The aesthete and the gaffer

The cultured clerk and the rustic are each the other inside out and upside down. The rustic is externally stiff with conventions. A ponderous politeness marks all his words and gestures; he recites ritual phrases about beer and the weather; he expects people to keep their places, gentlemen to be gentlemen, parsons to be parsons, ladies to smile, and poachers to poach. But under all this load of literalism and an ancient mode of life his inmost mind has often the queerest kind of independence. Sudden turns of his speech will have quite a cruel candour. He will utter improprieties or a brutal cynicism with a venerable innocence which is quite exasperating. He does not really take himself seriously; for Christianity is sunk somewhere out of sight in his soul. He will openly exhibit himself as the village drunkard or even the village idiot; he will tell old tales of fights in which he was beaten, of dreams or bets that did not come true. His soul sings like one little ribald bird in an ivy-covered castle of custom.

Abruptly opposite is the case of the high-minded clerk, the man of the artistic middle-class. He comes into the country with the absurd idea that one can be unconventional in the country; which is the most conventional place on earth. He will walk about the country lanes in sandals; or he will be a vegetarian and deal with the greengrocer but not the butcher. All this seems to the conventional rustic simply stark madness, without any ideal or excuse, as if the man had put gloves on his feet or eaten mustard without beef. On the other hand, while the clerk is clad freely and wildly in jaeger and sandals, his inmost soul is not free and wild. His artistic dress seems so disreputable in the country that the finches might drop dead off the hedgerows and the cattle in the fields go mad at the sight of it. But while his appearance is thus disreputable, his soul is secretly respectable. He is all the more a Puritan for being an aesthete. He would never utter an impropriety, or even a cynicism; he takes himself with entire seriousness; his conscience never has a holiday; his eccentricities are not outbreaks of his temperament, but deductions from his principles; he is never so dull as when he is mad. These two strange inversions confront each other on the Surrey hills; the aesthete, quaint outside and conventional inside; the gaffer, quaint inside and conventional outside.

The Illustrated London News, 23 July 1910.

Published in: on December 1, 2010 at 6:00 am  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Great GKC quotes. Glad to have stumbled upon your site.

  2. ‘his eccentricities are not outbreaks of his temperament, but deductions from his principles’ …oh no! I see myself here 😦


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