A humble man moved o’er the down
Beneath a hill-hid eastern town.
He viewed all mildly, like a King,
And, like a child, touched everything.
The sheep around, the bird above,
Were gathered to his lonely love.
He passed the cloud, the sparrow’s wing,
And left them all a song to sing.

He touched the wild flowers, and they flame,
Red banners of his royal name,
Tall fiery symbols of his heart
That, careless, in God’s gifts take part,
Signs of the tranquil blaze that shone
About the gentler Solomon.
He moved, and touched them with a spell,
And left them all a tale to tell.

He brake the bread, he filled the wine
That gleamed into a blood-red sign.
The coarsest grain to blessings turned,
The dimmest wine in glory burned
To knit in glistening bonds and rare
His own together everywhere,
Even as the board bound true as He
The unlettered twelve of Galilee.
He touched the common food of man
And left it with a gracious plan.

— (c.1893).

Published in: on January 30, 2013 at 4:51 pm  Leave a Comment  

“When we believe in the devil”

If optimism means a general approval, it is certainly true that the more a man becomes an optimist the more he becomes a melancholy man. If he manages to praise everything, his praise will develop an alarming resemblance to a polite boredom. He will say that the marsh is as good as the garden; he will mean that the garden is as dull as the marsh. He may force himself to say that emptiness is good, but he will hardly prevent himself from asking what is the good of such good. This optimism does exist — this optimism which is more hopeless than pessimism — this optimism which is the very heart of hell.

Against such an aching vacuum of joyless approval there is only one antidote — a sudden and pugnacious belief in positive evil. This world can be made beautiful again by beholding it as a battlefield. When we have defined and isolated the evil thing, the colours come back into everything else. When evil things have become evil, good things, in a blazing apocalypse, become good. There are some men who are dreary because they do not believe in God; but there are many others who are dreary because they do not believe in the devil. The grass grows green again when we believe in the devil, the roses grow red again when we believe in the devil.

— Charles Dickens (1906).

Published in: on January 24, 2013 at 8:25 pm  Leave a Comment  

“It is a vow”

I shall begin by asking what marriage is; and the mere question will probably reveal that the act itself, good or bad, wise or foolish, is of a certain kind; that it is not an inquiry or an experiment or an accident; it may probably dawn on us that it is a promise. It can be more fully defined by saying it is a vow.

Many will immediately answer that it is a rash vow. I am content for the moment to reply that all vows are rash vows. I am not now defending but defining vows; I am pointing out that this is a discussion about vows; first, of whether there ought to be vows; and second, of what vows ought to be. Ought a man to break a promise? Ought a man to make a promise? These are philosophic questions; but the philosophic peculiarity of divorce and re-marriage, as compared with free love and no marriage, is that a man breaks and makes a promise at the same moment.


The vow is a violent and unique thing; though there have been many besides the marriage vow; vows of chivalry, vows of poverty, vows of celibacy, pagan as well as Christian. But modern fashion has rather fallen out of the habit; and men miss the type for the lack of the parallels. The shortest way of putting the problem is to ask whether being free includes being free to bind oneself. For the vow is a tryst with oneself.

The Superstition of Divorce (1920).

Published in: on January 16, 2013 at 9:37 am  Leave a Comment  

“The oldest things”

The trouble in too many of our modern schools is that the State, being controlled so specially by the few, allows cranks and experiments to go straight to the schoolroom when they have never passed through the Parliament, the public house, the private house, the church, or the marketplace. Obviously, it ought to be the oldest things that are taught to the youngest people; the assured and experienced truths that are put first to the baby. But in a school to-day the baby has to submit to a system that is younger than himself. The flopping infant of four actually has more experience, and has weathered the world longer, than the dogma to which he is made to submit. Many a school boasts of having the last ideas in education, when it has not even the first idea; for the first idea is that even innocence, divine as it is, may learn something from experience. But this, as I say, is all due to the mere fact that we are managed by a little oligarchy.

What’s Wrong with the World (1910).

Published in: on January 9, 2013 at 4:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Christ-Child Lay on Mary’s Lap

The Christ-child lay on Mary’s lap,
His hair was like a light.
(O weary, weary were the world,
But here is all aright.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary’s breast,
His hair was like a star.
(O stern and cunning are the kings,
But here the true hearts are.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary’s heart,
His hair was like a fire.
(O weary, weary is the world,
But here the world’s desire.)

The Christ-child stood at Mary’s knee,
His hair was like a crown.
And all the flowers looked up at Him,
And all the stars looked down.

— (late 1890s).

Published in: on January 2, 2013 at 11:25 am  Leave a Comment