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Pencilling* is a collection of little essays on 
life and literature. They deal, some with 
the fundamental problems of literature- 
the relation of literature to life and its 
significance for living, the old problem of 
art and morality, and the mystery of 
literary creation ; others, more personal 
and less philosophical, are concerned with 
the byways of literary criticism, with 
styles and men and idiosyncrasies. In 
the more familiar manner permitted by 
the short essay the book is a restatement 
and a development of the critical prin- 
ciples and preferences already expounded 
by the author in Aspects of Literature, 
Countries of the Mind, and The Problem 
of Style. But Pencilling^ is addressed to a 
wider audience than Mr. Murry's previous 
works of criticism. 


Little Essays on Literature 




Copyright, 1923 

Manufactured in Great Britain 


MOST of these little essays were published 
under the title of " Pencillings " in The 
Times during the summer of 1922. A few 
appeared in the Nation and Atheruzum. 
I thank the editors of these newspapers 
for allowing me to reprint them. 

The title " Pencillings " was not my 
own choice. The title I chose proved too 
long for the width of a narrow column. 
To return to it, however, would be mis- 

































S. P. E. 265 



ONE of the most peculiar features of litera- 
ture during the last thirty or forty years 
has been the steady movement of a part of 
it towards esotericism. To-day literature 
is divided into the comprehensible and the 
incomprehensible. The incomprehensible 
part is naturally not very popular. It is 
written on the definite assumption that the 
writer's duty is wholly towards himself, or, 
as he generally prefers to put it, towards 
his art. He writes to satisfy a purely 
personal impulse to self-expression. He 
writes, just as he chooses the colour of his 
wall-paper, to please himself alone. He 

does not hope to be understood, and he 



says to himself with a resignation in which 
there is a tinge of complacency and even 
of pride, that no really original writer ever 
has been understood. 

Of course this esoteric literature is dis- 
regarded by the general public, which even 
if it desired to regard it, could not do so. 
The general public has managed, rather 
dubiously, to swallow Meredith, and is 
still wondering whether the meal agreed 
with it; it has made some sort of an effort 
to cope with Henry James. After that, it 
has accepted the inevitable and decided 
that esoteric literature and itself must part. 
Only just in time. For the difficulty of 
Henry James is as nothing to the difficulty 
of some of the literature which has followed 
him. And yet the general public has 
managed to take to its heart the greatest 



writer of our time, Thomas Hardy. It has 
enjoyed Kipling and Wells spontaneously; 
it has succeeded, with perhaps a little more 
effort, in acquiring a genuine appetite for 
Conrad; it has elected Arnold Bennett's 
finest novel, The Old Wives' Tale, into the 
highest place in its own affections. But 
we may prophesy with certainty that it 
will never, never come to terms with the 
book which is now being announced by 
initiates as the masterpiece of the age, Mr. 
James Joyce's Ulysses. 

It is open to the esoteric to argue that 
the general public has never really under- 
stood Hardy or Conrad or any other great 
English author. It is probably true in the 
sense that a very small number of the 
people who have agonised over the fortunes 

of Tess or Bathsheba could render a coherent 



account of their fascination. But they have 
loved and re-read the stories, and they 
remember them. Perhaps there is nobody 
who understands Hamlet ; there are 
thousands who know him. Don Quixote 
is vivid in the minds of a hundred times 
more people than have grasped the definite 
intention of Cervantes in creating him. 
And perhaps Don Quixote would be a 
smaller figure if that intention were generally 
understood. The mind is more profoundly 
moved by things it does not wholly under- 
stand than by things completely compre- 
hended. A greater magnitude is given 
to a created character, a deeper significance 
to a verse of poetry, by the margin of 
mystery which surrounds it. 

But this mystery is not obscurity. When 
the general public reads a great book it is 


moved by the feeling that the words contain 
more than they say; but the condition of 
this feeling is that it should understand 
what the words actually do say. No one 
ever failed to follow the story of Don 
Quixote or Hamlet or to find a simple 
delight in following it. Dostoevsky's Crime 
and Punishment is one of the most thrill- 
ing detective stories in the world, Madame 
Bovary one of the simplest and most absorb- 
ing tales of provincial life. And they are 
that, and they remain that, because they are 
also something else. They have a source 
of vitality apart from the interest of their 
stories. The stories last as stories because 
they were not told for the story's sake 
alone. Some passionate conviction about 
life went to their making, and an ardent 

desire to express this conviction so clearly, 



so simply, that no one could refuse to share 
it. The mystery of a great book lies in its 
clarity. It is the feeling of wonder that 
so much should be contained in so little. 

At a point of time which many now living 
are old enough to remember, there sprang 
into being a heresy which has gained in 
strength with the years. It began to be 
believed that the writer had to feel not a 
passionate conviction about life, but a 
passionate conviction about art. The heresy 
came from France. It began to be known 
in England that two great writers, Flaubert 
and Baudelaire, had enounced the doctrine 
of " art for art's sake." (Perhaps it was a 
misfortune that the word " art " ever came 
to be mixed up with literature.) It was not 
known, and it has never been clearly under- 
stood to this day, that the passionate 



conviction of those two writers about art was 
merely a peculiar form imposed by the social 
conditions of their age upon a passionate 
conviction about life. They were born at 
the beginnings of plutocratic industrialism. 
They believed in art because they passion- 
ately disbelieved in life. And the book 
and poems which they wrote are important 
precisely in so far as they are directly 
animated by their deep conviction that life 
was a torment. 

But a tradition was built upon them in 
the curious persuasion that they were in- 
different to life. They were reported to 
have cultivated art as an end itself, as a 
transcendental satisfaction beyond the reach 
of ordinary human beings. They who 
had spent agonies on trying to be absolutely 
unmistakable (as they were) were made 


the protective deities of literary incom- 
prehensibility. It was a strange aberration 
in the human mind ; and the aberration 
still flourishes. The conviction that it is 
superior to be esoteric continues to work 
havoc among writers of talent and even of 
genius. The great effort to be unmistakable 
which distinguishes the man of literary 
genius from the mere genius (who without 
it is next door to the madman) is con- 
temptuously called " making concessions." 
As if to be unmistakable were necessarily 
to be popular! As if the effort to be un- 
mistakable were not the very secret of 
style! As if it were not precisely because 
the true writer insists that his reader shall 
feel exactly what he intends him to feel, 
instead of what the reader would like to 

feel, that he sometimes has such difficulty 



in getting a hearing ! People do not like 
to be disturbed. Literature exists in order 
to disturb them. A writer may disturb 
them by forcing them to think thoughts 
and feel emotions which they find they 
really wanted to think and feel. Then, 
like. Dickens, he may be great and popular 
at once. Another writer may compel them 
to think and feel things which they do not 
want to think and feel. He is likely to be 
a great writer long before he is a popular 
one, like Thomas Hardy. But if he is 
unmistakable, his day of popularity will 
come. It is the unmistakability that matters. 
In the long run we all accept what we 
cannot refuse. 

Goethe said one day to Eckermann that 
the writer who did not write in the expecta- 
tion of a million readers had missed his 
p. 9 B 


rocation. On another day he said also to 
Eckermann that a writer could not hope 
to be really understood. The busy com- 
mentators have pointed out that there is a 
contradiction. There is none at all. No 
one ever understands all that a great writer 
meant by his creation; perhaps there are 
few great writers who understood it all 
themselves. But the writer who flinches in 
the effort to convey his meaning, or all 
that he knows of it, in words and characters 
so clear and compulsive that the last of a 
million readers must respond is less of a 
writer than he should be. And that is 
why a great book, or even a really good 
book, contains something for every one 
who will approach it. 



IT is an article of modern literary faith 
that all great writers were incomprehensible 
in their day. It is a legend. Comparatively 
few great writers have not become popular 
in their lives, and if from them we take 
away those who died before forty, there 
are few indeed. What is true is that it 
often takes a new and original writer longer 
to reach his public than a facile and familiar 
one. But not because of his obscurity. It 
is his clarity which stands in the way. It is 
a shock for us to be compelled to see life 
in an unfamiliar light and we fight shy of 
the experience. But those who risk it 

return and bring others with them. The 



popularity of a great writer may be slow 
it is not always but it is certain. But the 
writer who elects to be ambiguous remains 
unpopular for ever. 

As soon as a writer ceases to be governed 
by the desire to enforce his thought and 
feelings upon us, he becomes something 
other than a writer, something interesting 
for the connoisseur of psychology, some- 
thing far less important for the world at 
large. When Henry James began to devote 
his energies to the solution of subtle problems 
of form which when they were solved 
could not increase but -only weaken the 
compulsion he exerted on the reader's mind, 
he was by so much less a writer. He may 
have been more of an artist. It does not 
matter if he was. At least it matters only 

in a private way. It matters only if another 


writer should arise who, without ever con- 
fusing the means with the end, will take 
advantage of some of Henry James's ex- 
plorations and use them in order to increase 
his own unmistakability. 

This esoteric significance of certain 
writers is utterly different from absolute 
significance. A good teacher in the arts, 
like a good trainer in boxing, may be an 
indifferent performer himself. He is so 
occupied with his method that he forgets 
his business is to knock out his man. Some 
writers are always forgetting that. And 
it is unreasonable for their admirers to 
denounce the stupidity of a public which 
does not admire them also. The public 
expects a writer to be able to knock it out, 
so soon as it ventures within reach of the 

blow. That is what it respects him for, and 



if he fails in that, he fails in everything. 
What does the public care, why should it 
care, if it was he who taught the next 
champion his punch ? That is family history. 
So it is idle to proclaim that Mallarm was 
a great poet. He began by being a true 
poet and ended by being an incomprehen- 
sible one. Other poets may learn from 
him, and they may be great poets. But 
that will only be if, unlike him, they do 
not mistake the means for the end. 

What the writer may reasonably ask from 
the public is more curiosity, more readiness 
to come within his reach and see whether 
he can shock them into a new way of looking 
at life. He has a right to ask that they 
should approach a new book with the 
definite expectation of being disturbed, and 
with the knowledge that the finest pleasure 


literature has to offer is the revelation which 
follows upon this shock to fixed habits of 
thinking and feeling. He has a right to 
ask that readers should not expect from 
him a mere reflection of themselves, a 
gratification of their own daydreams or a 
titillation of their social curiosities. Of 
course there are plenty of writers who 
give these things, and they have their 
reward. But the persons who ask for 
them may be excellent members of society; 
they are not readers. And perhaps they 
are not even excellent members of society. 
They are stagnant, they are moribund, 
they are sliding into spiritual decrepitude. 
The writer may fairly demand that they 
should wake out of it. And we on his 
behalf may preach the duty of intellectual 
curiosity. England needs it more than most 


countries. France is infinitely, Germany 
much more curious about intellectual 
things than England. The Americans 
are passing us by. We are perhaps the 
nation in the world least eager for new 
spiritual experiences. A visit to Paris 
becomes a positive ordeal to one's national 
self-respect. There are a dozen good 
bookshops where we find one in London. 
And the books they contain tell a painful 
story. An exposition of the Einstein theory 
by M. Nordmann of the Paris Observatory 
has passed its fortieth thousand. M. Paul 
Morand, a young writer whose work would 
certainly be caviare to the general here, 
produces a book of brilliant stories, Ouvert 
la Nttit. Seventeen thousand copies have 
been sold in a fortnight ! And, for a final 

taste of wormwood, imagine the intellectual 


eagerness of a public which has bought 
forty thousand copies of each of the five 
volumes of M. Marcel Proust's remarkable 
and exacting narrative. 

Any one of these happenings would be 
a portent in England at the present time. 
If they all happened together we should look 
for a cataclysm. Of course it may be said 
that French books are cheaper than English 
ones. At the present exchange, indeed, 
they are less than half the price. But though 
a franc is not a shilling to a Frenchman 
any more, it is certainly more than six- 
pence. And there are two great causes 
why French books are cheaper than English 
ones. The first is that a French publisher 
can generally count on three or four times 
the demand that an English publisher can. 

The second is that French books are 



paper-bound. We are told that paper covers 
are altogether too flimsy for the solid English 
taste. No doubt. But the secret of the 
riddle is that the French public wants the 
books and not the covers, and that the 
French library reader has sufficient respect 
for books to make a paper cover last as 
long as a cloth case. 

The paper-covered book is, in fact, a 
rough and ready test of literary curiosity. 
Anglo-Saxondom fails badly by it. So 
that the moral of this story is double-edged. 
If the writer has a duty towards the reader, 
the reader has a duty towards the writer. 
If the writer shirks or denies his duty, then 
" the less writer he," though he may be an 
artist or a genius. If the reader shirks his, 
he may be a subscriber to four libraries at 

once, but he is not a reader. The bad 


reader helps to make the bad writer. Against 
indifference, indifference sometimes seems 
the only remedy; and obscurantism the 
best reply to neglect. But it is not really 
so. No converts to literature are made by 
shutting the door of the temple against 
them. Compelle intrare must remain the 
writer's sign. Compel them to come in 
but at the point of the pen. 


MOST of those who deal much with books 
have some secret literary dissipation. In 
a private cupboard they keep a few curious 
bottles to which they are ever slyly returning. 
They are willing to admit that these private 
tipples are not to be compared (in public 
anyhow) with the established vintages. Yet 
it is to these they go when all else fails 
them. They ought to be obeying the sage 
precept of Matthew Arnold and tuning 
their palate with the indisputably sublime. 
But it is not the full flavour they are wanting. 
It is the tang of personality, almost of 
eccentricity, they need: a violent stimulant 
which exactly suits a few mentalities, and 

may agree with few others. 



The most reputable of my own private 
stimulants form an oddly assorted trio. 
They are Stendhal's La Chartreuse de 
Parme, Mr. Wells's The History of Mr. Polly, 
and The Note-Books of Samuel Butler. Each 
of these has so far proved infallible when 
I am suffering from a surfeit of literature. 
The worst attack of accidie, the veritable 
devil that walketh in the noonday, gives 
way before them. Are they all great books ? 
I have often declared that they are, but for 
the life of me I cannot be sure. Sometimes 
I doubt whether a great book could be so 
precisely fitted to my constitution as these 
are. Indeed, there are moments when my 
conscience pricks me. I am almost afraid 
to take them up, without some assurance 
that my case is really urgent. I may be 
like a man taking nips from the domestic 


brandy which is for medicinal purposes 

Lately, I have been at La Chartreuse de 
Parme again. I do not pretend that La 
Chartreuse is an esoteric devotion of my 
own. But I fancy its devotees would make 
a rather strange company. I have pressed 
it upon many of my friends : I have not 
yet found one who really took to it. One 
of them has always maintained that it has 
no chapter divisions, and when I showed 
them to him, book in hand, he persisted 
that they were not in the copy which he 
tried to read. He also said, I do not know 
upon what evidence, that Mr. Saintsbury 
(who is not sympathetic to Stendhal) had 
remarked upon the same peculiarity. Since 
the three copies I have possessed abomin- 
ably printed, all of them were " beyond 



a peradventure " divided into chapters, I 
conclude that this is an example of collec- 
tive hallucination. I myself can never 
remember the chapters, though I know 
the book pretty well and adore it ; it is 
perhaps natural that those who do not 
should be persuaded that it has no chapters 
at all. 

However that may be, I have yet to meet 
in the flesh a person who knows La Chartreuse 
well enough to discuss its incidents in detail. 
Undoubtedly they exist, and I sometimes 
comfort myself with the thought that many 
of them are very distinguished. Taine 
read it eighty times; M. Andr Gide has 
declared that it is the finest of all French 
novels ; Mr. Maurice Hewlett, I believe, 
translated it into English; and M. Marcel 

Proust a year ago made a reference to it 



which proved that his knowledge of it was 
profound, though his memory of the names 
was at fault. It was M. Proust's reference 
which gave me the excuse for going back 
to the book. I wanted to make sure that 
the Abb6 Blanks was not the Abb Banes 
as M. Proust called him. He was not. The 
mistake is a stray evidence of how little 
Stendhal is read even in his own coun- 
try. Whether La Chartreuse is the finest 
French novel or not, it is one of 
the most famous, and the Abb Blanks 
is one of the most important characters 
in it. To call him Banes is not quite as 
bad as to speak of Mr. Snowgrass; but 
it is at least the equivalent of making the 
husband of the adorable Emma, Mr. 

But M. Proust pointed out the queer 


fact that Stendhal, whenever he wishes to 
present to us the finest workings of his 
hero's consciousness, invariably takes him 
up into a high place, a lofty prison or a 
church tower. He lifts up Julien Sorel as 
well as Fabrice del Dongo. It is an odd 
effort of romantic symbolism. Probably 
it is as old as religion itself. The tower of 
Babel, the high places of Baal, the great 
towers of the Parsees, the Temptation in 
the Wilderness, perhaps even church spires 
themselves, all bear witness to the impulse 
to obtain release from earthly cares by 
climbing away from earth. The classical 
mind, which accommodates itself to the 
reality, either ignores or suppresses the 
impulse. With modern romanticism it 
has been remarked many times before 

the worship of mountains returned again 
P. 25 c 


to a world from which it had been banished 
for centuries. 

Stendhal was a romantic, a peculiar one, 
but one of the greatest. And his romanti- 
cism shows itself perhaps most clearly in 
this impulse to put his heroes in high places. 
For the impulse seems to have been quite 
instinctive. His chosen natures had to 
be contemptuous of the practical world ; 
therefore, quite literally, he made them 
look down upon it. Stendhal is an extreme 
case. But Balzac did much the same thing 
in that strange story Seraphita. When he 
was dealing, as he believed, with the highest 
mysteries of the human consciousness, he 
took Seraphitus-Seraphita into the Northern 
mountains. Quite recently Mr. D. H. 
Lawrence has obeyed the same instinct. 

In order that the final and mystical solution 



of their destinies may be accomplished, 
the two pairs of antagonistic lovers in 
Women in Love are wafted away from the 
English midlands to the snow-mountains 
of Switzerland. 

But Stendhal's love of height shall we 
call it altitudinarianism or hypsophily ? 
is the familiar romantic sentiment with a 
difference, just as he was a romantic with a 
difference. In him there is an element of 
precision in the vagueness, a touch of mathe- 
matical exactitude. In a general way it is 
this precision which gives him his extra- 
ordinary fascination. Could any one resist 
the charm of a man who wrote, and told us 
that he wrote, " Yesterday I was fifty," on 
the inside of his braces ? Alas, it seems 
they can, although that act is deeply charac- 
teristic of Stendhal who carried the same 



spirit of naive exactness into all his books. 
He is perfectly precise about the height 
of Fabrice's tower. Three hundred and 
eighty steps led up to it. The church 
tower of the Abb Blanes was " more 
than eighty feet high." What is more, 
it was an observatory, though the good 
abb was more astrologer than astro- 

Here Stendhal touches hands with Mr. 
Thomas Hardy. Two on a Tower plays 
also in a country observatory. It is a 
curious yet curiously natural method of 
eliminating the vagueness from a symbol 
of romantic sublimity. On the one hand 
height and the ineffable spaces of the 
universe, on the other the exactness of 
pure science. It gives a sense of security; 

the strength of romanticism is accepted, 



the weakness refused. Perhaps I am reading 
too much into a single clue, but it seems to 
me that this almost mathematical control 
of the delirium of height indicates a secret 
firmness in a writer's imaginative grasp. The 
vagueness of Seraphitus-Seraphita's moun- 
tains is a symptom of Balzac's surrender 
to Mesmer and Swedenborg; the Abb 
Blank's neat observatory corresponds to 
Stendhal's lucid mind. Comparing them, 
I feel justified in my private conviction 
that Stendhal was a better writer than his 
more famous contemporary. And when 
I think of Two on a Tower, immature though 
it is, my mind passes easily to the magnificent 
ending of The Trumpet-Major, when they 
look down from Portland Bill and gaze, 
not upon " illimitable leagues of sea," but 
upon Nelson's fleet sailing in certain order, 


ship by ship, to the glory of Trafalgar, and 
I know, as by a masonic sign, that we also 
have a writer who has imposed exactness 
upon the infinite. 


I WAS struck by Mr. H. M. Tomlinson's 
remark, made in The Times a few days ago, 
that he was not surprised to find that a 
young writer and critic of his acquaintance 
thought that Dickens had gone the way of 
the wax-fruit. (Mr. Roger Fry, by the 
way, has told us that the wax-fruit are 
coming, have already come, back again.) 
I was surprised at Mr. Tomlinson's lack 
of surprise. My own impression is that 
in the last few years, let us say since 1914, 
there has been a marked revival of interest 
and admiration for Dickens among the 
younger generation. While Thackeray has 
been decidedly tarnished since he was put 


on the shelf, the splendour of Dickens, I 
fancy, now that he has been taken down 
again, shines as bright as even 

I have a good memory for the evidences of 
a Dickens revival. I remember an intellec- 
tual dinner-party at which it was announced, 
without any manifest ill-effects upon the 
company, that the real test of literary taste 
was an admiration, not for Jane Austen 
(as some one had suggested), but for Dickens. 
And the reason given for making him the 
touchstone was that the lover of Emma 

might be an intellectual snob, while the 


lover of David Copperjield could not be. 
Then there was the letter of one who had 
been brought up in the strict Flaubert 
persuasion. He declared with the emphasis 
natural to a man who feels he has been 

deceived since childhood, that there was 



more substance in Bella Wilfer alone than 
in all the created characters of the great 
Frenchman. He was extravagant, but I 
know what he meant. 

Again, there is the striking fact that the 
finest essay on Dickens which has yet been 
written appeared only a few months ago in 
an organ of ultra-modern literature, the 
American Dial. Had it not been written 
by Mr. Santayana, it is possible it would 
not have squeezed its way through the 
narrow door. But there it undeniably was; 
and it was a masterpiece of profound and 
appreciative criticism. Those poor slaves 
of fashion who have hitherto had to read 
their Dickens in secret, if they read him at 
all, may now indulge themselves in the 
open. And for a final overwhelming proof, 

a proof by miracle, as it were, a proof of 



the credo quia tmpossibtle kind, there is the 
acknowledgment by Mr. T. S. Eliot in the 
last number of The Tyro that Dickens is not 
altogether vieux jeu. " The critic," says 
Mr. Eliot, " is the person who has the power 
to discern what, in any work of literary art, 
takes its place, through its expression of 
the genius of its language, in European 
literature, and what is of purely local 
importance. (In the case of such a writer 
as Dickens, for example, the dissociation 
remains to be performed.)" 

It is rather grim. Dickens is slipped 
into a parenthesis, squeezed between a pair 
of brackets as between a pair of forceps, 
tied down on the surgeon's table, and 
warned that a serious operation is necessary. 
But, at the cost of a certain expurgation 

his life can be saved. We need not despair 



of him. We do not yet know, of course, 
how much will be cut away, or whether 
Dickens will be recognisable when he has 
been pruned into a European. We hope 
that Mr. Eliot means nothing worse than 
a careful excision of sentimentality. Even 
that pound of flesh might have to be taken, 
like Shylock's, from very near the heart. 
Still, there is hope. I seem to remember 
that Mr. Eliot made a much less hopeful 
diagnosis a year or two ago. Now that he 
has granted his provisional imprimatur, the 
most advanced young man may carry a 
copy of Pickwick in his pocket. If he is 
cross-questioned about the suspicious volume, 
he has only to reply that he is engaged in 
blue-pencilling the non-European parts. 
Dickens is safe, so safe indeed that within 

the next twelve months he may become 



a snobism in his turn. The permissible 
portions may be printed in a limited edition 

with a cover design by , but that would 

be implied art criticism. Let us be content 
with the knowledge that the offence against 
art and intellect is no longer to know Dickens, 
but to be ignorant of him. I have read the 
signs with care, for the simple reason that, 
although I have floundered into most of 
the artistic snobisms of my time (and, I 
hope, floundered out again), I have never 
deserted Mr. Micawber. I may have been 
silent, but I have not deserted him. Not 
through any fundamental rectitude in my 
nature, but simply because of the accident 
that Pickwick was the first book I ever 
possessed. My copy began at page 19. 
I have never read those nineteen pages. 

They would not be real if I did. The 



foundation of the Pickwick Club will always 
be a mystery to me. 

Until the day when I read Mr. Gosse's 
Father and Son, I was persuaded that the 
behaviour Mr. Pickwick induced in me 
at the age of eight and nine was a clear 
proof of a peculiar madness. Even at that 
age I was half-ashamed of it. I used to 
begin to laugh before I had opened the 
book. (Perhaps that was as well, because 
the pages were so sticky that I should 
have lost precious time in opening them.) 
And I have never been able to read more 
than a few pages since then, because the 
helpless feeling of unquenchable Achaean 
laughter takes hold of me. I dare not let 
go my sanity; I am afraid of a second 
childhood. But Mr. Gosse reassured me, 

for he precisely described all my own 



alarming symptoms. " I felt myself to be 
in the company of a gentleman so extremely 
funny that I began to laugh before he began 
to speak ; no sooner did he remark " the 
sky was dark and gloomy, the air was damp 
and raw/' than I was in fits of hilarity. . . . 
Possibly," concluded Mr. Gosse, " I was 
the latest of the generation which accepted 
Mr. Pickwick with an unquestioning and 
hysterical abandonment." Some forty years 
later I was being plunged, at about the 
same age, into the same hysterical ecstasy. 
I cannot help believing that forty years 
hence it will happen again, and that the 
generations of childish Pickwick enthusiasts 
are perennial. 

Afterwards come the phases of Dickens 
adulation. There is the year when Dora 

is woman, and the year when Squeers is 



the devil incarnate; the year when Jonas 
Chuzzlewit makes our nights miserable, 
and Mrs. Gamp our days a delight ; the 
year of confident maturity when we declare 
that Our Mutual Friend is Dickens's only 
work of art; the year after when we discover 
that even the death of Paul Dombey has 
an undiminished power to harrow our souls, 
though our teeth are set against its illicit 
compulsions ; there is the year of Mrs. 
Jellyby, the year of Little Dorrit, the year 
of Sally Brass and the Marchioness. And 
then at last come the years when we give 
up the insoluble problem, when we are 
incapable of rejecting anything to which 
Dickens put his hand (unless it is Hard 
Times), when we simply know that we enter 
an amazing and extraordinary world, and 

that once we have abandoned ourselves to it 



the only wonder is that we could ever have 
been such fools as to remain deliberately 
outside, even for a single year, 

Dickens is a baffling figure. There are 
moments when it seems that his chief 
purpose in writing was to put a spoke in 
the wheel of our literary aesthetics. We 
manage to include everybody but him ; 
and we are inclined in our salad days to 
resent the existence of anybody who refuses 
to enter the scheme. That is why people 
tried to get rid of him by declaring that he 
was not an artist. It was an odd way of 
predicating non-existence. Now it is going 
out of fashion, I suppose because it did not 
have the desired effect of annihilating 
Dickens ; and also perhaps because simple 
people asked why the books of a man who 

was not an artist should have this curious 



trick of immortality. There was, alas, no 
answer. So we are beginning to discover 
that Dickens was an artist, but, of course, 
only in parts. When we have discovered 
which are the parts we shall breathe again. 

p. 41 


ALMOST exactly a year ago the back cover 
of the London Mercury contained the 
advertisement of a publisher who quoted 
these words from a review. " To a know- 
ledge of Russia probably unique, Mr. 

adds the advantage of writing with a pen 
that makes everything he says interesting." 
I will not give the name of the owner of the 
pen. So many people would write to him 
to borrow it, or at least to learn the name 
of the maker. I myself have refrained from 
pestering him, but I have been haunted 
by a vision of his pen ever since. 

I have not got a pen of that kind. I was 

rather surprised to learn that Mr. had. 



He must have acquired it recently; the last 
book of his that I read was not written with 
it. But I have often suspected that certain 
other writers had one, Mr. Bernard Shaw 
for instance, and Mr. Max Beerbohm and 
Miss Katherine Mansfield. And although I 
have never seen their pens, I have some- 
times been tormented by a dream of one 
which would make not only my labours 
easy, but the results of them enchanting. 
The pen of my dream is a golden pen; it 
glides over a great sheet of white paper like 
crisp parchment ; it is dipped into a crystal 
well of ink blacker than a raven's breast ; 
and the lines it traces are as fine as those 
which Indian artists draw with an elephant's 
hair. And it seems to me that if all these 
things were mine, the thoughts of my brain 

would be as clean and fine and definite as 



they. An idea would rise before my mind 
like a bubble. I should only have to trace 
the outline. The bubble would break, the 
dust of its rainbow colouring would float 
down, settle on my ink before it was dry, 
and be imprisoned in it for ever. 

That is extravagant; and yet is it so 
much more extravagant than some of the 
expedients actually devised by writers in 
the past to aid the mysterious process of 
expression ? The quotation about the 
interesting pen sounds rather silly, but what 
could we have said if the publisher of the 
great Buffoon, as Mr. Shaw's childhood 
friend called him, had put in one of the 
advertisements for the Histoire Naturelle^ 
" To a knowledge of nature probably 
unique, M. de Buffon adds the advantage 

of writing in a pair of cuffs which make 



everything he says interesting " ? If Buffbn 
really found it impossible to work except 
in lace cuffs and a full-bottomed wig, the 
advertisement contains the simple truth. 
But of late there has been a tendency to 
throw suspicion on this account of the great 
naturalist's method. It has been said that 
the story was invented by a witty critic to 
describe the ornate majesty of Buffon's style. 
It may be so. But there is nothing in 
the least incredible in the story. It is 
indeed a very mild one compared with 
that extraordinary account of Schiller's habits 
which Goethe gave to Eckermann. Schiller 
happened to be out one day when Goethe 
came to see him. Goethe sat down at his 
friend's work-table. After a little while he 
felt faint, and noticed a curiously unpleasant 

smell, which he traced to a drawer of 



Schiller's desk. He opened it, and was 
astonished to find that it was full of rotten 
apples. When he had recovered himself 
at the open window, Frau Schiller came in 
and explained that her husband insisted 
that his drawer should be kept full of rotten 
apples, " because the smell did Schiller 
good, and he could not live or work without 


The medical expert might discover a 
difference in kind between Schiller's apples 
and Buffon's cuffs. He would probably 
say that Schiller's apples were like the 
opium of Coleridge and De Quincey, or 
the black coffee which Balzac so copiously 
drank, or the famous fumes which inspired 
the priestess of Delphi to prophesy from 
her tripod. But can any such line be really 

drawn between these aids to expression ? 



They are means used to produce a certain 
condition of quiescence in the physical 
being, to make the writer oblivious of the 
thousand physical sensations which distract 
his mind from the task of dragging the 
depths of unconscious memory. Narcotic 
drugs and, I suppose, charitable wine must 
be included under that uncharitable name 
are only a clearly marked species of a 
larger kind. 

Consider the case of Dostoevsky. One 
of the few valuable pieces of information 
in his daughter's biography of him is that 
he could write only in absolutely clean 
clothes and linen. If there was a single 
spot or stain on his coat he was compelled 
to give up work until it had been removed. 
The presence of a stain affected him like 

a physical contamination. His mind was 



obsessed by it as by a direct physical sensation. 
I confess that this information concerning 
the painter of so many tremendous pictures 
of physical sordidness surprised me, just 
as I was surprised when I first saw a photo- 
graph of his incredibly neat study. It 
seemed more like the work-room of an 
ambassador than of the great novelist. My 
surprise was naive. I have since come to 
believe that it was precisely because physical 
degradation plays so great a part in the 
world of his literary creation that Dostoevsky 
had such an exaggerated nervous horror of 
it in reality. Dostoevsky was fighting with 
a devil. There was a hereditary taint in 
his family. It is this which accounts for 
the impressive reality of evil in his books, 
and for his fear of a single stain on his coat 

while writing them. Through a spot of 



grease the devil might enter in. Clean 
linen was for him the whole armour of 
righteousness. When he put it on he was 

That is a complicated case of psychology. 
Dostoevsky was a complicated man. There 
was much more behind his clean cuffs than 
Buffon's, though the motive for both was 
the same. They aimed at exorcising inter- 
ruptions of the strange process of expression. 
Since the interruptions to which writers 
are peculiarly liable may differ widely, the 
means of defeating them may differ widely 
also. Most writers, no doubt, like quiet 
and isolation. But I know one a writer 
with more than a streak of genius who 
works most easily at the corner of a kitchen 
table while an animated conversation is 

going on over his head. The way his pen 



flew over the paper in the midst of this 
distracting babble used to amaze me. But 
that was simply because I myself would 
have been paralysed by his surroundings. 
One day I learned that his first lessons as a 
tiny schoolboy had been written on the 
kitchen table of a home where everything 
happened in the kitchen. So he had worked 
and read till he was twenty. The habit had 
become instinctive, until now the quiet 
which is the first condition of concentration 
to most of his tribe is to him a positive 
interruption. Just as the eye of imagination 
can glimpse the awful presence of a haunted 
family through Dostoevsky's agony at a 
stain, it can see through my friend's easy 
absorption at a kitchen table the whole 
history of a boyhood. 

We seem to have wandered far from the 


golden pen. But it is not so. The pen is 
but one among many of the conditions of 
literary expression, though it has been made 
the symbol of them all. The ideal pen is 
simply the pen which makes the actual 
operation of writing most unconscious. 
All that which helps to put the physical 
sensibility into abeyance is an aid to ex- 
pression. I know a man who writes best 
at the top of a clean sheet of paper; when 
he gets lower down he begins to be dis- 
tracted by what he has already written. To 
conquer this distraction requires an effort, 
and the effort is made at the cost of the 
proper effort of expression. I know another 
who is most at ease when writing on the 
backs of bills, newspaper margins, and the 
insides of envelopes. This was the man 
who replied to the demand of an agitated 


editor for a long overdue review that he 
had lost the book, but he enclosed another 
review in its place. The substitute review 
was written on the torn-out title page and 
end-papers of the book which was lost. 


A FRIEND of mine wrote to me the other day 
that " the sceptre has passed from literature 
to science. He is, of course, a man of 
science himself. And it seemed rather 
strange that he should use such a very 
literary phrase to express his triumph. It 
would have been more appropriate if he 
had sent me an equation. I should not 
have known what the equation meant. 
Perhaps that was the reason why he sent 
me a metaphor instead. 

While I pondered his phrase it began to 
look to me like a barefaced contradiction 
in terms, and I wondered what kind of 

an equation would adequately express his 



satisfaction that literature had at last to play 
second fiddle to science. Even if an equation 
could be discovered with the proper nuance 
of " I told you so," what would be the 
pleasure for him if I did not appreciate it ? 
No enemy is stronger than one who does 
not know he is beaten. And, to compare 
large things with small, would not the effect 
upon literature of the victory of science be 
precisely the same as the effect upon me of 
my defeat by an equation I could not 
understand ? Literature may be shorn of 
its sceptre and its purple, but if there is no 
little boy to call out that the Emperor is 
naked, who will be the wiser ? If nobody 
knows, who will care ? 

Nevertheless, since my friend is a brilliant 
man, I have done my utmost to extract a 

meaning from his phrase. I am sure that 


he means something more than to make my 
flesh creep. My flesh refuses to creep, but 
I want to know what he means. I suspect 
that his metaphor was badly chosen, and 
that he would have done better with two 
sceptres instead of one. Probably he meant 
that literature and science each had a 
sceptre, but the sceptre of science had of 
late become heavier and more imposing 
than the sceptre of literature. Literature 
now rules a little kingdom, while science 
rules a big one. But the kingdom of 
literature has certainly not been incorporated 
into the kingdom of science, nor is it likely 
to be. You might as well try to marry 
Boyle's Law to a bookcase. 

But even if we take my friend to mean 
that science is now become a more important 

activity of the human mind than literature, 



is he saying more than that Boyle's Law is 
more valuable than a bookcase ? And is 
not that a judgment without import, as the 
logicians say ? Is he not like a man who 
insists on comparing the values of logarithms 
and love ? And if we suppose he means 
only that at the present time abler minds 
are engaged in scientific discovery than in 
literary creation a question exceedingly 
difficult to judge the issue is not affected. 
Quite possibly our bridges are better built 
than our poems nowadays. As Socrates 
would have said, our bridges have more of 
the goodness of bridges than our poems 
have of the goodness of poems. But that 
does not mean that a bridge is more im- 
portant than a poem, or a poem than a 

I suspect that what my friend has in his 


head is that the Einstein theory is a discovery 
of supreme philosophical importance ; that 
for the first time the metaphysical doctrine 
of subjective idealism has been backed by 
a scientific proof; and that this will have 
a determining influence upon the future 
evolution of literature. The last of these 
propositions is the most doubtful. It is 
quite true that scientific theory does have 
an influence upon literary creation. But 
it has to be translated into emotional terms. 
In order to affect literature it has to affect 
our attitude to life. The theory of Natural 
Selection, emotionally interpreted as handing 
man over to the play of blind and uncon- 
trollable forces, certainly gave a pessimistic 
tinge to the literature of the nineteenth 
century. The Copernican Revolution no 

doubt contributed to that emphatic isolation 
r. 57 E 


of the individual which is the beginning of 
modern romanticism. But we cannot say 
that the literature of the nineteenth century 
is either more or less important than Dar- 
winism or the Copernican Revolution. There 
is no means of comparing them. What we 
can say is that the literature may wear better. 
When those two scientific theories have 
been exploded, as we are told they are 
being exploded now, the great books created 
by minds coloured by them will remain as 
fresh and valuable as ever. 

For the truth of the matter surely is that 
there are very few emotional attitudes towards 
life which a man can truly and instinctively 
hold. He may believe life is painful and 
pitiful; he may believe it is glorious and 
splendid: he may confidently hope, he may 

continually despair, he may alternate between 



hope and despair. What his attitude will 
be is determined by many things : his 
heredity, his personal destiny, and to some 
degree by the scientific theories that obtain 
in his lifetime, A scientific theory which 
directly affects his hope of long life or 
immortality or better things to come, 
colours his mind and gives a twist to his 
sensibility. He becomes, if he is a writer, 
differently interested in life. In so far as 
either the Einstein theory or modern biology 
opens up new vistas of the significance or 
duration of human life, they will determine 
a change of tone in literature. Possibly 
the pessimism which still hangs about us 
like a cloud will be dissipated for a season. 
But it will return, simply because it is an 
eternal mode of the human spirit. And it 

may be dispelled without the cleansing 



wind of science, because optimism also is 
a natural mode of the human spirit. 

Literature changes tone in obedience to 
these modes. But its substance is unchanged, 
for that is based on a delighted interest in 
human life and destinies. Science has no 
power over that interest, which is a gift of 
the gods like the genius of communicating 
it. When the man of science has power to 
determine or to change the structure of 
our minds, then literature may begin to 
fear him. By that time ordinary men will 
fear him also, and there will be a massacre 
of biologists. But till that day science can 
do no more to literature than to help to 
decide whether its vision of life shall be 
tinged with pity or happiness, resignation 
or confidence. 

This may equally be decided by the 


indifference of the writer's mistress or his 
happiness in love. Science is only one of 
the things which colour the glass through 
which the writer looks at life ; at present it 
can neither give nor take away the gift of 
seeing clearly through the glass ; neither 
can it increase nor diminish the pleasure of 
those who take delight in what the writer 
can show them. The sceptre of science 
may be the more majestic. Beside its 
massy steel the rod of literature may appear 
slight and slender. We do not expect a 
magician's wand to look otherwise. 



IT may seem impertinent in me to reopen 
a subject which has already been discussed 
by abler pen than mine in this very place. 
But the subject and the occasion are important 
enough to justify every attempt to throw 
some light upon them. A message from 
Mr. Hardy to modern literature is nothing 
less than a Royal Command to examine 
our consciences. All other themes give 
way to this. Involuntarily I find myself 
turning over and over in my mind Mr. 
Hardy's verdict that in literature " we seem 
threatened by a new dark age." 
The appearance is indubitable. We can 

imagine a stern observer saying, " The age 


in literature, in art generally, is one of 
dissolution and disintegration. The creative 
forces which were on the verge of maturity 
before the war have been blighted by it ; 
while those which emerged during the 
war are either listless or nihilistic or both. 
The war, like a knife, cut the thread of 
the English tradition. At the moment 
it seems impossible that it should be tied 
together again. There is no point of 
departure, no solid rock of social or 
religious security on which the present 
generation can begin to build. From the 
highest ability to the lowest it is infected 
by a desire for crude or refined sensational- 
ism. This is the age, in literature, of scraps 
without coherence, of boredom which can 
be relieved only by the braying of a 

jazz-band, of a frenzied eagerness to 


uncover our father's nakedness and our 


All this, from one point of view, is true. 
It is also more true of other countries than 
our own. Russia has been in the same 
condition now for nearly twenty years. 
France is much more deeply bitten by 
Dadaism than England has been by its 
equivalent or imitation. Germany is more 
seriously affected still. Even in America 
it seems to have a deeper hold than it has 
among us. Still, we must admit that a great 
part of the youth of the world is given over 
to an exasperated cynicism. Its audience 
is not large. The audience for youth never 
is. The fact that its productions seldom 
reach beyond a small circle cannot be 
invoked to prove that the condition is not 

real and serious. 



Real and serious it may be; yet perhaps 
not so desperate as it must inevitably appear 
to Mr. Hardy. Mr. Hardy cannot know 
how hopeful is the reverence felt towards 
himself by the generation which seems 
hopeless to him. And even if this modern 
reverence for Mr. Hardy is still accompanied 
by an unadvised neglect of other great 
figures of the Victorian era, the reverence 
is the thing that matters. Amid the pathetic 
extravagances of genius or talent, or the 
flippant emptiness which apes them, a 
younger observer may discover in this respect 
for Mr. Hardy signs of a hunger, if not for 
religion, for the peace of an attitude of mind 
which might with some truth be called 

For a crucial example of this reverential 

tinge of the modern conciousness, take 



the work of Mr. Lytton Strachey. I re- 
member how those who had appreciated 
only the wittily destructive portions of 
Eminent Victorians rubbed their hands in 
delighted anticipation of Queen Victoria. 
Now, the cynical Mr. Strachey would fairly 
let himself go, with the real Aunt Sally 
for his target. Mr. Strachey did nothing 
of the kind. If ever a great character was 
handled tenderly, with an insight tempered 
by affection, it was the Queen Victoria of 
his biography. And it is surely not too 
much to say that he changed the mind not 
only of his contemporaries, but of his seniors 
about the central figure of a great era. 

Not that we pay Mr, Strachey 's generation 
the compliment of regarding him as typical 
of it; but the evident movement of his 

mind from a more or less destructive cynicism 


towards a positive and valuable humanism 
is characteristic. I would if the apology 
were not to some extent pro domo med 
point out the change in temper which 
distinguishes Miss Katherine Mansfield's 
Garden Party from her Bliss. And above 
all I would emphasise the significance of 
the homage paid to Tchehov as an artist 
and a man, and of the intimate appeal made 
to the modern mind by his combination of 
aesthetic and morality. It is possible to be 
cheated by one's eagerness to catch a certain 
tone; but to me the signs, though small, 
are manifold of a movement towards what 
can only be described as a new humanism. 

These signs will not be visible to those 
who look for a definite religious revival. 
The sequence of catastrophes which has 

driven so many Russian authors and men 



of science into mystical religion has no 
parallel in our own discomfitures; neither 
has the English mind that underlying 
tendency towards mystic self-abnegation 
which is permanent in the Russian. If, as 
we are sometimes assured there is, a religious 
revival in modern England, it does not 
seem to touch modern literature, save in 
the persons who were more or less com- 
pletely formed before the war. What we 
have instead is an instinctive attempt to 
overcome that divorce between complete 
rationality and the religious sense which 
Mr. Hardy so clearly discerns and so justly 

To some the Einstein theory may show 
the way of reconciliation. To others 
and I fancy modern writers will be found 

among these it may come more simply 


in a new recognition of the order of human 
values and a loyalty to the highest. As the 
most famous of modern French poets, M. 
Paul Val^ry, said the other day, there 
is still room for a mysticism of life itself. 
To prevent the stunting of wisdom by the 
growth of knowledge, to know where dis- 
integration should end and positivism begin, 
to feel what is moribund in our tradition 
and what is permanently vital, to avoid the 
condition eloquently described by Lucretius 
as "propter vitam vivendl perdere causas" and 
wittily by the German professor as " Empty- 
ing the baby with the bath " knowledge 
of this kind is mystical in the sense that no 
ratiocination can supply it. But it is rational 
also because the reason admits its own 
incompetence. Complete rationality will 

always open a door on to the wisdom which 



is beyond knowledge. But when the 
struggles of a generation towards complete 
rationality are precipitated by the agony 
of a world, they are so violent that they 
seem like death-pangs to the detached 
onlooker. Nevertheless, we believe they 
are growing pains. 


I HAVE made a literary discovery. That 
will suggest at the very least a first edition 
of Keats for sixpence, or an unknown letter 
by Dr. Johnson tucked away in a folio 
history. To some it may appear positively 
misleading. But they are those to whom 
" a literary discovery " must necessarily 
mean an event in bibliophily. I have no 
grudge against the bibliophiles. I pretend 
to despise their curiosity and keenness, but 
at heart I envy them their knowledge. Still 
more I envy them the uncanny instinct 
which enables them to pull out of the three- 
penny box under my very eyes the book 

which may possibly be a rarity. The 



chances are a hundred to one that it is not; 
the chances are also a hundred to one that 
if it is the bibliophile will get it. There is 
a swiftness and economy in his behaviour 
which I admire. 

But it is an admiration which has nothing 
to do with literature. Books are merely 
the corpus v?7e upon which this instinctive 
and scientific precision is exercised. Literary 
discovery is altogether different. Probably 
no one has ever been a penny the richer 
for making one ; and very often, if the 
discovery is one of the first importance, his 
anxiety to share it with the world will be 
the cause of much vexation of spirit to 
himself. During his efforts to convert the 
indifferent, he will be frowned on as a 
crank ; and when the indifferent are con- 
verted, his discovery will be reckoned as 


a commonplace and rewarded with in- 

Luckily, my discovery is not of the epoch- 
making kind. I shall not even have the 
satisfaction of helping an unknown author 
to fame. Already in 1914 the sales of the 
book I have found were comparable with the 
sales of If Winter Comes. 220,000 copies 
of Bonnes et Mauvaises Herties, by Jean 
KUnzle, cure of Wangs, near Sargans, in 
Switzerland, had been printed ten years 
ago. It is a little book of eighty pages, and 
is apparently the only reading of the land- 
lady of the remote Swiss inn where I am 
staying. When one's books are limited to 
a score of old familiar faces, one is grateful 
for anything in print; and much more than 
grateful for a Herbal written by a man of 

character and charm. 

p. 73 F 


My eye was caught first by his description 
of the nettle. " The nettle is like a rather 
rough man, who nevertheless has a heart 
and is ready in case of need to sacrifice his 
life to save his neighbour's." That was 
enough. It reminded me of St. Francois 
de Sales, who was indeed almost a country- 
man of the curb's, and I sat down to read 
the book through. It is in the most fragrant 
sense of the word a simple book, fortified 
by a strange and rare combination of 
Christian charity and wit. Indeed, the 
curb's attitude towards " the bad herbs " 
sometimes recalls a St. Francis who was 
even greater than he of Sales, for he finds 
a peculiar satisfaction in rescuing weeds 
from obloquy and contempt. " The 
Equisetum," he says, " is detested by those 

who have to pull it up. They consign it to 


all the devils. But many of its detractors 
have for years been resting in peace round 
the church. If they had gathered it in due 
season and made use of it, they would still 
be among the living, and perhaps would 
have reached the age of crows, who never 
make their wills before they have seen 
ninety summers and as many winters/' 

That is surely a charming piece of writing; 
and the charm endures when the cur 
appears as the critic of modern civilisation. 
He cannot abide neurasthenia. " Every 
one with a certain amount of culture/' he 
says, " thinks it fashionable to be a little 
neurasthenic. If the doctor wants to gain 
the confidence of a lady of high rank, he 
has only to tell her that she is neurasthenic. 
Then she finds his bitterest pills delicious; 

she tightens her corset a little more, and 



stays up an hour longer reading novels; 
she drinks her black coffee a little stronger 
and subscribes to some more fashion papers. 
These people are as proud of their neuras- 
thenia as the cows and goats are of their 
bells." And listen to this description of 
the spoiled Swiss peasant who returns from 
seeking his fortune abroad. " There are 
people who used to tie up parcels or wash 
bottles abroad. Now they refuse to carry 
anything heavier than their umbrella, which 
must not weigh more than a pound. And 
as often as not they forget that.'* 

The cure cannot stomach modern poetry 
any better than modern civilisation. In a 
paragraph on the virtues of porridge he 
quotes Hebel, the working-man poet of 
Basle, who wrote over a hundred years 


" Children, come and eat your porridge. 
Let yourselves grow big and strong.** 

And the cur continues, in a burst of 
confession, " I cannot endure modern 
poets, or pianos, or the educational laws 
these evidences of an over-excited civilisa- 
tion; but I allow myself to quote Hebel 
because he cannot be included among these 
cloudy poets who sing only of decayed trees 
and light-living ladies/' 

Return to Nature and God's remedies, 
says the cure, who belongs to the race of 
Rousseau's Savoyard Vicar. Don't coddle 
your children. The barefoot child is twice 
as strong as the one who " even in midsummer 
wears shoes and stockings as a sign of 
nobility." Then he gives a picture of the 
after-life of the stockinged Fauntleroys. 

" They are always white as a flour-sack, 



light as a feather, and brittle as porcelain. 
No sooner are they out of school in winter 
than they have to be taking medicine, and 
be swaddled in bands and coverings like 
poachers. They are racked with anaemia, 
headaches and toothaches eternal. If these 
dolls enter into marriage, their husbands will 
have music to last them their lives, for they 
will have in their houses organs which play 
plaintive tunes and have an octave added 
with the birth of every child. " That is the 
authentic note of Burton's Anatomy. And 
one can find Burton's quaint vigour of 
speech in the chapter on the virtues of 
absinthe the plant, not the liqueur " If 
any one is as green as a frog, thin as a poplar, 
and cannot see his own shadow; if his weight 
and good humour dwindle every day, he 

can try to take a spoonful of absinthe tea 


every two hours/* " He can try " is a 

The cure is not unfriendly to the doctor; 
but he is the declared enemy of " the false 
science of the eighteenth (not the nineteenth) 
century, which rejected all that it did not 
understand." Chief among these things 
were the beneficent properties of plants. 
The Encyclopaedists did not know, as the 
cure does, that every bad herb is good for 
something. He does not pretend to under- 
stand how they work their effects, which 
he is ready to ascribe to " radioactivity or 
some other power that God has given them." 
But he is certain that they were set in the 
world by God for the use of his children. 
Most of his human children have forgotten 
how to use them; but the animals remember. 

The truth is with the animals and the men 



of old. " The false savants can go home to 

The cur is gentle in his triumph, he does 
not exult over his enemies; but he cannot 
refrain from breaking every now and then 
into praise of the merciful works of God. 
And perhaps most characteristic of all is 
the little paragraph with which he ends his 
chapter on " Pains of the Heart." After 
giving the healing herbs, he says, " If it is 
great trouble, care, or anxiety which causes 
your pain at heart, go and find the priest 
of your parish, who has ready for you a 
marvellous plant, ' the wheat of the elect/ 
That will do you good." I am no lover 
of sermons; but I would go a long way 
even to Wangs near Sargans to hear my 
cur preach. 



THE other day I listened to a famous French 
poet lecturing on the ideas of Edgar Allan 
Poe. Unfortunately, the thread of his 
discourse rapidly disappeared into the meta- 
physical mazes of Eureka, and only the 
most casual loop was thrown about that 
one of Poe's ideas which has had a very 
remarkable influence upon the development 
of modern French poetry. I mean his 
theory that the unit of poetry must be fixed 
by the reader's capacity of attention, and 
that the limits of a poem must accord with 
the limits of a single movement of intellectual 
apprehension and emotional exaltation. A 

long poem, said Poe, was really only a 



sequence of short ones; and it would be a 
good thing (he thought) if it did not pretend 
to be anything else. 

The theory though it is more pretentious 
or more " philosophical " reminds one of 
Mr. H. G. Wells's definition of the short 
story as a fiction that can be read in a quarter 
of an hour. Poe's " poem " is likewise 
a set of verses that can be compassed by a 
single movement of the mind. The effect 
of the beginning is not lost before you 
reach the end. You hold it, as it were, 
completely in your hand; the mind's eye 
can embrace it in a single glance. There is 
nothing very original in the principle, which 
determined the most famous of all European 
poetical forms the sonnet, and has appar- 
ently always dominated the poetry of China 

and Japan. But Poe was the first to formulate 



it as an absolute law, and Baudelaire followed 

There is room here for some work by 
the experimental psychologists. We invite 
them to determine the ideal length of a poem. 
Does it lie somewhere in the large space 
between the seventeen syllables of a hokku 
and the hundred and forty of a sonnet, or 
is the ordinary attention capable of a yet 
longer flight before coming to earth ? 
These are questions not unworthy of 
scientific solution. But there is perhaps a 
more immediate interest in the general 
principle which Poe applied, namely that 
the size of a work of literature should be 
determined by the capacity of the audience. 
Aristotle had no doubt about it. The play 
or the picture must not be too big to be 

grasped as a whole at a first hearing or seeing. 



From that comfortable and human point 
of view we have travelled far. The Ring 
and the Book and The Dynasts, War and 
Peace and the Forsyte Saga, make the 
Aristotelian ideal look small indeed. 

Still, we may fairly say (if we believe 
there is something in Poe's contention) 
that just as a long poem is a sequence of 
short poems, a big story is a number of 
little ones. There is a constant ebb and 
flow of interest, a continual heightening and 
flagging of attention. And if we admit 
this as a psychological fact, we may begin 
to wonder whether that technical movement 
in English fiction which was inspired by 
Flaubert and culminated in Henry James 
was altogether well-advised. These ex- 
ponents of the art of fiction imagined 

themselves confronted by an audience of 


intellectual heroes, whose attentions never 
flagged and whose memories never failed. 
This " hypothetical intelligent man " was 
acutely sensitive to any shifting of the angle 
of presentation ; he became restive if he 
once suspected that all the events recorded 
in a novel could not have been present to 
the same consciousness. He was the devil 
of a fellow. 

The only thing against him is that he 
does not exist. And that omission of his 
more than anything else will save us from 
fiction that demands as much concentration 
as a three volume treatise on Neo-Hegelian 
metaphysics. No one really pays much 
attention now to the subtle problems which 
tormented Henry James, simply because 
no one would earn any gratitude by solving 

them. Even the attempt to solve them 



calls for a private income. But the fact of 
the matter is that even the most intelligent 
reader of a long novel is grateful for a pause, 
a respite, a breathing-place. The episodic 
novel provides them naturally. We can 
get through Tom Jones or The Pickwick 
Papers with plenty of wind to spare. Nor 
do we harbour any grudge against a writer 
who interrupts a novel that is not episodic 
with digressions and asides. 

Indeed, I am not at all sure that those 
novelists who were not afraid of saying 
" dear reader " every now and then, or of 
giving their personal views of a chance 
topic, or even of their own created characters, 
had not a better instinct for the conditions 
of their craft than the purists who banished 
them from the republic of art. A novel 

should give us the illusion of life, it is true. 



But we do not greatly mind if the illusion 
is broken now and then. When Anthony 
Trollope pops up and says, " Don't worry. 
Eleanor Bold won't marry either Mr. Slope 
or Bertie Stanhope/' our head may be 
contemptuous but our heart puts up with 
it perfectly well. And when at the end of 
Rarchester Towers the genial sinner flings 
all his cards on the table and asks, " Do I 
not myself know that I am at this moment 
in want of a dozen pages, and that I am 
sick with cudgelling my brain to find 
them ? " we lift an eyebrow perhaps, but 
we read placidly on. 

That, we are told, is not art. Neither, 
then, is Tristram Shandy art, nor Jacques 
le Fataliste, where Diderot is for ever asking 
you and me what he shall do with Jacques 

next. But art is a very fluid conception 



which takes a new shape every ten years 
or so. It is safer to replace the abstract 
notion by the reality of books which we 
know have lasted because we still enjoy 
them. And if we look a little closely into 
the reality we shall discover that in their 
go-as-you-please fashion these novelists were 
instinctively obeying the law formulated 
by Poe, and we reach the not unamusing 
paradox that Poe's law applied to poetry 
has become the gospel of the straiter sect of 
literary artists; applied to prose fiction it 
has become their anathema. 

For the essence of Poe's law is not that 
poems should be short, but that the reader's 
capacity of attention should be treated as 
an essential factor in determining a literary 
form. And that is precisely what the 

Victorian novelist instinctively did. He 


felt that the reader would find it a relief if 
his attention was occasionally diverted. It 
would not do any harm if he had been 
successful in endowing his characters with 
a life of their own; they would continue 
to exist in spite of the interruption, as a 
play exists in spite of an interval. If they 
were lifeless, nothing could save them, not 
even the quintessence of art. And perhaps 
the Victorian novelist did well in building 
upon an actual instead of a hypothetical 
audience. He allowed for his reader; and 
in consequence he is read. 

p, 89 


IN a recent volume of essays Mr. Hewlett 
complained that he was never allowed to 
change his role. He had begun by swashing 
the buckle in fiction, and the public took 
it hardly if he tried to do anything else* 
From the writer's personal point of view 
the public is, like the law to Mr. Bumble, 
an ass ; but socially, in trying to confine 
the writer to a single genre it acts wisely. 
Feeling that the literary artist is too volatile 
a person altogether, it seeks to pin him 
down, to make him be something as definite 
as a maker of buttons or gramophones. 
Once he is fairly identified, his name and 

address noted, and the quality of his goods 


remarked and approved, it expects him to 
supply a dependable article " as last time " 
and not to go gallivanting off into side- 
lines which it is accustomed to buy from 
a different establishment. 

In trying to squeeze the Protean soul of 
the writer into a single mould, the public 
is blindly seeking to impart to him its 
instinctive and ancestral wisdom that man 
as a rule does best by squarely facing limi- 
tations until they become second nature 
to him. Just as blindly it overlooks the 
fact that quite often the writer is much less 
interested in doing something supremely 
well than in satisfying the demands of his 
own capricious nature. That, it feels, is 
very bad for him, and it shows what it thinks 
of his escapades by blandly ignoring them. 
At last, like Lesbia's sparrow, after hopping 


about hither and thither, the writer becomes 
aware of the growing vacancy, and ad so/am 
dominam usque pipilabit. 

The public, in this role of instinctive 
mentor, embodies a vital principle that is 
in each one of us. We like to know where we 
are, and that depends upon our knowing 
where everybody else is. Mugwumps, 
sceptics, people who see both sides of a 
question, men without prejudices, make us 
uneasy. They are incalculable and lacking 
in ballast. A prejudice that we can allow 
for is much more dependable than a sus- 
pension of judgment that we can't. So 
we turn a blind eye to the signals which 
a writer hoists against our expectation and 
sail on to meet him at the accustomed 
rendezvous. If he is not there, so much 

the worse for him. 


The writer who wants to be versatile had 
better begin early. Then by the time he 
is gray-haired and rather anxious to slip 
into a comfortable groove, he may have 
the reputation of turning up anywhere. 
Then he can be as serious and steady as he 
likes; his regularity will only be one more 
of his delightful whimsies. But the penalty 
attached to this freedom is heavy; he must 
have been ignored during most of his life- 
time. If he wants to be observed and 
charted, he must stand in the same place; 
or, if he refuses to stand in the same place 
and yet insists upon being observed he must 
face the necessity of leaving a dummy in 
the bed while he slips out into the street to 
note the qualities of people. If he does not 
provide the dummy himself, the public 




Contrast the destinies of those two related 
spirits, Samuel Butler and Bernard Shaw. 
Butler's fame has been almost wholly post- 
humous, and we attend to him (now that 
we have begun to attend to him) in all his 
capacities. He never had a role to fill, or 
rather he disappointed expectation at the 
first time of asking, and so he was never 
labelled. Bernard Shaw, on the other hand, 
has taken good care that he should be 
attended to since birth, and he has paid for 
the attention. He is the paradoxical play- 
wright or he is nothing. The rest is the 
froth we blow off the tankard before taking 
a pull. Yet in this froth are contained two 
personalities at least which would in isolation 
have made the fortune of another man. 
There is the best living writer of plain 

English prose, and the most original and 


profound of modern literary critics. But 
there is no room for them on the label, and 
away, like the froth, they go. 

Perhaps some one will take in hand the 
task of compiling a book of Bernard Shaw's 
literary criticism, giving half of it to his 
statements of general principles, and the 
other half to his criticism of Shakespeare. 
It might help to clear the heads of those 
many people who still imagine that since 
Matthew Arnold died there has been no 
criticism in England. Into the first half 
he shall put this: " A true original style is 
never achieved for its own sake. . . . Effec- 
tiveness of assertion is the Alpha and Omega 
of style. He who has nothing to assert has 
no style and can have none : he who has 
something to assert will go as far in power 

of style as its momentousness and his 



conviction will carry him. Disprove his 
assertion after it is made, yet its style 
remains. " That takes its place naturally 
among the dozen or so statements made 
about style which quiver in the gold. 

The story of Shaw and Shakespeare is 
almost fantastic. Shaw is the finest critic 

of Shakespeare we have had since . 

The finest critic of Shakespeare, as you 
have noticed, has always to be the finest 
critic of Shakespeare since some one or 
other. In order not to offend against the 
tradition, I leave the blank to be filled ad 
lib.) with the warning that Shaw is a better 
critic of Shakespeare than either Goethe 
or Coleridge, because he is not hypnotised. 
But there is no room for this on the label. 
All that it will hold is " Better than Shake- 
speare ? " And so Bernard Shaw remains 



the man who is irreverent to Shakespeare, 
whereas he should be the man who stands 
up to Shakespeare. 

Listen to his irreverence. " This is what 
is the matter with Hamlet all through: he 
has no will except in his bursts of temper. 
Foolish Bardolaters make a virtue of this 
after their fashion ; they declare that the 
play is the tragedy of irresolution; but all 
Shakespeare's projections of the deepest 
humanity he knew have the same defect. 
Their character and manners are life-like ; 
but their actions are forced on them from 
without, and the external force is gro- 
tesquely inappropriate except where it is 
quite conventional, as in the case of Henry 
V." That is criticism worth having, 
sentences you carry about for days in your 

head, hammering and trying them, testing 



them by your own experience. And yet the 
other day Mr. Ezra Pound, apparently 
annoyed because Bernard Shaw had not 
bowed the knee to Ulysses there is, by the 
way, some really imaginative Shakespeare 
criticism in that book declared that he was 
" ninth-rate/' A ninth-rate playwright ? A 
ninth - rate prose writer ? A ninth - rate 
critic ? Then, oh, to be a tenth-rater in 
any of these things ! 


THE distinguished critic who writes in the 
pages of The New Statesman over the name 
of Affable Hawk has pounced upon me, 
affably enough, but nevertheless pounced 
upon me for holding up to admiration 
Bernard Shaw's dictum that the Alpha and 
Omega of style is effectiveness of assertion. 
It is (he says) but a half-truth, and what is 
worse, it is the half of the truth which had 
best be left in darkness at the present 
juncture. He thinks that we have more 
than enough writers nowadays who have, 
or think they have, something to say, and 
trust to its momentum to carry them along, 

with consequences that are often disastrous. 



What we need, he concludes, is the crafts- 
man of words, the master of technique. 

My impression is that the Hawk has 
swooped at a shadow. Bernard Shaw's 
dictum, though I find it admirable, is not 
my own. To square with my own con- 
victions it needs to be expanded or at least 
interpreted. But even without expansion 
or interpretation, it has the virtue common 
to all Mr. Shaw's literary criticisms : it 
is provocative of thought, and therefore 
admirable. Any one who wants to discover 
what he means by style could hardly do 
better than begin with Mr. Shaw's sentence. 
When he has made trial of the definition 
by many passages in which he instinctively 
recognises the quality of style, he will find 
out what adjustments are necessary to fit 

it to his own experience. 



Probably not many. He may find 
difficulty in the word " assertion/* What, 
he might ask, was Milton asserting when 
he wrote " Sabrina fair " ? And at first there 
seems to be no answer. But afterwards he 
will consider that if what Milton was 
asserting in that magical poem could be 
communicated in words other than those 
of the poem itself, the poem would be a 
failure. For the poem is our datum. It is 
precisely because we feel that there is in 
its language a manifest inevitability, because 
we are instinctively aware that not a word 
can be changed without injury, that we 
have originally ascribed to it the quality of 
style. If we could say that it was an asser- 
tion of this or that definite proposition, its 
inevitability would immediately be destroyed. 

For it is an axiom in literature that there 



cannot be two effective assertions of the 
same thing. There can be only one. That 
is the true meaning of the doctrine of le 
mot juste. 

It may be urged that if " assertion " is 
to be interpreted in this large sense, the 
word becomes a shadow. But why ? 
" Assertion " is a better, a more effective 
word, for the creative process in literature 
than " statement/' because it suggests the 
driving force behind a true style. Some- 
thing is imposed upon the reader; he is 
not permitted to escape the experience the 
writer intends for him. The phrase, 
" effective assertion,'* suggests this element 
of compulsion, of foreordained reaction. 

It may also be objected that Mr. Shaw 
did not intend his phrase precisely in this 

sense, and that he meant by " assertion " 



something nearer to what we ordinarily 
understand by the word. I do not doubt 
it. Has not Mr. Shaw himself plainly told 
us that he is more sympathetic to the writer 
of conviction than the writer of apprehen- 
sion, to a Bunyan than to a Shakespeare ? 
But that does not in the least prevent his 
phrase from bearing a wider meaning. It 
is a good phrase, forged by a writer who 
knows his business and has thought about 
it. Like a good bridge, it will carry 
twice the weight it was designed to 

Still, if we say the assertion of " Sabrina 
fair " is the poem itself, are we not emptying 
the phrase of meaning ? Not really. The 
poem, having style, is an effective assertion 
of something, and though it is impossible 

for us to describe the thing asserted apart 



from the terms of the assertion, we are, 
nevertheless, conscious of it. We are aware 
of the perceptions which impelled Milton 
to write and determined his poem. The 
sheer, crystalline quality " the glassy, 
cool, translucent wave " corresponds to a 
vision of a kind we know. In fact, we do 
recognise in the assertion a something 
asserted; the assertion gives form and shape 
to dimmer perceptions of our own. But 
it can only do that because it is an effective 
assertion. It has the power to awaken a 
single complex of emotions within us. We 
have had emotions like them before, but 
never so powerfully, never with such a 
sense of their unity: before, they were 
dishevelled, now they are coherent; before, 
they were vague, now they are clear. But 

by the dulled memories of our own 



perceptions we can distinguish the bright 
ones from which Milton began. 

The process of making an assertion 
effective is the process of style. Mr. Shaw's 
dictum is an unconscious condensation of 
Stendhal's definition of style, which seems 
to me the most pregnant of all. " Le style 
est ceci: ajouter d une pensde donne toutes 
les circonstances propres produire tout 
1'effet que doit produire cette pens^e." And 
I cannot for the life of me see that this is 
merely a half-truth, much less that it is the 
half of the truth of which we stand in no 
present need. We are always in need of 
it, and we never need anything else. It is 
not the assertion that makes the style, but 
the effectiveness of it. But on the one 
hand you cannot make an effective assertion 

effective without technique. To the writer 
P. 105 H 


of genius, no doubt, technique comes chiefly 
by instinct; but even when the genius is 
greatest I believe there is an immense 
amount of half-conscious experimentation. 
What I do not believe is that any consider- 
able writer ever learned much of his 
technique from other writers without 
becoming perceptibly hidebound. 

At this point inevitably some one will 
face me with Stevenson's phrase about " the 
sedulous ape." If Stevenson really played 
" the sedulous ape," he suffered for it. 
No man's habit of thought or vision (if he 
is to be an original writer) is sufficiently 
like another's for him to imitate his technique 
except at his own peril. In a real sense, of 
course, the writers who have gone before 
him are part of his inheritance ; their 

coinages are part of his common currency, 


their discoveries his tradition. He has more 
colours on his palette than Chaucer, but 
the only way he can ever learn how to use 
them is by having something urgent to say, 
something that must be said effectively or 
not at all. Then, under pressure of necessity, 
he evolves a technique that is as much his 
own as his vision. The more securely he 
possesses his content, the more securely he 
possesses his technique. 

I do not think, therefore, that because 
I believe effectiveness of assertion to be the 
Alpha and the Omega of style, I can fairly 
be accused of advocating hot-gospelling or 
holy-roaring as the short road to good 
writing. Assertions are not effective because 
they are loud. Neither will apprehensions 
or convictions by themselves make a man 

a writer; but no man can become a writer 



without them. And it seems to be true 
that if they are strong and individual enough 
in a man, he will find the way to utter 
them effectively, whereas no amount of 
sedulous apery or word-mosaic will make 
a writer of the dilettante bellelettrist. As 
Mr. Shaw has said, " A true, original style 
is never achieved for its own sake." Style 
is a means to an end, and only when its 
end is achieved can we perceive its beauty: 
indeed, its beauty is only the name we give 
to our recognition that its end has been 



THE other day a youthful critic gave it as 
his opinion that Mr, Galsworthy had failed 
in The Forsyte Saga because he is a propa- 
gandist, and he added that " no great 
novelist has ever been that." It was rash 
of him to put his head into chancery, and 
no doubt he has been properly pummelled 
for it by now. Anyhow, I am not going 
to do it. Indeed, I should have forgotten 
all about him if I had not read on the same 
day in Mr. Edward Garnett's Friday Nights, 
that exhilarating record of the unselfish 
enthusiasms of a great literary pioneer, 

that a work of literature was ruined by the 



presence of a moral intention in the writer's 

The statement is odd in itself, and doubly 
odd on Mr. Garnett's lips, for if ever there 
was a literary critic who was inspired by an 
intense moral passion for fine literature it 
is he. Moreover, any one who reads his 
book (and they should be legion) will 
discover that the flame of moral passion 
glows at the heart of literature as Mr. Garnett 
conceives it. The great writer and the good 
are alike animated by a devouring appetite 
for truth; if they are not, they are neither 
great nor good. If the desire to discern 
and to communicate the truth about life 
a vague phrase that we all understand 
be not a moral intention, I do not know 
what a moral intention is. This loyalty to 

an ideal of spiritual honesty is the power 


which compels the true writer to make the 
sacrifices he is continually making ; it is 
the fire which refines the gold of his thoughts 
and perceptions from the dross, and redeems 
them from decay. 

As I began to wonder why writers and 
critics at the present day are so afraid of 
this word moral, I remembered a sentence 
in Coleridge's Table Talk which has always 
seemed to supply a golden thread to guide 
us through this labyrinth of confusion about 
morality in literature. Coleridge was 
speaking of Rabelais, and he said : " The 
morality of his work is of the most refined 
and exalted kind ; as for the manners, to 
be sure, I cannot say much." There the 
vital distinction is made plain; that is why 
Rabelais endures for ever, while a con- 
temporary sculdudderist like Beroaldus dc 



Verville is forgotten. We can translate, or 
expand, Coleridge's sentence thus. The 
essential morality of Rabelais's attitude to 
life is of the highest; the habits and behaviour 
of the characters through whom he expresses 
this attitude are socially dubious. And 
we may add that so far as we can see they 
had to be socially dubious, for we can 
discover no other way of expressing precisely 
what Rabelais had to express. 

People are always confusing, and it is a 
tribute to the creative power of the writer 
that they do confuse, the morality of the 
behaviour of the writer's characters with 
the morality of his work. They are, of 
course, totally different things. Falstaff 
is a non-moral character, but he is a moral 
creation. Every character that we feel to 
be typical, to be in his individual existence 

symbolic of one of the great forces which 
we vaguely discern at work in human life, 
is a moral creation, and the work of every 
writer who can create such a character has 
morality. Dickens is moral, not because 
he drowned Steerforth, but because he 
created Micawber. And if it be urged 
that a doctrine of this kind is a licence to 
a writer to outrage the social morality of 
his age, the reply is that the age can look 
after itself. The morality of a given society 
is not the morality of the writer of genius; 
he would simply not be a writer of genius if 
it were. But if he is a writer of common 
sense as well and the finest genius is well- 
seasoned with common sense he will 
recognise that he has to take account of the 
morality of his time. He will see that it is 

an instrument of good, though perhaps a 



clumsy one ; and he will certainly know 
that it is better to have a book published 
than suppressed, to be out of prison than 
in it. 

Great writers come to terms with their 
age ; that is, they express their morality in 
manners that are tolerable to their con- 
temporaries. Sometimes the problem is 
easy, sometimes hard ; but they solve it. 
Dostoevsky had to sacrifice an important 
chapter of The Possessed to the censor in 
Russia, where the moral censorship was 
always trivial, on moral grounds. He made 
no fuss about it, and we might have forgotten 
about it had not the Bolshevists lately 
unearthed it from the archives. The diffi- 
culties caused by the moral enthusiasm of 
the official and unofficial censors of literature 

are by no means so great a trial to the writer 


as they are often represented to be. Still, 
no one would deny that they are trouble- 
some and unfairly hampering, or that they 
generally involve the writer whose morality 
is impassioned, while the writer whose 
morality is as sordid as his manners almost 
always manages to escape. 

One of the best ways of minimising this 
injury to literature would be to revive this 
lost distinction between morality and 
manners. It would also make it easier to 
hit hard and promptly those writers who 
take advantage of the fact that the manners 
of a book are no indication of its morality, 
to present us in the name of " art " with 
the morality of the brothel disguised as 
the manners of " the aristocracy/' There 
is simply no way of saying these things 

with half the pungency and directness that 



the clear distinction between these two words 
allows. A writer once told me, when I was 
beginning to earn my living with a fountain 
pen, that the quickest way to success was 
to write a novel for the special purpose of 
having it " banned by tlie libraries.'' He 
seems to have been right ; for he certainly 
has gained a great deal of money by his 
method. I have often since regretted that 
I had not then the distinction between 
morality and manners at my finger ends. 
It would have enabled me to reply to him 
in a way which would have satisfied me, 
though it might not have affected 

We are much at the mercy of words ; 
they govern our thoughts more often than 
they obey them. The Victorian age, which 

passed its discreet sponge over the distinction 


between manners and morality, made a 
confusion where there was a clearness. So 
it happened that writers became shy of 
the word morality, and highly moral people 
began to shiver at the suggestion of a moral 
intention. The word had been so often 
used against a piece of honest literature 
that they had become afraid of it. It is 
time that writers took it into their own hands 
and made a weapon against their enemies 
and the traitors within their camp. They 
would be all the better for the exercise ; 
and they would discover clearly what at 
present they feel only vaguely, thm a work 
of literature, if it is to last, must have 
morality, simply because morality means 
significance, the power to engage the 
highest attention of man with feelings 

and thoughts derived from the faithful 



contemplation of human life. To avoid 
morality is not to be bold, or advanced, 
or artistic; it is simply, in the long run, to 
be uninteresting. 



I HAVE been taken, both publicly and 
privately, to task for saying that morality 
is essential to literature. The public dis- 
sentients prophesy, with an impressive fore- 
knowledge, that I am heading, unconsciously, 
perhaps, but certainly, straight to the 
damnation of the doctrine that the writer 
must take care to be good and let who 
will be clever ; the private suggest that 
there may be a confusion in my thought. 
Examine your assumptions, they say to me, 
and hint that I may find things I do not 
care to look upon. Even the kindest of my 
critics is distressed by my use of the word 

morality; it seems to him that it is almost 



a treachery to the ideal of literature. The 
gate is being opened to those enemies who 
insist that a book must have a " message," 
or that it must be " happy," or that its 
characters must not offend against the rules 
of society. " We must" says my friend 
and there is a note of agony in his voice 
" we must find another word." 

Well, perhaps we must. For tactical 
reasons only. Perhaps it is impossible in 
this age of the dominion of the phrase, 
when words seem to exert powers which 
do not belong to them, to trust that people 
will hold asunder the morality which is 
necessary to enduring literature, and the 
morality which is, at least in part, the 
product of social convention. Obviously 
if the belief that morality is necessary to 

literature can be interpreted as the first 



symptom of the doctrine that goodness 
is everthing and cleverness nothing, it is 
dangerous to use the word too often. It is, 
as they say, asking for trouble. The pity 
is that confusion should be inevitable where 
it seems unnecessary. 

Moreover, it is disheartening to find that 
work once done, and well done, should have 
continually to be done over again. For all 
this discussion is by no means new ; and 
perhaps the oddest thing is that the author 
to whom most of the recent generation of 
believers in Art for Art's sake regarded as 
their master and prophet, was perfectly 
clear on the subject. Walter Pater's critical 
work seems to have been forgotten ; he 
has become a classic and suffered the fate 
of a classic, which is, to remain unread, or, 

if read, to be read with reverentially misted 
p, 121 i 


eyes. Otherwise it is hard to see why we 
should be perpetually threatened with the 
false dilemma : art, on the one hand, 
morality on the other ; choose which you 
like, but both you cannot have. For ever 
we are being taken back to the elements. 
Apparently there is a kind of nostalgia 
which prevents us from taking advantage 
of what has been done before us. I sat for 
many years at the feet of a mathematical 
master who, whenever I forgot (as I in- 
variably did forget) the elementary pro- 
positions of geometry of conic sections, used 
to give out a kind of despairing roar : " Two 
Peter, two, twenty-two ! " The constant 
return of the old childish dilemma seems to 
call for the same reply. 

For Pater distinguished clearly in litera- 
ture between what he called qualities of 



mind and qualities of soul. The qualities 
of mind are, in the largest sense, qualities 
of technique. They find expression in 
formal beauty, in coherent structure, in 
economy of language ; they are the sign 
of the constructive intelligence without which 
a complete and perfect expression of the 
writer's apprehension of life is impossible. 
Qualities of soul, on the other hand, are 
qualities of the apprehension itself, rendering 
it sympathetic to some, alien to others. 
They are the cause of those decisive reactions 
of our temperament towards an author's 
work which are so swift and unshakable ; 
and they explain that admiration without 
liking which is the utmost we can give to 
some writers, and the liking without 
admiration we cannot help extending to 




If we judge this quality of soul, as we must, 
we are bound to judge it by moral standards. 
We pronounce instinctively, indeed ; our 
reactions are immediate. We like, or do 
not like, the " atmosphere " of a book, just 
as we like, or do not like, the " atmosphere " 
of a person ; and, in fact, we are judging 
a person through his book. No effort of 
his towards impersonality can deceive us. 
On the contrary, a true impersonality, 
involving, as it does, a closer correspon- 
dence between expression and apprehension 
than is achieved by the writer who per- 
mits himself or a histrionic projection of 
himself to appear, provides us with still 
more certain evidence of the quality of 
soul. We have, as it were, an essence, 
from which all superfluous matter has 

been removed ; the last disguise is fallen 



from the writer's habits of thought and 
feeling. We may admire his skill and 
respect his literary ability, but if his quality 
of soul is mean, or trivial, or repellent, 
nothing can save him for us. 

We may, or may not, call this judgment 
of ours moral; and certainly there is a sense 
in which it might with equal justice be 
called aesthetic, just as we speak knowingly 
of the beauty of a character, or say that the 
ideal of the human spirit is a harmony. 
But the comeliness for which we are looking 
is a moral comeliness ; it is a quality of 
soul quite different from the quality of 
mind which manifests itself in the artistic 
perfection of a work of literature. And if 
we ought not, in the interests of clarity 
and truth, confuse the one with the other, 

equally we ought not imagine that one man 



can supply the other's place. We demand, 
and have the right to demand, both of them. 
And not only is the moral judgment 
immediately involved in our consideration 
of any book worth considering at all; but 
when we pass from distinguishing between 
good books to pronouncing which are great 
ones, it is involved again. We require not 
merely a quality of soul, as we require a 
clear tone in a bell, but scope and compre- 
hensiveness also. About this, too, Pater 
was in no doubt. " It is on the quality of 
the matter it informs and controls, its 
compass, its variety, its alliance to great 
ends, or the depth of the note of revolt, or 
the largeness of hope in it, that the greatness 
of literary art depends." Our judgment 
of greatness depends upon our sense that 

human destinies are squarely faced, that 



the author's soul was responsive to the 
deepest human doubts and bewilderments, 
and that his vision included the beauty and 
the joy and the ugliness and the sorrow of 
human life, glozing nothing. In the great 
work of literature we demand perfection 
of art, .integrity of the writer's soul, and 
comprehensiveness in his attitude. Of these 
three qualities two are moral. 



THE new and beautiful edition of Samuel 
Butler's version of the Odyssey has raised the 
whole question of classical translations again. 
With a perceptible gleam in his eye Butler 
described his prose as having " the same 
benevolent inclination towards the Totten- 
ham Court Road as Butcher and Lang's 
towards Wardour Street/' That is said in 
the best Butler manner; it is the Parthian 
shot of a retiring man. But, in vexing the 
enemy, as often, Butler hardly did justice 
to himself. 

Butler's Odyssey is, in fact, a very fine 
prose translation, though it is not quite so 

fine as his Iliad ^ because it is more wilful. 



One ought to ask, I suppose, whether it is 
a perfect translation. But then I do not 
know what are the positive qualities of a 
perfect translation. The negative qualities 
are easier to settle. Poetry ought always 
to be rendered into prose. Since the aim 
of the translator should be to present his 
original as exactly as possible, no fetters 
of rhyme or metre must be imposed to 
hamper this difficult labour. Indeed, they 
make it impossible. 

Of course, a poet is perfectly within his 
rights in striving to turn poetry into poetry. 
We should have lost one of Mr. Yeats's 
most exquisite poems if he had not been 
suffered to do his best with Ronsard's 
Vieille Helene. And Sir Sidney Lee alone 
knows how many of the Elizabethan sonnets 

we so naively admire are really translations 



of Italian and French originals. But we 
are quite right in not worrying. The 
English poems exist, as they always have 
existed, in their own right. Nothing will 
prevent us from treating them as original 
work. So we regard some of Mr. Arthur 
Symons's beautiful versions from Verlaine. 
Chapman's Homer is likewise Chapman, 
even though Keats and Lamb believed it 
was something else. 

And, it may be argued, Butler's Odyssey 
is Butler. It is indeed very much so, in one 
sense. It has a shrewd and almost pawky 
vividness that no other translation of Homer 
possesses. It is more precise than the 
Odyssey itself. We are conscious of Butler's 
personality as well as that of the author (or 
authoress) of the Odyssey. But so much of 

an alien element is necessary and desirable 



in a good translation. A translator must 
make his original real to himself, or his 
translation will be colourless. He strives 
to render exactly the value of each phrase 
as it appears to him. For another that 
value may be quite different. Some of us 
would find, for instance, that to write 
" rosy-fingered dawn " wherever that phrase 
appears in the Odyssey is to give the adjective 
an emphasis it does not really possess. 
Others would feel that to replace it occasion- 
ally by " rosy dawn " is little less than a 

The medium in which the translator is 
working must exert its influence. Since 
prose is chosen as offering the least hindrance 
to exactness, it follows that discordant tones 
must be avoided. They will produce a 
sense of discrepancy which is quite foreign 


to the original. As Samuel Butler truly 
said, " Things are possible in poetry which 
are not possible in prose. " For a proof of 
that simple statement look, for instance, at 
the opening lines of Andrew Lang's version 
of Theocritus : 

" Sweet, meseems, is the whispering 
sound of yonder pine-tree, goatherd, that 
murmureth by the wells of water ; and 
sweet are thy pipings. " 

The original is, we are told, artificial. 
But it is not artificial in that way. What- 
ever the secret of its composition may have 
been, to us its effect is simple. 

" The whispering of the pine-tree there 
which murmurs by the springs is sweet, 
goatherd ; and you pipe sweetly." 

That is shorter. Surely, it is also better. 



The vice of the Wardour Street style of 
translation is that it is neither prose nor 
poetry. Instead of resolutely making up 
his mind that the musical element of the 
poetry must be sacrificed, the translator 
grasps desperately at " poetical " phrases. 
He corrupts his own prose without bringing 
us an inch nearer to the poetry of his original; 
and, by corrupting his own prose, he 
abandoned the chance of making real to 
us the underlying poetry of incident and 
atmosphere. Butler's Odyssey is Butler ; 
but it is also the Odyssey. Butcher and 
Lang's Odyssey is not Butcher and Lang ; 
neither is it the Odyssey. By that I mean 
that a man who is absolutely ignorant of 
the original will come much nearer to it 
by way of the Tottenham Court Road than 
he ever will by Wardour Street. Botler 


shows him the Odyssey through a coloured 
glass; Butcher and Lang interpose a frosted 

And the Wardour Street translators have 
corrupted something more than their own 
prose ; they have corrupted the youth of 
England. Year after year schoolboys and 
undergraduates repeat, with archaistic 
variations of their own, this degenerate 
" poetical " prose. A classical translation 
would not be a classical translation if it 
were not written in this jargon, which from 
its constant association with great names, 
gradually acquires the prestige of fine 
writing. And at length it is almost as 
difficult for a classical scholar to write a 
piece of hard, clean English as it is for a 
camel to pass through the eye of a needle. 
That is a minor misfortune, no doubt, and 

we can comfort ourselves with the thought 
that when the study of English becomes our 
only humanity it will pass away. But on 
that grim day the other evil will only be 
magnified. When we can read the classics 
only in " poetical " translations, we shall 
cease to read them at all. 

We ought to begin to arm ourselves 
against that day. Butler has enriched us 
with a Homer that is a simple, vivid, and 
fascinating tale, through which unclassical 
generations will have at least a glimpse of 
the meaning of Greek clarity. Soon it will 
find its way into the nursery, and its immor- 
tality will be secure. But much besides 
Homer remains. The best thing would be 
that the modern poets and novelists should 
take hold of the business. The modern 
spirit, with its almost fanatical desire to 


get rid of the poncif, might make a fine 
thing of classical translation; and in the 
process it might learn the value of classical 

My second thought, however, is that the 
modern writer seldom has any classics ; and 
my third that he is too eager to be individual 
at all costs to be safely trusted with trans- 
lating them. He is hardly modest enough 
to submit to the limitations imposed by 
the work. An extreme and patient honesty 
is quite as necessary as literary skill. Only 
in so far as he can reach a direct contact 
with his original will he be freed from 
the temptation to interpose either his own 
caprice or some acquired mannerism between 
it and his reader. Before he can make it 
real to others it must be real to him. The 

Odyssey was very real to Samuel Butler ; 



so real that instead of making his darling 
Nausicaa wash raiment or garments or any 
of the things that nobody ever wears, he 
made her wash shirts. I fancy, too, that he 
liked to imagine they were his own shirts 
and that when he made her say " Papa, 
dear/* she was talking to him. No wonder 
that his translation was thought improper. 


MR. WALKLEY'S recent praise of Disraeli 
as the novelist of love at first sight moved 
me, as it doubtless moved many others, to 
hunt out Henrietta Temple. Frankly, I 
was sceptical. Doubly sceptical, for there 
were two reasons for doubt. First, because 
love at first sight is a thing almost impossible 
for a writer to bring off. Hardly any one 
since Shakespeare has managed it con- 
vincingly, or succeeded in giving us the 
glamour without falling into extravagance. 
Even Lucy and Richard in Richard Fevere/ 
leave me, I confess, comparatively cold. 
Indeed, in my opinion the best modern 
attempt at love at first sight between grown- 
ups is contained in a page of Henry James's 



The Wings of the Dove, and between children 
in the first volume of Marcel Proust's incom- 
parable and interminable narrative. The 
second reason was that Disraeli's flamboyant 
Corinthian manner seemed to me the least 
likely of all with which to achieve success. 
My misgivings were justified. Not that 
I did not enjoy dipping into Henrietta 
Temple. I enjoyed it exceedingly. But 
not at all in the way I was intended, by 
Disraeli if not by Mr. Walkley, to enjoy it. 
The love-making between Ferdinand and 
Henrietta struck me as extraordinarily, 
irresistibly funny. Probably it was all up 
with Disraeli the moment he chose the 
name of Ferdinand. The lover of Miranda 
holds a place apart in the chronicles of love 
at first sight, and it must either be that 
Disraeli intended to emulate Shakespeare, 


which was rash in the extreme, or that he 
had forgotten Shakespeare, which was 
careless. Probably he had forgotten Shake- 
speare. Otherwise he would scarcely have 
dared to rephrase the sentiment, which 
Shakespeare himself did not dare to alter 
from the form the dead shepherd had given 
it : " Whoever loved, that loved not at first 
sight ? " Disraeli wrote, as though it were 
a discovery of his own, " There is no love 
but love at first sight." 

And just as that seems a dull version of 
Marlowe's line and Shakespeare's, Disraeli's 
lovers make a very poor (or a very rich) 
show. It is hard to believe in Henrietta at 
all. She had " a lofty and pellucid brow," 
at which for some reason I begin to smile; 
and the smile becomes a laugh when I read 

that " Language cannot describe the startling 



symmetry of her superb figure/' But 
Henrietta, in any case, is a mere nothing 
compared to Ferdinand, " as, pale and 
trembling, he withdrew a few paces from 
the overwhelming spectacle and leant against 
a tree in a chaos of emotion. " Can it be 
that modern lovers are a degenerate race ? 
Or will the things that happen to them in 
books seem just as queer to our great-grand- 
children as the things that happen to 
Ferdinand do to us. The poor man suffered 
terribly. " Silent he was, indeed, for he 
was speechless ; though the big drop that 
quivered on his brow and the slight foam 
that played upon his lip proved the difficult 
triumph of passion over expression." That 
slight foam would terrify a modern Henrietta. 
Perhaps it would have frightened this one 

if she had been looking. Luckily, she was 



not. " She had gathered a flower and was 
examining its beaut y." 

However, Ferdinand pulled himself 
together when Henrietta's father, " of 
an appearance remarkably prepossessing," 
turned up. " Let me be your guide," said 
Ferdinand, advancing. Papa was decently 
grateful; but Henrietta was something more. 
" His beautiful companion rewarded Ferdi- 
nand with a smile like a sunbeam that played 
about her countenance " how much nicer 
than the foam that had played about 
Ferdinand's ! " till it finally settled into 
two exquisite dimples, and revealed to him 
teeth that, for a moment, he believed to be 
even the most beautiful feature of that 
surpassing visage." Surpassing visage, like 
mobled queen, is good. 

Certainly Ferdinand had enough to go 

on with. But more was to come. He was 
to discover that " from her lips stole forth 
a perfume sweeter than the whole con- 
servatory." Surpassing lips ! A little over- 
powering also. No wonder that " from 
the conservatory they stepped forth into the 
garden/' There is nothing like a little 
fresh air. " The vespers of the birds were 
faintly dying away, the last low of the 
returning kine sounded over the lea, the 
tinkle of the sheep-bell was heard no more " 
Disraeli knew his Gray better than his 
Shakespeare " the thin white moon began 
to gleam, and Hesperus glittered in the 
faded sky. It was the twilight hourl " 
It was indeed, and Ferdinand played up to 
it like a man. Bending his head, he mur- 
mured to her : " Most beautiful, 1 love 
thee! . . . Beautiful, beloved Henrietta, I can 


no longer repress the emotions that since I 
first beheld you have vanquished my 
existence.'* And, to do him justice, he did 
not repress them. In fact, as Henry James 
would have said, he abounded in that sense. 
And Henrietta, though verbally less eloquent, 
rewarded him adequately. 

For my own part, I like it all immensely, 
but nothing could persuade me to take it 
seriously. Love at first sight is one thing, 
and that is another. Love at first sight is 
shy ; Disraeli's account of it is like an 
explanation of a circus performance through 
a megaphone. "Amid the gloom and travail 
of existence suddenly to behold a beautiful 
being and as instantaneously to feel an over- 
whelming conviction that with that fair form 
for ever our destiny must be entwined. . . ." 

Jane Austen had read all about it when 



she wrote Love and Freindship. Laura 
felt the same about Talbot. " No sooner 
did I behold him first than I felt that on 
him the Happiness or Misery of my future 
life must depend. " But Ferdinand is so 
extreme that Laura does not sound like a 
caricature beside him. On the contrary 
he makes her appear a completely rational 
being. Not to Laura's Edward, but to 
Henrietta's Ferdinand, ought his father 
have addressed the crushing question: 
" Where, Edward, in the name of wonder, 
did you pick up this unmeaning gibberish ? 
You have been studying Novels, I suspect." 
We also suspect that Disraeli had been 
" studying Novels " with a view to giving 
his public what it wanted hot and strong, 
just as he had studied the Elegy in a Country 

Churchyard in order to make his description 



of the twilight hour duly poetical. And 
his picture of love bears about as close a 
relation to any human reality as his para- 
phrase of the Elegy does to poetry. On 
any showing Disraeli was a remarkable man, 
but if he did not write the love scenes of 
Henrietta Temple with his tongue in his 
cheek and I rather believe he did not 
he was a far more remarkable man than 
the most enthusiastic Primrose Leaguer has 
ever imagined. 



LAST week we allowed Disraeli to make 
fun of himself as the novelist of love. His 
exaggerated Corinthianism is an extreme 
case ; it passes bodily over the narrow line 
that is said to divide the sublime from the 
ridiculous. It is, perhaps, more amusing 
than interesting, except as showing what a 
man may do and yet become Prime Minister 
of England. And yet, on second thoughts, 
may it not be that Disraeli's manner of 
writing actually helped him on his political 
career ? I speak of his manner of writing only; 
there is matter enough in his novels, from 
Sybil onwards, to secure his reputation both 
as a political thinker and a political observer. 


Disraeli manages so to focus attention on 
himself that we easily forget that there were 
at least two other famous and popular writers 
in his day who had successful, though less 
eminent, political careers. Macaulay was 
one, Bulwer-Lytton the other. Lytton was 
almost as extravagantly Corinthian as 
Disraeli himself, and even Macaulay was 
slightly touched with the disease. It shows 
itself for brief moments in some of his finest 
pages. In the essay on Warren Hastings, 
for instance, he wrote of the trial, " There 
were gathered together from all parts of 
a great, free, enlightened and prosperous 
empire, grace and female loveliness, wit 
and learning, the representatives of every 
science and every art. . . . There appeared 
the voluptuous charms of her to whom the 

heir of the throne had in secret plighted his 



faith. " That is, of course, a mild outbreak 
compared to Disraeli's. In Henrietta Temple 
it would appear positively restrained. 
Nevertheless, it is Corinthian. " Female 
loveliness " and " voluptuous charms " are 
as characteristically Corinthian as " Sur- 
passing visage " and " Transcendent form." 
In the first part of Macaulay's sentence 
there is an audible echo of the periods of 
Mr. Pott of the Eatanswill Gazette, which 
suggests that the manner is primarily 
oratorical. It seems to have come naturally 
to the politician writer of those days. From 
the oratorical to the rhetorical is a short 
step indeed. Originally they rieant the 
same thing, and the modern distinction is 
hardly more than a nuance. We may say 
that rhetoric is oratory in the wrong place. 

A writer is rhetorical when he writes as 



though he were addressing a public meeting. 
For an orator to use vague, empty, resonant 
phrases is perfectly legitimate. His business 
is to produce an effect upon his audience; 
his skill, indeed, largely consists in not 
allowing them time to think whether there 
is any particular meaning in his sonorous 
periods. He knows that there is a vast 
difference between persuading a crowd and 
convincing an individual, and naturally he 
addresses himself solely to the task before 
him. That is why the speeches of famous 
orators generally make such intolerably dull 
reading. They were never meant to be 

As Carlyle said, " The difference between 
speaking " (by which in his odd way he 
meant the utterance of the poet and the 

writer) " and public-speaking is altogether 



generic. The meeting, by its very name, 
has environed itself in a given element of 
commonplace." And the orator has only 
" to keep on the soft, safe, parallel course; 
parallel to the Truth or nearly so ; for 
Heaven's sake not in contact with it : no 
obstacle will meet him ; on the favouring 
given element of commonplace he trium- 
phantly careers." Carlyle was severe ; but 
was he unfair ? The vague impressiveness 
which is a virtue of oratory ninety years 
ago, it is worth noting, Carlyle picked out 
as specimen click f 3 of the orator, " The rights 
of suffering millions," and " the divine gift 
of song," which are still worked hard to-day 
is one of the worst of vices in writing. 
It absolutely prevents that precise symbolical 
rendering of thought and vision in which 
literature consists. You cannot swallow a 


good piece of literature like a bolus ; it 
needs attention, careful savouring, slow 
degustation. The orator's audience has no 
time for that. It cannot pause over his 
sentences. They roll steadily on. Unless 
they were mainly commonplace, they would 
not be understood. 

There is plenty of excuse for the orator; 
but oratory is not literature. Lincoln's 
" Gettysburg Oration " was laboriously made 
literature before it was spoken, and remained 
literature afterwards. Cicero and Demos- 
thenes, I imagine, carried their speeches 
home to their studies and turned them into 
literature. And the two most magnificent 
speeches in the world were invented by 
writers to take the place of those actually 
delivered. Plato composed Socrates's im- 
mortal Apology, and Thucydides wrote 



Pericles's funeral oration ; they are no more 
orations in the true sense than Othello's 

" And say besides that in Aleppo once " 

Imaginary speeches are in the nature of 
things better than real ones, which are not 
meant to survive the moment of utterance 
save in the painful pages of Hansard. If 
they are preserved elsewhere than in that 
repertory of dicht and incoherence, they 
reveal themselves for what they are, pale 
ghosts of a true human utterance. Look, 
for instance, at the closing sentences of 
Burke's speech, which Macaulay is rash 
enough to quote. " Therefore hath it with 
all confidence been ordered, by the Com- 
mons of Great Britain and Ireland, that I 
impeach Warren Hastings of high crimes 
and misdemeanours. I impeach him in the 

name of the Commons' House of Parliament, 
P. i53 L 


whose trust he has betrayed. I impeach 
him in the name of the English nation, 
whose ancient honour he has sullied. I 
impeach him in the name of the people of 
India, whose rights he has trodden under- 
foot, and whose country he has turned into a 
desert. Lastly, in the name of human nature 
itself, in the name of both sexes, in the name 
of every age, in the name of every rank, I 
impeach the common enemy and oppressor 
of all. 11 

It is hardly credible until we remember 
what unspeakable trash were the words of 
the speeches with which Mrs. Siddons 
played upon her audiences that the 
audience was moved to tears by this 
vain repetition. Macaulay would have been 
kinder to Burke's reputation if he had 
invented a speech for him. 

The orator-writer is in a difficult case. 
Either he carries over his oratory into 
his writing, which then becomes emptily 
rhetorical ; or he carries over his writing 
into his oratory, which then becomes obscure 
and incomprehensible. Both Disraeli and 
Lytton, we may fairly say, carried the 
platform manner into their books. Macaulay 
was more successful in keeping a distinction 
between them. There is a touch of rhetoric 
in his writing, but on the whole it does not 
affect his substance ; it is apparent rather in 
the movement and tempo. His writing 
has the swift and monotonous rhythm of 
vigorous speech. Nevertheless, it is writing 
and not oratory, though sometimes it seems 
to hover perilously between. Perhaps we 
can describe its quality by saying that it is 

the style of a public man, though not of a 



public speaker. It is not a style for which 
we can feel any intimate affection; but 
we must admire its indubitable magni- 

In distinguishing between oratory and 
literature, we touch the fringe of another 
question which it is impossible to explore 
and timorous to leave aside. What is the 
relation between the language of drama 
and the language of oratory ? The answer 
seems to be that generally the language of 
drama is oratory and occasionally literature. 
Henry V. is mainly oratory, and that is why 
it holds the stage, although it is very poor 
Shakespeare and very poor drama. Mr. 
Drinkwater's Abraham Lincoln is decidedly 
oratorical, though in a different way. But 
Shakespeare is, on the whole, so seldom 

oratorical that it is a perpetual wonder to 


me how his audiences managed to under- 
stand many of the speeches in his plays at 
a first hearing. We, who have the book, 
and know most of them (if only vaguely) 
by heart, find that our closest attention 
is necessary. How on earth the base 
mechanical managed to find his way about 
in them I cannot imagine. Perhaps he did 
not even try, but waited complacently and 
confidently for the final murders. 



WE were talking about novels. " I suppose 
literary critics," said my companion, " don't 
care twopence whether a novel depresses 
them or not/* Trying at a venture to dis- 
tinguish, I replied that I thought that they 
didn't like to be depressed any more than 
other people, but perhaps they were not 
always depressed by precisely the same things. 
I was going to develop the argument 
when my companion interposed. " I don't 
mind deaths or murders," he said, laughing. 
His laughter is so complete and contagious 
that I felt that deaths and murders were the 
happiest little accidents. " But I can't 

stand unpleasant characters/' he added. 


And suddenly I found that I had no 
reply. I could not remember whether 
I could stand unpleasant characters or 

I went upstairs to think it over; and the 
more I thought the less could I remember 
any unpleasant characters in fiction at all. 
Whenever I seemed to have my finger on 
one and began to scrutinise him, or what 
I remembered of him, he changed into 
something odd, or fantastic, or amusing. 
I began at the beginning with that nominally 
most undesirable character, Chaucer's 
Pandarus, who is reputed to have been the 
first member of his scandalous profession. 
Yet, in retrospect at least, Pandarus seems 
delightful. He wants the two people he 
loves to be happy and damn the con- 



" Though all this town cried on this 

thing by note 
I nolde sette at that noise a grote." 

He doesn't think much of men in general : 
a pack of noisy, silly sheep. All the more 
reason then why the nice people should 
have a good time. It is impossible even 
to call him a cynic, for there is not a 
touch of contempt in his worldly wisdom, 
but there is a great deal of tenderness. 
Pandarus is, in fact, the kindly but un- 
sentimental uncle to perfection, and I 
can't help thinking that he is the nearest 
thing we have to a portrait of Chaucer 

Chaucer was evidently no good. I passed 
on to Shakespeare. All his disreputable 
characters are enchanting, even down to 

Lucio in Measure jor Measure ; as to his 



villains, male and female, " unpleasant " 
is the last epithet one would dream of 
applying to them. lago, Goneril, Regan 
one does not even hate them ; they are 
much too big, much too how shall we say 
it ? elemental to be hated. And something 
like this happens with all the members of 
the S queers family. They are transformed; 
they cease to be repulsive ; they are, to use 
a transcendental metaphor, uplifted into 
the world of essences. The moment Mr. 
S queers, smacking his lips over the two- 
pennyworth of blue milk in the half-gallon 
of water, has declared, " There's richness 
for you," he himself becomes too rich to 
be unpleasant any more. Becky Sharp 
and Lord Steyne would, I suppose, be very 
unpleasant customers to meet in real life ; 

in Vanity Fair they worry us not at all. And 



Rodolphe in Madame Bovary, who perhaps 
comes nearest to what we should ordinarily 
describe as an unpleasant man, whose very 
moustaches are an offence, has in recollection 
a perfect right to his own existence. Then 
there is cockney Huish in The ILbb Tide ; 
but Stevenson, being an incorrigible 
romantic, made him as brave as the devil 
at the last. 

As you see, I enjoyed myself greatly in 
hunting up these old companions. There 
were dozens more of them, but to my pur- 
pose nothing. And yet in the contemporary 
novels that I read, I find unpleasant charac- 
ters in plenty. I will not mention them by 
name, partly for fear of offending, partly 
for reasons which will subsequently appear. 
For the question I set myself to answer was : 

What is the cause of the difference ? The 



pessimist would have a short way with it 
and declare that writers nowadays are but 
shadows of their forefathers. 

I do not believe it. There is plenty of 
good writing being done in 1922, and some 
of it is good in new ways. And if the kind 
of society that is often pictured in modern 
novels seems rather more sordid than it 
was in novels of fifty or a hundred years 
ago, I do not know that sordidness is in 
itself much worse than silliness. 

I fancy the answer to the question is less 
depressing, though perhaps (at least in its 
implications) not quite so simple. The root 
of the matter seems to be that we do not 
remember really unpleasant characters. We 
forget them, not because of that admirably 
human habit of passing the sponge over 

things we do not care to remember, but 



simply because an unpleasant character who 
is unpleasantly presented has no claim upon 
our memory. It is the manner of presentation 
which is vital. If the writer presents his 
unpleasant character creatively, that is with 
(among other things) a sense of his indi- 
viduality as one of the creatures of the 
various universe, the character is transfigured. 
If the writer has what we may call the 
disinterestedness of pure creation, the un- 
pleasantness is dissolved away in the vivid 
light of art. The characters which have 
suffered this sea-change, " of whose bones 
are coral made," are the only unpleasant 
characters we remember, because they are 
the only ones which compel us to remember 

Naturally, there are more unpleasant 

characters in modern fiction than in the 


literature we remember. We remember 
only the immortals, whereas modern books 
are only the raw material of immortality; 
they contain unpleasant characters, un- 
pleasantly presented, whom we shall forget, 
either because their authors have no creative 
power at all, or because, having creative 
power, they have turned it to base uses and 
have abandoned disinterestedness to satisfy 
some grudge they have conceived against 
life or humanity. Those who have the 
habit of reading know the feeling when in 
even the cleverest of books they are 
repelled by an almost inaudible undertone 
of snarling and resentment. In a word, 
in a phrase, that is ugly, irredeemably 
ugly in itself, they see le bout de 
Forettle qui perce^ and sometimes have a 

glimpse of much more than the tip of 



the ear, of a whole row of bared and 
angry fangs. 

Unpleasantness is an ambiguous attribute. 
All Shakespeare's " irregular humorists " 
blessed name for Bardolph, Nym, and 
Pistol would have been unpleasant enough 
in life; so, as Charles Lamb admitted, would 
many of Congreve's characters: but in the 
world of literature they are wonderful. 
Unpleasant in life, they are pleasant, much 
more than pleasant, in books, because the 
minds of their creators worked serenely 
free of quotidian limitation. But in 
Wycherley, and still more in Smollett, and 
surely also in Swift's picture of the Yahoos, 
we catch the hateful hiss of an exasperation 
beyond control. Their unpleasant characters 
are unpleasant. What we have to do is to 

avoid confusing what is unpleasant in life 



with what is unpleasant in literature. It is 
not so difficult as it sounds, for creative 
integrity is much easier to discern than to 



THIS morning I watched the swallows 
wheeling against a sky of that faded blue 
which tells of a glorious summer day to 
come. When they glided beneath the sun 
their wings became suddenly transparent, 
the plumage seemed burned away in a 
golden fire. Had I not been a slave of the 
inkpot the sight of them would have more 
than sufficed me ; I should have followed 
their interwoven paths through the trackless 
air, until the pure beauty of their motion 
made my eyes dizzy; I should have satu- 
rated myself with the vision of a perfect 

But, alas, I am what I am, and that 

is something worse than Anton Tchehov's 
Trigorin, whose soul was so pickled in ink 
that he could not look at a cloud without 
putting down in his mental notebook that 
it was like a piano, or a weasel, or a whale. 
That served at all events to fix the cloud 
for ever in his mind, whereas I, looking at 
the swallows, said to myself " Dr. Johnson," 
who was not in the least like a swallow. 

I waited a moment for my dilatory mind 
to give some reason for its astonishing 
behaviour. Why had the waves of the 
unconscious thrown up that name, that 
image rather, of all others on the shore of 
my attention ? 

I was bewildered. One of the detached, 
observant egos that attend us watched 
curiously a man whose bodily eye was 
fixed upon the wheeling swallows while 

P. 169 M 


his inward eye gazed with a puzzled admira- 
tion upon the gray wig and brown great- 
coat of the Doctor. What could he be 
doing there ? 

The swallows still circled unwearied round 
about the sun. Perhaps I was bemused by 
them; for it did not occur to me to wonder 
whether Dr. Johnson had spoken some wise 
words about swallows. It was the presence 
of his image I had to explain. And in a 
little while I remembered that my com- 
panion had criticised, some hours before, 
a common friend for biting his nails, and I, 
in an impulse of charity, had been on the 
point of saying, " But Dr. Johnson also 
bit his nails/' I did not actually say it, 
because my companion carries reverence 
for Dr. Johnson to such a point that I should 

have gained opprobrium for myself and 


nothing for our friend by doing so. Indeed 
his vice would have been aggravated by 
the reminder that Dr. Johnson shared 

Dr. Johnson had been suppressed therefore. 
Now he had bobbed up at the first oppor- 
tunity. That was settled. But why were 
swallows an opportunity for him ? Again 
I watched them with half-closed eyes. 
" Swallows ? Dr. Johnson ? " I questioned 
silently. I repeated the incantation and 
waited. At last, out of I know not what 
store of forgotten memories, came the 
answer. " A number of them conglobulate 
together by flying round and round, and 
they sleep through the winter at the bottom 
of a stream/' It must, I suppose, be some- 
where in Boswell, or can it be in the 

Dictionary ? There, at any rate, the swallows 



were, flying round and round, perhaps in 
the very act of conglobulation. 

And yet, a moment since, before I had 
begun to watch them, I should have been 
positive that Dr. Johnson had never said 
a word about swallows. The only reason 
I can suggest for the emergence of the 
forgotten memory is the one I have sug- 
gested; that Dr. Johnson had been suppressed 
and had seized the first opening to reappear. 
There, at any rate, he also was, with his 
bitten nails and his shoes with no right and 
left, substantially before me, offering me 
the oddest of odd words to describe the 
serene orbits of the swallows about the sun. 
Moreover, he would not go away. There 
was something more about him that I had 
to remember. 

Yes, somewhere I had lately seen a new 


fact about him something that clamoured 
to be added to my slender store, another 
touch of colour for that picture of the child- 
like tyrant which each of us carries some- 
where in his mind. What was it ? Where 
had I seen it ? Again, I slowly began to 
remember. It was in a Literary Supplement. 
But which ? And had I got it ? I must 
go and see. " Don't go now," cried the 
swallows. " We are more important than 
Dr. Johnson." And one of them, to prove 
it, plunged clean into the sun, flamed into 
nothing, was reborn like the phoenix, and 
scattered gold from his new-fledged 

But the slave of the inkpot has his ears 
stopped with wax against such siren voices. 
He turned away from the swallows to 

rummage among old newspapers, and for 



once his virtue was rewarded. In Johnson's 
Dictionary, wrote the unknown reviewer, 
" The verb * sip ' is followed by the ex- 
planation: <i, To drink in small draughts; 
to take, at one apposition of the mouth, 
no more than the mouth will contain/ 
The Oxford Dictionary supplies nothing 
which justifies this maximum usage of the 
mouth in a * sip/ and we fancy it is due to 
the influence of the quotation immediately 

* And sip with nymphs their elemental 

tea/ " 

We know what Dr. Johnson did when he 

drank his twenty cups of tea; it is pleasant to 

know also that he believed he was sipping it. 

Could it be, I finally wondered, that the 

swallows had been the hidden cause of this 


recollection, too, not only indirectly but 
directly also ? For instance : Swallows sip 
indeed, while Dr. Johnson sipped only in 
his own imagination. Or perhaps : where 
others sip, Dr Johnson swallows. That 
seems rather far-fetched ; but associations 
are very far-fetched things. We track them 
down finally in the remotest corners of the 
mental world. Of all journeys of discovery 
none are more romantic or more thrilling 
than those we make in pursuit of them; 
and as in all the best journeys the return is 
even more exciting than the outward passage. 
Unlike terrestrial voyages, these of the mind 
are easy. There are no passport difficulties; 
we travel like princes or prime ministers; 
and there is always a sleeper to be had for 
the asking at the end of a train of thought. 



IT is becoming a habit with modern critics 
to talk much of artistic " seriousness/* 
Matthew Arnold set the fashion originally, 
and he picked it up from Aristotle. Arnold 
admirably translated " spoudaiotSs " as 
" high seriousness," and since then serious- 
ness has become one of the shibboleths of 
serious criticism. I am myself no small 
offender. I am continually demanding 
seriousness. But my conscience has begun 
to prick me, and I have begun to wonder 
what it means. 

I imagine that when we say a writer is 
serious, we mean that he has a morality, 

that he is communicating to us the 



profoundest truth that he feels about human 
life. This truth of the writer cannot be 
formulated as an intellectual judgment ; 
is an intuitional, emotional, qualitative 
certainty, which cannot be summed up in 
a verdict, but only communicated through 
a work of literature. In other words a 
serious piece of literature is one which 
has validity. It illuminates our human ex- 
perience. It puts us in a position whence 
a clearer view of human life is possible. 
When we have read Don Quixote we 
seem to see the double thread of ideal 
and actual that is entwined in all human 
action. We receive a like vision from 
Le Misanthrope; we see the hopelessness 
of demanding that human beings should 
be ideal. 

That these two works immediately suggest 


themselves as examples of seriousness in 
literature shows plainly that fine comedy 
is just as serious as fine tragedy. Instinc- 
tively we know that is true, and yet the 
ordinary implications of the word serious 
seem to prevent us from realising it. At 
least I can see no other way of accounting 
for a curious " might have been " in that 
stimulating volume, The Sacred Wood. 
" How astonishing," Mr. Eliot wrote in it, 
" if Arnold had shown his contemporaries 
exactly why the author of Amos Barton 
was a more serious writer than Dickens, 
and why the author of La Chartreuse de 
Parme is more serious than either." 
Astonishing indeed! is the immediate reply, 
astonishing as any other murder of im- 
possibility. But Mr. Eliot, though he 

noticeably refrains from telling us " exactly 



why," most evidently does believe that 
George Eliot is a more serious writer than 
Dickens. And that is odd. One can only 
suggest that the word serious has proved 
a pitfall for Mr. Eliot's careful feet, and that 
he has come to believe that George Eliot 
was a more serious writer than Dickens, 
because his creation was mainly comic, 
while hers was mainly tragic. 

One suspects also the influence of another 
word -suggestion; namely that the writer 
is pre-eminently serious who takes himself 
seriously. George Eliot, under Lewes's 
inspiration, came to take herself seriously 
indeed, and the result was Romola, in 
fact disastrous. Doubly disastrous, because 
Romola is as dead as Salammbo^ and because 
(as her husband said) she began it a 

young woman and finished it an old one. 



George Eliot was a great writer, but she 
was born with enough seriousness to last 
her a lifetime. Her chief need was to 
keep herself unbent, instead of making 
herself taut and old in the effort to achieve 
a serious masterpiece. And, great writer 
as she is, she is a small one beside Dickens. 
So for the matter of that is Stendhal, and 
Dickens is, in any valuable critical sense 
of the word, more serious than either. His 
comic vision was the fiercest that has ever 
been in English literature, so savage as to 
be sometimes all but unbearable. What 
could be more terrifying than the final 
quarrel between Sarah Gamp and Betsy 
Prig ? Dickens probably roared with 
laughter when he wrote it, we do 
when we read it ; but if we happen to 

stop laughing and get a clear sight of 



what he is showing us, we do not laugh 

Seriousness, yes. It is the vital quality 
of enduring literature. But for heaven's 
sake let us not begin to confuse it with 
tragedy or solemnness. When Mr. Wells 
wrote Mr. Polly^ he was a serious writer, 
though he laughed all the while; when he 
wrote The Secret Places of the Heart^ he 
was not, though he pulled a long face over 
it. Seriousness comes from a keen vision 
of life and a deep feeling about it. And 
that is not altered by laughter or tears. 
Great comedy is terrible ; we laugh at 
it, it sometimes seems, only to prevent 
ourselves from seeing it, and when we 
do see it we flinch as we never do from 
tragedy, because it is more sudden and 

more cruel. 



There is yet another alien nuance to be 
traced in this word seriousness. It is often 
ascribed to the work of a writer who is very 
serious about the technique of his craft. 
Dickens is sometimes a careless writer, more 
careless of the build of his sentences than 
George Eliot, though hardly more careless 
than Stendhal. In this sense Flaubert is 
the serious writer. But though we may 
freely admit that it is a good thing to be 
serious in Flaubert's way, we must also 
admit that it is incompatible with a 
great creative energy. A man from whose 
brain Squeers is pushing out Micawber 
and Pecksniff being jostled by Podsnap 
cannot spend years over a single book, 
or days over a single page; he simply 
hasn't the time. This kind of serious- 
ness is a minor virtue, but no amount of 



it will replace the seriousness that is 

We must not confuse it, neither must 
we despise it. We may legitimately share 
the contempt of a famous novelist for 
" holiday authors/* for the men " Who sit 
down to write a book as they would sit 
down to a game of cards leisurely living 
people who coolly select as an amusement 
to kill time, an occupation which can only 
be pursued, even creditably, by the patient, 
uncompromising reverent devotion of every 
intelligent faculty, more or less, which a 
human being has to give." Noble words! 
And the novelist who wrote them was not 
Flaubert, nor George Eliot, nor Stendhal, 
nor Balzac, nor Dickens, nor Hardy but 
Wilkie Collins. What shall we say then ? 

Beware of seriousness ? Probably that is 



safer advice than " Be serious! " For the 
seriousness that matters cannot be won by 
pains ; while the seriousnesses that do not 
matter may lead to The Moonstone and 
perhaps to The Law and the Lady. 



ONE of the hardest things for a critic to do 
is to present an unbiassed mind to a new 
book. That is the critic's private concern, 
some may say, shying instantly at the 
unpopular word, and he were best to keep 
it to himself. But criticism is not a highly 
specialised profession like medicine or the 
law. Every reader is a potential critic, and 
in so far as he reads well an actual one. 
Some people try to communicate and 
impose their critical opinions a pursuit 
which is a branch of the art of literature; 
these are the professional critics if you 
like, the critics par excellence. But it is 
not because they are critics that they are 

P. 185 N 


a race apart, but because they are or try 
to be artists ; just as artists in the larger 
sense have perceptions of the same kind as 
those of other people, and are distinguished 
only by the will and power to communicate 
them. So that when we say that nothing 
is harder for the critic than to present an 
unbiassed mind to a new book, we are not 
airing a professional hardship but a general 

The difficulty is most sensible when we 
come to the onerous and delightful act of 
passing judgment. Onerous, because in 
the act of judgment we are ourselves judged; 
delightful, because the majority of new 
books are not worth judging at all, and the 
act of judgment is the pinnacle of a rare 
enjoyment which is incomplete without it. 

By failing to judge we " blunt the fine point 


of seldom pleasure." A book has made a 
vivid impression on our minds. We lean 
back in our chair and say to ourselves, " Now, 
how good is it really ? " We have a suspicion 
that we may have been taken in. We are 
reluctant to trust ourselves, and instinctively 
we reach out for the staff of authority to 
lean upon. We obey Arnold's precept and 
conjure up fragments of the writings that 
are immortal. Alas, they give no help. 
The new thing is not like them, simply 
because it is new. 

Our instinct is to hedge. Yes, we say, 
the book made a vivid impression, but how 
crude is the writing ! The visions are 
definite, but may not that be because they 
are soulless ? Or, contrariwise, we say of 
a book that has appeared to us misty and 

stale and flat. But how beautifully writtenl 



The dull haze in which the characters are 
hidden we liken to the cloud in which the 
loving gods wrapped the Homeric hero ; 
it is poetic, imaginative. In either case 
we are seeking in the past for a buttress to 
our present insecurity. The writing of 
the misty book is like the writing we have 
learned to admire ; the writing of the vivid 
book is quite unlike it. It is not decorous 
and polished, it is not plaintive and musical. 
It makes us, now that we have escaped 
from its spell, vaguely uncomfortable that 
it should so have moved us. Perhaps can 
it be God forbid that we are lacking in 
taste ? 

If you have the instinct for such dis- 
criminations you can pick up the trail of 
this uncertainty all through contemporary 

criticism. You will find the reviewer who 



has evidently been moved by a book 
shrinking away from it. Yes, it was vivid, 
he admits, but lacking in imagination. As 
though a book really could be vivid without 
imagination! What he is really lamenting 
is the absence of poeticisation, of what is 
called "imaginative writing." He cannot 
get rid of the sneaking feeling that it is 
wrong to admire a book that does not 
contain it. To cast a vivid light on to 
reality, without mitigating mists, seems to 
him in spite of himself, almost cruel, even 
a little vulgar. But when he finds his 
imaginative writing again he is comfort- 
able ; he feels the presence of " art/' and 
he is happier or he pretends to be. 

This might be called artistic snobbery, 
and it is truly a kind of snobbery in that 
the critic has not the courage to judge the 


book in and for itself. He is like a man in 
a railway carriage who, when an acquain- 
tance enters, breaks off an interesting 
conversation with a shabby-looking fellow 
because he is afraid of the uplifted eyebrow. 
He cannot trust himself. Another mani- 
festation of this same snobbery is the half- 
convinced ecstasy of praise which bursts 
forth when a book appears in the raiment 
of " poetry." It is a pretty safe rule to 
mistrust a review of any novel in which 
great emphasis is laid upon its poetic 

I resist the temptation to digress on to 
the question of how to read reviews, and 
repeat that truly imaginative writing seldom 
reads like it. Our concept of imaginative 
writing is a composite picture of all the 

styles which have at one time or another 


been given that name ; and it is obviously 
impossible for a piece of good writing to 
correspond with that. And this is one of 
the reasons why some of the more original 
writers to-day never receive their fair share 
of critical attention. Superficially they do 
not look like literary artists, as, for instance, 
Mr. W. W. Jacobs does not. But Mr. 
Jacobs has created a world, a little world it 
is true, but a world of his own. He is a 
much more important figure in literature 
than a dozen younger writers whose works 
are always received with respectful attention. 
But Mr. Jacobs is comic and popular : 
snobisme oblige. How can serious criticism 
deal with a figure like the Night Watchman ? 
And there are so many cases like his, of 
writers who do their business unobtrusively, 

without pretension, who never air their 



views on literature at large or the future of 
the novel, and for their modesty are never 
taken into consideration, that at times we 
have the unpleasant feeling that a hundred 
years hence criticism may appear to have 
been as wide of the mark as the critics of a 
hundred years ago to us now. 

Perhaps it all comes to this : that we are 
too conscientious, too Puritan. We can 
with difficulty persuade ourselves that a 
book we enjoy can really be a good one. 
So flowery a path should lead not to happi- 
ness but to the everlasting bonfire. And 
yet, good heavens, how enjoyable good 
literature is ! When we look back it is the 
sense and memory of delight, golden delight, 
which most potently remains. Does any 
one forget when he first plunged away 

from the familiar paths in Chaucer and 


entered on Troilus and Cressida ? What a 
divine draught was that ! And Much Ado 
and Comus and Emma \ Every masterpiece 
is a fountain of sheer delight, grave delight 
in the Purgatorio and King Lear, gay delight 
in Don Quixote and Henry IV .^ but for ever 
delight. So it has always been ; it must 
be so still. 



IN the palmy days of literary journalism in 
the 'thirties and 'forties, when there were 
many literary papers, some of them were 
written practically from cover to cover by 
the editor's unaided hand. He managed 
to get through his work by quoting literally. 
Sometimes he would go on reviewing the 
same book for a month, sandwiching a few 
lines of his own text between columns and 
columns of the original. If he was a page 
or two short he would send down to the 
printer a marked copy of one of the books 
on his table and tell him to fill up with 
that. Leigh Hunt was an expert at the 




Those times are over, and yet it is possible 
to regret their passing. For nothing will 
give us so exact an idea of the quality of a 
book as a good substantial piece of the 
original text chosen as characteristic by 
some one who knows his business. No 
amount of descriptive epithets, of critical 
praise or blame will serve half so well as 
that. We have the matter for judgment 
before us, and we are free to form our own 
conclusions. And it is interesting to compare 
these conclusions of ours with those which 
the reviewer advances as his own. When 
we disagree with him, as we pretty often 
do, we are nevertheless grateful to him 
for his honesty. He seems to put his 
cards on the table and to be saying in 
the friendliest way : " That's my opinion. 

What's yours?" 



Yet these excellent reviews with generous 
quotation sometimes fill us with a kind of 
despair. " Mr. Spettigue," says the 
enthusiast, " has the authentic gift of poetry/ 5 
and to prove it he quotes a couple of verses 
from which the authentic gift seems con- 
spicuously absent. If that is poetry, we 
say to ourselves, then we must begin our 
education all over again. We are at logger- 
heads with the reviewer, there is no hope 
of our being reconciled on this side of 
eternity. And that is depressing. For 
although it is foolish to hope for a consensus 
of opinion on questions of literary taste, 
we desire it nevertheless, and we are dis- 
tressed to discover that a man of evident 
goodwill holds on such a matter a conviction 
clean contrary to our own. 

There is a particular interest in any review 


that mentions the word " genius " and backs 
it up with a quotation. We are always on 
the look-out for some one who will tell us 
what literary genius is, who will put his 
finger on a passage of a modern writer 
we know all about the old ones and say, 
" This is it." For genius is a distinctly 
romantic word; it seems to imply something 
over and above original talent or individual 
style, it carries vague but impressive associa- 
tions of guardian spirits and affable, familiar 
ghosts, and also of Mr. Mortimer Knag, 
" who took to scorning everything and 
became a genius." There is something 
irremediably Byronic and Bohemian about 
the word. A genius is, we feel, a queer 
creature who is not very careful about his 
shirt, and there is something queer about 

his writing as well. It is unexpected and 



incalculable. All the more reason then 
why we should welcome any attempt to 
make our notion of the thing more 

Accordingly I prick up my ears whenever 
the word " genius " is applied to a writer 
to whom I have never heard it applied 
before, and I become all attention when 
the award is accompanied, as it always 
should be, by some indication of what is 
meant by genius, or better still, by a quota- 
tion which is evidence of it. The other day 
it was unflinchingly applied to the final 
verse of Mr. Masefield's The Widow in the 

" Dully they watch her, then they turn 

to go 
To that high Shropshire upland of late 




Her singing lingers with them as they 

And many times they try it, now grave, 

now gay, 

Till with full throat over the hills away 
They lift it clear ; oh, very clear it 

Mixed with the swish of many falling 


" That," said the reviewer, " is genius. " 
I admired his courage and disagreed with 
his judgment. Mr. Masefield may or may 
not be a genius ; very likely he is ; certainly 
he has that curious inequality which is often 
associated with the name. The point is not 
whether Mr. Masefield has genius, but 
whether that particular verse has. I cannot 
see it, and if I were really pressed, I should 
have to confess that the last line and a half 

seem to me really bad. 



I remember another review, of a novel 
by a woman which created some stir a little 
while ago. The review ended with : " Hats 
off, gentlemen, a genius! " This time there 
was unfortunately no quotation, but its 
place was to some extent supplied by the 
reviewer's explanation why he said of her 
what Schumann said of Chopin : " She 
infuses her people and their surroundings 
with a poetic energy, an imaginative 
radiance which, outside poetry, is only to 
be met with in the works of such novelists 
as Dostoevsky." Immediately, I began to 
suspect that the reviewer had been taken 
in, that the novel with which he was so 
enchanted was full of vague poeticalities, 
that it took place nowhere in particular, and 
the characters were nothing very definite. 

And the odd phrase, " such novelists as 


Dostoevsky," made suspicion a certainty. 
There are no such novelists as Dostoevsky, 
there are no such novelists as Dickens, 
there are no such dramatists as Shake- 
speare. They are independent and in- 

Reading reviews is a minor and fascinating 
science like the study of the continental 
Bradshaw. The most satisfying reviews 
are those which back up their judgments 
with quotations, for then we have the 
delight of agreeing or the distress of dis- 
agreeing en connaissance de cause. But in 
a review without quotations we can often 
find enough clues to the writer's attitude 
to enable us to decide whether we are likely 
to agree with his verdict. In these days 
when the books are multiplied as greatly 

as the literary papers are diminished, and 
p. 201 o 


liberal quotation is rarely possible, we need 
to cultivate, if only for our own amuse- 
ment, the faculty of reading between the 



FASHION in reading, as in all things else, is 
fickle. Ibsen is not read nowadays half 
so much as he was fifteen or twenty years 
ago when earnest young men cut their 
wisdom teeth on Hedda Gabler and The 
Master-Builder. For some reason he is now 
become almost as dowdy as the suburban 
society which he depicted in his plays. And 
this year the Moliere tercentenary came to 
remind us that the great French dramatist 
is not so much regarded as he was. There 
were a dozen perfunctory articles and one 
good one; conscience-stricken people said 
" they must read Moliere again " in an 

unconvincing, parenthetical way which 



suggested that they had not read him once ; 
and the big sleeping dog was let lie. An 
older generation which had Moliere at its 
finger-ends has been succeeded by one 
which has barely touched him with its 

It was not, therefore, altogether surprising 
to find one of the leaders of the moderns, 
Mr. Clive Bell, lately declaring in his 
provocative way : " Yes : I put Congreve 
above Molire." Whether the challenge 
has been taken up I do not know. It is, 
perhaps, a statement to which the older 
generation would not deign, and the younger 
would not care, to reply. Nevertheless, it 
would be a pity if in this year of nominal 
piety to the master of comedy a judgment 
so uncompromising were allowed to go by 




Mr. Clive Bell, who does not fire off his 
thunderbolts unadvisedly, gives two reasons 
for his verdict. First, Moliere's attitude 
to life " reminds him too often of the 
attitude of Punch " not the famous figure 
of Guignol, I imagine, but our own comic 
weekly^ and he thinks that 

" ' La parfaite raison fuit toute extremit^ 
Et veut que Ton soit sage avec sobriet^.' 

really means, in the long run, that the 
bourgeoisie knows best." It would need 
a very long run indeed: but of that later. 
The second argument is an argument from 
style. " Moli&re wrote perfectly adequate 
French verse, whereas Congreve wrote 
prose which is always dazzlingly brilliant 
and sometimes exquisite." No one would 

dispute the description of Congreve's prose, 



or deny that Molire's verse is perfectly 
adequate. But whereas Molire's verse is 
always adequate, it is very doubtful whether 
Congreve's prose is. Is not the chief reason 
why The Way of the World has always failed 
on the stage the excessive brilliance of a 
dialogue which obscures the action and 
does not allow us to see the wood for 
the trees ? And when it comes to com- 
paring two comic dramatists, surely the 
fact that Moliere is infinitely the better 
dramatist should count for something. 
His plays are as actor-proof as Shake- 

The antithesis, moreover, between the 
adequacy of Moli^re's verse and the ex- 
quisiteness of Congreve's prose is meant 
to imply that Molire's verse was never 

exquisite. That is an odd idea. Take, for 


a single instance, Agns's speech in L'Eco/e 

des Femmes : 

" J'&ois sur le balcon & travailler au frais 
Lorsque je vis passer sous les arbres 

Un jeune homme bien fait, qui rencon- 

trant ma vue, 
D'une humble reverence aussit6t me 

salue : 
Moi, pour ne point manquer i la 

Je fis la r^v^rence aussitot de mon 

Soudain il me refait une autre 

ence : 
Moi, j'en refais de mSme une autre en 

diligence ; 

Et lui d'une troisime aussitot repartant, 
D*une troisi^me aussi j'y repars i 




II passe, vient, repasse, et toujours de 

plus belle 
Me fait & chaque fois rv&rence nou- 

velle ; 
Et moi, qui tous ces tours fixement 


Nouvelle reverence aussi je lui rendois : 
Tant que, si sur ce point la nuit ne fut 

Toujours comme cela je me serois 

Ne voulant point c^der, et recevoir 

Qu'il me put estimer moins civile que 


If that is not exquisite verse, I do not know 
the meaning of the phrase. The real 
difference between Moliere and Congreve 
in this particular matter is that Moliere's 

verse is always exquisite when exquisiteness 



is necessary, while Congreve's prose is often 
exquisite when something more straight- 
forward would serve his purposes better. 
Millamant is wonderful and speaks divinely: 
but Agnes is just as wonderful, she speaks 
just as divinely, and she is as firm in outline 
and as clear as a crystal. 

L'Ecote des Femmes, for all its purity and 
completeness, is but a minor comedy of 
Molire's, yet it is equal to anything of 
Congreve's. With Le Misanthrope or 
Tartujfe we pass into a realm of profound 
comic reality which Congreve with all his 
genius could not enter. Put the equation 
grossly: Celimene is at least the equivalent 
of Millamant, and what has Congreve to 
show for Alceste ? Congreve's graceful 
yacht is dwarfed by the side of Moliere's 

splendid schooner. Congreve's draught, his 
, 209 


weight, his substance is smaller, and so is 
his beauty. Le Misanthrope is one of the 
most perfect things in all literature : it is 
also one of the most substantial. To pit 
Con gr eve's exquisiteness against Moliere's 
adequacy is to make a false antithesis and 
to mistake the accidents for the essentials 
of style. 

But strangest of all is the paradoxical 
opinion that Moliere's attitude, " in the 
long run," meant that the Bourgeoisie knows 
best. Since when has harmony of the 
faculties been a bourgeois virtue ? Does 
the bourgeois Arnolphe (de la Source), to 
take L'Eco/e des Femmes again, know best ? 
Is Orgon infallible, or Georges Dandin the 
fountain of mundane wisdom ? No doubt, 
Moliere did not possess the common element 

which Mr. Bell so curiously finds in Flaubert 



and Machiavelli, and no less curiously calls 
their " fine intellectuality." He had some- 
thing better, a point of view which would 
have enabled him to see the comic side of 
Flaubert's anti-bourgeois emportement^ and 
to savour the aridity of Machiavelli's intel- 
lectualism. Moliere may not have been 
an intellectual, but he was reasonable, and 
that is a much more difficult thing to be. 
Harmonious rationality is not generally 
supposed to be a bourgeois attribute, and 
certainly Moliere did not represent it as 
one : it is more often ascribed to Greek 
civilisation in its brief maturity. To call 
Moliere's attitude bourgeois beside Con- 
gr eve's is not to criticise Moliere, but 
Congreve himself. Moliere is central, 
Congreve is eccentric. Moliere's light is 

steady, Congreve's, with all its dazzling 



brilliance, flickers. Moliere's vision is 
searching, Congreve's is superficial. We 
read Congreve for his verbal wit and the 
delicate beauty of one splendid scene, we 
read Moliere for his wisdom and his truth, 
and it is only when he is challenged that we 
worry to point out the high and exquisite 
perfection of his art. 



A CORRESPONDENT, who is a doctor, has 
written to me to ask me why, in a recent 
article, I called Don Quixote a masterpiece. 
" I have tried," he says, " both in the 
original Spanish and in English to like it, 
and I always fail. It seems to me wanting 
in true humour to jeer at the actions of 
the half-witted. It always arouses pity in 
me. Perhaps it is because I am a doctor 
and see so much mental aberration, that I 
cannot find pleasure in reading about such 
a painful subject. I think I would rather 
be hanged as a criminal than die semi- 


Don Quixote, by the way, did not die 


semi-insane. He died in his right mind, as 
the peaceful citizen Alonso Quixano, having 
made a will which disinherited his niece if 
she should be foolish enough to marry a man 
whose reading was on romances of chivalry. 
But that is beside the point. I have to 
confess myself nonplussed by the doctor's 
letter. I do not know how to reply to it; 
how to reply to it, that is, in a way which 
will carry conviction to him. I could say, 
I suppose, that Don Quixote's madness is 
not pathological but symbolical, that it 
represents the inveterate tendency of the 
human mind towards an idealisation of 
reality, and that although Cervantes gave 
this impulse an exaggerated embodiment, 
succeeding generations of men have dis- 
covered enough of the Quixote in themselves 

to make them feel that the story of the 



knight's discomfiture has a universal human 

But argument of this kind would not 
convince my correspondent. It demands, 
in order to be convincing, a certain abstrac- 
tion of the thing signified from the thing 
depicted, which is more difficult for some 
people to make than others. And, in the 
case of Don Quixote, it is, we can well believe, 
most difficult for a doctor. To one who 
is accustomed to deal with cases of actual 
mental aberration the realistic truth of Don 
Quixote's affliction must be more cogent 
than its inward meaning. He has seen too 
many Don Quixotes in real life ; he has 
been too deeply impressed by the reality 
of their sufferings for it to be possible for 
him to regard them merely as a poetic symbol 

of a trick of the human soul. They touch 



him too nearly. Instead of reading about 
Don Quixote's actions as though they were 
imaginary events in some kingdom of the 
mind's potentiality, at every turn he is 
reminded of the doings of actual men whom 
he remembers, and to whom he has tried, 
perhaps in vain, to bring relief. In the 
language of Croce's philosophy, it is im- 
possible for him to have other than a 
practical attitude towards Cervantes' master- 
piece ; the aesthetic approach is barred to 

Although I was at first bewildered by 
the doctor's letter, and imagined that I was 
confronted with a case of literary insensi- 
bility we all have blind spots in our faculty 
of literary appreciation it seemed on 
further thought that his attitude, so far 

from being peculiar, was typical of a general 


limitation. It is, for instance, extremely 
difficult for those who have been in close 
contact with an illness and have passed 
through the sickening alternation of hope 
and fear for lives which are dear to them, 
to hold themselves detached when they 
read an account of a like illness in fiction. 
Either they miss the agonising note of 
reality in the description and feel that the 
author is trifling with terrible things, or 
they recognise the note of reality and in- 
stinctively compare his experience with 
their own. A crowd of painful associations 
swarms up to confirm or confute the author's 
veracity. His book is not permitted to 
make its own impression, and he is judged, 
not as he should be, by the experience 
he creates in us, but by his fidelity to an 

experience which we recall. 

p. * 217 p 


This distortion of judgment, in various 
forms, is continual. The simple fact that 
an experience has been crucial in our lives 
makes it peculiarly hard for us to adopt any 
but a practical attitude to an artistic re- 
presentation of a similar experience. Men 
who have fought in the war are often dis- 
satisfied with War and Peace. It may have 
been all very well when it was written, 
they are willing to admit, but it is not 
really like war. And lately I heard a 
young officer, who has since become a man 
of letters, criticise Mr. D. H. Lawrence's 
beautiful novel, Aaron's Rod, because no 
one who had been " through the hoop " 
could possibly talk as a captain of the Guards 
talks there. For him, as for the doctor, I 
had no reply ready. It seemed almost 

indecent to suggest that having been 


" through the hoop " was rather a disquali- 
fication than a title to judge the book. But 
so it was. If we begin to test the elements 
of a work of literature by our own practical 
experience, we are on the wrong road, we 
are considering it not as art, but as science; 
not as the communication of an apprehen- 
sion of life, but as a more or less faithful 
record of observed fact. 

It is, moreover, the confusion between 
these two attitudes which is most frequently 
the cause of the strange popularity of worth- 
less books. In New Grub Street Gissing 
declared that the royal road to success for 
a novelist was to deal with the very rich 
upper middle-class. It is, of course, only 
one of the roads, but it has in fact proved 
uncommonly successful since Gissing's time. 

The moderately well-to-do like to read 



about a condition of life which they may 
conceivably attain, just as elderly spinsters 
made the fortune of a lady-novelist who, 
herself an elderly spinster, invariably re- 
presented one of their kind as the beloved 
of an ardent, Apolline youth. The writer 
who can supply an imaginary satisfaction 
for the practical desires of a large class of 
people is fairly certain of financial success 
among that majority of readers who do not 
dream that the condition of entering the 
world of literature is to leave all practical 
desires behind them. 

Not that the doctor and they are really 
comparable. It is to his honour that he 
cannot read of Don Quixote's adventures 
without pain. It proves that he has the 
sensitive sympathy which is necessary to 
his craft. A man of pure science (which a 



doctor is not) might be far less disturbed. 
But those who ask for practical satisfactions 
from literature and find a book unreadable 
unless it has a happy ending deserve no 
such praise. Although we cannot blame 
them for desiring the happiness which we 
all desire, we can pity them for not knowing 
that the delight aroused by literary beauty 
is of a finer and more enduring kind than 
the fictitious realisation of their daily hopes 
can ever give. 



AN American professor, who has lately 
been trying to determine the peculiar 
characteristics of the poetic mind, incident- 
ally touches upon the question : Why do 
poets write poetry ? What is their motive 
in putting pen to paper ? And he finds 
the answer in Bacon's noble sentence from 
the Advancement of Learning one of 
the few scattered utterances which, were 
Shakespeare's works without an author, 
might make it conceivable that Bacon wrote 
them. " The use of poetry hath been to 
give some shadow of satisfaction to the 

mind of man in those points wherein the 



nature of things doth deny it." Poetry, 
on this lofty theory, is written by the poet 
to relieve his divine discontent with the 
things that are and to rejoice his mind with 
a vision and embodiment of the things that 
might be. 

To cast the eye of suspicion upon so high 
an argument seems ungenerous, if not 
actually cynical. Besides, it is not altogether 
necessary. If we do not interpret Bacon's 
sentence wholly in the transcendental sense 
which it apparently invites, we can find 
much poetry of which it holds good. 
Shelley was made for it, of course ; Words- 
worth fits it well with his 

" Blank misgivings of a creature 
Moving about in worlds not realised ; " 

So, in our own day, does Mr. De la Mare, 



dreaming of the shadowless asphodel of the 
kingdom where neither moth nor mortality 
doth corrupt. But even poets less averse than 
these to accepting their fate as terra jilii 
reveal in their songs a longing for the things 
that are not. " Vivamus mea Lesbia atque 
amemus " is perhaps a poem of triumphant 
love, and it may be only our knowledge of 
the intolerable sequel which makes us read 
it as a pathetic prayer for security in a 
passion where no security is. But we do 
read it so. Love poets are seldom the singers 
of happiness in love, and of them certainly 
it is generally true that they seek for " some 
shadow of satisfaction to the mind in those 
points wherein the nature of things doth 
deny it." 
We may, therefore, say with some reason 

that the characteristic emotion of poetry is 



a longing for the things that are not, for 
permanence amid change, security in unrest 
this " evermore unrest," as Shakespeare 
called it eternity in mortality. " Bright 
star, would I were steadfast as thou art ! " 
is the dominant, though sometimes scarcely 
audible, theme of poetry. It is " the desire 
of the moth for the star," no matter whether 
the star be given a local habitation and a 
name in the person of a mistress, or lifted 
up into the unattainable heaven as some 
eternal and unchanging principle of things* 
The poetry of acceptance, of delight without 
regret or triumph, without bitterness, is 
rare ; and even in the poets who have given 
us a glimpse of it, it seems most often to be 
no more than an episode in a lifelong regret 
for the impossible, like a gay melody in 

a sombre symphony a gaiety that seems 



unspeakably forlorn to our premonition of 
what is to come. 

Nevertheless, the final effect of this 
emotional tone in poetry is not, as it seems 
it should be, discouraging. The saddest 
beauty is enchanting, and even if the 
sadness is not in the poet's mind or language, 
we are there to read the serenest perfection 
in a context of longing and disillusion. 
Our own delight in high poetry is symbolised 
by Keats's figure of "Joy whose hand is 
ever at his lips, Bidding adieu "; and he 
stands by the margin of the glorious page 
to warn us that there, where we have been, 
we cannot live. And so, if the poet is 
not himself sad with impossibility, we are. 
There is no escape. Either by expression 
of our own imperfect state, or by holding 

serenity before our eyes, he touches us to 



tears. In this respect humanity is incorri- 
gible. Has it not, for two thousand years, 
insisted on reading into Virgil's " Sunt 
lacrimae rerum " a meaning which the words 
never had ? 

And yet again we say it the sadness 
inseparable from high poetry is not dis- 
couraging. It is exhilarating rather. If 
the poet has put it there, we are grateful 
to him for thinking so highly of the human 
soul that he regards perfection and serenity 
and permanence as its due. He speaks 
nobly, like Malvolio in the dungeon, and 
we thrill to his claims on our behalf; though 
disinherited and unrecognised, we are the 
sons of kings by virtue of our souls. If on 
the other hand it is we who supply the 
context of sadness to the poet's unhappiness, 

why then it is we ourselves who vindicate 



our right not to be banished from Elysium 
back to the world of everyday. We deserve 
to live with the perfections we enjoy. That 
we recognise them is our title to have them 
secured to us. Though we go barefoot 
we are of the blood royal. Such secret 
knowledge is a good viaticum. 

In a sense, therefore, we are all incorri- 
gible poets. If the poet himself had no 
thought of saying, " Quis desiderio sit pudor 
aut modus ? " we say it for him. But 
precisely because we are in this sense all 
poets, precisely because we all, according 
to our ability, " submit the shows of things 
to the desires of the mind," we cannot 
suppose, with the American professor, that 
the divine discontent which we all share is 
the effective cause of poetry. If it were so, 

we should all be poets, not in a sense, but in 



reality ; that is to say, we should all be 
writing beautiful poems. For, after all, a 
real poet is a person who makes something, 
and though we may gladly admit that 
Bacon has defined what he makes better 
than the measurers of syllables, we cannot 
allow that he has revealed the reason why 
the poet makes it. Perhaps we might as 
well ask why babies are born. Perhaps, 
too, the answer is roughly the same to both 
questions, and poems, like babies, are bye- 
products of an activity that is self-sufficient 
and delightful. 



MR. GLUTTON BROCK'S recent reference to 
the case of Stephen Phillips brought two 
things to my mind. One was an idle dis- 
cussion of badness in poetry which had 
ended in the safe and sound conclusion 
that the worst, like the finest, effects were 
wrung out of blank verse. (Who was it, by 
the way, who when asked for a definition 
of blank verse, defined it as the comparative 
of " damn bad " ?) There began the usual 
rivalry in producing bad lines of blank 
verse for the general derision. " A Mr. 
Wilkinson, a clergyman/' was, of course, 

exhibited. That is not a very bad line, 



really. It is hopelessly prosaic, no doubt, 
but badness in poetry is a positive quality: 
it is not the absence of something that ought 
to be, but the presence of something that 
ought not to be there. Bad poetry is not 
so much prosaic as hyperpoetical. The 
lines we remembered were, like Words- 
worth's, neutral rather than bad, and we 
were dissatisfied with them. Suddenly a 
silent member of the company said that 
the worst line of blank verse he had ever 
read was 

" The mystic yearning of a garden wet." 

It was, he said, by Stephen Phillips. The 
competition was ended. 

The other association suggested by the 
name of Stephen Phillips is kinder to his 

memory. It is an incident which, it seems 



to me, has a significance of its own. One 
Sunday morning in the early autumn two 
years ago I was walking in Hampstead, 
and I passed a group of people arguing in 
the open road in front of Jack Straw's 
Castle. Instinctively I slowed down to 
listen. As usual, they were arguing for and 
against Socialism. Thinking that nothing 
would come of it, I began to move away 
when my ear was caught by the name of 
Stephen Phillips. Instantly I was curious. 
What could his name be doing in that 
argument ? I pushed my way forward 
and saw that a fat man of about sixty was 
the dominant personality. He had puffy 
red cheeks and small, twinkling gray eyes 
which continually swerved away from a 
hot-tempered and rather dirty young man 

in spectacles, with whom he was arguing, 


and roamed benevolently over the company. 
With a podgy hand he fingered a thick gold 
watch-chain : and he wore an old, yellow 
straw hat. He looked like a genial and 
none too prosperous publican. And I 
naturally concluded that he was arguing 
against Socialism. 

But not at all. It was he who had men- 
tioned Stephen Phillips, for he mentioned 
him again. He stood listening with a far- 
away look and a patient smile to the fiery 
young man, who was obviously an extremist. 
He looked like one, and besides he violently 
denounced Mr. J. H. Thomas for " ratting/ 1 
When he had done, the fat man said, " I 
don't know anything about that. What 
I do know is that there was a man called 
Stephen Phillips. He was one of the finest 

poets in our time, and we let him die in 
P. 233 


the gutter." He said it quietly, without 
emphasis. Nobody seemed to care. The 
sense of the meeting seemed to be that 
poets were queer fishes anyhow, and you 
could n't afford to worry about what 
happened to them. 

The fat man was a little disgusted. 
" Perhaps you've never heard of Stephen 
Phillips ? " he said to us all. There was 
no answer. " Well/' he sighed, " he was 
a fine poet, he was, and he finished up by 
having to cadge for a shilling for a drink. 
We let him die." He paused. " I don't 
know anything about this young gentle- 
man's ideas," he went on. " I'm old- 
fashioned," he said, with a charming smile. 
" I've worked hard, and I've read a few 
books, and I don't want my books or my 

little house taken away. But I do say 


there's something b wrong with a 

country that lets a poet like Stephen Phillips 
die in the gutter. That's the kind of thing 
that makes me a Socialist." He spoke so 
quietly that every one was impressed and 
silent, except the young man with the 

" Have you read Karl Marx's Capital ? " 
he asked the fat man truculently. 

" As much as I could, I have, young 
man. A red-covered book. I got it at 

" Well ? " said the young man very 

"Well," said the fat man, smiling, "I 
don't like it 'alf so much as John Ball's 

I do not know whether the fat man's 

account of Stephen Phillips's end is true, 



though he spoke as one who had known 
him in his latter days, and perhaps had 
given him the shillings. But it seems to 
me that Stephen Phillips's memory gains 
rather than loses by the story. It is no small 
thing for a poet to have been regarded with 
such kindly reverence by an honest man, 
and to have become for him the symbol of 
genius and the misfortunes of genius. That 
achievement should weigh heavily in the 
scales against the bad lines he perpetrated. 
For me at any rate his memory is indis- 
solubly united with that of his generous 
champion. For him I have a peculiar 
affection. Perhaps he was ineffectual : 
perhaps it is the mark of the Socialist 
dreamer to prefer The Dream of John Ball 
to Das Kapital : but the quality of the 

preference is somehow pleasant. And at 


any rate he was one of those unselfish souls 
to whom 

" the miseries of the world 
Are misery, and will not let them rest/* 

They are the salt of the earth. 


IN a foreword to a catalogue of an exhibition 
of paintings by Sir John and Lady Lavery, 
Mr. Winston Churchill wrote these words 
concerning the pictures of the lady. 

11 If I were a Master of Hounds hunting 
Beauty, I should have no hesitation, at 
the end of the run, in handing her the 

It is one of those striking sentences dropped 
from the heights which we poor mortals, 
who neither are, nor are likely to be, Privy 
Councillors, carry about in our heads for 
days. We have been haunted by it ; we 
have dreamed dreams. It fits so well with 

our conception of the right honourable 


gentleman who uttered it. It is in itself a 
gesture, a vision. The red-coated M.F.H. 
gallops up, sweeps off his velvet cap. We 
see him on the sky-line for a moment, turn 
our jaded horses home and talk in jerks 
about the run. 

A vision! More than one. For if each 
man in his life plays many parts, Mr. 
Winston Churchill in his has played the 
parts of many men. Instead of a nice, 
simple M.F.H. galloping up, he begins 
to expand, to duplicate himself. He 
becomes like one of those multi-musical 
Italian wanderers, with a big drum on their 
shoulders, an accordion in their hands, a 
chime of bells on their hats, and a triangle 
in their teeth. So Mr. Churchill appears 
with an easel on his back, a polo-stick 

lightly held in place of a hunting-crop, 



hallooing, in place of the too familiar " Gone 
away, away," the simple little ditty set for 
him by Max Beerbohn: 

" We want eight, 
And we won't wait ! " 

It is no wonder a man so many-sided 
should juggle with his metaphors. It is his 
privilege. And how breezy and downright 
it is, to be sure! The manifest utterance of 
a man with no nonsense about him! But 
not a simple man. No! A man who can 
beat the literary gentlemen at their own 
game. And, to tell the truth, he nearly 
did once, with his River War. Who of 
the mere professional writers would have 
attempted a pun and a metaphor at the 
same time ? Mr. Churchhill's incorrigible 
versatility will not be denied even in a 



We feel it is a characteristic sentence, and 
at the same time that we have not yet 
touched on the real reason why it seems so 
characteristic. We must apply the methods 
of advanced criticism to it. Here we have 
a passage in which, we feel, our author's 
sensibility is completely expressed. We 
have already disentangled one strand from 
it an incorrigible versatility. Lurking 
behind the sentence we discern the Winston 
of Mr. Low's unkind cartoons, dressed in 
an admiral's hat and cavalry boots. But 
there is something more than this. After 
all, why shouldn't a man be versatile ? 
Why shouldn't he kill two birds with one 
stone if he can ? 

There is no reason at all, provided that 
both birds needed killing. The unnecessary 

killing of birds, in real life and in metaphors, 



is deplorable. Mr. Churchill wants to pay 
Lady Lavery a compliment on her painting. 
If he were a Master of Hounds hunting 
Beauty, he says gallantly, he would have 
no hesitation in handing her the Brush at 
the end of the run. The lady blushes and 
bows ; then she thinks it over. She has 
plenty of time to think over it, for the 
remark is in print and in its third edition 
by now. First she discovers that it is not 
she but Mr. Churchill who leads the pursuit 
of Beauty. He is the general of the cam- 
paign, she a distinguished assistant. It is 
not quite so gallant as it seemed. But then 
she remembers that Mr. Churchill himself 
has toiled with canvas and tubes. There is 
such a thing as seniority. Mr. Churchill 
was painting years ago ; he took to the 

craft in one of the brief intervals in which 



he was spared the task of directing operations 
on the Western Front. It would have been 
a beau geste in him to have forgotten it ; 
but a mind conscious of mastery has a right 
to insist on its own pre-eminence. Courtesy 
must sometimes bow to truth. And we 
remember that it was a great thing to be 
granted a tabouret in the full rays of the 
Roi Soleil. 

Lady Lavery may perhaps feel that the 
compliment was a shade too nicely adjusted 
to their respective eminences in the art of 
beauty-hunting. A little more generosity 
and a little less etiquette would have made 
the praise still sweeter. But she has nothing 
to complain of. The Master would have 
given her the brush ; and he has put it on 

But what has happened to poor Beauty ? 


We have forgotten all about her. Alas ! 
she has been butchered to make a bon mot. 
Lady Lavery has the brush, to be sure ; 
but the hounds have the rest. Beauty has 
gone to the dogs. A few bits of bloody fur 
and the brush are all that remains of 
her. Perhaps, as she carries away her 
trophy, Lady Lavery J s eyes may catch sight 
of the raw and bleeding stump, and she 
may wonder whether she has been paid a 
compliment at all. 

Many minds of many men have pursued 
Beauty through all the ages with thought 
and imagination, in joy and despair. They 
have followed her in ecstasy and agony, in 
triumph and torment ; but the agonies and 
torments have been their own. They have 
seen her dimly with Truth at her side ; 

they have gone in quest of her with adora- 



tion and a trembling fear of their own 
unworthiness to touch the hem of her 
garment. If any were cruel, it was she 
and not they. Keats and Baudelaire, who 
spent lives of suffering on the quest, de- 
clared that she was implacable, motionless, 
sovereign. " Jamais je ne pleure," she said 
to Baudelaire, " et jamais je ne ris." But 
they did not hate her for it. They only 
loved her the more; they approached her 
with a deeper reverence, a more heart- 
felt fear. And, since Plato first discerned 
her, enthroned apart, high above the flux 
of imperfect things, the mind of civilisa- 
tion has moved towards her in this 

It has been left to the Rt. Hon. Winston 
Spencer Churchill, P.C., M.P., to set it 

right. He was the first man to see that 



there is no point in all this palaver. If 
you want to catch a rat, take a dog to him. 
If you want to catch Beauty, take a dog to 
her. O, you infatuated poets, priests and 
philosophers who have wasted more than 
two thousand years in paying your stam- 
mering suits to the lady of your desire, 
could you not see that her long delay was 
due to your own timidity ? She would 
have yielded long ago had not the great 
minds of the world been busy with greater 
things deciding what fur a bearskin should 
be made of, and teaching the Prince of 
Wales to play polo. But at last a man has 
arisen who can dispose of these affairs of 
State so swiftly that he has time to spare 
for the things of the spirit. He takes a 
quick, Napoleonic glance at the new world 

to conquer. He looks along the ages and 



sees generations of men timidly advancing 
towards the veiled goddess. Fools! What 
can Beauty do against his beauties ? " Have 
at her ! " 

Now for the first time a view-hulloa 
echoes through the fields of Art. A splendid 
run, without a single check, for poor Beauty 
has not learned the rudiments of the noble 
game. A kill in the open! 

But who are these dishevelled, breathless 
followers on foot ? Why do they wave 
their arms and wring their hands ? What 
are they shouting for, and why are they 
wildly gesticulating ? " What have you 
done ? " comes the faint cry in the gathering 
dusk. " What have I done ! " roars the 
Master. " Why, what you've been trying 
to do since God knows when, you idiots. 

. . . What have I done ! Caught Beauty 



for you, you fools ! " " But . . . youVe 
killed her/' stammers the foremost, short 
and pale and blown. Johnny Keats always 
did have bellows to mend. " What the 
devil did you expect me to do with her, 
then ? " 

No, there is no answer. How could 
they understand each other ? " There's 

no doing anything to help these d d 

fellows/* growls the Master. And, to 
relieve his sense of injustice received, he 
curses his first Whip as he rides sulkily 

Then, in spite of himself, his mind turns 
back to serious things. His annoyance is 
slowly dissolved by cares of State. Sud- 
denly a spark of joy gleams in his eye ; he 
cracks his whip in his delight. Those 

busbies for the Guards ! The very thing ! 



The skin of Beauty! Original, striking, 
never thought of before. He begins to 
prepare his speech on the Army Estimates ; 
he hears the murmur of wonder at the 
epoch-making innovation. 

Good God ! He'd forgotten. He's no 
longer at the War Office. Why on earth 
did he take the Colonies ? You can't give 
an idea like that to a man like Worthington- 

The announcement of the change in the 
Cabinet is expected at any moment. 

p. 249 


As we get older, most of us begin to forget 
that such a thing as grammar exists. We 
remember the name but not the thing. 
Occasionally in a vindictive mood very 
often the result of ten minutes with that 
delightful but mortifying volume, The Kings 
English we pounce upon some one else's 
grammar and declare it is all wrong. For 
the rest, grammar is a vague memory of 
Latin gender rhymes 

" as curculio, vesper ti/io, 
pugio, scipio, and papilio " 

of syntax tags (which seem to the sceptical 



eye of manhood only a choice collection 
of the ungrammatical practices of the 
ancients), and of that tremendous process 
called " parsing.'* I remember being asked 
at a very tender age to " parse " two 
lines which surely came from The Lady 
of the Lake 

" So swift of foot, his eagle eye 
The ptarmigan in snow could spy. . . ." 

Some one will tell me I have misquoted 
it. Scott never wrote such bad sense. 
Shakespeare did, anyhow. And it was 
my examiner who quoted it, and 
not I. 

But the point is, it did not worry me in 
the least that swift runners should necessarily 
be long-sighted. I was perfectly prepared 

to accept that. The real brick slang, I 



fear but still ... the real brick was the 
ptarmigan. The only other " pt " I had 
ever heard of (and Heaven alone knows how 
I had heard of that) was " pterodactyl." 
A " pterodactyl " was a fossil. A fossil 
could not possibly have " spied " the gentle- 
man's eye, even if it was an eagle. There- 
fore, the gentleman spied the fossil. 
" Ptarmigan : noun, concrete, object of 
verb ' spy/ " You, who have forgotten 
your grammar, do not know that that is 
the correct answer, I scored ten out of 

But that " ptarmigan " haunted me for 
many years afterwards. It made two critical 
reappearances. About two years later I 
happened to be taken to the real London, 
and I saw on the outside of a discreet West- 
End poulterer's how unlike what a 



poulterer's should be! the legend " Dealers 
in Black Game and Ptarmigan." I immedi- 
ately conceived a great contempt for the 
hero of the unforgotten lines. A ptarmigan 
was a bird, and he was black. Why, I 
could see a black bird in snow myself ! 
Yards away. And then I began to brood 
over the lines again, and it occurred to me 
that it was the black bird that did the 
spying after all. But then there was the 
problem of my full marks. It was too 
difficult. Either the poet was a fool, or 
my examiner a knave. I let the matter 

The next avatar of that ghostly fowl was 
when I began Greek. There are quite a 
number of " pt's " in Greek. The first one 
for which I conceived any real affection 

was " ptuo." It seemed to me then, and 



it seems to me now, a much more eloquent 
word than " spit/' and in another relation 
a much better word than " tupto." 
" Tupto " was altogether too ladylike. It 
bore about the same relation to its meaning 
as " punish " does to " beat." In fact, a 
silly word. But the most definite result of 
these early explorations of the Greek tongue 
was the discovery that " pt " was quite 
an ordinary occurrence. " Ptarmigan " 
became a Greek word. By the time I had 
a Liddell and Scott of my own, I had 
forgotten the problem. So to this day 
" ptarmigan " has remained vaguely Greek. 
Something tells me it is probably Gaelic ; 
but something else that it ought to be 
Greek, as it ought to be black. " Melas, 
melaina, melan ; Ptarmigas, ptarmigaina, 




The consequence (to which these con- 
fessions are the preliminary) is that grammar 
to me is irrevocably mixed up with " ptarmi- 
gan." One might almost say that it is 
ptarmigan. From ptarmigan to caviare is 
the shortest of steps ; hardly a step at all 
in that distinguished poulterer's shop a 
matter of reaching from a hook to a shelf. 
I wonder to how many little boys grammar 
is at this moment in process of a similar 
mysterious change. After all, these in- 
corporeal, transcendental entities have to 
be brought to earth somehow. " The soul 
of our grandam might haply inhabit a 
bird." Mine was only a more traditional 
metempsychosis than is usually the case. 
Some Egyptian atavism guided my choice, 
and my maturer philosophy approves. In 

this matter I feel rather like the slave of 



Meno who was born with the knowledge 
that the square of the hypotenuse is equal 
to the sum of the squares of the other two 

But I should dearly love to ask other little 
boys, with sad and studious faces, " What 
is grammar ? "; to ask my question in a tone 
quite different from that of the examiner, 
to make it a matter of confidence, a secret 
between ourselves. For little boys have 
not thank heaven learned the detestable 
habit of abandoning their souls to a block 
of paper. Probably I should have to lead 
the way. I would observe quite casually : 
" I think it's a kind of bird." If I said 
ptarmigan it would sound like a secret 
society. It would be too exciting, and 
produce bad dreams. I wonder what he 

would reply. The pessimism that is the 



Sancho Panza to my romanticism whispers 
unkindly : " The science of language. " 
Good Lord! 

An admirable little book in truth the 
only begetter of these meanderings comes, 
like a fresh breeze, to disperse the cloud of 
foreboding. Dr. Philip Ballard convinces me 
that the little boy would reply with an in- 
credulous stare. " Grammar ! Never heard 
of it ! " That is almost rude, of course. 
But I have imagination, and I can see from 
Dr. Ballard 's book that young Ernest will 
not be sad and studious at all. Far from it ! 
He will be accustomed to deliver concise 
orations on the burning topics of the hour 
Labour and Capital, for instance, to quote 
my authority to an audience infinitely more 
critical than I should ever be. Why 

should he stand on ceremony with me ? 



He will have the habit of discussing the 
merits of Nick Carter as compared to those 
of Sexton Blake with a master who is a 
connoisseur of this kind of literature, and 
who wisely, but yet how boldly! insists 
that little boys get vastly more good (yes, 
good) out of something they do read than 
something they don't. I shall be able to 
discuss the style, technical and literary, of 
Nelson Lee with him ; but an answer to 
my question : " What is grammar? " I may 
not hope to receive. 

For grammar nowadays is not a ptarmigan, 
nor a railway train, nor the man in the 
moon ; it is merely dead. That is, in a way, 
less exciting ; but it is much less dangerous. 
Romanticist though I am, I cannot believe 
that my pursuit of elusive entity in the 

semblance of a fowl did me very much 



good. More good than " the science of 
language," no doubt, for that was only a 
sudden impediment in speech, which made 
me choke and turn red as a turkey-cock. 
" He was running out of Hall with Biggy 
Jones and me ... Biggy Jones and I, sir." 
Now, young Ernest says unblushingly: 
" Biggy Jones and me." Instead of that 
curious sense of living in two worlds, in one 
of which he speaks like a rational human 
being, while in the other he talks pure 
Sandford and Merton, or would do if he 
could only get the hang of it, he lives in a 
world full of heroes, beginning with himself, 
rising by gradual stages through Nick 
Carter to the Count of Monte Cristo and 
Rupert of Hentzau, through Jim Hawkins 
to the last perfection of an Antony and a 

Brutus the noblest Roman of them all. 



But all are noble Romans, and all speak 
(with their proper variations) the right 
Roman language, that is an English that 
can be understood from one man to another. 
Of course that is not exactly a real world. 
But what small boy ever desired to live in a 
real world ? What has taken the place of 
the problem of grammar is the problem of 
making the boy enter this more than real 
world of literature and keeping him there, 
keeping him there long enough to make 
him forget the uncouth pidgin-English of 
the London streets or the insipid slang the 
" niceness " and the " jolliness " of the 
middle-class home. Dr. Ballard is optimistic, 
but I gather that not even he regards the 
new problem as solved. Part of the solution 
rests, no doubt, with the authors. They 

must set themselves, as Stevenson did, to 



write adventure stories which will make Nick 
Carter and Nelson Lee pale their ineffectual 
fires. But, if they do, will their stories ever 
find their way into the class-room ? Is 
Treasure Island even now a prescribed, or 
even a permitted, text in the elementary 
schools ? As far as I know the only modern 
literature that finds its way into an educational 
syllabus is anthologies of modern poetry. 
The Lady of the Lake was better than that. 
If Dr. Ballard himself had the ordering 
of these things we could be fairly confident 
that a solution would be found, even without 
the active co-operation of the authors. Dr. 
Ballard knows how to write, and he obviously 
knows a good story when he sees one. (And 
this although he presumes to say that the 
words of a little girl of four had " outstripped 

her ideas " because she declared that " all 



the little butterflies and burglars have gone 
to bed." Even I could construct a whole 
universe on so firm a foundation.) What 
would happen if Dr. Ballard had the ordering 
of these things is that the author of a really 
good story, who had long since despaired of 
being read by that suburban society that is 
impassioned only by the passions of Mayfair, 
would wake up one morning and discover 
that he had been run over-night into ten 
editions by special request of the L.C.C. 

Yet, even so, a problem would remain. 
Suppose that young Ernest comes as at 
least half the young Ernests do come 
from some noisome Backwater Alley. 
Suppose that, under Dr. Ballard's beneficent 
rfglme^ he reads much and is thrilled by 
what he reads, so that he understands the 

speech of this magnificent world where 



you make as little fuss of running away with 
a well-found pearl schooner as he does in 
actual life of running away with a bad 
orange from under a hawker's barrow. Will 
he ever be induced to refer to his own 
exploit in the language which belongs to 
the other ? Will he ever learn to say, " I 
made good my escape," instead of " I done 
a bunk " ? He might conceivably say it to 
the police magistrate, but not to the police- 
man, and far less to the boon companion 
to whom alone he can describe his achieve- 
ment with the full ardour of conviction. 
He will still learn his language from the 
streets where he lives, the music-hall songs 
he hears, and the public-houses that Colonel 
Gretton and Mr. Bottomley would like to 
see him freely entering again. Still, by 

Dr. Ballard's method one small boy in a 



dozen will be brought into the right way, 
where grammar has never saved a single 
brand from the burning. And for the 
eleven others ? " Let me build your streets, 
let me make your public-houses and your 
songs, and I will make your sons speak 
English." It is the old argument ; perhaps 
it will be the old reply: " If you make my 
streets, my public-houses and my songs, I 
will neither live nor drink in them; neither 
will I let young Ernie sing them." 


S. P. E. 

Now that it has issued its fourth tract, the 
Society for Pure English seems, in these 
days of brief literary lives, to have become 
an institution. I begin to feel that these 
little books, filled with charming admoni- 
tions and horrid warnings, will never cease 
their patient visitations until I am emeritus 
and have hung the wooden pen upon my 
walls. Their sedate habiliment of buff, 
their decorous typography, their discreet 
approach, their soft tapping at the door 
of the literary conscience, remind me of 
some early Quaker gently admonishing a 
brother for backsliding. Without a doubt, 

" Brother " is the address they use ; and 
p. 265 s 


the latest of them has recalled to me a vivid 
and tremendous vision of my school days. 
The school where I learned my declensions 
was reverend and glorious, and the masters 
who taught them were reverend and glorious 
too. One of these heroic figures had a 
heroic temper. C's wrath was as the wrath 
of Achilles, and like Achilles he would 
sulk within his tent. But the doors of his 
tent were always open, for the partition 
which divided the terrors of his class- 
room from the calm of ours was of glass. 
Through this we would watch the miserable 
boy, who had (in Greek) made a 
masculine crocodile lay eggs, tremble before 
C's thundered indignation, reverberating 
through the dim grammar-school. Our 
own kindly usher would take off his benevo- 
lent spectacles, blush red as a child, and 


S. P. E. 

march with quick little steps up and 
down, murmuring " Terrible, terrible," and 
quivering with restrained remonstrances. 
Our lesson stopped dead, while the great 
passionate voice roared on. A superstitious 
dread fell upon us as we peered silently 
into the other room, waiting for the 
inevitable apparition. 

Truly, I believe our hearts missed a beat 
when we saw C's door slowly begin to open. 
Incessu patuit deus. C's voice dropped 
into silence like a stone. Our usher's 
marching suddenly ceased, and he stared 
blushing at the ground. And then we 

heard the still, small voice: " Brother C ; 

Brother C ." The door closed as 

delicately as it had opened. 

That was all. I must have watched the 

fearful epiphany a dozen times. The Head 



was a dark man, neat and small and rotund. 
Yet I never heard him say to C., whom 
memory makes a giant, more than the one 

phrase, " Brother C ; Brother C ." 

Nor was there a hint of threatening in his 
reticence. He knew the nature as he knew 
the periods of C's wrath; therefore he knew 
it was enough to tap lightly at the door of 
his conscience. 

Such is the appearance neat, decorous, 
small, discreet of an S. P. E. tract, and 

such its effect upon me. " Brother M ," 

sounds the voice; and I look into my soul 
for my sins. Do I pronounce metal the 
same as mettle ? Heavens above, I can 
detect no difference. Mettle . . . mettle . . . 
met-tall . . . met-tall Then with a deep- 
drawn breath of relief, I see that I am not 

damned for that. " A careful English 


S. P. E. 

speaker " what would 1 not give to be 
that man ? finds that " he does not naturally 
distinguish between mettle and metal in 
pronunciation/ 5 Blessings upon him! I 
admire him. I will follow the simple 
courage of his resolution, with its almost 
human caution. " So I intend in future 
to pronounce metal as metzl (when I don't 
forget)." And so, by the grace of God, 
do I if only I knew what metel sounded 
like. But I will find out, I will find out. 

But the Careful English Speaker is bound 
to wring my withers soon. " When I hear 
principal pronounced as principle it gives 
me a squirm, though I am afraid nearly 
everybody does it now." To be one of 
the indistinguishable mass what a prick 
to my vanity! Principle . . . principal . . . 

pul . . . pal. . . . Was it a dream ? Or did 



I really hear some infinitesimal nuance that 
redeems me from the vulgar herd ? Or 
was it only the deceitful echo of my extreme 
desire? The thought that I should have 
lived to make the Careful English Speaker 
squirm is gall and vitriol to me. Perhaps 
my nuance of a nuance will save me : 
perhaps when he hears me speak, when I 
walk along the chalk line saying clearly, 
seven times in succession : " The principal 
thing is that our pronunciation should not 
by ruled by principle,' ' I shall not cause 
him a squirm, or even a wince nothing 
worse than the lift of an eyebrow. 

But if my gentle remonstrant in buff 
(or is it snuff?) humiliates me sometimes, 
at others he exalts my self-esteem. I feel 
immeasurably superior to those of my 

fellow-journalists who risk the word 


S. P. E. 

" protagonist " and use it wrong. Indeed, I 
was already feeling fairly comfortable in 
my mind about protagonist and my eye was 
complacently skimming a page-full of 
illegitimate uses culled from the writings 
of my less fortunate colleagues, when 
suddenly I saw. . . . 

It was a singular piece of good fortune; 
perhaps not entirely deserved. I am not 
naturally conceited, and when an S. P. E. 
tract and I have been reasoning together a 
little while, I am more than ordinarily 
humble. It was not, therefore, any impulse 
of pride that led me at first to skip the 
" legitimate uses " of protagonist and pass 
to the study of the " absurd uses/' I was, 
half-consciously, anxious to be reassured. 
To be honest, I was reassured. My confi- 
dence came back to me. So confident 



indeed did I become that I began to join 
in the scholarly chuckle at the vainglorious 
and foolhardy man was ever a purer case 
of hubris ? who wrote : " The protagonists 

in the drama, which has the motion and 

structure of a Greek tragedy. . . ." In 

short, I was feeling at my ease, perhaps 
even a little hubristical myself. I turned 
back to the " legitimate uses " without a 
tremor of misgiving. At a glance I saw 
that there were only two examples rare, 
rare is the journalist who knows this gambit ! 
This is, indeed, the shibboleth of shibboleths, 
thought I. And then. . . . 

It dawned upon me slowly, as slowly as 
it will dawn upon me when I read my own 
name in capitals at the top of the Honours 
List, created Baron for my services to 

literature. Not quicker than this and with 


S. P. E. 

no smaller thrill of incredulous astonishment, 
did it dawn upon me that I yes, I was 
the author of the first passage inter pares, 
perhaps, but indisputably primus in which 
the protagonist trick was correctly per- 
formed! There was I, elevated to the 
bench, sitting next to, conversing quietly 
with, the Careful Speaker of English. I 
cannot quote the sentence. Readers of 
my collected works would recognise it, and 
me. This essay would then become con- 
ceited. But there it is, enthroned on the 
top of page 41. It is really worth it, to 
spend a half-crown on S.P.E. Tract No. IV. 
for that alone; for it is a singularly pretty 
piece of work. I myself have spent several 
hours admiring it. 

And if this alone should seem an in- 
sufficient return for a half-crown, consider 



these further arguments. There is one 
other sentence unclaimed. It may be yours, 
dear reader. Of course, you cannot hope 
to be primus^ but you may be indisputably 
par. On the other hand, there are risks : 
fourteen " absurd uses." You may draw 
one of them. Still, you can keep it to 
yourself, and you will have learned your 
lesson. Secondly, consider that, even 
though you receive neither canonisation 
nor excommunication in this matter of 
protagonist^ half an hour in the confessional 
with the little man in buff, or snuff, will 
have a tonic effect upon your literary con- 
science. If it slumbers, he will wake it ; if 
it is drowsy, he will make it alert ; if it is 
awake, he will spur it into activity. Mine 
is, I admit, not an ordinary case. He has 

made me bold, not to say thrasonical. I 


S. P. E. 

am become a hot-gospeller, a crusader. 
Dr. Henry Bradley himself is timid and 
lukewarm compared to me. He points out 
that we have now no proper word for a 
member of the healing profession. Doctor, 
you say ? Doctor should be the privileged 
title of those who have taken their doctor's 
degree. Doctor Johnson, I am sure, would 
not have tolerated a Bachelor of Medicine 
who usurped the name of Doctor. Dr. 
Bradley reminds us that there is a word, a 
good word " leech.'* But at the thought 
of trying to revive it, his courage fails. " If 
I were to introduce my medical attendant 
to a friend with the words, ' This is my 
leech ' ... he would not consider the joke 
to be in the best of taste. " In my present 
mood, these politic thoughts are cowardly. 

I will call my doctor a leech. 



But these heights of resolution are not 
for ordinary men. They must content 
themselves, when next their leech humiliates 
them by prodding them familiarly with his 
stethoscope, with thinking what they might 
call him if only they had my good fortune 
and my courage. But on a lower level they 
will be vastly benefited by a course of 
S. P. E. It will give them a feeling of 
awareness when they speak and when they 
write which will, if they persevere, develop 
into a feeling of virtuosoship. They will pass 
far beyond the stage of being unable to 
confuse " feasible " with " possible "; they 
will be on the qui vive for an opportunity 
to give a good old word a new lease of life 
and the death-blow to a bad new one. They 
will be promoted to the proud rank of 

Guardians of the Republic of Speech and 


S. P. E. 

Letters. And they can be this, or they can 
fulfil an essential condition of being this, by 
sending half a guinea to the Secretary of 
the S. P. E., 1 1 St. Leonard's Terrace, 
Chelsea. In return they will receive four 
tracts, whose potency they may judge by 
the effect that one alone has had upon me.