“A little girl’s hair”

I begin with a little girl’s hair. That I know is a good thing at any rate. Whatever else is evil, the pride of a good mother in the beauty of her daughter is good. It is one of those adamantine tendernesses which are the touchstones of every age and race. If other things are against it, other things must go down. If landlords and laws and sciences are against it, landlords and laws and sciences must go down. With the red hair of one she-urchin in the gutter I will set fire to all modern civilization.

Because a girl should have long hair, she should have clean hair; because she should have clean hair, she should not have an unclean home; because she should not have an unclean home, she should have a free and leisured mother; because she should have a free mother, she should not have an usurious landlord; because there should not be an usurious landlord, there should be a redistribution of property; because there should be a redistribution of property, there shall be a revolution.

That little urchin with the gold-red hair, whom I have just watched toddling past my house, she shall not be lopped and lamed and altered; her hair shall not be cut short like a convict’s; no, all the kingdoms of the earth shall be hacked about and mutilated to suit her. She is the human and sacred image; all around her the social fabric shall sway and split and fall; the pillars of society shall be shaken, and the roofs of ages come rushing down, and not one hair of her head shall be harmed.

What’s Wrong with the World (1910).

Published in: on May 25, 2011 at 6:18 am  Comments (3)  

“A certain psychological dogma”

Justice, or rather human equality, does demand that a man and a woman should alike have social dignity and social power. It does not in the least demand acceptance of a certain psychological dogma about the effects of sex. Of course these people never state their own dogma clearly; but it might be stated clearly, somewhat thus: that sex only affects sexuality, and that sex can cause no other variation in social functions. This is very far from being self-evident; and is quite the reverse of a rational deduction from human equality. I believe it to be quite untrue.

The New Witness, 5 September 1919.

Published in: on May 18, 2011 at 9:46 am  Comments (13)  


Of all human institutions marriage is the only one which most depends upon slow development, upon patience, upon long reaches of times, upon magnanimous compromise, upon kindly habit.

Early Notebooks.

Published in: on May 11, 2011 at 9:17 am  Leave a Comment  

“The stone that is wearing away the saw”

The terrible danger at the heart of our Society is that the tests are giving way. We are altering, not the evils, but the standards of good by which alone evils can be detected and defined. It is as if we were looking at some great machine, say, a stonecutter’s saw, and the saw was working briskly and the dust flying brightly. But when we came to look close, we found that the stone was unscratched and was wearing away the steel. The thing that should crumble is holding fast; the thing that should hold fast is crumbling. The woodcutter is gaily hacking and hewing; but it is the chips of the axe that are flying, not chips of the tree. The gardener is valiantly digging; but it is pieces of the spade that are coming out, not pieces of the soil.

So the moral scales that were meant to weigh our problems are themselves breaking under the weight of them. The philosophical instruments which were meant to dissect existence are bent and twisted against the toughness of the thing to be dissected. Because it is very hard work to apply principles of judgment to anything, people are everywhere abandoning the principles and practically deciding not to test life at all, and only to let life test them. They do not analyse their situation at all; they let their situation analyse them — which means, break them up.

If what I mean by tests is not plain, I give the plainest case. An honest man falls in love with an honest woman; he wishes, therefore, to marry her, to be the father of her children, to secure her and himself. All systems of government should be tested by whether he can do this. If any system, feudal, servile, or barbaric, does, in fact, give him so large a cabbage-field that he can do it, there is the essence of liberty and justice. If any system, Republican, mercantile, or Eugenist, does, in fact, give him so small a salary that he can’t do it, there is the essence of eternal tyranny and shame.

This clear, sharp, shining ideal of a decent marriage ought to be the saw that cuts its way through the stone of the world; but in truth it is the stone that is wearing away the saw. It should be the business of moral philosophers to maintain these demands for men, women, and children, and criticise, in the light of them, a system that only gives a man seven shillings a week. Instead of that, the modern moral philosophers occupy their lives in explaining how he had better not fall in love, why he need not marry, how we need not have children, and, in short, how his abominable employer may still go on paying him only seven shillings a week.

Look back at the most brilliant period of the recent revolutionists in English thought (nearly all of them good and sincere men personally) and see how, one after another, they all unconsciously supported the employer paying the seven shillings a week. Nearest, we have Bernard Shaw, sneering at the man’s belief in his love and constancy; telling him that all love is calf-love; telling the true lover of the old ballads that there is no such thing as true love, since all love is an illusion. That is the first point gained for the stingy employer; the man may remain a bachelor. Half a generation behind Bernard Shaw we have the artistic Free Lovers, picturesquely represented, let us say, by the late Mr. Grant Allen. They would tell the man that he might love the woman, but need not bind himself to support her: another score for the stingy employer. Half a generation behind that, again, you will see the gigantic figure of Bradlaugh leading his Malthusians. They would say that if he does marry he should not burden himself with posterity: another score for the stingy employer.

Instead of testing the passing institutions by the eternal institutions, we are nibbling away the eternal institutions and leaving ourselves with no test at all.

The Illustrated London News, 25 March 1911.

Published in: on May 4, 2011 at 7:41 am  Comments (1)