Tantissimi classici della letteratura e della cultura politica,
economica e scientifica in lingua inglese con audio di ReadSpeaker e traduttore
automatico interattivo FGA Translate
Abbe Prevost - MANON LESCAUT
Alcott, Louisa M. - AN OLDFASHIONED GIRL
Alcott, Louisa M. - LITTLE MEN
Alcott, Louisa M. - LITTLE WOMEN
Alcott, Louisa May - JACK AND JILL
Alcott, Louisa May - LIFE LETTERS AND JOURNALS
Andersen, Hans Christian - FAIRY TALES
Anonimo - BEOWULF
Ariosto, Ludovico - ORLANDO ENRAGED
Aurelius, Marcus - MEDITATIONS
Austen, Jane - EMMA
Austen, Jane - MANSFIELD PARK
Austen, Jane - NORTHANGER ABBEY
Austen, Jane - PERSUASION
Austen, Jane - PRIDE AND PREJUDICE
Austen, Jane - SENSE AND SENSIBILITY
Authors, Various - LETTERS OF ABELARD AND HELOISE
Authors, Various - SELECTED ENGLISH LETTERS
Autori Vari - THE WORLD ENGLISH BIBLE
Bacon, Francis - THE ADVANCEMENT OF LEARNING
Balzac, Honore de - EUGENIE GRANDET
Balzac, Honore de - FATHER GORIOT
Baroness Orczy - THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL
Barrie, J. M. - PETER AND WENDY
Barrie, James M. - PETER PAN
Bierce, Ambrose - THE DEVIL'S DICTIONARY
Blake, William - SONGS OF INNOCENCE AND EXPERIENCE
Boccaccio, Giovanni - DECAMERONE
Brent, Linda - INCIDENTS IN THE LIFE OF A SLAVE GIRL
Bronte, Charlotte - JANE EYRE
Bronte, Charlotte - VILLETTE
Buchan, John - GREENMANTLE
Buchan, John - MR STANDFAST
Buchan, John - THE 39 STEPS
Bunyan, John - THE PILGRIM'S PROGRESS
Burckhardt, Jacob - THE CIVILIZATION OF THE RENAISSANCE IN ITALY
Burnett, Frances H. - A LITTLE PRINCESS
Burnett, Frances H. - LITTLE LORD FAUNTLEROY
Burnett, Frances H. - THE SECRET GARDEN
Butler, Samuel - EREWHON
Carlyle, Thomas - PAST AND PRESENT
Carlyle, Thomas - THE FRENCH REVOLUTION
Cellini, Benvenuto - AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Cervantes - DON QUIXOTE
Chaucer, Geoffrey - THE CANTERBURY TALES
Chesterton, G. K. - A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND
Chesterton, G. K. - THE BALLAD OF THE WHITE HORSE
Chesterton, G. K. - THE INNOCENCE OF FATHER BROWN
Chesterton, G. K. - THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH
Chesterton, G. K. - THE MAN WHO WAS THURSDAY
Chesterton, G. K. - THE WISDOM OF FATHER BROWN
Chesterton, G. K. - TWELVE TYPES
Chesterton, G. K. - WHAT I SAW IN AMERICA
Chesterton, Gilbert K. - HERETICS
Chopin, Kate - AT FAULT
Chopin, Kate - BAYOU FOLK
Chopin, Kate - THE AWAKENING AND SELECTED SHORT STORIES
Clark Hall, John R. - A CONCISE ANGLOSAXON DICTIONARY
Clarkson, Thomas - AN ESSAY ON THE SLAVERY AND COMMERCE OF THE HUMAN SPECIES
Clausewitz, Carl von - ON WAR
Coleridge, Herbert - A DICTIONARY OF THE FIRST OR OLDEST WORDS IN THE ENGLISH
Coleridge, S. T. - COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS
Coleridge, S. T. - HINTS TOWARDS THE FORMATION OF A MORE COMPREHENSIVE THEORY
Coleridge, S. T. - THE RIME OF THE ANCIENT MARINER
Collins, Wilkie - THE MOONSTONE
Collodi - PINOCCHIO
Conan Doyle, Arthur - A STUDY IN SCARLET
Conan Doyle, Arthur - MEMOIRS OF SHERLOCK HOLMES
Conan Doyle, Arthur - THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES
Conan Doyle, Arthur - THE RETURN OF SHERLOCK HOLMES
Conan Doyle, Arthur - THE SIGN OF THE FOUR
Conrad, Joseph - HEART OF DARKNESS
Conrad, Joseph - LORD JIM
Conrad, Joseph - NOSTROMO
Conrad, Joseph - THE NIGGER OF THE NARCISSUS
Conrad, Joseph - TYPHOON
Crane, Stephen - LAST WORDS
Crane, Stephen - MAGGIE
Crane, Stephen - THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE
Crane, Stephen - WOUNDS IN THE RAIN
Dante - THE DIVINE COMEDY: HELL
Dante - THE DIVINE COMEDY: PARADISE
Dante - THE DIVINE COMEDY: PURGATORY
Darwin, Charles - THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF CHARLES DARWIN
Darwin, Charles - THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES
Defoe, Daniel - A GENERAL HISTORY OF THE PYRATES
Defoe, Daniel - A JOURNAL OF THE PLAGUE YEAR
Defoe, Daniel - CAPTAIN SINGLETON
Defoe, Daniel - MOLL FLANDERS
Defoe, Daniel - ROBINSON CRUSOE
Defoe, Daniel - THE COMPLETE ENGLISH TRADESMAN
Defoe, Daniel - THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF ROBINSON CRUSOE
Deledda, Grazia - AFTER THE DIVORCE
Dickens, Charles - A CHRISTMAS CAROL
Dickens, Charles - A TALE OF TWO CITIES
Dickens, Charles - BLEAK HOUSE
Dickens, Charles - DAVID COPPERFIELD
Dickens, Charles - DONBEY AND SON
Dickens, Charles - GREAT EXPECTATIONS
Dickens, Charles - HARD TIMES
Dickens, Charles - LETTERS VOLUME 1
Dickens, Charles - LITTLE DORRIT
Dickens, Charles - MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT
Dickens, Charles - NICHOLAS NICKLEBY
Dickens, Charles - OLIVER TWIST
Dickens, Charles - OUR MUTUAL FRIEND
Dickens, Charles - PICTURES FROM ITALY
Dickens, Charles - THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD
Dickens, Charles - THE OLD CURIOSITY SHOP
Dickens, Charles - THE PICKWICK PAPERS
Dickinson, Emily - POEMS
Dostoevsky, Fyodor - CRIME AND PUNISHMENT
Dostoyevsky, Fyodor - THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV
Du Maurier, George - TRILBY
Dumas, Alexandre - THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO
Dumas, Alexandre - THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK
Dumas, Alexandre - THE THREE MUSKETEERS
Eliot, George - DANIEL DERONDA
Eliot, George - MIDDLEMARCH
Eliot, George - SILAS MARNER
Eliot, George - THE MILL ON THE FLOSS
Engels, Frederick - THE CONDITION OF THE WORKING-CLASS IN ENGLAND IN 1844
Equiano - AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Esopo - FABLES
Fenimore Cooper, James - THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS
Fielding, Henry - TOM JONES
France, Anatole - THAIS
France, Anatole - THE GODS ARE ATHIRST
France, Anatole - THE LIFE OF JOAN OF ARC
France, Anatole - THE SEVEN WIVES OF BLUEBEARD
Frank Baum, L. - THE PATCHWORK GIRL OF OZ
Frank Baum, L. - THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ
Franklin, Benjamin - AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Frazer, James George - THE GOLDEN BOUGH
Freud, Sigmund - DREAM PSYCHOLOGY
Galsworthy, John - COMPLETE PLAYS
Galsworthy, John - STRIFE
Galsworthy, John - STUDIES AND ESSAYS
Galsworthy, John - THE FIRST AND THE LAST
Galsworthy, John - THE FORSYTE SAGA
Galsworthy, John - THE LITTLE MAN
Galsworthy, John - THE SILVER BOX
Galsworthy, John - THE SKIN GAME
Gaskell, Elizabeth - CRANFORD
Gaskell, Elizabeth - MARY BARTON
Gaskell, Elizabeth - NORTH AND SOUTH
Gaskell, Elizabeth - THE LIFE OF CHARLOTTE BRONTE
Gay, John - THE BEGGAR'S OPERA
Gentile, Maria - THE ITALIAN COOK BOOK
Gilbert and Sullivan - PLAYS
Goethe - FAUST
Gogol - DEAD SOULS
Goldsmith, Oliver - SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER
Goldsmith, Oliver - THE VICAR OF WAKEFIELD
Grahame, Kenneth - THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS
Grimm, Brothers - FAIRY TALES
Harding, A. R. - GINSENG AND OTHER MEDICINAL PLANTS
Hardy, Thomas - A CHANGED MAN AND OTHER TALES
Hardy, Thomas - FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD
Hardy, Thomas - JUDE THE OBSCURE
Hardy, Thomas - TESS OF THE D'URBERVILLES
Hardy, Thomas - THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE
Hartley, Cecil B. - THE GENTLEMEN'S BOOK OF ETIQUETTE
Hawthorne, Nathaniel - LITTLE MASTERPIECES
Hawthorne, Nathaniel - THE SCARLET LETTER
Henry VIII - LOVE LETTERS TO ANNE BOLEYN
Henry, O. - CABBAGES AND KINGS
Henry, O. - SIXES AND SEVENS
Henry, O. - THE FOUR MILLION
Henry, O. - THE TRIMMED LAMP
Henry, O. - WHIRLIGIGS
Hindman Miller, Gustavus - TEN THOUSAND DREAMS INTERPRETED
Hobbes, Thomas - LEVIATHAN
Homer - THE ILIAD
Homer - THE ODYSSEY
Hornaday, William T. - THE EXTERMINATION OF THE AMERICAN BISON
Hume, David - A TREATISE OF HUMAN NATURE
Hume, David - AN ENQUIRY CONCERNING HUMAN UNDERSTANDING
Hume, David - DIALOGUES CONCERNING NATURAL RELIGION
Ibsen, Henrik - A DOLL'S HOUSE
Ibsen, Henrik - AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE
Ibsen, Henrik - GHOSTS
Ibsen, Henrik - HEDDA GABLER
Ibsen, Henrik - JOHN GABRIEL BORKMAN
Ibsen, Henrik - ROSMERHOLM
Ibsen, Henrik - THE LADY FROM THE SEA
Ibsen, Henrik - THE MASTER BUILDER
Ibsen, Henrik - WHEN WE DEAD AWAKEN
Irving, Washington - THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW
James, Henry - ITALIAN HOURS
James, Henry - THE ASPERN PAPERS
James, Henry - THE BOSTONIANS
James, Henry - THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY
James, Henry - THE TURN OF THE SCREW
James, Henry - WASHINGTON SQUARE
Jerome, Jerome K. - THREE MEN IN A BOAT
Jerome, Jerome K. - THREE MEN ON THE BUMMEL
Jevons, Stanley - POLITICAL ECONOMY
Johnson, Samuel - A GRAMMAR OF THE ENGLISH TONGUE
Jonson, Ben - THE ALCHEMIST
Jonson, Ben - VOLPONE
Joyce, James - A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN
Joyce, James - CHAMBER MUSIC
Joyce, James - DUBLINERS
Joyce, James - ULYSSES
Keats, John - ENDYMION
Keats, John - POEMS PUBLISHED IN 1817
Keats, John - POEMS PUBLISHED IN 1820
King James - THE BIBLE
Kipling, Rudyard - CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS
Kipling, Rudyard - INDIAN TALES
Kipling, Rudyard - JUST SO STORIES
Kipling, Rudyard - KIM
Kipling, Rudyard - THE JUNGLE BOOK
Kipling, Rudyard - THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING
Kipling, Rudyard - THE SECOND JUNGLE BOOK
Lawrence, D. H - THE RAINBOW
Lawrence, D. H - THE WHITE PEACOCK
Lawrence, D. H - TWILIGHT IN ITALY
Lawrence, D. H. - AARON'S ROD
Lawrence, D. H. - SONS AND LOVERS
Lawrence, D. H. - THE LOST GIRL
Lawrence, D. H. - WOMEN IN LOVE
Lear, Edward - BOOK OF NONSENSE
Lear, Edward - LAUGHABLE LYRICS
Lear, Edward - MORE NONSENSE
Lear, Edward - NONSENSE SONG
Leblanc, Maurice - ARSENE LUPIN VS SHERLOCK HOLMES
Leblanc, Maurice - THE ADVENTURES OF ARSENE LUPIN
Leblanc, Maurice - THE CONFESSIONS OF ARSENE LUPIN
Leblanc, Maurice - THE HOLLOW NEEDLE
Leblanc, Maurice - THE RETURN OF ARSENE LUPIN
Lehmann, Lilli - HOW TO SING
Leroux, Gaston - THE MAN WITH THE BLACK FEATHER
Leroux, Gaston - THE MYSTERY OF THE YELLOW ROOM
Leroux, Gaston - THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA
London, Jack - MARTIN EDEN
London, Jack - THE CALL OF THE WILD
London, Jack - WHITE FANG
Machiavelli, Nicolo' - THE PRINCE
Malthus, Thomas - PRINCIPLE OF POPULATION
Mansfield, Katherine - THE GARDEN PARTY AND OTHER STORIES
Marlowe, Christopher - THE JEW OF MALTA
Marryat, Captain - THE CHILDREN OF THE NEW FOREST
Maupassant, Guy De - BEL AMI
Melville, Hermann - MOBY DICK
Melville, Hermann - TYPEE
Mill, John Stuart - PRINCIPLES OF POLITICAL ECONOMY
Milton, John - PARADISE LOST
Mitra, S. M. - HINDU TALES FROM THE SANSKRIT
Montaigne, Michel de - ESSAYS
Montgomery, Lucy Maud - ANNE OF GREEN GABLES
More, Thomas - UTOPIA
Nesbit, E. - FIVE CHILDREN AND IT
Nesbit, E. - THE PHOENIX AND THE CARPET
Nesbit, E. - THE RAILWAY CHILDREN
Nesbit, E. - THE STORY OF THE AMULET
Newton, Isaac - OPTICKS
Nietsche, Friedrich - BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL
Nietsche, Friedrich - THUS SPAKE ZARATHUSTRA
Nightingale, Florence - NOTES ON NURSING
Owen, Wilfred - POEMS
Ozaki, Yei Theodora - JAPANESE FAIRY TALES
Pascal, Blaise - PENSEES
Pellico, Silvio - MY TEN YEARS IMPRISONMENT
Perrault, Charles - FAIRY TALES
Pirandello, Luigi - THREE PLAYS
Plato - THE REPUBLIC
Poe, Edgar Allan - THE COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS 1
Poe, Edgar Allan - THE COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS 2
Poe, Edgar Allan - THE COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS 3
Poe, Edgar Allan - THE COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS 4
Poe, Edgar Allan - THE COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS 5
Poe, Edgar Allan - THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER
Potter, Beatrix - THE TALE OF PETER RABBIT
Proust, Marcel - SWANN'S WAY
Radcliffe, Ann - A SICILIAN ROMANCE
Ricardo, David - ON THE PRINCIPLES OF POLITICAL ECONOMY AND TAXATION
Richardson, Samuel - PAMELA
Rider Haggard, H. - ALLAN QUATERMAIN
Rider Haggard, H. - KING SOLOMON'S MINES
Rousseau, J. J. - THE ORIGIN AND FOUNDATION OF INEQUALITY AMONG MANKIND
Ruskin, John - THE SEVEN LAMPS OF ARCHITECTURE
Schiller, Friedrich - THE DEATH OF WALLENSTEIN
Schiller, Friedrich - THE PICCOLOMINI
Schopenhauer, Arthur - THE ART OF CONTROVERSY
Schopenhauer, Arthur - THE WISDOM OF LIFE
Scott Fitzgerald, F. - FLAPPERS AND PHILOSOPHERS
Scott Fitzgerald, F. - TALES OF THE JAZZ AGE
Scott Fitzgerald, F. - THE BEAUTIFUL AND DAMNED
Scott Fitzgerald, F. - THIS SIDE OF PARADISE
Scott, Walter - IVANHOE
Scott, Walter - QUENTIN DURWARD
Scott, Walter - ROB ROY
Scott, Walter - THE BRIDE OF LAMMERMOOR
Scott, Walter - WAVERLEY
Sedgwick, Anne Douglas - THE THIRD WINDOW
Sewell, Anna - BLACK BEAUTY
Shakespeare, William - COMPLETE WORKS
Shakespeare, William - HAMLET
Shakespeare, William - OTHELLO
Shakespeare, William - ROMEO AND JULIET
Shelley, Mary - FRANKENSTEIN
Shelley, Percy Bysshe - A DEFENCE OF POETRY AND OTHER ESSAYS
Shelley, Percy Bysshe - COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS
Sheridan, Richard B. - THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL
Sienkiewicz, Henryk - QUO VADIS
Smith, Adam - THE WEALTH OF NATIONS
Smollett, Tobias - TRAVELS THROUGH FRANCE AND ITALY
Spencer, Herbert - ESSAYS ON EDUCATION AND KINDRED SUBJECTS
Spyri, Johanna - HEIDI
Sterne, Laurence - A SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY
Sterne, Laurence - TRISTRAM SHANDY
Stevenson, Robert Louis - A CHILD'S GARDEN OF VERSES
Stevenson, Robert Louis - ESSAYS IN THE ART OF WRITING
Stevenson, Robert Louis - KIDNAPPED
Stevenson, Robert Louis - NEW ARABIAN NIGHTS
Stevenson, Robert Louis - THE BLACK ARROW
Stevenson, Robert Louis - THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE
Stevenson, Robert Louis - TREASURE ISLAND
Stoker, Bram - DRACULA
Strindberg, August - LUCKY PEHR
Strindberg, August - MASTER OLOF
Strindberg, August - THE RED ROOM
Strindberg, August - THE ROAD TO DAMASCUS
Strindberg, August - THERE ARE CRIMES AND CRIMES
Swift, Jonathan - A MODEST PROPOSAL
Swift, Jonathan - A TALE OF A TUB
Swift, Jonathan - GULLIVER'S TRAVELS
Swift, Jonathan - THE BATTLE OF THE BOOKS AND OTHER SHORT PIECES
Tagore, Rabindranath - FRUIT GATHERING
Tagore, Rabindranath - THE GARDENER
Tagore, Rabindranath - THE HUNGRY STONES AND OTHER STORIES
Thackeray, William - BARRY LYNDON
Thackeray, William - VANITY FAIR
Thackeray, William Makepeace - THE BOOK OF SNOBS
Thackeray, William Makepeace - THE ROSE AND THE RING
Thackeray, William Makepeace - THE VIRGINIANS
Thoreau, Henry David - WALDEN
Tolstoi, Leo - A LETTER TO A HINDU
Tolstoy, Lev - ANNA KARENINA
Tolstoy, Lev - WAR AND PEACE
Trollope, Anthony - AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Trollope, Anthony - BARCHESTER TOWERS
Trollope, Anthony - FRAMLEY PARSONAGE
Trollope, Anthony - THE EUSTACE DIAMONDS
Trollope, Anthony - THE MAN WHO KEPT HIS MONEY IN A BOX
Trollope, Anthony - THE WARDEN
Trollope, Anthony - THE WAY WE LIVE NOW
Twain, Mark - LIFE ON THE MISSISSIPPI
Twain, Mark - SPEECHES
Twain, Mark - THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN
Twain, Mark - THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER
Twain, Mark - THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER
Vari, Autori - THE MAGNA CARTA
Verga, Giovanni - SICILIAN STORIES
Verne, Jules - 20000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEAS
Verne, Jules - A JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH
Verne, Jules - ALL AROUND THE MOON
Verne, Jules - AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS
Verne, Jules - FIVE WEEKS IN A BALLOON
Verne, Jules - FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON
Verne, Jules - MICHAEL STROGOFF
Verne, Jules - THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND
Voltaire - PHILOSOPHICAL DICTIONARY
Vyasa - MAHABHARATA
Wallace, Edgar - SANDERS OF THE RIVER
Wallace, Edgar - THE DAFFODIL MYSTERY
Wallace, Lew - BEN HUR
Webster, Jean - DADDY LONG LEGS
Wedekind, Franz - THE AWAKENING OF SPRING
Wells, H. G. - KIPPS
Wells, H. G. - THE INVISIBLE MAN
Wells, H. G. - THE ISLAND OF DOCTOR MOREAU
Wells, H. G. - THE STOLEN BACILLUS AND OTHER INCIDENTS
Wells, H. G. - THE TIME MACHINE
Wells, H. G. - THE WAR OF THE WORLDS
Wells, H. G. - WHAT IS COMING
Wharton, Edith - THE AGE OF INNOCENCE
White, Andrew Dickson - FIAT MONEY INFLATION IN FRANCE
Wilde, Oscar - A WOMAN OF NO IMPORTANCE
Wilde, Oscar - AN IDEAL HUSBAND
Wilde, Oscar - DE PROFUNDIS
Wilde, Oscar - LADY WINDERMERE'S FAN
Wilde, Oscar - SALOME
Wilde, Oscar - SELECTED POEMS
Wilde, Oscar - THE BALLAD OF READING GAOL
Wilde, Oscar - THE CANTERVILLE GHOST
Wilde, Oscar - THE HAPPY PRINCE AND OTHER TALES
Wilde, Oscar - THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST
Wilde, Oscar - THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GREY
Wilde, Oscar - THE SOUL OF MAN
Wilson, Epiphanius - SACRED BOOKS OF THE EAST
Wollstonecraft, Mary - A VINDICATION OF THE RIGHTS OF WOMAN
Woolf, Virgina - NIGHT AND DAY
Woolf, Virgina - THE VOYAGE OUT
Woolf, Virginia - JACOB'S ROOM
Woolf, Virginia - MONDAY OR TUESDAY
Wordsworth, William - POEMS
Wordsworth, William - PROSE WORKS
Zola, Emile - THERESE RAQUIN
legge il testo inglese con una perfetta pronuncia
britannica e con il magico effetto karaoke. Per attivarlo clicca sul
pulsante Ascolta il testo che si trova qui sotto. Puoi anche
selezionare una parola, frase o porzione di testo e ascoltare solo
quella cliccando sul simbolino di altoparlante che apparirà vicino alla
porzione di testo selezionata.
Translate: selezionando con il mouse una qualsiasi porzione di testo,
FGA Translate te la traduce istantaneamente in una finestrella pop-up.
Per evitare eventuali conflitti tra ReadSpeaker e FGA Translate puoi
deselezionare quest'ultimo togliendo la spunta qui sopra.
ISTRUZIONI D'USO DETTAGLIATE
STUDIES AND ESSAYS, Complete
By JOHN GALSWORTHY
CONCERNING LIFE, Part 1.
INN OF TRANQUILITY
MAGPIE OVER THE HILL
RIDING IN THE MIST
WIND IN THE ROCKS
MY DISTANT RELATIVE
THE BLACK GODMOTHER
CONCERNING LIFE, Part 2.
THE GRAND JURY
THAT OLD-TIME PLACE
A NOVELIST'S ALLEGORY
SOME PLATITUDES CONCERNING DRAMA
MEDITATION ON FINALITY
ON OUR DISLIKE OF THINGS AS THEY ARE
CENSORSHIP AND ART
VAGUE THOUGHTS ON ART
"Je vous dirai que l'exces est toujours un mal."
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
INN OF TRANQUILITY
MAGPIE OVER THE HILL
RIDING IN THE MIST
WIND IN THE ROCKS
MY DISTANT RELATIVE
THE BLACK GODMOTHER
THE INN OF TRANQUILLITY
Under a burning blue sky, among the pine-trees and junipers, the
cypresses and olives of that Odyssean coast, we came one afternoon on a
pink house bearing the legend: "Osteria di Tranquillita,"; and, partly
because of the name, and partly because we did not expect to find a house
at all in those goat-haunted groves above the waves, we tarried for
contemplation. To the familiar simplicity of that Italian building there
were not lacking signs of a certain spiritual change, for out of the
olive-grove which grew to its very doors a skittle-alley had been formed,
and two baby cypress-trees were cut into the effigies of a cock and hen.
The song of a gramophone, too, was breaking forth into the air, as it
were the presiding voice of a high and cosmopolitan mind. And, lost in
admiration, we became conscious of the odour of a full-flavoured cigar.
Yes--in the skittle-alley a gentleman was standing who wore a bowler hat,
a bright brown suit, pink tie, and very yellow boots. His head was
round, his cheeks fat and well-coloured, his lips red and full under a
black moustache, and he was regarding us through very thick and
Perceiving him to be the proprietor of the high and cosmopolitan mind, we
"Good-day!" he replied: "I spik English. Been in Amurrica yes."
"You have a lovely place here."
Sweeping a glance over the skittle-alley, he sent forth a long puff of
smoke; then, turning to my companion (of the politer sex) with the air of
one who has made himself perfect master of a foreign tongue, he smiled,
"Precisely; the name of your inn, perhaps, suggests----"
"I change all that--soon I call it Anglo-American hotel."
"Ah! yes; you are very up-to-date already."
He closed one eye and smiled.
Having passed a few more compliments, we saluted and walked on; and,
coming presently to the edge of the cliff, lay down on the thyme and the
crumbled leaf-dust. All the small singing birds had long been shot and
eaten; there came to us no sound but that of the waves swimming in on a
gentle south wind. The wanton creatures seemed stretching out white arms
to the land, flying desperately from a sea of such stupendous serenity;
and over their bare shoulders their hair floated back, pale in the
sunshine. If the air was void of sound, it was full of scent--that
delicious and enlivening perfume of mingled gum, and herbs, and sweet
wood being burned somewhere a long way off; and a silky, golden warmth
slanted on to us through the olives and umbrella pines. Large wine-red
violets were growing near. On such a cliff might Theocritus have lain,
spinning his songs; on that divine sea Odysseus should have passed. And
we felt that presently the goat-god must put his head forth from behind a
It seemed a little queer that our friend in the bowler hat should move
and breathe within one short flight of a cuckoo from this home of Pan.
One could not but at first feelingly remember the old Boer saying: "O
God, what things man sees when he goes out without a gun!" But soon the
infinite incongruity of this juxtaposition began to produce within one a
curious eagerness, a sort of half-philosophical delight. It began to seem
too good, almost too romantic, to be true. To think of the gramophone
wedded to the thin sweet singing of the olive leaves in the evening wind;
to remember the scent of his rank cigar marrying with this wild incense;
to read that enchanted name, "Inn of Tranquillity," and hear the bland
and affable remark of the gentleman who owned it--such were, indeed,
phenomena to stimulate souls to speculation. And all unconsciously one
began to justify them by thoughts of the other incongruities of
existence--the strange, the passionate incongruities of youth and age,
wealth and poverty, life and death; the wonderful odd bedfellows of this
world; all those lurid contrasts which haunt a man's spirit till
sometimes he is ready to cry out: "Rather than live where such things can
be, let me die!"
Like a wild bird tracking through the air, one's meditation wandered on,
following that trail of thought, till the chance encounter became
spiritually luminous. That Italian gentleman of the world, with his
bowler hat, his skittle-alley, his gramophone, who had planted himself
down in this temple of wild harmony, was he not Progress itself--the
blind figure with the stomach full of new meats and the brain of raw
notions? Was he not the very embodiment of the wonderful child,
Civilisation, so possessed by a new toy each day that she has no time to
master its use--naive creature lost amid her own discoveries! Was he not
the very symbol of that which was making economists thin, thinkers pale,
artists haggard, statesmen bald--the symbol of Indigestion Incarnate!
Did he not, delicious, gross, unconscious man, personify beneath his
Americo-Italian polish all those rank and primitive instincts, whose
satisfaction necessitated the million miseries of his fellows; all those
thick rapacities which stir the hatred of the humane and thin-skinned!
And yet, one's meditation could not stop there--it was not convenient to
A little above us, among the olive-trees, two blue-clothed peasants, man
and woman, were gathering the fruit--from some such couple, no doubt, our
friend in the bowler hat had sprung; more "virile" and adventurous than
his brothers, he had not stayed in the home groves, but had gone forth to
drink the waters of hustle and commerce, and come back--what he was. And
he, in turn, would beget children, and having made his pile out of his
'Anglo-American hotel' would place those children beyond the coarser
influences of life, till they became, perhaps, even as our selves, the
salt of the earth, and despised him. And I thought: "I do not despise
those peasants--far from it. I do not despise myself--no more than
reason; why, then, despise my friend in the bowler hat, who is, after
all, but the necessary link between them and me?" I did not despise the
olive-trees, the warm sun, the pine scent, all those material things
which had made him so thick and strong; I did not despise the golden,
tenuous imaginings which the trees and rocks and sea were starting in my
own spirit. Why, then, despise the skittle-alley, the gramophone, those
expressions of the spirit of my friend in the billy-cock hat? To despise
them was ridiculous!
And suddenly I was visited by a sensation only to be described as a sort
of smiling certainty, emanating from, and, as it were, still tingling
within every nerve of myself, but yet vibrating harmoniously with the
world around. It was as if I had suddenly seen what was the truth of
things; not perhaps to anybody else, but at all events to me. And I felt
at once tranquil and elated, as when something is met with which rouses
and fascinates in a man all his faculties.
"For," I thought, "if it is ridiculous in me to despise my friend--that
perfect marvel of disharmony--it is ridiculous in me to despise anything.
If he is a little bit of continuity, as perfectly logical an expression
of a necessary phase or mood of existence as I myself am, then, surely,
there is nothing in all the world that is not a little bit of continuity,
the expression of a little necessary mood. Yes," I thought, "he and I,
and those olive-trees, and this spider on my hand, and everything in the
Universe which has an individual shape, are all fit expressions of the
separate moods of a great underlying Mood or Principle, which must be
perfectly adjusted, volving and revolving on itself. For if It did not
volve and revolve on Itself, It would peter out at one end or the other,
and the image of this petering out no man with his mental apparatus can
conceive. Therefore, one must conclude It to be perfectly adjusted and
everlasting. But if It is perfectly adjusted and everlasting, we are all
little bits of continuity, and if we are all little bits of continuity it
is ridiculous for one of us to despise another. So," I thought, "I have
now proved it from my friend in the billy-cock hat up to the Universe,
and from the Universe down, back again to my friend."
And I lay on my back and looked at the sky. It seemed friendly to my
thought with its smile, and few white clouds, saffron-tinged like the
plumes of a white duck in sunlight. "And yet," I wondered, "though my
friend and I may be equally necessary, I am certainly irritated by him,
and shall as certainly continue to be irritated, not only by him, but by
a thousand other men and so, with a light heart, you may go on being
irritated with your friend in the bowler hat, you may go on loving those
peasants and this sky and sea. But, since you have this theory of life,
you may not despise any one or any thing, not even a skittle-alley, for
they are all threaded to you, and to despise them would be to blaspheme
against continuity, and to blaspheme against continuity would be to deny
Eternity. Love you cannot help, and hate you cannot help; but contempt
is--for you--the sovereign idiocy, the irreligious fancy!"
There was a bee weighing down a blossom of thyme close by, and underneath
the stalk a very ugly little centipede. The wild bee, with his little
dark body and his busy bear's legs, was lovely to me, and the creepy
centipede gave me shudderings; but it was a pleasant thing to feel so
sure that he, no less than the bee, was a little mood expressing himself
out in harmony with Designs tiny thread on the miraculous quilt. And I
looked at him with a sudden zest and curiosity; it seemed to me that in
the mystery of his queer little creepings I was enjoying the Supreme
Mystery; and I thought: "If I knew all about that wriggling beast, then,
indeed, I might despise him; but, truly, if I knew all about him I should
know all about everything--Mystery would be gone, and I could not bear to
So I stirred him with my finger and he went away.
"But how"--I thought "about such as do not feel it ridiculous to despise;
how about those whose temperaments and religions show them all things so
plainly that they know they are right and others wrong? They must be in a
bad way!" And for some seconds I felt sorry for them, and was
discouraged. But then I thought: "Not at all--obviously not! For if
they do not find it ridiculous to feel contempt, they are perfectly right
to feel contempt, it being natural to them; and you have no business to
be sorry for them, for that is, after all, only your euphemism for
contempt. They are all right, being the expressions of contemptuous
moods, having religions and so forth, suitable to these moods; and the
religion of your mood would be Greek to them, and probably a matter for
contempt. But this only makes it the more interesting. For though to
you, for instance, it may seem impossible to worship Mystery with one
lobe of the brain, and with the other to explain it, the thought that
this may not seem impossible to others should not discourage you; it is
but another little piece of that Mystery which makes life so wonderful
The sun, fallen now almost to the level of the cliff, was slanting upward
on to the burnt-red pine boughs, which had taken to themselves a quaint
resemblance to the great brown limbs of the wild men Titian drew in his
pagan pictures, and down below us the sea-nymphs, still swimming to
shore, seemed eager to embrace them in the enchanted groves. All was
fused in that golden glow of the sun going down-sea and land gathered
into one transcendent mood of light and colour, as if Mystery desired to
bless us by showing how perfect was that worshipful adjustment, whose
secret we could never know. And I said to myself: "None of those
thoughts of yours are new, and in a vague way even you have thought them
before; but all the same, they have given you some little feeling of
And at that word of fear I rose and invited my companion to return toward
the town. But as we stealthy crept by the "Osteria di Tranquillita," our
friend in the bowler hat came out with a gun over his shoulder and waved
his hand toward the Inn.
"You come again in two week--I change all that! And now," he added, "I
go to shoot little bird or two," and he disappeared into the golden haze
under the olive-trees.
A minute later we heard his gun go off, and returned homeward with a
MAGPIE OVER THE HILL
I lay often that summer on a slope of sand and coarse grass, close to the
Cornish sea, trying to catch thoughts; and I was trying very hard when I
saw them coming hand in hand.
She was dressed in blue linen, and a little cloud of honey-coloured hair;
her small face had serious eyes the colour of the chicory flowers she was
holding up to sniff at--a clean sober little maid, with a very touching
upward look of trust. Her companion was a strong, active boy of perhaps
fourteen, and he, too, was serious--his deep-set, blacklashed eyes looked
down at her with a queer protective wonder; the while he explained in a
soft voice broken up between two ages, that exact process which bees
adopt to draw honey out of flowers. Once or twice this hoarse but
charming voice became quite fervent, when she had evidently failed to
follow; it was as if he would have been impatient, only he knew he must
not, because she was a lady and younger than himself, and he loved her.
They sat down just below my nook, and began to count the petals of a
chicory flower, and slowly she nestled in to him, and he put his arm
round her. Never did I see such sedate, sweet lovering, so trusting on
her part, so guardianlike on his. They were like, in miniature---though
more dewy,--those sober couples who have long lived together, yet whom
one still catches looking at each other with confidential tenderness, and
in whom, one feels, passion is atrophied from never having been in use.
Long I sat watching them in their cool communion, half-embraced, talking
a little, smiling a little, never once kissing. They did not seem shy of
that; it was rather as if they were too much each other's to think of
such a thing. And then her head slid lower and lower down his shoulder,
and sleep buttoned the lids over those chicory-blue eyes. How careful he
was, then, not to wake her, though I could see his arm was getting stiff!
He still sat, good as gold, holding her, till it began quite to hurt me
to see his shoulder thus in chancery. But presently I saw him draw his
arm away ever so carefully, lay her head down on the grass, and lean
forward to stare at something. Straight in front of them was a magpie,
balancing itself on a stripped twig of thorn-tree. The agitating bird,
painted of night and day, was making a queer noise and flirting one wing,
as if trying to attract attention. Rising from the twig, it circled,
vivid and stealthy, twice round the tree, and flew to another a dozen
paces off. The boy rose; he looked at his little mate, looked at the
bird, and began quietly to move toward it; but uttering again its queer
call, the bird glided on to a third thorn-tree. The boy hesitated
then--but once more the bird flew on, and suddenly dipped over the hill.
I saw the boy break into a run; and getting up quickly, I ran too.
When I reached the crest there was the black and white bird flying low
into a dell, and there the boy, with hair streaming back, was rushing
helter-skelter down the hill. He reached the bottom and vanished into
the dell. I, too, ran down the hill. For all that I was prying and must
not be seen by bird or boy, I crept warily in among the trees to the edge
of a pool that could know but little sunlight, so thickly arched was it
by willows, birch-trees, and wild hazel. There, in a swing of boughs
above the water, was perched no pied bird, but a young, dark-haired girl
with, dangling, bare, brown legs. And on the brink of the black water
goldened, with fallen leaves, the boy was crouching, gazing up at her
with all his soul. She swung just out of reach and looked down at him
across the pool. How old was she, with her brown limbs, and her gleaming,
slanting eyes? Or was she only the spirit of the dell, this elf-thing
swinging there, entwined with boughs and the dark water, and covered with
a shift of wet birch leaves. So strange a face she had, wild, almost
wicked, yet so tender; a face that I could not take my eyes from. Her
bare toes just touched the pool, and flicked up drops of water that fell
on the boy's face.
From him all the sober steadfastness was gone; already he looked as wild
as she, and his arms were stretched out trying to reach her feet. I
wanted to cry to him: "Go back, boy, go back!" but could not; her elf
eyes held me dumb-they looked so lost in their tender wildness.
And then my heart stood still, for he had slipped and was struggling in
deep water beneath her feet. What a gaze was that he was turning up to
her--not frightened, but so longing, so desperate; and hers how
triumphant, and how happy!
And then he clutched her foot, and clung, and climbed; and bending down,
she drew him up to her, all wet, and clasped him in the swing of boughs.
I took a long breath then. An orange gleam of sunlight had flamed in
among the shadows and fell round those two where they swung over the dark
water, with lips close together and spirits lost in one another's, and in
their eyes such drowning ecstasy! And then they kissed! All round me
pool, and leaves, and air seemed suddenly to swirl and melt--I could see
nothing plain! . . . What time passed--I do not know--before their
faces slowly again became visible! His face the sober boy's--was turned
away from her, and he was listening; for above the whispering of leaves a
sound of weeping came from over the hill. It was to that he listened.
And even as I looked he slid down from out of her arms; back into the
pool, and began struggling to gain the edge. What grief and longing in
her wild face then! But she did not wail. She did not try to pull him
back; that elfish heart of dignity could reach out to what was coming, it
could not drag at what was gone. Unmoving as the boughs and water, she
watched him abandon her.
Slowly the struggling boy gained land, and lay there, breathless. And
still that sound of lonely weeping came from over the hill.
Listening, but looking at those wild, mourning eyes that never moved from
him, he lay. Once he turned back toward the water, but fire had died
within him; his hands dropped, nerveless--his young face was all
And the quiet darkness of the pool waited, and the trees, and those lost
eyes of hers, and my heart. And ever from over the hill came the little
fair maiden's lonely weeping.
Then, slowly dragging his feet, stumbling, half-blinded, turning and
turning to look back, the boy groped his way out through the trees toward
that sound; and, as he went, that dark spirit-elf, abandoned, clasping
her own lithe body with her arms, never moved her gaze from him.
I, too, crept away, and when I was safe outside in the pale evening
sunlight, peered back into the dell. There under the dark trees she was
no longer, but round and round that cage of passion, fluttering and
wailing through the leaves, over the black water, was the magpie,
flighting on its twilight wings.
I turned and ran and ran till I came over the hill and saw the boy and
the little fair, sober maiden sitting together once more on the open
slope, under the high blue heaven. She was nestling her tear-stained
face against his shoulder and speaking already of indifferent things.
And he--he was holding her with his arm and watching over her with eyes
that seemed to see something else.
And so I lay, hearing their sober talk and gazing at their sober little
figures, till I awoke and knew I had dreamed all that little allegory of
sacred and profane love, and from it had returned to reason, knowing no
more than ever which was which.
From early morning there had been bleating of sheep in the yard, so that
one knew the creatures were being sheared, and toward evening I went
along to see. Thirty or forty naked-looking ghosts of sheep were penned
against the barn, and perhaps a dozen still inhabiting their coats. Into
the wool of one of these bulky ewes the farmer's small, yellow-haired
daughter was twisting her fist, hustling it toward Fate; though pulled
almost off her feet by the frightened, stubborn creature, she never let
go, till, with a despairing cough, the ewe had passed over the threshold
and was fast in the hands of a shearer. At the far end of the barn,
close by the doors, I stood a minute or two before shifting up to watch
the shearing. Into that dim, beautiful home of age, with its great
rafters and mellow stone archways, the June sunlight shone through
loopholes and chinks, in thin glamour, powdering with its very
strangeness the dark cathedraled air, where, high up, clung a fog of old
grey cobwebs so thick as ever were the stalactites of a huge cave. At
this end the scent of sheep and wool and men had not yet routed that home
essence of the barn, like the savour of acorns and withering beech
They were shearing by hand this year, nine of them, counting the postman,
who, though farm-bred, "did'n putt much to the shearin'," but had come to
round the sheep up and give general aid.
Sitting on the creatures, or with a leg firmly crooked over their heads,
each shearer, even the two boys, had an air of going at it in his own
way. In their white canvas shearing suits they worked very steadily,
almost in silence, as if drowsed by the "click-clip, click-clip" of the
shears. And the sheep, but for an occasional wriggle of legs or head,
lay quiet enough, having an inborn sense perhaps of the fitness of
things, even when, once in a way, they lost more than wool; glad too,
mayhap, to be rid of their matted vestments. From time to time the
little damsel offered each shearer a jug and glass, but no man drank till
he had finished his sheep; then he would get up, stretch his cramped
muscles, drink deep, and almost instantly sit down again on a fresh
beast. And always there was the buzz of flies swarming in the sunlight
of the open doorway, the dry rustle of the pollarded lime-trees in the
sharp wind outside, the bleating of some released ewe, upset at her own
nakedness, the scrape and shuffle of heels and sheep's limbs on the
floor, together with the "click-clip, click-clip" of the shears.
As each ewe, finished with, struggled up, helped by a friendly shove, and
bolted out dazedly into the pen, I could not help wondering what was
passing in her head--in the heads of all those unceremoniously treated
creatures; and, moving nearer to the postman, I said:
"They're really very good, on the whole."
He looked at me, I thought, queerly.
"Yaas," he answered; "Mr. Molton's the best of them."
I looked askance at Mr. Molton; but, with his knee crooked round a young
ewe, he was shearing calmly.
"Yes," I admitted, "he is certainly good."
"Yaas," replied the postman.
Edging back into the darkness, away from that uncomprehending youth, I
escaped into the air, and passing the remains of last year's stacks under
the tall, toppling elms, sat down in a field under the bank. It seemed to
me that I had food for thought. In that little misunderstanding between
me and the postman was all the essence of the difference between that
state of civilisation in which sheep could prompt a sentiment, and that
state in which sheep could not.
The heat from the dropping sun, not far now above the moorline, struck
full into the ferns and long grass of the bank where I was sitting, and
the midges rioted on me in this last warmth. The wind was barred out, so
that one had the full sweetness of the clover, fast becoming hay, over
which the swallows were wheeling and swooping after flies. And far up,
as it were the crown of Nature's beautiful devouring circle, a buzzard
hawk, almost stationary on the air, floated, intent on something pleasant
below him. A number of little hens crept through the gate one by one,
and came round me. It seemed to them that I was there to feed them; and
they held their neat red or yellow heads to one side and the other,
inquiring with their beady eyes, surprised at my stillness. They were
pretty with their speckled feathers, and as it seemed to me, plump and
young, so that I wondered how many of them would in time feed me.
Finding, however, that I gave them nothing to eat, they went away, and
there arose, in place of their clucking, the thin singing of air passing
through some long tube. I knew it for the whining of my dog, who had
nosed me out, but could not get through the padlocked gate. And as I
lifted him over, I was glad the postman could not see me--for I felt that
to lift a dog over a gate would be against the principles of one for whom
the connection of sheep with good behaviour had been too strange a
thought. And it suddenly rushed into my mind that the time would no doubt
come when the conduct of apples, being plucked from the mother tree,
would inspire us, and we should say: "They're really very good!" And I
wondered, were those future watchers of apple-gathering farther from me
than I, watching sheep-shearing, from the postman? I thought, too, of the
pretty dreams being dreamt about the land, and of the people who dreamed
them. And I looked at that land, covered with the sweet pinkish-green of
the clover, and considered how much of it, through the medium of sheep,
would find its way into me, to enable me to come out here and be eaten by
midges, and speculate about things, and conceive the sentiment of how
good the sheep were. And it all seemed queer. I thought, too, of a world
entirely composed of people who could see the sheen rippling on that
clover, and feel a sort of sweet elation at the scent of it, and I
wondered how much clover would be sown then? Many things I thought of,
sitting there, till the sun sank below the moor line, the wind died off
the clover, and the midges slept. Here and there in the iris-coloured
sky a star crept out; the soft-hooting owls awoke. But still I lingered,
watching how, one after another, shapes and colours died into twilight;
and I wondered what the postman thought of twilight, that inconvenient
state, when things were neither dark nor light; and I wondered what the
sheep were thinking this first night without their coats. Then, slinking
along the hedge, noiseless, unheard by my sleeping spaniel, I saw a tawny
dog stealing by. He passed without seeing us, licking his lean chops.
"Yes, friend," I thought, "you have been after something very unholy; you
have been digging up buried lamb, or some desirable person of that kind!"
Sneaking past, in this sweet night, which stirred in one such sentiment,
that ghoulish cur was like the omnivorousness of Nature. And it came to
me, how wonderful and queer was a world which embraced within it, not
only this red gloating dog, fresh from his feast on the decaying flesh of
lamb, but all those hundreds of beings in whom the sight of a fly with
one leg shortened produced a quiver of compassion. For in this savage,
slinking shadow, I knew that I had beheld a manifestation of divinity no
less than in the smile of the sky, each minute growing more starry. With
what Harmony--I thought--can these two be enwrapped in this round world
so fast that it cannot be moved! What secret, marvellous, all-pervading
Principle can harmonise these things! And the old words 'good' and
'evil' seemed to me more than ever quaint.
It was almost dark, and the dew falling fast; I roused my spaniel to go
Over the high-walled yard, the barns, the moon-white porch, dusk had
brushed its velvet. Through an open window came a roaring sound. Mr.
Molton was singing "The Happy Warrior," to celebrate the finish of the
shearing. The big doors into the garden, passed through, cut off the
full sweetness of that song; for there the owls were already masters of
night with their music.
On the dew-whitened grass of the lawn, we came on a little dark beast.
My spaniel, liking its savour, stood with his nose at point; but, being
called off, I could feel him obedient, still quivering, under my hand.
In the field, a wan huddle in the blackness, the dismantled sheep lay
under a holly hedge. The wind had died; it was mist-warm.
Coming out of the theatre, we found it utterly impossible to get a
taxicab; and, though it was raining slightly, walked through Leicester
Square in the hope of picking one up as it returned down Piccadilly.
Numbers of hansoms and four-wheelers passed, or stood by the curb,
hailing us feebly, or not even attempting to attract our attention, but
every taxi seemed to have its load. At Piccadilly Circus, losing
patience, we beckoned to a four-wheeler and resigned ourselves to a long,
slow journey. A sou'-westerly air blew through the open windows, and
there was in it the scent of change, that wet scent which visits even the
hearts of towns and inspires the watcher of their myriad activities with
thought of the restless Force that forever cries: "On, on!" But
gradually the steady patter of the horse's hoofs, the rattling of the
windows, the slow thudding of the wheels, pressed on us so drowsily that
when, at last, we reached home we were more than half asleep. The fare
was two shillings, and, standing in the lamplight to make sure the coin
was a half-crown before handing it to the driver, we happened to look up.
This cabman appeared to be a man of about sixty, with a long, thin face,
whose chin and drooping grey moustaches seemed in permanent repose on the
up-turned collar of his old blue overcoat. But the remarkable features
of his face were the two furrows down his cheeks, so deep and hollow that
it seemed as though that face were a collection of bones without coherent
flesh, among which the eyes were sunk back so far that they had lost
their lustre. He sat quite motionless, gazing at the tail of his horse.
And, almost unconsciously, one added the rest of one's silver to that
half-crown. He took the coins without speaking; but, as we were turning
into the garden gate, we heard him say:
"Thank you; you've saved my life."
Not knowing, either of us, what to reply to such a curious speech, we
closed the gate again and came back to the cab.
"Are things so very bad?"
"They are," replied the cabman. "It's done with--is this job. We're not
wanted now." And, taking up his whip, he prepared to drive away.
"How long have they been as bad as this?"
The cabman dropped his hand again, as though glad to rest it, and
"Thirty-five year I've been drivin' a cab."
And, sunk again in contemplation of his horse's tail, he could only be
roused by many questions to express himself, having, as it seemed, no
knowledge of the habit.
"I don't blame the taxis, I don't blame nobody. It's come on us, that's
what it has. I left the wife this morning with nothing in the house.
She was saying to me only yesterday: 'What have you brought home the last
four months?' 'Put it at six shillings a week,' I said. 'No,' she said,
'seven.' Well, that's right--she enters it all down in her book."
"You are really going short of food?"
The cabman smiled; and that smile between those two deep hollows was
surely as strange as ever shone on a human face.
"You may say that," he said. "Well, what does it amount to? Before I
picked you up, I had one eighteen-penny fare to-day; and yesterday I took
five shillings. And I've got seven bob a day to pay for the cab, and
that's low, too. There's many and many a proprietor that's broke and
gone--every bit as bad as us. They let us down as easy as ever they can;
you can't get blood from a stone, can you?" Once again he smiled. "I'm
sorry for them, too, and I'm sorry for the horses, though they come out
best of the three of us, I do believe."
One of us muttered something about the Public.
The cabman turned his face and stared down through the darkness.
"The Public?" he said, and his voice had in it a faint surprise. "Well,
they all want the taxis. It's natural. They get about faster in them,
and time's money. I was seven hours before I picked you up. And then you
was lookin' for a taxi. Them as take us because they can't get better,
they're not in a good temper, as a rule. And there's a few old ladies
that's frightened of the motors, but old ladies aren't never very free
with their money--can't afford to be, the most of them, I expect."
"Everybody's sorry for you; one would have thought that----"
He interrupted quietly: "Sorrow don't buy bread . . . . I never had
nobody ask me about things before." And, slowly moving his long face
from side to side, he added: "Besides, what could people do? They can't
be expected to support you; and if they started askin' you questions
they'd feel it very awkward. They know that, I suspect. Of course,
there's such a lot of us; the hansoms are pretty nigh as bad off as we
are. Well, we're gettin' fewer every day, that's one thing."
Not knowing whether or no to manifest sympathy with this extinction, we
approached the horse. It was a horse that "stood over" a good deal at
the knee, and in the darkness seemed to have innumerable ribs. And
suddenly one of us said: "Many people want to see nothing but taxis on
the streets, if only for the sake of the horses."
The cabman nodded.
"This old fellow," he said, "never carried a deal of flesh. His grub
don't put spirit into him nowadays; it's not up to much in quality, but
he gets enough of it."
"And you don't?"
The cabman again took up his whip.
"I don't suppose," he said without emotion, "any one could ever find
another job for me now. I've been at this too long. It'll be the
workhouse, if it's not the other thing."
And hearing us mutter that it seemed cruel, he smiled for the third time.
"Yes," he said slowly, "it's a bit 'ard on us, because we've done nothing
to deserve it. But things are like that, so far as I can see. One thing
comes pushin' out another, and so you go on. I've thought about it--you
get to thinkin' and worryin' about the rights o' things, sittin' up here
all day. No, I don't see anything for it. It'll soon be the end of us
now--can't last much longer. And I don't know that I'll be sorry to have
done with it. It's pretty well broke my spirit."
"There was a fund got up."
"Yes, it helped a few of us to learn the motor-drivin'; but what's the
good of that to me, at my time of life? Sixty, that's my age; I'm not
the only one--there's hundreds like me. We're not fit for it, that's the
fact; we haven't got the nerve now. It'd want a mint of money to help
us. And what you say's the truth--people want to see the end of us.
They want the taxis--our day's over. I'm not complaining; you asked me
about it yourself."
And for the third time he raised his whip.
"Tell me what you would have done if you had been given your fare and
just sixpence over?"
The cabman stared downward, as though puzzled by that question.
"Done? Why, nothing. What could I have done?"
"But you said that it had saved your life."
"Yes, I said that," he answered slowly; "I was feelin' a bit low. You
can't help it sometimes; it's the thing comin' on you, and no way out of
it--that's what gets over you. We try not to think about it, as a rule."
And this time, with a "Thank you, kindly!" he touched his horse's flank
with the whip. Like a thing aroused from sleep the forgotten creature
started and began to draw the cabman away from us. Very slowly they
travelled down the road among the shadows of the trees broken by
lamplight. Above us, white ships of cloud were sailing rapidly across
the dark river of sky on the wind which smelled of change. And, after
the cab was lost to sight, that wind still brought to us the dying sound
of the slow wheels.
RIDING IN MIST
Wet and hot, having her winter coat, the mare exactly matched the
drenched fox-coloured beech-leaf drifts. As was her wont on such misty
days, she danced along with head held high, her neck a little arched, her
ears pricked, pretending that things were not what they seemed, and now
and then vigorously trying to leave me planted on the air. Stones which
had rolled out of the lane banks were her especial goblins, for one such
had maltreated her nerves before she came into this ball-room world, and
she had not forgotten.
There was no wind that day. On the beech-trees were still just enough of
coppery leaves to look like fires lighted high-up to air the eeriness;
but most of the twigs, pearled with water, were patterned very naked
against universal grey. Berries were few, except the pink spindle one,
so far the most beautiful, of which there were more than Earth generally
vouchsafes. There was no sound in the deep lanes, none of that sweet,
overhead sighing of yesterday at the same hour, but there was a quality
of silence--a dumb mist murmuration. We passed a tree with a proud
pigeon sitting on its top spire, quite too heavy for the twig delicacy
below; undisturbed by the mare's hoofs or the creaking of saddle leather,
he let us pass, absorbed in his world of tranquil turtledoves. The mist
had thickened to a white, infinitesimal rain-dust, and in it the trees
began to look strange, as though they had lost one another. The world
seemed inhabited only by quick, soundless wraiths as one trotted past.
Close to a farm-house the mare stood still with that extreme suddenness
peculiar to her at times, and four black pigs scuttled by and at once
became white air. By now we were both hot and inclined to cling closely
together and take liberties with each other; I telling her about her
nature, name, and appearance, together with comments on her manners; and
she giving forth that sterterous, sweet snuffle, which begins under the
star on her forehead. On such days she did not sneeze, reserving those
expressions of her joy for sunny days and the crisp winds. At a forking
of the ways we came suddenly on one grey and three brown ponies, who
shied round and flung away in front of us, a vision of pretty heads and
haunches tangled in the thin lane, till, conscious that they were beyond
their beat, they faced the bank and, one by one, scrambled over to join
the other ghosts out on the dim common.
Dipping down now over the road, we passed hounds going home. Pied,
dumb-footed shapes, padding along in that soft-eyed, remote world of
theirs, with a tall riding splash of red in front, and a tall splash of
riding red behind. Then through a gate we came on to the moor, amongst
whitened furze. The mist thickened. A curlew was whistling on its
invisible way, far up; and that wistful, wild calling seemed the very
voice of the day. Keeping in view the glint of the road, we galloped;
rejoicing, both of us, to be free of the jog jog of the lanes.
And first the voice of the curlew died; then the glint of the road
vanished; and we were quite alone. Even the furze was gone; no shape of
anything left, only the black, peaty ground, and the thickening mist. We
might as well have been that lonely bird crossing up there in the blind
white nothingness, like a human spirit wandering on the undiscovered moor
of its own future.
The mare jumped a pile of stones, which appeared, as it were, after we
had passed over; and it came into my mind that, if we happened to strike
one of the old quarry pits, we should infallibly be killed. Somehow,
there was pleasure in this thought, that we might, or might not, strike
that old quarry pit. The blood in us being hot, we had pure joy in
charging its white, impalpable solidity, which made way, and at once
closed in behind us. There was great fun in this yard-by-yard discovery
that we were not yet dead, this flying, shelterless challenge to whatever
might lie out there, five yards in front. We felt supremely above the
wish to know that our necks were safe; we were happy, panting in the
vapour that beat against our faces from the sheer speed of our galloping.
Suddenly the ground grew lumpy and made up-hill. The mare slackened
pace; we stopped. Before us, behind, to right and left, white vapour.
No sky, no distance, barely the earth. No wind in our faces, no wind
anywhere. At first we just got our breath, thought nothing, talked a
little. Then came a chillness, a faint clutching over the heart. The
mare snuffled; we turned and made down-hill. And still the mist
thickened, and seemed to darken ever so little; we went slowly, suddenly
doubtful of all that was in front. There came into our minds visions, so
distant in that darkening vapour, of a warm stall and manger of oats; of
tea and a log fire. The mist seemed to have fingers now, long, dark
white, crawling fingers; it seemed, too, to have in its sheer silence a
sort of muttered menace, a shuddery lurkingness, as if from out of it
that spirit of the unknown, which in hot blood we had just now so
gleefully mocked, were creeping up at us, intent on its vengeance. Since
the ground no longer sloped, we could not go down-hill; there were no
means left of telling in what direction we were moving, and we stopped to
listen. There was no sound, not one tiny noise of water, wind in trees,
or man; not even of birds or the moor ponies. And the mist darkened. The
mare reached her head down and walked on, smelling at the heather; every
time she sniffed, one's heart quivered, hoping she had found the way.
She threw up her head, snorted, and stood still; and there passed just in
front of us a pony and her foal, shapes of scampering dusk, whisked like
blurred shadows across a sheet. Hoof-silent in the long heather--as ever
were visiting ghosts--they were gone in a flash. The mare plunged
forward, following. But, in the feel of her gallop, and the feel of my
heart, there was no more that ecstasy of facing the unknown; there was
only the cold, hasty dread of loneliness. Far asunder as the poles were
those two sensations, evoked by this same motion. The mare swerved
violently and stopped. There, passing within three yards, from the same
direction as before, the soundless shapes of the pony and her foal flew
by again, more intangible, less dusky now against the darker screen.
Were we, then, to be haunted by those bewildering uncanny ones, flitting
past ever from the same direction? This time the mare did not follow, but
stood still; knowing as well as I that direction was quite lost. Soon,
with a whimper, she picked her way on again, smelling at the heather.
And the mist darkened!
Then, out of the heart of that dusky whiteness, came a tiny sound; we
stood, not breathing, turning our heads. I could see the mare's eye
fixed and straining at the vapour. The tiny sound grew till it became
the muttering of wheels. The mare dashed forward. The muttering ceased
untimely; but she did not stop; turning abruptly to the left, she slid,
scrambled, and dropped into a trot. The mist seemed whiter below us; we
were on the road. And involuntarily there came from me a sound, not
quite a shout, not quite an oath. I saw the mare's eye turn back,
faintly derisive, as who should say: Alone I did it! Then slowly,
comfortably, a little ashamed, we jogged on, in the mood of men and
horses when danger is over. So pleasant it seemed now, in one short
half-hour, to have passed through the circle-swing of the emotions, from
the ecstasy of hot recklessness to the clutching of chill fear. But the
meeting-point of those two sensations we had left out there on the
mysterious moor! Why, at one moment, had we thought it finer than
anything on earth to risk the breaking of our necks; and the next,
shuddered at being lost in the darkening mist with winter night fast
And very luxuriously we turned once more into the lanes, enjoying the
past, scenting the future. Close to home, the first little eddy of wind
stirred, and the song of dripping twigs began; an owl hooted, honey-soft,
in the fog. We came on two farm hands mending the lane at the turn of
the avenue, and, curled on the top of the bank, their cosy red collie
pup, waiting for them to finish work for the day. He raised his sharp
nose and looked at us dewily. We turned down, padding softly in the wet
fox-red drifts under the beechtrees, whereon the last leaves still
flickered out in the darkening whiteness, that now seemed so little
eerie. We passed the grey-green skeleton of the farm-yard gate. A hen
ran across us, clucking, into the dusk. The maze drew her long,
home-coming snuffle, and stood still.
In one of those corners of our land canopied by the fumes of blind
industry, there was, on that day, a lull in darkness. A fresh wind had
split the customary heaven, or roof of hell; was sweeping long drifts of
creamy clouds across a blue still pallid with reek. The sun even
shone--a sun whose face seemed white and wondering. And under that rare
sun all the little town, among its slag heaps and few tall chimneys, had
an air of living faster. In those continuous courts and alleys, where
the women worked, smoke from each little forge rose and dispersed into
the wind with strange alacrity; amongst the women, too, there was that
same eagerness, for the sunshine had crept in and was making pale all
those dark-raftered, sooted ceilings which covered them in, together with
their immortal comrades, the small open furnaces. About their work they
had been busy since seven o'clock; their feet pressing the leather lungs
which fanned the conical heaps of glowing fuel, their hands poking into
the glow a thin iron rod till the end could be curved into a fiery hook;
snapping it with a mallet; threading it with tongs on to the chain;
hammering, closing the link; and; without a second's pause, thrusting the
iron rod again into the glow. And while they worked they chattered,
laughed sometimes, now and then sighed. They seemed of all ages and all
types; from her who looked like a peasant of Provence, broad, brown, and
strong, to the weariest white consumptive wisp; from old women of
seventy, with straggling grey hair, to fifteen-year-old girls. In the
cottage forges there would be but one worker, or two at most; in the shop
forges four, or even five, little glowing heaps; four or five of the
grimy, pale lung-bellows; and never a moment without a fiery hook about
to take its place on the growing chains, never a second when the thin
smoke of the forges, and of those lives consuming slowly in front of
them, did not escape from out of the dingy, whitewashed spaces past the
dark rafters, away to freedom.
But there had been in the air that morning something more than the white
sunlight. There had been anticipation. And at two o'clock began
fulfilment. The forges were stilled, and from court and alley forth came
the women. In their ragged working clothes, in their best clothes--so
little different; in bonnets, in hats, bareheaded; with babies born and
unborn, they swarmed into the high street and formed across it behind the
band. A strange, magpie, jay-like flock; black, white, patched with
brown and green and blue, shifting, chattering, laughing, seeming
unconscious of any purpose. A thousand and more of them, with faces
twisted and scored by those myriad deformings which a desperate
town-toiling and little food fasten on human visages; yet with hardly a
single evil or brutal face. Seemingly it was not easy to be evil or
brutal on a wage that scarcely bound soul and body. A thousand and more
of the poorest-paid and hardest-worked human beings in the world.
On the pavement alongside this strange, acquiescing assembly of revolt,
about to march in protest against the conditions of their lives, stood a
young woman without a hat and in poor clothes, but with a sort of beauty
in her rough-haired, high cheek-boned, dark-eyed face. She was not one
of them; yet, by a stroke of Nature's irony, there was graven on her face
alone of all those faces, the true look of rebellion; a haughty, almost
fierce, uneasy look--an untamed look. On all the other thousand faces
one could see no bitterness, no fierceness, not even enthusiasm; only a
half-stolid, half-vivacious patience and eagerness as of children going
to a party.
The band played; and they began to march.
Laughing, talking, waving flags, trying to keep step; with the same
expression slowly but surely coming over every face; the future was not;
only the present--this happy present of marching behind the discordance
of a brass band; this strange present of crowded movement and laughter in
We others--some dozen accidentals like myself, and the tall, grey-haired
lady interested in "the people," together with those few kind spirits in
charge of "the show"--marched too, a little self-conscious, desiring with
a vague military sensation to hold our heads up, but not too much, under
the eyes of the curious bystanders. These--nearly all men--were
well-wishers, it was said, though their faces, pale from their own work
in shop or furnace, expressed nothing but apathy. They wished well, very
dumbly, in the presence of this new thing, as if they found it queer that
women should be doing something for themselves; queer and rather
dangerous. A few, indeed, shuffled along between the column and the
little hopeless shops and grimy factory sheds, and one or two accompanied
their women, carrying the baby. Now and then there passed us some
better-to-do citizen-a housewife, or lawyer's clerk, or ironmonger, with
lips pressed rather tightly together and an air of taking no notice of
this disturbance of traffic, as though the whole thing were a rather poor
joke which they had already heard too often.
So, with laughter and a continual crack of voices our jay-like crew swung
on, swaying and thumping in the strange ecstasy of irreflection, happy to
be moving they knew not where, nor greatly why, under the visiting sun,
to the sound of murdered music. Whenever the band stopped playing,
discipline became as tatterdemalion as the very flags and garments; but
never once did they lose that look of essential order, as if indeed they
knew that, being the worst-served creatures in the Christian world, they
were the chief guardians of the inherent dignity of man.
Hatless, in the very front row, marched a tall slip of a girl,
arrow-straight, and so thin, with dirty fair hair, in a blouse and skirt
gaping behind, ever turning her pretty face on its pretty slim neck from
side to side, so that one could see her blue eyes sweeping here, there,
everywhere, with a sort of flower-like wildness, as if a secret embracing
of each moment forbade her to let them rest on anything and break this
pleasure of just marching. It seemed that in the never-still eyes of
that anaemic, happy girl the spirit of our march had elected to enshrine
itself and to make thence its little excursions to each ecstatic
follower. Just behind her marched a little old woman--a maker of chains,
they said, for forty years--whose black slits of eyes were sparkling,
who fluttered a bit of ribbon, and reeled with her sense of the exquisite
humour of the world. Every now and then she would make a rush at one of
her leaders to demonstrate how immoderately glorious was life. And each
time she spoke the woman next to her, laden with a heavy baby, went off
into squeals of laughter. Behind her, again, marched one who beat time
with her head and waved a little bit of stick, intoxicated by this noble
For an hour the pageant wound through the dejected street, pursuing
neither method nor set route, till it came to a deserted slag-heap,
selected for the speech-making. Slowly the motley regiment swung into
that grim amphitheatre under the pale sunshine; and, as I watched, a
strange fancy visited my brain. I seemed to see over every ragged head
of those marching women a little yellow flame, a thin, flickering gleam,
spiring upward and blown back by the wind. A trick of the sunlight,
maybe? Or was it that the life in their hearts, the inextinguishable
breath of happiness, had for a moment escaped prison, and was fluttering
at the pleasure of the breeze?
Silent now, just enjoying the sound of the words thrown down to them,
they stood, unimaginably patient, with that happiness of they knew not
what gilding the air above them between the patchwork ribands of their
poor flags. If they could not tell very much why they had come, nor
believe very much that they would gain anything by coming; if their
demonstration did not mean to the world quite all that oratory would have
them think; if they themselves were but the poorest, humblest, least
learned women in the land--for all that, it seemed to me that in those
tattered, wistful figures, so still, so trustful, I was looking on such
beauty as I had never beheld. All the elaborated glory of things made,
the perfected dreams of aesthetes, the embroideries of romance, seemed as
nothing beside this sudden vision of the wild goodness native in humble
One day that summer, I came away from a luncheon in company of an old
College chum. Always exciting to meet those one hasn't seen for years;
and as we walked across the Park together I kept looking at him askance.
He had altered a good deal. Lean he always was, but now very lean, and
so upright that his parson's coat was overhung by the back of his long
and narrow head, with its dark grizzled hair, which thought had not yet
loosened on his forehead. His clean-shorn face, so thin and oblong, was
remarkable only for the eyes: dark-browed and lashed, and coloured like
bright steel, they had a fixity in them, a sort of absence, on one
couldn't tell what business. They made me think of torture. And his
mouth always gently smiling, as if its pinched curly sweetness had been
commanded, was the mouth of a man crucified--yes, crucified!
Tramping silently over the parched grass, I felt that if we talked, we
must infallibly disagree; his straight-up, narrow forehead so suggested a
nature divided within itself into compartments of iron.
It was hot that day, and we rested presently beside the Serpentine. On
its bright waters were the usual young men, sculling themselves to and
fro with their usual sad energy, the usual promenaders loitering and
watching them, the usual dog that swam when it did not bark, and barked
when it did not swim; and my friend sat smiling, twisting between his
thin fingers the little gold cross on his silk vest.
Then all of a sudden we did begin to talk; and not of those matters of
which the well-bred naturally converse--the habits of the rarer kinds of
ducks, and the careers of our College friends, but of something never
mentioned in polite society.
At lunch our hostess had told me the sad story of an unhappy marriage,
and I had itched spiritually to find out what my friend, who seemed so
far away from me, felt about such things. And now I determined to find
"Tell me," I asked him, "which do you consider most important--the letter
or the spirit of Christ's teachings?"
"My dear fellow," he answered gently, "what a question! How can you
"Well, is it not the essence of His doctrine that the spirit is all
important, and the forms of little value? Does not that run through all
the Sermon on the Mount?"
"If, then," I said, "Christ's teaching is concerned with the spirit, do
you consider that Christians are justified in holding others bound by
formal rules of conduct, without reference to what is passing in their
"If it is for their good."
"What enables you to decide what is for their good?"
"Surely, we are told."
"Not to judge, that ye be not judged."
"Oh! but we do not, ourselves, judge; we are but impersonal ministers of
the rules of God."
"Ah! Do general rules of conduct take account of the variations of the
He looked at me hard, as if he began to scent heresy.
"You had better explain yourself more fully," he said. "I really don't
"Well, let us take a concrete instance. We know Christ's saying of the
married that they are one flesh! But we know also that there are wives
who continue to live the married life with dreadful feelings of spiritual
revolt wives who have found out that, in spite of all their efforts, they
have no spiritual affinity with their husbands. Is that in accordance
with the spirit of Christ's teaching, or is it not?"
"We are told----" he began.
"I have admitted the definite commandment: 'They twain shall be one
flesh.' There could not be, seemingly, any more rigid law laid down; how
do you reconcile it with the essence of Christ's teaching? Frankly, I
want to know: Is there or is there not a spiritual coherence in
Christianity, or is it only a gathering of laws and precepts, with no
inherent connected spiritual philosophy?"
"Of course," he said, in his long-suffering voice, "we don't look at
things like that--for us there is no questioning."
"But how do you reconcile such marriages as I speak of, with the spirit
of Christ's teaching? I think you ought to answer me."
"Oh! I can, perfectly," he answered; "the reconciliation is through
suffering. What a poor woman in such a case must suffer makes for the
salvation of her spirit. That is the spiritual fulfilment, and in such a
case the justification of the law."
"So then," I said, "sacrifice or suffering is the coherent thread of
"Suffering cheerfully borne," he answered.
"You do not think," I said, "that there is a touch of extravagance in
that? Would you say, for example, that an unhappy marriage is a more
Christian thing than a happy one, where there is no suffering, but only
A line came between his brows. "Well!" he said at last, "I would say, I
think, that a woman who crucifies her flesh with a cheerful spirit in
obedience to God's law, stands higher in the eyes of God than one who
undergoes no such sacrifice in her married life." And I had the feeling
that his stare was passing through me, on its way to an unseen goal.
"You would desire, then, I suppose, suffering as the greatest blessing
"Humbly," he said, "I would try to."
"And naturally, for others?"
"But surely that is inconsistent."
He murmured: "You see, I have suffered."
We were silent. At last I said: "Yes, that makes much which was dark
quite clear to me."
"Oh?" he asked.
I answered slowly: "Not many men, you know, even in your profession, have
really suffered. That is why they do not feel the difficulty which you
feel in desiring suffering for others."
He threw up his head exactly as if I had hit him on the jaw: "It's
weakness in me, I know," he said.
"I should have rather called it weakness in them. But suppose you are
right, and that it's weakness not to be able to desire promiscuous
suffering for others, would you go further and say that it is Christian
for those, who have not experienced a certain kind of suffering, to force
that particular kind on others?"
He sat silent for a full minute, trying evidently to reach to the bottom
of my thought.
"Surely not," he said at last, "except as ministers of God's laws."
"You do not then think that it is Christian for the husband of such a
woman to keep her in that state of suffering--not being, of course, a
minister of God?"
He began stammering at that: "I--I----" he said. "No; that is, I think
not-not Christian. No, certainly."
"Then, such a marriage, if persisted in, makes of the wife indeed a
Christian, but of the husband--the reverse."
"The answer to that is clear," he said quietly: "The husband must
"Yes, that is, perhaps, coherently Christian, on your theory: They would
then both suffer. But the marriage, of course, has become no marriage.
They are no longer one flesh."
He looked at me, almost impatiently as if to say: Do not compel me to
enforce silence on you!
"But, suppose," I went on, "and this, you know; is the more frequent
case, the man refuses to abstain. Would you then say it was more
Christian to allow him to become daily less Christian through his
unchristian conduct, than to relieve the woman of her suffering at the
expense of the spiritual benefit she thence derives? Why, in fact, do
you favour one case more than the other?"
"All question of relief," he replied, "is a matter for Caesar; it cannot
There had come into his face a rigidity--as if I might hit it with my
questions till my tongue was tired, and it be no more moved than the
bench on which we were sitting.
"One more question," I said, "and I have done. Since the Christian
teaching is concerned with the spirit and not forms, and the thread in it
which binds all together and makes it coherent, is that of suffering----"
"Redemption by suffering," he put in.
"If you will--in one word, self-crucifixion--I must ask you, and don't
take it personally, because of what you told me of yourself: In life
generally, one does not accept from people any teaching that is not the
result of firsthand experience on their parts. Do you believe that this
Christian teaching of yours is valid from the mouths of those who have
not themselves suffered--who have not themselves, as it were, been
He did not answer for a minute; then he said, with painful slowness:
"Christ laid hands on his apostles and sent them forth; and they in turn,
and so on, to our day."
"Do you say, then, that this guarantees that they have themselves
suffered, so that in spirit they are identified with their teaching?"
He answered bravely: "No--I do not--I cannot say that in fact it is
"Is not then their teaching born of forms, and not of the spirit?"
He rose; and with a sort of deep sorrow at my stubbornness said: "We are
not permitted to know the way of this; it is so ordained; we must have
As he stood there, turned from me, with his hat off, and his neck
painfully flushed under the sharp outcurve of his dark head, a feeling of
pity surged up in me, as if I had taken an unfair advantage.
"Reason--coherence--philosophy," he said suddenly. "You don't
understand. All that is nothing to me--nothing--nothing!"
WIND IN THE ROCKS
Though dew-dark when we set forth, there was stealing into the frozen air
an invisible white host of the wan-winged light--born beyond the
mountains, and already, like a drift of doves, harbouring grey-white high
up on the snowy skycaves of Monte Cristallo; and within us, tramping over
the valley meadows, was the incredible elation of those who set out
before the sun has risen; every minute of the precious day before us--we
had not lost one!
At the mouth of that enchanted chine, across which for a million years
the howdahed rock elephant has marched, but never yet passed from sight,
we crossed the stream, and among the trees began our ascent. Very far
away the first cowbells chimed; and, over the dark heights, we saw the
thin, sinking moon, looking like the white horns of some devotional beast
watching and waiting up there for the god of light. That god came
slowly, stalking across far over our heads from top to top; then, of a
sudden, his flame-white form was seen standing in a gap of the valley
walls; the trees flung themselves along the ground before him, and
censers of pine gum began swinging in the dark aisles, releasing their
perfumed steam. Throughout these happy ravines where no man lives, he
shows himself naked and unashamed, the colour of pale honey; on his
golden hair such shining as one has not elsewhere seen; his eyes like old
wine on fire. And already he had swept his hand across the invisible
strings, for there had arisen, the music of uncurling leaves and flitting
A legend runs, that, driven from land to land by Christians, Apollo hid
himself in Lower Austria, but those who ever they saw him there in the
thirteenth century were wrong; it was to these enchanted chines,
frequented only by the mountain shepherds, that he certainly came.
And as we were lying on the grass, of the first alp, with the star
gentians--those fallen drops of the sky--and the burnt-brown dandelions,
and scattered shrubs of alpen-rose round us, we were visited by one of
these very shepherds, passing with his flock--the fiercest-looking man
who ever, spoke in a gentle voice; six feet high, with an orange cloak,
bare knees; burnt as the very dandelions, a beard blacker than black, and
eyes more glorious than if sun and night had dived and were lying
imprisoned in their depths. He spoke in an unknown tongue, and could
certainly not understand any word of ours; but he smelled of the good
earth, and only through interminable watches under sun and stars could so
great a gentleman have been perfected.
Presently, while we rested outside that Alpine hut which faces the three
sphinx-like mountains, there came back, from climbing the smallest and
most dangerous of those peaks, one, pale from heat, and trembling with
fatigue; a tall man, with long brown hands, and a long, thin, bearded
face. And, as he sipped cautiously of red wine and water, he looked at
his little conquered mountain. His kindly, screwed-up eyes, his kindly,
bearded lips, even his limbs seemed smiling; and not for the world would
we have jarred with words that rapt, smiling man, enjoying the sacred
hour of him who has just proved himself. In silence we watched, in
silence left him smiling, knowing somehow that we should remember him all
our days. For there was in his smile the glamour of adventure just for
the sake of danger; all that high instinct which takes a man out of his
chair to brave what he need not.
Between that hut and the three mountains lies a saddle--astride of all
beauty and all colour, master of a titanic chaos of deep clefts, tawny
heights, red domes, far snow, and the purple of long shadows; and,
standing there, we comprehended a little of what Earth had been through
in her time, to have made this playground for most glorious demons.
Mother Earth! What travail undergone, what long heroic throes, had
brought on her face such majesty!
Hereabout edelweiss was clinging to smoothed-out rubble; but a little
higher, even the everlasting plant was lost, there was no more life. And
presently we lay down on the mountain side, rather far apart. Up here
above trees and pasture the wind had a strange, bare voice, free from all
outer influence, sweeping along with a cold, whiffing sound. On the warm
stones, in full sunlight, uplifted over all the beauty of Italy, one felt
at first only delight in space and wild loveliness, in the unknown
valleys, and the strength of the sun. It was so good to be alive; so
ineffably good to be living in this most wonderful world, drinking air
Behind us, from the three mountains, came the frequent thud and scuffle
of falling rocks, loosened by rains. The wind, mist, and winter snow had
ground the powdery stones on which we lay to a pleasant bed, but once on
a time they, too, had clung up there. And very slowly, one could not say
how or when, the sense of joy began changing to a sense of fear. The
awful impersonality of those great rock-creatures, the terrible
impartiality of that cold, clinging wind which swept by, never an inch
lifted above ground! Not one tiny soul, the size of a midge or rock
flower, lived here. Not one little "I" breathed here, and loved!
And we, too, some day would no longer love, having become part of this
monstrous, lovely earth, of that cold, whiffling air. To be no longer
able to love! It seemed incredible, too grim to bear; yet it was true!
To become powder, and the wind; no more to feel the sunlight; to be loved
no more! To become a whiffling noise, cold, without one's self! To
drift on the breath of that noise, homeless! Up here, there were not even
those little velvet, grey-white flower-comrades we had plucked. No life!
Nothing but the creeping wind, and those great rocky heights, whence came
the sound of falling-symbols of that cold, untimely state into which we,
too, must pass. Never more to love, nor to be loved! One could but turn
to the earth, and press one's face to it, away from the wild loveliness.
Of what use loveliness that must be lost; of what use loveliness when one
could not love? The earth was warm and firm beneath the palms of the
hands; but there still came the sound of the impartial wind, and the
careless roar of the stories falling.
Below, in those valleys amongst the living trees and grass, was the
comradeship of unnumbered life, so that to pass out into Peace, to step
beyond, to die, seemed but a brotherly act, amongst all those others; but
up here, where no creature breathed, we saw the heart of the desert that
stretches before each little human soul. Up here, it froze the spirit;
even Peace seemed mocking--hard as a stone. Yet, to try and hide, to
tuck one's head under one's own wing, was not possible in this air so
crystal clear, so far above incense and the narcotics of set creeds, and
the fevered breath of prayers and protestations. Even to know that
between organic and inorganic matter there is no gulf fixed, was of no
peculiar comfort. The jealous wind came creeping over the lifeless
limestone, removing even the poor solace of its warmth; one turned from
it, desperate, to look up at the sky, the blue, burning, wide, ineffable,
Then slowly, without reason, that icy fear passed into a feeling, not of
joy, not of peace, but as if Life and Death were exalted into what was
neither life nor death, a strange and motionless vibration, in which one
had been merged, and rested, utterly content, equipoised, divested of
desire, endowed with life and death.
But since this moment had come before its time, we got up, and, close
together, marched on rather silently, in the hot sun.
MY DISTANT RELATIVE
Though I had not seen my distant relative for years--not, in fact, since
he was obliged to give Vancouver Island up as a bad job--I knew him at
once, when, with head a little on one side, and tea-cup held high, as if,
to confer a blessing, he said: "Hallo!" across the Club smoking-room.
Thin as a lath--not one ounce heavier--tall, and very upright, with his
pale forehead, and pale eyes, and pale beard, he had the air of a ghost
of a man. He had always had that air. And his voice--that
matter-of-fact and slightly nasal voice, with its thin, pragmatical
tone--was like a wraith of optimism, issuing between pale lips. I
noticed; too, that his town habiliments still had their unspeakable pale
neatness, as if, poor things, they were trying to stare the daylight out
He brought his tea across to my bay window, with that wistful sociability
of his, as of a man who cannot always find a listener.
"But what are you doing in town?" I said. "I thought you were in
Yorkshire with your aunt."
Over his round, light eyes, fixed on something in the street, the lids
fell quickly twice, as the film falls over the eyes of a parrot.
"I'm after a job," he answered. "Must be on the spot just now."
And it seemed to me that I had heard those words from him before.
"Ah, yes," I said, "and do you think you'll get it?"
But even as I spoke I felt sorry, remembering how many jobs he had been
after in his time, and how soon they ended when he had got them.
"Oh, yes! They ought to give it me," then added rather suddenly: "You
never know, though. People are so funny!"
And crossing his thin legs, he went on to tell me, with quaint
impersonality, a number of instances of how people had been funny in
connection with jobs he had not been given.
"You see," he ended, "the country's in such a state--capital going out of
it every day. Enterprise being killed all over the place. There's
practically nothing to be had!"
"Ah!" I said, "you think it's worse, then, than it used to be?"
He smiled; in that smile there was a shade of patronage.
"We're going down-hill as fast as ever we can. National character's
losing all its backbone. No wonder, with all this molly-coddling going
"Oh!" I murmured, "molly-coddling? Isn't that excessive?"
"Well! Look at the way everything's being done for them! The working
classes are losing their self-respect as fast as ever they can. Their
independence is gone already!"
"Sure of it! I'll give you an instance----" and he went on to describe
to me the degeneracy of certain working men employed by his aunt and his
eldest brother Claud and his youngest brother Alan.
"They don't do a stroke more than they're obliged," he ended; "they know
jolly well they've got their Unions, and their pensions, and this
Insurance, to fall back on."
It was evidently a subject on which he felt strongly.
"Yes," he muttered, "the nation is being rotted down."
And a faint thrill of surprise passed through me. For the affairs of the
nation moved him so much more strongly than his own. His voice already
had a different ring, his eyes a different look. He eagerly leaned
forward, and his long, straight backbone looked longer and straighter
than ever. He was less the ghost of a man. A faint flush even had come
into his pale cheeks, and he moved his well-kept hands emphatically.
"Oh, yes!" he said: "The country is going to the dogs, right enough; but
you can't get them to see it. They go on sapping and sapping the
independence of the people. If the working man's to be looked after,
whatever he does--what on earth's to become of his go, and foresight, and
In his rising voice a certain piquancy was left to its accent of the
ruling class by that faint twang, which came, I remembered, from some
slight defect in his tonsils.
"Mark my words! So long as we're on these lines, we shall do nothing.
It's going against evolution. They say Darwin's getting old-fashioned;
all I know is, he's good enough for me. Competition is the only thing."
"But competition," I said, "is bitter cruel, and some people can't stand
against it!" And I looked at him rather hard: "Do you object to putting
any sort of floor under the feet of people like that?"
He let his voice drop a little, as if in deference to my scruples.
"Ah!" he said; "but if you once begin this sort of thing, there's no end
to it. It's so insidious. The more they have, the more they want; and
all the time they're losing fighting power. I've thought pretty deeply
about this. It's shortsighted; it really doesn't do!"
"But," I said, "surely you're not against saving people from being
knocked out of time by old age, and accidents like illness, and the
fluctuations of trade?"
"Oh!" he said, "I'm not a bit against charity. Aunt Emma's splendid
about that. And Claud's awfully good. I do what I can, myself." He
looked at me, so queerly deprecating, that I quite liked him at that
moment. At heart--I felt he was a good fellow. "All I think is," he
went on, "that to give them something that they can rely on as a matter
of course, apart from their own exertions, is the wrong principle
altogether," and suddenly his voice began to rise again, and his eyes to
stare. "I'm convinced that all this doing things for other people, and
bolstering up the weak, is rotten. It stands to reason that it must be."
He had risen to his feet, so preoccupied with the wrongness of that
principle that he seemed to have forgotten my presence. And as he stood
there in the window the light was too strong for him. All the thin
incapacity of that shadowy figure was pitilessly displayed; the desperate
narrowness in that long, pale face; the wambling look of those pale,
well-kept hands--all that made him such a ghost of a man. But his nasal,
dogmatic voice rose and rose.
"There's nothing for it but bracing up! We must cut away all this State
support; we must teach them to rely on themselves. It's all sheer
And suddenly there shot through me the fear that he might burst one of
those little blue veins in his pale forehead, so vehement had he become;
and hastily I changed the subject.
"Do you like living up there with your aunt?" I asked: "Isn't it a bit
He turned, as if I had awakened him from a dream.
"Oh, well!" he said, "it's only till I get this job."
"Let me see--how long is it since you----?"
"Four years. She's very glad to have me, of course."
"And how's your brother Claud?"
"Oh! All right, thanks; a bit worried with the estate. The poor old
gov'nor left it in rather a mess, you know."
"Ah! Yes. Does he do other work?"
"Oh! Always busy in the parish."
"And your brother Richard?"
"He's all right. Came home this year. Got just enough to live on, with
his pension--hasn't saved a rap, of course."
"And Willie? Is he still delicate?"
"Easy job, his, you know. And even if his health does give out, his
college pals will always find him some sort of sinecure. So jolly
popular, old Willie!"
"And Alan? I haven't heard anything of him since his Peruvian thing came
to grief. He married, didn't he?"
"Rather! One of the Burleys. Nice girl--heiress; lot of property in
Hampshire. He looks after it for her now."
"Doesn't do anything else, I suppose?"
"Keeps up his antiquarianism."
I had exhausted the members of his family.
Then, as though by eliciting the good fortunes of his brothers I had cast
some slur upon himself, he said suddenly: "If the railway had come, as it
ought to have, while I was out there, I should have done quite well with
my fruit farm."
"Of course," I agreed; "it was bad luck. But after all, you're sure to
get a job soon, and--so long as you can live up there with your aunt--you
can afford to wait, and not bother."
"Yes," he murmured. And I got up.
"Well, it's been very jolly to hear about you all!"
He followed me out.
"Awfully glad, old man," he said, "to have seen you, and had this talk.
I was feeling rather low. Waiting to know whether I get that job--it's
He came down the Club steps with me. By the door of my cab a loafer was
standing; a tall tatterdemalion with a pale, bearded face. My distant
relative fended him away, and leaning through the window, murmured:
"Awful lot of these chaps about now!"
For the life of me I could not help looking at him very straight. But no
flicker of apprehension crossed his face.
"Well, good-by again!" he said: "You've cheered me up a lot!"
I glanced back from my moving cab. Some monetary transaction was passing
between him and the loafer, but, short-sighted as I am, I found it
difficult to decide which of those tall, pale, bearded figures was giving
the other one a penny. And by some strange freak an awful vision shot up
before me--of myself, and my distant relative, and Claud, and Richard,
and Willie, and Alan, all suddenly relying on ourselves. I took out my
handkerchief to mop my brow; but a thought struck me, and I put it back.
Was it possible for me, and my distant relatives, and their distant
relatives, and so on to infinity of those who be longed to a class
provided by birth with a certain position, raised by Providence on to a
platform made up of money inherited, of interest, of education fitting us
for certain privileged pursuits, of friends similarly endowed, of
substantial homes, and substantial relatives of some sort or other, on
whom we could fall back--was it possible for any of us ever to be in the
position of having to rely absolutely on ourselves? For several minutes
I pondered that question; and slowly I came to the conclusion that, short
of crime, or that unlikely event, marooning, it was not possible. Never,
never--try as we might--could any single one of us be quite in the
position of one of those whose approaching pauperisation my distant
relative had so vehemently deplored. We were already pauperised. If we
served our country, we were pensioned.... If we inherited land, it could
not be taken from us. If we went into the Church, we were there for life,
whether we were suitable or no. If we attempted the more hazardous
occupations of the law, medicine, the arts, or business, there were
always those homes, those relations, those friends of ours to fall back
on, if we failed. No! We could never have to rely entirely on
ourselves; we could never be pauperised more than we were already! And a
light burst in on me. That explained why my distant relative felt so
keenly. It bit him, for he saw, of course, how dreadful it would be for
these poor people of the working classes when legislation had succeeded
in placing them in the humiliating position in which we already were--the
dreadful position of having something to depend on apart from our own
exertions, some sort of security in our lives. I saw it now. It was his
secret pride, gnawing at him all the time, that made him so rabid on the
point. He was longing, doubtless, day and night, not to have had a
father who had land, and had left a sister well enough off to keep him
while he was waiting for his job. He must be feeling how horribly
degrading was the position of Claud--inheriting that land; and of
Richard, who, just because he had served in the Indian Civil Service, had
got to live on a pension all the rest of his days; and of Willie, who was
in danger at any moment, if his health--always delicate--gave out, of
having a sinecure found for him by his college friends; and of Alan,
whose educated charm had enabled him to marry an heiress and live by
managing her estates. All, all sapped of go and foresight and
perseverance by a cruel Providence! That was what he was really feeling,
and concealing, be cause he was too well-bred to show his secret grief.
And I felt suddenly quite warm toward him, now that I saw how he was
suffering. I understood how bound he felt in honour to combat with all
his force this attempt to place others in his own distressing situation.
At the same time I was honest enough to confess to myself sitting there
in the cab--that I did not personally share that pride of his, or feel
that I was being rotted by my own position; I even felt some dim
gratitude that if my powers gave out at any time, and I had not saved
anything, I should still not be left destitute to face the prospect of a
bleak and impoverished old age; and I could not help a weak pleasure in
the thought that a certain relative security was being guaranteed to
those people of the working classes who had never had it before. At the
same moment I quite saw that to a prouder and stronger heart it must
indeed be bitter to have to sit still under your own security, and even
more bitter to have to watch that pauperising security coming closer and
closer to others--for the generous soul is always more concerned for
others than for himself. No doubt, I thought, if truth were known, my
distant relative is consumed with longing to change places with that
loafer who tried to open the door of my cab--for surely he must see, as I
do, that that is just what he himself--having failed to stand the
pressure of competition in his life--would be doing if it were not for
the accident of his birth, which has so lamentably insured him against
coming to that.
"Yes," I thought, "you have learnt something to-day; it does not do, you
see, hastily to despise those distant relatives of yours, who talk about
pauperising and molly-coddling the lower classes. No, no! One must look
deeper than that! One must have generosity!"
And with that I stopped the cab and got out for I wanted a breath of air.
THE BLACK GODMOTHER
Sitting out on the lawn at tea with our friend and his retriever, we had
been discussing those massacres of the helpless which had of late
occurred, and wondering that they should have been committed by the
soldiery of so civilised a State, when, in a momentary pause of our
astonishment, our friend, who had been listening in silence, crumpling
the drooping soft ear of his dog, looked up and said, "The cause of
atrocities is generally the violence of Fear. Panic's at the back of
most crimes and follies."
Knowing that his philosophical statements were always the result of
concrete instance, and that he would not tell us what that instance was
if we asked him--such being his nature--we were careful not to agree.
He gave us a look out of those eyes of his, so like the eyes of a mild
eagle, and said abruptly: "What do you say to this, then? . . . I was out
in the dog-days last year with this fellow of mine, looking for Osmunda,
and stayed some days in a village--never mind the name. Coming back one
evening from my tramp, I saw some boys stoning a mealy-coloured dog. I
went up and told the young devils to stop it. They only looked at me in
the injured way boys do, and one of them called out, 'It's mad, guv'nor!'
I told them to clear off, and they took to their heels. The dog followed
me. It was a young, leggy, mild looking mongrel, cross--I should
say--between a brown retriever and an Irish terrier. There was froth
about its lips, and its eyes were watery; it looked indeed as if it might
be in distemper. I was afraid of infection for this fellow of mine, and
whenever it came too close shooed it away, till at last it slunk off
altogether. Well, about nine o'clock, when I was settling down to write
by the open window of my sitting-room--still daylight, and very quiet and
warm--there began that most maddening sound, the barking of an unhappy
dog. I could do nothing with that continual 'Yap yap!' going on, and it
was too hot to shut the window; so I went out to see if I could stop it.
The men were all at the pub, and the women just finished with their
gossip; there was no sound at all but the continual barking of this dog,
somewhere away out in the fields. I travelled by ear across three
meadows, till I came on a hay-stack by a pool of water. There was the
dog sure enough--the same mealy-coloured mongrel, tied to a stake,
yapping, and making frantic little runs on a bit of rusty chain; whirling
round and round the stake, then standing quite still, and shivering. I
went up and spoke to it, but it backed into the hay-stack, and there it
stayed shrinking away from me, with its tongue hanging out. It had been
heavily struck by something on the head; the cheek was cut, one eye
half-closed, and an ear badly swollen. I tried to get hold of it, but
the poor thing was beside itself with fear. It snapped and flew round so
that I had to give it up, and sit down with this fellow here beside me,
to try and quiet it--a strange dog, you know, will generally form his
estimate of you from the way it sees you treat another dog. I had to sit
there quite half an hour before it would let me go up to it, pull the
stake out, and lead it away. The poor beast, though it was so feeble
from the blows it had received, was still half-frantic, and I didn't dare
to touch it; and all the time I took good care that this fellow here
didn't come too near. Then came the question what was to be done. There
was no vet, of course, and I'd no place to put it except my sitting-room,
which didn't belong to me. But, looking at its battered head, and its
half-mad eyes, I thought: 'No trusting you with these bumpkins; you'll
have to come in here for the night!' Well, I got it in, and heaped two or
three of those hairy little red rugs landladies are so fond of, up in a
corner; and got it on to them, and put down my bread and milk. But it
wouldn't eat--its sense of proportion was all gone, fairly destroyed by
terror. It lay there moaning, and every now and then it raised its head
with a 'yap' of sheer fright, dreadful to hear, and bit the air, as if
its enemies were on it again; and this fellow of mine lay in the opposite
corner, with his head on his paw, watching it. I sat up for a long time
with that poor beast, sick enough, and wondering how it had come to be
stoned and kicked and battered into this state; and next day I made it my
business to find out."
Our friend paused, scanned us a little angrily, and then went on: "It had
made its first appearance, it seems, following a bicyclist. There are
men, you know--save the mark--who, when their beasts get ill or too
expensive, jump on their bicycles and take them for a quick run, taking
care never to look behind them. When they get back home they say:
'Hallo! where's Fido?' Fido is nowhere, and there's an end! Well, this
poor puppy gave up just as it got to our village; and, roaming shout in
search of water, attached itself to a farm labourer. The man with
excellent intentions--as he told me himself--tried to take hold of it,
but too abruptly, so that it was startled, and snapped at him. Whereon
he kicked it for a dangerous cur, and it went drifting back toward the
village, and fell in with the boys coming home from school. It thought,
no doubt, that they were going to kick it too, and nipped one of them who
took it by the collar. Thereupon they hullabalooed and stoned it down the
road to where I found them. Then I put in my little bit of torture, and
drove it away, through fear of infection to my own dog. After that it
seems to have fallen in with a man who told me: 'Well, you see, he came
sneakin' round my house, with the children playin', and snapped at them
when they went to stroke him, so that they came running in to their
mother, an' she' called to me in a fine takin' about a mad dog. I ran out
with a shovel and gave 'im one, and drove him out. I'm sorry if he
wasn't mad, he looked it right enough; you can't be too careful with
strange dogs.' Its next acquaintance was an old stone-breaker, a very
decent sort. 'Well! you see,' the old man explained to me, 'the dog came
smellin' round my stones, an' it wouldn' come near, an' it wouldn' go
away; it was all froth and blood about the jaw, and its eyes glared green
at me. I thought to meself, bein' the dog-days--I don't like the look o'
you, you look funny! So I took a stone, an' got it here, just on the
ear; an' it fell over. And I thought to meself: Well, you've got to
finish it, or it'll go bitin' somebody, for sure! But when I come to it
with my hammer, the dog it got up--an' you know how it is when there's
somethin' you've 'alf killed, and you feel sorry, and yet you feel you
must finish it, an' you hit at it blind, you hit at it agen an' agen.
The poor thing, it wriggled and snapped, an' I was terrified it'd bite
me, an' some'ow it got away."' Again our friend paused, and this time we
dared not look at him.
"The next hospitality it was shown," he went on presently, "was by a
farmer, who, seeing it all bloody, drove it off, thinking it had been
digging up a lamb that he'd just buried. The poor homeless beast came
sneaking back, so he told his men to get rid of it. Well, they got hold
of it somehow--there was a hole in its neck that looked as if they'd used
a pitchfork--and, mortally afraid of its biting them, but not liking, as
they told me, to drown it, for fear the owner might come on them, they
got a stake and a chain, and fastened it up, and left it in the water by
the hay-stack where I found it. I had some conversation with that
farmer. 'That's right,' he said, 'but who was to know? I couldn't have
my sheep worried. The brute had blood on his muzzle. These curs do a
lot of harm when they've once been blooded. You can't run risks."' Our
friend cut viciously at a dandelion with his stick. "Run risks!" he
broke out suddenly: "That was it from beginning to end of that poor
beast's sufferings, fear! From that fellow on the bicycle, afraid of the
worry and expense, as soon as it showed signs of distemper, to myself and
the man with the pitch fork--not one of us, I daresay, would have gone
out of our way to do it--a harm. But we felt fear, and so by the law of
self-preservation, or what ever you like--it all began, till there the
poor thing was, with a battered head and a hole in its neck, ravenous
with hunger, and too distraught even to lap my bread and milk. Yes, and
there's something uncanny about a suffering animal--we sat watching it,
and again we were afraid, looking at its eyes and the way it bit the air.
Fear! It's the black godmother of all damnable things!"
Our friend bent down, crumpling and crumpling at his dog's ears. We,
too, gazed at the ground, thinking of, that poor lost puppy, and the
horrible inevitability of all that happens, seeing men are what they are;
thinking of all the foul doings in the world, whose black godmother is
"And what became of the poor dog?" one of us asked at last.
"When," said our friend slowly, "I'd had my fill of watching, I covered
it with a rug, took this fellow away with me, and went to bed. There was
nothing else to do. At dawn I was awakened by three dreadful cries--not
like a dog's at all. I hurried down. There was the poor beast--wriggled
out from under the rug-stretched on its side, dead. This fellow of mine
had followed me in, and he went and sat down by the body. When I spoke
to him he just looked round, and wagged his tail along the ground, but
would not come away; and there he sat till it was buried, very
interested, but not sorry at all."
Our friend was silent, looking angrily at something in the distance.
And we, too, were silent, seeing in spirit that vigil of early morning:
The thin, lifeless, sandy-coloured body, stretched on those red mats; and
this black creature--now lying at our feet--propped on its haunches like
the dog in "The Death of Procris," patient, curious, ungrieved, staring
down at it with his bright, interested eyes.
STUDIES AND ESSAYS
By John Galsworthy
"Je vous dirai que l'exces est toujours un mal."
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
THE GRAND JURY
THAT OLD-TIME PLACE
I knew him from the days of my extreme youth, because he made my father's
boots; inhabiting with his elder brother two little shops let into one,
in a small by-street-now no more, but then most fashionably placed in the
That tenement had a certain quiet distinction; there was no sign upon its
face that he made for any of the Royal Family--merely his own German name
of Gessler Brothers; and in the window a few pairs of boots. I remember
that it always troubled me to account for those unvarying boots in the
window, for he made only what was ordered, reaching nothing down, and it
seemed so inconceivable that what he made could ever have failed to fit.
Had he bought them to put there? That, too, seemed inconceivable. He
would never have tolerated in his house leather on which he had not
worked himself. Besides, they were too beautiful--the pair of pumps, so
inexpressibly slim, the patent leathers with cloth tops, making water
come into one's mouth, the tall brown riding boots with marvellous sooty
glow, as if, though new, they had been worn a hundred years. Those pairs
could only have been made by one who saw before him the Soul of Boot--so
truly were they prototypes incarnating the very spirit of all foot-gear.
These thoughts, of course, came to me later, though even when I was
promoted to him, at the age of perhaps fourteen, some inkling haunted me
of the dignity of himself and brother. For to make boots--such boots as
he made--seemed to me then, and still seems to me, mysterious and
I remember well my shy remark, one day, while stretching out to him my
"Isn't it awfully hard to do, Mr. Gessler?"
And his answer, given with a sudden smile from out of the sardonic
redness of his beard: "Id is an Ardt!"
Himself, he was a little as if made from leather, with his yellow crinkly
face, and crinkly reddish hair and beard; and neat folds slanting down
his cheeks to the corners of his mouth, and his guttural and one-toned
voice; for leather is a sardonic substance, and stiff and slow of
purpose. And that was the character of his face, save that his eyes,
which were grey-blue, had in them the simple gravity of one secretly
possessed by the Ideal. His elder brother was so very like him--though
watery, paler in every way, with a great industry--that sometimes in
early days I was not quite sure of him until the interview was over.
Then I knew that it was he, if the words, "I will ask my brudder," had
not been spoken; and that, if they had, it was his elder brother.
When one grew old and wild and ran up bills, one somehow never ran them
up with Gessler Brothers. It would not have seemed becoming to go in
there and stretch out one's foot to that blue iron-spectacled glance,
owing him for more than--say--two pairs, just the comfortable reassurance
that one was still his client.
For it was not possible to go to him very often--his boots lasted
terribly, having something beyond the temporary--some, as it were,
essence of boot stitched into them.
One went in, not as into most shops, in the mood of: "Please serve me,
and let me go!" but restfully, as one enters a church; and, sitting on
the single wooden chair, waited--for there was never anybody there.
Soon, over the top edge of that sort of well--rather dark, and smelling
soothingly of leather--which formed the shop, there would be seen his
face, or that of his elder brother, peering down. A guttural sound, and
the tip-tap of bast slippers beating the narrow wooden stairs, and he
would stand before one without coat, a little bent, in leather apron,
with sleeves turned back, blinking--as if awakened from some dream of
boots, or like an owl surprised in daylight and annoyed at this
And I would say: "How do you do, Mr. Gessler? Could you make me a pair
of Russia leather boots?"
Without a word he would leave me, retiring whence he came, or into the
other portion of the shop, and I would, continue to rest in the wooden
chair, inhaling the incense of his trade. Soon he would come back,
holding in his thin, veined hand a piece of gold-brown leather. With eyes
fixed on it, he would remark: "What a beaudiful biece!" When I, too, had
admired it, he would speak again. "When do you wand dem?" And I would
answer: "Oh! As soon as you conveniently can." And he would say:
"To-morrow fordnighd?" Or if he were his elder brother: "I will ask my
Then I would murmur: "Thank you! Good-morning, Mr. Gessler."
"Goot-morning!" he would reply, still looking at the leather in his hand.
And as I moved to the door, I would hear the tip-tap of his bast slippers
restoring him, up the stairs, to his dream of boots. But if it were some
new kind of foot-gear that he had not yet made me, then indeed he would
observe ceremony--divesting me of my boot and holding it long in his
hand, looking at it with eyes at once critical and loving, as if
recalling the glow with which he had created it, and rebuking the way in
which one had disorganized this masterpiece. Then, placing my foot on a
piece of paper, he would two or three times tickle the outer edges with a
pencil and pass his nervous fingers over my toes, feeling himself into
the heart of my requirements.
I cannot forget that day on which I had occasion to say to him; "Mr.
Gessler, that last pair of town walking-boots creaked, you know."
He looked at me for a time without replying, as if expecting me to
withdraw or qualify the statement, then said:
"Id shouldn'd 'ave greaked."
"It did, I'm afraid."
"You goddem wed before dey found demselves?"
"I don't think so."
At that he lowered his eyes, as if hunting for memory of those boots, and
I felt sorry I had mentioned this grave thing.
"Zend dem back!" he said; "I will look at dem."
A feeling of compassion for my creaking boots surged up in me, so well
could I imagine the sorrowful long curiosity of regard which he would
bend on them.
"Zome boods," he said slowly, "are bad from birdt. If I can do noding
wid dem, I dake dem off your bill."
Once (once only) I went absent-mindedly into his shop in a pair of boots
bought in an emergency at some large firm's. He took my order without
showing me any leather, and I could feel his eyes penetrating the
inferior integument of my foot. At last he said:
"Dose are nod my boods."
The tone was not one of anger, nor of sorrow, not even of contempt, but
there was in it something quiet that froze the blood. He put his hand
down and pressed a finger on the place where the left boot, endeavouring
to be fashionable, was not quite comfortable.
"Id 'urds you dere,", he said. "Dose big virms 'ave no self-respect.
Drash!" And then, as if something had given way within him, he spoke
long and bitterly. It was the only time I ever heard him discuss the
conditions and hardships of his trade.
"Dey get id all," he said, "dey get id by adverdisement, nod by work. Dey
dake it away from us, who lofe our boods. Id gomes to this--bresently I
haf no work. Every year id gets less you will see." And looking at his
lined face I saw things I had never noticed before, bitter things and
bitter struggle--and what a lot of grey hairs there seemed suddenly in
his red beard!
As best I could, I explained the circumstances of the purchase of those
ill-omened boots. But his face and voice made so deep impression that
during the next few minutes I ordered many pairs. Nemesis fell! They
lasted more terribly than ever. And I was not able conscientiously to go
to him for nearly two years.
When at last I went I was surprised to find that outside one of the two
little windows of his shop another name was painted, also that of a
bootmaker-making, of course, for the Royal Family. The old familiar
boots, no longer in dignified isolation, were huddled in the single
window. Inside, the now contracted well of the one little shop was more
scented and darker than ever. And it was longer than usual, too, before
a face peered down, and the tip-tap of the bast slippers began. At last
he stood before me, and, gazing through those rusty iron spectacles,
"Mr.-----, isn'd it?"
"Ah! Mr. Gessler," I stammered, "but your boots are really too good,
you know! See, these are quite decent still!" And I stretched out to
him my foot. He looked at it.
"Yes," he said, "beople do nod wand good hoods, id seems."
To get away from his reproachful eyes and voice I hastily remarked: "What
have you done to your shop?"
He answered quietly: "Id was too exbensif. Do you wand some boods?"
I ordered three pairs, though I had only wanted two, and quickly left. I
had, I do not know quite what feeling of being part, in his mind, of a
conspiracy against him; or not perhaps so much against him as against his
idea of boot. One does not, I suppose, care to feel like that; for it
was again many months before my next visit to his shop, paid, I remember,
with the feeling: "Oh! well, I can't leave the old boy--so here goes!
Perhaps it'll be his elder brother!"
For his elder brother, I knew, had not character enough to reproach me,
And, to my relief, in the shop there did appear to be his elder brother,
handling a piece of leather.
"Well, Mr. Gessler," I said, "how are you?"
He came close, and peered at me.
"I am breddy well," he said slowly "but my elder brudder is dead."
And I saw that it was indeed himself--but how aged and wan! And never
before had I heard him mention his brother. Much shocked; I murmured:
"Oh! I am sorry!"
"Yes," he answered, "he was a good man, he made a good bood; but he is
dead." And he touched the top of his head, where the hair had suddenly
gone as thin as it had been on that of his poor brother, to indicate, I
suppose, the cause of death. "He could nod ged over losing de oder shop.
Do you wand any hoods?" And he held up the leather in his hand: "Id's a
I ordered several pairs. It was very long before they came--but they
were better than ever. One simply could not wear them out. And soon
after that I went abroad.
It was over a year before I was again in London. And the first shop I
went to was my old friend's. I had left a man of sixty, I came back to
one of seventy-five, pinched and worn and tremulous, who genuinely, this
time, did not at first know me.
"Oh! Mr. Gessler," I said, sick at heart; "how splendid your boots are!
See, I've been wearing this pair nearly all the time I've been abroad;
and they're not half worn out, are they?"
He looked long at my boots--a pair of Russia leather, and his face seemed
to regain steadiness. Putting his hand on my instep, he said:
"Do dey vid you here? I 'ad drouble wid dat bair, I remember."
I assured him that they had fitted beautifully.
"Do you wand any boods?" he said. "I can make dem quickly; id is a slack
I answered: "Please, please! I want boots all round--every kind!"
"I will make a vresh model. Your food must be bigger." And with utter
slowness, he traced round my foot, and felt my toes, only once looking up
"Did I dell you my brudder was dead?"
To watch him was painful, so feeble had he grown; I was glad to get away.
I had given those boots up, when one evening they came. Opening the
parcel, I set the four pairs out in a row. Then one by one I tried them
on. There was no doubt about it. In shape and fit, in finish and
quality of leather, they were the best he had ever made me. And in the
mouth of one of the Town walking-boots I found his bill.
The amount was the same as usual, but it gave me quite a shock. He had
never before sent it in till quarter day. I flew down-stairs, and wrote
a cheque, and posted it at once with my own hand.
A week later, passing the little street, I thought I would go in and tell
him how splendidly the new boots fitted. But when I came to where his
shop had been, his name was gone. Still there, in the window, were the
slim pumps, the patent leathers with cloth tops, the sooty riding boots.
I went in, very much disturbed. In the two little shops--again made into
one--was a young man with an English face.
"Mr. Gessler in?" I said.
He gave me a strange, ingratiating look.
"No, sir," he said, "no. But we can attend to anything with pleasure.
We've taken the shop over. You've seen our name, no doubt, next door.
We make for some very good people."
"Yes, Yes," I said; "but Mr. Gessler?"
"Oh!" he answered; "dead."
"Dead! But I only received these boots from him last Wednesday week."
"Ah!" he said; "a shockin' go. Poor old man starved 'imself."
"Slow starvation, the doctor called it! You see he went to work in such
a way! Would keep the shop on; wouldn't have a soul touch his boots
except himself. When he got an order, it took him such a time. People
won't wait. He lost everybody. And there he'd sit, goin' on and on--I
will say that for him not a man in London made a better boot! But look
at the competition! He never advertised! Would 'ave the best leather,
too, and do it all 'imself. Well, there it is. What could you expect
with his ideas?"
"That may be a bit flowery, as the sayin' is--but I know myself he was
sittin' over his boots day and night, to the very last. You see I used
to watch him. Never gave 'imself time to eat; never had a penny in the
house. All went in rent and leather. How he lived so long I don't know.
He regular let his fire go out. He was a character. But he made good
"Yes," I said, "he made good boots."
And I turned and went out quickly, for I did not want that youth to know
that I could hardly see.
THE GRAND JURY--IN TWO PANELS AND A FRAME
Read that piece of paper, which summoned me to sit on the Grand Jury at
the approaching Sessions, lying in a scoop of the shore close to the
great rollers of the sea--that span of eternal freedom, deprived just
there of too great liberty by the word "Atlantic." And I remember
thinking, as I read, that in each breaking wave was some particle which
had visited every shore in all the world--that in each sparkle of hot
sunlight stealing that bright water up into the sky, was the microcosm of
all change, and of all unity.
In answer to that piece of paper, I presented myself at the proper place
in due course and with a certain trepidation. What was it that I was
about to do? For I had no experience of these things. And, being too
early, I walked a little to and fro, looking at all those my partners in
this matter of the purification of Society. Prosecutors, witnesses,
officials, policemen, detectives, undetected, pressmen, barristers,
loafers, clerks, cadgers, jurymen. And I remember having something of
the feeling that one has when one looks into a sink without holding one's
nose. There was such uneasy hurry, so strange a disenchanted look, a
sort of spiritual dirt, about all that place, and there were--faces! And
I thought: To them my face must seem as their faces seem to me!
Soon I was taken with my accomplices to have my name called, and to be
sworn. I do not remember much about that process, too occupied with
wondering what these companions of mine were like; but presently we all
came to a long room with a long table, where nineteen lists of
indictments and nineteen pieces of blotting paper were set alongside
nineteen pens. We did not, I recollect, speak much to one another, but
sat down, and studied those nineteen lists. We had eighty-seven cases on
which to pronounce whether the bill was true or no; and the clerk assured
us we should get through them in two days at most. Over the top of these
indictments I regarded my eighteen fellows. There was in me a hunger of
inquiry, as to what they thought about this business; and a sort of
sorrowful affection for them, as if we were all a ship's company bound on
some strange and awkward expedition. I wondered, till I thought my
wonder must be coming through my eyes, whether they had the same curious
sensation that I was feeling, of doing something illegitimate, which I
had not been born to do, together with a sense of self-importance, a sort
of unholy interest in thus dealing with the lives of my fellow men. And
slowly, watching them, I came to the conclusion that I need not wonder.
All with the exception perhaps of two, a painter and a Jew looked such
good citizens. I became gradually sure that they were not troubled with
the lap and wash of speculation; unclogged by any devastating sense of
unity; pure of doubt, and undefiled by an uneasy conscience.
But now they began to bring us in the evidence. They brought it quickly.
And at first we looked at it, whatever it was, with a sort of solemn
excitement. Were we not arbiters of men's fates, purifiers of Society,
more important by far than Judge or Common Jury? For if we did not bring
in a true bill there was an end; the accused would be discharged.
We set to work, slowly at first, then faster and still faster, bringing
in true bills; and after every one making a mark in our lists so that we
might know where we were. We brought in true bills for burglary, and
false pretences, larceny, and fraud; we brought them in for manslaughter,
rape, and arson. When we had ten or so, two of us would get up and bear
them away down to the Court below and lay them before the Judge. "Thank
you, gentlemen!" he would say, or words to that effect; and we would go
up again, and go on bringing in true bills. I noticed that at the
evidence of each fresh bill we looked with a little less excitement, and
a little less solemnity, making every time a shorter tick and a shorter
note in the margin of our lists. All the bills we had--fifty-seven--we
brought in true. And the morning and the afternoon made that day, till we
rested and went to our homes.
Next day we were all back in our places at the appointed hour, and, not
greeting each other much, at once began to bring in bills. We brought
them in, not quite so fast, as though some lurking megrim, some microbe
of dissatisfaction with ourselves was at work within us. It was as if we
wanted to throw one out, as if we felt our work too perfect. And
presently it came. A case of defrauding one Sophie Liebermann, or
Laubermann, or some such foreign name, by giving her one of those
five-pound Christmas-card banknotes just then in fashion, and receiving
from her, as she alleged, three real sovereigns change. There was a
certain piquancy about the matter, and I well remember noticing how we
sat a little forward and turned in our seats when they brought in the
prosecutrix to give evidence. Pale, self-possessed, dressed in black, and
rather comely, neither brazen nor furtive, speaking but poor English, her
broad, matter-of-fact face, with its wide-set grey eyes and thickish nose
and lips, made on me, I recollect, an impression of rather stupid
honesty. I do not think they had told us in so many words what her
calling was, nor do I remember whether she actually disclosed it, but by
our demeanour I could tell that we had all realized what was the nature
of the service rendered to the accused, in return for which he had given
her this worthless note. In her rather guttural but pleasant voice she
answered all our questions--not very far from tears, I think, but saved
by native stolidity, and perhaps a little by the fear that purifiers of
Society might not be the proper audience for emotion. When she had left
us we recalled the detective, and still, as it were, touching the
delicate matter with the tips of our tongues, so as not, being men of the
world, to seem biassed against anything, we definitely elicited from him
her profession and these words: "If she's speaking the truth, gentlemen;
but, as you know, these women, they don't always, specially the foreign
ones!" When he, too, had gone, we looked at each other in unwonted
silence. None of us quite liked, it seemed, to be first to speak. Then
our foreman said: "There's no doubt, I think, that he gave her the
note--mean trick, of course, but we can't have him on that alone--bit too
irregular--no consideration in law, I take it."
He smiled a little at our smiles, and then went on: "The question,
gentlemen, really seems to be, are we to take her word that she actually
gave him change?" Again, for quite half a minute; we were silent, and
then, the fattest one of us said, suddenly: "Very dangerous--goin' on the
word of these women."
And at once, as if he had released something in our souls, we all (save
two or three) broke out. It wouldn't do! It wasn't safe! Seeing what
these women were! It was exactly as if, without word said, we had each
been swearing the other to some secret compact to protect Society. As if
we had been whispering to each other something like this: "These
women--of course, we need them, but for all that we can't possibly
recognise them as within the Law; we can't do that without endangering
the safety of every one of us. In this matter we are trustees for all
men--indeed, even for ourselves, for who knows at what moment we might
not ourselves require their services, and it would be exceedingly awkward
if their word were considered the equal of our own!" Not one of us,
certainly said anything so crude as this; none the less did many of us
feel it. Then the foreman, looking slowly round the table, said: "Well,
gentlemen, I think we are all agreed to throw out this bill"; and all,
except the painter, the Jew, and one other, murmured: "Yes." And, as
though, in throwing out this bill we had cast some trouble off our minds,
we went on with the greater speed, bringing in true bills. About two
o'clock we finished, and trooped down to the Court to be released. On
the stairway the Jew came close, and, having examined me a little sharply
with his velvety slits of eyes, as if to see that he was not making a
mistake, said: "Ith fonny--we bring in eighty thix bills true, and one we
throw out, and the one we throw out we know it to be true, and the
dirtieth job of the whole lot. Ith fonny!" "Yes," I answered him, "our
sense of respectability does seem excessive." But just then we reached
the Court, where, in his red robe and grey wig, with his clear-cut,
handsome face, the judge seemed to shine and radiate, like sun through
gloom. "I thank you, gentlemen," he said, in a voice courteous and a
little mocking, as though he had somewhere seen us before: "I thank you
for the way in which you have performed your duties. I have not the
pleasure of assigning to you anything for your services except the
privilege of going over a prison, where you will be able to see what sort
of existence awaits many of those to whose cases you have devoted so much
of your valuable time. You are released, gentlemen."
Looking at each, other a little hurriedly, and not taking too much
farewell, for fear of having to meet again, we separated.
I was, then, free--free of the injunction of that piece of paper reposing
in my pocket. Yet its influence was still upon me. I did not hurry
away, but lingered in the courts, fascinated by the notion that the fate
of each prisoner had first passed through my hands. At last I made an
effort, and went out into the corridor. There I passed a woman whose
figure seemed familiar. She was sitting with her hands in her lap
looking straight before her, pale-faced and not uncomely, with thickish
mouth and nose--the woman whose bill we had thrown out. Why was she
sitting there? Had she not then realised that we had quashed her claim;
or was she, like myself, kept here by mere attraction of the Law?
Following I know not what impulse, I said: "Your case was dismissed,
wasn't it?" She looked up at me stolidly, and a tear, which had
evidently been long gathering, dropped at the movement. "I do nod know;
I waid to see," she said in her thick voice; "I tink there has been
mistake." My face, no doubt, betrayed something of my sentiments about
her case, for the thick tears began rolling fast down her pasty cheeks,
and her pent-up feeling suddenly flowed forth in words: "I work 'ard;
Gott! how I work hard! And there gomes dis liddle beastly man, and rob
me. And they say: 'Ah! yes; but you are a bad woman, we don' trust
you--you speak lie.' But I speak druth, I am nod a bad woman--I gome
from Hamburg." "Yes, yes," I murmured; "yes, yes." "I do not know this
country well, sir. I speak bad English. Is that why they do not drust
my word?" She was silent for a moment, searching my face, then broke out
again: "It is all 'ard work in my profession, I make very liddle, I
cannot afford to be rob. Without the men I cannod make my living, I must
drust them--and they rob me like this, it is too 'ard." And the slow
tears rolled faster and faster from her eyes on to her hands and her
black lap. Then quietly, and looking for a moment singularly like a big,
unhappy child, she asked: "Will you blease dell me, sir, why they will
not give me the law of that dirty little man?"
I knew--and too well; but I could not tell her.
"You see," I said, "it's just a case of your word against his." "Oh! no;
but," she said eagerly, "he give me the note--I would not have taken it
if I 'ad not thought it good, would I? That is sure, isn't it? But five
pounds it is not my price. It must that I give 'im change! Those
gentlemen that heard my case, they are men of business, they must know
that it is not my price. If I could tell the judge--I think he is a man
of business too he would know that too, for sure. I am not so young. I
am not so veree beautiful as all that; he must see, mustn't he, sir?"
At my wits' end how to answer that most strange question, I stammered
out: "But, you know, your profession is outside the law."
At that a slow anger dyed her face. She looked down; then, suddenly
lifting one of her dirty, ungloved hands, she laid it on her breast with
the gesture of one baring to me the truth in her heart. "I am not a bad
woman," she said: "Dat beastly little man, he do the same as me--I am
free-woman, I am not a slave bound to do the same to-morrow night, no
more than he. Such like him make me what I am; he have all the pleasure,
I have all the work. He give me noding--he rob my poor money, and he
make me seem to strangers a bad woman. Oh, dear! I am not happy!"
The impulse I had been having to press on her the money, died within me;
I felt suddenly it would be another insult. From the movement of her
fingers about her heart I could not but see that this grief of hers was
not about the money. It was the inarticulate outburst of a bitter sense
of deep injustice; of all the dumb wondering at her own fate that went
about with her behind that broad stolid face and bosom. This loss of the
money was but a symbol of the furtive, hopeless insecurity she lived with
day and night, now forced into the light, for herself and all the world
to see. She felt it suddenly a bitter, unfair thing. This beastly
little man did not share her insecurity. None of us shared it--none of
us, who had brought her down to this. And, quite unable to explain to
her how natural and proper it all was, I only murmured: "I am sorry,
awfully sorry," and fled away.
It was just a week later when, having for passport my Grand Jury summons,
I presented myself at that prison where we had the privilege of seeing
the existence to which we had assisted so many of the eighty-six.
"I'm afraid," I said to the guardian of the gate, "that I am rather late
in availing myself--the others, no doubt----?"
"Not at all, sir," he said, smiling. "You're the first, and if you'll
excuse me, I think you'll be the last. Will you wait in here while I
send for the chief warder to take you over?"
He showed me then to what he called the Warder's Library--an iron-barred
room, more bare and brown than any I had seen since I left school. While
I stood there waiting and staring out into the prison court-yard, there
came, rolling and rumbling in, a Black Maria. It drew up with a clatter,
and I saw through the barred door the single prisoner--a young girl of
perhaps eighteen--dressed in rusty black. She was resting her forehead
against a bar and looking out, her quick, narrow dark eyes taking in her
new surroundings with a sort of sharp, restless indifference; and her
pale, thin-upped, oval face quite expressionless. Behind those bars she
seemed to me for all the world like a little animal of the cat tribe
being brought in to her Zoo. Me she did not see, but if she had I felt
she would not shrink--only give me the same sharp, indifferent look she
was giving all else. The policeman on the step behind had disappeared at
once, and the driver now got down from his perch and, coming round, began
to gossip with her. I saw her slink her eyes and smile at him, and he
smiled back; a large man; not unkindly. Then he returned to his horses,
and she stayed as before, with her forehead against the bars, just
staring out. Watching her like that, unseen, I seemed to be able to see
right through that tight-lipped, lynx-eyed mask. I seemed to know that
little creature through and through, as one knows anything that one
surprises off its guard, sunk in its most private moods. I seemed to see
her little restless, furtive, utterly unmoral soul, so stripped of all
defence, as if she had taken it from her heart and handed it out to me.
I saw that she was one of those whose hands slip as indifferently into
others' pockets as into their own; incapable of fidelity, and incapable
of trusting; quick as cats, and as devoid of application; ready to
scratch, ready to purr, ready to scratch again; quick to change, and
secretly as unchangeable as a little pebble. And I thought: "Here we
are, taking her to the Zoo (by no means for the first time, if demeanour
be any guide), and we shall put her in a cage, and make her sew, and give
her good books which she will not read; and she will sew, and walk up and
down, until we let her out; then she will return to her old haunts, and
at once go prowling and do exactly the same again, what ever it was,
until we catch her and lock her up once more. And in this way we shall
go on purifying Society until she dies." And I thought: If indeed she had
been created cat in body as well as in soul, we should not have treated
her thus, but should have said: 'Go on, little cat, you scratch us
sometimes, you steal often, you are as sensual as the night. All this we
cannot help. It is your nature. So were you made--we know you cannot
change--you amuse us! Go on, little cat!' Would it not then be better,
and less savoury of humbug if we said the same to her whose cat-soul has
chanced into this human shape? For assuredly she will but pilfer, and
scratch a little, and be mildly vicious, in her little life, and do no
desperate harm, having but poor capacity for evil behind that petty,
thin-upped mask. What is the good of all this padlock business for such
as she; are we not making mountains out of her mole hills? Where is our
sense of proportion, and our sense of humour? Why try to alter the make
and shape of Nature with our petty chisels? Or, if we must take care of
her, to save ourselves, in the name of Heaven let us do it in a better
way than this! And suddenly I remembered that I was a Grand Juryman, a
purifier of Society, who had brought her bill in true; and, that I might
not think these thoughts unworthy of a good citizen, I turned my eyes
away from her and took up my list of indictments. Yes, there she was, at
least so I decided: Number 42, "Pilson, Jenny: Larceny, pocket-picking."
And I turned my memory back to the evidence about her case, but I could
not remember a single word. In the margin I had noted: "Incorrigible
from a child up; bad surroundings." And a mad impulse came over me to go
back to my window and call through the bars to her: "Jenny Pilson! Jenny
Pilson! It was I who bred you and surrounded you with evil! It was I
who caught you for being what I made you! I brought your bill in true!
I judged you, and I caged you! Jenny Pilson! Jenny Pilson!" But just as
I reached the window, the door of my waiting-room was fortunately opened,
and a voice said: "Now, sir; at your service!"...
I sat again in that scoop of the shore by the long rolling seas, burying
in the sand the piece of paper which had summoned me away to my Grand
Jury; and the same thoughts came to me with the breaking of the waves
that had come to me before: How, in every wave was a particle that had
known the shore of every land; and in each sparkle of the hot sunlight
stealing up that bright water into the sky, the microcosm of all change
and of all unity!
Not possible to conceive of rarer beauty than that which clung about the
summer day three years ago when first we had the news of the poor Herds.
Loveliness was a net of golden filaments in which the world was caught.
It was gravity itself, so tranquil; and it was a sort of intoxicating
laughter. From the top field that we crossed to go down to their
cottage, all the far sweep of those outstretched wings of beauty could be
seen. Very wonderful was the poise of the sacred bird, that moved
nowhere but in our hearts. The lime-tree scent was just stealing out
into air for some days already bereft of the scent of hay; and the sun
was falling to his evening home behind our pines and beeches. It was no
more than radiant warm. And, as we went, we wondered why we had not been
told before that Mrs. Herd was so very ill. It was foolish to
wonder--these people do not speak of suffering till it is late. To
speak, when it means what this meant loss of wife and mother--was to
flatter reality too much. To be healthy, or--die! That is their creed.
To go on till they drop--then very soon pass away! What room for states
between--on their poor wage, in their poor cottages?
We crossed the mill-stream in the hollow--to their white, thatched
dwelling; silent, already awed, almost resentful of this so-varying
Scheme of Things. At the gateway Herd himself was standing, just in from
his work. For work in the country does not wait on illness--even death
claims from its onlookers but a few hours, birth none at all, and it is
as well; for what must be must, and in work alone man rests from grief.
Sorrow and anxiety had made strange alteration already in Herd's face.
Through every crevice of the rough, stolid mask the spirit was peeping, a
sort of quivering suppliant, that seemed to ask all the time: "Is it
true?" A regular cottager's figure, this of Herd's--a labourer of these
parts--strong, slow, but active, with just a touch of the untamed
somewhere, about the swing and carriage of him, about the strong jaw, and
wide thick-lipped mouth; just that something independent, which, in great
variety, clings to the natives of these still remote, half-pagan valleys
by the moor.
We all moved silently to the lee of the outer wall, so that our voices
might not carry up to the sick woman lying there under the eaves, almost
within hand reach. "Yes, sir." "No, sir." "Yes, ma'am." This, and the
constant, unforgettable supplication of his eyes, was all that came from
him; yet he seemed loath to let us go, as though he thought we had some
mysterious power to help him--the magic, perhaps, of money, to those who
have none. Grateful at our promise of another doctor, a specialist, he
yet seemed with his eyes to say that he knew that such were only
embroideries of Fate. And when we had wrung his hand and gone, we heard
him coming after us: His wife had said she would like to see us, please.
Would we come up?
An old woman and Mrs. Herd's sister were in the sitting-room; they showed
us to the crazy, narrow stairway. Though we lived distant but four
hundred yards of a crow's flight, we had never seen Mrs. Herd before, for
that is the way of things in this land of minding one's own business--a
slight, dark, girlish-looking woman, almost quite refined away, and with
those eyes of the dying, where the spirit is coming through, as it only
does when it knows that all is over except just the passing. She lay in
a double bed, with clean white sheets. A white-washed room, so low that
the ceiling almost touched our heads, some flowers in a bowl, the small
lattice window open. Though it was hot in there, it was better far than
the rooms of most families in towns, living on a wage of twice as much;
for here was no sign of defeat in decency or cleanliness. In her face,
as in poor Herd's, was that same strange mingling of resigned despair and
almost eager appeal, so terrible to disappoint. Yet, trying not to
disappoint it, one felt guilty of treachery: What was the good, the
kindness, in making this poor bird flutter still with hope against the
bars, when fast prison had so surely closed in round her? But what else
could we do? We could not give her those glib assurances that naive
souls make so easily to others concerning their after state.
Secretly, I think, we knew that her philosophy of calm reality, that
queer and unbidden growing tranquillity which precedes death, was nearer
to our own belief, than would be any gilt-edged orthodoxy; but
nevertheless (such is the strength of what is expected), we felt it
dreadful that we could not console her with the ordinary presumptions.
"You mustn't give up hope," we kept on saying: "The new doctor will do a
lot for you; he's a specialist--a very clever man."
And she kept on answering: "Yes, sir." "Yes, ma'am." But still her eyes
went on asking, as if there were something else she wanted. And then to
one of us came an inspiration:
"You mustn't let your husband worry about expense. That will be all
She smiled then, as if the chief cloud on her soul had been the thought
of the arrears her illness and death would leave weighing on him with
whom she had shared this bed ten years and more. And with that smile
warming the memory of those spirit-haunted eyes, we crept down-stairs
again, and out into the fields.
It was more beautiful than ever, just touched already with evening
mystery--it was better than ever to be alive. And the immortal wonder
that has haunted man since first he became man, and haunts, I think, even
the animals--the unanswerable question,--why joy and beauty must ever be
walking hand in hand with ugliness and pain haunted us across those
fields of life and loveliness. It was all right, no doubt, even
reasonable, since without dark there is no light. It was part of that
unending sum whose answer is not given; the merest little swing of the
great pendulum! And yet----! To accept this violent contrast without a
sigh of revolt, without a question! No sirs, it was not so jolly as all
that! That she should be dying there at thirty, of a creeping malady
which she might have checked, perhaps, if she had not had too many things
to do for the children and husband, to do anything for herself--if she
had not been forced to hold the creed: Be healthy, or die! This was no
doubt perfectly explicable and in accordance with the Supreme Equation;
yet we, enjoying life, and health, and ease of money, felt horror and
revolt on, this evening of such beauty. Nor at the moment did we derive
great comfort from the thought that life slips in and out of sheath, like
sun-sparks on water, and that of all the cloud of summer midges dancing
in the last gleam, not one would be alive to-morrow.
It was three evenings later that we heard uncertain footfalls on the
flagstones of the verandah, then a sort of brushing sound against the
wood of the long, open window. Drawing aside the curtain, one of us
looked out. Herd was standing there in the bright moonlight, bareheaded,
with roughened hair. He came in, and seeming not to know quite where he
went, took stand by the hearth, and putting up his dark hand, gripped the
mantelshelf. Then, as if recollecting himself, he said: "Gude evenin',
sir; beg pardon, M'm." No more for a full minute; but his hand, taking
some little china thing, turned it over and over without ceasing, and
down his broken face tears ran. Then, very suddenly, he said: "She's
gone." And his hand turned over and over that little china thing, and
the tears went on rolling down. Then, stumbling, and swaying like a man
in drink, he made his way out again into the moonlight. We watched him
across the lawn and path, and through the gate, till his footfalls died
out there in the field, and his figure was lost in the black shadow of
the holly hedge.
And the night was so beautiful, so utterly, glamourously beautiful, with
its star-flowers, and its silence, and its trees clothed in moonlight.
All was tranquil as a dream of sleep. But it was long before our hearts,
wandering with poor Herd, would let us remember that she had slipped away
into so beautiful a dream.
The dead do not suffer from their rest in beauty. But the living---!
When the drone of the thresher breaks through the autumn sighing of trees
and wind, or through that stillness of the first frost, I get restless
and more restless, till, throwing down my pen, I have gone out to see.
For there is nothing like the sight of threshing for making one feel
good--not in the sense of comfort, but at heart. There, under the pines
and the already leafless elms and beech-trees, close to the great stacks,
is the big, busy creature, with its small black puffing engine astern;
and there, all around it, is that conglomeration of unsentimental labour
which invests all the crises of farm work with such fascination. The
crew of the farm is only five all told, but to-day they are fifteen, and
none strangers, save the owners of the travelling thresher.
They are working without respite and with little speech, not at all as if
they had been brought together for the benefit of some one else's corn,
but as though they, one and all, had a private grudge against Time and a
personal pleasure in finishing this job, which, while it lasts, is
bringing them extra pay and most excellent free feeding. Just as after a
dilatory voyage a crew will brace themselves for the run in, recording
with sudden energy their consciousness of triumph over the elements, so
on a farm the harvests of hay and corn, sheep-shearing, and threshing
will bring out in all a common sentiment, a kind of sporting energy, a
defiant spurt, as it were, to score off Nature; for it is only a
philosopher here and there among them, I think, who sees that Nature is
eager to be scored off in this fashion, being anxious that some one
should eat her kindly fruits.
With ceremonial as grave as that which is at work within the thresher
itself, the tasks have been divided. At the root of all things,
pitchforking from the stack, stands--the farmer, moustached, and always
upright was he not in the Yeomanry?--dignified in a hard black hat, no
waistcoat, and his working coat so ragged that it would never cling to
him but for pure affection. Between him and the body of the machine are
five more pitch forks, directing the pale flood of raw material. There,
amongst them, is poor Herd, still so sad from his summer loss, plodding
doggedly away. To watch him even now makes one feel how terrible is that
dumb grief which has never learned to moan. And there is George Yeoford,
almost too sober; and Murdon plying his pitchfork with a supernatural
regularity that cannot quite dim his queer brigand's face of dark, soft
gloom shot with sudden humours, his soft, dark corduroys and battered
hat. Occasionally he stops, and taking off that hat, wipes his
corrugated brow under black hair, and seems to brood over his own
Down here, too, where I stand, each separate function of the thresher has
its appointed slave. Here Cedric rakes the chaff pouring from the side
down into the chaff-shed. Carting the straw that streams from the
thresher bows, are Michelmore and Neck--the little man who cannot read,
but can milk and whistle the hearts out of his cows till they follow him
like dogs. At the thresher's stern is Morris, the driver, selected
because of that utter reliability which radiates from his broad, handsome
face. His part is to attend the sacking of the three kinds of grain for
ever sieving out. He murmurs: "Busy work, sir!" and opens a little door
to show me how "the machinery does it all," holding a sack between his
knees and some string in his white teeth. Then away goes the sack--four
bushels, one hundred and sixty pounds of "genuines, seconds, or
seed"--wheeled by Cedric on a little trolley thing, to where
George-the-Gaul or Jim-the-Early-Saxon is waiting to bear it on his back
up the stone steps into the corn-chamber.
It has been raining in the night; the ground is a churn of straw and mud,
and the trees still drip; but now there is sunlight, a sweet air, and
clear sky, wine-coloured through the red, naked, beechtwigs tipped with
white untimely buds. Nothing can be more lovely than this late autumn
day, so still, save for the droning of the thresher and the constant
tinny chuckle of the grey, thin-headed Guinea-fowl, driven by this
business away from their usual haunts.
And soon the feeling that I knew would come begins creeping over me, the
sense of an extraordinary sanity in this never-ceasing harmonious labour
pursued in the autumn air faintly perfumed with wood-smoke, with the
scent of chaff, and whiffs from that black puffing-Billy; the sense that
there is nothing between this clean toil--not too hard but hard
enough--and the clean consumption of its clean results; the sense that
nobody except myself is in the least conscious of how sane it all is.
The brains of these sane ones are all too busy with the real affairs of
life, the disposition of their wages, anticipation of dinner, some girl,
some junketing, some wager, the last rifle match, and, more than all,
with that pleasant rhythmic nothingness, companion of the busy swing and
play of muscles, which of all states is secretly most akin to the deep
unconsciousness of life itself. Thus to work in the free air for the good
of all and the hurt of none, without worry or the breath of
acrimony--surely no phase of human life so nears the life of the truly
civilised community--the life of a hive of bees. Not one of these
working so sanely--unless it be Morris, who will spend his Sunday
afternoon on some high rock just watching sunlight and shadow drifting on
the moors--not one, I think, is distraught by perception of his own
sanity, by knowledge of how near he is to Harmony, not even by
appreciation of the still radiance of this day, or its innumerable fine
shades of colour. It is all work, and no moody consciousness--all work,
and will end in sleep.
I leave them soon, and make my way up the stone steps to the "corn
chamber," where tranquillity is crowned. In the whitewashed room the
corn lies in drifts and ridges, three to four feet deep, all silvery-dun,
like some remote sand desert, lifeless beneath the moon. Here it lies,
and into it, staggering under the sacks, George-the-Gaul and
Jim-the-Early Saxon tramp up to their knees, spill the sacks over their
heads, and out again; and above where their feet have plunged the patient
surface closes again, smooth. And as I stand there in the doorway,
looking at that silvery corn drift, I think of the whole process, from
seed sown to the last sieving into this tranquil resting-place. I think
of the slow, dogged ploughman, with the crows above him on the wind; of
the swing of the sower's arm, dark up against grey sky on the steep
field. I think of the seed snug-burrowing for safety, and its mysterious
ferment under the warm Spring rain, of the soft green shoots tapering up
so shyly toward the first sun, and hardening in air to thin wiry stalk.
I think of the unnumerable tiny beasts that have jangled in that pale
forest; of the winged blue jewels of butterfly risen from it to hover on
the wild-rustling blades; of that continual music played there by the
wind; of the chicory and poppy flowers that have been its lights-o' love,
as it grew tawny and full of life, before the appointed date when it
should return to its captivity. I think of that slow-travelling hum and
swish which laid it low, of the gathering to stack, and the long waiting
under the rustle and drip of the sheltering trees, until yesterday the
hoot of the thresher blew, and there began the falling into this dun
silvery peace. Here it will lie with the pale sun narrowly filtering in
on it, and by night the pale moon, till slowly, week by week, it is
stolen away, and its ridges and drifts sink and sink, and the beasts have
eaten it all....
When the dusk is falling, I go out to them again. They have nearly
finished now; the chaff in the chaff-shed is mounting hillock-high; only
the little barley stack remains unthreshed. Mrs. George-the-Gaul is
standing with a jug to give drink to the tired ones. Some stars are
already netted in the branches of the pines; the Guinea-fowl are silent.
But still the harmonious thresher hums and showers from three sides the
straw, the chaff, the corn; and the men fork, and rake, and cart, and
carry, sleep growing in their muscles, silence on their tongues, and the
tranquillity of the long day nearly ended in their souls. They will go
on till it is quite dark.
THAT OLD-TIME PLACE
"Yes, suh--here we are at that old-time place!" And our dark driver drew
up his little victoria gently.
Through the open doorway, into a dim, cavernous, ruined house of New
Orleans we passed. The mildew and dirt, the dark denuded dankness of
that old hostel, rotting down with damp and time!
And our guide, the tall, thin, grey-haired dame, who came forward with
such native ease and moved before us, touching this fungused wall, that
rusting stairway, and telling, as it were, no one in her soft, slow
speech, things that any one could see--what a strange and fitting figure!
Before the smell of the deserted, oozing rooms, before that old creature
leading us on and on, negligent of all our questions, and talking to the
air, as though we were not, we felt such discomfort that we soon made to
go out again into such freshness as there was on that day of dismal heat.
Then realising, it seemed, that she was losing us, our old guide turned;
for the first time looking in our faces, she smiled, and said in her
sweet, weak voice, like the sound from the strings of a spinet long
unplayed on: "Don' you wahnd to see the dome-room: an' all the other
rooms right here, of this old-time place?"
Again those words! We had not the hearts to disappoint her. And as we
followed on and on, along the mouldering corridors and rooms where the
black peeling papers hung like stalactites, the dominance of our senses
gradually dropped from us, and with our souls we saw its soul--the soul
of this old-time place; this mustering house of the old South, bereft of
all but ghosts and the grey pigeons niched in the rotting gallery round a
narrow courtyard open to the sky.
"This is the dome-room, suh and lady; right over the slave-market it is.
Here they did the business of the State--sure; old-time heroes up therein
the roof--Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson, Davis, Lee--there they are!
All gone--now! Yes, suh!"
A fine--yea, even a splendid room, of great height, and carved grandeur,
with hand-wrought bronze sconces and a band of metal bordering, all
blackened with oblivion. And the faces of those old heroes encircling
that domed ceiling were blackened too, and scarred with damp, beyond
recognition. Here, beneath their gaze, men had banqueted and danced and
ruled. The pride and might and vivid strength of things still fluttered
their uneasy flags of spirit, moved disherited wings! Those old-time
feasts and grave discussions--we seemed to see them printed on the thick
air, imprisoned in this great chamber built above their dark foundations.
The pride and the might and the vivid strength of things--gone, all gone!
We became conscious again of that soft, weak voice.
"Not hearing very well, suh, I have it all printed, lady--beautifully
told here--yes, indeed!"
She was putting cards into our hands; then, impassive, maintaining ever
her impersonal chant, the guardian of past glory led us on.
"Now we shall see the slave-market--downstairs, underneath! It's wet for
the lady the water comes in now yes, suh!"
On the crumbling black and white marble floorings the water indeed was
trickling into pools. And down in the halls there came to us
wandering--strangest thing that ever strayed through deserted grandeur--a
brown, broken horse, lean, with a sore flank and a head of tremendous
age. It stopped and gazed at us, as though we might be going to give it
things to eat, then passed on, stumbling over the ruined marbles. For a
moment we had thought him ghost--one of the many. But he was not, since
his hoofs sounded. The scrambling clatter of them had died out into
silence before we came to that dark, crypt-like chamber whose marble
columns were ringed in iron, veritable pillars of foundation. And then
we saw that our old guide's hands were full of newspapers. She struck a
match; they caught fire and blazed. Holding high that torch, she said:
"See! Up there's his name, above where he stood. The auctioneer. Oh
yes, indeed! Here's where they sold them!"
Below that name, decaying on the wall, we had the slow, uncanny feeling
of some one standing there in the gleam and flicker from that paper
torch. For a moment the whole shadowy room seemed full of forms and
faces. Then the torch lied out, and our old guide, pointing through an
archway with the blackened stump of it, said:
"'Twas here they kept them indeed, yes!"
We saw before us a sort of vault, stone-built, and low, and long. The
light there was too dim for us to make out anything but walls and heaps
of rusting scrap-iron cast away there and mouldering own. But trying to
pierce that darkness we became conscious, as it seemed, of innumerable
eyes gazing, not at us, but through the archway where we stood;
innumerable white eyeballs gleaming out of blackness. From behind us
came a little laugh. It floated past through the archway, toward those
eyes. Who was that? Who laughed in there? The old South itself--that
incredible, fine, lost soul! That "old-time" thing of old ideals,
blindfolded by its own history! That queer proud blend of simple
chivalry and tyranny, of piety and the abhorrent thing! Who was it
laughed there in the old slave-market--laughed at these white eyeballs
glaring from out of the blackness of their dark cattle-pen? What poor
departed soul in this House of Melancholy? But there was no ghost when
we turned to look--only our old guide with her sweet smile.
"Yes, suh. Here they all came--'twas the finest hotel--before the
war-time; old Southern families--buyin' an' sellin' their property. Yes,
ma'am, very interesting! This way! And here were the bells to all the
rooms. Broken, you see--all broken!"
And rather quickly we passed away, out of that "old-time place"; where
something had laughed, and the drip, drip, drip of water down the walls
was as the sound of a spirit grieving.
On that New Year's morning when I drew up the blind it was still nearly
dark, but for the faintest pink flush glancing out there on the horizon
of black water. The far shore of the river's mouth was just soft dusk;
and the dim trees below me were in perfect stillness. There was no lap of
water. And then--I saw her, drifting in on the tide-the little ship,
passaging below me, a happy ghost. Like no thing of this world she came,
ending her flight, with sail-wings closing and her glowing lantern eyes.
There was I know not what of stealthy joy about her thus creeping in to
the unexpecting land. And I wished she would never pass, but go on
gliding by down there for ever with her dark ropes, and her bright
lanterns, and her mysterious felicity, so that I might have for ever in
my heart the blessed feeling she brought me, coming like this out of that
great mystery the sea. If only she need not change to solidity, but ever
be this visitor from the unknown, this sacred bird, telling with her
half-seen, trailing-down plume--sails the story of uncharted wonder. If
only I might go on trembling, as I was, with the rapture of all I did not
know and could not see, yet felt pressing against me and touching my face
with its lips! To think of her at anchor in cold light was like
flinging-to a door in the face of happiness. And just then she struck
her bell; the faint silvery far-down sound fled away before her, and to
every side, out into the utter hush, to discover echo. But nothing
answered, as if fearing to break the spell of her coming, to brush with
reality the dark sea dew from her sail-wings. But within me, in
response, there began the song of all unknown things; the song so
tenuous, so ecstatic, that seems to sweep and quiver across such thin
golden strings, and like an eager dream dies too soon. The song of the
secret-knowing wind that has peered through so great forests and over
such wild sea; blown on so many faces, and in the jungles of the grass
the song of all that the wind has seen and felt. The song of lives that
I should never live; of the loves that I should never love singlng to me
as though I should! And suddenly I felt that I could not bear my little
ship of dreams to grow hard and grey, her bright lanterns drowned in the
cold light, her dark ropes spidery and taut, her sea-wan sails all
furled, and she no more en chanted; and turning away I let fall the
Then what happens to the moon? She, who, shy and veiled, slips out
before dusk to take the air of heaven, wandering timidly among the
columned clouds, and fugitive from the staring of the sun; she, who, when
dusk has come, rules the sentient night with such chaste and icy
spell--whither and how does she retreat?
I came on her one morning--I surprised her. She was stealing into a dark
wintry wood, and five little stars were chasing her. She was
orange-hooded, a light-o'-love dismissed--unashamed and unfatigued,
having taken--all. And she was looking back with her almond eyes, across
her dark-ivory shoulder, at Night where he still lay drowned in the sleep
she had brought him. What a strange, slow, mocking look! So might
Aphrodite herself have looked back at some weary lover, remembering the
fire of his first embrace. Insatiate, smiling creature, slipping down to
the rim of the world to her bath in the sweet waters of dawn, whence
emerging, pure as a water lily, she would float in the cool sky till
evening came again! And just then she saw me looking, and hid behind a
holm-oak tree; but I could still see the gleam of one shoulder and her
long narrow eyes pursuing me. I went up to the tree and parted its dark
boughs to take her; but she had slipped behind another. I called to her
to stand, if only for one moment. But she smiled and went slip ping on,
and I ran thrusting through the wet bushes, leaping the fallen trunks.
The scent of rotting leaves disturbed by my feet leaped out into the
darkness, and birds, surprised, fluttered away. And still I ran--she
slipping ever further into the grove, and ever looking back at me. And I
thought: But I will catch you yet, you nymph of perdition! The wood will
soon be passed, you will have no cover then! And from her eyes, and the
scanty gleam of her flying limbs, I never looked away, not even when I
stumbled or ran against tree trunks in my blind haste. And at every
clearing I flew more furiously, thinking to seize all of her with my gaze
before she could cross the glade; but ever she found some little low
tree, some bush of birch ungrown, or the far top branches of the next
grove to screen her flying body and preserve allurement. And all the
time she was dipping, dipping to the rim of the world. And then I
tripped; but, as I rose, I saw that she had lingered for me; her long
sliding eyes were full, it seemed to me, of pity, as if she would have
liked for me to have enjoyed the sight of her. I stood still,
breathless, thinking that at last she would consent; but flinging back,
up into the air, one dark-ivory arm, she sighed and vanished. And the
breath of her sigh stirred all the birch-tree twigs just coloured with
the dawn. Long I stood in that thicket gazing at the spot where she had
leapt from me over the edge of the world-my heart quivering.
We embarked on the estuary steamer that winter morning just as daylight
came full. The sun was on the wing scattering little white clouds, as an
eagle might scatter doves. They scurried up before him with their broken
feathers tipped and tinged with gold. In the air was a touch of frost,
and a smoky mist-drift clung here and there above the reeds, blurring the
shores of the lagoon so that we seemed to be steaming across boundless
water, till some clump of trees would fling its top out of the fog, then
fall back into whiteness.
And then, in that thick vapour, rounding I suppose some curve, we came
suddenly into we knew not what--all white and moving it was, as if the
mist were crazed; murmuring, too, with a sort of restless beating. We
seemed to be passing through a ghost--the ghost of all the life that had
sprung from this water and its shores; we seemed to have left reality,
to be travelling through live wonder.
And the fantastic thought sprang into my mind: I have died. This is the
voyage of my soul in the wild. I am in the final wilderness of
spirits--lost in the ghost robe that wraps the earth. There seemed in
all this white murmuration to be millions of tiny hands stretching out to
me, millions of whispering voices, of wistful eyes. I had no fear, but a
curious baked eagerness, the strangest feeling of having lost myself and
become part of this around me; exactly as if my own hands and voice and
eyes had left me and were groping, and whispering, and gazing out there
in the eeriness. I was no longer a man on an estuary steamer, but part
of sentient ghostliness. Nor did I feel unhappy; it seemed as though I
had never been anything but this Bedouin spirit wandering.
We passed through again into the stillness of plain mist, and all those
eerie sensations went, leaving nothing but curiosity to know what this
was that we had traversed. Then suddenly the sun came flaring out, and
we saw behind us thousands and thousands of white gulls dipping,
wheeling, brushing the water with their wings, bewitched with sun and
mist. That was all. And yet that white-winged legion through whom we
had ploughed our way were not, could never be, to me just gulls--there
was more than mere sun-glamour gilding their misty plumes; there was the
wizardry of my past wonder, the enchantment of romance.
We set out to meet him at Waterloo Station on a dull day of February--I,
who had owned his impetuous mother, knowing a little what to expect,
while to my companion he would be all original. We stood there waiting
(for the Salisbury train was late), and wondering with a warm,
half-fearful eagerness what sort of new thread Life was going to twine
into our skein. I think our chief dread was that he might have light
eyes--those yellow Chinese eyes of the common, parti-coloured spaniel.
And each new minute of the train's tardiness increased our anxious
compassion: His first journey; his first separation from his mother; this
black two-months' baby! Then the train ran in, and we hastened to look
for him. "Have you a dog for us?"
"A dog! Not in this van. Ask the rearguard."
"Have you a dog for us?"
"That's right. From Salisbury. Here's your wild beast, Sir!"
From behind a wooden crate we saw a long black muzzled nose poking round
at us, and heard a faint hoarse whimpering.
I remember my first thought:
"Isn't his nose too long?"
But to my companion's heart it went at once, because it was swollen from
crying and being pressed against things that he could not see through.
We took him out--soft, wobbly, tearful; set him down on his four, as yet
not quite simultaneous legs, and regarded him. Or, rather, my companion
did, having her head on one side, and a quavering smile; and I regarded
her, knowing that I should thereby get a truer impression of him.
He wandered a little round our legs, neither wagging his tail nor licking
at our hands; then he looked up, and my companion said: "He's an angel!"
I was not so certain. He seemed hammer-headed, with no eyes at all, and
little connection between his head, his body, and his legs. His ears
were very long, as long as his poor nose; and gleaming down in the
blackness of him I could see the same white star that disgraced his
Picking him up, we carried him to a four-wheeled cab, and took his muzzle
off. His little dark-brown eyes were resolutely fixed on distance, and
by his refusal to even smell the biscuits we had brought to make him
happy, we knew that the human being had not yet come into a life that had
contained so far only a mother, a wood-shed, and four other soft, wobbly,
black, hammer-headed angels, smelling of themselves, and warmth, and wood
shavings. It was pleasant to feel that to us he would surrender an
untouched love, that is, if he would surrender anything. Suppose he did
not take to us!
And just then something must have stirred in him, for he turned up his
swollen nose and stared at my companion, and a little later rubbed the
dry pinkness of his tongue against my thumb. In that look, and that
unconscious restless lick; he was trying hard to leave unhappiness
behind, trying hard to feel that these new creatures with stroking paws
and queer scents, were his mother; yet all the time he knew, I am sure,
that they were something bigger, more permanently, desperately, his. The
first sense of being owned, perhaps (who knows) of owning, had stirred in
him. He would never again be quite the same unconscious creature.
A little way from the end of our journey we got out and dismissed the
cab. He could not too soon know the scents and pavements of this London
where the chief of his life must pass. I can see now his first bumble
down that wide, back-water of a street, how continually and suddenly he
sat down to make sure of his own legs, how continually he lost our heels.
He showed us then in full perfection what was afterwards to be an
inconvenient--if endearing--characteristic: At any call or whistle he
would look in precisely the opposite direction. How many times all
through his life have I not seen him, at my whistle, start violently and
turn his tail to me, then, with nose thrown searchingly from side to
side, begin to canter toward the horizon.
In that first walk, we met, fortunately, but one vehicle, a brewer's
dray; he chose that moment to attend to the more serious affairs of life,
sitting quietly before the horses' feet and requiring to be moved by
hand. From the beginning he had his dignity, and was extremely difficult
to lift, owing to the length of his middle distance.
What strange feelings must have stirred in his little white soul when he
first smelled carpet! But it was all so strange to him that day--I
doubt if he felt more than I did when I first travelled to my private
school, reading "Tales of a Grandfather," and plied with tracts and
sherry by my 'father's man of business.
That night, indeed, for several nights, he slept with me, keeping me too
warm down my back, and waking me now and then with quaint sleepy
whimperings. Indeed, all through his life he flew a good deal in his
sleep, fighting dogs and seeing ghosts, running after rabbits and thrown
sticks; and to the last one never quite knew whether or no to rouse him
when his four black feet began to jerk and quiver. His dreams were like
our dreams, both good and bad; happy sometimes, sometimes tragic to
He ceased to sleep with me the day we discovered that he was a perfect
little colony, whose settlers were of an active species which I have
never seen again. After that he had many beds, for circumstance ordained
that his life should be nomadic, and it is to this I trace that
philosophic indifference to place or property, which marked him out from
most of his own kind. He learned early that for a black dog with long
silky ears, a feathered tail, and head of great dignity, there was no
home whatsoever, away from those creatures with special scents, who took
liberties with his name, and alone of all created things were privileged
to smack him with a slipper. He would sleep anywhere, so long as it was
in their room, or so close outside it as to make no matter, for it was
with him a principle that what he did not smell did not exist. I would I
could hear again those long rubber-lipped snufflings of recognition
underneath the door, with which each morning he would regale and reassure
a spirit that grew with age more and more nervous and delicate about this
matter of propinquity! For he was a dog of fixed ideas, things stamped
on his mind were indelible; as, for example, his duty toward cats, for
whom he had really a perverse affection, which had led to that first
disastrous moment of his life, when he was brought up, poor bewildered
puppy, from a brief excursion to the kitchen, with one eye closed and his
cheek torn! He bore to his grave that jagged scratch across the eye. It
was in dread of a repetition of this tragedy that he was instructed at
the word "Cats" to rush forward with a special "tow-row-rowing," which he
never used toward any other form of creature. To the end he cherished a
hope that he would reach the cat; but never did; and if he had, we knew
he would only have stood and wagged his tail; but I well remember once,
when he returned, important, from some such sally, how dreadfully my
companion startled a cat-loving friend by murmuring in her most honeyed
voice: "Well, my darling, have you been killing pussies in the garden?"
His eye and nose were impeccable in their sense of form; indeed, he was
very English in that matter: People must be just so; things smell
properly; and affairs go on in the one right way. He could tolerate
neither creatures in ragged clothes, nor children on their hands and
knees, nor postmen, because, with their bags, they swelled-up on one
side, and carried lanterns on their stomachs. He would never let the
harmless creatures pass without religious barks. Naturally a believer in
authority and routine, and distrusting spiritual adventure, he yet had
curious fads that seemed to have nested in him, quite outside of all
principle. He would, for instance, follow neither carriages nor horses,
and if we tried to make him, at once left for home, where he would sit
with nose raised to Heaven, emitting through it a most lugubrious, shrill
noise. Then again, one must not place a stick, a slipper, a glove, or
anything with which he could play, upon one's head--since such an action
reduced him at once to frenzy. For so conservative a dog, his
environment was sadly anarchistic. He never complained in words of our
shifting habits, but curled his head round over his left paw and pressed
his chin very hard against the ground whenever he smelled packing. What
necessity, he seemed continually to be saying, what real necessity is
there for change of any kind whatever? Here we were all together, and
one day was like another, so that I knew where I was--and now you only
know what will happen next; and I--I can't tell you whether I shall be
with you when it happens! What strange, grieving minutes a dog passes at
such times in the underground of his subconsciousness, refusing
realisation, yet all the time only too well divining. Some careless
word, some unmuted compassion in voice, the stealthy wrapping of a pair
of boots, the unaccustomed shutting of a door that ought to be open, the
removal from a down-stair room of an object always there--one tiny thing,
and he knows for certain that he is not going too. He fights against the
knowledge just as we do against what we cannot bear; he gives up hope,
but not effort, protesting in the only way he knows of, and now and then
heaving a great sigh. Those sighs of a dog! They go to the heart so much
more deeply than the sighs of our own kind, because they are utterly
unintended, regardless of effect, emerging from one who, heaving them,
knows not that they have escaped him!
The words: "Yes--going too!" spoken in a certain tone, would call up in
his eyes a still-questioning half-happiness, and from his tail a quiet
flutter, but did not quite serve to put to rest either his doubt or his
feeling that it was all unnecessary--until the cab arrived. Then he
would pour himself out of door or window, and be found in the bottom of
the vehicle, looking severely away from an admiring cabman. Once settled
on our feet he travelled with philosophy, but no digestion.
I think no dog was ever more indifferent to an outside world of human
creatures; yet few dogs have made more conquests--especially among
strange women, through whom, however, he had a habit of looking--very
discouraging. He had, natheless, one or two particular friends, such as
him to whom this book is dedicated, and a few persons whom he knew he had
seen before, but, broadly speaking, there were in his world of men, only
his mistress, and--the almighty.
Each August, till he was six, he was sent for health, and the assuagement
of his hereditary instincts, up to a Scotch shooting, where he carried
many birds in a very tender manner. Once he was compelled by Fate to
remain there nearly a year; and we went up ourselves to fetch him home.
Down the long avenue toward the keeper's cottage we walked: It was high
autumn; there had been frost already, for the ground was fine with red
and yellow leaves; and presently we saw himself coming; professionally
questing among those leaves, and preceding his dear keeper with the
businesslike self-containment of a sportsman; not too fat, glossy as a
raven's wing, swinging his ears and sporran like a little Highlander. We
approached him silently. Suddenly his nose went up from its imagined
trail, and he came rushing at our legs. From him, as a garment drops
from a man, dropped all his strange soberness; he became in a single
instant one fluttering eagerness. He leaped from life to life in one
bound, without hesitation, without regret. Not one sigh, not one look
back, not the faintest token of gratitude or regret at leaving those good
people who had tended him for a whole year, buttered oat-cake for him,
allowed him to choose each night exactly where he would sleep. No, he
just marched out beside us, as close as ever he could get, drawing us on
in spirit, and not even attending to the scents, until the lodge gates
It was strictly in accordance with the perversity of things, and
something in the nature of calamity that he had not been ours one year,
when there came over me a dreadful but overmastering aversion from
killing those birds and creatures of which he was so fond as soon as they
were dead. And so I never knew him as a sportsman; for during that first
year he was only an unbroken puppy, tied to my waist for fear of
accidents, and carefully pulling me off every shot. They tell me he
developed a lovely nose and perfect mouth, large enough to hold gingerly
the biggest hare. I well believe it, remembering the qualities of his
mother, whose character, however, in stability he far surpassed. But, as
he grew every year more devoted to dead grouse and birds and rabbits, I
liked them more and more alive; it was the only real breach between us,
and we kept it out of sight. Ah! well; it is consoling to reflect that I
should infallibly have ruined his sporting qualities, lacking that
peculiar habit of meaning what one says, so necessary to keep dogs
virtuous. But surely to have had him with me, quivering and alert, with
his solemn, eager face, would have given a new joy to those crisp
mornings when the hope of wings coming to the gun makes poignant in the
sports man as nothing else will, an almost sensual love of Nature, a
fierce delight in the soft glow of leaves, in the white birch stems and
tracery of sparse twigs against blue sky, in the scents of sap and grass
and gum and heather flowers; stivers the hair of him with keenness for
interpreting each sound, and fills the very fern or moss he kneels on,
the very trunk he leans against, with strange vibration.
Slowly Fate prepares for each of us the religion that lies coiled in our
most secret nerves; with such we cannot trifle, we do not even try! But
how shall a man grudge any one sensations he has so keenly felt? Let
such as have never known those curious delights, uphold the hand of
horror--for me there can be no such luxury. If I could, I would still
perhaps be knowing them; but when once the joy of life in those winged
and furry things has knocked at the very portals of one's spirit, the
thought that by pressing a little iron twig one will rive that joy out of
their vitals, is too hard to bear. Call it aestheticism, squeamishness,
namby-pamby sentimentalism, what you will it is stronger than oneself!
Yes, after one had once watched with an eye that did not merely see, the
thirsty gaping of a slowly dying bird, or a rabbit dragging a broken leg
to a hole where he would lie for hours thinking of the fern to which he
should never more come forth--after that, there was always the following
little matter of arithmetic: Given, that all those who had been shooting
were "good-fair" shots--which, Heaven knew, they never were--they yet
missed one at least in four, and did not miss it very much; so that if
seventy-five things were slain, there were also twenty-five that had been
fired at, and, of those twenty-five, twelve and a half had "gotten it"
somewhere in their bodies, and would "likely" die at their great leisure.
This was the sum that brought about the only cleavage in our lives; and
so, as he grew older, and trying to part from each other we no longer
could, he ceased going to Scotland. But after that I often felt, and
especially when we heard guns, how the best and most secret instincts of
him were being stifled. But what was to be done? In that which was left
of a clay pigeon he would take not the faintest interest--the scent of it
was paltry. Yet always, even in his most cosseted and idle days, he
managed to preserve the grave preoccupation of one professionally
concerned with retrieving things that smell; and consoled himself with
pastimes such as cricket, which he played in a manner highly specialised,
following the ball up the moment it left the bowler's hand, and sometimes
retrieving it before it reached the batsman. When remonstrated with, he
would consider a little, hanging out a pink tongue and looking rather too
eagerly at the ball, then canter slowly out to a sort of forward short
leg. Why he always chose that particular position it is difficult to
say; possibly he could lurk there better than anywhere else, the
batsman's eye not being on him, and the bowler's not too much. As a
fieldsman he was perfect, but for an occasional belief that he was not
merely short leg, but slip, point, midoff, and wicket-keep; and perhaps a
tendency to make the ball a little "jubey." But he worked tremendously,
watching every movement; for he knew the game thoroughly, and seldom
delayed it more than three minutes when he secured the ball. And if that
ball were really lost, then indeed he took over the proceedings with an
intensity and quiet vigour that destroyed many shrubs, and the solemn
satisfaction which comes from being in the very centre of the stage.
But his most passionate delight was swimming in anything except the sea,
for which, with its unpleasant noise and habit of tasting salt, he had
little affection. I see him now, cleaving the Serpentine, with his air
of "the world well lost," striving to reach my stick before it had
touched water. Being only a large spaniel, too small for mere heroism,
he saved no lives in the water but his own--and that, on one occasion,
before our very eyes, from a dark trout stream, which was trying to wash
him down into a black hole among the boulders.
The call of the wild-Spring running--whatever it is--that besets men and
dogs, seldom attained full mastery over him; but one could often see it
struggling against his devotion to the scent of us, and, watching that
dumb contest, I have time and again wondered how far this civilisation of
ours was justifiably imposed on him; how far the love for us that we had
so carefully implanted could ever replace in him the satisfaction of his
primitive wild yearnings: He was like a man, naturally polygamous,
married to one loved woman.
It was surely not for nothing that Rover is dog's most common name, and
would be ours, but for our too tenacious fear of losing something, to
admit, even to ourselves, that we are hankering. There was a man who
said: Strange that two such queerly opposite qualities as courage and
hypocrisy are the leading characteristics of the Anglo-Saxon! But is not
hypocrisy just a product of tenacity, which is again the lower part of
courage? Is not hypocrisy but an active sense of property in one's good
name, the clutching close of respectability at any price, the feeling
that one must not part, even at the cost of truth, with what he has
sweated so to gain? And so we Anglo-Saxons will not answer to the name
of Rover, and treat our dogs so that they, too, hardly know their
The history of his one wandering, for which no respectable reason can be
assigned, will never, of course, be known. It was in London, of an
October evening, when we were told he had slipped out and was not
anywhere. Then began those four distressful hours of searching for that
black needle in that blacker bundle of hay. Hours of real dismay and
suffering for it is suffering, indeed, to feel a loved thing swallowed up
in that hopeless haze of London streets. Stolen or run over? Which was
worst? The neighbouring police stations visited, the Dog's Home
notified, an order of five hundred "Lost Dog" bills placed in the
printer's hands, the streets patrolled! And then, in a lull snatched for
food, and still endeavouring to preserve some aspect of assurance, we
heard the bark which meant: "Here is a door I cannot open!" We hurried
forth, and there he was on the top doorstep--busy, unashamed, giving no
explanations, asking for his supper; and very shortly after him came his
five hundred "Lost Dog" bills. Long I sat looking at him that night
after my companion had gone up, thinking of the evening, some years
before, when there followed as that shadow of a spaniel who had been lost
for eleven days. And my heart turned over within me. But he! He was
asleep, for he knew not remorse.
Ah! and there was that other time, when it was reported to me, returning
home at night, that he had gone out to find me; and I went forth again,
disturbed, and whistling his special call to the empty fields. Suddenly
out of the darkness I heard a rushing, and he came furiously dashing
against my heels from he alone knew where he had been lurking and saying
to himself: I will not go in till he comes! I could not scold, there was
something too lyrical in the return of that live, lonely, rushing piece
of blackness through the blacker night. After all, the vagary was but a
variation in his practice when one was away at bed-time, of passionately
scratching up his bed in protest, till it resembled nothing; for, in
spite of his long and solemn face and the silkiness of his ears, there
was much in him yet of the cave bear--he dug graves on the smallest
provocations, in which he never buried anything. He was not a "clever"
dog; and guiltless of all tricks. Nor was he ever "shown." We did not
even dream of subjecting him to this indignity. Was our dog a clown, a
hobby, a fad, a fashion, a feather in our caps that we should subject him
to periodic pennings in stuffy halls, that we should harry his faithful
soul with such tomfoolery? He never even heard us talk about his
lineage, deplore the length of his nose, or call him "clever-looking."
We should have been ashamed to let him smell about us the tar-brush of a
sense of property, to let him think we looked on him as an asset to earn
us pelf or glory. We wished that there should be between us the spirit
that was between the sheep dog and that farmer, who, when asked his dog's
age, touched the old creature's head, and answered thus: "Teresa" (his
daughter) "was born in November, and this one in August." That sheep dog
had seen eighteen years when the great white day came for him, and his
spirit passed away up, to cling with the wood-smoke round the dark
rafters of the kitchen where he had lain so vast a time beside his
master's boots. No, no! If a man does not soon pass beyond the thought
"By what shall this dog profit me?" into the large state of simple
gladness to be with dog, he shall never know the very essence of that
companion ship which depends not on the points of dog, but on some
strange and subtle mingling of mute spirits. For it is by muteness that
a dog becomes for one so utterly beyond value; with him one is at peace,
where words play no torturing tricks. When he just sits, loving, and
knows that he is being loved, those are the moments that I think are
precious to a dog; when, with his adoring soul coming through his eyes,
he feels that you are really thinking of him. But he is touchingly
tolerant of one's other occupations. The subject of these memories
always knew when one was too absorbed in work to be so close to him as he
thought proper; yet he never tried to hinder or distract, or asked for
attention. It dinged his mood, of course, so that the red under his eyes
and the folds of his crumply cheeks--which seemed to speak of a touch of
bloodhound introduced a long way back into his breeding--drew deeper and
more manifest. If he could have spoken at such times, he would have
said: "I have been a long time alone, and I cannot always be asleep; but
you know best, and I must not criticise."
He did not at all mind one's being absorbed in other humans; he seemed to
enjoy the sounds of conversation lifting round him, and to know when they
were sensible. He could not, for instance, stand actors or actresses
giving readings of their parts, perceiving at once that the same had no
connection with the minds and real feelings of the speakers; and, having
wandered a little to show his disapproval, he would go to the door and
stare at it till it opened and let him out. Once or twice, it is true,
when an actor of large voice was declaiming an emotional passage, he so
far relented as to go up to him and pant in his face. Music, too, made
him restless, inclined to sigh, and to ask questions. Sometimes, at its
first sound, he would cross to the window and remain there looking for
Her. At others, he would simply go and lie on the loud pedal, and we
never could tell whether it was from sentiment, or because he thought
that in this way he heard less. At one special Nocturne of Chopin's he
always whimpered. He was, indeed, of rather Polish temperament--very gay
when he was gay, dark and brooding when he was not.
On the whole, perhaps his life was uneventful for so far-travelling a
dog, though it held its moments of eccentricity, as when he leaped
through the window of a four-wheeler into Kensington, or sat on a
Dartmoor adder. But that was fortunately of a Sunday afternoon--when
adder and all were torpid, so nothing happened, till a friend, who was
following, lifted him off the creature with his large boot.
If only one could have known more of his private life--more of his
relations with his own kind! I fancy he was always rather a dark dog to
them, having so many thoughts about us that he could not share with any
one, and being naturally fastidious, except with ladies, for whom he had
a chivalrous and catholic taste, so that they often turned and snapped at
him. He had, however, but one lasting love affair, for a liver-coloured
lass of our village, not quite of his own caste, but a wholesome if
somewhat elderly girl, with loving and sphinx-like eyes. Their children,
alas, were not for this world, and soon departed.
Nor was he a fighting dog; but once attacked, he lacked a sense of
values, being unable to distinguish between dogs that he could beat and
dogs with whom he had "no earthly." It was, in fact, as well to
interfere at once, especially in the matter of retrievers, for he never
forgot having in his youth been attacked by a retriever from behind. No,
he never forgot, and never forgave, an enemy. Only a month before that
day of which I cannot speak, being very old and ill, he engaged an Irish
terrier on whose impudence he had long had his eye, and routed him. And
how a battle cheered his spirit! He was certainly no Christian; but,
allowing for essential dog, he was very much a gentleman. And I do think
that most of us who live on this earth these days would rather leave it
with that label on us than the other. For to be a Christian, as Tolstoy
understood the word--and no one else in our time has had logic and love
of truth enough to give it coherent meaning--is (to be quite sincere) not
suited to men of Western blood. Whereas--to be a gentleman! It is a far
cry, but perhaps it can be done. In him, at all events, there was no
pettiness, no meanness, and no cruelty, and though he fell below his
ideal at times, this never altered the true look of his eyes, nor the
simple loyalty in his soul.
But what a crowd of memories come back, bringing with them the perfume of
fallen days! What delights and glamour, what long hours of effort,
discouragements, and secret fears did he not watch over--our black
familiar; and with the sight and scent and touch of him, deepen or
assuage! How many thousand walks did we not go together, so that we
still turn to see if he is following at his padding gait, attentive to
the invisible trails. Not the least hard thing to bear when they go from
us, these quiet friends, is that they carry away with them so many years
of our own lives. Yet, if they find warmth therein, who would grudge
them those years that they have so guarded? Nothing else of us can they
take to lie upon with outstretched paws and chin pressed to the ground;
and, whatever they take, be sure they have deserved.
Do they know, as we do, that their time must come? Yes, they know, at
rare moments. No other way can I interpret those pauses of his latter
life, when, propped on his forefeet, he would sit for long minutes quite
motionless--his head drooped, utterly withdrawn; then turn those eyes of
his and look at me. That look said more plainly than all words could:
"Yes, I know that I must go!" If we have spirits that persist--they
have. If we know after our departure, who we were they do. No one, I
think, who really longs for truth, can ever glibly say which it will be
for dog and man persistence or extinction of our consciousness. There is
but one thing certain--the childishness of fretting over that eternal
question. Whichever it be, it must be right, the only possible thing.
He felt that too, I know; but then, like his master, he was what is
called a pessimist.
My companion tells me that, since he left us, he has once come back. It
was Old Year's Night, and she was sad, when he came to her in visible
shape of his black body, passing round the dining-table from the
window-end, to his proper place beneath the table, at her feet. She saw
him quite clearly; she heard the padding tap-tap of his paws and very
toe-nails; she felt his warmth brushing hard against the front of her
skirt. She thought then that he would settle down upon her feet, but
something disturbed him, and he stood pausing, pressed against her, then
moved out toward where I generally sit, but was not sitting that night.
She saw him stand there, as if considering; then at some sound or laugh,
she became self-conscious, and slowly, very slowly, he was no longer
there. Had he some message, some counsel to give, something he would
say, that last night of the last year of all those he had watched over
us? Will he come back again?
No stone stands over where he lies. It is on our hearts that his life is
When God is so good to the fields, of what use are words--those poor
husks of sentiment! There is no painting Felicity on the wing! No way
of bringing on to the canvas the flying glory of things! A single
buttercup of the twenty million in one field is worth all these dry
symbols--that can never body forth the very spirit of that froth of May
breaking over the hedges, the choir of birds and bees, the
lost-travelling down of the wind flowers, the white-throated swallows in
their Odysseys. Just here there are no skylarks, but what joy of song
and leaf; of lanes lighted with bright trees, the few oaks still golden
brown, and the ashes still spiritual! Only the blackbirds and thrushes
can sing-up this day, and cuckoos over the hill. The year has flown so
fast that the apple-trees have dropped nearly all their bloom, and in
"long meadow" the "daggers" are out early, beside the narrow bright
streams. Orpheus sits there on a stone, when nobody is by, and pipes to
the ponies; and Pan can often be seen dancing with his nymphs in the
raised beech-grove where it is always twilight, if you lie still enough
against the far bank.
Who can believe in growing old, so long as we are wrapped in this cloak
of colour and wings and song; so long as this unimaginable vision is here
for us to gaze at--the soft-faced sheep about us, and the wool-bags
drying out along the fence, and great numbers of tiny ducks, so trustful
that the crows have taken several.
Blue is the colour of youth, and all the blue flowers have a "fey" look.
Everything seems young too young to work. There is but one thing busy, a
starling, fetching grubs for its little family, above my head--it must
take that flight at least two hundred times a day. The children should be
When the sky is so happy, and the flowers so luminous, it does not seem
possible that the bright angels of this day shall pass into dark night,
that slowly these wings shall close, and the cuckoo praise himself to
sleep, mad midges dance-in the evening; the grass shiver with dew, wind
die, and no bird sing . . . .
Yet so it is. Day has gone--the song and glamour and swoop of wings.
Slowly, has passed the daily miracle. It is night. But Felicity has not
withdrawn; she has but changed her robe for silence, velvet, and the
pearl fan of the moon. Everything is sleeping, save only a single star,
and the pansies. Why they should be more wakeful than the other flowers,
I do not know. The expressions of their faces, if one bends down into
the dusk, are sweeter and more cunning than ever. They have some compact,
no doubt, in hand.
What a number of voices have given up the ghost to this night of but one
voice--the murmur of the stream out there in darkness!
With what religion all has been done! Not one buttercup open; the
yew-trees already with shadows flung down! No moths are abroad yet; it
is too early in the year for nightjars; and the owls are quiet. But who
shall say that in this silence, in this hovering wan light, in this air
bereft of wings, and of all scent save freshness, there is less of the
ineffable, less of that before which words are dumb?
It is strange how this tranquillity of night, that seems so final, is
inhabited, if one keeps still enough. A lamb is bleating out there on
the dim moor; a bird somewhere, a little one, about three fields away,
makes the sweetest kind of chirruping; some cows are still cropping.
There is a scent, too, underneath the freshness-sweet-brier, I think, and
our Dutch honeysuckle; nothing else could so delicately twine itself with
air. And even in this darkness the roses have colour, more beautiful
perhaps than ever. If colour be, as they say, but the effect of light on
various fibre, one may think of it as a tune, the song of thanksgiving
that each form puts forth, to sun and moon and stars and fire. These
moon-coloured roses are singing a most quiet song. I see all of a sudden
that there are many more stars beside that one so red and watchful. The
flown kite is there with its seven pale worlds; it has adventured very
high and far to-night-with a company of others remoter still. . . .
This serenity of night! What could seem less likely ever more to move,
and change again to day? Surely now the world has found its long sleep;
and the pearly glimmer from the moon will last, and the precious silence
never again yield to clamour; the grape-bloom of this mystery never more
pale out into gold . . . .
And yet it is not so. The nightly miracle has passed. It is dawn. Faint
light has come. I am waiting for the first sound. The sky as yet is
like nothing but grey paper, with the shadows of wild geese passing. The
trees are phantoms. And then it comes--that first call of a bird,
startled at discovering day! Just one call--and now, here, there, on all
the trees, the sudden answers swelling, of that most sweet and careless
choir. Was irresponsibility ever so divine as this, of birds waking?
Then--saffron into the sky, and once more silence! What is it birds do
after the first Chorale? Think of their sins and business? Or just
sleep again? The trees are fast dropping unreality, and the cuckoos
begin calling. Colour is burning up in the flowers already; the dew
smells of them.
The miracle is ended, for the starling has begun its job; and the sun is
fretting those dark, busy wings with gold. Full day has come again. But
the face of it is a little strange, it is not like yesterday. Queer-to
think, no day is like to a day that's past and no night like a night
that's coming! Why, then, fear death, which is but night? Why care, if
next day have different face and spirit? The sun has lighted
buttercup-field now, the wind touches the lime-tree. Something passes
over me away up there.
It is Felicity on her wings!
STUDIES AND ESSAYS
By John Galsworthy
"Je vous dirai que l'exces est toujours un mal."
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
A NOVELIST'S ALLEGORY
SOME PLATITUDES CONCERNING DRAMA
MEDITATION ON FINALITY
ON OUR DISLIKE OF THINGS AS THEY ARE
A NOVELIST'S ALLEGORY
Once upon a time the Prince of Felicitas had occasion to set forth on a
journey. It was a late autumn evening with few pale stars and a moon no
larger than the paring of a finger-nail. And as he rode through the
purlieus of his city, the white mane of his amber-coloured steed was all
that he could clearly see in the dusk of the high streets. His way led
through a quarter but little known to him, and he was surprised to find
that his horse, instead of ambling forward with his customary gentle
vigour, stepped carefully from side to side, stopping now and then to
curve his neck and prick his ears--as though at some thing of fear
unseen in the darkness; while on either hand creatures could be heard
rustling and scuttling, and little cold draughts as of wings fanned the
The Prince at last turned in his saddle, but so great was the darkness
that he could not even see his escort.
"What is the name of this street?" he said.
"Sire, it is called the Vita Publica."
"It is very dark." Even as he spoke his horse staggered, but, recovering
its foothold with an effort, stood trembling violently. Nor could all the
incitements of its master induce the beast again to move forward.
"Is there no one with a lanthorn in this street?" asked the Prince.
His attendants began forthwith to call out loudly for any one who had a
lanthorn. Now, it chanced that an old man sleeping in a hovel on a
pallet of straw was, awakened by these cries. When he heard that it was
the Prince of Felicitas himself, he came hastily, carrying his lanthorn,
and stood trembling beside the Prince's horse. It was so dark that the
Prince could not see him.
"Light your lanthorn, old man," he said.
The old man laboriously lit his lanthorn. Its pale rays fled out on
either hand; beautiful but grim was the vision they disclosed. Tall
houses, fair court-yards, and a palm grown garden; in front of the
Prince's horse a deep cesspool, on whose jagged edges the good beast's
hoofs were planted; and, as far as the glimmer of the lanthorn stretched,
both ways down the rutted street, paving stones displaced, and smooth
tesselated marble; pools of mud, the hanging fruit of an orange tree, and
dark, scurrying shapes of monstrous rats bolting across from house to
house. The old man held the lanthorn higher; and instantly bats flying
against it would have beaten out the light but for the thin protection of
its horn sides.
The Prince sat still upon his horse, looking first at the rutted space
that he had traversed and then at the rutted space before him.
"Without a light," he said, "this thoroughfare is dangerous. What is
your name, old man?"
"My name is Cethru," replied the aged churl.
"Cethru!" said the Prince. "Let it be your duty henceforth to walk with
your lanthorn up and down this street all night and every night,"--and he
looked at Cethru: "Do you understand, old man, what it is you have to
The old man answered in a voice that trembled like a rusty flute:
"Aye, aye!--to walk up and down and hold my lanthorn so that folk can see
where they be going."
The Prince gathered up his reins; but the old man, lurching forward,
touched his stirrup.
"How long be I to go on wi' thiccy job?"
"Until you die!"
Cethru held up his lanthorn, and they could see his long, thin face, like
a sandwich of dried leather, jerk and quiver, and his thin grey hairs
flutter in the draught of the bats' wings circling round the light.
"'Twill be main hard!" he groaned; "an' my lanthorn's nowt but a poor
With a high look, the Prince of Felicitas bent and touched the old man's
"Until you die, old man," he repeated; and bidding his followers to light
torches from Cethru's lanthorn, he rode on down the twisting street. The
clatter of the horses' hoofs died out in the night, and the scuttling and
the rustling of the rats and the whispers of the bats' wings were heard
Cethru, left alone in the dark thoroughfare, sighed heavily; then,
spitting on his hands, he tightened the old girdle round his loins, and
slinging the lanthorn on his staff, held it up to the level of his waist,
and began to make his way along the street. His progress was but slow,
for he had many times to stop and rekindle the flame within his lanthorn,
which the bats' wings, his own stumbles, and the jostlings of footpads or
of revellers returning home, were for ever extinguishing. In traversing
that long street he spent half the night, and half the night in
traversing it back again. The saffron swan of dawn, slow swimming up the
sky-river between the high roof-banks, bent her neck down through the
dark air-water to look at him staggering below her, with his still
smoking wick. No sooner did Cethru see that sunlit bird, than with a
great sigh of joy he sat him down, and at once fell asleep.
Now when the dwellers in the houses of the Vita Publica first gained
knowledge that this old man passed every night with his lanthorn up and
down their street, and when they marked those pallid gleams gliding over
the motley prospect of cesspools and garden gates, over the sightless
hovels and the rich-carved frontages of their palaces; or saw them stay
their journey and remain suspended like a handful of daffodils held up
against the black stuffs of secrecy--they said:
"It is good that the old man should pass like this--we shall see better
where we're going; and if the Watch have any job on hand, or want to put
the pavements in order, his lanthorn will serve their purpose well
enough." And they would call out of their doors and windows to him
"Hola! old man Cethru! All's well with our house, and with the street
But, for answer, the old man only held his lanthorn up, so that in the
ring of its pale light they saw some sight or other in the street. And
his silence troubled them, one by one, for each had expected that he
"Aye, aye! All's well with your house, Sirs, and with the street before
Thus they grew irritated with this old man who did not seem able to do
anything but just hold his lanthorn up. And gradually they began to
dislike his passing by their doors with his pale light, by which they
could not fail to see, not only the rich-carved frontages and scrolled
gates of courtyards and fair gardens, but things that were not pleasing
to the eye. And they murmured amongst themselves: "What is the good of
this old man and his silly lanthorn? We can see all we want to see
without him; in fact, we got on very well before he came."
So, as he passed, rich folk who were supping would pelt him with
orange-peel and empty the dregs of their wine over his head; and poor
folk, sleeping in their hutches, turned over, as the rays of the lanthorn
fell on them, and cursed him for that disturbance. Nor did revellers or
footpads treat the old man, civilly, but tied him to the wall, where he
was constrained to stay till a kind passerby released him. And ever the
bats darkened his lanthorn with their wings and tried to beat the flame
out. And the old man thought: "This be a terrible hard job; I don't seem
to please nobody." But because the Prince of Felicitas had so commanded
him, he continued nightly to pass with his lanthorn up and down the
street; and every morning as the saffron swan came swimming overhead, to
fall asleep. But his sleep did not last long, for he was compelled to
pass many hours each day in gathering rushes and melting down tallow for
his lanthorn; so that his lean face grew more than ever like a sandwich
of dried leather.
Now it came to pass that the Town Watch having had certain complaints
made to them that persons had been bitten in the Vita Publica by rats,
doubted of their duty to destroy these ferocious creatures; and they held
investigation, summoning the persons bitten and inquiring of them how it
was that in so dark a street they could tell that the animals which had
bitten them were indeed rats. Howbeit for some time no one could be
found who could say more than what he had been told, and since this was
not evidence, the Town Watch had good hopes that they would not after all
be forced to undertake this tedious enterprise. But presently there came
before them one who said that he had himself seen the rat which had
bitten him, by the light of an old man's lanthorn. When the Town Watch
heard this they were vexed, for they knew that if this were true they
would now be forced to prosecute the arduous undertaking, and they said:
"Bring in this old man!"
Cethru was brought before them trembling.
"What is this we hear, old man, about your lanthorn and the rat? And in
the first place, what were you doing in the Vita Publica at that time of
Cethru answered: "I were just passin' with my lanthorn!"
"Tell us--did you see the rat?"
Cethru shook his head: "My lanthorn seed the rat, maybe!" he muttered.
"Old owl!" said the Captain of the Watch: "Be careful what you say! If
you saw the rat, why did you then not aid this unhappy citizen who was
bitten by it--first, to avoid that rodent, and subsequently to slay it,
thereby relieving the public of a pestilential danger?"
Cethru looked at him, and for some seconds did not reply; then he said
slowly: "I were just passin' with my lanthorn."
"That you have already told us," said the Captain of the Watch; "it is no
Cethru's leathern cheeks became wine-coloured, so desirous was he to
speak, and so unable. And the Watch sneered and laughed, saying:
"This is a fine witness."
But of a sudden Cethru spoke:
"What would I be duin'--killin' rats; tidden my business to kill rats."
The Captain of the Watch caressed his beard, and looking at the old man
with contempt, said:
"It seems to me, brothers, that this is an idle old vagabond, who does no
good to any one. We should be well advised, I think, to prosecute him
for vagrancy. But that is not at this moment the matter in hand. Owing
to the accident--scarcely fortunate--of this old man's passing with his
lanthorn, it would certainly appear that citizens have been bitten by
rodents. It is then, I fear, our duty to institute proceedings against
those poisonous and violent animals."
And amidst the sighing of the Watch, it was so resolved.
Cethru was glad to shuffle away, unnoticed, from the Court, and sitting
down under a camel-date tree outside the City Wall, he thus reflected:
"They were rough with me! I done nothin', so far's I can see!"
And a long time he sat there with the bunches of the camel-dates above
him, golden as the sunlight. Then, as the scent of the lyric-flowers,
released by evening, warned him of the night dropping like a flight of
dark birds on the plain, he rose stiffly, and made his way as usual
toward the Vita Publica.
He had traversed but little of that black thoroughfare, holding his
lanthorn at the level of his breast, when the sound of a splash and cries
for help smote his long, thin ears. Remembering how the Captain of the
Watch had admonished him, he stopped and peered about, but owing to his
proximity to the light of his own lanthorn he saw nothing. Presently he
heard another splash and the sound of blowings and of puffings, but still
unable to see clearly whence they came, he was forced in bewilderment to
resume his march. But he had no sooner entered the next bend of that
obscure and winding avenue than the most lamentable, lusty cries assailed
him. Again he stood still, blinded by his own light. Somewhere at hand
a citizen was being beaten, for vague, quick-moving forms emerged into
the radiance of his lanthorn out of the deep violet of the night air.
The cries swelled, and died away, and swelled; and the mazed Cethru moved
forward on his way. But very near the end of his first traversage, the
sound of a long, deep sighing, as of a fat man in spiritual pain, once
more arrested him.
"Drat me!" he thought, "this time I will see what 'tis," and he spun
round and round, holding his lanthorn now high, now low, and to both
sides. "The devil an' all's in it to-night," he murmured to himself;
"there's some'at here fetchin' of its breath awful loud." But for his
life he could see nothing, only that the higher he held his lanthorn the
more painful grew the sound of the fat but spiritual sighing. And
desperately, he at last resumed his progress.
On the morrow, while he still slept stretched on his straw pallet, there
came to him a member of the Watch.
"Old man, you are wanted at the Court House; rouse up, and bring your
Stiffly Cethru rose.
"What be they wantin' me fur now, mester?"
"Ah!" replied the Watchman, "they are about to see if they can't put an
end to your goings-on."
Cethru shivered, and was silent.
Now when they reached the Court House it was patent that a great affair
was forward; for the Judges were in their robes, and a crowd of
advocates, burgesses, and common folk thronged the careen, lofty hall of
When Cethru saw that all eyes were turned on him, he shivered still more
violently, fixing his fascinated gaze on the three Judges in their
"This then is the prisoner," said the oldest of the Judges; "proceed with
A little advocate in snuff-coloured clothes rose on little legs, and
commenced to read:
"Forasmuch as on the seventeenth night of August fifteen hundred years
since the Messiah's death, one Celestine, a maiden of this city, fell
into a cesspool in the Vita Publica, and while being quietly drowned, was
espied of the burgess Pardonix by the light of a lanthorn held by the old
man Cethru; and, forasmuch as, plunging in, the said Pardonix rescued
her, not without grave risk of life and the ruin, of his clothes, and
to-day lies ill of fever; and forasmuch as the old man Cethru was the
cause of these misfortunes to the burgess Pardonix, by reason of his
wandering lanthorn's showing the drowning maiden, the Watch do hereby
indict, accuse, and otherwise place charge upon this Cethru of
'Vagabondage without serious occupation.'
"And, forasmuch as on this same night the Watchman Filepo, made aware, by
the light of this said Cethru's lanthorn, of three sturdy footpads, went
to arrest them, and was set on by the rogues and well-nigh slain, the
Watch do hereby indict, accuse, and otherwise charge upon Cethru
complicity in this assault, by reasons, namely, first, that he discovered
the footpads to the Watchman and the Watchman to the footpads by the
light of his lanthorn; and, second, that, having thus discovered them, he
stood idly by and gave no assistance to the law.
"And, forasmuch as on this same night the wealthy burgess Pranzo, who,
having prepared a banquet, was standing in his doorway awaiting the
arrival of his guests, did see, by the light of the said Cethru's
lanthorn, a beggar woman and her children grovelling in the gutter for
garbage, whereby his appetite was lost completely; and, forasmuch as he,
Pranzo, has lodged a complaint against the Constitution for permitting
women and children to go starved, the Watch do hereby indict, accuse, and
otherwise make charge on Cethru of rebellion and of anarchy, in that
wilfully he doth disturb good citizens by showing to them without
provocation disagreeable sights, and doth moreover endanger the laws by
causing persons to desire to change them.
"These be the charges, reverend Judges, so please you!"
And having thus spoken, the little advocate resumed his seat.
Then said the oldest of the Judges:
"Cethru, you have heard; what answer do you make?"
But no word, only the chattering of teeth, came from Cethru.
"Have you no defence?" said the Judge: "these are grave accusations!"
Then Cethru spoke:
"So please your Highnesses," he said, "can I help what my lanthorn sees?"
And having spoken these words, to all further questions he remained more
silent than a headless man.
The Judges took counsel of each other, and the oldest of them thus
addressed himself to Cethru:
"If you have no defence, old man, and there is no one will say a word for
you, we can but proceed to judgment."
Then in the main aisle of the Court there rose a youthful advocate.
"Most reverend Judges," he said in a mellifluous voice, clearer than the
fluting of a bell-bird, "it is useless to look for words from this old
man, for it is manifest that he himself is nothing, and that his lanthorn
is alone concerned in this affair. But, reverend Judges, bethink you
well: Would you have a lanthorn ply a trade or be concerned with a
profession, or do aught indeed but pervade the streets at night, shedding
its light, which, if you will, is vagabondage? And, Sirs, upon the
second count of this indictment: Would you have a lanthorn dive into
cesspools to rescue maidens? Would you have a lanthorn to beat footpads?
Or, indeed, to be any sort of partisan either of the Law or of them that
break the Law? Sure, Sirs, I think not. And as to this third charge of
fostering anarchy let me but describe the trick of this lanthorn's flame.
It is distilled, most reverend Judges, of oil and wick, together with
that sweet secret heat of whose birth no words of mine can tell. And
when, Sirs, this pale flame has sprung into the air swaying to every
wind, it brings vision to the human eye. And, if it be charged on this
old man Cethru that he and his lanthorn by reason of their showing not
only the good but the evil bring no pleasure into the world, I ask, Sirs,
what in the world is so dear as this power to see whether it be the
beautiful or the foul that is disclosed? Need I, indeed, tell you of the
way this flame spreads its feelers, and delicately darts and hovers in
the darkness, conjuring things from nothing? This mechanical summoning,
Sirs, of visions out of blackness is benign, by no means of malevolent
intent; no more than if a man, passing two donkeys in the road, one lean
and the other fat, could justly be arraigned for malignancy because they
were not both fat. This, reverend Judges, is the essence of the matter
concerning the rich burgess, Pranzo, who, on account of the sight he saw
by Cethru's lanthorn, has lost the equilibrium of his stomach. For, Sirs,
the lanthorn did but show that which was there, both fair and foul, no
more, no less; and though it is indeed true that Pranzo is upset, it was
not because the lanthorn maliciously produced distorted images, but
merely caused to be seen, in due proportions, things which Pranzo had not
seen before. And surely, reverend Judges, being just men, you would not
have this lanthorn turn its light away from what is ragged and ugly
because there are also fair things on which its light may fall; how,
indeed, being a lanthorn, could it, if it would? And I would have you
note this, Sirs, that by this impartial discovery of the proportions of
one thing to another, this lanthorn must indeed perpetually seem to cloud
and sadden those things which are fair, because of the deep instincts of
harmony and justice planted in the human breast. However unfair and
cruel, then, this lanthorn may seem to those who, deficient in these
instincts, desire all their lives to see naught but what is pleasant,
lest they, like Pranzo, should lose their appetites--it is not consonant
with equity that this lanthorn should, even if it could, be prevented
from thus mechanically buffeting the holiday cheek of life. I would
think, Sirs, that you should rather blame the queazy state of Pranzo's
stomach. The old man has said that he cannot help what his lanthorn
sees. This is a just saying. But if, reverend Judges, you deem this
equipoised, indifferent lanthorn to be indeed blameworthy for having
shown in the same moment, side by side, the skull and the fair face, the
burdock and the tiger-lily, the butterfly and toad, then, most reverend
Judges, punish it, but do not punish this old man, for he himself is but
a flume of smoke, thistle down dispersed--nothing!"
So saying, the young advocate ceased.
Again the three Judges took counsel of each other, and after much talk
had passed between them, the oldest spoke:
"What this young advocate has said seems to us to be the truth. We
cannot punish a lanthorn. Let the old man go!"
And Cethru went out into the sunshine . . . .
Now it came to pass that the Prince of Felicitas, returning from his
journey, rode once more on his amber-coloured steed down the Vita
The night was dark as a rook's wing, but far away down the street burned
a little light, like a red star truant from heaven. The Prince riding by
descried it for a lanthorn, with an old man sleeping beside it.
"How is this, Friend?" said the Prince. "You are not walking as I bade
you, carrying your lanthorn."
But Cethru neither moved nor answered:
"Lift him up!" said the Prince.
They lifted up his head and held the lanthorn to his closed eyes. So
lean was that brown face that the beams from the lanthorn would not rest
on it, but slipped past on either side into the night. His eyes did not
open. He was dead.
And the Prince touched him, saying: "Farewell, old man! The lanthorn is
still alight. Go, fetch me another one, and let him carry it!"
SOME PLATITUDES CONCERNING DRAMA
A drama must be shaped so as to have a spire of meaning. Every grouping
of life and character has its inherent moral; and the business of the
dramatist is so to pose the group as to bring that moral poignantly to
the light of day. Such is the moral that exhales from plays like 'Lear',
'Hamlet', and 'Macbeth'. But such is not the moral to be found in the
great bulk of contemporary Drama. The moral of the average play is now,
and probably has always been, the triumph at all costs of a supposed
immediate ethical good over a supposed immediate ethical evil.
The vice of drawing these distorted morals has permeated the Drama to its
spine; discoloured its art, humanity, and significance; infected its
creators, actors, audience, critics; too often turned it from a picture
into a caricature. A Drama which lives under the shadow of the distorted
moral forgets how to be free, fair, and fine--forgets so completely that
it often prides itself on having forgotten.
Now, in writing plays, there are, in this matter of the moral, three
courses open to the serious dramatist. The first is: To definitely set
before the public that which it wishes to have set before it, the views
and codes of life by which the public lives and in which it believes.
This way is the most common, successful, and popular. It makes the
dramatist's position sure, and not too obviously authoritative.
The second course is: To definitely set before the public those views and
codes of life by which the dramatist himself lives, those theories in
which he himself believes, the more effectively if they are the opposite
of what the public wishes to have placed before it, presenting them so
that the audience may swallow them like powder in a spoonful of jam.
There is a third course: To set before the public no cut-and-dried codes,
but the phenomena of life and character, selected and combined, but not
distorted, by the dramatist's outlook, set down without fear, favour, or
prejudice, leaving the public to draw such poor moral as nature may
afford. This third method requires a certain detachment; it requires a
sympathy with, a love of, and a curiosity as to, things for their own
sake; it requires a far view, together with patient industry, for no
immediately practical result.
It was once said of Shakespeare that he had never done any good to any
one, and never would. This, unfortunately, could not, in the sense in
which the word "good" was then meant, be said of most modern dramatists.
In truth, the good that Shakespeare did to humanity was of a remote, and,
shall we say, eternal nature; something of the good that men get from
having the sky and the sea to look at. And this partly because he was,
in his greater plays at all events, free from the habit of drawing a
distorted moral. Now, the playwright who supplies to the public the
facts of life distorted by the moral which it expects, does so that he
may do the public what he considers an immediate good, by fortifying its
prejudices; and the dramatist who supplies to the public facts distorted
by his own advanced morality, does so because he considers that he will
at once benefit the public by substituting for its worn-out ethics, his
own. In both cases the advantage the dramatist hopes to confer on the
public is immediate and practical.
But matters change, and morals change; men remain--and to set men, and
the facts about them, down faithfully, so that they draw for us the moral
of their natural actions, may also possibly be of benefit to the
community. It is, at all events, harder than to set men and facts down,
as they ought, or ought not to be. This, however, is not to say that a
dramatist should, or indeed can, keep himself and his temperamental
philosophy out of his work. As a man lives and thinks, so will he write.
But it is certain, that to the making of good drama, as to the practice
of every other art, there must be brought an almost passionate love of
discipline, a white-heat of self-respect, a desire to make the truest,
fairest, best thing in one's power; and that to these must be added an
eye that does not flinch. Such qualities alone will bring to a drama the
selfless character which soaks it with inevitability.
The word "pessimist" is frequently applied to the few dramatists who have
been content to work in this way. It has been applied, among others, to
Euripides, to Shakespeare, to Ibsen; it will be applied to many in the
future. Nothing, however, is more dubious than the way in which these
two words "pessimist" and "optimist" are used; for the optimist appears
to be he who cannot bear the world as it is, and is forced by his nature
to picture it as it ought to be, and the pessimist one who cannot only
bear the world as it is, but loves it well enough to draw it faithfully.
The true lover of the human race is surely he who can put up with it in
all its forms, in vice as well as in virtue, in defeat no less than in
victory; the true seer he who sees not only joy but sorrow, the true
painter of human life one who blinks nothing. It may be that he is also,
incidentally, its true benefactor.
In the whole range of the social fabric there are only two impartial
persons, the scientist and the artist, and under the latter heading such
dramatists as desire to write not only for to-day, but for to-morrow,
must strive to come.
But dramatists being as they are made--past remedy it is perhaps more
profitable to examine the various points at which their qualities and
defects are shown.
The plot! A good plot is that sure edifice which slowly rises out of the
interplay of circumstance on temperament, and temperament on
circumstance, within the enclosing atmosphere of an idea. A human being
is the best plot there is; it may be impossible to see why he is a good
plot, because the idea within which he was brought forth cannot be fully
grasped; but it is plain that he is a good plot. He is organic. And so
it must be with a good play. Reason alone produces no good plots; they
come by original sin, sure conception, and instinctive after-power of
selecting what benefits the germ. A bad plot, on the other hand, is
simply a row of stakes, with a character impaled on each--characters who
would have liked to live, but came to untimely grief; who started
bravely, but fell on these stakes, placed beforehand in a row, and were
transfixed one by one, while their ghosts stride on, squeaking and
gibbering, through the play. Whether these stakes are made of facts or
of ideas, according to the nature of the dramatist who planted them,
their effect on the unfortunate characters is the same; the creatures
were begotten to be staked, and staked they are! The demand for a good
plot, not unfrequently heard, commonly signifies: "Tickle my sensations
by stuffing the play with arbitrary adventures, so that I need not be
troubled to take the characters seriously. Set the persons of the play
to action, regardless of time, sequence, atmosphere, and probability!"
Now, true dramatic action is what characters do, at once contrary, as it
were, to expectation, and yet because they have already done other
things. No dramatist should let his audience know what is coming; but
neither should he suffer his characters to, act without making his
audience feel that those actions are in harmony with temperament, and
arise from previous known actions, together with the temperaments and
previous known actions of the other characters in the play. The
dramatist who hangs his characters to his plot, instead of hanging his
plot to his characters, is guilty of cardinal sin.
The dialogue! Good dialogue again is character, marshalled so as
continually to stimulate interest or excitement. The reason good
dialogue is seldom found in plays is merely that it is hard to write, for
it requires not only a knowledge of what interests or excites, but such a
feeling for character as brings misery to the dramatist's heart when his
creations speak as they should not speak--ashes to his mouth when they
say things for the sake of saying them--disgust when they are "smart."
The art of writing true dramatic dialogue is an austere art, denying
itself all license, grudging every sentence devoted to the mere machinery
of the play, suppressing all jokes and epigrams severed from character,
relying for fun and pathos on the fun and tears of life. From start to
finish good dialogue is hand-made, like good lace; clear, of fine
texture, furthering with each thread the harmony and strength of a design
to which all must be subordinated.
But good dialogue is also spiritual action. In so far as the dramatist
divorces his dialogue from spiritual action--that is to say, from
progress of events, or toward events which are significant of
character--he is stultifying the thing done; he may make pleasing
disquisitions, he is not making drama. And in so far as he twists
character to suit his moral or his plot, he is neglecting a first
principle, that truth to Nature which alone invests art with handmade
The dramatist's license, in fact, ends with his design. In conception
alone he is free. He may take what character or group of characters he
chooses, see them with what eyes, knit them with what idea, within the
limits of his temperament; but once taken, seen, and knitted, he is bound
to treat them like a gentleman, with the tenderest consideration of their
mainsprings. Take care of character; action and dialogue will take care
of themselves! The true dramatist gives full rein to his temperament in
the scope and nature of his subject; having once selected subject and
characters, he is just, gentle, restrained, neither gratifying his lust
for praise at the expense of his offspring, nor using them as puppets to
flout his audience. Being himself the nature that brought them forth, he
guides them in the course predestined at their conception. So only have
they a chance of defying Time, which is always lying in wait to destroy
the false, topical, or fashionable, all--in a word--that is not based on
the permanent elements of human nature. The perfect dramatist rounds up
his characters and facts within the ring-fence of a dominant idea which
fulfils the craving of his spirit; having got them there, he suffers them
to live their own lives.
Plot, action, character, dialogue! But there is yet another subject for
a platitude. Flavour! An impalpable quality, less easily captured than
the scent of a flower, the peculiar and most essential attribute of any
work of art! It is the thin, poignant spirit which hovers up out of a
play, and is as much its differentiating essence as is caffeine of
coffee. Flavour, in fine, is the spirit of the dramatist projected into
his work in a state of volatility, so that no one can exactly lay hands
on it, here, there, or anywhere. This distinctive essence of a play,
marking its brand, is the one thing at which the dramatist cannot work,
for it is outside his consciousness. A man may have many moods, he has
but one spirit; and this spirit he communicates in some subtle,
unconscious way to all his work. It waxes and wanes with the currents of
his vitality, but no more alters than a chestnut changes into an oak.
For, in truth, dramas are very like unto trees, springing from seedlings,
shaping themselves inevitably in accordance with the laws fast hidden
within themselves, drinking sustenance from the earth and air, and in
conflict with the natural forces round them. So they slowly come to full
growth, until warped, stunted, or risen to fair and gracious height, they
stand open to all the winds. And the trees that spring from each
dramatist are of different race; he is the spirit of his own sacred
grove, into which no stray tree can by any chance enter.
One more platitude. It is not unfashionable to pit one form of drama
against another--holding up the naturalistic to the disadvantage of the
epic; the epic to the belittlement of the fantastic; the fantastic to the
detriment of the naturalistic. Little purpose is thus served. The
essential meaning, truth, beauty, and irony of things may be revealed
under all these forms. Vision over life and human nature can be as keen
and just, the revelation as true, inspiring, delight-giving, and
thought-provoking, whatever fashion be employed--it is simply a question
of doing it well enough to uncover the kernel of the nut. Whether the
violet come from Russia, from Parma, or from England, matters little.
Close by the Greek temples at Paestum there are violets that seem redder,
and sweeter, than any ever seen--as though they have sprung up out of the
footprints of some old pagan goddess; but under the April sun, in a
Devonshire lane, the little blue scentless violets capture every bit as
much of the spring. And so it is with drama--no matter what its form it
need only be the "real thing," need only have caught some of the precious
fluids, revelation, or delight, and imprisoned them within a chalice to
which we may put our lips and continually drink.
And yet, starting from this last platitude, one may perhaps be suffered
to speculate as to the particular forms that our renascent drama is
likely to assume. For our drama is renascent, and nothing will stop its
growth. It is not renascent because this or that man is writing, but
because of a new spirit. A spirit that is no doubt in part the gradual
outcome of the impact on our home-grown art, of Russian, French, and
Scandinavian influences, but which in the main rises from an awakened
humanity in the conscience of our time.
What, then, are to be the main channels down which the renascent English
drama will float in the coming years? It is more than possible that
these main channels will come to be two in number and situate far apart.
The one will be the broad and clear-cut channel of naturalism, down which
will course a drama poignantly shaped, and inspired with high intention,
but faithful to the seething and multiple life around us, drama such as
some are inclined to term photographic, deceived by a seeming simplicity
into forgetfulness of the old proverb, "Ars est celare artem," and
oblivious of the fact that, to be vital, to grip, such drama is in every
respect as dependent on imagination, construction, selection, and
elimination--the main laws of artistry--as ever was the romantic or
rhapsodic play: The question of naturalistic technique will bear, indeed,
much more study than has yet been given to it. The aim of the dramatist
employing it is obviously to create such an illusion of actual life
passing on the stage as to compel the spectator to pass through an
experience of his own, to think, and talk, and move with the people he
sees thinking, talking, and moving in front of him. A false phrase, a
single word out of tune or time, will destroy that illusion and spoil the
surface as surely as a stone heaved into a still pool shatters the image
seen there. But this is only the beginning of the reason why the
naturalistic is the most exacting and difficult of all techniques. It is
easy enough to reproduce the exact conversation and movements of persons
in a room; it is desperately hard to produce the perfectly natural
conversation and movements of those persons, when each natural phrase
spoken and each natural movement made has not only to contribute toward
the growth and perfection of a drama's soul, but also to be a revelation,
phrase by phrase, movement by movement, of essential traits of character.
To put it another way, naturalistic art, when alive, indeed to be alive
at all, is simply the art of manipulating a procession of most delicate
symbols. Its service is the swaying and focussing of men's feelings and
thoughts in the various departments of human life. It will be like a
steady lamp, held up from time to time, in whose light things will be
seen for a space clearly and in due proportion, freed from the mists of
prejudice and partisanship. And the other of these two main channels
will, I think, be a twisting and delicious stream, which will bear on its
breast new barques of poetry, shaped, it may be, like prose, but a prose
incarnating through its fantasy and symbolism all the deeper aspirations,
yearning, doubts, and mysterious stirrings of the human spirit; a poetic
prose-drama, emotionalising us by its diversity and purity of form and
invention, and whose province will be to disclose the elemental soul of
man and the forces of Nature, not perhaps as the old tragedies disclosed
them, not necessarily in the epic mood, but always with beauty and in the
spirit of discovery.
Such will, I think, be the two vital forms of our drama in the coming
generation. And between these two forms there must be no crude unions;
they are too far apart, the cross is too violent. For, where there is a
seeming blend of lyricism and naturalism, it will on examination be
found, I think, to exist only in plays whose subjects or settings--as in
Synge's "Playboy of the Western World," or in Mr. Masefield's "Nan"--are
so removed from our ken that we cannot really tell, and therefore do not
care, whether an absolute illusion is maintained. The poetry which may
and should exist in naturalistic drama, can only be that of perfect
rightness of proportion, rhythm, shape--the poetry, in fact, that lies in
all vital things. It is the ill-mating of forms that has killed a
thousand plays. We want no more bastard drama; no more attempts to dress
out the simple dignity of everyday life in the peacock's feathers of
false lyricism; no more straw-stuffed heroes or heroines; no more rabbits
and goldfish from the conjurer's pockets, nor any limelight. Let us have
starlight, moonlight, sunlight, and the light of our own self-respects.
MEDITATION ON FINALITY
In the Grand Canyon of Arizona, that most exhilarating of all natural
phenomena, Nature has for once so focussed her effects, that the result
is a framed and final work of Art. For there, between two high lines of
plateau, level as the sea, are sunk the wrought thrones of the
innumerable gods, couchant, and for ever revering, in their million moods
of light and colour, the Master Mystery.
Having seen this culmination, I realize why many people either recoil
before it, and take the first train home, or speak of it as a "remarkable
formation." For, though mankind at large craves finality, it does not
crave the sort that bends the knee to Mystery. In Nature, in Religion, in
Art, in Life, the common cry is: "Tell me precisely where I am, what
doing, and where going! Let me be free of this fearful untidiness of not
knowing all about it!" The favoured religions are always those whose
message is most finite. The fashionable professions--they that end us in
assured positions. The most popular works of fiction, such as leave
nothing to our imagination. And to this craving after prose, who would
not be lenient, that has at all known life, with its usual predominance
of our lower and less courageous selves, our constant hankering after the
cosey closed door and line of least resistance? We are continually
begging to be allowed to know for certain; though, if our prayer were
granted, and Mystery no longer hovered, made blue the hills, and turned
day into night, we should, as surely, wail at once to be delivered of
that ghastliness of knowing things for certain!
Now, in Art, I would never quarrel with a certain living writer who
demands of it the kind of finality implied in what he calls a "moral
discovery"--using, no doubt, the words in their widest sense. I would
maintain, however, that such finality is not confined to positively
discovering the true conclusion of premises laid down; but that it may
also distil gradually, negatively from the whole work, in a moral
discovery, as it were, of Author. In other words, that, permeation by an
essential point of view, by emanation of author, may so unify and
vitalize a work, as to give it all the finality that need be required of
Art. For the finality that is requisite to Art, be it positive or
negative, is not the finality of dogma, nor the finality of fact, it is
ever the finality of feeling--of a spiritual light, subtly gleaned by the
spectator out of that queer luminous haze which one man's nature must
ever be to others. And herein, incidentally, it is that Art acquires
also that quality of mystery, more needful to it even than finality, for
the mystery that wraps a work of Art is the mystery of its maker, and the
mystery of its maker is the difference between that maker's soul and
every other soul.
But let me take an illustration of what I mean by these two kinds of
finality that Art may have, and show that in essence they are but two
halves of the same thing. The term "a work of Art" will not be denied, I
think, to that early novel of M. Anatole France, "Le Lys Rouge." Now,
that novel has positive finality, since the spiritual conclusion from its
premises strikes one as true. But neither will the term "a work of Art"
be denied to the same writer's four "Bergeret" volumes, whose negative
finality consists only in the temperamental atmosphere wherein they are
soaked. Now, if the theme of "Le Lys Rouge" had been treated by Tolstoy,
Meredith, or Turgenev, we should have had spiritual conclusions from the
same factual premises so different from M. France's as prunes from
prisms, and yet, being the work of equally great artists, they would,
doubtless, have struck us as equally true. Is not, then, the positive
finality of "Le Lys Rouge," though expressed in terms of a different
craftsmanship, the same, in essence, as the negative finality of the
"Bergeret" volumes? Are not both, in fact, merely flower of author true
to himself? So long as the scent, colour, form of that flower is strong
and fine enough to affect the senses of our spirit, then all the rest,
surely, is academic--I would say, immaterial.
But here, in regard to Art, is where mankind at large comes on the field.
"'Flower of author,'" it says, "'Senses of the spirit!' Phew! Give me
something I can understand! Let me know where I am getting to!" In a
word, it wants a finality different from that which Art can give. It
will ask the artist, with irritation, what his solution, or his lesson,
or his meaning, really is, having omitted to notice that the poor
creature has been giving all the meaning that he can, in every sentence.
It will demand to know why it was not told definitely what became of
Charles or Mary in whom it had grown so interested; and will be almost
frightened to learn that the artist knows no more than itself. And if by
any chance it be required to dip its mind into a philosophy that does not
promise it a defined position both in this world and the next, it will
assuredly recoil, and with a certain contempt say: "No, sir! This means
nothing to me; and if it means anything to you--which I very much
doubt--I am sorry for you!"
It must have facts, and again facts, not only in the present and the
past, but in the future. And it demands facts of that, which alone
cannot glibly give it facts. It goes on asking facts of Art, or, rather,
such facts as Art cannot give--for, after all, even "flower of author" is
fact in a sort of way.
Consider, for instance, Synge's masterpiece, "The Playboy of the Western
World!" There is flower of author! What is it for mankind at large? An
attack on the Irish character! A pretty piece of writing! An amusing
farce! Enigmatic cynicism leading nowhere! A puzzling fellow wrote it!
Mankind at large has little patience with puzzling fellows.
Few, in fact, want flower of author. Moreover, it is a quality that may
well be looked for where it does not exist. To say that the finality
which Art requires is merely an enwrapping mood, or flower of author, is
not by any means to say that any robust fellow, slamming his notions down
in ink, can give us these. Indeed, no! So long as we see the author's
proper person in his work, we do not see the flower of him. Let him
retreat himself, if he pretend to be an artist. There is no less of
subtle skill, no less impersonality, in the "Bergeret" volumes than in
"Le Lys Rouge." No less labour and mental torturing went to their
making, page by page, in order that they might exhale their perfume of
mysterious finality, their withdrawn but implicit judgment. Flower of
author is not quite so common as the buttercup, the Californian poppy, or
the gay Texan gaillardia, and for that very reason the finality it gives
off will never be robust enough for a mankind at large that would have
things cut and dried, and labelled in thick letters. For, consider--to
take one phase alone of this demand for factual finality--how continual
and insistent is the cry for characters that can be worshipped; how
intense and persistent the desire to be told that Charles was a real
hero; and how bitter the regret that Mary was no better than she should
be! Mankind at large wants heroes that are heroes, and heroines that are
heroines--and nothing so inappropriate to them as unhappy endings.
Travelling away, I remember, from that Grand Canyon of Arizona were a
young man and a young woman, evidently in love. He was sitting very
close to her, and reading aloud for her pleasure, from a paper-covered
novel, heroically oblivious of us all:
"'Sir Robert,' she murmured, lifting her beauteous eyes, 'I may not tempt
you, for you are too dear to me!' Sir Robert held her lovely face between
his two strong hands. 'Farewell!' he said, and went out into the night.
But something told them both that, when he had fulfilled his duty, Sir
Robert would return . . . ." He had not returned before we reached
the Junction, but there was finality about that baronet, and we well knew
that he ultimately would. And, long after the sound of that young man's
faithful reading had died out of our ears, we meditated on Sir Robert,
and compared him with the famous characters of fiction, slowly perceiving
that they were none of them so final in their heroism as he. No, none of
them reached that apex. For Hamlet was a most unfinished fellow, and
Lear extremely violent. Pickwick addicted to punch, and Sam Weller to
lying; Bazarof actually a Nihilist, and Irina----! Levin and Anna,
Pierre and Natasha, all of them stormy and unsatisfactory at times. "Un
Coeur Simple" nothing but a servant, and an old maid at that; "Saint
Julien l'Hospitalier" a sheer fanatic. Colonel Newcome too irritable and
too simple altogether. Don Quixote certified insane. Hilda Wangel, Nora,
Hedda--Sir Robert would never even have spoken to such baggages! Mon
sieur Bergeret--an amiable weak thing! D'Artagnan--a true swashbuckler!
Tom Jones, Faust, Don Juan--we might not even think of them: And those
poor Greeks: Prometheus--shocking rebel. OEdipus for a long time
banished by the Censor. Phaedra and Elektra, not even so virtuous as
Mary, who failed of being what she should be! And coming to more
familiar persons Joseph and Moses, David and Elijah, all of them lacked
his finality of true heroism--none could quite pass muster beside Sir
Robert . . . . Long we meditated, and, reflecting that an author must
ever be superior to the creatures of his brain, were refreshed to think
that there were so many living authors capable of giving birth to Sir
Robert; for indeed, Sir Robert and finality like his--no doubtful heroes,
no flower of author, and no mystery is what mankind at large has always
wanted from Letters, and will always want.
As truly as that oil and water do not mix, there are two kinds of men.
The main cleavage in the whole tale of life is this subtle, all pervading
division of mankind into the man of facts and the man of feeling. And
not by what they are or do can they be told one from the other, but just
by their attitude toward finality. Fortunately most of us are neither
quite the one nor quite the other. But between the pure-blooded of each
kind there is real antipathy, far deeper than the antipathies of race,
politics, or religion--an antipathy that not circumstance, love,
goodwill, or necessity will ever quite get rid of. Sooner shall the
panther agree with the bull than that other one with the man of facts.
There is no bridging the gorge that divides these worlds.
Nor is it so easy to tell, of each, to which world he belongs, as it was
to place the lady, who held out her finger over that gorge called Grand
Canyon, and said:
"It doesn't look thirteen miles; but they measured it just there! Excuse
"Et nous jongleurs inutiles, frivoles joueurs de luth!". . . Useless
jugglers, frivolous players on the lute! Must we so describe ourselves,
we, the producers, season by season, of so many hundreds of "remarkable"
works of fiction?--for though, when we take up the remarkable works of
our fellows, we "really cannot read them!" the Press and the
advertisements of our publishers tell us that they are "remarkable."
A story goes that once in the twilight undergrowth of a forest of
nut-bearing trees a number of little purblind creatures wandered, singing
for nuts. On some of these purblind creatures the nuts fell heavy and
full, extremely indigestible, and were quickly swallowed; on others they
fell light, and contained nothing, because the kernel had already been
eaten up above, and these light and kernel-less nuts were accompanied by
sibilations or laughter. On others again no nuts at all, empty or full,
came down. But nuts or no nuts, full nuts or empty nuts, the purblind
creatures below went on wandering and singing. A traveller one day
stopped one of these creatures whose voice was peculiarly disagreeable,
and asked "Why do you sing like this? Is it for pleasure that you do it,
or for pain? What do you get out of it? Is it for the sake of those up
there? Is it for your own sake--for the sake of your family--for whose
sake? Do you think your songs worth listening to? Answer!"
The creature scratched itself, and sang the louder.
"Ah! Cacoethes! I pity, but do not blame you," said the traveller.
He left the creature, and presently came to another which sang a squeaky
treble song. It wandered round in a ring under a grove of stunted trees,
and the traveller noticed that it never went out of that grove.
"Is it really necessary," he said, "for you to express yourself thus?"
And as he spoke showers of tiny hard nuts came down on the little
creature, who ate them greedily. The traveller opened one; it was
extremely small and tasted of dry rot.
"Why, at all events," he said, "need you stay under these trees? the nuts
are not good here."
But for answer the little creature ran round and round, and round and
"I suppose," said the traveller, "small bad nuts are better than no
bread; if you went out of this grove you would starve?"
The purblind little creature shrieked. The traveller took the sound for
affirmation, and passed on. He came to a third little creature who,
under a tall tree, was singing very loudly indeed, while all around was a
great silence, broken only by sounds like the snuffling of small noses.
The creature stopped singing as the traveller came up, and at once a
storm of huge nuts came down; the traveller found them sweetish and very
"Why," he said to the creature, "did you sing so loud? You cannot eat
all these nuts. You really do sing louder than seems necessary; come,
But the purblind little creature began to sing again at the top of its
voice, and the noise of the snuffling of small noses became so great that
the traveller hastened away. He passed many other purblind little
creatures in the twilight of this forest, till at last he came to one
that looked even blinder than the rest, but whose song was sweet and low
and clear, breaking a perfect stillness; and the traveller sat down to
listen. For a long time he listened to that song without noticing that
not a nut was falling. But suddenly he heard a faint rustle and three
little oval nuts lay on the ground.
The traveller cracked one of them. It was of delicate flavour. He
looked at the little creature standing with its face raised, and said:
"Tell me, little blind creature, whose song is so charming, where did you
learn to sing?"
The little creature turned its head a trifle to one side as though
listening for the fall of nuts.
"Ah, indeed!" said the traveller: "You, whose voice is so clear, is this
all you get to eat?"
The little blind creature smiled . . . .
It is a twilight forest in which we writers of fiction wander, and once
in a way, though all this has been said before, we may as well remind
ourselves and others why the light is so dim; why there is so much bad
and false fiction; why the demand for it is so great. Living in a world
where demand creates supply, we writers of fiction furnish the exception
to this rule. For, consider how, as a class, we come into existence.
Unlike the followers of any other occupation, nothing whatever compels
any one of us to serve an apprenticeship. We go to no school, have to
pass no examination, attain no standard, receive no diploma. We need not
study that which should be studied; we are at liberty to flood our minds
with all that should not be studied. Like mushrooms, in a single sight
we spring up--a pen in our hands, very little in our brains, and
who-knows-what in our hearts!
Few of us sit down in cold blood to write our first stories; we have
something in us that we feel we must express. This is the beginning of
the vicious circle. Our first books often have some thing in them. We
are sincere in trying to express that something. It is true we cannot
express it, not having learnt how, but its ghost haunts the pages the
ghost of real experience and real life--just enough to attract the
untrained intelligence, just enough to make a generous Press remark:
"This shows promise." We have tasted blood, we pant for more. Those of
us who had a carking occupation hasten to throw it aside, those who had
no occupation have now found one; some few of us keep both the old
occupation and the new. Whichever of these courses we pursue, the hurry
with which we pursue it undoes us. For, often we have only that one book
in us, which we did not know how to write, and having expressed that
which we have felt, we are driven in our second, our third, our fourth,
to warm up variations, like those dressed remains of last night's dinner
which are served for lunch; or to spin from our usually commonplace
imaginations thin extravagances which those who do not try to think for
themselves are ever ready to accept as full of inspiration and vitality.
Anything for a book, we say--anything for a book!
From time immemorial we have acted in this immoral manner, till we have
accustomed the Press and Public to expect it. From time immemorial we
have allowed ourselves to be driven by those powerful drivers, Bread, and
Praise, and cared little for the quality of either. Sensibly, or
insensibly, we tune our songs to earn the nuts of our twilight forest.
We tune them, not to the key of: "Is it good?" but to the key of: "Will
it pay?" and at each tuning the nuts fall fast! It is all so natural.
How can we help it, seeing that we are undisciplined and standardless,
seeing that we started without the backbone that schooling gives? Here
and there among us is a genius, here and there a man of exceptional
stability who trains himself in spite of all the forces working for his
destruction. But those who do not publish until they can express, and do
not express until they have something worth expressing, are so rare that
they can be counted on the fingers of three or perhaps four hands;
mercifully, we all--or nearly all believe ourselves of that company.
It is the fashion to say that the public will have what it wants.
Certainly the Public will have what it wants if what it wants is given to
the Public. If what it now wants were suddenly withdrawn, the Public,
the big Public, would by an obvious natural law take the lowest of what
remained; if that again were withdrawn, it would take the next lowest,
until by degrees it took a relatively good article. The Public, the big
Public, is a mechanical and helpless consumer at the mercy of what is
supplied to it, and this must ever be so. The Public then is not to
blame for the supply of bad, false fiction. The Press is not to blame,
for the Press, like the Public, must take what is set before it; their
Critics, for the most part, like ourselves have been to no school, passed
no test of fitness, received no certificate; they cannot lead us, it is
we who lead them, for without the Critics we could live but without us
the Critics would die. We cannot, therefore, blame the Press. Nor is
the Publisher to blame; for the Publisher will publish what is set before
him. It is true that if he published no books on commission he would
deserve the praise of the State, but it is quite unreasonable for us to
expect him to deserve the praise of the State, since it is we who supply
him with these books and incite him to publish them. We cannot,
therefore, lay the blame on the Publisher.
We must lay the blame where it clearly should be laid, on ourselves. We
ourselves create the demand for bad and false fiction. Very many of us
have private means; for such there is no excuse. Very many of us have
none; for such, once started on this journey of fiction, there is much,
often tragic, excuse--the less reason then for not having trained
ourselves before setting out on our way. There is no getting out of it;
the fault is ours. If we will not put ourselves to school when we are
young; if we must rush into print before we can spell; if we will not
repress our natural desires and walk before we run; if we will not learn
at least what not to do--we shall go on wandering through the forest,
singing our foolish songs.
And since we cannot train ourselves except by writing, let us write, and
burn what we write; then shall we soon stop writing, or produce what we
need not burn!
For, as things are now, without compass, without map, we set out into the
twilight forest of fiction; without path, without track--and we never
Yes, with the French writer, we must say:
"Et nous jongleurs inutiles, frivoles joueurs de luth!" . . .
REFLECTIONS ON OUR DISLIKE OF THINGS AS THEY ARE
Yes! Why is this the chief characteristic of our art? What secret
instincts are responsible for this inveterate distaste? But, first, is
it true that we have it?
To stand still and look at a thing for the joy of looking, without
reference to any material advantage, and personal benefit, either to
ourselves or our neighbours, just simply to indulge our curiosity! Is
that a British habit? I think not.
If, on some November afternoon, we walk into Kensington Gardens, where
they join the Park on the Bayswater side, and, crossing in front of the
ornamental fountain, glance at the semicircular seat let into a dismal
little Temple of the Sun, we shall see a half-moon of apathetic figures.
There, enjoying a moment of lugubrious idleness, may be sitting an old
countrywoman with steady eyes in a lean, dusty-black dress and an old
poke-bonnet; by her side, some gin-faced creature of the town, all blousy
and draggled; a hollow-eyed foreigner, far gone in consumption; a bronzed
young navvy, asleep, with his muddy boots jutting straight out; a
bearded, dreary being, chin on chest; and more consumptives, and more
vagabonds, and more people dead-tired, speechless, and staring before
them from that crescent-shaped haven where there is no draught at their
backs, and the sun occasionally shines. And as we look at them,
according to the state of our temper, we think: Poor creatures, I wish I
could do something for them! or: Revolting! They oughtn't to allow it!
But do we feel any pleasure in just watching them; any of that intimate
sensation a cat entertains when its back is being rubbed; are we
curiously enjoying the sight of these people, simply as manifestations of
life, as objects fashioned by the ebb and flow of its tides? Again, I
think, not. And why? Either, because we have instantly felt that we
ought to do something; that here is a danger in our midst, which one day
might affect our own security; and at all events, a sight revolting to us
who came out to look at this remarkably fine fountain. Or, because we
are too humane! Though very possibly that frequent murmuring of ours:
Ah! It's too sad! is but another way of putting the words: Stand aside,
please, you're too depressing! Or, again, is it that we avoid the sight
of things as they are, avoid the unedifying, because of what may be
called "the uncreative instinct," that safeguard and concomitant of a
civilisation which demands of us complete efficiency, practical and
thorough employment of every second of our time and every inch of our
space? We know, of course, that out of nothing nothing can be made, that
to "create" anything a man must first receive impressions, and that to
receive impressions requires an apparatus of nerves and feelers, exposed
and quivering to every vibration round it, an apparatus so entirely
opposed to our national spirit and traditions that the bare thought of it
causes us to blush. A robust recognition of this, a steadfast resolve
not to be forced out of the current of strenuous civilisation into the
sleepy backwater of pure impression ism, makes us distrustful of attempts
to foster in ourselves that receptivity and subsequent creativeness, the
microbes of which exist in every man: To watch a thing simply because it
is a thing, entirely without considering how it can affect us, and
without even seeing at the moment how we are to get anything out of it,
jars our consciences, jars that inner feeling which keeps secure and
makes harmonious the whole concert of our lives, for we feel it to be a
waste of time, dangerous to the community, contributing neither to our
meat and drink, our clothes and comfort, nor to the stability and order
of our lives.
Of these three possible reasons for our dislike of things as they are,
the first two are perhaps contained within the third. But, to whatever
our dislike is due, we have it--Oh! we have it! With the possible
exception of Hogarth in his non-preaching pictures, and Constable in his
sketches of the sky,--I speak of dead men only,--have we produced any
painter of reality like Manet or Millet, any writer like Flaubert or
Maupassant, like Turgenev, or Tchekov. We are, I think, too deeply
civilised, so deeply civilised that we have come to look on Nature as
indecent. The acts and emotions of life undraped with ethics seem to us
anathema. It has long been, and still is, the fashion among the
intellectuals of the Continent to regard us as barbarians in most
aesthetic matters. Ah! If they only knew how infinitely barbarous they
seem to us in their naive contempt of our barbarism, and in what we
regard as their infantine concern with things as they are. How far have
we not gone past all that--we of the oldest settled Western country, who
have so veneered our lives that we no longer know of what wood they are
made! Whom generations have so soaked with the preserve "good form" that
we are impervious to the claims and clamour of that ill-bred
creature--life! Who think it either dreadful, or 'vieux jeu', that such
things as the crude emotions and the raw struggles of Fate should be even
mentioned, much less presented in terms of art! For whom an artist is
'suspect' if he is not, in his work, a sportsman and a gentleman? Who
shake a solemn head over writers who will treat of sex; and, with the
remark: "Worst of it is, there's so much truth in those fellows!" close
Ah! well! I suppose we have been too long familiar with the
unprofitableness of speculation, have surrendered too definitely to
action--to the material side of things, retaining for what relaxation our
spirits may require, a habit of sentimental aspiration, carefully
divorced from things as they are. We seem to have decided that things
are not, or, if they are, ought not to be--and what is the good of
thinking of things like that? In fact, our national ideal has become the
Will to Health, to Material Efficiency, and to it we have sacrificed the
Will to Sensibility. It is a point of view. And yet--to the philosophy
that craves Perfection, to the spirit that desires the golden mean, and
hankers for the serene and balanced seat in the centre of the see-saw, it
seems a little pitiful, and constricted; a confession of defeat, a
hedging and limitation of the soul. Need we put up with this, must we
for ever turn our eyes away from things as they are, stifle our
imaginations and our sensibilities, for fear that they should become our
masters, and destroy our sanity? This is the eternal question that
confronts the artist and the thinker. Because of the inevitable decline
after full flowering-point is reached, the inevitable fading of the fire
that follows the full flame and glow, are we to recoil from striving to
reach the perfect and harmonious climacteric? Better to have loved and
lost, I think, than never to have loved at all; better to reach out and
grasp the fullest expression of the individual and the national soul,
than to keep for ever under the shelter of the wall. I would even think
it possible to be sensitive without neurasthenia, to be sympathetic
without insanity, to be alive to all the winds that blow without getting
influenza. God forbid that our Letters and our Arts should decade into
Beardsleyism; but between that and their present "health" there lies full
flowering-point, not yet, by a long way, reached.
To flower like that, I suspect, we must see things just a little more--as
A certain writer, returning one afternoon from rehearsal of his play, sat
down in the hall of the hotel where he was staying. "No," he reflected,
"this play of mine will not please the Public; it is gloomy, almost
terrible. This very day I read these words in my morning paper: 'No
artist can afford to despise his Public, for, whether he confesses it or
not, the artist exists to give the Public what it wants.' I have, then,
not only done what I cannot afford to do, but I have been false to the
reason of my existence."
The hall was full of people, for it was the hour of tea; and looking
round him, the writer thought "And this is the Public--the Public that my
play is destined not to please!" And for several minutes he looked at
them as if he had been hypnotised. Presently, between two tables he
noticed a waiter standing, lost in his thoughts. The mask of the man's
professional civility had come awry, and the expression of his face and
figure was curiously remote from the faces and forms of those from whom
he had been taking orders; he seemed like a bird discovered in its own
haunts, all unconscious as yet of human eyes. And the writer thought:
"But if those people at the tables are the Public, what is that waiter?
How if I was mistaken, and not they, but he were the real Public?" And
testing this thought, his mind began at once to range over all the people
he had lately seen. He thought of the Founder's Day dinner of a great
School, which he had attended the night before. "No," he mused, "I see
very little resemblance between the men at that dinner and the men in
this hall; still less between them and the waiter. How if they were the
real Public, and neither the waiter, nor these people here!" But no
sooner had he made this reflection, than he bethought him of a gathering
of workers whom he had watched two days ago. "Again," he mused, "I do
not recollect any resemblance at all between those workers and the men at
the dinner, and certainly they are not like any one here. What if those
workers are the real Public, not the men at the dinner, nor the waiter,
nor the people in this hall!" And thereupon his mind flew off again, and
this time rested on the figures of his own immediate circle of friends.
They seemed very different from the four real Publics whom he had as yet
discovered. "Yes," he considered, "when I come to think of it, my
associates painters, and writers, and critics, and all that kind of
person--do not seem to have anything to speak of in common with any of
these people. Perhaps my own associates, then, are the real Public, and
not these others!" Perceiving that this would be the fifth real Public,
he felt discouraged. But presently he began to think: "The past is the
past and cannot be undone, and with this play of mine I shall not please
the Public; but there is always the future! Now, I do not wish to do
what the artist cannot afford to do, I earnestly desire to be true to the
reason of my existence; and since the reason of that existence is to give
the Public what it wants, it is really vital to discover who and what the
Public is!" And he began to look very closely at the faces around him,
hoping to find out from types what he had failed to ascertain from
classes. Two men were sitting near, one on each side of a woman. The
first, who was all crumpled in his arm-chair, had curly lips and wrinkles
round the eyes, cheeks at once rather fat and rather shadowy, and a
dimple in his chin. It seemed certain that he was humourous, and kind,
sympathetic, rather diffident, speculative, moderately intelligent, with
the rudiments perhaps of an imagination. And he looked at the second
man, who was sitting very upright, as if he had a particularly fine
backbone, of which he was not a little proud. He was extremely big and
handsome, with pronounced and regular nose and chin, firm, well-cut lips
beneath a smooth moustache, direct and rather insolent eyes, a some what
receding forehead, and an air of mastery over all around. It was obvious
that he possessed a complete knowledge of his own mind, some brutality,
much practical intelligence, great resolution, no imagination, and plenty
of conceit. And he looked at the woman. She was pretty, but her face was
vapid, and seemed to have no character at all. And from one to the other
he looked, and the more he looked the less resemblance he saw between
them, till the objects of his scrutiny grew restive.... Then, ceasing to
examine them, an idea came to him. "No! The Public is not this or that
class, this or that type; the Public is an hypothetical average human
being, endowed with average human qualities--a distillation, in fact, of
all the people in this hall, the people in the street outside, the people
of this country everywhere." And for a moment he was pleased; but soon
he began again to feel uneasy. "Since," he reflected, "it is necessary
for me to supply this hypothetical average human being with what he
wants, I shall have to find out how to distil him from all the
ingredients around me. Now how am I to do that? It will certainly take
me more than all my life to collect and boil the souls of all of them,
which is necessary if I am to extract the genuine article, and I should
then apparently have no time left to supply the precipitated spirit, when
I had obtained it, with what it wanted! Yet this hypothetical average
human being must be found, or I must stay for ever haunted by the thought
that I am not supplying him with what he wants!" And the writer became
more and more discouraged, for to arrogate to himself knowledge of all
the heights and depths, and even of all the virtues and vices, tastes and
dislikes of all the people of the country, without having first obtained
it, seemed to him to savour of insolence. And still more did it appear
impertinent, having taken this mass of knowledge which he had not got, to
extract from it a golden mean man, in order to supply him with what he
wanted. And yet this was what every artist did who justified his
existence--or it would not have been so stated in a newspaper. And he
gaped up at the lofty ceiling, as if he might perchance see the Public
flying up there in the faint bluish mist of smoke. And suddenly he
thought: "Suppose, by some miracle, my golden-mean bird came flying to me
with its beak open for the food with which it is my duty to supply
it--would it after all be such a very strange-looking creature; would it
not be extremely like my normal self? Am I not, in fact, myself the
Public? For, without the strongest and most reprehensible conceit, can I
claim for my normal self a single attribute or quality not possessed by
an hypothetical average human being? Yes, I am myself the Public; or at
all events all that my consciousness can ever know of it for certain."
And he began to consider deeply. For sitting there in cold blood, with
his nerves at rest, and his brain and senses normal, the play he had
written did seem to him to put an unnecessary strain upon the faculties.
"Ah!" he thought, "in future I must take good care never to write
anything except in cold blood, with my nerves well clothed, and my brain
and senses quiet. I ought only to write when I feel as normal as I do
now." And for some minutes he remained motionless, looking at his boots.
Then there crept into his mind an uncomfortable thought. "But have I
ever written anything without feeling a little-abnormal, at the time?
Have I ever even felt inclined to write anything, until my emotions had
been unduly excited, my brain immoderately stirred, my senses unusually
quickened, or my spirit extravagantly roused? Never! Alas, never! I am
then a miserable renegade, false to the whole purpose of my being--nor do
I see the slightest hope of becoming a better man, a less unworthy
artist! For I literally cannot write without the stimulus of some
feeling exaggerated at the expense of other feelings. What has been in
the past will be in the future: I shall never be taking up my pen when I
feel my comfortable and normal self never be satisfying that self which
is the Public!" And he thought: "I am lost. For, to satisfy that normal
self, to give the Public what it wants, is, I am told, and therefore must
believe, what all artists exist for. AEschylus in his 'Choephorae' and
his 'Prometheus'; Sophocles in his 'OEdipus Tyrannus'; Euripides when he
wrote 'The Trojan Women,' 'Medea,'--and 'Hippolytus'; Shakespeare in his
'Leer'; Goethe in his 'Faust'; Ibsen in his 'Ghosts' and his 'Peer Gynt';
Tolstoy in 'The Powers of Darkness'; all--all in those great works, must
have satisfied their most comfortable and normal selves; all--all must
have given to the average human being, to the Public, what it wants; for
to do that, we know, was the reason of their existence, and who shall say
those noble artists were not true to it? That is surely unthinkable.
And yet--and yet--we are assured, and, indeed, it is true, that there is
no real Public in this country for just those plays! Therefore
AEschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Shakespeare, Goethe, Ibsen, Tolstoy, in
their greatest works did not give the Public what it wants, did not
satisfy the average human being, their more comfortable and normal
selves, and as artists were not true to the reason of their existence.
Therefore they were not artists, which is unthinkable; therefore I have
not yet found the Public!"
And perceiving that in this impasse his last hope of discovery had
foundered, the writer let his head fall on his chest.
But even as he did so a gleam of light, like a faint moonbeam, stole out
into the garden of his despair. "Is it possible," he thought, "that, by
a writer, until his play has been performed (when, alas! it is too late),
'the Public' is inconceivable--in fact that for him there is no such
thing? But if there be no such thing, I cannot exist to give it what it
wants. What then is the reason of my existence? Am I but a
windlestraw?" And wearied out with his perplexity, he fell into a doze.
And while he dozed he dreamed that he saw the figure of a woman standing
in darkness, from whose face and form came a misty refulgence, such as
steals out into the dusk from white campion flowers along summer
hedgerows. She was holding her pale hands before her, wide apart, with
the palms turned down, quivering as might doves about to settle; and for
all it was so dark, her grey eyes were visible-full of light, with black
rims round the irises. To gaze at those eyes was almost painful; for
though they were beautiful, they seemed to see right through his soul, to
pass him by, as though on a far discovering voyage, and forbidden to
The dreamer spoke to her: "Who are you, standing there in the darkness
with those eyes that I can hardly bear to look at? Who are you?"
And the woman answered: "Friend, I am your Conscience; I am the Truth as
best it may be seen by you. I am she whom you exist to serve." With
those words she vanished, and the writer woke. A boy was standing before
him with the evening papers.
To cover his confusion at being caught asleep he purchased one and began
to read a leading article. It commenced with these words: "There are
certain playwrights taking themselves very seriously; might we suggest to
them that they are in danger of becoming ridiculous . . . ."
The writer let fall his hand, and the paper fluttered to the ground. "The
Public," he thought, "I am not able to take seriously, because I cannot
conceive what it may be; myself, my conscience, I am told I must not take
seriously, or I become ridiculous. Yes, I am indeed lost!"
And with a feeling of elation, as of a straw blown on every wind, he
STUDIES AND ESSAYS
By John Galsworthy
"Je vous dirai que l'exces est toujours un mal."
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
VAGUE THOUGHTS ON ART
Since, time and again, it has been proved, in this country of free
institutions, that the great majority of our fellow-countrymen consider
the only Censorship that now obtains amongst us, namely the Censorship of
Plays, a bulwark for the preservation of their comfort and sensibility
against the spiritual researches and speculations of bolder and too
active spirits--it has become time to consider whether we should not
seriously extend a principle, so grateful to the majority, to all our
For no one can deny that in practice the Censorship of Drama works with a
smooth swiftness--a lack of delay and friction unexampled in any public
office. No troublesome publicity and tedious postponement for the
purpose of appeal mar its efficiency. It is neither hampered by the Law
nor by the slow process of popular election. Welcomed by the
overwhelming majority of the public; objected to only by such persons as
suffer from it, and a negligible faction, who, wedded pedantically to
liberty of the subject, are resentful of summary powers vested in a
single person responsible only to his own 'conscience'--it is amazingly,
Why, then, in a democratic State, is so valuable a protector of the will,
the interests, and pleasure of the majority not bestowed on other
branches of the public being? Opponents of the Censorship of Plays have
been led by the absence of such other Censorships to conclude that this
Office is an archaic survival, persisting into times that have outgrown
it. They have been known to allege that the reason of its survival is
simply the fact that Dramatic Authors, whose reputation and means of
livelihood it threatens, have ever been few in number and poorly
organised--that the reason, in short, is the helplessness and weakness of
the interests concerned. We must all combat with force such an aspersion
on our Legislature. Can it even for a second be supposed that a State
which gives trial by Jury to the meanest, poorest, most helpless of its
citizens, and concedes to the greatest criminals the right of appeal,
could have debarred a body of reputable men from the ordinary rights of
citizenship for so cynical a reason as that their numbers were small,
their interests unjoined, their protests feeble? Such a supposition were
intolerable! We do not in this country deprive a class of citizens of
their ordinary rights, we do not place their produce under the
irresponsible control of one not amenable to Law, by any sort of
political accident! That would indeed be to laugh at Justice in this
Kingdom! That would indeed be cynical and unsound! We must never admit
that there is no basic Justice controlling the edifice of our Civic
Rights. We do, we must, conclude that a just and well-considered
principle underlies this despotic Institution; for surely, else, it would
not be suffered to survive for a single moment! Pom! Pom!
If, then, the Censorship of Plays be just, beneficent, and based on a
well-considered principle, we must rightly inquire what good and logical
reason there is for the absence of Censorship in other departments of the
national life. If Censorship of the Drama be in the real interests of
the people, or at all events in what the Censor for the time being
conceives to be their interest--then Censorships of Art, Literature,
Religion, Science, and Politics are in the interests of the people,
unless it can be proved that there exists essential difference between
the Drama and these other branches of the public being. Let us consider
whether there is any such essential difference.
It is fact, beyond dispute, that every year numbers of books appear which
strain the average reader's intelligence and sensibilities to an
unendurable extent; books whose speculations are totally unsuited to
normal thinking powers; books which contain views of morality divergent
from the customary, and discussions of themes unsuited to the young
person; books which, in fine, provide the greater Public with no pleasure
whatsoever, and, either by harrowing their feelings or offending their
good taste, cause them real pain.
It is true that, precisely as in the case of Plays, the Public are
protected by a vigilant and critical Press from works of this
description; that, further, they are protected by the commercial instinct
of the Libraries, who will not stock an article which may offend their
customers--just as, in the case of Plays, the Public are protected by the
common-sense of theatrical Managers; that, finally, they are protected by
the Police and the Common Law of the land. But despite all these
protections, it is no uncommon thing for an average citizen to purchase
one of these disturbing or dubious books. Has he, on discovering its
true nature, the right to call on the bookseller to refund its value? He
has not. And thus he runs a danger obviated in the case of the Drama
which has the protection of a prudential Censorship. For this reason
alone, how much better, then, that there should exist a paternal
authority (some, no doubt, will call it grand-maternal--but sneers must
not be confounded with argument) to suppress these books before
appearance, and safeguard us from the danger of buying and possibly
reading undesirable or painful literature!
A specious reason, however, is advanced for exempting Literature from the
Censorship accorded to Plays. He--it is said--who attends the
performance of a play, attends it in public, where his feelings may be
harrowed and his taste offended, cheek by jowl with boys, or women of all
ages; it may even chance that he has taken to this entertainment his
wife, or the young persons of his household. He--on the other hand--who
reads a book, reads it in privacy. True; but the wielder of this
argument has clasped his fingers round a two-edged blade. The very fact
that the book has no mixed audience removes from Literature an element
which is ever the greatest check on licentiousness in Drama. No manager
of a theatre,--a man of the world engaged in the acquisition of his
livelihood, unless guaranteed by the license of the Censor, dare risk the
presentment before a mixed audience of that which might cause an 'emeute'
among his clients. It has, indeed, always been observed that the
theatrical manager, almost without exception, thoughtfully recoils from
the responsibility that would be thrust on him by the abolition of the
Censorship. The fear of the mixed audience is ever suspended above his
head. No such fear threatens the publisher, who displays his wares to
one man at a time. And for this very reason of the mixed audience;
perpetually and perversely cited to the contrary by such as have no firm
grasp of this matter, there is a greater necessity for a Censorship on
Literature than for one on Plays.
Further, if there were but a Censorship of Literature, no matter how
dubious the books that were allowed to pass, the conscience of no reader
need ever be troubled. For, that the perfect rest of the public
conscience is the first result of Censorship, is proved to certainty by
the protected Drama, since many dubious plays are yearly put before the
play-going Public without tending in any way to disturb a complacency
engendered by the security from harm guaranteed by this beneficent, if
despotic, Institution. Pundits who, to the discomfort of the populace,
foster this exemption of Literature from discipline, cling to the
old-fashioned notion that ulcers should be encouraged to discharge
themselves upon the surface, instead of being quietly and decently driven
into the system and allowed to fester there.
The remaining plea for exempting Literature from Censorship, put forward
by unreflecting persons: That it would require too many Censors--besides
being unworthy, is, on the face of it, erroneous. Special tests have
never been thought necessary in appointing Examiners of Plays. They
would, indeed, not only be unnecessary, but positively dangerous, seeing
that the essential function of Censorship is protection of the ordinary
prejudices and forms of thought. There would, then, be no difficulty in
securing tomorrow as many Censors of Literature as might be necessary
(say twenty or thirty); since all that would be required of each one of
them would be that he should secretly exercise, in his uncontrolled
discretion, his individual taste. In a word, this Free Literature of
ours protects advancing thought and speculation; and those who believe in
civic freedom subject only to Common Law, and espouse the cause of free
literature, are championing a system which is essentially undemocratic,
essentially inimical to the will of the majority, who have certainly no
desire for any such things as advancing thought and speculation. Such
persons, indeed, merely hold the faith that the People, as a whole,
unprotected by the despotic judgments of single persons, have enough
strength and wisdom to know what is and what is not harmful to
themselves. They put their trust in a Public Press and a Common Law,
which deriving from the Conscience of the Country, is openly administered
and within the reach of all. How absurd, how inadequate this all is we
see from the existence of the Censorship on Drama.
Having observed that there is no reason whatever for the exemption of
Literature, let us now turn to the case of Art. Every picture hung in a
gallery, every statue placed on a pedestal, is exposed to the public
stare of a mixed company. Why, then, have we no Censorship to protect us
from the possibility of encountering works that bring blushes to the
cheek of the young person? The reason cannot be that the proprietors of
Galleries are more worthy of trust than the managers of Theatres; this
would be to make an odious distinction which those very Managers who
uphold the Censorship of Plays would be the first to resent. It is true
that Societies of artists and the proprietors of Galleries are subject to
the prosecution of the Law if they offend against the ordinary standards
of public decency; but precisely the same liability attaches to
theatrical managers and proprietors of Theatres, in whose case it has
been found necessary and beneficial to add the Censorship. And in this
connection let it once more be noted how much more easily the ordinary
standards of public decency can be assessed by a single person
responsible to no one, than by the clumsy (if more open) process of
public protest. What, then, in the light of the proved justice and
efficiency of the Censorship of Drama, is the reason for the absence of
the Censorship of Art? The more closely the matter is regarded, the more
plain it is, that there is none! At any moment we may have to look upon
some painting, or contemplate some statue, as tragic, heart-rending, and
dubiously delicate in theme as that censured play "The Cenci," by one
Shelley; as dangerous to prejudice, and suggestive of new thought as the
censured "Ghosts," by one Ibsen. Let us protest against this peril
suspended over our heads, and demand the immediate appointment of a
single person not selected for any pretentiously artistic feelings, but
endowed with summary powers of prohibiting the exhibition, in public
galleries or places, of such works as he shall deem, in his uncontrolled
discretion, unsuited to average intelligence or sensibility. Let us
demand it in the interest, not only of the young person, but of those
whole sections of the community which cannot be expected to take an
interest in Art, and to whom the purpose, speculations, and achievements
of great artists, working not only for to-day but for to-morrow, must
naturally be dark riddles. Let us even require that this official should
be empowered to order the destruction of the works which he has deemed
unsuited to average intelligence and sensibility, lest their creators
should, by private sale, make a profit out of them, such as, in the
nature of the case, Dramatic Authors are debarred from making out of
plays which, having been censured, cannot be played for money. Let us
ask this with confidence; for it is not compatible with common justice
that there should be any favouring of Painter over Playwright. They are
both artists--let them both be measured by the same last!
But let us now consider the case of Science. It will not, indeed cannot,
be contended that the investigations of scientific men, whether committed
to writing or to speech, are always suited to the taste and capacities of
our general public. There was, for example, the well-known doctrine of
Evolution, the teachings of Charles Darwin and Alfred Russet Wallace, who
gathered up certain facts, hitherto but vaguely known, into presentments,
irreverent and startling, which, at the time, profoundly disturbed every
normal mind. Not only did religion, as then accepted, suffer in this
cataclysm, but our taste and feeling were inexpressibly shocked by the
discovery, so emphasised by Thomas Henry Huxley, of Man's descent from
Apes. It was felt, and is felt by many to this day, that the advancement
of that theory grossly and dangerously violated every canon of decency.
What pain, then, might have been averted, what far-reaching consequences
and incalculable subversion of primitive faiths checked, if some
judicious Censor of scientific thought had existed in those days to
demand, in accordance with his private estimate of the will and temper of
the majority, the suppression of the doctrine of Evolution.
Innumerable investigations of scientists on subjects such as the date of
the world's creation, have from time to time been summarised and
inconsiderately sprung on a Public shocked and startled by the revelation
that facts which they were accustomed to revere were conspicuously at
fault. So, too, in the range of medicine, it would be difficult to cite
any radical discovery (such as the preventive power of vaccination),
whose unchecked publication has not violated the prejudices and disturbed
the immediate comfort of the common mind. Had these discoveries been
judiciously suppressed, or pared away to suit what a Censorship conceived
to be the popular palate of the time, all this disturbance and discomfort
might have been avoided.
It will doubtless be contended (for there are no such violent opponents
of Censorship as those who are threatened with the same) that to compare
a momentous disclosure, such as the doctrine of Evolution, to a mere
drama, were unprofitable. The answer to this ungenerous contention is
fortunately plain. Had a judicious Censorship existed over our
scientific matters, such as for two hundred years has existed over our
Drama, scientific discoveries would have been no more disturbing and
momentous than those which we are accustomed to see made on our nicely
pruned and tutored stage. For not only would the more dangerous and
penetrating scientific truths have been carefully destroyed at birth, but
scientists, aware that the results of investigations offensive to
accepted notions would be suppressed, would long have ceased to waste
their time in search of a knowledge repugnant to average intelligence,
and thus foredoomed, and have occupied themselves with services more
agreeable to the public taste, such as the rediscovery of truths already
known and published.
Indissolubly connected with the desirability of a Censorship of Science,
is the need for Religious Censorship. For in this, assuredly not the
least important department of the nation's life, we are witnessing week
by week and year by year, what in the light of the security guaranteed by
the Censorship of Drama, we are justified in terming an alarming
spectacle. Thousands of men are licensed to proclaim from their pulpits,
Sunday after Sunday, their individual beliefs, quite regardless of the
settled convictions of the masses of their congregations. It is true,
indeed, that the vast majority of sermons (like the vast majority of
plays) are, and will always be, harmonious with the feelings--of the
average citizen; for neither priest nor playwright have customarily any
such peculiar gift of spiritual daring as might render them unsafe
mentors of their fellows; and there is not wanting the deterrent of
common-sense to keep them in bounds. Yet it can hardly be denied that
there spring up at times men--like John Wesley or General Booth--of such
incurable temperament as to be capable of abusing their freedom by the
promulgation of doctrine or procedure, divergent from the current
traditions of religion. Nor must it be forgotten that sermons, like
plays, are addressed to a mixed audience of families, and that the
spiritual teachings of a lifetime may be destroyed by ten minutes of
uncensored pronouncement from a pulpit, the while parents are sitting,
not, as in a theatre vested with the right of protest, but dumb and
excoriated to the soul, watching their children, perhaps of tender age,
eagerly drinking in words at variance with that which they themselves
have been at such pains to instil.
If a set of Censors--for it would, as in the case of Literature,
indubitably require more than one (perhaps one hundred and eighty, but,
for reasons already given, there should be no difficulty whatever in
procuring them) endowed with the swift powers conferred by freedom from
the dull tedium of responsibility, and not remarkable for religious
temperament, were appointed, to whom all sermons and public addresses on
religious subjects must be submitted before delivery, and whose duty
after perusal should be to excise all portions not conformable to their
private ideas of what was at the moment suitable to the Public's ears, we
should be far on the road toward that proper preservation of the status
quo so desirable if the faiths and ethical standards of the less
exuberantly spiritual masses are to be maintained in their full bloom.
As things now stand, the nation has absolutely nothing to safeguard it
against religious progress.
We have seen, then, that Censorship is at least as necessary over
Literature, Art, Science, and Religion as it is over our Drama. We have
now to call attention to the crowning need--the want of a Censorship in
If Censorship be based on justice, if it be proved to serve the Public
and to be successful in its lonely vigil over Drama, it should, and
logically must be, extended to all parallel cases; it cannot, it dare
not, stop short at--Politics. For, precisely in this supreme branch of
the public life are we most menaced by the rule and license of the
leading spirit. To appreciate this fact, we need only examine the
Constitution of the House of Commons. Six hundred and seventy persons
chosen from a population numbering four and forty millions, must
necessarily, whatever their individual defects, be citizens of more than
average enterprise, resource, and resolution. They are elected for a
period that may last five years. Many of them are ambitious; some
uncompromising; not a few enthusiastically eager to do something for
their country; filled with designs and aspirations for national or social
betterment, with which the masses, sunk in the immediate pursuits of
life, can in the nature of things have little sympathy. And yet we find
these men licensed to pour forth at pleasure, before mixed audiences,
checked only by Common Law and Common Sense political utterances which
may have the gravest, the most terrific consequences; utterances which
may at any moment let loose revolution, or plunge the country into war;
which often, as a fact, excite an utter detestation, terror, and
mistrust; or shock the most sacred domestic and proprietary convictions
in the breasts of vast majorities of their fellow-countrymen! And we
incur this appalling risk for the want of a single, or at the most, a
handful of Censors, invested with a simple but limitless discretion to
excise or to suppress entirely such political utterances as may seem to
their private judgments calculated to cause pain or moral disturbance in
the average man. The masses, it is true, have their protection and
remedy against injudicious or inflammatory politicians in the Law and the
so-called democratic process of election; but we have seen that theatre
audiences have also the protection of the Law, and the remedy of boycott,
and that in their case, this protection and this remedy are not deemed
enough. What, then, shall we say of the case of Politics, where the
dangers attending inflammatory or subversive utterance are greater a
million fold, and the remedy a thousand times less expeditious?
Our Legislators have laid down Censorship as the basic principle of
Justice underlying the civic rights of dramatists. Then, let "Censorship
for all" be their motto, and this country no longer be ridden and
destroyed by free Institutions! Let them not only establish forthwith
Censorships of Literature, Art, Science, and Religion, but also place
themselves beneath the regimen with which they have calmly fettered
Dramatic Authors. They cannot deem it becoming to their regard for
justice, to their honour; to their sense of humour, to recoil from a
restriction which, in a parallel case they have imposed on others. It is
an old and homely saying that good officers never place their men in
positions they would not themselves be willing to fill. And we are not
entitled to believe that our Legislators, having set Dramatic Authors
where they have been set, will--now that their duty is made plain--for a
moment hesitate to step down and stand alongside.
But if by any chance they should recoil, and thus make answer: "We are
ready at all times to submit to the Law and the People's will, and to bow
to their demands, but we cannot and must not be asked to place our
calling, our duty, and our honour beneath the irresponsible rule of an
arbitrary autocrat, however sympathetic with the generality he may chance
to be!" Then, we would ask: "Sirs, did you ever hear of that great
saying: 'Do unto others as ye would they should do unto you!'" For it is
but fair presumption that the Dramatists, whom our Legislators have
placed in bondage to a despot, are, no less than those Legislators, proud
of their calling, conscious of their duty, and jealous of their honour.
VAGUE THOUGHTS ON ART
It was on a day of rare beauty that I went out into the fields to try and
gather these few thoughts. So golden and sweetly hot it was, that they
came lazily, and with a flight no more coherent or responsible than the
swoop of the very swallows; and, as in a play or poem, the result is
conditioned by the conceiving mood, so I knew would be the nature of my
diving, dipping, pale-throated, fork-tailed words. But, after all--I
thought, sitting there--I need not take my critical pronouncements
seriously. I have not the firm soul of the critic. It is not my
profession to know 'things for certain, and to make others feel that
certainty. On the contrary, I am often wrong--a luxury no critic can
afford. And so, invading as I was the realm of others, I advanced with a
light pen, feeling that none, and least of all myself, need expect me to
What then--I thought--is Art? For I perceived that to think about it I
must first define it; and I almost stopped thinking at all before the
fearsome nature of that task. Then slowly in my mind gathered this group
Art is that imaginative expression of human energy, which, through
technical concretion of feeling and perception, tends to reconcile the
individual with the universal, by exciting in him impersonal emotion.
And the greatest Art is that which excites the greatest impersonal
emotion in an hypothecated perfect human being.
Impersonal emotion! And what--I thought do I mean by that? Surely I
mean: That is not Art, which, while I, am contemplating it, inspires me
with any active or directive impulse; that is Art, when, for however
brief a moment, it replaces within me interest in myself by interest in
itself. For, let me suppose myself in the presence of a carved marble
bath. If my thoughts be "What could I buy that for?" Impulse of
acquisition; or: "From what quarry did it come?" Impulse of inquiry; or:
"Which would be the right end for my head?" Mixed impulse of inquiry and
acquisition--I am at that moment insensible to it as a work of Art. But,
if I stand before it vibrating at sight of its colour and forms, if ever
so little and for ever so short a time, unhaunted by any definite
practical thought or impulse--to that extent and for that moment it has
stolen me away out of myself and put itself there instead; has linked me
to the universal by making me forget the individual in me. And for that
moment, and only while that moment lasts, it is to me a work of Art. The
word "impersonal," then, is but used in this my definition to signify
momentary forgetfulness of one's own personality and its active wants.
So Art--I thought--is that which, heard, read, or looked on, while
producing no directive impulse, warms one with unconscious vibration. Nor
can I imagine any means of defining what is the greatest Art, without
hypothecating a perfect human being. But since we shall never see, or
know if we do see, that desirable creature--dogmatism is banished,
"Academy" is dead to the discussion, deader than even Tolstoy left it
after his famous treatise "What is Art?" For, having destroyed all the
old Judges and Academies, Tolstoy, by saying that the greatest Art was
that which appealed to the greatest number of living human beings, raised
up the masses of mankind to be a definite new Judge or Academy, as
tyrannical and narrow as ever were those whom he had destroyed.
This, at all events--I thought is as far as I dare go in defining what
Art is. But let me try to make plain to myself what is the essential
quality that gives to Art the power of exciting this unconscious
vibration, this impersonal emotion. It has been called Beauty! An
awkward word--a perpetual begging of the question; too current in use,
too ambiguous altogether; now too narrow, now too wide--a word, in fact,
too glib to know at all what it means. And how dangerous a word--often
misleading us into slabbing with extraneous floridities what would
otherwise, on its own plane, be Art! To be decorative where decoration
is not suitable, to be lyrical where lyricism is out of place, is
assuredly to spoil Art, not to achieve it. But this essential quality of
Art has also, and more happily, been called Rhythm. And, what is Rhythm
if not that mysterious harmony between part and part, and part and whole,
which gives what is called life; that exact proportion, the mystery of
which is best grasped in observing how life leaves an animate creature
when the essential relation of part to whole has been sufficiently
disturbed. And I agree that this rhythmic relation of part to part, and
part to whole--in short, vitality--is the one quality inseparable from a
work of Art. For nothing which does not seem to a man possessed of this
rhythmic vitality, can ever steal him out of himself.
And having got thus far in my thoughts, I paused, watching the swallows;
for they seemed to me the symbol, in their swift, sure curvetting, all
daring and balance and surprise, of the delicate poise and motion of Art,
that visits no two men alike, in a world where no two things of all the
things there be, are quite the same.
Yes--I thought--and this Art is the one form of human energy in the whole
world, which really works for union, and destroys the barriers between
man and man. It is the continual, unconscious replacement, however
fleeting, of oneself by another; the real cement of human life; the
everlasting refreshment and renewal. For, what is grievous, dompting,
grim, about our lives is that we are shut up within ourselves, with an
itch to get outside ourselves. And to be stolen away from ourselves by
Art is a momentary relaxation from that itching, a minute's profound, and
as it were secret, enfranchisement. The active amusements and relaxations
of life can only rest certain of our faculties, by indulging others; the
whole self is never rested save through that unconsciousness of self,
which comes through rapt contemplation of Nature or of Art.
And suddenly I remembered that some believe that Art does not produce
unconsciousness of self, but rather very vivid self-realisation.
Ah! but--I though--that is not the first and instant effect of Art; the
new impetus is the after effect of that momentary replacement of oneself
by the self of the work before us; it is surely the result of that brief
span of enlargement, enfranchisement, and rest.
Yes, Art is the great and universal refreshment. For Art is never
dogmatic; holds no brief for itself you may take it or you may leave it.
It does not force itself rudely where it is not wanted. It is reverent
to all tempers, to all points of view. But it is wilful--the very wind
in the comings and goings of its influence, an uncapturable fugitive,
visiting our hearts at vagrant, sweet moments; since we often stand even
before the greatest works of Art without being able quite to lose
ourselves! That restful oblivion comes, we never quite know when--and it
is gone! But when it comes, it is a spirit hovering with cool wings,
blessing us from least to greatest, according to our powers; a spirit
deathless and varied as human life itself.
And in what sort of age--I thought--are artists living now? Are
conditions favourable? Life is very multiple; full of "movements,"
"facts," and "news"; with the limelight terribly turned on--and all this
is adverse to the artist. Yet, leisure is abundant; the facilities for
study great; Liberty is respected--more or less. But, there is one great
reason why, in this age of ours, Art, it seems, must flourish. For, just
as cross-breeding in Nature--if it be not too violent--often gives an
extra vitality to the offspring, so does cross-breeding of philosophies
make for vitality in Art. I cannot help thinking that historians,
looking back from the far future, will record this age as the Third
Renaissance. We who are lost in it, working or looking on, can neither
tell what we are doing, nor where standing; but we cannot help observing,
that, just as in the Greek Renaissance, worn-out Pagan orthodoxy was
penetrated by new philosophy; just as in the Italian Renaissance, Pagan
philosophy, reasserting itself, fertilised again an already too inbred
Christian creed; so now Orthodoxy fertilised by Science is producing a
fresh and fuller conception of life--a love of Perfection, not for hope
of reward, not for fear of punishment, but for Perfection's sake. Slowly,
under our feet, beneath our consciousness, is forming that new
philosophy, and it is in times of new philosophies that Art, itself in
essence always a discovery, must flourish. Those whose sacred suns and
moons are ever in the past, tell us that our Art is going to the dogs;
and it is, indeed, true that we are in confusion! The waters are broken,
and every nerve and sinew of the artist is strained to discover his own
safety. It is an age of stir and change, a season of new wine and old
bottles. Yet, assuredly, in spite of breakages and waste, a wine worth
the drinking is all the time being made.
I ceased again to think, for the sun had dipped low, and the midges were
biting me; and the sounds of evening had begun, those innumerable
far-travelling sounds of man and bird and beast--so clear and
intimate--of remote countrysides at sunset. And for long I listened, too
vague to move my pen.
New philosophy--a vigorous Art! Are there not all the signs of it? In
music, sculpture, painting; in fiction--and drama; in dancing; in
criticism itself, if criticism be an Art. Yes, we are reaching out to a
new faith not yet crystallised, to a new Art not yet perfected; the forms
still to find-the flowers still to fashion!
And how has it come, this slowly growing faith in Perfection for
Perfection's sake? Surely like this: The Western world awoke one day to
find that it no longer believed corporately and for certain in future
life for the individual consciousness. It began to feel: I cannot say
more than that there may be--Death may be the end of man, or Death may be
nothing. And it began to ask itself in this uncertainty: Do I then
desire to go on living? Now, since it found that it desired to go on
living at least as earnestly as ever it did before, it began to inquire
why. And slowly it perceived that there was, inborn within it, a
passionate instinct of which it had hardly till then been conscious--a
sacred instinct to perfect itself, now, as well as in a possible
hereafter; to perfect itself because Perfection was desirable, a vision
to be adored, and striven for; a dream motive fastened within the
Universe; the very essential Cause of everything. And it began to see
that this Perfection, cosmically, was nothing but perfect Equanimity and
Harmony; and in human relations, nothing but perfect Love and Justice.
And Perfection began to glow before the eyes of the Western world like a
new star, whose light touched with glamour all things as they came forth
from Mystery, till to Mystery they were ready to return.
This--I thought is surely what the Western world has dimly been
rediscovering. There has crept into our minds once more the feeling that
the Universe is all of a piece, Equipoise supreme; and all things equally
wonderful, and mysterious, and valuable. We have begun, in fact, to have
a glimmering of the artist's creed, that nothing may we despise or
neglect--that everything is worth the doing well, the making fair--that
our God, Perfection, is implicit everywhere, and the revelation of Him
the business of our Art.
And as I jotted down these words I noticed that some real stars had crept
up into the sky, so gradually darkening above the pollard lime-trees;
cuckoos, who had been calling on the thorn-trees all the afternoon, were
silent; the swallows no longer flirted past, but a bat was already in
career over the holly hedge; and round me the buttercups were closing.
The whole form and feeling of the world had changed, so that I seemed to
have before me a new picture hanging.
Ah! I thought Art must indeed be priest of this new faith in Perfection,
whose motto is: "Harmony, Proportion, Balance." For by Art alone can
true harmony in human affairs be fostered, true Proportion revealed, and
true Equipoise preserved. Is not the training of an artist a training in
the due relation of one thing with another, and in the faculty of
expressing that relation clearly; and, even more, a training in the
faculty of disengaging from self the very essence of self--and passing
that essence into other selves by so delicate means that none shall see
how it is done, yet be insensibly unified? Is not the artist, of all
men, foe and nullifier of partisanship and parochialism, of distortions
and extravagance, the discoverer of that jack-o'-lantern--Truth; for, if
Truth be not Spiritual Proportion I know not what it is. Truth it seems
to me--is no absolute thing, but always relative, the essential symmetry
in the varying relationships of life; and the most perfect truth is but
the concrete expression of the most penetrating vision. Life seen
throughout as a countless show of the finest works of Art; Life shaped,
and purged of the irrelevant, the gross, and the extravagant; Life, as it
were, spiritually selected--that is Truth; a thing as multiple, and
changing, as subtle, and strange, as Life itself, and as little to be
bound by dogma. Truth admits but the one rule: No deficiency, and no
excess! Disobedient to that rule--nothing attains full vitality. And
secretly fettered by that rule is Art, whose business is the creation of
That aesthete, to be sure, was right, when he said: "It is Style that
makes one believe in a thing; nothing but Style." For, what is Style in
its true and broadest sense save fidelity to idea and mood, and perfect
balance in the clothing of them? And I thought: Can one believe in the
decadence of Art in an age which, however unconsciously as yet, is
beginning to worship that which Art worships--Perfection-Style?
The faults of our Arts to-day are the faults of zeal and of adventure,
the faults and crudities of pioneers, the errors and mishaps of the
explorer. They must pass through many fevers, and many times lose their
way; but at all events they shall not go dying in their beds, and be
buried at Kensal Green. And, here and there, amid the disasters and
wreckage of their voyages of discovery, they will find something new,
some fresh way of embellishing life, or of revealing the heart of things.
That characteristic of to-day's Art--the striving of each branch of Art
to burst its own boundaries--which to many spells destruction, is surely
of happy omen. The novel straining to become the play, the play the
novel, both trying to paint; music striving to become story; poetry
gasping to be music; painting panting to be philosophy; forms, canons,
rules, all melting in the pot; stagnation broken up! In all this havoc
there is much to shock and jar even the most eager and adventurous. We
cannot stand these new-fangled fellows! They have no form! They rush in
where angels fear to tread. They have lost all the good of the old, and
given us nothing in its place! And yet--only out of stir and change is
born new salvation. To deny that is to deny belief in man, to turn our
backs on courage! It is well, indeed, that some should live in closed
studies with the paintings and the books of yesterday--such devoted
students serve Art in their own way. But the fresh-air world will ever
want new forms. We shall not get them without faith enough to risk the
old! The good will live, the bad will die; and tomorrow only can tell us
which is which!
Yes--I thought--we naturally take a too impatient view of the Art of our
own time, since we can neither see the ends toward which it is almost
blindly groping, nor the few perfected creations that will be left
standing amidst the rubble of abortive effort. An age must always decry
itself and extol its forbears. The unwritten history of every Art will
show us that. Consider the novel--that most recent form of Art! Did not
the age which followed Fielding lament the treachery of authors to the
Picaresque tradition, complaining that they were not as Fielding and
Smollett were? Be sure they did. Very slowly and in spite of opposition
did the novel attain in this country the fulness of that biographical
form achieved under Thackeray. Very slowly, and in face of condemnation,
it has been losing that form in favour of a greater vividness which
places before the reader's brain, not historical statements, as it were,
of motives and of facts, but word-paintings of things and persons, so
chosen and arranged that the reader may see, as if at first hand, the
spirit of Life at work before him. The new novel has as many bemoaners
as the old novel had when it was new. It is no question of better or
worse, but of differing forms--of change dictated by gradual suitability
to the changing conditions of our social life, and to the ever fresh
discoveries of craftsmen, in the intoxication of which, old and equally
worthy craftsmanship is--by the way--too often for the moment
mislaid. The vested interests of life favour the line of least
resistance--disliking and revolting against disturbance; but one must
always remember that a spurious glamour is inclined to gather around what
is new. And, because of these two deflecting factors, those who break
through old forms must well expect to be dead before the new forms they
have unconsciously created have found their true level, high or low, in
the world of Art. When a thing is new how shall it be judged? In the
fluster of meeting novelty, we have even seen coherence attempting to
bind together two personalities so fundamentally opposed as those of
Ibsen and Bernard Shaw dramatists with hardly a quality in common; no
identity of tradition, or belief; not the faintest resemblance in methods
of construction or technique. Yet contemporary; estimate talks of them
often in the same breath. They are new! It is enough. And others, as
utterly unlike them both. They too are new. They have as yet no label
of their own then put on some one else's!
And so--I thought it must always be; for Time is essential to the proper
placing and estimate of all Art. And is it not this feeling, that
contemporary judgments are apt to turn out a little ludicrous, which has
converted much criticism of late from judgment pronounced into impression
recorded--recreative statement--a kind, in fact, of expression of the
critic's self, elicited through contemplation of a book, a play, a
symphony, a picture? For this kind of criticism there has even recently
been claimed an actual identity with creation. Esthetic judgment and
creative power identical! That is a hard saying. For, however
sympathetic one may feel toward this new criticism, however one may
recognise that the recording of impression has a wider, more elastic, and
more lasting value than the delivery of arbitrary judgment based on rigid
laws of taste; however one may admit that it approaches the creative gift
in so far as it demands the qualities of receptivity and reproduction--is
there not still lacking to this "new" critic something of that thirsting
spirit of discovery, which precedes the creation--hitherto so-called--of
anything? Criticism, taste, aesthetic judgment, by the very nature of
their task, wait till life has been focussed by the artists before they
attempt to reproduce the image which that imprisoned fragment of life
makes on the mirror of their minds. But a thing created springs from a
germ unconsciously implanted by the direct impact of unfettered life on
the whole range, of the creator's temperament; and round the germ thus
engendered, the creative artist--ever penetrating, discovering,
selecting--goes on building cell on cell, gathered from a million little
fresh impacts and visions. And to say that this is also exactly what the
recreative critic does, is to say that the interpretative musician is
creator in the same sense as is the composer of the music that he
interprets. If, indeed, these processes be the same in kind, they are in
degree so far apart that one would think the word creative unfortunately
used of both....
But this speculation--I thought--is going beyond the bounds of vagueness.
Let there be some thread of coherence in your thoughts, as there is in
the progress of this evening, fast fading into night. Return to the
consideration of the nature and purposes of Art! And recognize that much
of what you have thought will seem on the face of it heresy to the school
whose doctrine was incarnated by Oscar Wilde in that admirable apotheosis
of half-truths: "The Decay of the Art of Lying." For therein he said:
"No great artist ever sees things as they really are." Yet, that
half-truth might also be put thus: The seeing of things as they really
are--the seeing of a proportion veiled from other eyes (together with the
power of expression), is what makes a man an artist. What makes him a
great artist is a high fervour of spirit, which produces a superlative,
instead of a comparative, clarity of vision.
Close to my house there is a group of pines with gnarled red limbs
flanked by beech-trees. And there is often a very deep blue sky behind.
Generally, that is all I see. But, once in a way, in those trees against
that sky I seem to see all the passionate life and glow that Titian
painted into his pagan pictures. I have a vision of mysterious meaning,
of a mysterious relation between that sky and those trees with their
gnarled red limbs and Life as I know it. And when I have had that vision
I always feel, this is reality, and all those other times, when I have no
such vision, simple unreality. If I were a painter, it is for such
fervent vision I should wait, before moving brush: This, so intimate,
inner vision of reality, indeed, seems in duller moments well-nigh
grotesque; and hence that other glib half-truth: "Art is greater than
Life itself." Art is, indeed, greater than Life in the sense that the
power of Art is the disengagement from Life of its real spirit and
significance. But in any other sense, to say that Art is greater than
Life from which it emerges, and into which it must remerge, can but
suspend the artist over Life, with his feet in the air and his head in
the clouds--Prig masquerading as Demi-god. "Nature is no great Mother
who has borne us. She is our creation. It is in our brain that she
quickens to life." Such is the highest hyperbole of the aesthetic creed.
But what is creative instinct, if not an incessant living sympathy with
Nature, a constant craving like that of Nature's own, to fashion
something new out of all that comes within the grasp of those faculties
with which Nature has endowed us? The qualities of vision, of fancy, and
of imaginative power, are no more divorced from Nature, than are the
qualities of common-sense and courage. They are rarer, that is all. But
in truth, no one holds such views. Not even those who utter them. They
are the rhetoric, the over-statement of half-truths, by such as wish to
condemn what they call "Realism," without being temperamentally capable
of understanding what "Realism" really is.
And what--I thought--is Realism? What is the meaning of that word so
wildly used? Is it descriptive of technique, or descriptive of the
spirit of the artist; or both, or neither? Was Turgenev a realist? No
greater poet ever wrote in prose, nor any one who more closely brought
the actual shapes of men and things before us. No more fervent idealists
than Ibsen and Tolstoy ever lived; and none more careful to make their
people real. Were they realists? No more deeply fantastic writer can I
conceive than Dostoievsky, nor any who has described actual situations
more vividly. Was he a realist? The late Stephen Crane was called a
realist. Than whom no more impressionistic writer ever painted with
words. What then is the heart of this term still often used as an
expression almost of abuse? To me, at all events--I thought--the words
realism, realistic, have no longer reference to technique, for which the
words naturalism, naturalistic, serve far better. Nor have they to do
with the question of imaginative power--as much demanded by realism as by
romanticism. For me, a realist is by no means tied to naturalistic
technique--he may be poetic, idealistic, fantastic, impressionistic,
anything but--romantic; that, in so far as he is a realist, he cannot be.
The word, in fact, characterises that artist whose temperamental
preoccupation is with revelation of the actual inter-relating spirit of
life, character, and thought, with a view to enlighten himself and
others; as distinguished from that artist whom I call romantic--whose
tempera mental purpose is invention of tale or design with a view to
delight himself and others. It is a question of temperamental antecedent
motive in the artist, and nothing more.
Realist--Romanticist! Enlightenment--Delight! That is the true
apposition. To make a revelation--to tell a fairy-tale! And either of
these artists may use what form he likes--naturalistic, fantastic,
poetic, impressionistic. For it is not by the form, but by the purpose
and mood of his art that he shall be known, as one or as the other.
Realists indeed--including the half of Shakespeare that was realist not
being primarily concerned to amuse their audience, are still
comparatively unpopular in a world made up for the greater part of men of
action, who instinctively reject all art that does not distract them
without causing them to think. For thought makes demands on an energy
already in full use; thought causes introspection; and introspection
causes discomfort, and disturbs the grooves of action. To say that the
object of the realist is to enlighten rather than to delight, is not to
say that in his art the realist is not amusing himself as much as ever is
the teller of a fairy-tale, though he does not deliberately start out to
do so; he is amusing, too, a large part of mankind. For, admitted that
the abject, and the test of Art, is always the awakening of vibration, of
impersonal emotion, it is still usually forgotten that men fall, roughly
speaking, into two flocks: Those whose intelligence is uninquiring in the
face of Art, and does not demand to be appeased before their emotions can
be stirred; and those who, having a speculative bent of mind, must first
be satisfied by an enlightening quality in a work of Art, before that
work of Art can awaken in them feeling. The audience of the realist is
drawn from this latter type of man; the much larger audience of the
romantic artist from the former; together with, in both cases, those
fastidious few for whom all Art is style and only style, and who welcome
either kind, so long as it is good enough.
To me, then--I thought--this division into Realism and Romance, so
understood, is the main cleavage in all the Arts; but it is hard to find
pure examples of either kind. For even the most determined realist has
more than a streak in him of the romanticist, and the most resolute
romanticist finds it impossible at times to be quite unreal. Guido Reni,
Watteau, Leighton were they not perhaps somewhat pure romanticists;
Rembrandt, Hogarth, Manet mainly realists; Botticelli, Titian, Raphael, a
blend. Dumas pere, and Scott, surely romantic; Flaubert and Tolstoy as
surely realists; Dickens and Cervantes, blended. Keats and Swinburne
romantic; Browning and Whitman--realistic; Shakespeare and Goethe, both.
The Greek dramatists--realists. The Arabian Nights and Malory romantic.
The Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Old Testament, both realism and romance.
And if in the vagueness of my thoughts I were to seek for illustration
less general and vague to show the essence of this temperamental cleavage
in all Art, I would take the two novelists Turgenev and Stevenson. For
Turgenev expressed himself in stories that must be called romances, and
Stevenson employed almost always a naturalistic technique. Yet no one
would ever call Turgenev a romanticist, or Stevenson a realist. The
spirit of the first brooded over life, found in it a perpetual voyage of
spiritual adventure, was set on discovering and making clear to himself
and all, the varying traits and emotions of human character--the varying
moods of Nature; and though he couched all this discovery in caskets of
engaging story, it was always clear as day what mood it was that drove
him to dip pen in ink. The spirit of the second, I think, almost dreaded
to discover; he felt life, I believe, too keenly to want to probe into
it; he spun his gossamer to lure himself and all away from life. That was
his driving mood; but the craftsman in him, longing to be clear and
poignant, made him more natural, more actual than most realists.
So, how thin often is the hedge! And how poor a business the partisan
abuse of either kind of art in a world where each sort of mind has full
right to its own due expression, and grumbling lawful only when due
expression is not attained. One may not care for a Rembrandt portrait of
a plain old woman; a graceful Watteau decoration may leave another cold
but foolish will he be who denies that both are faithful to their
conceiving moods, and so proportioned part to part, and part to whole, as
to have, each in its own way, that inherent rhythm or vitality which is
the hall-mark of Art. He is but a poor philosopher who holds a view so
narrow as to exclude forms not to his personal taste. No realist can
love romantic Art so much as he loves his own, but when that Art fulfils
the laws of its peculiar being, if he would be no blind partisan, he must
admit it. The romanticist will never be amused by realism, but let him
not for that reason be so parochial as to think that realism, when it
achieves vitality, is not Art. For what is Art but the perfected
expression of self in contact with the world; and whether that self be of
enlightening, or of fairy-telling temperament, is of no moment
whatsoever. The tossing of abuse from realist to romanticist and back is
but the sword-play of two one-eyed men with their blind side turned
toward each other. Shall not each attempt be judged on its own merits?
If found not shoddy, faked, or forced, but true to itself, true to its
conceiving mood, and fair-proportioned part to whole; so that it
lives--then, realistic or romantic, in the name of Fairness let it pass!
Of all kinds of human energy, Art is surely the most free, the least
parochial; and demands of us an essential tolerance of all its forms.
Shall we waste breath and ink in condemnation of artists, because their
temperaments are not our own?
But the shapes and colours of the day were now all blurred; every tree
and stone entangled in the dusk. How different the world seemed from
that in which I had first sat down, with the swallows flirting past. And
my mood was different; for each of those worlds had brought to my heart
its proper feeling--painted on my eyes the just picture. And Night, that
was coming, would bring me yet another mood that would frame itself with
consciousness at its own fair moment, and hang before me. A quiet owl
stole by in the geld below, and vanished into the heart of a tree. And
suddenly above the moor-line I saw the large moon rising.
Cinnamon-coloured, it made all things swim, made me uncertain of my
thoughts, vague with mazy feeling. Shapes seemed but drifts of moon-dust,
and true reality nothing save a sort of still listening to the wind. And
for long I sat, just watching the moon creep up, and hearing the thin,
dry rustle of the leaves along the holly hedge. And there came to me
this thought: What is this Universe--that never had beginning and will
never have an end--but a myriad striving to perfect pictures never the
same, so blending and fading one into another, that all form one great
perfected picture? And what are we--ripples on the tides of a birthless,
deathless, equipoised Creative-Purpose--but little works of Art?
Trying to record that thought, I noticed that my note-book was damp with
dew. The cattle were lying down. It was too dark to see.
♥ FINE AREA VOCALIZZATA CON READSPEAKER
Prodotti straordinari per le tue lingue
online il primo numero di
l'anglorivista che mette il turbo al tuo inglese, l'unica con
pronuncia guidata e doppia traduzione italiana per capire sempre
Leggi il n. 1 gratis!
Acquista gli arretrati
Cosa dicono i lettori
- A chi serve
Total Audio, la versione del
corso 20 ORE fatta
apposta per chi come te passa tanto tempo viaggiando! Ideale per
chi fa il pendolare o compie ogni giorno lunghi tragitti sui
mezzi. Sfrutta anche tu i tempi morti per imparare o migliorare
il tuo inglese!
CORSI 20 ORE - I corsi di lingue più
completi per una preparazione di base superiore alla media in 5