Marriage and making exceptions

If it comes to claiming exceptional treatment, the very people who will claim it will be those who least deserve it. The people who are quite convinced they are superior are the very inferior people; the men who really think themselves extraordinary are the most ordinary rotters on earth. If you say, “Nobody must steal the Crown of England,” then probably it will not be stolen. After that, probably the next best thing would be to say, “Anybody may steal the Crown of England,” for then the Crown might find its way to some honest and modest fellow. But if you say, “Those who feel themselves to have Wild and Wondrous Souls, and they only, may steal the Crown of England,” then you may be sure there will be a rush for it of all the rag, tag, and bobtail of the universe, all the quack doctors, all the sham artists, all the demireps and drunken egotists, all the nationless adventurers and criminal monomaniacs of the world.

So, if you say that marriage is for common people, but divorce for free and noble spirits, all the weak and selfish people will dash for the divorce; while the few free and noble spirits you wish to help will very probably (because they are free and noble) go on wrestling with the marriage.

The Illustrated London News, 25 June 1910.

Published in: on February 23, 2011 at 9:58 am  Comments (2)  

“Four ultimate types”

Through all my own dreams, especially waking dreams, there run and caper and collide only four characters, who seem to sum up the four ultimate types of our existence. These four figures are: St. George and the Dragon, and the Princess offered to the Dragon, and the Princess’s father, who was (if I remember right) the King of Egypt. You have everything in those figures: active virtue destroying evil; passive virtue enduring evil; ignorance or convention permitting evil; and Evil. In these four figures also can be found the real and sane limits of toleration. I admire St. George for being sincere in his wish to save the Princess’s life, because it is an entirely good and healthy wish. I am ready to admire the Princess’s wish to be eaten by the Dragon as part of her religious duties; for the Princess is generous, if a little perverse. I am even ready to admire the sincerity of the silly old potentate of Egypt who gave up his daughter to a dragon because it had always been done in his set. But there is a limit, the ultimate limit of the universe, and I refuse to admire the dragon because he regarded the Princess with a sincere enthusiasm, and honestly believed that she would do him good.

The Illustrated London News, 29 October 1910.

Published in: on February 16, 2011 at 8:41 am  Leave a Comment  

On sincerity

We do not (at least, I do not) respect any sect, church, or group because of its sincerity. Sincerity merely means actuality. It only means that a man’s opinion undoubtedly is his opinion. But if a man’s opinion is that he ought to burn dogs alive, I do not respect him because he really feels like that; on the contrary, I should respect him more if I could believe that it was an elegant affectation. If a man holds that swindling everybody successfully is a mark of the Superman, I do not respect him any more because he holds it firmly; I should much prefer that he should hold it lightly. I do not think the more of a devil-worshipper because he truly loves devilry; nor the more of the torturing Nero because (like all second-rate artists) he takes his art seriously. Matthew Arnold used to talk a great deal about the ‘high seriousness’ of the good poets. He ought to have taken more notice of the low seriousness which is the special mark of bad poets, of bad philosophers, and even of bad men. It is precisely when a man takes his casual human vice with this low seriousness that it masters him and drives him mad. He becomes at once pompous and furtive, and commonly ends in the evil pride of some perversion.

The true doctrine surely is this — that we respect the creeds held by others because there is some good in them, not because they are creeds and are held. In other words, an honest man must always respect other religions, because they contain parts of his religion — that is, of his largest vision of truth. I will respect Confucians for reverencing the aged, because my religion also includes reverence for the aged. I will respect Buddhists for being kind to animals, because my morality includes being kind to animals. I will respect Mohommedans for admitting a general human justice, for I admit it also. But I will not admire Chinese tortures because they are performed with ardour; nor enjoy Hindoo pessimism because it is sincere, and therefore hopeless, pessimism; nor respect the Turk for despising women merely because he despises them very heartily. Thus we perpetually come back to that sharp and shining point which the modern world is perpetually trying to avoid. We must have a creed, even in order to be comprehensive. We must have a religion, even in order to respect other religions. Even if our whole desire is to admire the good in other worships, we must still worship something — or we shall not know what to admire.

The Illustrated London News, 29 October 1910.

Published in: on February 9, 2011 at 6:48 am  Leave a Comment  

The number three

The tendency of mankind to split up everything into three is hard to explain rationally. It is either false and a piece of superstition; or it is true and a part of religion. In either case it cannot be adequately explained on ordinary human judgment or average human experience. Three is really a very uncommon number in nature. The dual principle runs through nature as a whole; it is almost as if our earth and heaven had been made by the Heavenly Twins. There is no beast with three horns, no bird with three wings; no fish with three fins and no more. No monster has three eyes, except in fairy tales; no cat has three tails, except in logic. Sages have proved the world to be flat and round and oblate and oval; but none (as far as I know) have yet proved it to be triangular. Indeed, the triangle is one of the rarest shapes, not merely in the primal pattern of the cosmos, but even in the multifarious details of man’s civilization. There are three-cornered hats, certainly, and three-cornered tarts; but even taken together they scarcely provide the whole equipment of civilization. Three-cornered tarts might be monotonous as a diet; as three-cornered hats would certainly be inadequate as a costume. The tripod was certainly important in pagan antiquity; but I cannot help thinking that its modern representative, the three-legged stool, has rather come down in the world. Evolution and the Struggle for Life (if I may mention such holy things in so light a connection) seem to have gone rather against the tripod; and even the three-legged stool is not so common as it was. Victory has gone to the quadrupeds of furniture: to the huge, ruthless sofas, the rampant and swaggering armchairs. It seems clear, therefore, that there is nothing in common human necessities, just as there is nothing in the structure and system of the physical world, to impregnate man with his curious taste for the number three. Yet he shows it in everything from the Three Brothers in the fairy-tale to the Three Estates of the realm; in everything from the Three Dimensions to the Three Bears. If the thing has a reason, it must be a reason beyond reason. It must be mystical; it may be theological.

The Illustrated London News, 10 December 1910.

Published in: on February 2, 2011 at 3:33 am  Leave a Comment