“The subtlest”

The things which are the simplest so long as they are undisputed invariably become the subtlest when once they are disputed.

— A Miscellany of Men (1912).

Published in: on April 30, 2014 at 10:51 am  Leave a Comment  

“Some fragment of beauty to be admired”

At first sight it would seem that the pessimist encourages improvement. But in reality it is a singular truth that the era in which pessimism has been cried from the house-tops is also that in which almost all reform has stagnated and fallen into decay. The reason of this is not difficult to discover. No man ever did, and no man ever can, create or desire to make a bad thing good or an ugly thing beautiful. There must be some germ of good to be loved, some fragment of beauty to be admired. The mother washes and decks out the dirty or careless child, but no one can ask her to wash and deck out a goblin with a heart like hell. No one can kill the fatted calf for Mephistopheles. The cause which is blocking all progress today is the subtle scepticism which whispers in a million ears that things are not good enough to be worth improving.

— The Defendant (1901).

Published in: on April 23, 2014 at 10:17 am  Comments (1)  

The Calvary

In the dark of this cloud-laden even
Still upraised, son of man, still alone
Yea, ‘mid empires still shifting and breaking
This place is thine own.

All thrones are left fallen and naked
All treasures corrupt and all gains
O Prince of four nails and a gibbet
Thy Kingdom remains.

On an age full of noises and systems
Where comfortless craze follows craze
Where the passions are classified forces
Where man is a phrase.

On an age where the talkers are loudest
From thy silence, thy torment, thy power
O splendour of wrath and of pity
Look down for an hour.

Go hence: To your isles of the blessed
Go hence, with the songs that you sing:
For this is the kingdom of pity
And Christ is the king.

— (c.1892).

Published in: on April 16, 2014 at 9:56 am  Leave a Comment  

On Thomas Carlyle

As a thinker Carlyle is not sad, but recklessly and rather unscrupulously satisfied. For he seems to have held the theory that good could not be definitely defeated in this world; and that everything in the long run finds its right level. It began with what we may call the “Bible of History” idea: that all affairs and politics were a clouded but unbroken revelation of the divine. Thus any enormous and unaltered human settlement—as the Norman Conquest or the secession of America—we must suppose to be the will of God. It lent itself to picturesque treatment; and Carlyle and the Carlyleans were above all things picturesque. It gave them at first a rhetorical advantage over the Catholic and other older schools. They could boast that their Creator was still creating; that he was in Man and Nature, and was not hedged round in a Paradise or imprisoned in a pyx. They could say their God had not grown too old for war: that He was present at Gettysburg and Gravelotte as much as at Gibeon and Gilboa.

I do not mean that they literally said these particular things: they are what I should have said had I been bribed to defend their position. But they said things to the same effect: that what manages finally to happen, happens for a higher purpose. Carlyle said the French Revolution was a thing settled in the eternal councils to be; and therefore (and not because it was right) attacking it was “fighting against God.” And Kingsley even carried the principle so far as to tell a lady she should remain in the Church of England mainly because God had put her there. But in spite of its superficial spirituality and encouragement, it is not hard to see how such a doctrine could be abused. It practically comes to saying that God is on the side of the big battalions—or at least, of the victorious ones. Thus a creed which set out to create conquerors would only corrupt soldiers; corrupt them with a craven and unsoldierly worship of success: and that which began as the philosophy of courage ends as the philosophy of cowardice. If, indeed, Carlyle were right in saying that right is only “rightly articulated” might, men would never articulate or move in any way.

The fallacy of this whole philosophy is that if God is indeed present at a modern battle, He may be present not as on Gilboa but Golgotha.

— The Victorian Age in Literature (1913).
Published in: on April 9, 2014 at 6:53 am  Leave a Comment  

Equality and authority

It is impossible to have spiritual equality without a spiritual authority, just as it is impossible to have legal equality without a legal authority. For equality is not a chaos; it is a rank.

— The Illustrated London News, 13 January 1912.

Published in: on April 2, 2014 at 2:49 pm  Leave a Comment