It may be said with all reverence that it is behind a
man's back that the spirit of nature hides.

It is this consideration that lends a certain air of futility even to
all the inspired simplicities and thunderous veracities of Tolstoy. We
feel that a man cannot make himself simple merely by warring on
complexity; we feel, indeed, in our saner moments that a man cannot make
himself simple at all. A self-conscious simplicity may well be far more
intrinsically ornate than luxury itself. Indeed, a great deal of the
pomp and sumptuousness of the world's history was simple in the truest
sense. It was born of an almost babyish receptiveness; it was the work
of men who had eyes to wonder and men who had ears to hear.

'King Solomon brought merchant men
Because of his desire
With peacocks, apes and ivory,
From Tarshish unto Tyre.'

But this proceeding was not a part of the wisdom of Solomon; it was a
part of his folly--I had almost said of his innocence. Tolstoy, we feel,
would not be content with hurling satire and denunciation at 'Solomon in
all his glory.' With fierce and unimpeachable logic he would go a step
further. He would spend days and nights in the meadows stripping the
shameless crimson coronals off the lilies of the field.

The new collection of 'Tales from Tolstoy,' translated and edited by Mr
R. Nisbet Bain, is calculated to draw particular attention to this
ethical and ascetic side of Tolstoy's work. In one sense, and that the
deepest sense, the work of Tolstoy is, of course, a genuine and noble
appeal to simplicity. The narrow notion that an artist may not teach is
pretty well exploded by now. But the truth of the matter is, that an
artist teaches far more by his mere background and properties, his
landscape, his costume, his idiom and technique--all the part of his
work, in short, of which he is probably entirely unconscious, than by
the elaborate and pompous moral dicta which he fondly imagines to be his
opinions. The real distinction between the ethics of high art and the
ethics of manufactured and didactic art lies in the simple fact that the
bad fable has a moral, while the good fable is a moral. And the real
moral of Tolstoy comes out constantly in these stories, the great moral
which lies at the heart of all his work, of which he is probably
unconscious, and of which it is quite likely that he would vehemently
disapprove. The curious cold white light of morning that shines over all
the tales, the folklore simplicity with which 'a man or a woman' are
spoken of without further identification, the love--one might almost say
the lust--for the qualities of brute materials, the hardness of wood,
and the softness of mud, the ingrained belief in a certain ancient
kindliness sitting beside the very cradle of the race of man--these
influences are truly moral. When we put beside them the trumpeting and
tearing nonsense of the didactic Tolstoy, screaming for an obscene
purity, shouting for an inhuman peace, hacking up human life into small
sins with a chopper, sneering at men, women, and children out of respect
to humanity, combining in one chaos of contradictions an unmanly Puritan
and an uncivilised prig, then, indeed, we scarcely know whither Tolstoy
has vanished. We know not what to do with this small and noisy moralist
who is inhabiting one corner of a great and good man.

It is difficult in every case to reconcile Tolstoy the great artist with
Tolstoy the almost venomous reformer. It is difficult to believe that a
man who draws in such noble outlines the dignity of the daily life of
humanity regards as evil that divine act of procreation by which that
dignity is renewed from age to age. It is difficult to believe that a
man who has painted with so frightful an honesty the heartrending
emptiness of the life of the poor can really grudge them every one of
their pitiful pleasures, from courtship to tobacco. It is difficult to
believe that a poet in prose who has so powerfully exhibited the
earth-born air of man, the essential kinship of a human being, with the
landscape in which he lives, can deny so elemental a virtue as that
which attaches a man to his own ancestors and his own land. It is
difficult to believe that the man who feels so poignantly the detestable
insolence of oppression would not actually, if he had the chance, lay
the oppressor flat with his fist. All, however, arises from the search
after a false simplicity, the aim of being, if I may so express it, more
natural than it is natural to be. It would not only be more human, it
would be more humble of us to be content to be complex. The truest
kinship with humanity would lie in doing as humanity has always done,
accepting with a sportsmanlike relish the estate to which we are called,
the star of our happiness, and the fortunes of the land of our birth.

The work of Tolstoy has another and more special significance. It
represents the re-assertion of a certain awful common-sense which
characterised the most extreme utterances of Christ. It is true that we
cannot turn the cheek to the smiter; it is true that we cannot give our
cloak to the robber; civilisation is too complicated, too vainglorious,
too emotional. The robber would brag, and we should blush; in other
words, the robber and we are alike sentimentalists. The command of
Christ is impossible, but it is not insane; it is rather sanity preached
to a planet of lunatics. If the whole world was suddenly stricken with a
sense of humour it would find itself mechanically fulfilling the Sermon
on the Mount. It is not the plain facts of the world which stand in the
way of that consummation, but its passions of vanity and
self-advertisement and morbid sensibility. It is true that we cannot
turn the cheek to the smiter, and the sole and sufficient reason is that
we have not the pluck. Tolstoy and his followers have shown that they
have the pluck, and even if we think they are mistaken, by this sign
they conquer. Their theory has the strength of an utterly consistent
thing. It represents that doctrine of mildness and non-resistance which
is the last and most audacious of all the forms of resistance to every
existing authority. It is the great strike of the Quakers which is more
formidable than many sanguinary revolutions. If human beings could only
succeed in achieving a real passive resistance they would be strong with
the appalling strength of inanimate things, they would be calm with the
maddening calm of oak or iron, which conquer without vengeance and are
conquered without humiliation. The theory of Christian duty enunciated
by them is that we should never conquer by force, but always, if we can,
conquer by persuasion. In their mythology St George did not conquer the
dragon: he tied a pink ribbon round its neck and gave it a saucer of
milk. According to them, a course of consistent kindness to Nero would
have turned him into something only faintly represented by Alfred the
Great. In fact, the policy recommended by this school for dealing with
the bovine stupidity and bovine fury of this world is accurately summed
up in the celebrated verse of Mr Edward Lear:

'There was an old man who said, "How
Shall I flee from this terrible cow?
I will sit on a stile and continue to smile,
Till I soften the heart of this cow."'

Their confidence in human nature is really honourable and magnificent;
it takes the form of refusing to believe the overwhelming majority of
mankind, even when they set out to explain their own motives. But
although most of us would in all probability tend at first sight to
consider this new sect of Christians as little less outrageous than some
brawling and absurd sect in the Reformation, yet we should fall into a
singular error in doing so. The Christianity of Tolstoy is, when we come
to consider it, one of the most thrilling and dramatic incidents in our
modern civilisation. It represents a tribute to the Christian religion
more sensational than the breaking of seals or the falling of stars.

From the point of view of a rationalist, the whole world is rendered
almost irrational by the single phenomenon of Christian Socialism. It
turns the scientific universe topsy-turvy, and makes it essentially
possible that the key of all social evolution may be found in the dusty
casket of some discredited creed. It cannot be amiss to consider this
phenomenon as it really is.

The religion of Christ has, like many true things, been disproved an
extraordinary number of times. It was disproved by the Neo-Platonist
philosophers at the very moment when it was first starting forth upon
its startling and universal career. It was disproved again by many of
the sceptics of the Renaissance only a few years before its second and
supremely striking embodiment, the religion of Puritanism, was about to
triumph over many kings, and civilise many continents. We all agree that
these schools of negation were only interludes in its history; but we
all believe naturally and inevitably that the negation of our own day
is really a breaking up of the theological cosmos, an Armageddon, a
Ragnorak, a twilight of the gods. The man of the nineteenth century,
like a schoolboy of sixteen, believes that his doubt and depression are
symbols of the end of the world. In our day the great irreligionists who
did nothing but dethrone God and drive angels before them have been
outstripped, distanced, and made to look orthodox and humdrum. A newer
race of sceptics has found something infinitely more exciting to do than
nailing down the lids upon a million coffins, and the body upon a single
cross. They have disputed not only the elementary creeds, but the
elementary laws of mankind, property, patriotism, civil obedience. They
have arraigned civilisation as openly as the materialists have
arraigned theology; they have damned all the philosophers even lower
than they have damned the saints. Thousands of modern men move quietly
and conventionally among their fellows while holding views of national
limitation or landed property that would have made Voltaire shudder like
a nun listening to blasphemies. And the last and wildest phase of this
saturnalia of scepticism, the school that goes furthest among thousands
who go so far, the school that denies the moral validity of those ideals
of courage or obedience which are recognised even among pirates, this
school bases itself upon the literal words of Christ, like Dr Watts or
Messrs Moody and Sankey. Never in the whole history of the world was
such a tremendous tribute paid to the vitality of an ancient creed.
Compared with this, it would be a small thing if the Red Sea were cloven
asunder, or the sun did stand still at mid-day. We are faced with the
phenomenon that a set of revolutionists whose contempt for all the
ideals of family and nation would evoke horror in a thieves' kitchen,
who can rid themselves of those elementary instincts of the man and the
gentleman which cling to the very bones of our civilisation, cannot rid
themselves of the influence of two or three remote Oriental anecdotes
written in corrupt Greek. The fact, when realised, has about it
something stunning and hypnotic. The most convinced rationalist is in
its presence suddenly stricken with a strange and ancient vision, sees
the immense sceptical cosmogonies of this age as dreams going the way
of a thousand forgotten heresies, and believes for a moment that the
dark sayings handed down through eighteen centuries may, indeed, contain
in themselves the revolutions of which we have only begun to dream.

This value which we have above suggested, unquestionably belongs to the
Tolstoians, who may roughly be described as the new Quakers. With their
strange optimism, and their almost appalling logical courage, they offer
a tribute to Christianity which no orthodoxies could offer. It cannot
but be remarkable to watch a revolution in which both the rulers and the
rebels march under the same symbol. But the actual theory of
non-resistance itself, with all its kindred theories, is not, I think,
characterised by that intellectual obviousness and necessity which its
supporters claim for it. A pamphlet before us shows us an extraordinary
number of statements about the New Testament, of which the accuracy is
by no means so striking as the confidence. To begin with, we must
protest against a habit of quoting and paraphrasing at the same time.
When a man is discussing what Jesus meant, let him state first of all
what He said, not what the man thinks He would have said if he had
expressed Himself more clearly. Here is an instance of question and

Q. 'How did our Master Himself sum up the law in a few words?'

A. 'Be ye merciful, be ye perfect even as your Father; your Father in
the spirit world is merciful, is perfect.'

There is nothing in this, perhaps, which Christ might not have said
except the abominable metaphysical modernism of 'the spirit world'; but
to say that it is recorded that He did say it, is like saying it is
recorded that He preferred palm trees to sycamores. It is a simple and
unadulterated untruth. The author should know that these words have
meant a thousand things to a thousand people, and that if more ancient
sects had paraphrased them as cheerfully as he, he would never have had
the text upon which he founds his theory. In a pamphlet in which plain
printed words cannot be left alone, it is not surprising if there are
mis-statements upon larger matters. Here is a statement clearly and
philosophically laid down which we can only content ourselves with
flatly denying: 'The fifth rule of our Lord is that we should take
special pains to cultivate the same kind of regard for people of foreign
countries, and for those generally who do not belong to us, or even have
an antipathy to us, which we already entertain towards our own people,
and those who are in sympathy with us.' I should very much like to know
where in the whole of the New Testament the author finds this violent,
unnatural, and immoral proposition. Christ did not have the same kind of
regard for one person as for another. We are specifically told that
there were certain persons whom He specially loved. It is most
improbable that He thought of other nations as He thought of His own.
The sight of His national city moved Him to tears, and the highest
compliment He paid was, 'Behold an Israelite indeed.' The author has
simply confused two entirely distinct things. Christ commanded us to
have love for all men, but even if we had equal love for all men, to
speak of having the same love for all men is merely bewildering
nonsense. If we love a man at all, the impression he produces on us must
be vitally different to the impression produced by another man whom we
love. To speak of having the same kind of regard for both is about as
sensible as asking a man whether he prefers chrysanthemums or billiards.
Christ did not love humanity; He never said He loved humanity: He loved
men. Neither He nor anyone else can love humanity; it is like loving a
gigantic centipede. And the reason that the Tolstoians can even endure
to think of an equally distributed affection is that their love of
humanity is a logical love, a love into which they are coerced by their
own theories, a love which would be an insult to a tom-cat.

But the greatest error of all lies in the mere act of cutting up the
teaching of the New Testament into five rules. It precisely and
ingeniously misses the most dominant characteristic of the teaching--its
absolute spontaneity. The abyss between Christ and all His modern
interpreters is that we have no record that He ever wrote a word, except
with His finger in the sand. The whole is the history of one continuous
and sublime conversation. Thousands of rules have been deduced from it
before these Tolstoian rules were made, and thousands will be deduced
afterwards. It was not for any pompous proclamation, it was not for any
elaborate output of printed volumes; it was for a few splendid and idle
words that the cross was set up on Calvary, and the earth gaped, and the
sun was darkened at noonday.


Savonarola is a man whom we shall probably never understand until we
know what horror may lie at the heart of civilisation. This we shall not
know until we are civilised. It may be hoped, in one sense, that we may
never understand Savonarola.

The great deliverers of men have, for the most part, saved them from
calamities which we all recognise as evil, from calamities which are the
ancient enemies of humanity. The great law-givers saved us from anarchy:
the great physicians saved us from pestilence: the great reformers
saved us from starvation. But there is a huge and bottomless evil
compared with which all these are flea-bites, the most desolating curse
that can fall upon men or nations, and it has no name, except we call it
satisfaction. Savonarola did not save men from anarchy, but from order;
not from pestilence, but from paralysis; not from starvation, but from
luxury. Men like Savonarola are the witnesses to the tremendous
psychological fact at the back of all our brains, but for which no name
has ever been found, that ease is the worst enemy of happiness, and
civilisation potentially the end of man.

For I fancy that Savonarola's thrilling challenge to the luxury of his
day went far deeper than the mere question of sin. The modern
rationalistic admirers of Savonarola, from George Eliot downwards,
dwell, truly enough, upon the sound ethical justification of
Savonarola's anger, upon the hideous and extravagant character of the
crimes which polluted the palaces of the Renaissance. But they need not
be so anxious to show that Savonarola was no ascetic, that he merely
picked out the black specks of wickedness with the priggish
enlightenment of a member of an Ethical Society. Probably he did hate
the civilisation of his time, and not merely its sins; and that is
precisely where he was infinitely more profound than a modern moralist.
He saw that the actual crimes were not the only evils: that stolen
jewels and poisoned wine and obscene pictures were merely the symptoms;
that the disease was the complete dependence upon jewels and wine and
pictures. This is a thing constantly forgotten in judging of ascetics
and Puritans in old times. A denunciation of harmless sports did not
always mean an ignorant hatred of what no one but a narrow moralist
would call harmful. Sometimes it meant an exceedingly enlightened hatred
of what no one but a narrow moralist would call harmless. Ascetics are
sometimes more advanced than the average man, as well as less.

Such, at least, was the hatred in the heart of Savonarola. He was making
war against no trivial human sins, but against godless and thankless
quiescence, against getting used to happiness, the mystic sin by which
all creation fell. He was preaching that severity which is the
sign-manual of youth and hope. He was preaching that alertness, that
clean agility and vigilance, which is as necessary to gain pleasure as
to gain holiness, as indispensable in a lover as in a monk. A critic has
truly pointed out that Savonarola could not have been fundamentally
anti-aesthetic, since he had such friends as Michael Angelo, Botticelli,
and Luca della Robbia. The fact is that this purification and austerity
are even more necessary for the appreciation of life and laughter than
for anything else. To let no bird fly past unnoticed, to spell patiently
the stones and weeds, to have the mind a storehouse of sunset, requires
a discipline in pleasure, and an education in gratitude.

The civilisation which surrounded Savonarola on every side was a
civilisation which had already taken the wrong turn, the turn that
leads to endless inventions and no discoveries, in which new things grow
old with confounding rapidity, but in which no old things ever grow new.
The monstrosity of the crimes of the Renaissance was not a mark of
imagination; it was a mark, as all monstrosity is, of the loss of
imagination. It is only when a man has really ceased to see a horse as
it is, that he invents a centaur, only when he can no longer be
surprised at an ox, that he worships the devil. Diablerie is the
stimulant of the jaded fancy; it is the dram-drinking of the artist.
Savonarola addressed himself to the hardest of all earthly tasks, that
of making men turn back and wonder at the simplicities they had learnt
to ignore. It is strange that the most unpopular of all doctrines is
the doctrine which declares the common life divine. Democracy, of which
Savonarola was so fiery an exponent, is the hardest of gospels; there is
nothing that so terrifies men as the decree that they are all kings.
Christianity, in Savonarola's mind, identical with democracy, is the
hardest of gospels; there is nothing that so strikes men with fear as
the saying that they are all the sons of God.

Savonarola and his republic fell. The drug of despotism was administered
to the people, and they forgot what they had been. There are some at the
present day who have so strange a respect for art and letters, and for
mere men of genius, that they conceive the reign of the Medici to be an
improvement on that of the great Florentine republican. It is such men
as these and their civilisation that we have at the present day to fear.
We are surrounded on many sides by the same symptoms as those which
awoke the unquenchable wrath of Savonarola--a hedonism that is more sick
of happiness than an invalid is sick of pain, an art sense that seeks
the assistance of crime since it has exhausted nature. In many modern
works we find veiled and horrible hints of a truly Renaissance sense of
the beauty of blood, the poetry of murder. The bankrupt and depraved
imagination does not see that a living man is far more dramatic than a
dead one. Along with this, as in the time of the Medici, goes the
falling back into the arms of despotism, the hunger for the strong man
which is unknown among strong men. The masterful hero is worshipped as
he is worshipped by the readers of the 'Bow Bells Novelettes,' and for
the same reason--a profound sense of personal weakness. That tendency to
devolve our duties descends on us, which is the soul of slavery, alike
whether for its menial tasks it employs serfs or emperors. Against all
this the great clerical republican stands in everlasting protest,
preferring his failure to his rival's success. The issue is still
between him and Lorenzo, between the responsibilities of liberty and the
licence of slavery, between the perils of truth and the security of
silence, between the pleasure of toil and the toil of pleasure. The
supporters of Lorenzo the Magnificent are assuredly among us, men for
whom even nations and empires only exist to satisfy the moment, men to
whom the last hot hour of summer is better than a sharp and wintry
spring. They have an art, a literature, a political philosophy, which
are all alike valued for their immediate effect upon the taste, not for
what they promise of the destiny of the spirit. Their statuettes and
sonnets are rounded and perfect, while 'Macbeth' is in comparison a
fragment, and the Moses of Michael Angelo a hint. Their campaigns and
battles are always called triumphant, while Caesar and Cromwell wept for
many humiliations. And the end of it all is the hell of no resistance,
the hell of an unfathomable softness, until the whole nature recoils
into madness and the chamber of civilisation is no longer merely a
cushioned apartment, but a padded cell.

This last and worst of human miseries Savonarola saw afar off, and bent
his whole gigantic energies to turning the chariot into another course.
Few men understood his object; some called him a madman, some a
charlatan, some an enemy of human joy. They would not even have
understood if he had told them, if he had said that he was saving them
from a calamity of contentment which should be the end of joys and
sorrows alike. But there are those to-day who feel the same silent
danger, and who bend themselves to the same silent resistance. They also
are supposed to be contending for some trivial political scruple.

Mr M'Hardy says, in defending Savonarola, that the number of fine works
of art destroyed in the Burning of the Vanities has been much
exaggerated. I confess that I hope the pile contained stacks of
incomparable masterpieces if the sacrifice made that one real moment
more real. Of one thing I am sure, that Savonarola's friend Michael
Angelo would have piled all his own statues one on top of the other, and
burnt them to ashes, if only he had been certain that the glow
transfiguring the sky was the dawn of a younger and wiser world.


Walter Scott is a writer who should just now be re-emerging into his own
high place in letters, for unquestionably the recent, though now
dwindling, schools of severely technical and aesthetic criticism have
been unfavourable to him. He was a chaotic and unequal writer, and if
there is one thing in which artists have improved since his time, it is
in consistency and equality. It would perhaps be unkind to inquire
whether the level of the modern man of letters, as compared with Scott,
is due to the absence of valleys or the absence of mountains. But in any
case, we have learnt in our day to arrange our literary effects
carefully, and the only point in which we fall short of Scott is in the
incidental misfortune that we have nothing particular to arrange.

It is said that Scott is neglected by modern readers; if so, the matter
could be more appropriately described by saying that modern readers are
neglected by Providence. The ground of this neglect, in so far as it
exists, must be found, I suppose, in the general sentiment that, like
the beard of Polonius, he is too long. Yet it is surely a peculiar thing
that in literature alone a house should be despised because it is too
large, or a host impugned because he is too generous. If romance be
really a pleasure, it is difficult to understand the modern reader's
consuming desire to get it over, and if it be not a pleasure, it is
difficult to understand his desire to have it at all. Mere size, it
seems to me, cannot be a fault. The fault must lie in some
disproportion. If some of Scott's stories are dull and dilatory, it is
not because they are giants but because they are hunchbacks or cripples.
Scott was very far indeed from being a perfect writer, but I do not
think that it can be shown that the large and elaborate plan on which
his stories are built was by any means an imperfection. He arranged his
endless prefaces and his colossal introductions just as an architect
plans great gates and long approaches to a really large house. He did
not share the latter-day desire to get quickly through a story. He
enjoyed narrative as a sensation; he did not wish to swallow a story
like a pill that it should do him good afterwards. He desired to taste
it like a glass of port, that it might do him good at the time. The
reader sits late at his banquets. His characters have that air of
immortality which belongs to those of Dumas and Dickens. We should not
be surprised to meet them in any number of sequels. Scott, in his heart
of hearts, probably would have liked to write an endless story without
either beginning or close.

Walter Scott is a great, and, therefore, mysterious man. He will never
be understood until Romance is understood, and that will be only when
Time, Man, and Eternity are understood. To say that Scott had more than
any other man that ever lived a sense of the romantic seems, in these
days, a slight and superficial tribute. The whole modern theory arises
from one fundamental mistake--the idea that romance is in some way a
plaything with life, a figment, a conventionality, a thing upon the
outside. No genuine criticism of romance will ever arise until we have
grasped the fact that romance lies not upon the outside of life but
absolutely in the centre of it. The centre of every man's existence is a
dream. Death, disease, insanity, are merely material accidents, like
toothache or a twisted ankle. That these brutal forces always besiege
and often capture the citadel does not prove that they are the citadel.
The boast of the realist (applying what the reviewers call his scalpel)
is that he cuts into the heart of life; but he makes a very shallow
incision if he only reaches as deep as habits and calamities and sins.
Deeper than all these lies a man's vision of himself, as swaggering and
sentimental as a penny novelette. The literature of candour unearths
innumerable weaknesses and elements of lawlessness which is called
romance. It perceives superficial habits like murder and dipsomania, but
it does not perceive the deepest of sins--the sin of vanity--vanity
which is the mother of all day-dreams and adventures, the one sin that
is not shared with any boon companion, or whispered to any priest.

In estimating, therefore, the ground of Scott's pre-eminence in romance
we must absolutely rid ourselves of the notion that romance or
adventure are merely materialistic things involved in the tangle of a
plot or the multiplicity of drawn swords. We must remember that it is,
like tragedy or farce, a state of the soul, and that, for some dark and
elemental reason which we can never understand, this state of the soul
is evoked in us by the sight of certain places or the contemplation of
certain human crises, by a stream rushing under a heavy and covered
wooden bridge, or by a man plunging a knife or sword into tough timber.
In the selection of these situations which catch the spirit of romance
as in a net, Scott has never been equalled or even approached. His
finest scenes affect us like fragments of a hilarious dream. They have
the same quality which is often possessed by those nocturnal
comedies--that of seeming more human than our waking life--even while
they are less possible. Sir Arthur Wardour, with his daughter and the
old beggar crouching in a cranny of the cliff as night falls and the
tide closes around them, are actually in the coldest and bitterest of
practical situations. Yet the whole incident has a quality that can only
be called boyish. It is warmed with all the colours of an incredible
sunset. Rob Roy trapped in the Tolbooth, and confronted with Bailie
Nicol Jarvie, draws no sword, leaps from no window, affects none of the
dazzling external acts upon which contemporary romance depends, yet that
plain and humorous dialogue is full of the essential philosophy of
romance which is an almost equal betting upon man and destiny. Perhaps
the most profoundly thrilling of all Scott's situations is that in
which the family of Colonel Mannering are waiting for the carriage which
may or may not arrive by night to bring an unknown man into a princely
possession. Yet almost the whole of that thrilling scene consists of a
ridiculous conversation about food, and flirtation between a frivolous
old lawyer and a fashionable girl. We can say nothing about what makes
these scenes, except that the wind bloweth where it listeth, and that
here the wind blows strong.

It is in this quality of what may be called spiritual adventurousness
that Scott stands at so different an elevation to the whole of the
contemporary crop of romancers who have followed the leadership of
Dumas. There has, indeed, been a great and inspiriting revival of
romance in our time, but it is partly frustrated in almost every case
by this rooted conception that romance consists in the vast
multiplication of incidents and the violent acceleration of narrative.
The heroes of Mr Stanley Weyman scarcely ever have their swords out of
their hands; the deeper presence of romance is far better felt when the
sword is at the hip ready for innumerable adventures too terrible to be
pictured. The Stanley Weyman hero has scarcely time to eat his supper
except in the act of leaping from a window or whilst his other hand is
employed in lunging with a rapier. In Scott's heroes, on the other hand,
there is no characteristic so typical or so worthy of honour as their
disposition to linger over their meals. The conviviality of the Clerk of
Copmanhurst or of Mr Pleydell, and the thoroughly solid things they are
described as eating, is one of the most perfect of Scott's poetic
touches. In short, Mr Stanley Weyman is filled with the conviction that
the sole essence of romance is to move with insatiable rapidity from
incident to incident. In the truer romance of Scott there is more of the
sentiment of 'Oh! still delay, thou art so fair'; more of a certain
patriarchal enjoyment of things as they are--of the sword by the side
and the wine-cup in the hand. Romance, indeed, does not consist by any
means so much in experiencing adventures as in being ready for them. How
little the actual boy cares for incidents in comparison to tools and
weapons may be tested by the fact that the most popular story of
adventure is concerned with a man who lived for years on a desert
island with two guns and a sword, which he never had to use on an enemy.

Closely connected with this is one of the charges most commonly brought
against Scott, particularly in his own day--the charge of a fanciful and
monotonous insistence upon the details of armour and costume. The critic
in the 'Edinburgh Review' said indignantly that he could tolerate a
somewhat detailed description of the apparel of Marmion, but when it
came to an equally detailed account of the apparel of his pages and
yeomen the mind could bear it no longer. The only thing to be said about
that critic is that he had never been a little boy. He foolishly
imagined that Scott valued the plume and dagger of Marmion for Marmion's
sake. Not being himself romantic, he could not understand that Scott
valued the plume because it was a plume, and the dagger because it was a
dagger. Like a child, he loved weapons with a manual materialistic love,
as one loves the softness of fur or the coolness of marble. One of the
profound philosophical truths which are almost confined to infants is
this love of things, not for their use or origin, but for their own
inherent characteristics, the child's love of the toughness of wood, the
wetness of water, the magnificent soapiness of soap. So it was with
Scott, who had so much of the child in him. Human beings were perhaps
the principal characters in his stories, but they were certainly not the
only characters. A battle-axe was a person of importance, a castle had a
character and ways of its own. A church bell had a word to say in the
matter. Like a true child, he almost ignored the distinction between the
animate and inanimate. A two-handed sword might be carried only by a
menial in a procession, but it was something important and immeasurably
fascinating--it was a two-handed sword.

There is one quality which is supreme and continuous in Scott which is
little appreciated at present. One of the values we have really lost in
recent fiction is the value of eloquence. The modern literary artist is
compounded of almost every man except the orator. Yet Shakespeare and
Scott are certainly alike in this, that they could both, if literature
had failed, have earned a living as professional demagogues. The feudal
heroes in the 'Waverley Novels' retort upon each other with a
passionate dignity, haughty and yet singularly human, which can hardly
be paralleled in political eloquence except in 'Julius Caesar.' With a
certain fiery impartiality which stirs the blood, Scott distributes his
noble orations equally among saints and villains. He may deny a villain
every virtue or triumph, but he cannot endure to deny him a telling
word; he will ruin a man, but he will not silence him. In truth, one of
Scott's most splendid traits is his difficulty, or rather incapacity,
for despising any of his characters. He did not scorn the most revolting
miscreant as the realist of to-day commonly scorns his own hero. Though
his soul may be in rags, every man of Scott can speak like a king.

This quality, as I have said, is sadly to seek in the fiction of the
passing hour. The realist would, of course, repudiate the bare idea of
putting a bold and brilliant tongue in every man's head, but even where
the moment of the story naturally demands eloquence the eloquence seems
frozen in the tap. Take any contemporary work of fiction and turn to the
scene where the young Socialist denounces the millionaire, and then
compare the stilted sociological lecture given by that self-sacrificing
bore with the surging joy of words in Rob Roy's declaration of himself,
or Athelstane's defiance of De Bracy. That ancient sea of human passion
upon which high words and great phrases are the resplendent foam is just
now at a low ebb. We have even gone the length of congratulating
ourselves because we can see the mud and the monsters at the bottom. In
politics there is not a single man whose position is due to eloquence in
the first degree; its place is taken by repartees and rejoinders purely
intellectual, like those of an omnibus conductor. In discussing
questions like the farm-burning in South Africa no critic of the war
uses his material as Burke or Grattan (perhaps exaggeratively) would
have used it--the speaker is content with facts and expositions of
facts. In another age he might have risen and hurled that great song in
prose, perfect as prose and yet rising into a chant, which Meg Merrilees
hurled at Ellangowan, at the rulers of Britain: 'Ride your ways, Laird
of Ellangowan; ride your ways, Godfrey Bertram--this day have ye
quenched seven smoking hearths. See if the fire in your ain parlour
burns the blyther for that. Ye have riven the thack of seven cottar
houses. Look if your ain roof-tree stands the faster for that. Ye may
stable your stirks in the sheilings of Dern-cleugh. See that the hare
does not couch on the hearthstane of Ellangowan. Ride your ways, Godfrey

The reason is, of course, that these men are afraid of bombast and Scott
was not. A man will not reach eloquence if he is afraid of bombast, just
as a man will not jump a hedge if he is afraid of a ditch. As the object
of all eloquence is to find the least common denominator of men's souls,
to fall just within the natural comprehension, it cannot obviously have
any chance with a literary ambition which aims at falling just outside
it. It is quite right to invent subtle analyses and detached
criticisms, but it is unreasonable to expect them to be punctuated with
roars of popular applause. It is possible to conceive of a mob shouting
any central and simple sentiment, good or bad, but it is impossible to
think of a mob shouting a distinction in terms. In the matter of
eloquence, the whole question is one of the immediate effect of
greatness, such as is produced even by fine bombast. It is absurd to
call it merely superficial; here there is no question of superficiality;
we might as well call a stone that strikes us between the eyes merely
superficial. The very word 'superficial' is founded on a fundamental
mistake about life, the idea that second thoughts are best. The
superficial impression of the world is by far the deepest. What we
really feel, naturally and casually, about the look of skies and trees
and the face of friends, that and that alone will almost certainly
remain our vital philosophy to our dying day.

Scott's bombast, therefore, will always be stirring to anyone who
approaches it, as he should approach all literature, as a little child.
We could easily excuse the contemporary critic for not admiring
melodramas and adventure stories, and Punch and Judy, if he would admit
that it was a slight deficiency in his artistic sensibilities. Beyond
all question, it marks a lack of literary instinct to be unable to
simplify one's mind at the first signal of the advance of romance. 'You
do me wrong,' said Brian de Bois-Guilbert to Rebecca. 'Many a law, many
a commandment have I broken, but my word, never.' 'Die,' cries Balfour
of Burley to the villain in 'Old Mortality.' 'Die, hoping nothing,
believing nothing--' 'And fearing nothing,' replies the other. This is
the old and honourable fine art of bragging, as it was practised by the
great worthies of antiquity. The man who cannot appreciate it goes along
with the man who cannot appreciate beef or claret or a game with
children or a brass band. They are afraid of making fools of themselves,
and are unaware that that transformation has already been triumphantly

Scott is separated, then, from much of the later conception of fiction
by this quality of eloquence. The whole of the best and finest work of
the modern novelist (such as the work of Mr Henry James) is primarily
concerned with that delicate and fascinating speech which burrows deeper
and deeper like a mole; but we have wholly forgotten that speech which
mounts higher and higher like a wave and falls in a crashing peroration.
Perhaps the most thoroughly brilliant and typical man of this decade is
Mr Bernard Shaw. In his admirable play of 'Candida' it is clearly a part
of the character of the Socialist clergyman that he should be eloquent,
but he is not eloquent, because the whole 'G.B.S.' condition of mind
renders impossible that poetic simplicity which eloquence requires.
Scott takes his heroes and villains seriously, which is, after all, the
way that heroes and villains take themselves--especially villains. It is
the custom to call these old romantic poses artificial; but the word
artificial is the last and silliest evasion of criticism. There was
never anything in the world that was really artificial. It had some
motive or ideal behind it, and generally a much better one than we

Of the faults of Scott as an artist it is not very necessary to speak,
for faults are generally and easily pointed out, while there is yet no
adequate valuation of the varieties and contrasts of virtue. We have
compiled a complete botanical classification of the weeds in the
poetical garden, but the flowers still flourish neglected and nameless.
It is true, for example, that Scott had an incomparably stiff and
pedantic way of dealing with his heroines: he made a lively girl of
eighteen refuse an offer in the language of Dr Johnson. To him, as to
most men of his time, woman was not an individual, but an
institution--a toast that was drunk some time after that of Church and
King. But it is far better to consider the difference rather as a
special merit, in that he stood for all those clean and bracing shocks
of incident which are untouched by passion or weakness, for a certain
breezy bachelorhood, which is almost essential to the literature of
adventure. With all his faults, and all his triumphs, he stands for the
great mass of natural manliness which must be absorbed into art unless
art is to be a mere luxury and freak. An appreciation of Scott might be
made almost a test of decadence. If ever we lose touch with this one
most reckless and defective writer, it will be a proof to us that we
have erected round ourselves a false cosmos, a world of lying and
horrible perfection, leaving outside of it Walter Scott and that
strange old world which is as confused and as indefensible and as
inspiring and as healthy as he.


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