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Full text of "Twelve types :"




.J I 



^A ^00 k of Essays 



By 



G.K.CHESTERTON 



LONDON 

1910 

OiVT SHILLING NET 



"•'t-y^. 




GEORGE BERNARD RUST 




YOU ARE WELCOME TO BORROW IT 

^ ■ 



t rs "a 



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Twelve Types 



By G. K. CHESTERTON 



LONDON 
ARTHUR L. HUMPHREYS 

1910 



Fifth Impression 



These papers, with certain alterations 
and additions, are reprinted with the 
kind permission of the Editors of The 
Daily News and The Speaker. 

G. K. C. 



Kensington. 



Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2007 with funding from 

IVIicrosoft Corporation 



http://www.archive.org/details/12typesch00chesuoft 



CONTENTS 

FAGB 

Charlotte BRONTfi ivol<3rci dfc cidf 

William Morris and his School . . 15 2. tube 
The Optimism of Byron .... 31 pessimists* f^^ 
Pope and the Art of Satire ... 45 <ibrkltj wtsc 

Francis r . dg^^ort \\ asecll 

Rostand ypou »or»t l«s aJ'J' 

Charles II. .,,.,. 93 

Stevenson ...•.,, 107 not ml'enieJiU 

Thomas Carlyle l2o^triottSTi>;^^ 

Tolstoy and the Cult of Simplicity . I39^«»e W ^l'^*' 

Savonarola 167 

The Position of Sir Walter Scott . i79Dl*n<5®vw^ 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

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 unim- 
portant. It reveals and asserts and insists 
on exactly those things in a man's life of 
which the man himself is wholly uncon- 
scious ; his exact class in society, the cir- 
cumstances of his ancestry, the place of 
his present location. These are things 
which do not, properly speaking, ever 

A 1 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

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 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

and Mr Andrew Lang, never tire of col- 
lecting 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 pictur- 
esque, is not wholly suitable to the Brontes. 
For the Bronte genius was above all things 
deputed to assert the supreme unimport- 
ance 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 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

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 in- 
side a manufacturer; her heroine is the 
commonplace spinster, with the dress of 
merino and the soul of flame. It is signi- 
ficant 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 

4: 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

of the interior might be made sublime. 
She chose the ughest 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 ship- 
wreck 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 

6 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

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 prim- 
evally 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 some- 
thing 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 

6 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

at 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 in- 
destructible germ. It would not matter 
a single straw if a Bronte story were a 
hundred times more moonstruck and im- 
probable 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, 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

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 edu- 
cated, hampered by a humiliating inex- 
perience, a kind of ugly innocence, is yet, 
by the very fact of her solitude and her 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

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 sup- 
pose 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 com- 
pliments will not come off, who is really 
full of the ancient ecstasies of youth. He 

is frightened enough of society actually to 

9 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

enjoy his triumphs. He has that element 
of fear which is one of the eternal ingredi- 
ents 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 ele- 
mental forces which drive the world than 
a legion of lawless minor poets. She ap- 
proached 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 

10 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

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 ex- 
aggerated 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 spring- 
tide 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 im- 

11 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

becile 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 ex- 
pression 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 

12 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

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 geo- 
metrical 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 

13 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

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. 



14 



WILLIAM MORRIS AND 
HIS SCHOOL 

It is proper enough that the unveiling of 
the bust of WiUiam Morris should approxi- 
mate to a public festival, for while there 
have been many men of genius in the Vic- 
torian 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 

15 



WILLIAM MORRIS 

gives it a stronger and more bony structure. 
The time has passed when it was con- 
ceived to be irrelevant to describe William 
Morris as a designer of wall-papers. If 
Morris had been a hatter instead of a 
decorator, we should have become gradu- 
ally and painfully conscious of an improve- 
ment 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 grad- 
ually 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. 

16 



AND HIS SCHOOL 

The limitations of William Morris, what- 
ever 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 un- 
nameable terrors, and the yet more unname- 
able hopes. So long as a man was graceful 
in every circumstance, so long as he had 
the inspiring consciousness that the chest- 
nut colour of his hair was relieved against 
the blue forest a mile behind, he would 
B 17 



WILLIAM MORRIS 

be serenely happy. So he would be, no 
doubt, if he were really fitted for a de- 
corative 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 ful- 
filled 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 

18 



AND HIS SCHOOL 

modern man, who was pre-eminently cap- 
able 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 cling- 
ing curse of ugliness which blights every- 
thing 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 thick- 
ness just neutralising each other ; its colour 

19 



WILLIAM MORRIS 

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 

20 



AND HIS SCHOOL 

have not been such an incentive to art 

and imagination as were the miracles of 

reUgion. 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 potent chirpily as * The T 7 

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 aesthetic 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 

21 



WILLIAM MORRIS 

manner in which Morris carried out his 

crusade may, considering the circumstances, 

be called triumphant. Our carpets began 

to bloom under our feet Uke 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 'coiiFure' of a 

22 



AND HIS SCHOOL 

Papuan savage to the wall-paper of a 
British merchant in 1830. 

But great and beneficent as was the 
fiesthetic 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 handi- 
crafts 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 quali- 
ties, but there was at least one exhibition 
of moral weakness they did not give. 



WILLIAM MORRIS 

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 cus- 
tom 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 sub- 
stitute or satisfaction to turn life into an 

interminable historical fancy-dress ball. 

24 



AND HIS SCHOOL 

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 

25 



WILLIAM MORRIS 

vital a moral truth as the old story, exist- 
ing 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 mon- 
ster 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, 

26 



AND HIS SCHOOL 

he cannot and will not change the beast 
into the fairy prince. Morris's disadvan- 
tage 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 in- 
fluence in the aesthetic world is the vitality 
and recurrence of the Arts and Crafts 
Exhibitions, which are steeped in his per- 
sonality 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 

27 



WILLIAM MORRIS 

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 healthi- 
ness 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 

28 



AND HIS SCHOOL 

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 em- 
blematical 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 move- 
ment of our time towards beauty — not 

29 



WILLIAM MORRIS 

backwards, but forwards — does truly come 
about, Morris will be the first prophet of 
it. Poet of the childhood of nations, crafts- 
man 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 green- 
ish 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 grey- 
ness of dawn. 



ao 



THE OPTIMISM OF BYRON 

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 

31 



THE OPTIMISM OF BYRON 

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 
32 



THE OPTIMISM OF BYRON 

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 equa- 
torial 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, 
33 



THE OPTIMISM OF BYRON 

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 

34 



THE OPTIMISM OF BYRON 

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 every- 
thing 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 

35 



THE OPTIMISM OF BYRON 

in summary, it is always justified, and in- 
deed extolled, in detail after detail. 

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. Schopen- 
hauer 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 depart- 
ment 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 Crea- 
tion, his one pang of joy in the achievement 

joins the universal chorus of gratitude, with 

36 



THE OPTIMISM OF BYRON 

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 over- 
whelming 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 break- 

37 



THE OPTIMISM OF BYRON 

down 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 some- 
thing 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, 

38 



THE OPTIMISM OF BYRON 

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 seri- 
ously 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 shatter- 
ing sea, when he takes pleasure in storms 
and stricken peaks, and the lawless melan- 
choly of the older earth, we may deduce 
with the certainty of logic that he is very 

young and very happy. There is a certain 

39 



THE OPTIMISM OF BYRON 

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 impos- 
sibly 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 Byronie 
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 alle- 
gorical designs. Here we have to deal 

40 



THE OPTIMISM OF BYRON 

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 pes- 
simism 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 posi- 
tively 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 

41 



THE OPTIMISM OF BYRON 

calling down fire upon mankind, summon- 
ing 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 hilari- 
ous 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 

42 



THE OPTIMISM OF BYRON 

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. 

43 



THE OPTIMISM 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 arti- 
fices, 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. 

4A 



POPE AND THE ART OF SATIRE 

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 anyone to try. It may be easier 
really to have wit, than really, in the bold- 
est and most enduring sense, to have im- 
agination. 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 

45 



POPE AND THE ART OF SATIRE 

the triumph of a rhapsody to be unintel- 
ligible. 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 conjurer. 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 

46 



POPE AND THE ART OF SATIRE 

' 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 anti- 
thetical jingle goes? I venture to doubt 
whether he would really be any wiser or 
weirder or more imaginative or more pro- 
found. 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 

47 



POPE AND THE ART OF SATIRE 

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 manu- 
facture an admirable lyric out of almost 
every line of Pope. 

There is, of course, an idea in our time 

48 



POPE AND THE ART OF SATIRE 

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 divin- 
ity, 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 con- 
junction with fear, or magnanimity existing 
D 49 



POPE AND THE ART OF SATIRE 

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 ex- 
istence, which is itself a contradiction in 
terms. 

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 ex- 
periment. 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 

50 



POPE AND THE ART OF SATIRE 

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 pro- 
duce 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 ap- 

51 



POPE AND THE ART OF SATIRE 

proximately a very accurate way of de- 
scribing 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 ordei* 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 

52 



POPE AND THE ART OF SATIRE 

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, 

53 



POPE AND THE ART OF SATIRE 

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 re- 
vengeful. 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 responsi- 
bility 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 

54 



POPE AND THE ART OF SATIRE 

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 

55 



POPE AND THE ART OF SATIRE 

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 Con- 
servative, 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 coarse- 
ness, 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 

56 



POPE AND THE ART OF SATIRE 

him, and therefore the satire could not and 
did not overwhehn him. And here we 
have the cause of the faihire of contem- 
porary 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 con- 
tent 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 

57 



POPE AND THE ART OF SATIRE 

that he is inept, that he makes a fool of 
himself, that he is disagreeable and disgrace- 
ful 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 Par- 
liamentarian 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 antagon- 
ists. Everyone knows that he is not un- 
trustworthy, 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 

58 



POPE AND THE ART OF SATIRE 

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 : 

59 



POPE AND THE ART OF SATIRE 

* Peace to all such ! But were there one 
whose fires 
True genius kindles, and fair fame in- 
spires, 
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 

60 



POPE AND THE ART OF SATIRE 

everlasting colours he painted the picture 
of the evil of the literary temperament : 
' 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 pene- 
trated with sorrow and a kind of reverence, 
and it is addressed directly to a man. This 

is no mock-tournament to gain the applause 

61 



POPE AND THE ART OF SATIRE 

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. 



62 



FRANCIS 

Asceticism is a thing which in its very 
nature, we tend in these days to misunder- 
stand. Asceticism, in the religious sense, 
is the repudiation of the great mass of 
human joys because of the supreme joy ful- 
ness of the one joy, the religious joy. But 
asceticism is not in the least confined to 
religious asceticism: there is scientific as- 
ceticism 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 

63 



FRANCIS 

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 verses underneath the bough, 
A jug of wine, a loaf of bread and thou 
Beside me singing in the wilderness 

Oh, wilderness were Paradise enow. 
64 



FRANCIS 

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 ex- 
presses 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 
E 65 



FRANCIS 

Celebrated, they immediately begin to call 
the enjoyers of that joy gloomy and self- 
destroying. The most formidable liberal 
philosophers have called the monks melan- 
choly 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-competi- 
tive manner of perfecting the physique, if 
public ethics swung round to an attitude 
of absolute contempt and indifference to- 
wards the feeling called sport, then it is 

66 



FRANCIS 

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 them- 
selves through English athleticism. There 
is one difference and one only : we do feel 



FRANCIS 

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 asceticism 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 

68 



FRANCIS 

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 enj oy ment. The white 
daylight shone over all the world, the end- 
less 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 be- 
cause they gave up threescore years and 



FRANCIS 

ten for an eternity of happiness. We for- 
get that the bare proposition of an eternity 
of happiness is by its very nature ten thou- 
sand times more optimistic than ten thou- 
sand pagan saturnaUas. 

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 quan- 
tities. There is no outline, because the 
artist cannot bear to put in a black line. 

This blaze of benediction, this conflict 

70 



FRANCIS 

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 practi- 
cal work of Francis is assuredly not to be 
ignored, for this amazingly unworldly and 
almost maddening 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 

71 



FRANCIS 

such men is their profound belief in them- 
selves, 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 

72 



FRANCIS 

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 nobility. 

Conceiving of St Francis as primarily 
the founder of the Franciscan Order, Mr 
Adderley opens his narrative with an admir- 
able sketch of the history of Monasticism 
in Europe, which is certainly the best thing 
in the book. He distinguishes clearly and 
fairly between the Manichsean 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. 

73 



FRANCIS 

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 mounte- 
banks 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 

74 



FRANCIS 

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 

75 



FRANCIS 

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 spend- 
thrifts of happiness, and we who are its 
misers. 

Doubtless, as is apparent from Mr Ad- 
derley'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 dramatisa- 
tion of the life, disappointments and ex- 
cuses of any shrub or beast that he 

76 



FRANCIS 

happened to be addressing, his genius has 
a curious resemblance to that of Burns. 
But if he avoided the weakness of Bums' 
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 re- 
mark of the Caterpillar in * Alice in Won- 
derland ' — * 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 

77 



FRANCIS 

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. 



78 



ROSTAND 

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 pos- 
sibly go to the length of turning a tragedy 

into a comedy is not admitted; neverthe- 

79 



ROSTAND 

less, 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 mon- 
ster. Singularly enough, this modern idea 
of the essential disastrous character of life, 
when seriously considered, connects itself 
with a hyper-eesthetic view of tragedy and 
comedy which is largely due to the in- 
fluence 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 nice- 

80 



ROSTAND 

ties 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 
F 81 



ROSTAND 

humour which steeps the stories of Fal- 
stafF 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 con- 
tempt for her own work, 'A Sentimental 
Comedy.' The ground of this conception 
of the artificiality of comedy is a pro- 
found pessimism. Life in the eyes of these 

82 



ROSTAND 

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 merri- 
ment was one of the world's natural 
flowers, and not one of its exotics. The 
gigantesque levity, the flamboyant elo- 
quence, the Rabelaisian puns and digres- 
sions were seen to be once more what 
they had been in Rabelais, the mere out- 
bursts 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 

83 



ROSTAND 

the words of Cyrano at his highest moment 
of happiness. 'II 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 
reahst 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 rim^s.* 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 con- 
venient rhymes. But the whole of this 
view rests finally upon the fact that few 

persons, if any, to-day understand what is 

84 



ROSTAND 

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 con- 
ceivable 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 sup- 

85 



ROSTAND 

posing 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 misrepre- 
sent the speech one half so much, as the 



ROSTAND 

speech misrepresents the soul. Monsieur 
Rostand showed even more than his usual 
insight when he called ' Cyrano de Ber- 
gerac' a comedy, despite the fact that, 
strictly speaking, it ends with disappoint- 
ment 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 Maeter- 
linck. The same apparent contradiction 
holds good in the case of the drama of 
^L'Aiglon.' Although the hero is a 
weakling, the subject a fiasco, the end a 
premature death and a personal disillusion- 
ment, yet, in spite of this theme, which 

87 



t / 



ROSTAND 

might have been chosen for its depressing 
qualities, the unconquerable psean 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 in- 
vocation at the beginning of the twentieth 
century to the spirit of heroic comedy. 



ROSTAND 

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 descrip- 
tion 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 enthu- 
siasm 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 



ROSTAND 

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's 

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 

90 



ROSTAND 

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 to- 
gether, 'Vive TEmpereur ! ' Monsieur Ros- 
tand, 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 phono- 
graph 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 

91 



ROSTAND 

in modern art the only voices, they are 
the voices of men, but not the voice of 
man. When questioned finally and seri- 
ously 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 
TEmpereur.' 



92 



CHARLES II 

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. Scep- 
ticism both in its advantages and disad- 
vantages 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 

93 



CHARLES II 

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 special 

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 

94 



CHARLES II 

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 

95 



CHARLES II 

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 

96 



CHARLES II 

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 
G 97 



CHARLES II 

intellectual bullies, that they relied swagger- 
ingly 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 ' sl man's heart, but 
we can do nothing to his head but hit it. 
The tyranny of the Puritans over the bodies 



CHARLES II 

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 tempera- 
mental 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 

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 de- 
fined. 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 

100 



CHARLES II 

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 con- 
nected with a great many of those acts 
of magnanimous poUteness, of a kind of 
dramatic dehcacy, which lie on the dim 
borderland between morality and art. 
* Charles II.,' said Thackeray, with un- 
erring 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 
101 



CHARLES II 

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 stretch- 
ing it to the height of an almost horrible 
idealism, makes the collapse of the Re- 
storation 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 

102 



CHARLES II 

cannot compare for a moment in this re- 
spect 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 indolejit 
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 
103 



CHARLES II 

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 exuber- 
ance, 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 

104 



CHARLES II 

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 repre- 
sented. 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 

105 



CHARLES II 

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. Dis- 
tracted 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. 



106 



STEVENSON * 

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 quali- 
fication of a great man : that of being mis- 
understood by his opponents. But from 
the book which Messrs Chatto k Windus 
have issued, in the same binding as Steven- 
son's works, * Robert Louis Stevenson,' by 
Mr H. Bellyse Baildon, we learn that he 

♦ * Robert Louis Stevenson : A Life Study in Criticism.* 
By H. Bellyse Baildon. Chatto & Windus. 

107 



STEVENSON 

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 remark- 
ably 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 de- 
cision and even severity, without ever 
thinking for a moment of the principles 
of art and ethics which would have struck 
us as the very thing that Stevenson nearly 

killed himself to express. 

108 



STEVENSON 

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 pas- 
sionately 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 

109 



STEVENSON 

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 Steven- 
son 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, 

110 



STEVENSON 

and that Mr Wilkie Collins thought that 
one could hardly be better employed than 
in stealing moonstones and falsifying mar- 
riage registers. But Mr Baildon is scarcely 
alone in this error : few people have under- 
stood properly the goriness of Stevenson. 
Stevenson was essentially the robust school- 
boy 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 
111 



STEVENSON 

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 Her- 

miston.' 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 actully in love with 

112 



STEVENSON 

the wooden crutch that Silver sent hurtling 
in the sunhght, 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 
H 113 



STEVENSON 

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, 

114 



STEVENSON 

as if he were a man in real life. For our- 
selves, 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 addi- 
tional 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. 
115 



STEVENSON 

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 Admir- 
able 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 

116 



STEVENSON 

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 occur- 
rences: 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 
117 



STEVENSON 

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 adven- 
tures. To think of a cow with wings is 
essentially to have met one. And this is 
the reason for his wide diversities of nar- 
rative: 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 
118 



STEVENSON 

* Esther Waters.' These novels were only 
the two or three of his souFs adventures 
that he happened to tell. But he died 
with a thousand stories in his heart. 



119 



THOMAS CARLYLE 

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 

120 



THOMAS CARLYLE 

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 inabiUty 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 

121 



THOMAS CARLYLE 

not understood. Carlyle believed in him 
self, 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 sim- 
plicity of confidence, not only in God, 

122 



THOMAS CARLYLE 

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 Uke 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 suggest- 
ing 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 mam- 
moth, that the irony of its contact with 

trivial and fleeting matters struck them 

123 



THOMAS CARLYLE 

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 . . . 

124 



THOMAS CARLYLE 

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 for 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. 
125 



THOMAS CARLYLE 

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 

126 



THOMAS CARLYLE 

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 some- 
what 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 
127 



THOMAS CARLYLE 

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 con- 
stantly one hears rationalists arguing upon 
some deep topic, apparently without troub- 
ling about the deep assumptions involved, 
having lost their sense, as it were, of the 
real colour and character of a man's assump- 
tion. 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 

128 



THOMAS CARLYLE 

denies any such duty at the very start, and 
regards man as an animal who has prefer- 
ences, as a bird has feathers. 

Thus it was with Carlyle : he startled 
men by attacking not arguments but as- 
sumptions. He simply brushed aside all 
the matters which the men of the nine- 
teenth 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 
I 129 



THOMAS CARLYLE 

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 be. 

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 tran- 

130 



THOMAS CARLYLE 

scendent 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 de- 
monstrated or even formally named. Mys- 
ticism 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 formulae, 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. 
131 



THOMAS CARLYLE 

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 in- 
humane 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 mean- 
est have it in them to love a leader more 
132 



THOMAS CARLYLE 

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 Chris- 
tianity. 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 emo- 
tional 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, 

133 



THOMAS CARLYLE 

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 

134: 



THOMAS CARLYLE 

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 Donny- 
brook 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 aris- 
tocracy, that it is, indeed, almost its 
opposite. The defence which Carlyle and 

all its thoughtful defenders have made for 
135 



THOMAS CARLYLE 

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 beUeved 
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 contra- 
diction to that human spirituality in which 
Carlyle believed, that a man should be 

owned like a tool for someone else's good, as 

136 



THOMAS CARLYLE 

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 unques- 
tionably 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 moon- 
struck consistency. Though Nietzsche and 

Carlyle were in reality profoundly different, 

137 



THOMAS CARLYLE 

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 im- 
morality 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 last. 



138 



TOLSTOY AND THE CULT OF 
SIMPLICITY 

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 peas- 
antry 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 out- 
come of all our systems and speculations 

and of our deep and continuous contem- 

139 



TOLSTOY AND THE 

plation 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 dis- 
connected 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 

140 



CULT OF SIMPLICITY 

the other ; each seeks, in the literal sense, 
to undermine the other. In art, for ex- 
ample, 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 
141 



TOLSTOY AND THE 

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 plough- 
shares 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 
142 



CULT OF SIMPLICITY 

volumes of paradoxical argument to per- 
suade 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 character- 
istic qualities of a tail that it should hang 
143 



TOLSTOY AND THE 

behind. It is impossible to deny that it 
would in some degree lose its character 
if attached to any other part of the ana- 
tomy. 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 blas- 
phemy. 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, ex- 
hibiting much enthusiasm but little dignity, 



CULT OF SIMPLICITY 

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 cer- 
tain 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 com- 
plexity ; 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 
K 145 



TOLSTOY AND 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 shame- 

146 



CULT OF SIMPLICITY 

less 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 
147 



TOLSTOY AND THE 

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 uncon- 
scious, 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 sim- 
plicity 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 

148 



CULT OF SIMPLICITY 

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, com- 
bining 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 
149 



TOLSTOY AND THE 

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 poig- 
nantly the detestable insolence of oppression 

would not actually, if he had the chance, 

150 



CULT OF SIMPLICITY 

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 con- 
tent 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 utter- 
ances 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; 
151 



TOLSTOY AND THE 

civilisation is too complicated, too vain- 
glorious, 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 fol- 
lowers have shown that they have the pluck, 

and even if we think they are mistaken, 

152 



CULT OF SIMPLICITY 

by this sign they conquer. Their theory 
has the strength of an utterly consistent 
thing. It represents that doctrine of mild- 
ness 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 humiUation. 
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 
153 



TOLSTOY AND THE 

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 over- 

154 



CULT OF SIMPLICITY 

whelming 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 out- 
rageous 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 irra- 
tional by the single phenomenon of Christian 
Socialism. It turns the scientific universe 

topsy-turvy, and makes it essentially pos- 
155 



TOLSTOY AND THE 

sible 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 embodi- 
ment, 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 

156 



CULT OF SIMPLICITY 

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 school- 
boy 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 out- 
stripped, 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 
157 



TOLSTOY AND 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 

168 



CULT OF SIMPLICITY 

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 some- 
thing stunning and hypnotic. The most 
convinced rationalist is in its presence sud- 
denly stricken with a strange and ancient 
vision, sees the immense sceptical cosmo- 
gonies of this age as dreams going the way 
159 



TOLSTOY AND THE 

of a thousand forgotten heresies, and be- 
lieves 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 sug- 
gested, 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 can- 
not but be remarkable to watch a revolu- 
tion 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 

160 



CULT OF SIMPLICITY 

obviousness and necessity which its sup- 
porters 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 answer : 

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 
L 161 



TOLSTOY AND THE 

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 unadul- 
terated 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 

162 



CULT OF SIMPLICITY 

that we should take special pains to culti- 
vate 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 enter- 
tain 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 pro- 
position. 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.' 

163 



TOLSTOY AND THE 

The author has simply confused two en- 
tirely 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 pro- 
duces 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 hu- 
manity; it is like loving a gigantic centi- 
pede. And the reason that the Tolstoians 

can even endure to think of an equally 
164 



CULT OF SIMPLICITY 

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 be- 
tween Christ and all His modern inter- 
preters 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 
165 



TOLSTOY 

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. 



160 



SAVONAROLA 

Savonarola is a man whom we shall 
probably never understand until we know 
what horror may lie at the heart of civilisa- 
tion. 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 calami- 
ties which are the ancient enemies of 
humanity. The great law - givers saved 

us from anarchy: the great physicians 
167 



SAVONAROLA 

saved us from pestilence : the great re- 
formers saved us from starvation. But 
there is a huge and bottomless evil com- 
pared 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 wit- 
nesses 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 

168 



SAVONAROLA 

sin. The modern rationalistic admirers 
of Savonarola, from George Eliot down- 
wards, dwell, truly enough, upon the sound 
ethical justification of Savonarola's anger, 
upon the hideous and extravagant char- 
acter 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 dis- 
169 



SAVONAROLA 

ease 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 exceed- 
ingly 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 preach- 
ing that severity which is the sign-manual 

170 



SAVONAROLA 

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 indis- 
pensable 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 anjrthing 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 Savon- 
arola on every side was a civilisation which 

171 



SAVONAROLA 

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 mon- 
strosity 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 

172 



SAVONAROLA 

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 
173 



SAVONAROLA 

Florentine republican. It is such men as 
these and their civilisation that we have 
at the present day to fear. We are sur- 
rounded on many sides by the same 
symptoms as those which awoke the un- 
quenchable wrath of Savonarola — a hedon- 
ism 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, 
and 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 

174. 



SAVONAROLA 

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 de- 
volve our duties descends on us, which 
is the soul of slavery, alike whether for 
its menial tasks it employs serfs or em- 
perors. Against all this the great clerical 
repubHcan 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 
175 



SAVONAROLA 

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 im- 
mediate 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 cam- 
paigns and battles are always called trium- 
phant, 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. 

176 



SAVONAROLA 

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 con- 
tentment 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 Savon- 
arola, that the number of fine works of 

art destroyed in the Burning of the Vanities 
M 177 



SAVONAROLA 

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. 



178 



THE POSITION OF SIR WALTER 
SCOTT 

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 sesthetic criticism 
have been uiifavourable to him. He was 
a chaotic and unequal writer, and if there 
is one thing in which artists have im- 
proved since his time, it is in consistency 
and equality. It would perhaps be un- 
kind to inquire whether the level of the 

modern man of letters, as compared with 
179 




THE POSITION OF 

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 Provi- 
dence. 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 be- 
cause he is too generous. If romance be 
180 



SIR WALTER SCOTT 

really a pleasure, it is difficult to under- 
stand 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 be- 
cause 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 
181 



THE POSITION OF 

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 de- 
sired 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 
Dfckens. 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 under- 
stood until Romance is understood, and 
that will be only when Time, Man, and 

Eternity are understood. To say that Scott 
182 



SIR WALTER 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 ro- 
mance is in some viray 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, dis- 
ease, insanity, are merely material acci- 
dents, 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 
183 



THE POSITION OF 

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 him- 
self, as swaggering and sentimental as a 
penny novelette. The literature of can- 
dour unearths innumerable weaknesses and 
elements of lawlessness which is called 
romance. It perceives superificial 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 com- 
panion, 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 
184 



SIR WALTER SCOTT 

romance or adventure are merely material- 
istic 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 cer- 
tain 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 eflfect us like fragments of a hilari- 
ous dream. They have the same quality 

which is often possessed by those nocturnal 
185 



THE POSITION OF 

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 sun- 
set. 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 
186 



SIR WALTER SCOTT 

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 roman- 
cers who have followed the leadership of 
Dumas. There has, indeed, been a great 

and inspiriting revival of romance in our 
187 



THE POSITION OF 

time, but it is partly frustrated in almost 
every ease 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 adven- 
tures 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, 
188 



SIR WALTER SCOTT 

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 con- 
viction 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 1 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 compari- 
son to tools and weapons may be tested 
by the fact that the most popular story 

of adventure is concerned with a man who 
189 



THE POSITION OF 

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 in- 
sistence upon the details of armour and 
costume. The critic in the ' Edinburgh Re- 
view ' said indignantly that he could toler- 
ate 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 
190 



SIR WALTER SCOTT 

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 philo- 
sophical 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 per- 
son of importance, a castle had a character 
191 



THE POSITION OF 

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 ' 
192 



SIR WALTER SCOTT 

retort upon each other with a passionate 

dignity, haughty and yet singularly human, 

which can hardly be paralleled in political 

eloquence except in * Julius Cagsar.* 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 
N 193 



THE POSITION OF 

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 de- 
fiance 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 
194 



SIR WALTER SCOTT 

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 con- 
ductor. In discussing questions like the 
farm-burning in South Africa no critic of 
the war uses his material as Burke or Grat- 
tan (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 EUangowan, at the rulers of 
Britain : ' Ride your ways, Laird of EUan- 
gowan ; ride your ways, Godfrey Bertram 
— this day have ye quenched seven smok- 
ing hearths. See if the fire in your ain 
195 



THE POSITION OF 

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-eleugh. See that the 
hare does not couch on the hearthstane 
of EUangowan. Ride your ways, Godfrey 
Bertram.' 

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 com- 
prehension, it cannot obviously have any 
chance with a literary ambition which aims 

at falling just outside it. It is quite right 
196 



SIR WALTER SCOTT 

to invent subtle analyses and detached 
criticisms, but it is unreasonable to expect 
them to be punctuated with roars of popu- 
lar 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 impres- 
sion of the world is by far the deepest. 
197 



THE POSITION OF 

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 melo- 
dramas and adventure stories^ and Punch 
and Judy, if he would admit that it was 
a slight deficiency in his artistic sensibili- 
ties. Beyond all question, it marks a lack 
of literary instinct to be unable to simplify 
one's mind at the first signal of the ad- 
vance of romance. 'You do me wrong,' 
said Brian de Bois-Guilbert to Rebecca. 

* Many a law, many a commandment have I 
198 



Sm WALTER SCOTT 

broken, but my word, never.' *Die,' cries 
Balfour of Burley to the villain in * Old 
Mortality.' *Die, hoping nothing, believ- 
ing 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 mak- 
ing fools of themselves, and are unaware 
that that transformation has already been 
triumphantly effected. 

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 prim- 
199 



THE POSITION OF 

arily concerned with that dehcate and fas- 
cinating speech which burrows deeper and 
deeper Uke a mole ; but we have wholly for- 
gotten 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 elo- 
quent, because the whole ' G. B. S.' con- 
dition 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 
200 



SIR WALTER SCOTT 

and silliest evasion of criticism. There was 
never anything in the world that was really 
artificial. It had some motive or ideal be- 
hind it, and generally a much better one 
than we think. 

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 com- 
piled a complete botanical classification of 
the weeds in the poetical garden, but the 
flowers still flourish neglected and name- 
less. 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 
201 



THE POSITION OF 

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 
202 



SIR WALTER SCOTT 

perfection, leaving outside of it Walter 
Scott and that strange old world which is 
as confused and as indefensible and as in- 
spiring and as healthy as he. 



203 






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