“For want of wonder”

I have my doubts about all this real value in mountaineering, in getting to the top of everything and overlooking everything. Satan was the most celebrated of Alpine guides, when he took Jesus to the top of an exceeding high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the earth. But the joy of Satan in standing on a peak is not a joy in largeness, but a joy in beholding smallness, in the fact that all men look like insects at his feet. It is from the valley that things look large; it is from the level that things look high; I am a child of the level and have no need of that celebrated Alpine guide. I will lift up my eyes to the hills, from whence cometh my help; but I will not lift up my carcass to the hills, unless it is absolutely necessary. Everything is in an attitude of mind; and at this moment I am in a comfortable attitude. I will sit still and let the marvels and the adventures settle on me like flies. There are plenty of them, I assure you. The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder.

— Tremendous Trifles (1909).

Published in: on May 20, 2015 at 11:55 am  Leave a Comment  

“Indifference is the armour of sanity”

If I wanted to introduce Democracy into the modern world (a staggering innovation), and if I were considering such schemes as the Referendum or the Second Ballot, there is one reform I should make which I do not remember to have been suggested anywhere: I should count all the citizens who had not voted for an important change as having voted against it. That would knock the Earnest fellows in the wind. For it is not just, and it is not even useful, that only the earnestness of the nation should count. There is much moral value in the indifference of a nation; indifference can be healthy, just as excitement can be unhealthy. The normal citizen should be allowed to grumble at a thing and to laugh at a thing; but he should also be allowed to yawn at a thing. And his yawn should count as well as his yell. A healthy democracy should yawn in chorus; and when the Earnest people introduced some fussy bit of boredom or other, all who were of the contrary opinion should signify the same by holding up their hands — in front of their mouths. For it is a criticism, and a powerful criticism, of any project that it leaves vast varieties of men quite negligent and contemptuous. Indifference is the armour of sanity.

— The Illustrated London News, 15 June 1912.

Published in: on May 13, 2015 at 11:54 am  Leave a Comment  

“It should be public and monumental”

Religious services, the most sacred of all things, have always been held publicly; it is entirely a new and debased notion that sanctity is the same as secrecy. A great many modern poets, with the most abstruse and delicate sensibilities, love darkness, when all is said and done, much for the same reason that thieves love it. The mission of a great spire or statue should be to strike the spirit with a sudden sense of pride as with a thunderbolt. It should lift us with it into the empty and ennobling air. Along the base of every noble monument, whatever else may be written there, runs in invisible letters the lines of Swinburne: ‘This thing is God: To be man with thy might, To go straight in the strength of thy spirit, and live out thy life in the light.’ If a public monument does not meet this first supreme and obvious need, that it should be public and monumental, it fails from the outset.

— The Defendant (1901).

Published in: on May 6, 2015 at 5:38 pm  Leave a Comment  

“The civilisation of vows was broken up”

The civilisation of vows was broken up when Henry the Eighth broke his own vow of marriage. Or rather, it was broken up by a new cynicism in the ruling powers of Europe, of which that was the almost accidental expression in England. The monasteries, that had been built by vows, were destroyed. The guilds, that had been regiments of volunteers, were dispersed. The sacramental nature of marriage was denied; and many of the greatest intellects of the new movement, like Milton, already indulged in a very modern idealisation of divorce. The progress of this sort of emancipation advanced step by step with the progress of that aristocratic ascendancy which has made the history of modern England; with all its sympathy with personal liberty, and all its utter lack of sympathy with popular life. Marriage not only became less of a sacrament but less of a sanctity. It threatened to become not only a contract, but a contract that could not be kept. For this one question has retained a strange symbolic supremacy amid all the similar questions, which seems to perpetuate the coincidence of the origin. It began with divorce for a king; and it is now ending in divorces for a whole kingdom.

— The Superstition of Divorce  (1920).

Published in: on April 29, 2015 at 8:27 am  Leave a Comment  

“The poetry of modern life”

The first essential value of the detective story lies in this, that it is the earliest and only form of popular literature in which is expressed some sense of the poetry of modern life. Men lived among mighty mountains and eternal forests for ages before they realized that they were poetical; it may reasonably be inferred that some of our descendants may see the chimney-pots as rich a purple as the mountain-peaks, and find the lamp-posts as old and natural as the trees. Of this realization of a great city itself as something wild and obvious the detective story is certainly the ‘Iliad.’ No one can have failed to notice that in these stories the hero or the investigator crosses London with something of the loneliness and liberty of a prince in a tale of elfland, that in the course of that incalculable journey the casual omnibus assumes the primal colours of a fairy ship. The lights of the city begin to glow like innumerable goblin eyes, since they are the guardians of some secret, however crude, which the writer knows and the reader does not.

— The Defendant (1901).

Published in: on April 22, 2015 at 11:03 pm  Comments (1)  

“A pillar-box”

It is indeed difficult to account for the clinging curse of ugliness which blights everything brought forth by the most prosperous of centuries. In all created nature there is not, perhaps, anything so completely ugly as a pillar-box. Its shape is the most unmeaning of shapes, its height and thickness just neutralising each other; its colour is the most repulsive of colours–a fat and soulless red, a red without a touch of blood or fire, like the scarlet of dead men’s sins. Yet there is no reason whatever why such hideousness should possess an object full of civic dignity, the treasure-house of a thousand secrets, the fortress of a thousand souls. If the old Greeks had had such an institution, we may be sure that it would have been surmounted by the severe, but graceful, figure of the god of letter-writing. If the mediaeval Christians had possessed it, it would have had a niche filled with the golden aureole of St Rowland of the Postage Stamps. As it is, there it stands at all our street-corners, disguising one of the most beautiful of ideas under one of the most preposterous of forms.

It is useless to deny that the miracles of science have not been such an incentive to art and imagination as were the miracles of religion. If men in the twelfth century had been told that the lightning had been driven for leagues underground, and had dragged at its destroying tail loads of laughing human beings, and if they had then been told that the people alluded to this pulverising portent chirpily as ‘The Twopenny Tube,’ they would have called down the fire of Heaven on us as a race of half-witted atheists. Probably they would have been quite right.

— Twelve Types (1903).

Published in: on April 16, 2015 at 12:02 am  Leave a Comment  

“God of things as they are”

The wonder-working done by good people, saints and friends of man, is almost always represented in the form of restoring things or people to their proper shapes. St. Nicholas, the Patron Saint of Children, finds a boiling pot in which two children have been reduced to a sort of Irish stew. He restores them miraculously to life, because they ought to be children and ought not to be Irish stew. But he does not turn them into angels; and I can remember no case in hagiology of such an official promotion. If a woman were blind, the good wonder-workers would give her back her eyes; if a man were halt, they would give him back his leg. But they did not, I think, say to the man: “You are so good that you really ought to be a woman”; or to the woman: “You are so bothered it is time you had a holiday as a man.” I do not say there are no exceptions; but this is the general tone of the tales about good magic. But, on the other hand, the popular tales about bad magic are specially full of the idea that evil alters and destroys the personality. The black witch turns a child into a cat or a dog; the bad magician keeps the prince captive in the form of a parrot, or the princess in the form of a hind; in the gardens of the evil spirits human beings are frozen into statues or tied to the earth as trees. In all such instinctive literature the denial of identity is the very signature of Satan. In that sense it is true that the true God is the God of things as they are — or, at least, as they were meant to be.

Illustrated London News, 22 November 1913.

Published in: on April 8, 2015 at 10:37 pm  Leave a Comment  

Lines To A Young Girl Born Before April Fool’s Day

When March went out a lion or a lamb,
And you came in, a lamb or lioness
(For which you were, when in the cot or pram,
I do not know although I partly guess),
They gave you that strong name, with other mercies,
Especially no doubt to suit my verses.

My verses, which were then, as you are, young,
More numerous than now and even worse,
But then were things less glorious to be sung,
And several things more damnable to curse;
And so in rhymes I now find crude and scrappy,
I kicked the pessimists to make them happy.

Thank Heaven you missed, and men need tell you not,
What tosh was talked when you were very small,
When Decadence, which is the French for Rot,
Turned life to an irreverent funeral.
The leaden night of that long peace is dead
And we have seen the daybreak … very red.

England, unbroken of the evil kings,
Whose line is breaking in the breaking snow,
Open your ways to large and laughing things
And the young peace be with you where you go,
And far on that new spire, new sprung in space,
St. Michael of the morning give you grace.

The Spring is with us, whose new-made election
Leaps in the beeches that baptised our Field,
Walks in the woods the ways of resurrection
In a new world washed in the wind and healed;
Young as your ancient name, more strong than death,
Strength of the House of God, Elizabeth.

— (March, 1916).

Published in: on April 1, 2015 at 10:09 am  Comments (1)  

The Trinkets

A wandering world of rivers,
A wavering world of trees,
If the world grow dim and dizzy
With all changes and degrees,
It is but Our Lady’s mirror
Hung dreaming in its place,
Shining with only shadows
Till she wakes it with her face.

The standing whirlpool of the stars,
The wheel of all the world,
Is a ring on Our Lady’s finger
With the suns and moons empearled
With stars for stones to please her
Who sits playing with her rings
With the great heart that a woman has
And the love of little things.

Wings of the whirlwind of the world
From here to Ispahan,
Spurning the flying forests,
Are light as Our Lady’s fan:
For all things violent here and vain
Lie open and all at ease
Where God has girded heaven to guard
Her holy vanities.

— (1916-21).

Published in: on March 25, 2015 at 9:56 pm  Leave a Comment  

“Imagines himself to be irritated”

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

— All Things Considered (1908).

Published in: on March 18, 2015 at 9:53 am  Leave a Comment  
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