“Truisms can come true”

It seems nowadays to be counted a prodigy that the truisms can come true. The discovery that a new notion is nonsense is itself treated as a new notion. There is a tradition, let us say, that jumping off a high precipice is prejudicial to the health; and therefore nobody does it. Then appears a progressive prophet and reformer, who points out that we really know nothing about it, because nobody does it. He urges, truly, that you and I have but rarely tested the matter by ourselves falling off high cliffs and carefully noting the results. He insists that there is seldom a long queue, or a continuous procession of persons, filing past Dover up to Shakespeare’s Cliff with this scientific object; and that there is, therefore, no sufficient number of cases of the needs of induction. At last some highly scientific character does jump off Shakespeare’s Cliff, and is found dead on Dover sands. And the other scientists, standing around his corpse in a ring, do not regard it as the remains of a fool or a hero or an example of the ancient human tragedy. They regarded as if it were some entirely new and interesting sea-beast thrown up by the sea. They have made a discovery. They hardly realize that it is merely the discovery that all their fathers and grandfathers and great grandfathers were right. But they are bound to admit it is the discovery that they themselves were wrong. And that is a very astonishing discovery indeed.

— Illustrated London News, 9 March 1918.

Published in: on February 19, 2020 at 5:45 pm  Leave a Comment  

“Journalism is journalistic”

I hope I shall always speak of the journalistic trade with as much respect as it is decent for a man to feel for something which he has discovered to be not too difficult for him to do — a discovery which, in a well-regulated mind, will always prevent any positively prostrate adoration. But I know that my fellow-journalists will agree with me when I say that they are in a peculiar position towards life — in the fact that they are forbidden to be so careless as are happier men about what happens in the world. Poetry, it has been said, is a criticism of life; but it is not a criticism that need be offered in large quantities at short and regular intervals. No poet is expected to write an ode to the skylark every morning, even on the improbable supposition that every morning he is up with the lark. No spiritual child of Shakespeare or Wordsworth is expected to unlock his heart with the key of the sonnet every night when he unlocks his house with the latchkey. But journalism is journalistic, often in the literal sense of being daily; and it is a criticism of life that must always be criticising. It is no matter for wonder if it sometimes criticises too much, or if (which is the much more real complaint) it criticises the wrong thing.

Illustrated London News, 9 February 1918.

Published in: on January 22, 2020 at 6:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

“Not two men, but one”

Happy is he who still loves something that he loved in the nursery: he has not been broken in two by time; he is not two men, but one, and has saved not only his soul but his life.

–- Illustrated London News,
26 September 1908.

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“Good for his soul”

Any truth that a man fears will be good for his soul.

The Daily News, 6 May 1905.

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Conversion is the one sort of conquest in which the conquered must rejoice.

The New Jerusalem (1920).

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“Forge a testimonial”

I think mere progress a far more vulgar and even illiterate ideal than mere popularity. To look to the future is merely to forge a testimonial from the babe unborn. And, if we look to the past, we find a hundred eccentrics whom fame has forgotten to one whom it has justified.

Illustrated London News, 3 November 1917.

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“To love anything”

To love anything is to see it at once under lowering skies of danger.

All Things Considered (1908).

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“Minding their own business”

A queer and almost mad notion seems to have got into the modern head that, if you mix everybody and everything more or less anyhow, the mixture may be called unity, and the unity may be called peace. It is supposed that, if you break down all doors and walls so that there is no domesticity, there will then be nothing but friendship. Surely somebody must have noticed by this time that the men living in a hotel quarrel at least as often as the men living in a street… These foolish people trace all the chances of war to the very thing which will always be the best chance of peace — men’s habit of dwelling in their own boundaries and minding their own business. The only hope of attaining amity lies, not in ignoring boundaries, but, on the contrary, in respecting them.

Illustrated London News, 8 September 1917.

Published in: on June 5, 2019 at 11:41 am  Comments (2)  

“People too dull to be bored”

It is the paradox of most Parliaments that they appeal for a majority and give power to a minority. When a majority becomes a machinery, the minority becomes the man that works the machine. And the minority becomes very much more powerful than it would if there were no Parliament at all. The whole thing works by a curious trick of topsy-turvydom, recalling the tale about the girl who jumped into the water to find out which of her lovers would rescue her. They all jumped in except one; and she adopted the rather cynical course of marrying the dry one.

In this war the majority of men have really proved themselves heroes; they have really, by a common impulse, plunged into the sea of slaughter and catastrophe, and the politician has been left on deck, as the comparatively dry one, with an undisputed claim to steer the ship. But even in normal times the majority of men plunge with no little pluck into the sea of troubles; and the real difficulty of democracy is not that voters are unworthy, but that their vote is generally the least worthy thing about them. When they are not defending their country they are earning their living, or educating their children, or falling in love, or finding salvation, or doing some other thing more interesting than politics, so that the latter is left for politicians as the only people too dull to be bored by it.

Hence we find everywhere very unpopular persons powerful in politics when they are quite impotent in every other department. A man like Mr MacDonald or Mr Snowden, amid the most acute feelings against their anti-national philosophy, could get a Parliamentary seat and a Governmental post much more easily than they could get any other form of public approval — much more easily than they could get a mob to rise for them, or a subscription raised for them, or a popular song sung in their honour.

Illustrated London News, 30 June 1917.

Published in: on May 29, 2019 at 5:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

“Stronger than strong pain”

Pagans were not impressed by the torture of Christians merely because it showed that they honestly held their opinion; they knew that millions of people honestly held all sorts of opinions. The point of such extreme martyrdom is much more subtle. It is that it gives an appearance of a man having something quite specially strong to back him up, of his drawing upon some power. And this can only be proved when all his physical contentment is destroyed; when all the current of his bodily being is reversed and turned to pain. If a man is seen to be roaring with laughter all the time that he is skinned alive, it would not be unreasonable to deduce that somewhere in the recesses of his mind he had thought of a rather good joke. Similarly, if men smiled and sang (as they did) while they were being boiled or torn in pieces, the spectators felt the presence of something more than mere mental honesty: they felt the presence of some new and unintelligible kind of pleasure, which, presumably, came from somewhere. It might be a strength of madness, or a lying spirit from Hell; but it was something quite positive and extraordinary; as positive as brandy and as extraordinary as conjuring. The Pagan said to himself: “If Christianity makes a man happy while his legs are being eaten by a lion, might it not make me happy while my legs are still attached to me and walking down the street?” The Secularists laboriously explain that martyrdoms do not prove a faith to be true, as if anybody was ever such a fool as to suppose that they did. What they did prove, or, rather, strongly suggest, was that something had entered human psychology which was stronger than strong pain. If a young girl, scourged and bleeding to death, saw nothing but a crown descending on her from God, the first mental step was not that her philosophy was correct, but that she was certainly feeding on something.

All Things Considered (1908).

Published in: on May 23, 2019 at 12:23 am  Leave a Comment