“Failing as everything else was failing”

The poor to whom he preached the good news, the common people who heard him gladly, the populace that had made so many popular heroes and demigods in the old pagan world, showed also the weaknesses that were dissolving the world. They suffered the evils often seen in the mob of the city, and especially the mob of the capital, during the decline of a society.  The same thing that makes the rural population live on tradition makes the urban population live on rumour. Just as its myths at the best had been irrational, so its likes and dislikes are easily changed by baseless assertion that is arbitrary without being authoritative.  Some brigand or other was artificially turned into a picturesque and popular figure and run as a kind of candidate against Christ.  In all this we recognise the urban population that we know, with its newspaper scares and scoops.  But there was present in this ancient population an evil more peculiar to the ancient world. We have noted it already as the neglect of the individual, even of the individual voting the condemnation and still more of the individual condemned.  It was the soul of the hive; a heathen thing.  The cry of this spirit also was heard in that hour, ‘It is well that one man die for the people.’ Yet this spirit in antiquity of devotion to the city and to the state had also been in itself and in its time a noble spirit. It had its poets and its martyrs; men still to be honoured for ever. It was failing through its weakness in not seeing the separate soul of a man, the shrine of all mysticism; but it was only failing as everything else was failing.  The mob went along with the Sadducees and the Pharisees, the philosophers and the moralists. It went along with the imperial magistrates and the sacred priests, the scribes and the soldiers, that the one universal human spirit might suffer a universal condemnation; that there might be one deep, unanimous chorus of approval and harmony when Man was rejected of men.

The Everlasting Man (1925).

Published in: on March 31, 2010 at 11:06 pm  Leave a Comment  


Really to be a hypocrite must require a horrible strength of character.  An ordinary man such as you or I generally fails at last because he has not enough energy to be two men.  It is said that a liar should have a good memory.  But a hypocrite must not only have a good memory of the past, but a consistent and creative vision of the future; his unreal self must be so far real to him.  The perfect hypocrite should be a trinity of artistic talent.  He must be a novelist like Dickens to create a false character.  He must be an actor like Garrick to act it.  And he must be a business man like Carnegie to profit by it.  Such a genius would not be easy to find in any country; but I think it can fairly be said that it would be exceptionally difficult to find him in England.

The Illustrated London News, 17 July 1909.

Published in: on March 24, 2010 at 9:31 am  Leave a Comment  

“Like divers at the bottom of the sea”

It is almost too broadly comic that an essential of life like water should be pumped to us from nobody knows where, by nobody knows whom, sometimes nearly a hundred miles away. It is every bit as funny as if air were pumped to us from miles away, and we all walked about like divers at the bottom of the sea. The only reasonable person is the peasant who owns his own well. But we have a long way to go before we begin to think about being reasonable.

The Outline of Sanity (1926).

Published in: on March 17, 2010 at 7:39 am  Comments (1)  

Articles and Advertisements

Last Wednesday, the Spectator published a soothing and well-balanced article called “Our English Weather.”  The weather, it seems, is temperate; so was the article.  On the whole, however, it maintained that the English climate was mild and required little artificial help for any Londoner inheriting the Viking blood.  As a result of this, the head of a famous firm selling asbestos stoves withdrew all its advertisements from the Spectator, saying that it grieved his logical mind that artificial warmth should be called needful in one part of the paper and needless in another.

In the Clarion, which is probably the most solidly popular and prosperous of Socialist papers, a hearty old leveller uttered the opinion: “Dirt often means Work; and there are better men among the Great Unwashed than among the Great Unworking.”  Blink’s Soap, which had previously advertised in the paper, withdrew its advertisements, after making the editor the fair offer that he should cease to be a Socialist.

In the Art Journal the President of the Royal Academy wrote to the following effect: “Whatever other disadvantages it may have entailed, there can be little doubt that the early Greek practice of going without clothes in early youth and on ceremonial occasions did much to perfect that exquisite knowledge of the poise and changes of the body which have made the art of Hellas immortal.”  Several West-End tailors immediately withdrew their advertisements.

The English Review, which pays special attention to poetry, included lately a poem by Mr. W.B. Yeats, beginning with the two lines —

Let there be nought for the night, Kil Cronach,
Between my head and the good grey rain.

The advertisers of Parkinson’s Patent Umbrella entered into a long and painful correspondence with the proprietors of the magazine, which ended in the disappearance of their old and familiar advertisement.

The Westminster Gazette, criticising the lighter drama in the ordinary course of its journalistic duty, remarked that one particular play, produced by Mr. George Edwardes, had not a very good libretto.  Mr. George Edwardes was suddenly torn and racked with a degrading sense of inconsistency.  He could not bear the Westminster Gazette to be so disconnected in its ideas.  Somebody else said his play was bad in the very same paper in which he, with a more detached judgment, said it was good.  He withdrew his advertisement from the paper.

Now among those six utterly and ravingly nonsensical anecdotes, one actually happened.  But, upon my honour, I do not think that a rational person, unread in the English papers, could tell me which.  The whole proposition belongs, not to topsy-turvydom (for topsy-turvydom is logical), but to some sphere inconceivable to the ordinary human intellect.  We all knew that there were advertisements in papers; and some of us, when exhausted by the articles, have got much amusement out of them.  But it never crossed the brain of any man in his five wits that the articles had to square with the advertisements.  We never supposed that the prose articles by biologists and physicians were to be modelled on those sombre paragraphs which begin with a young man feeling worn and nervous in Glasgow and end with Tompkinson’s Tonic.  We did not suppose that the poetry of a paper existed permanently, as it were, under the eye of the fluent poet of Bungay’s Saving Salts…  On occasions like this one has the sense of the universe being in travail.  Something seems ready to burst.  I rather think it must be laughter.

The Illustrated London News, 13 November 1909.

Published in: on March 10, 2010 at 9:09 am  Leave a Comment  

“A key”

The Early Christian was very precisely a person carrying about a key, or what he said was a key. The whole Christian movement consisted in claiming to possess that key. It was not merely a vague forward movement, which might be better represented by a battering-ram. It was not something that swept along with it similar or dissimilar things, as does a modern social movement. As we shall see in a moment, it rather definitely refused to do so. It definitely asserted that there was a key and that it possessed that key and that no other key was like it; in that sense it was as narrow as you please.  Only it happened to be the key that could unlock the prison of the whole world; and let in the white daylight of liberty.

The creed was like a key in three respects; which can be most  conveniently summed up under this symbol.  First, a key is above all things a thing with a shape. It is a thing that depends entirely upon keeping its shape.  The Christian creed is above all things the philosophy of shapes and the enemy of shapelessness. That is where it differs from all that formless infinity, Manichean or Buddhist, which makes a sort of pool of night in the dark heart of Asia; the ideal of uncreating all the creatures. That is where it differs also from the analogous vagueness of mere evolutionism, the idea of creatures constantly losing their shape. A man told that his solitary latchkey had been melted down with a million others into a Buddhistic unity would be annoyed. But a man told that his key was gradually growing and sprouting in his pocket, and branching into new wards or complications, would not be more gratified.

Second, the shape of a key is in itself a rather fantastic shape. A savage who did not know it was a key would have the greatest difficulty in guessing what it could possibly be. And it is fantastic because it is in a sense arbitrary. A key is not a matter of abstractions; in that sense a key is not a matter of argument.  It either fits the lock or it does not. It is useless for men to stand disputing over it, considered by itself; or reconstructing it on pure principles of geometry or decorative art. It is senseless for a man to say he would like a simple key; it would be far more sensible to do his best with a crowbar.

And thirdly, as the key is necessarily a thing with a pattern, so this was one having in some ways a rather elaborate pattern. When people complain of the religion being so early complicated with theology and things of the kind, they forget that the world had not only got into a hole, but had got into a whole maze of holes and corners.  The problem itself was a complicated problem; it did not in the ordinary sense merely involve anything so simple as sin. It was also full of secrets, of unexplored and unfathomable fallacies, of unconscious mental diseases, of dangers in all directions. If the faith had faced the world only with the platitudes about peace and simplicity some moralists would confine it to, it would not have had the faintest effect on that luxurious and labyrinthine lunatic asylum. What it did do we must now roughly describe; it is enough to say here that there was undoubtedly much about the key that seemed complex, indeed there was only one thing about it that was simple. It opened the door.

The Everlasting Man (1925).

Published in: on March 3, 2010 at 8:46 am  Leave a Comment