At the end of the war

Every consideration of common-sense suggests that the war is already rapidly reaching its end, and none the less rapidly because it happens to be the right end. The very fact that the enemy is so anxious to finish it in his way, or the nearest he can get to his way, is itself evidence that we are near to finishing it our way.

What the enemy still wishes to avoid is a real reversal of the relations between himself and us. He would avoid the reversal of Sedan even more than the restoration of Alsace. He does not wish the great war of the world to end with one of the decisive battles of the world. He knows how those great decisions dominate history; and how much is remembered as historic because it is dramatic. The same instinct warns him against the bodily presence of invaders on German soil, which will reverse the more recent tradition that Germany is always invading and France being invaded, and return to the older European tradition that it was the Gauls even more than the Teutons who could, if necessary, cross the Rhine.

Germany in recent times has built up a legend that she cannot be invaded, which would have been a worthier legend if it had not always gone along with the legend that she can always invade other people. All the accidents of this war have so far supported this legend, and it is because the legend is just on the very point of being falsified that everything else is surrendered in order that the legend may be saved. If the legend is saved, nothing else can be saved. For that legend is the lie that has forced them into their false position in modern Europe.

The Illustrated London News,
2 November 1918.

Published in: on November 11, 2018 at 10:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

“The mystery of the beasts”

There ought to be a certain limit to our sympathy with animals, not because we need distrust our motives, but because we can never verify our results. There is no reason for not being kind to a fly; but there is real difficulty in finding out if you have been kind to him. Now the world is full of frightful cruelties and neglects which we could all find out if we liked. If we used our imagination upon the sweated worker, the savage, the slave, and even, in some cases, the higher animals, we could get an answer. We could find out, with a rough human finality, whether they are unjustly treated or no. The wealthy idealists of to-day could get an answer to such questions. That is why they will not ask such questions; they are afraid of getting an answer. But the mystery of the beasts and the blinder forms of life is an unfathomable mystery: they cannot discover exactly how much or how little harm they have done to a whale. Therefore they pour their tears into this bottomless bucket: because it is bottomless. They use in pathetic imaginings, by their nature useless and eternal, an energy of the heart which, if directed against real and certain wrongs, might release millions of men from the rack of an artificial agony.

The Illustrated London News, 10 February 1912.

Published in: on November 7, 2018 at 3:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Ancient of Days

A child sits in a sunny place,
Too happy for a smile,
And plays through one long holiday
With balls to roll and pile;
A painted wind-mill by his side,
Runs like a merry tune,
But the sails are the four great winds of heaven,
And the balls are the sun and moon.

A staring doll’s-house shows to him
Green floors and starry rafter,
And many-coloured graven dolls
Live for his lonely laughter.
The dolls have crowns and aureoles,
Helmets and horns and wings,
For they are the saints and seraphim,
The prophets and the kings.

(c.late 1890s).

Published in: on October 31, 2018 at 10:30 pm  Comments (1)  

Poetry and prose

We should all like to speak poetry at the moment when we truly live, and if we do not speak it, it is because we have an impediment in our speech. It is not song that is the narrow or artificial thing, it is conversation that is a broken and stammering attempt at song.

Twelve Types (1903).

Published in: on October 24, 2018 at 10:51 pm  Leave a Comment  

“To make settled things strange”

Imagination has its highest use in a retrospective realization. The trumpet of imagination, like the trumpet of the Resurrection, calls the dead out of their graves. Imagination sees Delphi with the eyes of a Greek, Jerusalem with the eyes of a Crusader, Paris with the eyes of a Jacobin, and Arcadia with the eyes of a Euphuist. The prime function of imagination is to see our whole orderly system of life as a pile of stratified revolutions. In spite of all revolutionaries it must be said that the function of imagination is not to make strange things settled, so much as to make settled things strange; not so much to make wonders facts as to make facts wonders.

— The Defendant (1901).

Published in: on October 17, 2018 at 9:57 pm  Leave a Comment  

Flattery, old and new

In more straightforward times flattery itself was more straightforward; falsehood itself was more true. A poor man wishing to please a rich man simply said that he was the wisest, bravest, tallest, strongest, most benevolent and most beautiful of mankind; and as even the rich man probably knew that he wasn’t that, the thing did the less harm. When courtiers sang the praises of a King they attributed to him things that were entirely improbable, as that he resembled the sun at noonday, that they had to shade their eyes when he entered the room, that his people could not breathe without him, or that he had with his single sword conquered Europe, Asia, Africa, and America. The safety of this method was its artificiality; between the King and his public image there was really no relation.

But the moderns have invented a much subtler and more poisonous kind of eulogy. The modern method is to take the prince or rich man, to give a credible picture of his type of personality, as that he is business-like, or a sportsman, or fond of art, or convivial, or reserved; and then enormously exaggerate the value and importance of these natural qualities. Those who praise Mr. Carnegie do not say that he is as wise as Solomon and as brave as Mars; I wish they did. It would be the next most honest thing to giving their real reason for praising him, which is simply that he has money. The journalists who write about Mr. Pierpont Morgan do not say that he is as beautiful as Apollo; I wish they did. What they do is to take the rich man’s superficial life and manner, clothes, hobbies, love of cats, dislike of doctors, or what not; and then with the assistance of this realism make the man out to be a prophet and a saviour of his kind, whereas he is merely a private and stupid man who happens to like cats or to dislike doctors.

The old flatterer took for granted that the King was an ordinary man, and set to work to make him out extraordinary. The newer and cleverer flatterer takes for granted that he is extraordinary, and that therefore even ordinary things about him will be of interest.

— All Things Considered (1908).

Published in: on October 10, 2018 at 10:11 am  Leave a Comment  

On physical courage

One of the deepest and most sagacious of the controversial answers of Dr. Johnson ran, I think, something like this: “Why, Sir, strictly speaking , physical courage is not a Christian virtue. Nevertheless, a Christian man should cultivate it; for he who has lost that virtue can never be certain of preserving any other.”

But in our own more refined age not only is courage not called Christian, but cowardice is actually called Christianity.  Motives entirely base, selfish, materialistic, and timid, are supposed to have some kind of savour of the Gospel about them so long as they lead to peace and not to war. Of course, every Christian man, if he be sane, thinks that peace is better than war; and if his horror of war is a compassion for stricken soldiers or an indignation at trampled rights, it is the sentiment of a Christian and even of a saint. But what I complain of is that this spiritual superiority is claimed by Pacifists whose motive is almost as elevated as Falstaff’s when he pretended to be a corpse on the battle-field of Shrewsbury. To keep the peace for money may be as wicked as to make war for money. These rhetoricians may call the merely physical case against war “an advance” in human ethics; but to me it seems not half so like advancing as it is like running away.

The Illustrated London News, 21 June 1913.

Published in: on October 3, 2018 at 12:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

“This dodge”

My friend, the human race is always trying this dodge of making everything entirely easy; but the difficulty which it shifts off one thing it shifts on to another.

— Tremendous Trifles (1909).

Published in: on September 19, 2018 at 11:54 am  Leave a Comment  

“A cosmic and philosophic humour”

The fundamental conception in the minds of the majority of our younger writers is that comedy is, ‘par excellence,’ a fragile thing. It is conceived to be a conventional world of the most absolutely delicate and gimcrack description. Such stories as Mr Max Beerbohm’s ‘Happy Hypocrite’ are conceptions which would vanish or fall into utter nonsense if viewed by one single degree too seriously.

But great comedy, the comedy of  Shakespeare or Sterne, not only can be, but must be, taken seriously. There is nothing to which a man must give himself up with more faith and self-abandonment than to genuine laughter. In such comedies one laughs with the heroes and not at them. The humour which steeps the stories of Falstaff and Uncle Toby is a cosmic and philosophic humour, a geniality which goes down to the depths. It is not superficial reading, it is not even, strictly speaking, light reading. Our sympathies are as much committed to the characters as if they were the predestined victims in a Greek tragedy.

The modern writer of comedies may be said to boast of the brittleness of his characters. He seems always on the eve of knocking his puppets to pieces. When John Oliver Hobbes wrote for the first time a comedy of serious emotions, she named it, with a thinly-disguised contempt for her own work, ‘A Sentimental Comedy.’ The ground of this conception of the artificiality of comedy is a profound pessimism. Life in the eyes of these mournful buffoons is itself an utterly tragic thing; comedy must be as hollow as a grinning mask. It is a refuge from the world, and not even, properly speaking, a part of it. Their wit is a thin sheet of shining ice over the eternal waters of bitterness.

Twelve Types (1903).

Published in: on September 12, 2018 at 12:25 pm  Leave a Comment  

Slang and poetry

All slang is metaphor, and all metaphor is poetry.

 — The Defendant (1901).

Published in: on September 6, 2018 at 4:12 pm  Leave a Comment