domenica 22 dicembre 2013

SNFC/3/001-3. § 3. Arthur Christopher Benson: “Escape”

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Arthur Christopher Benson
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§ 3. Escape
Arthur Christopher Benson

All the best stories in the world are but one story in reality -- the story of an escape. It is the only thing which interests us all and at all times -- how to escape. The stories of Joseph, of Odysseus, of the prodigal son, of the Pilgrim's Progress, of the "Ugly Duckling," of Sintram, to name only a few out of a great number, they are all stories of escapes. It is the same with all love-stories. "The course of true love never can run smooth," says the old proverb, and love-stories are but tales of a man or a woman's escape from the desert of lovelessness into the citadel of love. Even tragedies like those of OEdipus and Hamlet have the same thought in the background. In the tale of OEdipus, the old blind king in his tattered robe, who had committed in ignorance such nameless crimes, leaves his two daughters and the attendants standing below the old pear-tree and the marble tomb by the sacred fountain; he says the last faint words of love, till the voice of the god comes thrilling upon the air:

"OEdipus, why delayest thou?"

Then he walks away at once in silence, leaning on the arm of Theseus, and when at last the watchers dare to look, they see Theseus afar off, alone, screening his eyes with his hand, as if some sight too dreadful for mortal eyes had passed before him; but OEdipus is gone, and not with lamentation, but in hope and wonder. Even when Hamlet dies, and the peal of ordnance is shot off, it is to congratulate him upon his escape from unbearable woe; and that is the same in life. If our eye falls on the sad stories of men and women who have died by their own hand, how seldom do they speak in the scrawled messages they leave behind them as though they were going to silence and nothingness! It is just the other way. The unhappy fathers and mothers who, maddened by disaster, kill their children are hoping to escape with those they love best out of miseries they cannot bear; they mean to fly together, as Lot fled with his daughters from the city of the plain. The man who slays himself is not the man who hates life; he only hates the sorrow and the shame which make unbearable that life which he loves only too well. He is trying to migrate to other conditions; he desires to live, but he cannot live so. It is the imagination of man that makes him seek death; only the animal endures, but man hurries away in the hope of finding something better.

It is, however, strange to reflect how weak man's imagination is when it comes to deal with what is beyond him, how little able he is to devise anything that he desires to do when he has escaped from life. The unsubstantial heaven of a Buddhist, with its unthinkable Nirvana, is merely the depriving life of all its attributes; the dull sensuality of the Mohammedan paradise, with its ugly multiplication of gross delights; the tedious outcries of the saints in light which make the medieval scheme of heaven into one protracted canticle -- these are all deeply unattractive, and have no power at all over the vigorous spirit. Even the vision of Socrates, the hope of unrestricted converse with great minds, is a very unsatisfying thought, because it yields so little material to work upon.

The fact, of course, is that it is just the variety of experience which makes life interesting, -- toil and rest, pain and relief, hope and satisfaction, danger and security, -- and if we once remove the idea of vicissitude from life, it all becomes an indolent and uninspiring affair. It is the process of change which is delightful, the finding out what we can do and what we cannot, going from ignorance to knowledge, from clumsiness to skill; even our relations with those whom we love are all bound up with the discoveries we make about them and the degree in which we can help them and affect them. What the mind instinctively dislikes is stationariness; and an existence in which there was nothing to
escape from, nothing more to hope for, to learn, to desire, would be frankly unendurable.

The reason why we dread death is because it seems to be a suspension of all our familiar activities. It would be terrible to have nothing but memory to depend upon. The only use of memory is that is distracts us a little from present conditions if they are dull, and it is only too true that the recollection in sorrow of happy things is torture of the worst kind.

Once when Tennyson was suffering from a dangerous illness, his friend Jowett wrote to Lady Tennyson to suggest that the poet might find comfort in thinking of all the good he had done. But that is not the kind of comfort that a sufferer desires; we may envy a good man his retrospect of activity, but we cannot really suppose that to meditate complacently upon what one has been enabled to do is
the final thought that a good man is likely to indulge. He is far more likely to torment himself over all that he might have done.

It is true, I think, that old and tired people pass into a quiet
serenity; but it is the serenity of the old dog who sleeps in the
sun, wags his tail if he is invited to bestir himself, but does not
leave his place; and if one reaches that condition, it is but a
dumb gratitude at the thought that nothing more is expected of the
worn-out frame and fatigued mind. But no one, I should imagine,
really hopes to step into immortality so tired and worn out that
the highest hope that he can frame is that he will be let alone for
ever. We must not trust the drowsiness of the outworn spirit to
frame the real hopes of humanity. If we believe that the next
experience ahead of us is like that of the mariners,

     In the afternoon they came unto a land
     In which it seemed always afternoon,

then we acquiesce in a dreamless sort of sleep as the best hope of

No, we must rather trust the desires of the spirit at its
healthiest and most vigorous, and these are all knit up with the
adventure of escape, as I have said. There is something hostile on
our track: the copse that closes in upon the road is thick with
spears; presences that do not wish us well move darkly in the wood
and keep pace with us, and the only explanation we can give is that
we need to be spurred on by fear if we are not drawn forward by
desire or hope. We have to keep moving, and if we will not run to
the goal, we must at least flee, with backward glances at something
which threatens us.

There is an old and strange Eastern allegory of a man wandering in
the desert; he draws near to a grove of trees, when he suddenly
becomes aware that there is a lion on his track, hurrying and
bounding along on the scent of his steps. The man flees for safety
into the grove; he sees there a roughly built water-tank of stone,
excavated in the ground, and built up of masonry much fringed with
plants. He climbs swiftly down to where he sees a ledge close on
the water; as he does this, he sees that in the water lies a great
lizard, with open jaws, watching him with wicked eyes. He stops
short, and he can just support himself among the stones by holding
on to the branches of a plant which grows from a ledge above him.
While he thus holds on, with death behind him and before, he feels
the branches quivering, and sees above, out of reach, two mice, one
black and one white, which are nibbling at the stems he holds and
will soon sever them. He waits despairingly, and while he does so,
he sees that there are drops of honey on the leaves which he holds;
he puts his lips to them, licks them off, and finds them very

The mice stand, no doubt, for night and day, and the honey is the
sweetness of life, which it is possible to taste and relish even
when death is before and behind; and it is true that the utter
precariousness of life does not, as a matter of fact, distract us
from the pleasure of it, even though the strands to which we hold
are slowly parting. It is all, then, an adventure and an escape;
but even in the worst insecurity, we may often be surprised to find
that it is somehow sweet.

It is not in the least a question of the apparent and outward
adventurousness of one's life. Foolish people sometimes write and
think as though one could not have had adventures unless one has
hung about at bar-room doors and in billiard-saloons, worked one's
passage before the mast in a sailing-ship, dug for gold among the
mountains, explored savage lands, shot strange animals, fared
hardly among deep-drinking and loud-swearing men. It is possible,
of course, to have adventures of this kind, and, indeed, I had a
near relative whose life was fuller of vicissitudes than any life I
have ever known: he was a sailor, a clerk, a policeman, a soldier,
a clergyman, a farmer, a verger. But the mere unsettledness of it
suited him: he was an easy comrade, brave, reckless, restless; he
did not mind roughness, and the one thing he could not do was to
settle down to anything regular and quiet. He did not dislike life
at all, even when he stood half-naked, as he once told me he did,
on a board slung from the side of a ship, and dipped up pails of
water to swab it, the water freezing as he flung it on the timbers.
But with all this variety of life he did not learn anything
particular from it all; he was much the same always, good-natured,
talkative, childishly absorbed, not looking backward or forward,
and fondest of telling stories with sailors in an inn. He learned
to be content in most companies and to fare roughly; but he gained
neither wisdom nor humour, and he was not either happy or
independent, though he despised with all his heart the stay-at-
home, stick-in-the-mud life.

But we are not all made like this, and it is only possible for a
few people to live so by the fact that most people prefer to stay
at home and do the work of the world. My cousin was not a worker,
and, indeed, did no work except under compulsion and in order to
live; but such people seem to belong to an older order, and are
more like children playing about, and at leisure to play because
others work to feed and clothe them. The world would be a wretched
and miserable place if all tried to live life on those lines.

It would be impossible to me to live so, though I dare say I should
be a better man if I had had a little more hardship of that kind;
but I have worked hard in my own way, and though I have had few
hairbreadth escapes, yet I have had sharp troubles and slow
anxieties. I have been like the man in the story, between the lion
and the lizard for many months together; and I have had more to
bear, by temperament and fortune, than my roving cousin ever had to
endure; so that because a life seems both sheltered and prosperous,
it need not therefore have been without its adventures and escapes
and its haunting fears.

The more one examines into life and the motives of it, the more
does one perceive that the imagination, concerning itself with
hopes of escape from any conditions which hamper and confine us, is
the dynamic force that is transmuting the world. The child is for
ever planning what it will do when it is older, and dreams of an
irresponsible choice of food and an unrestrained use of money; the
girl schemes to escape from the constraints of home by independence
or marriage; the professional man plans to make a fortune and
retire; the mother dreams ambitious dreams for her children; the
politician craves for power; the writer hopes to gain the ear of
the world -- these are only a few casual instances of the desire that
is always at work within us, projecting us into a larger and freer
future out of the limited and restricted present. That is the real
current of the world, and though there are sedate people who are
contented with life as they see it, yet in most minds there is a
fluttering of little tremulous hopes forecasting ease and freedom;
and there are also many tired and dispirited people who are not
content with life as they have it, but acquiesce in its dreariness;
yet all who have any part in the world's development are full of
schemes for themselves and others by which the clogging and
detaining elements are somehow to be improved away. Sensitive
people want to find life more harmonious and beautiful, healthy
people desire a more continuous sort of holiday than they can
attain, religious people long for a secret ecstasy of peace; there
is, in fact, a constant desire at work to realise perfection.

And yet, despite it all, there is a vast preponderance of evidence
which shows us that the attainment of our little dreams is not a
thing to be desired, and that satisfied desire is the least
contented of moods. If we realise our programme, if we succeed,
marry the woman we love, make a fortune, win leisure, gain power, a
whole host of further desires instantly come in sight. I once
congratulated a statesman on a triumphant speech.

"Yes," he said, "I do not deny that it is a pleasure to have had
for once the exact effect that one intended to have; but the shadow
of it is the fear that having once reached that standard, one may
not be able to keep it up."

The awful penalty of success is the haunting dread of subsequent
failure, and even sadder still is the fact that in striving eagerly
to attain an end, we are apt to lose the sense of the purpose which
inspired us. This is more drearily true of the pursuit of money
than of anything else. I could name several friends of my own who
started in business with the perfectly definite and avowed
intention of making a competence in order that they might live as
they desired to live; that they might travel, read, write, enjoy a
secure leisure. But when they had done exactly what they meant to
do, the desires were all atrophied. They could not give up their
work; they felt it would be safer to have a larger margin, they
feared they might be bored, they had made friends, and did not wish
to sever the connection, they must provide a little more for their
families: the whole programme had insensibly altered. Even so they
were still planning to escape from something -- from some boredom or
anxiety or dread.

And yet it seems very difficult for any person to realise what is
the philosophical conclusion, namely, that the work of each of us
matters very little to the world, but that it matters very much to
ourselves that we should have some work to do. We seem to be a very
feeble-minded race in this respect, that we require to be
constantly bribed and tempted by illusions. I have known men of
force and vigour both in youth and middle life who had a strong
sense of the value and significance of their work; as age came upon
them, the value of their work gradually disappeared; they were
deferred to, consulted, outwardly reverenced, and perhaps all the
more scrupulously and compassionately in order that they might not
guess the lamentable fact that their work was done and that the
forces and influences were in younger hands. But the men themselves
never lost the sense of their importance. I knew an octogenarian
clergyman who declared once in my presence that it was ridiculous
to say that old men lost their faculty of dealing with affairs.

"Why," he said, "it is only quite in the last few years that I feel
I have really mastered my work. It takes me far less time than it
used to do; it is just promptly and methodically executed." The old
man obviously did not know that his impression that his work
consumed less time was only too correct, because it was, as a
matter of fact, almost wholly performed by his colleagues, and
nothing was referred to him except purely formal business.

It seems rather pitiful that we should not be able to face the
truth, and that we cannot be content with discerning the principle
of it all, which is that our work is given to us to do not for its
intrinsic value, but because it is good for us to do it.

The secret government of the world seems, indeed, to be penetrated
by a good-natured irony; it is as if the Power controlling us saw
that, like children, we must be tenderly wooed into doing things
which we should otherwise neglect, by a sense of high importance,
as a kindly father who is doing accounts keeps his children quiet
by letting one hold the blotting-paper and another the ink, so that
they believe that they are helping when they are merely being kept
from hindering.

And this strange sense of escape which drives us into activity and
energy seems given us not that we may realise our aims, which turn
out hollow and vapid enough when they are realised, but that we may
drink deep of experience for the sake of its beneficent effect upon
us. The failure of almost all Utopias and ideal states, designed
and planned by writers and artists, lies in the absence of all
power to suggest how the happy folk who have conquered all the ills
and difficulties of life are to employ themselves reasonably and
eagerly when there is nothing left to improve. William Morris,
indeed, in his News from Nowhere, confessed through the mouth of
one of his characters that there would be hardly enough pleasant
work, like hay-making and bridge-building and carpentering and
paving, left to go round; and the picture of life which he draws,
with its total lack of privacy, the shops where you may ask for
anything that you want without having to pay, the guest-houses,
with their straw-coloured wine in quaint carafes, the rich stews
served in grey earthenware dishes streaked with blue, the dancing,
the caressing, the singular absence of all elderly women, strikes
on the mind with a quite peculiar sense of boredom and vacuity,
because Morris seems to have eliminated so many sources of human
interest, and to have conformed every one to a type, which is
refreshing enough as a contrast, but very tiresome in the mass. It
will not be enough to have got rid of the combative and sordid and
vulgar elements of the world unless a very active spirit of some
kind has taken its place. Morris himself intended that art should
supply the missing force; but art is not a sociable thing; it is
apt to be a lonely affair, and few artists have either leisure or
inclination to admire one another's work.

Still more dreary was the dream of the philosopher J. S. Mill, who
was asked upon one occasion what would be left for men to do when
they had been perfected on the lines which he desired. He replied,
after a long and painful hesitation, that they might find
satisfaction in reading the poems of Wordsworth. But Wordsworth's
poems are useful in the fact that they supply a refreshing contrast
to the normal thought of the world, and nothing but the fact that
many took a different view of life was potent enough to produce

So, for the present at all events, we must be content to feel that
our imagination provides us with a motive rather than with a goal;
and though it is very important that we should strive with all our
might to eliminate the baser elements of life, yet we must be brave
and wise enough to confess how much of our best happiness is born
of the fact that we have these elements to contend with.

Edward FitzGerald once said that a fault of modern writing was that
it tried to compress too many good things into a page, and aimed
too much at omitting the homelier interspaces. We must not try to
make our lives into a perpetual feast; at least we must try to do
so, but it must be by conquest rather than by inglorious flight; we
must face the fact that the stuff of life is both homely and indeed
amiss, and realise, if we can, that our happiness is bound up with
energetically trying to escape from conditions which we cannot
avoid. When we are young and fiery-hearted, we think that a tame
counsel; but, like all great truths, it dawns on us slowly. Not
until we begin to ascend the hill do we grasp how huge, how
complicated, how intricate the plain, with all its fields, woods,
hamlets, and streams is; we are happy men and women if in middle
age we even faintly grasp that the actual truth about life is
vastly larger and finer than any impatient youthful fancies about
it are, though it is good to have indulged our splendid fancies in
youth, if only for the delight of learning how much more
magnificent is the real design.

In the Pilgrim's Progress, at the very outset of the journey,
Evangelist asks Christian why he is standing still. He replies:

"Because I know not whither to go."

Evangelist, with a certain grimness of humour, thereupon hands him
a parchment roll. One supposes that it will be a map or a paper of
directions, but all that it has written in it is, "Fly from the
wrath to come!"

Well, it is no longer that of which we are afraid, a rain of fire
and brimstone, storm and tempest! The Power behind the world has
better gifts than these; but we still have to fly, where we can and
as fast as we can; and when we have traversed the dim leagues, and
have seen things wonderful at every turn, and have passed through
the bitter flood, we shall find -- at least this is my hope -- no
guarded city of God from which we shall go no more out, but another
road passing into wider fields and dimmer uplands, and to things
more and more wonderful and strange and unknown.



There is a tendency, not by any means among the greater writers,
but among what may be called the epigoni, -- the satellites of
literature, the men who would be great if they knew how, -- to speak
of the business of writing as if it were a sacred mystery,
pontifically celebrated, something remote and secret, which must be
guarded from the vulgar and the profane, and which requires an
initiation to comprehend. I always feel rather suspicious of this
attitude; it seems to me something of a pose, adopted in order to
make other people envious and respectful. It is the same sort of
precaution as the "properties" of the wizard, his gown and wand,
the stuffed crocodile and the skeleton in the corner; for if there
is a great fuss made about locking and double-locking a box, it
creates a presumption of doubt as to whether there is anything
particular in it. In my nursery days one of my brothers was fond of
locking up his private treasures in a box, producing it in public,
unfastening it, glancing into it with a smile, and then softly
closing it and turning the key in a way calculated to provoke the
most intense curiosity as to the contents; but upon investigation
it proved to contain nothing but the wool of sheep, dried beans,
and cases of exploded cartridges.

So, too, I have known both writers and artists who made a mystery
out of their craft, professed a holy rapture, as if the business of
imagination and the art of setting things down were processes that
could not be explained to ordinary people, but were the property of
a brotherhood. And thus grow up cliques and coteries, of people
who, by mutual admiration, try to console one another for the
absence of the applause which the world will not concede them, and
to atone for the coldness of the public by a warmth of intimate

This does not in the least apply to groups of people who are
genuinely and keenly interested in art of any kind, and form a
congenial circle in which they discuss, frankly and
enthusiastically, methods of work, the books, ideas, pictures, and
music which interest them. That is quite a different thing, a real
fortress of enthusiasm in the midst of Meshech and Kedar. What
makes it base and morbid is the desire to exclude for the sake of
exclusion; to indulge in solitary raptures, hoping to be overheard;
to keep the tail of the eye upon the public; to attempt to mystify;
and to trade upon the inquisitive instinct of human beings, the
natural desire, that is, to know what is going on within any group
that seems to have exciting business of its own.

The Pre-Raphaelites, for instance, were a group and not a coterie.
They were engaged in working and enjoying, in looking out for
artistic promise, in welcoming and praising any performance of a
kind that Rossetti recognised as "stunning." They were sure of
their ground. The brotherhood, with its magazine, The Germ, and its
mystic initials, was all a gigantic game; and they held together
because they were revolutionary in this, that they wished to slay,
as one stabs a tyrant, the vulgarised and sentimental art of the
day. They did not effect anything like a revolution, of course. It
was but a ripple on the flowing stream, and they diverged soon
enough, most of them, into definite tracks of their own. The
strength of the movement lay in the fact that they hungered and
thirsted after art, clamouring for beauty, so Mr. Chesterton says,
as an ordinary man clamours for beer. But their aim was not to
mystify or to enlarge their own consequence, but to convert the
unbeliever, and to produce fine things.

There is something in the Anglo-Saxon temperament which is on the
whole unfavourable to movements and groups; the great figures of
the Victorian time in art and literature have been solitary men,
anarchical as regards tradition, strongly individualistic, working
on their own lines without much regard for schools or conventions.
The Anglo-Saxon is deferential, but not imitative; he has a fancy
for doing things in his own way. Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley, Byron -- were there ever four contemporary poets so little affected by one
another's work? Think of the phrase in which Scott summed up his
artistic creed, saying that he had succeeded, in so far as he had
succeeded, by a "hurried frankness of composition," which was meant
to please young and eager people. It is true that Wordsworth had a
solemn majesty about his work, practised a sort of priestly
function, never averse to entertaining ardent visitors by
conducting them about his grounds, and showing them where certain
poems had been engendered. But Wordsworth, as Fitz-Gerald truly
said, was proud, not vain -- proud like the high-hung cloud or the
solitary peak. He felt his responsibility, and desired to be felt
rather than to be applauded.

If one takes the later giants, Tennyson had a sense of magnificence,
a childlike self-absorption. He said once in the same breath that
the desire of the public to know the details of the artist's life
was the most degrading and debasing curiosity, -- it was ripping
people up like pigs, -- and added with a sigh that he thought that
there was a congestion in the world about his own fame; he had
received no complimentary letters for several days.

Browning, on the other hand, kept his raptures and his processes
severely to himself. He never seems to have given the smallest hint
as to how he conceived a poem or worked it out. He was as reticent
about his occupation as a well-bred stockbroker, and did his best
in society to give the impression of a perfectly decorous and
conventional gentleman, telling strings of not very interesting
anecdotes, and making a great point of being ordinary. Indeed, I
believe that Browning was haunted by the eighteenth-century idea
that there was something not quite respectable about professional
literature, and that, like Gray, he wished to be considered a
private gentleman who wrote for his amusement. When in later years
he took a holiday, he went not for secret contemplation, but to
recover from social fatigue. Browning is really one of the most
mysterious figures in literature in this respect, because his inner
life of poetry was so entirely apart from his outer life of dinner-
parties and afternoon calls. Inside the sacred enclosure, the winds
of heaven blow, the thunder rolls; he proclaims the supreme worth
of human passion, he dives into the disgraceful secrets of the
soul: and then he comes out of his study a courteous and very
proper gentleman, looking like a retired diplomatist, and talking
like an intelligent commercial traveller -- a man whose one wish
appeared to be as good-humouredly like everyone else as he
conveniently could.

What, again, is one to make of Dickens, with his love of private
theatricals, his florid waistcoats and watch-chains, his
sentimental radicalism, his kindly, convivial, gregarious life? He,
again, did his work in a rapture of solitary creation, and seemed
to have no taste for discussing his ideas or methods. Then, too,
Dickens's later desertion of his work in favour of public readings
and money-making is curious to note. He was like Shakespeare in
this, that the passion of his later life seemed to be to realise an
ideal of bourgeois prosperity. Dickens seems to have regarded his
art partly as a means of social reform, and partly as a method of
making money. The latter aim is to a great extent accounted for by
the miserable and humiliating circumstances of his early life,
which bit very deep into him. Yet his art was hardly an end in
itself, but something through which he made his way to other aims.

Carlyle, again, was a writer who put ideas first, despised his
craft except as a means of prophesying, hated literary men and
coteries, preferred aristocratic society, while at the same time he
loved to say how unutterably tiresome he found it. Who will ever
understand why Carlyle trudged many miles to attend parties and
receptions at Bath House, where the Ashburtons lived, or what
stimulus he discerned in it? I have a belief that Carlyle felt a
quite unconscious pride in the fact that he, the son of a small
Scotch farmer, had his assured and respected place among a semi-
feudal circle, just as I have very little doubt that his migration
to Craigenputtock was ultimately suggested to him by the pleasure
and dignity of being an undoubted laird, and living among his own,
or at least his wife's, lands. In saying this, I do not wish to
belittle Carlyle, or to accuse him of what may be called
snobbishness. He had no wish to worm himself by slavish deference
into the society of the great, but he liked to be able to walk in
and say his say there, fearing no man; it was like a huge mirror
that reflected his own independence. Yet no one ever said harder or
fiercer things of his own fellow-craftsmen. His description of
Charles Lamb as "a pitiful rickety, gasping, staggering, stammering
tom-fool" is not an amiable one! Or take his account of Wordsworth-
-how instead of a hand-shake, the poet intrusted him with "a
handful of numb unresponsive fingers," and how his speech "for
prolixity, thinness, endless dilution" excelled all the other
speech that Carlyle had ever heard from mortals. He admitted that
Wordsworth was "a genuine man, but intrinsically and extrinsically
a small one, let them sing or say what they will." In fact, Carlyle
despised his trade: one of the most vivid and voluble of writers,
he derided the desire of self-expression; one of the most
continuous and brilliant of talkers, he praised and upheld the
virtue of silence. He spoke and wrote of himself as a would-be man
of action condemned to twaddle; and Ruskin expressed very
trenchantly what will always be the puzzle of Carlyle's life -- that,
as Ruskin said, he groaned and gasped and lamented over the
intolerable burden of his work, and that yet, when you came to read
it, you found it all alive, full of salient and vivid details, not
so much patiently collected, as obviously and patently enjoyed.
Again there is the mystery of his lectures. They seem to have been
fiery, eloquent, impressive harangues; and yet Carlyle describes
himself stumbling to the platform, sleepless, agitated, and
drugged, inclined to say that the best thing his audience could do
for him would be to cover him up with an inverted tub; while as he
left the platform among signs of visible emotion and torrents of
applause, he thought, he said, that the idea of being paid for such
stuff made him feel like a man who had been robbing hen-roosts.

There is an interesting story of how Tennyson once stayed with
Bradley, when Bradley was headmaster of Marlborough, and said
grimly one evening that he envied Bradley, with all his heart, his
life of hard, fruitful, necessary work, and owned that he sometimes
felt about his own poetry, what, after all, did all this elaborate
versifying amount to, and who was in any way the better or happier
for it?

The truth is that the man of letters forgets that this is exactly
the same thought as that which haunts the busy man after, let us
say, a day of looking over examination-papers or attending
committees. The busy man, if he reflects at all, is only too apt to
say to himself, "Here have I been slaving away like a stone-
breaker, reading endless scripts, discussing an infinity of petty
details, and what on earth is the use of it all?" Yet Sir Alfred
Lyall once said that if a man had once taken a hand in big public
affairs, he thought of literature much as a man who had crossed the
Atlantic in a sailing-yacht might think of sculling a boat upon the
Thames. One of the things that moved Dr. Johnson to a tempest of
wrath was when on the death of Lord Lichfield, the Lord Chancellor,
Boswell said to him that if he had taken to the law as a
profession, he might have been Lord Chancellor, and with the same
title. Johnson was extremely angry, and said that it was unfriendly
to remind a man of such things when it was too late.

One may conclude from such incidents and confessions that even some
of the most eminent men of letters have been haunted by the sense
that in following literature they have not chosen the best part,
and that success in public life is a more useful thing as well as
more glorious.

But one has to ask oneself what exactly an imaginative man means by
success, and what it is that attracts him in the idea of it.
Putting aside the more obvious and material advantages, -- wealth,
position, influence, reputation, -- a man of far-reaching mind and
large ideas may well be haunted by a feeling that if he had entered
public life, he might by example, precept, influence, legislation,
have done something to turn his ideas and schemes into accomplished
facts, have effected some moral or social reform, have set a mark
on history. It must be remembered that a great writer's fame is
often a posthumous growth, and we must be very careful not to
attribute to a famous author a consciousness in his lifetime of his
subsequent, or even of his contemporary, influence. It is
undoubtedly true that Ruskin and Carlyle affected the thought of
their time to an extraordinary degree. Ruskin summed up in his
teaching an artistic ideal of the pursuit and influence of beauty,
while Carlyle inculcated a more combative theory of active
righteousness and the hatred of cant. But Ruskin's later years were
spent in the shadow of a profound sense of failure. He thought that
the public enjoyed his pretty phrases and derided his ideas; while
Carlyle felt that he had fulminated in vain, and that the world was
settling down more comfortably than ever into the pursuit of
bourgeois prosperity and dishonest respectability.

And yet if, on the other hand, one compares the subsequent fame of
men of action with the fame of men of letters, the contrast is
indeed bewildering. Who attaches the smallest idea to the
personality of the Lord Lichfield whom Dr. Johnson envied? Who that
adores the memory of Wordsworth knows anything about Lord Goderich,
a contemporary prime minister? The world reads and re-reads the
memoirs of dead poets, goes on pilgrimage to the tiny cottages
where they lived in poverty, cherishes the smallest records and
souvenirs of them. The names of statesmen and generals become dim
except to professed historians, while the memories of great
romancers and lyrists, and even of lesser writers still, go on
being revived and redecorated. What would Keats have thought, as he
lay dying in his high, hot, noisy room at Rome, if he had known
that a century later every smallest detail of his life, his most
careless letters, would be scanned by eager eyes, when few save
historians would be able to name a single member of the cabinet in
power at the time of his death?

There is a charming story told by Lord Morley, of how he once met
Rossetti in the street at Chelsea when a general parliamentary
election was going on, and it transpired, after a few remarks, that
Rossetti was not even aware that this was the case. When he was
informed, he said with some hesitation that he supposed that one
side or other would get in, and that, after all, it did not very
much matter. Lord Morley, telling the anecdote, said that he
himself had forgotten which side DID get in, from which he
concluded that it had not very much mattered.

The truth is that national life has to go on, and that very
elaborate arrangements are made by statesmen and politicians for
its administration. But it is in reality very unimportant. The
wisest statesman in the world cannot affect it very much; he can
only take advantage of the trend of public opinion. If he outruns
it, he is instantly stranded; and perhaps the most he can do is to
foresee how people will be thinking some six weeks ahead. But
meanwhile the writer is speaking from the soul and to the soul; he
is suggesting, inspiring, stimulating; he is presenting thoughts in
so beautiful a form that they become desirable and adorable; and
what the average man believes to-day is what the idealist has
believed half a century before. He must take his chance of fame;
and his best hope is to eschew rhetoric, which implies the
consciousness of opponents and auditors, and just present his
dreams and visions as serenely and beautifully as he can. The
statesman has to argue, to strive, to compromise, to convert if he
can, to coerce if he cannot. It is a dusty encounter, and he must
sacrifice grace and perhaps truth in the onset. He may gain his
point, achieve the practicable and the second best; but he is an
opportunist and a schemer, and he cannot make life into what he
wills, but only into what he can manage. Of course the writer in a
way risks more; he may reject the homely, useful task, and yet not
have the strength to fit wings to his visions; he may live
fruitlessly and die unpraised, with the thought that he has lost
two birds in the hand for one which is not even in the bush. He may
turn out a mere Don Quixote, helmeted with a barber's basin and
tilting against windmills; but he could not choose otherwise, and
he has paid a heavier price for his failure than many a man has
paid for his success.

It is probably a wholly false antithesis to speak of life as a
contrast to literature; one might as well draw a distinction
between eating and drinking. What is meant as a rule is that if a
man devotes himself to imaginative creation, to the perception and
expression of beauty, he must be prepared to withdraw from other
activities. But the imagination is a function of life, after all,
and precisely the same holds good of stockbroking. The real fact is
that we Anglo-Saxons, by instinct and inheritance, think of the
acquisition of property as the most obvious function of life. As
long as a man is occupied in acquiring property, we ask no further
questions; we take for granted that he is virtuously employed, as
long as he breaks no social rules: while if he succeeds in getting
into his hands an unusual share of the divisible goods of the
world, we think highly of him. Indeed, our ideals have altered very
little since barbarous times, and we still are under the impression
that resourcefulness is the mark of the hero. I imagine that
leisure as an occupation is much more distrusted and disapproved of
in America than in England; but even in England, where the power to
be idle is admired and envied, a man who lives as heroic a life as
can be attained by playing golf and shooting pheasants is more
trusted and respected than a rich man who paints or composes music
for his amusement. Field sports are intelligible enough; the
pursuit of art requires some explanation, and incurs a suspicion of
effeminacy or eccentricity. Only when authorship becomes a source
of profit is it thoroughly respectable.

I had a friend who died not very long ago. He had in his younger
days done a little administrative work; but he was wealthy, and at
a comparatively early age he abandoned himself to leisure. He
travelled, he read, he went much into society, he enjoyed the
company of his friends. When he died he was spoken of as an
amateur, and praised as a cricketer of some merit. Even his closest
friends seemed to find it necessary to explain and make excuses; he
was shy, he stammered, he was not suited to parliamentary life; but
I can think of few people who did so much for his friends or who so
radiated the simplest sort of happiness. To be welcomed by him, to
be with him, put a little glow on life, because you felt
instinctively that he was actively enjoying every hour of your
company. I thought, I remember, at his death, how hopeless it was
to assess a man's virtue and usefulness in the terms of his career.
If he had entered Parliament, registered a silent vote, spent his
time in social functions, letter-writing, lobby-gossip, he would
have been acclaimed as a man of weight and influence; but as it
was, though he had stood by friends in trouble, had helped lame
dogs over stiles, had been the centre of good-will and mutual
understanding to a dozen groups and circles, it seemed impossible
to recognise that he had done anything in his generation. It is not
to be claimed that his was a life of persistent benevolence or
devoted energy; but I thought of a dozen men who had lived
selfishly and comfortably, making money and amassing fortunes,
without a touch of real kindness or fine tenderness about them, who
would yet be held to have done well and to have deserved respect,
when compared with this peace-maker!

And then I perceived how intolerably false many of our cherished
ideals are; that apart from lives of pure selfishness and
annexation, many a professed philanthropist or active statesman is
merely following a sterile sort of ambition; that it is rare on the
whole for so-called public men to live for the sake of the public;
while the simple, kindly, uncalculating, friendly attitude to life
is a real source of grace and beauty, and leaves behind it a
fragrant memory enshrined in a hundred hearts.

So, too, when it comes to what we call literature. No one supposes
that we can do without it, and in its essence it is but an
extension of happy, fine, vivid talk. It is but the delighted
perception of life, the ecstasy of taking a hand in the great
mystery, the joy of love and companionship, the worship of beauty
and desire and energy and memory taking shape in the most effective
form that man can devise. There is no real merit in the
accumulation of property; only the people who do the necessary work
of the world, and the people who increase the joy of the world are
worth a moment's thought, and yet both alike are little regarded.

Of course where the weakness of the artistic life really lies is
that it is often not taken up out of mere communicativeness and
happy excitement, as a child tells a breathless tale, but as a
device for attracting the notice and earning the applause of the
world; and then it is on a par with all other self-regarding
activities. But if it is taken up with a desire to give rather than
to receive, as an irrepressible sharing of delight, it becomes not
a solemn and dignified affair, but just one of the most beautiful
and uncalculating impulses in the world.

Then there falls another shadow across the path; the unhappiest
natures I know are the natures of keen emotion and swift perception
who yet have not the gift of expressing what they feel in any
artistic medium. It is these, alas! who cumber the streets and
porticoes of literature. They are attracted away from homely toil
by the perilous sweetness of art, and when they attempt to express
their raptures, they have no faculty or knack of hand. And these
men and women fall with zealous dreariness or acrid contemptuousness,
and radiate discomfort and uneasiness about them.

"A book," said Dr. Johnson, "should show one either how to enjoy
life or how to endure it" -- was ever the function of literature
expressed more pungently or justly? Any man who enjoys or endures
has a right to speak, if he can. If he can help others to enjoy or
to endure, then he need never be in any doubt as to his part in
life; while if he cannot ecstatically enjoy, he can at least good-
humouredly endure.



There's a dark window in a gable which looks out over my narrow
slip of garden, where the almond-trees grow, and to-day the dark
window, with its black casement lines, had become suddenly a
Japanese panel. The almond was in bloom, with its delicious, pink,
geometrical flowers, not a flower which wins one's love, somehow;
it is not homely or sweet enough for that. But it is unapproachably
pure and beautiful, with a touch of fanaticism about it -- the
fanaticism which comes of stainless strength, as though one woke in
the dawn and found an angel in one's room: he would not quite
understand one's troubles!

But when I looked lower down, there was a sweeter message still,
for the mezereon was awake, with its tiny porcelain crimson flowers
and its minute leaves of bright green, budding as I think Aaron's
rod must have budded, the very crust of the sprig bursting into
little flames of green and red.

I thought at the sight of all this that some good fortune was about
to befall me; and so it did. When I came back there came a friend
to see me whom I seldom see and much enjoy seeing. He is young, but
he plays a fine part in the world, and he carries about with him
two very fine qualities; one is a great and generous curiosity
about what our writers are doing. He is the first man from whom I
hear of new and beautiful work; and he praises it royally, he
murmurs phrases, he even declaims it in his high, thin voice, which
wavers like a dry flame. And what makes all this so refreshing is
that his other great quality is an intensely critical spirit, which
stares closely and intently at work, as through a crystalline lens.

After we had talked a little, I said to him: "Come, praise me some
new writers, you herald of the dawn! You always do that when you
come to see me, and you must do it now." He smiled secretly, and
drew out a slim volume from his pocket and read me some verses; I
will not be drawn into saying the name of the poet.

"How do you find that?" he said.

"Oh," I said, "it is very good; but is it the finest gold?"

"Yes," he said, "it is that." And he then read me some more.

"Now," I said, "I will be frank with you. That seems to me very
musical and accomplished; but it has what is to me the one
unpardonable fault in poetry: it is literary. He has heard and
read, that poet, so much sweet and solemn verse, that his mind
murmurs like a harp hung among the trees that are therein; the
winds blow into music. But I don't want that; I want a fount of
song, a spring of living water." He looked a little vexed at that,
and read me a few more pages. And then he went on to praise the
work of two or three other writers, and added that he believed
there was going to be a great outburst of poetry after a long

"Well," I said, "I am sure I hope so. And if there is one thing in
the world that I desire, it is that I may be able to recognise and
love the new voices."

And then I told him a story of which I often think. When I was a
young man, very much pre-occupied with Tennyson and Omar Khayyam
and Swinburne, I went to stay with an elderly business man, a
friend of my family. He was a great stout, rubicund man, very good-
natured, and he had a voice like the cry of an expiring mouse,
shrill and thin. We were sitting after dinner in his big dining-
room, several of us, looking out into a wide, dusty garden, when
the talk turned on books, and I suppose I praised Swinburne, for he
asked me to say some, and I quoted the poem which says

        And even the weariest river
          Winds somewhere safe to sea.

He heard me attentively enough, and said it was pretty good; but
then he said that it was nothing to Byron, and in his squeaky voice
he quoted a quantity of Byron, whose poetry, I am sorry to say, I
regarded as I might regard withered flowers or worse. His eyes
brimmed with tears, and they fell on to his shirt-front; and then
he said decisively that there had been no poetry since Byron -- none
at all. Tennyson was mere word music, Browning was unintelligible,
and so forth. And I remember how, with the insolence of youth, I
thought how dreadful it was that the old man should have lost all
sympathy and judgment; because poetry then seemed to me a really
important matter, full of tones and values. I did not understand
then, as I understand now, that it is all a question of signals and
symbols, and that poetry is but, as the psalm says, what happens
when one day telleth another and one night certifieth another. I
know now that there can be no deceit about poetry, and that no poet
can make you feel more than he feels himself, though he cannot
always make another feel as much; and that the worth of his art
exists only just in so far as he can say what he feels; and then I
thought of my old friend's mind as I might think of a scarecrow
among lonely fields, a thing absurd, ragged, and left alone, while
real men went about their business. I did not say it, but I thought
it in my folly. So I told my young friend that story; and I said:

"I know that it does not really matter what one loves and is moved
by as long as one loves something and is moved by its beauty. But,
still, I do not want that to happen to me; I do not want to be like
a pebble on the beach, when the water draws past it to the land. I
want to feel and understand the new signals. In the nursery," I
said, "we used to anger our governess when she read us a piece of
poetry, by saying to her, 'Who made it up?' 'You should say, "Who
wrote it?"' she would say. But I feel now inclined to ask, 'Who
made it up?' and I feel, too, like the sign-painter on his rounds,
who saw a new sign hung up at an inn, and said in disgust, 'That
looks as if some one had been doing it himself.' Your poet seems to
me only a very gifted and accomplished amateur."

"Well," he said rather petulantly, "it may be so, of course; but I
don't think that you can hope to advance, if you begin by being
determined to disapprove."

"No, not that," I said. "But one knows of many cases of inferior
poets, who were taken up and trumpeted abroad by well-meaning
admirers, whom one sees now to have had no significance, but to be
so many blind alleys in the street of art; they led nowhere; one
had just to retrace one's steps, if one explored them. Indeed," I
said, "I had rather miss a great poet than be misled by a little

"Ah, no," he said, "I don't feel that. I had rather be thrilled and
carried away, even if I discovered afterwards that it was not
really great."

"If you will freely admit that this may not be great," I said, "I
am on your side. I do not mind your saying, 'This touches me with
interest and delight; but it is not to be reckoned among the lords
of the garden.' What I object to is your saying, 'This is great and
eternal.' I feel that I should be able to respond to the great
poet, if he flashed out among us; but he must be great, and
especially in a time when there really is a quantity of very
beautiful verse. I suspect that perhaps this time is one that will
furnish a very beautiful anthology. There are many people alive who
have written perhaps half a dozen exquisite lyrics, when the spring
and the soaring thought and the vision and the beautiful word all
suddenly conspired together. But there is no great, wide, large,
tender heart at work. No, I won't even say that; but is there any
great spirit who has all that and a supreme word-power as well? I
believe that there is more poetry, more love of beauty, more
emotion in the world than ever; and a great many men and women are
living their poetry who just can't write it or sing it."

"A perverse generation seeking after a sign," he said rather
grimly, "and there is no sign forthcoming except the old sign, that
has been there for centuries! I don't care," he added, "about the
sign of the thing. It is the quality that I want; and these new
poets of whom I have been speaking have got the quality. That is
all I ask for."

"No," I said, "I want a great deal more than that! Browning gave us
the sense of the human heart, bewildered by all the new knowledge,
and yet passionately desiring. Tennyson --"

"Poor old Tennyson!" he said.

"That is very ungracious," I said. "You are as perverse as I was
about Byron when the old banker quoted him with tears. I was going
to say, and I will say it, that Tennyson, with all his faults, was
a great lord of music; and he put into words the fine, homely
domestic emotion of the race -- the poetry of labour, order, and
peace. It was new and rich and splendid, and because it seems to
you old-fashioned, you call it mere respectability; but it was the
marching music of the world, because he showed men that faith was
enlarged and not overturned by science. These two were great,
because they saw far and wide; they knew by instinct just what the
ordinary man was thinking, who yet wished his life to be set to
music. These little men of yours don't see that. They have their
moments of ecstasy, as we all have, in the blossoming orchard full
of the songs of birds. And that will always and for ever give us
the lyric, if the skill is there. But I want something more than
that; I, you, thousands of people, are feeling something that makes
the brain thrill and the heart leap. The mischief is that we don't
know what it is, and I want a great poet to come and tell us."

"Ah," he said, "I am afraid you want something ethical, something
that satisfies the man in Tennyson who

     Walked between his wife and child
     And now and then he gravely smiled.

But we have done with all that. What we want is people who can
express the fine, rare, unusual thoughts of highly organised
creatures, and you want a poet to sing of bread and butter!"

"Why, yes," I said, "I think I agree with Fitz-Gerald that tea and
bread and butter are the only foods worth anything -- the only things
one cannot do without. And it is just the things that one cannot do
without that I want the new great poet to sing of. I agree with
William Morris that art is the one thing we all want, the
expression of man's joy in his work. And the more that art retires
into fine nuances and intellectual subtleties, the more that it
becomes something esoteric and mysterious, the less I care about
it. When Tennyson said to the farmer's wife, 'What's the news?' she
replied, 'Mr. Tennyson, there's only one piece of news worth
telling, and that is that Christ died for all men.' Tennyson said
very grandly and simply, 'Ah, that's old news and good news and NEW
news!' And that is exactly what I want the poets to tell us. It is
a common inheritance, not a refined monopoly, that I claim."

He laughed at this, and said:

"I think that's rather a mid-Victorian view; I will confute you out
of the Tennyson legend. When Tennyson called Swinburne's verse
'poisonous honey, brought from France,' Swinburne retorted by
speaking of the laureate's domestic treacle. You can't have both.
If you like treacle, you must not clamour for honey."

"Yes, I prefer honey," I said, "but you seem to me to be in search
of what I called LITERARY poetry. That is what I am afraid of. I
don't want the work of a mind fed on words, and valuing ideas the
more that they are uncommon. I hate what is called 'strong' poetry;
that seems to me to be generally the coarsest kind of romanticism -- melodrama in fact. I want to have in poetry what we are getting in
fiction -- the best sort of realism. Realism is now abjuring the
heroic theory; it has thrown over the old conventions, the
felicitous coincidences, life arranged on ideal lines; and it has
gone straight to life itself, strong, full-blooded, eager life,
full of mistakes and blunders and failures and sharp disasters and
fears. Life goes shambling along like a big dog, but it has got its
nose on the scent of something. It is a much more mysterious and
prodigious affair than life rearranged upon romantic lines. It
means something very vast indeed, though it splashes through mud
and scrambles through hedges. You may laugh at what you call
ethics, but that is only a name for one of many kinds of
collisions. It is the fact that we are always colliding with
something, always coming unpleasant croppers, that is the exciting
thing. I want the poet to tell me what the obscure winged thing is
that we are following; and if he can't explain it to me, I want to
be made to feel that it is worth while following. I don't say that
all life is poetical material. I don't think that it is; but there
is a thing called beauty which seems to me the most maddeningly
perfect thing in the world. I see it everywhere, in the dawn, in
the far-off landscape, with all its rolling lines of wood and
field, in the faces and gestures of people, in their words and
deeds. That is a clue, a golden thread, a line of scent, and I
shall be more than content if I am encouraged to follow that."

"Ah," he said, "now I partly agree with you. It is precisely that
which the new men are after; they take the pure gold of life and
just coin it into word and phrase, and it is that which I discern
in them."

"Yes," I said, "but I want something a great deal bigger than that.
I want to see it everywhere and in everything. I don't want to have
to wall in a little space and make it silent and beautiful, and
forget what is happening outside. I want a poet to tell me what it
is that leaps in the eyes and beckons in the smiles of people whom
I meet -- people whom often enough I could not live with, -- the more's
the pity, -- but whom I want to be friends with, all the same. I want
the common joys and hopes and visions to be put into music. And
when I find a man, like Walt Whitman, who does show me the beauty
and wonder and the strong affections and joys of simple hearts, so
that I feel sure that we are all desiring the same thing, though we
cannot tell each other what it is, then I feel I am in the presence
of a poet indeed."

My young friend shut up the little book which he had been holding
in his hand.

"Yes," he said, "that would be a great thing; but one can't get at
things in that way now. We must all specialise; and if you want to
follow the new aims and ideals of art, you must put aside a great
deal of what is called our common humanity, and you must be content
to follow a very narrow path among the stars. I do not mind
speaking quite frankly. I do not think you understand what art is.
It is essentially a mystery, and the artist is a sort of hermit in
the world. It is not a case of 'joys in widest commonalty spread,'
as Daddy Wordsworth said. That is quite a different affair; but art
has got to withdraw itself, to be content to be misunderstood; and
I think that you have just as much parted company with it as your
old friend the banker."

"Well," I said, "we shall see. Anyhow, I will give your new poets a
careful reading, and I shall be glad if I can really admire them,
because, indeed, I don't want to be stranded on a lee shore."

And so my friend departed; and I began to wonder whether the art of
which he spoke was not, after all, as real a thing as the beauty of
my almond-flower and my mezereons! If so, I should like to be able
to include it and understand it, though I do not want to think that
it is the end.




There come days and hours in the lives of the busiest, most active,
most eager of us, when we suddenly realise with a shock or a
shudder, it may be, or perhaps with a sense of solemn mystery, that
has something vast, inspiring, hopeful about it, the solidity and
the isolation of our own identity. Much of our civilised life is an
attempt, not deliberate but instinctive, to escape from this. We
organise ourselves into nations and parties, into sects and
societies, into families and companies, that we may try to persuade
ourselves that we are not alone; and we get nearest to persuading
ourselves that we are at one, when we enter into the secrets of
love or friendship, and feel that we know as we are known. But even
that vision fades, and we become aware, at sad moments, that the
comradeship is over; the soul that came so close to us, smiled in
our eyes, was clasped to our heart, has left us, has passed into
the darkness, or if it still lives and breathes, has drawn away
into the crowd. And then one sees that no fusion is possible, that
half the secrets of the heart must remain unguessed and untold.
That even if one had the words to do it, one could not express the
sense of our personality, much of which escapes even our own
conscious and critical thought. One has, let us say, a serious
quarrel with a close friend, and one hears him explaining and
protesting, and yet he does not know what has happened, cannot
understand, cannot even perceive where the offence lay; and at such
a moment it may dawn on us that we too do not know what we have
done; we have exhibited some ugly part of ourselves, of which we
are not conscious; we have stricken and wounded another heart, and
we cannot see how it was done. We did not intend to do it, we cry.
Or again we realise that we regard some one with a causeless
aversion, and cannot give any reason for it; or we see that we
ourselves have the same freezing and disconcerting effect upon
another; and so after hundreds of such experiences, we become aware
at last that no real, free, entire communication is possible; that
however eagerly we tell our thoughts and display our temperaments,
there must always remain something which is wrapped in darkness,
the incommunicable essence of ourself that can blend with no other

But again it is true that all human souls who have an instinct for
expression -- writers, painters, musicians -- have always been trying
to do this one thing, to make signals, to communicate, to reveal
themselves, to "unpack the heart in words"; and what has often
hindered the process and nullified their efforts has been an uneasy
dignity and vanity, that must try to make out a better case than
the facts justify. For a variety of motives, and indeed for the
best of motives, men and women suppress, exalt, refine the
presentment of themselves, because they desire to be loved, and
think that they must therefore be careful to be admired, just as
the lover adorns himself and puts his best foot forward, and hides
all that may disconcert interest or sympathy. So that it happens in
life that often when we most desire to be real, we are most unreal.

What differentiates Walt Whitman from all other writers that I
know, is that he tried to reveal himself, and on the whole
contrived to do so with less reserve than any other human being.

"I know perfectly well my own egotism," he wrote; "I know my
omnivorous lines, and must not write any less." He was not
disconcerted by any failure of art, or any propriety, or any
apparent discrepancy.

     Do I contradict myself?
     Very well then, I contradict myself.
     I am large, I contain multitudes.

He had no artistic conscience, as we say.

  Easily written, loose-finger'd chords -- I feel the thrum of your
    climax and close.

In the curious and interesting essay called "A Backward Glance
over Travel's Roads," which he wrote late in life, surveying his
work, he admits that he has not gained acceptance, that his book is
a failure, and has incurred marked anger and contempt; and he good-
humouredly quotes a sentence from a friend's letter, written in
1884, "I find a solid line of enemies to you everywhere." And yet,
he says, for all that, and in spite of everything, he has had "his
say entirely his own way, and put it unerringly on record." It is
simply "a faithful, and doubtless self-willed record," he says.

That then was Walt Whitman's programme, surely in its very scope
and range worthy of some amazement and respect! Because it is not
done insolently or with any braggadocio, in spite of what he calls
"the barbaric yawp." I do not think that anything is more notable
than the good-humour and the equanimity of it all. He is not
interested in himself in a morbid or self-conscious way; he has not
the slightest wish to make himself out to be fine or magnificent or
superior -- it is quite the other way. He is merely going to try to
break down the barriers between soul and soul, to let the river of
self ripple and welter and wash among the grasses at the feet of
man. He does not wish you to admire it, though he hopes you may
love it; there are to be no excuses or pretences; he does not wish
to be seen at certain angles or in subdued lights. He casts himself
down in his nakedness, and lets who will observe him; and all this
not because he is either hero or saint; his proudest title is to be
an average man, one of the crowd, with passions, weaknesses,
uglinesses, even deformities. He is there, he is just so, and you
may take it or leave it; but he is not ashamed or sensitive, nor in
any way abashed; he smiles his frank, good-natured smile; and
suddenly one perceives the greatness of it! He is neither fanatic
nor buffoon; he is not performing like the boxer or wrestler, nor
is he sitting mournfully and patiently for the sake of the pence,
like the fat man at the fair; he is merely trying to say what he
thinks and feels, and if he has any aim at all, it is to tempt
others into unabashed sincerity. He cries to man, "If you would
only recognise yourself as you are, without pretences or excuses,
the dignity which your subterfuges are meant to secure would be
yours without question." It is not a question of good, bad, or
indifferent. Everyone has a right to be where he is, and there is a
reason for him and a justification too. That is the gospel of Walt
Whitman; it may be a bad gospel, or an ugly one, or an indecorous
one; but no one can pretend that it is not a big one.


One immense and fruitful discovery Walt Whitman made, and yet
one can hardly call it a discovery; it is more perhaps an inspired
doctrine, unsupported by argument, wholly unphilosophical,
proclaimed with a childlike loudness and confidence, but yet
probably true: the doctrine, that is, of the indissoluble union
between body and soul. Indissoluble, one calls it, and yet nothing
is more patent than the fact that it is a union which is invariably
and inevitably dissolved in death; while on the other hand, one
sees in certain physical catastrophes, such as paralysis, brain-
concussion, senile decay, insanity, the soul apparently reduced to
the condition of a sleeping partner, or so far deranged as to be
unable to express anything but some one dominant emotion; or, more
bewildering still, one sees the moral sense seemingly suspended by
a physical disorder. And yet for all that, the doctrine may be
essentially and substantially true; the vitality of the soul may be
bound up with its power of expressing itself in material terms. It
may be that the soul-stuff, which we call life, has an existence
apart from its material manifestation, and that individuality, as
we see it, may be a mere phenomenon of the passage of a force, like
the visibility of electricity under certain conditions; indeed it
seems more probable that matter is a function of thought rather
than thought a function of matter. It is likely enough that animals
have no conscious sense of any division of aims, any antagonism
between physical and mental desires; but as the human race
develops, the imagination, the sense of the opposition between the
reason and the appetite, begins to emerge. Man becomes aware that
his will and his wish may not coincide; and thus develops the
medieval theory of asceticism, the belief that the body is
essentially vile, and suggests base desires to the mind, which the
mind has the power of controlling. That conception fitted closely
to the feudal theory of government, in which the interests of the
ruler and the subject did not necessarily coincide; the ruler
governed with his own interests in view, and coerced his subjects
if he could; but the new theory of government does not separate the
ruler from the state. The government of a state with democratic
institutions is the will of the people taking shape, and the
phenomena of rule are but those of the popular will expressing
itself, the object being that each individual should have his due
preponderance; the ultimate end being as much individual liberty as
is consistent with harmonious co-operation.

That is a rough analogy of the doctrine of Walt Whitman; namely,
that the individual, soul and body, is a polity; and that the true
life is to be found in a harmonious co-operation of body and soul.
The reason is not at liberty to deride or to neglect the bodily
desires, even the meanest and basest of them, because every desire,
whether of soul or body, is the expression of something that exists
in the animating principle. Take, for example, the case of physical
passion. That, in its ultimate analysis, is the instinct for
propagating life, the transmission and continuance of vitality. The
reason must not ignore or deplore it, but direct it into the proper
channels; it may indicate the dangers that it incurs; but merely to
thwart it, to regard it with shame and horror, is to establish an
internecine warfare. The true function is rather to ennoble the
physical desire by the just concurrence of the soul. But the
essence of the situation is co-operation and not coercion; and each
must be ready to compromise. If the physical nature will not
compromise with the reason, the disasters of unbridled passion
follow; if the reason will not co-operate with the physical
desire, the result is a sterile intellectualism, a life of starved
and timid experience. It was here, of course, that Walt Whitman's
view gave offence; he thought of civilisation as a conventional
system, cultivating a false shame and an ignoble reserve about
bodily processes. But the vital truth of his doctrine lies in the
fact that many of our saddest, because most remediable, disasters
are caused by a timid reticence about the strongest force that
animates the world, the force of reproduction. Whitman felt, and
truly felt, that reason and sentiment have outrun discretion. It
may be asked, indeed, how this terror of all outspokenness has
developed in the human race, so that parents cannot bear to speak
to their children about an experience which they will be certain to
make acquaintance with in some far more violent and base form. Does
this shrinking delicacy, this sacred reserve, mean nothing, it may
be asked? Well, it may be said, if this sensitiveness is so
valuable that it must not be required to anticipate tenderly and
faithfully what will be communicated in a grosser form, then
silence is justified, and not otherwise. But to transfer this
reticence about a matter of awful concern to some other region of
morals, what should we think of the parent who so feared to lessen
the affection of a child by rebuking it for a lie or a theft as to
let it go out into the world ignorant that either was reprobated?
Whitman's argument would rather be that a parent should say to a
child, "There is a force within you which will to a large extent
determine the happiness of your life; it must be guarded and
controlled. You will probably not be able to ignore or disregard
it, and you must bring it into harmonious co-operation with mind
and reason and duty. There is nothing that is shameful about its
being there; indeed, it is the dominant force in the world. The
shameful thing is to use it shamelessly." Yet the attitude of
parents too often is to treat the subject, not as if it were
sacred, but as if it were unmentionable; so that the very fact of
the child's own origin would seem to be an essentially shameful

The Greeks, it is true, had an instinct for the thought of the
vital interdependence of body and soul; but they thought too much
of the glowing manifestation of the health and beauty of youth, and
viewed the decay and deformity of the human frame too much as a
disgrace and an abasement. But here again comes in the largeness of
Whitman's presentment, that whatever disasters befall the body,
whether through drudgery or battle, disease or sin, they are all
parts of a rich and large experience, not necessarily interrupting
the co-operation of mind and matter. This is the strongest proof of
Whitman's faith in the essential brotherhood of man, that such
horrors and wretchednesses do not seem to him to interrupt the
design, or to destroy the possibility of a human sympathy which is
instinctive rather than a matter of devout effort. Whitman is here
on the side of the very greatest and finest human spirits, in that
he is shocked and appalled by nothing. He does not call it the best
of worlds, but it is the only world that he knows; and the glowing
interest, the passionate emotion, the vital rush and current of it,
prove beyond all doubt that we are in touch with something very
splendid and magnificent indeed, and that no misdeed or disaster
forfeits our share in the inheritance. He is utterly at variance
with the hideous Calvinistic theory, that God sent some of His
creatures into the world for their pain and ruin. Whatever happens
to your body or your soul, says Whitman, it is worth your while to
live and to have lived. He adopts no facile system of compensations
and offsets. He rather protests with all his might that, however
broken your body or fatuous your mind, it is a good thing for you
to have taken a hand in the affair; and that the essence of the
whole situation has not been your success, your dignity, your
comfortable obliteration of half your faculties, or on the other
hand your failure, your vileness, or your despair, but that just at
the time and place at which the phenomenon called yourself took
place, that intricate creature, with its bodily needs and desires,
its joys of the senses, its outlook on the strange world, took
shape and made you exactly what you are, and nothing else. As he
says in one of his finest apologues:

   Through birth, life, death, burial, the means are provided,
      nothing is scanted.

   Through angers, losses, ambition, ignorance, ennui,
      what you are picks its way.


Then too Walt Whitman claims to be the poet, not of the past or
even only of the present, but the singer of the future. He says in
The Backward Glance, which I have already quoted, and which must be
carefully read by anyone who wishes to understand his work -- at
least in so far as he understood it himself, -- "Isolated advantages
in any rank or grace or fortune--the direct or indirect threads of
all the poetry of the past -- are in my opinion distasteful to the
republican genius. . . . Established poems, I know, have the very
great advantage of chanting the already performed, so full of
glories, reminiscences dear to the minds of men." And he says too
that, "The educated world seems to have been growing more and more
ennuied for ages, leaving to our time the inheritance of it all."
And he further says: "The ranges of heroism and loftiness with
which Greek and feudal poets endow'd their godlike or lordly born
characters, I was to endow the democratic averages of America. I
was to show that we, here and to-day, are eligible to the grandest
and the best -- more eligible now than any times of old were."

This is a lofty claim, boldly advanced and maintained; and here I
am on uncertain ground, because I do not suppose that I can realise
what the democratic spirit of America really is. Granted, however,
that it is a free and a noble spirit, I feel a doubt as to whether
it is possible for any nation, at any time in the world's history,
really to take a new start. The American nation is not a new
nation; it is in a sense a very old' nation. It has had a perfectly
new and magnificent field for its energies, and it has made a sweep
of the old conventions; but it cannot get rid of its inheritance of
temperament; and I think that, so far as I can judge, it is too
anxious to emphasize its sense of revolt, its consciousness of
newness of life. Whitman himself would not be so anxious to declare
the ennui of the old, if he did not feel himself in a way
trammelled by it. The moment that a case is stated with any
vehemence, that moment it is certain that the speaker has
antagonists in his eye. There is a story of Professor Blackie at
Edinburgh making a tirade against the stuffiness of the old English
universities to Jowett, the incisive Master of Balliol. At the end,
he said generously, "I hope you people at Oxford do not think that
we are your enemies up here?" "No," said Jowett drily; "to tell the
truth, we don't think about you at all!" The man who is really
making a new beginning, serenely confident in his strength, does
not, as Professor Blackie did, concern himself with his
predecessors at all. Perhaps, indeed, the democratic spirit of
America may be quietly glorying in its strength, and may be merely
waiting till it suits it to speak. But I do not think it can be
said to have found full expression. It seems to me -- I may well be
wrong -- that in matters of culture, the American is far more
seriously bent on knowing what has been done in the past even than
the Englishman. The Englishman takes the past for granted; he is
probably more deeply and instinctively penetrated with its
traditions than he knows; but ever since the Romantic movement
began in England, about a century ago, the general tendency is
anarchical and anti-classical. Writers like Wordsworth, Browning,
Carlyle, Ruskin, had very little deference about them. They did not
even trouble to assert their independence; they said what they
thought, and as they thought it. But the spirit of American
literature does not on the whole appear to me to be a democratic
spirit. It has not, except in the case of Walt Whitman himself,
shown any strong tendency to invent new forms or to ventilate new
ideas. It has not broken out into crude, fresh, immature
experiments. It has rather worked as the Romans did, who anxiously
adopted and imitated Greek models, admiring the form but not
comprehending the spirit. A revolt in literary art, such as the
Romantic movement in England, has no time to concern itself with
the old forms and traditions. Writers like Wordsworth, Keats,
Shelley, Byron, Walter Scott, had far too much to say for
themselves to care how the old classical schools had worked. They
used the past as a quarry, not as a model. But the famous American
writers have not originated new forms, or invented a different use
of language; they have widened and freshened traditions, they have
not thrown them overboard. Neither, if I interpret facts rightly,
have the Americans developed a new kind of aristocracy. Whitman's
talk of democratic averages is beside the point. The process of
levelling up and levelling down only produces low standards. What
the world needs, whether in England or America, is a new sort of
aristocracy -- simple, disinterested, bold, sympathetic,
enthusiastic men, of clear vision and free thought. And what the
democracy needs is not an envious dislike of all prominence and
greatness, but an eye for all greatness, and an admiration for all
courage and largeness of soul. England suspects, perhaps
erroneously, that America has founded an aristocracy of wealth and
influence and physical prowess, rather than an aristocracy of
simplicity and fearlessness. One believes that the competitive, the
prize-winning spirit, is even more dominant in America than in
England. No one doubts the fierce energy and the aplomb of America;
but can it be said that IDEAS, the existence of which is the
ultimate test of national vigour, are really more prevalent in
America than in England? It all depends, of course, upon whether
one values the Greek or the Roman ideal more highly, the interest,
that is, of life, or the desire to rule and prosper. If the aim of
civilisation is orderliness, then the Roman aim is the better; but
if the aim is spiritual animation, then the Greeks are the winners.
Yet in the last century, England has been more fruitful in ideas
than America, although America is incomparably more interested in
education than England is.

But it is hard to balance these things. What remains is the fact
that Walt Whitman has drawn a fine democratic ideal. His democrat
is essentially a worker, with every sort of vigorous impulse,
living life in an ecstasy of health and comradeship, careless of
money and influence and position, content to live a simple life,
finding beauty, and hope, and love, and labour, enough, in the
spirit of the great dictum of William Morris, that the reward of
labour is life -- not success or power or wealth, but the sense of
living fully and freely.

I do not claim that this spirit exists in England yet; but does it
exist in America? What, in fact, constitutes the inspiration of the
average American; what does he expect to find in life, and to make
of life? Whitman has no doubt at all. But in what other American
writer does this ideal find expression?


It remains to say a few words about the artistic methods of Walt
Whitman. He himself claims no artistic standard whatever. He says
that he wishes to create an atmosphere; and that his one aim has
been suggestiveness. "I round and finish little, if anything; and
could not consistently with my scheme. The reader will always have
his or her part to do, just as much as I have had mine."

He says that his purpose has been "not to carry out in the approved
style some choice plot of fortune or misfortune, or fancy, or fine
thoughts, or incidents or courtesies -- all of which has been done
overwhelmingly and well, probably never to be excelled . . . but to
conform with and build on the concrete realities and theories of
the universe furnished by science, and henceforth the only
irrefragable basis for anything, verse included -- to root both
influences in the emotional and imaginative action of the modern
time, and dominate all that precedes or opposes them." He adds, "No
one will get at my verses who insists upon viewing them as a
literary performance, or attempt at such performance, or as aiming
mainly toward art or aestheticism."

It is, of course, quite true that no writer is bound by traditions
of art, and there is no one who need consider how the thing has
been done before, or follow a prescribed code. But for all that,
art is not a thing of rules made and enforced by critics. All that
critics can do is to determine what the laws of art are; because
art has laws underlying it which are as certain as the laws of
gravity, even if they are not known. The more permanent art is, the
more it conforms to these laws; because the fact is that there is a
vital impulse in the human mind towards the expression of beauty,
and a vital discrimination too as to the form and method of that
expression. Architecture, for instance, and music, are alike based
upon instinctive preferences in human beings, the one for
geometrical form, the other for the combination of vibrations. It
is a law of music, for instance, that the human being prefers an
octave in absolute unison, and not an octave of which one note is a
semitone flat. That is not a rule invented by critics; it is a law
of human perception and preference. Similarly there is undoubtedly
a law which determines human preferences in poetry, though a far
more complicated law, and not yet analysed. The new poet is not a
man who breaks the law, but one who discovers a real extension of

The question then, roughly, is this: Whitman chose to express
himself in a species of poetry, based roughly upon Hebrew poetry,
such as we have in the Psalms and Prophets. If this is a true
expansion of the aesthetic law of poetry, then it is a success; if
it is not a true expansion, but only a wilful variation, not
consonant with the law, it is a failure.

Now there are many effects in Whitman which are, I believe,
inconsistent with the poetical law. Not to multiply instances, his
grotesque word-inventions -- "Me imperturbe!" "No dainty dolce
affettuoso I," "the drape of the day"-- his use of Greek and Latin
and French terms, not correctly used and not even rightly spelt,
his endless iterations, lists, catalogues, categories, things not
clearly visualised or even remotely perceived, but swept
relentlessly in, like the debris of some store-room, all these are
ugly mannerisms which simply blur and encumber the pages. The
question is not whether they offend a critical and cultured mind,
but whether they produce an inspiring effect upon any kind of mind.

Then too his form constantly collapses, as though he had no fixed
scheme in his mind. There are many poems which begin with an ample
sweep, and suddenly crumble to pieces, as though he were merely
tired of them.

Then again there seem to me to be some simply coarse, obscene,
unpleasant passages, not of relentless realism but of dull
inquisitiveness. They do not attract or impress; they do not
provide a contrast or an emphasis. They simply lie, like piles of
filth, in rooms designed for human habitation. If it is argued that
art may use any materials, I can only fall back upon my belief that
such passages are as instinctively repulsive to the artistic sense
as strong-smelling cheeses stacked in a library! There is no moral
or ethical law against such a practice; but the aesthetic conscience
of humanity instinctively condemns it. When I examine the
literature which has inspired and attracted the minds of humanity,
whether trained or untrained, I find that they avoid this hideous
intrusion of nastiness; and I am inclined to infer that writers who
introduce such episodes, and readers who like them, have some other
impulse in view, which is neither the sense of beauty nor the
perception of art. But if Whitman, or anyone else, can convert the
world to call this art, and to enjoy it as art, then he will prove
that he understands the law of preference better than I do.

But when all this has been said and conceded, there yet remain
countless passages of true and vital beauty, exquisite phrases,
haunting pictures, glimpses of perfect loveliness. His poems of
comradeship and the open air, his pictures of family life, have
often a magical thrill of passion, leaving one rapturous and
unsatisfied, believing in the secrets behind the world, and hoping
for a touch of like experience.

If I may take one poem as typical of the best that is in Whitman -- and what a splendid best! -- it shall be "Out of the Cradle Endlessly
Rocking," from the book called Sea-drift. I declare that I can
never read this poem without profound emotion; it is here that he
fully justifies his claim to atmosphere and suggestiveness; the
nesting birds, the sea's edge, with its "liquid rims and wet
sands" -- what a magical phrase! -- the angry moan of the breakers
under the yellow, drooping moon, the boy with his feet in the
water, and the wind in his hair -- this is all beyond criticism.

    Demon or bird! (said the boy's soul)
    Is it indeed toward your mate you sing? or is it mostly to me?
    For I, that was a child, my tongue's use sleeping, now I have
       heard you
    Now in a moment I know what I am for, -- I awake,
    And already a thousand singers, a thousand songs, clearer,
       louder and more sorrowful than yours,
    A thousand warbling echoes have started to life within me,
       never to die.

   And then he cries to the waves to tell him what they have been
whispering all the time.

    Whereto answering, the sea,
    Delaying not, hurrying not,
    Whisper'd me through the night and very plainly before day-break,
    Lisp'd to me the low and delicious word death.

This theme, it will be remembered, is worked out more fully in
the Lincoln poem, "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd," with
the "Song of Death," too long, alas, to quote here -- it would be
delightful even to inscribe the words -- which seems to me for
splendour of language, sweetness of rhythm, and stateliness of
cadence -- to say nothing of the magnificence of the thought -- to be
incontestably among the very greatest poems of the world.

If Whitman could always have written so! Then he need hardly have
said that the strongest and sweetest songs remained to be sung; but
this, and many other gems of poetry, lie in radiant fragments among
the turbid and weltering rush of his strange verse; and thus one
sees that if there is indeed a law of art, it lies close to the
instinct of suppression and omission. One may think anything; one
may say most things; but if one means to sway the human heart by
that one particular gift of words, ordered and melodiously
intertwined, one must heed what experience tells the aspirant -- that
no fervour of thought, or exuberance of utterance, can make up for
the harmony of the firmly touched lyre, and the music of the
unuttered word.



There is a little village here near Cambridge the homely, summer-
sounding name of which is Haslingfield. It is a straggling hamlet
of white-walled, straw-thatched cottages, among orchards and old
elms, full of closes of meadow-grass, and farmsteads with ricks and
big-timbered barns. It has a solid, upstanding Tudor church, with
rather a grand tower, and four solid corner turrets; and it has,
too, its little bit of history in the manor-house, of which only
one high-shouldered wing remains, with tall brick chimneys. It
stands up above some mellow old walls, a big dove-cote, and a row
of ancient fish-ponds. Here Queen Elizabeth once spent a night upon
the wing. Close behind the village, a low wold, bare and calm, with
a belt or two of trees, runs steeply up.

The simplest and quietest place imaginable, with a simple and
remote life, hardly aware of itself, flowing tranquilly through it;
yet this little village, by some felicity of grouping and
gathering, has the rare and incomparable gift of charm. I cannot
analyse it, I cannot explain it, yet at all times and in all
lights, whether its orchards are full of bloom and scent, and the
cuckoo flutes from the holt down the soft breeze, or in the bare
and leafless winter, when the pale sunset glows beyond the wold
among the rifted cloud-banks, it has the wonderful appeal of
beauty, a quality which cannot be schemed for or designed, but
which a very little mishandling can sweep away. The whole place has
grown up out of common use, trees planted for shelter, orchards set
for fruit, houses built for convenience. Only in the church and the
manor is there any care for seemliness and stateliness. There are a
dozen villages round about it which have sprung from the same
needs, the same history; and yet these have missed the unconsidered
charm of Haslingfield, which man did not devise, nor does nature
inevitably bring, but which is instantly recognisable and strangely

Such charm seems to arise partly out of a subtle orderliness and a
simple appropriateness, and partly from a blending of delicate and
pathetic elements in a certain unascertained proportion. It seems
to touch unknown memories into life, and to give a hint of the
working of some half-whimsical, half-tenderly concerned spirit,
brooding over its work, adding a touch of form here and a dash of
colour there, and pleased to see, when all is done, that it is

If one looks closely at life, one sees the same quality in
humanity, in men and women, in books and pictures, and yet one
cannot tell what goes to the making of it. It seems to be a thing
which no energy or design can capture, but which alights here and
there, blowing like the wind at will. It is not force or
originality or inventiveness; very often it is strangely lacking in
any masterful quality at all; but it has always just the same
wistful appeal, which makes one desire to understand it, to take
possession of it, to serve it, to win its favour. It is as when the
child in Francis Thompson's poem seems to say, "I hire you for
nothing." That is exactly it: there is nothing offered or bestowed,
but one is at once magically bound to serve it for love and
delight. There is nothing that one can expect to get from it, and
yet it goes very far down into the soul; it is behind the maddening
desire which certain faces, hands, voices, smiles excite -- the
desire to possess, to claim, to know even that no one else can
possess or claim them, which lies at the root of half the jealous
tragedies of life.

Some personalities have charm in a marvellous degree, and if, as
one looks into the old records of life, one discovers figures that
seem to have laid an inexplicable hold on their circles, and to
have passed through life in a tempest of applause and admiration,
one may be sure that charm has been the secret.

Take the case of Arthur Hallam, the inspirer of "In Memoriam." I
remember hearing Mr. Gladstone say, with kindled eye and emphatic
gesture, that Arthur Hallam was the most perfect being physically,
morally, and intellectually that he had ever seen or hoped to see.
He said, I remember, with a smile: "The story of Milnes Gaskell's
friendship with Hallam was curious. You must know that people fell
in love very easily in those days; there was a Miss E  --  of whom
Hallam was enamoured, and Milnes Gaskell abandoned his own
addresses to her in favour of Hallam, in order to gain his

Yet the portrait of Hallam which hangs in the provost's house at
Eton represents a rosy, solid, rather heavy-featured young man,
with a flushed face,  -- Mr. Gladstone said that this was caused by
overwork, -- who looks more like a young country bumpkin on the
opera-bouffe stage than an intellectual archangel.

Odder still, the letters, poems, and remains of Hallam throw no
light on the hypnotic effect he produced; they are turgid,
elaborate, and wholly uninteresting; nor does he seem to have been
entirely amiable. Lord Dudley told Francis Hare that he had dined
with Henry Hallam, the historian, who was Arthur Hallam's father,
in the company of the son, in Italy, adding, "It did my heart good
to sit by and hear how the son snubbed the father, remembering how
often the father had unmercifully snubbed me."

There is a hint of beauty in the dark eyes and the down-dropped
curve of the mobile lip in the portrait, and one need not quote "In
Memoriam" to prove how utterly the charm of Hallam subjugated the
Tennyson circle. Wit, swiftness of insight, beauty, lovableness -- all seem to have been there; and it remains that Arthur Hallam was
worshipped and adored by his contemporaries with a fierce jealousy
of devotion. Nothing but the presence of an overmastering charm can
explain this conspiracy of praise; and perhaps there is no better
proof of it than that his friends could detect genius in letters
and poems which seem alike destitute of promise and performance.

There is another figure of earlier date who seems to have had the
same magnetic gift in an even more pre-eminent degree. There is a
portrait by Lawrence of Lord Melbourne that certainly gives a hint,
and more than a hint, of the extraordinary charm which enveloped
him; the thick, wavy hair, the fine nose, the full, but firmly
moulded, lips, are attractive enough. But the large, dark eyes
under strongly marked eyebrows, which are at once pathetic,
passionate, ironical, and mournful, evoke a singular emotion. Every
gift that men hold to be advantageous was showered upon Melbourne.
He was well born, wealthy, able; he was full of humour, quick to
grasp a subject, an omnivorous reader and student, a famous
sportsman. He won the devotion of both men and women. His marriage
with the lovely and brilliant Lady Caroline Ponsonby, whose heart
was broken and mind shattered by her hopeless passion for Byron,
showed how he could win hearts. There is no figure of all that
period of whom one would rather possess a personal memoir. Yet
despite all his fame and political prestige, he was an unhappy,
dissatisfied man, who tasted every experience and joy of life, and
found that there was nothing in it.

The dicta of his that are preserved vibrate between cynicism,
shrewdness, wisdom, and tenderness. "Stop a bit," he said, as the
cabinet went downstairs after a dinner to discuss the corn laws.
"Is it to lower the price of bread or isn't it? It doesn't much
matter which, but we must all say the same thing." Yet, after all,
it is the letters and diaries of Queen Victoria that reveal the
true secret of Melbourne's charm. His relation to his girl-
sovereign is one of the most beautiful things in latter-day
history. Melbourne loved her half paternally, half chivalrously,
while it is evident that the Queen's affection for her gallant and
attractive premier was of a quality which escaped her own
perception. He humoured her, advised her, watched over her; in
return, she idolised him, noted down his smallest sayings,
permitted him to behave and talk just as he would. She lovingly
records his little ways and fancies -- how he fell asleep after
dinner, how he always took two apples, and hid one in his lap while
he ate the other.

"I asked him if he meant to cat it. He thought not, and said, 'But
I like to have the power of doing so.' I observed, hadn't he just
as well the power of doing so when the apples were in the dish on
the table? He laughed and said, 'Not the FULL power.'"

Melbourne was full of prejudices and whims and hatreds, but his
charity was boundless, and he always had a good word for an enemy.
He excused the career of Henry VIII to the Queen by saying, "You
see, those women bothered him so." And when he was superseded by
Peel, he combated the Queen's dislike of her new premier, and did
his best to put Peel in a favourable light. When Peel made his
first appearance at Windsor, shy and awkward, and holding himself
like a dancing-master, it was Melbourne who broke the awkward pause
by going up to Peel, and saying in an undertone, "For God's sake,
go and talk to the Queen!" When I was privileged to work through
all Melbourne's letters to the Queen, so carefully preserved and
magnificently bound, I was greatly touched by the sweetness and
tenderness of them, the gentle ironical flavour, the delicate
freedom, and the little presents and remembrances they exchanged up
to the end.

Melbourne can hardly be called a very great man, -- he had not the
purpose or tenacity for that, and he thought both too
contemptuously and too indulgently of human nature, -- but I know of
no historical figure who is more wholly transfused and penetrated
by the aroma of charm. Everything that he did and said had some
distinction and unusualness: perceptive observation, ripe wisdom,
and, with it all, the petulant attractiveness of the spoiled and
engaging child. And yet even so, one is baffled, because it is not
the profundity or the gravity of what he said that impresses; it is
rather the delicate and fantastic turn he gave to a thought or a
phrase that makes his simplest deductions from life, his most
sensible bits of counsel, appear to have something fresh and
interesting about them, though prudent men have said much the same
before, and said it heavily and solemnly.

Not that charm need be whimsical and freakish, though it is perhaps
most beautiful when there is something of the child about it,
something naive and unconventional. There are men, of whom I think
that Cardinal Newman was pre-eminently one, who seem to have had
the appeal of a pathetic sort of beauty and even helplessness.
Newman seems to have always been surprised to find himself so
interesting to others, and perhaps rather over-shadowed by the
responsibility of it. He was romantically affectionate, and the
tears came very easily at the call of emotion. Such incidents as
that when Newman said good-bye to his bare room at Littlemore, and
kissed the door-posts and the bed in a passion of grief, show what
his intensity of feeling might be.

It is not as a rule the calm and controlled people who have this
attractiveness for others; it is rather those who unite with an
enchanting kind of playfulness an instinct to confide in and to
depend upon protective affection. Very probably there is some deep-
seated sexual impulse involved, however remotely and unconsciously,
in this species of charm. It is the appeal of the child that exults
in happiness, claims it as a right, uses it with a pretty
petulance, -- like the feigned enmity of the kitten and the puppy, --
and when it is clouded over, requires tearfully that it shall be
restored. That may seem an undignified comparison for a prince of
the church. But Newman was artist first, and theologian a long way
afterward; he needed comfort and approval and even applause; and he
evoked, together with love and admiration, the compassion and
protective chivalry of his friends. His writings have little
logical or intellectual force; their strength is in their ineffable
and fragrant charm, their ordered grace, their infinite pathos.

The Greek word for this subtle kind of beauty is charis, and the
Greeks are worth hearing on the subject, because they, of all the
nations that ever lived, were penetrated by it, valued it, looked
out for it, worshipped it. The word itself has suffered, as all
large words are apt to suffer, when they are transferred to another
language, because the big, ultimate words of every tongue connote a
number of ideas which cannot be exactly rendered by a single word
in another language. Let us be mildly philological for a moment,
and realise that the word charis in Greek is the substantive of
which the verb is chairo, to rejoice. We translate the word charis
by the English word "grace," which means, apart from its theological
sense, a rich endowment of charm and beauty, a thing which is
essentially a gift, and which cannot be captured by taking thought.
When we say that a thing is done with a perfect grace, we mean that
it seems entirely delightful, appropriate, seemly, and beautiful.
It pleases every sense; it is done just as it should be done,
easily, courteously, gently, pleasantly, with a confidence which is
yet modest, and with a rightness that has nothing rigid or
unamiable about it. To see a thing so done, whatever it may be,
leaves us with an envious desire that we might do the thing in the
same way. It seems easy and effortless, and the one thing worth
doing; and this is where the moral appeal of beauty lies, in the
contagious sort of example that it sets. But when we clumsily
translate the word by "grace," we lose the root idea of the word,
which has a certain joyfulness about it. A thing done with charis
is done as a pleasure, naturally, eagerly, out of the heart's
abundance; and that is the appeal of things so done to the ordinary
mind, that they seem to well up out of a beautiful and happy
nature, as the clear spring rises from the sandy floor of the pool.
The act is done, or the word spoken, out of a tranquil fund of joy,
not as a matter of duty, or in reluctant obedience to a principle,
but because the thing, whatever it is, is the joyful and beautiful
thing to do.

And so the word became the fundamental idea of the Christian life:
the grace of God was the power that floods the whole of the earlier
teaching of the gospel, before the conflict with the ungracious and
suspicious world began -- the serene, uncalculating life, lived
simply and purely, not from any grim principle of asceticism, but
because it was beautiful to live so. It stood for the joy of life,
as opposed to its cares and anxieties and ambitions; it was
beautiful to share happiness, to give things away, to live in love,
to find joy in the fresh mintage of the earth, the flowers, the
creatures, the children, before they were clouded and stained by
the strife and greed and enmity of the world. The exquisite quality
of the first soft touches of the gospel story comes from the fact
that it all rose out of a heart of joy, an overflowing certainty of
the true values of life, a determination to fight the uglier side
of life by opposing to it a simplicity and a sweetness that claimed
nothing, and exacted nothing but a right to the purest sort of
happiness -- the happiness of a loving circle of friends, where the
sacrifice of personal desires is the easiest and most natural thing
in the world, because such sacrifice is both the best reward and
the highest delight of love. It was here that the strength of
primitive Christianity lay, that it seemed the possession of a
joyful secret that turned all common things, and even sorrow and
suffering, to gold. If a man could rejoice in tribulation, he was
on his way to be invulnerable.

It is not a very happy business to trace the decay of a great and
noble idea; but one can catch a glimpse of the perversion of
"grace" in the hands of our Puritan ancestors, when it became a
combative thing, which instead of winning the enemies of the Lord
by its patient sweetness, put an edge on the sword of holiness, and
enabled the staunch Christian to hew the Amalekites hip and thigh;
so that the word, which had stood for a perfectly peaceful and
attractive charm, became the symbol of righteous persecution, and
flowered in cries of anguish and spilled blood.

We shall take a long time before we can crawl out of the shadow of
that dark inheritance; but there are signs in the world of an
awakening brotherliness; and perhaps we may some day come back to
the old truth, so long mishandled, that the essence of all religion
is a spirit of beauty and of joy, bent on giving rather than
receiving; and so at last we may reach the perception that the
fruitful strength of morality lies not in its terror, its
prohibitions, its coercions, but in its good-will, its tolerance,
its dislike of rebuke and censure, its rapturous acceptance of all
generous and chivalrous and noble ways of living.

And thus, then, I mean by charm not a mere superficial gracefulness
which can be learned, as good manners are learned, through a
certain code of behaviour, but a thing which is the flower and
outward sign of a beautiful attitude to life; an eagerness to
welcome everything which is fine and fresh and unstained; that
turns away the glance from things unlovely and violent and greedy
not in a disapproving or a self-righteous spirit, because it is
respectable to be shocked, but in a sense of shame and disgrace
that such cruel and covetous and unclean things should be. If one
takes a figure like that of St. Francis of Assisi, who for all the
superstition and fanaticism with which the record is intermingled,
showed a real reflection and restoration of the old Christian joy
of life, we shall see that he had firm hold of the secret. St.
Francis's love of nature, of animals, of flowers, of children, his
way of breaking into song about the pleasant things of earth, his
praise of "our sister the Water, because she is very serviceable to
us and humble and clean," show the outrush of an overpowering joy.
He had the courage to do what very few men and women ever dare to
do, and that is to make a clean sweep of property and its
complications; but even so, the old legend distorts some of this
into a priggish desire to set a good example, to warn and rebuke
and improve the occasion. But St. Francis's asceticism is the only
kind of asceticism that has any charm, the self-denial, namely,
that springs from a sense of enjoyment, and is practised from a
feeling of its beauty, and not as a matter of timid and anxious
calculation. It is true that St. Francis was haunted by the
medieval nightmare of the essential vileness of the body, and
spurred it too hard. But apart from this, one recognises in him a
poet, and a man of ineffable charm, who found the company of
sinners at least as attractive as the company of saints, for the
simple reason that the sinner is often enough well meaning and
humble, and is spared at least the ugliness of respectable self-
righteousness, which is of all things most destructive of the sense
of proportion, and most divorced from natural joy. St. Francis took
human nature as he found it, and recognised that failure has a
beauty which is denied to success, for the simple reason that
conscious failure makes a man both grateful and affectionate, while
success too often makes him cold and hard.

And there is thus a wonderful fragrance about all that St. Francis
did and said, though he must have been sorely tried by his stupid
and pompous followers, who constantly misunderstood and
misrepresented him, and dragged into the light what was meant to be
the inner secret of his soul. There are few figures in the roll of
saints so profoundly beautiful and touching as that of St. Francis,
because he had in a pre-eminent degree that childlike freshness and
trustfulness which is the secret of all charm.

Charm is of course not the same thing as beauty, but only a
subdivision of it. There are many things in nature and in art, from
the Matterhorn to "Samson Agonistes," that have no charm, but that
appeal to a different range of emotions, the sublime, the majestic,
the awe-inspiring, things in the presence of which we are hardly at
ease; but charm is essentially a comfortable quality, something
that one gathers to one's heart, and if there is a mystery about
it, as there is about all beautiful things, it is not a mystery of
which one would be afraid to know the secret. Charm is the quality
which makes one desire to linger upon one's pilgrimage, that cries
to the soul to halt, to rest, to be content. It is intimate,
reassuring, and appealing; and the shadow of it is the gentle
pathos, which is in itself half a luxury of sadness, in the thought
that sweet things must have an end. As Herrick wrote to the

       Stay, stay
     Until the hasting day
       Has run
       But to the evensong:
     And, having prayed together, we
       Will go with you along.

     We have short time to stay, as you,
       We have as short a spring;
     As quick a growth to meet decay
       As you, or anything.

In such a mood as that there is no sense of terror or despair at
the quick-coming onset of death; no more dread of what may be than
there is when the hamlet, with its little roofs and tall trees, is
folded in the arms of the night, as the sunset dies behind the
hill. Beauty may be a terrible thing, as in the sheeted cataract,
with all its boiling eddies, or in the falling of the lightning
from the womb of the cloud. There is desolation behind that,
gigantic movement, ruthless force; but charm comes like a signal of
security and good-will, and even its inevitable end is lit with
something of mercy and quietness. The danger of charm is that it is
the mother of sentiment; and the danger of sentiment is not that it
is untrue, but that it takes from us the sense of proportion; we
begin to be unable to do without our little scenes and sunsets; and
the eye gets so used to dwelling upon the flower-strewn pleasaunce,
with its screening trees, that it cannot bear to face the far
horizon, with its menace of darkness and storm.

Yet we are very grateful to those who can teach us to turn our eyes
to the charm which surrounds us, and a life which is lived without
such perception is apt to be a rough and hurrying thing, even
though it may also be both high and austere. Like most of life, the
true success lies in not choosing one force and neglecting another,
but in an expectant kind of compromise. The great affairs and facts
of life flash upon us, whether we will or no; and even the man
whose mind is bent upon the greatest hopes and aims may find
strength and consolation in the lesser and simpler delights. Mighty
spirits like, let us say, Carlyle and Ruskin, were not hampered or
distracted from their further quest by the microscopic eye, the
infinite zest for detail, which characterised both. No one ever
spoke so finely as Carlyle of the salient features of moorland and
hill, and the silence so deep that it was possible to hear the far-
off sheep cropping the grass; no one ever noted so instantaneously
the vivid gesture or the picturesque turn of speech, or dwelt more
intently upon the pathetic sculpture of experience seen in the old
humble workaday faces of country-folk. No one ever delighted more
ecstatically than Ruskin in the colour of the amber cataract, with
its soft, translucent rims, its flying spray, or in the dim
splendours of some half-faded fresco, or in the intricate facade of
the crumbling, crag-like church front. But they did not stay there;
indeed, Carlyle, in his passionate career among verities and
forces, hardly took enough account of the beauty so patiently
entwined with mortal things; while Ruskin's sharpest agonies were
endured when he found, to his dismay, that men and women could not
be induced by any appeal or invective to heed the message of

It is true that, however we linger, however passionately we love
the small, sweet, encircling joys and delights of life, the tragic
experience comes to us, whether we will or no. None escapes. And
thus our care must be not to turn our eyes away from what in
sterner moments we are apt to think mere shows and vanities, but to
use them serenely and temperately. St. Augustine, in a magnificent
apologue upon the glories and subtleties of light, can only end by
the prayer that his heart may not thereby be seduced from heavenly
things; but that is the false kind of asceticism, and it is nothing
more than a fear of life, if our only concern with it is to shun
and abhor the joy it would fain give us. But we may be sure that
life has a meaning for us in its charm and loveliness; not the
whole meaning, but still an immense significance. To make life into
a continuous flight, a sad expectancy, a perpetual awe, is wilfully
to select one range of experiences and to neglect its kindness and
its good-will. We may grow weak in our sentiment if we make a
tragedy out of life, if we cannot bear to have our comfortable
arrangements disordered, our little circle of pleasures broken
through. The triumph is to be ready for the change, and to know
that if the perfect summer day comes to an end, the power that
shaped it so, and made the heart swift to love it, has yet larger
surprises and glories in store. If we do that, then the charm of
life takes its place in our spirits as the evidence of something
joyful, wistful, pleasant, bound up with the essence of things; if
it disappears, like the gold or azure thread of the tapestry, it is
only to emerge in the pattern farther on; and the victory is not to
attach ourselves to the particular touches of beauty and fineness
which we see in the familiar scene and the well-loved circle, but
to recognise beauty as a spirit, a quality which is for ever making
itself felt, for ever beckoning and whispering to us, and which
will not fail us even if for a time the urgent wind drives us far
into the night and the storm, among the crash of the breakers, and
the scream of loud winds over the sea.



The liquid kindling of the twilight, the western glow of clear-
burning fires, bringing no weariness of heat but the exquisite
coolness of darkling airs, is of all the ceremonial of the day the
most solemn and sacred moment. The dawn has its own splendours, but
it brightens out of secret mists and folded clouds into the common
light of day, when the burden must be resumed and the common
business of the world renewed again. But the sunset wanes from
glory and majesty into the stillness of the star-hung night, when
tired eyes may close in sleep, and rehearse the mystery of death;
and so the dying down of light, with the suspension of daily
activities, is of the nature of a benediction. Dawn brings the
consecration of beauty to a new episode of life, bidding the soul
to remember throughout the toil and eagerness of the day that the
beginning was made in the innocent onrush of dewy light; but when
the evening comes, the deeds and words of the daylight are
irrevocable facts, and the mood is not one of forward-looking hope
and adventure, but of unalterable memory, and of things dealt with
so and not otherwise, which nothing can henceforward change or
modify. If in the morning we feel that we have power over life, in
the evening we know that, whether we have done ill or well, life's
power over ourselves has been asserted, and that thus and thus the
record must stand.

And so the mood of evening is the larger and the wiser mood,
because we must think less of ourselves and more of God. In the
dawn it seems to us that we have our part to play, and that
nothing, not even God, can prevent us from exercising our will upon
the life about us; but in the evening we begin to wonder how much,
after all, we have the strength to effect; we see that even our
desires and impulses have their roots far back in a past which no
restlessness of design or energy can touch; till we end by
thankfulness that we have been allowed to feel and to experience
the current of life at all. I sat the other day by the bedside of
an old and gracious lady, the widow of a great artist, whose works
with all their shapely form and dusky flashes of rich colour hung
on the walls of her room. She had lived for many years in the
forefront of a great fellowship of art and endeavour; she had seen
and known intimately all the greatest figures in the art and
literature of the last generation; and she was awaiting with
perfect serenity and dignity the close. She said to me with a deep
emotion, "Ah, the only thing that I desire is that I may continue
to FEEL -- that brings suffering in abundance with it, but while we
suffer we are at least alive. Once or twice in my life I have felt
the numbness of anguish, when a blow had fallen, and I could not
even suffer. That is the only thing which I dread -- not death, nor
silence, but only the obliteration of feeling and love." That was a
wonderful saying, full of life and energy. She did not wish to
recall the old days, nor hanker after them with an unsatisfied
pain; and I saw that an immortal spirit dwelt in that frail body,
like a bird in an outworn cage.

However much one may enjoy the onrush and vividness of life -- I for
one find that, though vitality runs now in more definite and
habitual channels, though one has done with making vague impulsive
experiments, though one wastes less time in undertaking doubtful
enterprises, yet there is a great gain in the concentration of
energy, and in the certain knowledge of what one's definite work
really is.

Far from finding the spring and motion of life diminished, I feel
that the current of it runs with a sharper and clearer intensity,
because I have learned my limitations, and expend no energy in
useless enterprises. I have learned what the achievements are which
come joyfully bearing their sheaves with them, and what are the
trivial and fruitless aims. When I was younger I desired to be
known and recognised and deferred to. I wanted to push my way
discreetly into many companies, to produce an impression, to create
a sense of admiration. Now as the sunset draws nearer, and the
enriched light, withdrawn from the farther horizon, begins to
pulsate more intensely in the quarter whence it must soon
altogether fade, I begin to see that vague and widely ranging
effects have a thinness and shallowness about them. It is a poor
thing just to see oneself transiently reflected in a hundred little
mirrors. There is no touch of reality about that. Little greetings,
casual flashes of courteous talk, petty compliments -- these are
things that fade as soon as they are born. The only thing worth
doing is a little bit of faithful and solid work, something given
away which costs one real pain, a few ideas and thoughts worked
patiently out, a few hearts really enlivened and inspirited. And
then, too, comes the consciousness that much of one's cherished
labour is of no use at all except to oneself; that work is not a
magnificent gift presented to others, but a wholesome privilege
conceded to oneself, that the love which brought with it but a
momentary flash of self-regarding pleasure is not love at all, and
that only love which means suffering -- not delicate regrets and
luxurious reveries, but hard and hopeless pain -- is worth the name
of love at all. Those are some of the lights of sunset, the
enfolding gleams that are on their way to death, and which yet
testify that the light which wanes and lapses here, drawn
reluctantly away from dark valley and sombre woodland, is yet
striding ahead over dewy uplands and breaking seas, past the
upheaving shoulder of the world.

But best of all the gifts of sunset to the spirit is the knowledge
that behind all the whirling web of daylight, beyond all the noise
and laughter and appetite and drudgery of life, lies the spirit of
beauty that cannot be always revealed or traced in the louder and
more urgent pageantry of the day. The sunset has the power of
weaving a subtle and remote mystery over a scene that by day has
nothing to show but a homely and obvious animation. I was
travelling the other day and passed, just as the day began to
decline, through the outskirts of a bustling, seaport town. It had
all the interest and curiosity of life. Crowded warehouses,
swinging up straw-packed crates into projecting penthouses;
steamers with red-stained funnels, open-mouthed tubes, gangways,
staircase heads, dangling boats, were moored by bustling wharves.
One could not divine the use of half the strangely shaped objects
with which the scene was furnished, or what the business could be
of all the swarming and hurrying figures. Deep sea-horns blew and
whistles shrilled, orders were given, hands waved. It was life at
its fullest and busiest, but it was life demanding and enforcing
its claim and concealing its further purposes. It was just a
glimpse of something full of urgent haste, but pleasanter to watch
than to mix with; then we passed through a wilderness of little
houses, street after street, yard after yard. Presently we were
rushing away from it all past a lonely sea-creek that ran far up
into the low-lying land. That had a more silent life of its own;
old dusky hulks lay at anchor in the channel; the tide ebbed away
from mudflats and oozy inlets, the skeletons of worn-out boats
stood up out of the weltering clay. Gradually, as the sun went down
among orange stains and twisted cloud-wreaths, the creek narrowed
and beyond lay a mysterious promontory with shadowy woods and low
bare pasture-lands, with here and there a tower standing up or a
solitary sea-mark, or a hamlet of clustered houses by the water's
edge, while the water between grew paler and stiller, reflecting
the wan green of the sky. It is not easy to describe the effect of
this scene, thus magically transfigured, upon the mind; but it is a
very real and distinct emotion, though its charm depends upon the
fact that it shifts the reality of the world to a further point,
away from the definite shapes and colours, the tangible and visible
relations of things, which become for an instant like a translucent
curtain through which one catches a glimpse of a larger and more
beautiful reality. The specific hopes, fears, schemes, designs,
purposes of life, suddenly become an interlude and not an end. They
do not become phantasmal and unreal, but they are known for a brief
moment as only temporary conditions, which by their hardness and
sharpness obscure a further and larger life, existing before they
existed, and extending itself beyond their momentary pact and
influence. All that one is engaged in busily saying and doing and
enacting is seen in that instant to be only as a ripple on a deep
pool. It does not make the activities of life either futile or
avoidable; it only gives the mystical sense, that however urgent
and important they may seem, there is something further, larger,
greater, beyond them, of which they are a real part, but only a

Moreover, in my own experience, the further secret, whatever it is,
is by no means wholly joyful and not at all light-hearted. It seems
to me at such times that it is rather solemn, profound, serious,
difficult, and sad. But it is not a heavy or depressing sadness -- indeed, the thought is at once hopeful and above everything
beautiful. It has nothing that is called sentimental about it. It
is not full of rest and content and peace; it is rather strong and
stern, though it is gentle too; but it is the kind of gentle
strength which faces labour and hardness, not troubled by them, and
indeed knowing that only thus can the secret be attained. There is
no hint of easy, childlike happiness about the mood; there is a
happiness in it, but it is an old and a wise happiness that has
learned how to wait and is fully prepared for endurance. There is
no fretfulness in it, no chafing over dreams unrealised, no
impatience or disappointment. But it does not speak of an
untroubled bliss -- rather of a deep, sad and loving patience, which
expects no fulfilment, no easy satisfaction of desire.

It always seems to me that the quality which most differentiates
men is the power of recognising the Unknown. Some natures acquiesce
buoyantly or wretchedly in present conditions, and cannot in any
circumstances look beyond them; some again have a deep distaste for
present conditions whatever they are; and again there are some who
throw themselves eagerly and freely into present conditions, use
experience, taste life, enjoy, grieve, dislike, but yet preserve a
consciousness of something above and beyond. The idealist is one
who has a need in his soul to worship, to admire, to love. The
mistake made too often by religious idealists is to believe that
this sense of worship can only be satisfied by religious and, even
more narrowly, by ecclesiastical observance. For there are many
idealists to whom religion with its scientific creeds and definite
dogmas seems only a dreary sort of metaphysic, an attempt to define
what is beyond definition. But there are some idealists who find
the sense of worship and the consciousness of an immortal power in
the high passions and affections of life. To these the human form,
the spirit that looks out from human eyes, are the symbols of their
mystery. Others find it in art and music, others again in the
endless loveliness of nature, her seas and streams, her hills and
woods. Others again find it in visions of helping and raising
mankind out of base conditions, or in scientific investigation of
the miraculous constitution of nature. It has a hundred forms and
energies; but the one feature of it is the sense of some vast and
mysterious Power, which holds the world in its grasp -- a Power which
can be dimly apprehended and even communicated with. Prayer is one
manifestation of this sense, though prayer is but a formulation of
one's desires for oneself and for the world.

But the essential and vital part of the mystery is not what the
soul asks of it, but the signals which it makes to the soul. And
here I am but recording my own experience when I say that the
lights and gleams of sunset, its golden inlets and cloud-ripples,
the dusky veil it weaves about the world, is for my own spirit the
solemnity which effects for me what I believe that the mass effects
for a devoted Catholic -- the unfolding in hints and symbols of the
mysteries of God. An unbeliever may look on at a mass and see
nothing but the vesture and the rite, a drama of woven paces and
waving hands, when a believer may become aware of the very presence
of the divine. And the sunset has for me that same unveiling of the
beauty of God; it illumines and transfigures life; it shows me
visibly and sacredly that beauty pure and stainless runs from end
to end of the universe, and calls upon me to adore it, to prostrate
myself before its divine essence. The fact that another may see it
carelessly and indifferently makes no difference. It only means
that not thus does he perceive God. But, for myself, I know no
experience more wholly and deeply religious than when I pass in
solitude among deep stream-fed valleys, or over the wide fenland,
or through the familiar hamlet, and see the dying day flame and
smoulder far down in the west among cloudy pavilions or in tranquil
spaces of clear sky. Then the well-known land whose homely, day-
long energies I know seems to gather itself together into a far and
silent adoration, to commit itself trustfully and quietly to God,
to receive His endless benediction, and in that moment to become
itself eternal in a soft harmony of voiceless praise and passionate



There are days -- perhaps it is well that they are not more common -- when by some singular harmony of body and spirit, every little
sound and sight strikes on the senses with a peculiar sharpness and
distinctness of quality, has a keen and racy savour, and comes as
delightfully home to the mind as cool well-water to thirsty lips.
Everything seems in place, in some well-designed combination or
symphony of the senses; and more than that -- the sound, the sight,
whatever it be, sets free a whole train of far-reaching and
mysterious thoughts, that seem to flash the secret of life on the
spirit - -or rather hint it in a tender, smiling way, as a mother
nods a delighted acquiescence to the eager questions of a child
face to face with some happy surprise. That day of January was just
such a day to me, as we drove along the dreary road from Marazion
to Helston, by ruined mine-towers with their heaps of scoriae,
looking out to the sea on the one hand, and on the other to the
low, monotonous slopes of tilth and pasture, rising and falling
like broad-backed waves, with here and there a wild and broken wood
of firs, like the forest of Broceliande, or a holt of wind-brushed,
fawn-coloured ash-trees, half empurpled by the coming of spring, in
some rushy dingle by the stream side.

It was a cool grey day, with a haze over the sea, the gusty sky of
yesterday having hardened into delicate flakes of pearly cloud,
like the sand on some wave-beaten beach. It was all infinitely soft
and refreshing to the eye, that outspread pastoral landscape, seen
in a low dusk, like the dusk of a winter dawn.

It was then that in a little hollow to our right we saw the old
House of Pengersick -- what a grim, lean, hungry sort of name! We
made our way down along a little road, the big worn flints standing
up out of the gravel, by brakes of bramble, turf-walls where the
ferns grew thick, by bits of wild upland covered with gorse and
rusty bracken, and down at last to the tiny hamlet --f our or five
low white houses, in little gardens where the escallonia grew thick
and glossy, the purple veronica bloomed richly, and the green
fleshy mesembryanthemum tumbled and dripped over the fences. The
tower itself rose straight out of a farmyard, where calves stared
through the gate, pigs and hens routed and picked in the mire. I
have seldom seen so beautiful a bit of building: it was a great
square battlemented tower, with a turret, the mullioned windows
stopped up with sea-worn boulders. The whole built of very peculiar
stone, of a dark grey tinge, weathered on the seaward side to a
most delicate silvery grey, with ivy sprawling over it in places,
like water shot out from a pail over a stone floor. There were just
a few traces of other buildings in the sheds and walls, and bits of
carved stonework piled up in a rockery. No doubt the little farm
itself and the cottages were all built out of the ruins.

From the tower itself -- it has a few bare rooms filled with farm
lumber -- one can see down the valley to the long grey line of the
Prah sands, and the low dusky cliffs of Hove point, where the waves
were breaking white.

I suppose it needed to be a strong place. The Algiers and Sallee
pirates used to make descents upon this coast till a comparatively
recent date. As late as 1636 they kidnapped seven boats and forty-
two fishermen off the Manacles, none of whom were ever heard of
again. Eighty fishermen from Looe were captured in one day, and
there is a complaint extant from the justices of Cornwall to the
lord lieutenant that in one year Cornwall had lost above a thousand
mariners thus!

But there was also another side to the picture; the natives all
along this coast were dreadful wreckers and plunderers themselves,
and made little account of burning a ship and knocking the
survivors on the head. The very parish, Germoe, in which Pengersick
stands, had as bad a name as any in Cornwall:

     God keep us from rocks and shelving sands,
     And save us from Breage and Germoe men's hands,

runs the old rhyme. And there is an evil old story of how a
treasure ship, the St. Andrew of Portugal, went ashore at Gunwalloe
in January 1526. There were thousands of cakes of copper and silver
on board, plate, pearls, jewels, chains, brooches, arras, satins,
velvets, sets of armour for the King of Portugal, and a huge chest
of coined gold.

The wretched crew got most of the treasure to land and stacked it
on the cliffs, when John Milliton of Pengersick, with a St. Aubyn
and a Godolphin, came down with sixty armed men, and took all the
treasure away. Complaints were made, and the three gentlemen
protested that they had but ridden down to save the crew, had found
them destitute, and had even given them money. But I daresay the
big guest-chamber of Pengersick was hung with Portuguese arras for
many a long year afterwards.

The Millitons died out, and their land passed by purchase or
marriage to the descendants of another of the three pious squires,
Godolphin of Godolphin -- and belongs to-day to his descendant, the
Duke of Leeds.

One would have thought that men could not have borne to live so, in
such deadly insecurity. But probably they troubled their heads
little about the pirates, kept the women and children at home, and
set a retainer on the cliff in open weather, to scan the offing for
the light-rigged barques, while poorer folk took their chance. We
live among a different set of risks now, and think little of them,
as the days pass.

The life of the tower was simple and hardy enough -- some fishing and
hunting, some setting of springes on the moor for woodcock and
rabbits, much farmwork, solid eating and drinking, and an
occasional carouse -- a rude, plentiful, healthy life, perhaps not as
far removed from our own as we like to believe.

But the old tower spoke to me to-day of different things, of the
buried life of the past, of the strange drift of human souls
through the world for their little span of life, love, and sorrow,
and all so pathetically ignorant of what goes before and follows
after, why it so comes about, and what is the final aim of the will
we blindly serve. Here was a house of men, I said to myself, with
the same hopes and fears and fancies as myself, and yet none of
them, could I recall them, could give me any reason for the life we
thus hurriedly live, so much of it entirely joyful and delightful,
so much of it distasteful and afflicting. On a sunny day of summer,
with the sea a sapphire blue, set with great purple patches, the
scent of the gorse in the air, the sound of the clear stream in
one's ears, what could be sweeter than to live? and even on dark
days, when the wind volleys up from the sea, and the rain dashes on
the windows, and the gulls veer and sail overhead, the great guest-
room with its fire of wreckage, the women working, the children
playing about, must have been a pleasant place enough. But even to
the strongest and boldest of the old squires the end came, as the
waggon with the coffin jolted along the stony lane, and the bell of
Germoe came faintly over the hill.

But I could not think of that to-day, with a secret joy in my
heart; I thought rather of the splendid mystery of life, that seems
to screen from us something more gracious still -- the steep velvet
sky full of star-dust, the flush of spring in sunlit orchards, the
soft, thunderous echoes of great ocean billows, the orange glow of
sunset behind dark woods: all that background of life; and then the
converse of friend with friend, the intercepted glance of wondering
eyes, the whispered message of the heart. All this, and a crowd of
other sweet images and fancies came upon me in a rush to-day, like
scents from a twilight garden, as I watched the old silvery tower
stand up bluff and square, with the dark moorland behind it, and
the little houses clustering about its feet.



I wonder if any human being has ever expended as much sincere and
unrequited love upon the little pastoral villages about Cambridge
as I have. No one ever seems to me to take the smallest interest in
them or to know them apart or to remember where they are. It is
true that it takes a very faithful lover to distinguish instantly
and impeccably between Histon, Hinxton, Hauxton, Harston, and
Harlton; but to me they have all of them a perfectly distinct
quality, and make a series of charming little pastoral pictures in
the mind. Who shall justly and perfectly assess the beautiful
claims of Great and Little Eversden? I doubt if any inhabitant of
Cambridge but myself and one friend of mine, a good man and true,
could do it. Yet it is as pleasant to have a connoisseurship in
villages as to have a connoisseurship in wines or cigars, though it
is not so regarded.

What is the charm of them? That I cannot say. It is a mystery, like
the charm of all sweet things; and further, what is the meaning of
love for an inanimate thing, with no individuality, no personality,
no power of returning love? The charm of love is that one discerns
some spirit making signals back. "I like you to be here, I trust
you, I am glad to be with you, I wish to give you something, to
increase your joy, as mine is increased." That, or something like
that, is what one reads in the eyes and faces and gestures of those
whom one dares to love. One would otherwise be sadly and mournfully
alone if one could not come across the traces of something, some
one whose heart leaps up and whose pulse quickens at the proximity
of comrade and friend and lover. But even so there is always the
thought of the parting ahead, when, after the sharing of joy, each
has to go on his way alone.

Then, one may love animals; but that is a very strange love, for
the man and the animal cannot understand each other. The dog may be
a true and faithful comrade, and there really is nothing in the
world more wonderful than the trustful love of a dog for a man. One
may love a horse, I suppose, though the horse is a foolish creature
at best; one may have a sober friendship with a cat, though a cat
does little more than tolerate one; and a bird can be a merry
little playfellow: but the terror of wild animals for men has
something rather dreadful about it, because it stands for many
centuries of cruel wrong-doing.

And one may love, too, with a wistful sort of love the works of
men, pictures, music, statues; but that, I think, is because one
discerns a human figure at the end of a vista -. a figure hurrying
away through the ages, but whom one feels one could have loved had
time and place only allowed.

But when it comes to loving trees and flowers, streams and hills,
buildings and fields, what is it that happens? I have a perfectly
distinct feeling about these little villages hereabouts. Some are
to me like courteous strangers, some like dull and indifferent
people, some like pleasant, genial folk whom I am mildly pleased to
see; but with some I have a real and devoted friendship. I like
visiting them, and if I cannot visit them, I think of them; when I
am far away the thought of them comes across me, and I am glad to
think of them waiting there for me, nestling under their hill, the
smoke going up above the apple-orchards.

One or two of them are particularly beloved because I visited them
first thirty years ago, when I was an undergraduate, and the
thought of the old days and the old friendships springs up again
like a sweet and far-off fragrance when I enter them. Yet I do not
know any of the people who live in these villages, though by dint
of going there often there are a few people by whom I am recognised
and saluted.

But let me take one village in particular, and I will not name it,
because one ought not to publish the names of those whom one loves.
What does it consist of? It straggles along a rough and ill-laid
lane, under a little wold, once a sheep-walk, now long ploughed up.
The soil of the wold is pale, so that in the new-ploughed fields
there rest soft, creamlike shadows when the evening sun falls
aslant. There are two or three substantial farmhouses of red brick,
comfortable old places, with sheds and ricks and cattle-byres and
barns close about them. And I think it is strange that the scent of
a cattle-byre, with its rich manure and its oozing pools, is not
ungrateful to the human sense. It ought to be, but it is not. It
gives one, by long inheritance, no doubt, a homelike feeling.

Then there are many plastered, white-walled, irregular cottages,
very quaint and pretty, perhaps a couple of centuries old, very ill
built, no doubt, but enchanting to look at; there is a new
schoolhouse, very ugly at present, with its smart red brick and its
stone facings -- ugly because it does not seem to have grown up out
of the place, but to have been brought there by rail; and there are
a few new yellow-brick cottages, probably much pleasanter to live
in than the old ones, but with no sort of interest or charm. The
whole is surrounded by little fields, orchards, closes, paddocks,
and a good many great elms stand up above the house-roofs. There is
one quaint old farm, with a moat and a dove-cote and a fine, old
mellow brick wall surrounded by little pollarded elms, very quiet
and characteristic; and then there is a big, ancient church, by
whom built one cannot divine, because there is no squire in the
village, and the farmers and labourers could no more build such a
church now than they could build a stellar observatory. It would
cost nowadays not less than ten thousand pounds, and there is no
record of who gave the money or who the architect was. It has a
fine tower and a couple of solid bells; it has a few bits of good
brass-work, a chandelier and some candlesticks, and it has a fine
eighteenth-century tomb in a corner, with a huge slab of black
basalt on the top, and a heraldic shield and a very obsequious
inscription, which might apply to anyone, and yet could be true of
nobody. Why the particular old gentleman should want to sleep
there, or who was willing to spend so much on his lying in state,
no one knows, and I fear that no one cares except myself.

There are a few little bits of old glass in the church, in the
traceries of the windows, just enough to show that some one liked
making pretty things, and that some one else cared enough to pay
for them. And then there is a solid rectory by the church,
inhabited for centuries by fellows of a certain Cambridge college.
I do not expect that they lived there very much. Probably they rode
over on Sundays, read two services, and had a cold luncheon in
between; perhaps they visited a sick parishioner, and even came
over on a week-day for a marriage or a funeral; and I daresay that
in the summer, when the college was deserted, they came and lived
there for a few weeks, rather bored, and longing for the warm
combination room and the college port and the gossip and stir of
the place.

That is really all, I think. And what is there to love in all that?

Well, it is a little space of earth in which life has been going on
for I daresay a thousand years. The whole place has grown slowly up
out of the love and care and work of man. Perhaps there were
nothing but little huts and hovels at first, with a tiny rubble
church; then the houses grew a little bigger and better. Perhaps it
was emptied again by the Black Death, which took a long toll of
victims hereabouts. Shepherds, ploughmen, hedgers, ditchers,
farmers, an ale-house-keeper, a shopkeeper or two, and a priest -- that has been the village for a thousand years. Patient, stupid,
toilsome, unimaginative, kindly little lives, I daresay. Not much
interested in one another, ill educated, gossipy, brutish,
superstitious, but surprised perhaps into sudden passions of love,
and still more surprised perhaps by the joys of fatherhood and
motherhood; with children of all ages growing up, pretty and
engaging and dirty and amusing and naughty, fading one by one into
dull and sober age, and into decrepitude, and the churchyard at the
end of all!

Well, I think all that pathetic and mysterious, and beautiful with
the beauty that reality has. I want to know who all the folks were,
what they looked like, what they cared about or thought about, how
they made terms with pain and death, what they hoped, expected,
feared, and what has become of them. Everyone as urgently and
vehemently and interestedly alive as I myself, and yet none of them
with the slightest idea of how they got there or whither they were
going -- the great, helpless, good-natured, passive army of men and
women, pouring like a stream through the world, and borne away on
the wings of the wind. They were glad to be alive, no doubt, when
the sun fell on the apple-orchard, and the scent of the fruit was
in the air, and the bees hummed round the blossoms, when people
smile at each other and say kind and meaningless things; they were
afraid, no doubt, as they lay in pain in the stuffy attics, with
the night wind blustering round the chimney-stack, and hoped to be
well again. Then there were occasions and treats, the Sunday
dinner, the wedding, the ride in the farm-cart to Cambridge, the
visit of the married sister from her home close by. I do not
suppose they knew or cared what was happening in the world. War and
politics made little difference to them. They knew about the
weather, they cared perhaps about their work, they liked the Sunday
holiday -- all very dim and simple, thoughts not expressed, feelings
not uttered, experience summed up in little bits of phrases. Yet I
like to think that they were pleased with the look of the place
without knowing why. I don't deceive myself about all this, or make
it out as idyllic. I don't exactly wish to have lived thus, and I
expect it was coarse, greedy, dull, ugly, a great deal of it; but
though I can think fine thoughts about it, and put my thoughts into
musical words, I do not honestly believe that my life, my hopes, my
feelings differ very much from the experience of these old people.

Of course I have books and pictures and intellectual fancies and
ideas; but that is only an elaborate game that I play, the things I
notice and recognise: but I expect the old hearts and minds were at
work, too, noticing and observing and recording; and all my
flourish of talk and thought is only a superficial affair.

And what consecrates and lights up the little place for me, touches
it with golden hues, makes it moving, touching, beautiful, is the
thought of all that strange, unconscious life, the love and hate,
the fear and the content, the joy and sorrow, that has surged to
and fro among the thatched roofs and apple-orchards so many
centuries before I came into being, and will continue when I am
trodden into the dust.

When I came here first thirty years ago, exploring with a friend
long dead the country-side, it was, I am sure, the same thought
that made the place beautiful. I could not then put it into words;
I have learned to do that since, and word-painting is a very
pleasant pastime. It was a hot, bright summer day -- I recall the
scent of the clover in the air -- and there came on me that curious
uplifting of the heart, that wonder as to what all the warmth and
scent, the green-piled tree, the grazing cows, the children
trotting to and fro, could possibly mean, or why it was all so
utterly delightful. It was not a religious feeling, but there was a
sense of a great, good-natured, beauty-loving mind behind it all -- a
mind very like our own, and yet even then with a shadow striking
across it -- the shadow of pain and grief and hollow farewells.

I was not a very contented boy in those days, in some bewilderment
of both mind and heart, having had my first experience that life
could be hard and intricate. The world was sweeter to me, though
not so interesting as it now is; but I had just the same deep
desire as I have now, though it has not been satisfied, to find
something strong and secure and permanent, some heart to trust
utterly and entirely, something that could understand and comfort
and explain and reassure, a power which one could clasp hands with,
as a child lays its delicate finger in a strong, enfolding palm,
and never be in any doubt again. It is one's weakness which is so
tiring, so disappointing; and yet I do not want a careless,
indifferent, brutal, healthy strength at all. It is the strength of
love and peace that I want, not to be afraid, not to be troubled.
It is all somewhere, I do not doubt:

     Yet, oh, the place could I but find!

I have been through my village this very day. The sun was just
beginning to slope to the west; the sun poured out his rays of gold
from underneath the shadow of a great, dark, up-piled cloud -- the
long rays which my nurse used to tell me were sucking up water, but
which I believed to be the eye of God. The trees were bare, but the
elm-buds were red, and the willow-rods were crimson with spring;
the little stream bubbled clearly off the hill; and the cottage
gardens were full of up-thrusting blades; while the mezereons were
all aflame with bloom. Life moving, pausing, rushing past! I
wonder. When I pass the gate, if I see the dawn of that other
morning, I cannot help feeling that I shall want to see my little
village again, to loiter down the lane among the white-gabled
houses. Shall I be much wiser then than I am now? Shall I have seen
or heard something which will set my anxious mind at rest? Who can
tell me? And yet the old, gnarled apple-boughs, with the blue sky
behind them, and the new-springing grass all seem to hold the
secret, which I want as much to interpret and make my own as when I
wandered through the hamlet under the wold more than thirty years



There is a movement nowadays among the philosophers who study the
laws of thought, to lay a strong emphasis upon the phenomena of
dreams; what part of us is it that enacts with such strange zest
and vividness, and yet with so mysterious a disregard of ordinary
motives and conventions, the pageant of dreams? Like many other
things which befall us in daily life, dreams are so familiar a
fact, that we often forget to wonder at the marvellousness of it
all. The two points about dreams which seem to me entirely
inexplicable are: firstly, that they are so much occupied with
visual impressions, and secondly, that though they are all self-
invented and self-produced, they yet contrive to strike upon the
mind with a marvellous freshness of emotion and surprise. Let us
take these two points a little more in detail.

When one awakes from a vivid dream one generally has the impression
of a scene of some kind, which has been mainly received through the
medium of the eye. I suppose that this varies with different
people, but my own dreams are rather sharply divided into certain
classes. I am oftenest a silent spectator of landscapes of
ineffable beauty, such as a great river, as blue as sapphire,
rolling majestically down between vast sandstone cliffs, or among
wooded hills, piled thick with trees rich in blossom; or I see
stately buildings crowded together among woodlands, with long
carved fronts of stone and airy towers. These dreams are peculiarly
uplifting and stimulating, and I wake from them with an
extraordinary sense of beauty and wonder; or else I see from some
window or balcony a great ceremony of some quite unintelligible
kind proceeding, a procession with richly dressed persons walking
or riding, or a religious pomp taking place in a dim pillared
interior. All such dreams pass by in absolute silence. I have no
idea where I am, nor what is happening, nor am I curious to know.
No voice is upraised, and there is no one at hand to converse with.

Then again there are dreams of which the substance is animated and
vivid conversation. I have long and confidential talks with people
like the Pope or the Tsar of Russia. They ask my advice, they quote
my books, and I am surprised to find them so familiar and
accessible. Or I am in a strange house with an unknown party of
guests, and person after person comes up to tell me all kinds of
interesting facts and details. Or else, as often happens to me, I
meet people long since dead; I dream constantly, for instance,
about my father. I see him by chance at a railway station, we
congratulate ourselves upon the happy accident of meeting; he takes
my arm, he talks smilingly and indulgently; and the only way in
which the knowledge that he is dead affects the dream is that I
feel bewildered at having seen so little of him of late, and even
ask him where he has been for so long that we have not met oftener.

Very occasionally I hear music in a dream. I well remember hearing
four musicians with little instruments like silver flutes play a
quartet of infinite sweetness; but most of my adventures take place
either among fine landscapes or in familiar conversation.

At one time, as a child, I had an often repeated dream. We were
then living in an old house at Lincoln, called the Chancery. It was
a large rambling place, with some interesting medieval features,
such as a stone winding staircase, a wooden Tudor screen, built
into a wall, and formerly belonging to the chapel of the house,
There were, moreover, certain quite unaccountable spaces, where the
external measurements of passages did not correspond with the
measurement of rooms within. This fact excited our childish
imagination, and probably was the origin of the dream.

It always began in the same way. I would appear to be descending a
staircase which led up into a lobby, and would find that a certain
step rattled as I trod upon it. Upon examination the step proved to
be hinged, and on opening it, the head of a staircase appeared,
leading downwards. Though, as I say, the dream was often repeated,
it was always with the same shock of surprise that I made the
discovery. I used to squeeze in through the opening, close the step
behind me, and go down the stairs; the place was dimly lighted with
some artificial light, the source of which I could never discover.
At the bottom a large vaulted room was visible, of great extent,
fitted with iron-barred stalls as in a stable. These stalls were
tenanted by animals; there were dogs, tigers, and lions. They were
all very tame, and delighted to see me. I used to go into the
stalls one by one, feed and play with the animals, and enjoy myself
very much. There was never any custodian to be seen, and it never
occurred to me to wonder how the animals had got there, nor to whom
they belonged. After spending a long time with my menagerie, I used
to return; and the only thing that seemed of importance to me was
that I should not be seen leaving the place. I used to raise the
step cautiously and listen, so as to be sure that there was no one
about; generally in the dream some one came down the stairs over my
head; and I then waited, crouched below, with a sense of delightful
adventure, until the person had passed by, when I cautiously
extricated myself. This dream became quite familiar to me, so that
I used to hope in my mind, on going to bed, that I might be about
to see the animals. but I was often disappointed, and dreamed of
other things. This dream visited me at irregular intervals for I
should say about two or three years, and then I had it no more; but
the singular fact about it was that it always came with the same
sense of wonder and delight, and while actually dreaming it, I
never realised that I had seen it before.

The only other tendency to a recurring dream that I have ever
noticed was in the course of the long illness of which I have
written elsewhere; my dreams were invariably pleasant and agreeable
at that time; but I constantly had the experience in the course of
them of seeing something of a profound blackness. Sometimes it was
a man in a cloak, sometimes an open door with an intensely black
space within, sometimes a bird, like a raven or a crow; oftenest of
all it took the shape of a small black cubical box, which lay on a
table, without any apparent lid or means of opening it. This I used
to take up in my hands, and find very heavy; but the predominance
of some intensely black object, which I have never experienced
before or since, was too marked to be a mere coincidence; and I
have little doubt that it was some obscure symptom of my condition,
and had some definite physical cause. Indeed, at the same time, I
was occasionally aware of the presence of something black in waking
hours, not a thing definitely seen, but existing dimly in a visual
cell. After I recovered, this left me, and I have never seen it

These are the more coherent kind of dreams; but there is another
kind of a vaguely anxious character, which consist of endless
attempts to catch trains, or to fulfil social engagements, and are
full of hurry and dismay. Or one dreams that one has been condemned
to death for some unknown offence, and the time draws near; some
little while ago I spent the night under these circumstances
interviewing different members of the Government in a vain attempt
to discover the reasons for my condemnation; they could none of
them give me a specific account of the affair, and could only
politely deplore that it was necessary to make an example. "Depend
upon it," said Mr. Lloyd-George to me, "SUBSTANTIAL justice will
be done!" "But that is no consolation to me," I said. "No," he
replied kindly, "it would hardly amount to that!"

But out of all this there emerges the fact that after a vivid
dream, one's memory is full of pictures of things seen quite as
distinctly, indeed often more distinctly, than in real life. I have
a clearer recollection of certain dream-landscapes than I have of
many scenes actually beheld with the eye; and this sets me
wondering how the effect is brought about, and how the memory is
enabled to store what appears to be a visual impression, by some
reflex action of the nerves of sight.

Then there is the second point, that of the lively emotions stirred
by dreams. It would really appear that there must be two distinct
personalities at work, without any connection between them, one
unconsciously inventing and the other consciously observing. I
dreamed not long ago that I was walking beside the lake at
Riseholme, the former palace of the bishops of Lincoln, where I
often went as a child. I saw that the level of the lake had sunk,
and that there was a great bank of shingle between the water and
the shore, on which I proceeded to pace. I was attracted by
something sticking out of the bank, and on going up to it, I saw
that it was the base of a curious metal cup. I pulled it out and
saw that I had found a great golden chalice, much dimmed with age
and weather. Then I saw that farther in the bank there were a
number of cups, patens, candlesticks, flagons, of great antiquity
and beauty. I then recollected that I had heard as a child (this
was wholly imaginary, of course) that there had once been a great
robbery of cathedral plate at Lincoln, and that one of the bishops
had been vaguely suspected of being concerned in it; and I saw at
once that I had stumbled on the hoard, stowed there no doubt by
guilty episcopal hands -- I even recollected the name of the bishop

Now as a matter of fact one part of my mind must have been ahead
inventing this story, while the other part of the mind was
apprehending it with astonishment and excitement. Yet the observant
part of the mind was utterly unaware of the fact that I was myself
originating it all. And the only natural inference would seem to be
that there is a real duality of mind at work.

For when one is composing a story, in ordinary waking moments, one
has the sense that one is inventing and controlling the incidents.
In dreams this sense of proprietorship is utterly lost; one seems
to have no power over the inventive part of the mind; one can only
helplessly follow its lead, and be amazed at its creations. And
yet, sometimes, in a dream of tragic intensity, as one begins to
awake, a third person seems to intervene, and says reassuringly
that it is only a dream. This intervention seems to disconcert the
inventor, who then promptly retires, while it brings sudden relief
to the timid and frightened observer. It would seem then that the
rational self reasserts itself, and that the two personalities, one
of which has been creating and the other observing, come in like
dogs to heel.

Another very curious part of dreams is that they concern themselves
so very little with the current thoughts of life. My dreams are
mostly composed, as I have said, of landscapes, ceremonies,
conversations, sensational adventures, muddling engagements. When I
was a schoolmaster, I seldom dreamed of school; now that I am no
longer a schoolmaster, I do sometimes dream of school, of trying to
keep order in immense classrooms, or hurrying about in search of my
form. When I had my long and dreary illness, lasting for two years,
I invariably had happy dreams. Now that I am well again, I often
have dreams of causeless and poignant melancholy. It is the rarest
thing in the world for me to be able to connect my dreams with
anything which has recently happened; I cannot say that marvellous
landscapes, ceremonies, conversations with exalted personages,
sensational incidents, play any considerable part in my life; and
yet these are the constituent elements in my dreams. The scientific
students of psychology say that the principal stuff of dreams seems
to be furnished by the early experience of life; and when they are
dealing with mental ailments, they say that delusions and
obsessions are often explained by the study of the dreams of
diseased brains, which point as a rule either to some unfulfilled
desire, or to some severe nervous shock sustained in childhood. But
I cannot discern any predominant cause of my own elaborate visions;
the only physical cause which seems to me to be very active in
producing dreams is if I am either too hot or too cold in bed. A
sudden change of temperature in the night is the one thing which
seems to me quite certain to produce a great crop of dreams.

Another very curious fact about my dreams is that I am wholly
deserted by any moral sense. I have stolen interesting objects, I
have even killed people in dreams, without adequate cause; but I am
then entirely devoid of remorse, and only anxious to escape
detection. I have never felt anything of the nature of shame or
regret in a dream. I find myself anxious indeed, but fertile in
expedients for escaping unscathed. On the other hand, certain
emotions are very active in dreams. I sometimes appear to go with a
brother or sister through the rooms or gardens of a house, which on
awaking proves to be wholly imaginary, and recall with my companion
all sorts of pathetic and delightful incidents of childhood which
seem to have taken place there.

Again, though much of my life is given to writing, I hardly ever
find myself composing anything in a dream. Once I wrote a poem in
my sleep, a curious Elizabethan lyric, which may be found in the
Oxford Book of Verse, called "The Phoenix." It is not the sort of
thing that I have ever written before or since. It came to me on
the night before my birthday, in 1891, I think, when I was staying
with a friend at the Dun Bull Hotel, by Hawes Water in Westmorland.
I scribbled the lyric down on awaking. I afterwards added a verse,
thinking the poem incomplete. I published it in a book of poems,
and showed the proof to a friend, who said to me, pointing to the
added stanza: "Ah, you must omit that stanza -- it is quite out of
keeping with the rest of the poem!"

But this is a quite unique experience, except that I once dreamed I
was present at a confirmation service, at which a very singular
hymn was sung, which I recollected on waking, and which is far too
grotesque to write down, being addressed, as it was, to the bishop
who was to perform the rite. At the time, however, it seemed to me
both moving and appropriate.

It is often said that dreams only take place either when one is
just going to sleep or beginning to awake. But that is not my
experience. I have occasionally been awakened suddenly by some loud
sound, and on those occasions I have come out of dreams of an
intensity and vividness that I have never known equalled. Neither
is it true in my experience that dreamful sleep is unrefreshing. I
should say it was rather the other way. Profound and heavy sleep is
generally to me a sign that I am not very well; but a sleep full of
happy and interesting dreams is generally succeeded by a feeling of
freshness and gaiety, as if one had been both rested and well

These are only a few scattered personal experiences, and I have no
philosophy of dreams to suggest. It is in my case an inherited
power. My father was the most vivid and persistent dreamer I have
ever met, and his dreams had a quality of unexpectedness and
interest of which I have never known the like. The dream of his,
which I have told in his biography, of the finding of the grave of
the horse of Titus Oates, seems to me one of the most extraordinary
pieces of invention I have ever heard, because of the conversation
which took place before he realised what the slab actually was.

He dreamed that he was standing in Westminster Abbey with Dean
Stanley, looking at a small cracked slab of slate with letters on
it. "We've found it," said Stanley. "Yes," said my father, "and how
do you account for it?" "Why," said Stanley, "I suppose it is
intended to commemorate the fact that the animal innocence was not
affected by the villainies of the master." "Of course!" said my
father, who was still quite unaware what the inscription referred
to. He then saw on the slab the letters ITI CAPITANI, and knew that
the stone was one that had marked the grave of Titus Oates' horse,
and that the whole inscription must have been EQUUS TITI CAPITANI,-
-"The horse of Titus the Captain" -- the "Captain" referring to the
fact that my father then recollected that Titus Oates had been a
Train-band Captain.

My only really remarkable dream containing a presentiment or rather
a clairvoyance of a singular kind, hardly explicable as a mere
coincidence, has occurred to me since I began this paper.

On the night of December 8, 1914, I dreamed that I was walking
along a country road, between hedges. To the left was a little
country house, in a park. I was proposing to call there, to see, I
thought, an old friend of mine, Miss Adie Browne, who has been dead
for some years, though in my dream I thought of her as alive.

I came up with four people, walking along the road in the same
direction as myself. There was an elderly man, a younger man, red-
haired, walking very lightly, in knickerbockers, and two boys whom
I took to be the sons of the younger man. I recognised the elder
man as a friend, though I cannot now remember who he appeared to
be. He nodded and smiled to me, and I joined the party. Just as I
did so, the younger man said, "I am going to call on a lady, an
elderly cousin of mine, who lives here!" He said this to his
companions, not to me, and I became aware that he was speaking of
Miss Adie Browne. The older man said to me, "You have not been
introduced," and then, presenting the younger man, he said, "This
is Lord Radstock!" We shook hands and I said, "Do you know, I am
very much surprised; I understood Lord Radstock to be a much older

I do not remember any more of the dream; but it had been very
vivid, and when I was called, I went over it in my mind. A few
minutes later, the Times of December 9 was brought to my bedroom,
and opening it, I saw the sudden death of Lord Radstock announced.
I had not known that he was ill, and indeed had never thought of
him for years; but the strange thing is this, that he was a cousin
of Miss Adie Browne's, and she used to tell me interesting stories
about him. I do not suppose that since her death I have ever heard
his name mentioned, and I had never met him. So that, as a matter
of fact, when I dreamed my dream, the old Lord Radstock was dead,
and his son, who is a man of fifty-four, was the new Lord Radstock.
The man I saw in my dream was not, I should say, more than about
forty-five; but I remember little of him, except that he had red

I do not take in an evening paper, but I do not think there was any
announcement of Lord Radstock's illness, on the previous day; in
fact his death seems to have been quite sudden and unexpected.
Apart from coincidence, the rational explanation might be that my
mind was in some sort of telepathic communication with that of my
old and dear friend Miss Adie Browne, who is indeed often in my
mind, and one would also have to presuppose that her spirit was
likewise aware of her cousin Lord Radstock's death. I do not
advance this as the only explanation, but it seems to me a not
impossible one of a mysterious affair.

My conclusion, such as it is, would be that the rational and moral
faculties are in suspense in dreams, and that it is a wholly
primitive part of one's essence that is at work. The creative power
seems to be very strong, and to have a vigorous faculty of
combining and exaggerating the materials of memory; but it deals
mainly with rather childish emotions, with shapes and colours, with
impressive and distinguished people, with things marvellous and
sensational, with troublesome and perplexed adventures. It does not
go far in search of motives; in the train-catching dreams, for
instance, I never know exactly where I am going, or what is the
object of my journey; in the ceremonial dreams, I seldom have any
notion of what is being celebrated.

But what I cannot in the least understand is the complete
withdrawal of consciousness from the inventive part of the mind,
especially when the observant part is so eagerly and alertly aware
of all that is happening. Moreover, I can never understand the
curious way in which dream-experiences, so vivid at the time, melt
away upon awakening. If one rehearses a dream in memory the moment
one awakes, it becomes a very distinct affair. If one does not do
this, it fades swiftly, and though one has a vague sense of rich
adventures, half an hour later there seems to be no power whatever
of recovering them.

Strangest of all, the inventive power in dreams seems to have a
range and an intensity which does not exist when one is awake. I
have not the slightest power, in waking life, of conceiving and
visualising the astonishing landscapes which I see in dreams. I can
recall actual scenes with great distinctness, but the glowing
colour and the prodigious forms of my landscape visions are wholly
beyond my power of thought.

Lastly, I have never had any dream of any real or vital
significance, any warning or presentiment, anything which bore in
the least degree upon the issues of life.

There is a beautiful passage in the "Purgatorio" of Dante about the
dawn: he writes

                   In that hour
   When near the dawn the swallow her sad song,
   Haply remembering ancient grief, renews;
   And when our minds, more wanderers from the flesh
   And less by thought restrained, are, as 't were, full
   Of holy divination in their dreams.

I suppose that it would be possible to interpret one's dreams
symbolically; but in my own case my dream-experiences all seem to
belong to a wholly different person from myself, a light-hearted,
childish, careless creature, full of animation and inquisitiveness,
buoyant and thoughtless, content to look neither forwards nor
backwards, wholly without responsibility or intelligence, just
borne along by the pleasure of the moment, perfectly harmless and
friendly as a rule, a sort of cheerful butterfly. That is not in
the least my waking temperament; but it fills me sometimes with an
uneasy suspicion that it is more like myself than I know.



I am going to try to put into words a very singular and very
elusive experience which visits me not infrequently. I cannot say
when it began, but I first became aware of it about four years ago.

It takes the form of an instantaneous mental vision, not very
distinct but still not to be mistaken for anything else, of two
people, a husband and wife, who are living somewhere in a large
newly built house. The husband is a man of, I suppose, about forty -- the wife is a trifle younger, and they are childless. The husband
is an active, well-built man with light, almost golden hair, rather
coarse in texture, and with a pointed beard of the same hue. He has
fine, clean-cut, muscular hands, and he wears, as I see him, a
rough, rather shabby suit of light, homespun cloth. The wife is of
fair complexion, a beautiful woman, with brown hair, and dressed, I
think, in a very simple and rather peculiar dress. They are people
of high principle, wealthy, and with cultivated tastes. They care
for music and books and art. The husband has no profession. They
live in a wide, well-wooded landscape, I am inclined to think in
Sussex, in a newly built house, as I have said, of white plaster
and timber, tiled, with many gables and with two large, bow-
windowed rooms, rather low, the big mullioned oriels of which, with
leaded roofs, are a rather conspicuous feature of the house. The
house stands on a slightly rising ground, in a park-like demesne
of a few acres, well timbered, and with open paddocks of grass. The
house is approached by a drive from the main road, with two big
gateposts of brick, and a white gate between. To the right of the
house among the trees is the louvre of a stable. There is a terrace
just in front of the house, full of flowers, with a low brick wall
in front of it separating it from the field. I see the house and
its surroundings more clearly than I see the figures themselves.

I cannot see the interior of the house at all clearly, with the
exception of one room. I do not know where the front door is, nor
have I ever seen any of the upper rooms. The one exception is a big
room on the right of the house as one looks at it from the main
road. This room I see with great distinctness. It is large and low,
papered with a white paper and with a parquetry floor, designed for
a music room. There is a grand piano, but what I see most clearly
are a good many books, rather inconveniently placed in low white
bookcases which run round most of the room, under the windows, with
three shelves in each. It seems to me to be a bad arrangement,
because it would be necessary to stoop down so much for the books,
but I do not think that there is much reading done in the room.
There are several low armchairs draped in a highly coloured chintz
with a white ground; there are pictures on the walls, but I cannot
see them distinctly. I think they are water-colours. The curtains
are of a very peculiar and bright blue. A low window-seat runs
round the oriel, with cushions of the same blue. It is in this room
only that I see the two people, always together; and I have never
seen anyone else in the house. They are seen in certain definite
positions, oftenest standing together looking out of the window,
which must face the west, because I see the sunset out of it. As a
rule, the woman's hand is passed through the man's arm.

The vision simply flashes across my mind like a picture, whatever I
am doing at the time. Sometimes I see it several times in a week,
sometimes not for weeks together. I should recognise the house in a
moment if I saw it; I do not think I should recognise the people. I
cannot see the shapes of their features or their expressions, but I
can see the bloom on the wife's cheek and its pure outline.

To the best of my knowledge I have never seen either the people or
the house in real life; and yet I have strongly the sense that it
is a real house and that the people are real. it does not seem to
me like a mere imagination, because it comes too distinctly and too
accurately for that. Nor does it seem to me to be a mere
combination of things which I have seen. The curious part of it is
that some parts of the vision are absolutely clear -- thus I can see
the very texture of the smooth plaster of the house, and the oak
beams inset; and I can also see the fabric of the man's clothes and
the colour of his hair; but, however much I interrogate my memory
or my fancy about other details, they are all involved in a sort of
mist which I cannot pierce. It is this which convinces me of the
reality of the house, and makes me believe that it is not
imagination; because, if it were, I think I should have enlarged my
vision of the whole; but this I cannot do. There is a door, for
instance, in the music-room, which is sometimes open, but even so
I cannot see anything outside in the hall or passage to which it
leads. Moreover, though I can recollect the visions with absolute
distinctness, I cannot evoke them. I may be reading or writing, and
I suddenly see in my mind the house across the meadows; or I am in
the music-room, and the two figures are standing together in the

So strongly do I feel the actuality of it all, that if this book
should fall into the hands of the people to whom the vision refers,
I will ask them to communicate with me. I have no idea what their
past has been, but I know their characters well. The fact that they
have no children is a sorrow to them, but has served to centre
their affections strongly on each other. The husband is a very
tranquil and unaffected man. There is no sort of pose about his
life. He just lives as he likes best. He is unambitious, and he has
no sense of a duty owed to others. But this is not coupled with any
sense of contempt or aloofness -- he is invariably kind and gentle.
He is an intellectual man, highly trained and clear-minded. The
wife has less knowledge of the technique of artistic things, but a
very fine, natural, critical taste. She cares, however, less for
the things themselves than because her husband cares for them; but
I do not think that she knows this. They have always enjoyed good
health, and I cannot discern that they have had troubles of any
kind. And I have the strongest sense of a perfectly natural high-
mindedness about both, a healthy instinct for what is right and
fine. They are absolutely without meanness; and they are entirely
free from any sort of morbidity or dreariness. They have travelled
a good deal, but they now seldom leave home; they designed and
built their own house. One curious thing is that I have never heard
music in the house, nor have I ever seen them reading, and yet I
feel that they are much occupied with music and books.

What is the possible explanation of this curious vision? I have
sometimes wondered if they have been brought into some unconscious
rapport with me through one of my books. It seems to me just
possible that when I have seen them standing together there may be
some phrase in one of my books which has struck them and which they
are accustomed to remember; and I think it may be some phrase about
the sunset, because it is at sunset that I generally see them. But
this does not explain my vision of the house, because I have never
seen either of them outside of the house, and I have several times
seen the music-room with no one in it; how does the vision of the
house, which is so strangely distinct, come to me?

They inspire me with a great feeling of respect and friendship; the
vision is very beautiful, and is always attended by a great sense
of pleasure. I feel that it does me good in some obscure way to be
brought into touch with them. Yet I can never retain my hold on the
scene for more than an instant; it is just there and then it is

It is a very strange thing to be conscious of two quite distinct
personalities, and yet without any power of winding myself any
further into their thoughts. There seems to be no vital contact. I
am admitted, as it were, at certain times to a sight of the place,
but I am sure that there is no sort of volition on their part about
it; I do not feel that their thoughts are ever bent actually upon
me, as I exist, but perhaps upon something connected with me.

I must add that, though I am a great dreamer at night and have
always at all times a strong power of mental visualisations, I am
not accustomed to be controlled by it, but rather to control it;
and I have never at any time had any sort of similar vision, of a
thing apart from memory or fancy.

I do believe very firmly in the telepathic faculty. I think that
our thoughts are much affected both consciously and unconsciously
by the thoughts of others. I believe thought takes place in a
spiritual medium and that there is much interlacing and
transference of thought. I have never tried any definite
experiments in it, but I have had frequent evidence of my thoughts
being affected by the thoughts of my friends. It seems to me that
this may be a case of some open channel of communication, as if two
wires had become in some way entangled. The whole method of thought
is so obscure that it is hard to say under what conditions this
takes place. But I allow myself the happiness of believing that the
place and the people of whom I have been so often aware are real
and tangible existences, and that impressions of things unseen and
unrecognised by me have passed into my brain, so that some secret
fellowship has been established. It would be a great joy to me if
this could be definitely established; and I am not without hopes
that this piece of writing may by some happy chance be the bearer
of definite tidings to two people whom unseen I love, and whose
thought may have been bent aimlessly perhaps and indistinctly upon
mine, but never without some touch of kinship and goodwill.



I am going to try, in these few pages, to draw water out of a deep
well--the well of which William Morris wrote as the "Well at the
World's End." I shall try to describe a very strange and secret
experience, which visits me rarely and at unequal intervals;
sometimes for weeks together not at all, sometimes several times in
a day. When it happens it is not strange at all, nor wonderful; the
only wonder about it is that it does not happen more often, because
it seems at the moment to be the one true thing in a world of vain
shadows; everything else falls away, becomes accidental and remote,
like the lights, let me say, of some unknown town, which one sees
as one travels by night and as one twitches aside the curtain from
the window of a railway-carriage, in a sudden interval between two
profound slumbers. The train has relaxed its speed; one looks out;
the red and green signal lamps hang high in the air; and one glides
past a sleeping town, the lamps burning quietly in deserted
streets; there are house-fronts below, in a long thoroughfare
suddenly visible from end to end; above, there are indeterminate
shadows, the glimmering faces of high towers; it is all ghost-like
and mysterious; one only knows that men live and work there; and
then the tides of slumber flow in upon the brain, and one dives
thirstily to the depths of sleep.

Before I say more about it, I will just relate my last taste of the
mood. I was walking alone in the autumn landscape; bare fields
about me; the trees of a village to my right touched sharply with
gold and russet red; some white-gabled cottages clustered
together, and there was a tower among the trees; it was near
sunset, and the sun seemed dragging behind him to the west long
wisps of purple and rusty clouds touched with fire; below me to the
left a stream passing slowly among rushes and willow-beds, all
beautiful and silent and remote. I had an anxious matter in my
mind, a thing that required, so it seemed to me, careful
deliberation to steer a right course among many motives and
contingencies. I had gone out alone to think it over. I weighed
this against that, and it seemed to me that I was headed off by
some obstacle whichever way I turned. Whatever I desired to do
appeared to be disadvantageous and even hurtful. "Yes," I said to
myself, "this is one of those cases where whatever I do, I shall
wish I had done differently! I see no way out." It was then that a
deeper voice still seemed to speak in me, the voice of something
strong and quiet and even indolent, which seemed half-amused,
half-vexed, by my perturbation. It said, "When you have done
reasoning and pondering, I will decide." Then I thought that a sort
of vague, half-spoken, half-dumb dialogue followed.

"What are you?" I said. "What right have you to interfere?"

The other voice did not trouble to answer; it only seemed to laugh
a lazy laugh.

"I am trying to think this all out," I said, half-ashamed, half-
vexed. "You may help me if you will; I am perplexed--I see no way
out of it!"

"Oh, you may think as much as you like," said the other voice. "I
am in no hurry, I can wait."

"But I AM in a hurry," I said, "and I cannot wait. This has got to
be settled somehow, and without delay."

"I shall decide when the time comes," said the voice to me.

"Yes, but you do not understand," I said, feeling partly irritated
and partly helpless. "There is this and that, there is so-and-so to
be considered, there is the effect on these other persons to be
weighed; there is my own position too--I must think of my health--
there are a dozen things to be taken into account."

"I know," said the voice; "I do not mind your balancing all these
things if you wish. I shall take no heed of that! I repeat that,
when you have finished thinking it out, I shall decide."

"Then you know what you mean to do?" said I, a little angered.

"No, I do not know just yet," said the voice; "but I shall know
when the time comes; there will be no doubt at all."

"Then I suppose I shall have to do what you decide?" I said, angry
but impressed.

"Yes, you will do what I decide," said the voice; "you know that
perfectly well."

"Then what is the use of my taking all this trouble?" I said.

"Oh, you may just as well look into it," said the voice; "that is
your part! You are only my servant, after all. You have got to work
the figures and the details out, and then I shall settle. Of course
you must do your part--it is not all wasted. What is wasted is your
fretting and fussing!"

"I am anxious," I said. "I cannot help being anxious!"

"That is a pity!" said the voice. "It hurts you and it hurts me
too, in a way. You disturb me, you know; but I cannot interfere
with you; I must wait."

"But are you sure you will do right?" I said.

"I shall do what must be done," said the voice. "If you mean, shall
I regret my choice, that is possible; at least you may regret it.
But it will not have been a mistake."

I was puzzled at this, and for a time the voice was silent, so that
I had leisure to look about me. I had walked some way while the
dialogue went on, and I was now by the stream, which ran full and
cold into a pool beside the bridge, a pool like a clouded jewel.
How beautiful it was! . . . The old thoughts began again, the old
perplexities. "If he says THAT," I said to myself, thinking of an
opponent of my plan, "then I must be prepared with an answer--it
is a weak point in my case; perhaps it would be better to write;
one says what one thinks; not what one means to say. . . ."

"Still at work?" said the voice. "You are having a very
uncomfortable time over there. I am sorry for that! Yet I cannot
think why you do not understand!"

"What ARE you?" I said impatiently.

There was no answer to that.

"You seem very strong and patient!" I said at last. "I think I
rather like you, and I am sure that I trust you; but you irritate
me, and you will not explain. Cannot you help me a little? You seem
to me to be out of sight--the other side of a wall. Cannot you
break it down or look over?"

"You would not like that," said the voice; "it would be
inconvenient, even painful; it would upset your plans very much.
Tell me--you like life, do you not?"

"Yes," I said, "I like life--at least I am very much interested in
it. I do not feel sure if I like it; I think you know that better
than I do. Tell me, do I like it?"

"Yes," said the voice; "at least I do. You have guessed right for
once; it matters more what I like than what you like. You see, I
believe in God, for one thing."

"So do I," I said eagerly. "I have reached that point! I am sure He
is there. It is largely a question of argument, and I have really
no doubt, no doubt at all. There are difficulties of course--
difficulties about personality and intention; and then there is the
origin of evil--I have thought much about that, and I have arrived
at a solution; it is this. I can explain it best by an analogy. . . ."

There came a laugh from the other side of the wall, not a scornful
laugh or an idle laugh, but a laugh kind and compassionate, like a
father with a child on his knee; and the voice said, "I have seen
Him--I see Him! He is here all about us, and He is yonder. He is
not coming to meet us, as you think. . . . Dear me, how young you
must be. . . . I had forgotten."

This struck me dumb for an instant; then I said, "You frighten me!
Who are you, what are you, . . . WHERE are you?"

And then the voice said, in a tone of the deepest and sweetest
love, as if surprised and a little pained, "My child!"

And then I heard it no more; and I went back to my cares and
anxieties. But it was as the voice had said, and when the time came
to decide, I had no doubt at all what to do.

Now I have told all this in the nearest and simplest words that I
can find. I have had to use similitudes of voices and laughter and
partition-walls, because one can only use the language which one
knows. But it is all quite true and real, more real than a hundred
talks which one holds with men and women whose face and dress one
sees in rooms and streets, and with whom one bandies words about
things for which one does not care. There was indeed some one
present with me, whom I knew perfectly well though I could not
discern him, whom I had known all my life, who had gone about with
me and shared all my experiences, in so far as he chose. But before
I go on to speak further, I will tell one more experience, which
came at a time when I was very unhappy, longing to escape from
life, looking forward mournfully to death.

It had been under similar circumstances--a dreadful argument
proceeding in my mind as to what I could do to get back to
happiness again, whom to consult, where to go, whether to give up
my work, whether to add to it, what diet to use, how to get sleep
which would not visit me.

"Can't you help me?" I said over and over again to the other
person. At last the answer came, very faint and far away.

"I am sick," said the voice, "and I cannot come forth!"

That frightened me exceedingly, because I felt alone and weak. So I
said, "Is it my fault? Is it anything that I have done?"

"I have had a blow," said the other voice. "You dealt it me--but it
is not your fault--you did not know."

"What can I do?" I said.

"Ah, nothing," said the voice. "You must not disturb me! I am
trying to recover, and I shall recover. Go on with your play, if
you can, and do not heed me."

"My play!" I said scornfully. "Do you not know I am miserable?"

The voice gave a sigh. "You hurt me," it said. "I am weak and
faint; but you can help me; be as brave as you can. Try not to
think or grieve. I shall be able to help you again soon, but not
now. . . . Ah, leave me to myself," it added. "I must sleep, a long
sleep; it is your turn to help!"

And then I heard no more; till a day long after, when the voice
came to me on a bright morning by the sea, with the clear waves
breaking and hissing on the shingle; the voice came blithe and
strong, "I am well again; you have done your part, dear one! Give
me your burden, and I will carry it; it is your time of joy!"

And then for a long time after that I did not hear the voice, and I
was full of delight, hour by hour, grudging even the time I must
spend in sleep, because it kept me from the life I loved.

These then are some of the talks we have held together, that Other
One and I. But I must say this, that he will not always come for
being called. I sometimes call to him and get no answer; sometimes
he cries out beside me suddenly in the air. He seems to have a life
of his own, quite distinct from mine. Sometimes when I am fretted
and vexed, he is quietly joyful and elate, and then my troubles die
away, like the footsteps of the wind upon water; and sometimes when
I would be happy and contented, he is heavy and displeased, and
takes no heed of me; and then I too fall into sorrow and gloom. He
is much the stronger, and it matters far more to me what he feels
than what I feel. I do not know how he is occupied--very little, I
think, and what is strangest of all, he changes somewhat; very
slowly and imperceptibly; but he has changed more than I have in
the course of my life. I do not change at all, I think. I can say
better what I think, I am more accomplished and skilful; but the
thought and motive is unaltered from what it was when I was a
child. But he is different in some ways. I have only gone on
perceiving and remembering, and sometimes forgetting. But he does
not forget; and here I feel that I have helped him a little, as a
servant can help his master to remember the little things he has to

I think that many people must have similar experiences to this.
Tennyson had, when he wrote "The Two Voices," and I have seen hints
of the same thing in a dozen books. The strange thing is that it
does not help one more to be strong and brave, because I know this,
if I know anything, that when the anxious and careful part of me
lies down at last to rest, I shall slip past the wall which now
divides us, and be clasped close in the arms of that Other One;
nay, it will be more than that! I shall be merged with him, as the
quivering water-drop is merged with the fountain; that will be a
blessed peace; and I shall know, I think, without any questioning
or wondering, many things that are obscure to me now, under these
low-hung skies, which after all I love so well. . . .




It certainly seems, looking back to the early years, that I have
altered very little--hardly at all, in fact! The little thing,
whatever it is, that sits at the heart of the machine, the speck of
soul-stuff that is really ME, is very much the same creature,
neither old nor young; confident, imperturbable, with a strange
insouciance of its own, knowing what it has to do. I have done many
things, gathered many impressions, ransacked experience, enjoyed,
suffered; but whatever I have argued, expressed, tried to believe,
aimed at, hoped, feared, has hardly affected that central core of
life at all. And I feel as though that strange, dumb, cheerful
self--it is always cheerful, I think--had played the part all along
of a silent and not very critical spectator of all I have tried to
be. The mind, the reason, the emotion, have each of them expanded,
acquired knowledge, learned skill, but that innermost cell has lain
there, sleepless, perceptive, dreaming head on hand, watching,
seldom making a sign of either approval or disapproval.

In childhood it was more dominant than it is now, perhaps. It went
its way more securely, because, in my case at least, the mind was,
in those far-off days, strangely inactive. The whole nature was
bent upon observation. Ruskin is the only writer who has described
what was precisely my own experience, when he says that as a child
he lived almost entirely in the region of SIGHT. It was the only
part of me, the eye, that was then furiously and untiringly awake.
Taste, smell, touch, had each of them at moments a sharp
consciousness; but it was the shape, the form, the appearance of
things, that interested me, took up most of my time and energy,
occupied me unceasingly. Even now my memory ranges, with lively
precision, over the home, the garden, the heathery moorland, the
firwoods, the neighbouring houses of the scene where I lived. I can
see the winding walks, the larch shrubberies, the flower-borders,
the very grain of the brickwork; while in the house itself, the
wall papers, the furniture, the patterns of carpets and chintzes,
are all absolutely clear to the memory.

Thus I lived, from day to day and from year to year, in the moment
as it passed; but I remember no touch of speculation or curiosity
as to how or why things existed as they did. The house, the
arrangements, the servants, the meal-times, the occupations were
all simply accepted as they were, just the will of my parents
taking shape. I never thought of interrogating or altering
anything. Life came to me just so. I remember no sharp emotions, no
dominant affections. My parents seemed to me kind and powerful; but
it did not occur to me that, if I had died, they would feel any
particular grief. I was just a part of their arrangements; and my
idea of life was simply to manage so that I should be as little
interfered with as possible, and go my way, annexing such little
property as I could, and learning the appearance of the things that
were too large to be annexed.

Then my elder brother went off to school. I do not remember being
sorry, or missing his company; in fact, I rather welcomed the
additional independence it gave me. I was glad in a mild way when
he came back for the holidays; but I do not recollect the faintest
curiosity about what he did at school, or what it was all like. He
told us some stories about boys and masters; but it was all quite
remote, like a fairy-tale; and then the time gradually drew near
when I too was to go to school; but I remember neither interest or
curiosity or excitement or anxiety. I think I rather enjoyed a few
extra presents, and the packing of my school-box with a
consciousness of proprietorship. And then the day came, and I
drifted off like thistledown into the big world.


My father and mother took us down to school. It was a fine place
at Mortlake, called Temple Grove, near Richmond Park. Mortlake was
hardly more than an old-fashioned village then, in the country, not
joined to London as it is now by streets and rows of villas. It was
a place of big suburban mansions, with high walls everywhere,
cedars looking over, towering chestnuts, big classical gate-posts.
Temple Grove, so called from the statesman, the patron of Swift,
was a large, solid, handsome house with fine rooms, and large
grounds well timbered. Schoolrooms and dormitories had been tacked
on to the house, but all built in a solid, spacious way. It was
dignified, but bare and austere. We arrived, and went in to see the
headmaster, Mr. Waterfield, a tall, handsome, extremely alarming
man, with curled hair and beard and flashing eyes. He was a fine
gentleman, a brilliant talker, and an excellent teacher, though
unnecessarily severe. I had been used to see my father, who was
then himself headmaster of Wellington College, treated with obvious
deference; but Waterfield, who was an old family friend, met him
with a dignified sort of equality. My parents went in to luncheon
with the family. My brother and I crawled off to the school dinner;
he of course had many friends, and I was plunged, shy and
bewildered, into the middle of them. There were over a hundred boys
there. Some of them seemed to me alarmingly old and strong; but my
brother's friends were kind to me, and I remember thinking at first
that it was going to be a very pleasant sort of place. Then in the
early afternoon my parents went off; we went to the station with
them, and I said good-bye without any particular emotion. It seemed
to me a nice easy kind of life. But as my brother and I walked
away, between the high-walled gardens, back to the school, the
first shadow fell. He was strangely silent and dull, I thought; and
then he turned to me, and in an accent of tragedy which I had never
heard him use before, he said, "Thirteen weeks at this beastly

I took a high place for my age, and after due examination in the
big schoolroom, where four masters were teaching at estrades, with
little rows of lockered desks much hacked and carved, arranged
symmetrically round each, the big fireplace guarded with high iron
bars, I was led across the room, and committed to the care of a
little, pompous, stout man, with big side-whiskers, a reddish nose,
and an air half irritable, half good-natured, in a short gown, who
was holding forth to a class. It was all complete: I had my place
and my duty before me; and then gradually day by day the life
shaped itself. I had a little cubicle in a high dormitory. There
was the big, rather frowsy dining-room, where we took our meals; a
large comfortable library where we could sit and read; outside
there were two or three cricket fields, a gravelled yard for drill,
a gymnasium; and beyond that stretched what were called "the
grounds," which seemed to me then and still seem a really beautiful
place. It had all been elaborately laid out; there was a big lawn,
low-lying, where there had once been a lake, shrubberies and
winding walks, a ruinous building, with a classical portico, on the
top of a wooded mound, a kitchen garden and paddocks for cows
beyond; and on each side the walls and palings of other big
mansions, all rather grand and mysterious. And there within that
little space my life was to be spent.

The only sight we ever had of the outer world was that we went on
Sundays to an extraordinarily ugly and tasteless modern church,
where the services were hideously performed; and occasionally we
were allowed to go over to Richmond with a shilling or two of
pocket-money to shop; and sometimes there were walks, a dozen boys
with a good-natured master rambling about Richmond Park, with its
forest clumps and its wandering herds of deer, all very dim and
beautiful to me.

Very soon I settled in my own mind that it was a detestable place.
Yet I was never bullied or molested in any way. The tone of the
place was incredibly good; not one word or hint of moral evil did I
ever hear there during the whole two years I spent there, so that I
left the school as innocent as I had entered it.

But it was a place of terrors and solitude. There were rules which
one did not know, and might unawares break. I did not, I believe,
make a single real friend there. I liked a few of the boys, but was
wholly bent on guarding my inner life from everyone. The work was
always easy to me, the masters were good-natured and efficient. But
I lived entirely in dreams of the holidays--home had become a
distant heavenly place; and I recollect waking early in the summer
mornings, hearing the scream of peacocks in a neighbouring
pleasaunce, and thinking with a sickening disgust of the strict,
ordered routine of the place, no one to care about, dull work to be
done, nothing to enjoy or to be interested in. There were games,
but they were not much organised, and I seldom played them. I
wandered about in free times in the grounds, and the only times of
delight that I recollect were when one buried oneself in a book in
the library, and dived into imaginations.

The place was well managed; we were wholesomely fed; but there had
grown up a strange kind of taboo about many of the things we were
supposed to eat. I had a healthy appetite, but the tradition was
that all the food was unutterably bad, adulterated, hocussed. The
theory was that one must just eat enough to sustain life. There
was, for instance, an excellent tapioca pudding served on certain
days; but no one was allowed to eat it. The law was that it had to
be shovelled into envelopes and afterwards cast away in the
playground. I do not know if the masters saw this--it was never
adverted upon--and I did it ruefully enough. The consequence was
that one lived hungrily in the midst of plenty, and food became the
one prepossession of life.

I was a delicate boy in those days, and used often to be sent off
to the sanatorium with bad throats and other ailments. It was a
little, old-fashioned house in Mortlake, and the matron of it had
been an old servant of our own. She was the only person there whom
I regarded with real affection, and to go to the sanatorium was
like heaven. One had a comfortable room, and dear Louisa used to
embrace and kiss me stealthily, provide little treats for me, take
me out walks. I have spent many hours happily in the little walled
garden there, with its big box trees, or gazing from a window into
the street, watching the grocer over the way set out his shop-

Of incidents, tragic or comic, I remember but few. I saw a stupid
boy vigorously caned with a sickening extremity of horror. I
recollect a "school licking" being given to an ill-conditioned boy
for a nasty piece of bullying. The boys ranged themselves down the
big schoolroom, and the culprit had to run the gauntlet. I can see
his ugly, tear-stained face coming slowly along among a shower of
blows. I joined in with a will, I remember, though I hardly knew
what he had done. I remember a few afternoons spent at the houses
of friendly masters; but otherwise it was all a drab starved sort
of level, a life lived by a rule, with no friendships, no
adventures; I marked off the days before the holidays on a little
calendar, simply bent on hiding what I was or thought or felt from
everyone, with a fortitude that was not in the least stoical. What
I was afraid of I hardly know; my aim was to be absolutely
inoffensive and ordinary, to do what everyone else did, to avoid
any sort of notice. I was a strange mixture of indifference and
sensitiveness. I did not in the least care how I was regarded, I
had no ambitions of any kind, did not want to be liked, or to
succeed, or to make an impression; while I was very sensitive to
the slightest comment or ridicule. It seems strange to me now that
I should have hated the life with such an intensity of repugnance,
for no harm or ill-usage ever befell me; but if that was life,
well, I did not like it! I trusted no one; I neither wanted nor
gave confidences. The term was just a dreary interlude in home
life, to be lived through with such indifference as one could

I spent two years there; and remember my final departure with my
brother. I never wanted to see or hear of anyone there again--
masters, servants, or boys. It was a case of good-bye for ever, and
thank God! And I remember with what savage glee and delicious
anticipation I saw the last of the high-walled house, with its
roofs and wings, its great gate-posts and splendid cedars. I could
laugh at its dim terrors on regaining my freedom; but I had not the
least spark of gratitude or loyalty; such kindnesses as I received
I had taken dumbly, never thinking that they arose out of any
affection or interest, but treating them as the unaccountable
choice of my elders;--we stopped for an instant at the little
sanatorium--that had been a happy place at least--and I was
tearfully hugged to Louisa's ample bosom, Louisa alone being a
little sorry that I should be so glad to get away.

I do not think that the life there, sensible, healthy, and well-
ordered as it was, did me much good. I was a happy enough boy in
home life, but had little animal spirits, and none of the
boisterous, rough-and-tumble ebullience of boyhood. I was shy and
sensitive; but I doubt if it was well that interest, enjoyment,
emotion, should all have been so utterly starved as they were. It
made me suspicious of life, and incurious about it; I did not like
its loud sounds, its combative merriment, its coarse flavours; the
real life, that of observation, imagination, dreams, fancies, had
been hunted into a corner; and the sense that one might incur
ridicule, enmity, severity, dislike, harshness, had filled the air
with uneasy terrors. I came away selfish, able--I had won a
scholarship at Eton with entire ease--innocent, childish,
bewildered, wholly unambitious. The world seemed to me a big,
noisy, stupid place, in which there was no place for me. The little
inner sense of which I have spoken was hardly awake; it had had its
first sight of humanity, and it disliked it; it was still solitary
and silent, finding its own way, and quite unaware that it need
have any relation with other human beings.


Then came Eton. Into which big place I drifted again in a state
of mild bewilderment. But big as Eton is--it was close on a
thousand boys, when I went there--at no time was I in the least
degree conscious of its size as an uncomfortable element. The truth
is that Eton runs itself on lines far more like a university than a
school: each house is like a college, with its own traditions and
its own authority. There is very little intercourse between the
younger boys at different houses, and there is an instinctive
disapproval among the boys themselves of external relations. The
younger boys of a house play together, to a large extent work
together, and live a common life. It is tacitly understood that a
boy throws in his lot with his own house, and if he makes many
friends outside he is generally unpopular, on the ground that he is
thought to find his natural companions not good enough for him.
Neither have boys of different ages much to do with each other;
each house is divided by parallel lines of cleavage, so that it is
not a weltering mass of boyhood, but a collection of very clearly
defined groups and circles.

Moreover, in my own time there was no building at Eton which could
hold the whole school, so that on no occasion did I ever see the
school assembled. There were two chapels, the schoolrooms were
considerably scattered; even on the occasions when the headmaster
made a speech to the school, he did not even invite the lower boys
to attend, while there was no compulsion on the upper boys to be
present, so that it was not necessary to go, unless one thought it
likely to be amusing.

I was myself on the foundation, one of the seventy King's Scholars,
as we were called; we lived in the old buildings; we dined together
in the college hall, a stately Gothic place, over four centuries
old, with a timbered roof, open fireplaces, and portraits of
notable Etonians. We wore cloth gowns in public, and surplices in
the chapel. It was all very grand and dignified, but we were in
those days badly fed, and very little looked after. There were many
ancient and curious customs, which one picked up naturally, and
never thought them either old or curious. For instance, when I
first went there, the small boys, three at a time, waited on the
sixth form at their dinner, being called servitors, handing plates,
pouring out beer, or holding back the long sleeves of the big boys'
gowns, as they carved for themselves at the end of the table. This
was abolished shortly after my arrival as being degrading. But it
never occurred to us that it was anything but amusing; we had the
fun of watching the great men at their meal, and hearing them
gossip. I remember well being kindly but firmly told by the present
Dean of Westminster, then in sixth form, that I must make my
appearance for the future with cleaner hands and better brushed

We were kindly and paternally treated by the older boys; I was
assigned as a fag to Reginald Smith, now my publisher. I had to
fill and empty his bath for him, make his tea and toast, call him
in the morning, and run errands. In return for which I was allowed
to do my work peacefully in his room, in the evenings, when the
fags' quarters were noisy, and if I had difficulties about my work,
he was always ready to help me. So normal a thing was it, that I
remember saying indignantly to my tutor, when he marked a false
quantity in one of my verses, "Why, sir, my fagmaster did that!" He
laughed, and said, "Take my compliments to your fagmaster, and tell
him that the first syllable of senator is short!"

We lived as lower boys in a big room with cubicles, which abutted
on the passage where the sixth form rooms were. It was a noisy
place, with its great open fireplace and huge oak table. If the
noise was excessive, the sixth form intervened; and I remember
being very gently caned, in the company of the present Dean of St.
Paul's, for making a small bonfire of old blotting-paper, which
filled the place with smoke.

The liberty, after the private school, was astonishing. We had to
appear in school at certain hours, not very numerous; and some
extra work was done with the private tutor; but there was no
supervision, and we were supposed to prepare our work and do our
exercises, when and as we could. There were a few compulsory games,
but otherwise we were allowed to do exactly as we liked. The side
streets of Windsor were out of bounds, but we were allowed to go up
the High Street; we had free access to the castle and park and all
the surrounding country. On half holidays--three a week--our names
were called over; but it left one with a three-hour space in the
afternoon, when we could go exactly where we would. The saints'
days and certain anniversaries were whole holidays, and we were
free from morning to night. Then there was a delightful room, the
old school library, now destroyed, where we could go and read; and
many an hour did I spend there looking vaguely into endless books.
I well remember seeing the present Lord Curzon and one of the
Wallops standing by the fireplace there, and discussing some
political question, and how amazed I was at the profundity of their
knowledge and the dignity of their language.

But in many ways it was a very isolated life; for a long time I
hardly knew any boys, except just the dozen or so who entered the
place with me. I knew no boys at other houses, except a few in my
school division, and never did more than exchange a few words with
them. One never thought of speaking to a casual boy, unless one
knew him; and there are many men whom I have since known well who
were in the school with me, and with whom I never exchanged a

Though there was a master in college, who read evening prayers,
gave leaves and allowances, and was consulted on matters of
business, he had practically nothing to do with the discipline.
That was all in the hands of the sixth form, who kept order, put up
notices, and were allowed not only to cane but to set lines. No one
ever thought of appealing to the master against them, and their
powers were never abused. But there was very little overt
discipline anywhere. The masters could not inflict corporal
punishment. They could set punishments, and for misbehaviour, or
continued idleness, they could send a boy to the headmaster to be
flogged. But the discipline of the place was instinctive, and
public opinion was infinitely strong. One found out by the light of
nature what one might do and what one might not, and the dread of
being in any way unusual or eccentric was very potent. There were
two or three very ill-governed houses, where things went very wrong
indeed behind the scenes; but as far as public order went, it was
perfect. The boys managed their own games and their own affairs; a
strong sense of subordination penetrated the whole place, and the
old Eton aphorism, that a boy learned to know his place and to keep
it, held good without any sense of coercion or constraint.

I do not think that the educational system was a good one. In my
days there was little taught besides classics and mathematics and
divinity. There was a little French and science and history; but
the core of the whole thing was undiluted classics. We did a good
deal of composition, Greek and Latin, and the Latin verses were
exercises out of which I got much real enjoyment, and some of the
pride of authorship. But it was possible to be very idle, and to
get much contraband help in work from other boys. Most of the
school work consisted of repetition, and of classical books, dully
and leisurely construed. I do not think I ever attempted to attend
to the work in school; and there were few stimulating teachers. I
needed strict and careful teaching, and got some from my private
tutor; but otherwise there was no individual attention. The net
result was that a few able boys turned out very good scholars,
saturated with classics; but a large number of boys were really not
educated at all. The forms were too large for real supervision; and
as long as one produced adequate exercises, and sat quiet in one's
corner, one was left genially alone. It was not fashionable to
"sap," as it was called; and though a few ambitious boys worked
hard, we most of us lived in a happy-go-lucky way, just doing
enough to pass muster. I took not the faintest interest in my work
for a long time; but I read a great many English books, wrote
poetry in secret, picked up a vague acquaintance, of a very
inaccurate kind, with Latin and Greek, but possessed no exact
knowledge of any sort.

Gradually, as I rose in the school, a faint idea of social values
shaped itself. Let me say frankly that we were wholly democratic.
There were many wealthy boys, many with titles; but not the
faintest interest was taken in either. I was surprised to find
later on in my career at school, that boys whose names I had known
by hearsay were peers, though at first I had no idea what the
peerage was. Whatever we were free from, we were at all events free
from snobbishness. Athletics were what constituted our aristocracy,
pure and simple. Boys in the eleven and the eight were the heroes
of the place, and the school club called Pop, to which mainly
athletes were elected, enjoyed an absolute supremacy, and indeed
ran the out-of-doors discipline of the school. In fact, on
occasions like big matches, the boys were kept back behind the
lines, by members of Pop parading with canes, and slashing at the
crowd if they came past the boundaries. All the social standing of
boys was settled entirely by athletics. A boy might be clever,
agreeable, manly, a good game-shot, or a rider to hounds in the
holidays, but if he was no good at the prescribed games, he was
nobody at all at Eton. It was wholesome in a sense; but a bad boy
who was a good athlete might and did wield a very evil influence.
Such boys were above criticism. The moral tone was not low so much
as strangely indifferent. A boy's private life was his own affair,
and public opinion exercised no particular moral sway. Yet vague
and guileless as I myself was, I gratefully record that I never
came in the way of any evil influence whatever at Eton, in any
respect whatever. Talk was rather loose, and one believed evil of
other boys easily enough. To express open disapproval would have
been held to be priggish; and though undoubtedly the tone of
certain houses and certain groups was far from good, there yet ran
through the place a mature sense of a boy's right to be
independent, and undesirable ways of life were more a matter of
choice than of coercion. It was, in fact, far more a mirror of the
larger world than any other school I have ever heard of; and I know
of no school story which gives any impression of a life so
curiously free as it all was. There was none of that electrical
circulation of the news of events and incident that is held to be
characteristic of school life. One used to hear long after or not
at all, of things which had happened. There were rumours, there was
gossip; but I cannot imagine any place where a boy of solitary or
retiring character might be so entirely unaware of anything that
was going on. It was a highly individualistic place; and if one
conformed to superficial traditions, it was possible to lead, as I
certainly did, a very quiet and secluded sort of life, reading,
rambling about, talking endlessly and eagerly to a few chosen
friends, quite unconscious that anything was being done for one,
socially or educationally, entirely unmolested, as long as one was
good-natured and easy-going.

It was therefore a good school for a boy with any toughness of mind
or originality; but it tended in the case of normal and
unreflective boys to develop a conventional type; good-mannered,
sensible, with plenty of savoir faire, but with a wrong set of
values. It made boys over-estimate athletics, despise intellectual
things, worship social success. It gave them the wrong sort of
tolerance, by which I mean the tolerance that excuses moral lapses,
but that also thinks contemptuously of ideas and mental
originality. The idols of the place were good-humoured, modest,
orderly athletes. The masters made friends with them because a good
mutual understanding conduced to discipline, and they were,
moreover, pleasant and cheerful companions. But boys of character
and force, unless they were also athletic, were apt to be
overlooked. The theory of government was not to interfere, and
there was an absence of enthusiasm and inspiration. The headmaster
was Dr. Hornby, afterwards provost, a courteous, handsome,
dignified gentleman, a fine preacher, and one of the most charming
public speakers I have ever heard. We respected and admired him,
but he knew little of his masters, and never made his personal
influence, which might have been great, felt among the boys. He was
a man of matchless modesty and refinement; he never fulminated or
lectured; I never heard an irritable word fall from his lips; but
on the other hand he never appealed to us, or asked our help, or
spoke eagerly or indignantly about any event or tendency. He hated
evil, but closed his eyes to it, and preferred to think that it was
not there. There were masters who in their own houses and forms
displayed more vivid qualities; but the whole tone of the place was
against anything emotional or passionate or uplifting; the ideal
that soaked into the mind was one of temperate, orderly, well-
mannered athleticism.

At the end of my time I rose to moderate distinction. I began to
read the classics privately, I reached sixth form, and even was
elected into Pop. But I was always unadventurous, and in a way
timid. I nurtured a private life of my own on books and talk, and
felt that the centre of life had insensibly shifted from home to
school. But in and through it all, I never gained any deep
patriotism, any unselfish ambition, any visions which could have
inspired me to play a noble part in the world. I am sure that was
as much the result of my own temperament as of the spirit of the
place; but the spirit of the place was potent, and taught me to
acquiesce in an ideal of decorum, of subordination, of regular,
courteous, unenthusiastic life.

Leaving the school was a melancholy business; one's roots were
entwined very deep with the soil, the buildings, the memories, the
happiness of the place--for happy above all things it was--in the
last few weeks there were many strange emotional outbursts from
boys who had seemed conventional enough; and there was a dreary
sense that life was at an end, and would have little of future
brightness or excitement to provide. I packed, I made my farewells,
I distributed presents; and as I drove away, the carriage,
ascending the bridge by the beloved playing-fields, with its lawns
and elms, the gliding river and the castle towering up behind,
showed me in a glance the old red-brick walls, the turrets, the
high chapel, with its pinnacles and great buttresses, where seven
good years had been spent. I burst, I remember, into unashamed
tears; but no sense of regret for failure, or idleness, or vacuous
case, or absence of all fine intention, came over me, though I had
been guilty of all these things. I wish that I had felt remorse!
But I was only grateful and fond and sad at leaving so untroubled
and delightful a piece of life behind me. The world ahead did not
seem to me to hold out anything which I burned to do or to achieve;
it was but the closing of a door, the end of a chapter, the sudden
silencing of a music, sweet to hear, which could not come again.

That was all five-and-thirty years ago! Since that time--I have
seen it unmistakably, both as a schoolmaster and as a don--a
different spirit has grown up, a sense of corporate and social
duty, a larger idea of national service, not loudly advertised but
deeply rooted, and far removed from the undisciplined individualism
of my boyhood. It has been a secret growth, not an educational
programme. The Boer War, I think, revealed its presence, and the
war we are now waging has testified to its mature strength. It has
come partly by organisation, and still more through the workings of
a more generous and self-sacrificing ideal. In any case it is a
great and noble harvest; and I rejoice with all my heart that it
has thus ripened and borne fruit, in courage and disinterestedness,
and high-hearted public spirit.




The essay which stands next in this volume, "Herb Moly and
Heartsease," was the subject of a curious and interesting
experiment. It seemed to me, when I first thought of it, to be a
suggestive subject, a substantial idea. One ought not to write a
commentary on one's own work, but the underlying theme is this: I
have been haunted all my life, at intervals, sometimes very
insistently, by the sense of a quest; and I have often seemed to
myself to be searching for something which I have somehow lost; to
be engaged in trying to rediscover some emotion or thought which I
had once certainly possessed and as certainly have forgotten or
mislaid. At times I felt on the track of it, as if it had passed
that way not long before; at times I have felt as if I were close
upon it, and as if it were only hidden from me by the thinnest of
veils. I have reason to know that other people have the same
feeling; and, indeed, it is that which constitutes the singular and
moving charm of Newman's poem, "Lead, kindly Light," where all is
summed up in those exquisite lines, often so strangely
misinterpreted and misunderstood, which end the poem:

     "And with the morn those angel faces smile,
      Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile."

I wish that he had not written "those angel faces," because it
seems to limit the quest to ecclesiastical lines, as, indeed, I
expect Newman did limit it. But we must not be so blind as to be
unable to see behind the texture of prepossessions that decorate,
as with a tapestry, the chambers of a man's inner thought; and I
have no doubt whatever that Newman meant the same thing that I
mean, though he used different symbols. Again, we find the same
idea in Wordsworth's "Ode on the Intimations of Immortality," the
thought that life is not circumscribed by birth and death, but that
one's experience is a much larger and older thing than the
experience which mere memory records. It is that which one has
lost; and one of the greatest mysteries of art lies in the fact
that a picture, or a sudden music, or a page in a book, will
sometimes startle one into the consciousness of having heard, seen,
known, felt the emotion before, elsewhere, beyond the visible

Well, I tried to put that idea into words in "Herb Moly and
Heartsease"; and because it was a deep and dim idea, and also
partly because it fascinated me greatly, I spent far more time and
trouble on the little piece than I generally spend.

Then it occurred to me, in a whimsical moment, that I would try an
experiment. I would send out the thing as a ballon d'essai, to see
if anyone would read it for itself, or would detect me underneath
the disguise. Through the kind offices of a friend, I had it
published secretly and anonymously. I chose the most beautiful type
and paper I could find; it cost me far more than the sale of the
whole edition could possibly recoup. I had it sent to papers for
review, and I even had some copies sent to literary friends of my

The result was a quite enchanting humiliation. One paper reviewed
it kindly, in a little paragraph, and said it was useful; another
said that the writer used the word "one" much too frequently; while
only one of my friends even acknowledged it. It is pleasant to
begin at the bottom again, and find that no one will listen, even
to a very careful bit of writing by one who has at all events had a
good deal of practice, and who did his very best!


This set me thinking over my literary adventures, and I think
they may be interesting to other authors or would-be authors; and
then I wish to go a little further, and try to say, if I can, what
I believe the writing of books really to be, why one writes, and
what one is aiming at. I have a very clear idea about it all, and
it can do no harm to state it.

I was brought up much among books and talk about books. Indeed, I
have always believed that my father, though he had great practical
gifts of organisation and administration, which came out in his
work as a schoolmaster and a bishop, was very much of an artist at
heart, and would have liked to be a poet. Indeed, the practice of
authorship has run in my family to a quite extraordinary degree. In
four generations, I believe that some twenty of my blood-relations
have written and published books, from my cousin Adelaide Anne
Procter to my uncle Henry Sidgwick. When we were children we
produced little magazines of prose and poetry, and read them in the
family circle. I wrote poetry as a boy at Eton, and at Cambridge as
an undergraduate; and at the end of my time at Cambridge I produced
a novel, which I sent to Macmillan's Magazine, of which Lord Morley
was then editor, who sent it back to me with a kind letter to say
that it was sauce without meat, and that I should not be proud of
the book in later life if it were published.

Then as an undergraduate I began an odd little book called Memoirs
of Arthur Hamilton, a morbid affair, which was published
anonymously, and, though severely handled by reviewers, had a
certain measure of success. But then I became a busy schoolmaster,
and all I did was to write laboured little essays, which appeared
in various magazines, and were afterwards collected. Then I took up
poetry, and worked very hard at it indeed for some years, producing
five volumes, which very few people ever read. It was a great
delight, writing poetry, and I have masses of unpublished poems.
But I do not grudge the time spent on it, because I think it taught
me the use of words. Then came two volumes of stories, mostly told
or read to the boys in my house, with a medieval sort of flavour--
The Hill of Trouble and The Isles of Sunset.

I also put together a little book on Tennyson, which has, I
believe, the merit of containing all the most interesting anecdotes
about him, and I also wrote the Rossetti in the Men of Letters
Series, a painstaking book, rather rhetorical; though the truth
about Rossetti cannot be told, even if it could be known.

All this work was done in the middle of hard professional work,
with a boarding-house and many pupils. I will dare to say that I
was an active and diligent schoolmaster, and writing was only a
recreation. I could only get a few hours a week at it, and it never
interfered with my main work.

My father died in 1896, and I wrote his life in two big volumes, a
very solid piece of work; but it was after that, I think, that my
real writing began. I believe it was in 1899 that I slowly composed
The House of Quiet, but I could not satisfy myself about the
ending, and it was laid aside.

Then I was offered the task of editing Queen Victoria's letters. I
resigned my mastership with a mixture of sorrow and relief. The
work was interesting and absorbing, but I did not like our system
of education, nor did I believe in it. But I put my beliefs into a
little book called The Schoolmaster, which made its way.

I left my work as a teacher in 1903, when I was forty-one. The
House of Quiet appeared in that year anonymously, and began to
sell. I lived on at Eton with an old friend; went daily up to
Windsor Castle, and toiled through volumes of papers. But I found
that it was not possible to work more than a few hours a day at the
task of selection, because one's judgment got fatigued and blurred.

The sudden cessation of heavy professional work made itself felt in
an extreme zest and lightness of spirit. It was a very happy and
delightful time. I was living among friends who were all very hard
at work, and the very contrast of my freedom with their servitude
was enlivening. I was able, too, to think over my schoolmastering
experience; and the result was The Upton Letters, an inconsequent
but I think lively book, also published anonymously and rather
disregarded by reviewers. But the book was talked about and read;
and for the next year or two I worked with indefatigable zest at
writing. I brought out monographs on Edward FitzGerald and Walter
Pater; I wrote The Thread of Gold, which also succeeded; and in the
next year I settled at Cambridge, and wrote From a College Window
as a serial in the Cornhill, and The Gate of Death, both
anonymously; and in the following year Beside Still Waters and The
Altar Fire. All this time the Queen's letters were going quietly on
in the background.

I have written half-a-dozen books since then. But that is how I
began my work; and the one point which is worth noticing is that
the four books which have sold most widely, The House of Quiet, The
Upton Letters, The Thread of Gold, and the College Window, were all
of them issued anonymously, and the authorship was for a
considerable time undetected. So that it is fair to conclude that
the public is on the look-out for books which interest it, and will
find out what it wants; because none of those books owed anything
whatever to my parentage or my position or my friends--or indeed to
the reviewers either; and it proves the truth of what a publisher
said to me the other day, that neither reviews nor advertisements
will really do much for a book; but that if readers begin to talk
about a book and to recommend it, it is apt to go ahead. And,
further, I conclude from the fact that none of my subsequent books
have been as popular as these, though I have no cause to complain,
that a new voice and new ideas are what prove attractive--and
perhaps not so much new ideas as familiar ideas which have not been
clearly expressed and put into words. There was a little mystery
about the writer then, and there is no mystery now; everyone knows
exactly what to expect; and the new generation wants a fresh voice
and a different way of putting things.


As to the motive force, whatever it may be, that lies behind
writing, we may disengage from it all subsidiary motives, such as
the desire for money, philanthropy, professional occupation; but
the main force is, I think, threefold--the motive of art pure and
simple, the desire for communication with one's fellows, and the
motive of ambition, which may almost be called the desire for

The ultimate instinct of art is the expression of the sense of
beauty. A scene, or a character, or an idea, or an emotion, strikes
the mind as being salient, beautiful, strange, wonderful, and the
mind desires to record it, to depict it, to isolate it, to
emphasize it. The process becomes gradually, as the life of the
world continues, more and more complex. It seemed enough at first
just to record; but then there follows the desire to contrast, to
heighten effects, to construct elaborate backgrounds; then the
process grows still more refined, and it becomes essential to lay
out materials in due proportion, and to clear away all that is
otiose or confusing, so that the central idea, whatever it is,
shall stand out in absolute clarity and distinctness. Gradually a
great deal of art becomes traditional and conventional; certain
forms stereotype themselves, and it becomes more and more difficult
to invent a new form of any kind. When art is very much bound by
tradition, it becomes what is called classical, and makes its
appeal to a cultured circle; and then there is a revolutionary
outburst of what is called a romantic type, which means on the one
hand a weariness of the old traditions and longing for freedom, and
on the other hand a corresponding desire, on the part of an
extended and less cultured circle, for art of a more elastic kind.
Literature has this cyclic ebb and flow; but what is romantic in
one age tends to become classical in the next, as the new departure
becomes in its turn traditional. These variations are no doubt the
result of definite, psychological laws, at present little
understood. The renaissance of a nation, when from some
unascertained cause there is a fresh outburst of interest in ideas,
is quite unaccounted for by logical or mathematical laws of
development. The French Revolution and the corresponding romantic
revival in England are instances of this. A writer like Rousseau
does not germinate interest in social and emotional ideas, but
merely puts into attractive form a number of ideas vaguely floating
in numberless minds. A writer like Scott indicates a sudden
repulsion in many minds against a classical tradition grown
sterile, and a widespread desire to extract romantic emotions from
a forgotten medieval life. Of course a romantic writer like Scott
read into the Middle Ages a number of emotions which were not
historically there; and the romantic writer, generally speaking,
tends to treat of life in its more sublime and glowing moments, and
to amass brilliant experience and absorbing emotion in an
unscientific way. Just now we are beginning to revolt against this
over-emotionalised treatment of life, and realism is a deliberate
attempt to present life as it is--not to improve upon it or to
select it, but to give an impression of its complexity as well as
of its bleakness. The romanticist typifies and stereotypes
character, the realist recognises the inconsistency and the
changeableness of personality. The romanticist presents qualities
and moods personified, the realist depicts the flux and
variableness of mood, and the effects exerted by characters upon
each other. But the motive is ultimately the same, only the
romanticist is interested in the passion and inspiration of life,
the realist more in the facts and actual stuff of life. But in both
cases the motive is the same: to depict and to record a personal
impression of what seems wonderful and strange.

The second motive in art is the desire to share and communicate
experience. Every one must know how intolerable to a perceptive
person loneliness is apt to be, and how instinctive is the need of
some companion with whom to participate in the beauty or
impressiveness or absurdity of a scene. The enjoyment of experience
is diminished or even obliterated if one has to taste it in
solitude. Of course there are people so constituted as to be able
to enjoy, let us say, a good dinner, or a concert of music, or a
play, in solitude; but if such a person has the instinct of
expression, he enjoys it all half-consciously as an amassing of
material for artistic use; and it is almost inconceivable that an
artist should exist who would be prepared to continue writing books
or painting pictures or making statues, quite content to put them
aside when completed, with no desire to submit them to the judgment
of the world. My own experience is that the thought of sharing
one's enjoyment with other people is not a very conscious feeling
while one is actually engaged in writing. At the moment the thought
of expression is paramount, and the delight lies simply in
depicting and recording. Yet the impulse to hand it all on is
subconsciously there, to such an extent that if I knew that what I
wrote could never pass under another human eye, I have little doubt
that I should very soon desist from writing altogether. The social
and gregarious instinct is really very dominant in all art; and all
writers who have a public at all must become aware of this fact, by
the number of manuscripts which are submitted to them by would-be
authors, who ask for advice and criticism and introductions to
publishers. It would be quite easy for me, if I complied fully with
all such requests, to spend the greater part of my time in the
labour of commenting on these manuscripts. It is indeed the nearest
that many amateurs can get to publication. As Ruskin, I think, once
said, it is a curious irony of authorship that if a writer once
makes a success the world does its best, by inundating him with
every sort of request, to prevent his ever repeating it. I suppose
that painters and sculptors do not suffer so much in this way,
because it is not easy to send about canvases or statues by parcels
post. But nothing is easier than to slip a manuscript into an
envelope and to require an opinion from an author. I will confess
that I very seldom refuse these requests. At the moment at which I
write I have three printed novels and a printed book of travel, a
poem, and two volumes of essays in manuscript upon my table, and I
shall make shift to say something in reply, though except for the
satisfaction of the authors in question, I believe that my pains
will be wholly thrown away, for the simple reason that it is a very
lengthy business to teach any one how to write, and also partly
because what these authors desire is not criticism but sympathy and

The third motive which underlies the practice of art is undoubtedly
the sense of performance and the desire for applause. It is easy
from a pose of dignity and high-mindedness to undervalue and
overlook this. But it may safely be said that when a man challenges
the attention of the public, he does not do it that he may give
pleasure, but that he may receive praise. As Elihu the Buzite said
with such exquisite frankness in the book of Job, "I will speak,
that I may be refreshed!" The amateurs who send their work for
inspection cannot as a rule bear to face this fact. They constantly
say that they wish to do good, or to communicate enjoyment and
pleasure. To be honest, I do not much believe that the motive of
the artist is altruistic. He writes for his own enjoyment, perhaps,
but he publishes that his skill and power of presentment may be
recognised and applauded. In FitzGerald's Letters there is a
delightful story of a parrot who had one accomplishment--that of
ruffling up his feathers and rolling his eyes so that he looked
like an owl. When the other domestic pets were doing their tricks,
the owner of the parrot, to prevent its feelings being hurt, used
carefully to request it "to do its little owl." And the truth is
that we most of us want to do our little owl. Stevenson said
candidly that applause was the breath of life to an artist. Many,
indeed, find the money they make by their work delightful as a
symbol of applause in the sense of Shelley's fine dictum, "Fame is
love disguised." It is not a wholly mean motive, because many of us
are beset by an idea that the shortest way to be loved is to be
admired. It is a great misapprehension, because admiration breeds
jealousy quite as often as it breeds affection--indeed oftener! But
from the child that plays its little piece, or the itinerant
musician that blows a flat cornet in the street, to the great
dramatist or musician, the same desire to produce a favourable
impression holds good.

I once dined alone with a celebrated critic, who indicated, as we
sat smoking in his study, a great pile of typewritten sheets upon
his table. "That is the next novel of So-and-so," he said,
mentioning a well-known novelist; "he asks me for a candid
criticism; but unfortunately the only language he now understands
is the language of adulation!"

That is a true if melancholy fact, plainly stated; that to many an
artist to be said to have done well is almost more important than
to know that the thing has been well done. It is not a wholesome
frame of mind, perhaps; but it cannot be overlooked or gainsaid.

Even the greatest of authors are susceptible to it. Robert
Browning, who, except for an occasional outburst of fury against
his critics, was far more tolerant of and patient under
misunderstanding than most poets, said in a moment of elated
frankness, when he received an ovation from the students of a
university, that he had been waiting for that all his life;
Tennyson managed to combine a hatred of publicity with a thirst for
fame. Wordsworth, as Carlyle pungently said, used to pay an annual
visit to London in later life "to collect his little bits of
tribute." And even though Keats could say that his own criticism of
his own works had given him far more pain than the opinions of any
outside critics, yet the possibility of recognition and applause
must inevitably continue to be one of the chief raisons d'etre of

But the main motive of writing lies in the creative instinct, pure
and simple; and the success of all literary art must depend upon
the personality of the writer, his vitality and perception, his
combination of exuberance and control. The reason why there are
comparatively so few great writers is that authorship, to be wholly
successful, needs so rich an outfit of gifts, creative thought,
emotion, style, clearness, charm, emphasis, vocabulary,
perseverance. Many writers have some of these gifts; and the
essential difference of amateur writing from professional writing
is that the amateur has, as a rule, little power of rejection and
selection, or of producing a due proportion and an even surface;
amateur poetry is characterised by good lines strung together by
weak and patchy rigmaroles--like a block of unworked ore, in which
the precious particles glitter confusedly; while the artistic poem
is a piece of chased jewel-work. It is true that great poets have
often written hurriedly and swiftly; but probably there is an
intense selectiveness at work in the background all the time,
produced by instinctive taste as well as by careful practice.

Amateur prose, again, has an unevenness of texture and arrangement,
good ideas and salient thoughts floundering in a vapid and inferior
substance; it is often not appreciated by amateurs how much depends
on craftsmanship. I have known brilliant and accomplished
conversationalists who have been persuaded, perhaps in mature life,
to attempt a more definite piece of writing; when it is pathetic to
see suggestive and even brilliant thought hopelessly befogged by
unemphatic and disorderly statement. Still more difficult is it to
make people of fine emotions and swift perceptions understand that
such qualities are only the basis of authorship, and that the vital
necessity for self-expression is to have a knowledge, acquired or
instinctive, of the extremely symbolical and even traditional
methods and processes of representation. Vivid life is not the same
thing as vivid art; art is a sort of recondite and narrow
symbolism, by which the word, the phrase, the salient touch,
represents, suggests, hints the larger vision. It is in the
reducing of broad effects to minute effects that the mastery of art

Good work has often been done for the sake of money; I could name
some effective living writers who never willingly put pen to paper,
and would be quite content to express themselves in familiar talk,
or even to live in vivid reflection, if they were not compelled to
earn their living. Ambition will do something to mould an artist;
the philanthropic motive may put some wind into his sails, but by
itself it has little artistic value. Speaking for myself, in so far
as it is possible to disentangle complex motives, the originating
impulse has never been with me pecuniary, or ambitious, or
philanthropic, or even communicative. It has been simply and solely
the intense pleasure of putting as emphatically and beautifully and
appropriately as possible into words, an idea of a definite kind.
The creative impulse is not like any other that I know; some
thought, scene, picture, darts spontaneously into the mind. The
intelligence instantly sets to work arranging, subdividing,
foreseeing, extending, amplifying. Much is done by some unconscious
cerebration; for I have often planned the development of a thought
in a few minutes, and then dropped it; yet an hour or two later the
whole thing seems ready to be written.

Moreover, the actual start is a pleasure so keen and delightful as
to have an almost physical and sensuous joy about it. The very act
of writing has become so mechanical that there is nothing in the
least fatiguing about it, though I have heard some writers say
otherwise; while the process is actually going on, one loses all
count of time and place; the clock on the mantelpiece seems to leap
miraculously forward; while the mind knows exactly when to desist,
so that the leaving off is like the turning of a tap, the stream
being instantaneously cut off. I do not recollect having ever
forced myself to write, except under the stress of illness, nor do
I ever recollect its being anything but the purest pleasure from
beginning to end.

In saying this I know that I am confessing myself to be a frank
improvisatore, and where such art fails, as mine often fails, is in
a lack of the power of concentration and revision, which is the
last and greatest necessity of high art. But I owe to it the
happiest and brightest experiences of life, to which no other
pleasure is even dimly comparable. Easy writing, it is said, makes
hard reading; but is it true that hard writing ever makes easy

The end of the matter would seem to be that if the creative impulse
is very strong in a man, it will probably find its way out. If
ordinary routine-work destroys it, it is probably not very robust;
yet authorship is not to be recommended as a profession, because
the prizes are few, the way hard, the disappointments poignant and
numerous; and though there are perhaps few greater benefactors to
the human race than beautiful and noble writers, yet there are many
natures both noble and beautiful who would like to approach life
that way, but who, from lack of the complete artistic equipment,
from technical deficiencies, from failure in craftsmanship, must
find some other way of enriching the blood of the world.




When Odysseus was walking swiftly, with rage in his heart, through
the island of Circe, to find out what had befallen his companions,
he would have assuredly gone to his doom in the great stone house
of the witch, the smoke of which went up among the thickets, if
Hermes had not met him.

The God came in the likeness of a beautiful youth with the first
down of manhood upon his lips. He chid the much-enduring one for
his rash haste, and gave him what we should call not very good
advice; but he also gave him something which was worth more than
any good advice, a charm which should prevail against the spells of
the Nymph, which he might carry in his bosom and be unscathed.

It was an ugly enough herb, a prickly plant which sprawled low in
the shadow of the trees. Its root was black, and it had a milk-
white flower; the Gods called it Moly, and no mortal strength could
avail to pull it from the soil; but as Odysseus says, telling the
story, "There is nothing which the Gods cannot do"; and it came up
easily enough at the touch of the beardless youth. We know how the
spell worked, how Odysseus rescued his companions, and how Circe
told him the way to the regions of the dead; but even so he did not
wholly escape from her evil enchantment!


No one knows what the herb Moly really was; some say it was the
mandrake, that plant of darkness, which was thought to bear a
dreadful resemblance, in its pale swollen stalk and outstretched
arms, to a tortured human form, and to utter moans as it was
dragged from the soil; but later on it was used as the name for a
kind of garlic, employed as a flavouring for highly-spiced salads.
The Greeks were not, it seems, very scientific botanists, so far as
nomenclature went, and applied any name that was handy to any plant
that struck their fancy. They believed, no doubt, that things had
secret and intimate names of their own, which were known perhaps to
the Gods, but that men must just call them what they could.

It would be best perhaps to leave the old allegory to speak for
itself, because poetical thoughts are often mishandled, and suffer
base transformation at the hands of interpreters; but for all that,
it is a pretty trade to expound things seen in dreams and visions,
or obscurely detected out of the corner of the eye in magical
places; while the best of really poetical things is that they have
a hundred mystical interpretations, none of which is perhaps the
right one; because the poet sees things in a flash, and describes
his visions, without knowing what they mean, or indeed if they have
any meaning at all.

A place like a university, where one alights for an adventure, in
the course of a long voyage, is in many ways like the island of
Circe. There is the great stone mansion with its shining doors and
guarded cloisters. It is a place of many enchantments and various
delights. There are mysterious people going to and fro, whose
business it is hard to discern: there are plenty of bowls and
dishes, and water pleasantly warmed for the bath. Circe herself had
a private life of her own, and much curious information: she was
not for ever turning people into pigs; and indeed why she did it at
all is not easy to discover! It amused her, and she felt more
secure, perhaps, when her visitors were safely housed, grunting and
splashing about together. One must not press an allegory too
closely, but in any place where human beings consort, there is
always some turning of men into pigs, even if they afterwards
resume their shape again, and shed tears of relief at the change.


My purpose here is to speculate a little upon what the herb Moly
can be, how it can be found and used. Hermes, the messenger of the
Gods, is always ready to pull it up for anyone who really requires
it. And just because "the isle," as Shakespeare says, "is full of
noises--sounds and sweet airs," it is a matter of concern to know
which of them "give delight and hurt not," and which of them lead
only to manger and sty. My discourse is not planned in a spirit of
heavy rectitude, or from any desire to shower good advice about, as
from a pepper-pot. Indeed, I believe that there are many things in
the correct conventional code which are very futile and grotesque;
some which are directly hurtful; and further, that there are many
things quite outside the code which are both fine and beautiful;
because the danger of all civilised societies is that the members
of it take the prevailing code for granted; do not trouble to think
what it means, accept it as the way of life, and walk contentedly
enough, like the beetle in the bone, which, as we know, can neither
turn nor miss its way.

To fall feebly into the conventions of a place takes away all the
joyful spirit of adventure; but the little island set in the ocean,
with its loud sea-beaches, its upstanding promontories, its wooded
glades, its open spaces, and above all the great house standing
among its lawns, is a place of adventure above everything, with
unknown forces at work, untamed emotions, swift currents of
thought, many choices, strange delights; and then there is the
shadowy sea beyond, with all its crested billows rolling in, and
other islands looming out beyond the breakers, at which the ship
may touch, before it finds its way to the regions of death and

I myself had my own time of adventure, took ship again, and voyaged
far; and now that I have come back again to the little island with
all its thickets, I wish to retrace in thought, if I can, some of
the adventures which befell me, and what they brought me, and to
speak too of adventures which I missed, either out of diffidence or
folly. I am not at all sure whether Hermes, whom I certainly
encountered, ever gave me a plant of Moly, or, if I did indeed
receive it, what use I made of it. But I knew others who certainly
had the herb at their hearts, and as certainly others who had not;
and I will try and tell what he thinks it is, and how it may be
found. It is deeply planted, no doubt; its root is as black as
death, and its flower as pure as the light; while the leaves are
prickly and clinging; it is not a plant for trim gardens, nor to be
grown in rows in the furrow; it is hard to come by, and harder
still to extract; but having once attained it, the man who bears it
knows that there are certain things he cannot do again, and certain
spells which henceforth have no power over him; and though it does
not deliver him from all dangers, he will not at all events be
penned with the regretful swine, that had lost all human attributes
except the power of shedding tears.


Now I shall drop all allegories for the present, because it is
confusing both to writers and readers to be always speaking of two
things in terms of each other. And I will say first that when I was
at college myself as a young man, I seemed to myself to be for ever
looking for something which I could not find. It was not always so;
there were plenty of contented hours, when one played a game, or
sat over the fire afterwards with tea and tobacco, talking about
it, or talking about other people--I do not often remember talking
about anything else, except on set occasions--or later in the
evening some one played a piano not very well, or we sang songs,
not very tunefully; or one sat down to work, and got interested, if
not in the work itself, at least in doing it well and completely. I
am not going to pretend, as elderly men often do with infinite
absurdity, that I did no work, and scored off dons and proctors,
and broke every rule, and defied God and man, and spent money which
I had not got, and lived a generally rake-hell life. There are very
few of my friends who did these things, and they have mostly fallen
in the race long ago, leaving a poor and rueful memory behind. Nor
do I see why it is so glorious to pretend to have done such things,
especially if one has not done them! I was a sober citizen enough,
with plenty of faults and failings; and this is not a tract to
convert the wicked, who indeed are providing plenty of materials to
effect their own conversion in ways very various and all very
uncomfortable! I should like it rather to be read by well-meaning
people, who share perhaps the same experience as myself--the
experience, as I have said, of searching for something which I
could not find. Sometimes in those days, I will make bold to
confess, I read a book, or heard an address or sermon, or talked to
some interesting and attractive person, and felt suddenly that I
was on the track of it; was it something I wanted, or was it
something I had lost? I could not tell! But I knew that if I could
find it, I should never be in any doubt again how to act or what to
choose. It was not a set of rules I wanted--there were rules
enough and to spare, some of them made for us, and many which we
made for ourselves. We mapped out every part of life which was left
unmapped by the dons, and we knew exactly what was correct and what
was not; and oh, how dull much of it was!

But I wanted a motive of some sort, an aim; I wanted to know what I
was out for, as we now say. I did not see what the point of much of
my work was, or know what my profession was to be; I did not see
why I did, for social reasons, so many things which did not
interest me, or why I pretended to think them interesting. I would
sit, one of half-a-dozen men, the air dim with smoke, telling
stories about other people. A-- had had a row with B--, he
would not go properly into training; he had lunched before a match
off a tumbler of sherry and a cigar; he was too good to be turned
out of the team--it was amusing enough, but it certainly was not
what I was looking for.

Then one made friends; it dawned upon one suddenly what a charming
person C---- was, so original and amusing, so observant; it became
a thrilling thing to meet him in the court; one asked him to tea,
one talked and told him everything. A week later, one seemed to
have got to the end of it; the path came to a stop; there was not
much in it after all, and presently he was rather an ass; he looked
gloomily at one when one met him, but one was off on another chase;
this idealising of people was rather a mistake; the pleasure was in
the exploration, and there was very little to explore; it was
better to have a comfortable set of friends with no nonsense; and
yet that was dull too. That was certainly not the thing one was in
search of.

What was it, then? One saw it like a cloud-shadow racing over the
hill, like a bird upon the wing. The perfect friend could not help
one, for his perfections waned and faded. Yet there was certainly
something there, singing like a bird in the wood; only when one
reached the tree the bird was gone, and another song was in the
air. It seemed, then, at first sight as if one was in search of an
emotion of some kind, and not only a solitary emotion, like that
which touched the spirit at the sudden falling of the ripe rose-
petals from their stem, or at the sight of the far-off plain, with
all its woods and waters framed between the outrunning hills, or at
the sound of organ-music stealing out of the soaring climbing
woodwork with all its golden pipes, on setting foot in the dim and
fragrant church; they were all sweet enough, but the mind turned to
some kindred soul at hand with whom it could all be shared; and the
recognition of some other presence, visibly beckoning through
gesture and form and smiling wide-opened eyes, that seemed the best
that could be attained, that nearness and rapture of welcome; and
then the moment passed, and that too ebbed away.

It was something more than that! because in bleak solitary
pondering moments, there stood up, like a massive buttressed crag,
a duty, not born of whispered secrets or of relations, however
delicate and awestruck, with other hearts, but a stern
uncompromising thing, that seemed a relation with something quite
apart from man, a Power swift and vehement and often terrible, to
whom one owed an unmistakable fealty in thought and act.
Righteousness! That old-fashioned thing on which the Jews, one was
taught, set much store, which one had misconceived as something
born of piety and ceremony, and which now revealed itself as a
force uncompromisingly there, which it was impossible to overlook
or to disobey; if one did disobey it, something hurt and wounded
cried out faintly in the soul; and so it dawned upon one that this
was a force, not only not developed out of piety and worship, but
of which all piety and worship were but the frail vesture, which
half veiled and half hampered the massive stride and stroke.

It did not attract or woo; it rather demanded and frightened; but
it became clear enough that any inner peace was impossible without
it; and little by little one learned to recognise that there was no
trace of it in many conventional customs and precepts; those could
be slighted and disregarded; but there were still things which the
spirit did truly recognise as vices and sins, abominable and
defiling, with which no trafficking was possible.

This, then, was clear; that if one was to find the peace one
desired--it was that, it was an untroubled peace, a journey taken
with a sense of aim and liberty that one hoped to make--then these
were two certain elements; a concurrence with a few great and
irresistible prohibitions and positive laws of conduct, though
these were far fewer than one had supposed; and next to that, a
sense of brotherhood and fellowship with those who seemed to be
making their way harmoniously and finely towards the same goal as
oneself. To understand and love these spirits, to be understood and
loved by them, that was a vital necessity.

But this must be added; that the sense of duty of which I speak,
which rose sturdily and fiercely above the shifting forms of life,
like a peak above the forest, did not appear at once either
desirable or even beautiful. It blocked the view and the way; it
forbade one to stray or loiter; but the obedience one reluctantly
gave to it came simply from a realisation of its strength and of
its presence. It stood for an order of some kind, which interfered
at many points with one's hopes and desires, but with which one was
compelled to make terms, because it could and did strike,
pitilessly and even vindictively, if one neglected and transgressed
its monitions; and thus the quest became an attempt to find what
stood behind it, and to discover if there was any Personality
behind it, with which one could link oneself, so as to be conscious
of its intentions or its goodwill. Was it a Power that could love
and be loved? Or was it only mechanical and soulless, a condition
of life, which one might dread and even abhor, but which could not
be trifled with?

Because that seemed the secret of all the happiness of life--the
meeting, with a sense of intimate security, something warm and
breathing, that had need of me as I of it, that could smile and
clasp, foster and pity, admire and adore, and in the embrace of
which one could feel one's hope and joy grow and stir by contact
and trust. That was what one found in the hearts about one's path;
and the wonder was, did some similar chance of embracing, clasping,
trusting, and loving that vaster Power await one in the dim spaces
beyond the fields and homes of earth?

I guessed that it was so, but saw, as in a faint vision, that many
harsh events, sorry mischances, blows and wounds and miseries,
hated and dreaded and endured, lay between me and that larger
Heart. But I perceived at last, with terror and mistrust, that the
adventure did indeed lie there; that I should often be disdained
and repulsed, untended and unheeded, bitterly disillusioned, shaken
out of ease and complacency, but assuredly folded to that greater
Heart at last.


And then there followed a different phase. Up to the very end of
the university period, the same uneasiness continued; then quite
suddenly the door opened, one slipped into the world, one found
one's place. There were instantaneously real things to be done,
real money to earn, men and women to live with and work with, to
conciliate or to resist. A mist rolled away from my eyes. What a
fantastic life it had been hitherto, how sheltered, how remote from
actuality! I seemed to have been building up a rococo stucco
habitation out of whims and fancies, adding a room here and a row
of pinnacles there, all utterly bizarre and grotesque. Vague dreams
of poetry and art, nothing penetrated or grasped, a phrase here, a
fancy there; one's ideal of culture seemed like Ophelia in Hamlet,
a distracted nymph stuck all over with flowers and anxious to
explain the sentimental value of each; the friendships themselves--
they had nothing stable about them either; they were not based upon
any common aim, any real mutual concern; they were nothing more
than the enshrining of a fugitive charm, the tracking of some
bright-eyed fawn or wild-haired dryad to its secret haunt, only to
find the bird flown and the nest warm. But now there was little
time for fancies; there was a real burden to carry, a genuine task
to perform; day after day slipped past, like the furrows in a field
seen from some speeding car; the contented mind, pleasantly wearied
at the end of the busy day, heaved a light-hearted sigh of relief,
and turned to some recreation with zest and delight. It was not
that the quest had been successful; it seemed rather that there was
no quest at all, and that it was the joy of daily work that had
been the missing factor . . . the weeks melted into months, the
months became years.

Meanwhile the earth and air, as well as the comrades and companions
of the pilgrimage, were touched with a different light of beauty.
The beauty was there, and in even fuller measure. The sun in the
hot summer days poured down upon the fragrant garden, with all its
bright flower-beds, its rose-laden alleys, its terraced walks, its
green-shaded avenues; the autumn mists lay blue and faint across
the far pastures, and the hill climbed smoothly to its green
summit; or the spring came back after the winter silence with all
its languor of unfolding life, while bush and covert wove their
screens of dense-tapestried foliage, to conceal what mysteries of
love and delight! and the faces or gestures of those about one took
on a new significance, a richer beauty, a larger interest, because
one began to guess how experience moulded them, by what aims and
hopes they were graven and refined, by what failures they were
obliterated and coarsened. But the difference was this, that one
was not now for ever trying to make these charms one's own, to
establish private understandings or mutual relations. It was enough
now to observe them as one could, to interpret them, to enjoy them,
and to pass by. The acquisitive sense was gone, and one neither
claimed nor grasped; one admired and wondered and went forwards.
And this again seemed a wholesome balance of thought, for, as the
desire to take diminished, the power, of interpreting and enjoying

But very gradually a slow shadow began to fall, like the shadow of
a great hill that reaches far out over the plain. I passed one day
an old churchyard deep in the country, and saw the leaning
headstones and the grassy barrows of the dead. A shudder passed
through me, a far-off chill, at the thought that it must come to
THIS after all; that however rich and intricate and delightful life
was--and it was all three--the time would come, perhaps with pain
and languid suffering, when one must let all the beautiful threads
out of one's hands, and compose oneself, with such fortitude as one
could muster, for the long sleep. And then one called Reason to
one's aid, and bade her expound the mystery, and say that just as
no smallest particle of matter could be disintegrated utterly, or
subtracted from the sum of things, so, and with infinitely greater
certainty, could no pulse or desire or motion of the spirit be
brought to nought. True, the soul lived like a bird in a cage,
hopping from perch to perch, slumbering at times, moping dolefully,
or uttering its song; but it was even more essentially imperishable
than the body that obeyed and enfolded and at last failed it. So
said Reason; and yet that brought no hope, so dear and familiar had
life become,--the well-known house, the accustomed walks, the daily
work, the forms of friend and comrade. It was just those things
that one wanted; and reason could only say that one must indeed
leave them and begone, and she could not look forwards nor forecast
anything; she could but bid one note the crag-faces and the
monstrous ledges of the abyss into which the spirit was for ever
falling, falling. . . .

Alas! it was there all the time, the sleepless desire to know and
to be assured; I had found nothing, learned nothing; it was all
still to seek. I had but just drugged the hunger into repose,
beguiled it, hidden it away under habits and work and activities.
It was something firmer than work, something even more beautiful
than beauty, more satisfying than love that I wanted; and most
certainly it was not repose. I had grown to loathe the thought of
that, and to shrink back in horror from the dumb slumber of sense
and thought. It was energy, life, activity, motion, that I desired;
to see and touch and taste all things, not only things sweet and
delightful, but every passionate impulse, every fiery sorrow that
thrilled and shook the spirit, every design that claimed the
loyalty of mankind. I grudged, it seemed, even the slumber that
divided day from day; I wanted to be up and doing, struggling,
working, loving, hating, resisting, protesting. And even strife and
combat seemed a waste of precious time; there was so much to do, to
establish, to set right, to cleanse, to invigorate, great designs
to be planned and executed, great glories to unfold. Yet sooner or
later I was condemned to drop the tools from my willing hand, to
stand and survey the unfinished work, and to grieve that I might no
longer take my share.


It was even thus that the vision came to me, in a dream of the
night. I had been reading the story of the isle of Circe, and the
thunderous curve of the rolling verse had come marching into the
mind as the breakers march into the bay. I dropped the book at
last, and slept.

Yes, I was in the wood itself; I could see little save undergrowth
and great tree-trunks; here and there a glimpse of sky among the
towering foliage. The thicket was less dense to the left, I
thought, and in a moment I came out upon an open space, and saw a
young man in the garb of a shepherd, a looped blue tunic, with a
hat tossed back upon the shoulders and held there by a cord. He had
leaned a metal stave against a tree, the top of it adorned by a
device of crossed wings. He was stooping down and disengaging
something from the earth, so that when I drew near, he had taken it
up and was gazing curiously at it. It was the herb itself! I saw
the prickly flat leaves, the black root, and the little stars of
milk-white bloom. He looked up at me with a smile as though he had
expected me, which showed his small white teeth and the shapely
curl of his lips; while his dark hair fell in a cluster over his

"There!" he said, "take it! It is what you are in need of!"

"Yes," I said, "I want peace, sure enough!" He looked at me for a
moment, and then let the herb drop upon the ground.

"Ah no!" he said lightly, "it will not bring you that; it does not
give peace, the herb of patience!"

"Well, I will take it," I said, stooping down; but he planted his
foot upon it. "See," he said, "it has already rooted itself!" And
then I saw that the black root had pierced the ground, and that the
fibres were insinuating themselves into the soil. I clutched at it,
but it was firm.

"You do not want it, after all," he said. "You want heartsease, I
suppose? That is a different flower--it grows upon men's graves."

"No," I cried out petulantly, like a child. "I do not want
heartsease! That is for those who are tired, and I am not tired!"

He smiled at me and stooped again, raised the plant and gave it to
me. It had a fresh sharp fragrance of the woodland and blowing
winds, but the thorns pricked my hands. . . .

The dream was gone, and I awoke; lying there, trying to recover the
thing which I had seen, I heard the first faint piping of the birds
begin in the ivy round my windows, as they woke drowsily and
contentedly to life and work. The truth flashed upon me, in one of
those sudden lightning-blazes that seem to obliterate even thought.

"Yes," I cried to myself, "that is the secret! It is that life does
not end; it goes on. To find what I am in search of, to understand,
to interpret, to see clearly, to sum it up, that would be an end, a
soft closing of the book, the shutting of the door--and that is
just what I do not want. I want to live, and endure, and suffer,
and experience, and love, and NOT to understand. It is life
continuous, unfolding, expanding, developing, with new delights,
new sorrows, new pains, new losses, that I need: and whether we
know that we need it, or think we need something else, it is all
the same; for we cannot escape from life, however reluctant or sick
or crushed or despairing we may be. It waits for us until we have
done groaning and bleeding, and we must rise up again and live.
Even if we die, even if we seek death for ourselves, it is useless.
The eye may close, the tide of unconsciousness may flow in, the
huddled limbs may tumble prone; a moment, and then life begins
again; we have but flown like the bird from one tree to another.
There is no end and no release; it is our destiny to live; the
darkness is all about us, but we are the light, enlacing it with
struggling beams, piercing it with fiery spears. The darkness
cannot quench it, and wherever the light goes, there it is light.
The herb Moly is but the patience to endure, whether we like it or
no. It delivers us, not from ourselves, not from our pains or our
delights, but only from our fears. They are the only unreal things,
because we are of the indomitable essence of light and movement,
and we cannot be overcome nor extinguished--we can but suffer, we
cannot die; we leap across the nether night; we pass resistless on
our way from star to star."



I saw in one of the daily illustrated papers the other day a little
picture--a snapshot from the front--which filled me with a curious
emotion. It was taken in some village behind the German lines. A
handsome, upright boy of about seventeen, holding an accordion
under his arm--a wandering Russian minstrel, says the comment--has
been brought before a fat, elderly, Landsturm officer to be
interrogated. The officer towers up, in a spiked helmet, holding
his sword-hilt in one hand and field-glasses in the other, looking
down at the boy truculently and fiercely. Another officer stands by
smiling. The boy himself is gazing up, nervous and frightened,
staring at his formidable captor, a peasant beside him, also
looking agitated. There is nothing to indicate what happened, but I
hope they let the boy go! The officer seemed to me to typify the
tyranny of human aggressiveness, at its stupidest and ugliest. The
boy, graceful, appealing, harmless, appeared, I thought, to stand
for the spirit of beauty, which wanders about the world, lost in
its own dreams, and liable to be called sharply to account when it
strays within the reach of human aggressiveness occupied in the
congenial task of making havoc of the world's peaceful labours.

The Landsturm officer in the picture had so obviously the best of
it; he was thoroughly enjoying his own formidableness; while the
boy had the look of an innocent, bright-eyed creature caught in a
trap, and wondering miserably what harm it could have done.

Something of the same kind is always going on all the world over;
the collision of the barbarous and disciplined forces of life with
the beauty-loving, detached instinct of man. The latter cannot
give a reason for its existence, and yet I am by no means sure that
it is not going to triumph in the end.

There is every reason to believe that within the last twenty years
the sowing of education broadcast has had an effect upon the human
outlook, rather than perhaps upon the human character, which has
not been adequately estimated. The crop is growing up all about us,
and we hardly yet know what it is. I am going to speak of one out
of the many results of this upon one particular section of the
community, because I have become personally aware of it in certain
very definite ways. It is easy to generalise about tendencies, but
I am here speaking from actual evidence of an unmistakable kind.

The section of the community of which I speak is that which can be
roughly described as the middle class--homes, that is, which are
removed from the urgent, daily pressure of wage-earning; homes
where there is a certain security of outlook, of varying wealth,
with professional occupation in the background; homes in which
there is some leisure; and some possibility of stimulating, by
reading, by talk, by societies, an interest in ideas. It is not a
tough, intellectual interest, but it ends in a very definite desire
to idealise life a little, to harmonise it, to give colour to it,
to speculate about it, to lift it out of the region of immediate,
practical needs, to try experiments, to live on definite lines,
with a definite aim in sight--that aim being to enlarge, to adorn,
to enrich life.

I am perfectly sure that this instinct is greatly on the increase;
but the significant thing about it is this, that whereas formerly
religion supplied to a great extent the poetry and inspiration of
life for such households, there is now a desire for something as
well of a more definitely artistic kind; to put it simply, I
believe that more people are in search of beauty, in the largest
sense. This instinct does not run counter to religion at all, but
it is an impulse not only towards a rather grim and rigid
conception of righteousness, but towards a wider appreciation of
the quality of life, its interest, its grace, its fineness, and its

I am always sorry when I hear people talking about art as if it
were a rather easy and not very useful profession, when, as a
matter of fact, art is one of the sharp, swordlike things, like
religion and patriotism, which run through life, and divide it, and
separate people, and make men and women misunderstand each other.
Art means a temperament, and a method, and a point-of-view, and a
way of living. There are accomplished people who believe in art and
talk about it and even practise it, who do not understand what it
is; while there are people who know nothing about what is
technically called art, who are yet wholly and entirely artistic in
all that they do or think. Those who have not got the instinct of
art are wholly incapable of understanding what those who have got
the instinct are about; while those who possess it recognise very
quickly others who possess it, and are quite incapable of
explaining what it is to those who do not understand it.

I am going to make an attempt in this essay to explain what I
believe it to be, not because I hope to make it plain to those who
do not comprehend it. They will only think this all a fanciful sort
of nonsense: and I would say in passing that whenever in this world
one comes across people who talk what appears to be fantastic
nonsense, and who yet obviously understand each other and
sympathise with each other, one may take for granted that one is in
the presence of one of the hidden mysteries, and that if one does
not understand, it is because one does not see or hear something
which is perfectly plain to those who describe it. It is impossible
to do a more stupid thing than to fulminate against secrets which
one does not know, and say that "it stands to reason" that they
cannot be true. The belief that one has all the experience worth
having is an almost certain sign that one ranks low in the scale of

But what I do hope is that I may make the matter a little plainer
to people who do partly understand it, and would like to understand
it better; because art is a very big thing, and if it is even dimly
understood, it can add much significance and happiness to life.
Everyone must recognise the happiness which radiates from the
people who have a definite point-of-view and a definite aim. They
do not always make other people happy, but there is never any doubt
about their own happiness; and when one meets them and parts
company with them, it is impossible to think of them as lapsing
into any dreariness or depression; they are obviously going back to
comfortable schemes and businesses of their own; and we know that
whenever we meet them, we shall have just that half-envious feeling
that they know their own mind, never want to be interested or
amused, but are always occupied in something that continues to
interest them, even if they are ill or unfortunate.

To be happy, we all need a certain tenacity and continuity of aim
and view; and I would like to persuade people who are only half-
aware of it, that they have a power which they could use if they
would, and which they would be happier for using. For the best of
the art of which I speak is that it does not need rare experiences
of expensive materials to apply it, but can be applied to
commonplace and quiet ways of life just as easily as to exciting
and exceptional circumstances.

Let me say then that art, as a method and a point-of-view, has not
necessarily anything whatever to do with poetry or painting or
music. These are all manifestations of it in certain regions; but
what it consists in, to put it as simply as I can, is in the
perception and comparison of quality. If that sounds a heavy sort
of formula, it is because all formulas sound dull. But the faculty
of which I am speaking is that which observes closely all that
happens or exists within range--the sky, the earth, the trees, the
fields, the streets, the houses, the people; and then it goes
further and observes not only what people look like, but how they
move and speak and think; and then we come down to smaller things
still, to animals and flowers, to the colour and shape of things of
common use, furniture and tools, everything which is used in
ordinary life.

Now every one of these things has a certain quality--of suitability
or unsuitability, of proportion or disproportion. Let me take a few
quite random instances. Look at a spade, for instance. The sensible
man proceeds to call it a spade, and thinks he has done all that is
necessary; the wise man considers what length of experience and
practice has gone to make it perfectly adapted for its purpose, its
length and size, the ledge for the foot to rest on, the hole for
the fingers to pass through as they clasp it; all the tools and
utensils of men are human documents of far-reaching interest. Or
take the strange shapes and colours of flowers, the snapdragon with
its blunt lips, the nasturtium with its round flat leaves and
flaming horns--they are endless in variety, but all expressing
something not only quite definite, but remotely inherited. Or take
houses--how perfectly simple and graceful an old homestead can be,
how frightfully pretentious and vulgar the speculative builder's
work often is, how full of beauty both of form and colour almost
all the houses in certain parts of the country are, as in the
Cotswolds, where the soft stone has tempted builders to try
experiments, and to touch up a plain front with a little delicate
and well-placed ornament. Or take the aspect of men, women, and
children; how attractive some cannot help being, whatever they do;
how helplessly unattractive and uninteresting others can be, and
yet how, even so, a fine and sweet nature can make beautiful the
plainest and ungainliest of faces. And then in a further region
still there are the thoughts and habits and prejudices of people,
all wholly distinct, some beautiful and desirable, and others
unpleasant and even intolerable.

I could multiply instances indefinitely; but my point is that art
in the largest sense is or can be concerned with observing and
comparing all these separate qualities, wherever they appear. Of
course every one's observation does not extend to everything. There
are some people who are wholly unobservant, let us say, of scenery
or houses, who are yet very shrewd judges of character.

It is not only the beauty of things that one may observe; they may
be dreary, hideous, even horrible. The interest of quality does not
by any means depend upon its beauty. The point is whether it is
strongly and markedly itself. What could be more crammed with
quality than an enormous old pig, with its bristles, its
elephantine ears, its furtive little eyes, its twitching snout?
What a look it has of a fallen creature, puzzled by its own
uncleanliness and yet unable to devise any way out!

All this is only to show that life wherever it is lived affords a
rich harvest for eye and mind. And if one dives but a very little
way beneath the surface, one is instantly in the presence of the
darkest and deepest of mysteries. Who set this all going, and why?
Whose idea is it all? What is it all driving at? What is the
meaning of our being set down here, in our own particular shape,
feeling entirely distinct from it all, with very little idea what
our place in it is or what we are intended to do? and above all
that strange sense that we cannot be compelled to do anything
unless we choose--a sense which remains with us, even though day
after day and all day long we are doing things that we would not
choose to do, if we could help it.

The whole thing indeed is so strange as to be almost frightening,
the moment that we dare to think at all: and yet we feel on the
whole at our ease in it, and in our place; and the one thing that
does terrify us is the prospect of leaving it.

What I mean, then, by art in its largest sense is the faculty we
have of observing and comparing and wondering; and the people who
make the most of life are the people who give their imagination
wings; and then, too, comes in the further feeling, which leads us
to try and shape our own life and conduct on the lines of what we
admire and think beautiful; the dull word duty means that, that we
choose what is not necessarily pleasant because for some mysterious
reason we feel happier so; because, however much we may pretend to
think otherwise, we are all of us at every moment intent upon
happiness, which is a very different thing from pleasure, and
sometimes quite contrary to it.

And so we come at last to the art of living, which is really a very
delicate balancing and comparing of reasons, an attempt, however
blind and feeble, to get at happiness; and the moment that this
attempt ceases and becomes merely a dull desire to be as
comfortable as we can, that moment the spirit begins to go down
hill, and the value of life is over; unless perhaps we learn that
we cannot afford to go down hill, and that every backward step will
have to be painfully retraced, somewhere or other.

What, then, I would try to persuade anyone who is listening to me
is that we must use our wills somehow to try experiments, to
observe, to distinguish, to follow what we think fine and
beautiful. It may be said that this is only a sort of religion, and
indeed it is exactly that at which I am aiming. It is a religion,
which is within the reach of many people who cannot be touched by
what is technically called religion. Religion is a word that has
unhappily become specialised. It stands for beliefs, doctrines,
ceremonies, practices. But these may not, and indeed do not, suit
many of us. The worst of definite religions is that they are too
definite. They try to enforce upon us a belief in things which we
find incredible, or perhaps think to be simply unknowable; or they
make out certain practices to be important, which we do not think
important. We must never do violence to our minds and souls by
professing to believe what we do not believe, or to think things
certain which we honestly believe to be uncertain; but at the same
time we must remember that there is always something of beauty
inside every religion, because religion involves a deliberate
choice of better motives and better actions, and an attempt to
exclude the baser and viler elements of life.

Of course the objection to all this--and it is a serious one--is
that people may say, "Of course I see the truth of all that, and
the advantage of being actively and vividly interested in life; you
might as well preach the advantage of being happy; but my own
interest is fitful and occasional; sometimes for days together I
have no sense of the interest or quality of anything. I have no
time, I have no one to enjoy these things with. How am I to become
what I see it would be wise to be?" It is as when the woman of
Samaria said, "Thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is
deep!" It is true that civilisation does seem more and more to
create men and women with these instincts, and to set them in
circumstances where it is hard to gratify them. And then such
people are apt to say, "Is it after all worth while to aim at so
impossible a standard? Is it not better just to put it all aside,
and make oneself as comfortable as one can?" And that is the
practical answer which a good many people do make to the question;
and when such people get older, they are the most discouraging of
all advisers, because they ridicule the whole thing as nonsense,
which young men and young women had better get out of their heads
as soon as they can; as Jowett wrote of his pupil Swinburne, that
he was a clever fellow, and would do well enough as soon as he had
got rid of all this poetry and nonsense. I feel no doubt that these
ideas, this kind of interest in life, in the wonder and strangeness
of it, can be pursued by many who do not pursue it. It is like the
white deer, which in the old stories the huntsman was for ever
pursuing in the forest; he did not ever catch it, but the pursuit
of it brought him many high adventures.

Of course it is far easier if one has a friend who shares the same
tastes; but if one has not, there are always books, in which the
best minds can be found thinking and talking at their finest and
liveliest. But here again a good many people are betrayed by
reading books as one may collect stamps, just triumphing in the
number and variety of the repertory. I believe very little in
setting the foot on books, as sailors take possession of an unknown
isle. One must make experiments, just to see what are the kind of
books which nurture and sustain one; and then I believe in arriving
at a circle of books, which one really knows through and through,
and reads at all times and in all moods, till they get soaked and
enriched with all sorts of moods and associations. I have a dozen
such, which I read and mark and scribble in, write when and where I
read them, and who were my companions. Of course the same books do
not always last through one's course. You grow out of books as you
grow out of clothes; and I sometimes look at old favourites, and
find myself lost in wonder as to how I can ever have cared for them
like that! They seem now like little antechambers and corridors,
through which I have passed to something far more noble and
gracious. But all the time we must be trying to weave the books
really into life, not let them stand like ornaments on a shelf. It
is poetry that enkindles the mind most to dwell in the thoughts of
which I have been speaking. But it must not be read straight on; it
must rather be tasted, brooded over, repeated, learned by heart.
Let me take a personal instance. As a boy I had no opinion of
Wordsworth, except that I admired one or two of the great poems
like the "Ode on the Intimations of Immortality" and the "Ode to
Duty," which no one who sets out to love poetry at all can afford
to ignore. Then, as I grew older, I began to see that quotations
from Wordsworth had a sort of grandeur in their very substance,
which was unlike any other grandeur. And then I took the whole of
the poems away for a vacation, and worked at them; and then I found
how again and again Wordsworth touches a thought to life, which is
like the little objects you pick up on the seashore, the evidence
of another life close at hand, indubitably there, and yet unknown,
which is being lived under the waste of waters. When Wordsworth
says such things as

     And many love me, but by none
       Am I enough beloved,

or when he says,

     Some silent laws our hearts may make
       Which they shall long obey--

then he seems to uncover the very secrets of the world, and to
speak as when in the prophet's vision the seven thunders uttered
their voices. Only to-day I was working with a pupil; in his essay
he had quoted Wordsworth, and we looked up the place. While I was
speaking, my eye fell upon "The Poet's Epitaph," and I saw,

     Come hither in thy hour of strength,
     Come, weak as is a breaking wave!

Those two lines of unutterable magic; he could not understand why I
stopped and faltered, nor could I have explained it to him. But it
was as Coleridge says,

     Weave a circle round him thrice,
       And close your eyes in holy dread,
       For he on honey-dew hath fed,
     And drunk the milk of paradise.

It is just a mystery of beauty that has been seen, not to be
explained or understood.

Of course there are people, there will be people, who will read
what I have just written in an agony of rationality, and say that
it is all rubbish. But I am describing an experience of ecstasy
which is not very common perhaps; but just as real an experience as
eating or drinking. I have had the experience before. I shall have
it again; I recognise it at once, and it is quite distinct from
other experiences. One cannot sit down to it as regularly as one
sits down to a meal, of course. It is not a thing to be proud of,
because I have had it as far back as I can remember. Nor am I at
all sure what the effect of it is. It does not transfigure life
except for the moment; and if I were in a dull frame of mind, it
might not visit me at all, though it is very apt to come if I am in
a sad or anxious frame of mind.

Then how do I interpret it? Very simply indeed; that there is a
region which I will call the region of beauty, to which the view of
life that I have called art does sometimes undoubtedly admit one;
though as I have also said the view of which I speak is concerned
with many perceptions which are not beautiful, and even sometimes
quite the opposite.

If I were frankly asked whether it is worth while trying to think
or imagine or thrust oneself into this particular kind of rapture,
I should say, "Certainly not!" It is very doubtful if it could be
genuinely attained unless it has been already experienced; and I do
not believe in the wholesomeness of self-suggested emotions.

But I do believe most firmly that it is worth while for anyone who
is interested in such effects at all to try experiments, by looking
at things critically, hearing things, observing, listening to other
people, reading books, trying in fact to practise observation and

I was visiting some printing works the other day. The great
cylinders were revolving, the wheels buzzing, the levers clicking.
A boy perched on a platform by the huge machine lightly disengaged
a sheet of paper; it was drawn in, and a moment after a thing like
a gridiron flew up, made a sort of bow, and deposited a printed
sheet in a box, the sides of which kept moving, so as to pat the
papers into one solid pad.

I came away with the master-printer, and asked him idly whether the
boy knew what book he was printing. He laughed. "No," he said, "and
the less he is interested the better--his business is just to feed
the machine, and it becomes entirely mechanical." I felt a kind of
shame at the thought of a human being becoming so entirely and
completely a machine; but the boy looked cheerful, well, and
intelligent, and as if he had a very decisive little life of his
own quite apart from the whizzing engine, for ever bowing over and
putting a new sheet in the box.

But it is just that dull and mechanical handling of life which I
believe we ought to avoid. It is harder to avoid it for some people
than for others, and it is more difficult to escape from under
certain conditions. But all art and all artistic perception is just
a sign of the irresponsible and irrepressible joy of life, and an
attempt, as I said at first, to perceive and distinguish and
compare the quality of things. What I am here maintaining is that
art is not necessarily the production of something artistic; that
is the same impulse only when it rises in the heart of an
inventive, accomplished, deft-fingered, eager-minded craftsman. If
a man or a woman has a special gift of words, or a mastery of form
and colour, or musical phrases, the passion for beauty is bound to
show itself in the making of beautiful things--and such lives are
among the happiest that a man can live, though there is always the
shadow of realising the beauty that is out of reach, that cannot be
captured or expressed. And if it could be captured and expressed,
the quest would vanish!

But there are innumerable hearts and minds which have the
perception of quality, though not the power of expressing it; and
these are the people whom I wish to persuade of the fact that they
hold in their hands a thread, which, like the clue in the old
story, can conduct a searcher safely through the dark recesses of
the great labyrinth. He tied it, the dauntless youth in the tale,
to the ancient thorn-tree that grew by the cavern's mouth; and then
he stepped boldly in, and let it unwind within his hand.

For many people, indeed for all people who have any part in the
future of the world, the clue of life must be found in beauty of
some kind or another; not necessarily in the outward beauties of
colours, sounds, and words, but in the beauty of conduct, in the
kind, sweet-tempered, pure, unselfish life. Those who choose such
qualities do so simply because they seem more beautiful than the
spiteful, angry, greedy, selfish life. There is a horror of
ugliness about that; and thus beauty of every kind is of the nature
of a signal to us from some mighty power behind and in the world.
Evil, ugly, hateful, base things are strong indeed; but no peace,
no happiness, lies in that direction. It is just that power of
distinguishing, of choosing, of worshipping the beautiful quality
which has done for the world all that has ever been done to improve
it; and to follow it is to take the side of the power, whatever it
may be, that is trying to help and guide the world out of confusion
and darkness and strife into light and peace. It may be gratefully
admitted, of course, that religion is one of the foremost
influences in this great movement; but it also needs to be said
that religion, by connecting itself so definitely as it does with
ecclesiastical life, and ceremony, and theological doctrine, has
become a specialised thing, and does not meet all the desires of
the heart. It is not everyone who finds full satisfaction for all
the visions of the mind and soul in a church organisation. Some
people, and those neither wicked nor heartless nor unsympathetic,
find a real dreariness in systematised religion, with its
conventional beliefs, its narrow instruction, its catechisings,
missionary meetings, gatherings, devotions, services. It may be all
true enough in a sense, but it often leaves the sense of beauty and
interest and emotion and poetry unfed; it does not represent the
fulness of life. The people who are dissatisfied with it all are
often dumbly ashamed of their dissatisfaction, but yet it does not
feed the heart; the kind of heaven that they are taught awaits them
is not a place that they recognise as beautiful or desirable. They
do not want to do wrong, or to rebel against morality at all, but
they have impulses which do not seem to be recognised by technical
religion: adventure, friendship, passion, beauty, the strange and
wonderful emotions of life. The work of great poets and artists and
musicians, the lovely scenes of earth, these seem to have no place
inside systematic religion, to be things rather timorously
permitted, excused, and apologised for. Men need something richer,
freer, and larger. They do not want to shirk their duty or to
follow evil; but many things seem to be insisted upon by religion
as important which seem unimportant, many beliefs spoken of as true
which seem at best uncertain. It is not that such people are
disloyal to God and to virtue, but they feel stifled and confined
in an atmosphere which dares not attribute to God many of the
finest and sweetest things in the world.

Such a feeling is not so much a rebellion against old ideas, as a
new wine which is too strong for the old bottles; it is a desire to
extend the range of ideals, to find more things divine.

I do not believe that this instinct is going to be crushed or
overcome; I believe it will grow and spread, and play an immense
part in the civilisation of the future. I hope indeed that religion
will open its arms to meet it, because the spirit of which I speak
is in the truest sense religious; since it is concerned with
purifying and enriching life, and in living life, not on base or
mean lines, but with constant reference to the message of a Power
which is for ever reminding us that life is full of fire and music,
great, free, and wonderful. That is the meaning of it all, an
increased sense of the largeness and richness of life, which
refuses to be bound inside a gloomy, sad, suspicious outlook. It is
all an attempt to trust God more rather than less, and to recognise
the worth of life in wider and wider circles.

"Behold, this dreamer cometh," said Joseph's envious brethren, when
they saw him afar off; "we shall see what will become of his
dreams!" They conspired to slay him; they sold him into slavery.
Yet the day was to come when they stood trembling before him, and
when he freely forgave them and royally entertained them. We can
never afford to despise or deride dreams, because they are what men
live by; they come true; they bring a great deliverance with them.

The Project Gutenberg Etext of Escape and Other Essays
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End of The Project Gutenberg Etext of Escape and Other Essays
by Arthur Christopher Benson

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