“At the other end”

The position we have now reached is this: starting from the State, we try to remedy the failures of all the families, all the nurseries, all the schools, all the workshops, all the secondary institutions that once had some authority of their own. Everything is ultimately brought into the Law Courts. We are trying to stop the leak at the other end.

The Illustrated London News, 24 March 1923.

Published in: on August 25, 2010 at 8:02 am  Leave a Comment  

“Bonds and signatures and seals”

Concerning oaths of fidelity, etc., she [Miss Florence Farr] writes:

We cannot trust ourselves to make a real love-knot unless money or custom forces us to ‘bear and forbear’.  There is always the lurking fear that we shall not be able to keep faith unless we swear upon the Book.  This is, of course, not true of young lovers.  Every first love is born free of tradition; indeed, not only is first love innocent and valiant, but it sweeps aside all the wise laws it has been taught, and burns away experience in its own light.  The revelation is so extraordinary, so unlike anything told by the poets, so absorbing, that it is impossible to believe that the feelings can die out.

Now this is exactly as if some old naturalist settled the bat’s place in nature by saying boldly, “Bats do not fly”.  It is as if he solved the problem of whales by bluntly declaring that whales live on land.  There is a problem of vows, as of bats and whales.  What Miss Farr says about it is quite lucid and explanatory; it simply happens to be flatly untrue.  It is not the fact that young lovers have no desire to swear on the Book.  They are always at it.  It is not the fact that young love is born free of tradition about binding and promising, about bonds and signatures and seals.  On the contrary, lovers wallow in the wildest pedantry to make their love legal and irrevocable.  They tattoo each other with promises; they cut into rocks and oaks with their names and vows; they bury ridiculous things in ridiculous places to be a witness against them; they bind each other with rings, and inscribe each other in Bibles; if they are raving lunatics (which is not untenable), they are mad solely on this idea of binding and on nothing else.  It is quite true that the tradition of their fathers and mothers is in favour of fidelity; but it is emphatically not true that the lovers merely follow it; they invent it anew.

The Illustrated London News, 2 July 1910.

Published in: on August 18, 2010 at 5:30 am  Comments (1)  

“The language of eternity”

A man’s soul is as full of voices as a forest; there are ten thousand tongues there like all the tongues of the trees: fancies, follies, memories, madnesses, mysterious fears, and more mysterious hopes.  All the settlement and sane government of life consists in coming to the conclusion that some of those voices have authority and others not.  You may have an impulse to fight your enemy or an impulse to run away from him; a reason to serve your country or a reason to betray it; a good idea for making sweets or a better idea for poisoning them.  The only test I know by which to judge one argument or inspiration from another is ultimately this: that all the noble sentiments of man talk the language of eternity.  When man is doing the three or four things that he was sent on this earth to do, then he speaks like one who shall live for ever.  A man dying for his country does not talk as if local preferences could change.  Leonidas does not say, “In my present mood, I prefer Sparta to Persia.”  William Tell does not remark, “The Swiss civilization, so far as I can see, is superior to the Austrian.”  When men are making commonwealths, they talk in terms of the absolute, and so they do when they are making (however unconsciously) those smaller commonwealths which are called families.  There are in life certain immortal moments, moments that have authority.  Lovers are right to tattoo each other’s skins and cut each other’s names about the world; they do belong to each other in a more awful sense than they know.

The Illustrated London News, 2 July 1910.

Published in: on August 11, 2010 at 9:56 am  Leave a Comment  

“Man is a monster”

Nearly all the fundamental facts of mankind are to be found in its fables. And there is a singularly sane truth in all the old stories of the monsters — such as centaurs, mermaids, sphinxes, and the rest.  It will be noted that in each of these the humanity, though imperfect in extent, is perfect in its quality.  The mermaid is half a lady and half a fish; but there is nothing fishy about the lady.  The centaur is half a gentleman and half a horse.  But there is nothing horsey about the gentleman.  The centaur is a manly sort of man — up to a certain point.  The mermaid is a womanly woman — so far as she goes.  The human parts of the monsters are handsome, like heroes, or lovely, like nymphs; their bestial appendages do not affect the full perfection of their humanity — what there is of it.  There is nothing humanly wrong with the centaur, except that he ride a horse without a head.  There is nothing humanly wrong with the mermaid; Hood put a good comic motto to his picture of a mermaid: “All’s well that ends well”.  It is, perhaps, quite true, it all depends which end.  Those old wild images included a crucial truth.  Man is a monster.  And he is all the more a monster because one part of him is perfect.  It is not true, as the evolutionists say, that man moves perpetually up a slope from imperfection to perfection, changing ceaselessly, so as to be suitable.  The immortal part of a man and the deadly part are jarringly distinct and have always been.

The Illustrated London News, 2 July 1910.

Published in: on August 4, 2010 at 6:03 am  Leave a Comment