The House of Christmas

There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay on their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.
Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.

A Child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost — how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky’s dome.

This world is wild as an old wives’ tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

— (1905-14).

Published in: on December 25, 2013 at 11:54 am  Leave a Comment  

“Oppressive liberty”

Most men need institutions to make them distinguish themselves; and they also need institutions to make them enjoy themselves.  For, paradoxical as it sounds, men shrink from enjoyment; they make one automatic step backwards from the brink of hilarity; because they know that it means the loss of dignity and a certain furious self-effacement.  It is to get over this first reluctance of every reveller that men have created also coercive festivals such as Christmas Day.

The truth at the back of almost every human institution, from a marriage to a tea-party, is the fact that people must be tied by the leg even to do justice to themselves.  In such matters coercion is a sort of encouragement; and anarchy (or what these people call liberty) is really oppressive, because its atmosphere discourages everybody.  If we all drifted in the air like utterly detached bubbles, if no one knew how long anyone else would be within an inch or a yard of him, the practical result would be that nobody would have the courage to begin a conversation with anybody else.  It is so embarrassing to begin a sentence in a friendly whisper and have to howl the last part of it because the other person is floating away into the free and formless ether.  People must be tied together in order to talk; for twenty minutes at a dance or for forty years in a marriage; for an hour at a dinner or for three hours at a Christmas dinner.  But if anything is to be got out of the relation, it must be a secure one, so far as it goes; and this is true of all pleasure and of all toil.  The anarchist says that a man should never speak till he feels inclined; but this would only mean the the modest man would never speak.  He must be “brought out”; by force, if necessary.  The anarchist says that a man should not feast except of his own accord: that would mean, at any rate, that women would never feast.  They must be made to.  The anarchist says that no man should work unless he wishes to.  At that rate no healthy man would ever work at all; for I hope every healthy man can think of occupations much more entertaining.  The anarchic philosophy fails utterly because it ignores this psychological fact of the initial reluctance to do even desirable things.  If there are two godlike and glorious things in the world they are an English breakfast and a sea-bath.  Yet I have never known any brave and honourable man who denied that he detested getting out of bed and plunging into cold water.  The forms and rites of Christmas Day are meant merely to give the last push to people who are afraid to be festive.  Father Christmas exists to haul us out of bed and make us partake of meals too beautiful to be called breakfasts.  He exists to fling us out of the bathing-machine into the heady happiness of the sea.

The Illustrated London News, 8 January 1910.

Published in: on December 18, 2013 at 1:19 am  Leave a Comment  

On melodrama

Melodrama is a form of art, legitimate like any other, as noble as farce, almost as noble as pantomime. The essence of melodrama is that it appeals to the moral sense in a highly simplified state, just as farce appeals to the sense of humour in a highly simplified state. Farce creates people who are so intellectually simple as to hide in packing-cases or pretend to be their own aunts. Melodrama creates people so morally simple as to kill their enemies in Oxford Street, and repent on seeing their mother’s photograph. The object of the simplification in farce and melodrama is the same, and quite artistically legitimate, the object of gaining a resounding rapidity of action which subtleties would obstruct. And this can be done well or ill.

— Charles Dickens (1906).

Published in: on December 11, 2013 at 4:43 pm  Leave a Comment  


We must really get a more clearheaded creed about intellectual error and moral responsibility, unless we wish to suffer what is always the punishment of muddle-headedness — a blind and brutal reaction, and the re-entrance of really cruel persecution. We cannot be content with the vague modern phrase that every sentiment must be tolerated so long as it is sincere. Sincerity is a palliation of partly evil things: but it is an aggravation of entirely evil things. That a man is a sincere Mormon makes him better; but that he is a sincere Satanist makes him worse. There are theories so vile, there are beliefs so abominable that one can only endure their existence by denying their sincerity. Sincerity in these cases has no moral value.

— The Illustrated London News, 24 February 2012.

Published in: on December 4, 2013 at 11:54 pm  Leave a Comment