“Truisms can come true”

It seems nowadays to be counted a prodigy that the truisms can come true. The discovery that a new notion is nonsense is itself treated as a new notion. There is a tradition, let us say, that jumping off a high precipice is prejudicial to the health; and therefore nobody does it. Then appears a progressive prophet and reformer, who points out that we really know nothing about it, because nobody does it. He urges, truly, that you and I have but rarely tested the matter by ourselves falling off high cliffs and carefully noting the results. He insists that there is seldom a long queue, or a continuous procession of persons, filing past Dover up to Shakespeare’s Cliff with this scientific object; and that there is, therefore, no sufficient number of cases of the needs of induction. At last some highly scientific character does jump off Shakespeare’s Cliff, and is found dead on Dover sands. And the other scientists, standing around his corpse in a ring, do not regard it as the remains of a fool or a hero or an example of the ancient human tragedy. They regarded as if it were some entirely new and interesting sea-beast thrown up by the sea. They have made a discovery. They hardly realize that it is merely the discovery that all their fathers and grandfathers and great grandfathers were right. But they are bound to admit it is the discovery that they themselves were wrong. And that is a very astonishing discovery indeed.

— Illustrated London News, 9 March 1918.

Published in: on February 19, 2020 at 5:45 pm  Leave a Comment  

“Journalism is journalistic”

I hope I shall always speak of the journalistic trade with as much respect as it is decent for a man to feel for something which he has discovered to be not too difficult for him to do — a discovery which, in a well-regulated mind, will always prevent any positively prostrate adoration. But I know that my fellow-journalists will agree with me when I say that they are in a peculiar position towards life — in the fact that they are forbidden to be so careless as are happier men about what happens in the world. Poetry, it has been said, is a criticism of life; but it is not a criticism that need be offered in large quantities at short and regular intervals. No poet is expected to write an ode to the skylark every morning, even on the improbable supposition that every morning he is up with the lark. No spiritual child of Shakespeare or Wordsworth is expected to unlock his heart with the key of the sonnet every night when he unlocks his house with the latchkey. But journalism is journalistic, often in the literal sense of being daily; and it is a criticism of life that must always be criticising. It is no matter for wonder if it sometimes criticises too much, or if (which is the much more real complaint) it criticises the wrong thing.

Illustrated London News, 9 February 1918.

Published in: on January 22, 2020 at 6:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

“Not two men, but one”

Happy is he who still loves something that he loved in the nursery: he has not been broken in two by time; he is not two men, but one, and has saved not only his soul but his life.

–- Illustrated London News,
26 September 1908.

Published in: on August 14, 2019 at 11:39 am  Comments (3)  

“Forge a testimonial”

I think mere progress a far more vulgar and even illiterate ideal than mere popularity. To look to the future is merely to forge a testimonial from the babe unborn. And, if we look to the past, we find a hundred eccentrics whom fame has forgotten to one whom it has justified.

Illustrated London News, 3 November 1917.

Published in: on June 26, 2019 at 12:08 am  Leave a Comment  

“Minding their own business”

A queer and almost mad notion seems to have got into the modern head that, if you mix everybody and everything more or less anyhow, the mixture may be called unity, and the unity may be called peace. It is supposed that, if you break down all doors and walls so that there is no domesticity, there will then be nothing but friendship. Surely somebody must have noticed by this time that the men living in a hotel quarrel at least as often as the men living in a street… These foolish people trace all the chances of war to the very thing which will always be the best chance of peace — men’s habit of dwelling in their own boundaries and minding their own business. The only hope of attaining amity lies, not in ignoring boundaries, but, on the contrary, in respecting them.

Illustrated London News, 8 September 1917.

Published in: on June 5, 2019 at 11:41 am  Comments (2)  

“People too dull to be bored”

It is the paradox of most Parliaments that they appeal for a majority and give power to a minority. When a majority becomes a machinery, the minority becomes the man that works the machine. And the minority becomes very much more powerful than it would if there were no Parliament at all. The whole thing works by a curious trick of topsy-turvydom, recalling the tale about the girl who jumped into the water to find out which of her lovers would rescue her. They all jumped in except one; and she adopted the rather cynical course of marrying the dry one.

In this war the majority of men have really proved themselves heroes; they have really, by a common impulse, plunged into the sea of slaughter and catastrophe, and the politician has been left on deck, as the comparatively dry one, with an undisputed claim to steer the ship. But even in normal times the majority of men plunge with no little pluck into the sea of troubles; and the real difficulty of democracy is not that voters are unworthy, but that their vote is generally the least worthy thing about them. When they are not defending their country they are earning their living, or educating their children, or falling in love, or finding salvation, or doing some other thing more interesting than politics, so that the latter is left for politicians as the only people too dull to be bored by it.

Hence we find everywhere very unpopular persons powerful in politics when they are quite impotent in every other department. A man like Mr MacDonald or Mr Snowden, amid the most acute feelings against their anti-national philosophy, could get a Parliamentary seat and a Governmental post much more easily than they could get any other form of public approval — much more easily than they could get a mob to rise for them, or a subscription raised for them, or a popular song sung in their honour.

Illustrated London News, 30 June 1917.

Published in: on May 29, 2019 at 5:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

“No authority”

We hear a great deal about ideas being accepted without examination because they come by authority. It is my experience nowadays that any idea will be accepted without any examination so long as it does not come by authority. This can be practically tested at any moment. Indeed, it makes a rather amusing parlour-game. Go into a crowded drawing-room and say, “I have had a revelation from heaven that it is dangerous to wear galoshes,” and your friends will see, even if they do not say, that it is a silly idea. They will think it a silly idea because you give what is, after all, a reason for it. But if you simply say, without any reason or authority whatever, “Don’t you know it’s very dangerous to wear galoshes?” all their faces will instantly alter with intelligence and alarm, and they will discuss every aspect of this important piece of news except the question of where it came from…

It is, after all, even in the rational sense, something in favour of any formula that any public authority has made itself responsible for endorsing it. But in practice, if your remark has some authority, people will resist and criticize it. If it has no authority, they will surrender and swallow it. Such is the detached and daring freedom of the modern mind.

Illustrated London News, 16 June 1917.

Published in: on May 15, 2019 at 12:37 pm  Comments (3)  

“Sincere and wrong”

When I was very young I wrote a novel — Lord, what a bad novel! — in which I made the hero say: “There were never any just wars but the religious wars.” It was, perhaps, the only quite sound remark in the whole book. Yet though it was in the mouth of a fictitious character in a fantastic story, it was severely criticized as a reactionary paradox. In a very fine article in the Nation recently, Mr Wells has seen and said that war is sometimes a horrible necessity, in order to put true ideas in the place of false ones. I do not say this for any cheap controversial purpose. I do not urge Mr Wells to apologise to the paladins and persecutors whom he has probably reviled all his life. Yet is is certain if the Crusades had succeeded, there would have been no Balkan Wars; and if the Southern effort in the Thirty Years’ War had succeeded, there would have been no Prussia. I merely welcome the first great truth gathered of this horrible harvest: the truth that if you think wrong, you go wrong.

Mr Wells thinks, and I think so, too, that in the case of the Prussian we are really warring against a delusion. He is like a lunatic with plenty of pistols and a good aim, but liable to shoot a dog out of hatred of cats. Thus he sees the Russian as a yellow-skinned Oriental. He sees the Briton as a yellow-haired deserter. But “they ain’t”. It is one of the innumerable shallow phrases of the modern and mercantile peace, that when people are sincere they should not be attacked. Why, it is exactly because they are sincere that they should be attacked. If a man pretends to be your wife’s previous and lawful husband, you can laugh at him as at any other amusing fraud. If he really believes that he is, you will take prompt action to prevent his acting on his belief. An insincere polygamist is an ornament in any modern house: we use him to carry tea-cups. But a sincere polygamist we will blow to hell, if we can, with horse, foot, and artillery. And if you ask us why, we can only answer — because he is sincere and wrong.

The Prussian is sincere and wrong. He really does think that he could do everything better than everybody; like Bottom the Weaver. I have no doubt he thinks that Prussians could play the bag-pipes better than Highlanders; or dive for pearls better than the pearl-fishers. Prussians already say they understand Shakespeare; from which manifest scream of madness it will be but one note higher to say that they understand Burns. They understand everything: there was never a madman who did not. So that our work with the Prussians is not so much a pulling-down of thrones as a casting-out of devils; not only out of the land, but out of the enemy.

Illustrated London News, 12 September 1914.

Published in: on January 30, 2019 at 4:36 pm  Comments (2)  

At the end of the war

Every consideration of common-sense suggests that the war is already rapidly reaching its end, and none the less rapidly because it happens to be the right end. The very fact that the enemy is so anxious to finish it in his way, or the nearest he can get to his way, is itself evidence that we are near to finishing it our way.

What the enemy still wishes to avoid is a real reversal of the relations between himself and us. He would avoid the reversal of Sedan even more than the restoration of Alsace. He does not wish the great war of the world to end with one of the decisive battles of the world. He knows how those great decisions dominate history; and how much is remembered as historic because it is dramatic. The same instinct warns him against the bodily presence of invaders on German soil, which will reverse the more recent tradition that Germany is always invading and France being invaded, and return to the older European tradition that it was the Gauls even more than the Teutons who could, if necessary, cross the Rhine.

Germany in recent times has built up a legend that she cannot be invaded, which would have been a worthier legend if it had not always gone along with the legend that she can always invade other people. All the accidents of this war have so far supported this legend, and it is because the legend is just on the very point of being falsified that everything else is surrendered in order that the legend may be saved. If the legend is saved, nothing else can be saved. For that legend is the lie that has forced them into their false position in modern Europe.

The Illustrated London News,
2 November 1918.

Published in: on November 11, 2018 at 10:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

“The mystery of the beasts”

There ought to be a certain limit to our sympathy with animals, not because we need distrust our motives, but because we can never verify our results. There is no reason for not being kind to a fly; but there is real difficulty in finding out if you have been kind to him. Now the world is full of frightful cruelties and neglects which we could all find out if we liked. If we used our imagination upon the sweated worker, the savage, the slave, and even, in some cases, the higher animals, we could get an answer. We could find out, with a rough human finality, whether they are unjustly treated or no. The wealthy idealists of to-day could get an answer to such questions. That is why they will not ask such questions; they are afraid of getting an answer. But the mystery of the beasts and the blinder forms of life is an unfathomable mystery: they cannot discover exactly how much or how little harm they have done to a whale. Therefore they pour their tears into this bottomless bucket: because it is bottomless. They use in pathetic imaginings, by their nature useless and eternal, an energy of the heart which, if directed against real and certain wrongs, might release millions of men from the rack of an artificial agony.

The Illustrated London News, 10 February 1912.

Published in: on November 7, 2018 at 3:13 pm  Leave a Comment