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Methuen's Shilling Novels 

I The Mighty Atom Marie Corel li 

a Jane Marie Corelli 

3 Boy Marie Corelli 

4 Spanish Gold G. A. Birmingham 

5 The Search Party G. A. Birmingham 

6 Teresa of Watling Street Arnold Bennett 

8 Fire in Stubble Baroness Orczy 

9 The Unofficial Honeymoon Dolf Wyllarde 
10 The Botor Chaperon C. N. and A. M. Williamson 
1 1 Lady Betty across the Water C. N. and A. M. Williamson 
13 The Demon C. N. and A. M. Williamson 
15 The Guarded Flame W. B. Maxwell 
17 Joseph Frank Danby 
1 8 Round the Red Lamp Sir A. Conan Doyle 
19 Under the Red Robe Stanley Weyman 
ao Light Freights W. W. Jacobs 
33 The Long Road John Oxenham 
71 The Gates of Wrath Arnold Bennett 
73 Short Cruises W. W. Jacobs 
8 1 The Card Arnold Bennett 
84 The Sea Lady H. G. Wells 
87 Lalage's Lovers G. A. Birmingham 
93 White Fang Jack London 
98(Chronicles of a German Town Author of MarciainGermany 

99 I he 0!1 Of 9 ar / le - Iohn Oxenham 

103 The Quest of the Golden Rose John Oxenham 

1 06 The Wedding Day C. N. and A. M. Williamson 

1 08 The Adventures of Dr. Whitty G. A. Birmingham 

no The Babes in the Wood B. M Croker 

1 13 Lavender and Old Lac Myrtle Reed 

1 U e r 3 " f 8 ei. eor S e P1 ydeU 

1 15 Old Rose and Silver Myrtle Reed 

1 1 7 The Secret Agent Joseph Conrad 

1 19 Set in Silver C. N. and A. M. Williamson 

lao A Weaver of Webs John Oxenham 

i2i Peggy of the Bartons B. M Croker 

133 The Double Life of Mr. Alfred Burton E. Phillips Oppenheim 
1 33 There was a Crooked Man Doif Wyllarde 

124 The Governor of England Marjorie Bowen 

las The Regent Arnold Bennett 

137 Sally D. Conyers 
1 39 The Lodger Mrs. Belloc Lowndes 

130 The Mystery of the Green Heart Max Pemberton 

131 The Heather Moon C. N. and A. M. Williamson 
133 The House of Serravalle Richard Baeot 

133 The Way Home Basil King 

134 Mrs. Maxon Protests Anthony Hope 

135 A Spinner in the Sun Myrtle Reed 

136 Buried Alive Arnold Bennett 
I3 l T,^ Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu Sax Rohmer 

138 WO^ Maurice Drake 

139 The Golden Centipede Louise Gerard 

140 The Love Pirate C. N. and A. M. Williamson 

5 Chanc 

148 Flower of the Dusk "MX^H*. 

150 The Gentleman Adventurer HP I 

151 The Ocean Sleuth Maurice 
153 The Mayor of Troy 

153 JS e S Ca Mai< ? ^ Ronald Macd. 

154 The Hyena of Kallu Louise Ge 

A Selection only. 

Methuen's Shilling Library 

36 De Prof undis Oscar Wilde 

37 Lord Arthur Savile's Crime Oscar Wilde 

38 Selected Poems Oscar Wilde 

39 An Ideal Husband Oscar Wilde 

40 Intentions Oscar Wilde 

41 Lady Windermere's Fan Oscar Wilde 

42 Charmides and other Poems Oscar Wilde 

43 Harvest Home E. V. Lucas 

44 A Little of Everything E. V. Lucas 

45 Vailima Letters Robert Louis Stevenson 

46 Hills and the Sea H. Belloc 

47 The Blue Bird Maurice Maeterlinck 

48 Mary Magdalene Maurice Maeterlinck 

49 Under Five Reigns Lady Dorothy Nevill 

50 Charles Dickens G. K. Chesterton 

51 Man and the Universe Sir Oliver Lodge 
*52 The Life of Robert Louis Stevenson Graham Balfour 

53 Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to his Son 

George Horace Lorimer 

*54 The Life of John Ruskin W. G. Collingwood 

55 The Parish Clerk P. H. Ditchfield 

56 The Condition of England C F. G. Masterman 

57 Sevastopol and other Stories Leo Tolstoy 

58 The Lore of the Honey- Bee Tickner Edwardes 

59 Tennyson A. C. Benson 
*6o From Midshipman to Field Marshal Sir Evelyn Wood 

62 John Boyes, King of the Wa-Klkuyu John Boyes 

63 Oscar Wilde Arthur Ransomc 

64 The Vicar of Morwenstow S. Baring-Gould 

65 Old Country Life S. Baring-Gould 

66 Thomas Henry Huxley P. Chalmers Mitchell 
67 Chitral Sir G. S. Robertson 

68 Two Admirals Admiral John Moresby 

76 Home Life in France M. Betham-Edwards 

77 Selected Prose Oscar Wilde 

78 The Best of Lamb E. V. Lucas 
80 Selected Letters Robert Louis Stevenson 
83 Reason and Belief Sir Oliver Lodge 
85 The Importance of Being Earnest Oscar Wilde 
88 The Tower of London Richard Davey 
91 Social Evils and their Remedy Leo Tolstoy 

93 The Substance of Faith Sir Oliver Lodge 

94 All Things Considered G. K. Chesterton 

95 The Mirror of the Sea Joseph Conrad 

96 A Picked Company Hilaire Belloc 
101 A Book of Famous Wits Walter Jerrold 
1 16 The Survival of Man Sir Oliver Lodge 
126 Science from an Easy Chair Sir Ray Lankester 
141 Variety Lane E. V. Lucas 
144 A Shilling for my Thoughts G. K. Chesterton 
146 A Woman of No Importance Oscar Wilde 
149 A Shepherd's Life W. H. Hudson 

* Slightly Abridged. 

Methuen & Co., Ltd. 36 Essex Street, London, W.C. 







This Edition First Published in 


THIS book has been compiled from the 
following books : Tremendous Trifles, 
All Things Considered, Alarms and Discur- 
sions, A Miscellany of Men, The Flying 
Inn, and Charles Dickens, all published by 
Messrs. Methuen. Also from The Club of 
Queer Trades, published by Messrs. Harper 
Brothers and Messrs. Hodder & Stoughton, 
who kindly allow an extract to be made; 
and from The Innocence of Father Brown, 
published by Messrs. Cassell & Co., who have 
granted a similar permission. 

[The selection has been made by Mr. E. V. 













THE NEW HOUSE ...... 52 

THE WINGS OF STONE . . . . - 55 



























T REMEMBER one splendid morning, all blue and 
silver, in the summer holidays, when I reluctantly 
tore myself away from the task of doing nothing in par- 
ticular, and put on a hat of some sort and picked up a 
walking-stick, and put six very bright-coloured chalks 
in my pocket. I then went into the kitchen (which, 
along with the rest of the house, belonged to a very 
square and sensible old woman in a Sussex village), and 
asked the owner and occupant of the kitchen if she had 
any brown paper. She had a great deal ; in fact, she 
had too much ; and she mistook the purpose and the 
rationale of the existence of brown paper. She seemed 
to have an idea that if a person wanted brown paper he 
must be wanting to tie up parcels ; which was the last 
thing I wanted to do ; indeed, it is a thing which I have 
found to be beyond my mental capacity. Hence she 
dwelt very much on the varying qualities of toughness 
and endurance in the material. I explained to her that 
I only wanted to draw pictures on it, and that I did not 
want them to endure in the least ; and that from my 
point of view, therefore, it was a question not of tough 
consistency, but of responsive surface, a thing compara- 
tively irrelevant in a parcel. When she understood 
that I wanted to draw she offered to overwhelm me with 
note-paper, apparently supposing that I did my notes 
and correspondence on old brown paper wrappers from 
motives of economy. 

1 From Tremendous Trifles. 


I then tried to explain the rather delicate logical 
shade, that I not only liked brown paper, but liked the 
quality of brownness in paper, just as I liked the quality 
of brownness in October woods, or in beer, or in the 
peat-streams of the North. Brown paper represents 
the primal twilight of the first toil of creation, and with 
a bright-coloured chalk or two you can pick out points 
of fire in it, sparks of gold, and blood-red, and sea- 
green, like the first fierce stars that sprang out of divine 
darkness. All this I said (in an off-hand way) to the 
old woman ; and I put the brown paper in my pocket 
along with the chalks, and possibly other things. I 
suppose every one must have reflected how primeval 
and how poetical are the things that one carries in one's 
pocket ; the pocket-knife, for instance, the type of all 
human tools, the infant of the sword. Once I planned 
to write a book of poems entirely about the things in my 
pocket. But I found it would be too long ; and the 

age of the great epics is past. 


With my stick and my knife, my chalks and my 
brown paper, I went out on to the great downs. I crawled 
across those colossal contours that express the best 
quality of England, because they are at the same time 
soft and strong. The smoothness of them has the same 
meaning as the smoothness of great cart-horses, or the 
smoothness of the beech-tree ; it declares in the teeth 
of our timid and cruel theories that the mighty are 
merciful. As my eye swept the landscape, the land- 
scape was as kindly as any of its cottages, but for power 
it was like an earthquake. The villages in the immense 
valley were safe, one could see, for centuries ; yet the 
lifting of the whole land was like the lifting of one 
enormous wave to wash them all away. 

I crossed one swell of living turf after another, looking 
for a place to sit down and draw. Do not, for heaven's 
sake, imagine I was going to sketch from Nature. I 
was going to draw devils and seraphim, and blind old 
gods that men worshipped before the dawn of right, 


and saints in robes of angry crimson, and seas of strange 
green, and all the sacred or monstrous symbols that 
look so well in bright colours on brown paper. They 
are much better worth drawing than Nature ; also they 
are much easier to draw. When a cow came slouching 
by in the field next to me, a mere artist might have 
drawn it ; but I always get wrong in the hind legs of 
quadrupeds. So I drew the soul of the cow ; which I 
saw there plainly walking before me in the sunlight ; 
and the soul was all purple and silver, and had seven 
horns and the mystery that belongs to all the beasts. 
But though I could not with a crayon get the best out 
of the landscape, it does not follow that the landscape 
was not getting the best out of me. And this, I think, 
is the mistake that people make about the old poets 
who lived before Wordsworth, and were supposed not 
to care very much about Nature because they did not 
describe it much. 

They preferred writing about great men to writing 
about great hills ; but they sat on the great hills to 
write it. They gave out much less about Nature, but 
they drank in, perhaps, much more. They painted 
the white robes of their holy virgins with the blinding 
snow, at which they had stared all day. They blazoned 
the shields of their paladins with the purple and gold 
of many heraldic sunsets. The greenness of a thousand 
green leaves clustered into the live green figure of 
Robin Hood. The blueness of a score of forgotten skies 
became the blue robes of the Virgin. The inspiration 

went in like sunbeams and came out like Apollo. 

But as I sat scrawling these silly figures on the brown 
paper, it began to dawn on me, to my great disgust, 
that I had left one chalk, and that a most exquisite and 
essential chalk, behind. I searched all my pockets, 
but I could not find any white chalk. Now, those who 
are acquainted with all the philosophy (nay, religion) 
which is typified in the art of drawing on brown paper, 
know that white is positive and essential. \ cannot 


avoid remarking here upon a moral significance. One 
of the wise and awful truths which this brown-paper art 
reveals, is this, that white is a colour. It is not a mere 
absence of colour ; it is a shining and affirmative thing, 
as fierce as red, as definite as black. When (so to speak) 
your pencil grows red-hot, it draws roses ; when it grows 
white-hot, it draws stars. And one of the two or three 
defiant verities of the best religious morality, of real 
Christianity for example, is exactly this same thing ; 
the chief assertion of religious morality is that white is 
a colour. Virtue is not the absence of vices or the 
avoidance of moral dangers ; virtue is a vivid and 
separate thing, like pain or a particular smell. Mercy 
does not mean not being cruel or sparing people revenge 
or punishment ; it means a plain and positive thing 
like the sun, which one has either seen or not seen. 
Chastity does not mean abstention from sexual wrong ; 
it means something flaming, like Joan of Arc. In a 
word, God paints in many colours ; but He never paints 
so gorgeously, I had almost said so gaudily, as when 
He paints in white. In a sense our age has realized this 
fact, and expressed it in our sullen costume. For if it 
were really true that white was a blank and colourless 
thing, negative and non-committal, then white would 
be used instead of black and grey for the funeral dress 
of this pessimistic period. We should see city gentle- 
men in frock coats of spotless silver satin, with top hats 
as white as wonderful arum lilies. Which is not the 

Meanwhile, I could not find my chalk. 

I sat on the hill in a sort of despair. There was no 
town nearer than Chichester at which it was even re- 
motely probable that there would be such a thing as 
an artist's colourman. And yet, without white, my 
absurd little pictures would be as pointless as the world 
would be if there were no good people in it. I stared 
stupidly round, racking my brain for expedients. Then 
I suddenly stood up and roared with laughter, again 


and again, so that the cows stared at me and called a 
committee. Imagine a man in the Sahara regretting 
that he had no sand for his hour-glass. Imagine a 
gentleman in mid-ocean wishing that he had brought 
some salt water with him for his chemical experiments. 
I was sitting on an immense warehouse of white chalk. 
The landscape was made entirely out of white chalk. 
White chalk was piled mere miles until it met the sky. 
I stooped and broke a piece off the rock I sat on : it 
did not mark so well as the shop chalks do ; but it gave 
the effect. And I stood there in a trance of pleasure, 
realizing that this Southern England is not only a grand 
peninsula, and a tradition and a civilization ; it is 
something even more admirable. It is a piece of chalk. 


ONCE when I was very young I met one of those 
men who have made the Empire what it is a 
man in an astrachan coat, with an astrachan moustache 
a tight, black, curly moustache. Whether he put on 
the moustache with the coat, or whether his Napoleonic 
will enabled him not only to grow a moustache in the 
usual place, but also to grow little moustaches all over 
his clothes, I do not know. I only remember that he 
said to me the following words : ' A man can't get on 
nowadays by hanging about with his hands in his 
pockets/ I made reply with the quite obvious flip- 
pancy that perhaps a man got on by having his hands 
in other people's pockets. Whereupon he began to 
argue about Moral Evolution, so I suppose what I said 
had some truth in it. But the incident now comes 
back to me, and connects itself with another incident 
if you can call it an incident which happened to me 
only the other day. 

1 From Tremendous Trifles. 


I have only once in my life picked a pocket, and then 
(perhaps through some absent-mindedness) I picked my 
own. My act can really with some reason be so described. 
For in taking things out of my own pocket I had at 
least one of the more tense and quivering emotions of 
the thief ; I had a complete ignorance and a profound 
curiosity as to what I should find there. Perhaps it 
would be the exaggeration of eulogy to call me a tidy 
person. But I can always pretty satisfactorily account 
for all my possessions. I can always tell where they 
are, and what I have done with them, so long as I can 
keep them out of my pockets. If once anything slips 
into those unknown abysses, I wave it a sad Virgilian 
farewell. I suppose that the things that I have dropped 
into my pockets are still there ; the same presumption 
applies to the things that I have dropped into the sea. 
But I regard the riches stored in both these bottomless 
chasms with the same reverent ignorance. They tell 
us that on the last day the sea will give up its dead ; 
and I suppose that on the same occasion long strings 
and strings of extraordinary things will come running 
out of my pockets. But I have quite forgotten what 
any of them are ; and there is really nothing (except- 
ing the money) that I shall be at all surprised at finding 
among them. 


Such at least has hitherto been my state of innocence. 
I here only wish briefly to call the special, extraordinary, 
and hitherto unprecedented circumstances which led 
me in cold blood, and being of sound mind, to turn out 
my pockets. I was locked up in a third-class carriage 
for a rather long journey. The time was towards 
evening, but it might have been anything, for every- 
thing resembling earth or sky or light or shade was 
painted out as if with a great wet brush by an unshifting 
sheet of quite colourless rain. I had no books or news- 
papers. I had not even a pencil and a scrap of paper 
with which to write a religious epic. There were no 
advertisements on the walls of the carriage, otherwise 


I could have plunged into the study of them, for any 
collection of printed words is quite enough to suggest 
infinite complexities of mental ingenuity. When I 
find myself opposite the words ' Sunlight Soap ' I can 
exhaust all the aspects of Sun Worship, Apollo, and 
summer poetry before I go on to the less congenial 
subject of soap. But there was no printed word or 
picture anywhere ; there was nothing but blank wood 
inside the carriage and blank wet without, Now I 
deny most energetically that anything is, or can be, 
uninteresting. So I stared at the joints of the walls 
and seats, and began thinking hard on the fascinating 
subject of wood. Just as I had begun to realize why, 
perhaps, it was that Christ was a carpenter, rather than 
a bricklayer, or a baker, or anything else, I suddenly 
started upright, and remembered my pockets. I was 
carrying about with me an unknown treasury. I had 
a British Museum and a South Kensington collection 
of unknown curios hung all over me in different places. 

I began to take the things out. 


The first thing I came upon consisted of piles and 
heaps of Battersea tram tickets. There were enough 
to equip a paper chase. They shook down in showers 
like confetti. Primarily, of course, they touched my 
patriotic emotions, and brought tears to my eyes ; 
also they provided me with the printed matter I re- 
quired, for I found on the back of them some short but 
striking little scientific essays about some kind of pill. 
Comparatively speaking, in my then destitution, those 
tickets might be regarded as a small but well-chosea 
scientific library. Should my railway journey continue 
(which seemed likely at the time) for a few months 
longer, I could imagine myself throwing myself into the 
controversial aspects of the pill, composing replies and 
rejoinders pro and con upon the data furnished to me. 
But after all it was the symbolic quality of the tickets 
that moved me most. For as certainly as the Cross of 
St. George means English patriotism, those scraps of 


paper meant all that municipal patriotism which is 
now, perhaps, the greatest hope of England. 

The next thing that I took out was a pocket-knife. 
A pocket-knife, I need hardly say, would require a 
thick book full of moral meditations all to itself. A 
knife typifies one of the most primary of those practical 
origins upon which as upon low, thick pillars all our 
human civilization reposes. Metals, the mystery of 
the thing called iron and of the thing called steel, led 
me off half dazed into a kind of dream. I saw into the 
entrails of dim, damp woods : where the first man, 
among all the common stones, found the strange stone. 
I saw a vague and violent battle, in which stone axes 
broke and stone knives were splintered against some- 
thing shining and new in the hand of one desperate 
man. I heard all the hammers on all the anvils of the 
earth. I saw all the swords of feudal and all the wheels 
of industrial war. For the knife is only a short 
sword ; and the pocket-knife is a secret sword. I 
opened it and looked at that brilliant and terrible 
tongue which we call a blade ; and I thought that 
perhaps it was the symbol of the oldest of the needs 
of man. The next moment I knew that I was wrong ; 
for the thing that came next out of my pocket was a 
box of matches. Then I saw fire, which is stronger 
even than steel, the old, fierce female thing, the thing 
we all love, but dare not touch. 

The next thing I found was a piece of chalk ; and I 
saw hi it all the art and all the frescoes of the world. The 
next was a coin of a very modest value ; and I saw in 
it not only the image and superscription of our own 
Caesar, but all government and order since the world 
began. But I have not space to say what were the 
items in the long and splendid procession of poetical 
symbols that came pouring out. I cannot tell you all 
the things that were in my pocket. I can tell you one 
thing, however, that I could not find in my pocket. I 
allude to my railway ticket. 



ONCE upon a time, it seems centuries ago, I was 
prevailed on to take a small part in one of those 
historical processions or pageants which happened to 
be fashionable in or about the year 1909. And since I 
tend, like all who are growing old, to re-enter the remote 
past as a paradise or playground, I disinter a memory 
which may serve to stand among those memories of 
small but strange incidents with which I have some- 
times filled this column. The thing has really some 
of the dark qualities of a detective-story ; though I 
suppose that Sherlock Holmes himself could hardly 
unravel it now, when the scent is so old and cold and 
most of the actors, doubtless, long dead. 

This old pageant included a series of figures from the 
eighteenth century, and I was told that I was just like 
Dr. Johnson. Seeing that Dr. Johnson was heavily 
seamed with small-pox, had a waistcoat all over gravy, 
snorted and rolled as he walked, and was probably the 
ugliest man in London, I mention this identification 
as a fact and not as a vaunt. I had nothing to do with 
the arrangement ; and such fleeting suggestions as I 
made were not taken so seriously as they might have 
been. I requested that a row of posts should be erected 
across the lawn, so that I might touch all of them but 
one, and then go back and touch that. Failing this, I 
felt that the least they could do was to have twenty- 
five cups of tea stationed at regular intervals along the 
course, each held by a Mrs. Thrale in full costume. 
My best constructive suggestion was the most harshly 
rejected of all. In front of me in the procession walked 
the great Bishop Berkeley, the man who turned the 
tables on the early materialists by maintaining that 
matter itself very possibly does not exist. Dr. Johnson, 
you will remember, did not like such bottomless fancies 
as Berkeley's, and kicked a stone with his boot, saying, 

] From Tremendous Trifles. 


' I refute him so ! ' Now (as I pointed out) kicking a 
stone would not make the metaphysical quarrel quite 
clear ; besides, it would hurt. But how picturesque 
and perfect it would be if I moved across the ground 
in the symbolic attitude of kicking Bishop Berkeley ! 
How complete an allegoric group ; the great transcenden- 
talist walking with his head among the stars, but behind 
him the avenging realist pede claudo, with uplifted foot. 
But I must not take up space with these forgotten 
frivolities ; we old men grow too garrulous in talking 
of the distant past. 

This story scarcely concerns me either in my real or 
my assumed character. Suffice it to say that the pro- 
cession took place at night in a large garden and by 
torchlight (so remote is the date), that the garden was 
crowded with Puritans, monks, and men-at-arms, and 
especially with early Celtic saints smoking pipes, and 
with elegant Renaissance gentlemen talking Cockney. 
Suffice it to say, or rather it is needless to say, that I 
got lost. I wandered away into some dim corner of 
that dim shrubbery, where there was nothing to do 
except tumble over tent ropes, and I began almost to 
feel like my prototype, and to share his horror of 
solitude and hatred of a country life. 

In this detachment and dilemma I saw another man 
in a white wig advancing across this forsaken stretch 
of lawn ; a tall, lean man, who stooped in his long black 
robes like a stooping eagle. When I thought he would 
pass me, he stopped before my face, and said, 'Dr. 
Johnson, I think. I am Paley.' 

' Sir/ I said, ' you used to guide men to the beginnings 
of Christianity. If you can guide me now to wherever 
this infernal thing begins you will perform a yet higher 
and harder function.' 

His costume and style were so perfect that for the 
instant I really thought he was a ghost. He took no 
notice of my flippancy, but, turning his black-robed 
back on me, led me through verdurous glooms and 
winding mossy ways, until we came out into the glare 


of gaslight and laughing men in masquerade, and I 
could easily laugh at myself. 

And there, you will say, was an end of the matter. 
I am (you will say) naturally obtuse, cowardly, and 
mentally deficient. I was, moreover, unused to pageants ; 
I felt frightened in the dark and took a man for a spectre 
whom, in the light, I could recognize as a modern gentle- 
man in a masquerade dress. No ; far from it. That 
spectral person was my first introduction to a spectral 
incident which has never been explained and which 
still lays its finger on my nerve. 

I mixed with the men of the eighteenth century ; 
and we fooled as one does at a fancy-dress ball. There 
was Burke as large as life and a great deal better looking. 
There was Cowper much larger than life ; he ought to 
have been a little man in a night-cap, .with a cat under 
one arm and a spaniel under the other. As it was, he 
was a magnificent person, and looked more like the 
Master of Ballantrae than Cowper. I persuaded him 
at last to the night-cap, but never, alas, to the cat and 
dog. When I came the next night Burke was still the 
same beautiful improvement upon himself ; Cowper 
was still weeping for his dog and cat and would not be 
comforted ; Bishop Berkeley was still waiting to be 
kicked in the interests of philosophy. In short, I met 
all my old friends but one. Where was Paley ? I had 
been mystically moved by the man's presence ; I was 
moved more by his absence. At last I saw advancing 
towards us across the twilight garden a little man with 
a large book and a bright attractive face. When he 
came near enough he said, in a small, clear voice, ' I 'm 
Paley.' The thing was quite natural, of course ; the 
man was ill and had sent a substitute. Yet somehow 
the contrast was a shock. 

By the next night I had grown quite friendly with 
my four or five colleagues ; I had discovered what is 
called a mutual friend with Berkeley and several points 
of difference with Burke. Cowper, I think it was, who 
introduced me to a friend of his, a fresh face, square and 


sturdy, framed in a white wig. ' This/ he explained, 
' is my friend So-and-So. He 's Paley/ I looked round 
at all the faces by this time fixed and familiar ; I studied 
them ; I counted them ; then I bowed to the third 
Paley as one bows to necessity. So far the thing was 
well within the limits of coincidence. It certainly 
seemed odd that this one particular cleric should be so 
varying and elusive. It was singular that Paley, alone 
among men, should be sometimes tall and sometimes 
short, should swell and shrink and alter like a phantom, 
while all else remained solid. But the thing was 
explicable ; two men had been ill and there was an end 
of it. Or there should have been an end of it ; only I 
went again the next night, and a clear-coloured elegant 
youth with powdered hair bounded up to me, and told 
me with boyish excitement that he was Paley. 

For the next twenty-four hours I remained in the 
mental condition of the modern world. I mean the 
condition in which all natural explanations have broken 
down and no supernatural explanation has been estab- 
lished. My bewilderment had reached to boredom 
when I found myself once more in the colour and clatter 
of the pageant, and I was all the more pleased because 
I met an old school-fellow, and we mutually recognized 
each other under our heavy clothes and hoary wigs. 
We talked about all those great things for which litera- 
ture is too small and only life large enough ; red-hot 
memories and those gigantic details which make up 
the characters of men. I heard all about the friends 
he had lost sight of and those he had kept in sight ; I 
heard about his profession, and asked at last how he 
come into the pageant. 

' The fact is/ he said, ' a friend of mine asked me, 
just for to-night, to act a chap called Paley ; I don't 
know who he was. . . / 

1 No by thunder ! ' I said, * nor does any one/ 

This was the last blow, and the next night passed 
like a dream. I scarcely noticed the slender, sprightly, 
and entirely new figure which fell into the ranks in the 


place of Paley, so many times deceased. What could 
it mean ? Why was the giddy Paley unfaithful among 
the faithful found ? Did these perpetual changes 
prove the popularity or the unpopularity of being 
Paley ? Was it that no human being could support 
being Paley for one night and live till morning ? Or 
was it that the gates were crowded with eager throngs 
of the British public thirsting to be Paley, who could 
only be let in one at a time ? Or is there some ancient 
vendetta against Paley ? Does some secret society of 
Deists still assassinate any one who adopts the name ? 

I cannot conjecture further about this true tale of 
mystery ; and that for two reasons. First, the story 
is so true that I have had to put a lie into it. Every 
word of this narrative is veracious, except the one word 
Paley. And second, because I have got to go into the 
next room and dress up as Dr. Johnson. 


EVERY man, though he were born in the very 
belfry of Bow and spent his infancy climbing 
among chimneys, has waiting for him somewhere a 
country house which he has never seen ; but which was 
built for him in the very shape of his soul. It stands 
patiently waiting to be found, knee-deep in orchards 
of Kent or mirrored in pools of Lincoln ; and when the 
man sees it he remembers it, though he has never seen 
it before. Even I have been forced to confess this at 
last, who am a Cockney, if ever there was one, a Cockney 
not only on principle, but with savage pride. I have 
always maintained, quite seriously, that the Lord is not 
in the wind or thunder of the waste, but if anywhere 

1 From Alarms and Discursions. 


in the still small voice of Fleet Street. I sincerely 
maintain that Nature- worship is more morally dangerous 
than the most vulgar man-worship of the cities ; since 
it can easily be perverted into the worship of an im- 
personal mystery, carelessness, or cruelty. Thoreau 
would have been a jollier fellow if he had devoted him- 
self to a greengrocer instead of to greens. Swinburne 
would have been a better moralist if he had worshipped 
a fishmonger instead of worshipping the sea. I prefer 
the philosophy of bricks and mortar to the philosophy 
of turnips. To call a man a turnip may be playful, but 
is seldom respectful. But when we wish to pay emphatic 
honour to a man, to praise the firmness of his nature, 
the squareness of his conduct, the strong humility with 
which he is interlocked with his equals in silent mutual 
support, then we invoke the nobler Cockney metaphor, 
and call him a brick. 

But, despite all these theories, I have surrendered ; 
I have struck my colours at sight ; at a mere glimpse 
through the opening of a hedge. I shall come down to 
living in the country, like any common Socialist or 
Simple Lifer. I shall end my days in a village, in the 
character of the Village Idiot, and be a spectacle and 
a judgment to mankind. I have already learnt the 
rustic manner of leaning upon a gate ; and I was tbus 
gymnastically occupied at the moment when my eye 
caught the house that was made for me. It stood well 
back from the road, and was built of a good yellow 
brick ; it was narrow for its height, like the tower of 
some Border robber ; and over the front door was 
carved in large letters, ' 1908.' That last burst of 
sincerity, that superb scorn of antiquarian sentiment, 
overwhelmed me finally. I closed my eyes in a kind of 
ecstasy. My friend (who was helping me to lean on the 
gate) asked me with some curiosity what I was doing. 

' My dear fellow/ I said, with emotion, ' I am bidding 
farewell to forty- three hansom cabmen.' 

' Well/ he said, ' I suppose they would think this 
country rather outside the radius/ 


' Oh, my friend/ I cried brokenly, ' how beautiful 
London is ! Why do they only write poetry about the 
country ? I could turn every lyric cry into Cockney. 

" My heart leaps up when I behold 
A' sky-sign in the sky," 

as I observed in a volume which is too little read, 
founded on the older English poets. You never saw 
my " Golden Treasury Regilded ; or, The Classics 
Made Cockney " it contained some fine lines. 

" O Wild West End, thou breath of London's being," 
or the reminiscence of Keats, beginning 

" City of smuts and mellow fogfulness." 

I have written many such lines on the beauty of London ; 
yet I never realized that London was really beautiful 
till now. Do you ask me why ? It is because I have 
left it for ever/ 

' If you will take my advice/ said my friend, ' you 
will humbly endeavour not to be a fool. What is the 
sense of this mad modern notion that every literary 
man must live in the country, with the pigs and the 
donkeys and the squires ? Chaucer and Spenser and 
Milton and Dryden lived in London ; Shakespeare and 
Dr. Johnson came to London because they had had 
quite enough of the country. And as for trumpery 
topical journalists like you, why, they would cut their 
throats in the country. You have confessed it your- 
self in your own last words. You hunger and thirst 
after the streets ; you think London the finest place 
on the planet. And if by some miracle a Bayswater 
omnibus could come down this green country lane you 
would utter a yell of joy/ 

Then a light burst upon my brain, and I turned upon 
him with terrible sternness. 

* Why, miserable aesthete/ I said in a voice of thunder, 


' that is the true country spirit ! That is how the real 
rustic feels. The real rustic does utter a yell of joy 
at the sight of a Bayswater omnibus. The real rustic 
does think London the finest place on the planet. In 
the few moments that I have stood by this stile, I have 
grown rooted here like an ancient tree ; I have been 
here for ages. Petulant Suburban, I am the real rustic. 
I believe that the streets of London are paved with 
gold ; and I mean to see it before I die/ 

The evening breeze freshened among the little tossing 
trees of that lane, and the purple evening clouds piled 
up and darkened behind my Country Seat, the house 
that belonged to me, making, by contrast, its yellow 
bricks gleam like gold. At last my friend said : ' To 
cut it short, then, you mean that you will live in the 
country because you won't like it. What on earth will 
you do here ; dig up the garden ? ' 

' Dig ! ' I answered, in honourable scorn. ' Dig ! 
Do work at my Country Seat ; no, thank you. When 
I find a Country Seat, I sit in it. And for your other 
objection, you are quite wrong. I do not dislike the 
country, but I like th town more. Therefore the art 
of happiness certainly suggests that I should live in the 
country and think about the town. Modern Nature- 
worship is all upside down. Trees and fields ought to 
be the ordinary things ; terraces and temples ought 
to be extraordinary. I am on the side of the man who 
lives in the country and wants to go to London. I 
abominate and abjure the man who lives in London 
and wants to go to the country ; I do it with all the 
more heartiness because I am that sort of man myself. 
We must learn to love London again, as rustics love it. 
Therefore (I quote again from the great Cockney version 
of The Golden Treasury) 

" Therefore,' ye gas-pipes, ye asbestos stoves, 
Forbode not any severing of our loves. 
I have relinquished but your earthly sight, 
To hold you dear in a more distant way. 


I '11 love the 'buses lumbering through the wet, 
Even more than when I lightly tripped as they. 
The grimy colour of the London clay 
Is lovely yet," 

because I have found the house where I was really 
born ; the tall and quiet house from which I can see 
London afar off, as the miracle of man that it is.' 



ONE sometimes hears from persons of the chillier 
type of culture the remark that plain country 
people do not appreciate the beauty of the country. 
This is an error rooted in the intellectual pride of medioc- 
rity ; and is one of the many examples of a truth in 
the idea that extremes meet. Thus, to appreciate the 
virtues of the mob one must either be on a level with it 
(as I am) or be really high up, like the saints. It is 
roughly the same with aesthetics ; slang and rude 
dialect can be relished by a reaUy literary taste, but not 
by a merely bookish taste. And when these cultivated 
cranks say that rustics do not talk of Nature in an 
appreciative way, they really mean that they do not 
talk in a bookish way. They do not talk bookishly 
about clouds or stones, or pigs or slugs, or horses or 
anything you please. They talk piggishly about pigs ; 
and sluggishly, I suppose, about slugs; and are refresh- 
ingly horsy about horses. They speak in a stony way 
of stones ; they speak in a cloudy way of clouds ; and 
this is surely the right way. And if by any chance a 
simple intelligent person from the country comes in 
contact with any aspect of Nature unfamiliar and 
arresting, such a person's comment is always worth 
remark. It is sometimes an epigram, and at worst it 
is never a quotation. 

1 From Alarms and Discursions. 


Consider, for instance, what wastes of wordy imita- 
tion and ambiguity the ordinary educated person in 
the big towns could pour out on the subject of the sea. 
A country girl I know in the county of Buckingham 
had never seen the sea in her life until the other day. 
When she was asked what she thought of it she said it 
was like cauliflowers. Now that is a piece of pure 
literature vivid, entirely independent and original, and 
perfectly true. I had always been haunted with an 
analogous kinship which I could never locate ; cabbages 
always remind me of the sea and the sea always reminds 
me of cabbages. It is partly, perhaps, the veined 
mingling of violet and green, as in the sea a purple that 
is almost dark red may mix with a green that is almost 
yellow, and still be the blue sea as a whole. But it is 
more the grand curves of the cabbage that curl over 
cavernously like waves, and it is partly again that 
dreamy repetition, as of a pattern, that made two great 
poets, ^Eschylus and Shakespeare, use a word like 
' multitudinous ' of the ocean. But just where my 
fancy halted the Buckinghamshire young woman rushed 
(so to speak) to my imaginative rescue. Cauliflowers 
are twenty times better than cabbages, for they show 
the wave breaking as well as curling, and the efflores- 
cence of the branching foam, blind, bubbling, and 
opaque. Moreover, the strong lines of life are suggested ; 
the arches of the rushing waves have all the rigid energy 
of green stalks, as if the whole sea were one great green 
plant with one immense white flower rooted in the abyss. 

Now, a large number of delicate and superior persons 
would refuse to see the force in that kitchen garden 
comparison, because it is not connected with any of 
the ordinary maritime sentiments as stated in books 
and songs. The aesthetic amateur would say that he 
knew what large and philosophical thoughts he ought 
to have by the boundless deep. He would say that he 
was not a greengrocer who would think first of greens. 
To which I should reply, like Hamlet, apropos of a 
parallel profession, ' I would you were so honest a man/ 


The mention of ' Hamlet ' reminds me, by the way, 
that besides the girl who had never seen the sea, I knew 
a girl who had never seen a stage-play. She was taken 
to ' Hamlet/ and she said it was very sad. There is 
another case of going to the primordial point which is 
overlaid by learning and secondary impressions. We 
are so used to thinking of ' Hamlet ' as a problem that 
we sometimes quite forget that it is a tragedy, just as 
we are so used to thinking of the sea as vast and 
vague, that we scarcely notice when it is white and 

But there is another quarrel involved in which the 
young gentleman of culture comes into violent collision 
with the young lady of the cauliflowers. The first 
essential of the merely bookish view of the sea is that 
it is boundless, and gives a sentiment of infinity. Now 
it is quite certain, I think, that the cauliflower simile 
was partly created by exactly the opposite impression, the 
impression of boundary and of barrier. The girl thought 
of it as a field of vegetables, even as a yard of vegetables. 
The girl was right. The ocean only suggests infinity when 
you cannot see it ; a sea mist may seem endless, but not 
a sea. So far from being vague and vanishing, the sea 
is the one hard straight line in Nature. It is the one 
plain limit ; the only thing that God has made that 
really looks like a wall. Compared to the sea, not only 
sun and cloud are chaotic and doubtful, but solid moun- 
tains and standing forests may be said to melt and 
fade and flee in the presence of that lonely iron line. 
The old naval phrase, that the seas are England's 
bulwarks, is not a frigid and artificial metaphor ; it 
came into the head of some genuine sea-dog, when he 
was genuinely looking at the sea. For the edge of the 
sea is like the edge of a sword ; it is sharp, military, 
and decisive ; it really looks like a bolt or bar, and not 
like a mere expansion. It hangs in heaven, grey, or 
green, or blue, changing in colour, but changeless in 
form, behind all the slippery contours of the Ian4 and 
all the savage softness of the forests, like the scales of 


God held even. It hangs, a perpetual reminder of that 
divine reason and justice which abides behind all com- 
promises and all legitimate variety ; the one straight 
line ; the limit of the intellect ; the dark and ultimate 
dogma of the world. 


T WAS walking the other day in a kitchen garden, 
-* which I find has somehow got attached to my 
premises, and I was wondering why I liked it. After 
a prolonged spiritual self-analysis I came to the con- 
clusion that I like a kitchen garden because it contains 
things to eat. I do not mean that a kitchen garden is 
ugly ; a kitchen garden is often very beautiful. The 
mixture of green and purple on some monstrous cabbage 
is much subtler and grander than the mere freakish 
and theatrical splashing of yellow and violet on a pansy. 
Few of the flowers merely meant for ornament are so 
ethereal as a potato. A kitchen garden is as beautiful 
as an orchard ; but why is it that the word ' orchard ' 
sounds as beautiful as the word ' flower-garden/ and 
yet also sounds more satisfactory ? I suggest again 
my extraordinarily dark and delicate discovery : that 
it contains things to eat. 

The cabbage is a solid ; it can be approached from 
all sides at once ; it can be realized by all senses at 
once. Compared with that the sunflower, which can 
only be seen, is a mere pattern, a thing painted on a 
flat wall. Now, it is this sense of the solidity of things 
that can only be uttered by the metaphor of eating. 
To express the cubic content of a turnip, you must be 
all round it at once. The only way to get all round a 
turnip at once is to eat the turnip. I think any poetic 
mind that has loved solidity, the thickness of trees, 

1 From Alarms and Discursions. 


the squareness of stones, the firmness of clay, must 
have sometimes wished that they were things to eat. 
If only brown peat tasted as good as it looks ; if only 
white fir-wood were digestible ! We talk rightly of 
giving stones for bread : but there are in the Geological 
Museum certain rich crimson marbles, certain split 
stones of blue and green, that make me wish my teeth 
were stronger. 

Somebody staring into the sky with the same ethereal 
appetite declared that the moon was made of green 
cheese. I never could conscientiously accept the full 
doctrine. I am Modernist in this matter. That the 
moon is made of cheese I have believed from childhood ; 
and in the course of every month a giant (of my acquaint- 
ance) bites a big round piece out of it. This seems to 
me a doctrine that is above reason, but not contrary 
to it. But that the cheese is green seems to be in some 
degree actually contradicted by the senses and the 
reason ; first because if the moon were made of green 
cheese it would be inhabited ; and second because if 
it were made of green cheese it would be green. A blue 
moon is said to be an unusual sight ; but I cannot think 
that a green one is much more common. In fact, I 
think I have seen the moon looking like every other 
sort of cheese except a green cheese. I have seen it 
look exactly like a cream cheese : a circle of warm 
white upon a warm faint violet sky above a cornfield in 
Kent. I have seen it look very like a Dutch cheese, 
rising a dull red copper disk amid masts and dark waters 
at Honfleur. I have seen it look like an ordinary 
sensible Cheddar cheese in an ordinary sensible Prussian 
blue sky ; and I have once seen it so naked and ruinous- 
looking, so strangely lit up, that it looked like a Gruyere 
cheese, that awful volcanic cheese that has horrible 
holes in it, as if it had come in boiling unnatural milk 
from mysterious and unearthly cattle. But I have 
never yet seen the lunar cheese green ; and I incline 
to the opinion that the moon is not old enough. The 
moon, like everything else, will ripen by the end of the 


world ; and in the last days we shall see it taking on 
those volcanic sunset colours, and leaping with that 
enormous and fantastic life. 

But this is a parenthesis ; and one perhaps slightly 
lacking in prosaic actuality. Whatever may be the 
value of the above speculations, the phrase about the 
moon and green cheese remains a good example of this 
imagery of eating and drinking on a large scale. The 
same huge fancy is in the phrase ' if all the trees were 
bread and cheese/ which I have cited elsewhere in this 
connection ; and in that noble nightmare of a Scandi- 
navian legend, in which Thor drinks the deep sea nearly 
dry out of a horn. In an essay like the present (first 
intended as a paper to be read before the Royal Society) 
one cannot be too exact ; and I will concede that my 
theory of the gradual virescence of our satellite is to be 
regarded rather as an alternative theory than as a law 
finally demonstrated and universally accepted by the 
scientific world. It is a hypothesis that holds the field, 
as the scientists say of a theory when there is no evi- 
dence for it so far. 

But the reader need be under no apprehension that 
I have suddenly gone mad, and shall start biting large 
pieces out of the trunks of trees ; or seriously altering 
(by large semicircular mouthfuls) the exquisite outline 
of the mountains. This feeling for expressing a fresh 
solidity by the image of eating is really a very old one. 
So far from being a paradox of perversity, it is one of 
the oldest commonplaces of religion. If any one wander- 
ing about wants to have a good trick or test for separat- 
ing the wrong idealism from the right, I will give him 
one on the spot. It is a mark of false religion that it 
is always trying to express concrete facts as abstract ; 
it calls sex affinity ; it calls wine alcohol ; it calls brute 
starvation the economic problem. The test of true 
religion is that its energy drives exactly the other way ; 
it is always trying to make men feel truths as facts ; 
always trying to make abstract things as plain and 
solid as concrete things ; always trying to make men, 


not merely admit the truth, but see, smell, handle, hear, 
and devour the truth. All great spiritual scriptures 
are full of the invitation not to test, but to taste ; not 
to examine, but to eat. Their phrases are full of living 
water and heavenly bread, mysterious manna and 
dreadful wine. Worldliness, and the polite society of 
the world, has despised this instinct of eating; but 
religion has never despised it. When we look at a 
firm, fat, white cliff of chalk at Dover, I do not suggest 
that we should desire to eat it ; that would be highly 
abnormal. But I really mean that we should think 
it good to eat ; good for some one else to eat. For, 
indeed, some one else is eating it ; the grass that grows 
upon its top is devouring it silently, but, doubtless, 
with an uproarious appetite. 


ONE day, as I was leaving London for a holiday, 
a friend walked into my flat in Battersea and 
found me surrounded with half-packed luggage. 

' You seem to be off on your travels/ he said. ' Where 
are you going ? ' 

With a strap between my teeth I replied, ' To 

' The wit of your remark/ he said, ' wholly, escapes 

' I am going to Battersea/ I repeated, ' to Battersea 
via Paris, Belfort, Heidelberg, and Frankfort. My 
remark contained no wit. It contained simply the 
truth. I am going to wander over the whole world 
until once more I find Battersea. Somewhere in the 
seas of sunset or of sunrise, somewhere in the ultimate 
archipelago of the earth, there is one little island which 

1 From Tremendous Trifles. 


I wish to find : an island with low green hills and great 
white cliffs. Travellers tell me that it is called England 
(Scotch travellers tell me that it is called Britain), and 
there is a rumour that somewhere in the heart of it 
there is a beautiful place called Battersea. ' 

' I suppose it is unnecessary to tell you/ said my 
friend, with an air of intellectual compassion, ' that 
this is Battersea ? ' 

' It is quite unnecessary/ I said, * and it is spiritually 
untrue. I cannot see any Battersea here ; I cannot 
see any London or any England. I cannot see that 
door. I cannot see that chair : because a cloud of 
sleep and custom has come across my eyes. The only 
way to get back to them is to go somewhere else ; and 
that is the real object of travel and the real pleasure 
of holidays. Do you suppose that I go to France in 
order to see France ? Do you suppose that I go to 
Germany in order to see Germany ? I shall enjoy them 
both ; but it is not them that I am seeking. I am 
seeking Battersea. The whole object of travel is not 
to set foot on foreign lands ; it is at last to set foot on 
one's own country as a foreign land. Now I warn you 
that this Gladstone bag is compact and heavy, and 
that if you utter that word " paradox " I shall hurl it 
at your head. I did not make the world, and I did not 
make it paradoxical. It is not my fault, it is the truth, 
that the only way to go to England is to go away from 

But when after only a month's travelling I did come 
back to England, I was startled to find that I had told 
the exact truth. England did break on me at once 
beautifully new and beautifully old. To land at Dover 
is the right way to approach England (most things that 
are hackneyed are right), for then you see first the full, 
soft gardens of Kent, which are, perhaps, an exaggera- 
tion, but still a typical exaggeration, of the rich rusticity 
of England. As it happened, also, a fellow-traveller 
with whom I had fallen into conversation felt the same 
freshness, though for another cause. She was an 


American lady who had seen Europe, and had never 
yet seen England, and she expressed her enthusiasm 
in that simple and splendid way which is natural to 
Americans, who are the most idealistic people in the 
whole world. Their only danger is that the idealist 
can easily become the idolater. And the American 
has become so idealistic that he even idealizes money. 
But (to quote a very able writer of American short 
stories) that is another story. 

' I have never been in England before/ said the 
American lady, ' yet it is so pretty that I feel as if I 
have been away from it for a long time/ 

' So you have/ I said ; ' you have been away for 
three hundred years/ 

' What a lot of ivy you have/ she said. ' It covers 
the churches and it buries the houses. We have ivy ; 
but I have never seen it grow like that/ 

' I am interested to hear it/ I replied, ' for I am 
making a little list of all the things that are really 
better in England. Even a month on the Continent, 
combined with intelligence, will teach you that there are 
many things that are better abroad. All the things that 
Mr. Kipling calls English are better abroad. But there 
are things entirely English and entirely good. Kippers, 
for instance, and Free Trade, and front gardens, and 
individual liberty, and the Elizabethan drama, and 
hansom cabs, and cricket, and Mr. Will Crooks. Above 
all, there is the happy and holy custom of eating a 
heavy breakfast. I cannot imagine that Shakespeare 
began the day with rolls and coffee, like a Frenchman 
or a German. Surely he began with bacon or bloaters. 
In fact, a light bursts upon me ; for the first time I 
see the real meaning of Mrs. Gallup and the Great 
Cipher. It is merely a mistake in the matter of a 
capital letter. I withdraw my objections ; I accept 
everything ; bacon did write Shakespeare/ 

' I cannot look at anything but the ivy/ she said, ' it 
looks so comfortable/ 

While she looked at the ivy I opened for the first 


time for many weeks an English newspaper, and I read 
a speech by Mr. Balfour in which he said that the 
House of Lords ought to be preserved because it repre- 
sented something in the nature cf permanent public 
opinion of England, above the ebb and flow of the 
parties. Now Mr. Balfour is a perfectly sincere patriot, 
a man who, from his own point of view, thinks long and 
seriously about the public needs, and he is, moreover, 
a man of entirely exceptional intellectual power. But 
alas ! in spite of all this, when I had read that speech 
I thought with a heavy heart that there was one more 
thing that I had to add to the list of the specially English 
things, such as kippers and cricket ; I had to add the 
specially English kind of humbug. In France things 
are attacked and defended for what they are. The 
Catholic Church is attacked because it is Catholic, and 
defended because it is Catholic. The Republic is de- 
fended because it is Republican, and attacked because 
it is Republican. But here is the ablest of English 
politicians consoling everybody by explaining that the 
House of Lords is not really the House of Lords, but 
something quite different, that the foolish, accidental 
peers whom he meets every night are in some mysterious 
way experts upon the psychology of the democracy ; 
that if you want to know what the very poor want you 
must ask the very rich, and that if you want the truth 
about Hoxton you must ask for it at Hatfield. If the 
Conservative defender of the House of Lords were a 
logical French politician he would simply be a liar. 
But being an English politician he is simply a poet. 
The English love of believing that all is as it should be, 
the English optimism combined with the strong English 
imagination, is too much even for the obvious facts. 
In a cold, scientific sense, of course, Mr. Balfour knows 
that nearly all the Lords who are not Lords by accident 
are Lords by bribery. He knows, and (as Mr. Belloc 
excellently said) everybody in Parliament knows, the 
very names of the peers who have purchased their peer- 
ages. But the glamour of comfort, the pleasure of 


reassuring himself and reassuring others, is too strong 
for this original knowledge ; at last it fades from him, 
and he sincerely and earnestly calls on Englishmen to 
join with him in admiring an august and public-spirited 
Senate, having wholly forgotten that the Senate really 
consists of dunces whom he has himself despised and 
adventurers whom he has himself ennobled. 

* Your ivy is so beautifully soft and thick/ said the 
American lady, ' it seems to cover almost everything. 
It must be the most poetical thing in England/ 

' It is very beautiful/ I said, ' and, as you say, it is 
very English. Charles Dickens, who was almost more 
English than England, wrote one of his rare poems 
about the beauty of ivy. Yes, by all means let us admire 
the ivy, so deep, so warm, so full of a genial gloom and 
a grotesque tenderness. Let us admire the ivy, and let 
us pray to God in His mercy that it may not kill the 


friend and I, in fooling about Flanders, fell 
into a fixed affection for the town of Mechlin 
or Malines. Our rest there was so restful that we 
almost felt it as a home, and hardly strayed out of it. 

We sat day after day in the market-place, under 
little trees growing in wooden tubs, and looked up at 
the noble converging lines of the Cathedral tower, from 
which the three riders from Ghent, in the poem, heard 
the bell which told them they were not too late. But 
we took as much pleasure in the people, in the little 
boys with open, flat Flemish faces and fur collars round 
their necks, making them look like burgomasters*; or 

1 From Tremendous Trifles. 


the women, whose prim, oval faces, hair strained tightly 
off the temples, and mouths at once hard, meek, and 
humorous, exactly reproduced the late mediaeval faces 
in Memling and Van Eyck. 

But one afternoon, as it happened, my friend rose 
from under his little tree, and, pointing to a sort of 
toy train that was puffing smoke in one corner of the 
clear square, suggested that we should go by it. We 
got into the little train, which was meant really to take 
the peasants and their vegetables to and fro from their 
fields beyond the town, and the official came round to 
give us tickets. We asked him what place we should 
get to if we paid fivepence. The Belgians are not a 
romantic people, and he asked us (with a lamentable 
mixture of Flemish coarseness and French rationalism) 
where we wanted to go. 

We explained that we wanted to go to fairyland, 
and the only question was whether we could get there 
for fivepence. At last, after a great deal of inter- 
national misunderstanding (for he spoke French in the 
Flemish and we in the English manner), he told us that 
fivepence would take us to a place which I have never 
seen written down, but which when spoken sounded like 
the word ' Waterloo ' pronounced by an intoxicated 
patriot ; I think it was Waerlowe. We clasped our 
hands and said it was the place that we had been seek- 
ing from boyhood, and when we had got there we 
descended with promptitude. 

For a moment I had a horrible fear that it really was 
the field of Waterloo ; but I was comforted by remem- 
bering that it was in quite a different part of Belgium. 
It was a cross-roads, with one cottage at the corner, a 
perspective of tall trees like Hobbema's ' Avenue/ and 
beyond only the infinite flat chess-board of the little 
fields. It was the scene of peace and prosperity ; but 
I must confess that my friend's first action was to ask 
the man when there would be another train back to 
Mechlin. The man stated that there would be a train 
back in exactly one hour. We walked up the avenue, 


and when we were nearly half an hour's walk away it 

began to rain. 


We arrived back at the cross-roads sodden and 
dripping, and, finding the train waiting, climbed into 
it with some relief. The officer on this train could 
speak nothing but Flemish, but he understood the name 
of Mechlin, and indicated that when we came to Mechlin 
Station he would put us down, which, after the right 
interval of time, he did. 

\Ve got down, under a steady downpour, evidently 
on the edge of Mechlin, though the features could not 
easily be recognized through the grey screen of the rain. 
I do not generally agree with those who find rain de- 
pressing. A shower-bath is not depressing ; it is rather 
startling. And if it is exciting when a man throws a 
pail of water over you, why should it not also be exciting 
when the gods throw many pails ? But on this soaking 
afternoon, whether it was the dull sky-line of the Nether- 
lands or the fact that we were returning home without 
any adventure, I really did think things a trifle dreary. 
As soon as we could creep under the shelter of a street 
we turned into a little cafe, kept by one woman. She 
was incredibly old, and she spoke no French. There 
we drank black coffee and what was called ' cognac 
fine.' ' Cognac fine ' were the only two French words 
used in the establishment, and they were not true. 
At least, the fineness (perhaps by its very ethereal 
delicacy) escaped me. After a little my friend, who 
was more restless than I, got up and went out, to see 
if the rain had stopped and if we could at once stroll 
back to our hotel by the station. I sat finishing my 
coffee in a colourless mood, and listening to the unre- 
mitting rain. 


Suddenly the door burst open, and my friend appeared, 
transfigured and frantic. 

' Get up ! ' he cried, waving his hands wildly. *' Get 
up ! We 're in the wrong town ! We 're not in Mechlin 


at all. Mechlin is ten miles, twenty miles off God 
knows what ! We 're somewhere near Antwerp.' 

' What ! ' I cried, leaping from my seat, and sending 
the furniture flying. ' Then all is well, after all ! Poetry 
only hid her face for an instant behind a cloud. Posi- 
tively for a moment I was feeling depressed because we 
were in the right town. But if we are in the wrong 
town why, we have our adventure after all ! If we 
are in the wrong town, we are in the right place/ 

I rushed out into the rain, and my friend followed me 
somewhat more grimly. We discovered we were in a 
town called Lierre, which seemed to consist chiefly of 
bankrupt pastrycooks who sold lemonade. 

' This is the peak of our whole poetic progress ! ' I 
cried enthusiastically. ' We must do something, some- 
thing sacramental and commemorative ! We cannot 
sacrifice an ox, and it would be a bore to build a temple. 
Let us write a poem/ 

With but slight encouragement, I took out an old 
envelope and one of those pencils that turn bright violet 
in water. There was plenty of water about, and the 
violet ran down the paper ,- symbolizing the rich purple 
of that romantic hour. I began, choosing the form of 
an old French ballade ; it is the easiest because it is the 
most restricted 

" Can Man to Mount Olympus rise, 

And fancy Primrose Hill the scene? 
Can a man walk in Paradise 

And think he is in Turnham Green ? 

And could I take you for Malines, 
Not knowing the nobler thing you were? 

O Pearl of all the plain, and queen, 
The lovely city of Lierre. 

Through memory's mist in glimmering guise 
Shall shine your streets of sloppy sheen, 

And wet shall grow my dreaming eyes, 
To think how wet my boots have been. 
Now if I die or shoot a Dean " 

Here I broke off to ask my friend whether he thought 


it expressed a more wild calamity to shoot a Dean or 
to be a Dean. But he only turned up his coat collar, 
and I felt that for him the muse had folded her wings. 
I re-wrote 

" Now if I die a Rural Dean, 
Or rob a bank I do not care, 

Or turn a Tory. I have seen 
The lovely city of Lierre." 

' The next line/ I resumed, warming to it ; but my 
friend interrupted me. 

' The next line/ he said somewhat harshly, ' will be 
a railway line. We can get back to Mechlin from here, 
1 find, though we have to change twice. I dare say I 
should think this jolly romantic but for the weather. 
Adventure is the champagne of life, but I prefer my 
champagne and my adventures dry. Here is the 

We did not speak again until we had left Lierre, in 
its sacred cloud of rain, and were coming to Mechlin, 
under a clearer sky, that even made one think of stars. 
Then I leant forward and said to my friend in a low 

' I have found out everything. We have come to 
the wrong star/ 

He stared his query, and I went on eagerly : ' That 
is what makes life at once so splendid and so strange. 
We are in the wrong world. When I thought that was 
the right town, it bored me ; when I knew it was wrong, 
1 was happy. So the false optimism, the modern happi- 
ness, tires us because it tells us we fit into this world. 
The true happiness is that we don't fit. We come from 
somewhere else. We have lost our way/ 

.He silently nodded, staring out of the window, but 
whether I had impressed or only fatigued him I could 
not tell. ' This/ I added, ' is suggested in the* last 
verse of a fine poem you have grossly neglected 


' "Happy is he and more than wise 

Who sees with wondering eyes and clean 
This world through all the grey disguise 

Of sleep and custom in between. 

Yes ; we may pass the heavenly screen, 
But shall we know when we are there ? 

Who know not what these dead stones mean, 
The lovely city of Lierre." ' 

Here the train stopped abruptly. And from Mechlin 
church steeple we heard the half-chime : and Joris 
broke silence with ' No bally hors d'ceuvres for me : I 
shall get on to something solid at once.' 


Prince, wide your Empire spreads, I ween, 
Yet happier is that moistened Mayor, 

Who drinks her cognac far 
The lovely city of Lierre. 


A LITTLE while ago I fell out of England into 
the town of Paris. If a man fell out of the 
moon into the town of Paris he would know that it 
was the capital of a great nation. If, however, he fell 
(perhaps off some other side of the moon) so as to hit 
the city of London, he would not know so well that it 
was the capital of a great nation ; at any rate, he would 
not know that the nation was so great as it is. This 
would be so even on the assumption that the man from 
the moon could not read our alphabet, as presumably 
he could not, unless elementary education in that 
planet has gone to rather unsuspected lengths. But 
it is true that a great part of the distinctive quality 
which separates Paris from London may be even seen 

1 From All Things Considered. 


in the names. Real democrats always insist that 
England is an aristocratic country. Real aristocrats 
always insist (for some mysterious reason) that it is a 
democratic country. But if any one has any real 
doubt about the matter let him consider simply the 
names of the streets. Nearly all the streets out of the 
Strand, for instance, are named after the first name, 
second name, third name, fourth, fifth, and sixth names 
of some particular noble family ; after their relations, 
connections, or places of residence Arundel Street, 
Norfolk Street, Villiers Street, Bedford Street, South- 
ampton Street, and any number of others. The names 
are varied, so as to introduce the same family under 
all sorts of different surnames. Thus we have Arundel 
Street and also Norfolk Street ; thus we have Bucking- 
ham Street and also Villiers Street. To say that this 
is not aristocracy is simply intellectual impudence. I 
am an ordinary citizen, and my name is Gilbert Keith 
Chesterton ; and I confess that if I found three streets 
in a row in the Strand, the first called Gilbert Street, 
the second Keith Street, and the third Chesterton Street, 
I should consider that I had become a somewhat more 
important person in the commonwealth than was alto- 
gether good for its health. If Frenchmen ran London 
(which God forbid !), they would think it quite as ludi- 
crous that those streets should be named after the Duke 
of Buckingham as that they should be named after me. 
They are streets out of one of the main thoroughfares 
of London. If French methods were adopted, one of 
them would be called Shakspere Street, another Crom- 
well Street, another Wordsworth Street ; there would 
be statues of each of these persons at the end of each 
of these streets, and any streets left over would be 
named after the date on which the Reform Bill was 
passed or the Penny Postage established. 

Suppose a man tried to find people in London by 
the names of the places. It would make a fine f^rce, 
illustrating our illogicality. Our hero, having once 
realized that Buckingham Street was named after the 


Buckingham family, would naturally walk into Bucking- 
ham Palace in search of the Duke of Buckingham. To 
his astonishment he would meet somebody quite different. 
His simple lunar logic would lead him to suppose that 
if he wanted the Duke of Marlborough (which seems 
unlikely) he would find him at Marlborough House. 
He would find the Prince of Wales. When at last he 
understood that the Marlboroughs live at Blenheim, 
named after the great Maryborough's victory, he would, 
no doubt, go there. But he would again find himself 
in error if, acting upon this principle, he tried to find 
the Duke of Wellington, and told the cabman to drive 
to Waterloo. I* wonder that no one has written a wild 
romance about the adventures of such an alien, seeking 
the great English aristocrats, and only guided by the 
names ; looking for the Duke of Bedford in the town 
of that name, seeking for some trace of the Duke of 
Norfolk in Norfolk. He might sail for Wellington in 
New Zealand to find the ancient seat of the Wellingtons. 
The last scene might show him trying to learn Welsh 
in order to converse with the Prince of Wales. 

But even if the imaginary traveller knew no alphabet 
of this earth at all, I think it would still be possible to 
suppose him seeing a difference between London and 
Paris, and, upon the whole, the real difference. He 
would not be able to read the words ' Quai Voltaire ' ; 
but he would see the sneering statue and the hard, 
straight roads ; without having heard of Voltaire he 
would understand that the city was Voltairean. He 
would not know that Fleet Street was named after the 
Fleet Prison. But the same national spirit which kept 
the Fleet Prison closed and narrow still keeps Fleet 
Street closed and narrow. Or, if you will, you may 
call Fleet Street cosy, and the Fleet Prison cosy. I 
think I could be more comfortable in the Fleet Prison, 
in an English way of comfort, than just under the 
statue of Voltaire. I think that the man from the 
moon would know France without knowing French ; I 
think that he would know England without having 


heard the word. For in the last resort all men talk by 
signs. To talk by statues is to talk by signs ; to talk 
by cities is to talk by signs. Pillars, palaces, cathedrals, 
temples, pyramids, are an enormous dumb alphabet : 
as if some giant held up his fingers of stone. The most 
important things at the last are always said by signs, 
even if, like the Cross on St. Paul's, they are signs in 
heaven. If men do not understand signs, they will 
never understand words. 

For my part, I should be inclined to suggest that 
the chief object of education should be to restore sim- 
plicity. If you like to put it so, the chief object of 
education is not to learn things ; nay, the chief object 
of education is to unlearn things. The chief object of 
education is to unlearn all the weariness and wicked- 
ness of the world and to get back into that state of 
exhilaration we all instinctively celebrate when we 
write by preference of children and of boys. If I were 
an examiner appointed to examine all examiners (which 
does not at present appear probable), I would not only 
ask the teachers how much knowledge they had im- 
parted ; I would ask them how much splendid and 
scornful ignorance they had erected, like some royal 
tower in arms. But, in any case, I would insist that 
people should have so much simplicity as would enable 
them to see things suddenly and to see things as they 
are. I do not care so much whether they can read the 
names over the shops. I do care very much whether 
they can read the shops. I do not feel deeply troubled 
as to whether they can tell where London is on the 
map so long as they can tell where Brixton is on the 
way home. I do not even mind whether they can put 
two and two together in the mathematical sense ; I 
am content if they can put two and two together in 
the metaphorical sense. But all this longer statement 
of an obvious view comes back to the metaphor I have 
employed. I do not care a dump whether they know 
the alphabet, so long as they know the dumb alphabet. 

Unfortunately, I have noticed in many aspects of 


our popular education that this is not done at all. One 
teaches our London children to see London with abrupt 
and simple eyes. And London is far more difficult to 
see properly than any other place. London is a riddle. 
Paris is an explanation. The education of the Parisian 
child is something corresponding to the clear avenues 
and the exact squares of Paris. When the Parisian 
boy has done learning about the French reason and 
the Roman order he can go out and see the thing re- 
peated in the shapes of many shining public places, in 
the angles of many streets. But when the English 
boy goes out, after learning about a vague progress and 
idealism, he cannot see it anywhere. He cannot see 
anything anywhere, except Sapolio and the Daily Mail. 
We must either alter London to suit the ideals of our 
education, or else alter our education to suit the great 
beauty of London. 


IN The Pickwick Papers Dickens sprang suddenly 
from a comparatively low level to a very high one. 
To the level of Sketches by Boz he never afterwards 
descended. To the level of The Pickwick Papers it 
is doubtful if he ever afterwards rose. Pickwick, indeed, 
is not a good novel ; but it is not a bad novel, for it is 
not a novel at all. In one sense, indeed, it is something 
nobler than a novel, for no novel with a plot and a 
proper termination could emit that sense of everlasting 
youth a sense as of the gods gone wandering in England. 
This is 'not a novel, for all novels have an end; and 
Pickwick, properly speaking, has no end he is equal 
unto the angels. The point at which, as a fact, we 
find the printed matter terminates is not an end in any 

1 From Charles Dickens. 


artistic sense of the word. Even as a boy I believed 
there were some more pages that were torn out of my 
copy, and I am looking for them still. The book might 
have been cut short anywhere else. It might have 
been cut short after Mr. Pickwick was released by 
Mr. Nupkins, or after Mr. Pickwick was fished out of 
the water, or at a hundred other places. And we 
should still have known that this was not really the 
story's end. We should have known that Mr. Pick- 
wick was still having the same high adventures on the 
same high roads. As it happens, the book ends after 
Mr. Pickwick has taken a house in the neighbourhood 
of Dulwich. But we know he did not stop there. We 
know he broke out, that he took again the road of the 
high adventures ; we know that if we take it ourselves 
in any acre of England, we may come suddenly upon 
him in a lane. 

But this relation of Pickwick to the strict form of 
fiction demands a further word, which should indeed 
be said in any case before the consideration of any or 
all of the Dickens tales. Dickens's work is not to be 
reckoned in novels at all. Dickens's work is to be 
reckoned always by characters, sometimes by groups, 
oftener by episodes, but never by novels. You cannot 
discuss whether Nicholas Nickleby is a good novel, or 
whether Our Mutual Friend is a bad novel. Strictly, 
there is no such novel as Nicholas Nickleby. There is 
no such novel as Our Mutual Friend. They are simply 
lengths cut from the flowing and mixed substance called 
Dickens a substance of which any given length will 
be certain to contain a given proportion of brilliant and 
of bad stuff. You can say, according to your opinions, 
' the Crummies part is perfect/ or ' the Boffins are a 
mistake/ just as a man watching a river go by him 
could count here a floating flower, and there a streak 
of scum. But you cannot artistically divide the out- 
put into books. The best of his work can be found in 
the worst of his works. The Tale of Two Citie$ is a 
good novel ; Little Dorrit is not a good novel. But the 


description of * The Circumlocution Office ' in Little 
Dorrit is quite as good as the description of ' Tellsoji's 
Bank ' in The Tale of Two Cities. The Old Curiosity 
Shop is not so good as David Copper field, but Swiveller 
is quite as good as Micawber. Nor is there any 
reason why these superb creatures, as a general rule, 
should be in one novel any more than another. There 
is no reason why Sam Weller, in the course of his wander- 
ings, should not wander into Nicholas Nickleby. There 
is no reason why Major Bagstock, in his brisk way, 
should not walk straight out of Dombey and Son and 
straight into Martin Chuzzlewit. To this generaliza- 
tion some modification should be added. Pickwick 
stands by itself, and has even a sort of unity in not 
pretending to unity. David Copperfield, in a less degree, 
stands by itself, as being the only book in which Dickens 
wrote of himself ; and The Tale of Two Cities stands 
by itself as being the only book in which Dickens slightly 
altered himself. But as a whole, this should be firmly 
grasped, that the units of Dickens, the primary elements 
are not the stories, but the characters who affect the 
stories or, more often still, the characters who do not 
affect the stories. 

This is a plain matter; but, unless it be stated and 
felt, Dickens may be greatly misunderstood and greatly 
underrated. For not only is his whole machinery 
directed to facilitating the self-display of certain char- 
acters, but something more deep and more unmodern 
still is also true of him. It is also true that all the 
moving machinery exists only to display entirely static. 
character. Things in the Dickens story shift and 
change only in order to give us glimpses of great char- 
acters that do not change at all. If we had a sequel 
of Pickwick ten years afterwards, Pickwick would be 
exactly the same age. We know he would not have 
fallen into that strange and beautiful second childhood 
which soothed and simplified the end of Colonel New- 
come. Newcome, throughout the book, is in an atmo- 
sphere of time : Pickwick, throughout the book, is 


noi. This will probably be taken by most modern 
people as praise of Thackeray and dispraise of Dickens. 
Bu; this only shows how few modern people under- 
stand Dickens. It also shows how few understand the 
faiths and the fables of mankind. The matter can only 
be roughly stated in one way. Dickens did not strictly 
make a literature ; he made a mythology. . . . 

Dickens was a mythologist rather than a novelist ; 
he was the last of the mythologists, and perhaps the 
greatest. He did not always manage to make his 
characters men, but he always managed, at the least, 
to make them gods. They are creatures like Punch or 
Father Christmas. They live statically, in a perpetual 
summer of being themselves. It was not the aim of 
Dickens to show the effect of time and circumstance 
upon a character ; it was not even his aim to show the 
effect of a character on time and circumstance. It 
is worth remark, in passing, that whenever he tried to 
describe change in a character, he made a mess of it, 
as in the repentance of Dombey or the apparent deterio- 
ration of Boffin. It was his aim to show character 
hung in a kind of happy void, in a world apart from 
time yes, and essentially apart from circumstance, 
though the phrase may seem odd in connection with 
the godlike horseplay of Pickwick. But all the Pick- 
wickian events, wild as they often are, were only- 
designed to display the greater wildness of souls, or some- 
times merely to bring the reader within touch, so to 
speak, of that wildness. The author would have fired 
Mr. Pickwick out of a cannon to get him to Wardle's 
by Christmas ; he would have taken the roof off to 
drop him into Bob Sawyer's party. But once put 
Pickwick at Wardle's, with his punch and a group of 
gorgeous personalities, and nothing will move him from 
his chair. Once he is at Sawyer's party, he forgets how 
he got there ; he forgets Mrs. Bardell and all his story. 
For the story w r as but an incantation to call up a god, 
and the god (Mr. Jack Hopkins) is present in divine 
power. Once the great characters are face to face, 


the ladder by which they climbed is forgotten and fj(lls 
down, the structure of the story drops to pieces, (the 
plot is abandoned ; the other characters deserted! at 
every kind of crisis ; the whole crowded thoroughfare 
of the tale is blocked by two or three talkers, who take 
their immortal ease as if they were already in Paradise. 
For they do not exist for the story ; the story exists 
for them ; and they know it. 

To every man alive, one must hope, it has. in some 
manner happened that he has talked with his more 
fascinating friends round a table on some night when 
all the numerous personalities unfolded themselves like 
great tropical flowers. All fell into their parts as in 
some delightful impromptu play. Every man was 
more himself than he had ever been in this vale of tears. 
Every man was a beautiful caricature of himself. The 
man who has known such nights will understand the 
exaggerations of Pickwick. The man who has not 
known such nights will not enjoy Pickwick nor (I imagine) 
heaven. For, as I have said, Dickens is, in this matter, 
close to popular religion, which is the ultimate and 
reliable religion. He conceives an endless joy ; he 
conceives creatures as permanent as Puck or Pan - 
creatures whose will to live aeons upon aeons cannot 
satisfy. He is not come, as a writer, that his creatures 
may copy life and copy its narrowness ; he is come 
that they may have life, and that they may have it 
more abundantly. It is absurd indeed that Christians 
should be called the enemies of life because they wish 
life to last for ever ; it is more absurd still to call the 
old comic writers dull because they wished their un- 
changing characters to last for ever. Both popular 
religion, with its endless joys, and the old comic story, 
with its endless jokes, have in our time faded together. 
We are too weak to desire that undying vigour. We 
believe that you can have too much' of a good thing 
a blasphemous belief, which at one blow wrecks all the 
heavens that men have hoped for. The grand old 
defiers of God were not afraid of an eternity of torment. 


We have come to be afraid of an eternity of joy. It is 
not my business here to take sides in this division 
between those who like life and long novels and those 
who like death and short stories ; my only business is 
to point out that those who see in Dickens's unchang- 
ing characters and recurring catchwords a mere stiff- 
ness and lack of living movement miss the point and 
nature of his work. His tradition is another tradition 
altogether ; his aim is another aim altogether to those 
of the modern novelists who trace the alchemy of 
experience and the autumn tints of character. He 
is there, like the common people of all ages, to make 
deities ; he is there, as I have said, to exaggerate life 
in the direction of life. The spirit he at bottom cele- 
brates is that of two friends drinking wine together and 
talking through the night. But for him they are two 
deathless friends talking through an endless night and 
pouring wine from an inexhaustible bottle. 

This, then, is the first firm fact to grasp about Pick- 
wick about Pickwick more than about any of the 
other stories. It is, first and foremost, a supernatural 
story. Mr. Pickwick was a fairy. So was old Mr. 
Weller. This does not imply that they were suited to 
swing in a trapeze of gossamer ; it merely implies that 
if they had fallen out of it on their heads they would 
not have died. But, to speak more strictly, Mr. Samuel 
Pickwick is not the fairy ; he is the fairy prince ; that 
is to say, he is the abstract wanderer and wonderer, 
the Ulysses of comedy ; the half-human and half-elfin 
creature human enough to wander, human enough to 
wonder, but still sustained with that merry fatalism 
that is natural to immortal beings sustained by that 
hint of divinity which tells him in the darkest hour that 
he is doomed to live happily ever afterwards. He has 
set out walking to the end of the world, but he knows 
he will find an inn there. . . . 

Pickwick, I have said, is a romance of adventure, 
and Samuel Pickwick is the romantic adventurer. So 
much is indeed obvious. But the strange and stirring 


discovery which Dickens made was this that having 
chosen a fat old man of the middle classes as a good 
thing of which to make a butt, he found that a fat old 
man of the middle classes is the very best thing of 
which to make a romantic adventurer. Pickwick is 
supremely original in that it is the adventures of an 
old man. It is a fairy tale in which the victor is not 
the youngest of the three brothers, but one of the oldest 
of their uncles. The result is both noble and new and 
true. There is nothing which so much needs simplicity 
as adventure. And there is no one who so much 
possesses simplicity as an honest and elderly man of 
business. For romance he is better than a troop of 
young troubadours ; for the swaggering young fellow 
anticipates his adventures, just as he anticipates his 
income. Hence both the adventures and the income, 
when he comes up to them, are not there. But a man 
in late middle-age has grown used to the plain necessities, 
and his first holiday is a second youth. A good man, 
as Thackeray said with such thorough and searching 
truth, grows simpler as he grows older. Samuel Pick- 
wick in his youth was probably an insufferable young 
coxcomb. He knew then, or thought he knew, all 
about the confidence tricks of swindlers like Jingle. 
He knew then, or thought he knew, all about the amatory 
designs of sly ladies like Mrs. Bardell. But years and 
real life have relieved him of this idle and evil know- 
ledge. He has had the high good luck in losing the 
follies of youth to lose the wisdom of youth also. 
Dickens has caught, in a manner at once wild and con- 
vincing, this queer innocence of the afternoon of life. 
The round, moon-like face, the round, moon-like spec- 
tacles of Samuel Pickwick move through the tale as 
emblems of a certain spherical simplicity. They are 
fixed in that grave surprise that may be seen in babies ; 
that grave surprise which is the only real happiness 
that is possible to man. Pickwick's round face is like 
a round and honourable mirror, in which are reflected 
all the fantasies of earthly existence ; for surprise is, 


strictly speaking, the only kind of reflection. All this 
grew gradually on Dickens. It is odd to recall to our 
minds the original plan, the plan of the Nimrod Club, 
and the author who was to be wholly occupied in play- 
ing practical jokes on his characters. He had chosen 
(or somebody else had chosen) that corpulent old 
simpleton as a person peculiarly fitted to fall down 
trap-doors, to shoot over butter slides, to struggle with 
apple-pie beds, to be tipped out of carts and dipped into 
horse-ponds. But Dickens, and Dickens only, discovered 
as he went on how fitted the old fat man was to rescue 
ladies, to defy tyrants, to dance, to leap, to experiment 
with life, to be a deus ex machina and even a knight 
errant. Dickens made this discovery. Dickens went 
into the Pickwick Club to scoff, and Dickens remained 
to pray. . . . 

Pickwick goes through life with that godlike gulli- 
bility which is the key to all adventures. The green- 
horn is the ultimate victor in everything ; it is he that 
gets the most out of life. Because Pickwick is led away 
by Jingle, he will be led to the White Hart Inn, and 
see the only Weller cleaning boots in the courtyard. 
Because he is bamboozled by Dodson and Fogg, he 
will enter the prison house like a paladin, and rescue 
the man and the woman who have wronged him most. 
His soul will never starve for exploits or excitements 
who is wise enough to be made a fool of. He will make 
himself happy in the traps that have been laid for him ; 
he will roll in their nets and sleep. All doors will fly 
open to him who has a mildness more defiant than mere 
courage. The whole is unerringly expressed in one 
fortunate phrase he will be always ' taken in.' To 
be taken in everywhere is to see the inside of every- 
thing. It is the hospitality of circumstance. With 
torches and trumpets, like a guest, the greenhorn is 
taken in by Life. And the sceptic is cast out by it. 



WITHIN a stone's throw of my house they are 
building another house. I am glad they are 
building it, and I am glad it is within a stone's throw ; 
quite well within it, with a good catapult. Neverthe- 
less, I have not yet cast the first stone at the new house 
not being, strictly speaking, guiltless myself in the 
matter of new houses. And, indeed, in such cases there 
is a strong protest to be made. The whole curse of the 
last century has been what is called the Swing of the 
Pendulum ; that is, the idea that Man must go alter- 
nately from one extreme to the other. It is a shameful 
and even shocking fancy ; it is the denial of the whole 
dignity of mankind. When Man is alive he stands 
still. It is only when he is dead that he swings. But 
whenever one meets modern thinkers (as one often does) 
progressing towards a madhouse, one always finds, on 
inquiry, that they have just had a splendid escape from 
another madhouse. Thus, hundreds of people become 
Socialists, not because they have tried Socialism and 
found it nice, but because they have tried Individualism 
and found it particularly nasty. Thus, many embrace 
Christian Science solely because they are quite sick of 
heathen science ; they are so tired of believing that 
everything is matter that they will even take refuge 
in the revolting fable that everything is mind. Man 
ought to march somewhere. But modern man (in his 
sick reaction) is ready to march nowhere so long as it 
is the Other End of Nowhere. 

The case of building houses is a strong instance of 
this. Early in the nineteenth century our civilization 
chose to abandon the Greek and mediaeval idea of a 
town, with walls, limited and defined, with a temple 
for faith and a market-place for politics ; and it chose 
to let the city grow like a jungle with blind cruelty and 
bestial unconsciousness ; so that London and Liverpool 

* From Alarms and Discursions. 


are the great cities we now see. Well, people have 
reacted against that ; they have grown tired of living 
in a city which is as dark and barbaric as a forest, only 
not as beautiful, and there has been an exodus into the 
country of those who could afford it, and some I could 
name who can't. Now, as soon as this quite rational 
recoil occurred, it flew at once to the opposite extreme. 
People went about with beaming faces, boasting that 
they were twenty-three miles from a station. Rubbing 
their hands, they exclaimed in rollicking asides that 
their butcher only called once a month, and that their 
baker started out with fresh hot loaves which were 
quite stale before they reached the table. A man 
would praise his little house in a quiet valley, but 
gloomily admit (with a slight shake of the head) that 
a human habitation on the distant horizon was faintly 
discernible on a clear day. Rival ruralists would quarrel 
about which had the most completely inconvenient postal 
service ; and there were many jealous heart-burnings if 
one friend found out any uncomfortable situation which 
the other friend had thoughtlessly overlooked. 

In the feverish summer of this fanaticism there arose 
the phrase that this or that part of England is being 
' built over/ Now, there is not the slightest objection, 
in itself, to England being built over by men, any more 
than there is to its being (as it is already) built over by 
birds, or by squirrels, or by spiders. But if birds' nests 
were so thick on a tree that one could see nothing but 
nests and no leaves at all, I should say that bird civiliza- 
tion was becoming a bit decadent. If whenever I tried 
to walk down the road I found the whole thoroughfare 
one crawling carpet of spiders, closely interlocked, I 
should feel a distress verging on distaste. If one were 
at eveiy turn crowded, elbowed, overlooked, over- 
charged, sweated, rack-rented, swindled, and sold up 
by avaricious and arrogant squirrels, one might at last 
remonstrate. But the great towns have grown intoler- 
able solely because of such suffocating vulgarities* and 
tyrannies. It is not humanity that disgusts us in the 


huge cities ; it is inhumanity. It is not that there are 
human beings ; but that they are not treated as such. 
We do not, I hope, dislike men and women ; we only 
dislike their being made into a sort of jam ; crushed 
together so that they are not merely powerless but 
shapeless. It is not the presence of people that makes 
London appalling. It is merely the absence of The 

Therefore I dance with joy to think that my part of 
England is being built over, so long as it is being built 
over in a human way at human intervals and in a human 
proportion. So long, in short, as I am not myself built 
over, like a pagan slave buried in the foundations of a 
temple, or an American clerk in a star-striking pagoda 
of flats, I am delighted to see the faces and the homes 
of a race of bipeds, to which I am not only attracted 
by a strange affection, but to which also (by a touching 
coincidence) I actually happen to belong. I am not one 
desiring deserts. I am not Timon of Athens ; if my 
town were Athens I would stay in it. I am not Simeon 
Stylites ; except in the mournful sense that every 
Saturday I find myself on the top of a newspaper column. 
I am not in the desert repenting of some monstrous 
sins ; at least, I am repenting of them all right, but not 
in the desert. I do not want the nearest human house 
to be too distant to see ; that is my objection to the 
wilderness. But neither do I want the nearest human 
house to be too close to see ; that is my objection to 
the modern city. I love my fellow-man ; I do not 
want him so far off that I can only observe anything 
of him through a telescope, nor do I want him so close 
that I can examine parts of him with a microscope. I 
want him within a stone's throw of me ; so that when- 
ever it is really necessary, I may throw the stone. 

Perhaps, after all, it may not be a stone. Perhaps, 
after all, it may be a bouquet, or a snowball, or a fire- 
work, or a Free Trade Loaf ; perhaps they will ask for 
a stone and I shall give them bread. But it is essential 
that they should be within reach : how can I love my 


neighbour as myself if he gets out of range for snowballs ? 
There should be no institution out of the reach of an 
indignant or admiring humanity. I could hit the nearest 
house quite well with the catapult ; but the truth is 
that the catapult belongs to a little boy I know, and, 
with characteristic youthful selfishness, he has taken 
it away. 


HP HE preceding essay is about a half-built house 
upon my private horizon ; I wrote it sitting in a 
garden-chair ; and as, though it was a week ago, I have 
scarcely moved since then (to speak of), I do not see 
why I should not go on writing about it. Strictly 
speaking, I have moved ; I have even walked across a 
field a field of turf all fiery in our early summer sun- 
light and studied the early angular red skeleton which 
has turned golden in the sun. It is odd that the skeleton 
of a house is cheerful when the skeleton of a man is 
mournful, since we only see it after the man is destroyed. 
At least, we think the skeleton is mournful ; the skeleton 
himself does not seem to think so. , Anyhow, there is 
something strangely primary and poetic about this sight 
of the scaffolding and main lines of a human building ; 
it is a pity there is no scaffolding round a human baby. 
One seems to see domestic life as the daring and ambi- 
tious thing that it is, when one looks at those open stair- 
cases and empty chambers, those spirals of wind and 
open halls of sky. Ibsen said that the art of domestic 
drama was merely to knock one wall out of the four 
walls of a drawing-room. I find the drawing-room even 
more impressive when all four walls are knocked out. 

I have never understood what people mean by domes- 
ticity being tame ; it seems to me one of the wildest 

1 From Alarms and Discursions. 


of adventures. But if you wish to see how high and 
harsh and fantastic an adventure it is, consider only 
the actual structure of a house itself. A man may 
march up in a rather bored way to bed ; but at least he 
is mounting to a height from which he could kill him- 
self. Every rich, silent, padded staircase, with banisters 
of oak, stair-rods of brass, and busts and settees on 
every landing, every such staircase is truly only an 
awful and naked ladder running up into the Infinite to 
a deadly height. The millionaire who stumps up inside 
the house is really doing the same thing as the tiler or 
roof-mender who climbs up outside the house ; they 
are both mounting up into the void. They are both 
making an escalade of the intense inane. Each is a 
sort of domestic mountaineer ; he is reaching a point 
from which mere idle falling will kill a man ; and life 
is always worth living while men feel that they may 

I cannot understand people at present making such 
a fuss about flying ships and aviation, when men ever 
since Stonehenge and the Pyramids have done some- 
thing so much more wild than flying. A grasshopper 
can go astonishingly high up in the air ; his biological 
limitation and weakness is that he cannot stop there. 
Hosts of unclean birds and crapulous insects can pass 
through the sky, but they cannot pass any communica- 
tion between it and the earth. But the army of man 
has advanced vertically into infinity, and not been cut 
off. It can establish outposts in the ether, and yet 
keep open behind it its erect and insolent road. It 
would be grand (as in Jules Verne) to fire a cannon-ball 
at the moon ; but would it not be grander to build a 
railway to the moon ? Yet every building of brick or 
wood is a hint of that high railroad ; every chimney 
points to some star, and every tower is a Tower of 
Babel. Man rising on these awful and unbroken wings 
of stone seems to me more majestic and more mystic 
than man fluttering for an instant on wings of canvas 
and sticks of steel. How sublime and, indeed, almost 


dizzy is the thought of these veiled ladders on which 
we all live, like climbing monkeys ! Many a black- 
coated clerk in a flat may comfort himself for his sombre 
garb by reflecting that he is like some lonely rook in an 
immemorial elm. Many a wealthy bachelor on the 
top floor of a pile of mansions should look forth at 
morning and try (if possible) to feel like an eagle whose 
nest just clings to the edge of some awful cliff. How 
sad that the word ' giddy ' is used to imply wantonness 
or levity ! It should be a high compliment to a man's 
exalted spirituality and the imagination to say he is a 
little giddy. 

I strolled slowly back across the stretch of turf by 
the sunset, a field of the cloth of gold. As I drew near 
my own house, its huge size began to horrify me ; and 
when I came to the porch of it I discovered with an 
incredulity as strong as despair that my house was 
actually bigger than myself. A minute or two before 
there might well have seemed to be a monstrous and 
mythical competition about which of the two should 
swallow the other. But I was Jonah ; my house was 
the huge and hungry fish ; and even as its jaws darkened 
and closed about me I had again this dreadful fancy 
touching the dizzy altitude of all the works of man. I 
climbed the stairs stubbornly, planting each foot with 
savage care, as if ascending a glacier. When I got to 
a landing I was wildly relieved, and waved my hat. 
The very word ' landing ' has about it the wild sound 
of some one washed up by the sea. I climbed each 
flight like a ladder in naked sky. The walls all round 
me failed and faded into infinity ; I went up the ladder 
to my bedroom as Montrose went up the ladder to the 
gallows ; sic itur ad astra. Do you think this is a little 
fantastic even a little fearful and nervous ? Believe 
me, it is only one of the wild and wonderful things that 
one can learn by stopping at home. 



HPHE middle classes of modern England are quite 
-* fanatically fond of washing ; and are often enthu- 
siastic for teetotalism. I cannot therefore comprehend 
why it is that they exhibit a mysterious dislike of rain. 
Rain, that inspiring and delightful thing, surely com- 
bines the qualities of these two ideals with quite a 
curious perfection. Our philanthropists are eager to 
establish public baths everywhere. Rain surely is a 
public bath ; it might almost be called mixed bathing. 
The appearance of persons coming fresh from this great 
natural lustration is not perhaps polished or dignified ; 
but for the matter of that, few people are dignified when 
coming out of a bath. But the scheme of rain in itself 
is one of an enormous purification. It realizes the 
dream of some insane hygienist : it scrubs the sky. Its 
giant brooms and mops seem to reach the starry rafters 
and starless corners of the cosmos ; it is a cosmic spring- 

If the Englishman is really fond of cold baths, he 
ought not to grumble at the English climate for being 
a cold bath. In these days we are constantly told that 
we should leave our little special possessions and join 
in the enjoyment of common social institutions and 
a common social machinery. I offer the rain as a 
thoroughly Socialistic institution. It disregards that 
degraded delicacy which has hitherto led each gentle- 
man to take his shower-bath in private. It is a better 
shower-bath, because it is public and communal ; and, 

best of all, because somebody else pulls the string. 

As for the fascination of rain for the water drinker, 
it is a fact the neglect of which I simply cannot compre- 
hend. The enthusiastic water drinker must regard a 
rainstorm as a sort of universal banquet and debauch 
of his own favourite beverage. Think of the imagina- 

1 From A Miscellany of Men. 


live intoxication of the wine drinker if the crimson 
clouds sent down claret or the golden clouds hock. 
Paint upon primitive darkness some such scenes of 
apocalypse, towering and gorgeous skyscapes in which 
champagne falls like fire from heaven or the dark skies 
grow purple and tawny with the terrible colours of 
port. All this must the wild abstainer feel, as he rolls 
in the long soaking grass, kicks his ecstatic heels to 
heaven, and listens to the roaring rain. It is he, the 
water drinker, who ought to be the true bacchanal of 
the forests ; for all the forests are drinking water. 
Moreover, the forests are apparently enjoying it : the 
trees rave and reel to and fro like drunken giants ; they 
clash boughs as revellers clash cups ; they roar undying 
thirst and howl the health of the world. 

All around me as I write is a noise of Nature drinking : 
and Nature makes a noise when she is drinking, being 
by no means refined. If I count it Christian mercy to 
give a cup of cold water to a sufferer, shall I complain 
of these multitudinous cups of cold water handed round 
to all living things ; a cup of water for every shrub ; a 
cup of water for every weed ? I would be ashamed to 
grumble at it. As Sir Philip Sidney said, their need is 

greater than mine especially for water. 


There is a wild garment that still carries nobly the 
name of a wild Highland clan : a clan come from those 
hills where rain is not so much an incident as an atmo- 
sphere. Surely every man of imagination must feel a 
tempestuous flame of Celtic romance spring up within 
him whenever he puts on a mackintosh. I could never 
reconcile myself to carrying an umbrella ; it is a pompous 
Eastern business, carried over the heads of despots in 
the dry, hot lands. Shut up, an umbrella is an un- 
manageable walking-stick ; open, it is an inadequate 
tent. For my part, I have no taste for pretending to be 
a walking pavilion ; I think nothing of my hat, and 
precious little of my head. If I am to be protected 
against wet, it must be by some closer and more care- 


less protection, something that I can forget altogether. 
It might be a Highland plaid. It might be that yet 
more Highland thing, a mackintosh. 

And there is really something in the mackintosh of 
the military qualities of the Highlander. The proper 
cheap mackintosh has a blue and white sheen as of 
steel or iron ; it gleams like armour. I like to think 
of it as the uniform of that ancient clan in some of its 
old and misty raids. I like to think of all the Mac- 
intoshes, in their mackintoshes, descending on some 
doomed Lowland village, their wet waterproofs flashing 
in the sun or moon. For indeed this is one of the real 
beauties of rainy weather, that while the amount of 
original and direct light is commonly lessened, the 
number of things that reflect light is unquestionably 
increased. There is less sunshine ; but there are more 
shiny things, such beautifully shiny things as pools and 
puddles and mackintoshes. It is like moving in a 
world of mirrors. 

And indeed this is the last and not the least gracious 
of the casual works of magic wrought by rain : that 
while it decreases light, yet it doubles it. If it dims the 
sky, it brightens the earth. It gives the roads (to the 
sympathetic eye) something of the beauty of Venice. 
Shallow lakes of water reiterate every detail of earth 
and sky ; we dwell in a double universe. Sometimes 
walking upon bare and lustrous pavements, wet under 
numerous lamps, a man seems a black blot on all that 
golden looking-glass and could fancy he was flying in a 
yellow sky. But wherever trees and towns hang head 
downwards in a pigmy puddle, the sense of Celestial 
topsy-turvydom is the same. This bright, wet, dazzling 
confusion of shape and shadow, of reality and reflection, 
will appeal strongly to any one with the transcendental 
instinct about this dreamy and dual life of ours. It 
will always give a man the strange sense of looking 
down at the skies. 



YOU can do a great many things in modern England 
if you have noticed some things in fact which 
others know by pictures or current speech : if you know, 
for instance, that most roadside hedges are taller and 
denser than they look, and that even the largest man 
lying just behind them takes up far less room than you 
would suppose ; if you know that many natural sounds 
are much more like each other than the enlightened ear 
can believe, as in the case of wind in leaves and of the 
sea ; if you know that it is easier to walk in socks than 
in boots if you know how to take hold of the ground ; 
if you know that the proportion of dogs who will bite 
a man under any circumstances is rather less than the 
proportion of men who will murder you in a railway 
carriage ; if you know that you need not be drowned 
even in a river, unless the tide is very strong, and unless 
you practise putting yourself into the special attitudes 
of a suicide : if you know that country stations have 
objectless extra waiting-rooms that nobody ever goes 
into ; and if you know that country folk will forget you 
if you speak to them, but talk about you all day if you 

By the exercise of these and other arts and sciences 
Humphrey Pump was able to guide his friend across 
country, mostly in the character of trespasser and 
occasionally in that of something like housebreaker, 
and eventually, with sign, keg, cheese and all, to step 
but of a black pine-wood on to a white road in a part 
of the county where they would not be sought for the 

Opposite them was a cornfield and on their right, in 
the shades of the pine-trees, a cottage, a very tumble- 
down cottage that seemed to have collapsed under its 
own thatch. The red-haired Irishman's face wore a 

1 From The Flying Inn. 


curious smile. He stuck the inn sign erect in the road 
and went and hammered on the door. 

It was opened tremulously by an old man with a 
face so wrinkled that the wrinkles seemed more distinctly 
graven than the features themselves, which seemed lost 
in the labyrinth of them. He might have crawled out 
of the hole in a gnarled tree and he might have been a 
thousand years old. 

He did not seem to notice the sign-board, which stood 
rather to the left of the door ; and what life remained 
in his eyes seemed to awake in wonder at Dalroy's 
stature and strange uniform and the sword at his side. 
* I beg your pardon/ said the Captain courteously. ' I 
fear my uniform startles you. It is Lord Ivywood's 
livery. All his servants are to dress like this. In fact, 
I understand the tenants also and even yourself perhaps 
. . . excuse my sword. Lord Ivywood is very par- 
ticular that every man should have a sword. You know 
his beautiful eloquent way of putting his views. " How 
can we profess/' he was saying to me yesterday while I 
was brushing his trousers, " how can we profess that 
all men, are brothers while we refuse to them the symbol 
of manhood ; or with what assurance can we claim it 
as a movement of modern emancipation to deny the 
citizen that which has in all ages marked the difference 
between the free man and the slave ? Nor need we 
anticipate any such barbaric abuses as rny honourable 
friend who is cleaning the knives has prophesied, 
for this gift is a sublime act of confidence in your 
universal passion for the severe splendours of Peace ; 
and he that has the right to strike is he who has learnt 
to spare/' 

Talking all this nonsense with extreme rapidity and 
vast oratorical flourishes of the hand, Captain Dalroy 
proceeded to trundle both the big cheese and the cask 
of rum into the house of the astonished cottager : Mr. 
Pump following with a grim placidity and his gun under 
his arm. 

1 Lord Ivywood/ said Dalroy, setting the rum cask 


with a bump on the plain deal table, ' wishes to take 
wine with you. Or, more strictly speaking, rum. Don't 
you run away, my friend, with any of these stories about 
Lord Ivywood being opposed to drink. Three-bottle 
Ivywood, we call him in the kitchen. But it must be 
rum : nothing but rum for the Ivy woods. " Wine may 
be a mocker," he was saying the other day (and I par- 
ticularly noted the phrasing, which seemed to be very 
happy even for his lordship ; he was standing at the 
top of the steps, and I stopped cleaning them to make a 
note of it), " wine may be a mocker; strong drink 
may be raging, but nowhere in the sacred pages will you 
find one word of censure of the sweeter spirit sacred to 
them that go down to the sea in ships ; no tongue of 
priest and prophet was ever lifted to break the sacred 
silence of Holy Writ about rum." He then explained 
to me/ went on Dalroy, signing to Pump to tap the 
cask according to his own technical secret, ' that the 
great tip for avoiding any bad results that a cask or 
two of rum might have on young and inexperienced 
people was to eat cheese with it, particularly this kind 
of cheese that I have here. I 've forgotten its name/ 

1 Cheddar/ said Pump quite gravely. 

' But mind you ! ' continued the Captain almost 
ferociously, shaking his big finger in warning at the 
aged man. ' Mind you, no bread with the cheese. All 
the devastating ruin wrought by cheese on the once 
happy homes of this country, has been due to the reck- 
less and insane experiment of eating bread with it. 
You '11 get no bread from me, my friend. Indeed, Lord 
Ivywood has given directions that the allusion to this 
ignorant and depraved habit shall be eliminated from 
the Lord's Prayer. Have a drink/ 

He had already poured out a little of the spirit into 
two thick tumblers and a broken teacup, which he had 
induced the aged man to produce ; and now solemnly 
pledged him. 

' Thank ye kindly, sir/ said the old man, using his 
cracked voice for the first time. Then he drank ; and 


his old face changed as if it were an old horn lantern 
in which the flame began to rise. 

1 Ar/ he said. ' My son be a sailor/ 

' I wish him a happy voyage/ said the Captain. 
' And I '11 sing you a song about the first sailor there 
ever was in the world ; and who (as Lord Ivywood 
acutely observes) lived before the time of rum/ 

He sat down on a wooden chair and lifted his loud 
voice once more, beating on the table with the broken 

4 Old Noah he had an ostrich farm and fowls on the largest 


He ate his egg with a ladle in an egg-cup big as a pail, 
And the soup he took was Elephant Soup and the fish he 

took was Whale, 
But they all were small to the cellar he took when he set out 

to sail, 

And Noah he often said to his wife when he sat down to dine, 
" I don't care where the water goes if it doesn't get into the 


The cataract of the cliff of heaven fell blinding off the brink 
As if it would wash the stars away as suds go down a sink, 
The seven heavens came roaring down for the throats of hell 

to drink, 
And Noah he cocked his eye and said, " It looks like rain, I 

The water has drowned the Matterhorn as deep as a Mendip 

But I don't care where the water goes if it doesn't get into the 

wine. 5 ' 

But Noah he sinned, and we have sinned ; on tipsy feet we trod, 
Till a great big black teetotaller was sent to us for a rod, 
And you can't get wine at a P.S.A., or chapel, or Eisteddfod, 
For the Curse of Water has come again because of the wrath 

of God, 
And water is on the Bishop's board and the Higher Thinker's 

But I don't care where the water goes if it doesn't get into 

the wine.' 

' Lord Ivy wood's favourite song/ concluded Mr. 
Patrick Dalroy, drinking. 



T"\OUBTLESS the unsympathetic might state my 
|r^ doctrine that one should not own a motor like a 
horse, but rather use it like a flying dragon in the simpler 
form that I will always go motoring in somebody else's 
car. My favourite modern philosopher (Mr. W. W. 
J acobs) describes a similar case of spiritual delicacy mis- 
understood. I have not the book at hand ; but I think 
that Job Brown was reproaching Bill Chambers for 
wasteful drunkenness, and Henery Walker spoke up for 
Bill, and said he scarcely ever had a glass but what some- 
body else paid for it ; and there was ' unpleasantness 
all round then/ 

Being less sensitive than Bill Chambers (or whoever it 
was) I will risk this rude perversion of my meaning, and 
concede that I was in a motor-car yesterday, and the 
motor-car most certainly was not my own, and the 
journey, though it contained nothing that is specially un- 
usual on such journeys, had running through it a strain of 
the grotesque which was at once wholesome and humili- 
ating. The symbol of that influence was that ancient 
symbol of the humble and humorous a donkey. 

When first I saw the donkey I saw him in the sunlight 
as the unearthly gargoyle that he is. My friend had 
met me in his car (I repeat firmly, in his car) at the little 
painted station in the middle of the warm wet woods 
and hop-fields of that western country. He proposed to 
drive me first to his house beyond the village before 
starting for a longer spin of adventure, and we rattled 
through those rich green lanes which have in them some- 
thing singularly analogous to fairy tales : whether the 
lanes produced the fairies or (as I believe) the fairies 
produced the lanes. All around in the glimmering hop- 
yards stood those little hop-kilns like stunted and slant- 
ing spires. They look like dwarfish churches in fact, 

1 From Alarms and Diseursions. 


rather like many modern churches I could mention, 
churches all of them small and each of them a little 
crooked. In this elfin atmosphere we swung round a 
sharp corner and half-way up a steep, white hill, and 
saw what looked at first like a tall, black monster against 
the sun. It appeared to be a dark and dreadful woman 
walking on wheels and waving long ears like a bat's. A 
second glance told me that she was not the local witch 
in a state of transition ; she was only one of the million 
tricks of perspective. She stood up in a small wheeled 
cart drawn by a donkey ; the donkey's ears were just 
behind her head, and the whole was black against the 

Perspective is really the comic element in everything. 
It has a pompous Latin name, but it is incurably Gothic 
and grotesque. One simple proof of this is that it is 
always left out of all dignified and decorative art. There 
is no perspective in the Elgin Marbles, and even the essen- 
tially angular angels in mediaeval stained glass almost 
always (as it says in Patience] contrive to look both 
angular and flat. There is something intrinsically dis- 
proportionate and outrageous in the idea of the distant 
objects dwindling and growing dwarfish, the closer objects 
swelling enormous and intolerable. There is something 
frantic in the notion that one's own father by walking a 
little way can be changed by a blast of magic to a pigmy. 
There is something farcical in the fancy that Nature 
keeps one's uncle in an infinite number of sizes, accord- 
ing to where he is to stand. All soldiers in retreat turn 
into tin soldiers ; all bears in rout into toy bears ; as if 
on the ultimate horizon of the world everything was 
sardonically doomed to stand up laughable and little 

against heaven. 


It was for this reason that the old woman and her 
donkey struck us first when seen from behind as one 
black grotesque. I afterwards had the chance of seeing 
the old woman, the cart, and the donkey fairly, in flank 
and in all their length. I saw the old woman and the 


donkey passant, as they might have appeared heraldi- 
cally on the shield of some heroic family. I saw the old 
woman and the donkey dignified, decorative, and flat, as 
they might have marched across the Elgin Marbles. Seen 
thus under an equal light, there was nothing specially 
ugly about them ; the cart was long and sufficiently com- 
fortable ; the donkey was stolid and sufficiently respect- 
able ; the old woman was lean but sufficiently strong, 
and even smiling in a sour, rustic manner. But seen 
from behind they looked like one black monstrous 
animal ; the dark donkey ears seemed like dreadful 
wings, and the tall dark back of the woman, erect like a 
tree, seemed to grow taller and taller until one could 
almost scream. 

Then we went by her with a blasting roar like a railway 
train, and fled far from her over the brow of the hill to 
my friend's home. 

There we paused only for my friend to stock the car 
with some kind of picnic paraphernalia, and so started 
again, as it happened, by the way we had come. Thus 
it fell that we went shattering down that short, sharp 
hill again before the poor old woman and her donkey 
had managed to crawl to the top of it ; and seeing them 
under a different light, I saw them very differently. 
Black against the sun, they had seemed comic ; but 
bright against greenwood and grey cloud, they were not 
comic but tragic ; for there are not a few things that 
seem fantastic in the twilight, and in the sunlight are 
sad. I saw that she had a grand, gaunt mask of ancient 
honour and endurance, and wide eyes sharpened to two 
shining points, as if looking for that small hope on the 
horizon of human life. I also saw that her cart contained 

' Don't you feel, broadly speaking, a beast/ I asked 
my friend, ' when you go so easily and so fast ? ' For 
we had crashed by so that the crazy cart must have 
thrilled in every stick of it. 

My friend was a good man, and said, ' Yes. But I 
don't think it would do her any good if I went slower/ 


' No/ I assented after reflection. ' Perhaps the only 
pleasure we can give to her or any one else is to get out 
of their sight very soon.' 

My friend availed himself of this advice in no niggard 
spirit ; I felt as if we were fleeing for our lives in throttling 
fear after some frightful atrocity. In truth, there is 
only one difference left between the secrecy of the two 
social classes : the poor hide themselves in darkness and 

the rich hide themselves in distance. They both hide. 

As we shot like a lost boat over a cataract down into 
a whirlpool of white roads far below, I saw afar a black 
dot crawling like an insect. I looked again : I could 
hardly believe it. There was the slow old woman, with 
her slow old donkey, still toiling along the main road. 
I asked my friend to slacken, but when he said of the 
car, ' She 's wanting to go/ I knew it was all up with 
him. For when you have called a thing femaleyou have 
yielded to it utterly. We passed the old woman with a 
shock that must have shaken the earth : if her head did 
not reel and her heart quail, I know not what they were 
made of. And when we had fled perilously on in the 
gathering dark, spurning hamlets behind us, I suddenly 
called out, ' Why, what asses we are ! Why, it 's She 
that is brave she and the donkey. We are safe 
enough ; we are artillery and plate-armour : and she 
stands up to us with matchwood and a snail ! If you 
had grown old in a quiet valley, and people began firing 
cannon-balls as big as cabs at you in your seventieth 
year, wouldn't you jump and she never moved an 
eyelid. Oh ! we go very fast and very far, no doubt 

As I spoke came a curious noise, and my friend, instead 
of going fast, began to go very slow ; then he stopped ; 
then he got out. Then he said, ' And I left the Stepney 

The grey moths came out of the wood, and the yellow 
stars came out to crown it, as my friend, with the lucidity 
of despair, explained to me (on the soundest scientific 
principles, of course) that nothing would be any good 


at all. We must sleep the night in the lane, except in 
the very unlikely event of some one coming by to carry 
a message to some town. Twice I thought I heard some 
tiny sound of such approach, and it died away like wind 
in the trees, and the motorist was already asleep when I 
heard it renewed and realized. Something certainly was 
approaching. I ran up the road and there it was. 
Yes, It and She. Thrice had she come, once comic 
and once tragic and once heroic. And when she came 
again it was as if in pardon on a pure errand of prosaic 
pity and relief. I am quite serious. I do not want you 
to laugh. It is not the first time a donkey has been 
received seriously, nor one riding a donkey with respect. 


ONE silver morning I walked into a small grey town 
of stone, like twenty other grey western towns, 
which happened to be called Glastonbury ; and saw the 
magic thorn of near two thousand years growing in the 
open air as casually as any bush in my garden. 

In Glastonbury, as in all noble and humane things, 
the myth is more important than the history. One 
cannot say anything stronger of the strange old tale of 
St. Joseph and the Thorn than that it dwarfs St. Dunstan. 
Standing among the actual stones and shrubs one thinks 
of the first century and not of the tenth ; one's mind 
goes back beyond the Saxons and beyond the greatest 
statesman of the Dark Ages. The tale that Joseph of 
Arimathea came to Britain is presumably a mere legend. 
But it is not by any means so incredible or preposterous 
a legend as many modern people suppose. The popular 
notion is that the thing is quite comic and inconceivable ; 
as if one said that Wat Tyler went to Chicago, or that 
John Bunyan discovered the North Pole. We think of 

1 From Alarms and Discursions. 


Palestine as little, localized and very private, of Christ's 
followers as poor folk, astricti glebis, rooted to their 
towns or trades ; and we think of vast routes of travel 
and constant world-communications as things of recent 
and scientific origin. But this is wrong ; at least, the 
last part of it is. It is part of that large and placid lie 
that the rationalists tell when they say that Christianity 
arose in ignorance and barbarism. Christianity arose 
in the thick of a brilliant and bustling cosmopolitan civi- 
lization. Long sea-voyages were not so quick, but were 
quite as incessant as to-day ; and though in the nature 
of things Christ had not many rich followers, it is not 
unnatural to suppose that He had some. And a Joseph 
of Arimathea may easily have been a Roman citizen 
with a yacht that could visit Britain. The same fallacy is 
employed with the same partisan motive in the case of 
the Gospel of St. John ; which critics say could not have 
been written by one of the first few Christians because 
of its Greek transcendentalism and its Platonic tone. I 
am no judge of the philology, but every human being is 
a divinely appointed judge of the philosophy : and the 
Platonic tone seems to me to prove nothing at all. 
Palestine was not a secluded valley of barbarians ; it 
was an open province of a polyglot empire, overrun with 
all sorts of people of all kinds of education. To take a 
rough parallel : suppose some great prophet arose among 
the Boers in South Africa. The prophet himself might 
be a simple or unlettered man. But no one who knows 
the modern world would be surprised if one of his closest 
followers were a Professor from Heidelberg or an M.A. 
from Oxford. 

All this is not urged here with any notion of proving 
that the tale of the thorn is not a myth. As I have said, 
it probably is a myth. It is urged with the much more 
important object of pointing out the proper attitude 
towards such myths. The proper attitude is one of 
doubt and hope and of a kind of light mystery. The tale 
is certainly not impossible ; as it is certainly not certain. 
And through all the ages since the Roman Empire men 


have fed their healthy fancies and their historical 
imagination upon the very twilight condition of such 
tales. But to-day real agnosticism has declined along 
with real theology. People cannot leave a creed alone ; 
though it is the essence of a creed to be clear. But 
neither can they leave a legend alone ; though it is the 
essence of a legend to be vague. That sane half-scepti- 
cism which was found in all rustics, in all ghost tales 
and fairy tales, seems to be a lost secret. Modern people 
must make scientifically certain that St. Joseph did or 
did not go to Glastonbury, despite the fact that it is now 
quite impossible to find out ; and that it does not, in a 
religious sense, very much matter. But it is essential 
to feel that he may have gone to Glastonbury : all songs, 
arts, and dedications branching and blossoming like the 
thorn, are rooted in some such sacred doubt. Taken 
thus, not heavily like a problem but lightly like an old 
tale, the thing does lead one along the road of very 
strange realities, and the thorn is found growing in the 
heart of a very secret maze of the soul. Something is 
really present in the place ; some closer contact with the 
thing which covers Europe but is still a secret. Somehow 
the grey town and the green bush touch across the world 
the strange small country of the garden and the grave ; 
there is verily some communion between the thorn tree 
and the crown of thorns. 

A man never knows what tiny thing will startle him 
to such ancestral and impersonal tears. Piles of superb 
masonry will often pass like a common panorama ; and 
on this grey and silver morning the ruined towers of the 
cathedral stood about me somewhat vaguely like grey 
clouds. But down in a hollow where the local anti- 
quaries are making a fruitful excavation, a magnificent 
old ruffian with a pickaxe (whom I believe to have been 
St. Joseph of Arimathea) showed me a fragment of the 
old vaulted roof which he had found in the earth ; and 
on the whitish grey stone there was just a faint brush of 
gold. There seemed a piercing and swordlike pathos, 
an unexpected fragrance of all forgotten or desecrated 


things, in the bare survival of that poor little pigment* 
upon the imperishable rock. To the strong shapes of 
the Roman and the Gothic I had grown accustomed ; 
but that weak touch of colour was at once tawdry and 
tender, like some popular keepsake. Then I knew that 
all my fathers were 'men like me ; for the columns and 
arches were grave, and told of the gravity of the builders ; 
but here was one touch of their gaiety. I almost ex- 
pected it to fade from the stone as I stared. It was as 
if men had been able to preserve a fragment of a sunset. 
And then I remembered how the artistic critics have 
always praised the grave tints and the grim shadows of 
the crumbling cloisters and abbey towers, and how they 
themselves often dress up like Gothic ruins in the sombre 
tones of dim grey walls or dark green ivy. I remem- 
bered how they hated almost all primary things, but 
especially primary colours. I knew they were appre- 
ciating much more delicately and truly than I the 
sublime skeleton and the mighty fungoids of the dead 
Glastonbury. But I stood for an instant alive in the 
living Glastonbury, gay with gold and coloured like the 
toy-book of a child. 


IT is within my experience, which is very brief and 
occasional in this matter, that it is not really at all 
easy to talk in a motor-car. This is fortunate ; first, 
because, as a whole, it prevents me from motoring ; and 
second because, at any given moment, it prevents me 
from talking. The difficulty is not wholly due to the 
physical conditions, though these are distinctly uncon- 
versational. FitzGerald's Omar, being a pessimist, was 
probably rich, and being a lazy fellow, was almost 
certainly a motorist. If any doubt could exist on the 

1 From Alarms and Discursions. 


point, it is enough to say that, in speaking of the foolish 
profits, Omar has defined the difficulties of colloquial 
motoring with a precision which cannot be accidental. 
1 Their words to wind are scattered ; and their mouths 
are stopped with dust/ From this follows not (as many 
of the cut-and-dried philosophers would say) a savage 
silence and mutual hostility, but rather one of those 
rich silences that make the mass and bulk of all friend- 
ship ; the silence of men rowing the same boat or fighting 
in the same battle-line. 

It happened that the other day I hired a motor-car, 
because I wanted to visit in very rapid succession the 
battle-places and hiding-places of Alfred the Great ; and 
for a thing of this sort a motor is really appropriate. It 
is not by any means the best way of seeing the beauty 
of the country ; you see beauty better by walking, and 
best of all by sitting still. But it is a good method in 
any enterprise that involves a parody of the military or 
governmental quality anything which needs to know 
quickly the whole contour of a county or the rough, 
relative position of men and towns. On such a journey, 
like jagged lightning, I sat from morning till night by 
the side of the chauffeur ; and we scarcely exchanged 
a word to the hour. But by the time the yellow stars 
came out in the villages and the white stars in the skies, 
I think I understood his character ; and I fear he under- 
stood mine. 

He was a Cheshire man with a sour, patient, and 
humorous face ; he was modest, though a north country- 
man, and genial, though an expert. He spoke (when he 
spoke at all) with a strong northland accent ; and he 
evidently was new to the beautiful south country, as was 
clear both from his approval and his complaints. But 
though he came from the north he was agricultural and 
not commercial in origin ; he looked at the land rather 
than the towns, even if he looked at it with a somewhat 
more sharp and utilitarian eye. His first remark for 
some hours was uttered when we were crossing the more 
coarse and desolate heights of Salisbury Plain. .He 


remarked that he had always thought that Salisbury 
Plain was a plain. This alone showed that he was new 
to the vicinity. But he also said, with a critical frown, 
' A lot of this land ought to be good land enough. Why 
don't they use it ? ' He was then silent for some more 

At an abrupt angle of the slopes that lead down from 
what is called (with no little humour) Salisbury Plain, I 
saw suddenly, as by accident, something I was looking 
for that is, something I did not expect to see. We are 
all supposed to be trying to walk into heaven ; but we 
should be uncommonly astonished if we suddenly walked 
into it. As I was leaving Salisbury Plain (to put it 
roughly) I lifted up my eyes and saw the White Horse 
of Britain. 

One or two truly fine poets of the Tory and Protestant 
type, such as Swinburne and Mr. Rudyard Kipling, have 
eulogized England under the image of white horses, 
meaning the white-maned breakers of the Channel. 
This is right and natural enough. The true philoso- 
phical Tory goes back to ancient things because he 
thinks they will be anarchic things. It would startle 
him very much to be told that there are white horses of 
artifice in England that may be older than those wild 
white horses of the elements. Yet it is truly so. Nobody 
knows how old are those strange green and white hiero- 
glyphics, those straggling quadrupeds of chalk, that 
stand out on the sides of so many of the Southern Downs. 
They are possibly older than Saxon and older than 
Roman times. They may well be older than British, 
older than any recorded times. They may go back, for 
all we know, to the first faint seeds of human life on this 
planet. Men may have picked a horse out of the grass 
long before they scratched a horse on a vase or pot, or 
messed and massed any horse out of clay. This may 
be the oldest human art before building or graving. 
And if so, it may have first happened in another geo- 
logical age ; before the sea burst through the narrow 
Straits of Dover. The White Horse may have begun in 


Berkshire when there were no white horses at Folkestone 
or Newhaven. That rude but evident white outline 
that I saw across the valley may have been begun when 
Britain was not an island. We forget that there are 
many places where art is older than nature. 

We took a long detour through somewhat easier roads, 
till we came to a breach or chasm in the valley, from 
which we saw our friend the White Horse once more. 
At least, we thought it was our friend the White Horse ; 
but after a little inquiry we discovered to our astonish- 
ment that it was another friend and another horse. 
Along the leaning flanks of the same fair valley there 
was (it seemed) another white horse, as rude and as 
clean, as ancient and as modern, as the first. This, at 
least, I thought must be the aboriginal White Horse 
of Alfred, which I had always heard associated with his 
name. And yet before we had driven into Wantage and 
seen King Alfred's quaint grey statue in the sun, we had 
seen yet a third white horse. And the third white 
horse was so hopelessly unlike a horse that we were 
sure that it was genuine. The final and original white 
horse, the white horse of the White Horse Vale, has that 
big, babyish quality that truly belongs to our remotest 
ancestors. It really has the prehistoric, preposterous 
quality of Zulu or New Zealand native drawings. This 
at least was surely made by our fathers when they were 
- barely men ; long before they were civilized men. 

But why was it made ? Why did barbarians take so 
much trouble to make a horse nearly as big as a hamlet ; 
a horse who could bear no hunter, who could drag no 
load ? What was this titanic, subconscious instinct 
for spoiling a beautiful green slope with a very ugly 
white quadruped ? What (for the matter of that) is 
this whole hazardous fancy of humanity ruling the 
earth, which may have begun with white horses, which 
may by no means end with twenty horse-power cars ? 
As I rolled away out of that country, I was still cloudily 
considering how ordinary men ever came to want to 
make such strange chalk horses, when my chauffeur 


startled me by speaking for the first time for nearly two 
hours. He suddenly let go one of the handles and 
pointed at a gross green bulk of down that happened to 
swell above us. 

' That would be a good place/ he said. 

Naturally I referred to his last speech of some hours 
before ; and supposed he meant that it would be 
promising for agriculture. As a fact, it was quite un- 
promising ; and this made me suddenly understand the 
quiet ardour in his eye. All of a sudden I saw what 
he really meant. He really meant that this would be a 
splendid place to pick out another white horse. He 
knew no more than I did why it was done ; but he was 
in some unthinkable prehistoric tradition, because he 
wanted to do it. He became so acute in sensibility 
that he could not bear to pass any broad breezy hill of 
grass on which there was not a white horse. He could' 
hardly keep his hands off the hills. He could hardly 
leave any of the living grass alone. 

Then I left off wondering why the primitive man made 
so many white horses. I left off troubling in what sense 
the ordinary eternal man had sought to scar or deface 
the hills. I was content to know that he did want it ; 
for I had seen him wanting it. 


I SAW in a newspaper paragraph the other day the 
following entertaining and deeply philosophical 
incident. A man was enlisting as a soldier at Ports- 
mouth, and some form was put before him to be filled 
up, common, I suppose, to all such cases, in which was, 
among other things, an inquiry about what was his 
religion. With an equal and ceremonial gravity the 
man wrote down the word ' Methuselahite.' Whoever 

1 From All Things Considered. 


looks over such papers must, I should imagine, have 
seen some rum religions in his time ; unless the Army is 
going to the dogs. But with all his specialist know- 
ledge he could not ' place ' Methuselahlsm among what 
Bossuet called the variations of Protestantism. He felt 
a fervid curiosity about the tenets and tendencies of the 
sect ; and he asked the soldier what it meant. The 
soldier replied that it was his religion ' to live as long as 
he could/ 

Now, considered as an incident in the religious history 
of Europe, that answer of that soldier was worth more 
than a hundred cartloads of quarterly and monthly 
and weekly and daily papers discussing religious prob- 
lems and religious books. Every day the daily paper 
reviews some new philosopher who has some new 
religion ; and there is not in the whole two thousand 
words of the whole two columns one word as witty or as 
wise as that word ' Methuselahite/ The whole mean- 
ing of literature is simply to cut a long story short ; 
that is why our modern books of philosophy are never 
literature. That soldier had in him the very soul of 
literature ; he was one of the great phrase-makers of 
modern thought, like Victor Hugo or Disraeli. He 
found one word that defines the paganism of to-day. 

Henceforward, when the modern philosophers come 
to me with their new religions (and there is always a 
kind of queue of them waiting all the way down the 
street) I shall anticipate their circumlocutions and be 
able to cut them short with a single inspired word. One 
of them will begin, ' The New Religion, which is based 
upon that Primordial Energy in Nature . . / ' Methu- 
selahite/ I shall say sharply ; ' good morning.' ' Human 
Life/ another will say, ' Human Life, the only ultimate 
sanctity, freed from creed and dogma . . / ' Methu- 
selahite ! ' I shall yell. ' Out you go ! ' ' My religion 
is the Religion of Joy/ a third will explain (a bald old 
man with a cough and tinted glasses), ' the Religion of 
Physical Pride and Rapture, and my . . / ' Methu- 
selahite ! ' I shall cry again, and I shall slap him boister- 


ously on the back, and he will fall down. Then a pale 
young poet with serpentine hair will come and say to 
me (as one did only the other day) : ' Moods and im- 
pressions are the only realities, and these are constantly 
and wholly changing. I could hardly therefore define 
my religion, . . .' 'I can/ I should say, somewhat 
sternly. ' Your religion is to live a long time ; and if 
you stop here a moment longer you won't fulfil it.' 

A new philosophy generally means in practice the 
praise of some old vice. We "have had the sophist who 
defends cruelty, and calls it masculinity. We have had 
the sophist who defends profligacy, and calls it the 
liberty of the emotions. We have had the sophist who 
defends idleness, and calls it art. It will almost cer- 
tainly happen it can almost certainly be prophesied 
that in this saturnalia of sophistry there will at some 
time or other arise a sophist who desires to idealize 
cowardice. And when we are once in this unhealthy 
world of mere wild words, what a vast deal there would 
be to say for cowardice ! ' Is not life a lovely thing and 
worth saving ? ' the soldier would say as he ran away. 
' Should I not prolong the exquisite miracle of conscious- 
ness ? ' the householder would say as he hid under the 
table. ' As long as there are roses and lilies on the 
earth shall I not remain there ? ' would come the voice 
of the citizen from under the bed. It would be quite as 
easy to defend the coward as a kind of poet and mystic 
as it has been, in many recent books, to defend the 
emotionalist as a kind of poet and mystic, or the tyrant 
as a kind of poet and mystic. When that last grand 
sophistry and morbidity is preached in a book or on a 
platform, you may depend upon it there will be a great 
stir in its favour, that is, a great stir among the little 
people who live among books and platforms. There will 
be a new great Religion, the Religion of Methuselahism : 
with pomps and priests and altars. Its devout crusaders 
will vow themselves in thousands with a great vow to 
live long. But there is one comfort : they won't. 

For, indeed, the weakness of this worship of mere 


natural life (which is a common enough creed to-day) 
is that it ignores the paradox of courage and fails in its 
own aim. As a matter of fact, no men would be killed 
quicker than the Methuselahites. The paradox of 
courage is that a man must be a little careless of his life 
even in order to keep it. And in the very case I have 
quoted we may see an example of how little the theory 
of Methuselahism really inspires our best life. For 
there is one riddle in that case which cannot easily 
be cleared up. If it was the man's religion to live as 
long as he could, why on earth was he enlisting as a 
soldier ? 


I FEEL an almost savage envy on hearing that 
London has been flooded in my absence, while I 
am in the mere country. My own Battersea has been, 
I understand, particularly favoured as a meeting of the 
waters. Battersea was already, as I need hardly say, 
the most beautiful of human localities. Now that it 
has the additional splendour of great sheets of water, 
there must be something quite incomparable in the 
landscape (or waterscape) of my own romantic town. 
Battersea must be a vision of Venice. The boat that 
brought the meat from the butcher's must have shot 
along those lanes of rippling silver with the strange 
smoothness of the gondola. The greengrocer who 
brought cabbages to the corner of the Latchmere Road 
must have leant upon the oar with the unearthly grace 
of the gondolier. There is nothing so perfectly poetical 
as an island ; and when a district is flooded it becomes 
an archipelago. 

Some consider such romantic views of flood or fire 

1 From All Things Considered. 


slightly lacking in reality. But really this romantic 
view of such inconveniences is quite as practical as the 
other. The true optimist who sees in such things an 
opportunity for enjoyment is quite as logical and much 
more sensible than the ordinary ' Indignant Ratepayer ' 
who sees in them an opportunity for grumbling. Real 
pain, as in the case of being burnt a,t Smithfield or having 
a toothache, is a positive thing ; it can be supported, 
but scarcely enjoyed. But, after all, our toothaches are 
the exception, and as for being burnt at Smithfield, it 
only happens to us at the very longest intervals. And 
most of the inconveniences that make men swear or 
women cry are really sentimental or imaginative incon- 
veniences things altogether of the mind. For instance, 
we often hear grown-up people complaining of having 
to hang about a railway station and wait for a train. 
Did you ever hear a small boy complain of having to 
hang about a railway station and wait for a train ? No ; 
for to him to be inside a railway station is to be inside 
a cavern of wonder and a palace of poetical pleasures. 
Because to him the red light and the green light on the 
signal are like a new sun and a new moon. Because to 
him when the wooden arm of the signal falls down 
suddenly, it is as if a great king had thrown down his 
staff as a signal and started a shrieking tournament of 
trains. I myself am of little boys' habit in this matter. 
They also serve who only stand and wait for the two 
fifteen. Their meditations may be full of rich and 
fruitful things. Many of tte most purple hours of my 
life have been passed at Clapham Junction, which is 
now, I suppose, under water. I have been there in 
many moods so fixed and mystical that the water might 
well have come up to my waist befpre I noticed it par- 
ticularly. But in the case of all such annoyances, as I 
have said, everything depends upon the emotional 
point of view. You can safely apply the test to almost 
every one of the things that are currently talked of as 
the typical nuisance of daily life. 

For instance, there is a current impression that it is 


unpleasant to have to run after one's hat. Why should 
it be unpleasant to the well-ordered and pious mind ? 
Not merely because it is running, and running exhausts 
one. The same people run much faster in games and 
sports. The same people run much more eagerly after 
an uninteresting little leather ball than they will after 
a nice silk hat. There is an idea that it is humiliating 
to run after one's hat ; and when people say it is humili- 
ating they mean that it is comic. It certainly is comic ; 
but man is a very comic creature, and most of the things 
he does are comic eating, for instance. And the most 
comic things of all are exactly the things that are most 
worth doing such as making love. A man running 
after a hat is not half so ridiculous as a man running 
after a wife. 

Now a man could, if he felt rightly in the matter, run 
after his hat with the manliest ardour and the most 
sacred joy. He might regard himself as a jolly hunts- 
man pursuing a wild animal, for certainly no animal 
could be wilder. In fact, I am inclined to believe that 
hat-hunting on windy days will be the sport of the upper 
classes in the future. There will be a meet of ladies and 
gentlemen on some high ground on a gusty morning. 
They will be told that the professional attendants have 
started a hat in such-and-such a thicket, or whatever 
be the technical term. Notice that this employment 
will in the fullest degree combine sport with humani- 
tarianism. The hunters would feel that they were not 
inflicting pain. Nay, they would feel that they were 
inflicting pleasure, rich, almost riotous pleasure, upon 
the people who were looking on. When last I saw an 
old gentleman running after his hat in Hyde Park, I 
told him that a heart so benevolent as his ought to be 
filled with peace and thanks at the thought of how much 
unaffected pleasure his every gesture and bodily attitude 
were at that moment giving to the crowd. 

The same principle can be applied to every other 
typical domestic worry. A gentleman trying to get a 
fly out of the milk or a piece of cork out of his glass of 


wine often imagines himself to be irritated. Let him 
think for a moment of the patience of anglers sitting by 
dark pools, and let his soul be immediately irradiated 
with gratification and repose. Again, I have known 
some people of very modern views driven by their 
distress to the use of theological terms to which they 
attached no doctrinal significance, merely because a 
drawer was jammed tight and they could not pull it 
out. A friend of mine was particularly afflicted in this 
way. Every day his drawer was jammed, and every 
day in consequence it was something else that rhymes 
to it. But I pointed out to him that this sense of 
wrong was really subjective and relative ; it rested 
entirely upon the assumption that the drawer could, 
should, and would come out easily. ' But if/ I said, 
' you picture to yourself that you are pulling against 
some powerful and oppressive enemy, the struggle will 
become merely exciting and not exasperating. Imagine 
that you are tugging up a lifeboat out of the sea. Imagine 
that you are roping up a fellow-creature out of an Alpine 
crevasse. Imagine even that you are a boy again and 
engaged in a tug-of-war between French and English/ 
Shortly after saying this I left him ; but I have no doubt 
at all that my words bore the best possible fruit. I have 
no doubt that every day of his life he hangs on the 
handle of that drawer with a flushed face and eyes bright 
with battle, uttering encouraging shouts to himself, and 
seeming to hear all round him the roar of an applauding 

So I do not think that it is altogether fanciful or in- 
credible to suppose that even the floods in London may 
be accepted and enjoyed poetically. Nothing beyond 
inconvenience seems really to have been caused by them ; 
and inconvenience, as I have said, is only one aspect, 
and that the most unimaginative and accidental aspect 
of a really romantic situation. An adventure is only 
an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience 
is only an adventure wrongly considered. The water 
that girdled the houses and shops of London must, if 


anything, have only increased their previous witchery 
and wonder. For as the Roman Catholic priest in the 
story said : ' Wine is good with everything except 
water/ and on a similar principle, water is good with 
everything except wine. 


I STOOD looking at the Coronation Procession I 
mean the one in Beaconsfield ; not the rather 
elephantine imitation of it which, I believe, had some 
success in London and I was seriously impressed. Most 
of my life is passed in discovering with a deathly surprise 
that I was quite right. Never before have I realized 
how right I was in maintaining that the small area ex- 
presses the real patriotism : the smaller the field the 
taller the tower. There were things in our local proces- 
sion that did not (one might even reverently say, could 
not) occur in the London procession. One of the most 
prominent citizens in our procession (for instance) had 
his face blacked. Another rode on a pony which wore 
pink and blue trousers. I was not present at the Metro- 
politan affair, and therefore my assertion is subject to 
such correction as the eye-witness may always offer to 
the absentee. But I believe with some firmness that 
no such features occurred in the London pageant. 

But it is not of the local celebration that I would 
speak, but of something that occurred before it. In 
the field beyond the end of my garden the materials for 
a bonfire had been heaped ; a hill of every kind of 
rubbish and refuse and things that nobody wants ; 
broken chairs, dead trees, rags, shavings, newspapers, 
new religions, in pamphlet form, reports of the Eugenic 
Congress, and so on. All this refuse, material and 

1 From A Miscellany of Men. 


mental, it was our purpose to purify and change to holy 
flame on the day when the King was crowned. The 
following is an account of the rather strange thing that 
really happened. I do not know whether it was any 
sort of symbol ; but I narrate it just as it befell. 

In the middle of the night I woke up slowly and 
listened to what I supposed to be the heavy crunching 
of a cart-wheel along a road "of loose stones. Then it 
grew louder, and I thought somebody was shooting out 
cart-loads of stones ; then it seemed as if the shock was 
breaking big stones into pieces. Then I realized that 
under this sound there was also a strange, sleepy, almost 
inaudible roar ; and that on top of it every now and 
then came pigmy pops like a battle of penny pistols. 
Then I knew what it was. I went to the window ; 
and a great firelight flung across two meadows smote 
me where I stood. ' Oh, my holy aunt/ I thought, 
' they Ve mistaken the Coronation Day/ 

And yet when I eyed the transfigured scene it did not 
seem exactly like a bonfire or any ritual illumination. 
It was too chaotic, and too close to the houses of the 
town. All one side of a cottage was painted pink with 
the giant brush of flame ; the next side, by contrast, 
was painted as black as tar. Along the front of this 
ran a blackening rim or rampart edged with a restless 
red ribbon that danced and doubled and devoured like 
a scarlet snake ; and beyond it was nothing but a 
deathly fullness of light. 

I put on some clothes and went down the road ; all 
the dull or startling noises in that din of burning grow- 
ing louder and louder as I walked. The heaviest sound 
was that of an incessant cracking and crunching, as if 
some giant with teeth of stone was breaking up the 
bones of the world. I had not yet come within sight 
of the real heart and habitat of the fire ; but the strong 
red light, like an unnatural midnight sunset, powdered 
the greyest grass with gold and flushed the few tall 
trees up to the last fingers of their foliage. Behind 
them the night was black and cavernous ; and one 


could only trace faintly the ashen horizon beyond the 
dark and magic Wilton woods. As I went, a workman 
on a bicycle shot a rood past me ; then staggered from 
his machine and shouted to me to tell him where the 
fire was. I answered that I was going to see, but 
thought it was the cottages by the wood-yard. He 
said, ' My God ! ' and vanished. 

A little farther on I found grass and pavement soak- 
ing and flooded, and the red and yellow flames repainted 
in pools and puddles. Beyond were dim huddles of 
people and a small distant voice shouting out orders. 
The fire-engines were at work. I went on among the 
red reflections, which seemed like subterranean fires ; I 
had a singular sensation of being in a very important 
dream. Oddly enough, this was increased when I 
found that most of my friends and neighbours were 
entangled in the crowd. Only in dreams do we see 
familiar faces so vividly against a black background of 
midnight. I was glad to find (for the workman cyclist's 
sake) that the fire was not in the houses by the wood- 
yard, but in the wood-yard itself. There was no fear 
for human life, and the thing was seemingly accidental, 
though there were the usual ugly whispers about rivalry 
and revenge. But for all that I could not shake off my 
dream-drugged soul a swollen, tragic, portentous sort 
of sensation, that it all had something to do with the 
crowning of the English King, and the glory or the end 
of England. It was not till I saw the puddles and the 
ashes in broad daylight next morning that I was funda- 
mentally certain that my midnight adventure had not 
happened outside this world. 

But I was more arrogant than the ancient Emperors 
Pharaoh or Nebuchadnezzar ; for I attempted to in- 
terpret my own dream. The fire was feeding upon 
solid stacks of unused beech or pine, grey and white 
piles of virgin wood. It was an orgy of mere waste ; 
thousands of good things were being killed before they 
had ever existed. Doors, tables, walking-sticks, wheel- 
barrows, wooden swords for boys, Dutch dolls for girls 


I could hear the cry of each uncreated thing as it 
expired in the flames. And then I thought of that 
other noble tower of needless things that stood in the 
field beyond my garden ; the bonfire, the mountain of 
vanities, that is meant for burning ; and how it stood 
dark and lonely in the meadow, and the birds hopped on 
its corners and the dew touched and spangled its twigs. 
And I remembered that there are two kinds of fires, the 
Bad Fire and the Good Fire the last must surely be the 
meaning of Bonfire. And the paradox is that the Good 
Fire is made of bad things, of things that we do not want ; 
but the Bad Fire is made of good things, of things that 
we do want ; like all that wealth of wood that might 
have made dolls and chairs and tables, but was only 
making a hueless ash. 

And then I saw in my vision, that just as there are 
two fires, so there are two revolutions. And I saw that 
the whole mad modern world is a race between them. 
Which will happen first the revolution in which bad 
things shall perish, or that other revolution, in which 
good things shall perish also ? One is the riot that all 
good men, even the most conservative, really dream of, 
when the sneer shall be struck from the face of the well- 
fed ; when the wine of honour shall be poured down the 
throat of despair ; when we shall, so far as to the sons of 
flesh is possible, take tyranny and usury and public 
treason and bind them into bundles and burn them. And 
the other is the disruption that may come prematurely, 
negatively, and suddenly in the night ; like the fire in 
my little town. 

It may come because the mere strain of modern life 
is unbearable ; and in it even the things that men do 
desire may break down : marriage and fair ownership 
and worship and the mysterious worth of man. The 
two revolutions, white and black, are racing each other 
like two railway trains ; I cannot guess the issue . . . 
but even as I thought of it, the tallest turret of the 
timber stooped and faltered and came down in a cataract 
of noises. And the fire, finding passage, went up with 


a spout like a fountain. It stood far up among the 
stars for an instant, a blazing pillar of brass fit for a 
pagan conqueror, so high that one could fancy it visible 
away among the goblin trees of Burnham or along the 
terraces of the Chiltern Hills. 


I AM sitting under tall trees, with a great wind boiling 
like surf about the tops of them, so that their living 
load of leaves rocks and roars in something that is at 
once exultation and agony. I feel, in fact, as if I were 
actually sitting at the bottom of the sea among mere 
anchors and ropes, while over my head and over the 
green twilight of water sounded the everlasting rush of 
waves and the toil and crash and shipwreck of tremen- 
dous ships. The wind tugs at the trees as if it might 
pluck them root and all out of the earth like tufts of 
grass. Or, to try yet another desperate figure of speech 
for this unspeakable energy, the trees are straining and 
tearing and lashing as if they were a tribe of dragons 
each tied by the tail. 

As I look at these top-heavy giants tortured by an 
invisible and violent witchcraft, a phrase comes back 
into my mind. v I remember a little boy of my acquaint- 
ance who was once walking in Battersea Park under 
just such torn skies and tossing trees. He did not like 
the wind at all ; it blew in his face too much ; it made 
him shut his eyes ; and it blew off his hat, of which he 
was very proud. He was, as far as I remember, about 
four. After complaining repeatedly of the atmospheric 
unrest, he said at last to his mother, ' Well, why don't 
you take away the trees, and then it wouldn't wind/ 

Nothing could be more intelligent or natural than 
this mistake. Any one looking for the first time at the 

1 From Tremendous Trifles. 


trees might fancy that they were indeed vast and titanic 
fans, which by their mere waving agitated the air around 
them for miles. Nothing, I say, could be more human 
and excusable than the belief that it is the trees which 
make the wind. Indeed, the belief is so human and 
excusable that it is, as a matter of fact, the belief of 
about ninety-nine out of a hundred of the philosophers, 
reformers, sociologists, and politicians of the great age 
in which we live. My small friend was, in fact, very 

like the principal modern thinkers ; only much nicer. 

In the little apologue or parable which he has thus 
the honour of inventing, the trees stand for all visible 
things and the wind for the invisible. The wind is the 
spirit which bloweth where it listeth ; the trees are the 
material things of the world which are blown where the 
spirit lists. The wind is philosophy, religion, revolu- 
tion ; the trees are cities and civilizations. We only 
know that there is a wind because the trees on some 
distant hill suddenly go mad. We only know that 
there is a real revolution because all the chimney-pots 
go mad on the whole sky-line of the city. 

Just as the ragged outline of a tree grows suddenly 
more ragged and rises into fantastic crests or tattered 
tails, so the human city rises under the wind of the spirit 
into toppling temples or sudden spires. No man has 
ever seen a revolution. Mobs pouring through the 
palaces, blood pouring down the gutters, the guillotine 
lifted higher than the throne, a prison in ruins, a people 
in arms these things are not revolution, but the results 
of revolution. 

You cannot see a wind ; you can only see that there 
is a wind. So, also, you cannot see a revolution ; you 
can only see that there is a revolution. And there never 
has been in the history of the world a real revolution, 
brutally active and decisive, which was not preceded by 
unrest and new dogma in the region of invisible things. 
All revolutions began by being abstract. Most revolu- 
tions began by being quite pedantically abstract. 


The wind is up above the world before a twig on the 
tree has moved. So there must always be a battle in the 
sky before there is a battle on the earth. Since it is 
lawful to pray for the coming of the kingdom, it is lawful 
also to pray for the coming of the revolution that shall 
restore the kingdom. It is lawful to hope to hear the 
wind of heaven in the trees. It is lawful to pray ' Thine 

anger come on earth as it is in heaven/ 


The great human dogma, then, is that the wind moves 
the trees. The great human heresy is that the trees 
move the wind. When people begin to say that the 
material circumstances have alone created the moral 
circumstances, then they have prevented all possibility 
of serious change. For if my circumstances have made 
me wholly stupid, how can I be certain even that I am 
right in altering those circumstances ? 

The man who represents all thought as an accident of 
environment is simply smashing and discrediting all his 
own thoughts including that one. To treat the human 
mind as having an ultimate authority is necessary to any 
kind of thinking, even free thinking. And nothing will 
ever be reformed in this age or country unless we realize 
that the moral fact comes first. 

For example, most of us, I suppose, have seen in print 
and heard in debating clubs an endless discussion that 
goes on between Socialists and total abstainers. The 
latter say that drink leads to poverty ; the former say 
that poverty leads to drink. I can only wonder at either 
of them being content with such simple physical ex- 
planations. Surely it is obvious that the thing which 
among the English proletariat leads to poverty is the 
same as the thing which leads to drink ; the absence of ( 
strong civic dignity, the absence of an instinct that 
resists degradation. 

When you have discovered why the enormous English 
estates were not long ago cut up into small holdings like 
the land of France, you will have discovered why the 
Englishman is more drunken than the Frenchman, The 


Englishman, among his million delightful virtues, really 
has this quality, which may strictly be called ' hand to 
mouth/ because under its influence a man's hand auto- 
matically seeks his own mouth, instead of seeking (as it 
sometimes should do) his oppressor's nose. And a man 
who says that the English inequality in land is due only 
to economic causes, or that the drunkenness of England 
is due only to economic causes, is saying something so 
absurd that he cannot really have thought what he was 

Yet things quite as preposterous as this are said and 
written under the influence of that great spectacle of 
babyish helplessness, the economic theory of history. 
We have people who represent that all great historic 
motives were economic, and then have to howl at the 
top of their voices in order to induce the modern de- 
mocracy to act on economic motives. The extreme 
Marxian politicians in England exhibit themselves as a 
small, heroic minority, trying vainly to induce the world 
to do what, according to their theory, the world always 
does. The truth is, of course, that there will be a social 
revolution the moment the thing has ceased to be 
purely economic. Yom can never have a revolution in 
order to establish a democracy. You must have a 

democracy in order to have a revolution. 


I get up from under the trees, for the wind and the 
slight rain have ceased. The trees stand up like golden 
pillars in a clear sunlight. The tossing of the trees and 
the blowing of the wind have ceased simultaneously. 
So I suppose there are still modern philosophers who 
will maintain that the trees make the wind. 



SOWN somewhere far oft in the shallow dales of 
Hertfordshire there lies a village of great beauty, 
and I doubt not of admirable virtue, but of eccentric and 
unbalanced literary taste, which asked the present writer 
to come down to it on Sunday afternoon and give an 
address. Now it was very difficult to get down to it at 
all on Sunday afternoon, owing to the indescribable state 
into which our national laws and customs have fallen in 
connection with the seventh day. It is not Puritanism ; 
it is simply anarchy. I should have some sympathy 
with the Jewish Sabbath, if it were a Jewish Sabbath, 
and that for three reasons. First, that religion is an 
intrinsically sympathetic thing ; second, that I cannot 
conceive any religion worth calling a religion without 
fixed and material observances ; and third, that the 
particular observance of sitting still and doing no work 
is one that suits my temperament down to the ground. 

But the absurdity of the modern English convention 
is that it does not let a man sit still ; it only perpetually 
trips him up when it has forced him to walk about. 
Our Sabbatarianism does not forbid us to ask a man in 
Battersea to come and talk in Hertfordshire ; it only 
prevents his getting there. I can understand that a 
deity might be worshipped with joys, with flowers, and 
fireworks in the old European style. I can understand 
that a deity might be worshipped with sorrows. But 
I cannot imagine any deity being worshipped with in- 
conveniences. Let the good Moslem go to Mecca, or 
let him abide in his tent, according to his feeling for 
religious symbols. But surely Allah cannot see any- 
thing particularly dignified in his servant being misled 
by the time-table, finding that the old Mecca express 
is not running, missing his connection at Bagdad, or 

1 From Tremendous 7V//.'- 


having to wait three hours in a small side station outside 

So it was with me on this occasion. I found there was 
no telegraph service at all to this place ; I found there 
was only one weak thread of train-service. Now if this 
had been the authority of real English religion, I should 
have submitted to it at once. If I believed that the 
telegraph clerk could not send the telegram because he 
was at that moment rigid in an ecstasy of prayer, I 
should think all telegrams unimportant in comparison. 
If I could believe that railway porters when relieved 
from their duties rushed with passion to the nearest 
place of worship, I should say that all lectures and every- 
thing else ought to give way to such a consideration. I 
should not complain if the national faith forbade me to 
make any appointments of labour or self-expression on 
the Sabbath. But, as it is, it only tells me that I may 
very probably keep the Sabbath by not keeping the 



But I must resume the sad details of my tale. I 
found that there was only one train in the whole of that 
Sunday by which I could even get within several hours 
or several miles of the time or place. I therefore went 
to the telephone, which is one of my favourite toys, and 
down which I have shouted many valuable, but pre- 
maturely arrested, monologues upon art and morals. I 
remember a mild shock of surprise when I discovered 
that one could use the telephone on Sunday ; I did not 
expect it to be cut off, but I expected it to buzz more 
than on ordinary days, to the advancement of our 
national religion. Through this instrument, in fewer 
words than usual, and with a comparative economy of 
epigram, I ordered a taxi-cab to take me to the railway 
station. I have not a word to say in general either 
against telephones or taxi-cabs ; they seem to me two 
of the purest and most poetic of the creations of modern 
scientific civilization. Unfortunately, when the taxi- 
cab started, it did exactly what modern scientific civiliza- 


tion has done it broke down. The result of this was 
that when I arrived at King's Cross my only train was 
gone ; there was a Sabbath calm in the station, a calm in 
the eyes of the porters, and in my breast, if calm at all, 
if any calm, a calm despair. 

There was not, however, very much calm of any sort 
in my breast on first making the discovery ; and it was 
turned to blinding horror when I learnt that I could not 
even send a telegram to the organizers of the meeting. 
To leave my entertainers in the lurch was sufficiently 
exasperating ; to leave them without any intimation 
was simply low. I reasoned with the official. I said : 
' Do you really mean to say that if my brother were 
dying and my mother in this place, I could not communi- 
cate with her ? ' He was a man of literal and laborious 
mind ; he asked me if my brother was dying. I answered 
that he was in excellent and even offensive health, but 
that I was inquiring upon a question of principle. What 
would happen if England were invaded, or if I alone 
knew how to turn aside a comet or an earthquake ? 
He waved away these hypotheses in the most irrespon- 
sible spirit, but he was quite certain that telegrams 
could not reach this particular village. Then something 
exploded in me ; that element of the outrageous which 
is the mother of all adventures sprang up ungovernable, 
and I decided that I would not be a cad merely because 
some of my remote ancestors had been Calvinists. I 
would keep my appointment if I lost all my money and 
all my wits. I went out into the quiet London street, 
where my quiet London cab was still waiting for its fare 
in the cold and misty morning. I placed myself com- 
fortably in the London cab and told the London driver 
to drive me to the other end of Hertfordshire. And he 


I shall not forget that drive. It was doubtful whether, 
even in a motor-cab, the thing was possible with any 
consideration for the driver, not to speak of some slight 
consideration for the people in the road. I urgecl the 


driver to eat and drink something before he started, but 
he said (with I know not what pride of profession or 
delicate sense of adventure) that he would rather do it 
when we arrived if we ever did. I was by no means 
so refined ; I bought a varied selection of pork-pies at a 
little shop that was open (why was that shop open ? 
it is all a mystery) , and ate them as we went along. The 
beginning was sombre and irritating. I was annoyed, 
not with people, but with things, like a baby ; with the 
motor for breaking down and with Sunday for being 
Sunday. And the sight of the northern slums expanded 
and ennobled, but did not decrease, my gloom : White- 
chapel has an Oriental gaudiness in its squalor ; Batter- 
sea and Camberwell have an indescribable bustle of 
democracy ; but the poor parts of North London . . . 
well, perhaps I saw them wrongly under that ashen 
morning and on tjiat foolish errand. 

It was one of those days which more than once this 
year broke the retreat of winter ; a winter day that 
began too late to be spring. We were already clear of 
the obstructing crowds, and quickening our pace through 
a borderland of market gardens and isolated public- 
houses, when the grey showed golden patches and a good 
light began to glitter on everything. The cab went 
quicker and quicker. The open land whirled wider and 
wider ; but I did not lose that sense of being battled 
with and thwarted that I had felt in the thronged slums. 
Rather the feeling increased, because of the great diffi- 
culty of space and time. The faster went the car, the 
fiercer and thicker I felt the fight. 

The whole landscape seemed charging at me and 
just missing me. The tall, shining grass went by like 
showers of arrows ; the very trees seemed like lances 
hurled at my heart, and shaving it by a hair's breadth. 
Across some vast, smooth valley I saw a beech-tree by 
the white road stand up little and defiant. It grew 
bigger and bigger with blinding rapidity. It charged 
me like a tilting knight, seemed to hack at my head, and 
pass by. Sometimes, when we went round a curve of 


road, the effect was yet more awful. It seemed as if 
some tree or windmill swung round to smite like a boome- 
rang. The sun by this time was a blazing fact ; and I 
saw that all Nature is chivalrous and militant. We do 
wrong to seek peace in Nature ; we should rather seek 
the nobler sort of war ; and see all the trees as green 



I niade my speech, arriving just when everybody was 
deciding to leave. When my cab came reeling into the 
market-place they decided, with evident disappointment, 
to remain. Over the lecture I draw a veil. When I 
came back home I was called to the telephone, and a 
meek voice expressed regret for the failure of the motor- 
cab, and even said something about any reasonable 
payment. ' Payment ! ' I cried down the telephone. 
' Whom can I pay for my own superb experience ? 
What is the usual charge for seeing the clouds shattered 
by the sun ? What is the market price of a tree blue on 
the sky-line and then blinding white in the sun ? Men- 
tion your price for that windmill that stood behind the 
hollyhocks in the garden. Let me pay you for . . / 
Here it was, I think, that we were cut off. 


CERTAIN of the great roads going north out of 
London continue far into the country a sort of 
attenuated and interrupted spectre of a street, with great 
gaps in the building, but preserving the line. Here will 
be a group of shops, followed by a fenced field or paddock, 
and then a famous public-house, and then perhaps a 
market garden or a nursery garden, and then one large 
private house, and then another field and another inn, 
and so on. If any one walks along one of these roads he 

1 From The Innocence of Father Bru-ivn. 


will pass a house which will probably catch his eye, 
though he may not be able to explain its attraction. It 
is a long, low house, running parallel with the road, 
painted mostly white and pale green, with a veranda 
and sun-blinds, and porches capped with those quaint 
sort of cupolas like wooden umbrellas that one sees in 
some old-fashioned houses. In fact, it is an old-fashioned 
house, very English and very suburban in the good old 
wealthy Clapham sense. And yet the house has a look 
of. having been built chiefly for the hot weather. Look- 
ing at its white paint and sun-blinds one thinks vaguely 
of pugarees and even of palm trees. I cannot trace the 
feeling to its root ; perhaps the place was built by an 

Any one passing this house, I say, would be namelessly 
fascinated by it ; would feel that it was a place about 
which some story was to be told. And he would have 
been right, as you shall shortly hear. For this is the 
story the story of the strange things that did really 
happen in it in the Whitsuntide of the year 18 : 

Any one passing the house on the Thursday before 
Whit-Sunday at about half-past four P.M. would have 
seen the front door open, and Father Brown, of the small 
church of St. Mungo, come out smoking a large pipe in 
company with a very tall French friend of his called 
Flambeau, who was smoking a very small cigarette. 
These persons may or may not be of interest to the 
reader, but the truth is that they were not the only in- 
teresting things that were displayed when the front 
door of the white- and-green house was opened. There 
are further peculiarities about this house, which must be 
described to start with, not only that the reader may 
understand this tragic tale, but also that he may realize 
what it was that the opening of the door revealed. 

The whole house was built upon the plan of a T, but a 
T with a very long cross-piece and a very short tail-piece. 
The long cross-piece was the frontage that ran along in 
face of the street, with the front door in the middle ; 
it was two storeys high, and contained nearly all the 


important rooms. The short tail-piece, which ran out at 
the back immediately opposite the front door, was one 
storey high, and consisted only of two long rooms, the 
one leading into the other. The first of these two 
rooms was the study in which the celebrated Mr. Quinton 
wrote his wild Oriental poems and romances. The 
farther room was a glass conservatory full of tropical 
blossoms of quite unique and almost monstrous beauty, 
and on such afternoons as these glowing with gorgeous 
sunlight. Thus when the hall door was open, many a 
passer-by literally stopped to stare and gasp ; for he 
looked down a perspective of rich apartments to some- 
thing really like a transformation scene in a fairy play : 
purple clouds and golden suns and crimson stars that 
were at once scorchingly vivid and yet transparent and 
far away. 

Leonard Quinton, the poet, had himself most care- 
fully arranged this effect ; and it is doubtful whether he 
so perfectly expressed his personality in any of his 
poems. For he was a man who drank and bathed in 
colours, who indulged his lust for colour somewhat to 
the neglect of form even of good form. This it was 
that had turned his genius so wholly to Eastern art and 
imagery ; to those bewildering carpets or blinding em- 
broideries in which all the colours seem fallen into a 
fortunate chaos, having nothing to typify or to teach. 
He had attempted, not perhaps with complete artistic 
success, but with acknowledged imagination and inven- 
tion, to compose epics and love stories reflecting the 
riot of violent and even cruel colour ; tales of tropical 
heavens of burning gold or blood-red copper ; of Eastern 
heroes who rode with twelve-turbaned mitres upon 
elephants painted purple or peacock green ; of gigantic 
jewels that a hundred negroes could not carry, but which 
burned with ancient and strange-hued fires. 

In short (to put the matter from the more common 
point of view), he dealt much in Eastern heavens, rather 
worse than most Western hells ; in Eastern monarchs, 
whom we might possibly call maniacs ; and in Eastern 


jewels which a Bond Street jeweller (if the hundred 
staggering negroes brought them into his shop) might 
possibly not regard as genuine. Quinton was a genius, 
if a morbid one ; and even his morbidity appeared more 
in his life than in his work. In temperament he was 
weak and waspish, and his health had suffered heavily 
from Oriental experiments with opium. His wife a 
handsome, hard-working, and, indeed, over-worked 
woman objected to the opium, but objected much 
more to a live Indian hermit in white and yellow robes, 
whom her husband insisted on entertaining for months 
together, a Virgil to guide his spirit through the heavens 
and the hells of the East. 

It was out of this artistic household that Father Brown 
and his friend stepped on to the doorstep ; and to judge 
from their faces, they stepped out of it with much relief. 
Flambeau had known Quinton in wild student days in 
Paris, and they had renewed the acquaintance for a 
week-end ; but apart from Flambeau's more responsible 
developments of late, he did not get on well with the 
poet now. Choking oneself with opium and writing 
little erotic verses on vellum was not his notion of how a 
gentleman should go to tjhe devil. As the two paused 
on the doorstep, before taking a turn in the garden, the 
front garden gate was thrown open with violence, and a 
young man with a billycock hat on the back of his head 
tumbled up the steps in his eagerness. He was a dis- 
sipated-looking youth with a gorgeous red necktie all 
awry, as if he had slept in it, and he kept fidgeting and 
lashing about with one of those little jointed canes. 

' I say/ he said breathlessly, ' I want to see old Quinton. 
I must see him. Has he gone ? ' 

' Mr. Quinton is in, I believe, 1 said Father Brown, 
cleaning his pipe, ' but I do not know if you can see him. 
The doctor is with him at present.' 

The young man, who seemed not to be perfectly sober, 
stumbled into the hall ; and at the same moment the 
doctor came out of Quinton's study, shutting the door 
and beginning to put on his gloves. 


' See Mr. Quinton ? ' said the doctor coolly. ' No, 
I 'm afraid you can't. In fact, you mustn't on any 
account. Nobody must see him ; I 've just given him 
his sleeping draught/ 

' No, but look here, old chap/ said the youth in the 
red tie, trying affectionately to capture the doctor by 
the lapels of his coat. ' Look here. I 'm simply sewn 
up, I tell you. I ' 

' It 's no good, Mr. Atkinson/ said the doctor, forcing 
him to fall back ; ' when you can alter the effects of a 
drug I '11 alter my decision/ and, setting on his hat, he 
stepped out into the sunlight with the other two. He 
was a bull-necked, good-tempered little man with a 
small moustache, inexpressibly ordinary, yet giving an 
impression of capacity. 

The young man in the billycock, who did not seem to 
be gifted with any tact in dealing with people beyond 
the general idea of clutching hold of their coats, stood 
outside the door, as dazed as if he had been thrown out 
bodily, and silently watched the other three walk away 
together through the garden. 

' That was a sound, spanking lie I told just now/ re- 
marked the medical man, laughing. ' In point of fact, 
poor Quinton doesn't have his sleeping draught for 
nearly half an hour. But I 'm not going to have him 
bothered with that little beast, who only wants to borrow 
money that he wouldn't pay back if he could. He 's a 
dirty little scamp, though he is Mrs. Quinton's brother, 
and she 's as fine a woman as ever walked/ 

' Yes/ said Father Brown. ' She 's a good woman/ 

' So I propose to hang about the garden till the creature 
has cleared off/ went on the doctor, ' and then I '11 go in 
to Quinton with the medicine. Atkinson can't get in, 
because I locked the door/ 

' In that case, Dr. Harris/ said Flambeau, ' we might 
as well walk round at the back by the end of the con- 
servatory. There 's no entrance to it that way, but it 's 
worth seeing, even from the outside/ 

1 Yes, and I might get a squint at my patient/ laughed 


the doctor, ' for he prefers to lie on an ottoman right at 
the end of the conservatory amid all those blood-red 
poinsettias ; it would give me the creeps. But what 
are you doing ? ' 

Father Brown had stopped for a moment, and picked 
up out of the long grass, where it had almost been 
wholly hidden, a queer, crooked Oriental knife, inlaid 
exquisitely in coloured stones and metals. 

' What is this ? ' asked Father Brown, regarding it 
with some disfavour. 

' Oh, Quinton's, I suppose/ said Dr. Harris carelessly ; 
' he has all sorts of Chinese knick-knacks about the 
place. Or perhaps it belongs to that mild Hindoo of his 
whom he keeps on a string/ 

' What Hindoo ? ' asked Father Brown, still staring 
at the dagger in his hand. 

' Oh, some Indian conjurer/ said the doctor lightly ; 
' a fraud, of course/ 

' You don't believe in magic ? ' asked Father Brown, 
without looking up. 

' O crikey ! magic ! ' said the doctor. 

' It 's very beautiful/ said the priest in a low, dream- 
ing voice ; ' the colours are very beautiful. But it ; s 
the wrong shape/ 

' What for ? ' asked Flambeau, staring. 

' For anything. It 's the wrong shape in the abstract. 
Don't you ever feel that about Eastern art ? The colours 
are intoxicatingly lovely ; but the shapes are mean and 
bad deliberately mean and bad. I have seen wicked 
things in a Turkey carpet/ 

' Mon Dieu ! y cried Flambeau, laughing. 

' They are letters and symbols in a language I don't 
know ;' but I know they stand for evil words/ went on 
the priest, his voice growing lower and lower. ' The 
lines go wrong on purpose like serpents doubling to 

* What the devil are you talking about ? ' said the 
doctor with a loud laugh. 

Flambeau spoke quietly to him in answer. ' The 


Father sometimes gets this mystic's cloud on him/ he 
said ; ' but I give you fair warning that I have never 
known him have it except when there was some evil 
quite near.' 

' Oh, rats ! ' said the scientist. 

' Why, look at it/ cried Father Brown, holding out 
the crooked knife at arm's length, as if it were some 
glittering snake. ' Don't you see it is the wrong shape ? 
Don't you see that it has no hearty and plain purpose ? 
It does not point like a spear. It does not sweep like a 
scythe. It does not look like a weapon. It looks like 
an instrument of torture/ 

' Well, as you don't seem to like it/ said the jolly 
Harris, ' it had better be taken back to its owner. 
Haven't we come to the end of this confounded conser- 
vatory yet ? This house is the wrong shape, if you like.' 

' You don't understand/ said Father Brown, shaking 
his head. ' The shape of this house is quaint it is even 
laughable. But there is nothing wrong about it. ' 

As they spoke they came round the curve of glass that 
ended the conservatory, an uninterrupted curve, for 
there was neither door nor window by which to enter 
at that end. The glass, however, was clear, and the 
sun still bright, though beginning to set ; and they 
could see not only the flamboyant blossoms inside, but 
the frail figure of the poet in a brown velvet coat lying 
languidly on the sofa, having, apparently, fallen half 
asleep over a book. He was a pale, slight man, with 
loose chestnut hair and a fringe of beard that was the 
paradox of his face, for the beard made him look less 
manly. These traits were well known to all three of 
them ; but even had it not been so, it may be doubted 
whether they would have looked at Quinton just then. 
Their eyes were riveted on another object. 

Exactly in their path, immediately outside the round 
end of the glass building, was standing a tall man, whose 
drapery fell to his feet in faultless white, and whose bare, 
brown skull, face, and neck gleamed in the setting sun 
like splendid bronze. He was looking through the gkss 


at the sleeper, and he was more motionless than a 

' Who is that ? ' cried Father Brown, stepping back 
with a hissing intake of his breath. 

' Oh, it is only that Hindoo humbug/ growled Harris ; 
' but I don't know what the deuce he is doing here/ 

' It looks like hypnotism/ said Flambeau, biting his 
black moustache. 

' Why are you unmedical fellows always talking bosh 
about hypnotism ? ' cried the doctor. ' It looks a deal 
more like burglary/ 

' Well, we will speak to it, at any rate/ said Flambeau, 
who was always for action. One long stride took him 
to the place where the Indian stood. Bowing from his 
great height, which overtopped even the Oriental's, he 
said with placid impudence : 

' Good evening, sir. Do you want anything ? ' 

Quite slowly, like a great ship turning into a harbour, 
the great yellow face turned, and looked at last over its 
white shoulder. They were startled to see that its 
yellow eyelids were quite sealed, as in sleep. ' Thank 
you/ said the face in excellent English. ' I want 
nothing/ Then, half opening the lids, so as to show a 
slit of opalescent eyeball, he repeated, ' I want nothing/ 
Then he opened his eyes wide with a startling stare, 
said, ' I want nothing/ and went rustling away into the 
rapidly darkening garden. 

' The Christian is more modest/ muttered Father 
Brown ; ' he wants something/ 

' What on earth was he doing ? ' asked Flambeau, 
knitting his black brows and lowering his voice. 

' I should like to talk to you later/ said Father Brown. 

The sunlight was still a reality, but it was the red light 
of evening, and the bulk of the garden trees and bushes 
grew blacker and blacker against it. They turned 
round the end of the conservatory, and walked in silence 
down the other side to get round to the front door. As 
they went they seemed to wake something, as one 
startles a bird in the deep corner between the study and 


the main building ; and again they saw the white-robed 
fakir slide out of the shadow, and slip round towards the 
front door. To their surprise, however, he had not been 
alone. They found themselves abruptly pulled up and 
forced to banish their bewilderment by the appearance 
of Mrs. Quinton, with her heavy golden hair and square 
pale face, advancing on them out of the twilight. She 
looked a little stern, but was entirely courteous. 

' Good evening, Dr Harris/ was all she said. 

' Good evening, Mrs. Quinton/ said the little doctor 
heartily. ' I am just going to give your husband his 
sleeping draught/ 

' Yes/ she said in a clear voice. ' I think it is quite 
time/ And she smiled at them, and went sweeping 
into the house. 

' That woman 's over-driven/ said Father Brown ; 
' that 's the kind of woman that does her duty for twenty 
years, and then does something dreadful/ 

The little doctor looked at him for the first time with 
an eye of interest. ' Did you ever study medicine ? ' he 

' You have to know something of the mind as well as 
the body/ answered the priest ; * we have to know some- 
thing of the body as well as the mind/ 

' Well/ said the doctor, ' I think I '11 go and give 
Quinton his stuff/ 

They had turned the corner of the front fagade, and 
were approaching the front doorway. As they turned 
into it they saw the man in the white robe for the third 
time. He came so straight towards the front door that 
it seemed quite incredible that he had not just come out 
of the study opposite to it. Yet they knew that the 
study door was locked. 

Father Brown and Flambeau, however, kept this 
weird contradiction to themselves, and Dr. Harris was 
not a man to waste his thoughts on the impossible. He 
permitted the omnipresent Asiatic to make his exit, and 
then stepped briskly into the hall. There he found a 
figure which he had already forgotten. The iirane 


Atkinson was still hanging about, humming and poking 
things with his knobby cane. The doctor's face had a 
spasm of disgust and decision, and he whispered rapidly 
to his companion : ' I must lock the door again, or 
this rat will get in. But I shall be out again in two 

He rapidly unlocked the door and locked it again 
behind him, just balking a blundering charge from the 
young man in the billycock. The young man threw 
himself impatiently on a hall chair. Flambeau looked 
at a Persian illumination on the wall ; Father Brown, 
who seemed in a sort of .daze, dully eyed the door. In 
about four minutes the door was opened again. Atkin- 
son was quicker this time. He sprang forward, held the 
door open for an instant, and called out : ' Oh, I say, 
Quinton, I want ' 

From the other end of the study came the clear voice 
of Quinton, in something between a yawn arid a yell of 
weary laughter. 

' Oh, I know what you want. Take it, and leave me 
in peace. I 'm writing a song about peacocks.' 

Before the door closed half a sovereign came flying 
through the aperture ; and Atkinson, stumbling forward, 
caught it with singular dexterity. 

' So that 's settled/ said the doctor, and, locking the 
door savagely, he led the way out into the garden. 

' Poor Leonard can get a little peace now/ he added 
to Father Brown ; ' he 's locked in all by himself for 
an hour or two/ 

' Yes/ answered the priest ; ' and his voice sounded 
jolly enough when we left him/ Then he looked gravely 
round the garden, and saw the loose figure of Atkinson 
standing and jingling the half-sovereign in his pocket, 
and beyond, in the purple twilight, the figure of the 
Indian sitting bolt upright upon a bank of grass with 
his face turned towards the setting sun. Then he said 
abruptly : ' Where is Mrs. Quinton ? ' 

' She has gone up to her room/ said the doctor. 
' That is her shadow on the blind/ 


Father Brown looked up, and frowningly scrutinized 
a dark outline at the gas-lit window. 

' Yes/ he said, ' that is her shadow/ and he walked a 
yard or two and threw himself upon a garden seat. 

Flambeau sat down beside him ; but the doctor was 
one of those energetic people who live naturally on their 
legs. He walked away, smoking, into the twilight, and 
the two friends were left together. 

' My father/ said Flambeau in French, ' what is the 
matter with you ? ' 

Father Brown was silent and motionless for half a 
minute, then he said : * Superstition is irreligious, but 
there is something in the air of this place. I think it 's 
that Indian at least, partly/ 

He sank into silence, and watched the distant outline 
of the Indian, who still sat rigid as if in prayer. At 
first sight he seemed motionless, but as Father Brown 
watched him he saw that the man swayed ever so slightly 
with a rhythmic movement, just as the dark tree- tops 
swayed ever so slightly in the little wind that was creep- 
ing up the dim garden paths and shuffling the fallen 
leaves a little. 

The landscape was growing rapidly dark, as if for a 
storm, but they could still see all the figures in their 
various places. Atkinson was leaning against a tree 
with a listless face ; Quinton's wife was still at her 
window ; the doctor had gone strolling round the end 
of the conservatory ; they could see his cigar like a 
will-o'-the-wisp ; and the fakir still sat rigid and yet 
rocking, while the trees above him began to rock and 
almost to roar. Storm was certainly coming. 

' When that Indian spoke to us/ went on Brown in 
a conversational undertone, ' I had a sort of vision, a 
vision of him and all his universe. Yet he only said the 
same thing three times. When first he said, " I want 
nothing," it meant only that he was impenetrable, 
that Asia does not give itself away. Then he said 
again, " I want nothing," and I knew that he meant 
that he was sufficient to himself, like a cosmos, that 


he needed no God, neither admitted any sins. And 
when he said the third time, " I want nothing/' he 
said it with blazing eyes. And I knew that he meant 
literally what he said ; that nothing was his desire 
and his home ; that he was weary for nothing as for 
wine ; that annihilation, the mere destruction of every- 
thing or anything ' 

Two drops of rain fell ; and for some reason Flambeau 
started and looked up, as if they had stung him. And 
the same instant the doctor down by the end of the con- 
servatory began running towards them, calling out 
something as he ran. 

As he came among them like a bombshell the restless 
Atkinson happened to be taking a turn nearer to the 
house front ; and the doctor clutched him by the collar 
in a convulsive grip. ' Foul play ! ' he cried ; ' what 
have you been doing to him, you dog ? ' 

The priest had sprung erect, and had the voice of steel 
of a soldier in command. 

' No fighting/ he cried coolly ; ' we are enough to hold 
any one we want to. What is the matter, doctor ? ' 

' Things are not right with Quinton/ said the doctor, 
quite white. ' I could just see him through the glass, 
and I don't like the way he J s lying. It 's not as I left 
him, anyhow/ 

' Let us go to him/ said Father Brown shortly. ' You 
can leave Mr. Atkinson alone. I have had him in sight 
since we heard Quinton's voice/ 

' I will stop here and watch him/ said Flambeau 
hurriedly. ' You go in and see.' 

The doctor and the priest flew to the study door, un- 
locked it, and fell into the room. In doing so they 
nearly fell over the large mahogany table in the centre 
at which the poet usually wrote ; for the place was lit 
only by a small fire kept for the invalid. In the middle 
of this table lay a single sheet of paper, evidently left 
there on purpose. The doctor snatched it up, glanced 
at it, handed it to Father Brown, and crying, ' Good 
God, look at that ! ' plunged towards the glass room 


beyond, where the terrible tropic flowers still seemed to 
keep a crimson memory of the sunset. 

Father Brown read the words three times before he 
put down the paper. The words were : * I die by my 
own hand ; yet I die murdered ! ' They were in the 
quite inimitable, not to say illegible, handwriting of 
Leonard Quinton. 

Then Father Brown, still keeping the paper in his 
hand, strode towards the conservatory, only to meet his 
medical friend coming back with a face of assurance and 
collapse. ' He 's done it/ said Harris. 

They went together through the gorgeous unnatural 
beauty of cactus and azalea and found Leonard Quinton, 
poet and romancer, with his head hanging downward 
oif his ottoman and his red curls sweeping the ground. 
Into his left side was thrust the queer dagger that they 
had picked up in the garden, and his limp hand still 
rested on the hilt. 

Outside the storm had come at one stride, like 
the night in Coleridge, and garden and glass roof were 
darkened with driving rain. Father Brown seemed to 
be studying the paper more than the corpse ; he held 
it close to his eyes ; and seemed trying to read it in the 
twilight. Then he held it up against the faint light, and, 
as he did so, lightning stared at them for an instant so 
white that the paper looked black against it. 

Darkness full of thunder followed, and after the 
thunder Father Brown's voice said out of the dark : 
' Doctor, this paper is the wrong shape.' 

' What do you mean ? ' asked Doctor Harris, with a 
frowning stare. 

' It isn't square/ answered Brown. ' It has a sort 
of edge snipped off at the corner. What does it mean ? ' 

' How the deuce should I know ? ' growled the doctor. 
' Shall we move this poor chap, do you think ? He 's 
quite dead/ 

' No/ answered the priest ; ' we must leave him as he 
lies and send for the police/ But he was still scrutinizing 
the paper. 


As they went back through the study he stopped by 
the table and picked up a small pair of nail scissors. 
' Ah/ he said, with a sort of relief, ' this is what he did 
it with. But yet * And he knitted his brows. 

' Oh, stop fooling with that scrap of paper/ said the 
doctor emphatically. ' It was a fad of his. He had 
hundreds of them. He cut all his paper like that/ as 
he pointed to a stack of sermon paper still unused on 
another and smaller table. Father Brown went up to 
it and held up a sheet. It was the same irregular shape. 

' Quite so/ he said. ' And here I see the corners that 
were snipped off/ And to the indignation of his col- 
league he began to count them. 

' That 's all right/ he said, with an apologetic smile. 
' Twenty-three sheets cut and twenty-two corners cut 
off them. And as I see you are impatient we will rejoin 
the others/ 

' Who is to tell his wife ? ' asked Dr. Harris. ' Will 
you go and tell her now, while I send a servant for the 
police ? ' 

' As you will/ said Father Brown indifferently. And 
he went out to the hall door. 

Here also he found a drama, though of a more grotesque 
sort. It showed nothing less than his big friend Flambeau 
in an attitude to which he had long been unaccustomed, 
while upon the pathway at the bottom of the steps was 
sprawling with his boots in the air the amiable Atkin- 
son, his billycock hat and walking cane sent flying in 
opposite directions along the path. Atkinson had at 
length wearied of Flambeau's almost paternal custody, 
and had endeavoured to knock him down, which was 
by no means a smooth game to play with the Roi des 
Apaches, even after that monarch's abdication. 

Flambeau was about to leap upon his enemy and 
secure him once more, when the priest patted him easily 
on the shoulder. 

' Make it up with Mr. Atkinson, my friend/ he said. 
' Beg a mutual pardon and say " Good night/ 1 We 
need not detain him any longer/ Then, as Atkinson 


rose somewhat doubtfully and gathered his hat and 
stick and went towards the garden gate, Father Brown 
said in a more serious voice : ' Where is that Indian ? ' 

They all three (for the doctor had joined them) turned 
involuntarily towards the dim grassy bank amid the 
tossing trees, purple with twilight, where they had last 
seen the brown man swaying in his strange prayers. 
The Indian was gone. 

' Confound him/ cried the doctor, stamping furiously. 
' Now I know that it was that nigger that did it.' 

' I thought you didn't believe in magic/ said Father 
Brown quietly. 

' No more I did/ said the doctor, rolling his eyes. ' I 
only know that I loathed that yellow devil when I 
thought he was a sham wizard. And I shall loathe him 
more if I come to think he was a real one/ 

* Well, his having escaped is nothing/ said Flambeau. 
' For we could have proved nothing and done nothing 
against him. One hardly goes to the parish constable 
with a story of suicide imposed by witchcraft or auto- 

Meanwhile Father Brown had made his way into the 
house, and now went to break*the news to the wife of 
the dead man. 

When he came out again he looked a little pale and 
tragic, but what passed between them in that interview 
was never known, even when all was known. 

Flambeau, who was talking quietly with the doctor, 
was surprised to see his friend reappear so soon at his 
elbow ; but Brown took no notice, and merely drew 
the doctor apart. ' You have sent for the police, haven't 
you ? ' he asked. 

' Yes/ answered Harris. ' They ought to be here in 
ten minutes/ 

' Will you do me a favour ? ' said the priest quietly. 
' The truth is, I make a collection of these curious 
stories, which often contain, as in the case of our Hindoo 
friend, elements which can hardly be put into a police 
report. Now, I want you to write out a report of this 


case for my private use. Yours is a clever trade/ he 
said, looking the doctor gravely and steadily in the face. 
' I sometimes think that you know some details of this 
matter which you have not thought fit to mention. 
Mine is a confidential trade like yours, and I will treat 
anything you write for me in strict confidence. But 
write the whole. 1 

The doctor, who had been listening thoughtfully with 
his head a little on one side, looked the priest in the face 
for an instant, and said : ' All right/ and went into the 
study, closing the door behind him. 

' Flambeau/ said Father Brown, ' there is a long seat 
there under the veranda, where we can smoke out of the 
rain. You are my only friend in the world, and I want 
to talk to you. Or, perhaps, be silent with you.' 

They established themselves comfortably in the 
veranda seat ; Father Brown, against his common habit, 
accepted a good cigar and smoked it steadily in silence, 
while the rain shrieked and rattled on the roof of the 

' My friend/ he said at length, ' this is a queer case. 
A very queer case/ 

' I should think it was/ declared Flambeau, with 
something like a shudder. 

' You call it queer, and I call it queer/ said the other, 
' and yet we mean quite opposite things. The modern 
mind always mixes up two different ideas : mystery in 
the sense of what is marvellous, and mystery in the 
sense of what is complicated. That is half its difficulty 
about miracles. A miracle is startling ; but it is simple. 
It is simple because it is a miracle. It is power coming 
directly from God (or the devil) instead of indirectly 
through nature or human wills. Now, you mean that 
this business is marvellous because it is miraculous, 
because it is witchcraft worked by a wicked Indian. 
Understand, I do not say that it was not spiritual or 
diabolic. Heaven and hell only know by what sur- 
rounding influences strange sins come into the lives of 
men. But for the present my point is this : If it was 


pure magic, as you think, then it is marvellous ; but it 
is not mysterious that is, it is not complicated. The 
quality of a miracle is mysterious, but its manner is 
simple. Now, the manner of this business has been the 
reverse of simple/ 

The storm that had slackened for a little seemed to be 
swelling again, and there came heavy movements as of 
faint thunder. Father Brown let fall the ash of his 
cigar and went on : 

' There has been in this incident/ he said, * a twisted, 
ugly, complex quality that does not belong to the 
straight bolts either of heaven or hell. As one knows 
the crooked track of a snail, I know the crooked track of 
a man.' 

The white lightning opened its enormous eye in one 
wink, the sky shut up again, and the priest went on : 

' Of all these crooked things, the crookedest was the 
shape of that piece of paper. It was crookeder than the 
dagger that killed him/ 

' You mean the paper on which Quinton confessed his 
suicide/ said Flambeau. 

' I mean the paper on which Quinton wrote, " I die 
by my own hand," ' answered Father Brown. ' The 
shape of that paper, my friend, was the wrong shape ; 
the wrong shape, if ever I have seen it in this wicked 

' It only had a corner snipped off/ said Flambeau, 
' and I understand that all Quinton's paper was cut that 

' It was a very odd way/ said the other, ' and a very 
bad way, to my taste and fancy. Look here, Flambeau, 
this Quinton God receive his soul ! was perhaps a bit 
of a cur in some ways, but he really was an artist, with 
the pencil as well as the pen. His handwriting, though 
hard to read, was bold and beautiful. I can't prove 
what I say ; I can't prove anything. But I tell you 
with the full force of conviction that he could never have 
cut that mean little piece off a sheet of paper. If he had 
wanted to cut down paper for some purpose of fitting in, 


or binding up, or what not, he would have made quite a 
different slash with the scissors. Do you remember the 
shape ? It was a mean shape. It was a wrong shape. 
Like this. Don't you remember ? ' 

And he waved his burning cigar before him in the 
darkness, making irregular squares so rapidly that Flam- 
beau really seemed to see them as fiery hieroglyphics 
upon the darkness hieroglyphics such as his friend had 
spoken of, which are undecipherable, yet can have no 
good meaning. 

' But/ said Flambeau, as the priest put his cigar in his 
mouth again and leaned back, staring at the roof. 
' Suppose somebody else did use the scissors. Why 
should somebody else, cutting pieces off his sermon 
paper, make Quinton commit suicide ? ' 

Father Brown was still leaning back and staring at the 
roof, but he took his cigar out of his mouth and said : 
' Quinton never did commit suicide/ 

Flambeau stared at him. ' Why, confound it all/ he 
cried, * then why did he confess to suicide ? ' 

The priest leant forward again, settled his elbows on 
his knees, looked at the ground, and said, in a low, dis- 
tinct voice : ' He never did confess to suicide/ 

Flambeau laid his cigar down. ' You mean/ he said, 
1 that the writing was forged ? ' 

' No/ said Father Brown. ' Quinton wrote it all 

' Well, there you are/ said the aggravated Flambeau ; 
' Quinton wrote, " I die by my own hand," with his own 
hand on a plain piece of paper/ 

' Of the wrong shape/ said the priest calmly. 

' Oh, the shape be damned ! ' cried Flambeau. ' What 
has the shape to do with it ? ' 

1 There were twenty-three snipped papers/ resumed 
Brown unmoved, ' and only twenty-two pieces snipped 
off. Therefore one of the pieces had been destroyed, 
probably that from the written paper. Does that 
suggest anything to you ? ' 

A light dawned on Flambeau's face, and he said : 


' There was something else written by Quinton, some 
otheit words. "They will tell you I die by my own 
hand," or " Do not believe that 

' Hotter, as the children say/ said his friend. ' But 
the piece was hardly half an inch across ; there was no 
room for one word, let alone five. Can you think of 
anything hardly bigger than a comma which the man 
with heU in his heart had to tear away as a testimony 
against him ? ' 

' I can think of nothing/ said Flambeau at last. 

1 What about quotation marks ? ' said the priest, and 
flung his cigar far into the darkness like a shooting star. 

All words had left the other man's mouth, and Father 
Brown said, like one going back to fundamentals : 

' Leonard Quinton was a romancer, and was writing 
an Oriental romance about wizardry and hypnotism. 
He ' 

At this moment the door opened briskly behind them, 
and the doctor came out with his hat on. He put a long 
envelope into the priest's hands. 

' That 's the document you. wanted/ he said, ' and I 
must be getting home. Good night/ 

' Good night/ said Father Brown, as the doctor walked 
briskly to the gate. He had left the front door open, so 
that a shaft of gaslight fell upon them. In the light of 
this Brown opened the envelope and read the following 
words : 

' DEAR FATHER BROWN, Vicisti Galil&e. Otherwise, 
damn your eyes, which are very penetrating ones. Can 
it be possible that there is something in all that stuff of 
yours after all ? 

' I am a man who has ever since boyhood believed in 
Nature and in all natural functions and instincts, whether 
men called them moral or immoral. Long before I 
became a doctor, when I was a schoolboy keeping mice 
and spiders, I believed that to be a good animal is the 
best thing in the world. But just now I am shaken ; I 
have believed in Nature : but it seems as if Nature could 


betray a man. Can there be anything in your bosh ? I 
am really getting morbid. 

' 1 loved Quinton's wife. What was there wrong in 
that ? Nature told me to, and it 's love that makes the 
world go round. I also thought quite sincerely that she 
would be happier with a clean animal like me than with 
that tormenting little lunatic. What was there wrong 
in that ? I was only facing facts, like a man of science. 
She would have been happier. 

' According to my own creed I was quite free to kill 
Quinton, which was the best thing for everybody, even 
himself. But as a healthy animal I had no notion of 
killing myself. I resolved, therefore, that I would never 
do it until I saw a chance that would leave me scot-free. 
I saw that chance this morning. 

' I have been three times, all told, into Quinton's study 
to-day. The first time I went in he would talk about 
nothing but the weird tale, called " The Curse of a 
Saint," which he was writing, which was all about how 
some Indian hermit made an English colonel kill himself 
by thinking about him. He showed me the last sheets, 
and even read me the last paragraph, which was some- 
thing like this : " The conqueror of the Punjab, a mere 
yellow skeleton, but still gigantic, managed to lift him- 
self on his elbow and gasp in his nephew's ear : ' I die 
by my own hand, yet I die murdered ! ' " It so happened 
by one chance out of a hundred that those last words 
were written at the top of a new sheet of paper. I left 
the room, and went out into the garden intoxicated with 
a frightful opportunity. 

' We walked round the house ; and two more things 
happened in my favour. You suspected an Indian, and 
you found a dagger which the Indian might most prob- 
ably use. Taking the opportunity to stuff it in my 
pocket I went back to Quinton's study, locked the door, 
and gave him his sleeping draught. He was against 
answering Atkinson at all, but I urged him to call out 
and quiet the fellow, because I wanted a clear proof that 
Quinton was alive when I left the room for the second 


time. Quinton lay down in the conservatory, and I 
came through the study. I am a quick man with my 
hands, and in a minute and a half I had done what I 
wanted to do. I had emptied all the first part of 
Quinton's romance into the fireplace, where it burnt to 
ashes. Then I saw that the quotation marks wouldn't 
do, so I snipped them off, and to make it seem likelier, 
snipped the whole quire to match. Then I came out 
with the knowledge that Quinton's confession of suicide 
lay on the front table, while Quinton lay alive but asleep 
in the conservatory beyond. 

' The last act was a desperate one ; you can guess it : 
I pretended to have seen Quinton dead and rushed to his 
room. I delayed you with the paper, and, being a 
quick man with my hands, killed Quinton while you 
were looking at his confession of suicide. He was half 
asleep, being drugged, and I put his own hand on the knife 
and drove it into his body. The knife was of so queer a 
shape that no one but an operator could have calculated 
the angle that would reach his heart. I wonder if you 
noticed this. 

' When I had done it, the extraordinary thing hap- 
pened. Nature deserted me. I felt ill. I felt just as 
if I had done something wrong. I think my brain is 
breaking up ; I feel some sort of desperate pleasure in 
thinking I have told the thing to somebody ; that I shall 
not have to be alone with it if I marry and have children. 
What is the matter with me ? ... Madness ... or 
can one have remorse, just as if one were in Byron's 
poems ! I cannot write any more. 


Father Brown carefully folded up the letter, and put 
it in his breast pocket just as there came a loud peal at 
the gate bell, and the wet waterproofs of several police- 
men gleamed in the road outside. 



WHEN I arrived to see the performance of the 
Buckinghamshire Players, who acted Miss 
Gertrude Robins's Pot Luck at Naphill a short time ago, 
it is the distressing, if scarcely surprising, truth that I 
entered very late. This would have mattered little, I 
hope, to any one, but that late-comers had to be forced 
into front seats. For a real popular English audience 
always insists on crowding in the back part of the hall ; 
and (as I have found in many an election) will endure 
the most unendurable taunts rather than come forward. 
The English are a modest people ; that is why they are 
entirely ruled and run by the few of them that happen to 
be immodest. In theatrical affairs the fact is strangely 
notable ; and in most playhouses we find the bored 
people in front and the eager people behind. 

As far as the performance went I was quite the reverse 
of a bored person ; but I may have been a boring person, 
especially as I was thus required to sit in the seats of the 
scornful. It will be a happy day in the dramatic world 
when all ladies have to take off their hats and all critics 
have to take off their heads. The people behind will 
have a chance then. And as it happens, in this case, I 
had not so much taken off my head as lost it. I had lost 
it on the road ; on that strange journey that was the 
cause of my coming in late. I have a troubled recollec- 
tion of having seen a very good play and made a very 
bad speech ; I have a cloudy recollection of talking to all 
sorts of nice people afterwards, but talking to them 
jerkily and with half a head, as a man talks when he has 
one eye on a clock. 

And the truth is that I had one eye on an ancient and 
timeless clock, hung uselessly in heaven ; whose very 
name has passed into a figure for such bemused folly. 
In the true sense of an ancient phrase, I was moonstruck. 

1 From A Miscellany of Men, 


A lunar landscape, a scene of winter moonlight, had in- 
explicably got in between me and all other scenes. If 
any one had asked me I could not have said what it was ; 
I cannot say now. Nothing had occurred to me ; except 
the breakdown of a hired motor on the ridge of a hill. 
It was not an adventure ; it was a vision. 


I had started in wintry twilight from my own door ; 
and hired a small car that found its way across the hills 
towards Naphill. But as night blackened and frost 
brightened and hardened it I found the way increasingly 
difficult ; especially as the way was an incessant ascent. 
Whenever we topped a road like a staircase it was only 
to turn into a yet steeper road like a ladder. 

At last, when I began to fancy that I was spirally 
climbing the Tower of Babel in a dream, I was brought 
to fact by alarming noises, stoppage, and the driver say- 
ing that ' it couldn't be done/ I got out of the car and 
suddenly forgot that I had ever been in it. 

From the edge of that abrupt steep I saw something 
indescribable, which I am now going to describe. When 
Mr. Joseph Chamberlain delivered his great patriotic 
speech on the inferiority of England to the Dutch parts 
of South Africa, he made use of the expression ' the 
illimitable veldt/ The word ' veldt ' is Dutch, and the 
word l illimitable ' is Double Dutch. But the medita- 
tive statesman probably meant that the new plains gave 
him a sense of largeness and dreariness which he had 
never found in England. Well, if he never found it in 
England it was because he never looked for it in England. 
In England there is an illimitable number of illimitable 
veldts. I saw six or seven separate eternities in cresting 
as many different hills. One cannot find anything more 
infinite than a finite horizon, free and lonely and innocent. 
The Dutch veldt may be a little more desolate than 
Birmingham. But I am sure it is not so desolate as 
that English hill was, almost within a cannon-shot of 
High Wycombe. 


I looked across a vast and voiceless valley straight at 
the moon, as if at a round mirror. It may have been the 
blue moon of the proverb ; for on that freezing night 
the very moon seemed blue with cold. A deathly frost 
fastened every branch and blade to its place. The 
sinking and softening forests, powdered with a grey 
frost, fell away underneath me into an abyss which 
seemed unfathomable. One fancied the world was 
soundless only because it was bottomless : it seemed as 
if all songs and cries had been swallowed in some unre- 
sisting stillness under the roots of the hills. I could 
fancy that if I shouted there would be no echo ; that if 
I hurled huge stones there would be no noise of reply. 
A dumb devil had bewitched the landscape : but that 
again does not express the best or worst of it. All those 
hoary and frosted forests expressed something so un- 
human that it has no human name. A horror of uncon- 
sciousness lay on them ; that is the nearest phrase I 
know. It was as if one were looking at the back of the 
world ; and the world did not know it. I had taken the 
universe in the rear. I was behind the scenes. I was 
eavesdropping upon an unconscious creation. 

I shall not express what the place expressed. I am 
.not even sure that it is a thing that ought to be expressed. 
There was something heathen about its union of beauty 
and death ; sorrow seemed to glitter, as it does in some 
of the great pagan poems. I understood one of the 
thousand poetical phrases of the populace, ' a God- 
forsaken place/ Yet something was present there ; and 
I could not yet find the key to my fixed impression. Then 
suddenly I remembered the right word. It was an en- 
chanted place. It had been put to sleep. In a flash I 
remembered all the fairy tales about princes turned to 
marble and princesses changed to snow. We were in a 
land where none could strive or cry out ; a white night- 
mare. The moon looked at me across the valley like 
the enormous eye of a hypnotist ; the one white eye of 
the world. 


There was never a better play than Pot Luck ; for it 
tells a tale with a point, and it is a tale that might happen! 
any day among English peasants. There were never 
better actors than the local Buckinghamshire Players : 
for they were acting their own life with just that rise- 
into exaggeration which is the transition from life to- 
art. But all the time I was mesmerized by the moon ;. 
I saw all these men and women as enchanted things. 
The poacher shot pheasants ; the policeman tracked 
pheasants ; the wife hid pheasants ; they were all 
(especially the policeman) as true as death. But there 
was something more true to death than true to life about 
it all ; the figures were frozen with a magic frost of sleep 
or fear or custom such as does not cramp the movements 
of the poor men of other lands. I looked at the poacher 
and the policeman and the gun ; then at the gun and the- 
policeman and the poacher ; and I could find no name 
for the fancy that haunted and escaped me. The 
poacher believed in the Game Laws as much as the- 
policeman. The poacher's wife not only believed in the- 
Game Laws, but protected them as well as him. She 
got a promise from her husband that he would never 
shoot another pheasant. Whether he kept it I doubt ;: 
I fancy he sometimes shot a pheasant even after that. 
But I am sure he never shot a policeman. For we live 
in an enchanted land. 


HTHE sun has strengthened and the air softened just 
A before Easter Day. But it is a troubled bright- 
ness which has a breath not only of novelty but of 
revolution. There are two great armies of the human, 
intellect who will fight till the end on this vital point, 

1 From A Miscellany of Mtn. 


whether Easter is to be congratulated on fitting in with 
the Spring or the Spring on fitting in with Easter. 

The only two things that can satisfy the soul are a 
person and a story ; and even a story must be about a 
person. There are indeed very voluptuous appetites 
and enjoyments in mere abstractions like mathematics, 
logic,, or chess. But these mere pleasures of the mind 
are like mere pleasures of the body. That is, they are 
mere pleasures, though they may be gigantic pleasures ; 
they can never by a mere increase of themselves amount 
to happiness. A man just about to be hanged may 
enjoy his breakfast, especially if it be his favourite 
breakfast ; and in the same way he may enjoy an argu- 
ment with the chaplain about heresy, especially if it is 
his favourite heresy. But whether he can enjoy either 
of them does not depend on either of them ; it depends 
upon his spiritual attitude towards a subsequent event. 
And that event is really interesting to the soul ; because 
it is the end of a story and (as some hold) the end of a 



Now it is this simple truth which, like many others, 
is too simple for our scientists to see. This is where 
they go wrong, not only about true religion, but about 
false religions too ; so that their account of mythology 
is more mythical than the myth itself. I do not confine 
myself to saying that they are quite incorrect when they 
state (for instance) that Christ was a legend of dying 
and reviving vegetation, like Adonis or Persephone. I 
say that even if Adonis was a god of vegetation, they 
have got the whole notion of him wrong. Nobody, to 
begin with, is sufficiently interested in decaying vege- 
tables, as such, to make any particular mystery or dis- 
guise about them ; and certainly not enough to disguise 
them under the image of a very handsome young man, 
which is a vastly more interesting thing. If Adonis was 
connected with the fall of leaves in autumn and the 
return of flowers in spring, the process of thought was 
quite different. It is a process of thought which springs 


up spontaneously in all children and young artists ; it 
springs up spontaneously in all healthy societies. It is 
very difficult to explain in a diseased society. 

The brain of man is subject to short and strange 
snatches of sleep. A cloud seals the city of reason or 
rests upon the sea of imagination ; a dream that darkens 
as much, whether it is a nightmare of atheism or a day- 
dream of idolatry. And just as we have all sprung from 
sleep with a start and found ourselves saying some sen- 
tence that has no meaning, save in the mad tongues of 
the midnight, so the human mind starts from its trances 
of stupidity with some complete phrase upon its lips : a 
complete phrase which is a complete folly. Unfortun- 
ately it is not like the dream sentence, generally forgotten 
in the putting on of boots or the putting in of breakfast. 
This senseless aphorism, invented when man's mind was 
asleep, still hangs on his tongue and entangles all his 
relations to rational and daylight things. All our con- 
troversies are confused by certain kinds of phrases 
which are not merely untrue, but were always unmean- 
ing ; which are not merely inapplicable, but were always 
intrinsically useless. We recognize them whenever a 
man talks of ' the survival of the fittest/ meaning only 
the survival of the survivors ; or wherever a man says 
that the rich ' have a stake in the country/ as if the poor 
could not suffer from misgovernment or military defeat ; 
or where a man talks about ' going on towards Progress/ 
which only means going on towards going on ; or when 
a man talks about ' government by the wise few/ as if 
they could be picked out by their pantaloons. ' The 
wise few ' must mean either the few whom the foolish 
think wise or the very foolish who think themselves wise. 

There is one piece of nonsense that modern people 
still find themselves saying, even after they are more or 
less awake, by which I am particularly irritated. It arose 
in the popularized science of the nineteenth century, 
especially in connection with the study of myths and 
religions. The fragment of gibberish to which I refer 
generally takes the form of saying ' This god or hero 


ireally represents the sun.' Or ' Apollo killing the 
Python means that the summer drives out the winter/ 
Or ' The King dying in a western battle is a symbol of the 
sun setting in the west.' Now I should really have 
thought that even the sceptical professors, whose skulls 
.are as shallow as frying-pans, might. have reflected that 
human beings never think or feel like this. Consider 
what is involved in this supposition. It presumes that 
primitive man went out for a walk and saw with great 
interest a big burning spot on the sky. He then said to 
primitive woman, ' My dear, we had better keep this 
quiet. We mustn't let it get about. The children and 
the slaves are so very sharp. They might discover the 
.sun any day, unless we are very careful. So we won't 
call it " the sun," but I will draw a picture of a man kill- 
ing a snake ; and whenever I do that you will know what 
I mean. The sun doesn't look at all like a man killing a 
snake ; so nobody can possibly know. It will be a 
little secret between us ; and while the slaves and the 
children fancy I am quite excited with a grand tale of a 
'writhing dragon and a wrestling demigod, I shall really 
mean this delicious little discovery, that there is a round 
yellow disk up in the air.' One does not need to know 
much mythology to know that this is a myth. It is 
commonly called the Solar Myth. 

Quite plainly, of course, the case was just the other 
way. The god was never a symbol or hieroglyph repre- 
senting the sun. The sun was a hieroglyph representing 
the god. Primitive man (with whom my friend Dombey 
is no doubt f well acquainted) went out with his head full 
of gods and heroes, because that is the chief use of having 
a head. Then he saw the sun in some glorious crisis of 
the dominance of noon or the distress of nightfall, and 
he said, ' That is how the face of the god would shine 
when he had slain the dragon,' or ' That is how the whole 
world would bleed to westward, if the god were slain 
at last.' 

No human being was ever really so unnatural as to 
worship Nature. No man, however indulgent (as I am) 


to corpulency, ever worshipped a man as round as the 
sun or a woman as round as the moon. No man, 
however attracted to an artistic attenuation, ever 
really believed that the Dryad was as lean and stiff as 
the tree. We human beings have never worshipped 
Nature ; and indeed, the reason is very simple. It is 
that all human beings are superhuman beings. We 
have printed our own image upon Nature, as God has. 
printed His image upon us. We have told the enormous 
sun to stand still ; we have fixed him on our shields, 
caring no more for a star than for a starfish. And when 
there were powers of Nature we could not for the time 
control, we have conceived great beings in human shape 
controlling them. Jupiter does not mean thunder. 
Thunder means the march and victory of Jupiter. 
Neptune does not mean the sea ; the sea is his, and he 
made it. In other words, what the savage really said 
about the sea was, ' Only my fetish Mumbo could raise 
such mountains out of mere water/ What the savage- 
really said about the sun was, * Only my great-great- 
grandfather Jumbo could deserve such a blazing: 

About all these myths my own position is utterly and 
even sadly simple. I say you cannot really understand 
any myths till you have found that one of them is not a 
myth. Turnip ghosts mean nothing if there are no real 
ghosts. Forged bank-notes mean nothing if there are 
no real bank-notes. Heathen gods mean nothing, and 
must always mean nothing, to those of us that deny the 
Christian God. When once a god is admitted, even a 
false god, the Cosmos begins to know its place : which 
is the second place. When once it is the real God the 
Cosmos falls down before Him, offering flowers in spring 
as flames in winter. ' My love is like a red, red rose ' does 
not mean that the poet is praising roses under the 
allegory of a young lady. ' My love is an arbutus ' does 
not mean that the author was a botanist so pleased with 
a particular arbutus tree that he said he loved it. ' Who> 
art the moon and regent of my sky ' does not mean that 


Juliet invented Romeo to account for the roundness of 
the moon. ' Christ is the Sun of Easter ' does not mean 
that the worshipper is praising the sun under the emblem 
of Christ. Goddess or god can clothe themselves with 
the spring or summer ; but the body is more than 
raiment. Religion takes almost disdainfully the dress 
of Nature ; and indeed Christianity has done as well 
with the snows of Christmas as with the snowdrops of 
spring. And when I look across the sun-struck fields, I 
know in my inmost bones that my joy is not solely in 
^the spring : for spring alone, being always returning, 
would be always sad. There is somebody or something 
walking there, to be crowned with flowers : and my 
pleasure is in some promise yet possible and in the re- 
surrection of the dead. 


STRICTLY speaking, there is no such thing as an 
English Peasant. Indeed, the type can only 
exist in community, so much does it depend on co-opera- 
tion and common laws. One must not think primarily 
of a French Peasant, any more than of a German Measle. 
The plural of the word is its proper form ; you cannot 
have a Peasant till you have a peasantry. The essence 
of the Peasant ideal is equality ; and you cannot be 
equal all by yourself. 

Nevertheless, because human nature always craves 
and half creates the things necessary to its happiness, 
there are approximations and suggestions of the possi- 
bility of such a race even here. The nearest approach 
I know to the temper of a Peasant in England is that of 
the country gardener ; not, of course, the great scientific 
gardener attached to the great houses ; he is a rich man's 

1 From A Miscellany of J\fcn. 


servant like any other. I mean the small jobbing 
gardener who works for two or three moderate-sized 
gardens ; who works on his own ; who sometimes even 
owns his house ; and who frequently owns his tools. 
This kind of man has really some of the characteristics 
of the true Peasant especially the characteristics that 
people don't like. He has none of that irresponsible 
mirth which is the consolation of most poor men in 
England. The gardener is even disliked sometimes by 
the owners of the shrubs and flowers ; because (like 
Micaiah) he prophesies not good concerning them, but 
evil. The English gardener is grim, critical, self-respect- 
ing ; sometimes even economical. Nor is this (as the 
reader's lightning wit will flash back at me) merely 
because the English gardener is always a Scotch gardener. 
The type does exist in pure South England blood and 
speech ; I have spoken to the type. I was speaking to 
the type only the other evening, when a rather odd little 

incident occurred. 


It was one of those wonderful evenings in which the 
sky was warm and radiant while the earth was still com- 
paratively cold and wet. But it is of the essence of 
Spring to be unexpected ; as in that heroic and hack- 
neyed line about coming ' before the swallow dares. 1 
Spring never is Spring unless it comes too soon. And 
on a day like that one might pray, without any pro- 
fanity, that Spring might come on earth, as it was in 
heaven. The gardener was gardening. I was not 
gardening. It is needless to explain the causes of this 
difference ; it would be to tell the tremendous history 
of two souls. It is needless because there is a more 
immediate explanation of the case : the gardener and I, 
if not equal in agreement, were at least equal in differ- 
ence. It is quite certain that he would not have allowed 
me to touch the garden if I had gone down on my knees 
to him. And it is by no means certain that I should 
have consented to touch the garden if he had gone down 
on his knees to me. His activity and my idleness, there- 


fore, went on steadily side by side through the long sun- 
set hours. 

And all the time I was thinking what a shame it was 
that he was not sticking his spade into his own garden, 
instead of mine : he knew about the earth and the under- 
world of seeds, the resurrection of Spring and the flowers 
that appear in order like a procession marshalled by a 
herald. He possessed the garden intellectually and 
spiritually, while I only possessed it politically. I know 
more about flowers than coal-owners know about coal ; 
for at least I pay them honour when they are brought 
above the surface of the earth. I know more about 
gardens than railway shareholders seem to know about 
railways ; for at least I know that it needs a man to 
make a garden ; a man whose name is Adam. But as I 
walked on that grass my ignorance overwhelmed me 
and yet that phrase is false, because it suggests some- 
thing like a storm from the sky above. It is truer to 
say that my ignorance exploded underneath me, like a 
mine dug long before ; and indeed it was dug before 
the beginning of the ages. Green bombs of bulbs and 
seeds were bursting underneath me everywhere ; and, 
so far as my knowledge went, they had been laid by a 
conspirator. I trod quite uneasily on this uprush of 
the earth ; the Spring is always only a fruitful earth- 
quake. With the land all alive under me I began to 
wonder more and more why this man, who had made 
the garden, did not own the garden. If I stuck a spade 
into the ground, I should be astonished at what I found 
there . . . and just as I thought this I saw that the 
gardener was astonished too. 

Just as I was wondering why the man who used the 
spade did not profit by the spade, he brought me some- 
thing he had found actually in my soil. It was a thin 
worn gold piece of the Georges, of the sort which are 
called, I believe, Spade Guineas. Anyhow, a piece of 



If you do not see the parable as I saw it just then, I 


doubt if I can explain it just now. He could make a 
hundred other round yellow fruits : and this flat yellow 
one is the only sort that I can make. How it came 
there I have not a notion unless Edmund Burke 
dropped it in his hurry to get back to Butler's Court. 
But there it was : this is a cold recital of facts. There 
may be a whole pirate's treasure lying under the earth 
there, for all I know or care ; for there is no interest in 
a treasure without a Treasure Island to sail to. If there 
is a treasure it will never be found, for I am not interested 
in wealth beyond the dreams of avarice since I know 
that avarice has no dreams, but only insomnia. And, 
for the other party, my gardener would never consent 
to dig up the garden. 

Nevertheless, I was overwhelmed with intellectual 
emotions when I saw that answer to my question ; the 
question of why the garden did not belong to the gardener. 
No better epigram could be put in reply than simply 
putting the Spade Guinea beside the Spade. This was 
the only underground seed that I could understand. 
Only by having a little more of that dull, battered yellow 
substance could I manage to be idle while he was active. 
I am not altogether idle myself ; but the fact remains 
that the power is in the thin slip of metal we call the 
Spade Guinea, not in the strong square and curve of 
metal which we call the Spade. And then I suddenly 
remembered that as I had found gold on my ground by 
accident, so richer men in the north and west counties 
had found coal in their ground, also by accident. 

I told the gardener that as he had found the thing he 
ought to keep it, but that if he cared to sell it to me it 
could be valued properly, and then sold. He said, at 
first with characteristic independence, that he would 
like to keep it. He said it would make a brooch for his 
wife. But a little later he brought it back to me without 
explanation. I could not get a ray of light on the reason 
of his refusal ; but he looked lowering and unhappy. 
Had he some mystical instinct that it is just such acci- 
dental and irrational wealth that is the doom o/ all 


peasantries ? Perhaps he dimly felt that the boy's 
pirate tales are true ; and that buried treasure is a thing 
for robbers and not for producers. Perhaps he thought 
there was a curse on such capital : on the coal of the 
coal-owners, on the gold of the gold-seekers. Perhaps 
there is. 


E ING in bed would be an altogether perfect and 
supreme experience if only one had a coloured 
pencil long enough to draw on the ceiling. This, how- 
ever, is not generally a part of the domestic apparatus 
on the premises. I think myself that the thing might 
be managed with several pails of Aspinall and a broom. 
Only if one worked in a really sweeping and masterly 
way, and laid on the colour in great washes, it might 
drip down again on one's face in floods of rich and 
mingled colour like some strange fairy rain ; and that 
would have its disadvantages. I am afraid it would be 
necessary to stick to black and white in this form of 
artistic composition. To that purpose, indeed, the white 
ceiling would be of the greatest possible use ; in fact it is 
the only use I think of a white ceiling being put to. 

But for the beautiful experiment of lying in bed I 
might never have discovered it. For years I have been 
looking for some blank spaces in a modern house to draw 
on. Paper is much too small for any really allegorical 
design ; as Cyrano de Bergerac says : ' II me faut des 
geants/ But when I tried to find these fine clear spaces 
in the modern rooms such as we all live in I was con- 
tinually disappointed. I found an endless pattern and 
complication of small objects hung like a curtain of fine 
links between me and my desire. I examined the walls ; 
I found them to my surprise to be already covered with 

1 From Tremendous Trifles. 


wall-paper, and I found the wall-paper to be already 
covered with very uninteresting images, all bearing a 
ridiculous resemblance to each other. I could not under- 
stand why one arbitrary symbol (a symbol apparently 
entirely devoid of any religious or philosophical signifi- 
cance) should thus be sprinkled all over my nice walls 
like a sort of small-pox. The Bible must be referring to 
wall-papers, I think, when it says ' Use not vain repeti- 
tions, as the Gentiles do/ I found the Turkey carpet 
a mass of unmeaning colours, rather like the Turkish 
Empire, or like the sweetmeat called Turkish Delight. 
I do not exactly know what Turkish Delight really is ; 
but I suppose it is Macedonian Massacres. Everywhere 
that I went forlornly, with my pencil or my paint brush, 
I found that others had unaccountably been before me, 
spoiling the walls, the curtains, and the furniture with 
their childish and barbaric designs. 

Nowhere did I find a really clear space for sketching 
until this occasion when I prolonged beyond the proper 
limit the process of lying on my back in bed. Then the 
light of that white heaven broke upon my vision, that 
breadth of mere white which is indeed almost the defini- 
tion of Paradise, since it means purity and also means 
freedom. But alas ! like all heavens now that it is seen 
it is found to be unattainable ; it looks more austere and 
more distant than the blue sky outside the window. For 
my proposal to paint on it with the bristly end of a 
broom has been discouraged never mind by whom ; by 
a person debarred from all political rights and even my 
minor proposal to put the other end of the broom into the 
kitchen fire and turn it into charcoal has not been con- 
ceded. Yet I am certain that it was from persons in my 
position that all the original inspiration came for covering 
the ceilings of palaces and cathedrals with a riot of fallen 
angels or victorious gods. I am sure that it was only 
because Michael Angelo was engaged in the ancient and 
honourable occupation of lying in bed that he ever 


realized how the roof of the Sistine Chapel might be made 
into an awful imitation of a divine drama that could 
only be acted in the heavens. 

The tone now commonly taken towards the practice 
of lying in bed is hypocritical and unhealthy. Of all the 
marks of modernity that seem to mean a kind of de- 
cadence, there is none more menacing and dangerous 
than the exaltation of very small and secondary matters 
of conduct at the expense of very great and primary ones, 
at the expense of eternal ties and tragic human morality. 
If there is one thing worse than the modern weakening 
of major morals it is the modern strengthening of minor 
morals. Thus it is considered more withering to accuse 
a man of bad taste than of bad ethics. Cleanliness is not 
next to godliness nowadays, for cleanliness is made an 
essential and godliness is regarded as an offence. A play- 
wright can attack the institution of marriage so long as 
he does not misrepresent the manners of society, and I 
have met Ibsenite pessimists who thought it wrong to 
take beer but right to take prussic acid. Especially this 
is so in matters of hygiene ; notably such matters as 
lying in bed. Instead of being regarded, as it ought to 
be, as a matter of personal convenience and adjustment, 
it has come to be regarded by many as if it were a part of 
essential morals to get up early in the morning. It is 
upon the whole part of practical wisdom ; but there is 
nothing good about it or bad about its opposite. 

Misers get up early in the morning ; and burglars, I 
am informed, get up the night before. It is the great 
peril of our society that all its mechanism may grow more 
fixed while its spirit grows more fickle. A man's minor 
actions and arrangements ought to be free, flexible, crea- 
tive ; the things that should be unchangeable are his 
principles, his ideals. But with us the reverse is true ; 
our views change constantly ; but our lunch does not 
change. Now, I should like men to have strong and 
rooted conceptions, but as for their lunch, let them have 


it sometimes in the garden, sometimes in bed, sometimes 
on the roof, sometimes in the top of a tree. Let them 
argue from the same first principles, but let them do it in 
a bed, or a boat, or a balloon. This alarming growth of 
good habits really means a too great emphasis on those 
virtues which mere custom can ensure, it means too little 
emphasis on those virtues which custom can never quite 
ensure, sudden and splendid virtues of inspired pity or 
of inspired candour. If ever that abrupt appeal is made 
to us we may fail. A man can get used to getting up at 
five o'clock in the morning. A man cannot very well 
get used to being burnt for his opinions ; the first 
experiment is commonly fatal. Let us pay a little 
niore attention to these possibilities of the heroic 
and the unexpected. I dare say that when I get out 
of this bed I shall do some deed of an almost terrible 

For those who study the great art of lying in bed 
there is one emphatic caution to be added. Even for 
those who can do their work in bed (like journalists), 
still more for those w r hose work cannot be done in bed 
(as, for example, the professional harpooners of whales), 
it is obvious that the indulgence must be very occasional. 
But that is not the caution I mean. The caution is 
this : if you do lie in bed, be sure you do it without any 
reason or justification at all. I do not speak, of course, 
of the seriously sick. But if a healthy man lies in bed, 
let him do it without a rag of excuse ; then he will get 
up a healthy man. If he does it for some secondary 
hygienic reason, if he has some scientific explanation, 
he may get up a hypochondriac. 



about whom conversation always burst like a 
thunderstorm the moment he left the room. This arose 
from many separate touches about him. He was a 
light, loose person, who wore light, loose clothes, gene- 
rally white, as if he were in the tropics ; he was lean and 
graceful, like a panther, and he had restless black eyes. 

He was very impecunious. He had one of the habits 
of the poor in a degree so exaggerated as immeasurably 
to eclipse the most miserable of the unemployed : I mean 
the habit of continual change of lodgings. There are 
inland tracts of London where, in the very heart of 
artificial civilization, humanity has almost become 
nomadic once more. But in that restless interior there 
was no ragged tramp so restless as the elegant officer in 
the loose white clothes. He had shot a great many 
things in his time, to judge from his conversation, from 
partridges to elephants, but his slangier acquaintances 
were of opinion that ' the moon ' had been not unfre- 
quently amid the victims of his victorious rifle. The 
phrase is a fine one, and suggests a mystic, elvish, noc- 
turnal hunting. 

He carried from house to house and from parish to 
parish a kit which consisted practically of five articles. 
Two odd-looking, large-bladed spears, tied together, the 
weapons, I suppose, of some savage tribe, a green 
umbrella, a huge and tattered copy of the Pickwick 
Papers, a big game rifle, and a large sealed jar of some 
unholy Oriental wine. These always went into every 
new lodging, even for one night : and they went in quite 
undisguised, tied up in wisps of string or straw, to the 
delight of the poetic gutter boys in the little grey streets. 

I had forgotten to mention that he always carried also 

1 From The Club of Queer Trades. 


his old regimental sword. But this raised another odd 
question about him. Slim and active as he was, he was 
no longer very young. His hair, indeed, was quite grey, 
though his rather wild almost Italian moustache retained 
its blackness, and his face was careworn under its almost 
Italian gaiety. To find a middle-aged man who has 
left the army at the primitive rank of lieutenant is un- 
usual and not necessarily encouraging. With the more 
cautious and solid this fact, like his endless flitting, did 
the mysterious gentleman no good. 

Lastly, he was a man who told the kind of adventures 
which win a man admiration, but not respect. They 
came out of queer places, where a good man would 
scarcely find himself, out of opium dens and gambling 
hells ; they had the heat of the thieves' kitchens or 
smelled of a strange smoke from cannibal incantations. 
These are the kind of stories which discredit a person 
almost equally whether they are believed or no. If 
Keith's tales were false he was a liar ; if they were true 
he had had, at any rate, every opportunity of being a 

He had just left the room in which I sat with Basil 
Grant and his brother Rupert, the voluble amateur 
detective. And as I say was invariably the case, we 
were all talking about him. Rupert Grant was a clever 
young fellow, but he had that tendency which youth and 
cleverness, when sharply combined, so often produced, 
a somewhat extravagant scepticism. He saw doubt and 
guilt everywhere, and it was meat and drink to him. I 
had often got irritated with this boyish incredulity of his, 
but on this particular occasion I am bound to say that 
I thought him so obviously right that I was astounded 
at Basil's opposing him, however banteringly. 

I could swallow a good deal, being naturally of a simple 
turn, but I could not swallow Lieutenant Keith's auto- 

' You don't seriously mean, Basil/ I said, ' that you 
think that that fellow really did go as a stowaway with 
Nansen and pretend to be the Mad Mullah and \ 


' He has one fault/ said Basil thoughtfully, ' or virtue, 
as you may happen to regard it. He tells the truth in 
too exact and bald a style ; he is too veracious/ 

' Oh ! if you are going to be paradoxical/ said 
Rupert contemptuously, ' be a bit funnier than that. 
Say, for instance, that he has lived all his life in one 
ancestral manner/ 

' No, he 's extremely fond of change of scene/ replied 
Basil dispassionately, ' and of living in odd places. That 
doesn't prevent his chief trait being verbal exactitude. 
What you people don't understand is that telling a thing 
crudely and coarsely as it happened makes it sound 
frightfully strange. The sort of things Keith recounts 
are not the sort of things that a man would make up to 
cover himself with honour ; they are too absurd. But 
they are the sort of things that a man would do if he 
were sufficiently filled with the soul of skylarking/ 

1 So far from paradox/ said his brother, with some- 
thing rather like a sneer, ' you seem to be going in for 
journalese proverbs. Do you believe that truth is 
stranger than fiction ? ' 

' Truth must of necessity be stranger than fiction/ said 
Basil placidly. ' For fiction is a creation of the human 
mind, and therefore is congenial to it/ 

' Well, your lieutenant's truth is stranger, if it is truth, 
than anything I ever heard of/ said Rupert, relapsing 
into flippancy. ' Do you, on you'r soul, believe in all 
that about the shark and the camera ? ' 

' I believe Keith's words/ answered the other. ' He 
is an honest man/ 

' I should like to question a regiment of his landladies/ 
said Rupert cynically. 

' I must say, I think you can hardly regard him as 
unimpeachable merely in himself/ I said mildly ; ' his 
mode of life ' 

Before I could complete the sentence the door was 
flung open and Drummond Keith appeared again on the 
threshold, his white Panama on his head. 

' I say, Grant/ he said, knocking off his cigarette ash 


against the door, ' I Ve got no money in the world till next 
April. Could you lend me a hundred pounds ? There 's 
a good chap.' 

Rupert and I looked at each other in an ironical 
silence. Basil, who was sitting by his desk, swung 
the chair round idly on its screw and picked up a quill- 

' Shall I cross it ? ' he asked, opening a cheque-book. 

' Really/ began Rupert, with a rather nervous loud- 
ness, ' since Lieutenant Keith has seen fit to make this 
suggestion to Basil before his family, I ' 

* Here you are, Ugly/ said Basil, fluttering a cheque 
in the direction of the quite nonchalant officer. ' Are 
you in a hurry ? ' 

' Yes/ replied Keith, in a rather abrupt way. ' As a 
matter of fact I want it now. I want to see my er 
business man/ 

Rupert was eyeing him sarcastically, and I could see 
that it was on the tip of his tongue to say, inquiringly, 
' Receiver of stolen goods, perhaps/ What he did say 
was : 

* A business man ? That 's rather a general descrip- 
tion, Lieutenant Keith/ 

Keith looked at him sharply, and then said, with 
something rather like ill-temper : 

1 He 's a thingum-my-bob, a house-agent, say. I am 
going to see him/ 

' Oh, you 're going to see a house-agent, are you ? ' 
said Rupert Grant grimly. ' Do you know, Mr. Keith, 
I think I should very much like to go with you ? ' 

Basil shook with his soundless laughter. Lieutenant 
Keith started a little ; his brow blackened sharply. 

' I beg your pardon/ he said. ' What did you say ? ' 

Rupert's face had been growing from stage to stage 
of ferocious irony, and he answered : 

1 I was saying that I wondered whether you would 
mind our strolling along with you to this house-agent's/ 

The visitor swung his stick with a sudden whirling 


' Oh, in God's name, come to my house-agent's ! .Come 
to my bedroom. Look under my bed. Examine my 
dust-bin. Come along ! ' And with a furious energy 
which took away our breath he banged his way out of 
the room. 

Rupert Grant, his restless blue eyes dancing with his 
detective excitement, soon shouldered alongside him, 
talking to him with that transparent camaraderie which 
he imagined to be appropriate from the disguised police- 
man to the disguised criminal. His interpretation was 
certainly corroborated by one particular detail, the un- 
mistakable unrest, annoyance, and nervousness of the 
man with whom he walked. Basil and I tramped 
behind, and it was not necessary for us to tell each other 
that we had both noticed this. 

Lieutenant Drummond Keith led us through very 
extraordinary and unpromising neighbourhoods in the 
search for his remarkable house-agent. Neither of the 
brothers Grant failed to notice this fact. As the streets 
grew closer and more crooked and the roofs lower and 
the gutters grosser with mud, a darker curiosity deepened 
on the brows of Basil, and the figure of Rupert seen from 
behind seemed to fill the street with a gigantic swagger 
of success. At length, at the end of the fourth or fifth 
lean grey street in that sterile district we came suddenly 
to a halt, the mysterious lieutenant looking once more 
about him with a sort of sulky desperation. Above a 
row of shutters and a door, all indescribably dingy in 
appearance and in size scarce sufficient even for a penny 
toyshop, ran the inscription : ' P. MONTMORENCY, 

1 This is the office of which I spoke/ said Keith, in a 
cutting voice. ' Will you wait here a moment, or does 
your astonishing tenderness about my welfare lead you 
to wish to overhear everything I have to say to my 
business adviser ? ' 

Rupert's face was white and shaking with excitement ; 
nothing on earth would have induced him now to have 
abandoned his prey. 


' If you will excuse me/ he said, clenching his hands 
behind his back, ' I think I should feel myself justified 
in ' 

' Oh ! Come along in/ exploded the lieutenant. He 
made the same gesture of savage surrender. And he 
slammed into the office, the rest of us at his heels. 

P. Montmorency, house-agent, was a solitary old 
gentleman sitting behind a bare brown counter. He had 
an egglike head, froglike jaws, and a grey hairy fringe 
of aureole round the lower part of his face ; the whole 
combined with a reddish, aquiline nose. He wore a 
shabby black frock-coat, a sort of semi-clerical tie worn 
at a very unclerical angle, and looked, generally speaking, 
about as unlike the house-agent as anything could look, 
short of something like a sandwich-man or a Scotch 

We stood inside the room for fully forty seconds, and 
the odd old gentleman did not look at us. Neither, to 
tell the truth, odd as he was, did we look at him. Our 
eyes were fixed, where his were fixed, upon something 
that was crawling about on the counter in front of him. 
It was a ferret. 

The silence was broken by Rupert Grant. He spoke 
in that sweet and steely voice which he reserved for 
great occasions and practised for hours together in his 
bedroom. He said : 

' Mr. Montmorency, I think ? ' 

The old gentleman started, lifted his eyes with a 
bland bewilderment, picked up the ferret by the neck, 
stuffed it alive into his trousers pocket, smiled apolo- 
getically, and said : 

' Sir.' 

' You are a house-agent, are^you not ? ' asked Rupert. 

To the delight of that criminal investigator, Mr. 
Montmorency's eyes wandered unquietly towards Lieu- 
tenant Keith, the only man present that he knew. 

' A house-agent/ cried Rupert again, bringing out the 
word as if it were ' burglar/ 

' Yes ... oh, yes/ said the man, with a quavering 


and almost coquettish smile. ' I am a house-agent, 
... oh, yes/ 

' Well, I think/ said Rupert, with a sardonic sleekness, 
' that Lieutenant Keith wants to speak to you. We have 
come in by his request/ 

Lieutenant Keith was lowering gloomily, and now he 

' I have come, Mr. Montmorency, about that house 
of mine/ 

' Yes, sir/ said Montmorency, spreading his fingers on 
the flat counter. ' It 's all ready, sir. I 've attended 
to all your suggestions er about the br ' 

' Right/ cried Keith, cutting the words short with 
the startling neatness of a gunshot. ' We needn't 
bother about all that. If you Ve done what I told 
you, all right/ 

And he turned sharply towards the door. 

Mr. Montmorency, house-agent, presented a picture 
of pathos. After stammering a moment he said : 
' Excuse me ... Mr. Keith . . . there was another 
matter . . . about which I wasn't quite sure. I tried 
to get all the heating apparatus possible under the cir- 
cumstances . . . but in winter ... at that elevation . . / 

' Can't expect much, eh ? ' said the lieutenant, cutting 
in with the same sudden skill. ' No, of course not. 
That 's all right, Montmorency. There can't be any 
more difficulties/ and he put his hand on the handle of 
the door. 

' I think/ said Rupert Grant, with a satanic suavity, 
' that Mr. Montmorency has something further to say 
to you, lieutenant/ 

' Only/ said the house-agent, in desperation, ' what 
about the birds ? ' 

' I beg your pardon/ said Rupert, in a general 

'What about the birds?' said the house-agent 

Basil, who had remained throughout the proceedings 
in a state of Napoleonic calm, which might be more 


accurately described as a state of Napoleonic stupidity, 
suddenly lifted his leonine head. 

' Before you go, Lieutenant Keith/ he said. ' Come 
now. Really, what about the birds ? ' 

' I 'II take care of them/ said Lieutenant Keith, still 
with his long back turned to us ; ' they shan't suffer/ 

1 Thank you, sir, thank you/ cried the incomprehen- 
sible house-agent, with an air of ecstasy. ' You '11 
excuse my concern, sir. You know I 'm wild on wild 
animals. I 'm as wild as any of them on that. Thank 
you, sir. But there 's another thing . . / 

The lieutenant, with his back turned to us, exploded 
with an indescribable laugh and swung round to face 
us. It was a laugh, the purport of which was direct and 
essential, and yet which one cannot exactly express. As 
near as it said anything, verbally speaking, it said : 
' Well, if you must spoil it, you must. But you don't 
know what you 're spoiling/ 

' There is another thing/ continued Mr. Montmorency 
weakly. ' Of course, if you don't want to be visited 
you '11 paint the house green, but- ' 

' Green ! ' shouted Keith. * Green ! Let it be green 
or nothing. I won't have a house of another colour. 
Green ! ' and before we could realize anything the door 
had banged between us and the street. 

Rupert Grant seemed to take a little time to collect 
himself ; but he spoke before the echoes of the door 
died away. 

' Your client, Lieutenant Keith, appears somewhat 
excited/ he said. ' What is the matter with him ? Is 
he unwell ? ' 

' Oh, I should think not/ said Mr. Montmorency, in 
some confusion. * The negotiations have been some- 
what difficult the house is rather 

' Green/ said Rupert calmly. ' That appears to be a 
very important point. It must be rather green. May 
I ask you, Mr. Montmorency, before I rejoin my com- 
panion outside, whether, in your business, it is usual to 
ask for houses by their colour ? Do clients write to a 


house-agent asking for a pink house or a blue house ? 
Or, to take another instance, for a green house ? ' 

* Only/ said Montmorency, trembling, ' only to be 

Rupert had his ruthless smile. ' Can you tell me 
any place on Earth in which a green house would be 
inconspicuous ? ' 

The house-agent was fidgeting nervously in his pocket. 
Slowly drawing out a couple of lizards and leaving them 
to run on the counter, he said : 

' No ; I can't/ 

' You can't suggest an explanation ? ' 

' No/ said Mr. Montmorency, rising slowly and yet in 
such a way as to suggest a sudden situation. ' I can't. 
And may I, as a busy man, be excused if I ask you, 
gentlemen, if you have any demand to make of me in 
connection with my business. What kind of house 
would you desire me to get for you, sir ? ' 

He opened his blank blue eyes on Rupert, who seemed 
for the second staggered. Then he recovered himself 
with perfect common sense and answered : 

1 I am sorry, Mr. Montmorency. The fascination of 
your remarks has unduly delayed us from joining our 
friend outside. Pray excuse my apparent impertinence/ 

' Not at all, sir/ said the house-agent, taking a South 
American spider idly from his waistcoat pocket and 
letting it climb up the slope of his desk. ' Not at all, 
sir. I hope you will favour me again/ 

Rupert Grant dashed out of the office in a gust of 
anger, anxious to face Lieutenant Keith. He was gone. 
The dull, star-lit street was deserted. 

' What do you say now ? ' cried Rupert to his brother. 
His brother said nothing now. 

We all three strode down the street in silence, Rupert 
feverish, myself dazed, Basil, to all appearance, merely 
dull. We walked through grey street after grey street, 
turning corners, traversing squares, scarcely meeting any 
one, except occasional drunken knots of two or three. 

In one small street, however, the knots of two or 


three began abruptly to thicken into knots of five or six 
and then into great groups and then into a crowd. The 
crowd was stirring very slightly. But any one with a 
knowledge of the eternal populace knows that if the 
outside rim of a crowd stirs ever so slightly it means 
that there is madness in the heart and core of the mob. 
It soon became evident that something really important 
had happened in the centre of this excitement. We 
wormed our way to the front, with the cunning which is 
known only to Cockneys, and once there we soon learned 
the nature of the difficulty. There had been a brawl 
concerned with some six men, and one of them lay 
almost dead on the stones of the street. Of the other 
four, all interesting matters were, as far as we were con- 
cerned, swallowed in one stupendous fact. One of the 
four survivors of the brutal and perhaps fatal scuffle 
was the immaculate Lieutenant Keith, his clothes torn 
to ribbons, his eyes blazing, blood on his knuckles. One 
other thing, however, pointed at him in a worse manner. 
A short sword, or very long knife, had been drawn out 
of his elegant walking-stick, and lay in front of him upon 
the stones. It did not, however, appear to be bloody. 

The police had already pushed into the centre with 
their ponderous omnipotence, and even as they did so, 
Rupert Grant sprang forward with his incontrollable 
and intolerable secret. 

' That is the man, constable/ he shouted, pointing at 
the battered lieutenant. ' He is a suspicious character. 
He did the murder/ 

' There 's been no murder done, sir/ said the policeman, 
with his automatic civility. ' The poor man 's only 
hurt. I shall only be able to take the names and 
addresses of the men in the scuffle and have a good eye 
kept on them.' 

' Have a good eye kept on that one/ said Rupert, pale 
to the lips, and pointing to the ragged Keith. 

' All right, sir/ said the policeman, unemotionally, 
and went the round of the people present collecting the 
addresses. When he had completed his task the dusk 


had fallen and most of the people not immediately con- 
nected with the examination had gone away. He still 
found, however, one eager-faced stranger lingering on 
the outskirts of the affair. It was Rupert Grant. 

' Constable/ he said, ' I have a very particular reason 
for asking you a question. Would you mind telling me 
whether that military fellow who dropped his sword- 
stick in the row gave you an address or not ? ' 

' Yes, sir/ said the policeman, after a reflective pause ; 
' yes, he gave me his address/ 

' My name is Rupert Grant/ said that individual, 
with some pomp. ' I have assisted the police on more 
than one occasion. I wonder whether you would tell 
me, as a special favour, what address ? ' 

The constable looked at him. 

' Yes/ he said slowly, ' if you like. His address is : 
" The Elms, Buxton Common, near Purley, Surrey/' 

' Thank you/ said Rupert, and ran home through the 
gathering night as fast as his legs could carry him, re- 
peating the address to himself. 


Rupert Grant generally came down late in a rather 
lordly way to breakfast ; he contrived,! don't know how, 
to achieve always the attitude of the indulged younger 
brother. Next morning, however, when Basil and I 
came down we found him ready and restless. 

' Well/ he said sharply to his brother almost before 
we sat down to the meal. ' What do you think of your 
Drummond Keith now ? ' 

* What do I think of him ? ' inquired Basil slowly. 
' I don't think anything of him/ 

' I 'm glad to hear it/ said Rupert, buttering his 
toast with an energy that was somewhat exultant. ' I 
thought you 'd come round to my view, but I own I was 
startled at your not seeing it from the beginning. The 
man is a translucent liar and knave/ 

' I think/ said Basil, in the same heavy monotone as 
before, ' that I did not make myself clear. When I said 
that I thought nothing of him I meant grammatically 


what I said. I meant that I did not think about him ; 
that he did not occupy my mind. You, however, seem 
to me to think a lot of him, since you think him a knave. 
I should say he was glaringly good myself/ 

' I sometimes think you talk paradox for its own sake/ 
said Rupert, breaking an egg with unnecessary sharp- 
ness. ' What the deuce is the sense of it ? Here 's a 
man whose original position was, by our common agree- 
ment, dubious. He 's a wanderer, a teller of tall tales, 
a man who doesn't conceal his acquaintance with all 
the blackest and bloodiest scenes on earth. We take 
the trouble to follow him to one of his appointments, 
and if ever two human beings were plotting together 
and lying to every one ele, he and that impossible house- 
agent were doing it. We followed him home, and the 
very same night he is in the thick of a fatal, or nearly 
fatal, brawl, in which he is the only man armed. Really, 
if this is being glaringly good, I must confess that the 
glare does not dazzle me/ 

Basil was quite unmoved. ' I admit his moral good- 
ness is of a certain kind, a quaint, perhaps a casual kind. 
He is very fond of change and experiment. But all the 
points you so ingeniously make against him are mere 
coincidents or special pleading. It 's true he didn't 
want to talk about his house business in front of us. 
No man would. It 's true that he carries a swordstick. 
Any man might. It J s true he drew it in the shock of a 
street fight. Any man would. But there 's nothing really 
dubious in all this. There 's nothing to confirm ' 

As he spoke a knock came at the door. 

' If you please, sir/ said the landlady, with an alarmed 
air, ' there 's a policeman wants to see you/ 

1 Show him in/ said Basil, amid the blank silence. 

The heavy, handsome constable who appeared at the 
door spoke almost as soon as he appeared there. 

' I think one of you gentlemen/ he said, curtly but 
respectfully, * was present at the affair in Copper Street 
last night, and drew my attention very strongly to a 
particular man/ 


Rupert half rose from his chair, with eyes like diamonds, 
but the constable went on calmly, referring to a paper. 

' A young man with grey hair. Had light grey 
clothes, very good, but torn in a struggle. Gave his 
name as Drummond Keith.' 

' This is amusing/ said Basil, laughing. ' I was in 
the very act of clearing that poor officer's character of 
rather fanciful aspersions. What about him ? ' 

' Well, sir/ said the constable, ' I took all the men's 
addresses and had them watched. It wasn't serious 
enough to do more than that. All the other addresses 
are all right. But this man Keith gave a false address. 
The place doesn't exist.' 

The breakfast table was nearly flung over as Rupert 
sprang up, slapping both his thighs. 

' Well, by all that 's good/ he cried. ' This is a sign 
from heaven/ 

' It 's certainly very extraordinary/ said Basil quietly, 
with knitted brows. ' It 's odd the fellow should have 
given a false address, considering he was perfectly 
innocent in the ' 

' Oh, you jolly old early Christian duffer/ cried Rupert, 
in a sort of rapture, ' I don't wonder you couldn't be a 
judge. You think every one as good as yourself. Isn't 
the thing plain enough now ? A doubtful acquaintance ; 
rowdy stories, a most suspicious conversation, mean 
streets, a concealed knife, a man nearly killed, and, 
finally, a false address. That 's what we call glaring 

' It 's certainly very extraordinary/ repeated Basil. 
And he strolled moodily about the room. Then he 
said : f You are quite sure, constable, that there 's no 
mistake ? You got the address right, and the police 
have really gone to it and found it was a fraud ? ' 

' It was very simple, sir/ said the policeman, chuckling. 
' The place he named was a well-known common quite 
near London, anol our people were down there this 
morning before any of you were awake. And there 's 
no such house. In fact, there are hardly any houses at 


all. Though it is so near London, it 's a blank moor 
with hardly five trees on it, to say nothing of Christians. 
Oh, no, sir, the address was a fraud right enough. He 
was a clever rascal, and chose one of those scraps of lost 
England that people know nothing about. Nobody 
could say off-hand that there was not a particular house 
dropped somewhere about the heath. But as a fact, 
there isn't/ 

Basil's face during this sensible speech had been grow- 
ing darker and darker with a sort of desperate sagacity. 
He was cornered almost for the first time since I had 
known him ; and to tell the truth I rather wondered at 
the almost childish obstinacy which kept him so close to 
his original prejudice in favour of the wildly questionable 
lieutenant. At length he said : 

1 You really searched the common ? And the address 
was really not known in the district by the way, what 
was the address ? ' 

The constable selected one of his slips of paper and 
consulted it, but before he could speak Rupert Grant, 
who was leaning in the window in a perfect posture of 
the quiet and triumphant detective, struck in with the 
sharp and suave voice he loved so much to use. 

* Why, I can tell you that, Basil/ he said graciously, 
as he idly plucked leaves from a plant in the window. 
* I took the precaution to get this man's address from 
the constable last night/ 

' And what was it ? ' asked his brother gruffly. 

' The constable will correct me if I am wrong/ said 
Rupert, looking sweetly at the ceiling. ' It was " The 
Elms, Buxton Common, near Purleyi Surrey/' ' 

' Right, sir/ said the policeman, laughing and folding 
up his papers. f 1 

There was a silence, and the blue eyes of Basil looked 
blindly for a few seconds into the void. Then his head 
fell back in his chair so suddenly that I started up, 
thinking him ill. But before I could move further his 
lips had flown apart (I can use no other phrase) and a 
peal of gigantic laughter struck and shook the ceiling 


laughter that shook the laughter, laughter redoubled, 
laughter incurable, laughter that could not stop. 

Two whole minutes afterwards it was still unended ; 
Basil was ill with laughter ; but still he laughed. The 
rest of us were by this time ill almost with terror. 

' Excuse me, 1 said the insane creature, getting at last 
to his feet. ' I am awfully sorry. It is horribly rude. 
And stupid, too. And also unpractical, because we have 
not much time to lose if we 're to get down to that place. 
The train service is confoundedly bad, as I happen to 
know. It *s quite out of proportion to the compara- 
tively small distance/ 

1 Get down to that place ? ' I repeated blankly. ' Get 
down to what place ? ' 

' I have forgotten its name/ said Basil vaguely, 
putting his hands in his pockets as he rose. ' Something 
Common near Purley. Has any one got a time-table ? ' 

' You don't seriously mean/ cried Rupert, who had 
been staring in a sort of confusion of emotions. ' You 
don't mean that you want to go to Buxton Common, 
do you ? You can't mean that ! ' 

' Why shouldn't I go to Buxton Common ? ' asked 
Basil, smiling. 

' Why should you ? ' said his brother, catching hold 
again restlessly of the plant in the window and staring 
at the speaker. 

' To find our friend, the lieutenant, of course/ said 
Basil Grant. ' I thought you wanted to find him ? ' 

Rupert broke a branch brutally from the plant and 
flung it impatiently on the floor. ' And in order to find 
him/ he said, ' you suggest the admirable expedient of 
going to the only place on the habitable earth where we 
know he can't be/ 

The constable and I could not avoid breaking into a 
kind of assenting laugh, and Rupert, who had family 
eloquence, was encouraged to go on with a reiterated 
gesture : 

' He may be in Buckingham Palace ; he may be 
sitting astride the cross of St. Paul's ; he may be in 


Jail (which I think most likely) ; he may be in the 
Great Wheel ; he may be in my pantry ; he may be in< 
your store cupboard ; but out of all the innumerable 
Jxnnts of space, there is only one where he has just been 
Systematically looked for and where we know that he is 
not to be found and that, if I understand you rightly, 
is where you want us to go/ 

'Exactly/ said Basil calmly, getting into his great- 
coat ; ' I thought you might care to accompany me. 
If not, of course, make yourselves jolly here till I come 

It is our nature always to follow vanishing things and 
value them if they really show a resolution to depart. 
We all followed Basil, and I cannot say why, except 
that he was a vanishing thing, that he vanished decisively 
with his greatcoat and his stick. Rupert ran after him- 
with a considerable flurry of rationality. 

' My dear chap/ he cried, * do you really mean that 
you see any good in going down to this ridiculous scrub, 
where there is nothing but beaten tracks and a few- 
twisted trees, simply because it was the first place that 
came into a rowdy lieutenant's head when he wanted 
to give a lying reference in a scrape ? ' 

' Yes-/ said Basil, taking out his watch, ' and, what '$ 
worse, we Ve lost the train/ 

He paused a moment and then added : ' As a matter 
of fact, I think we may just as well go down later in the 
day. I have some writing to do, and I think you told 
me, Rupert, that you thought of going to the Dulwich 
Gallery. I was rather too impetuous. Very likely he 
wouldn't be in. But if we get down by the 5.15, which 
gets to Purley about 6, I expect we shall just catch him/ 

1 Catch him ! ' cried his brother, in a kind of final 
anger. ' I wish we could. Where the deuce shall we 
catch him now ? ' 

' I keep forgetting the name of the common/ said 
Basil, as he buttoned up his coat. ' The Elms what is 
it ? Buxton Common, near*Purley. That 's where we 
shall find him/ 


1 But there is no such place/ groaned Rupert ; but he 
followed his brother downstairs. 

We all followed him. We snatched our hats from the 
hat-stand and our sticks from the umbrella-stand ; and 
why we followed him we did not and do not know. But 
we always followed him, whatever was the meaning of 
the fact, whatever was the nature of his mastery. And 
the strange thing was that we followed him the more 
completely the more nonsensical appeared the thing 
which he said. At bottom, I believe, if he had risen 
from our breakfast table and said, ' I am going to find 
the Holy Pig with Ten Tails/ we should have followed 
him to the end of the world. 

I don't know whether this mystical feeling of mine 
about Basil on this occasion has got any of the dark and 
cloudy colour, so to speak, of the strange journey that 
we made the same evening. It was already very dense 
twilight when we struck southward from Purley. Suburbs 
and things on the London border may be, in most cases, 
commonplace and comfortable. But if ever by any 
chance they really are empty solitudes they are to the 
human spirit more desolate and dehumanized than any 
Yorkshire moors or Highland hills, because the sudden- 
ness with which the traveller drops into that silence has 
something about it as of evil elf-land. It seems to be 
one of the ragged suburbs of the Cosmos half-forgotten 
by God such a place was Buxton Common, near 

There was certainly a sort of grey futility in the land- 
scape itself. But it was enormously increased by the 
sense of grey futility in our expedition. The tracts of 
drab turf looked useless, the occasional wind-stricken 
trees looked useless, but we, the human beings, more 
useless than the hopeless turf or the idle trees. We were 
maniacs akin to the foolish landscape, for we were come 
to chase the wild goose which has led men and left men 
in bogs from the beginning. We were three dazed men 
under the captaincy of a madman going to look for a 
man whom we knew was not there in a house that had 


no existence. A livid sunset seemed to look at us with 
a sort of sickly smile before it died. 

Basil went on in front with his coat collar turned up, 
looking in the gloom rather like a grotesque Napoleon. 
We crossed swell after swell of the windy common in 
increasing darkness and entire silence. Suddenly Basil 
stopped and turned to us, his hands in his pockets. 
Through the dusk I could just detect that he wore a 
broad grin as of comfortable success. 

' Well/ he cried, taking his heavily gloved hands out 
of his pockets and slapping them together, ' here we are 
at last/ 

The wind swirled sadly over the homeless heath ; two 
desolate elms rocked above us in the sky like shapeless 
clouds of grey. There was not a sign of man or beast 
to the sullen circle of the horizon, and in the midst of 
that wilderness Basil Grant stood rubbing his hands 
with the air of an innkeeper standing at an open door. 

' How jolly it is/ he cried, ' to get back to civilization. 
That notion that civilization isn't poetical is a civilized 
delusion. Wait till you 've really lost yourself in nature, 
among the devilish woodlands and the cruel flowers. 
Then you '11 know that there 's no star like the red star 
of man that he lights on his hearthstone ; no river like 
the red river of man, the good red wine, which you, Mr. 
Rupert Grant, if I have any knowledge of you, will be 
drinking in two or three minutes in enormous quantities/ 

Rupert and I exchanged glances of fear. Basil went 
on heartily, as the wind died in the dreary trees. 

' You '11 find our host a much more simple kind of 
fellow in his own house. I did when I visited him when 
he lived in the cabin at Yarmouth, and again in the loft 
at the city warehouse. He 's really a very good fellow. 
But his greatest virtue remains what I said originally/ 

' What do you mean ? ' I asked, finding his speech 
straying towards a sort of sanity. ' What is his greatest 
virtue ? ' 

' His greatest virtue/ replied Basil, ' is that he always 
tells the literal truth/ 


1 Well, really/ cried Rupert, stamping about between 
cold and anger and slapping himself like a cabman, ' he 
doesn't seem to have been very literal or truthful in this 
case, nor you either. Why the deuce, may I ask, have 
you brought us out to this infernal place ? ' 

' He was too truthful, I confess/ said Basil, leaning 
against the tree ; ' too hardly veracious, too severely 
accurate. He should have indulged in a little more 
suggestiveness and legitimate romance. But come, it 's 
time we went in. We shall be late for dinner/ 

Rupert whispered to me with a white face : 

' Is it a hallucination, do you think ? Does he really 
fancy he sees a house ? ' 

' I suppose so/ I said. Then I added aloud, in what 
was meant to be a cheery and sensible voice, but which 
sounded in my ears almost as strange as the wind : 

' Come, come, Basil, my dear fellow. Where do you 
want us to go ? ' 

' Why, up here/ cried Basil, and with a bound and a 
swing he was above our heads swarming up the grey 
column of the colossal tree. 

' Come up, all of you/ he shouted out of the darkness, 
with the voice of a schoolboy. ' Come up. You '11 be 
late for dinner/ 

The two great elms stood so close together that there 
was hardly a yard anywhere, and in some places not 
more than a foot, between them. Thus occasional 
branches and even bosses and boles formed a series of 
footholds that almost amounted to a rude natural 
ladder. They must, I supposed, have been some sport 
of growth, Siamese twins of vegetation. 

Why we did it I cannot think ; perhaps, as I have 
said, the mystery of the waste and dark had brought 
and made primary something wholly mystical in Basil's 
supremacy. But we only felt that there was a giant's 
staircase going somewhere, perhaps to the stars ; and 
the victorious voice above called to us out of heaven. 
We hoisted ourselves up after him. 

Half-way up some cold tongue of the night air struck 



and sobered me suddenly. The hypnotism of the mad- 
man above fell from me, and I saw the whole map of our 
silly actions as clearly as if it were printed. I saw three 
modern men in black coats who had begun with a per- 
fectly sensible suspicion of a doubtful adventurer and 
who had ended, God knows how, half-way up a naked 
tree on a naked moorland, far from that adventurer and 
all his works, that adventurer who was at that moment, 
in all probability, laughing at us in some dirty Soho 
restaurant. He had plenty to laugh at us about, and no 
doubt he was laughing his loudest ; but when I thought 
what his laughter would be if he knew where we were 
at that moment, I nearly let go of the tree and fell. 

' Swinburne/ said Rupert suddenly, from above, 
' what are we doing ? Let J s get down again/ and by 
the mere sound of his voice I knew that he too felt the 
shock of wakening to reality. 

' We can't leave poor Basil/ I said. ' Can't you call 
to him or get hold of him by the leg ? ' 

' He 's too far ahead/ answered Rupert ; ' he 's nearly 
at the top of the beastly thing. Looking for Lieutenant 
Keith in the rooks' nests, I suppose/ 

We were ourselves by this time far on our frantic 
vertical journey. The mighty trunks were beginning 
to sway and shake slightly in the wind. Then I looked 
down and saw something which made me feel that we 
were far from the world in a sense and to a degree that 
I cannot easily describe. I saw that the almost straight 
lines of the tall elm trees diminished a little in perspec- 
tive as they fell. I was used to seeing parallel lines 
taper toward the sky. But to see them taper towards 
the earth made me feel lost in space, like a falling star. 

' Can nothing be done to stop Basil ? ' I called out. 

'No/ answered my fellow-climber. ' He 's too far 
up. He must get to the top, and when he finds nothing 
but wind and leaves he may go sane again. Hark at 
him above there ; you can just hear him talking to 

1 Perhaps he 's talking to us/ I said. 


c No/ said Rupert, ' he 'd shout if he was. I Ve never 
known him to talk to himself before; I am afraid he 
really is bad to-night ; it 's a known sign of the brain 

' Yes/ I said sadly, and listened. Basil's voice cer- 
tainly was sounding above us, and not by any means in 
the rich and riotous tones in which he had hailed us 
before. He was speaking quietly, and laughing every 
now and then, up there among the leaves and stars. 
After a silence mingled with this murmur, Rupert Grant 
suddenly said, ' My God ! ' with a violent voice. 

' What 's the matter are you hurt ? ' I cried alarmed. 

' No. Listen to Basil/ said the other in a very strange 
voice. ' He 's not talking to himself/ 

' Then he is talking to us/ I cried. 

' No/ said Rupert simply, * he 's talking to somebody 

Great branches of the elm loaded with leaves swung 
about us in a sudden burst of wind, but when it died 
down I could still hear the conversational voice above. 
I could hear two voices. 

Suddenly from aloft came Basil's boisterous hailing 
voice as before : ' Come up, you fellows. Here 's 
Lieutenant Keith/ 

And a second afterwards came the half-American 
voice we had heard in our chambers more than once. 
It called out : 

1 Happy to see you, gentlemen ; pray come in.' 

Out of a hole in an enormous dark egg-shaped thing 
pendent in the branches like a wasp's nest, was protrud- 
ing the pale face and fierce moustache of the lieutenant, 
his teeth shining with that slightly Southern air that 
belonged to him. 

Somehow or other, stunned and speechless, we lifted 
ourselves heavily into the opening. We fell into the 
full glow of a lamp-lit, cushioned, tiny room, with a 
circular wall lined with books, a circular table, and a 
circular seat round it. At this table sat three people. 
One was Basil, who, in the instant after alighting there, 


had fallen into an attitude of marmoreal ease as if he had 
been there from boyhood ; he was smoking a cigar with 
a slow pleasure. The second was Lieutenant Drummond 
Keith, who looked happy also, but feverish and doubtful 
compared with his granite guest. The third was the 
little bald-headed house-agent with the wild whiskers, 
who called himself Montmorency. The spears, the green 
umbrella, and the cavalry sword hung in parallels on 
the wall. The sealed jar of strange wine was on the 
mantelpiece, the enormous rifle in the corner. In the 
middle of the table was a magnum of champagne. 
Glasses were already set for us. 

The wind of the night roared far below us, like an 
ocean at the foot of a lighthouse. The room stirred 
slightly, as a cabin might in a mild sea. 

Our glasses were filled, and we still sat there dazed 
and dumb. Then Basil spoke. 

' You seem still a little doubtful, Rupert. Surely 
there is no further question about the cold veracity of 
our injured host/ 

' I don't quite grasp it all, 1 said Rupert, blinking still 
in the sudden glare. * Lieutenant Keith said his address 

' It 's really quite right, sir/ said Keith, with an open 
smile. ' The bobby asked me where I lived. And I 
said, quite truthfully, that I lived in the elms on Buxton 
Common, near Purley. So I do. This gentleman, Mr. 
Montmorency, whom I think you have met before, is an 
agent for houses of this kind. He has a special line in 
arboreal villas. It 's being kept rather quiet at present, 
because the people who want these houses don't want 
them to get too common. But it 's just the sort of 
thing that a fellow like myself, racketing about in all 
sorts of queer corners of London, naturally knocks up 

' Are you really an agent for arboreal villas ? ' asked 
Rupert eagerly, recovering his ease with the romance of 
the reality. 

Mr. Montmorency, in his embarrassment, fingered one 


of his pockets and nervously pulled out a snake, which 
crawled about the table. 

' W well, yes, sir/ he said. ' The fact was er my 
people wanted me very much to go into the house- 
agency business. But I never cared myself for anything 
but natural history and botany and things like that. 
My poor parents have been dead some years now, but 
naturally I like to respect their wishes. And I thought 
somehow that an arboreal villa agency was a sort of 
of compromise between being a botanist and being 
a house- agent/ 

Rupert could not help laughing. ' Do you have 
much custom ? ' he asked. 

' N not much/ replied Mr. Montmorency, and then 
he glanced at Keith, who was (I am convinced) his only 
client. ' But what there is very select/ 

' My dear friends/ said Basil, puffing his cigar, ' always 
remember two facts. The first is that though, when 
you are guessing about any one who is sane, the sanest 
thing is the most likely ; when you are guessing about 
any one who is, like our host, insane, the maddest thing 
is the most likely. The second is to remember that very 
plain literal fact always seems fantastic. If Keith had 
taken a little brick box of a house in Clapham with 
nothing but railings in front of it and had written " The 
Elms " over it, you wouldn't have thought there was 
anything fantastic about that. Simpfy because it was 
a great blaring, swaggering lie you would have believed 

' Drink your wine, gentlemen/ said Keith, laughing, 
' for this confounded wind will upset it/ 

We drank, and as we did so, although the hanging 
house, by a cunning mechanism, swung only slightly, 
we knew that the great head of the elm-trees swayed in 
the sky like a stricken thistle. 



' HTHE roads certainly seem to be very irregular/ said 

-L Dorian reflectively. 

' Well,' cried Patrick, with a queer kind of impatience, 
' you 're English, and I 'm not. You ought to know why 
the road winds about like this. Why, the Saints deliver 
us/ he cried, ' it 's one of the wrongs of Ireland that she 
can't understand England. England won't understand 
herself. England won't tell us why these roads go 
wriggling about. Englishmen won't tell us ! You won't 
tell us ! ' 

' Don't be too sure/ said Dorian, with a quiet irony. 

Dalroy, with an irony far from quiet, emitted a loud 
yell of victory. 

' Right/ he shouted. ' More Songs of the Car Club 1 
We 're all poets here, I hope. Each shall write some- 
thing about why the road jerks about so much. So 
much as this, for example/ he added, as the whole 
vehicle nearly rolled over in a ditch. 

For indeed Pump appeared to be attacking such in- 
clines as are more suitable for a goat than a small motor- 
car. This may have been exaggerated in the emotions 
of his companions, who had both, for different reasons, 
seen much of mere flat country lately. The sensation 
was like a combination of trying to get into the middle 
of the maze at Hampton Court, and climbing the spiral 
staircase to the Belfry at Bruges. 

* This is the right way to roundabout/ said Dalroy 
cheerfully. ' Charming place. Salubrious spot. You 
can't miss it. First to the left and right and straight 
on round the corner and back again. That '11 do for 
my poem. Get on, you slackers ; why aren't you 
writing your poems ? ' 

' I '11 try one if you like/ said Dorian, treating his 

i From The Flying Inn. 


flattered egotism lightly. ' But it 's too dark to write ; 
and getting darker.' 

Indeed they had come under a shadow between them 
and the stars like the brim of a giant's hat ; only through 
the holes and rents in which the summer stars could now 
look down on them. The hill like a cluster of domes, 
though smooth and even bare in its lower contours, was 
topped with a tangle of spreading trees that sat above 
them like a bird brooding over its nest. The wood was 
larger and vaguer than the clump that is the crown of the 
hill at Chanctonbury ; but was rather like it and held 
much the same high and romantic position. The next 
moment they were in the wood itself, and winding in and 
out among the trees by a ribbon of paths. The emerald 
twilight between the stems, combined with the dragon- 
like contortions of the great grey roots of the beeches, 
had a suggestion of monsters and the deep sea ; espe- 
cially as a long litter of crimson and copper-coloured 
fungi, which might well have been the more gorgeous 
types of anemone or jelly-fish, reddened the ground like 
a sunset dropped from the sky. And yet, contradic- 
torily enough, they had also a strong sense of being high 
up ; and even near to heaven ; and the brilliant summer 
stars that stared through the chinks of the leafy roof, 
might almost have been white starry blossoms on the 
trees of the wood. 

But though they had entered the wood as if it were 
a house, their strongest sensation still was the rotatory ; 
it seemed as if that high green house went round and 
round like a revolving lighthouse or the whizzygig temple 
in the old pantomimes. The stars seemed to circle over 
their heads ; and Dorian felt almost certain he had seen 
the same beech-tree twice. 

At length they came to a central place where the hill 
rose in a sort of cone in the thick of its trees, lifting its 
trees with it. Here Pump stopped the car ; and clamber- 
ing up the slope came to the crawling colossal roots of a 
very large but very low beech-tree. It spread out to the 
four quarters of heaven more in the manner of an octopus 


than a tree ; and within its low crown branches there 
was a kind of hollow, like a cup, into which Mr. Humphrey 
Pump, of ' The Old Ship/ Pebbleswick, suddenly and 
entirely disappeared. 

When he appeared it was with a kind of rope ladder, 
which he politely hung over the side for his companions 
to ascend by ; but the Captain preferred to swing him- 
self on to one of the octopine branches with a whirl of 
large wild legs worthy of a chimpanzee. When they 
were established there, each propped in a hollow against 
a branch, almost as comfortably as in an arm-chair, 
Humphrey himself descended once more and began to 
take out their simple stores. The dog was still asleep 
in the car. 

' An old haunt of yours, Hump, I suppose/ said the 
Captain. ' You seem quite at home/ 

* I am at home/ answered Pump, with gravity. ' At 
the sign of "The Old Ship." And he stuck the old 
blue and red sign-board erect among the toadstools, 
as if inviting the passer-by to climb the tree for a 

The tree just topped the mound or clump of trees, and 
from it they could see the whole champaign of the country 
they had passed ; with the silver roads roaming about in 
it like rivers. They were so exalted they could almost 
fancy the stars would burn them. 

' Those roads remind me of the songs you Ve all pro- 
mised/ said Dalroy at last. ' Let 's have some supper, 
Hump, and then recite/ 

Humphrey had hung one of the motor lanterns on 
to a branch above him, and proceeded, by the light of it, 
to tap the kegs of rum and hand round the cheese. 

* What an extraordinary thing ! ' exclaimed Dorian 
Wimpole suddenly. ' Why, I 'm quite comfortable ! 
Such a thing has never happened before, I should imagine. 
And how holy this cheese tastes ! ' 

' It has gone on a pilgrimage/ answered Dalroy, ' or 
rather a crusade. It 's a heroic, a fighting cheese. The 
rum 's good, too. I Ve earned this glass of rum earned 


it by Christian humility. For nearly a month I Ve 
lowered myself to the beasts of the field, and gone about 
on all fours like a teetotaller. Hump, circulate the bottle 
I mean the cask and let us have some of this poetry 
you 're so keen about. Each poem must have the same 
title, you know ; it 's a rattling good title. It 's called 
" An Inquiry into the causes geological, historical, agri- 
cultural, psychological, psychical, moral, spiritual, and 
theological of the alleged cases of double, treble, quad- 
ruple, and other curvature in the English Road, con- 
ducted by a specially appointed secret commission in a 
hole in a tree by admittedly judicious and academic 
authorities specially appointed by themselves to report 
to the Dog Quoodle, having power to add to their number 
and also to take away the number they first thought of ; 
God save the King/ Having delivered this formula 
with blinding rapidity, he added rather breathlessly, 
* That 's the note to strike. The lyric note/ 

For all his rather formless hilarity, Dalroy still im- 
pressed the poet as being more distrait than the others, 
as if his mind were labouring with some bigger thing in 
the background. He was in a sort of creative trance ; 
and Humphrey Pump, who knew him like his own soul, 
knew well that it was not mere literary creation. Rather 
it was a kind of creation which many modern moralists 
would call destruction. For Patrick Dalroy was, not a 
little to his misfortune, what is called a man of action, 
as Captain Dawson realized, when he found his entire 
person a bright pea- green. Fond as he was of jokes and 
rhymes, nothing he could write, or even sing, ever satisfied 
him like something he could do. 

Thus it happened that his contribution to the metrical 
inquiry into the crooked roads was avowedly hasty and 
flippant : while Dorian, who was of the opposite temper, 
the temper that receives impressions instead of pushing 
out to make them, found his artist's love of beauty 
fulfilled as it had never been before in that noble nest ; 
and was far more serious and human than usual. Patrick's 
verses ran : 


' Some say that Guy of Warwick, 
The man that killed the Cow 
And brake the mighty Boar alive 
Beyond the Bridge at Slough ; 
Went up against a Loathly W^orm 
That wasted all the Downs, 
And so the roads they twist and squirm 
(If I may be allowed the term) 
From the writhing of the stricken Worm 
That died in seven towns. 

I see no scientific proof 

That this idea is sound, 

And I should say they wound about 

To find the town of Roundabout, 

The merry town of Roundabout, 

That makes the world go round. 

Some say that Robin Goodfellow, 
Whose lantern lights the meads 
(To steal a phrase Sir Walter Scott 
In heaven no longer needs), 
Such dance around the trysting-place 
The moonstruck lover leads ; 
Which superstition I should scout 
There is more faith in honest doubt 
(As Tennyson has pointed out) 
Than in those nasty creeds. 

But peace and righteousness (St. John) 

In Roundabout can kiss, 

And since that's all that's found about 

The pleasant town of Roundabout, 

The roads they simply bound about 

To find out where it is. 

Some say that when Sir Lancelot 

Went forth to find the Grail, 

Grey Merlin wrinkled up the roads 

For hope that he should fail ; 

All roads led back to Lyonesse 

And Camelot in the Vale, 

I cannot yield assent to this 

Extravagant hypothesis, 

The plain, shrewd Briton will dismiss 

Such rumours (Daily Mail). 

But in the streets of Roundabout 

Are no such factions found, 


Or theories to expound about, 
Or roll upon the ground about, 
In the happy town of Roundabout, 
That makes the world go round. J 

Patrick Dalroy relieved his feelings by finishing with a 
shout, draining a stiff glass of his sailor's wine, turning 
restlessly on his elbow and looking across the landscape 
towards London. 

Dorian Wimpole had been drinking golden rum and 
strong starlight and the fragrance of forests ; and though 
his verses too were burlesque, he read them more emo- 
tionally than was his wont : 

* Before the Roman came to Rye or out to Severn strode, 
The rolling English drunkard made the rolling English road ; 
A reeling road, a rolling road, that rambles round the shire, 
And after him the parson ran, the sexton and the squire ; 
A merry road, a mazy road, and such as we did tread 
The night we went to Birmingham by way of Beachy Head. 

I knew no harm of Bonaparte and plenty of the Squire, 
And for to fight the Frenchman I did not much desire ; 
But I did bash their baggonets because they came arrayed 
To straighten out the crooked road an English drunkard made, 
Where you and I went down the lane with ale-mugs in our 

The night we went to Glastonbury by way of Goodwin Sands. 

His sins they were forgiven him ; or why do flowers run 
Behind him ; and the hedges all strengthing in the sun ? 
The wild thing went from left to right and knew not which 

was which, 
But the wild rose was above him when they found him in the 


God pardon us, nor harden us ; we did not see so clear 
The night we went to Bannockburn by way of Brighton Pier. 

My friends, we will not go again or ape an ancient rage, 
Or stretch the folly of our youth to be the shame of age, 
But walk with clearer eyes and ears this path that wandereth, 
And see undrugged in evening light the decent inn of death ; 
For there is good news yet to hear and fine things to be seen, 
Before we go to Paradise by way of Kensal Green/ 



HTHERE is something creepy in the flat Eastern 
-* Counties ; a brush of the white feather. There is 
a stillness, which is rather of the mind than of the bodily 
senses. Rapid changes and sudden revelations of 
scenery, even when they are soundless, have something 
in them analogous to a movement of music, to a crash or 
a cry. Mountain hamlets spring -out on us with a shout 
like mountain brigands. Comfortable valleys accept us 
with open arms and warm words, like comfortable inn- 
keepers. But travelling in the great level lands has a 
curiously still and lonely quality ; lonely even when 
there are plenty of people on the road and in the market- 
place. One's voice seems to break an almost elvish 
silence, and something unreasonably weird in the phrase 
of the nursery tales, 4< And he went a little farther and 
came to another place/ comes back into the mind. 

In some such mood I came along a lean, pale road 
south of the fens, and found myself in a large, quiet, and 
seemingly forgotten village. It was one of those places 
that instantly produce a frame of mind which, it may be, 
one afterwards decks out with unreal details. I dare 
say that grass did not really grow in the streets, but I 
came away with a curious impression that it did. I 
dare say the market-place was not literally lonely and 
without sign of life, but it left the vague impression of 
being so. The place was large and even loose in design, 
yet it had the air of something hidden away and always 
overlooked. It seemed shy, like a big yokel ; the low 
roofs seemed to be ducking behind the hedges and rail- 
ings, and the chimneys holding their breath. I came 
into it in that dead hour of the afternoon which is neither 
after lunch nor before tea, nor anything else even on a 
half-holiday ; and I had a fantastic feeling that I had 
strayed into a lost and extra hour that is not numbered 
in the twenty-four. 

1 From A Miscellany of Men. 


I entered an inn which stood openly in the market- 
place yet was almost as private as a private house. Those 
who talk of ' public-houses ' as if they were all one 
problem would have been both puzzled and pleased with 
such a place. In the front window a stout old lady in 
black with an elaborate cap sat doing a large piece of 
needlework. She had a kind of comfortable Puritanism 
about her ; and might have been (perhaps she was) the 
original Mrs. Grundy. A little more withdrawn into the 
parlour sat a tall, strong, and serious girl, with a face of 
beautiful honesty and a pair of scissors stuck in her belt, 
doing a small piece of needlework. Two feet behind 
them sat a hulking labourer with a humorous face like 
wood painted scarlet, before a huge mug of mild beer 
which he had not touched and probably would not 
touch for hours. On the hearthrug there was an equally 
motionless cat ; and on the table a copy of Household 

I was conscious of some atmosphere, still and yet 
bracing, that I had met somewhere in literature. There 
was poetry in it as well as piety ; and yet it was not 
poetry after my particular taste. It was somehow at 
once solid and airy. Then I remembered that it was 
the atmosphere in some of Wordsworth's rural poems ; 
which are full of genuine freshness and wonder, and yet 
are in some incurable way commonplace. This was 
strange ; for Wordsworth's men were of the rocks and 
fells, and not of the fenlands or flats. But perhaps it is 
the clearness of still water and the mirrored skies of 
meres and pools that produces this crystalline virtue. 
Perhaps that is why Wordsworth is called a Lake Poet 
instead of a mountain poet. Perhaps it is the water 
that does it. Certainly the whole of that town was like 
a cup of water given at morning. 

After a few sentences exchanged at long intervals in 
the manner of rustic courtesy, I inquired casually what 
was the name of the town. The old lady answered that 
its name was Stilton, and confposedly continued her 
needlework. But I had paused with my mug in air, and 


was gazing at her with a suddenly arrested concern. 
4 I suppose/ I said, ' that it has nothing to do with the 
cheese of that name ? ' ' Oh yes/ she answered, with a 
staggering indifference, ' they used to make it here/ 

I put down my mug with a gravity far greater 
than her own. ' But this place is a Shrine ! ' I said. 
' Pilgrims should be pouring into it from wherever the 
English legend has endured alive. There ought to be a 
colossal statue in the market-place of the man who in- 
vented Stilton cheese. There ought to be another 
colossal statue of the first cow who provided the founda- 
tions of it. There should be a burnished tablet let into 
the ground on the spot where some courageous man first 
ate Stilton cheese, and survived. On the top of a neigh- 
bouring hill (if there are any neighbouring hills) there 
should be a huge model of a Stilton cheese, made of some 
rich green marble and engraven with some haughty 
motto : I suggest something like " Ver non semper viret ; 
sed Stiltonia semper virescit." The old lady said, ' Yes, 
sir/ and continued her domestic occupations. 

After a strained and emotional silence, I said, ' If I 
take a meal here to-night can you give me any Stilton ? ' 

1 No, sir ; I 'm afraid we haven't got any Stilton,' said 
the immovable one, speaking as if it were something 
thousands of miles away. 

' This is awful/ I said : for it seemed to me a strange 
allegory of England as she is now ; this little town that 
had lost its glory and forgotten, so to speak, the meaning 
of its own name. And I thought it yet more symbolic 
because from all that old and full and virile life the great 
cheese was gone ; and only the beer remained. And 
even that will be stolen by the Liberals or adulterated by 
the Conservatives. Politely disengaging myself, I made 
my way as quickly as possible to the nearest large, noisy, 
and nasty town in that neighbourhood, where I sought 
out the nearest vulgar, tawdry, and avaricious restaurant. 
There (after trifling with beef, mutton, puddings, pies, 
and so on) I got a Stilton cheese. I was so much moved 
by my memories that I wrote a sonnet to the cheese. 


Some critical friends have hinted to me that my sonnet 
is not strictly new ; that it contains ' echoes ' (as they 
express it) of some other poem that they have read some- 
where. Here, at least, are the lines I wrote : 


Stilton, thou shouldst be living at this hour. 
And so thou art. Nor losest grace thereby ; 
England has need of thee, and so have I 
She is a Fen. Far as the eye can scour, 
League after grassy league from Lincoln tower 
To Stilton in the fields, she is a Fen. 
Yet this high cheese, by choice of fenland men, 
Like a tall green volcano rose in power. 

Plain living and long drinking are no more, 
And pure religion, reading Household Words, 
And sturdy manhood, sitting still all day, 
Shrink, like this cheese that crumbles to its core ; 
While my digestion, like the House of Lords, 
The heaviest burdens on herself doth lay. 

I confess I feel myself as if some literary influence, 
something that has haunted me, were present in this 
otherwise original poem ; but it is hopeless to disen- 
tangle it now. 


HTHE word content is not inspiring nowadays ; rather 
A it is irritating because it is dull. It prepares the 
mind for a little sermon in the style of the Vicar of Wake- 
field about how you and I should be satisfied with our 
countrified innocence,and our simple village sports. The 
word, however, has two meanings, somewhat singularly 
connected ; the ' sweet content ' of the poet and the 
' cubic content ' of the mathematician. Some distin- 

1 From A Miscellany oj Men. 


guish these by stressing the different syllables. Thus, 
it might happen to any of us, at some social juncture, to 
remark gaily, * Of the content of the King of the Cannibal 
Islands' stewpot I am content to be ignorant ' ; or * Not 
content with measuring the cubic content of my safe, you 
are stealing the spoons/ And there really is an analogy 
between the mathematical and the moral use of the term, 
for lack of the observation of which the latter has been 
much weakened and misused. 

The preaching of contentment is in disrepute, well 
deserved in so far that the moral is really quite inapplic- 
able to the anarchy and insane peril of our tall and top- 
pling cities. Content suggests some kind of security ; 
and it is not strange that our workers should often think 
about rising above their position, since they have so con- 
tinually to think about sinking below it. The philan- 
thropist who urges the poor to saving and simple pleasures 
deserves all the derision that he gets. To advise people 
to be content with what they have got may or may not 
be sound moral philosophy. 

But to urge people to be content with what they 
haven't got is a piece of impudence hard for even the 
English poor to pardon. But though the creed of content 
is unsuited to certain special riddles and wrongs, it re- 
mains true for the normal of mortal life. We speak of 
divine discontent ; discontent may sometimes be a 
divine thing, but content must always be the human 
thing. It may be true that a particular man, in his rela- 
tion to his master or his neighbour, to his country or his 
enemies, will do well to be fiercely unsatisfied or thirsting 
for an angry justice. But it is not true, no sane person 
can call it true, that man as a whole in his general attitude 
towards the world, in his posture towards death or green 
fields, towards the weather or the baby, will be wise to 
cultivate dissatisfaction. In a broad estimate of our 
earthly experience, the great truism on the tablet remains : 
he must not covet his neighbour's ox nor his ass nor any- 
thing that is his. In highly complex and scientific civi- 
lizations he may sometimes find himself forced ink) an 


exceptional vigilance. But, then, in highly complex and 
scientific civilizations, nine times out of ten, he only 

wants his own ass back. 


But I wish to urge the case for cubic content ; in which 
(even more than in moral content) I take a personal 
interest. Now, moral content has been undervalued and 
neglected because of its separation from the other mean- 
ing. It has become a negative rather than a positive 
thing. In some accounts of contentment it seems to be 
little more than a meek despair. 

But this is not the true meaning of the term ; it should 
stand for the idea of a positive and thorough appreciation 
of the content of anything ; for feeling the substance and 
not merely the surface of experience. ' Content ' ought 
to mean in English, as it does in French, being pleased ; 
placidly, perhaps, but still positively pleased. Being con- 
tented with bread and cheese ought not to mean not caring 
what you eat. It ought to mean caring for bread and 
cheese ; handling and enjoying the cubic content of the 
bread and cheese and adding it to your own. Being con- 
tent with an attic ought not to mean being unable to move 
from it and resigned to living in it. It ought to mean 
appreciating what there is to appreciate in such a posi- 
tion ; such as the quaint and elvish slope of the ceiling 
or the sublime aerial view of the opposite chimney-pots. 
And in this sense contentment is a real and even an 
active virtue ; it is not only affirmative, but creative. 
The poet in the attic does not forget the attic in poetic 
musings ; he remembers whatever the attic has of poetry ; 
he realizes how high, how starry, how cool, how unadorned 
and simple in short, how Attic is the attic. 

True contentment is a thing as active as agriculture. 
It is the power of getting out of any situation all that 
there is in it. It is arduous and it is rare. The absence 
of this digestive talent is what makes so cold and in- 
credible the tales of so many people who say they have 
been * through ' things ; when it is evident that they 
have come out on the other side quite unchanged. A 


man might have gone ' through ' a plum pudding as a 
bullet might go through a plum pudding ; it depends on 
the size of the pudding and the man. But the awful 
and sacred question is, ' Has the pudding been through 
him ? ' Has he tasted, appreciated, and absorbed the 
solid pudding, with its three dimensions and its three 
thousand tastes and smells ? Can he offer himself to the 
eyes of men as one who has cubically conquered and 

contained a pudding ? 

* ****** 

In the same way we may ask of those who profess to 
have passed through trivial or tragic experiences whether 
they have absorbed the content of them ; whether they 
licked up such living water as there was. It is a perti- 
nent question in connexion with many modern problems. 

Thus the young genius says, ' I have lived in my dreary 
and squalid village before I found success in Paris or 
Vienna/ The sound philosopher will answer, ' You have 
never lived in your village, or you would not call it 
dreary and squalid/ 

Thus the Imperialist, the Colonial idealist (who com- 
monly speaks and always thinks with a Yankee accent), 
will say, ' I Ve been right away from these little muddy 
islands, and seen God's great seas and prairies/ The 
sound philosopher will reply, ' You have never been in 
these islands ; you have never seen the weald of Sussex 
or the plain of Salisbury ; otherwise you could never 
have called them either muddy or little/ 

Thus the Suffragette will say, ' I have passed through 
the paltry duties of pots and pans, the drudgery of the 
vulgar kitchen ; but I have come out to intellectual 
liberty/ The sound philosopher will answer, ' You 
have never passed through the kitchen, or you never 
would call it vulgar. Wiser and stronger women than 
you have really seen a poetry in pots and pans ; naturally, 
because there is a poetry in them/ It is right for the 
village violinist to climb into fame in Paris or Vienna ; 
it is right for the stray Englishman to climb across the 
high shoulder of the world ; it is right for the woman to 


climb into whatever cathedra or high places she can allow 
to her sexual dignity. But it is wrong that any of these 
climbers should kick the ladder by which they have 
climbed. But indeed these bitter people who record 
their experiences really record their lack of experiences. 
It is the countryman who has not succeeded in being 
a countryman who comes up to London. It is the 
clerk who has not succeeded in being a clerk who tries 
(on vegetarian principles) to be a countryman. And the 
woman with a past is generally a woman angry about the 
past she never had. 

When you have really exhausted an experience you 
always reverence and love it. The two things that 
nearly all of us have thoroughly and really been through 
are childhood and youth. And though we would not 
have them back again on any account, we feel that they 
are both beautiful, because we have drunk them dry. 


I MET a man the other day who did not believe in 
fairy tales. I do not mean that he did not believe 
in the incidents narrated 1 in them that he did not believe 
that a pumpkin could turn into a coach. He did, indeed, 
entertain this curious disbelief. And, like all the other 
people I have ever met who entertained it, he was wholly 
unable to give me an intelligent reason for it. He tried 
the laws of nature, but he soon dropped that. Then he 
said that pumpkins were unalterable in ordinary experi- 
ence, and that we all reckoned on their infinitely pro- 
tracted pumpkinity. But I pointed out to him that this 
was not an attitude we adopt specially towards impossible 
marvels, but simply the attitude we adopt towards all 
unusual occurrences. If we were certain of miracles we 
should not count on them. Things that happen very 

1 From Tremendous Trifles. 


seldom we all leave out of our calculations, whether they 
are miraculous or not. I do not expect a glass of water 
to be turned into wine ; but neither do I expect a glass 
of water to be poisoned with prussic acid. I do not in 
ordinary business relations act on the assumption that 
the editor is a fairy ; but neither do I act on the assump- 
tion that he is a Russian spy, or the lost heir of the Holy 
Roman Empire. What we assume in action is not that 
the natural order is unalterable, but simply that it is 
much safer to bet on common incidents than on un- 
common ones. This does not touch the credibility of 
any attested tale about a Russian spy or a pumpkin 
turned into a coach. If I had seen a pumpkin turned 
into a Panhard motor-car with my own eyes that would 
not make me any more inclined to assume that the same 
thing would happen again. I should not invest largely 
in pumpkins with an eye to the motor trade. Cinderella 
got a ball dress from the fairy ; but I do not suppose 
that she looked after her own clothes any the less after it. 
But the view that fairy tales cannot really have hap- 
pened, though crazy, is common. The man I speak of 
disbelieved in fairy tales in an even more amazing and 
perverted sense. He actually thought that fairy tales 
ought not to be told to children. That is (like a belief 
in slavery or annexation) one of those intellectual errors 
which lie very near to ordinary mortal sins. There are 
some refusals which, though they may be done what is 
called conscientiously, yet carry so much of their whole 
horror in the very act of them, that a man must in doing 
them not only harden but slightly corrupt his heart. 
One of them was the refusal of milk to young mothers 
when their husbands were in the field against us. Another 
is the refusal of fairy tales to children. 


The man had come to see me in connexion with some 
silly society of which I am an enthusiastic member. He 
was a fresh-coloured, short-sighted young man, like a 
stray curate who was too helpless even to find his way to 
the Church of England. He had a curious green tieck- 


tie and a very long neck ; I am always meeting idealists 
with very long necks. Perhaps it is that their eternal 
aspiration slowly lifts their heads nearer and nearer to 
the stars. Or perhaps it has something to do with the 
fact that so many of them are vegetarians : perhaps they 
are slowly evolving the neck of the giraffe so that they 
can eat all the tops of the trees in Kensington Gardens. 
These things are in every sense above me. Such, any- 
how, was the young man who did not believe in fairy 
tales ; and by a curious coincidence he entered the room 
when I had just finished looking through a pile of con- 
temporary fiction, and had begun to read Grimm's Fairy 
Tales as a natural consequence. 

The modern novels stood before me, anyhow, in a 
stack ; and you can imagine their titles for yourself. 
There was Suburban Sue : A Tale of Psychology, and 
also Psychological Sue : A Tale of Suburbia ; there 
was Trixy : A Temperament, and Man-Hate : A Mono- 
chrome, and all those nice things. I read them with 
real interest, but, curiously enough, I grew tired of them 
at last, and when I saw Grimm's Fairy Tales lying acci- 
dentally on the table, I gave a cry of indecent joy. 
Here at least, here at last, one could find a little common 
sense. I opened the book, and my eyes fell on these 
splendid and satisfying words, ' The Dragon's Grand- 
mother.' That at least was reasonable ; that at least 
was comprehensible ; that at least was true. ' The 
Dragon's Grandmother ! ' while I was rolling this first 
touch of ordinary human reality upon my tongue, I 
looked up suddenly and saw this monster with a green 

tie standing in the doorway. 


I listened to what he said about the society politely 
enough, I hope ; but when he incidentally mentioned 
that he did not believe in fairy tales, I broke out beyond 
control. ' Man/ I said, ' who are you that you should 
not believe in fairy tales ? It is much easier to believe 
in Blue Beard than to believe in you. A blue beard is a 
misfortune ; but there are green ties which are sins. 


It is far easier to believe in a million fairy tales than to 
believe in one man who does not like fairy tales. I 
would rather kiss Grimm instead of a Bible and swear to 
all his stories as if they were thirty-nine articles than say 
seriously and out of my heart that there can be such a 
man as you ; that you are not some temptation of the 
devil or some delusion from the void. Look at these 
plain, homely, practical words. " The Dragon's Grand- 
mother. J> That is all right ; that is rational almost to 
the verge of rationalism. If there was a dragon, he had 
a grandmother. But you you had no grandmother ! 
If you had had one, she would have taught you to love 
fairy tales. You had no father, you had no mother ; 
no natural causes can explain you. You cannot be. 
I believe many things which I have not seen ; but of such 
things as you it may be said, " Blessed is he that has 

seen and yet has disbelieved." 


It seemed to me that he did not follow me with suffi- 
cient delicacy, so I moderated my tone. ' Can you not 
see/ I said, ' that fairy tales in their essence are quite 
solid and straightforward ; but that this everlasting 
fiction about modern life is in its nature essentially in- 
credible ? Folk-lore means that the soul is sane, but 
that the universe is wild and full of marvels. Realism 
means that the world is dull and full of routine, but that 
the soul is sick and screaming. The problem of the fairy 
tale is what will a healthy man do with a fantastic 
world ? The problem of the modern novel is what 
will a madman do with a dull world ? In the fairy tales 
the cosmos goes mad ; but the hero does not go mad. 
In the modern novels the hero is mad before the book 
begins, and suffers from the harsh steadiness and cruel 
sanity of the cosmos. In the excellent tale of " The 
Dragon's Grandmother/' in all the other tales of Grimm, 
it is assumed that the young man setting out on his 
travels will have all substantial truths in him ; that he 
will be brave, full of faith, reasonable, that he will respect 
his parents, keep his word, rescue one kind of people, 


defy another kind, " parcere subjectis et debellare," etc. 
Then, having assumed this centre of sanity, the writer 
entertains himself by fancying what would happen if the 
whole world went mad all round it, if the sun turned 
green and the moon blue, if horses had six legs and 
giants two heads. But your modern literature takes 
insanity as its centre. Therefore it loses the interest 
even of insanity. A lunatic is not startling to himself, 
because he is quite serious ; that is what makes him a 
lunatic. A man who thinks he is a poached egg is to 
himself as plain as a poached egg. A man who thinks he 
is a kettle is to himself as common as a kettle. It is only 
sanity that can see even a wild poetry in insanity. There- 
fore these wise old tales made the hero ordinary and the 
tale extraordinary. But you have made the hero extra- 
ordinary and the tale ordinary so ordinary oh, so 
very ordinary/ 

I saw him still gazing at me fixedly. Some nerve 
snapped in me under that hypnotic stare. I leapt to my 
feet and cried, ' In the name of God and Democracy and 
the Dragon's grandmother in the name of all good 
things I charge you to avaunt and haunt this house 
no more/ Whether or no it was the result of the exor- 
cism, there is no doubt that he definitely went away. 


A CONSIDERABLE time ago (at far too early an 
*V age, in fact) I read Voltaire's La Pucelle, a savage 
sarcasm on the traditional purity of Joan of Arc, very 
dirty, and very funny. I had not thought of it again for 
years, but it came back into my mind this morning 
because I began to turn over the leaves of the new 
Jeanne d'Arc, by that great and graceful writer, Anatole 
France. It is written in a tone of tender sympathy, and 

] From All Things Considered. 


a sort of sad reverence ; it never loses touch with a noble 
tact and courtesy, like that of a gentleman escorting a 
peasant girl through the modern crowd. It is invari- 
ably respectful to Joan, and even respectful to her 
religion. And being myself a furious admirer of Joan 
the Maid, I have reflectively compared the two methods, 
and I come to the conclusion that I prefer Voltaire's. 

When a man of Voltaire's school has to explode a saint 
or a great religious hero, he says that such a person is a 
common human fool, or a common human fraud. But 
when a man like Anatole France has to explode a saint, 
he explains a saint as somebody belonging to his par- 
ticular fussy little literary set. Voltaire read human 
nature into Joan of Arc, though it was only the brutal 
part of human nature. At least it was not specially 
Voltaire's nature. But M. France read M. France's 
nature into Joan of Arc all the cold kindness, all the 
homeless sentiment alism of the modern literary man. 
There is one book that it recalled to me with startling 
vividness, though I have not seen the matter mentioned 
anywhere ; Kenan's Vie de Jesus. It has just the same 
general intention : that if you do not attack Christianity, 
you can at least patronise it. My own instinct, apart 
from my opinions, would be quite the other way. If I 
disbelieved in Christianity, I should be the loudest blas- 
phemer in Hyde Park. Nothing ought to be too big for 
a brave man to attack ; but there are some things too 
big for a man to patronise. 

And I must say that the historical method seems to 
me excessively unreasonable. I have no knowledge of 
history, but I have as much knowledge of reason as 
Anatole France. And, if anything is irrational, it seems 
to me that the Renan-France way of dealing with 
miraculous stories is irrational. The Renan-France 
method is simply this : you explain supernatural stories 
that have some foundation simply by inventing natural 
stories that have no foundation. Suppose that you are 
confronted with the statement that Jack climbed up 
the beanstalk into the sky. It is perfectly philosophical 


to reply that you do not think that he did. It is (in my 
opinion) even more philosophical to reply that he may 
very probably have done so. But the Kenan-France 
method is to write like this : ' When we consider Jack's 
curious and even perilous heredity, which no doubt was 
derived from a female greengrocer and a profligate priest, 
we can easily understand how the ideas of heaven and a 
beanstalk came to be combined in his mind. Moreover, 
there is little doubt that he must have met some wander- 
ing conjurer from India, who told him about the tricks 
of the mango plant, and how it is sent up to the sky. 
We can imagine these two friends, the old man and the 
young, wandering in the woods together at evening, 
looking at the red and level clouds, as on that night when 
the old man pointed to a small beanstalk, and told his 
too imaginative companion that this also might be made 
to scale the heavens. And then, when we remember the 
quite exceptional psychology of Jack, when we remember 
how there was in him a union of the prosaic, the love of 
plain vegetables, with an almost irrelevant eagerness for 
the unattainable, for invisibility and the void, we shall 
no longer wonder that it was to him especially that was 
sent this sweet, though merely symbolic, dream of the 
tree uniting earth and heaven/ That is the way that 
Renan and France write, only they do it better. But, 
really, a rationalist like myself becomes a little im- 
patient and feels inclined to say, ' But, hang it all, what 
do you know about the heredity of Jack or the psychology 
of Jack ? You know nothing about Jack at all, except 
that some people say that he climbed up a beanstalk. 
Nobody would ever have thought of mentioning him if 
he hadn't. You must interpret him in terms of the 
beanstalk religion ; you cannot merely interpret religion 
in terms of him. We have the materials of this story, 
and we can believe them or not. But we have not got 
the materials to make another story/ 

It is no exaggeration to say that this is the manner of 
M. Anatole France in dealing with Joan of Arc. Because 
her miracle is incredible to his somewhat old-fashioned 


materialism, he does not therefore dismiss it and her to 
fairyland with Jack and the Beanstalk. He tries to 
invent a real story, for which he can find no real evidence. 
He produces a scientific explanation which is quite desti- 
tute of any scientific proof. It is as if I (being entirely 
ignorant of botany and chemistry) said that the bean- 
stalk grew to the sky because nitrogen and argon got 
into the subsidiary ducts of the corolla. To take the 
most obvious example, the principal character in M. 
France's story is a person who never existed at all. All 
Joan's wisdom and energy, it seems, came from a certain 
priest, of whom there is not the tiniest trace in all the 
multitudinous records of her life. The only foundation 
I can find for this fancy is the highly undemocratic idea 
that a peasant girl could not possibly have any ideas of 
her own. It is very hard for a freethinker to remain 
democratic. The writer seems altogether to forget 
what is meant by the moral atmosphere of a community. 
To say that Joan must have learnt her vision of a virgin 
overthrowing evil from a priest, is like saying that some 
modern girl in London, pitying the poor, must have 
learnt it from a Labour Member. She would learn it 
where the Labour Member learnt it in the whole state 
of our society. 

But that is the modern method : the method of the 
reverent sceptic. When you find a life entirely incredible 
and incomprehensible from the outside, you pretend 
that you understand the inside. As Renan, the ration- 
alist, could not make any sense out of Christ's most 
public acts, he proceeded to make an ingenious system 
out of His private thoughts. As Anatole France, on his 
own intellectual principle, cannot believe in what Joan 
of Arc did, he professes to be her dearest friend and to 
know exactly what she meant. I cannot feel it to be a 
very rational manner of writing history ; and sooner 
or later we shall have to find some more solid way of 
dealing with those spiritual phenomena with which all 
history is as closely spotted and spangled as the sky is 
with stars. 


Joan of Arc is a wild and wonderful thing enough, b^it 
she is much saner than most of her critics and biographeis. 
We shall not recover the common sense of Joan until ve 
have recovered her mysticism. Our wars fail, because 
they begin with something sensible and obvious such as 
getting to Pretoria by Christmas. But her war suc- 
ceeded because it began with something wild and 
perfect the saints delivering France. She put her 
idealism in the right place, and her realism also in the 
right place : we moderns get both displaced. She put 
her dreams and her sentiment into her aims, where they 
ought to be ; she put her practicality into her practice. 
In modern Imperial wars, the case is reversed. Our 
dreams, our aims are always, we insist, quite practical. 
It is our practice that is dreamy. 

It is not for us to explain this flaming figure in terms 
of our tired and querulous culture. Rather we must try 
to explain ourselves by the blaze of such fixed stars. 
Those who called her a witch hot from hell were much 
more sensible than those who depict her as a silly senti- 
mental maiden prompted by her parish priest. If I 
have to choose between the two schools of her scattered 
enemies, I could take my place with those subtle clerks 
who thought her divine mission devilish, rather than 
with those rustic aunts and uncles who thought it 


WE have all met the man who says that some odd 
things have happened to him, but that he does 
not really believe that they were supernatural. My 
own position is the opposite of this. I believe in the 
supernatural as a matter of intellect and reason, not as 
a matter of personal experience. I do not see ghosts ; 

1 From Tremendous Trifles. 


1 only see their inherent probability. But it is entirely 
a matter of the mere intelligence, not even of the emo- 
tions ; my nerves and body are altogether of this earth 
very earthy. But upon people of this temperament one 
weird incident will often leave a peculiar impression. 
And the weirdest circumstance that ever occurred to 
me occurred a little while ago. It consisted in nothing 
less than my playing a game, and playing it quite well 
for some seventeen consecutive minutes. The ghost of 
my grandfather would have astonished me less. 

On one of these blue and burning afternoons I found 
myself, to my inexpressible astonishment, playing a 
game called croquet. I had imagined that it belonged 
to the epoch of Leech and Anthony Trollope, and I had 
neglected to provide myself with those very long and 
luxuriant side whiskers which are really essential to such 
a scene. I played it with a man whom we will call 
Parkinson, and with whom I had a semi-philosophical 
argument which lasted through the entire contest. It 
is deeply implanted in my mind that I had the best of 
the argument ; but it is certain and beyond dispute that 
I had the worst of the game. 

' Oh, Parkinson, Parkinson ! ' I cried, patting him 
affectionately on the head with a mallet, ' how far you 
really are from the pure love of the sport you who can 
play. It is only we who play badly who love the Game 
itself. You love glory ; you love applause ; you love 
the earthquake voice of victory ; you do not love 
croquet. You do not love croquet until you love being 
beaten at croquet. It is we the bunglers who adore the 
occupation in the abstract. It is we to whom it is art 
for art's sake. If we may see the face of Croquet herself 
(if I may so express myself) we are content to see her 
face turned upon us in anger. Our play is called ama- 
teurish ; and we wear proudly the name of amateur, for 
amateurs is but the French for Lovers. We accept all 
adventures from our Lady, the most disastrous or the 
most dreary. We wait outside her iron gates (I allude 
to the hoops), vainly essaying to enter. Our devoted 


balls, impetuous and full of chivalry, will not be confine! 
within the pedantic boundaries of the mere croqudt 
ground. Our balls seek honour in the ends of the earth ; 
they turn up in the flower-beds and the conservatory ; 
they are to be found in the front garden and the next 
street. No, Parkinson ! The good painter loves his 
skill. It is the bad painter who loves his art. The good 
musician loves being a musician ; the bad musician loves 
music. With such a pure and hopeless passion do I 
worship croquet. I love the game itself. I love the 
parallelogram of grass marked out with chalk or tape, as 
if its limits were the frontiers of my sacred fatherland, 
the four seas of Britain. I love the mere swing of the 
mallets, and the click of the balls is music. The four 
colours are to me sacramental and symbolic, like the red 
of martyrdom, or the white of Easter Day. You lose all 
this, my poor Parkinson. You have to solace yourself 
for the absence of this vision by the paltry consolation 
of being able to go through hoops and to hit the stick/ 

And I waved my mallet in the air with a graceful 

' Don't be too sorry for me/ said Parkinson, with his 
simple sarcasm. ' I shall get over it in time. But it 
seems to me that the more a man likes a game the better 
he would want to play it. Suppose the pleasure in the 
thing itself does come first, doesn't the pleasure of success 
come naturally and inevitably afterwards ? Or, take 
your own simile of the Knight and his Lady-love. I 
admit the gentleman does first and foremost want to be 
in the lady's presence. But I never heard of a gentle- 
man who wanted to look an utter ass when he was there.' 

' Perhaps not ; though he generally looks it,' I replied. 
' But the truth is that there is a fallacy in the simile, 
although it was my own. The happiness at which the 
lover is aiming is an infinite happiness, which can be ex- 
tended without limit. The more he is loved, normally 
speaking, the jollier he will be. It is definitely true that 
the stronger the love of both lovers, the stronger will be 
the happiness. But it is not true that the stronger the 


play of both croquet players the stronger will be the 
game. It is logically possible (follow me closely here, 
Parkinson !) it is logically possible, to play croquet too 
well to enjoy it at all. If you could put this blue ball 
through that distant hoop as easily as you could pick it 
up with your hand, then you would not put it through 
that hoop any more than you pick it up with your hand ; 
it would not be worth doing. If you could play unerr- 
ingly you would not play at all. The moment the game 
is perfect the game disappears.' 

* I do not think, however/ said Parkinson, ' that you 
are in any immediate danger of effecting that sort of 
destruction. I do not think your croquet will vanish 
through its own faultless excellence. You are safe for 
the present/ 

I again caressed him with the mallet, knocked a ball 
about, wired myself, and resumed the thread of my 

The long, warm evening had been gradually closing in, 
and by this time it was almost twilight. By the time I 
had delivered four more fundamental principles, and my 
companion had gone through five more hoops, the dusk 
was verging upon dark. 

' We shall have to give this up/ said Parkinson, as he 
missed a ball almost for the first time, ' I can't see a 

' Nor can I/ I answered, ' and it is a comfort to reflect 
that I could not hit anything if I saw it/ 

With that I struck a ball smartly, and sent it away 
into the darkness towards where the shadowy figure of 
Parkinson moved in the hot haze. Parkinson immedi- 
ately uttered a loud and dramatic cry. The situation, 
indeed, called for it. I had hit the right ball. 

Stunned with astonishment, I crossed the gloomy 
ground, and hit my ball again. It went through a hoop. 
I could not see the hoop ; but it was the right hoop. I 
shuddered from head to foot. 

Words were wholly inadequate, so I slouched heavily 
after that impossible ball. Again I hit it away into the 


night, in what I supposed was the vague direction of th 
quite invisible stick. And in the dead silence I heard 
the stick rattle as the ball struck it heavily. 

I threw down my mallet. ' I can't stand this/ I said. 
* My ball has gone right three times. These things are 
not of this world/ 

' Pick your mallet up/ said Parkinson, ' have another 

' I tell you I daren't. If I made another hoop like 
that I should see all the devils dancing there on the 
blessed grass/ 

' Why devils ? ' asked Parkinson ; ' they may be only 
fairies making fun of you. They are sending you the 
' Perfect Game/' which is no game/ 

I looked about me. The garden was full of a burning 
darkness, in which the faint glimmers had the look of 
fire. I stepped across the grass as if it burnt me, picked 
up the mallet, and hit the ball somewhere somewhere 
where another ball might be. I heard the dull click of 
the balls touching, and ran into the house like one 


UPON Dickens descended the real tradition. of ' Merry 
England/ and not upon the pallid medievalists 
who thought they were reviving it. .The Pre-Raphaelites, 
the Gothicists, the admirers of the Middle Ages, had in 
their subtlety and sadness the spirit of the present day. 
Dickens had in his buffoonery and bravery the spirit of 
the Middle Ages. He was much more mediaeval in his 
attacks on medievalism than they were in their defences 
of it. It was he who had the things of Chaucer, the love 
of large jokes and long stories and brown ale and all the 
white roads of England. Like Chaucer he loved story 

1 From Charles Dickens. 


within story, every man telling a tale. Like Chaucer 
he saw something openly comic in men's motley trades. 
Sam Weller would have been a great gain to the Canter- 
bury Pilgrimage and told an admirable story. Rossetti's 
Damozel would have been a great bore, regarded as too 
fast by the Prioress and too priggish by the Wife of Bath. 
It is said that in the somewhat sickly Victorian revival 
of feudalism which was called ' Young England/ a noble- 
man hired a hermit to live in his grounds. It is also 
said that the hermit struck for more beer. Whether 
this anecdote be true or not, it is always told as showing 
a collapse from the ideal of the Middle Ages to the level 
of the present day. But in the mere act of striking for 
beer the holy man was very much more * mediaeval ' 
than the fool who employed him. 

It would be hard to find a better example of this than 
Dickens's great defence of Christmas. In fighting for 
Christmas he was fighting for the old European festival, 
Pagan ,and Christian, for that trinity of eating, drinking 
and praying which to moderns appears irreverent, for 
the holy day which is really a holiday. He had himself 
the most babyish ideas about the past. He supposed 
the Middle Ages to have consisted of tournaments and 
torture-chambers, he supposed himself to be a brisk man 
of the manufacturing age, almost a Utilitarian. But for 
all that he defended the mediaeval feast which was going 
out against the Utilitarianism which was coming in. He 
could only see all that was bad in mediaevalism. But 
he fought for all that was good in it. And he was all the 
more really in sympathy with the old strength and sim- 
plicity because he only knew that it was good and did 
not know that it was old. He cared as little for mediae- 
valism as the mediaevals did. He cared as much as they 
did for lustiness and virile laughter and sad tales of good 
lovers and pleasant tales of good livers. He would have 
been very much bored by Ruskin and Walter Pater if they 
had explained to him the strange sunset tints of Lippi and 
Botticelli. He had no pleasure in looking on the dying 
Middle Ages. But he looked on the living Middle Ages, 


on a piece of the old uproarious superstition still un- 
broken ; and he hailed it like a new religion. The 
Dickens character ate pudding to an extent at which the 
modern medievalists turned pale. They would do every 
kind of honour to an old observance, except observing it. 
They would pay to a Church feast every sort of compli- 
ment except feasting. . . . 

Christmas is, as I have said, one of numberless old 
European feasts of which the essence is the combination 
of religion with merry-making. But among those feasts 
it is also especially and distinctively English in the style 
of its merry-making and even in the style of its religion. 
For the character of Christmas (as distinct, for instance, 
from the continental Easter) lies chiefly in two things : 
first on the terrestrial side the note of comfort rather 
than the note of brightness ; and on the spiritual side, 
Christian charity rather than Christian ecstasy. And 
comfort is, like charity, a very English instinct. Nay, 
comfort is, like charity, an English merit ; though our 
comfort may and does degenerate into materialism, just 
as our charity may and does degenerate into laxity and 

This ideal of comfort belongs peculiarly to England ; 
it belongs peculiarly to Christmas ; above all, it belongs 
pre-eminently to Dickens. And it is astonishingly mis- 
understood. It is misunderstood by the continent of 
Europe, it is, if possible, still more misunderstood by the 
English of to-day. On the Continent the restaurateurs 
provide us with raw beef, as if we were savages ; yet old 
English cooking takes as much care as French. And in 
England has arisen a parvenu patriotism which repre 
sents the English as everything but English ; as a blend 
of Chinese stoicism, Latin militarism, Prussian rigidity, 
and American bad taste. And so England, whose fault 
is gentility and whose virtue is geniality, England with 
her tradition of the great gay gentlemen of Elizabeth, 
is represented to the four quarters of the world (as in 
Mr. Kipling's religious poems) in the enormous image of a 
solemn cad. And because it is very difficult to be com- 


fortable in the suburbs, the suburbs have voted that 
comfort is a gross and material thing. Comfort, espe- 
cially this vision of Christmas comfort, is the reverse of 
a gross or material thing. It is far more poetical, pro- 
perly speaking, than the Garden of Epicurus. It is far 
more artistic than the Palace of Art. It is more artistic 
because it is based upon a contrast, a contrast between 
the fire and wine within the house and the winter and the 
roaring rains without. It is far more poetical, because 
there is in it a note of defence, almost of war ; a note of 
being besieged by the snow and hail ; of making merry 
in the belly of a fort. The man who said that an 
Englishman's house is his castle said much more than he 
meant. The Englishman thinks of his house as some- 
thing fortified, and provisioned, and his very surliness is 
at root romantic. And this sense would naturally be 
the strongest in wild winter nights, when the lowered 
portcullis and the lifted drawbridge do not merely bar 
people out, but bar people in. The Englishman's house 
is most sacred, not merely when the King cannot enter 
it, but when the Englishman cannot get out of it. 

This comfort, then, is an abstract thing, a principle. 
The English poor shut all their doors and windows till 
their rooms reek like the Black Hole. They are suffer- 
ing for an idea. Mere animal hedonism would not 
dream, as we English do, of winter feasts and little 
rooms, but of eating fruit in large and idle gardens. Mere 
sensuality would desire to please all its senses. But to 
our good dreams this dark and dangerous background 
is essential ; the highest pleasure we can imagine is a 
defiant pleasure, a happiness that stands at bay. The 
word ' comfort ' is not indeed the right word, it conveys 
too much of the slander of mere sense ; the true word is 
4 cosiness/ a word not translatable. One, at least, of the 
essentials of it is smallness, smallness in preference to 
largeness, smallness for smallness' sake. The merry- 
maker wants a pleasant parlour, he would not give two- 
pence for a pleasant continent. In our difficult time, 
of course, a fight for mere space has become necessary. 


Instead of being greedy for ale and Christmas pudding 
we are greedy for mere air, an equally sensual appetite. 
In abnormal conditions this is wise ; and the illimitable 
veldt is an excellent thing for nervous people. But our 
fathers were large and healthy enough to make a thing 
humane, and not worry about whether it was hygienic. 
They were big enough to get into small rooms. 

Of this quite deliberate and artistic quality in the close 
Christmas chamber, the standing evidence is Dickens in 
Italy. He created these dim firelit tales like dim red 
jewels, as an artistic necessity, in the centre of an end- 
less summer. Amid the white cities of Tuscany he 
hungered for something romantic, and wrote about a 
rainy Christmas. Amid the pictures of the Ufnzi he 
starved for something beautiful, and fed his memory on 
London fog. His feeling for the fog was especially 
poignant and typical. In the first of his Christmas tales, 
the popular Christmas Carol, he suggested the very soul 
of it in one simile, when he spoke of the dense air, sug- 
gesting that ' Nature was brewing on a large scale.' 
This sense of the thick atmosphere as something to eat 
or drink, something not only solid but satisfactory, may 
seem almost insane, but it is no exaggeration of Dickens's 
emotion. We speak of a fog ' that you could cut with a 
knife. 1 Dickens would have liked the phrase as suggest- 
ing that the fog was a colossal cake. He liked even 
more his own phrase of the Titanic brewery, and no dream 
would have given him a wilder pleasure than to grope 
his way to some such tremendous vats and drink the ale 
of the giants. . . . 

In such a sacred cloud the tale called The Christmas 
Carol begins, the first and most typical of all his 
Christmas tales. ... It has the same kind of artistic 
unity that belongs to a dream. A dream may begin with 
the end of the world and end with a tea-party ; but either 
the end of the world will seem as trivial as a tea-party 
or that tea-party will be as terrible as the day of doom. 
The incidents change wildly ; the story scarcely changes 
at all. The Christmas Carol is a kind of philanthropic 


dream, an enjoyable nightmare, in which the scenes shift 
bewilderingly and seem as miscellaneous as the pictures 
in a scrap-book, but in which there is one constant state 
of the soul, a state of rowdy benediction and a hunger 
for human faces. The beginning is about a winter day 
and a miser ; yet the beginning is in no way bleak. The 
author starts with a kind of happy howl ; he bangs on 
1 our door like a drunken carol singer ; his style is festive 
and popular ; he compares the snow and hail to philan- 
thropists who ' come down handsomely ' ; he compares 
the fog to unlimited beer. Scrooge is not really in- 
human at the beginning any more than he is at the end. 
There is a heartiness in his inhospitable sentiments that 
is akin to humour and therefore to humanity ; he is only 
a crusty old bachelor, and had (I strongly suspect) given 
away turkeys secretly all his life. The beauty and the 
real blessing of the story do not lie in the mechanical 
plot of it, the repentance of Scrooge, probable or im- 
probable ; they lie in the great furnace of real happiness 
that glows through Scrooge and everything around him ; 
that great furnace, the heart of Dickens. Whether the 
Christmas visions would or would not convert Scrooge, 
they convert us. Whether or no the visions were evoked 
by real Spirits of the Past, Present, and Future, they 
were evoked by that truly exalted order of angels who 
are correctly called High Spirits. They are impelled 
and sustained by a quality which our contemporary 
artists ignore or almost deny, but which in a life decently 
lived is as normal and attainable as sleep, positive, 
passionate, conscious joy. The story sings from end to 
end like a happy man going home ; and, like a happy 
and good man, when it cannot sing it yells. It is lyric 
and exclamatory, from the first exclamatory words of 
it. It is strictly a Christmas Carol. 

Dickens, as has been said, went to Italy with this 
kindly cloud still about him, still meditating on Yule 
mysteries. v <A mon g tne olives and the orange-trees he 
wrote his second great Christmas tale, The Chimes, at 
Genoa in 1844, a Christmas tale only differing from The 


Christmas Carol in being fuller of the grey rains of 
winter and the north. The Chimes is, like the Carol, 
an appeal for charity and mirth, but it is a stern and 
fighting appeal : if the other is a Christmas carol, this is 
a Christmas war-song. In it Dickens hurled himself 
with even more than his usual militant joy and scorn 
into an attack upon a cant, which he said made his blood 
boil. This cant was nothing more nor less than the 
whole tone taken by three-quarters of the political and 
economic world towards the poor. It was a vague and 
vulgar Benthamism with a rollicking Tory touch in it. 
It explained to the poor their duties with a cold and 
coarse philanthropy unendurable by any free man. It 
had also at its command a kind of brutal banter, a loud 
good humour which Dickens sketches savagely in Alder- 
man Cute. He fell furiously on all their ideas : the 
cheap advice to live cheaply, the base advice to live 
basely, above all, the preposterous primary assumption 
that the rich are to advise the poor and not the poor the 
rich. There were and are hundreds of these benevolent 
bullies. Some say that the poor should give up having 
children, which means that they should give up their 
great virtue of sexual sanity. Some say that they should 
give up ' treating ' each other, which means that they 
should give up all that remains to them of the virtue of 
hospitality. Against all of this Dickens thundered very 
thoroughly in The Chimes. It may be remarked in 
passing that this affords another instance of a confusion 
already referred to, the confusion whereby Dickens sup- 
posed himself to be exalting the present over the past, 
whereas he was really dealing deadly blows at things 
strictly peculiar to the present. Embedded in this very 
book is a somewhat useless interview between Trotty 
Veck and the church bells, in which the latter lecture the 
former for having supposed (why, I don't know) that 
they were expressing regret for the disappearance of the 
Middle Ages. There is no reason why Trotty Veck or 
any one else should idealize the Middle Ages, but cer- 
tainly he was the last man in the world to be asked to 


idealize the nineteenth century, seeing that the smug and 
stingy philosophy, which poisons his life through the 
book, was an exclusive creation of that century. But, 
as I have said before, the fieriest medievalist may forgive 
Dickens for disliking the good things the Middle Ages 
took away, considering how he loved whatever good 
things the Middle Ages left behind. It matters very little 
that he hated old feudal castles when they were already 
old. It matters very much that he hated the New Poor 
Law while it was still new. 

The moral of this matter in The Chimes is essential. 
Dickens had sympathy with the poor in the Greek and 
literal sense ; he suffered with them mentally ; for the 
things that irritated them were the things that irritated 
him. He did not pity the people, or even champion the 
people, or even merely love the people ; in this matter 
he was the people. He alone in our literature is the 
voice not merely of the social substratum, but even of 
the subconsciousness of the substratum. He utters the 
secret anger of the humble. He says what the unedu- 
cated- only think, or even only feel, about the educated. 
And in nothing is he so genuinely such a voice as in this 
fact of his fiercest mood being reserved for methods that 
are counted scientific and progressive. Pure and exalted 
atheists talk themselves into believing that the working- 
classes are turning with indignant scorn from the 
churches. The working-classes are not indignant against 
the churches in the least. The things the working- 
classes really are indignant against are the hospitals. 
The people has no definite disbelief in the temples of 
theology. The people has a very fiery and practical 
disbelief in the temples of physical science. The things 
the poor hate are the modern things, the rationalistic 
things doctors, inspectors, poor law guardians, profes- 
sional philanthropy. They never showed any reluctance 
to be helped by the old and corrupt monasteries. They 
will often die rather than be helped by the modern and 
efficient workhouse. Of all this anger, good or bad, 
Dickens is the voice of an accusing energy. When, in 


The Christmas Carol, Scrooge refers to the surplus 
population, the Spirit tells him, very justly, not to speak 
till he knows what the surplus is and where it is. The 
implication is severe but sound. When a group of super- 
ciliously benevolent economists look down into the abyss 
for the surplus population, assuredly there is only one 
answer that should be given to them ; and that is to say, 
' If there is a surplus, you are a surplus/ And if any one 
were ever cut off, they would be. If the barricades went 
up in our streets and the poor became masters, I think 
the priests would escape, I fear the gentlemen would ; 
but I believe the gutters would be simply running with 
the blood of philanthropists. 

Lastly, he was at one with the poor in this chief matter 
of Christmas, in the matter, that is, of special festivity. 
There is nothing on which the poor are more criticized 
than on the point of spending large sums on small feasts ; 
and though there are material difficulties, there is nothing 
in which they are more right. It is said that a Boston 
paradox-monger said, ' Give us the luxuries of life and 
we will dispense with the necessities.' But it is the 
whole human race that says it, from the first savage 
wearing feathers instead of clothes to the last coster- 
monger having a treat instead of three meals. 


Methuen's Sevenpenny Novels 

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