ALL FOOLS' DAY
WE shall never make anything of democracy until we make fools of ourselves. For if a man really cannot make a fool of himself, we may be quite certain that the effort is superfluous.
MODESTY has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction -- where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth: this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert -- himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt -- the Divine Reason. Huxley preached a humility content to learn from Nature. But the new sceptic is so humble that he doubts if he can even learn. Thus we should be wrong if we had said hastily that there is no humility typical of our time. The truth is that there is a real humility typical of our time; but it so happens that it is practically a more poisonous humility than the wildest prostrations of the ascetic. The old humility was a spur that prevented a man from stopping: not a nail in his boot that prevented him from going on. For the old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder. But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which will make him stop working altogether.
IT is very currently suggested that the modern man is the heir of all the ages, that he has got the good out of these successive human experiments. I know not what to say in answer to this, except to ask the reader to look at the modern man, as I have just looked at the modern man -- in the looking-glass. Is it really true that you and I are two starry towers built up of all the most towering visions of the past? Have we really fulfilled all the great historic ideals one after the other, from our naked ancestor who was brave enough to kill a mammoth with a stone knife, through the Greek citizen and the Christian saint to our own grandfather or great-grandfather, who may have been sabred by the Manchester Yeomany or shot in the '48? Are we still strong enough to spear mammoths, but now tender enough to spare them? Does the cosmos contain any mammoth that we have either speared or spared? When we decline (in a marked manner) to fly the red flag and fire across a barricade like our grand-fathers, are we really declining in deference to sociologists -- or to soldiers? Have we indeed outstripped the warrior and passed the ascetical saint? I fear we only outstrip the warrior in the sense that we should probably run away from him. And if we have passed the saint, I fear we have passed him without bowing.
'What's Wrong with the World.'
THE prophet who is stoned is not a brawler or a marplot. He is simply a rejected lover. He suffers from an unrequited attachment to things in general.
LAUGHTER and love are everywhere. The cathedrals, built in the ages that loved God, are full of blasphemous grotesques. The mother laughs continually at the child, the lover laughs continually at the lover, the wife at the husband, the friend at the friend.
'The Napoleon of Notting Hill.'
FAIRY-TALES do not give a child his first idea of bogy. What fairy-tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogy. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy-tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.
Exactly what the fairy-tale does is this: it accustoms him by a series of clear pictures to the idea that these limitless terrors have a limit, that these shapeless enemies have enemies, that these infinite enemies of man have enemies in the knights of God, that there is something in the universe more mystical than darkness, and stronger than strong fear. When I was a child I have stared at the darkness until the whole black bulk of it turned into one negro giant taller than heaven. If there was one star in the sky it only made him a Cyclops. But fairy-tales restored my mental health. For next day I read an authentic account of how a negro giant with one eye, of quite equal dimensions, had been baffled by a little boy like myself (of similar inexperience and even lower social status) by means of a sword, some bad riddles, and a brave heart.
THE full value of this life can only be got by fighting; the violent take it by storm. And if we have accepted everything we have missed something -- war. This life of ours is a very enjoyable fight, but a very miserable truce.
THE old religionists tortured men physically for a moral truth. The new realists torture men morally for a physical truth.
'I SINCERELY maintain that Nature-worship is more morally dangerous than the most vulgar Man-worship of the cities; since it can easily be perverted into the worship of an impersonal mystery, carelessness, or cruelty. Thoreau would have been a jollier fellow if he had devoted himself to a green-grocer instead of to greens.'
'Alarms and Discursions.'
SUPPOSE that a great commotion arises in the street about something -- let us say a lamp-post, which many influential persons desire to pull down. A grey-clad monk, who is the spirit of the Middle Ages, is approached on the matter, and begins to say, in the arid manner of the Schoolmen, 'Let us first of all consider, my brethren, the value of Light. If Light be in itself good -- -- -- ' At this point he is somewhat excusably knocked down. All the people make a rush for the lamp-post, the lamppost is down in ten minutes, and they go about congratulating each other on their unmedieval practicality. But as things go on they do not work out so easily. Some people have pulled the lamp-post down because they wanted the electric light; some because they wanted old iron; some because they wanted darkness, because their deeds were evil. Some thought it not enough of a lamp-post, some too much; some acted because they wanted to smash municipal machinery; some because they wanted to smash something. And there is war in the night, no man knowing whom he strikes. So, gradually and inevitably, to-day, to-morrow, or the next day, there comes back the conviction that the monk was right after all, and that all depends on what is the philosophy of Light. Only what we might have discussed under the gas-lamp we must now discuss in the dark.
HIS soul will never starve for exploits or excitements who is wise enough to be made a fool of. He will make himself happy in the traps that have been laid for him; he will roll in their nets and sleep. All doors will fly open to him who has a mildness more defiant than mere courage. The whole is unerringly expressed in one fortunate phrase -- he will be always 'taken in.' To be taken in everywhere is to see the inside of everything. It is the hospitality of circumstance. With torches and trumpets, like a guest, the greenhorn is taken in by Life. And the sceptic is cast out by it.
YOU cannot admire will in general, because the essence of will is that it is particular. A brilliant anarchist like Mr. John Davidson felt an irritation against ordinary morality, and therefore he invokes will -- will to anything. He only wants humanity to want something. But humanity does want something. It wants ordinary morality. He rebels against the law and tells us to will something or anything. But we have willed something. We have willed the law against which he rebels.
I HAVE often been haunted with a fancy that the creeds of men might be paralleled and represented in their beverages. Wine might stand for genuine Catholicism, and ale for genuine Protestantism; for these at least are real religions with comfort and strength in them. Clean cold Agnosticism would be clean cold water -- an excellent thing if you can get it. Most modern ethical and idealistic movements might be well represented by soda-water -- which is a fuss about nothing. Mr. Bernard Shaw's philosophy is exactly like black coffee -- it awakens, but it does not really inspire. Modern hygienic materialism is very like cocoa; it would be impossible to express one's contempt for it in stronger terms than that. Sometimes one may come across something that may honestly be compared to milk, an ancient and heathen mildness, an earthly yet sustaining mercy -- the milk of human kindness. You can find it in a few pagan poets and a few old fables; but it is everywhere dying out.
AS it is in politics with the specially potent man, so it is in history with the specially learned. We do not need the learned man to teach us the important things. We all know the important things, though we all violate and neglect them. Gigantic industry, abysmal knowledge are needed for the discovery of the tiny things -- the things that seem hardly worth the trouble. Generally speaking, the ordinary man should be content with the terrible secret that men are men -- which is another way of saying that they are brothers.
'Illustrated London News.'
THE women were of the kind vaguely called emancipated, and professed some protest against male supremacy. Yet these new women would always pay to a man the extraordinary compliment which no ordinary woman ever pays to him -- that of listening while he is talking.
'The Man who was Thursday.'
WHATEVER the merits or demerits of the Pantheistic sentiment of melting into nature of 'Oneness' (I think they call it) with seas and skies, it is not and it never has been a popular sentiment. It has been the feeling of a few learned aesthetes or secluded naturalists. Popular poetry is all against Pantheism and quite removed from Immanence. It is all about the beautiful earth as an edge or fringe of something much better and quite distinct. Ballads and carols do not go to the tune of 'One with the Essence of the Boundless World.' Ballads and carols go to the tune of 'Over the hills and far away;' the sense that life leads by a strange and special path to something sacred and separate.
HOW high the sea of human happiness rose in the Middle Ages, we now only know by the colossal walls that they built to keep it in bounds. How low human happiness sank in the twentieth century, our children will only know by these extraordinary modern books, which tell people to be cheerful and that life is not so bad after all. Humanity never produces optimists till it has ceased to produce happy men. It is strange to be obliged to impose a holiday like a fast, and to drive men to a banquet with spears.
'George Bernard Shaw.'
IF a god does come upon the earth, he will descend at the sight of the brave. Our prostrations and litanies are of no avail our new moons and sabbaths are an abomination. The great man will come when all of us are feeling great, not when all of us are feeling small. He will ride in at some splendid moment when we all feel that we could do without him.
IF the great Jew who led the English Tories understood patriotism (as I do not doubt that he did) it must have been a decidedly special and peculiar kind of patriotism, and it necessarily laid him open to the mistake about the relative positions of the terms Emperor and King. To him no doubt Emperor seemed obviously a higher title; just as Brother of the Sun and Moon would have seemed to him a higher title than Second Cousin of the Evening Star. Among Orientals all such titles are towering and hyperbolical. But of kingship as it has been felt among Christian men he had no notion, and small blame to him. He did not understand the domestic, popular, and priestly quality in the thing; the idea expressed in the odd old phrase of being the breath of his people's nostrils; the mystical life pumped through the lungs and framework of a state.
'Illustrated London News.'
'I KNOW of a magic wand, but it is a wand that only one or two may rightly use, and only seldom. It is a fairy wand of great fear, stronger than those who use it -- often frightful, often wicked to use. But whatever is touched with it is never again wholly common whatever is touched with it takes a magic from outside the world. It has made mean landscapes magnificent and hovels outlast cathedrals. The touch of it is the finger of a strange perfection.
'There it is!' -- he pointed to the floor where his sword lay flat and shining.
'The Napoleon of Notting Hill.'
THERE are many definite methods, honest and dishonest, which make men rich; the only 'instinct' I know of which does it is that instinct which theological Christianity crudely describes as 'the sin of avarice.'
'All Things Considered.'
IT is a common saying that anything may happen behind our backs: transcendentally considered, the thing has an eerie truth about it. Eden may be behind our backs, or Fairyland. But this mystery of the human back has, again, its other side in the strange impression produced on those behind: to walk behind anyone along a lane is a thing that, properly speaking, touches the oldest nerve of awe. Watts has realized this as no one in art or letters has realized it in the whole history of the world; it has made him great. There is one possible exception to his monopoly of this magnificent craze. Two thousand years before, in the dark scriptures of a nomad people, it had been said that their prophet saw the immense Creator of all things, but only saw Him from behind.
'G. F. Watts.'
I SEE you how you smile in state
Straight from the Peak to Plymouth Bar;
You need not tell me you are great,
I know how more than great you are.
I know what spirit Chaucer was;
I have seen Gainsborough and the grass.
APRIL 24th ST. GEORGE'S DAY
THERE is no fear that a modern king will attempt to override the constitution: it is more likely that he will ignore the constitution and work behind its back. He will take no advantage of his kingly power: it is more likely that he will take advantage of his kingly powerlessness -- of the fact that he is free from criticism and publicity. For the King is the most private person of our time. It will not be necessary for anyone to fight against the proposal of a censorship of the Press. We do not need a censorship of the Press. We have a censorship by the Press.
ST MARK'S DAY
THE only thing still old-fashioned enough to reject miracles is the New Theology.
THE modern man thought Becket's robes too rich and his meals too poor. But then the modern man was really exceptional in history; no man before ever ate such elaborate dinners in such ugly clothes. The modern man found the Church too simple exactly where life is too complex; he found the Church too gorgeous exactly where modern life is too dingy. The man who disliked the plain fasts and feasts was mad on entrees. The man who disliked vestments wore a pair of preposterous trousers. And surely if there was any insanity involved in the matter at all it was in the trousers, not in the simply falling robe. If there was any insanity at all, it was in the extravagant entrees, not in the bread and wine.
THE two things that a healthy person hates most between heaven and hell are a woman who is not dignified and a man who is.
'All Things Considered.'
FOR those who study the great art of lying in bed there is one emphatic caution to be added. Even for those who cannot do their work in bed (as, for example, the professional harpooners of whales), it is obvious that the indulgence must be very occasional. But that is not the caution I mean. The caution is this: if you do lie in bed, be sure you do it without any reason or justification at all. I do not speak, of course, of the seriously sick. But if a healthy man lies in bed, let him do it without a rag of excuse; then he will get up a healthy man. If he does it for some secondary hygienic reason, if he has some scientific explanation, he may get up a hypochondriac.
THE creed of our cruel cities is not so sane and just as the creed of the old countryside; but the people are just as clever in giving names to their sins in the city as in giving names to their joys in the wilderness. One could not better sum up Christianity than by calling a small white insignificant flower 'The Star of Bethlehem.' But then again one could not better sum up the philosophy deduced from Darwinism than in the one verbal picture of 'having your monkey up.'
CATHERINE OF SIENA'S DAY
HISTORIC Christianity rose into a high and strange coup de theatre of morality -- things that are to virtue what the crimes of Nero are to vice. The spirits of indignation and of charity took terrible and attractive forms, ranging from that monkish fierceness that scourged like a dog the first and greatest of the Plantagenets, to the sublime pity of St. Catherine, who, in the official shambles, kissed the bloody head of the criminal. Our ethical teachers write reasonably for prison reform; but we are not likely to see Mr. Cadbury, or any eminent philanthropist, go into Reading Jail to embrace the strangled corpse before it is cast into the quicklime. Our ethical teachers write wildly against the power of millionaires, but we are not likely to see Mr. Rockefeller, or any modern tyrant, publicly whipped in Westminster Abbey.