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Title: Points of friction

Author: Agnes Repplier

Release date: December 23, 2023 [eBook #72490]

Language: English

Original publication: Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1920

Credits: The Online Distributed Proofreading Team at (This file was produced from images generously made available by The Internet Archive)




The Riverside Press Cambridge



Six of the ten essays in this volume—“Living in History,” “Dead Authors,” “Consolations of the Conservative,” “The Cheerful Clan,” “Woman Enthroned,” and “Money”—are reprinted through the courtesy of The Atlantic Monthly; “The Beloved Sinner” and “The Strayed Prohibitionist” through the courtesy of The Century Magazine; “Cruelty and Humour” through the courtesy of The Yale Review; “The Virtuous Victorian” through the courtesy of The Nation.


Living in History 1
Dead Authors 31
Consolations of the Conservative 70
The Cheerful Clan 105
The Beloved Sinner 126
The Virtuous Victorian 149
Woman Enthroned 167
The Strayed Prohibitionist 204
Money 227
Cruelty and Humour 254

[Pg 1]


Living in History

When Mr. Bagehot spoke his luminous words about “a fatigued way of looking at great subjects,” he gave us the key to a mental attitude which perhaps is not the modern thing it seems. There were, no doubt, Greeks and Romans in plenty to whom the “glory” and the “grandeur” of Greece and Rome were less exhilarating than they were to Edgar Poe,—Greeks and Romans who were spiritually palsied by the great emotions which presumably accompany great events. They may have been philosophers, or humanitarians, or academists. They may have been conscientious objectors, or conscienceless shirkers, or perhaps plain[Pg 2] men and women with a natural gift of indecision, a natural taste for compromise and awaiting developments. In the absence of newspapers and pamphlets, these peaceful pagans were compelled to express their sense of fatigue to their neighbours at the games or in the market-place; and their neighbours—if well chosen—sighed with them over the intensity of life, the formidable happenings of history.

Since August, 1914, the turmoil and anguish incidental to the world’s greatest war have accentuated every human type,—heroic, base, keen, and evasive. The strain of five years’ fighting was borne with astounding fortitude, and Allied statesmen and publicists saw to it that the clear outline of events should not be blurred by ignorance or misrepresentation. If history in the making be a fluid thing, it swiftly crystallizes. Men, “living between two eternities, and warring against oblivion,” make their[Pg 3] indelible record on its pages; and other men receive these pages as their best inheritance, their avenue to understanding, their key to life.

Therefore it is unwise to gibe at history because we do not chance to know it. It pleases us to gibe at anything we do not know, but the process is not enlightening. In the second year of the war, the English “Nation” commented approvingly on the words of an English novelist who strove to make clear that the only things which count for any of us, individually or collectively, are the unrecorded minutiæ of our lives. “History,” said this purveyor of fiction, “is concerned with the rather absurd and theatrical doings of a few people, which, after all, have never altered the fact that we do all of us live on from day to day, and only want to be let alone.”

“These words,” observed the “Nation” heavily, “have a singular truth and force at the present time. The people[Pg 4] of Europe want to go on living, not to be destroyed. To live is to pursue the activities proper to one’s nature, to be unhindered and unthwarted in their exercise. It is not too much to say that the life of Europe is something which has persisted in spite of the history of Europe. There is nothing happy or fruitful anywhere but witnesses to the triumph of life over history.”

Presuming that we are able to disentangle life from history, to sever the inseverable, is this a true statement, or merely the expression of mental and spiritual fatigue? Were the great historic episodes invariably fruitless, and had they no bearing upon the lives of ordinary men and women? The battles of Marathon and Thermopylæ, the signing of the Magna Charta, the Triple Alliance, the Declaration of Independence, the birth of the National Assembly, the first Reform Bill, the recognition in Turin of the United Kingdom of[Pg 5] Italy,—these things may have been theatrical, inasmuch as they were certainly dramatic, but absurd is not a wise word to apply to them. Neither is it possible to believe that the life of Europe went on in spite of these historic incidents, triumphing over them as over so many obstacles to activity.

When the “Nation” contrasts the beneficent companies of strolling players who “represented and interpreted the world of life, the one thing which matters and remains,” with the companies of soldiers who merely destroyed life at its roots, we cannot but feel that this editorial point of view has its limitations. The strolling players of Elizabeth’s day afforded many a merry hour; but Elizabeth’s soldiers and sailors did their part in making possible this mirth. The strolling players who came to the old Southwark Theatre in Philadelphia interpreted “the world of life,” as they understood it; but the soldiers who froze[Pg 6] at Valley Forge offered a different interpretation, and one which had considerably more stamina. The magnifying of small things, the belittling of great ones, indicate a mental exhaustion which would be more pardonable if it were less complacent. There are always men and women who prefer the triumph of evil, which is a thing they can forget, to prolonged resistance, which shatters their nerves. But the desire to escape an obligation, while very human, is not generally thought to be humanity’s noblest lesson.

Many smart things have been written to discredit history. Mr. Arnold called it “the vast Mississippi of falsehood,” which was easily said, and has been said in a number of ways since the days of Herodotus, who amply illustrated the splendours of unreality. Mr. Edward Fitzgerald was wont to sigh that only lying histories are readable, and this point of view has many secret adherents.[Pg 7] Mr. Henry Adams, who taught history for seven years at Harvard, and who built his intellectual dwelling-place upon its firm foundations, pronounced it to be “in essence incoherent and immoral.” Nevertheless, all that we know of man’s unending efforts to adjust and readjust himself to the world about him we learn from history, and the tale is an enlightening one. “Events are wonderful things,” said Lord Beaconsfield. Nothing, for example, can blot out, or obscure, the event of the French Revolution. We are free to discuss it until the end of time; but we can never alter it, and never get away from its consequences.

The lively contempt for history expressed by readers who would escape its weight, and the neglect of history practised by educators who would escape its authority, stand responsible for much mental confusion. American boys and girls go to school six, eight, or ten[Pg 8] years, as the case may be, and emerge with a misunderstanding of their own country, and a comprehensive ignorance of all others. They say, “I don’t know any history,” as casually and as unconcernedly as they might say, “I don’t know any chemistry,” or “I don’t know metaphysics.” A smiling young freshman in the most scholarly of women’s colleges told me that she had been conditioned because she knew nothing about the Reformation.

“You mean,—” I began questioningly.

“I mean just what I say,” she interrupted. “I didn’t know what it was, or where it was, or who had anything to do with it.”

I said I didn’t wonder she had come to grief. The Reformation was something of an episode. And I asked myself wistfully how it happened she had ever managed to escape it. When I was a little schoolgirl, a pious Roman Catholic[Pg 9] child with a distaste for polemics, it seemed to me I was never done studying about the Reformation. If I escaped briefly from Wycliffe and Cranmer and Knox, it was only to be met by Luther and Calvin and Huss. Everywhere the great struggle confronted me, everywhere I was brought face to face with the inexorable logic of events. That more advanced and more intelligent students find pleasure in every phase of ecclesiastical strife is proved by Lord Broughton’s pleasant story about a member of Parliament named Joliffe, who was sitting in his club, reading Hume’s “History of England,” a book which well deserves to be called dry. Charles Fox, glancing over his shoulder, observed, “I see you have come to the imprisonment of the seven bishops”; whereupon Joliffe, like a man engrossed in a thrilling detective story, cried desperately, “For God’s sake, Fox, don’t tell me what is coming!”

[Pg 10]

This was reading for human delight, for the interest and agitation which are inseparable from every human document. Mr. Henry James once told me that the only reading of which he never tired was history. “The least significant footnote of history,” he said, “stirs me more than the most thrilling and passionate fiction. Nothing that has ever happened to the world finds me indifferent.” I used to think that ignorance of history meant only a lack of cultivation and a loss of pleasure. Now I am sure that such ignorance impairs our judgment by impairing our understanding, by depriving us of standards, of the power to contrast, and the right to estimate. We can know nothing of any nation unless we know its history; and we can know nothing of the history of any nation unless we know something of the history of all nations. The book of the world is full of knowledge we need to acquire, of lessons we need to learn, of[Pg 11] wisdom we need to assimilate. Consider only this brief sentence of Polybius, quoted by Plutarch: “In Carthage no one is blamed, however he may have gained his wealth.” A pleasant place, no doubt, for business enterprise; a place where young men were taught how to get on, and extravagance kept pace with shrewd finance. A self-satisfied, self-confident, money-getting, money-loving people, honouring success, and hugging their fancied security, while in far-off Rome Cato pronounced their doom.

There are readers who can tolerate and even enjoy history, provided it is shorn of its high lights and heavy shadows, its heroic elements and strong impelling motives. They turn with relief to such calm commentators as Sir John Seeley, for years professor of modern history at Cambridge, who shrank as sensitively as an eighteenth-century divine from that fell word “enthusiasm,” and from all the agitation it[Pg 12] gathers in its wake. He was a firm upholder of the British Empire, hating compromise and guiltless of pacifism; but, having a natural gift for aridity, he saw no reason why the world should not be content to know things without feeling them, should not keep its eyes turned to legal institutions, its mind fixed upon political economy and international law. The force that lay back of Parliament annoyed him by the simple primitive way in which it beat drums, fired guns, and died to uphold the institutions which he prized; also because by doing these things it evoked in others certain simple and primitive sensations which he strove always to keep at bay. “We are rather disposed to laugh,” he said, “when poets and orators try to conjure us with the name of England.” Had he lived a few years longer, he would have known that England’s salvation lies in the fact that her name is, to her sons, a thing to conjure[Pg 13] by. We may not wisely ignore the value of emotions, nor underestimate the power of the human impulses which charge the souls of men.

The long years of neutrality engendered in the minds of Americans a natural but ignoble weariness. The war was not our war, yet there was no escaping from it. By day and night it haunted us, a ghost that would not be laid. Over and over again we were told that it was not possible to place the burden of blame on any nation’s shoulders. Once at least we were told that the causes and objects of the contest, the obscure fountains from which had burst this stupendous and desolating flood, were no concern of ours. But this proffered release from serious thinking brought us scant peace of mind. Every honest man and woman knew that we had no intellectual right to be ignorant when information lay at our hand, and no spiritual right to be unconcerned when great moral issues[Pg 14] were at stake. We could not in either case evade the duty we owed to reason. The Vatican Library would not hold the books that have been written about the war; but the famous five-foot shelf would be too roomy for the evidence in the case, the documents which are the foundation of knowledge. They, at least, are neither too profuse for our patience, nor too complex for our understanding. “The inquiry into the truth or falsehood of a matter of history,” said Huxley, “is just as much an affair of pure science as is the inquiry into the truth or falsehood of a matter of geology; and the value of the evidence in the two cases must be tested in the same way.”

The resentment of American pacifists, who, being more human than they thought themselves, were no better able than the rest of us to forget the state of Europe, found expression in petulant complaints. They kept reminding us at inopportune moments that war is not[Pg 15] the important and heroic thing it is assumed to be. They asked that, if it is to figure in history at all (which seems, on the whole, inevitable), the truth should be told, and its brutalities, as well as its heroisms, exposed. They professed a languid amusement at the “rainbow of official documents” which proved every nation in the right. They inveighed bitterly against the “false patriotism” taught by American schoolbooks, with their absurd emphasis on the “embattled farmers” of the Revolution, and the volunteers of the Civil War. They assured us, in and out of season, that a doctor who came to his death looking after poor patients in an epidemic was as much of a hero as any soldier whose grave is yearly decorated with flowers.

All this was the clearest possible exposition of the lassitude induced in faint-hearted men by the pressure of great events. It was the wail of people who wanted, as the “Nation” feelingly expressed[Pg 16] it, to be let alone, and who could not shut themselves away from the world’s great tragedy. None of us are prepared to say that a doctor and a nurse who perform their perilous duties in an epidemic are not as heroic as a doctor and a nurse who perform their perilous duties in war. There is glory enough to go around. Only he that loveth his life shall lose it. But to put a flower on a soldier’s grave is a not too exuberant recognition of his service, for he, too, in his humble way made the great sacrifice.

As for the brutalities of war, who can charge that history smooths them over? Certain horrors may be withheld from children, whose privilege it is to be spared the knowledge of uttermost depravity; but to the adult no such mercy is shown. Motley, for example, describes cruelties committed three hundred and fifty years ago in the Netherlands, which equal, if they do not surpass, the cruelties[Pg 17] committed six years ago in Belgium. Men heard such tales more calmly then than now, and seldom sought the coward’s refuge—incredulity. The Dutch, like other nations, did better things than fight. They painted glorious pictures, they bred great statesmen and good doctors. They traded with extraordinary success. They raised the most beautiful tulips in the world. But to do these things peacefully and efficiently, they had been compelled to struggle for their national existence. The East India trade and the freedom of the seas did not drop into their laps. And because their security, and the comeliness of life which they so highly prized, had been bought by stubborn resistance to tyranny, they added to material well-being the “luxury of self-respect.”

To overestimate the part played by war in a nation’s development is as crude as to ignore its alternate menace and support. It is with the help of history[Pg 18] that we balance our mental accounts. Voltaire was disposed to think that battles and treaties were matters of small moment; and Mr. John Richard Green pleaded, not unreasonably, that more space should be given in our chronicles to the missionary, the poet, the painter, the merchant, and the philosopher. They are not, and they never have been, excluded from any narrative comprehensive enough to admit them; but the scope of their authority is not always sufficiently defined. Man, as the representative of his age, and the events in which he plays his vigorous part,—these are the warp and woof of history. We can no more leave John Wesley or Ignatius Loyola out of the canvas than we can leave out Marlborough or Pitt. We know now that the philosophy of Nietzsche is one with Bernhardi’s militarism.

As for the merchant,—Froissart was as well aware of his prestige as was Mr.[Pg 19] Green. “Trade, my lord,” said Dinde Desponde, the great Lombard banker, to the Duke of Burgundy, “finds its way everywhere, and rules the world.” As for commercial honour,—a thing as fine as the honour of the aristocrat or of the soldier,—what can be better for England than to know that after the great fire of 1666 not a single London shopkeeper evaded his liabilities; and that this fact was long the boast of a city proud of its shopkeeping? As for jurisprudence,—Sully was infinitely more concerned with it than he was with combat or controversy. It is with stern satisfaction that he recounts the statutes passed in his day for the punishment of fraudulent bankrupts, whom we treat so leniently; for the annulment of their gifts and assignments, which we guard so zealously; and for the conviction of those to whom such property had been assigned. It was almost as dangerous to steal on a large scale as on a small one[Pg 20] under the levelling laws of Henry of Navarre.

In this vast and varied chronicle, war plays its appointed part. “We cannot,” says Walter Savage Landor, “push valiant men out of history.” We cannot escape from the truths interpreted, and the conditions established by their valour. What has been slightingly called the “drum-and-trumpet narrative” holds its own with the records of art and science. “It cost Europe a thousand years of barbarism,” said Macaulay, “to escape the fate of China.”

The endless endeavour of states to control their own destinies, the ebb and flow of the sea of combat, the “recurrent liturgy of war,” enabled the old historians to perceive with amazing distinctness the traits of nations, etched as sharply then as now on the imperishable pages of history. We read Froissart for human delight rather than for solid information; yet Froissart’s observations—the[Pg 21] observations of a keen-eyed student of the world—are worth recording five hundred years after he set them down.

“In England,” he says, “strangers are well received”; yet are the English “affable to no other nation than their own.” Ireland, he holds to have had “too many kings”; and the Scotch, like the English, “are excellent men-at-arms, nor is there any check to their courage as long as their weapons endure.” France is the pride of his heart, as it is the pride of the world’s heart to-day. “In France also is found good chivalry, strong of spirit, and in great abundance; for the kingdom of France has never been brought so low as to lack men ready for the combat.” Even Germany does not escape his regard. “The Germans are a people without pity and without honour.” And again: “The Germans are a rude, unmannered race, but active and expert where their own[Pg 22] personal advantage is concerned.” If history be “philosophy teaching by example,” we are wise to admit the old historians into our counsels.

To withhold from a child some knowledge—apportioned to his understanding—of the world’s sorrows and wrongs is to cheat him of his kinship with humanity. We would not, if we could, bruise his soul as our souls are bruised; but we would save him from a callous content which is alien to his immaturity. The little American, like the little Austrian and the little Serb, is a son of the sorrowing earth. His security—of which no man can forecast the future—is a legacy bequeathed him by predecessors who bought it with sweat and with blood; and with sweat and with blood his descendants may be called on to guard it. Alone among educators, Mr. G. Stanley Hall finds neutrality, a “high and ideal neutrality,” to be an attribute of youth. He was so gratified by this[Pg 23] discovery during the years of the war, so sure that American boys and girls followed “impartially” the great struggle in Europe, and that this judicial attitude would, in the years to come, enable them to pronounce “the true verdict of history,” that he “thrilled and tingled” with patriotic—if premature—pride.

“The true verdict of history” will be pronounced according to the documentary evidence in the case. There is no need to vex our souls over the possible extinction of this evidence, for closer observers than our impartial young Americans are placing it permanently on record. But I doubt if the equanimity which escapes the ordeal of partisanship is to be found in the mind of youth, or in the heart of a child. Can we not remember a time when the Wars of the Roses were not—to us—a matter for neutrality? Our little school histories, those vivacious, anecdotal histories, banished long ago by rigorous educators,[Pg 24] were in some measure responsible for our Lancastrian fervour. They fed it with stories of high courage and the sorrows of princes. We wasted our sympathies on “a mere struggle for power”; but Hume’s laconic verdict is not, and never can be, the measure of a child’s solicitude. The lost cause fills him with pity, the cause which is saved by man’s heroic sacrifice fires him to generous applause. The round world and the tale of those who have lived upon it are his legitimate inheritance.

Mr. Bagehot said, and said wisely after his wont, that if you catch an intelligent, uneducated man of thirty, and tell him about the battle of Marathon, he will calculate the chances, and estimate the results; but he will not really care. You cannot make the word “Marathon” sound in his ears as it sounded in the ears of Byron, to whom it had been sacred in boyhood. You cannot make the word “freedom” sound in untutored[Pg 25] ears as it sounds in the ears of men who have counted the cost by which it has been preserved through the centuries. Unless children are permitted to know the utmost peril which has threatened, and which threatens, the freedom of nations, how can they conceive of its value? And what is the worth of teaching which does not rate the gift of freedom above all earthly benefactions? How can justice live save by the will of freemen? Of what avail are civic virtues that are not the virtues of the free? Pericles bade the Athenians to bear reverently in mind the Greeks who had died for Greece. “Make these men your examples, and be well assured that happiness comes by freedom, and freedom by stoutness of heart.” Perhaps if American boys bear reverently in mind the men who died for America, it will help them too to be stout of heart, and “worthy patriots, dear to God.”

In the remote years of my childhood,[Pg 26] the study of current events, that most interesting and valuable form of tuition, which, nevertheless, is unintelligible without some knowledge of the past, was left out of our limited curriculum. We seldom read the newspapers (which I remember as of an appalling dulness), and we knew little of what was happening in our day. But we did study history, and we knew something of what had happened in other days than ours; we knew and deeply cared. Therefore we reacted with fair intelligence and no lack of fervour when circumstances were forced upon our vision. It was not possible for a child who had lived in spirit with Saint Genevieve to be indifferent to the siege of Paris in 1870. It is not possible for a child who has lived in spirit with Jeanne d’Arc to be indifferent to the destruction of Rheims Cathedral in 1914. If we were often left in ignorance, we were never despoiled of childhood’s generous ardour. Nobody[Pg 27] told us that “courage is a sublime form of hypocrisy.” Nobody fed our young minds on stale paradoxes, or taught us to discount the foolish impulsiveness of adults. Our parents, as Mr. Henry James rejoicingly observes, “had no desire to see us inoculated with importunate virtues.” The Honourable Bertrand Russell had not then proposed that all teaching of history shall be submitted to an “international commission,” “which shall produce neutral text-books, free from patriotic bias.” There was something profoundly fearless in our approach to life, in the exposure of our unarmoured souls to the assaults of enthusiasms and regrets.

The cynic who is impatient of primitive emotions, the sentimentalist whose sympathy is confined exclusively to his country’s enemies, grow more shrill-voiced as the exhaustion of Europe becomes increasingly apparent. They were always to be heard by those who paused[Pg 28] amid the thunderings of war to listen to them; but their words were lost in the whirlwind. It was possible for a writer in the “Survey” to allude brutally in the spring of 1916 to the “cockpit of Verdun.” It was possible for Mr. Russell to turn from the contemplation of Ypres, and say: “The war is trivial for all its vastness. No great human purpose is involved on either side, no great principle is at stake.” If the spiritual fatigue of the looker-on had found an echo in the souls of those who were bearing the burden and heat of the day, the world would have sunk to destruction. “The moral triumph of Belgium,” said Cardinal Mercier, when his country had been conquered and despoiled, “is an ever memorable fact for history and civilization.” Who shall be the spokesman of the future?

In the last melancholy pages of that able and melancholy book, “The Economic Consequences of the Peace,” Mr.[Pg 29] Keynes describes the apathy of victorious England, too spent to savour victory. “Our power of feeling or caring beyond the immediate questions of our own material well-being is temporarily eclipsed. We have been moved already beyond endurance, and need rest. Never, in the lifetime of men now living, has the universal element in the soul of man burnt so dimly.”

Never perhaps in the centuries, for when in the centuries has that element been so ruthlessly consumed? England is like a swimmer who has carried the lifeline to shore, battling amid the breakers, tossed high on their crests, hurled into their green depths, pounded, battered, blinded, until he lies, a broken thing, on the shore. The crew is safe, but until the breath comes back to his labouring lungs, he is past all acute consideration for its welfare. Were Mr. Keynes generous enough to extend his sympathy alike to foes and friends, he[Pg 30] might even now see light shining on the horizon. It would do him—it would do us all—good to meditate closely on the probable state of Europe had Germany triumphed. The “hidden currents” of which we are warned may be sweeping us on a reef; but the most imminent and most appalling calamity has been averted. “Events are wonderful things,” and we may yet come to believe with Froissart, lover of brave deeds and honourable men, that “the most profitable thing in the world for the institution of human life is history.”

[Pg 31]

Dead Authors

“Les morts n’écrivent point,” said Madame de Maintenon, who lived in a day of tranquil finalities. If men’s passions and vanities were admittedly strong until the hour of dissolution, the finger of death obliterated all traces of them; and the supreme dignity of this obliteration sustained noble minds and solaced the souls that believed. An age which produced the Oraisons Funèbres had an unquenchable reverence for the grave.

Echoes of Madame de Maintenon’s soothing conviction ring pleasantly through the intervening centuries. Book-making, which she knew only in its smiling infancy, had grown to ominous proportions when the Hon. Augustine Birrell, brooding over the fatality which had dipped the world in ink, comforted[Pg 32] himself—and us—with the vision of an authorless future. “There were no books in Eden,” he said meditatively, “and there will be none in Heaven; but between times it is otherwise.”

For an Englishman more or less conversant with ghosts, Mr. Birrell showed little foreknowledge of their dawning ambitions. If we may judge by the recent and determined intrusion of spirits into authorship, Heaven bids fair to be stacked with printing-presses. One of their number, indeed, the “Living Dead Man,” whose amanuensis is Elsa Barker, and whose publishers have unhesitatingly revealed (or, I might perhaps say, announced) his identity, gives high praise to a ghostly library, well catalogued, and containing millions of books and records. Miss Lilian Whiting assures us that every piece of work done in life has its ethereal counterpart. “The artist creates in the astral before he creates in the material, and the creation in[Pg 33] the astral is the permanent embodiment.” Consequently, when an author dies, he finds awaiting him an “imperishable record” of all he has ever written. Miss Whiting does not tell us how she comes to know this. Neither does she say how good a book has to be to live forever in the astral, or if a very bad book is never suffered to die a natural and kindly death as in our natural and kindly world. Perhaps it is the ease with which astral immortality is achieved, or rather the impossibility of escaping it, which prompts ambitious and exclusive spirits to force an entrance into our congested literary life, and compete with mortal scribblers who ask their little day.

The suddenness of the attack, and its unprecedented character, daunt and bewilder us. It is true that the apparitions that lend vivacity to the ordinary spiritualistic séance have from time to time written short themes, or dropped into friendly verse. Readers of that engaging[Pg 34] volume, “Report of the Seybert Commission for Investigating Modern Spiritualism,” published in 1887, will remember that “Belle,” who claimed to be the original proprietor of Yorick’s skull (long a “property” of the Walnut Street Theatre, Philadelphia, but at that time in the library of Dr. Horace Howard Furness), voiced her pretensions, and told her story, in ten carefully rhymed stanzas.

“My form was sold to doctors three,
So you have all that’s left of me;
I come to greet you in white mull,
You that prizes my lonely skull.”

But these effusions were desultory and amateurish. They were designed as personal communications, and were betrayed into publicity by their recipients. We cannot regard their authors—painstaking but simple-hearted ghosts—as advance guards of the army of occupation which is now storming the citadel of print.

[Pg 35]

It is passing strange that the dead who seek to communicate with the living should cling so closely to the alphabet as a connecting link. Dying is a primitive thing. Men died, and were wept and forgotten, for many, many ages before Cadmus sowed the dragon’s teeth. But letters are artificial and complicated. They belong to fettered humanity which is perpetually devising ways and means. Shelley, whose impatient soul fretted against barriers, cried out despairingly that inspiration wanes when composition begins. We strive to follow Madame de Sévigné’s counsel, “Laissez trotter la plume”; but we know well how the little instrument halts and stumbles; and if a pen is too clumsy for the transmission of thought, what must be the effort to pick out letters on a ouija board, or with a tilting table? The spirit that invented table-rapping (which combines every possible disadvantage as a means of communication[Pg 36] with every absurdity that can offend a fastidious taste) deserves to be penalized by its fellow spirits. Even Sir Oliver Lodge admits that the substitution of tables for pen and ink “has difficulties of its own.”

Yet nothing can overcome the infatuation of ghostly visitors for this particular piece of furniture. They cannot keep their spectral fingers off one, and they will come any distance, and take any pains, for the pleasure of such handling. Maeterlinck relates with enviable gravity the details of an evening call paid by a monk who had lain in the cloisters of the Abbaye de Saint Wandrille since 1693, and who broke a sleep of two centuries that he might spin a table on one leg for the diversion of the poet’s guests. Their host, while profoundly indifferent to the entertainment, accepted it with a tolerant shrug. If it amused both mortals and the monk, why cavil at its infantile simplicity?

[Pg 37]

The frolicsome moods of the Lodge table must have been disconcerting even to such a receptive and sympathetic circle. It performed little tricks like lying down, or holding two feet in the air, apparently for its own innocent delight. It emulated Æsop’s affectionate ass, and “seemed to wish to get into Lady Lodge’s lap, and made caressing movements to and fro, as if it could not get close enough to her.” It jocularly thumped piano-players on the back; and when a cushion was held up to protect them, it banged a hole in the cover. What wonder that several tables were broken “during the more exuberant period of these domestic sittings, before the power was under control”; and that the family was compelled to provide a strong and heavy article which could stand the “skylarking” (Sir Oliver’s word) of supernatural visitors.

The ouija board, though an improvement on the table, is mechanical and[Pg 38] cumbersome. It has long been the chosen medium of that most prolific of spirit writers, Patience Worth; and a sympathetic disciple once ventured to ask her if there were no less laborious method by which she could compose her stories. To which Patience, who then used a language called by her editor “archaic,” and who preferred to “dock the smaller parts-o’-speech,” replied formidably,—

“The hand o’ her do I to put be the hand o’ her, and ’t is ascribe that setteth the one awither by eyes-fulls she taketh in.”

The disciple’s mind being thus set at rest, he inquired how Patience discovered this avenue of approach, and was told,—

“I did to seek at crannies for to put; ay, an’t wer the her o’ her who tireth past the her o’ her, and slippeth to a naught o’ putting; and ’t wer the me o’ me at seek, aye, and find. Aye, and ’t wer so.”

[Pg 39]

The casual and inexpert reader is not always sure what Patience means to say; but to the initiated her cryptic and monosyllabic speech offers no difficulties. When asked if she were acquainted with the spirit of the late Dr. William James, she said darkly,—

“I telled a one o’ the brothers and the neighbours o’ thy day, and he doth know.”

“This,” comments Mr. Yost, “was considered as an affirmative reply,” and with it her questioners were content.

All fields of literature are open to Patience Worth, and she disports herself by turns in prose and verse, fiction and philosophy. Other spirits have their specialties. They write, as a rule, letters, sermons, didactic essays, vers libre, and an occasional story. But Patience writes six-act dramas which, we are assured, could, “with a little alteration,” be produced upon the stage, short comedies “rich in humour,” country tales,[Pg 40] mystical tales, parables, aphorisms, volumes of verse, and historical novels. In three years and a half she dictated to Mrs. Curran, her patient ouija-board amanuensis, 900,000 words. It is my belief that she represents a spirit syndicate, and lends her name to a large coterie of literary wraiths. The most discouraging feature of her performance is the possibility of its indefinite extension. She is what Mr. Yost calls “a continuing phenomenon.” Being dead already, she cannot die, and the beneficent limit which is set to mortal endeavour does not exist for her. “The larger literature is to come,” says Mr. Yost ominously; and we fear he speaks the truth.

Now what do we gain by this lamentable intrusion of ghostly aspirants into the serried ranks of authorship? What is the value of their work, and what is its ethical significance? Perhaps because literary distinction is a rare quality, the[Pg 41] editors and publishers of these revelations lay stress upon the spiritual insight, the finer wisdom, which may accrue to us from direct contact with liberated souls. They even hint at some great moral law which may be thus revealed for our betterment. But the law of Christ is as pure and lofty as any code our human intelligence can grasp. We do not live by it, because it makes no concession to the sickly qualities which cement our earthly natures; but we hold fast to it as an incomparable ideal. It is not law or light we need. It is the power of effort and resistance. “Toutes les bonnes maximes sont dans le monde; on ne manque que de les appliquer.”

The didacticism of spirit authors is, so far, their most striking characteristic. As Mr. Henry James would put it, they are “awkward writers, but yearning moralists.” Free from any shadow of diffidence, they proffer a deal of counsel,[Pg 42] but it is mostly of the kind which our next-door neighbour has at our command.

In the volume called “Letters from Harry and Helen,” the dead children exhort their relatives continuously; and their exhortations, albeit of a somewhat intimate character, have been passed on to the public as “an inspiration to the life of brotherhood.” Helen, for example, bids her mother and sister give away the clothes they do not need. “You had better send the pink dress to B. You won’t wear it. Lace and a few good bits of jewelry you can use, and these won’t hurt your progress.” She also warns them not to take long motor rides with large parties. The car holds four comfortably; but if her sister will go all afternoon with five people packed into it, she is sure to be ill. This is sensible advice, but can it be needful that the dead should revisit earth to give it?

Harry, a hardy and boisterous spirit,[Pg 43] with a fine contempt for precautions, favours a motor trip across the continent, gallantly assures his family that the project is “perfectly feasible,” tells his sister to “shoot some genuine food” at her sick husband, who appears to have been kept on a low diet, and observes with pleasure that his mother is overcoming her aversion to tobacco. “Mamma is learning,” he comments patronizingly. “Some day she will arrive at the point where a smoker will fail to arouse a spark of criticism, or even of interest. When that day comes, she will have learned what she is living for this time.

Here was a chance for a ghostly son to get even with the parent who had disparaged the harmless pleasures of his youth. Harry is not the kind of a spirit to miss such an opportunity. He finds a great deal to correct in his family, a great deal to blame in the world, and some things to criticize in the universe.[Pg 44] “I suppose the Creator knows his own business best,” he observes grudgingly; “but there have been moments when I felt I could suggest improvements. For instance, had I been running affairs, I should have been a little more open about this reincarnation plan of elevating the individual. Why let a soul boggle along blindly for numberless lives, when just a friendly tip would have illuminated the whole situation, and enabled him to plan with far less waste?”

“O eloquent, just and mighty death!” Have we professed to break thy barriers, to force thy pregnant silence into speech, only to make of thy majesty a vulgar farce, and, of thy consolations, folly and self-righteousness?

The “Living Dead Man” has also a course of instruction, in fact several courses of instruction, to offer. His counsels are all of the simplest. He bids us drink plenty of water, because water[Pg 45] feeds our astral bodies; to take plenty of sleep, because sleep fits us for work; and on no account to lose our tempers. He is a gentle, garrulous ghost, and his first volume is filled with little anecdotes about his new—and very dull—surroundings, and mild little stories of adventure. He calls himself an “astral Scheherazade,” but no sultan would ever have listened to him for a thousand and one nights. He chants vers libre of a singularly uninspired order, and is particular about his quotations. “If you print these letters,” he tells his medium, “I wish you would insert here fragments from that wonderful poem of Wordsworth, ‘Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood.’” Then follow nineteen lines of this fairly familiar masterpiece. There is something rather droll in having our own printed poets quoted to us lengthily by cultivated and appreciative spirits.

[Pg 46]

The “War Letters” dictated by the “Living Dead Man” in the spring and summer of 1915 are more animated and highly coloured. Some long-past episodes, notably the entrance of the German soldiers into Brussels, are well described, though not so vividly as by the living Richard Harding Davis. We are told in the preface that on the fourth of February, 1915, the spirit wrote: “When I come back” (he was touring to a distant star), “and tell you the story of this war, as seen from the other side, you will know more than all the Chancelleries of the nations.” This promises well; but in the three hundred pages that follow there is not one word to indicate that the “Living Dead Man” had any acquaintance with real happenings which were not published in our newspapers; or that he was aware of these happenings before the newspapers published them. He is always on the safe side of prophecy. In a letter dictated[Pg 47] on the seventh of May, the date of the sinking of the Lusitania, he makes no mention of the crime; but the following morning, after the ghastly news was known to the world, he writes that he could have told it twenty-four hours earlier had he not feared to shock Mrs. Barker’s sensibilities.

It was a mistaken kindness. Nothing could save mankind from a knowledge of that terrible deed; but four words spoken on the seventh of May would have revolutionized the world of thought. They would have compelled belief in phenomena which we are now intellectually free to reject.

The events narrated by the “Living Dead Man” are of a kind which the Chancelleries of the nations had no need to know. He tells us that he and twenty other spirits stood for hours in the palace of Potsdam, trying with lamentable lack of success to reduce by the pressure of their will the greater[Pg 48] pressure of the war-will surging through the German nation. He has a dramatic meeting with the spirit of the murdered Archduke, Franz Ferdinand, and a long interview with the spirit of Nietzsche, whom he commands—authoritatively—to go back to earth and teach humility. He rests and refreshes the jaded spirit of a British officer, killed in action, by showing him a dance of sylphs; and he meets an old acquaintance, the sylph Meriline (friend and familiar of a French magician), doing scout duty in the German trenches. Finally he assures us that Serbia is doomed to disaster, because a Serbian magician, who died many years ago, left her as a legacy a host of “astral monsters” that infest the land, awakening from slumber at the first hint of strife, and revelling in bloodshed and misery.

It is hard lines on Serbia, and it sounds a good deal like the fairy tales of our happy infancy. The “Living Dead[Pg 49] Man” is careful to let us know that he has assisted at the war councils of Berlin, being enabled by an especial hardening of the astral ears to hear all that is spoken on earth. No secrets of state are hidden from him; but, on such weighty matters, discretion compels silence. Moreover, the vastness of his knowledge is out of accord with the puniness of our intelligence. It cannot be communicated, because there is no avenue of approach. “The attempt to tell the world what I know now is like trying to play Beethoven on a penny whistle. I feel as a mathematician would feel should he set himself down to teach addition to small children. I dare not tell you more than I do, for you could not contain it.”

And so we are told nothing.

In the little book entitled, “Thy Son Liveth,” which is said to have been dictated by an American soldier, killed in Flanders, to his mother, we have a[Pg 50] cheerful picture of active young spirits “carrying on” the business of war, relieving the wounded, soothing the dying, working up wireless communications (“The German operators cannot see us when we are around”), and occasionally playing the part of the gods before the walls of Troy.

“I told you that we were not given any power over bullets, that we can comfort, but not save from what you call death. That is not quite the case, I find. Jack Wells directed me to stand by a junior lieutenant to-day, and impel him this way and that to avoid danger. I discovered that my perceptions are much more sensitive than they were before I came out. I can estimate the speed, and determine the course, of shells. I stood by this fellow, nudged him here and there, and kept him from being hurt. I asked Wells if that was an answer to prayer. Wells said, ‘No, the young chap is an inventor, and has a[Pg 51] job ahead of him that’s of importance to the world.’”

It is an interesting episode; but intervention, as we learn from Homer, is an open game. Perhaps some German lieutenant had a job ahead of him, and scientifically-minded German ghosts saved him from Allied shells. When the dead American soldier writes that he is going to “get in touch with Edison,” and work on devices to combat German machines, we ask ourselves whether dead German soldiers got in touch with Dr. Haber, and helped him make the poison gas and the flame-throwers which won the Nobel prize.

That the son should proffer much good advice to his mother seems inevitable, because it is the passion of all communicative spirits to advise. He is also happy to correct certain false impressions which she has derived from the Evangelists.

“I got your wire calling my attention[Pg 52] to the scriptural statement that in Heaven there is neither marriage nor giving in marriage, and I do not know what to say. It seemed (until you gave me this jolt) that the Bible bears out everything that I have been able to tell you. Perhaps the chronicler got balled up in this particular quotation. For love and marriage are certainly in bud and flower here. I can see this fact with my own eyes.”

He can do more than see it with his own eyes. He can feel it with his own heart. A few pages later comes this naïve confession:

“Jack Wells and I are very close friends. His sister’s name is Alice, and she has grown up in the country beyond, where his folks live. It seems all reach or return to maturity. Youth blossoms and flowers, but does not decay. I can call up her vision at any time. But I want her near.”

A simple and guileless little book, preposterous[Pg 53] only in the assumption that the human race has waited for centuries to receive its revelations.

We have been told that the Great War stands responsible for our mental disturbance, for the repeated assaults upon taste and credulity before which the walls of our minds are giving way. Mr. Howells, observing rather sympathetically the ghostly stir and thrill which pervades literature, asked if it were due to the overwhelming numbers of the dead, if it came to us straight from sunken ships, and from the battle-fields of Europe.

What answer can we make save that natural laws work independently of circumstance? A single dead man and a million of dead men stand in the same relation to the living. If ever there was a time when it was needful to hold on to our sanity with all our might, that time is now. Our thoughts turn, and will long turn, to the men who laid down[Pg 54] their lives for our safety. How could it be otherwise? There is, and there has always been, a sense of comradeship with the departed. It is a noble and a still comradeship, untarnished by illusions, unvulgarized by extravagant details. Newman has portrayed it in “A Voice from Afar”; and Mr. Rowland Thirlmere has made it the theme of some very simple and touching verses called “Jimmy Doane.” The elderly Englishman who has lost his friend, a young American aviator, “generous, clever, and confident,” and who sits alone, with his heart cold and sore, feels suddenly the welcome nearness of the dead. No table heaves its heavy legs to announce that silent presence. No alphabet is needed for his message. But the living man says simply to his friend, “My house is always open to you,” and hopes that they may sit quietly together when the dreams of both are realized, and the hour of deliverance comes.

[Pg 55]

The attitude of spirit authors to the war varies from the serene detachment of Raymond, who had been a soldier, to the passionate partisanship of the “Living Dead Man,” who had been a civilian; but who, like the anonymous “Son,” cannot refrain from playing a lively part in the struggle. “Many a time have I clutched with my too-tenuous hands a German soldier who was about to disgrace himself.” Harry and Helen express some calm regret that the lack of unselfish love should make war possible, and report that “Hughey”—their brother-in-law’s brother—“has gone to throw all he possesses of light into the dark struggle.” Apparently his beams failed signally to illuminate the gloom, which is not surprising when we learn that “a selfish or ill-natured thought” (say from a Bulgarian or a Turk) “lowers the rate of vibration throughout the entire universe.” They also join the “White Cross” nurses, and[Pg 56] are gratified that their knowledge of French enables them to receive and encourage the rapidly arriving French soldiers. Helen, being the better scholar of the two, is able to give first aid, while Harry brushes up his verbs. In the absence of French caretakers, who seem to have all gone elsewhere, the two young Americans are in much demand.

Remote from such crass absurdities (which have their confiding readers) is the quiet, if somewhat perfunctory, counsel given by “The Invisible Guide” to Mr. C. Lewis Hind, and by him transmitted to the public. There is nothing offensive or distasteful in this little volume which has some charming chapters, and which purports to be an answer to the often asked question, “How may I enter into communion with the departed?” If the admonitions of the dead soldier, who is the “Guide,” lack pith and marrow, they do not lack it more perceptibly than do the admonitions of[Pg 57] living counsellors, and he is always commendably brief. What depresses us is the quality of his pacifism expressed at a time which warranted the natural and noble anger awakened by injustice.

It is the peculiarity of all pacifists that wrongdoing disturbs them less than does the hostility it provokes. The “Guide” has not a sigh to waste over Belgium and Serbia. Air-raids and submarines fail to disturb his serenity. But he cannot endure a picture called Mitrailleuse, which represents four French soldiers firing a machine gun. When his friend, the author, so far forgets himself as to be angry at the insolence of some Germans, the “Guide,” pained by such intolerance, refuses any communication; and when, in more cheerful mood, the author ventures to be a bit enthusiastic over the gallant feats of a young aviator, the “Guide” murmurs faintly and reproachfully, “It is the mothers that suffer.”

[Pg 58]

One is forced to doubt if guidance such as this would ever have led to victory.

Raymond, though he has been thrust before the public without pity and without reserve, has shown no disposition to enter the arena of authorship. He has been content to prattle to his own family about the conditions that surround him, about the brick house he lives in, the laboratories he visits, where “all sorts of things” are manufactured out of “essences and ether and gases,”—rather like German war products, and the lectures that he attends. The subjects of these lectures are spirituality, concentration, and—alas!—“the projection of uplifting and helpful thoughts to those on the earth plane.” Such scraps of wisdom as are vouchsafed him he passes dutifully on to his parents. He tells his mother that, on the spiritual plane, “Rank doesn’t count as a virtue. High rank comes by being virtuous.”

“Kind hearts are more than coronets.”

[Pg 59]

Also that “It isn’t always the parsons that go highest first,” and that “It isn’t what you’ve professed; it’s what you’ve done.” Something of this kind we have long suspected. Something of this kind has long been hinted from the plain pulpits of the world.

I fear it is the impatience of the human mind, the hardness of the human heart, which make us restless under too much preaching. Volume after volume of “messages” have been sent to us by spirits during the last few years. There is no fault to be found with any of them, and that sad word, “uplifting,” may well apply to all. Is it possible that, when we die, we shall preach to one another; or is it the elusiveness of ghostly audiences which drives determined preachers to the ouija board? The somewhat presumptuous title, “To Walk With God,” which Mrs. Lane and Mrs. Beale have given to their volume of revelations, was, we are told, commanded by[Pg 60] the spirit who dictated it. “Stephen,” the dead soldier who stands responsible for the diffuse philosophy of “Our Unseen Guest,” dedicates the book to the “wistful” questioners who seek enlightenment at his hands. “Anne Simon,” a transcendental spirit with a strong bias for hyphenated words, sends her modest “Message,” dictated through her husband, to “world-mortals for their regeneration.”

How lightly that tremendous word, “regeneration,” is bandied about by our ghostly preceptors. Mr. Basil King, in “The Abolishing of Death,” reports the spirit of Henry Talbot, the distinguished Boston chemist, as saying, “My especial mission is to regenerate the world.” It is a large order. The ungrateful but always curious mortal who would like a few practical hints about chemistry, is told instead that “grief is unrhythmical,” which proves that Mr. Talbot never read “In Memoriam”; or finds himself[Pg 61] beset by figurative phrases. “Literature is the sun, music is the water, sculpture is the earth, dancing is life, and painting is the soul. These in their purity can never be evil. I have spread a table in your sight. Whatever is on it is for your use. Take freely, and give it to others. They hunger for the food.”

For what do we hunger? For any word which will help us on our hard but interesting way, any word which is wise, or practically useful, or beautiful. It has been revealed to Mr. King that poets as splendid as Homer and Shakespeare bloom in the spirit world. Why, in the general assault by dead authors, are they the silent ones? Could they not give us one good play, one good lyric, one good sonnet, just to show a glint of their splendour? What is wrong with psychic currents that they bear nothing of value? “Stephen,” the “Unseen Guest,” assures us that many a man we call a genius “simply puts into words the[Pg 62] thoughts of some greater mentality in the other life.” But this is not adding to our store. It is trying to take away from us the merit of what we have. “Anne Simon” reads the riddle thus: “In earth-proximity the spirit leaves behind him his efficacy, for the time, of Heaven-emanation; so it is better to open the heart, and wish the larger beneficence than to visualize the spirit-form. For the spirit-form without its spirit-treasure does not bring the mortal to the higher places.”

Which, though not wholly intelligible, is doubtless true.

If we do not get what we hunger for, what is it we receive? Professor Hyslop once assured me that the authorship of “Jap Herron” was “proved beyond question.” This contented him, but dismayed me. The eclipse of the “merry star” which danced above Mark Twain’s cradle, and which shone on him fitfully through life, suggests direful possibilities[Pg 63] in the future. It is whispered that O. Henry is busily dictating allegories and tracts; that Dickens may yet reveal “The Mystery of Edwin Drood”; that Washington Irving has loomed on the horizon of an aspiring medium. The publication of “Shakespeare’s Revelations, by Shakespeare’s Spirit: A Soul’s Record of Defeat,” adds a touch of fantastic horror to the situation. The taste of the world, like the sanity of the world, has seemingly crashed into impotence.

Patience Worth is fortunate in so far that she has no earlier reputation at stake. In fact, we are informed that three of her stories are told in “a dialect which, taken as a whole, was probably never spoken, and certainly never written. Each seems to be a composite of dialect words and idioms of different periods and different localities.” It is Mr. Yost’s opinion, however, that her long historical novel, “The Sorry Tale,” is composed “in a literary tongue somewhat[Pg 64] resembling the language of the King James version of the Bible in form and style, but with the unmistakable verbal peculiarities of Patience Worth.” “What bringeth thee asearch?” and “Who hath the trod of the antelope?” are doubtless verbal peculiarities; but for any resemblance to the noble and vigorous lucidity of the English Bible we may search in vain through the six hundred and forty closely printed pages of this confused, wandering, sensuous, and wholly unreadable narrative, which purports to tell the life-history of the penitent thief. I quote a single paragraph, snatched at random from the text, which may serve as a sample of the whole:

“And within, upon the skins’-pack, sat Samuel, who listed him, and lo, the jaws of him hung ope. And Jacob wailed, and the Jew’s tongue of him sounded as the chatter of fowls, and he spake of the fool that plucked of his ass that he[Pg 65] save of down. Yea, and walked him at the sea’s edge, and yet sought o’ pools. And he held aloft unto the men who hung them o’er the bin’s place handsful of brass and shammed precious stuffs, and cried him out.”

Six hundred and forty pages of this kind of writing defy a patient world. And we are threatened with “the larger literature to come”!

“Hope Trueblood,” Patience Worth’s last novel, is written in intelligible English, as is also the greater part of her verse. The story deals with the doubtful legitimacy of a little girl in an English village which has lived its life along such straight lines that the mere existence of a bastard child, or a child thought to be a bastard, rocks it to its foundations, and furnishes sufficient matter for violent and heart-wounding scenes from the first chapter to the last. It is difficult to follow the fortunes of this child (who might have been the great original[Pg 66] devil baby of Hull House for the pother she creates) because of the confusion of the narrative, and because of the cruelly high pitch at which all emotions are sustained; but we gather that the marriage lines are at last triumphantly produced, and that the village is suffered to relapse into the virtuous somnolence of earlier days.

Mr. Yost, who has edited all of Patience Worth’s books, and who is perhaps a partial critic, praises her poems for their rare individuality. We may search in vain, he says, through literature for anything resembling them. “They are alike in the essential features of all poetry, and yet they are unalike. There is something in them that is not in other poetry. In the profusion of their metaphor there is an etherealness that more closely resembles Shelley, perhaps, than any other poet; but the beauty of Shelley’s poems is almost wholly in their diction; there is in him no profundity of[Pg 67] thought. In these poems there is both beauty and depth,—and something else.”

Whatever this “something else” may be, it is certainly not rhyme or rhythm. The verses brook no bondage, but run loosely on with the perilous ease of enfranchisement. For the most part they are of the kind which used to be classified by compilers as “Poems of Nature,” and “Poems of Sentiment and Reflection.” Spring, summer, autumn, and winter are as inspirational for the dead as for the living.

“’Tis season’s parting.
Yea, and earth doth weep. The Winter cometh,
And he bears her jewels for the decking
Of his bride. A glittered crown
Shall fall ’pon earth, and sparkled drop
Shall stand like gem that flasheth
’Pon a nobled brow. Yea, the tears
Of earth shall freeze and drop
As pearls, the necklace o’ the earth
’Tis season’s parting. Yea,
The earth doth weep.
’Tis Fall.”

[Pg 68]

These simple statements might justifiably be printed without the capital letters which distinguish prose from verse; but we can understand them, and we are familiar with the phenomena they describe.

Byron has recorded in a letter to Hoppner the profound impression made upon him by two concise epitaphs in the cemetery of Bologna.

Implora pace.
Implora eterna quiete.

It seemed to the poet—himself in need of peace—that all the weariness of life, and all the gentle humility of the tired but trusting soul, were compressed into those lines. There is nothing calamitous in death.

“The patrimony of a little mould,
And entail of four planks,”

is the common heritage of mankind, and we accept it reverently. A belief in[Pg 69] the immortality of the soul has been fairly familiar to Christendom before the spiritualists adopted it as their exclusive slogan. But to escape from time, only to enter upon an eternity shorn of everything which could make eternity endurable, to pass through the narrow door which opens on the highways of God, only to find ourselves dictating dull books, and delivering platitudinous lectures,—which of us has courage to face such possibilities!

We are told that once, when Patience Worth was spelling out the endless pages of “The Sorry Tale,” she came to a sudden stop, then wrote, “This be nuff,” and knocked off for the night. A blessed phrase, and, of a certainty, her finest inspiration. Would that all dead authors would adopt it as their motto; and with ouija boards, and table-legs, and automatic pencils, write as their farewell message to the world those three short, comely words, “This be nuff.”

[Pg 70]

Consolations of the Conservative

There is a story of Hawthorne’s which is little known, because it is too expansively dull to be read. It tells how the nations of the earth, convulsed by a mighty spasm of reform, rid themselves of the tools and symbols of all they held in abhorrence. Because they would have no more war, they destroyed the weapons of the world. Because they would have no more drunkenness, they destroyed its wines and spirits. Because they banned self-indulgence, they destroyed tobacco, tea, and coffee. Because they would have all men to be equal, they destroyed the insignia of rank, from the crown jewels of England to the medal of the Cincinnati. Wealth itself was not permitted to survive, lest the new order be as corrupt as was the[Pg 71] old. Nothing was left but the human heart with its imperishable and inalienable qualities; and while it beats within the human breast, the world must still be moulded by its passions. “When Cain wished to slay his brother,” murmured a cynic, watching the great guns trundled to the blaze, “he was at no loss for a weapon.”

If belief in the perfectibility of man—and not of man only, but of governments—is the inspiration of liberalism, of radicalism, of the spirit that calls clamorously for change, and that has requisitioned the words reform and progression, sympathy with man and with his work, with the beautiful and imperfect things he has made of the chequered centuries, is the keynote of conservatism. The temperamental conservative is a type vulnerable to ridicule, yet not more innately ridiculous than his neighbours. He has been carelessly defined as a man who is cautious because he has a[Pg 72] good income, and content because he is well placed; who is thick-headed because he lacks vision, and close-hearted because he is deaf to the moaning wind which is the cry of unhappy humanity asking justice from a world which has never known how to be just. Lecky, who had a neat hand at analysis, characterized the great conflicting parties in an axiom which pleased neither: “Stupidity in all its forms is Tory; folly in all its forms is Whig.”

These things have been too often said to be quite worth the saying. Stupidity is not the prerogative of any one class or creed. It is Heaven’s free gift to men of all kinds, and conditions, and civilizations. A practical man, said Disraeli, is one who perpetuates the blunders of his predecessor instead of striking out into blunders of his own. Temperamental conservatism is the dower (not to be coveted) of men in whom delight and doubt—I had almost said delight and[Pg 73] despair—contend for mastery; whose enjoyment of colour, light, atmosphere, tradition, language and literature is balanced by chilling apprehensiveness; whose easily won pardon for the shameless revelations of an historic past brings with it no healing belief in the triumphant virtues of the future.

The conservative is not an idealist, any more than he is an optimist. Idealism has worn thin in these days of colossal violence and colossal cupidity. Perhaps it has always been a cloak for more crimes than even liberty sheltered under her holy name. The French Jacobins were pure idealists; but they translated the splendour of their aspirations, the nobility and amplitude of their great conception, into terms of commonplace official murder, which are all the more displeasing to look back upon because of the riot of sentimentalism and impiety which disfigured them. It is bad enough to be bad, but to be[Pg 74] bad in bad taste is unpardonable. If we had resolutely severed the word “idealism” from the bloody chaos which is Russia, we should have understood more clearly, and have judged no less leniently, the seething ambitions of men who passionately desired, and desire, control. The elemental instinct of self-preservation is the first step to the equally elemental instinct of self-interest. Natural rights, about which we chatter freely, are not more equably preserved by denying them to one class of men than by denying them to another. They have been ill-protected under militarism and capitalism; and their subversion has been a sin crying out to Heaven for vengeance. They are not protected at all under any Soviet government so far known to report.

Nothing is easier than to make the world safe for democracy. Democracy is playing her own hand in the game. She has every intention and every opportunity[Pg 75] to make the world safe for herself. But democracy may be divorced from freedom, and freedom is the breath of man’s nostrils, the strength of his sinews, the sanction of his soul. It is as painful to be tyrannized over by a proletariat as by a tsar or by a corporation, and it is in a measure more disconcerting, because of the greater incohesion of the process. It is as revolting to be robbed by a reformer as by a trust. Oppressive taxation, which forced the great Revolution upon France; dishonest “deals,” which have made a mockery of justice in the United States; ironic laws, framed for the convenient looting of the bourgeoisie in Russia;—there is as much idealism in one device as in the others. Sonorous phrases like “reconstruction of the world’s psychology,” and “creation of a new world-atmosphere,” are mental sedatives, drug words, calculated to put to sleep any uneasy apprehensions. They may mean[Pg 76] anything, and they do mean nothing, so that it is safe to go on repeating them. But a Bolshevist official was arrested in Petrograd in March, 1919, charged with embezzling fifteen million rubles. Not content with the excesses of the new régime, he must needs revert to the excesses of the old,—a discouraging study in evolution.

When Lord Hugh Cecil published his analysis of conservatism nine years ago, the British reviewers devoted a great deal of time to its consideration,—not so much because they cared for what the author had to say (though he said it thoughtfully and well), as because they had opinions of their own on the subject, and desired to give them utterance. Cecil’s conception of temperamental, as apart from modern British political conservatism (which he dates from Pitt and Burke), affords the most interesting part of the volume; but the line of demarcation is a wavering one. That[Pg 77] famous sentence of Burke’s concerning innovations that are not necessarily reforms, “They shake the public security, they menace private enjoyment,” shows the alliance between temperament and valuation. It was Burke’s passionate delight in life’s expression, rather than in life’s adventure, that made him alive to its values. He was not averse to change: change is the law of the universe; but he changed in order to preserve. The constructive forces of the world persistently won his deference and support.

The intensely British desire to have a moral, and, if possible, a religious foundation for a political creed would command our deepest respect, were the human mind capable of accommodating its convictions to morality and religion, instead of accommodating morality and religion to its convictions. Cecil, a stern individualist, weighted with a heavy sense of personal responsibility, and disposed[Pg 78] to distrust the kindly intervention of the State, finds, naturally enough, that Christianity is essentially individualistic. “There is not a line of the New Testament that can be quoted in favour of the enlargement of the function of the State beyond the elementary duty of maintaining order and suppressing crime.”

The obvious retort to this would be that there is not a line in the New Testament which can be quoted in favour of the confinement of the function of the State to the elementary duty of maintaining order and suppressing crime. The counsel of Christ is a counsel of perfection, and a counsel of perfection is necessarily personal and intimate. What the world asks now are state reforms and social reforms,—in other words, the reformation of our neighbours. What the Gospel asks, and has always asked, is the reformation of ourselves,—a harassing and importunate[Pg 79] demand. Mr. Chesterton spoke but the truth when he said that Christianity has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult, and not tried.

Cecil’s conclusions anent the unconcern of the Gospels with forms of government were, strangely enough, the points very ardently disputed by Bible-reading England. A critic in the “Contemporary Review” made the interesting statement that the political economy of the New Testament is radical and sound. He illustrated his argument with the parable of the labourers in the vine-yard, pointing out that the master paid the men for the hours in which they had had no work. “In the higher economics,” he said, “the State, as representing the community, is responsible for those who, through the State’s malfeasance, misfeasance, or nonfeasance, are unable to obtain the work for which they wait.”

[Pg 80]

But apart from the fact that the parable is meant to have a spiritual and not a material significance, there is nothing in the Gospel to indicate that the master considered that he owed the late-comers their day’s wage. His comment upon his own action disclaims this assumption: “Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own?” And it is worthy of note that the protest against his liberality comes, not from other vine-growers objecting to a precedent, but from the labourers who cannot be brought to see that an hour’s work done by their neighbours may be worth as much as twelve hours’ work done by themselves. Human nature has not altered perceptibly in the course of two thousand years.

Great Britain’s experiment in doling out “unemployment pay” was based on expediency, and on the generous hypothesis that men and women, outside of the professional pauper class, would[Pg 81] prefer work with wages to wages without work. A cartoon in “Punch” representing the Minister of Labour blandly and insinuatingly presenting a house-maid’s uniform to an outraged “ex-munitionette,” who is the Government’s contented pensioner, suggests some rift in this harmonious understanding. Progressives have branded temperamental conservatism as distrust of the unknown,—a mental attitude which is the antithesis of love of adventure. But distrust of the unknown is a thin and fleeting emotion compared with distrust of human nature, which is perfectly well known. To know it is not necessarily to quarrel with it. It is merely to take it into account.

Economics and ethics have little in common. They meet in amity, only to part in coldness. Our preference for our own interests is essentially and vitally un-Christian. The competitive system is not a Christian system. But it lies at the[Pg 82] root of civilization; it has its noble as well as its ignoble side; it is the main-spring of both nationalism and internationalism; it is the force which supports governments, and the force which violently disrupts them. Men have risen above self-interest for life; nations, superbly for a time. The sense of shock which was induced by Germany’s acute reversion to barbarism was deeper than the sense of danger induced by her vaulting ambitions. There is no such passionate feeling in life as that which is stirred by the right and duty of defence; and for more than four years the Allied nations defended the world from evils which the world fancied it had long outgrown. The duration of the war is the most miraculous part of the miraculous tale. A monotony of heroism, a monotony of sacrifice, transcends imagination.

Now it is over. Citizens of the United States walked knee-deep in newspapers[Pg 83] for a joyous night to signify their satisfaction, and at once embarked on vivacious disputes over memorial arches, and statues, and monuments. The nations of Europe, with lighter pockets and heavier stakes, began to consider difficulties and to cultivate doubts. No one can fail to understand the destructive forces of the world, because they have given object-lessons on a large and lurid scale. But the constructive forces are on trial, with imposing chances of success or failure. They are still in the wordy stage, and now, as never before, the world is sick of words. “This is neither the time nor the place for superfluous phrases,” said Clemenceau (ironically, one hopes), when he placed in the hands of Count von Brockdorff-Rantzau a peace treaty which some stony-hearted wag has informed us was precisely the length of “A Tale of Two Cities.” The appalling discursiveness of the Versailles Conference has added to[Pg 84] the confusion of the world; but fitted into the “Preamble” of the Covenant of the League of Nations are five little vocables, four of them monosyllabic, which embody the one arresting thought that dominates and authorizes the articles,—“Not to resort to war.” These five words are the crux of the whole serious and sanguine scheme. They hold the hope of the weak, and the happiness of the insecure. They deny to the strong the pleasures—and the means—of coercion.

The rapid changes wrought by the twentieth century are less disconcerting to the temperamental conservative, who is proverbially slow, than movements which take time to be persuasive. For one thing, the vast spiral along which the world spins brings him face to face with new friends before he loses sight of the old. The revolutionary of yesterday is the reactionary of to-day, and the conservative finds himself hob-nobbing[Pg 85] with men and women whom he had thought remote as the Poles.

Two interesting examples are Madame Catherine Breshkovskaya and Mr. Samuel Gompers. Time was, and not so many years ago, when both condoned violence—the violence of the Russian Nihilist, the violence of the American dynamiter—as a short road to justice. Their attitude was not unlike that of the first Southern lynchers: “We take the law into our own hands, because conditions are unbearable, and the State affords no adequate relief.” But Madame Breshkovskaya has seen the forces she helped to set in motion sweeping in unanticipated and shattering currents. She has seen a new terrorism arise and wield the weapons of the old to crush man’s sacred freedom. The peasants she loved have been beyond the reach of her help. The country for which she suffered thirty years of exile repudiated her. Radicals in Europe and[Pg 86] in the United States mocked at her. The Grandmother of the Revolution has become a conservative old lady, concerned, as good grandmothers ought to be, with the welfare of little children, and pleading pitifully for order and education.

As for Mr. Gompers, his unswerving loyalty to the cause of the Allies, his unswerving rejection of Germany and all her works, will never be forgiven by pacifists, by the men and women who had no word of protest or of pity when Belgium was invaded, when the Lusitania was sunk, when towns were burned, civilians butchered, and girls deported; and who recovered their speech only to plead for the nation that had disregarded human sufferings and human rights. Mr. Gompers helped as much as any one man in the United States to win the war, and winning a war is very distasteful to those who do not want to fight. Therefore has he[Pg 87] been relegated by international Socialists, who held hands for four years with Pan-German Socialists, to the ranks of the conservatives. When the “Nation,” speaking ex cathedra, says, “The authority of the old machine-type of labour leader like Mr. Gompers is impaired beyond help or hope,” we hear the echo of the voices which babbled about capitalism and profiteering in April, 1917. The Great War has made and unmade the friendships of the world. If the radicals propose it as a test, as a test the conservatives will accept it.

The successive revolutions which make the advance-guard of one movement the rear-guard of the next are as expeditious and as overwhelming in the field of art as in the fields of politics and sociology. In the spring of 1877 an exhibition of two hundred and forty pictures, the work of eighteen artists, was opened in the rue le Peletier, Paris.[Pg 88] For some reason, never sufficiently explained, Parisians found in these canvases a source of infinite diversion. They went to the exhibition in a mood of obvious hilarity. They began to laugh while they were still in the street, they laughed as they climbed the stairs, they were convulsed with laughter when they looked at the pictures, they laughed every time they talked them over with their friends.

Now what were these mirth-provoking works of art? Not cubist diagrams, not geometrical charts of human anatomy, not reversible landscapes, not rainbow-tinted pigs. Such exhilarants lay in wait for another century and another generation. The pictures which so abundantly amused Paris in 1877 were painted by Claude Monet, Pissarro, Cézanne, Renoir,—men of genius, who, having devised a new and brilliant technique, abandoned themselves with too little reserve to the veracities of impressionism.[Pg 89] They were not doctrinaires. The peace they disturbed was only the peace of immobility. But they were drunk with new wine. Their strength lay in their courage and their candour; their weakness in the not unnatural assumption that they were expressing the finalities of art.

Defenders they had in plenty. No pioneer can escape from the hardship of vindication. Years before, Baudelaire had felt it incumbent upon himself, as a professional mutineer, to support the “fearless innovations” of Manet. Zola, always on the lookout for somebody to attack or to defend, was equally enthusiastic and equally choleric. Loud disputation rent the air while the world sped on its way, and lesser artists discovered, to their joy, what a facile thing it was to produce nerve-racking novelties. In 1892, John La Farge, wandering disconsolately through the exhibitions of Paris, wondered if there[Pg 90] might not still be room for something simple in art.

Ever and always the reproach cast at the conservative is that he has been blind in the beginning to the beauty he has been eventually compelled to recognize; and ever and always he replies that, in the final issue, he is the guardian of all beauty. His are the imperishable standards, his is the love for a majestic past, his is the patience to wait until the wheat has been sorted from the chaff, and gathered into the granaries of the world. If he be hostile to the problematic, which is his weakness, he is passionately loyal to the tried and proven, which is his strength. He is as necessary to human sanity as the progressive is necessary to human hope.

Civilization and culture are very old and very beautiful. They imply refinement of humour, a disciplined taste, sensitiveness to noble impressions, and a[Pg 91] wise acceptance of the laws of evidence. These things are not less valuable for being undervalued. “At the present time,” says the most acute of American critics, Mr. Brownell, “it is quite generally imagined that we should gain rather than lose by having Raphael without the Church, and Rembrandt without the Bible.” The same notion, less clearly defined, is prevalent concerning Milton and Dante. We had grown weary of large and compelling backgrounds until the Great War focussed our emotions. We are impatient still of large and compelling traditions. The tendency is to localization and analysis.

The new and facile experiments in verse, which have some notable exponents, are interesting and indecisive. Midway between the enthusiasm of the experimenters (which is not contagious) and the ribald gibes of the disaffected (which are not convincing) the conservative[Pg 92] critic practises that watchful waiting, so safe in the world of art, so hazardous in the world of action. He cannot do as he has been bidden, and judge the novel product by its own standards, for that would be to exempt it from judgment. Nothing—not even a German—can be judged by his—or its—own standard. If there is to be any standard at all, it must be based on comparison. Keen thoughts and vivid words have their value, no matter in what form they are presented; but unless that form be poetical, the presentation is not poetry. There is a world of truth in Mr. Masters’s brief and bitter lines:

“Beware of the man who rises to power
From one suspender.”

It has the kind of sagacity which is embodied in the old adage, “You cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear,” and it is as remote from the requirements of prosody.

[Pg 93]

The medium employed by Walt Whitman, at times rhythmic and cadenced, at times ungirt and sagging loosely, enabled him to write passages of sustained beauty, passages grandly conceived and felicitously rendered. It also permitted him a riotous and somewhat monotonous excess. Every word misused revenges itself forever upon a writer’s reputation. The medium employed by the unshackled poets of to-day is capable of vivid and accurate imagery. It has aroused—or revealed—habits of observation. It paints pen-pictures cleverly. In the hands of French, British, and American experts, it shows sobriety, and a clear consciousness of purpose. But it is useless to deny that the inexpert find it perilously easy. The barriers which protect an ordinary four-lined stanza are not hard to scale; but they do exist, and they sometimes bring the versifier to a halt. Without them, nothing brings him to[Pg 94] a halt, save the limits of the space allotted by grudging newspapers and periodicals.

Yet brevity is the soul of song, no less than the soul of wit. Those lovely lyrics, swift as the note of a bird on the wing, imperishable as a jewel, haunting as unforgotten melody, are the fruits of artifice no less than of inspiration. In eight short lines, Landor gave “Rose Aylmer” to an entranced and forever listening world. There is magic in the art that made those eight lines final. A writer of what has been cynically called “socialized poetry” would have spent the night of “memories and sighs” in probing and specifying his emotions.

The conservative’s inheritance from the radical’s lightly rejected yesterdays gives him ground to stand on, and a simplified point of view. In that very engaging volume, “The Education of Henry Adams,” the autobiographer tells us in one breath how much he desires[Pg 95] change, and, in the next, how much he resents it. He would like to upset an already upset world, but he would also like to keep the Pope in the Vatican, and the Queen in Windsor Castle. He feels that by right he should have been a Marxist, but the last thing he wants to see is a transformed Europe. The bewildered reader might be pardoned for losing himself in this labyrinth of uncertainties, were it not for an enlightening paragraph in which the author expresses unqualified amazement at Motley’s keen enjoyment of London society.

“The men of whom Motley must have been thinking were such as he might meet at Lord Houghton’s breakfasts: Grote, Jowett, Milman, or Froude; Browning, Matthew Arnold, or Swinburne; Bishop Wilberforce, Venables, or Hayward; or perhaps Gladstone, Robert Lowe, or Lord Granville.... Within the narrow limits of this class the American Legation was fairly at[Pg 96] home; possibly a score of houses, all liberal and all literary, but perfect only in the eyes of a Harvard College historian. They could teach little worth knowing, for their tastes were antiquated, and their knowledge was ignorance to the next generation. What was altogether fatal for future purpose, they were only English.”

Apart from the delightful conception of the author of “Culture and Anarchy,” and the author of “Atalanta in Calydon,” as “only English,” the pleasure the conservative reader takes in this peremptory estimate is the pleasure of possession. To him belongs the ignorance of Jowett and Grote, to him the obsoleteness of Browning. From every one of these discarded luminaries some light falls on his path. In fact, a flash of blinding light was vouchsafed to Mr. Adams, when he and Swinburne were guests in the house of Monckton Milnes. Swinburne was passionately praising[Pg 97] the god of his idolatry, Victor Hugo; and the young American, who knew little and cared less about French poetry, ventured in a half-hearted fashion to assert the counter-claims of Alfred de Musset. Swinburne listened impatiently, and brushed aside the comparison with a trenchant word: “De Musset did not sustain himself on the wing.”

If a bit of flawless criticism from an expert’s lips be not educational, then there is nothing to be taught or learned in the world. Of the making of books there is no end; but now as ever the talker strikes the light, now as ever conversation is the appointed medium of intelligence and taste.

It is well that the past yields some solace to the temperamental conservative, for the present is his only on terms he cannot easily fulfil. His reasonable doubts and his unreasonable prejudices block the path of contentment. He is powerless to believe a thing because it is[Pg 98] an eminently desirable thing to believe. He is powerless to deny the existence of facts he does not like. He is powerless to credit new systems with finality. The sanguine assurance that men and nations can be legislated into goodness, that pressure from without is equivalent to a moral change within, needs a strong backing of inexperience. “The will,” says Francis Thompson, “is the lynch-pin of the faculties.” We stand or fall by its strength or its infirmity. Where there is no temptation, there is no virtue. Parental legislation for the benefit of the weak leaves them as weak as ever, and denies to the strong the birthright of independence, the hard, resistant manliness with which they work out their salvation. They may go to heaven in leading-strings, but they cannot conquer Apollyon on the way.

The well-meant despotism of the reformer accomplishes some glittering results, but it arrests the slow progress of[Pg 99] civilization, which cannot afford to be despotic. Mr. Bagehot, whose cynicism held the wisdom of restraint, maintained that the “cake of custom” should be stiff enough to make change of any kind difficult, but never so stiff as to make it impossible. The progress achieved under these conditions would be, he thought, both durable and endurable. “Without a long-accumulated and inherited tendency to discourage originality, society would never have gained the cohesion requisite for effecting common action against its external foes.” Deference to usage is a uniting and sustaining bond. Nations which reject it are apt to get off the track, and have to get back, or be put back, with difficulty and disaster. They do not afford desirable dwelling-places for thoughtful human beings, but they give notable lessons to humanity. Innovations to which we are not committed are illuminating things.

[Pg 100]

If the principles of conservatism are based on firm supports, on a recognition of values, a sense of measure and proportion, a due regard for order,—its prejudices are indefensible. The wise conservative does not attempt to defend them; he only clings to them more lovingly under attack. He recognizes triumphant science in the telephone and the talking machine, and his wish to escape these benefactions is but a humble confession of unworthiness. He would be glad if scientists, hitherto occupied with preserving and disseminating sound, would turn their attention to suppressing it, would collect noise as an ashman collects rubbish, and dump it in some lonely place, thus preserving the sanity of the world. He agrees with Mr. Edward Martin (who bears the hall-mark of the caste) that periodicals run primarily for advertisers, and secondarily for readers, are worthy of regard, and that only the tyranny of[Pg 101] habit makes him revolt from so nice an adjustment of interests. Why, after all, should he balk at pursuing a story, or an article on “Ballads and Folk-Songs of the Letts,” between columns of well-illustrated advertisements? Why should he refuse to leap from chasm to chasm, from the intimacies of underwear to electrical substitutes for all the arts of living? There is no hardship involved in the chase, and the trail is carefully blazed. Yet the chances are that he abandons the Letts, reminding himself morosely that three years ago he was but dimly aware of their existence; and their “rich vein of traditional imagery,” to say nothing of their early edition of Luther’s catechism, fades from his intellectual horizon.

If we are too stiff to adjust ourselves to changed conditions, we are bound to play a losing game. Yet the moral element in taste survives all change, and denies to us a ready acquiescence in[Pg 102] innovations whose only merit is their practicality. Through the reeling years of war, the standard set by taste remained a test of civilization. In these formidable years of peace, racked by anxieties and shadowed by disillusions (Franklin’s ironic witticism concerning the blessedness of peace-makers was never more applicable than to-day), the austerity of taste preserves our self-respect. We are under no individual obligation to add to the wealth of nations. It is sometimes a pleasant duty to resist the pervasive pressure of the business world.

Political conservatism may be a lost cause in modern democracy; but temperamental conservatism dates from the birth of man’s reasoning powers, and will survive the clamour and chaos of revolutions. It may rechristen its political platform, but the animating spirit will be unchanged. As a matter of fact, great conservatives have always[Pg 103] been found in the liberal ranks, and Tory Cassandras, who called themselves radicals, have prophesied with dismal exactitude. It was a clear-eyed, clear-voiced Socialist who, eight years before the war, warned British Socialists that they would do well to sound the temper of German Socialists before agitating for a reduction of the British navy. M. Paul Deschanel says of the French that they have revolutionary imaginations and conservative temperaments. An English critic has used nearly the same terms in defining the elemental principles of civilization,—conservatism of technique and spiritual restlessness. It is the fate of man to do his own thinking, and thinking is subversive of content; but a sane regard for equilibrium is his inheritance from the travail of centuries. He sees far who looks both ways. He journeys far who treads a known track.

Resistance, which is the function of[Pg 104] conservatism, is essential to orderly advance. It is a force in the social and political, as well as in the natural order. A party of progress, a party of stability,—call them by what names we please,—they will play their rôles to the end. The hopefulness of the reformer (Savonarola’s bonfire of vanities is an historic precedent for Hawthorne’s allegory) is balanced by the patience of the conservative, which has survived the disappointments of time, and is not yet exhausted. He at least knows that “the chief parts of human doom and duty are eternal,” and that the things which can change are not the things essential to the support of his soul. We stand at the door of a new day, and are sanguine or affrighted according to our temperaments; but this day shall be transient as the days which have preceded it, and, like its predecessors, shall plead for understanding and pardon before the bar of history.

[Pg 105]

The Cheerful Clan

Now that the Great War is a thing of the past, there is no longer any need to be cheerful. For years a valorous gaiety has been the rôle assigned us. For years we struck a hopeful note, whether it rang true or false. For years the plight of the world was so desperate that we dared not look straight ahead, lest the spectre of a triumphant Germany smite us blind. Confronted with a ruthlessness which threatened to extinguish the liberties and decencies of civilization, we simply had to cast about us for a wan smile to hide from apprehensive eyes the trouble of our souls.

Now the beast of militarism has been chained, and until it is strong enough to break its fetters (which should be a matter of years), we can breathe freely, and try and heal our hurt. True, there is[Pg 106] trouble enough on every side to stock a dozen worlds. The beauty of France has been unspeakably defiled. The butcheries in Belgium scarred the nation’s soul. The flower of British youth have perished. Italy’s gaping wounds have festered under a grievous sense of wrong. Russia seethes with hatred and strife. In the United States we see on one hand a mad welter of lawlessness, idleness, and greed; and, on the other, official extravagance, administrative weakness, a heavy, ill-adjusted burden of taxation, and shameless profiteering. Our equilibrium is lost, and with it our sense of proportion. We are Lilliput and Brobdingnag jumbled up together, which is worse than anything Gulliver ever encountered.

But this displacement of balance, this unruly selfishness, is but the inevitable result of the world’s great upheaval. It represents the human rebound from high emotions and heavy sacrifices. The[Pg 107] emotions and the sacrifices have met their reward. Germany cannot—for some time to come—spring at our throat. If we fail to readjust our industries on a paying basis, we shall of course go under, and lose the leadership of the world. But we won’t be kicked under by the Prussian boot.

Therefore cheerfulness is no longer obligatory. We can shut the door in the faces of its professional purveyors—who have been making a good thing of it—and look with restful seriousness upon the mutability of life. Our intelligence, so long insulted by the sentimental inconsistencies which are the text of the Gospel of Gladness, can assert its right of rejection. The Sunshine School of writers has done its worst, and the fixed smile with which it regards the universe is as offensive as the fixed smile of chorus girls and college presidents, of débutantes and high officials, who are photographed for the[Pg 108] Sunday press, and who all look like advertisements of dentifrice.

Popular optimism—the kind which is hawked about like shoe-strings—is the apotheosis of superficiality. The obvious is its support, the inane is its ornament. Consider the mental attitude of a writer who does not hesitate to say in a perfectly good periodical, which does not hesitate to publish his words: “Nothing makes a man happier than to know that he is of use to his own time.” Only in a sunburst of cheerfulness could such a naked truism be shamelessly exposed. I can remember that, when I was a child, statements of this order were engraved in neat script on the top line of our copy-books. But it was understood that their value lay in their chirography, in the unapproachable perfection of every letter, not in the message they conveyed. Our infant minds were never outraged by seeing them in printed text. Those were serious and[Pg 109] self-respecting days when no one sent our mothers a calendar with three hundred and sixty-five words of cheer, designed to jack up the lowered morale of the family. The missionary spirit was at work then as now; but it mostly dropped tracts on our doorstep, reminding us that we might be in hell before to-morrow morning.

The gaiety of life is a saving grace, and high spirits are more than the appanage of youth. They represent the rebound of the resilient soul from moods of dejection, and it is their transient character which makes them so infectious. Landor’s line,

“That word, that sad word, Joy,”

is manifestly unfair. Joy is a delightful, flashing little word, as brief as is the emotion it conveys. We all know what it means, but nobody dares to preach it, as they preach three-syllabled cheerfulness, and gladness which once had a heroic sound, the “gladness that hath[Pg 110] favour with God,” but which is now perilously close to slang. The early Christians, who had on a large scale the courage of their convictions, found in their faith sufficient warrant for content. They seem to have lived and died with a serenity, a perfect good humour, which is the highest result of the best education. But when Mr. Shaw attempted to elucidate in “Androcles and the Lion” this difficult and delicate conception, he peopled his stage with Pollyannas, who voiced their cheerfulness so clamorously that they made persecution pardonable. No public could be expected to endure such talk when it had an easy method of getting rid of the talkers.

The leniency of the law now leaves us without escape. We cannot throw our smiling neighbours to the lions, and they override us in what seems to me a spirit of cowardly exultation. Female optimists write insufferable papers on “Happy Hours for Old Ladies,” and male optimists[Pg 111] write delusive papers on “Happiness as a Business Asset.” Reforming optimists who, ten years ago, bade us rejoice over the elimination of war,—“save on the outskirts of civilization,” now bid us rejoice over the elimination of alcohol,—save on the tables of the rich. Old-fashioned optimists, like Mr. Horace Fletcher, put faith in the “benevolent intentions” of nature,—nature busy with the scorpion’s tail. New-fashioned optimists, like Professor Ralph Barton Perry (who may not know how optimistic he is), put faith in the mistrust of nature which has armed the hands of men. Sentimental optimists, the most pervasive of the tribe, blur the fine outlines of life, to see which clearly and bravely is the imperative business of man’s soul.

For the world of thought is not one whit more tranquil than the world of action. The man whose “mind to him a kingdom is” wears his crown with as[Pg 112] much uneasiness as does a reigning monarch. Giordano Bruno, who had troubles of his own, and who knew by what road they came, commended ignorance as a safeguard from melancholy. If, disregarding this avenue of escape, we look with understanding, and sometimes even with exhilaration, upon the portentous spectacle of life, if we have tempers so flawless that we can hold bad hands and still enjoy the game, then, with the sportsman’s relish, will come the sportsman’s reward; a reward, be it remembered, which is in the effort only, and has little to do with results.

“Il faut chanter! chanter, même en sachant
Qu’il existe des chants qu’on préfère à son chant.”

The generous illusions which noble souls like Emerson’s have cherished undismayed are ill-fitted for loose handling. Good may be the final goal of evil, but if we regard evil with a too sanguine eye, it is liable to be thrown out of perspective.[Pg 113] In the spring of 1916, when the dark days of the war were upon us, and the toll of merchant ships grew heavier week by week with Germany’s mounting contempt for admonitions, I heard a beaming gentleman point out to a large audience, which tried to beam responsively, that the “wonderful” thing about the contest was the unselfish energy it had awakened in the breasts of American women. He dwelt unctuously upon their relief committees, upon the excellence of their hospital supplies, upon their noble response to the needs of humanity. He repeated a great many times how good it was for us to do these things. He implied, though he did not say it in rude words, that the agony of Europe was nicely balanced by the social regeneration of America. He was a sentimental Rochefoucauld, rejoicing, without a particle of guile, that the misfortunes of our friends had given us occasion to manifest our friendship.

[Pg 114]

It has been often asserted that unscrupulous optimism is an endearing trait, that the world loves it even when forced to discountenance it, and that “radiant” people are personally and perennially attractive. Mr. Robert Louis Stevenson said something of this sort, and his authority is invoked by sentimentalists who compile calendars, and birthday books, and texts to encumber our walls. They fail to distinguish the finely tempered spirit which carried Mr. Stevenson over the stony places of life, and which was beautiful beyond measure (the stones being many and hard), from the inconsequent cheerfulness which says that stones are soft. We cannot separate an author from his work, and nowhere in Stevenson’s books does he guarantee anything more optimistic than courage. The triumph of evil in “Thrawn Janet,” the hopelessness of escape from heredity in “Olalla,” the shut door in “Markheim,” the stern[Pg 115] contempt in “A Lodging for the Night,” the inextinguishable and unpardonable hatreds in “The Master of Ballantrae,” even the glorious contentiousness of “Virginibus Puerisque,”—where in these masterful pages are we invited to smile at life? We go spinning through it, he admits, “like a party for the Derby.” Yet “the whole way is one wilderness of snares, and the end of it, for those who fear the last pinch, is irrevocable ruin.”

This is a call for courage, for the courage that lay as deep as pain in the souls of Stevenson, and Johnson, and Lamb. The combination of a sad heart and a gay temper, which is the most charming and the most lovable thing the world has got to show, gave to these men their hold upon the friends who knew them in life, and still wins for them the personal regard of readers. Lamb, the saddest and the gayest of the three, cultivated sedulously the little arts of happiness. He opened all the avenues of approach.[Pg 116] He valued at their worth a good play, a good book, a good talk, and a good dinner. He lived in days when occasional drunkenness failed to stagger humanity, and when roast pig was within the income of an East India clerk. He had a gift, subtle rather than robust, for enjoyment, and a sincere accessibility to pain. His words were unsparing, his actions kind. He binds us to him by his petulance as well as by his patience, by his entirely human revolt from dull people and tiresome happenings. He was not one of those who

“lightly lose
Their all, yet feel no aching void.
Should aught annoy them, they refuse
To be annoyed.”

On the contrary, the whimsical expression of his repeated annoyance is balm to our fretted souls.

For the friend whom we love is the friend who gets wet when he is rained on, who is candid enough to admit failure,[Pg 117] and courageous enough to mock at it. When Jane Austen wrote to her sister that she did not have a very good time at a party, because men were disposed not to ask her to dance until they could not help it, she did more than make Cassandra smile; she won her way into the hearts of readers for whom that letter was not meant. We know the “radiant” people to whom all occasions are enjoyable, who intimate—with some skill, I confess—that they carry mirth and gaiety in their wake. They are capable of describing a Thanksgiving family dinner as mirthful because they were participants. Not content with a general profession of pleasure in living, “which is all,” says Mr. Henry Adams, “that the highest rules of good breeding should ask,” they insist upon the delightfulness of a downcast world, and they offer their personal sentiments as proof.

Dr. Johnson’s sputtering rage at the[Pg 118] happy old lady is the most human thing recorded of his large and many-sided humanity. A great thinker who confronted life with courage and understanding was set at naught, and, to speak truth, routed, by an unthinking, but extremely solid, asseveration. And after all the old lady was not calling for recruits; she was simply stating a case. Miss Helen Keller, in a book called “Optimism,” says very plainly that if she, a blind deaf mute, can be happy, every one can achieve happiness, and that it is every one’s duty to achieve it. Now there is not a decent man or woman in the country who will not be glad to know that Miss Keller is, as she says she is, happy; but this circumstance does not affect the conditions of life as measured by all who meet them. The whole strength of the preaching world has gone into optimism, with the result that it has reached a high place in man’s estimation, is always spoken of with[Pg 119] respect, and not infrequently mistaken for a virtue.

Are we then so sunk in dejection, so remote from the splendid and unconscious joy which the struggle for life gave to the centuries that are over? Time was when men needed the curb, and not the spur, in that valorous contention. “How high the sea of human delight rose in the Middle Ages,” says Mr. Chesterton, “we know only by the colossal walls they built to keep it within bounds.” Optimism was as superfluous as meliorism when the world was in love with living, when Christianity preached penance and atonement for sin, striving by golden promises and direful threats to wean man from that unblessed passion, to turn the strong tide of his nature back from the earth that nourished it. There was never but one thorough-going optimist among the Fathers of the Church, and that was Origen, who looked forward confidently[Pg 120] to the final conversion of Satan. His attitude was full of nobleness because he had suffered grievously at the heathen’s hands; but not even by the alchemy of compassion is evil transmutable to good.

The Stoics, who proposed that men should practise virtue without compensation, were logically unassailable, but not persuasive to the average mind. It does not take much perspicuity to distinguish between an agreeable and a disagreeable happening, and once the difference is perceived, no argument can make them equally acceptable. “Playing at mummers is one thing,” says the sapient tanner in Kenneth Grahame’s “Headswoman,” “and being executed is another. Folks ought to keep them separate.” On the other hand, the assurance of the Epicureans that goodness and temperance were of value because they conduced to content was liable to be set aside by the man who found himself[Pg 121] contented without them. “The poor world, to do it justice,” says Gilbert Murray, “has never lent itself to any such bare-faced deception as the optimism of the Stoics”; but neither are we disposed to recognize enlightened self-interest as a spiritual agency. It may perhaps be trusted to make a good husband or a good vestryman, but not a good human being.

A highly rational optimist, determined to be logical at any cost, observed recently in a British review that sympathy was an invasion of liberty. “If I must sorrow because another is sorrowing, I am a slave to my feelings, and it is best that I shall be slave to nothing. Perfect freedom means that I am able to follow my own will, and my will is to be happy rather than to be sad. I love pleasure rather than pain. Therefore if I am moved to sorrow against my will, I am enslaved by my sympathy.”

This is an impregnable position. It is[Pg 122] the old, old philosophy of the cold heart and the warm stomach. I do not say that it is unwise. I say only that it is unlikable.

For our quarrel with Christian Science is, not that it prefers Mrs. Eddy to Æsculapius, or her practitioners to his practitioners; not that it sometimes shames us by rising superbly above our froward nerves, and on less happy occasions denies the existence of a cold which is intruding itself grossly upon the senses; but that it exempts its followers from legitimate pity and grief. Only by refusing such exemption can we play our whole parts in the world. While there is a wrong done, we must admit some measure of defeat; while there is a pang suffered, we have no right to unflawed serenity. To cheat ourselves intellectually that we may save ourselves spiritually is unworthy of the creature that man is meant to be.

[Pg 123]

And to what end! Things are as they are, and no amount of self-deception makes them otherwise. The friend who is incapable of depression depresses us as surely as the friend who is incapable of boredom bores us. Somewhere in our hearts is a strong, though dimly understood, desire to face realities, and to measure consequences, to have done with the fatigue of pretending. It is not optimism to enjoy the view when one is treed by a bull; it is philosophy. The optimist would say that being treed was a valuable experience. The disciple of gladness would say it was a pleasurable sensation. The Christian Scientist would say there was no bull, though remaining—if he were wise—on the tree-top. The philosopher would make the best of a bad job, and seek what compensation he could find. He is of a class apart.

If, as scientists assert, fear is the note which runs through the universe, courage[Pg 124] is the unconquerable beat of man’s heart. A “wise sad valour” won the war at a cost we do well to remember; and from unnumbered graves comes a stern reminder that the world can hold wrongs which call for such a righting. We for whom life has been made, not safe, but worth the living, can now afford “le bel sérieux” which befits the time and occasion. When preachers cease pointing out to us inaccessible routes to happiness, we may stop the chase long enough to let her softly overtake us. When the Gospellers of Gladness free us of their importunities, our exhausted spirits may yet revive to secret hours of mirth. When we frankly abandon an attitude of cheerfulness, our Malvolio smile may break into sudden peals of laughter. What have we gained from the past seven years if not zest for the difficulties and dangers ahead of us? What lesson have we learned but intrepidity? The noble Greek lines upon[Pg 125] a drowned seaman sound in our ears, and steady us to action:

“A shipwrecked sailor, buried on this coast,
Bids you set sail.
Full many a gallant bark, when he was lost,
Weathered the gale.”

[Pg 126]

The Beloved Sinner

All the world does not love a lover. It is a cultivated taste, alien to the natural man, and unknown to childhood. But all the world does love a sinner, either because he is convertible to a saint, or because a taste for law-breaking is an inheritance from our first parents, who broke the one and only law imposed upon them. The little children whom Fra Lippo Lippi sees standing in a “row of admiration” around the murderer on the altar step express their innocent interest in crime. Bayard, “sans peur et sans reproche,” has never stirred the heart of youth as has Robin Hood, that bold outlaw who “beat and bound” unpopular sheriffs, and “readjusted the distribution of property,”—delightful phrase, as old as the world, and as fresh as to-morrow[Pg 127] morning. The terrible and undeserved epithet, “blameless,” has robbed great Arthur of his just meed of homage. The “Master Thief” enjoyed, and still enjoys, unmerited popularity.

I sometimes wonder what a man conscious of talent, like the Master Thief, would have thought if the simple criminologists of his day—who knew no subtler remedy than hanging—had confronted him with clinics, and laboratories, and pamphlets on the “disease of crime.” I sometimes wonder how his able descendants, like the humorous rogues who stole the gold cup at Ascot; or the wag who slipped the stolen purses (emptied of their contents) into the pocket of the Bishop of Lincoln; or the redoubtable Raymond—alias Wirth—who stole a shipping of Kimberley diamonds and a Gainsborough portrait, feel about their pathological needs. “The criminal is a sick man, the prison is his hospital, and the judge who[Pg 128] sentenced him is his physician,” said Dr. Vaughan, dean of the Medical School in the University of Michigan. “Does a hunting man give up riding to hounds because he has had a fall?” asked a stalwart “invalid,” serving a sentence for burglary, of the chaplain who had urged upon him the security of an honest life.

It is always animating to hear the convict’s point of view. In fact, everything appertaining to criminology interests us as deeply as everything appertaining to pauperism bores and repels us. Some years ago the “Nineteenth Century” offered its pages as a debating-ground for this absorbing theme. Arguments were presented by Sir Alfred Wills, a judge of twenty-one years’ standing, Sir Robert Anderson, author of “Criminals and Crime,” and Mr. H. J. B. Montgomery, an ex-convict and a fluent writer, albeit somewhat supercilious as befitted his estate. He took the[Pg 129] bold and popular stand that society has created the criminal class, that its members detest the crimes they commit with such apparent zest, and that they should be “tended and cheered” instead of subjected to the “extreme stupidity” of prison life. Indeterminate sentences which carry with them an element of hope, and which should be an incentive to reform because they imply its possibility, he condemned without reserve as putting a premium on hypocrisy. But the point which of all others aroused his just resentment was the demand made by the two jurists for restitution.

This is the crux of a situation which in the moral law is simplicity itself; but which the evasiveness of the civil law has unduly complicated, and which the random humanitarianism of our day has buried out of sight. Every crime is an offence against the State. It is also in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred an[Pg 130] offence against a fellow-creature, which fellow-creature is called a victim, and interests nobody. Sir Alfred Wills and Sir Robert Anderson both held that thieves, big thieves especially, should be compelled to say what disposition had been made of stolen property, and that they should be imprisoned for life if they refused. Anderson was firm in his insistence that the act of thieving alienates such property actually, but not legally or morally, from its owner, and that serving a sentence for robbery does not clear the robber’s title to the goods. He also pointed out that the most heartless thefts are committed daily at the expense of people in decent but narrow circumstances, because such people are compelled to leave their homes unprotected. He instanced the case of one woman robbed of her scanty savings, and of another who lost her dead soldier husband’s medals, and the few poor cherished trinkets he had given her.

[Pg 131]

In the matter of restitution, Mr. Montgomery stood fairly and squarely for the felon’s rights. “The law,” he said, “has nothing to do, and ought to have nothing to do, with the disposal of the booty”; and he was happy in the conviction that it would never go so far as to deprive the thief of the reward of his labour, of the money stolen by the sweat of his brow. As for staying in jail until such restitution was made, that was as ridiculous as the suggestion sometimes offered that the convict’s wages should be paid over to the man he has robbed. Nobody cares about a man who has been robbed. The interest felt in the criminal extends itself occasionally to the criminal’s family, but never to the family he has wronged. In the United States where robbery is the order of the day, there isn’t sympathy enough to go ’round among the many who play a losing game. Chicago alone boasts a record of one hundred and[Pg 132] seventy-five hold-ups in two nights, an amazing tribute to industry and zeal. Many of the victims were stripped of their coats as well as of their valuables, there being plenty of time, and no need on the thieves’ part for hurry or disorder. The Chicago Crimes Commission put the case with commendable brevity when it said, “Crime is a business here.”

An interesting circumstance recorded in Anderson’s volume is the reluctance of professional burglars to ply their craft on very cold and stormy nights. It would seem as though bad weather might be trusted to stand their friend; but the burglar, a luxury-loving person, dislikes being drenched or frozen as much as does his honest neighbour. Happily for his comfort and for his health, a high-speed motor now enables him to work on sunny days at noon. It is pleasant to reflect that the experts who robbed three Philadelphia jewellers at an hour when the shops were full of[Pg 133] customers, and the streets were full of pedestrians, ran no risk from exposure. They may have been sick men from the psychologist’s point of view, but they were as safe from bronchitis as they were from the Philadelphia police.

It is an age of specialism, and the criminal, like the scientist, has specialized. Stealing Liberty Bonds is a field full of promise for youth. Apparently nothing can shake the confidence of brokers in the messengers who disappear with one lot of bonds, only to be released on a suspended sentence, and speedily entrusted with a second. The term “juvenile delinquency” has been stretched to cover every offence from murder to missing school. A fourteen-year-old girl who poisoned a fourteen-month-old baby in Brooklyn, in the summer of 1919, and who was tried in the Children’s Court, was found guilty of juvenile delinquency, and committed to a home for delinquent girls. It is hard to say what else could[Pg 134] have been done with a murderess of such tender years; but the New York authorities should see to it that Solomon Kramer is the last baby whom Frances Sulinski kills. She poisoned this one with the single purpose of implicating in the crime a woman of seventy with whom she had quarrelled. The poor infant lingered in pain twenty-four hours before released by death. It is not easy to throw a kindly light upon the deed; and while a baby’s life is of small value to the State (“as well be drowned as grow up a tinker,” said Sir Walter Scott), civilization means that it has a right to protection. The law exists, not for the punishment of the offender, and not for his reformation, but that the public may be safe from his hands.

A robust sense of humour might help to straighten out the tangles which have deranged the simple processes of jurisdiction. When the court rendered a decision freeing the prison authorities[Pg 135] of Tacoma from all responsibility in the event of a hunger strike, a light dawned on that stricken town. The I.W.W., who had refused to eat because they objected to being detained in the county, instead of in the city jail, were accorded liberty to follow their desires. A threat which for years had sufficed to throw British and American prisons into consternation was suddenly found to be harmless to all but the threateners. What really agitated the citizens of Tacoma just then was, not so much whether demagogues would consent to eat the food provided for them, as whether honest men could afford food to eat.

A comic opera might be staged with Ellis Island as a mise en scène. The seventy-three “reds,” detained on that asylum as undesirables, who sent an “ultimatum,” modelled on the Berlin pattern, to the Congressional Committee, would have charmed Gilbert and[Pg 136] inspired Sullivan. The solemnity with which they notified the indifferent Congressmen that at half-past eight o’clock, Tuesday morning, November 25th, 1919, they would declare a hunger strike, the consequences of which “shall fall upon the head of the administration of the island,” was surpassed by the calmness with which they gave warning that they would no longer attend the hearings of the committee. Like the heroine of Mr. Davidson’s ballad, who told the Devil she would not stay in hell, these gentlemen registered themselves as outside the pale of coercion. They seemed to think that by refusing to eat, they could bend the law to their will, and that by refusing to have their cases heard, they could stop the slow process of deportation.

It is painful to record this lack of healthy humour on the part of political offenders. Ordinary criminals are as a rule neat hands at a joke, a practical[Pg 137] joke especially, and convicts respond alacritously to all intelligent efforts to amuse them. Comedians, who from time to time have offered their services to relieve the sad monotony of prison life, have found their audiences alert and responsive. Not a joke is lost, not a song or a skit but wins its way to favour. It is this engaging receptiveness which has made our captive thieves and cut-throats so dear to the public heart. They dilate with correct emotions when they hear good music; and, in the dearth of other diversions, they can produce very creditable entertainments of their own. The great Sing Sing pageant in honour of Warden Osborne was full of fun and fancy. It would have done credit to the dramatic talent of any college in the land. No wonder that we detect a certain ostentation in the claims made by honest men to familiarity with rogues. The Honourable T. P. O’Connor published a few years ago a[Pg 138] series of papers with the arrogant title, “Criminals I Have Known.” Could he have attracted readers by boasting the acquaintanceship of any other class of fellow-creatures?

The sourness incidental to a grievance deprives the political offender of this winning vivacity. He is lamentably high-flown in his language, and he has no sense of the ridiculous. The Sinn Feiners who wrecked the office of a Dublin newspaper because it had alluded to one of the men who tried to kill Lord French as a “would-be assassin,” should expend some of the money received from the United States (in return for stoning our sailors in Cork and Queenstown) in the purchase of a dictionary. “Assassin” is as good a word as “murderer” any day of the week, and a “would-be assassin” is no other than a “would-be murderer.” The Sinn Feiners explained in a letter to the editor that the calumniated man was really[Pg 139] a “high-souled youth,” but this goes without the saying. All political offenders are high-souled youths. It is their sub-title, eligible in oratory and obituary notices, but not in the simple language of the press.

Mr. W. C. Brownell alludes casually to the social sentiment which instinctively prefers the criminal to the police; but he declines to analyze its rationale. Perhaps, as I have already hinted, we may inherit it from our father, Adam, who could have felt no great kindness for Saint Michael, the first upholder of the given law. Justice is an unaccommodating, unappealing virtue. Deep in our hearts is a distaste for its rulings, and a distrust of the fallible creatures who administer it. Mr. Howells, writing ten years ago in the “North American,” condemned without reserve the authority which, however assailable, is our only bulwark against anarchy. “The State,” he said, “is a collective despot,[Pg 140] mostly inexorable, always irresponsible, and entirely inaccessible to the personal appeals which have sometimes moved the obsolete tyrant to pity. In its selfishness and meanness it is largely the legislated and organized ideal of the lowest and stupidest of its citizens, whose daily life is nearest the level of barbarism.”

I am not without hope that the events of the past ten years modified Mr. Howells’s point of view. If the German State revealed itself as something perilously close to barbarism, the Allied States presented a superb concentration of their peoples’ unfaltering purpose. That the world was saved from degradation too deep to be measured was due to individual heroism, animated, upheld, and focused by the State. Though temperamentally conservative, I feel no shadow of regret for the “obsolete” and very picturesque tyrant who softened or hardened by caprice. I would rather trust our stupid and venal authorities,[Pg 141] because, while each member of a legislative body is kind to his own deficiencies, he is hard on his neighbour’s. Collective criticism is a fair antidote for collective despotism, and robs it of its terrors.

If we were less incorrigibly sentimental, we should be more nobly kind. Sentimentalism is, and has always been, virgin of standards. It is, and it has always been, insensible to facts. The moralists who, in the first years of the war, protested against American munitions because they were fresh-made for purposes of destruction, would have flung the victory into Germany’s hands because her vast stores of munitions had been prepared in times of peace. When the news of the Belgian campaign sickened the heart of humanity, more than one voice was raised to say that England had, by her treatment of militant suffragists (a treatment so feeble, so wavering, so irascible, and so soft-hearted[Pg 142] that it would not have crushed a rebellious snail), forfeited her right to protest against the dishonouring of Belgian women. The moral confusion which follows mental confusion with a sure and steady step is equally dangerous and distasteful. It denies our integrity, and it makes a mock of our understanding.

An irritated Englishman, who must have come into close quarters with British pacifists,—the least lovely of their species,—has protested in “Blackwood’s Magazine” that the one thing dearer than the criminal to the heart of the humanitarian is the enemy of his country, whose offences he condones, and whose punishment he sincerely pities. Thus it happened that British women joined American women in protesting against the return of the cattle stolen during the last months of the war from northern France. They said—what was undoubtedly true—that[Pg 143] German children needed the milk. French children also needed the milk (witness the death-rates from tuberculosis in and about Lille), but this concerned them less. The herds belonged to France, and their sympathy went out to the raiders rather than to the raided.

In fact all pacifists seem disposed to look benignly upon the “noble old piracy game.” The Honourable Bertrand Russell, whose annoyance at England’s going to war deepened into resentment at her winning it (a consummation which, to speak truth, he did his best to avert), expressed regret that the sufferings of Belgium should have been mistakenly attributed to Germany. Not Berlin, he said, but war must be held to blame; and if war were a natural phenomenon, like an earth quake or a thunderstorm, he would have been right. The original Attila was not displeased to be called the “Scourge of God,” and pious Christians of the fifth[Pg 144] century acquiesced in this shifting of liability. They said, and they probably believed, that Heaven had chosen a barbarian to punish them for their sins. To-day we are less at home in Zion, and more insistent upon international law. The sternest duty of civilization is the assigning of responsibility for private and for public crimes as the rules of evidence direct.

In the Christmas issue of the “Atlantic Monthly,” 1919, another Englishman of letters, Mr. Clutton-Brock, preached a sermon to Americans (we get a deal of instruction from our neighbours), the burden of which was the paramount duty of forgiveness. Naturally he illustrated his theme with an appeal for Germany, because there is so much to be forgiven her. That he made no distinction between the injuries which a citizen of Lille or Louvain, and the injuries which a reader of the “Atlantic Monthly” has to forgive, was[Pg 145] eminently right, forgiveness being due for the greatest as well as for the least of offences. The Frenchman or the Belgian who forgives “from his heart” reaches a higher standard than we do; but the ethics of Christianity bind him to that standard. It is his supreme spiritual test.

What was less endearing in Mr. Clutton-Brock’s sermon was the playful manner in which he made light of wrongs which, to say the least, were not matters for sport. We were called on to pardon, “not as an act of virtue, but in good-humour, because we are all absurd, and all need forgiveness.... We all fail, and we have no right to say that another man’s, or another nation’s, failure is worse than our own.... We must govern our behaviour to each other by the axiom that no man is to be judged by his past.”

These sentences aptly illustrate my contention that the sentimentalist is as[Pg 146] unconcerned with standards as with facts. “Absurd” is not the word to apply to Germany’s campaign in France and Flanders. A man whose home has been burned and whose wife has been butchered cannot be expected to regard the incident as an absurdity, or to recall it with good-humour. The sight of a child bayoneted on the roadside (five wounds in one poor little body picked up near Namur) arouses something deep and terrible in the human heart. To say that one man’s failure is no worse than another man’s failure, that one nation’s failure is no worse than another nation’s failure, is to deny any vital distinction between degrees of right and wrong. It is to place the German Kaiser by the side of Belgium’s King, and George Washington by the side of George the Third.

And by what shall men be judged, if not by their past? What other evidence can we seek? What other test can we[Pg 147] apply? A man who has run away with his neighbour’s wife may not care to repeat the offence; he may be cured forever of this particular form of covetousness; but he is not welcomed in sedately conducted households. A defaulter may be converted to the belief that honesty is the best policy; but few there are who will entrust him with funds, and fewer still who will receive him as a gentleman. If such behaviour is, as Mr. Clutton-Brock authoritatively asserts, opposed to “a Christian technique,” it defines the value of facts, and it holds upright the standard of honour.

The well-meaning ladies and gentlemen who flood society with appeals to “open the prison door,” and let our good-will shine as a star upon political prisoners, seem curiously indifferent as to what the liberated ones will do with their liberty. There are few of us so base as to desire to deprive our fellow-creatures of sunlight and the open road.[Pg 148] There are not many of us so unpractical as to want to keep them a burden upon the State, if we have any assurance that they will not be a menace to the State when released. Sufficiency, security, and freedom have been defined as the prerogatives of civilized man. The cry of the revolutionist for freedom is met by the call of sober citizens for security. Sympathy for the lawless (the beloved sinner) is not warranted in denying equity to the law-abiding, who have a right to protection from the Republic which they voluntarily serve and obey.

[Pg 149]

The Virtuous Victorian

When Miss Amy Lowell, in her essay on Émile Verhaeren, says that the influence of Zola on the younger writers of France and Belgium was necessary “to down the long set of sentimental hypocrisies known in England as ‘Victorian,’” she repeats a formula which has been in popular use for many years, and to which we attach no very exact significance. “Early-Victorian,” “mid-Victorian,” we use the phrases glibly, and without being aware that the mental attitude to which we refer is sometimes not Victorian at all, but Georgian. Take, for example, that fairly famous sentiment about the British navy being “if possible, more distinguished in its domestic virtues than in its national importance.” Nothing more oppressively smug was ever uttered in[Pg 150] the reign of the virtuous Queen; yet it was written by the most humorous and most pitiless of Georgian novelists, and it expressed the conviction of her soul.

When we permit ourselves to sneer at Victorian hypocrisies, we allude, as a rule, to the superficial observance of religious practices, and to the artificial reticence concerning illicit sexual relations. The former affected life more than it did literature; the latter affected literature more than it did life. A resolute silence is apt to imply or involve an equally resolute denial; and there came a time when certain plain truths were denied because there was no other way of keeping them out of sight. Novelists and poets conformed to a standard which was set by the taste of their day. So profoundly was the great Victorian laureate influenced by this taste that he grew reluctant to accept those simple old English stories, those charming[Pg 151] old English traditions, the propriety or impropriety of which had never been a matter for concern. His “fair Rosamond” believes herself a wedded wife, and so escapes culpability. His “Maid Marian” wanders through Sherwood Forest under the respectable chaperonage of her father, and will not permit to Robin Hood the harmless liberties common among betrothed lovers.

“Robin, I will not kiss thee,
For that belongs to marriage; but I hold thee
The husband of my heart; the noblest light
That ever flashed across my life, and I
Embrace thee with the kisses of the soul.
Robin: I thank thee.”

It is a bit frigid and a bit stilted for the merry outlaws. “If love were all,” we might admit that conventionalism had chilled the laureate’s pen; but, happily for the great adventures we call life and death, love is not all. The world swings on its way, peopled by other men than lovers; and it is to Tennyson[Pg 152] we owe the most splendid denial of domesticity—and duty—that was ever made deathless by verse. With what unequalled ardour his Ulysses abandons home and country, the faithful, but ageing, Penelope, the devoted, but dull, Telemachus, and the troublesome business of law-making! He does not covet safety. He does not enjoy the tranquil reward of his labours, nor the tranquil discharge of his obligations. He will drink life to the lees. He will seek the still untravelled world, and take what buffets fortune sends him.

“For my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles whom we knew.”

Poor Penelope! What chance has she against such glad decision, such golden dreams! It is plain that the Ithacan navy was less distinguished than the[Pg 153] British navy for the development of domestic virtues. Until such time as Germany fulfils her threat, and drives the “bastard tongue of canting island pirates” from its hold on the civilized world, Tennyson’s Ulysses will survive as the embodiment of the adventurous spirit which brooks no restraint, and heeds no liability.

The great Victorian novelists were well aware that, albeit the average man does his share of love-making, he neither lives nor dies for love. Mr. Edmund Gosse, reared in the strictest sect of Plymouth Brethren, and professing religion at ten, was nevertheless permitted by his father to read the novels of Dickens, because they dealt with the passion of love in a humorous manner. More often they deal with it in a purely perfunctory manner, recognizing it as a prelude to marriage, and as something to which the novelist must not forget to make an occasional reference. Nicholas[Pg 154] Nickleby is a young man and a hero. Consequently an assortment of female virtues and of female charms is labelled, docketed, provided with ringlets and a capacity for appropriate swooning,—and behold, Nicholas has a wife. Kate Nickleby’s husband is even more sketchily outlined. He has a name, and—we are told—an impetuous and generous disposition. He makes his appearance when a suitor is needed, stands up to be married when a husband is called for, and that is all there is of him. But what do these puppets matter in a book which gives us Mrs. Nickleby, Vincent Crummles, Fanny Squeers, and the ever-beloved Kenwigses. It took a great genius to enliven the hideous picture of Dotheboys Hall with the appropriate and immortal Fanny, whom we could never have borne to lose. It took a great genius to evolve from nothingness the name “Morleena Kenwigs.” So perfect a result, achieved from a mere combination[Pg 155] of letters, confers distinction on the English alphabet.

The charge of conventionalism brought against Thackeray and Trollope has more substance, because these novelists essayed to portray life soberly and veraciously. “Trollope,” says Sir Leslie Stephen, “was in the awkward position of a realist, bound to ignore realities.” Thackeray was restrained, partly by the sensitive propriety of British readers who winced at the frank admission of sexual infirmities, and partly by the quality of his own taste. In deference to the public, he forbore to make Arthur Pendennis the lover of Fanny Bolton; and when we remember the gallant part that Fanny plays when safely settled at Clavering, her loyalty to her old friend, Bows, and her dexterity in serving him, we are glad she went unsmirched into that sheltered port.

The restrictions so cheerfully accepted by Thackeray, and his reticence—which[Pg 156] is merely the reticence observed by every gentleman of his day—leave him an uncrippled spectator and analyst of the complicated business of living. The world is not nearly so simple a place as the sexualists seem to consider it. To the author of “Vanity Fair” it was not simple at all. Acting and reacting upon one another, his characters crowd the canvas, their desires and ambitions, their successes and failures, inextricably interwoven into one vast social scheme. It is not the decency of Thackeray’s novels which affronts us (we are seldom unduly aware that they are decent), but the severity with which he judges his own creations, and his rank and shameless favouritism. What business has he to coddle Rawdon Crawley (“honest Rawdon,” forsooth!), to lay siege to our hearts with all the skill of a great artificer, and compel our liking for this fool and reprobate? What business has he to pursue Becky Sharp[Pg 157] like a prosecuting attorney, to trip her up at every step, to betray, to our discomfiture, his cold hostility? He treats Blanche Amory in the same merciless fashion, and no one cares. But Becky! Becky, that peerless adventuress who, as Mr. Brownell reminds us, ran her memorable career before psychology was thought of as an essential element of fiction. Becky whose scheming has beguiled our weary hours, and recompensed us for the labour of learning to read. How shall we fathom the mental attitude of a novelist who could create such a character, control her fluctuating fortunes, lift her to dizzy heights, topple her to ruin, extricate her from the dust and débris of her downfall,—and hate her!

Trollope, working on a lower level, observant rather than creative, was less stern a moralist than Thackeray, but infinitely more cautious of his foot-steps. He kept soberly in the appointed[Pg 158] path, and never once in thirty years trod on the grass or flower-beds. Lady Glencora Palliser thinks, indeed, of leaving her husband; but she does not do it, and her continency is rewarded after a fashion which is very satisfactory to the reader. Mr. Palliser aspires somewhat stiffly to be the lover of Lady Dumbello; but that wise worldling, ranking love the least of assets, declines to make any sacrifice at its shrine. Trollope unhesitatingly and proudly claimed for himself the quality of harmlessness. “I do believe,” he said, “that no girl has risen from the reading of my pages less modest than she was before, and that some girls may have learned from them that modesty is a charm worth possessing.”

This is one of the admirable sentiments which should have been left unspoken. It is a true word as far as it goes, but more suggestive of “Little Women,” or “A Summer in Leslie Goldthwaite’s[Pg 159] Life,” than of those virile, varied and animated novels which make no appeal to immaturity. In Trollope’s teeming world, as in the teeming world about us, a few young people fall in love and are married, but this is an infrequent episode. Most of his men and women, like the men and women whom we know, are engrossed in other activities. Once, indeed, Bishop Proudie wooed and won Mrs. Proudie. Once Archdeacon Grantly wooed and won Mrs. Grantly. But neither of these gentlemen could possibly have belonged to “the great cruising brotherhood of the Pilgrims of Love.” “Le culte de la femme” has never been a popular pastime in Britain, and Trollope was the last man on the island to have appreciated its significance. He preferred politics, the hunting-field, and the church.

Yet surely Archdeacon Grantly is worth a brace of lovers. With what sincerity he is drawn, and with what consummate[Pg 160] care! A churchman who, as Sir Leslie Stephen somewhat petulantly observes, “gives no indication of having any religious views whatever, beyond a dislike to dissenters.” A solidly respectable member of provincial clerical society, ambitious, worldly, prizing wealth, honouring rank, unspiritual, unprogressive,—but none the less a man who would have proved his worth in the hour of England’s trial.

It is a testimony to the power of fiction that, having read with breathless concern and through countless pages Mr. Britling’s reflections on the war, my soul suddenly cried out within me for the reflections of Archdeacon Grantly. Mr. Britling is an acute and sensitive thinker. The archdeacon’s mental processes are of the simplest. Mr. Britling has winged his triumphant flight from “the clumsy, crawling, snobbish, comfort-loving caterpillar of Victorian England.” The archdeacon is[Pg 161] still confessedly a grub. Mr. Britling has “truckled to no domesticated god.” The archdeacon’s deity is open to such grievous innuendoes. Yet I wish I could have stood on the smooth lawn of Plumstead, and have heard what the archdeacon had to say when he learned that an English scholar and gentleman had smuggled out of England, by the help of a female “confidential agent,” a treacherous appeal to the President of the United States, asking that pressure should be brought upon fighting Englishmen in the interests of peace. I wish I could have heard the cawing rooks of Plumstead echo his mighty wrath. For there is that in the heart of a man, even a Victorian churchman with a love of preferment and a distaste for dissenters, which holds scatheless the sacred thing called honour.

Trollope is as frank about the archdeacon’s frailties as Mr. Wells is frank about Mr. Britling’s frailties. In piping[Pg 162] days of peace, the archdeacon’s contempt for Mr. Britling would have been as sincere and hearty as Mr. Britling’s contempt for the archdeacon. But under the hard, heroic discipline of war there would have come to the archdeacon, as to Mr. Britling, a white dawn of revelation. Both men have the liberating qualities of manhood.

It is always hard to make an elastic phrase fit with precision. We know what we mean by Victorian conventions and hypocrisies, but the perpetual intrusion of blinding truths disturbs our point of view. The new Reform bill and the extension of the suffrage were hardy denials of convention. “The Origin of Species” and “Zoölogical Evidences as to Man’s Place in Nature” were not published in the interests of hypocrisy. There was nothing oppressively respectable about “The Ring and the Book”; and Swinburne can hardly be said to have needed correction at Zola’s hands.[Pg 163] These mid-Victorian products have a savour of freedom about them, and so has “The Ordeal of Richard Feverel.” Even the Homeric eloquence of Ruskin was essentially the eloquence of the free. The two lessons he sought to drive home to his reluctant readers were, first, that Englishmen were not living on an illuminated earth spot, under the especial patronage of the Almighty; and, second, that no one was called by Providence to the enjoyment of wealth and security. If such unpleasant and reiterated truths—as applicable to the United States to-day as they were to Victoria’s England—are “smug,” then Jeremiah is sugar-coated, and the Baptist an apostle of ease.

The English have at all times lacked the courage of their emotions, but not the emotions themselves. Their reticence has stood for strength as well as for stiffness. The pre-Raphaelites, indeed, surrendered their souls with docility[Pg 164] to every wavelet of feeling, and produced something iridescent, like the shining of wet sand. Love, according to their canon, was expressed with transparent ease. It was “a great but rather sloppy passion,” says Mr. Ford Madox Hueffer, “which you swooned about on broad general lines.” A pre-Raphaelite corsair languished as visibly as a pre-Raphaelite seraph. He could be bowled over by a worsted ball; but he was at least more vigorous and more ruddy than a cubist nude. One doubted his seared conscience and his thousand crimes; but not his ability to walk unassisted downstairs.

The Victorian giants were of mighty girth. They trod the earth with proud and heavy steps, and with a strength of conviction which was as vast and tranquil as the plains. We have parted with their convictions and with their tranquillity. We have parted also with their binding prejudices and with their[Pg 165] standards of taste. Freedom has come to us, not broadening down

“from precedent to precedent,”

but swiftly and comprehensively. There are no more taboos, no more silent or sentimental hypocrisies. We should now know a great many interesting details concerning the Marquis of Steyne and the Duke of Omnium, if these two imposing figures had not passed forever from our ken. We should have searchlights thrown upon Becky Sharp, if Becky had not escaped into the gloom. Her successors sin exhaustively, and with a lamentable lack of esprit. We are bidden to scrutinize their transgressions, but Becky’s least peccadillo is more engaging than all their broken commandments. The possibility of profound tediousness accompanying perfect candour dawns slowly on the truth-tellers of fiction. It takes a great artist, like Edith Wharton, to recognize[Pg 166] and deplore “the freedom of speech which never arrives at wit, and the freedom of act which never makes for romance.”

[Pg 167]

Woman Enthroned

The Michigan magistrate who gave orders that a stalwart male angel presiding over the gateway of a cemetery should be recast in feminine mould may have been an erring theologian and a doubtful art-critic; but that he was a sound-hearted American no one can deny. He was not thinking of Azrael the mighty who had garnered that little harvest of death; or of Michael, great leader of the “fighting seraphim,” whose blade

“smote and felled
Squadrons at once”;

or of Gabriel the messenger. Holy Writ was as remote from his mental vision as was Paradise Lost. He was thinking very properly of the “angel in the house,” and this feminine ideal was affronted by the robust outlines, no[Pg 168] less than by the robust virtues, associated with the heavenly host. Cowley’s soothing compromise, which was designed as a compliment to a lady, and which, instead of unsexing angels, endowed them with a double line of potencies,—

“They are than Man more strong, and more than Woman sweet,”—

is not easily expressed in art. The very gallant Michigan gentleman simplified the situation by eliminating the masculine element. He registered his profession of faith in the perfectibility of women.

It is awkward to be relegated to the angelic class, and to feel that one does not fit. Intelligent feminists sometimes say that chivalry—that inextinguishable point of view which has for centuries survived its own death-notices—is more disheartening than contempt. Chivalry is essentially protective. It is rooted in the consciousness of superior[Pg 169] strength. It is expansively generous and scrimpingly just. It will not assure to women a fair field and no favours, which is the salvation of all humanity; but it will protect them from the consequences of their own deeds, and that way lies perdition.

Down through the ages we see the working of this will. Rome denied to women all civic rights, but allowed them many privileges. They were not permitted to make any legal contract. They were not permitted to bequeath their own fortunes, or—ordinarily—to give testimony in court. But they might plead ignorance of the law, “as a ground for dissolving an obligation,” which, if often convenient, was always demoralizing. Being somewhat contemptuously absolved from the oath of allegiance in the Middle Ages, they were as a consequence immune from outlawry. On the other hand, the severity with which they were punished[Pg 170] for certain crimes which were presumed to come easy to them—poisoning, husband-murder, witchcraft (King Jamie was not the only wiseacre who marvelled that there should be twenty witches to one warlock)—is evidence of fear on the legislators’ part. The oldest laws, the oldest axioms which antedate all laws, betray this uneasy sense of insecurity. “Day and night must women be held by their protectors in a state of dependence,” says Manu, the Hindu Noah, who took no female with him in his miraculously preserved boat, but was content with his own safety, and trusted the continuance of the race to the care and ingenuity of the gods.

In our day, and in our country, women gained their rights (I use the word “rights” advisedly, because, though its definition be disputed, every one knows what it implies) after a prolonged, but not embittered struggle. Certain States moved so slowly that they were over-taken[Pg 171] by a Federal Amendment. Even with the franchise to back them, American women have a hard time making their way in the professions, though a great deal of courtesy is shown them by professional men. They have a hard time making their way in trades, where the unions block their progress. They have a very small share of political patronage, and few good positions on the civil lists. Whether the best interests of the country will be advanced or retarded by a complete recognition of their claims—which implies giving them an even chance with men—is a point on which no one can speak with authority. The absence of data leaves room only for surmise. Women are striving to gain this “even chance” for their own sakes, which is lawful and reasonable. Their public utterances, it is true, dwell pointedly on the regeneration of the world. This also is lawful and reasonable. Public utterances have always[Pg 172] dwelt on the regeneration of the world, since the apple was eaten and Paradise closed its gates.

Meanwhile American chivalry, a strong article and equal to anything Europe ever produced, clings passionately and persistently to its inward vision. Ellen Key speaks casually of “the vices which men call woman’s nature.” If Swedish gentlemen permit themselves this form of speech, it finds no echo in our loyal land. Two things an American hates to do,—hold a woman accountable for her misdeeds, and punish her accordingly. When Governor Craig of North Carolina set aside the death-sentence which had been passed upon a murderess, and committed her to prison for life, he gave to the public this plain and comprehensive statement: “There is no escape from the conclusion that Ida Bell Warren is guilty of murder, deliberate and premeditated. Germany executed the[Pg 173] woman spy; England did not. The action of the military Governor of Belgium was condemned by the conscience of the world. The killing of this woman would send a shiver through North Carolina.”

Apart from the fact that Edith Cavell was not a spy, and that her offence was one which has seldom in the world’s history been so cruelly punished, Governor Craig’s words deserve attention. He explicitly exempted a woman, because she was a woman, from the penalty which would have been incurred by a man. Incidentally he was compelled to commute the death-sentence of her confederate, as it was hardly possible to send the murderous wife to prison, and her murderous accomplice to the chair. That the execution of Mrs. Warren would have sent a “shiver” through North Carolina is doubtless true. The Governor had received countless letters and telegrams protesting against the[Pg 174] infliction of the death-penalty on a woman.

One of the reasons which has been urged for the total abolition of this penalty is the reluctance of juries to convict women of crimes punishable by death. The number of wives who murder their husbands, and of girls who murder their lovers, is a menace to society. Our sympathetic tolerance of these crimes passionnés, the sensational scenes in court, and the prompt acquittals which follow, are a menace to law and justice. Better that their perpetrators should be sent to prison, and suffer a few years of corrective discipline, until soft-hearted sentimentalists circulate petitions, and secure their pardon and release.

The right to be judged as men are judged is perhaps the only form of equality which feminists fail to demand. Their attitude to their own errata is well expressed in the solemn warning addressed[Pg 175] by Mr. Louis Untermeyer’s Eve to the Almighty,

“Pause, God, and ponder, ere Thou judgest me!”

The right to be punished is not, and has never been, a popular prerogative with either sex. There was, indeed, a London baker who was sentenced in the year 1816 to be whipped and imprisoned for vagabondage. He served his term; but, whether from clemency or from oversight, the whipping was never administered. When released, he promptly brought action against the prison authorities because he had not been whipped, “according to the statute,” and he won his case. Whether or not the whipping went with the verdict is not stated; but it was a curious joke to play with the grim realities of British law.

American women are no such sticklers for a code. They acquiesce in their frequent immunity from punishment, and are correspondingly, and very naturally,[Pg 176] indignant when they find themselves no longer immune. There was a pathetic ring in the explanation offered some years ago by Mayor Harrison of Chicago, whose policemen were accused of brutality to female strikers and pickets. “When the women do anything in violation of the law,” said the Mayor to a delegation of citizens, “the police arrest them. And then, instead of going along quietly as men prisoners would, the women sit down on the sidewalks. What else can the policemen do but lift them up?”

If men “go along quietly,” it is because custom, not choice, has bowed their necks to the yoke of order and equity. They break the law without being prepared to defy it. The lawlessness of women may be due as much to their long exclusion from citizenship,

“Some reverence for the laws ourselves have made,”

as to the lenity shown them by men,—a[Pg 177] lenity which they stand ever ready to abuse. We have only to imagine what would have happened to a group of men who had chosen to air a grievance by picketing the White House, the speed with which they would have been arrested, fined, dispersed, and forgotten, to realize the nature of the tolerance granted to women. For months these female pickets were unmolested. Money was subscribed to purchase for them umbrellas and overshoes. The President, whom they were affronting, sent them out coffee on cold mornings. It was only when their utterances became treasonable, when they undertook to assure our Russian visitors that Mr. Wilson and Mr. Root were deceiving Russia, and to entreat these puzzled foreigners to help them free our nation, that their sport was suppressed, and they became liable to arrest and imprisonment.

Much censure was passed upon the[Pg 178] unreasonable violence of these women. The great body of American suffragists repudiated their action, and the anti-suffragists used them to point stern morals and adorn vivacious tales. But was it quite fair to permit them in the beginning a liberty which would not have been accorded to men, and which led inevitably to licence? Were they not treated as parents sometimes treat children, allowing them to use bad language because, “if you pay no attention to them, they will stop it of their own accord”; and then, when they do not stop it, punishing them for misbehaving before company? When a sympathetic gentleman wrote to a not very sympathetic paper to say that the second Liberty Loan would be more popular if Washington would “call off the dogs of war on women,” he turned a flashlight upon the fathomless gulf with which sentimentalism has divided the sexes. No one dreams of calling policemen and[Pg 179] magistrates “dogs of war” because they arrest and punish men for disturbing the peace. If men claim the privileges of citizenship, they are permitted to suffer its penalties.

A few years before the war, a rage for compiling useless statistics swept over Europe and the United States. When it was at its height, some active minds bethought them that children might be made to bear their part in the guidance of the human race. Accordingly a series of questions—some sensible and some foolish—were put to English, German, and American school-children, and their enlightening answers were given to the world. One of these questions read: “Would you rather be a man or a woman, and why?” Naturally this query was of concern only to little girls. No sane educator would ask it of a boy. German pedagogues struck it off the list. They said that to ask a child, “Would you rather be something you[Pg 180] must be, or something you cannot possibly be?” was both foolish and useless. Interrogations concerning choice were of value only when the will was a determining factor.

No such logical inference chilled the examiners’ zeal in this inquisitive land. The question was asked and was answered. We discovered, as a result, that a great many little American girls (a minority, to be sure, but a respectable minority) were well content with their sex; not because it had its duties and dignities, its pleasures and exemptions; but because they plainly considered that they were superior to little American boys, and were destined, when grown up, to be superior to American men. One small New England maiden wrote that she would rather be a woman because “Women are always better than men in morals.” Another, because “Women are of more use in the world.” A third, because “Women learn things[Pg 181] quicker than men, and have more intelligence.” And so on through varying degrees of self-sufficiency.

These little girls, who had no need to echo the Scotchman’s prayer, “Lord, gie us a gude conceit o’ ourselves!” were old maids in the making. They had stamped upon them in their tender childhood the hall-mark of the American spinster. “The most ordinary cause of a single life,” says Bacon, “is liberty, especially in certain self-pleasing and humorous minds.” But it is reserved for the American woman to remain unmarried because she feels herself too valuable to be entrusted to a husband’s keeping. Would it be possible in any country save our own for a lady to write to a periodical, explaining “Why I am an Old Maid,” and be paid coin of the realm for the explanation? Would it be possible in any other country to hear such a question as “Should the Gifted Woman Marry?” seriously asked, and[Pg 182] seriously answered? Would it be possible for any sane and thoughtful woman who was not an American to consider even the remote possibility of our spinsters becoming a detached class, who shall form “the intellectual and economic élite of the sex, leaving marriage and maternity to the less developed woman”? What has become of the belief, as old as civilization, that marriage and maternity are developing processes, forcing into flower a woman’s latent faculties; and that the less-developed woman is inevitably the woman who has escaped this keen and powerful stimulus? “Never,” said Edmond de Goncourt, “has a virgin, young or old, produced a work of art.” One makes allowance for the Latin point of view. And it is possible that M. de Goncourt never read “Emma.”

There is a formidable lack of humour in the somewhat contemptuous attitude of women, whose capabilities have not[Pg 183] yet been tested, toward men who stand responsible for the failures of the world. It denotes, at home and abroad, a density not far removed from dulness. In Mr. St. John Ervine’s depressing little drama, “Mixed Marriage,” which the Dublin actors played in New York some years ago, an old woman, presumed to be witty and wise, said to her son’s betrothed: “Sure, I believe the Lord made Eve when He saw that Adam could not take care of himself”; and the remark reflected painfully upon the absence of that humorous sense which we used to think was the birthright of Irishmen. The too obvious retort, which nobody uttered, but which must have occurred to everybody’s mind, was that if Eve had been designed as a care-taker, she had made a shining failure of her job.

That astute Oriental, Sir Rabindranath Tagore, manifested a wisdom beyond all praise in his recognition of American standards, when addressing[Pg 184] American audiences. As the hour for his departure drew nigh, he was asked to write, and did write, a “Parting Wish for the Women of America,” giving graceful expression to the sentiments he knew he was expected to feel. The skill with which he modified and popularized an alien point of view revealed the seasoned lecturer. He told his readers that “God has sent woman to love the world,” and to build up a “spiritual civilization.” He condoled with them because they were “passing through great sufferings in this callous age.” His heart bled for them, seeing that their hearts “are broken every day, and victims are snatched from their arms to be thrown under the car of material progress.” The Occidental sentiment which regards man simply as an offspring, and a fatherless offspring at that (no woman, says Olive Schreiner, could look upon a battle-field without thinking, “So many mothers’ sons!”), came as naturally to[Pg 185] Sir Rabindranath as if he had been to the manner born. He was content to see the passion and pain, the sorrow and heroism of men, as reflections mirrored in a woman’s soul. The ingenious gentlemen who dramatize Biblical narratives for the American stage, and who are hampered at every step by the obtrusive masculinity of the East, might find a sympathetic supporter in this accomplished and accommodating Hindu.

The story of Joseph and his Brethren, for example, is perhaps the best tale ever told the world,—a tale of adventure on a heroic scale, with conflicting human emotions to give it poignancy and power. It deals with pastoral simplicities, with the splendours of court, and with the “high finance” which turned a free landholding people into tenantry of the crown. It is a story of men, the only lady introduced being a disedifying dea ex machina, whose popularity[Pg 186] in Italian art has perhaps blinded us to the brevity of her Biblical rôle. But when this most dramatic narrative was cast into dramatic form, Joseph’s splendid loyalty to his master, his cold and vigorous chastity, were nullified by giving him an Egyptian sweetheart. Lawful marriage with this young lady being his sole solicitude, the advances of Potiphar’s wife were less of a temptation than an intrusion. The keynote of the noble old tale was destroyed, to assure to woman her proper place as the guardian of man’s integrity.

Still more radical was the treatment accorded to the parable of the “Prodigal Son,” which was expanded into a pageant play, and acted with a hardy realism permitted only to the strictly ethical drama. The scriptural setting of the story was preserved, but its patriarchal character was sacrificed to modern sentiment which refuses to be interested in the relation of father and[Pg 187] son. Therefore we beheld the prodigal equipped with a mother and a trusting female cousin, who, between them, put the poor old gentleman out of commission, reducing him to his proper level of purveyor-in-ordinary to the household. It was the prodigal’s mother who bade her reluctant husband give their wilful son his portion. It was the prodigal’s mother who watched for him from the house-top, and silenced the voice of censure. It was the prodigal’s mother who welcomed his return, and persuaded father and brother to receive him into favour. The whole duty of man in that Syrian household was to obey the impelling word of woman, and bestow blessings and bags of gold according to her will.

The expansion of the maternal sentiment until it embraces, or seeks to embrace, humanity, is the vision of the emotional, as opposed to the intellectual, feminist. “The Mother State of[Pg 188] which we dream” offers no attraction to many plain and practical workers, and is a veritable nightmare to others. “Woman,” writes an enthusiast in the “Forum,” “means to be, not simply the mother of the individual, but of society, of the State with its man-made institutions, of art and science, of religion and morals. All life, physical and spiritual, personal and social, needs to be mothered.”

“Needs to be mothered”! When men proffer this welter of sentiment in the name of women, how is it possible to say convincingly that the girl student standing at the gates of knowledge is as humble-hearted as the boy; that she does not mean to mother medicine, or architecture, or biology, any more than the girl in the banker’s office means to mother finance? Her hopes for the future are founded on the belief that fresh opportunities will meet a sure response; but she does not, if she be sane, measure[Pg 189] her untried powers by any presumptive scale of valuation. She does not consider the advantages which will accrue to medicine, biology, or architecture by her entrance—as a woman—into any one of these fields. Their need for her maternal ministration concerns her less than her need for the magnificent heritage they present.

It has been said many times that the craving for material profit is not instinctive in women. If it is not instinctive, it will be acquired, because every legitimate incentive has its place in the progress of the world. The demand that women shall be paid men’s wages for men’s work may represent a desire for justice rather than a desire for gain; but money fairly earned is sweet in the hand, and to the heart. An open field, an even start, no handicap, no favours, and the same goal for all. This is the worker’s dream of paradise. Women have long known that lack of citizenship[Pg 190] was an obstacle in their path. Self-love has prompted them to overrate their imposed, and underrate their inherent, disabilities. “Whenever you see a woman getting a high salary, make up your mind that she is giving twice the value received,” writes an irritable correspondent to the “Survey”; and this pretension paralyzes effort. To be satisfied with ourselves is to be at the end of our usefulness.

M. Émile Faguet, that most radical and least sentimental of French feminists, would have opened wide to women every door of which man holds the key. He would have given them every legal right and burden which they are physically fitted to enjoy and to bear. He was as unvexed by doubts as he was uncheered by illusions. He had no more fear of the downfall of existing institutions than he had hope for the regeneration of the world. The equality of men and women, as he saw it, lay, not in[Pg 191] their strength, but in their weakness; not in their intelligence, but in their stupidity; not in their virtues, but in their perversity. Yet there was no taint of pessimism in his rational refusal to be deceived. No man saw more clearly, or recognized more justly, the art with which his countrywomen have cemented and upheld a social state at once flexible and orderly, enjoyable and inspiriting. That they have been the allies, and not the rulers, of men in building this fine fabric of civilization was also plain to his mind. Allies and equals he held them, but nothing more. “La femme est parfaitement l’égale de l’homme, mais elle n’est que son égale.

Naturally to such a man the attitude of Americans toward women was as unsympathetic as was the attitude of Dahomeyans. He did not condemn it (possibly he did not condemn the Dahomeyans, seeing that the civic and social ideals of France and Dahomey[Pg 192] are in no wise comparable); but he explained with careful emphasis that the French woman, unlike her American sister, is not, and does not desire to be, “un objet sacro-saint.” The reverence for women in the United States he assumed to be a national trait, a sort of national institution among a proud and patriotic people. “L’idolâtrie de la femme est une chose américaine par excellence.

The superlative complacency of American women is due largely to the oratorical adulation of American men,—an adulation that has no more substance than has the foam on beer. I have heard a candidate for office tell his female audience that men are weak and women are strong, that men are foolish and women are wise, that men are shallow and women are deep, that men are submissive tools whom women, the leaders of the race, must instruct to vote for him. He did not believe a word that he said, and his hearers did not believe that[Pg 193] he believed it; yet the grossness of his flattery kept pace with the hypocrisy of his self-depreciation. The few men present wore an attitude of dejection, not unlike that of the little boy in “Punch” who has been told that he is made of

“Snips and snails,
And puppy dogs’ tails,”

and can “hardly believe it.”

What Mr. Roosevelt called the “lunatic fringe” of every movement is painfully obtrusive in the great and noble movement which seeks fair play for women. The “full habit of speech” is never more regrettable than when the cause is so good that it needs but temperate championing. “Without the aid of women, England could not carry on this war,” said Mr. Asquith in the second year of the great struggle,—an obvious statement, no doubt, but simple, truthful, and worthy to be spoken. Why should the “New Republic,” in an article[Pg 194] bearing the singularly ill-mannered title, “Thank You For Nothing!” have heaped scorn upon these words? Why should its writer have made the angry assertion that the British Empire had been “deprived of two generations of women’s leadership,” because only a world’s war could drill a new idea into a statesman’s head? The war has drilled a great many new ideas into all our heads. Absence of brain matter could alone have prevented this infusion. But “leadership” is a large word. It is not what men are asking, and it is not what women are offering, even at this stage of the game. Partnership is as far as obligation on the one side and ambition on the other are prepared to go; and a clear understanding of this truth has accomplished great results.

Therefore, when we are told that the women of to-day are “giving their vitality to an anæmic world,” we wonder if the speaker has read a newspaper for[Pg 195] the past half-dozen years. The passionate cruelty and the passionate heroism of men have soaked the earth with blood. Never, since it came from its Maker’s hands, has it seen such shame and glory. There may be some who still believe that this blood would not have been spilled had women shared in the citizenship of nations; but the arguments they advance in support of an undemonstrable theory show a soothing ignorance of events.

“War will pass,” says Olive Schreiner, “when intellectual culture and activity have made possible to the female an equal share in the control and government of modern national life.” And why? Because “Arbitration and compensation will naturally occur to her as cheaper and simpler methods of bridging the gaps in national relationship.”

Strange that this idea never “naturally” occurred to man! Strange that no delegate to The Hague should have perceived[Pg 196] so straight a path to peace! Strange that when Germany struck her long-planned, well-prepared blow, this cheap and simple measure failed to stay her hand! War will pass when injustice passes. Never before, unless hope leaves the world.

That any civilized people should bar women from the practice of law is to the last degree absurd and unreasonable. There never can be an adequate cause for such an injurious exclusion. There is, in fact, no cause at all, only an arbitrary decision on the part of those who have the authority to decide. Yet nothing is less worth while than to speculate dizzily on the part women are going to play in any field from which they are at present debarred. They may be ready to burnish up “the rusty old social organism,” and make it shine like new; but this is not the work which lies immediately at hand. A suffragist who believes that the world needs house-cleaning[Pg 197] has made the terrifying statement that when English women enter the law courts they will sweep away all “legal frippery,” all the “accumulated dust and rubbish of centuries.” Latin terms, flowing gowns and wigs, silly staves and worn-out symbols, all must go, and with them must go the antiquated processes which confuse and retard justice. The women barristers of the future will scorn to have “legal natures like Portia’s,” basing their claims on quibbles and subterfuges. They will cut all Gordian knots. They will deal with naked simplicities.

References to Portia are a bit disquieting. Her law was stage law, good enough for the drama which has always enjoyed a jurisprudence of its own. We had best leave her out of any serious discussion. But why should the admission of women to the bar result in a volcanic upheaval? Women have practised medicine for years, and have not[Pg 198] revolutionized it. Painstaking service, rather than any brilliant display of originality, has been their contribution to this field. It is reasonable to suppose that their advance will be resolute and beneficial. If they ever condescended to their profession, they do so no longer. If they ever talked about belonging to “the class of real people,” they have relinquished such flowers of rhetoric. If they have earnestly desired the franchise, it was because they saw in it justice to themselves, not the torch which would enlighten the world.

It is conceded theoretically that woman’s sphere is an elastic term, embracing any work she finds herself able to do,—not necessarily do well, because most of the world’s work is done badly, but well enough to save herself from failure. Her advance is unduly heralded and unduly criticized. She is the target for too much comment from friend and foe. On the one hand, a keen (but of[Pg 199] course perverted) misogynist like Sir Andrew Macphail, welcomes her entrance into public life because it will tend to disillusionment. If woman can be persuaded to reveal her elemental inconsistencies, man, freed in some measure from her charm—which is the charm of retenue—will no longer be subject to her rule. On the other hand, that most feminine of feminists, Miss Jane Addams, predicts that “the dulness which inheres in both domestic and social affairs when they are carried on by men alone, will no longer be a necessary attribute of public life when gracious and grey-haired women become part of it.”

If Sir Andrew is as acid as Schopenhauer, Miss Addams is early Victorian. Her point of view presupposes a condition of which we had not been even dimly aware. Granted that domesticity palls on the solitary male. Housekeeping seldom attracts him. The tea-table[Pg 200] and the friendly cat fail to arrest his roving tendencies. Granted that some men are polite enough to say that they do not enjoy social events in which women take no part. They showed no disposition to relinquish such pastimes until the arid days of prohibition, and even now they cling forlornly to the ghost of a cheerful past. When they assert, however, that they would have a much better time if women were present, no one is wanton enough to contradict them. But public life! The arena in which whirling ambition sweeps human souls as an autumn wind sweeps leaves; which resounds with the shouts of the conquerors and the groans of the conquered; which is degraded by cupidity and ennobled by achievement; that this field of adventure, this heated race-track needs to be relieved from dulness by the presence and participation of elderly ladies is the crowning vision of sensibility.

[Pg 201]

Qui veut faire l’ange fait la bête,” said Pascal; and the Michigan angel is a danger signal. The sentimental and chivalrous attitude of American men reacts alarmingly when they are brought face to face with the actual terms and visible consequences of woman’s enfranchisement. There exists a world-wide and age-long belief that what women want they get. They must want it hard enough and long enough to make their desire operative. It is the listless and preoccupied unconcern of their own sex which bars their progress. But men will fall into a flutter of admiration because a woman runs a successful dairy-farm, or becomes the mayor of a little town; and they will look aghast upon such commonplace headlines as these in their morning paper: “Women Confess Selling Votes”; “Chicago Women Arrested for Election Frauds”;—as if there had not always been, and would not always be, a percentage of[Pg 202] unscrupulous voters in every electorate. No sane woman believes that women, as a body, will vote more honestly than men; but no sane man believes that they will vote less honestly. They are neither the “gateway to hell,” as Tertullian pointed out, nor the builders of Sir Rabindranath Tagore’s “spiritual civilization.” They are neither the repositories of wisdom, nor the final word of folly.

It was unwise and unfair to turn a searchlight upon the first woman in Congress, and exhibit to a gaping world her perfectly natural limitations. Such limitations are common in our legislative bodies, and excite no particular comment. They are as inherent in the average man as in the average woman. They in no way affect the question of enfranchisement. Give as much and ask no more. Give no more and ask as much. This is the watchword of equality.

“God help women when they have[Pg 203] only their rights!” exclaimed a brilliant American lawyer; but it is in the “only” that all savour lies. Rights and privileges are incompatible. Emancipation implies the sacrifice of immunity, the acceptance of obligation. It heralds the reign of sober and disillusioning experience. Women, as M. Faguet reminds us, are only the equals of men; a truth which was simply phrased in the old Cornish adage, “Lads are as good as wenches when they are washed.”

[Pg 204]

The Strayed Prohibitionist

The image of the prohibition-bred American youth (not this generation, but the next) straying through the wine-drenched and ale-drenched pages of English literature captivates the fancy. The classics, to be sure, are equally bibulous; but with the classics the American youth has no concern. The advance guard of educators are busy clearing away the débris of Greek and Latin which has hitherto clogged his path. There is no danger of his learning from Homer that “Generous wine gives strength to toiling men,” or from Socrates that “The potter’s art begins with the wine jar,” or from the ever-scandalous Horace that “Wine is mighty to inspire hope, and to drown the bitterness of care.” The professor has conspired with the prohibitionist to save the undergraduate[Pg 205] from such disedifying sentiments.

As for the Bible, where corn and oil and wine, the three fruits of a bountiful harvest, are represented as of equal virtue, it will probably be needful to supply such texts with explanatory and apologetic footnotes. The sweet and sober counsel of Ecclesiastes: “Forsake not an old friend, for the new will not be like to him. A new friend is as new wine; it shall grow old, and thou shalt drink it with pleasure,” has made its way into the heart of humanity, and has been embedded in the poetry of every land. But now, like the most lovely story of the marriage feast at Cana, it has been robbed of the simplicity of its appeal. I heard a sermon preached upon the marriage feast which ignored the miracle altogether. The preacher dwelt upon the dignity and responsibility of the married state, reprobated divorce, and urged parents[Pg 206] to send their children to Sunday school. It was a perfectly good sermon, filled with perfectly sound exhortations; but the speaker “strayed.” Sunday schools were not uppermost in the holy Mother’s mind when she perceived and pitied the humiliation of her friends.

The banishing of the classics, the careful editing of the Scriptures, and the comprehensive ignorance of foreign languages and letters which distinguishes the young American, leaves only the field of British and domestic literature to enlighten or bewilder him. Now New England began to print books about the time that men grew restive as to the definition of temperance. Longfellow wrote a “Drinking Song” to water, which achieved humour without aspiring to it, and Dr. Holmes wrote a teetotaller’s adaptation of a drinking song, which aspired to humour without achieving it. As a matter of fact, no drinking songs, not even the real ones[Pg 207] and the good ones which sparkle in Scotch and English verse, have any illustrative value. They come under the head of special pleading, and are apt to be a bit defiant. In them, as in the temperance lecture, “that good sister of common life, the vine,” becomes an exotic, desirable or reprehensible according to the point of view, but never simple and inevitable, like the olive-tree and the sheaves of corn.

American letters, coming late in the day, are virgin of wine. There have been books, like Jack London’s “John Barleycorn,” written in the cause of temperance; there have been pleasant trifles, like Dr. Weir Mitchell’s “Madeira Party,” written to commemorate certain dignified convivialities which even then were passing silently away; and there have been chance allusions, like Mr. Dooley’s vindication of whisky from the charge of being food: “I wudden’t insult it be placin’ it on the[Pg 208] same low plain as a lobster salad”; and his loving recollection of his friend Schwartzmeister’s cocktail, which was of such generous proportions that it “needed only a few noodles to look like a biled dinner.” But it is safe to say that there is more drinking in “Pickwick Papers” than in a library of American novels. It is drinking without bravado, without reproach, without justification. For natural treatment of a debatable theme, Dickens stands unrivalled among novelists.

We are told that the importunate virtue of our neighbours, having broken one set of sympathies and understandings, will in time deprive us of meaner indulgences, such as tobacco, tea, and coffee. But tobacco, tea, and coffee, though friendly and compassionate to men, are late-comers and district-dwellers. They do not belong to the stately procession of the ages, like the wine which Noah and Alexander and Cæsar[Pg 209] and Praxiteles and Plato and Lord Kitchener drank. When the Elgin marbles were set high over the Parthenon, when the Cathedral of Chartres grew into beauty, when “Hamlet” was first played at the Globe Theatre, men lived merrily and wisely without tobacco, tea, and coffee, but not without wine. Tobacco was given by the savage to the civilized world. It has an accidental quality which adds to its charm, but which promises consolation when those who are better than we want to be have taken it away from us. “I can understand,” muses Dr. Mitchell, “the discovery of America, and the invention of printing; but what human want, what instinct, led up to tobacco? Imagine intuitive genius capturing this noble idea from the odours of a prairie fire!”

Charles Lamb pleaded that tobacco was at worst only a “white devil.” But it was a persecuted little devil which for years suffered shameful indignities. We[Pg 210] have Mr. Henry Adams’s word for it that, as late as 1862, Englishmen were not expected to smoke in the house. They went out of doors or to the stables. Only a licensed libertine like Monckton Milnes permitted his guests to smoke in their rooms. Half a century later, Mr. Rupert Brooke, watching a designer in the advertising department of a New York store making “Matisse-like illustrations to some notes on summer suitings,” was told by the superintendent that the firm gave a “free hand” to its artists, “except for nudes, improprieties, and figures of people smoking.” To these last, some customers—even customers of the sex presumably interested in summer suitings—“strongly objected.”

The new school of English fiction which centres about the tea-table, and in which, as in the land of the lotus-eaters, it is always afternoon, affords an arena for conversation and an easily[Pg 211] procurable atmosphere. England is the second home of tea. She waited centuries, kettle on hob and cat purring expectantly by the fire, for the coming of that sweet boon, and she welcomed it with the generous warmth of wisdom. No duties daunted her. No price was too high for her to pay. No risk was too great to keep her from smuggling the “China drink.” No hearth was too humble to covet it, and the homeless brewed it by the roadside. Isopel Berners, that peerless and heroic tramp, paid ten shillings a pound for her tea; and when she lit her fire in the Dingle, comfort enveloped Lavengro, and he tasted the delights of domesticity.

But though England will doubtless fight like a lion for her tea, as for her cakes and ale, when bidden to purify herself of these indulgences, yet it is the ale, and not the tea, which has coloured her masterful literature. There are phrases so inevitable that they defy[Pg 212] monotony. Such are the “wine-dark sea” of Greece, and the “nut-brown ale” of England. Even Lavengro, though he shared Isopel’s tea, gave ale, “the true and proper drink of Englishmen,” to the wandering tinker and his family. How else, he asks, could he have befriended these wretched folk? “There is a time for cold water” [this is a generous admission on the writer’s part], “there is a time for strong meat, there is a time for advice, and there is a time for ale; and I have generally found that the time for advice is after a cup of ale.”

“Lavengro” has been called the epic of ale; but Borrow was no English rustic, content with the buxom charms of malt, and never glancing over her fat shoulder to wilder, gayer loves. He was an accomplished wanderer, at home with all men and with all liquor. He could order claret like a lord, to impress the supercilious waiter in a London inn.[Pg 213] He could drink Madeira with the old gentleman who counselled the study of Arabic, and the sweet wine of Cypress with the Armenian who poured it from a silver flask into a silver cup, though there was nothing better to eat with it than dry bread. When, harried by the spirit of militant Protestantism, he peddled his Bibles through Spain, he dined with the courteous Spanish and Portuguese Gipsies, and found that while bread and cheese and olives comprised their food, there was always a leathern bottle of good white wine to give zest and spirit to the meal. He offered his brandy-flask to a Genoese sailor, who emptied it, choking horribly, at a draught, so as to leave no drop for a shivering Jew who stood by, hoping for a turn. Rather than see the Christian cavalier’s spirits poured down a Jewish throat, explained the old boatman piously, he would have suffocated.

Englishmen drank malt liquor long[Pg 214] before they tasted sack or canary. The ale-houses of the eighth century bear a respectable tradition of antiquity, until we remember that Egyptians were brewing barley beer four thousand years ago, and that Herodotus ascribes its invention to the ingenuity and benevolence of Isis. Thirteen hundred years before Christ, in the time of Seti I, an Egyptian gentleman complimented Isis by drinking so deeply of her brew that he forgot the seriousness of life, and we have to-day the record of his unseemly gaiety. Xenophon, with notable lack of enthusiasm, describes the barley beer of Armenia as a powerful beverage, “agreeable to those who were used to it”; and adds that it was drunk out of a common vessel through hollow reeds,—a commendable sanitary precaution.

In Thomas Hardy’s story, “The Shepherd’s Christening,” there is a rare tribute paid to mead, that glorious intoxicant which our strong-headed, stout-hearted[Pg 215] progenitors drank unscathed. The traditional “heather ale” of the Picts, the secret of which died with the race, was a glorified mead.

“Fra’ the bonny bells o’ heather
They brewed a drink lang-syne,
’Twas sweeter far than honey,
’Twas stronger far than wine.”

The story goes that, after the bloody victory of the Scots under Kenneth MacAlpine, in 860, only two Picts who knew the secret of the brew survived the general slaughter. Some say they were father and son, some say they were master and man. When they were offered their lives in exchange for the recipe, the older captive said he dared not reveal it while the younger lived, lest he be slain in revenge. So the Scots tossed the lad into the sea, and waited expectantly. Then the last of the Picts cried, “I only know!” and leaped into the ocean and was drowned. It is a brave tale. One wonders if a man would[Pg 216] die to save the secret of making milk-toast.

From the pages of history the prohibition-bred youth may glean much off-hand information about the wine which the wide world made and drank at every stage of civilization and decay. If, after the fashion of his kind, he eschews history, there are left to him encyclopædias, with their wealth of detail, and their paucity of intrinsic realities. Antiquarians also may be trusted to supply a certain number of papers on “leather drinking-vessels,” and “toasts of the old Scottish gentry.” But if the youth be one who browses untethered in the lush fields of English literature, taking prose and verse, fiction and fact, as he strays merrily along, what will he make of the hilarious company in which he finds himself? What of Falstaff, and the rascal, Autolycus, and of Sir Toby Belch, who propounded the fatal query which has been answered in[Pg 217] 1919? What of Herrick’s “joy-sops,” and “capring wine,” and that simple and sincere “Thanksgiving” hymn which takes cognizance of all mercies?

“Lord, I confess too, when I dine,
The pulse is thine,
The worts, the purslane, and the mess
Of water-cress.
’Tis Thou that crown’st my glittering hearth
With guiltless mirth.
And giv’st me wassail bowls to drink,
Spiced to the brink.”

The lines sound like an echo of Saint Chrysostom’s wise warning, spoken twelve hundred years before: “Wine is for mirth, and not for madness.”

Biographies, autobiographies, memoirs, diaries, all are set with traps for the unwary, and all are alike unconscious of offence. Here is Dr. Johnson, whose name alone is a tonic for the morally debilitated, saying things about claret, port, and brandy which bring a blush to the cheek of temperance. Here is Scott, that “great good[Pg 218] man” and true lover of his kind, telling a story about a keg of whisky and a Liddesdale farmer which one hardly dares to allude to, and certainly dares not repeat. Here is Charles Lamb, that “frail good man,” drinking more than is good for him; and here is Henry Crabb Robinson, a blameless, disillusioned, prudent sort of person, expressing actual regret when Lamb ceases to drink. “His change of habit, though it on the whole improves his health, yet, when he is low-spirited, leaves him without a remedy or relief.”

John Evelyn and Mr. Pepys witnessed the blessed Restoration, when England went mad with joy, and the fountains of London ran wine.

“A very merry, dancing, drinking,
Laughing, quaffing, and unthinking”

time it was, until the gilt began to wear off the gingerbread. But Evelyn, though he feasted as became a loyal gentleman, and admitted that canary carried to the[Pg 219] West Indies and back for the good of its health was “incomparably fine,” yet followed Saint Chrysostom’s counsel. He drank, and compelled his household to drink, with sobriety. There is real annoyance expressed in the diary when he visits a hospitable neighbour, and his coachman is so well entertained in the servants’ hall that he falls drunk from the box, and cannot pick himself up again.

Poor Mr. Pepys was ill fitted by a churlish fate for the simple pleasures that he craved. To him, as to many another Englishman, wine was precious only because it promoted lively conversation. His “debauches” (it pleased him to use that ominous word) were very modest ones, for he was at all times prudent in his expenditures. But claret gave him a headache, and Burgundy gave him the stone, and late suppers, even of bread and butter and botargo, gave him indigestion. Therefore[Pg 220] he was always renouncing the alleviations of life, only to be lured back by his incorrigible love of companionship. There is a serio-comic quality in his story of the two bottles of wine he sent for to give zest to his cousin Angler’s supper at the Rose Tavern, and which were speedily emptied by his cousin Angler’s friends: “And I had not the wit to let them know at table that it was I who paid for them, and so I lost my thanks.”

If the young prohibitionist be light-hearted enough to read Dickens, or imaginative enough to read Scott, or sardonic enough to read Thackeray, he will find everybody engaged in the great business of eating and drinking. It crowds love-making into a corner, being, indeed, a pleasure which survives all tender dalliance, and restores to the human mind sanity and content. I am convinced that if Mr. Galsworthy’s characters ate and drank more, they[Pg 221] would be less obsessed by sex, and I wish they would try dining as a restorative.

The older novelists recognized this most expressive form of realism, and knew that, to be accurate, they must project their minds into the minds of their characters. It is because of their sympathy and sincerity that we recall old Osborne’s eight-shilling Madeira, and Lord Steyne’s White Hermitage, which Becky gave to Sir Pitt, and the brandy-bottle clinking under her bed-clothes, and the runlet of canary which the Holy Clerk of Copmanhurst found secreted conveniently in his cell, and the choice purl which Dick Swiveller and the Marchioness drank in Miss Sally Brass’s kitchen. We hear Warrington’s great voice calling for beer, we smell the fragrant fumes of burning rum and lemon-peel when Mr. Micawber brews punch, we see the foam on the “Genuine Stunning” which the child[Pg 222] David calls for at the public house. No writer except Peacock treats his characters, high and low, as royally as does Dickens; and Peacock, although British publishers keep issuing his novels in new and charming editions, is little read on this side of the sea. Moreover, he is an advocate of strong drink, which is very reprehensible, and deprives him of candour as completely as if he had been a teetotaller. We feel and resent the bias of his mind; and although he describes with humour that pleasant middle period, “after the Jacquerie were down, and before the march of mind was up,” yet the only one of his stories which is innocent of speciousness is “The Misfortunes of Elphin.”

Now to the logically minded “The Misfortunes of Elphin” is a temperance tract. The disaster which ruins the countryside is the result of shameful drunkenness. The reproaches levelled by Prince Elphin at Seithenyn ap[Pg 223] Seithyn are sterner and more deeply deserved than the reproaches levelled by King Henry at Falstaff; yet the tale rocks and reels with Seithenyn’s potations. There are drunkards whom we can conceive of as sober, but he is not one of them. There are sinners who can be punished or pardoned, but he is not one of them. As he is incapable of reform, so is he immune from retribution. Out of the dregs of his folly ooze the slow words of his wisdom. Nature befriends him because he is a natural force, and man submits to him because he is fulfilling his natural election. The good and the wicked fret about him, and grow old in the troublesome process; but he remains unchangeably, immutably drunk. “Wine is my medicine,” he says with large simplicity, “and my measure is a little more.”

If ever the young prohibitionist strays into the wine-cellar of Seithenyn ap Seithyn, he will have a shell-shock. It[Pg 224] may even be that his presence will sour the casks, as the presence of a woman is reputed to sour the casks in the great caves of the Gironde, where wine ripens slowly, acquiring merit in silence and seclusion like a Buddhist saint, and as sensitive as a Buddhist saint to the perilous proximity of the feminine. This ancient and reasonable tradition is but one phase of the ancient and reasonable hostility between intoxicants and the sober sex, which dates perhaps from the time when Roman women were forbidden to taste their husbands’ wine, but were fed on sweet syrups, like warm soda-fountain beverages, to the ruin of their health and spirits. Small wonder if they handed down to their great-grand-daughters a legitimate antagonism to pleasures they were not permitted to share, and if their remote descendants still cherish a dim, resentful consciousness of hurt. It was the lurking ghost of a dead tyranny which impelled an[Pg 225] American woman to write to President Roosevelt, reproving him for having proposed a toast to Mr. John Hay’s daughter on her wedding-day. “Think,” she said, “of the effect on your friends, on your children, on your immortal soul, of such a thoughtless act.”

Nomadic tribes—the vigilant ones who looked well ahead—wisely forbade the cultivation of the vine. Their leaders knew that if men made wine, they would want to stay at home and drink it. The prohibition-bred youth, if he is to remain faithful to the customs of his people, had better not cultivate too sedulously the great literature, smelling of hop-fields, and saturated with the juice of the grape. Every step of the way is distracting and dangerous. When I was a school-girl I was authoritatively bidden—only authority could have impelled me—to strengthen my errant mind by reading the “Areopagitica.” There I found this amazing sentence:[Pg 226] “They are not skilful considerers of human things who imagine to remove sin by removing the matter of sin.”

But then Milton wrote “L’Allegro.”

[Pg 227]


“As the world is, and will be, ’tis a sort of duty to be rich,” wrote Lady Mary Wortley Montagu; and her words—which sound almost ascetic in our ears—were held to be of doubtful morality in the godless eighteenth century which she adorned and typified. Even Lady Mary endeavoured to qualify their greed by explaining that she valued money because it gave her the power to do good; but her hard-headed compatriots frankly doubted this excusatory clause. They knew perfectly well that a desire to do good is not, and never has been, a motive power in the acquisition of wealth.

Lady Mary did render her country one inestimable service; but her fortune (which, after all, was of no great magnitude) had nothing whatever[Pg 228] to do with it. Intelligent observation, dauntless courage, and the supreme confidence which nerved her to experiment upon her own child,—these qualities enabled her to force inoculation upon a reluctant and scandalized public. These qualities have lifted mankind out of many a rut, and are all we shall have to depend on while the world rolls on its way. When Aristotle said that money was barren, he did not mean that it was barren of delights; but that it had no power to get us to any place worth reaching, no power to quicken the intellectual and spiritual potencies of the soul.

The love of gold, the craving for wealth, has not lain dormant for ages in the human heart, waiting for the twentieth century to call it into being. It is no keener now than it has always been, but it is ranker in its growth and expression, being a trifle over-nourished in our plethoric land, and not subjected[Pg 229] to keen competing emotions. Great waves of religious thought, great struggles for principles and freedom, great births of national life, great discoveries, great passions, and great wrongs,—these things have swayed the world, wrecking and saving the souls of men without regard for money. Great qualities, too, have left their impress upon the human race, and endowed it for all the years to come.

The genius which in the thirteenth century found expression in architecture and scholasticism, which in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries found expression in art and letters, finds expression to-day in applied science and finance. Industrial capitalism, as we know it now, is the latest development of man’s restless energy. It has coloured our times, given us new values in education, and intruded itself grossly into the quiet places of life. We should bear with it patiently, we might even[Pg 230] “admire it from afar,” if only we were sometimes suffered to forget. “Money talks,” and, by way of encouraging its garrulity, we talk about money, and in terms of money, until it would sometimes appear as if the currency of the United States were the only thing in the country vital enough to interpret every endeavour, and illustrate every situation.

Here, for example, is an imposing picture in a Sunday paper, a picture full of dignified ecclesiastics and decorous spectators. The text reads, “Breaking ground for a three-million-dollar nave.” It is a comprehensive statement, and one that conveys to the public the only circumstance which the public presumably cares to hear. But it brings a great cathedral down to the level of the million-dollar club-houses, or boat-houses, or fishing-camps which are described for us in unctuous and awe-stricken paragraphs. It is even dimly suggestive[Pg 231] of the million-dollar babies whom reporters follow feverishly up and down Palm Beach, and who will soon have to be billion-dollar babies if they want to hold their own. We are now on terms of easy familiarity with figures which used to belong to the abstractions of arithmetic, and not to the world of life. We have become proudly aware of the infinite possibilities of accumulation and of waste.

For this is the ebb and flow of American wealth. It is heaped up with resistless energy and concentration; it is dissipated in broken and purposeless profusion. Every class resents the extravagance of every other class; but none will practise denial. The millionaire who plays with a yacht and decks his wife with pearls looks askance upon the motor and silk shirt of the artisan. The artisan, with impulses and ambitions as ignoble and as unintelligent as the millionaire’s, is sullenly aware that, waste as he may,[Pg 232] the rich can waste more, and he is still dissatisfied. There is no especial appeal to manhood in a silk shirt, no approach to sweetness and light. It represents an ape-like imitation of something not worth imitating, a hopeless ignorance of the value and worth of money.

A universal reluctance to practise economy indicates a weakness in the moral fibre of a nation, a dangerous absence of pride. There is no power of the soul strong enough to induce thrift but pride. There is no quality stern enough to bar self-indulgence but the overmastering dictates of self-respect. There is no joy that life can yield comparable to the joy of independence. A nation is free when it submits to coercion from no other nation. A man is free when he is the arbiter of his own fate. National and individual freedom have never come cheap. The sacrifice which insures the one insures the other; the resolution which preserves the one preserves[Pg 233] the other. When Andrew Marvell declined the bribe offered him “out of pure affection” by the Lord Treasurer, saying he had “a bladebone of mutton” in his cupboard which would suffice for dinner, he not only held his own honour inviolate, but he vindicated the liberty of letters, the liberty of Parliament, and the liberty of England. No wonder an old chronicler says that his integrity and spirit were “dreadful” to the corrupt officials of his day.

There are Americans who appear to love their country for much the same reason that Stevenson’s “child” loves the “friendly cow”:

“She gives me cream with all her might
To eat with apple tart.”

When the supply of cream runs short, the patriot’s love runs shorter. He holds virulent mass-meetings to complain of the cow, of the quality of the cream, and of its distribution. If he be an immigrant,[Pg 234] he probably riots in the streets, not clamouring for the flesh-pots of Egypt—that immemorial cry for ease and bondage—inasmuch as the years of his thraldom had been softened by no such indulgence; but simply because the image of the cow is never absent from his mind, or from the minds of those to whom he looks for guidance. The captain of industry and the agitator, the spendthrift and the spendthrift’s wife who fling their money ostentatiously to the four winds of heaven, the working-man and the working-woman who exact the largest wage for the least labour, all are actuated by the same motive,—to get as much and to give as little as they can. It is not a principle which makes for citizenship, and it will afford no great help in the hour of the nation’s trial. Material progress and party politics are engrossing things; but perhaps Francis Parkman was right when he said that if our progress is to be at the mercy of our[Pg 235] politics, and our politics at the mercy of our mobs, we shall have no lasting foundation for prosperity and well-being.

The tendency to gloat over the sight and sound of money may be less pervasive than it seems. It may be only a temporary predisposition, leaving us at heart clean, wise, and temperate. But there is a florid exuberance in the handling of this recurrent theme which nauseates us a little, like very rich food eaten in a close room. Why should we be told that “the world gapes in wonder” as it contemplates “an Aladdin romance of steel and gold”? The world has had other things to gape over in these sorrowful and glorious years. “Once a barefoot boy, now riding in a hundred-thousand-dollar private car.” There is a headline to catch the public eye, and make the public tongue hang watering from its mouth. That car, “early Pullman and late German Lloyd,” is to the[Pg 236] American reader what the two thousand black slaves with jars of jewels upon their heads were to Dick Swiveller,—a vision of tasteful opulence. More intimate journalists tell us that a “Financial Potentate” eats baked potatoes for his luncheon, and gives his friends notebooks with a moral axiom on each page. We cannot really care what this unknown gentleman eats. We cannot, under any conceivable circumstance, covet a moral notebook. Yet such items of information would not be painstakingly acquired unless they afforded some mysterious gratification to their readers.

As for the “athletic millionaires,” who sport in the open like—and often with—ordinary men, they keep their chroniclers nimble. Fashions in plutocracy change with the changing times. The reporter who used to be turned loose in a nabob’s private office, and who rapturously described its “ebony centre-table on which is laid a costly[Pg 237] cover of maroon-coloured silk plush,” and its panelled walls, “the work of a lady amateur of great ability” (I quote from a newspaper of 1890), now has to scurry round golf-links, and shiver on the outskirts of a polo-field. From him we learn that young New Yorkers, the least and lowest of whom lives in a nine-hundred-thousand-dollar house, play tennis and golf like champions, or “cut a wide swathe in polo circles with their fearless riding.” From him we learn that “automobile racing can show its number of millionaires,” as if it were at all likely to show its number of clerks and ploughmen. Extravagance may be the arch-enemy of efficiency, but it is, and has always been, the friend of aimless excess.

When I was young, and millionaires were a rarity in my unassuming town, a local divine fluttered our habitual serenity by preaching an impassioned sermon upon a local Crœsus. He was[Pg 238] but a moderate sort of Crœsus, a man of kindly nature and simple vanities, whom his townspeople had been in the habit of regarding with mirthful and tolerant eyes. Therefore it was a bit startling to hear—from the pulpit—that this amiable gentleman was “a crown of glory upon the city’s brow,” and that his name was honoured “from the Golden Gate to New Jersey’s silver sands.” It was more than startling to be called upon to admire the meekness with which he trod the common earth, and the unhesitating affability with which he bowed to all his acquaintances, “acknowledging every salute of civility or respect,” because, “like another Frederick II of Prussia,” he felt his fellow-citizens to be human beings like himself. This admission into the ranks of humanity, however gratifying to our self-esteem, was tempered by so many exhortations to breathe our millionaire’s name[Pg 239] with becoming reverence, and was accompanied by such a curious medley of Bible texts, and lists of distinguished people whom the millionaire had entertained, that we hardly knew where we stood in the order of creation.

Copies of this sermon, which was printed “in deference to many importunities,” are now extremely rare. Reading its yellow pages, we become aware that the rites and ceremonies with which one generation worships its golden calf differ in detail from the rites and ceremonies with which another generation performs this pious duty. The calf itself has never changed since it was first erected in the wilderness,—the original model hardly admitting of improvement. Ruskin used to point out gleefully a careless couple who, in Claude’s picture of the adoration of the golden calf, are rowing in a pleasure boat on a stream which flows mysteriously through the desert. Indifferent to[Pg 240] gold, uninterested in idolatry, this pair glide smoothly by; and perhaps the river of time bears them through centuries of greed and materialism to some hidden haven of repose.

Saint Thomas Aquinas defines the sin of avarice as a “desire to acquire or retain in undue measure, beyond the order of reason.” Possibly no one has ever believed that he committed this sin, that there was anything unreasonable in his desires, or undue in their measure of accomplishment. “Reason” is a word of infinite flexibility. The statisticians who revel in mathematical intricacies tell us that Mr. John D. Rockefeller’s income is one hundred dollars a minute, and that his yearly income exceeds the lifetime earnings of two thousand average American citizens, and is equivalent to the income of fifty average American citizens sustained throughout the entire Christian era. It sounds more bewildering than seductive,[Pg 241] and the breathless rush of a hundred dollars a minute is a little like the seven dinners a day which Alice in Wonderland stands ready to forego as a welcome punishment for misbehaviour. But who shall say that a hundred dollars a minute is beyond the “order of reason”? Certainly Saint Thomas did not refer to incomes of this range, inasmuch as his mind (though not without a quality of vastness) could never have embraced their possibility.

On the other hand, Mr. Rockefeller is responsible for the suggestion that Saint Paul, were he living to-day, would be a captain of industry. Here again a denial is as valueless as an assertion. It is much the habit of modern propagandists—no matter what their propaganda may be—to say that the gap between themselves and the Apostles is merely a gap of centuries, and that the unlikeness, which seems to us so vivid,[Pg 242] is an unlikeness of time and circumstance, not of the inherent qualities of the soul. The multiplication of assets, the destruction of trade-rivalry, formed—apparently—no part of the original apostolic programme. If the tent-maker of Tarsus coveted wealth, he certainly went the wrong way about getting it. If there was that in his spirit which corresponded to the modern instinct for accumulation, he did great injustice to his talents, wasting his incomparable energy on labours which—from his own showing—left him too often homeless, and naked, and hungry. Even the tent-making, by which he earned his bread, appears to have been valuable to him for the same reason that the bladebone of mutton was valuable to Andrew Marvell,—not so much because it filled his stomach, as because it insured his independence.

L’amour d’argent a passé en dogme de morale publique,” wrote George Sand,[Pg 243] whose words have now and then a strange prophetic ring. The “peril of prosperity,” to borrow President Hibben’s alliterative phrase, was not in her day the menace it is in ours, nor has it ever been in her land the menace it has been in ours, because of the many other perils, not to speak of other interests and other ideals, filling the Frenchman’s mind. But if George Sand perceived a growing candour in the deference paid to wealth, to wealth as an abstraction rather than to its possessor, a dropping of the old hypocrisies which made a pretence of doubt and disapproval, a development of honoured and authorized avarice, she was a close observer as well as a caustic commentator.

The artlessness of our American attitude might disarm criticism were anything less than public sanity at stake. We appeal simply and robustly to the love of gain, and we seldom appeal in vain. It is not only that education has[Pg 244] substituted the principle of getting on for less serviceable values; but we are bidden to purchase marketable knowledge, no less than marketable foodstuffs, as an easy avenue to fortune. If we will eat and drink the health-giving comestibles urged upon us, our improved digestions will enable us to earn larger incomes. If we will take a highly commended course of horse-shoeing or oratorio-writing, prosperity will be our immediate reward. If we will buy some excellent books of reference, they will teach us to grow rich.

“There are one thousand more millionaires in the United States than there were ten years ago,” say the purveyors of these volumes. “At the present rate of increase, the new millionaires in the next few years will be at least twelve hundred. Will you be one of them?” There is a question to ask a young American at the outset of his career! There is an incentive to study! And by[Pg 245] way of elucidating a somewhat doubtful situation, the advertisers go on to say: “Typical men of brains are those who have dug large commercial enterprises out of a copper mine, or transformed buying and selling into an art. You must take a leaf from the experience of such men if you would hold positions of responsibility and power.”

Just how the reference books—chill avenues of universal erudition—are going to give us control of a copper mine or of a department store is not made clear; but their vendors know that there is no use in offering anything less than wealth, or, as it is sometimes spelled, “success,” as a return for the price of the volumes. And if a tasteful border design of fat money-bags scattering a cascade of dollars fails to quicken the sales, there is no tempting the heart of man. Our covetousness is as simple and as easily played upon as was the covetousness of the adventurers who went[Pg 246] digging for buried treasures on the unimpeachable authority of a soothsayer. The testimony offered in a New Jersey court that a man had bought some farmland because the spirit of a young negro girl had indicated that there was money hidden beneath the soil; the arraignment before a Brooklyn magistrate of two Gipsy women, charged with stealing the cash they had been commissioned to “bless,” are proof, if proof were needed, that intelligence has not kept pace with cupidity.

The endless stories about messenger boys and elevator men who have been given a Wall Street “tip,” and who have become capitalists in a day, are astonishingly like the stories which went their round when the South-Sea Bubble hung iridescent over London. Mankind has never wearied of such tales since Aladdin (one of Fortune’s fools) won his easy way to wealth. Even the old dime novel with “Dare-Devil Dick,” or “Jasper,[Pg 247] the Boy Detective,” for a hero, has been transmogrified into a “Fame and Fortune,” series, with “Boys That Make Money,” figuring vaingloriously on the title-page. Gone is the Indian brave, the dauntless young seaman who saved the American navy, the calm-eyed lad who held up a dozen masked ruffians with one small pistol. In their place we have the boy in the broker’s office who finds out that “A. and C.” stock will double its value within ten days; or the exploits of a group of juvenile speculators, who form a “secret syndicate,” and outwit the wisest heads on Wall Street. The supremacy of youth—a vital feature of such fiction—is indicated when the inspired messenger boy gives a “pointer” to an old and influential firm of brokers, who receive it with glistening eyes and respectful gratitude. “I did not tip you in expectation of any compensation,” observes the magnanimous and up-to-date young[Pg 248] hero. “I simply felt it was my duty to prevent you from losing the profit that was bound to come your way if you held on a few days longer.”

Our newspapers have told us (we should like to know who told the newspapers) that high prices are popular prices. It is fitting and proper that people who own the wealth of the world should pay a great deal for everything they buy. Shoppers with their purses full of money are affronted by any hint of cheapness or economy. This may be true, though it reminds me a little of a smiling Neapolitan who once assured me that his donkey liked to be beaten. One cannot, without entering into the mind of a donkey or of a rich American, deny the tastes imputed to them; but one may cherish doubts. It is true that “record prices” have been paid for every luxury, that the sales of furriers and jewellers have been unprecedented in the annals of our commerce, that the[Pg 249] eager buying of rare books, pictures, and curios, flung on the markets by the destitution of Europe, has never been surpassed. One might wish that destitution anywhere (Vienna is not so far from New York that no cry of pain can reach us) would dim our pleasure in such purchases. This does not seem to be the case. “’Tis man’s perdition to be safe,” and ’tis his deepest and deadliest perdition to profit by the misfortunes of others.

An American rhapsodist, singing the pæan of money in the pages of the “Bankers’ Magazine,” says in its mighty name: “I am the minister of war and the messenger of peace. No army can march without my command. Until I speak, no ship of trade can sail from any port.”

“Until I speak”! Always the emphasis upon that powerful voice which is so mute and inglorious without the compelling mind of man. When President Cleveland said that if it took every dollar[Pg 250] in the Treasury, and every soldier in the United States army, to deliver a postal card in Chicago, that postal card should be delivered, he was perhaps glad to think that the nation’s wealth, like the nation’s force, could be used to fulfil the nation’s obligations. But back of wealth, and back of force, was purpose. When man lays hand upon the “hilt of action,” money stops talking and obeys.

Mr. Shane Leslie, shrinking sensitively from that oppressive word, “efficiency,” and seeking what solace he can find in the survival of unpractical ideals, ventures to say that every university man “carries away among the husks of knowledge the certainty that there are less things saleable in heaven and earth than the advocates of sound commercial education would suppose.” This truth, more simply phrased by the Breton peasant woman who said “Le bon Dieu ne vend pas ses biens,” has other teachers besides religion and the[Pg 251] classics. History, whether we read it or live in it, makes nothing clearer. Mr. Henry Ford is credited with saying that he would not give a nickel for all the history in the world; but though he can, and does, forbear to read it, he has to live in it with the rest of us, and learn its lessons first-hand. No one desired the welfare—or what he conceived to be the welfare—of mankind more sincerely than he did; and he was prepared to buy it at a handsome figure. Yet Heaven refused to sell, and earth, inasmuch as the souls of men are not her possessions, had nothing worth his purchase.

The price of war can be computed in figures; the price of peace calls for another accountant. The tanker, Gold Shell, which first crossed the “forbidden” zone did more than a score of peace ships could have done to secure the civilization of the world. Its plain sailors who put something (I don’t[Pg 252] know what they called it) above personal safety, and their plain captain who expressed in the regrettable language of the sea his scorn of German pirates, were prepared to pay a higher price than any millionaire could offer for their own and their country’s freedom. We know what these men risked because we know what agonizing deaths the sailors on the tanker, Healdton, suffered at Germany’s hands. The Gold Shell seamen knew it too, and met frightfulness with fearlessness. The world is never so bad but that men’s souls can rise above its badness, and restore our fainting faith.

Mohammed prayed that he might be found among the poor on the Judgment Day,—a prayer echoed by Saint Bernard, who took some pains to insure its being answered. Yet, as a mere abstraction, of what worth is poverty? The jewel in the toad’s head is as glittering as adversity is sweet. One has been well[Pg 253] likened to the other. Bishop Lawrence, undismayed by the most humiliating page of our country’s history, seized a crucial moment in which to say very simply and gallantly that Americans are not wedded to ease, or enthralled by wealth. The time has come to prove him in the right. God will not sell us safety. We learned this much in the winter of 1917, when we dug our mail out of an American steamer, and asked Britain—Britain burdened with debt and bleeding at every pore—to carry it over the sea. For our own sake, no less than for the world’s sake, we must show that we coin money in no base spirit, that we cherish it with no base passion. The angel who looked too long at heaven’s golden pavement was flung, into hell.

[Pg 254]

Cruelty and Humour

The unhallowed alliance between the cruelty that we hate and the humour that we prize is a psychological problem which frets the candid mind. Hazlitt analyzed it pitilessly, but without concern, because humanity was not his playing card. No writer of the nineteenth century dared to be so clearly and consciously inhumane as was Hazlitt. Shakespeare and Scott recognized this alliance, and were equally unconcerned, because they accepted life on its own terms, and were neither the sport of illusions nor the prey of realities. It took the public—always more or less kind-hearted—two hundred years to sympathize with the wrongs of Shylock, and three hundred years to wince at the misery of Malvolio.

It was with something akin to regret[Pg 255] that Andrew Lang watched the shrivelling of that “full-blown comic sense” which accompanied the cruel sports of an earlier generation, the bull-baiting and badger-drawing and cock-fights and prize-fights which Englishmen loved, and which taught them to value courage and look unmoved on pain. In 1699 the old East India Company lost its claim against the New Company by two parliamentary votes; and this measure was passed in the absence of friendly members who had been seduced from their posts by the unwonted spectacle of a tiger-baiting. In 1818 Christopher North (black be his memory!) described graphically and with smothered glee the ignoble game of cat-worrying, which ran counter to British sporting instincts, to the roughly interpreted fair play which severed brutality from baseness. There was never a time when some English voice was not raised to protest against that combination of cruelty and[Pg 256] cowardice which pitted strength against weakness, or overwhelming odds against pure gallantry of spirit. The first Englishman to assert that animals had a right to legal protection was John Evelyn. He grasped this novel point of view through sheer horror and disgust because a stallion had been baited with dogs in London, and had fought so bravely that the dogs could not fasten on him until the men in charge ran him through with their swords. Evelyn asked, and asked in vain, that the law should intervene to punish such barbarity.

A century later we hear the same cry of indignation, the same appeal for pity and redress. This time it comes from Horace Walpole, who is beside himself with fury because some scoundrels at Dover had roasted a fox alive, to mark—with apt symbolism—their disapproval of Charles Fox. Walpole, whom Lord Minto characterized as[Pg 257] “a prim, precise, pretending, conceited savage, but a most un-English one,” demonstrated on this occasion the alien nature of his sympathies by an outbreak of rage against the cruelty which he was powerless to punish. It is interesting to note that he denounced the deed as “a savage meanness which an Iroquois would have scorned”; showing that he and Lord Minto regarded savagery from different angles. So, it will be remembered, did Lord Byron and Izaak Walton. When the former dared to call the latter “a sentimental savage,” he brought down upon his own head, “bloody but unbowed,” the wrath of British sportsmen, of British churchmen, of British sensibility. Even in far-off America an outraged editor protested shrilly against this monde bestorné, this sudden onslaught of vice upon virtue, this reversal of outlawry and order.

The effrontery of the attack startled[Pg 258] a decorous world. Lord Byron had so flaunted his immoralities that he had become the scapegoat of society. He had been driven forth from a pure, or at least respectable, island, to dally with sin under less austere skies. The household virtues shuddered at his name. Izaak Walton, on the contrary, had been recognized in his day as a model of domestic sobriety. He had lived happily with two wives (one at a time), and had spent much of his life “in the families of the eminent clergymen of England, of whom he was greatly beloved.” He was buried in Winchester Cathedral, where English fishermen erected a statue to commemorate his pastime. His bust adorns the church of Saint Mary, Stafford, where he was baptized. His second wife sleeps under a monument in Worcester Cathedral. Dr. Johnson and Wordsworth—great sponsors of morality—united in his praise. Mr. Lang (an enthusiastic angler) pronounced[Pg 259] him to be “a kind, humorous, and pious soul.” Charles Lamb, who thought angling a cruel sport, wrote to Wordsworth, “Izaak Walton hallows any page in which his reverend name appears.”

This admirable Crichton, this honoured guest of “eminent clergymen,” was the man whom Byron—who had never so much as supped with a curate—selected to attack in his most scandalously indecent poem. His lilting lines,

“The quaint, old, cruel coxcomb in his gullet
Should have a hook, and a small trout to pull it,”

were ribald enough in all conscience; but, by way of superdefiance, he added a perfectly serious note in which he pointed out the deliberate character of Walton’s inhumanity. The famous passage in “The Compleat Angler,” which counsels fishermen to use the impaled frog as though they loved him,—“that is, harm him as little as you may possibly, that he may live the longer,”—and[Pg 260] the less famous, but equally explicit, passages which deal with the tender treatment of dace and snails, sickened Byron’s soul, especially when topped off by the most famous passage of all: “God never did make a more calm, quiet, innocent recreation than fishing.” The picture of the Almighty smiling down on the pangs of his irrational creatures, in sportsmanlike sympathy with his rational creature (who could recite poetry and quote the Scriptures) was more than Byron could bear. He was keenly aware that he offered no shining example to the world; but he had never conceived of God as a genial spectator of cruelty or of vice.

Therefore this open-eyed sinner called the devout and decent Walton a sentimental savage. Therefore he wrote disrespectful words about the “cruel, cold, and stupid sport of angling.” Therefore he said, “No angler can be a good man”; which comprehensive remark[Pg 261] caused the public to ask tartly—and not unreasonably—who appointed Lord Byron to be its monitor? The fantastic love of animals, which was one of the poet’s most engaging traits, may have been deepened by his resentment against men. Nevertheless, we recognize it as a genuine and generous sentiment, ennobling and also amusing, as most genuine and generous sentiments are apt to be. The eaglet that he shot on the shore of Lepanto, and whose life he vainly tried to save, was the last bird to die by his hand. He had an embarrassing habit of becoming attached to wild animals and to barnyard fowls. An ungrateful civet-cat, having bitten a footman, escaped from bondage. A goose, bought to be fattened for Michaelmas, never achieved its destiny; but was raised to the dignity and emoluments of a household pet, and carried about in a basket, swung securely under the poet’s travelling carriage. These amiable eccentricities[Pg 262] won neither respect nor esteem. Byron could not in cold blood have hurt anything that breathed; but there was a general impression that a man who was living with another man’s wife had no business to be so kind to animals, and certainly no business to censure respectable and church-going citizens who were cruel to them.

Nevertheless, the battle so inauspiciously begun has been waged ever since, and has found more impeccable champions. It was possible for Charles Lamb to sigh with one breath over the “intolerable pangs” inflicted by “meek” anglers, and to rejoice with the next over the page hallowed by the angler’s reverend name. Happily for himself and for his readers, he had that kind of a mind. But Huxley, whose mind was singularly inflexible and unaccommodating, refused such graceful concessions. All forms of cruelty were hateful to him. Of one distinguished and[Pg 263] callous vivisector he said plainly that he would like to send him to the treadmill. But he would hear no word against vivisection from gentlemen who angled with live bait, and he expressed this unsportsmanlike view in his “Elementary Lessons in Physiology.” Mr. Arthur Christopher Benson’s piteous lines on a little dace, whose hard fate it is to furnish an hour’s “innocent recreation” for an angler, had not then been written; but Huxley needed no such incentive to pity. No man in England reverenced the gospel of amusement less than he did. No man was less swayed by sentiment, or daunted by ridicule.

When Hazlitt wrote, “One rich source of the ludicrous is distress with which we cannot sympathize from its absurdity or insignificance,” he touched the keynote of unconcern. Insignificant distress makes merry a humane world. “La malignité naturelle aux hommes est le principe de la comédie.” Distress[Pg 264] which could be forced to appear absurd made merry a world which had not been taught the elements of humanity. The elaborate jests which enlivened the Roman games were designed to show that terror and pain might, under rightly conceived circumstances, be infinitely amusing. When the criminal appointed to play the part of Icarus lost his wings at the critical moment which precipitated him into a cage of hungry bears, the audience appreciated the humour of the situation. It was a good practical joke, and the possible distaste of Icarus for his rôle lent pungency to the cleverly contrived performance. “By making suffering ridiculous,” said Mr. Pater, “you enlist against the sufferer much real and all would-be manliness, and do much to stifle any false sentiment of compassion.”

Scott, who had a clear perception of emotions he did not share, gives us in “Quentin Durward” an apt illustration[Pg 265] of human suffering rendered absurd by its circumstances, and made serviceable by the pleasure which it gives. Louis the Eleventh and Charles of Burgundy are fairly healed of rancorous fear and hatred by their mutual enjoyment of a man-hunt. The sight of the mock herald, doubling and turning in mad terror with the great boar-hounds at his heels, so delights the royal spectators that the king, reeling with laughter, catches hold of the duke’s ermine mantle for support; the duke flings his arm over the king’s shoulder; and these mortal enemies are converted, through sympathy with each other’s amusement, into something akin to friendship. When Charles, wiping his streaming eyes, says poignantly, “Ah, Louis, Louis, would to God thou wert as faithful a monarch as thou art a merry companion!” we recognize the touch of nature—of fallen nature—which makes the whole world kin. Ambroise Paré tells us that at the siege of Metz,[Pg 266] in 1552, the French soldiers fastened live cats to their pikes, and hung them over the walls, crying, “Miaut, Miaut”; while the Spanish soldiers shot at the animals as though they had been popinjays, and both besiegers and besieged enjoyed the sport in a spirit of frank derision.

This simple, undisguised barbarity lacks one element, intensely displeasing to the modern mind,—the element of bad taste. Imperial Rome had no conception of a slave or a criminal as a being whose sensations counted, save as they affected others, save as they afforded, or failed to afford, a pleasurable experience to Romans. Human rights were as remote from its cognizance as animal rights were remote from the cognizance of the Middle Ages. The survival of savagery in man’s heart is terrifying rather than repellent; it humiliates more than it affronts. Whatever is natural is likely to be bad; but it is also likely to[Pg 267] come within the scope, if not of our sympathy, at least of our understanding. Where there is no introspection there is no incongruity, nothing innately and sickeningly inhuman and ill-bred.

The most unpleasant record which has been preserved for us is the long Latin poem written by Robert Grove, afterwards Bishop of Chichester, and printed in 1685. It is dedicated to the memory of William Harvey, and describes with unshrinking serenity the vivisection of a dog to demonstrate Harvey’s discovery of the circulation of the blood. Such experiments, made before the day of anæsthetics, involved the prolonged agony of the animal used for experimentation. Harvey appears to have been a man as remote from pity as from ferocity. He desired to reach and to prove a supremely valuable scientific truth. He succeeded, and there are few who question his methods. But that a man should write in detail—and in[Pg 268] verse—about such dreadful work, that he should dwell composedly upon the dog’s excruciating pain, and compliment the poor beast on the useful part he plays, goes beyond endurance. Grove, who had that pretty taste for classicism so prevalent among English clerics, calls on Apollo and Minerva to lend Harvey their assistance, and promises the dog that (if Apollo and Minerva play their parts) he will become a second Lycisca, and will join Procyon and Sirius in the heavens.

Here is an instance in which a rudimentary sense of propriety would have saved a gentleman and a scholar from insulting the principles of good taste. It is more agreeable to contemplate the brutal crowd surrounding a baited bear than to contemplate this clergyman writing in the seclusion of his library. Religion and scholarship have their responsibilities. The German soldiers who ravaged Belgium outraged the sentiments[Pg 269] of humanity; but the German professors who sat at their desks, alternately defending and denying these ravages, outraged, not merely humanity, but the taste and intelligence of the world. Theirs was the unpardonable sin.

Cruelty is as old as life, and will cease only when life ceases. It has passed its candid stage long, long ago. It must now be condoned for its utility, or laughed at for its fun. Our comic sense, if less full-blown than of yore, still relishes its measure of brutality. To write gaily about the infliction of pain is to win for it forgiveness. Douglas Jerrold found something infinitely amusing in the sensations of the lobster put into a pot of cold water, and boiled. His description of the perspiring crustacean, unable to understand the cause of its rapidly increasing discomfort, was thought so laughable that it was reprinted, as a happy example of the[Pg 270] writer’s humour, in a recently published volume on Jerrold’s connection with “Punch.” The same genial spirit animated an American Senator who opposed the sentimental exclusion of egrets from commerce. It was the opinion of this gallant gentleman that the Lord created white herons to supply ornaments “for the hats of our beautiful ladies”; and having expressed his sympathy with the designs of Providence, he proposed in merry mood that we should establish foundling asylums for the nestlings deprived of their overdecorated parents,—as waggish a witticism as one would want to hear.

When an eminently respectable American newspaper can be convulsively funny, or at least can try to be convulsively funny, over the sale of a horse, twenty-seven years old, blind, rheumatic, and misshapen, to a Chicago huckster for fifteen cents, we have no need to sigh over our waning sense of[Pg 271] humour. The happy thought of calling the horse Algernon gave a rich twang to this comic episode, and saved the cheerful reader from any intrusive sentiment of pity. When a pious periodical, published in the interests of a Christian church, can tell us in a rollicking Irish story how a farmer, speeding through the frozen night, empties a bag of kittens into the snow, and whips up his horse, pretending playfully that the “craitures” are overtaking him, we make comfortably sure that religion lends itself as deftly as journalism to the light-hearted drolleries of the cruel.

Novelists, who understand how easy a thing it is to gratify our humorous susceptibilities, venture upon doubtful jests. Mr. Tarkington knows very well that the spectacle of a boy dismembering an insect calls for reprobation; but that if the boy’s experiments can be described as “infringing upon the domain of Dr. Carrell,” they make a bid[Pg 272] for laughter. “Penrod’s efforts—with the aid of a pin—to effect a transference of living organism were unsuccessful; but he convinced himself forever that a spider cannot walk with a beetle’s legs.” It is funny to those who relish the fun. If it does not, as Mr. Pater advises, make suffering ridiculous, it makes sympathy ridiculous, as being a thing more serious than the occasion warrants. The reader who is not amused tries to forget the incident, and hurries cheerfully on.

A more finished example of callous gaiety, and one which has been more widely appreciated, may be found in a story called “Crocker’s Hole,” by Blackmore. It tells how a young man named Pike, whom “Providence” had created for angling (the author is comfortably sure on this point), caught an old and wary trout by the help of a new and seductive bait. The over-wrought, over-coloured beauty of Blackmore’s style is[Pg 273] in accord with his highly sophisticated sense of humour:

“The lover of the rose knows well a gay, voluptuous beetle, whose pleasure it is to lie embedded in a fount of beauty. Deep among the incurving petals of the blushing fragrance he loses himself in his joys till a breezy waft reveals him. And when the sunlight breaks upon his luscious dissipation, few would have the heart to oust such a gem from such a setting. All his back is emerald sparkles; all his front, red Indian gold, and here and there he grows white spots to save the eye from aching. Pike slipped in his finger, fetched him out, and gave him a little change of joys by putting a Limerick hook through his thorax, and bringing it out between his elytra. Cetonia aurata liked it not, but pawed the air very naturally, fluttered his wings, and trod prettily upon the water under a lively vibration. He looked quite as happy, and considerably more[Pg 274] active than when he had been cradled in the anthers of a rose.”

The story is an angling story, and it would be unreasonable to spoil it by sympathizing with the bait. But there is something in the painting of the little beetle’s beauty, and in the amused description of its pain, which would sicken a donkey-beating costermonger, if he were cultivated enough to know what the author was driving at. It takes education and an unswerving reverence for sport to save us from the costermonger’s point of view.

There are times when it is easier to mock than to pity; there are occasions when we may be seduced from blame, even if we are not won all the way to approval. Mrs. Pennell tells us in her very interesting and very candid life of Whistler that the artist gratified a grudge against his Venetian landlady by angling for her goldfish (placed temptingly on a ledge beneath his window-sill);[Pg 275] that he caught them, fried them, and dropped them dexterously back into their bowl. It is a highly illustrative anecdote, and we are more amused than we have any business to be. Mr. Whistler’s method of revenge was the method of the Irish tenants who hocked their landlord’s cattle; but the adroitness of his malice, and the whimsical picture it presents, disarms sober criticism. A sympathetic setting for such an episode would have been a comedy played in the streets of Mantua, under the gay rule of Francesco Gonzaga, and before the eyes of that fair Isabella d’Este who bore tranquilly the misfortunes of others.

We hear so much about the sanitary qualities of laughter, we have been taught so seriously the gospel of amusement, that any writer, preacher, or lecturer, whose smile is broad enough to be infectious, finds himself a prophet in the market-place. Laughter, we are[Pg 276] told, freshens our exhausted spirits and disposes us to good-will,—which is true. It is also true that laughter quiets our uneasy scruples and disposes us to simple savagery. Whatever we laugh at, we condone, and the echo of man’s malicious merriment rings pitilessly through the centuries. Humour which has no scorn, wit which has no sting, jests which have no victim, these are not the pleasantries which have provoked mirth, or fed the comic sense of a conventionalized rather than a civilized world. “Our being,” says Montaigne, “is cemented with sickly qualities; and whoever should divest man of the seeds of those qualities would destroy the fundamental conditions of life.”


The Riverside Press
U. S. A