“Larger than the old cosmos”

We must grasp from the first this character in the new cosmos; that it was larger than the old cosmos.  In that sense Christendom is larger than creation; as creation had been before Christ.  It included things that had not been there; it also included the things that had been there.  The point happens to be well illustrated in this example of Chinese piety, but it would be true of other pagan virtues or pagan beliefs. Nobody can doubt that a reasonable respect for parents is part of a gospel in which God himself was subject in childhood to earthly parents. But the other sense in which the parents were subject to him does introduce an idea that is not Confucian.  The infant Christ is not like the infant Confucius; our mysticism conceives him in an immortal  infancy.  I do not know what Confucius would have done with the Bambino had it come to life in his arms as it did in the arms of St. Francis.  But this is true in relation to all the other religions and philosophies; it is the challenge of the Church.  The Church contains what the world does not contain. Life itself does not provide as she does for all sides of life. That every other single system is narrow and insufficient compared to this one; that is not a rhetorical boast; it is a real fact and a real dilemma.  Where is the Holy child amid the Stoics and the ancestor-worshippers? Where is Our Lady of the Moslems, a woman made for no man and set above all angels? Where is St. Michael of the monks of Buddha, rider and master of the trumpets, guarding for every soldier the honour of the sword? What could St. Thomas Aquinas do with the mythology of Brahminism, he who set forth all the science and rationality and even rationalism of Christianity?  Yet even if we compare Aquinas with Aristotle, at the other extreme of reason, we shall find the same sense of something added.  Aquinas could understand the most logical parts of Aristotle; it is doubtful if Aristotle could have understood the most mystical parts of Aquinas.  Even where we can hardly call the Christian greater, we are forced to call him larger. But it is so to whatever philosophy or heresy or modern movement we may turn.  How would Francis the Troubadour have fared among the Calvinists, or for that matter among the Utilitarians of the Manchester School?  Yet men like Bossuet and Pascal could be as stern and logical as any Calvinist or Utilitarian.  How would St. Joan of Arc, a woman waving on men to war with the sword, have fared among the Quakers or the Doukhabors or the Tolstoyan sect of pacifists? Yet any number of Catholic saints have spent their lives in preaching peace and preventing wars.  It is the same with all the modern attempts at Syncretism.  They are never able to make something larger than the Creed without leaving something out.  I do not mean leaving out something divine but something human; the flag or the inn or the boy’s tale of battle or the hedge at the end of the field. The Theosophists build a pantheon; but it is only a pantheon for pantheists.  They call a Parliament of Religions as a reunion of all the peoples; but it is only a reunion of all the prigs. Yet exactly such a pantheon had been set up two thousand years before by the shores of the Mediterranean; and Christians were invited to set up the image of Jesus side by side with the image of Jupiter, of Mithras, of Osiris, of Atys, or of Ammon.  It was the refusal of the Christians that was the turning-point of history. If the Christians had accepted, they and the whole world would have certainly, in a grotesque but exact metaphor, gone to pot. They would all have been boiled down to one lukewarm liquid in that great pot of cosmopolitan corruption in which all the other myths and mysteries were already melting.  It was an awful and an appalling escape.  Nobody understands the nature of the Church, or the ringing note of the creed descending from antiquity, who does not realise that the whole world once very nearly died of broadmindedness and the brotherhood of all religions.

The Everlasting Man (1925).

Published in: on October 28, 2009 at 6:38 am  Leave a Comment  

Rhapsody on a Pig

A dream of my pure and aspiring boyhood has been realised in the following paragraph, which I quote exactly as it stands —

A complaint by the Epping Rural District Council against a spinster keeping a pig in her house has evoked the following reply: “I received your letter, and felt very much cut up, as I am laying in the pig’s room.  I have not been able to stand up or get on my legs; when I can, I will get him in his own room, that was built for him.  As to getting him off the premises, I shall do no such thing, as he is no nuisance to anyone.  We have had to be in the pig’s room now for three years.  I am not going to get rid of my pet.  We must all live together.  I will move him as soon as God gives me strength to do so.”

The Rev. T.C. Spurgin observed: “The lady will require a good deal of strength to move her pet, which weighs forty stone.”

It appears to me that the Rev. T.C. Spurgin ought, as a matter of chivalry, to assist the lady to move the pig, if it is indeed too heavy for her strength; no gentleman should permit a lady, who is already very much cut up, to lift forty stone of still animated and recalcitrant pork; he should himself escort the animal downstairs.  It is an unusual situation, I admit.  In the normal life of humanity the gentleman gives his arm to the lady, and not to the pig; and it is the pig who is very much cut up.  But the situation seems to be exceptional in every way.  It is all very well for the lady to say that the pig is no nuisance to anyone: as it seems that she has established herself in the pig’s private suite of apartments, the question rather is whether she is a nuisance to the pig.  But indeed I do not think that this poor woman’s fad is an inch more fantastic than many such oddities indulged in by rich and reputable people; and, as I say, I have from my boyhood entertained the dream.  I never could imagine why pigs should not be kept as pets.  To begin with, pigs are very beautiful animals.  Those who think otherwise are those who do not look at anything with their own eyes, but only through other people’s eyeglasses.  The actual lines of a pig (I mean of a really fat pig) are among the loveliest and most luxuriant in nature; the pig has the same great curves, swift and yet heavy, which we see in the rushing water or in rolling cloud.  Compared to him, the horse, for instance, is a bony, angular, and abrupt animal.  I remember that Mr. H.G. Wells, in arguing for the relativity of things (a subject over which even the Greek philosophers went to sleep until Christianity woke them up), pointed out that, while a horse is commonly beautiful if seen in profile, he is excessively ugly if seen from the top of a dog-cart, having a long, lean neck, and a body like a fiddle.  Now, there is no point of view from which a really corpulent pig is not full of sumptuous and satisfying curves.  You can look down on a pig from the top of the most unnaturally lofty dog-cart; and I suppose a dog-cart has as much to do with pigs as it has with dogs.  You can examine the pig from the top of an omnibus, from the top of the Monument, from a balloon, or an air-ship; and as long as he is visible he will be beautiful.  In short, he has that fuller, subtler, and more universal kind of shapeliness which the unthinking (gazing at pigs and distinguished journalists) mistake for a mere absence of shape.  For fatness really is a valuable quality.  While it creates admiration in the onlookers, it creates modesty in the possessor.  If there is anything on which I differ from the monastic institutions of the past, it is that they sometimes sought to achieve humility by means of emaciation.  It may be that the thin monks were holy, but I am sure it was the fat monks who were humble.  Falstaff said that to be fat is not to be hated; but it certainly is to be laughed at, and that is a more wholesome experience for the soul of man.

I do not urge that it is effective upon the soul of a pig, who, indeed, seems somewhat indifferent to public opinion on this point.  Nor do I mean that mere fatness is the only beauty of the pig.  The beauty of the best pigs lies in a certain sleepy perfection of contour which links them especially to the smooth strength of our south English land in which they live.  There are two other things in which one can see this perfect and piggish quality: one is in the silent and smooth swell of the Sussex downs, so enormous and yet so innocent.  The other is in the sleek, strong limbs of those beech-trees that grow so thick in their valleys.  These three holy symbols, the pig, the beech-tree, and the chalk down, stand forever as expressing the one thing that England as England has to say — that power is not inconsistent with kindness.  Tears of regret come into my eyes when I remember that three lions or leopards, or whatever they are, sprawl in a fantastic and foreign way across the arms of England.  We ought to have three pigs passant, gardiant, or on gules.  It breaks my heart to think that four commonplace lions are couched around the base of the Nelson Column.  There ought to be four colossal Hampshire hogs to keep watch over so national a spot.  Perhaps some of our sculptors will attack the conception; perhaps the lady’s pig, which weighs forty stone and seems to be something of a domestic problem, might begin to earn its living as an artist’s model.

Again, we do not know what fascinating variations might happen in the pig if once the pig were a pet.  The dog has been domesticated — that is, destroyed.  Nobody now in London can form the faintest idea of what a dog would look like.  You know a Daschund in the street; you know a St. Bernard in the street.  But if you saw a Dog in the street you would run from him screaming.  For hundreds, if not thousands, of years no one has looked at the horrible hairy original thing called Dog.  Why, then, should we be hopeless about the substantial and satisfying thing called Pig?  Types of Pig may also be differentiated; delicate shades of Pig may also be produced.  A monstrous pig as big as a pony may perambulate the streets like a St. Bernard without attracting attention.  An elegant and unnaturally attenuated pig may have all the appearance of a greyhound.  There may be little, little pathetic pigs like King Charles spaniels.  Artificial breeding might reproduce the awful original pig, tusks and all, the terror of the forests — something bigger, more mysterious, and more bloody than the bloodhound.  Those interested in hairdressing might amuse themselves by arranging the bristles like those of a poodle.  Those fascinated by the Celtic mystery of the Western Highlands might see if they could train the bristles to be a veil or curtain for the eye, like those of a Skye terrier; that sensitive and invisible Celtic spirit.  With elaborate training one might have a sheep-pig instead of a sheep-dog, a lap-pig instead of a lap-dog.

What is it that makes you look so incredulous?  Why do you still feel slightly superior to the poor lady who would not be parted from her pig?  Why do you not at once take the hog to your heart?  Reason suggests his evident beauty.  Evolution suggests his probable improvement.  Is it, perhaps, some instinct, some tradition. . .?  Well, apply that to women, children, and animals, and we will argue again.

The Illustrated London News, 8 May 1909.

Published in: on October 21, 2009 at 6:24 am  Comments (1)  

“They had struck a rock”

The life of the great civilisation went on with dreary industry and even with dreary festivity.  It was the end of the world, and the worst of it was that it need never end.  A convenient compromise had been made between all the multitudinous myths and religions of the Empire; that each group should worship freely and merely live a sort of official flourish of thanks to the tolerant Emperor, by tossing a little incense to him under his official title of Divus.  Naturally there was no difficulty about that; or rather it was a long time before the world realised that there ever had been even a trivial difficulty anywhere. The members of some Eastern sect or secret society or other seemed to have made a scene somewhere; nobody could imagine why. The incident occurred once or twice again and began to arouse irritation out of proportion to its insignificance. It was not exactly what these provincials said; though of course it sounded queer enough.  They seemed to be saying that God was dead and that they themselves had seen him die. This might be one of the many manias produced by the despair of the age; only they did not seem particularly despairing. They seem quite unnaturally joyful about it, and gave the reason that the death of God had allowed them to eat him and drink his blood. According to other accounts God was not exactly dead after all; there trailed through the bewildered imagination some sort of fantastic procession of the funeral of God, at which the sun turned black, but which ended with the dead omnipotence breaking out of the tomb and rising again like the sun. But it was not the strange story to which anybody paid any particular attention; people in that world had seen queer religions enough to fill a madhouse.  It was something in the tone of the madmen and their type of formation. They were a scratch company of barbarians and slaves and poor and unimportant people; but their formation was military; they moved together and were very absolute about who and what was really a part of their little system; and about what they said. However mildly, there was a ring like iron.  Men used to many mythologies and moralities could make no analysis of the mystery, except the curious conjecture that they meant what they said. All attempts to make them see reason in the perfectly simple matter of the Emperor’s statue seemed to be spoken to deaf men. It was as if a new meteoric metal had fallen on the earth; it was a difference of substance to the touch.  Those who touched their foundation fancied they had struck a rock.

With a strange rapidity, like the changes of a dream, the proportions of things seemed to change in their presence. Before most men knew what had happened, these few men were palpably present.  They were important enough to be ignored. People became suddenly silent about them and walked stiffly past them. We see a new scene, in which the world has drawn its skirts away from these men and women and they stand in the centre of a great space like lepers.  The scene changes again and the great space where they stand is overhung on every side with a cloud of witnesses, interminable terraces full of faces looking down towards them intently; for strange things are happening to them. New tortures have been invented for the madmen who have brought good news.  That sad and weary society seems almost to find a new energy in establishing its first religious persecution. Nobody yet knows very clearly why that level world has thus lost its balance about the people in its midst; but they stand unnaturally still while the arena and the world seem to revolve round them. And there shone on them in that dark hour a light that has never been darkened; a white fire clinging to that group like an unearthly phosphorescence, blazing its track through the twilights of history and confounding every effort to confound it with the mists of mythology and theory; that shaft of light or lightning by which the world itself has struck and isolated and crowned it; by which its own enemies have made it more illustrious and its own critics have made it more inexplicable; the halo of hatred around the Church of God.

The Everlasting Man (1925).

Published in: on October 14, 2009 at 6:06 am  Comments (3)  

“Truth in politics”

We have sometimes been asked why we do not admire advertisers quite so much as they admire themselves.  One answer is that it is of their very nature to admire themselves.  And it is of the very nature of our task that people must be taught to criticize themselves; or rather (preferably) to kick themselves.  They talk about Truth in Advertising; but there cannot be any such thing in the sharp sense in which we need truth in politics.  It is impossible to put in the cheery terms of “publicity” either the truth about how bad things are, or the truth about how hard it will be to cure them. No advertiser is so truthful as to say, “Do your best with our rotten old typewriter; we can’t get anything better just now.” But we have really got to say, “Do your best with your rotten old machine of production; don’t let it fall to pieces too suddenly.” We seldom see a gay and conspicuous hoarding inscribed, “You are in for a rough time if you use our new kitchen-range.” But we have really got to say to our friends, “You are in for a rough time if you start new farms on your own; but it is the right thing.” We cannot pretend to be offering merely comforts and conveniences. Whatever our ultimate view of labour-saving machinery, we cannot offer our ideal as a labour-saving machine.  There is no more question of comfort than there is for a man in a fire, a battle, or a shipwreck. There is no way out of the danger except the dangerous way.

The Outline of Sanity (1926).

Published in: on October 7, 2009 at 7:00 am  Leave a Comment