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University of Adelaide
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Recently I set myself to put down what I believe. I did this with no idea of making a book, but at the suggestion of a friend and to interest a number of friends with whom I was associated. We were all, we found, extremely uncertain in our outlook upon life, about our religious feelings and in our ideas of right and wrong. And yet we reckoned ourselves people of the educated class and some of us talk and lecture and write with considerable confidence. We thought it would be of very great interest to ourselves and each other if we made some sort of frank mutual confession. We arranged to hold a series of meetings in which first one and then another explained the faith, so far as he understood it, that was in him. We astonished ourselves and our hearers by the irregular and fragmentary nature of the creeds we produced, clotted at one point, inconsecutive at another, inconsistent and unconvincing to a quite unexpected degree. It would not be difficult to caricature one of those meetings; the lecturer floundering about with an air of exquisite illumination, the audience attentive with an expression of thwarted edification upon its various brows. For my own part I grew so interested in planning my lecture and in joining up point and point, that my notes soon outran the possibilities of the hour or so of meeting for which I was preparing them. The meeting got only a few fragments of what I had to say, and made what it could of them. And after that was over I let myself loose from limits of time and length altogether and have expanded these memoranda into a book.
It is as it stands now the frank confession of what one man of the early Twentieth Century has found in life and himself, a confession just as frank as the limitations of his character permit; it is his metaphysics, his religion, his moral standards, his uncertainties and the expedients with which he has met them. On every one of these departments and aspects I write — how shall I put it? — as an amateur. In every section of my subject there are men not only of far greater intellectual power and energy than I, but who have devoted their whole lives to the sustained analysis of this or that among the questions I discuss, and there is a literature so enormous in the aggregate that only a specialist scholar could hope to know it. I have not been unmindful of these professors and this literature; I have taken such opportunities as I have found, to test my propositions by them. But I feel that such apology as one makes for amateurishness in this field has a lesser quality of self-condemnation than if one were dealing with narrower, more defined and fact-laden matters. There is more excuse for one here than for the amateur maker of chemical theories, or the man who evolves a system of surgery in his leisure. These things, chemistry, surgery and so forth, we may take on the reputation of an expert, but our own fundamental beliefs, our rules of conduct, we must all make for ourselves. We may listen and read, but the views of others we cannot take on credit; we must rethink them and “make them our own.” And we cannot do without fundamental beliefs, explicit or implicit. The bulk of men are obliged to be amateur philosophers — all men indeed who are not specialized students of philosophical subjects — even if their philosophical enterprise goes no further than prompt recognition of and submission to Authority.
And it is not only the claim of the specialist that I would repudiate. People are too apt to suppose that in order to discuss morals a man must have exceptional moral gifts. I would dispute that naive supposition. I am an ingenuous enquirer with, I think, some capacity for religious feeling, but neither a prophet nor a saint. On the whole I should be inclined to classify myself as a bad man rather than a good; not indeed as any sort of picturesque scoundrel or non-moral expert, but as a person frequently irritable, ungenerous and forgetful, and intermittently and in small but definite ways bad. One thing I claim, I have got my beliefs and theories out of my life and not fitted them to its circumstances. As often as not I have learnt good by the method of difference; by the taste of the alternative. I tell this faith I hold as I hold it and I sketch out the principles by which I am generally trying to direct my life at the present time, because it interests me to do so and I think it may interest a certain number of similarly constituted people. I am not teaching. How far I succeed or fail in that private and personal attempt to behave well, has nothing to do with the matter of this book. That is another story, a reserved and private affair. I offer simply intellectual experiences and ideas.
It will be necessary to take up the most abstract of these questions of belief first, the metaphysical questions. It may be that to many readers the opening sections may seem the driest and least attractive. But I would ask them to begin at the beginning and read straight on, because much that follows this metaphysical book cannot be appreciated at its proper value without a grasp of these preliminaries.
As a preliminary to that experiment in mutual confession from which this book arose, I found it necessary to consider and state certain truths about the nature of knowledge, about the meaning of truth and the value of words, that is to say I found I had to begin by being metaphysical. In writing out these notes now I think it is well that I should state just how important I think this metaphysical prelude is.
There is a popular prejudice against metaphysics as something at once difficult and fruitless, as an idle system of enquiries remote from any human interest. I suppose this odd misconception arose from the vulgar pretensions of the learned, from their appeal to ancient names and their quotations in unfamiliar tongues, and from the easy fall into technicality of men struggling to be explicit where a high degree of explicitness is impossible. But it needs erudition and accumulated and alien literature to make metaphysics obscure, and some of the most fruitful and able metaphysical discussion in the world was conducted by a number of unhampered men in small Greek cities, who knew no language but their own and had scarcely a technical term. The true metaphysician is after all only a person who says, “Now let us take a thought for a moment before we fall into a discussion of the broad questions of life, lest we rush hastily into impossible and needless conflict. What is the exact value of these thoughts we are thinking and these words we are using?” He wants to take thought about thought. Those other ardent spirits on the contrary, want to plunge into action or controversy or belief without taking thought; they feel that there is not time to examine thought. “While you think,” they say, “the house is burning.” They are the kin of those who rush and struggle and make panics in theatre fires.
Now it seems to me that most of the troubles of humanity are really misunderstandings. Men’s compositions and characters are, I think, more similar than their views, and if they had not needlessly different modes of expression upon many broad issues, they would be practically at one upon a hundred matters where now they widely differ.
Most of the great controversies of the world, most of the wide religious differences that keep men apart, arise from this: from differences in their way of thinking. Men imagine they stand on the same ground and mean the same thing by the same words, whereas they stand on slightly different grounds, use different terms for the same thing and express the same thing in different words. Logomachies, conflicts about words — into such death-traps of effort those ardent spirits run and perish.
This is now almost a commonplace; it has been said before by numberless people. It has been said before by numberless people, but it seems to me it has been realised by very few — and until it is realised to the fullest extent, we shall continue to live at intellectual cross purposes and waste the forces of our species needlessly and abundantly.
This persuasion is a very important thing in my mind.
I think that the time has come when the human mind must take up metaphysical discussion again — when it must resume those subtle but necessary and unavoidable problems that it dropped unsolved at the close of the period of Greek freedom, when it must get to a common and general understanding upon what its ideas of truth, good, and beauty amount to, and upon the relation of the name to the thing, and of the relation of one mind to another mind in the matter of resemblance and the matter of difference — upon all those issues the young science student is as apt to dismiss as Rot, and the young classical student as Gas, and the austere student of the science of Economics as Theorising, unsuitable for his methods of research.
In our achievement of understandings in the place of these evasions about fundamental things lies the road, I believe, along which the human mind can escape, if ever it is to escape, from the confusion of purposes that distracts it at the present time.
It seems to me that the Greek mind up to the disaster of the Macedonian Conquest was elaborately and discursively discussing these questions of the forms and methods of thought and that the discussion was abruptly closed and not naturally concluded, summed up hastily as it were, in the career and lecturings of Aristotle.
Since then the world never effectually reopened these questions until the modern period. It went on from Plato and Aristotle just as the art of the seventeenth and eighteenth century went on from Raphael and Michael Angelo. Effectual criticism was absolutely silent until the Renaissance, and then for a time was but a matter of scattered utterances having only the slightest collective effect. In the past half century there has begun a more systematic critical movement in the general mind, a movement analogous to the Pre–Raphaelite movement in art — a Pre–Aristotelian movement, a scepticism about things supposed to be settled for all time, a resumed inquiry into the fundamental laws of thought, a harking back to positions of the older philosophers and particularly to Heraclitus, so far as the surviving fragments of his teaching enable one to understand him, and a new forward movement from that recovered ground.
Necessarily when one begins an inquiry into the fundamental nature of oneself and one’s mind and its processes, one is forced into autobiography. I begin by asking how the conscious mind with which I am prone to identify myself, began.
It presents itself to me as a history of a perception of the world of facts opening out from an accidental centre at which I happened to begin.
I do not attempt to define this word fact. Fact expresses for me something in its nature primary and unanalyzable. I start from that. I take as a typical statement of fact that I sit here at my desk writing with a fountain pen on a pad of ruled scribbling paper, that the sunlight falls upon me and throws the shadow of my window mullion across the page, that Peter, my cat, sleeps on the window-seat close at hand and that this agate paper-weight with the silver top that once was Henley’s holds my loose memoranda together. Outside is a patch of lawn and then a fringe of winter-bitten iris leaves and then the sea, greatly wrinkled and astir under the south-west wind. There is a boat going out which I think may be Jim Pain’s, but of that I cannot be sure . . .
These are statements of a certain quality, a quality that extends through a huge universe in which I find myself placed.
I try to recall how this world of fact arose in my mind. It began with a succession of limited immediate scenes and of certain minutely perceived persons; I recall an underground kitchen with a drawered table, a window looking up at a grating, a back yard in which, growing out by a dustbin, was a grape-vine; a red-papered room with a bookcase over my father’s shop, the dusty aisles and fixtures, the regiments of wine-glasses and tumblers, the rows of hanging mugs and jugs, the towering edifices of jam-pots, the tea and dinner and toilet sets in that emporium, its brighter side of cricket goods, of pads and balls and stumps. Out of the window one peeped at the more exterior world, the High Street in front, the tailor’s garden, the butcher’s yard, the churchyard and Bromley church tower behind; and one was taken upon expeditions to fields and open places. This limited world was peopled with certain familiar presences, mother and father, two brothers, the evasive but interesting cat, and by intermittent people of a livelier but more transient interest, customers and callers.
Such was my opening world of fact, and each day it enlarged and widened and had more things added to it. I had soon won my way to speech and was hearing of facts beyond my visible world of fact. Presently I was at a Dame’s school and learning to read.
From the centre of that little world as primary, as the initiatory material, my perception of the world of fact widened and widened, by new sights and sounds, by reading and hearing descriptions and histories, by guesses and inferences; my curiosity and interest, my appetite for fact, grew by what it fed upon, I carried on my expansion of the world of fact until it took me through the mineral and fossil galleries of the Natural History Museum, through the geological drawers of the College of Science, through a year of dissection and some weeks at the astronomical telescope. So I built up my conceptions of a real world out of facts observed and out of inferences of a nature akin to fact, of a world immense and enduring, receding interminably into space and time. In that I found myself placed, a creature relatively infinitesimal, needing and struggling. It was clear to me, by a hundred considerations, that I in my body upon this planet Earth, was the outcome of countless generations of conflict and begetting, the creature of natural selection, the heir of good and bad engendered in that struggle.
So my world of fact shaped itself. I find it altogether impossible to question or doubt that world of fact. Particular facts one may question as facts. For instance, I think I see an unseasonable yellow wallflower from my windows, but you may dispute that and show that it is only a broken end of iris leaf accidentally lit to yellow. That is merely a substitution of fact for fact. One may doubt whether one is perceiving or remembering or telling facts clearly, but the persuasion that there are facts, independent of one’s interpretations and obdurate to one’s will, remains invincible.
At first I took the world of fact as being exactly as I perceived it. I believed my eyes. Seeing was believing, I thought. Still more did I believe my reasoning. It was only slowly that I began to suspect that the world of fact could be anything different from the clear picture it made upon my mind.
I realised the inadequacy of the senses first. Into that I will not enter here. Any proper text book of physiology or psychology will supply a number of instances of the habitual deceptions of sight and touch and hearing. I came upon these things in my reading, in the laboratory, with microscope or telescope, lived with them as constant difficulties. I will only instance one trifling case of visual deception in order to lead to my next question. One draws two lines strictly parallel; so
(two horizontal and parallel lines.)
Oblique to them one draws a series of lines; so
(a series of parallel and closely-spaced lines drawn through each horizontal line, one series (top) sloping to the right, the other (bottom) to the left)
and instantly the parallelism seems to be disturbed. If the second figure is presented to any one without sufficient science to understand this delusion, the impression is created that these lines converge to the right and diverge to the left. The vision is deceived in its mental factor and judges wrongly of the thing seen.
In this case we are able to measure the distance of the lines, to find how the main lines looked before the cross ones were drawn, to bring the deception up against fact of a different sort and so correct the mistake. If the ignorant observer were unable to do that, he might remain permanently under the impression that the main lines were out of parallelism. And all the infirmities of eye and ear, touch and taste, are discovered and checked by the fact that the erroneous impressions presently strike against fact and discover an incompatibility with it. If they did not we should never have discovered them. If on the other hand they are so incompatible with fact as to endanger the lives of the beings labouring under such infirmities, they would tend to be eliminated from among our defects.
The presumption to which biological science brings one is that the senses and mind will work as well as the survival of the species may require, but that they will not work so very much better. There is no ground in matter-of-fact experience for assuming that there is any more inevitable certitude about purely intellectual operations than there is about sensory perceptions. The mind of a man may be primarily only a food-seeking, danger-avoiding, mate-finding instrument, just as the mind of a dog is, just as the nose of a dog is, or the snout of a pig.
You see the strong preparatory reason there is in this view of life for entertaining the suppositions that:—
The senses seem surer than they are.
The thinking mind seems clearer than it is and is more positive than it ought to be.
The world of fact is not what it appears to be.
After I had studied science and particularly biological science for some years, I became a teacher in a school for boys. I found it necessary to supplement my untutored conception of teaching method by a more systematic knowledge of its principles and methods, and I took the courses for the diplomas of Licentiate and Fellow of the London College of Preceptors which happened to be convenient for me. These courses included some of the more elementary aspects of psychology and logic and set me thinking and reading further. From the first, Logic as it was presented to me impressed me as a system of ideas and methods remote and secluded from the world of fact in which I lived and with which I had to deal. As it came to me in the ordinary textbooks, it presented itself as the science of inference using the syllogism as its principal instrument. Now I was first struck by the fact that while my teachers in Logic seemed to be assuring me I always thought in this form:—
“M is P,
S is M,
S is P,”
the method of my reasoning was almost always in this form:—
“S1 is more or less P,
S2 is very similar to S1,
S2 is very probably but not certainly more or less P.
Let us go on that assumption and see how it works.”
That is to say, I was constantly reasoning by analogy and applying verification. So far from using the syllogistic form confidently, I habitually distrusted it as anything more than a test of consistency in statement. But I found the textbooks of logic disposed to ignore my customary method of reasoning altogether or to recognise it only where S1 and S2 could be lumped together under a common name. Then they put it something after this form as Induction:—
“S1, S2, S3, and S4 are P
S1 + S2 + S3 + S4 + . . . are all S
All S is P.”
I looked into the laws of thought and into the postulates upon which the syllogistic logic is based, and it slowly became clear to me that from my point of view, the point of view of one who seeks truth and reality, logic assumed a belief in the objective reality of classification of which my studies in biology and mineralogy had largely disabused me. Logic, it seemed to me, had taken a common innate error of the mind and had emphasised it in order to develop a system of reasoning that should be exact in its processes. I turned my attention to the examination of that. For in common with the general run of men I had supposed that logic professed to supply a trustworthy science and method for the investigation and expression of reality.
A mind nourished on anatomical study is of course permeated with the suggestion of the vagueness and instability of biological species. A biological species is quite obviously a great number of unique individuals which is separable from other biological species only by the fact that an enormous number of other linking individuals are inaccessible in time — are in other words dead and gone — and each new individual in that species does, in the distinction of its own individuality, break away in however infinitesimal degree from the previous average properties of the species. There is no property of any species, even the properties that constitute the specific definition, that is not a matter of more or less.
If, for example, as species be distinguished by a single large red spot on the back, you will find if you go over a great number of specimens that red spot shrinking here to nothing, expanding there to a more general redness, weakening to pink, deepening to russet and brown, shading into crimson, and so on and so on. And this is true not only of biological species. It is true of the mineral specimens constituting a mineral species, and I remember as a constant refrain in the lectures of Professor Judd upon rock classification, the words, “they pass into one another by insensible gradations.” It is true, I hold, of all things.
You will think perhaps of atoms of the elements as instances of identically similar things, but these are things not of experience but of theory, and there is not a phenomenon in chemistry that is not equally well explained on the supposition that it is merely the immense quantities of atoms necessarily taken in any experiment that masks by the operation of the law of averages the fact that each atom also has its unique quality, its special individual difference.
This ideal of uniqueness in all individuals is not only true of the classifications of material science; it is true and still more evidently true of the species of common thought; it is true of common terms. Take the word “Chair.” When one says chair, one thinks vaguely of an average chair. But collect individual instances; think of armchairs and reading-chairs and dining-room chairs, and kitchen chairs, chairs that pass into benches, chairs that cross the boundary and become settees, dentist’s chairs, thrones, opera stalls, seats of all sorts, those miraculous fungoid growths that cumber the floor of the Arts and Crafts exhibition, and you will perceive what a lax bundle in fact is this simple straightforward term. In co-operation with an intelligent joiner I would undertake to defeat any definition of chair or chairishness that you gave me. Chairs just as much as individual organisms, just as much as mineral and rock specimens, are unique things — if you know them well enough you will find an individual difference even in a set of machine-made chairs — and it is only because we do not possess minds of unlimited capacity, because our brain has only a limited number of pigeon-holes for our correspondence with an unlimited universe of objective uniques, that we have to delude ourselves into the belief that there is a chairishness in this species common to and distinctive of all chairs.
Classification and number, which in truth ignore the fine differences of objective realities, have in the past of human thought been imposed upon things . . .
Greek thought impresses me as being over much obsessed by an objective treatment of certain necessary preliminary conditions of human thought — number and definition and class and abstract form! But these things — number, definition, class and abstract form — I hold, are merely unavoidable conditions of mental activity — regrettable conditions rather than essential facts. THE FORCEPS OF OUR MINDS ARE CLUMSY FORCEPS AND CRUSH THE TRUTH A LITTLE IN TAKING HOLD OF IT . . .
Let me give you a rough figure of what I am trying to convey in this first attack upon the philosophical validity of general terms. You have seen the result of those various methods of black and white reproduction that involve the use of a rectangular net. You know the sort of process picture I mean — it used to be employed very frequently in reproducing photographs. At a little distance you really seem to have a faithful reproduction of the original picture, but when you peer closely you find not the unique form and masses of the original, but a multitude of little rectangles, uniform in shape and size. The more earnestly you go into the thing, the closelier you look, the more the picture is lost in reticulations. I submit, the world of reasoned inquiry has a very similar relation to the world of fact. For the rough purposes of every day the network picture will do, but the finer your purpose the less it will serve, and for an ideally fine purpose, for absolute and general knowledge that will be as true for a man at a distance with a telescope as for a man with a microscope, it will not serve at all.
It is true you can make your net of logical interpretation finer and finer, you can fine your classification more and more — up to a certain limit. But essentially you are working in limits, and as you come closer, as you look at finer and subtler things, as you leave the practical purpose for which the method exists, the element of error increases. Every species is vague, every term goes cloudy at its edges; and so in my way of thinking, relentless logic is only another name for a stupidity — for a sort of intellectual pigheadedness. If you push a philosophical or metaphysical inquiry through a series of valid syllogisms — never committing any generally recognised fallacy — you nevertheless leave behind you at each step a certain rubbing and marginal loss of objective truth, and you get deflections that are difficult to trace at each phase in the process. Every species waggles about in its definition, every tool is a little loose in its handle, every scale has its individual error. So long as you are reasoning for practical purposes about finite things of experience you can every now and then check your process and correct your adjustments. But not when you make what are called philosophical and theological inquiries, when you turn your implement towards the final absolute truth of things.
This real vagueness of class terms is equally true whether we consider those terms used extensively or intensively, that is to say whether in relation to all the members of the species or in relation to an imaginary typical specimen. The logician begins by declaring that S is either P or not P. In the world of fact it is the rarest thing to encounter this absolute alternative; S1 is pink, but S2 is pinker, S3 is scarcely pink at all, and one is in doubt whether S4 is not properly to be called scarlet. The finest type specimen you can find simply has the characteristic quality a little more rather than a little less. The neat little circles the logician uses to convey his idea of P or not P to the student are just pictures of boundaries in his mind, exaggerations of a natural mental tendency. They are required for the purposes of his science, but they are departures from the nature of fact.
Classes in logic are not only represented by circles with a hard firm outline, whereas in fact they have no such definite limits, but also there is a constant disposition to think of all names as if they represented positive classes. With words just as with numbers and abstract forms there have been definite phases of human development. There was with regard to number, the phase when man could barely count at all, or counted in perfect good faith and sanity upon his fingers. Then there was the phase when he struggled with the development of number, when he began to elaborate all sorts of ideas about numbers, until at last he developed complex superstitions about perfect numbers and imperfect numbers, about threes and sevens and the like. The same was the case with abstract forms; and even to-day we are scarcely more than heads out of the vast subtle muddle of thinking about spheres and ideally perfect forms and so on, that was the price of this little necessary step to clear thinking. How large a part numerical and geometrical magic, numerical and geometrical philosophy have played in the history of the mind! And the whole apparatus of language and mental communication is beset with like dangers. The language of the savage is I suppose purely positive; the thing has a name, the name has a thing. This indeed is the tradition of language, and even to-day, we, when we hear a name are predisposed — and sometimes it is a very vicious disposition — to imagine forthwith something answering to the name. WE ARE DISPOSED, AS AN INCURABLE MENTAL VICE, TO ACCUMULATE INTENSION IN TERMS. If I say to you Wodget or Crump, you find yourself passing over the fact that these are nothings, these are, so to speak mere blankety blanks, and trying to think what sort of thing a Wodget or a Crump may be. You find yourself led insensibly by subtle associations of sound and ideas to giving these blank terms attributes.
Now this is true not only of quite empty terms but of terms that carry a meaning. It is a mental necessity that we should make classes and use general terms, and as soon as we do that we fall into immediate danger of unjustifiably increasing the intension of these terms. You will find a large proportion of human prejudice and misunderstanding arises from this universal proclivity.
There is a particular sort of empty terms that has been and is conspicuously dangerous to the thinker, the class of negative terms. The negative term is in plain fact just nothing; “Not-A” is the absence of any trace of the quality that constitutes A, it is the rest of everything for ever. But there seems to be a real bias in the mind towards regarding “Not-A” as a thing mysteriously in the nature of A, as though “Not-A” and A were species of the same genus. When one speaks of Not-pink one is apt to think of green things and yellow things and to ignore anger or abstract nouns or the sound of thunder. And logicians, following the normal bias of the mind, do actually present A and not-A in this sort of diagram:—
(the letter A inside a circular boundary, together with the words Not A, all inside a bigger circular boundary.)
ignoring altogether the difficult case of the space in which these words are printed. Obviously the diagram that comes nearer experienced fact is:—
(the word Not, followed by the letter A inside a circular boundary, followed by the letter A)
with no outer boundary. But the logician finds it necessary for his processes to present that outer Not-A as bounded (Vide e.g. Kayne’s “Formal Logic” re Euler’s diagrams and Immediate Inferences.), and to speak of the total area of A and Not-A as the Universe of Discourse; and the metaphysician and the commonsense thinker alike fall far too readily into the belief that this convention of method is an adequate representation of fact.
Let me try and express how in my mind this matter of negative terms has shaped itself. I think of something which I may perhaps best describe as being off the stage or out of court, or as the Void without Implications, or as Nothingness, or as Outer Darkness. This is a sort of hypothetical Beyond to the visible world of human thought, and thither I think all negative terms reach at last, and merge and become nothing. Whatever positive class you make, whatever boundary you draw, straight away from that boundary begins the corresponding negative class and passes into the illimitable horizon of nothingness. You talk of pink things, you ignore, as the arbitrary postulates of Logic direct, the more elusive shades of pink, and draw your line. Beyond is the not-pink, known and knowable, and still in the not-pink region one comes to the Outer Darkness. Not blue, not happy, not iron, all the NOT classes meet in that Outer Darkness. That same Outer Darkness and nothingness is infinite space and infinite time and any being of infinite qualities; and all that region I rule out of court in my philosophy altogether. I will neither affirm nor deny if I can help it about any NOT things. I will not deal with not things at all, except by accident and inadvertence. If I use the word “infinite” I use it as one often uses “countless,” “the countless hosts of the enemy”— or “immeasurable”—“immeasurable cliffs”— that is to say as the limit of measurement, as a convenient equivalent to as many times this cloth yard as you can, and as many again, and so on and so on until you and your numerical system are beaten to a standstill.
Now a great number of apparently positive terms are, or have become, practically negative terms and are under the same ban with me. A considerable number of terms that have played a great part in the world of thought, seem to me to be invalidated by this same defect, to have no content or an undefined content or an unjustifiable content. For example, that word Omniscient, as implying infinite knowledge, impresses me as being a word with a delusive air of being solid and full, when it is really hollow with no content whatever. I am persuaded that knowing is the relation of a conscious being to something not itself, that the thing known is defined as a system of parts and aspects and relationships, that knowledge is comprehension, and so that only finite things can know or be known. When you talk of a being of infinite extension and infinite duration, omniscient and omnipotent and perfect, you seem to me to be talking in negatives of nothing whatever.
There is another infirmity of the mind to which my attention has been called by an able paper read this spring to the Cambridge Moral Science Club by my friend Miss Amber Reeves. In this she has developed a suggestion of Mr. F.C.S. Schiller’s. The current syllogistic logic rests on the assumption that either A is B or it is not B. The practical reality, she contends, is that nothing is permanent; A is always becoming more or less B or ceasing to be more or less B. But it would seem the human mind cannot manage with that. It has to hold a thing still for a moment before it can think it. It arrests the present moment for its struggle as Joshua stopped the sun. It cannot contemplate things continuously, and so it has to resort to a series of static snapshots. It has to kill motion in order to study it, as a naturalist kills and pins out a butterfly in order to study life.
You see the mind is really pigeon-holed and discontinuous in two respects, in respect to time and in respect to classification; whereas one has a strong persuasion that the world of fact is unbounded or continuous.
Finally; the Logician, intent upon perfecting the certitudes of his methods rather than upon expressing the confusing subtleties of truth, has done little to help thinking men in the perpetual difficulty that arises from the fact that the universe can be seen in many different fashions and expressed by many different systems of terms, each expression within its limits true and yet incommensurable with expression upon a differing system. There is a sort of stratification in human ideas. I have it very much in mind that various terms in our reasoning lie, as it were, at different levels and in different planes, and that we accomplish a large amount of error and confusion by reasoning terms together that do not lie or nearly lie in the same plane.
Let me endeavour to make myself a little less obscure by a flagrant instance from physical things. Suppose some one began to talk seriously of a man seeing an atom through a microscope, or better perhaps of cutting one in half with a knife. There are a number of non-analytical people who would be quite prepared to believe that an atom could be visible to the eye or cut in this manner. But any one at all conversant with physical conceptions would almost as soon think of killing the square root of 2 with a rook rifle as of cutting an atom in half with a knife. One’s conception of an atom is reached through a process of hypothesis and analysis, and in the world of atoms there are no knives and no men to cut. If you have thought with a strong consistent mental movement, then when you have thought of your atom under the knife blade, your knife blade has itself become a cloud of swinging grouped atoms, and your microscope lens a little universe of oscillatory and vibratory molecules. If you think of the universe, thinking at the level of atoms, there is neither knife to cut, scale to weigh, nor eye to see. The universe at that plane to which the mind of the molecular physicist descends has none of the shapes or forms of our common life whatever. This hand with which I write is, in the universe of molecular physics, a cloud of warring atoms and molecules, combining and recombining, colliding, rotating, flying hither and thither in the universal atmosphere of ether.
You see, I hope, what I mean when I say that the universe of molecular physics is at a different level from the universe of common experience; — what we call stable and solid is in that world a freely moving system of interlacing centres of force, what we call colour and sound is there no more than this length of vibration of that. We have reached to a conception of that universe of molecular physics by a great enterprise of organised analysis, and our universe of daily experiences stands in relation to that elemental world as if it were a synthesis of those elemental things.
I would suggest to you that this is only a very extreme instance of the general state of affairs, that there may be finer and subtler differences of level between one term and another, and that terms may very well be thought of as lying obliquely and as being twisted through different levels.
It will perhaps give a clearer idea of what I am seeking to convey if I suggest a concrete image for the whole world of a man’s thought and knowledge. Imagine a large clear jelly, in which at all angles and in all states of simplicity or contortion his ideas are imbedded. They are all valid and possible ideas as they lie, none incompatible with any. If you imagine the direction of up or down in this clear jelly being as it were the direction in which one moves by analysis or synthesis, if you go down for example from matter to atoms and centres of force and up to men and states and countries — if you will imagine the ideas lying in that manner — you will get the beginnings of my intention. But our instrument, our process of thinking, like a drawing before the discovery of perspective, appears to have difficulties with the third dimension, appears capable only of dealing with or reasoning about ideas by projecting them upon the same plane. It will be obvious that a great multitude of things may very well exist together in a solid jelly, which would be overlapping and incompatible and mutually destructive when projected together upon one plane. Through the bias in our instrument to do this, through reasoning between terms not in the same plane, an enormous amount of confusion, perplexity, and mental deadlocking occurs.
The old theological deadlock between predestination and free will serves admirably as an example of the sort of deadlock I mean. Take life at the level of common sensation and common experience and there is no more indisputable fact than man’s freedom of will, unless it is his complete moral responsibility. But make only the least penetrating of scientific analyses and you perceive a world of inevitable consequences, a rigid succession of cause and effect. Insist upon a flat agreement between the two, and there you are! The instrument fails.
So far as this particular opposition is concerned, I shall point out later the reasonableness and convenience of regarding the common-sense belief in free will as truer for one’s personal life than determinism.
Now what is the practical outcome of all these criticisms of the human mind? Does it follow that thought is futile and discussion vain? By no means. Rather these considerations lead us toward mutual understanding. They clear up the deadlocks that come from the hard and fast use of terms, they establish mutual charity as an intellectual necessity. The common way of speech and thought which the old system of logic has simply systematized, is too glib and too presumptuous of certainty. We must needs use language, but we must use it always with the thought in our minds of its unreal exactness, its actual habitual deflection from fact. All propositions are approximations to an elusive truth, and we employ them as the mathematician studies the circle by supposing it to be a polygon of a very great number of sides.
We must make use of terms and sometimes of provisional terms. But we must guard against such terms and the mental danger of excessive intension they carry with them. The child takes a stick and says it is a sword and does not forget, he takes a shadow under the bed and says it is a bear and he half forgets. The man takes a set of emotions and says it is a God, and he gets excited and propagandist and does forget; he is involved in disputes and confusions with the old gods of wood and stone, and presently he is making his God a Great White Throne and fitting him up with a mystical family.
Essentially we have to train our minds to think anew, if we are to think beyond the purposes for which the mind seems to have been evolved. We have to disabuse ourselves from the superstition of the binding nature of definitions and the exactness of logic. We have to cure ourselves of the natural tricks of common thought and argument. You know the way of it, how effective and foolish it is; the quotation of the exact statement of which every jot and tittle must be maintained, the challenge to be consistent, the deadlock between your terms and mine.
More and more as I grow older and more settled in my views am I bored by common argument, bored not because I am ceasing to be interested in the things argued about, but because I see more and more clearly the futility of the methods pursued.
How then are we to think and argue and what truth may we attain? Is not the method of the scientific investigator a valid one, and is there not truth to the world of fact in scientific laws? Decidedly there is. And the continual revision and testing against fact that these laws get is constantly approximating them more and more nearly to a trustworthy statement of fact. Nevertheless they are never true in that dogmatic degree in which they seem true to the unphilosophical student of science. Accepting as I do the validity of nearly all the general propositions of modern science, I have constantly to bear in mind that about them too clings the error of excessive claims to precision.
The man trained solely in science falls easily into a superstitious attitude; he is overdone with classification. He believes in the possibility of exact knowledge everywhere. What is not exact he declares is not knowledge. He believes in specialists and experts in all fields.
I dispute this universal range of possible scientific precision. There is, I allege, a not too clearly recognised order in the sciences which forms the gist of my case against this scientific pretension. There is a gradation in the importance of the individual instance as one passes from mechanics and physics and chemistry through the biological sciences to economics and sociology, a gradation whose correlations and implications have not yet received adequate recognition, and which does profoundly affect the method of study and research in each science.
Let me repeat in slightly altered terms some of the points raised in the preceding sections. I have doubted and denied that there are identically similar objective experiences; I consider all objective beings as individual and unique. It is now understood that conceivably only in the subjective world, and in theory and the imagination, do we deal with identically similar units, and with absolutely commensurable quantities. In the real world it is reasonable to suppose we deal at most with PRACTICALLY similar units and PRACTICALLY commensurable quantities. But there is a strong bias, a sort of labour-saving bias, in the normal human mind, to ignore this, and not only to speak but to think of a thousand bricks or a thousand sheep or a thousand Chinamen as though they were all absolutely true to sample. If it is brought before a thinker for a moment that in any special case this is not so, he slips back to the old attitude as soon as his attention is withdrawn. This type of error has, for instance, caught many of the race of chemists, and ATOMS and IONS and so forth of the same species are tacitly assumed to be similar to one another.
Be it noted that, so far as the practical results of chemistry and physics go, it scarcely matters which assumption we adopt, the number of units is so great, the individual difference so drowned and lost. For purposes of enquiry and discussion the incorrect one is infinitely more convenient.
But this ceases to be true directly we emerge from the region of chemistry and physics. In the biological sciences of the eighteenth century, common-sense struggled hard to ignore individuality in shells and plants and animals. There was an attempt to eliminate the more conspicuous departures as abnormalities, as sports, nature’s weak moments; and it was only with the establishment of Darwin’s great generalizations that the hard and fast classificatory system broke down and individuality came to its own. Yet there had always been a clearly felt difference between the conclusions of the biological sciences and those dealing with lifeless substance, in the relative vagueness, the insubordinate looseness and inaccuracy of the former. The naturalist accumulated facts and multiplied names, but he did not go triumphantly from generalization to generalization after the fashion of the chemist or physicist. It is easy to see, therefore, how it came about that the inorganic sciences were regarded as the true scientific bed-rock. It was scarcely suspected that the biological sciences might perhaps after all be TRUER than the experimental, in spite of the difference in practical value in favour of the latter. It was, and is by the great majority of people to this day, supposed to be the latter that are invincibly true; and the former are regarded as a more complex set of problems merely, with obliquities and refractions that presently will be explained away. Comte and Herbert Spencer certainly seem to me to have taken that much for granted. Herbert Spencer no doubt talked of the unknown and unknowable, but not in this sense as an element of inexactness running through all things. He thought, it seems to me, of the unknown as the indefinable Beyond of an immediate world that might be quite clearly and definitely known.
There is a growing body of people which is beginning to hold the converse view — that counting, classification, measurement, the whole fabric of mathematics, is subjective and untrue to the world of fact, and that the uniqueness of individuals is the objective truth. As the number of units taken diminishes, the amount of variety and inexactness of generalization increases, because individuality tells for more and more. Could you take men by the thousand billion, you could generalize about them as you do about atoms; could you take atoms singly, it may be that you would find them as individual as your aunts and cousins. That concisely is the minority belief, and my belief.
Now what is called the scientific method in the physical sciences rests upon the ignoring of individualities; and like many mathematical conventions, its great practical convenience is no proof whatever of its final truth. Let me admit the enormous value, the wonder of its results in mechanics, in all the physical sciences, in chemistry, even in physiology — but what is its value beyond that? Is the scientific method of value in biology? The great advances made by Darwin and his school in biology were not made, it must be remembered, by the scientific method, as it is generally conceived, at all. His was historical research. He conducted research into pre-documentary history. He collected information along the lines indicated by certain interrogations; and the bulk of his work was the digesting and critical analysis of that. For documents and monuments he had fossils and anatomical structures and germinating eggs too innocent to lie. But, on the other hand, he had to correspond with breeders and travellers of various sorts; classes entirely analogous, from the point of view of evidence, to the writers of history and memoirs. I question profoundly whether the word “science,” in current usage anyhow, ever means such patient disentanglement as Darwin pursued. It means the attainment of something positive and emphatic in the way of a conclusion, based on amply repeated experiments capable of infinite repetition, “proved,” as they say, “up to the hilt.”
It would be of course possible to dispute whether the word “science” should convey this quality of certitude, but to most people it certainly does at the present time. So far as the movements of comets and electric trams go, there is no doubt practically cock-sure science; and Comte and Herbert Spencer seem to me to have believed that cock-sure could be extended to every conceivable finite thing. The fact that Herbert Spencer called a certain doctrine Individualism reflects nothing on the non-individualizing quality of his primary assumptions and of his mental texture. He believed that individuality (heterogeneity) was and is an evolutionary product from an original homogeneity, begotten by folding and multiplying and dividing and twisting it, and still fundamentally IT. It seems to me that the general usage is entirely for the limitation of the word “science” to knowledge and the search after knowledge of a high degree of precision. And not simply the general usage; “Science is measurement,” Science is “organized commonsense,” proud in fact of its essential error, scornful of any metaphysical analysis of its terms.
Now my contention is that we can arrange the fields of human thought and interest about the world of fact in a sort of scale. At one end the number of units is infinite and the methods exact, at the other we have the human subjects in which there is no exactitude. The science of society stands at the extreme end of the scale from the molecular sciences. In these latter there is an infinitude of units; in sociology, as Comte perceived, there is only one unit. It is true that Herbert Spencer, in order to get classification somehow, did, as Professor Durkheim has pointed out, separate human society into societies, and made believe they competed one with another and died and reproduced just like animals, and that economists following List have for the purposes of fiscal controversy discovered economic types; but this is a transparent device, and one is surprised to find thoughtful and reputable writers off their guard against such bad analogy. But indeed it is impossible to isolate complete communities of men, or to trace any but rude general resemblances between group and group. These alleged units have as much individuality as pieces of cloud; they come, they go, they fuse and separate. And we are forced to conclude that not only is the method of observation, experiment, and verification left far away down the scale, but that the method of classification under types, which has served so useful a purpose in the middle group of subjects, the subjects involving numerous but a finite number of units, has also to be abandoned in social science. We cannot put Humanity into a museum or dry it for examination; our one single still living specimen is all history, all anthropology, and the fluctuating world of men. There is no satisfactory means of dividing it, and nothing else in the real world with which to compare it. We have only the remotest ideas of its “life-cycle” and a few relics of its origin and dreams of its destiny.
This denial of scientific precision is true of all questions of general human relations and attitude. And in regard to all these matters affecting our personal motives, our self-control and our devotions, it is much truer.
From this it is an easy step to the statement that so far as the clear-cut confident sort of knowledge goes, the sort of knowledge one gets from a time-table or a text-book of chemistry, or seeks from a witness in a police court, I am, in relation to religious and moral questions an agnostic. I do not think any general propositions partaking largely of the nature of fact can be known about these things. There is nothing possessing the general validity of fact to be stated or known.
Yet it is of urgent practical necessity that we should have such propositions and beliefs. All those we conjure out of our mental apparatus and the world of fact dissolve and disappear again under scrutiny. It is clear we must resort to some other method for these necessities.
Now I make my beliefs as I want them. I do not attempt to distil them out of fact as physicists distil their laws. I make them thus and not thus exactly as an artist makes a picture so and not so. I believe that is how we all make our beliefs, but that many people do not see this clearly and confuse their beliefs with perceived and proven fact.
I draw my beliefs exactly as an artist draws lines to make a picture, to express my impression of the world and my purpose.
The artist cannot defend his expression as a scientific man defends his, and demonstrate that they are true upon any assumptions whatsoever. Any loud fool may stand in front of a picture and call it inaccurate, untrustworthy, unbeautiful. That last, the most vital issue of all, is the one least assured. Loud fools always do do that sort of thing. Take quite ignorant people before almost any beautiful work of art and they will laugh at it as absurd. If one sits on a popular evening in that long room at South Kensington which contains Raphael’s cartoons, one remarks that perhaps a third of those who stray through and look at all those fine efforts, titter. If one searches in the magazines of a little while ago, one finds in the angry and resentful reception of the Pre–Raphaelites another instance of the absolutely indefensible nature of many of the most beautiful propositions. And as a still more striking and remarkable case, take the onslaught made by Ruskin upon the works of Whistler. You will remember that a libel action ensued and that these pictures were gravely reasoned about by barristers and surveyed by jurymen to assess their merits . . .
In the end it is the indefensible truth that lasts; it lasts because it works and serves. People come to it and remain and attract other understanding and enquiring people.
Now when I say I make my beliefs and that I cannot prove them to you and convince you of them, that does not mean that I make them wantonly and regardless of fact, that I throw them off as a child scribbles on a slate. Mr. Ruskin, if I remember rightly, accused Whistler of throwing a pot of paint in the face of the public — that was the essence of his libel. The artistic method in this field of beliefs, as in the field of visual renderings, is one of great freedom and initiative and great poverty of test, but of no wantonness; the conditions of rightness are none the less imperative because they are mysterious and indefinable. I adopt certain beliefs because I feel the need for them, because I feel an often quite unanalyzable rightness in them; because the alternative of a chaotic life distresses me. My belief in them rests upon the fact that they WORK for me and satisfy my desire for harmony and beauty. They are arbitrary assumptions, if you will, that I see fit to impose upon my universe.
But though they are arbitrary, they are not necessarily individual. Just so far as we all have a common likeness, just so far can we be brought under the same imperatives to think and believe.
And though they are arbitrary, each day they stand wear and tear, and each new person they satisfy, is another day and another voice towards showing they do correspond to something that is so far fact and real.
This is Pragmatism as I conceive it; the abandonment of infinite assumptions, the extension of the experimental spirit to all human interests.
In concluding this first Book let me give a summary of the principal points of what has gone before.
I figure the mind of man as an imperfect being obtaining knowledge by imperfect eyesight, imperfect hearing and so forth; who must needs walk manfully and patiently, exercising will and making choices and determining things between the mysteries of external and internal fact.
Essentially man’s mind moves within limits depending upon his individual character and experience. These limits constitute what Herbart called his “circle of thought,” and they differ for everyone.
That briefly is what I consider to be the case with my own mind, and I believe it is the case with everyone’s.
Most minds, it seems to me, are similar, but none are absolutely alike in character or in contents.
We are all biassed to ignore our mental imperfections and to talk and act as though our minds were exact instruments — something wherewith to scale the heavens with assurance — and also we are biassed to believe that, except for perversity, all our minds work exactly alike.
Man, thinking man, suffers from intellectual over-confidence and a vain belief in the universal validity of reasoning.
We all need training, training in the balanced attitude.
Of everything we need to say: this is true but it is not quite true.
Of everything we need to say: this is true in relation to things in or near its plane, but not true of other things.
Of everything we have to remember: this may be truer for us than for other people.
In disputation particularly we have to remember this (and most with our antagonist): that the spirit of an utterance may be better than the phrase.
We have to discourage the cheap tricks of controversy, the retort, the search for inconsistency. We have to realize that these things are as foolish and ill-bred and anti-social as shouting in conversation or making puns; and we have to work out habits of thought purged from the sin of assurance. We have to do this for our own good quite as much as for the sake of intercourse.
All the great and important beliefs by which life is guided and determined are less of the nature of fact than of artistic expression.
And now having stated my conception of the true relationship between our thoughts and words to facts, having distinguished between the more accurate and frequently verified propositions of science and the more arbitrary and infrequently verified propositions of belief, and made clear the spontaneous and artistic quality that inheres in all our moral and religious generalizations, I may hope to go on to my confession of faith with less misunderstanding.
Now my most comprehensive belief about the external and the internal and myself is that they make one universe in which I and every part are ultimately important. That is quite an arbitrary act of my mind. It is quite possible to maintain that everything is a chaotic assembly, that any part might be destroyed without affecting any other part. I do not choose to argue against that. If you choose to say that, I am no more disposed to argue with you than if you choose to wear a mitre in Fleet Street or drink a bottle of ink, or declare the figure of Ally Sloper more dignified and beautiful than the head of Jove. There is no Q.E.D. that you cannot do so. You can. You will not like to go on with it, I think, and it will not answer, but that is a different matter.
I dismiss the idea that life is chaotic because it leaves my life ineffectual, and I cannot contemplate an ineffectual life patiently. I am by my nature impelled to refuse that. I assert that it is not so. I assert therefore that I am important in a scheme, that we are all important in that scheme, that the wheel-smashed frog in the road and the fly drowning in the milk are important and correlated with me. What the scheme as a whole is I do not know; with my limited mind I cannot know. There I become a Mystic. I use the word scheme because it is the best word available, but I strain it in using it. I do not wish to imply a schemer, but only order and co-ordination as distinguished from haphazard. “All this is important, all this is profoundly significant.” I say it of the universe as a child that has not learnt to read might say it of a parchment agreement. I cannot read the universe, but I can believe that this is so.
And this unfounded and arbitrary declaration of the ultimate rightness and significance of things I call the Act of Faith. It is my fundamental religious confession. It is a voluntary and deliberate determination to believe, a choice made.
You may say if you will that this scheme I talk about, this something that gives importance and correlation and significance, is what is meant by God. You may embark upon a logical wrangle here with me if you have failed to master what I have hitherto said about the meaning of words. If a Scheme, you will say, then there must be a Schemer.
But, I repeat, I am using scheme and importance and significance here only in a spirit of analogy because I can find no better words, and I will not allow myself to be entangled by an insistence upon their implications.
Yet let me confess that I am greatly attracted by such fine phrases as the Will of God, the Hand of God, the Great Commander. These do most wonderfully express aspects of this belief I choose to hold. I think if there had been no gods before, I would call this God. But I feel that there is a great danger in doing this sort of thing unguardedly. Many people would be glad for rather trivial and unworthy reasons that I should confess a faith in God, and few would take offence. But the run of people even nowadays mean something more and something different when they say “God.” They intend a personality exterior to them and limited, and they will instantly conclude I mean the same thing. To permit that misconception is, I feel, the first step on the slippery slope of meretricious complaisance, is to become in some small measure a successor of those who cried, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians.” Occasionally we may best serve the God of Truth by denying him.
Yet at times I admit the sense of personality in the universe is very strong. If I am confessing, I do not see why I should not confess up to the hilt. At times in the silence of the night and in rare lonely moments, I come upon a sort of communion of myself and something great that is not myself. It is perhaps poverty of mind and language obliges me to say that then this universal scheme takes on the effect of a sympathetic person — and my communion a quality of fearless worship. These moments happen, and they are the supreme fact in my religious life to me, they are the crown of my religious experiences.
None the less, I do not usually speak of God even in regard to these moments, and where I do use that word it must be understood that I use it as a personification of something entirely different in nature from the personality of a human being.
And now let me return to a point raised in the first Book in Chapter 1.9. Is the whole of this scheme of things settled and done? The whole trend of Science is to that belief. On the scientific plane one is a fatalist, the universe a system of inevitable consequences. But as I show in that section referred to, it is quite possible to accept as true in their several planes both predestination and free will. (I use free will in the sense of self-determinisn and not as it is defined by Professor William James, and predestination as equivalent to the conception of a universe rigid in time and space.) If you ask me, I think I should say I incline to believe in predestination and do quite completely believe in free will. The important belief is free will.
But does the whole universe of fact, the external world about me, the mysterious internal world from which my motives rise, form one rigid and fated system as determinists teach? Do I believe that, had one a mind ideally clear and powerful, the whole universe would seem orderly and absolutely predestined? I incline to that belief. I do not harshly believe it, but I admit its large plausibility — that is all. I see no value whatever in jumping to a decision. One or two Pragmatists, so far as I can understand them, do not hold this view of predestination at all; but as a provisional assumption it underlies most scientific work.
I glance at this question rather to express a detachment than a view.
For me as a person this theory of predestination has no practical value. At the utmost it is an interesting theory like the theory that there is a fourth dimension. There may be a fourth dimension of space, but one gets along quite well by assuming there are just three. It may be knowable the next time I come to cross roads which I shall take. Possibly that knowledge actually exists somewhere. There are those who will tell you that they can get intimations in the matter from packs of cards or the palms of my hands, or see by peering into crystals. Of such beliefs I am entirely free. The fact is I believe that neither I know nor anybody else who is practically concerned knows which I shall take. I hesitate, I choose just as though the thing was unknowable. For me and my conduct there is that much wide practical margin of freedom.
I am free and freely and responsibly making the future — so far as I am concerned. You others are equally free. On that theory I find my life will work, and on a theory of mechanical predestination nothing works.
I take the former theory therefore for my everyday purposes, and as a matter of fact so does everybody else. I regard myself as a free responsible person among free responsible persons.
Now I have already given a first picture of the world of fact as it shaped itself upon my mind. Let me now give a second picture of this world in which I find myself, a picture in a rather different key and at a different level, in which I turn to a new set of aspects and bring into the foreground the other minds which are with me in the midst of this great spectacle.
What am I?
Here is a question to which in all ages men have sought to give a clear unambiguous answer, and to which a clear unambiguous answer is manifestly unfitted. Am I my body? Yes or no? It seems to me that I can externalize and think of as “not myself” nearly everything that pertains to my body, hands and feet, and even the most secret and central of those living and hidden parts, the pulsing arteries, the throbbing nerves, the ganglionic centres, that no eye, save for the surgeon’s knife has ever seen or ever will see until they coagulate in decay. So far I am not my body; and then as clearly, since I suffer through it, see the whole world through it and am always to be called upon where it is, I am it. Am I a mind mysteriously linked to this thing of matter and endeavour?
So I can present myself. I seem to be a consciousness, vague and insecure, placed between two worlds. One of these worlds seems clearly “not me,” the other is more closely identified with me and yet is still imperfectly me. The first I call the exterior world, and it presents itself to me as existing in Time and Space. In a certain way I seem able to interfere with it and control it. The second is the interior world, having no forms in space and only a vague evasive reference to time, from which motives arise and storms of emotion, which acts and reacts constantly and in untraceable way with my conscious mind. And that consciousness itself hangs and drifts about the region where the inner world and the outer world meet, much as a patch of limelight drifts about the stage, illuminating, affecting, following no manifest law except that usually it centres upon the hero, my Ego.
It seems to me that to put the thing much more precisely than this is to depart from the reality of the matter.
But so departing a little, let me borrow a phrase from Herbart and identify myself more particularly with my mental self. It seems to me that I may speak of myself as a circle of thought and experience hung between these two imperfectly understood worlds of the internal and the external and passing imperceptibly into the former. The external world impresses me as being, as a practical fact, common to me and many other creatures similar to myself; the internal, I find similar but not identical with theirs. It is MINE. It seems to me at times no more than something cut off from that external world and put into a sort of pit or cave, much as all the inner mystery of my body, those living, writhing, warm and thrilling organs are isolated, hidden from all eyes and interference so long as I remain alive. And I myself, the essential me, am the light and watcher in the mouth of the cave.
So I think of myself, and so I think of all other human beings, as circles of thought and experience, each a little different from the others. Each human being I see as essentially a circle of thought between an internal and an external world.
I figure these circles of thought as more or less imperfectly focussed pictures, all a little askew and vague as to margins and distances. In the internal world arise motives, and they pass outward through the circle of thought and are modified and directed by it into external acts. And through speech, example, and a hundred various acts, one such circle, one human mind, lights and enlarges and plays upon another. That is the image under which the interrelation of minds presents itself to me.
Now each self among us, for all its fluctuations and vagueness of boundary, is, as I have already pointed out, invincibly persuaded of Free Will. That is to say, it has a persuasion of responsible control over the impulses that teem from the internal world and tend to express themselves in act. The problem of that control and its solution is the reality of life. “What am I to do?” is the perpetual question of our existence. Our metaphysics, our beliefs are all sought as subsidiary to that and have no significance without it.
I confess I find myself a confusion of motives beside which my confusion of perceptions pales into insignificance.
There are many various motives and motives very variously estimated — some are called gross, some sublime, some — such as pride — wicked. I do not readily accept these classifications.
Many people seem to make a selection among their motives without much enquiry, taking those classifications as just; they seek to lead what they call pure lives or useful lives and to set aside whole sets of motives which do not accord with this determination. Some exclude the seeking of pleasure as a permissible motive, some the love of beauty; some insist upon one’s “being oneself” and prohibit or limit responses to exterior opinions. Most of such selections strike me as wanton and hasty. I decline to dismiss any of my motives at all in that wholesale way. Just as I believe I am important in the scheme of things, so I believe are all my motives. Turning one’s back on any set of them seems to me to savour of the headlong actions of stupidity. To suppress a passion or a curiosity for the sake of suppressing a passion is to my mind just the burial of a talent that has been entrusted to one’s care. One has, I feel, to take all these things as weapons and instruments, material in the service of the scheme; one has to take them in the end gravely and do right among them unbiassed in favour of any set. To take some poor appetite and fling it out is to my mind a cheap and unsatisfactory way of simplifying one’s moral problems. One has to accept these things in oneself, I feel — even if one knows them to be dangerous things, even if one is sure they have an evil side.
Let me, however, in order to express my attitude better, make a rough grouping of the motives I find in myself and the people about me.
I cannot divide them into clearly defined classes, but I may perhaps begin with those that bring one into the widest sympathy with living things and go on to those one shares only with highly intelligent and complex human beings.
There come first the desires one shares with those more limited souls the beasts, just as much as one does with one’s fellow man. These are the bodily appetites and the crude emotions of fear and resentment. These first clamour for attention and must be assuaged or controlled before the other sets come into play.
Now in this matter of physical appetites I do not know whether to describe myself as a sensualist or an ascetic. If an ascetic is one who suppresses to a minimum all deference to these impulses, then certainly I am not an ascetic; if a sensualist is one who gives himself to heedless gratification, then certainly I am not a sensualist. But I find myself balanced in an intermediate position by something that I will speak of as the sense of Beauty. This sense of Beauty is something in me which demands not simply gratification but the best and keenest of a sense or continuance of sense impressions, and which refuses coarse quantitative assuagements. It ranges all over the senses, and just as I refuse to wholly cut off any of my motives, so do I refuse to limit its use to the plane of the eye or the ear.
It seems to me entirely just to speak of beauty in matters of scent and taste, to talk not only of beautiful skies and beautiful sounds but of beautiful beer and beautiful cheese! The balance as between asceticism and sensuality comes in, it seems to me, if we remember that to drink well one must not have drunken for some time, that to see well one’s eye must be clear, that to make love well one must be fit and gracious and sweet and disciplined from top to toe, that the finest sense of all — the joyous sense of bodily well-being — comes only with exercises and restraints and fine living. There I think lies the way of my disposition. I do not want to live in the sensual sty, but I also do not want to scratch in the tub of Diogenes.
But I diverge a little in these comments from my present business of classifying motives.
Next I perceive hypertrophied in myself and many sympathetic human beings a passion that many animals certainly possess, the beautiful and fearless cousin of fear, Curiosity, that seeks keenly for knowing and feeling. Apart from appetites and bodily desires and blind impulses, I want most urgently to know and feel, for the sake of knowing and feeling. I want to go round corners and see what is there, to cross mountain ranges, to open boxes and parcels. Young animals at least have that disposition too. For me it is something that mingles with all my desires. Much more to me than the desire to live is the desire to taste life. I am not happy until I have done and felt things. I want to get as near as I can to the thrill of a dog going into a fight or the delight of a bird in the air. And not simply in the heroic field of war and the air do I want to understand. I want to know something of the jolly wholesome satisfaction that a hungry pig must find in its wash. I want to get the quintessence of that.
I do not think that in this I confess to any unusual temperament. I think that the more closely mentally animated people scrutinize their motives the less is the importance they will attach to mere physical and brute urgencies and the more to curiosity.
Next after curiosity come those desires and motives that one shares perhaps with some social beasts, but far more so as a conscious thing with men alone. These desires and motives all centre on a clearly apprehended “self” in relation to “others”; they are the essentially egotistical group. They are self-assertion in all its forms. I have dealt with motives toward gratification and motives towards experience; this set of motives is for the sake of oneself. Since they are the most acutely conscious motives in unthinking men, there is a tendency on the part of unthinking philosophers to speak of them as though vanity, self-seeking, self-interest were the only motives. But one has but to reflect on what has gone before to realize that this is not so. One finds these “self” motives vary with the mental power and training of the individual; here they are fragmentary and discursive, there drawn tight together into a coherent scheme. Where they are weak they mingle with the animal motives and curiosity like travellers in a busy market-place, but where the sense of self is strong they become rulers and regulators, self-seeking becomes deliberate and sustained in the case of the human being, vanity passes into pride.
Here again that something in the mind so difficult to define, so easy for all who understand to understand, that something which insists upon a best and keenest, the desire for beauty, comes into the play of motives. Pride demands a beautiful self and would discipline all other passions to its service. It also demands recognition for that beautiful self. Now pride, I know, is denounced by many as the essential quality of sin. We are taught that “self-abnegation” is the substance of virtue and self-forgetfulness the inseparable quality of right conduct. But indeed I cannot so dismiss egotism and that pride which was the first form in which the desire to rule oneself as a whole came to me. Through pride one shapes oneself towards a best, though at first it may be an ill-conceived best. Pride is not always arrogance and aggression. There is that pride that does not ape but learn humility.
And with the human imagination all these elementary instincts, of the flesh, of curiosity, of self-assertion, become only the basal substance of a huge elaborate edifice of secondary motive and intention. We live in a great flood of example and suggestion, our curiosity and our social quality impel us to a thousand imitations, to dramatic attitudes and subtly obscure ends. Our pride turns this way and that as we respond to new notes in the world about us. We are arenas for a conflict between suggestions flung in from all sources, from the most diverse and essentially incompatible sources. We live long hours and days in a kind of dream, negligent of self-interest, our elementary passions in abeyance, among these derivative things.
Such it seems to me are the chief masses of the complex of motives in us, the group of sense, the group of pride, curiosity and the imitative and suggested motives, making up the system of impulses which is our will. Such has been the common outfit of motives in every age, and in every age its melee has been found insufficient in itself. It is a heterogeneous system, it does not form in any sense a completed or balanced system, its constituents are variable and compete amongst themselves. They are not so much arranged about one another as superposed and higgledy-piggledy. The senses and curiosity war with pride and one another, the motives suggested to us fall into conflict with this element or that of our intimate and habitual selves. We find all our instincts are snares to excess. Excesses of indulgence lead to excesses of abstinence, and even the sense of beauty may be clouded and betray. So to us all, even for the most balanced of us, come disappointments, regrets, gaps; and for most of us who are ill-balanced, miseries and despairs. Nearly all of us want something to hold us together — something to dominate this swarming confusion and save us from the black misery of wounded and exploded pride, of thwarted desire, of futile conclusions. We want more oneness, some steadying thing that will afford an escape from fluctuations.
Different people, of differing temperament and tradition, have sought oneness, this steadying and universalizing thing, in various manners. Some have attained it in this manner, and some in that. Scarcely a religious system has existed that has not worked effectively and proved true for someone. To me it seems that the need is synthetic, that some synthetic idea and belief is needed to harmonize one’s life, to give a law by which motive may be tried against motive and an effectual peace of mind achieved. I want an active peace and not a quiescence, and I do not want to suppress and expel any motive at all. But to many people the effort takes the form of attempts to cut off some part of oneself as it were, to repudiate altogether some straining or distressing or disappointing factor in the scheme of motives, and find a tranquillizing refuge in the residuum. So we have men and women abandoning their share in economic development, crushing the impulses and evading the complications that arise out of sex and flying to devotions and simple duties in nunneries and monasteries; we have people cutting their lives down to a vegetarian dietary and scientific research, resorting to excesses of self-discipline, giving themselves up wholly to some “art” and making everything else subordinate to that, or, going in another direction, abandoning pride and love in favour of an acquired appetite for drugs or drink.
Now it seems to me that this desire to get the confused complex of life simplified is essentially what has been called the religious motive, and that the manner in which a man achieves that simplification, if he does achieve it, and imposes an order upon his life, is his religion. I find in the scheme of conversion and salvation as it is presented by many Christian sects, a very exact statement of the mental processes I am trying to express. In these systems this discontent with the complexity of life upon which religion is based, is called the conviction of sin, and it is the first phase in the process of conversion — of finding salvation. It leads through distress and confusion to illumination, to the act of faith and peace.
And after peace comes the beginning of right conduct. If you believe and you are saved, you will want to behave well, you will do your utmost to behave well and to understand what is behaving well, and you will feel neither shame nor disappointment when after all you fail. You will say then: “so it is failure I had to achieve.” And you will not feel bitterly because you seem unsuccessful beside others or because you are misunderstood or unjustly treated, you will not bear malice nor cherish anger nor seek revenge, you will never turn towards suicide as a relief from intolerable things; indeed there will be no intolerable things. You will have peace within you.
But if you do not truly believe and are not saved, you will know it because you will still suffer the conflict of motives; and in regrets, confusions, remorses and discontents, you will suffer the penalties of the unbeliever and the lost. You will know certainly your own salvation.
I will boldly adopt the technicalities of the sects. I will speak as a person with experience and declare that I have been through the distresses of despair and the conviction of sin and that I have found salvation.
I believe in the scheme, in the Project of all things, in the significance of myself and all life, and that my defects and uglinesses and failures, just as much as my powers and successes, are things that are necessary and important and contributory in that scheme, that scheme which passes my understanding — and that no thwarting of my conception, not even the cruelty of nature, now defeats or can defeat my faith, however much it perplexes my mind.
And though I say that scheme passes my understanding, nevertheless I hope you will see no inconsistency when I say that necessarily it has an aspect towards me that I find imperative.
It has an aspect that I can perceive, however dimly and fluctuatingly.
I take it that to perceive this aspect to the utmost of my mental power and to shape my acts according to that perception is my function in the scheme; that if I hold steadfastly to that conception, I am SAVED. I find in that idea of perceiving the scheme as a whole towards me and in this attempt to perceive, that something to which all my other emotions and passions may contribute by gathering and contributing experience, and through which the synthesis of my life becomes possible.
Let me try to convey to you what it is I perceive, what aspect this scheme seems to bear on the whole towards me.
The essential fact in man’s history to my sense is the slow unfolding of a sense of community with his kind, of the possibilities of co-operations leading to scarce dreamt-of collective powers, of a synthesis of the species, of the development of a common general idea, a common general purpose out of a present confusion. In that awakening of the species, one’s OWN PERSONAL BEING LIVES AND MOVES— A PART OF IT AND CONTRIBUTING TO IT. ONE’S INDIVIDUAL EXISTENCE IS NOT SO ENTIRELY CUT OFF AS IT SEEMS AT FIRST; ONE’S ENTIRELY SEPARATE INDIVIDUALITY IS ANOTHER, A PROFOUNDER, AMONG THE SUBTLE INHERENT DELUSIONS OF THE HUMAN MIND. Between you and me as we set our minds together, and between us and the rest of mankind, there is SOMETHING, something real, something that rises through us and is neither you nor me, that comprehends us, that is thinking here and using me and you to play against each other in that thinking just as my finger and thumb play against each other as I hold this pen with which I write.
Let me point out that this is no sentimental or mystical statement. It is hard fact as any hard fact we know. We, you and I, are not only parts in a thought process, but parts of one flow of blood and life. Let me put that in a way that may be new to some readers. Let me remind you of what is sometimes told as a jest, the fact that the number of one’s ancestors increases as we look back in time. Disregarding the chances of intermarriage, each one of us had two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, and so on backward, until very soon, in less than fifty generations, we should find that, but for the qualification introduced, we should have all the earth’s inhabitants of that time as our progenitors. For a hundred generations it must hold absolutely true, that everyone of that time who has issue living now is ancestral to all of us. That brings the thing quite within the historical period. There is not a western European palaeolithic or neolithic relic that is not a family relic for every soul alive. The blood in our veins has handled it.
And there is something more. We are all going to mingle our blood again. We cannot keep ourselves apart; the worst enemies will some day come to the Peace of Verona. All the Montagues and Capulets are doomed to intermarry. A time will come in less than fifty generations when all the population of the world will have my blood, and I and my worst enemy will not be able to say which child is his or mine.
But you may retort — perhaps you may die childless. Then all the sooner the whole species will get the little legacy of my personal achievement, whatever it may be.
You see that from this point of view — which is for me the vividly true and dominating point of view — our individualities, our nations and states and races are but bubbles and clusters of foam upon the great stream of the blood of the species, incidental experiments in the growing knowledge and consciousness of the race.
I think this real solidarity of humanity is a fact that is only slowly being apprehended, that it is an idea that we who have come to realize it have to assist in thinking into the collective mind. I believe the species is still as a whole unawakened, still sunken in the delusion of the permanent separateness of the individual and of races and nations, that so it turns upon itself and frets against itself and fails to see the stupendous possibilities of deliberate self-development that lie open to it now.
I see myself in life as part of a great physical being that strains and I believe grows towards beauty, and of a great mental being that strains and I believe grows towards knowledge and power. In this persuasion that I am a gatherer of experience, a mere tentacle that arranges thought beside thought for this being of the species, this being that grows beautiful and powerful, in this persuasion I find the ruling idea of which I stand in need, the ruling idea that reconciles and adjudicates among my warring motives. In it I find both concentration of myself and escape from myself; in a word, I find Salvation.
I would like in a parenthetical section to expand and render rather more concrete this idea of the species as one divaricating flow of blood, by an appeal to its arithmetical aspect. I do not know if it has ever occurred to the reader to compute the number of his living ancestors at some definite date, at, let us say, the year one of the Christian era. Everyone has two parents and four grandparents, most people have eight great-grandparents, and if we ignore the possibility of intermarriage we shall go on to a fresh power of two with every generation, thus:—
Column 1: Number of generations.
Column 2: Number of ancestors.
I do not know whether the average age of the parent at the birth of a child under modern conditions can be determined from existing figures. There is, I should think, a strong presumption that it has been a rising age. There may have been a time in the past when most women were mothers in their early teens and bore most or all of their children before thirty, and when men had done the greater part of their procreation before thirty-five; this is still the case in many tropical climates, and I do not think I favour my case unduly by assuming that the average parent must be about, or even less than, five and twenty. This gives four generations to a century. At that rate and DISREGARDING INTERMARRIAGE OF RELATIONS the ancestors living a thousand years ago needed to account for a living person would be double the estimated population of the world. But it is obvious that if a person sprang from a marriage of first cousins, the eight ancestors of the third generation are cut down to six; if of cousins at the next stage, to fourteen in the fourth. And every time that a common pair of ancestors appears in any generation, the number of ancestors in that generation must be reduced by two from our original figures, or if it is only one common ancestor, by one, and as we go back that reduction will have to be doubled, quadrupled and so on. I daresay that by the time anyone gets to the 8916 names of his Elizabethan ancestors he will find quite a large number repeated over and over again in the list and that he is cut down to perhaps two or three thousand separate persons. But this does not effectually invalidate my assumption that if we go back only to the closing years of the Roman Republic, we go back to an age in which nearly every person living within the confines of what was then the Roman Empire who left living offspring must have been ancestral to every person living within that area to-day. No doubt they were so in very variable measure. There must be for everyone some few individuals in that period who have so to speak intermarried with themselves again and again and again down the genealogical series, and others who are represented by just one touch of their blood. The blood of the Jews, for example, has turned in upon itself again and again; but for all we know one Italian proselyte in the first year of the Christian era may have made by this time every Jew alive a descendant of some unrecorded bastard of Julius Caesar. The exclusive breeding of the Jews is in fact the most effectual guarantee that whatever does get into the charmed circle through either proselytism, the violence of enemies, or feminine unchastity, must ultimately pervade it universally.
It may be argued that as a matter of fact humanity has until recently been segregated in pools; that in the great civilization of China, for example, humanity has pursued its own interlacing system of inheritances without admixture from other streams of blood. But such considerations only defer the conclusion; they do not stave it off indefinitely. It needs only that one philoprogenitive Chinaman should have wandered into those regions that are now Russia, about the time of Pericles, to link east and west in that matter; one Tartar chieftain in the Steppes may have given a daughter to a Roman soldier and sent his grandsons east and west to interlace the branches of every family tree in the world. If any race stands apart it is such an isolated group as that of the now extinct Tasmanian primitives or the Australian black. But even here, in the remote dawn of navigation, may have come some shipwrecked Malays, or some half-breed woman kidnapped by wandering Phoenicians have carried this link of blood back to the western world. The more one lets one’s imagination play upon the incalculable drift and soak of population, the more one realizes the true value of that spreading relation with the past.
But now let us turn in the other direction, the direction of the future, because there it is that this series of considerations becomes most edifying. It is the commonest trick to think of a man’s descendants as though they were his own. We are told that one of the dearest human motives is the desire to found a family, but think how much of a family one founds at the best. One’s son is after all only half one’s blood, one grandson only a quarter, and so one goes on until it may be that in ten brief generations one’s heir and namesake has but 1/1024th of one’s inherited self. Those other thousand odd unpredictable people thrust in and mingle with one’s pride. The trend of all things nowadays — the ever-increasing ease of communication, the great and increasing drift of population, the establishment of a common standard of civilization — is to render such admixture far more probable and facile in the future than in the past.
It is a pleasant fancy to imagine some ambitious hoarder of wealth, some egotistical founder of name and family, returning to find his descendants — HIS descendants — after the lapse of a few brief generations. His heir and namesake may have not a thousandth part of his heredity, while under some other name, lost to all the tradition and glory of him, enfeebled and degenerate through much intermarriage, may be a multitude of people who have as much as a fiftieth or even more of his quality. They may even be in servitude and dependence to the really alien person who is head of the family. Our founder will go through the spreading record of offspring and find it mixed with that of people he most hated and despised. The antagonists he wronged and overcame will have crept into his line and recaptured all they lost; have played the cuckoo in his blood and acquisitions, and turned out his diluted strain to perish.
And while I am being thus biological let me point out another queer aspect in which our egotism is overridden by physical facts. Men and women are apt to think of their children as being their very own, blood of their blood and bone of their bone. But indeed one of the most striking facts in this matter is the frequent want of resemblance between parents and children. It is one of the commonest things in the world for a child to resemble an aunt or an uncle, or to revive a trait of some grandparent that has seemed entirely lost in the intervening generation. The Mendelians have given much attention to facts of this nature; and though their general method of exposition seems to me quite unjustifiably exact and precise, it cannot be denied that it is often vividly illuminating. It is so in this connexion. They distinguish between “dominant” and “recessive” qualities, and they establish cases in which parents with all the dominant characteristics produce offspring of recessive type. Recessive qualities are constantly being masked by dominant ones and emerging again in the next generation. It is not the individual that reproduces himself, it is the species that reproduces through the individual and often in spite of his characteristics.
The race flows through us, the race is the drama and we are the incidents. This is not any sort of poetical statement; it is a statement of fact. In so far as we are individuals, in so far as we seek to follow merely individual ends, we are accidental, disconnected, without significance, the sport of chance. In so far as we realize ourselves as experiments of the species for the species, just in so far do we escape from the accidental and the chaotic. We are episodes in an experience greater than ourselves.
Now none of this, if you read me aright, makes for the suppression of one’s individual difference, but it does make for its correlation. We have to get everything we can out of ourselves for this very reason that we do not stand alone; we signify as parts of a universal and immortal development. Our separate selves are our charges, the talents of which much has to be made. It is because we are episodical in the great synthesis of life that we have to make the utmost of our individual lives and traits and possibilities.
What stupendous constructive mental and physical possibilities are there to which I feel I am contributing, you may ask, when I feel that I contribute to this greater Being; and at once I confess I become vague and mystical. I do not wish to pass glibly over this point. I call your attention to the fact that here I am mystical and arbitrary. I am what I am, an individual in this present phase. I can see nothing of these possibilities except that they will be in the nature of those indefinable and overpowering gleams of promise in our world that we call Beauty. Elsewhere (in my “Food of the Gods”) I have tried to render my sense of our human possibility by monstrous images; I have written of those who will “stand on this earth as on a footstool and reach out their hands among the stars.” But that is mere rhetoric at best, a straining image of unimaginable things. Things move to Power and Beauty; I say that much and I have said all that I can say.
But what is Beauty, you ask, and what will Power do? And here I reach my utmost point in the direction of what you are free to call the rhapsodical and the incomprehensible. I will not even attempt to define Beauty. I will not because I cannot. To me it is a final, quite indefinable thing. Either you understand it or you do not. Every true artist and many who are not artists know — they know there is something that shows suddenly — it may be in music, it may be in painting, it may be in the sunlight on a glacier or a shadow cast by a furnace or the scent of a flower, it may be in the person or act of some fellow creature, but it is right, it is commanding, it is, to use theological language, the revelation of God.
To the mystery of Power and Beauty, out of the earth that mothered us, we move.
I do not attempt to define Beauty nor even to distinguish it from Power. I do not think indeed that one can effectually distinguish these aspects of life. I do not know how far Beauty may not be simply fulness and clearness of sensation, a momentary unveiling of things hitherto seen but dully and darkly. As I have already said, there may be beauty in the feeling of beer in the throat, in the taste of cheese in the mouth; there may be beauty in the scent of the earth, in the warmth of a body, in the sensation of waking from sleep. I use the word Beauty therefore in its widest possible sense, ranging far beyond the special beauties that art discovers and develops. Perhaps as we pass from death to life all things become beautiful. The utmost I can do in conveying what I mean by Beauty is to tell of things that I have perceived to be beautiful as beautifully as I can tell of them. It may be, as I suggest elsewhere, that Beauty is a thing synthetic and not simple; it is a common effect produced by a great medley of causes, a larger aspect of harmony.
But the question of what Beauty is does not very greatly concern me since I have known it when I met it and since almost every day in life I seem to apprehend it more and to find it more sufficient and satisfying. Objectively it may be altogether complex and various and synthetic, subjectively it is altogether simple. All analysis, all definition, must in the end rest upon and arrive at unanalyzable and indefinable things. Beauty is light — I fall back upon that image — it is all things that light can be, beacon, elucidation, pleasure, comfort and consolation, promise, warning, the vision of reality.
It seems to me that the whole living creation may be regarded as walking in its sleep, as walking in the sleep of instinct and individualized illusion, and that now out of it all rises man, beginning to perceive his larger self, his universal brotherhood and a collective synthetic purpose to increase Power and realize Beauty . . .
I write this down. It is the form of my belief, and that unanalyzable something called Beauty is the light that falls upon that form.
It is only by such images, it is only by the use of what are practically parables, that I can in any way express these things in my mind. These two things, I say, are the two aspects of my belief; one is the form and the other the light. The former places me as it were in a scheme, the latter illuminates and inspires me. I am a member in that great being, and my function is, I take it, to develop my capacity for beauty and convey the perception of it to my fellows, to gather and store experience and increase the racial consciousness. I hazard no whys nor wherefores. That is how I see things; that is how the universe, in response to my demand for a synthesizing aspect, presents itself to me.
These are my beliefs. They begin with arbitrary assumptions; they end in a mystery.
So do all beliefs that are not grossly utilitarian and material, promising houris and deathless appetite or endless hunting or a cosmic mortgage. The Peace of God passeth understanding, the Kingdom of Heaven within us and without can be presented only by parables. But the unapproachable distance and vagueness of these things makes them none the less necessary, just as a cloud upon a mountain or sunlight remotely seen upon the sea are as real as, and to many people far more necessary than, pork chops. The driven swine may root and take no heed, but man the dreamer drives. And because these things are vague and impalpable and wilfully attained, it is none the less important that they should be rendered with all the truth of one’s being. To be atmospherically vague is one thing; to be haphazard, wanton and untruthful, quite another.
But here I may give a specific answer to a question that many find profoundly important, though indeed it is already implicitly answered in what has gone before.
I do not believe I have any personal immortality. I am part of an immortality perhaps; but that is different. I am not the continuing thing. I personally am experimental, incidental. I feel I have to do something, a number of things no one else could do, and then I am finished and finished altogether. Then my substance returns to the common lot. I am a temporary enclosure for a temporary purpose; that served, and my skull and teeth, my idiosyncracy and desire, will disperse, I believe, like the timbers of a booth after a fair.
Let me shift my ground a little and ask you to consider what is involved in the opposite belief.
My idea of the unknown scheme is of something so wide and deep that I cannot conceive it encumbered by my egotism perpetually. I shall serve my purpose and pass under the wheel and end. That distresses me not at all. Immortality would distress and perplex me. If I may put this in a mixture of theological and social language, I cannot respect, I cannot believe in a God who is always going about with me.
But this is after all what I feel is true and what I choose to believe. It is not a matter of fact. So far as that goes there is no evidence that I am immortal and none that I am not.
I may be altogether wrong in my beliefs; I may be misled by the appearances of things. I believe in the great and growing Being of the Species from which I rise, to which I return, and which, it may be, will ultimately even transcend the limitation of the Species and grow into the Conscious Being, the eternally conscious Being of all things. Believing that, I cannot also believe that my peculiar little thread will not undergo synthesis and vanish as a separate thing.
And what after all is my distinctive something, a few capacities, a few incapacities, an uncertain memory, a hesitating presence? It matters no doubt in its place and time, as all things matter in their place and time, but where in it all is the eternally indispensable? The great things of my life, love, faith, the intimation of beauty, the things most savouring of immortality, are the things most general, the things most shared and least distinctively me.
And here perhaps, before I go on to the question of Conduct, is the place to define a relationship to that system of faith and religious observance out of which I and most of my readers have come. How do these beliefs on which I base my rule of conduct stand to Christianity?
They do not stand in any attitude of antagonism. A religious system so many-faced and so enduring as Christianity must necessarily be saturated with truth even if it be not wholly true. To assume, as the Atheist and Deist seem to do, that Christianity is a sort of disease that came upon civilization, an unprofitable and wasting disease, is to deny that conception of a progressive scheme and rightness which we have taken as our basis of belief. As I have already confessed, the Scheme of Salvation, the idea of a process of sorrow and atonement, presents itself to me as adequately true. So far I do not think my new faith breaks with my old. But it follows as a natural consequence of my metaphysical preliminaries that I should find the Christian theology Aristotelian, over defined and excessively personified. The painted figure of that bearded ancient upon the Sistine Chapel, or William Blake’s wild-haired, wild-eyed Trinity, convey no nearer sense of God to me than some mother-of-pearl-eyed painted and carven monster from the worship of the South Sea Islanders. And the Miltonic fable of the offended creator and the sacrificial son! it cannot span the circle of my ideas; it is a little thing, and none the less little because it is intimate, flesh of my flesh and spirit of my spirit, like the drawings of my youngest boy. I put it aside as I would put aside the gay figure of a costumed officiating priest. The passage of time has made his canonicals too strange, too unlike my world of common thought and costume. These things helped, but now they hinder and disturb. I cannot bring myself back to them . . .
But the psychological experience and the theology of Christianity are only a ground-work for its essential feature, which is the conception of a relationship of the individual believer to a mystical being at once human and divine, the Risen Christ. This being presents itself to the modern consciousness as a familiar and beautiful figure, associated with a series of sayings and incidents that coalesce with a very distinct and rounded-off and complete effect of personality. After we have cleared off all the definitions of theology, He remains, mystically suffering for humanity, mystically asserting that love in pain and sacrifice in service are the necessary substance of Salvation. Whether he actually existed as a finite individual person in the opening of the Christian era seems to me a question entirely beside the mark. The evidence at this distance is of imperceptible force for or against. The Christ we know is quite evidently something different from any finite person, a figure, a conception, a synthesis of emotions, experiences and inspirations, sustained by and sustaining millions of human souls.
Now it seems to be the common teaching of almost all Christians, that Salvation, that is to say the consolidation and amplification of one’s motives through the conception of a general scheme or purpose, is to be attained through the personality of Christ. Christ is made cardinal to the act of Faith. The act of Faith, they assert, is not simply, as I hold it to be, BELIEF, but BELIEF IN HIM.
We are dealing here, be it remembered, with beliefs deliberately undertaken and not with questions of fact. The only matters of fact material here are facts of experience. If in your experience Salvation is attainable through Christ, then certainly Christianity is true for you. And if a Christian asserts that my belief is a false light and that presently I shall “come to Christ,” I cannot disprove his assertion. I can but disbelieve it. I hesitate even to make the obvious retort.
I hope I shall offend no susceptibilities when I assert that this great and very definite personality in the hearts and imaginations of mankind does not and never has attracted me. It is a fact I record about myself without aggression or regret. I do not find myself able to associate Him in any way with the emotion of Salvation.
I admit the splendid imaginative appeal in the idea of a divine-human friend and mediator. If it were possible to have access by prayer, by meditation, by urgent outcries of the soul, to such a being whose feet were in the darknesses, who stooped down from the light, who was at once great and little, limitless in power and virtue and one’s very brother; if it were possible by sheer will in believing to make and make one’s way to such a helper, who would refuse such help? But I do not find such a being in Christ. I do not find, I cannot imagine, such a being. I wish I could. To me the Christian Christ seems not so much a humanized God as an incomprehensibly sinless being neither God nor man. His sinlessness wears his incarnation like a fancy dress, all his white self unchanged. He had no petty weaknesses.
Now the essential trouble of my life is its petty weaknesses. If I am to have that love, that sense of understanding fellowship, which is, I conceive, the peculiar magic and merit of this idea of a personal Saviour, then I need someone quite other than this image of virtue, this terrible and incomprehensible Galilean with his crown of thorns, his blood-stained hands and feet. I cannot love him any more than I can love a man upon the rack. Even in the face of torments I do not think I should feel a need for him. I had rather then a hundred times have Botticelli’s armed angel in his Tobit at Florence. (I hope I do not seem to want to shock in writing these things, but indeed my only aim is to lay my feelings bare.) I know what love for an idealized person can be. It happens that in my younger days I found a character in the history of literature who had a singular and extraordinary charm for me, of whom the thought was tender and comforting, who indeed helped me through shames and humiliations as though he held my hand. This person was Oliver Goldsmith. His blunders and troubles, his vices and vanities, seized and still hold my imagination. The slights of Boswell, the contempt of Gibbon and all his company save Johnson, the exquisite fineness of spirit in his “Vicar of Wakefield,” and that green suit of his and the doctor’s cane and the love despised, these things together made him a congenial saint and hero for me, so that I thought of him as others pray. When I think of that youthful feeling for Goldsmith, I know what I need in a personal Saviour, as a troglodyte who has seen a candle can imagine the sun. But the Christian Christ in none of his three characteristic phases, neither as the magic babe (from whom I am cut off by the wanton and indecent purity of the Immaculate Conception), nor as the white-robed, spotless miracle worker, nor as the fierce unreal torment of the cross, comes close to my soul. I do not understand the Agony in the Garden; to me it is like a scene from a play in an unknown tongue. The la t cry of despair is the one human touch, discordant with all the rest of the story. One cry of despair does not suffice. The Christian’s Christ is too fine for me, not incarnate enough, not flesh enough, not earth enough. He was never foolish and hot-eared and inarticulate, never vain, he never forgot things, nor tangled his miracles. I could love him I think more easily if the dead had not risen and if he had lain in peace in his sepulchre instead of coming back more enhaloed and whiter than ever, as a postscript to his own tragedy.
When I think of the Resurrection I am always reminded of the “happy endings” that editors and actor managers are accustomed to impose upon essentially tragic novels and plays . . .
You see how I stand in this matter, puzzled and confused by the Christian presentation of Christ. I know there are many will answer — as I suppose my friend the Rev. R.J. Campbell would answer — that what confuses me is the overlaying of the personality of Jesus by stories and superstitions and conflicting symbols; he will in effect ask me to disentangle the Christ I need from the accumulated material, choosing and rejecting. Perhaps one may do that. He does, I know, so present Him as a man inspired, and strenuously, inadequately and erringly presenting a dream of human brotherhood and the immediate Kingdom of Heaven on earth and so blundering to his failure and death. But that will be a recovered and restored person he would give me, and not the Christ the Christians worship and declare they love, in whom they find their Salvation.
When I write “declare they love” I throw doubt intentionally upon the universal love of Christians for their Saviour. I have watched men and nations in this matter. I am struck by the fact that so many Christians fall back upon more humanized figures, upon the tender figure of Mary, upon patron saints and such more erring creatures, for the effect of mediation and sympathy they need.
You see it comes to this: that I think Christianity has been true and is for countless people practically true, but that it is not true now for me, and that for most people it is true only with modifications. Every believing Christian is, I am sure, my spiritual brother, but if systematically I called myself a Christian I feel that to most men I should imply too much and so tell a lie.
In the same manner, in varying degree, I hold all religions to be in a measure true. Least comprehensible to me are the Indian formulae, because they seem to stand not on common experience but on those intellectual assumptions my metaphysical analysis destroys. Transmigration of souls without a continuing memory is to my mind utter foolishness, the imagining of a race of children. The aggression, discipline and submission of Mahommedanism makes, I think, an intellectually limited but fine and honourable religion — for men. Its spirit if not its formulae is abundantly present in our modern world. Mr. Rudyard Kipling, for example, manifestly preaches a Mahommedan God, a modernised God with a taste for engineering. I have no doubt that in devotion to a virile, almost national Deity and to the service of His Empire of stern Law and Order, efficiently upheld, men have found and will find Salvation.
All these religions are true for me as Canterbury Cathedral is a true thing and as a Swiss chalet is a true thing. There they are, and they have served a purpose, they have worked. Men and women have lived in and by them. Men and women still do. Only they are not true for me to live in them. I have, I believe, to live in a new edifice of my own discovery. They do not work for me.
These schemes are true, and also these schemes are false! in the sense that new things, new phrasings, have to replace them.
Such are the essential beliefs by which I express myself. But now comes the practical outcome of these things, and that is to discuss and show how upon this metaphysical basis and these beliefs, and in obedience to the ruling motive that arises with them, I frame principles of conduct.
I hold that the broad direction of conduct follows necessarily from belief. The believer does not require rewards and punishments to direct him to the right. Motive and idea are not so separable. To believe truly is to want to do right. To get salvation is to be unified by a comprehending idea of a purpose and by a ruling motive.
The believer wants to do right, he naturally and necessarily seeks to do right. If he fails to do right, if he finds he has done wrong instead of right, he is not greatly distressed or terrified, he naturally and cheerfully does his best to correct his error. He can be damned only by the fading and loss of his belief. And naturally he recurs to and refreshes his belief.
I write in phrases that the evangelical Christianity of my childhood made familiar to me, because they are the most expressive phrases I have ever met for the psychological facts with which I am dealing.
But faith, though it banishes fear and despair and brings with it a real prevailing desire to know and do the Good, does not in itself determine what is the Good or supply any simple guide to the choice between alternatives. If it did, there would be nothing more to be said, this book upon conduct would be unnecessary.
It seems to me one of the heedless errors of those who deal in philosophy, to suppose all things that have simple names or unified effects are in their nature simple and may be discovered and isolated as a sort of essence by analysis. It is natural to suppose — and I think it is also quite wrong to suppose — that such things as Good and Beauty can be abstracted from good and beautiful things and considered alone. But pure Good and pure Beauty are to me empty terms. It seems to me that these are in their nature synthetic things, that they arise out of the coming together of contributory things and conditions, and vanish at their dispersal; they are synthetic just as more obviously Harmony is synthetic. It is consequently not possible to give a definition of Good, just as it is not possible to give a definition of that other something which is so closely akin to it, Beauty. Nor is it to be maintained that what is good for one is good for another. But what is good of one’s general relations and what is right in action must be determined by the nature of one’s beliefs about the purpose in things. I have set down my broad impression of that purpose in respect to me, as the awakening and development of the consciousness and will of our species, and I have confessed my belief that in subordinating myself and all my motives to that idea lies my Salvation. It follows from that, that the good life is the life that most richly gathers and winnows and prepares experience and renders it available for the race, that contributes most effectively to the collective growth.
This is in general terms my idea of Good. So soon as one passes from general terms to the question of individual good, one encounters individuality; for everyone in the differing quality and measure of their personality and powers and possibilities, good and right must be different. We are all engaged, each contributing from his or her own standpoint, in the collective synthesis; whatever one can best do, one must do that; in whatever manner one can best help the synthesis, one must exert oneself; the setting apart of oneself, secrecy, the service of secret and personal ends, is the waste of life and the essential quality of Sin.
That is the general expression for right living as I conceive it.
In the study of what is Good, it is very convenient to make a rough division of our subject into general and particular. There are first the interests and problems that affect us all collectively, in which we have a common concern and from which no one may legitimately seek exemption; of these interests and problems we may fairly say every man should do so and so, or so and so, or the law should be so and so, or so and so; and secondly there are those other problems in which individual difference and the interplay of one or two individualities is predominant. This is of course no hard and fast classification, but it gives a method of approach. We can begin with the generalized person in ourselves and end with individuality.
In the world of ideas about me, I have found going on a great social and political movement that correlates itself with my conception of a great synthesis of human purpose as the aspect towards us of the universal scheme. This movement is Socialism. Socialism is to me no clear-cut system of theories and dogmas; it is one of those solid and extensive and synthetic ideas that are better indicated by a number of different formulae than by one, just as one only realizes a statue by walking round it and seeing it from a number of points of view. I do not think it is to be completely expressed by any one system of formulae or by any one man. Its common quality from nearly every point of view is the subordination of the will of the self-seeking individual to the idea of a racial well-being embodied in an organized state, organized for every end that can be obtained collectively. Upon that I seize; that is the value of Socialism for me.
Socialism for me is a common step we are all taking in the great synthesis of human purpose. It is the organization, in regard to a great mass of common and fundamental interests that have hitherto been dispersedly served, of a collective purpose.
I see humanity scattered over the world, dispersed, conflicting, unawakened . . . I see human life as avoidable waste and curable confusion. I see peasants living in wretched huts knee-deep in manure, mere parasites on their own pigs and cows; I see shy hunters wandering in primaeval forests; I see the grimy millions who slave for industrial production; I see some who are extravagant and yet contemptible creatures of luxury, and some leading lives of shame and indignity; tens of thousands of wealthy people wasting lives in vulgar and unsatisfying trivialities, hundreds of thousands meanly chaffering themselves, rich or poor, in the wasteful byways of trade; I see gamblers, fools, brutes, toilers, martyrs. Their disorder of effort, the spectacle of futility, fills me with a passionate desire to end waste, to create order, to develop understanding . . . All these people reflect and are part of the waste and discontent of my life, and this co-ordination of the species to a common general end, and the quest for my personal salvation, are the social and the individual aspect of essentially the same desire . . .
And yet dispersed as all these people are, they are far more closely drawn together to common ends and common effort than the filthy savages who ate food rotten and uncooked in the age of unpolished stone. They live in the mere opening phase of a synthesis of effort the end of which surpasses our imagination. Such intercourse and community as they have is only a dawn. We look towards the day, the day of the organized civilized world state. The first clear intimation of that conscious synthesis of human thought to which I look, the first edge of the dayspring, has arisen — as Socialism, as I conceive of Socialism. Socialism is to me no more and no less than the awakening of a collective consciousness in humanity, a collective will and a collective mind out of which finer individualities may arise forever in a perpetual series of fresh endeavours and fresh achievements for the race.
It is necessary to point out that a Socialism arising in this way out of the conception of a synthesis of the will and thought of the species will necessarily differ from conceptions of Socialism arrived at in other and different ways. It is based on a self-discontent and self-abnegation and not on self-satisfaction, and it will be a scheme of persistent thought and construction, essentially, and it will support this or that method of law-making, or this or that method of economic exploitation, or this or that matter of social grouping, only incidentally and in relation to that.
Such a conception of Socialism is very remote in spirit, however it may agree in method, from that philanthropic administrative socialism one finds among the British ruling and administrative class. That seems to me to be based on a pity which is largely unjustifiable and a pride that is altogether unintelligent. The pity is for the obvious wants and distresses of poverty, the pride appears in the arrogant and aggressive conception of raising one’s fellows. I have no strong feeling for the horrors and discomforts of poverty as such, sensibilities can be hardened to endure the life led by the “Romans” in Dartmoor jail a hundred years ago (See “The Story of Dartmoor Prison” by Basil Thomson (Heinemann — 1907).), or softened to detect the crumpled rose-leaf; what disgusts me is the stupidity and warring purposes of which poverty is the outcome. When it comes to the idea of raising human beings, I must confess the only person I feel concerned about raising is H.G. Wells, and that even in his case my energies might be better employed. After all, presently he must die and the world will have done with him. His output for the species is more important than his individual elevation.
Moreover, all this talk of raising implies a classification I doubt. I find it hard to fix any standards that will determine who is above me and who below. Most people are different from me I perceive, but which among them is better, which worse? I have a certain power of communicating with other minds, but what experiences I communicate seem often far thinner and poorer stuff than those which others less expressive than I half fail to communicate and half display to me. My “inferiors,” judged by the common social standards, seem indeed intellectually more limited than I and with a narrower outlook; they are often dirtier and more driven, more under the stress of hunger and animal appetites; but on the other hand have they not more vigorous sensations than I, and through sheer coarsening and hardening of fibre, the power to do more toilsome things and sustain intenser sensations than I could endure? When I sit upon the bench, a respectable magistrate, and commit some battered reprobate for trial for this lurid offence or that, or send him or her to prison for drunkenness or such-like indecorum, the doubt drifts into my mind which of us after all is indeed getting nearest to the keen edge of life. Are I and my respectable colleagues much more than successful evasions of THAT? Perhaps these people in the dock know more of the essential strains and stresses of nature, are more intimate with pain. At any rate I do not think I am justified in saying certainly that they do not know . . .
No, I do not want to raise people using my own position as a standard, I do not want to be one of a gang of consciously superior people, I do not want arrogantly to change the quality of other lives. I do not want to interfere with other lives, except incidentally — incidentally, in this way that I do want to get to an understanding with them, I do want to share and feel with them in our commerce with the collective mind. I suppose I do not stretch language very much when I say I want to get rid of stresses and obstacles between our minds and personalities and to establish a relation that is understanding and sympathy.
I want to make more generally possible a relationship of communication and interchange, that for want of a less battered and ambiguous word I must needs call love.
And if I disavow the Socialism of condescension, so also do I disavow the Socialism of revolt. There is a form of Socialism based upon the economic generalizations of Marx, an economic fatalistic Socialism that I hold to be rather wrong in its vision of facts, rather more distinctly wrong in its theory, and altogether wrong and hopeless in its spirit. It preaches, as inevitable, a concentration of property in the hands of a limited number of property owners and the expropriation of the great proletarian mass of mankind, a concentration which is after all no more than a tendency conditional on changing and changeable conventions about property, and it finds its hope of a better future in the outcome of a class conflict between the expropriated Many and the expropriating Few. Both sides are to be equally swayed by self-interest, but the toilers are to be gregarious and mutually loyal in their self-interest — Heaven knows why, except that otherwise the Marxist dream will not work. The experience of contemporary events seems to show at least an equal power of combination for material ends among owners and employers as among workers.
Now this class-war idea is one diametrically opposed to that religious-spirited Socialism which supplies the form of my general activities. This class-war idea would exacerbate the antagonism of the interests of the many individuals against the few individuals, and I would oppose the conceiving of the Whole to the self-seeking of the Individual. The spirit and constructive intention of the many to-day are no better than those of the few, poor and rich alike are over-individualized, self-seeking and non-creative; to organize the confused jostling competitions, over-reachings, envies and hatreds of to-day into two great class-hatreds and antagonisms will advance the reign of love at most only a very little, only so far as it will simplify and make plain certain issues. It may very possibly not advance the reign of love at all, but rather shatter the order we have. Socialism, as I conceive it, and as I have presented it in my book, “New Worlds for Old,” seeks to change economic arrangements only by the way, as an aspect and outcome of a great change, a change in the spirit and method of human intercourse.
I know that here I go beyond the limits many Socialists in the past, and some who are still contemporary, have set themselves. Much Socialism to-day seems to think of itself as fighting a battle against poverty and its concomitants alone. Now poverty is only a symptom of a profounder evil and is never to be cured by itself. It is one aspect of divided and dispersed purposes. If Socialism is only a conflict with poverty, Socialism is nothing. But I hold that Socialism is and must be a battle against human stupidity and egotism and disorder, a battle fought all through the forests and jungles of the soul of man. As we get intellectual and moral light and the realization of brotherhood, so social and economic organization will develop. But the Socialist may attack poverty for ever, disregarding the intellectual and moral factors that necessitate it, and he will remain until the end a purely economic doctrinaire crying in the wilderness in vain.
And if I antagonize myself in this way to the philanthropic Socialism of kindly prosperous people on the one hand and to the fierce class-hatred Socialism on the other, still more am I opposed to that furtive Socialism of the specialist which one meets most typically in the Fabian Society. It arises very naturally out of what I may perhaps call specialist fatigue and impatience. It is very easy for writers like myself to deal in the broad generalities of Socialism and urge their adoption as general principles; it is altogether another affair with a man who sets himself to work out the riddle of the complications of actuality in order to modify them in the direction of Socialism. He finds himself in a jungle of difficulties that strain his intellectual power to the utmost. He emerges at last with conclusions, and they are rarely the obvious conclusions, as to what needs to be done. Even the people of his own side he finds do not see as he sees; they are, he perceives, crude and ignorant.
Now I hold that his duty is to explain his discoveries and intentions until they see as he sees. But the specialist temperament is often not a generalizing and expository temperament. Specialists are apt to measure minds by their speciality and underrate the average intelligence. The specialist is appalled by the real task before him, and he sets himself by tricks and misrepresentations, by benevolent scoundrelism in fact, to effect changes he desires. Too often he fails even in that. Where he might have found fellowship he arouses suspicion. And even if a thing is done in this way, its essential merit is lost. For it is better, I hold, for a man to die of his disease than to be cured unwittingly. That is to cheat him of life and to cheat life of the contribution his consciousness might have given it.
The Socialism of my beliefs rests on a profounder faith and broader proposition. It looks over and beyond the warring purposes of to-day as a general may look over and beyond a crowd of sullen, excited and confused recruits, to the day when they will be disciplined, exercised, trained, willing and convergent on a common end. It holds persistently to the idea of men increasingly working in agreement, doing things that are sane to do, on a basis of mutual helpfulness, temperance and toleration. It sees the great masses of humanity rising out of base and immediate anxieties, out of dwarfing pressures and cramped surroundings, to understanding and participation and fine effort. It sees the resources of the earth husbanded and harvested, economized and used with scientific skill for the maximum of result. It sees towns and cities finely built, a race of beings finely bred and taught and trained, open ways and peace and freedom from end to end of the earth. It sees beauty increasing in humanity, about humanity and through humanity. Through this great body of mankind goes evermore an increasing understanding, an intensifying brotherhood. As Christians have dreamt of the New Jerusalem so does Socialism, growing ever more temperate, patient, forgiving and resolute, set its face to the World City of Mankind.
Before I go on to point out the broad principles of action that flow from this wide conception of Socialism, I may perhaps give a section to elucidating that opposition of hate and love I made when I dealt with the class war. I have already used the word love several times; it is an ambiguous word and it may be well to spend a few words in making clear the sense in which it is used here. I use it in a very broad sense to convey all that complex of motives, impulses, sentiments, that incline us to find our happiness and satisfactions in the happiness and sympathy of others. Essentially it is a synthetic force in human affairs, the merger tendency, a linking force, an expression in personal will and feeling of the common element and interest. It insists upon resemblances and shares and sympathies. And hate, I take it, is the emotional aspect of antagonism, it is the expression in personal will and feeling of the individual’s separation from others. It is the competing and destructive tendency. So long as we are individuals and members of a species, we must needs both hate and love. But because I believe, as I have already confessed, that the oneness of the species is a greater fact than individuality, and that we individuals are temporary separations from a collective purpose, and since hate eliminates itself by eliminating its objects, whilst love multiplies itself by multiplying its objects, so love must be a thing more comprehensive and enduring than hate.
Moreover, hate must be in its nature a good thing. We individuals exist as such, I believe, for the purpose in things, and our separations and antagonisms serve that purpose. We play against each other like hammer and anvil. But the synthesis of a collective will in humanity, which is I believe our human and terrestrial share in that purpose, is an idea that carries with it a conception of a secular alteration in the scope and method of both love and hate. Both widen and change with man’s widening and developing apprehension of the purpose he serves. The savage man loves in gusts a fellow creature or so about him, and fears and hates all other people. Every expansion of his scope and ideas widens either circle. The common man of our civilized world loves not only many of his friends and associates systematically and enduringly, but dimly he loves also his city and his country, his creed and his race; he loves it may be less intensely but over a far wider field and much more steadily. But he hates also more widely if less passionately and vehemently than a savage, and since love makes rather harmony and peace and hate rather conflict and events, one may easily be led to suppose that hate is the ruling motive in human affairs. Men band themselves together in leagues and loyalties, in cults and organizations and nationalities, and it is often hard to say whether the bond is one of love for the association or hatred of those to whom the association is antagonized. The two things pass insensibly into one another. London people have recently seen an edifying instance of the transition, in the Brown Dog statue riots. A number of people drawn together by their common pity for animal suffering, by love indeed of the most disinterested sort, had so forgotten their initial spirit as to erect a monument with an inscription at once recklessly untruthful, spiteful in spirit and particularly vexatious to one great medical school of London. They have provoked riots and placarded London with taunts and irritating misrepresentation of the spirit of medical research, and they have infected a whole fresh generation of London students with a bitter partizan contempt for the humanitarian effort that has so lamentably misconducted itself. Both sides vow they will never give in, and the anti-vivisectionists are busy manufacturing small china copies of the Brown Dog figure, inscription and all, for purposes of domestic irritation. Here hate, the evil ugly brother of effort, has manifestly slain love the initiator and taken the affair in hand. That is a little model of human conflicts. So soon as we become militant and play against one another, comes this danger of strain and this possible reversal of motive. The fight begins. Into a pit of heat and hate fall right and wrong together.
Now it seems to me that a religious faith such as I have set forth in the second Book, and a clear sense of our community of blood with all mankind, must necessarily affect both our loving and our hatred. It will certainly not abolish hate, but it will subordinate it altogether to love. We are individuals, so the Purpose presents itself to me, in order that we may hate the things that have to go, ugliness, baseness, insufficiency, unreality, that we may love and experiment and strive for the things that collectively we seek — power and beauty. Before our conversion we did this darkly and with our hate spreading to persons and parties from the things for which they stood. But the believer will hate lovingly and without fear. We are of one blood and substance with our antagonists, even with those that we desire keenly may die and leave no issue in flesh or persuasion. They all touch us and are part of one necessary experience. They are all necessary to the synthesis, even if they are necessary only as the potato-peel in the dust-bin is necessary to my dinner.
So it is I disavow and deplore the whole spirit of class-war Socialism with its doctrine of hate, its envious assault upon the leisure and freedom of the wealthy. Without leisure and freedom and the experience of life they gave, the ideas of Socialism could never have been born. The true mission of Socialism is against darkness, vanity and cowardice, that darkness which hides from the property owner the intense beauty, the potentialities of interest, the splendid possibilities of life, that vanity and cowardice that make him clutch his precious holdings and fear and hate the shadow of change. It has to teach the collective organization of society; and to that the class-consciousness and intense class-prejudices of the worker need to bow quite as much as those of the property owner. But when I say that Socialism’s mission is to teach, I do not mean that its mission is a merely verbal and mental one; it must use all instruments and teach by example as well as precept. Socialism by becoming charitable and merciful will not cease to be militant. Socialism must, lovingly but resolutely, use law, use force, to dispossess the owners of socially disadvantageous wealth, as one coerces a lunatic brother or takes a wrongfully acquired toy from a spoilt and obstinate child. It must intervene between all who would keep their children from instruction in the business of citizenship and the lessons of fraternity. It must build and guard what it builds with laws and with that sword which is behind all laws. Non-resistance is for the non-constructive man, for the hermit in the cave and the naked saint in the dust; the builder and maker with the first stroke of his foundation spade uses force and opens war against the anti-builder.
The belief I have that contributing to the development of the collective being of man is the individual’s general meaning and duty, and the formulae of the Socialism which embodies this belief so far as our common activities go, give a general framework and direction how a man or woman should live. (I do throughout all this book mean man or woman equally when I write of “man,” unless it is manifestly inapplicable.)
And first in this present time he must see to it that he does live, that is to say he must get food, clothing, covering, and adequate leisure for the finer aspects of living. Socialism plans an organized civilization in which these things will be a collective solicitude, and the gaining of a subsistence an easy preliminary to the fine drama of existence, but in the world as we have it we are forced to engage much of our energy in scrambling for these preliminary necessities. Our problems of conduct lie in the world as it is and not in the world as we want it to be. First then a man must get a living, a fair civilized living for himself. It is a fundamental duty. It must be a fair living, not pinched nor mean nor strained. A man can do nothing higher, he can be no service to any cause, until he himself is fed and clothed and equipped and free. He must earn this living or equip himself to earn it in some way not socially disadvantageous, he must contrive as far as possible that the work he does shall be constructive and contributory to the general well-being.
And these primary necessities of food, clothing and freedom being secured, one comes to the general disposition of one’s surplus energy. With regard to that I think that a very simple proposition follows from the broad beliefs I have chosen to adopt. The general duty of a man, his existence being secured, is to educate, and chiefly to educate and develop himself. It is his duty to live, to make all he can out of himself and life, to get full of experience, to make himself fine and perceiving and expressive, to render his experience and perceptions honestly and helpfully to others. And in particular he has to educate himself and others with himself in Socialism. He has to make and keep this idea of synthetic human effort and of conscious constructive effort clear first to himself and then clear in the general mind. For it is an idea that comes and goes. We are all of us continually lapsing from it towards individual isolation again. He needs, we all need, constant refreshment in this belief if it is to remain a predominant living fact in our lives.
And that duty of education, of building up the collective idea and organization of humanity, falls into various divisions depending in their importance upon individual quality. For all there is one personal work that none may evade, and that is thinking hard, criticising strenuously and understanding as clearly as one can religion, socialism and the general principle of one’s acts. The intellectual factor is of primary importance in my religion. I can see no more reason why salvation should come to the intellectually incapable than to the morally incapable. For simple souls thinking in simple processes, salvation perhaps comes easily, but there is none for the intellectual coward, for the mental sloven and sluggard, for the stupid and obdurate mind. The Believer will think hard and continue to grow and learn, to read and seek discussion as his needs determine.
Correlated with one’s own intellectual activity, part of it and growing out of it for almost everyone, is intellectual work with and upon others. By teaching we learn. Not to communicate one’s thoughts to others, to keep one’s thoughts to oneself as people say, is either cowardice or pride. It is a form of sin. It is a duty to talk, teach, explain, write, lecture, read and listen. Every truly religious man, every good Socialist, is a propagandist. Those who cannot write or discuss can talk, those who cannot argue can induce people to listen to others and read. We have a belief and an idea that we want to spread, each to the utmost of his means and measure, throughout all the world. We have a thought that we want to make humanity’s thought. And it is a duty too that one should, within the compass of one’s ability, make teaching, writing and lecturing possible where it has not existed before. This can be done in a hundred ways, by founding and enlarging schools and universities and chairs, for example; by making print and reading and all the material of thought cheap and abundant, by organizing discussion and societies for inquiry.
And talk and thought and study are but the more generalized aspects of duty. The Believer may find his own special aptitude lies rather among concrete things, in experimenting and promoting experiments in collective action. Things teach as well as words, and some of us are most expressive by concrete methods. The Believer will work himself and help others to his utmost in all those developments of material civilization, in organized sanitation for example, all those developments that force collective acts upon communities and collective realizations into the minds of men. And the whole field of scientific research is a field of duty calling to everyone who can enter it, to add to the permanent store of knowledge and new resources for the race.
The Mind of that Civilized State we seek to make by giving ourselves into its making, is evidently the central work before us. But while the writer, the publisher and printer, the bookseller and librarian and teacher and preacher, the investigator and experimenter, the reader and everyone who thinks, will be contributing themselves to this great organized mind and intention in the world, many sorts of specialized men will be more immediately concerned with parallel and more concrete aspects of the human synthesis. The medical worker and the medical investigator, for example, will be building up the body of a new generation, the body of the civilized state, and he will be doing all he can, not simply as an individual, but as a citizen, to ORGANIZE his services of cure and prevention, of hygiene and selection. A great and growing multitude of men will be working out the apparatus of the civilized state; the organizers of transit and housing, the engineers in their incessantly increasing variety, the miners and geologists estimating the world’s resources in metals and minerals, the mechanical inventors perpetually economizing force. The scientific agriculturist again will be studying the food supply of the world as a whole, and how it may be increased and distributed and economized. And to the student of law comes the task of rephrasing his intricate and often quite beautiful science in relation to modern conceptions. All these and a hundred other aspects are integral to the wide project of Constructive Socialism as it shapes itself in my faith.
When we lay down the proposition that it is one’s duty to get one’s living in some way not socially disadvantageous, and as far as possible by work that is contributory to the general well-being and development, when we state that one’s surplus energies, after one’s living is gained, must be devoted to experience, self-development and constructive work, it is clear we condemn by implication many modes of life that are followed to-day.
For example, it is manifest we condemn living in idleness or on non-productive sport, on the income derived from private property, and all sorts of ways of earning a living that cannot be shown to conduce to the constructive process. We condemn trading that is merely speculative, and in fact all trading and manufacture that is not a positive social service; we condemn living by gambling or by playing games for either stakes or pay. Much more do we condemn dishonest or fraudulent trading and every act of advertisement that is not punctiliously truthful. We must condemn too the taking of any income from the community that is neither earned nor conceded in the collective interest. But to this last point, and to certain issues arising out of it, I will return in the section next following this one.
And it follows evidently from our general propositions that every form of prostitution is a double sin, against one’s individuality and against the species which we serve by the development of that individuality’s preferences and idiosyncracies.
And by prostitution I mean not simply the act of a woman who sells for money, and against her thoughts and preferences, her smiles and endearments and the secret beauty and pleasure of her body, but the act of anyone who, to gain a living, suppresses himself, does things in a manner alien to himself and subserves aims and purposes with which he disagrees. The journalist who writes against his personal convictions, the solicitor who knowingly assists the schemes of rogues, the barrister who pits himself against what he perceives is justice and the right, the artist who does unbeautiful things or less beautiful things than he might, simply to please base employers, the craftsman who makes instruments for foolish uses or bad uses, the dealer who sells and pushes an article because it fits the customer’s folly; all these are prostitutes of mind and soul if not of body, with no right to lift an eyebrow at the painted disasters of the streets.
These broad principles about one’s way of living are very simple; our minds move freely among them. But the real interest is with the individual case, and the individual case is almost always complicated by the fact that the existing social and economic system is based upon conditions that the growing collective intelligence condemns as unjust and undesirable, and that the constructive spirit in men now seeks to supersede. We have to live in a provisional State while we dream of and work for a better one.
The ideal life for the ordinary man in a civilized, that is to say a Socialist, State would be in public employment or in private enterprise aiming at public recognition. But in our present world only a small minority can have that direct and honourable relation of public service in the work they do; most of the important business of the community is done upon the older and more tortuous private ownership system, and the great mass of men in socially useful employment find themselves working only indirectly for the community and directly for the profit of a private owner, or they themselves are private owners. Every man who has any money put by in the bank, or any money invested, is a private owner, and in so far as he draws interest or profit from this investment he is a social parasite. It is in practice almost impossible to divest oneself of that parasitic quality however straightforward the general principle may be.
It is practically impossible for two equally valid sets of reasons. The first is that under existing conditions, saving and investment constitute the only way to rest and security in old age, to leisure, study and intellectual independence, to the safe upbringing of a family and the happiness of one’s weaker dependents. These are things that should not be left for the individual to provide; in the civilized state, the state itself will insure every citizen against these anxieties that now make the study of the City Article almost a duty. To abandon saving and investment to-day, and to do so is of course to abandon all insurance, is to become a driven and uncertain worker, to risk one’s personal freedom and culture and the upbringing and efficiency of one’s children. It is to lower the standard of one’s personal civilization, to think with less deliberation and less detachment, to fall away from that work of accumulating fine habits and beautiful and pleasant ways of living contributory to the coming State. And in the second place there is not only no return for such a sacrifice in anything won for Socialism, but for fine-thinking and living people to give up property is merely to let it pass into the hands of more egoistic possessors. Since at present things must be privately owned, it is better that they should be owned by people consciously working for social development and willing to use them to that end.
We have to live in the present system and under the conditions of the present system, while we work with all our power to change that system for a better one.
The case of Cadburys the cocoa and chocolate makers, and the practical slavery under the Portuguese of the East African negroes who grow the raw material for Messrs. Cadbury, is an illuminating one in this connection. The Cadburys, like the Rowntrees, are well known as an energetic and public-spirited family, their social and industrial experiments at Bournville and their general social and political activities are broad and constructive in the best sense. But they find themselves in the peculiar dilemma that they must either abandon an important and profitable portion of their great manufacture or continue to buy produce grown under cruel and even horrible conditions. Their retirement from the branch of the cocoa and chocolate trade concerned would, under these circumstances, mean no diminution of the manufacture or of the horrors of this particular slavery; it would merely mean that less humanitarian manufacturers would step in to take up the abandoned trade. The self-righteous individualist would have no doubts about the question; he would keep his hands clean anyhow, retrench his social work, abandon the types of cocoa involved, and pass by on the other side. But indeed I do not believe we came into the mire of life simply to hold our hands up out of it. Messrs. Cadbury follow a better line; they keep their business going, and exert themselves in every way to let light into the secrets of Portuguese East Africa and to organize a better control of these labour cruelties. That I think is altogether the right course in this difficulty.
We cannot keep our hands clean in this world as it is. There is no excuse indeed for a life of fraud or any other positive fruitless wrong-doing or for a purely parasitic non-productive life, yet all but the fortunate few who are properly paid and recognized state servants must in financial and business matters do their best amidst and through institutions tainted with injustice and flawed with unrealities. All Socialists everywhere are like expeditionary soldiers far ahead of the main advance. The organized state that should own and administer their possessions for the general good has not arrived to take them over; and in the meanwhile they must act like its anticipatory agents according to their lights and make things ready for its coming.
The Believer then who is not in the public service, whose life lies among the operations of private enterprise, must work always on the supposition that the property he administers, the business in which he works, the profession he follows, is destined to be taken over and organized collectively for the commonweal and must be made ready for the taking over; that the private outlook he secures by investment, the provision he makes for his friends and children, are temporary, wasteful, though at present unavoidable devices to be presently merged in and superseded by the broad and scientific previsions of the co-operative commonwealth.
These principles give a rule also for the problem that faces the great majority of thinking wives and mothers to-day. The most urgent and necessary social work falls upon them; they bear, and largely educate and order the homes of, the next generation, and they have no direct recognition from the community for either of these supreme functions. They are supposed to perform them not for God or the world, but to please and satisfy a particular man. Our laws, our social conventions, our economic methods, so hem a woman about that, however fitted for and desirous of maternity she may be, she can only effectually do that duty in a dependent relation to her husband. Nearly always he is the paymaster, and if his payments are grudging or irregular, she has little remedy short of a breach and the rupture of the home. Her duty is conceived of as first to him and only secondarily to her children and the State. Many wives become under these circumstances mere prostitutes to their husbands, often evading the bearing of children with their consent and even at their request, and “loving for a living.” That is a natural outcome of the proprietary theory of the family out of which our civilization emerges. But our modern ideas trend more and more to regard a woman’s primary duty to be her duty to the children and to the world to which she gives them. She is to be a citizen side by side with her husband; no longer is he to intervene between her and the community. As a matter of contemporary fact he can do so and does so habitually, and most women have to square their ideas of life to that possibility.
Before any woman who is clear-headed enough to perceive that this great business of motherhood is one of supreme public importance, there are a number of alternatives at the present time. She may, like Grant Allan’s heroine in “The Woman Who Did,” declare an exaggerated and impossible independence, refuse the fetters of marriage and bear children to a lover. This, in the present state of public opinion in almost every existing social atmosphere, would be a purely anarchistic course. It would mean a fatherless home, and since the woman will have to play the double part of income-earner and mother, an impoverished and struggling home. It would mean also an unsocial because ostracized home. In most cases, and even assuming it to be right in idea, it would still be on all fours with that immediate abandonment of private property we have already discussed, a sort of suicide that helps the world nothing.
Or she may “strike,” refuse marriage and pursue a solitary and childless career, engaging her surplus energies in constructive work. But that also is suicide; it is to miss the keenest experiences, the finest realities life has to offer.
Or she may meet a man whom she can trust to keep a treaty with her and supplement the common interpretations and legal insufficiencies of the marriage bond, who will respect her always as a free and independent person, will abstain absolutely from authoritative methods, and will either share and trust his income and property with her in a frank communism, or give her a sufficient and private income for her personal use. It is only fair under existing economic conditions that at marriage a husband should insure his life in his wife’s interest, and I do not think it would be impossible to bring our legal marriage contract into accordance with modern ideas in that matter. Certainly it should be legally imperative that at the birth of each child a new policy upon its father’s life, as the income-getter, should begin. The latter provision at least should be a normal condition of marriage and one that the wife should have power to enforce when payments fall away. With such safeguards and under such conditions marriage ceases to be a haphazard dependence for a woman, and she may live, teaching and rearing and free, almost as though the co-operative commonwealth had come.
But in many cases, since great numbers of women marry so young and so ignorantly that their thinking about realities begins only after marriage, a woman will find herself already married to a man before she realizes the significance of these things. She may be already the mother of children. Her husband’s ideas may not be her ideas. He may dominate, he may prohibit, he may intervene, he may default. He may, if he sees fit, burthen the family income with the charges of his illegitimate offspring.
We live in the world as it is and not in the world as it should be. That sentence becomes the refrain of this discussion.
The normal modern married woman has to make the best of a bad position, to do her best under the old conditions, to live as though she was under the new conditions, to make good citizens, to give her spare energies as far as she can to bringing about a better state of affairs. Like the private property owner and the official in a privately owned business, her best method of conduct is to consider herself an unrecognized public official, irregularly commanded and improperly paid. There is no good in flagrant rebellion. She has to study her particular circumstances and make what good she can out of them, keeping her face towards the coming time. I cannot better the image I have already used for the thinking and believing modern-minded people of to-day as an advance guard cut off from proper supplies, ill furnished so that makeshift prevails, and rather demoralized. We have to be wise as well as loyal; discretion itself is loyalty to the coming State.
In the previous section I have dealt with the single individual’s duty in relation to the general community and to law and generally received institutions. But there is a new set of questions now to be considered. Let us take up the modifications that arise when it is not one isolated individual but a group of individuals who find themselves in disagreement with contemporary rule or usage and disposed to find a rightness in things not established or not conceded. They too live in the world as it is and not in the world as it ought to be, but their association opens up quite new possibilities of anticipating coming developments of living, and of protecting and guaranteeing one another from what for a single unprotected individual would be the inevitable consequences of a particular line of conduct, conduct which happened to be unorthodox or only, in the face of existing conditions, unwise.
For example, a friend of mine who had read a copy of the preceding section wrote as follows:—
“I can see no reason why even to-day a number of persons avowedly united in the same ‘Belief’ and recognizing each other as the self-constituted social vanguard should not form a recognized spiritual community centering round some kind of ‘religious’ edifice and ritual, and agree to register and consecrate the union of any couples of the members according to a contract which the whole community should have voted acceptable. The community would be the guardian of money deposited or paid in gradually as insurance for the children. And the fact of the whole business being regular, open and connected with a common intellectual and moral ritual and a common name, such for example as your name of ‘The Samurai,’ would secure the respect of outsiders, so that eventually these new marriage arrangements would modify the old ones. People would ask, ‘Were you married before the registrar?’ and the answer would be, ‘No, we are Samurai and were united before the Elders.’ In Catholic countries those who use only the civil marriage are considered outcasts by the religiously minded, which shows that recognition by the State is not as potent as recognition by the community to which one belongs. The religious marriage is considered the only one binding by Catholics, and the civil ceremony is respected merely because the State has brute force behind it.”
There is in this passage one particularly valuable idea, the idea of an association of people to guarantee the welfare of their children in common. I will follow that a little, though it takes me away from my main line of thought. It seems to me that such an association might be found in many cases a practicable way of easing the conflict that so many men and women experience, between their individual public service and their duty to their own families. Many people of exceptional gifts, whose gifts are not necessarily remunerative, are forced by these personal considerations to direct them more or less askew, to divert them from their best application to some inferior but money-making use; and many more are given the disagreeable alternative of evading parentage or losing the freedom of mind needed for socially beneficial work. This is particularly the case with many scientific investigators, many sociological and philosophical workers, many artists, teachers and the like. Even when such people are fairly prosperous personally they do not care to incur the obligation to keep prosperous at any cost to their work that a family in our competitive system involves. It gives great ease of mind to any sort of artistic or intellectual worker to feel free to become poor. I do not see why a group of such people should not attempt a merger of their family anxieties and family adventures, insure all its members, and while each retains a sufficient personal independence for freedom of word and movement, pool their family solicitudes and resources, organize a collective school and a common maintenance fund for all the children born of members of the association. I do not see why they should not in fact develop a permanent trust to maintain, educate and send out all their children into the world, a trust to which their childless friends and associates could contribute by gift and bequest, and to which the irregular good fortune that is not uncommon in the careers of these exceptional types could be devoted. I do not mean any sort of charity but an enlarged family basis.
Such an idea passes very readily into the form of a Eugenic association. It would be quite possible and very interesting for prosperous people interested in Eugenics to create a trust for the offspring of a selected band of beneficiaries, and with increasing resources to admit new members and so build up within the present social system a special strain of chosen people. So far people with eugenic ideas and people with conceptions of associated and consolidated families have been too various and too dispersed for such associations to be practicable, but as such views of life become more common, the chance of a number of sufficiently homogeneous and congenial people working out the method of such a grouping increases steadily.
Moreover, I can imagine no reason to prevent any women who are in agreement with the moral standards of the “Woman who Did” (standards I will not discuss at this present point but defer for a later section) combining for mutual protection and social support and the welfare of such children as they may bear. Then certainly, to the extent that this succeeds, the objections that arise from the evil effects upon the children of social isolation disappear. This isolation would be at worst a group isolation, and there can be no doubt that my friend is right in pointing out that there is much more social toleration for an act committed under the sanction of a group than for an isolated act that may be merely impulsive misbehaviour masquerading as high principle.
It seems to me remarkable that, to the best of my knowledge, so obvious a form of combination has never yet been put in practice. It is remarkable but not inexplicable. The first people to develop novel ideas, more particularly of this type, are usually people in isolated circumstances and temperamentally incapable of disciplined cooperation.
The idea of organizing the progressive elements in the social chaos into a regular developing force is one that has had a great attraction for me. I have written upon it elsewhere, and I make no apology for returning to it here and examining it in the light of various afterthoughts and with fresh suggestions.
I first broached this idea in a book called “Anticipations,” wherein I described a possible development of thought and concerted action which I called the New Republicanism, and afterwards I redrew the thing rather more elaborately in my “Modern Utopia.” I had been struck by the apparently chaotic and wasteful character of most contemporary reform movements, and it seemed reasonable to suppose that those who aimed at organizing society and replacing chaos and waste by wise arrangements, might very well begin by producing a more effective organization for their own efforts. These complexities of good intention made me impatient, and I sought industriously in my mind for a short cut through them. In doing so I think I overlooked altogether too much how heterogeneous all progressive thought and progressive people must be.
In my “Modern Utopia” I turned this idea of an organized brotherhood about very thoroughly and looked at it from this point and that; I let it loose as it were, and gave it its fullest development, and so produced a sort of secular Order of governing men and women. In a spirit entirely journalistic I called this the Order of the Samurai, for at the time I wrote there was much interest in Bushido because of the capacity for hardship and self-sacrifice this chivalrous culture appears to have developed in the Japanese. These Samurai of mine were a sort of voluntary nobility who supplied the administrative and organizing forces that held my Utopian world together. They were the “New Republicans” of my “Anticipations” and “Mankind in the Making,” much developed and supposed triumphant and ruling the world.
I sought of course to set out these ideas as attractively as possible in my books, and they have as a matter of fact proved very attractive to a certain number of people. Quite a number have wanted to go on with them. Several little organizations of Utopians and Samurai and the like have sprung up and informed me of themselves, and some survive; and young men do still at times drop into my world “personally or by letter” declaring themselves New Republicans.
All this has been very helpful and at times a little embarrassing to me. It has given me an opportunity of seeing the ideals I flung into the distance beyond Sirius and among the mountain snows coming home partially incarnate in girls and young men. It has made me look into individualized human aspirations, human impatience, human vanity and a certain human need of fellowship, at close quarters. It has illuminated subtle and fine traits; it has displayed nobilities, and it has brought out aspects of human absurdity to which only the pencil of Mr. George Morrow could do adequate justice. The thing I have had to explain most generally is that my New Republicans and Samurai are but figures of suggestion, figures to think over and use in planning disciplines, but by no means copies to follow. I have had to go over again, as though it had never been raised before in any previous writings, the difference between the spirit and the letter.
These responses have on the whole confirmed my main idea that there is a real need, a need that many people, and especially adolescent people, feel very strongly, for some sort of constructive brotherhood of a closer type than mere political association, to co-ordinate and partly guide their loose chaotic efforts to get hold of life — but they have also convinced me that no wide and comprehensive organization can supply that want.
My New Republicans were presented as in many respects harsh and overbearing people, “a sort of outspoken secret society” for the organization of the world. They were not so much an ideal order as the Samurai of the later book, being rather deduced as a possible outcome of certain forces and tendencies in contemporary life (A.D. 1900) than, as literary people say, “created.” They were to be drawn from among engineers, doctors, scientific business organizers and the like, and I found that it is to energetic young men of the more responsible classes that this particular ideal appeals. Their organization was quite informal, a common purpose held them together.
Most of the people who have written to me to call themselves New Republicans are I find also Imperialists and Tariff Reformers, and I suppose that among the prominent political figures of to-day the nearest approach to my New Republicans is Lord Milner and the Socialist–Unionists of his group. It is a type harshly constructive, inclined to an unscrupulous pose and slipping readily into a Kiplingesque brutality.
The Samurai on the other hand were more picturesque figures, with a much more elaborated organization.
I may perhaps recapitulate the points about that Order here.
In the “Modern Utopia” the visitor from earth remarks:—
“These Samurai form the real body of the State. All this time that I have spent going to and fro in this planet, it has been growing upon me that this order of men and women, wearing such a uniform as you wear, and with faces strengthened by discipline and touched with devotion, is the Utopian reality; that but for them the whole fabric of these fair appearances would crumble and tarnish, shrink and shrivel, until at last, back I should be amidst the grime and disorders of the life of earth. Tell me about these Samurai, who remind me of Plato’s guardians, who look like Knight Templars, who bear a name that recalls the swordsmen of Japan. What are they? Are they an hereditary cast, a specially educated order, an elected class? For, certainly, this world turns upon them as a door upon its hinges.”
His informant explains:—
“Practically the whole of the responsible rule of the world is in their hands; all our head teachers and disciplinary heads of colleges, our judges, barristers, employers of labour beyond a certain limit, practising medical men, legislators, must be Samurai, and all the executive committees and so forth, that play so large a part in our affairs, are drawn by lot exclusively from them. The order is not hereditary — we know just enough of biology and the uncertainties of inheritance to know how silly that would be — and it does not require an early consecration or novitiate or ceremonies and initiations of that sort. The Samurai are, in fact, volunteers. Any intelligent adult in a reasonably healthy and efficient state may, at any age after five and twenty, become one of the Samurai and take a hand in the universal control.”
“Provided he follows the Rule.”
“Precisely — provided he follows the Rule.”
“I have heard the phrase, ‘voluntary nobility.’”
“That was the idea of our Founders. They made a noble and privileged order — open to the whole world. No one could complain of an unjust exclusion, for the only thing that could exclude them from the order was unwillingness or inability to follow the Rule.
“The Rule aims to exclude the dull and base altogether, to discipline the impulses and emotions, to develop a moral habit and sustain a man in periods of stress, fatigue and temptation, to produce the maximum co-operation of all men of good-intent, and in fact to keep all the Samurai in a state of moral and bodily health and efficiency. It does as much of this as well as it can, but of course, like all general propositions, it does not do it in any case with absolute precision. AT FIRST IN THE MILITANT DAYS, IT WAS A TRIFLE HARD AND UNCOMPROMISING; IT HAD RATHER TOO STRONG AN APPEAL TO THE MORAL PRIG AND THE HARSHLY RIGHTEOUS MAN, but it has undergone, and still undergoes, revision and expansion, and every year it becomes a little better adapted to the need of a general rule of life that all men may try to follow. We have now a whole literature with many very fine things in it, written about the Rule.
“The Rule consists of three parts; there is the list of things that qualify, the list of things that must not be done, and the list of things that must be done. Qualification exacts a little exertion as evidence of good faith and it is designed to weed out the duller dull and many of the base.”
He goes on to tell of certain intellectual qualifications and disciplines.
“Next to the intellectual qualification comes the physical, the man must be in sound health, free from certain foul, avoidable and demoralizing diseases, and in good training. We reject men who are fat, or thin, or flabby, or whose nerves are shaky — we refer them back to training. And finally the man or woman must be fully adult.”
“Twenty-one? But you said twenty-five!”
“The age has varied. At first it was twenty-five or over; then the minimum became twenty-five for men and twenty-one for women. Now there is a feeling that it ought to be raised. We don’t want to take advantage of mere boy and girl emotions — men of my way of thinking, at any rate, don’t — we want to get our Samurai with experiences, with settled mature conviction. Our hygiene and regimen are rapidly pushing back old age and death, and keeping men hale and hearty to eighty and more. There’s no need to hurry the young. Let them have a chance of wine, love and song; let them feel the bite of full-blooded desire, and know what devils they have to reckon with . . .
“We forbid a good deal. Many small pleasures do no great harm, but we think it well to forbid them none the less, so that we can weed out the self-indulgent. We think that a constant resistance to little seductions is good for a man’s quality. At any rate, it shows that a man is prepared to pay something for his honour and privileges. We prescribe a regimen of food, forbid tobacco, wine, or any alcoholic drink, all narcotic drugs . . .
“Originally the Samurai were forbidden usury, that is to say, the lending of money at fixed rates of interest. They are still under that interdiction, but since our commercial code practically prevents usury altogether, and our law will not recognize contracts for interest upon private accommodation loans to unprosperous borrowers,” (he is speaking of Utopia), “it is now scarcely necessary. The idea of a man growing richer by mere inaction and at the expense of an impoverished debtor is profoundly distasteful to Utopian ideas, and our State insists pretty effectually now upon the participation of the lender in the borrower’s risks. This, however, is only one part of a series of limitations of the same character. It is felt that to buy simply in order to sell again brings out many unsocial human qualities; it makes a man seek to enhance profits and falsify values, and so the Samurai are forbidden to buy or sell on their own account or for any employer save the State, unless by some process of manufacture they change the nature of the commodity (a mere change in bulk or packing does not suffice), and they are forbidden salesmanship and all its arts. Nor may the Samurai do personal services, except in the matter of medicine or surgery; they may not be barbers, for example, nor inn waiters nor boot cleaners, men do such services for themselves. Nor may a man under the Rule be any man’s servant, pledged to do whatever he is told. He may neither be a servant nor keep one; he must shave and dress and serve himself, carry his own food from the helper’s place, redd his sleeping room and leave it clean . . . ”
Finally came the things they had to do. Their Rule contained:—
“many precise directions regarding his health, and rules that would aim at once at health and that constant exercise or will that makes life good. Save in specified exceptional circumstances, the Samurai must bathe in cold water and the men shave every day; they have the precisest directions in such matters; the body must be in health, the skin and nerves and muscles in perfect tone, or the Samurai must go to the doctors of the order and give implicit obedience to the regimen prescribed. They must sleep alone at least four nights in five; and they must eat with and talk to anyone in their fellowship who cares for their conversation for an hour at least, at the nearest club-house of the Samurai, once on three chosen days in every week. Moreover they must read aloud from the Book of the Samurai for at least five minutes every day. Every month they must buy and read faithfully through at least one book that has been published during the past five years, and the only intervention with private choice in that matter is the prescription of a certain minimum of length for the monthly book or books. But the full rule in these minor compulsory matters is voluminous and detailed, and it abounds with alternatives. Its aim is rather to keep before the Samurai by a number of simple duties, as it were, the need of and some of the chief methods towards health of body and mind rather than to provide a comprehensive rule, and to ensure the maintenance of a community of feeling and interests among the Samurai through habit, intercourse and a living contemporary literature. These minor obligations do not earmark more than an hour in the day. Yet they serve to break down isolations of sympathy, all sorts of physical and intellectual sluggishness and the development of unsocial preoccupations of many sorts . . .
“So far as the Samurai have a purpose in common in maintaining the State and the order and discipline of the world, so far, by their discipline and denial, by their public work and effort, they worship God together. But the ultimate fount of motives lies in the individual life, it lies in silent and deliberate reflections, and at this the most striking of all the rules of the Samurai aims. For seven consecutive days of the year, at least, each man or woman under the Rule must go right out of all the life of men into some wild and solitary place, must speak to no man or woman and have no sort of intercourse with mankind. They must go bookless and weaponless, without pen or paper or money. Provision must be taken for the period of the journey, a rug or sleeping sack — for they must sleep under the open sky — but no means of making a fire. They may study maps before to guide them, showing any difficulties and dangers in the journey, but they may not carry such helps. They must not go by beaten ways or wherever there are inhabited houses, but into the bare, quiet places of the globe — the regions set apart for them.
“This discipline was invented to secure a certain stoutness of heart and body in the Samurai. Otherwise the order might have lain open to too many timorous, merely abstemious men and women. Many things had been suggested, sword-play and tests that verged on torture, climbing in giddy places and the like, before this was chosen. Partly, it is to ensure good training and sturdiness of body and mind, but partly also, it is to draw the minds of the Samurai for a space from the insistent details of life, from the intricate arguments and the fretting effort to work, from personal quarrels and personal affections and the things of the heated room. Out they must go, clean out of the world . . . ”
These passages will at least serve to present the Samurai idea and the idea of common Rule of conduct it embodied.
In the “Modern Utopia” I discuss also a lesser Rule and the modification of the Rule for women and the relation to the order of what I call the poietic types, those types whose business in life seems to be rather to experience and express than to act and effectually do. For those things I must refer the reader to the book itself. Together with a sentence I have put in italics above, they serve to show that even when I was devising these Samurai I was not unmindful of the defects that are essential to such a scheme.
This dream of the Samurai proved attractive to a much more various group of readers than the New Republican suggestion, and there have been actual attempts to realise the way of life proposed. In most of these cases there was manifest a disposition greatly to over-accentuate organization, to make too much of the disciplinary side of the Rule and to forget the entire subordination of such things to active thought and constructive effort. They are valuable and indeed only justifiable as a means to an end. These attempts of a number of people of very miscellaneous origins and social traditions to come together and work like one machine made the essential wastefulness of any terrestrial realization of my Samurai very clear. The only reason for such an Order is the economy and development of force, and under existing conditions disciplines would consume more force than they would engender. The Order, so far from being a power, would be an isolation. Manifestly the elements of organization and uniformity were overdone in my Utopia; in this matter I was nearer the truth in the case of my New Republicans. These, in contrast with the Samurai, had no formal general organization, they worked for a common end, because their minds and the suggestion of their circumstances pointed them to a common end. Nothing was enforced upon them in the way of observance or discipline. They were not shepherded and trained together, they came together. It was assumed that if they wanted strongly they would see to it that they lived in the manner most conducive to their end just as in all this book I am taking it for granted that to believe truly is to want to do right. It was not even required of them that they should sedulously propagate their constructive idea.
Apart from the illumination of my ideas by these experiments and proposals, my Samurai idea has also had a quite unmerited amount of subtle and able criticism from people who found it at once interesting and antipathetic. My friends Vernon Lee and G.K. Chesterton, for example, have criticized it, and I think very justly, on the ground that the invincible tortuousness of human pride and class-feeling would inevitably vitiate its working. All its disciplines would tend to give its members a sense of distinctness, would tend to syndicate power and rob it of any intimacy and sympathy with those outside the Order . . .
It seems to me now that anyone who shares the faith I have been developing in this book will see the value of these comments and recognize with me that this dream is a dream; the Samurai are just one more picture of the Perfect Knight, an ideal of clean, resolute and balanced living. They may be valuable as an ideal of attitude but not as an ideal of organization. They are never to be put, as people say, upon a business footing and made available as a refuge from the individual problem.
To modernize the parable, the Believer must not only not bury his talent but he must not bank it with an organization. Each Believer must decide for himself how far he wants to be kinetic or efficient, how far he needs a stringent rule of conduct, how far he is poietic and may loiter and adventure among the coarse and dangerous things of life. There is no reason why one should not, and there is every reason why one should, discuss one’s personal needs and habits and disciplines and elaborate one’s way of life with those about one, and form perhaps with those of like training and congenial temperament small groups for mutual support. That sort of association I have already discussed in the previous section. With adolescent people in particular such association is in many cases an almost instinctive necessity. There is no reason moreover why everyone who is lonely should not seek out congenial minds and contrive a grouping with them. All mutual lovers for example are Orders of a limited membership, many married couples and endless cliques and sets are that. Such small and natural associations are indeed force-giving Orders because they are brought together by a common innate disposition out of a possibility of mutual assistance and inspiration; they observe a Rule that springs up and not a Rule imposed. The more of such groups and Orders we have the better. I do not see why having formed themselves they should not define and organize themselves. I believe there is a phase somewhere between fifteen and thirty, in the life of nearly everybody, when such a group is sought, is needed and would be helpful in self-development and self-discovery. In leagues and societies for specific ends, too, we must all participate. But the order of the Samurai as a great progressive force controlling a multitude of lives right down to their intimate details and through all the phases of personal development is a thing unrealizable. To seek to realize it is impatience. True brotherhood is universal brotherhood. The way to that is long and toilsome, but it is a way that permits of no such energetic short cuts as this militant order of my dream would achieve.
When one is discussing this possible formation of cults and brotherhoods, it may be well to consider a few of the conditions that rule such human re-groupings. We live in the world as it is and not in the world as we want it to be, that is the practical rule by which we steer, and in directing our lives we must constantly consider the forces and practicabilities of the social medium in which we move.
In contemporary life the existing ties are so various and so imperative that the detachment necessary as a preliminary condition to such new groupings is rarely found. This is not a period in which large numbers of people break away easily and completely from old connexions. Things change less catastrophically than once they did. More particularly is there less driving out into the wilderness. There is less heresy hunting; persecution is frequently reluctant and can be evaded by slight concessions. The world as a whole is less harsh and emphatic than it was. Customs and customary attitudes change nowadays not so much by open, defiant and revolutionary breaches as by the attrition of partial negligences and new glosses. Innovating people do conform to current usage, albeit they conform unwillingly and imperfectly. There is a constant breaking down and building up of usage, and as a consequence a lessened need of wholesale substitutions. Human methods have become viviparous; the New nowadays lives for a time in the form of the Old. The friend I quote in Chapter 2.10 writes of a possible sect with a “religious edifice” and ritual of its own, a new religious edifice and a new ritual. In practice I doubt whether “real” people, people who matter, people who are getting things done and who have already developed complex associations, can afford the extensive re-adjustment implied in such a new grouping. It would mean too much loss of time, too much loss of energy and attention, too much sacrifice of existing co-operations.
New cults, new religions, new organizations of all sorts, insisting upon their novelty and difference, are most prolific and most successful wherever there is an abundant supply of dissociated people, where movement is in excess of deliberation, and creeds and formulae unyielding and unadaptable because they are unthinking. In England, for example, in the last century, where social conditions have been comparatively stable, discussion good and abundant and internal migration small, there have been far fewer such developments than in the United States of America. In England toleration has become an institution, and where Tory and Socialist, Bishop and Infidel, can all meet at the same dinner-table and spend an agreeable week-end together, there is no need for defensive segregations. In such an atmosphere opinion and usage change and change continually, not dramatically as the results of separations and pitched battles but continuously and fluently as the outcome of innumerable personal reactions. America, on the other hand, because of its material preoccupations, because of the dispersal of its thinking classes over great areas, because of the cruder understanding of its more heterogeneous population (which constantly renders hard and explicit statement necessary), MEANS its creeds much more literally and is at once more experimental and less compromising and tolerant. It is there if anywhere that new brotherhoods and new creeds will continue to appear. But even in America I think the trend of things is away from separations and segregations and new starts, and towards more comprehensive and graduated methods of development.
New religions, I think, appear and are possible and necessary in phases of social disorganization, in phases when considerable numbers of people are detached from old systems of direction and unsettled and distressed. So, at any rate, it was Christianity appeared, in a strained and disturbed community, in the clash of Roman and Oriental thought, and for a long time it was confined to the drifting population of seaports and great cities and to wealthy virgins and widows, reaching the most settled and most adjusted class, the pagani, last of all and in its most adaptable forms. It was the greatest new beginning in the world’s history, and the wealth of political and literary and social and artistic traditions it abandoned had subsequently to be revived and assimilated to it fragment by fragment from the past it had submerged. Now, I do not see that the world to-day presents any fair parallelism to that sere age of stresses in whose recasting Christianity played the part of a flux. Ours is on the whole an organizing and synthetic rather than a disintegrating phase throughout the world. Old institutions are neither hard nor obstinate to-day, and the immense and various constructive forces at work are saturated now with the conception of evolution, of secular progressive development, as opposed to the revolutionary idea. Only a very vast and terrible war explosion can, I think, change this state of affairs.
This conveys in general terms, at least, my interpretation of the present time, and it is in accordance with this view that the world is moving forward as a whole and with much dispersed and discrepant rightness, that I do not want to go apart from the world as a whole into any smaller community, with all the implication of an exclusive possession of right which such a going apart involves. Put to the test by my own Samurai for example by a particularly urgent and enthusiastic discipline, I found I did not in the least want to be one of that organization, that it only expressed one side of a much more complex self than its disciplines permitted. And still less do I want to hamper the play of my thoughts and motives by going apart into the particularism of a new religion. Such refuges are well enough when the times threaten to overwhelm one. The point about the present age, so far as I am able to judge the world, is that it does not threaten to overwhelm; that at the worst, by my standards, it maintains its way of thinking instead of assimilating mine.
Now all this leads very directly to a discussion of the relations of a person of my way of thinking to the Church and religious institutions generally. I have already discussed my relation to commonly accepted beliefs, but the question of institutions is, it seems to me, a different one altogether. Not to realize that, to confuse a church with its creed, is to prepare the ground for a mass of disastrous and life-wasting errors.
Now my rules of conduct are based on the supposition that moral decisions are to be determined by the belief that the individual life guided by its perception of beauty is incidental, experimental, and contributory to the undying life of the blood and race. I have decided for myself that the general business of life is the development of a collective consciousness and will and purpose out of a chaos of individual consciousnesses and wills and purposes, and that the way to that is through the development of the Socialist State, through the socialization of existing State organizations and their merger of pacific association in a World State. But so far I have not taken up the collateral aspect of the synthesis of human consciousness, the development of collective feeling and willing and expression in the form, among others, of religious institutions.
Religious institutions are things to be legitimately distinguished from the creeds and cosmogonies with which one finds them associated. Customs are far more enduring things than ideas — witness the mistletoe at Christmas, or the old lady turning her money in her pocket at the sight of the new moon. And the exact origin of a religious institution is of much less significance to us than its present effect. The theory of a religion may propose the attainment of Nirvana or the propitiation of an irascible Deity or a dozen other things as its end and aim; the practical fact is that it draws together great multitudes of diverse individualized people in a common solemnity and self-subordination however vague, and is so far, like the State, and in a manner far more intimate and emotional and fundamental than the State, a synthetic power. And in particular, the idea of the Catholic Church is charged with synthetic suggestion; it is in many ways an idea broader and finer than the constructive idea of any existing State. And just as the Beliefs I have adopted lead me to regard myself as in and of the existing State, such as it is, and working for its rectification and development, so I think there is a reasonable case for considering oneself in and of the Catholic Church and bound to work for its rectification and development; and this in spite of the fact that one may not feel justified in calling oneself a Christian in any sense of the term.
It may be maintained very plausibly that the Catholic Church is something greater than Christianity, however much the Christians may have contributed to its making. From the historical point of view it is a religious and social method that developed with the later development of the world empire of Rome and as the expression of its moral and spiritual side. Its head was, and so far as its main body is concerned still is, the pontifex maximus of the Roman world empire, an official who was performing sacrifices centuries before Christ was born. It is easy to assert that the Empire was converted to Christianity and submitted to its terrestrial leader, the bishop of Rome; it is quite equally plausible to say that the religious organization of the Empire adopted Christianity and so made Rome, which had hitherto had no priority over Jerusalem or Antioch in the Christian Church, the headquarters of the adopted cult. And if the Christian movement could take over and assimilate the prestige, the world predominance and sacrificial conception of the pontifex maximus and go on with that as part at any rate of the basis of a universal Church, it is manifest that now in the fulness of time this great organization, after its accumulation of Christian tradition, may conceivably go on still further to alter and broaden its teaching and observances and formulae.
In a sense no doubt all we moderns are bound to consider ourselves children of the Catholic Church, albeit critical and innovating children with a tendency to hark back to our Greek grandparents; we cannot detach ourselves absolutely from the Church without at the same time detaching ourselves from the main process of spiritual synthesis that has made us what we are. And there is a strong case for supposing that not only is this reasonable for us who live in the tradition of Western Europe, but that we are legitimately entitled to call upon extra European peoples to join with us in that attitude of filiation to the Catholic Church since, outside it, there is no organization whatever aiming at a religious catholicity and professing or attempting to formulate a collective religious consciousness in the world. So far as they come to a conception of a human synthesis they come to it by coming into our tradition.
I write here of the Catholic Church as an idea. To come from that idea to the world of present realities is to come to a tangle of difficulties. Is the Catholic Church merely the Roman communion or does it include the Greek and Protestant Churches? Some of these bodies are declaredly dissentient, some claim to be integral portions of the Catholic Church which have protested against and abandoned certain errors of the central organization. I admit it becomes a very confusing riddle in such a country as England to determine which is the Catholic Church; whether it is the body which possesses and administers Canterbury Cathedral and Westminster Abbey, or the bodies claiming to represent purer and finer or more authentic and authoritative forms of Catholic teaching which have erected that new Byzantine-looking cathedral in Westminster, or Whitfield’s Tabernacle in the Tottenham Court Road, or a hundred or so other organized and independent bodies. It is still more perplexing to settle upon the Catholic Church in America among an immense confusion of sectarian fragments.
Many people, I know, take refuge from the struggle with this tangle of controversies by refusing to recognize any institutions whatever as representing the Church. They assume a mystical Church made up of all true believers, of all men and women of good intent, whatever their formulae or connexion. Wherever there is worship, there, they say, is a fragment of the Church. All and none of these bodies are the true Church.
This is no doubt profoundly true. It gives something like a working assumption for the needs of the present time. People can get along upon that. But it does not exhaust the question. We seek a real and understanding synthesis. We want a real collectivism, not a poetical idea; a means whereby men and women of all sorts, all kinds of humanity, may pray together, sing together, stand side by side, feel the same wave of emotion, develop a collective being. Doubtless right-spirited men are praying now at a thousand discrepant altars. But for the most part those who pray imagine those others who do not pray beside them are in error, they do not know their common brotherhood and salvation. Their brotherhood is masked by unanalyzable differences; theirs is a dispersed collectivism; their churches are only a little more extensive than their individualities and intenser in their collective separations.
The true Church towards which my own thoughts tend will be the conscious illuminated expression of Catholic brotherhood. It must, I think, develop out of the existing medley of Church fragments and out of all that is worthy in our poetry and literature, just as the worldwide Socialist State at which I aim must develop out of such state and casual economic organizations and constructive movements as exist to-day. There is no “beginning again” in these things. In neither case will going apart out of existing organizations secure our ends. Out of what is, we have to develop what has to be. To work for the Reformation of the Catholic Church is an integral part of the duty of a believer.
It is curious how misleading a word can be. We speak of a certain phase in the history of Christianity as the Reformation, and that word effectually conceals from most people the simple indisputable fact that there has been no Reformation. There was an attempt at a Reformation in the Catholic Church, and through a variety of causes it failed. It detached great masses from the Catholic Church and left that organization impoverished intellectually and spiritually, but it achieved no reconstruction at all. It achieved no reconstruction because the movement as a whole lacked an adequate grasp of one fundamentally necessary idea, the idea of Catholicity. It fell into particularism and failed. It set up a vast process of fragmentation among Christian associations. It drove huge fissures through the once common platform. In innumerable cases they were fissures of organization and prejudice rather than real differences in belief and mental habit. Sometimes it was manifestly conflicting material interests that made the split. People are now divided by forgotten points of difference, by sides taken by their predecessors in the disputes of the sixteenth century, by mere sectarian names and the walls of separate meeting places. In the present time, as a result of the dissenting method, there are multitudes of believing men scattered quite solitarily through the world.
The Reformation, the Reconstruction of the Catholic Church lies still before us. It is a necessary work. It is a work strictly parallel to the reformation and expansion of the organized State. Together, these processes constitute the general duty before mankind.
The whole trend of my thought in matters of conduct is against whatever accentuates one’s individual separation from the collective consciousness. It follows naturally from my fundamental creed that avoidable silences and secrecy are sins, just as abstinences are in themselves sins rather than virtues. And so I think that to leave any organization or human association except for a wider and larger association, to detach oneself in order to go alone, or to go apart narrowly with just a few, is fragmentation and sin. Even if one disagrees with the professions or formulae or usages of an association, one should be sure that the disagreement is sufficiently profound to justify one’s secession, and in any case of doubt, one should remain. I count schism a graver sin than heresy.
No profession of faith, no formula, no usage can be perfect. It is only required that it should be possible. More particularly does this apply to churches and religious organizations. There never was a creed nor a religious declaration but admitted of a wide variety of interpretations and implied both more and less than it expressed. The pedantically conscientious man, in his search for an unblemished religious brotherhood, has tended always to a solitude of universal dissent.
In the religious as in the economic sphere one must not look for perfect conditions. Setting up for oneself in a new sect is like founding Utopias in Paraguay, an evasion of the essential question; our real business is to take what we have, live in and by it, use it and do our best to better such faults as are manifest to us, in the direction of a wider and nobler organization. If you do not agree with the church in which you find yourself, your best course is to become a reformer IN that church, to declare it a detached forgetful part of the greater church that ought to be, just as your State is a detached unawakened part of the World State. You take it at what it is and try and broaden it towards reunion. It is only when secession is absolutely unavoidable that it is right to secede.
This is particularly true of state churches such as is the Church of England. These are bodies constituted by the national law and amenable to the collective will. I do not think a man should consider himself excluded from them because they have articles of religion to which he cannot subscribe and creeds he will not say. A national state church has no right to be thus limited and exclusive. Rather then let any man, just to the very limit that is possible for his intellectual or moral temperament, remain in his church to redress the balance and do his utmost to change and broaden it.
But perhaps the Church will not endure a broad-minded man in its body, speaking and reforming, and will expel him?
Be expelled — well and good! That is altogether different. Let them expel you, struggling valiantly and resolved to return so soon as they release you, to hammer at the door. But withdrawing — sulking — going off in a serene huff to live by yourself spiritually and materially in your own way — that is voluntary damnation, the denial of the Brotherhood of Man. Be a rebel or a revolutionary to your heart’s content, but a mere seceder never.
For otherwise it is manifest that we shall have to pay for each step of moral and intellectual progress with a fresh start, with a conflict between the new organization and the old from which it sprang, a perpetually-recurring parricide. There will be a series of religious institutions in developing order, each containing the remnant too dull or too hypocritical to secede at the time of stress that began the new body. Something of the sort has indeed happened to both the Catholic and the English Protestant churches. We have the intellectual and moral guidance of the people falling more and more into the hands of an informal Church of morally impassioned leaders, writers, speakers, and the like, while the beautiful cathedrals in which their predecessors sheltered fall more and more into the hands of an uninspiring, retrogressive but conforming clergy.
Now this was all very well for the Individualist Liberal of the Early Victorian period, but Individualist Liberalism was a mere destructive phase in the process of renewing the old Catholic order, a clearing up of the site. We Socialists want a Church through which we can feel and think collectively, as much as we want a State that we can serve and be served by. Whether as members or external critics we have to do our best to get rid of obsolete doctrinal and ceremonial barriers, so that the churches may merge again in a universal Church, and that Church comprehend again the whole growing and amplifying spiritual life of the race.
I do not know if I make my meaning perfectly clear here. By conformity I do not mean silent conformity. It is a man’s primary duty to convey his individual difference to the minds of his fellow men. It is because I want that difference to tell to the utmost that I suggest he should not leave the assembly. But in particular instances he may find it more striking and significant to stand out and speak as a man detached from the general persuasion, just as obstructed and embarrassed ministers of State can best serve their country at times by resigning office and appealing to the public judgment by this striking and significant act.
We are led by this discussion of secession straight between the horns of a moral dilemma. We have come to two conclusions; to secede is a grave sin, but to lie is also a grave sin.
But often the practical alternative is between futile secession or implicit or actual falsehood. It has been the instinct of the aggressive controversialist in all ages to seize upon collective organizations and fence them about with oaths and declarations of such a nature as to bar out anyone not of his own way of thinking. In a democracy, for example, to take an extreme caricature of our case, a triumphant majority in power, before allowing anyone to vote, might impose an oath whereby the leader of the minority and all his aims were specifically renounced. And if no country goes so far as that, nearly all countries and all churches make some such restrictions upon opinion. The United States, that land of abandoned and receding freedoms, imposes upon everyone who crosses the Atlantic to its shores a childish ineffectual declaration against anarchy and polygamy. None of these tests exclude the unhesitating liar, but they do bar out many proud and honest minded people. They “fix” and kill things that should be living and fluid; they are offences against the mind of the race. How is a man then to behave towards these test oaths and affirmations, towards repeating creeds, signing assent to articles of religion and the like? Do not these unavoidable barriers to public service, or religious work, stand on a special footing?
Personally I think they do.
I think that in most cases personal isolation and disuse is the greater evil. I think if there is no other way to constructive service except through test oaths and declarations, one must take then. This is a particular case that stands apart from all other cases. The man who preaches a sermon and pretends therein to any belief he does not truly hold is an abominable scoundrel, but I do not think he need trouble his soul very greatly about the barrier he stepped over to get into the pulpit, if he felt the call to preach, so long as the preaching be honest. A Republican who takes the oath of allegiance to the King and wears his uniform is in a similar case. These things stand apart; they are so formal as to be scarcely more reprehensible than the falsehood of calling a correspondent “Dear,” or asking a tiresome lady to whom one is being kind and civil, for the pleasure of dancing with her. We ought to do what we can to abolish these absurd barriers and petty falsehoods, but we ought not to commit a social suicide against them.
That is how I think and feel in this matter, but if a man sees the matter more gravely, if his conscience tells him relentlessly and uncompromisingly, “this is a lie,” then it is a lie and he must not be guilty of it. But then I think it ill becomes him to be silently excluded. His work is to clamour against the existence of the barrier that wastes him.
I do not see that lying is a fundamental sin. In the first place some lying, that is to say some unavoidable inaccuracy of statement, is necessary to nearly everything we do, and the truest statement becomes false if we forget or alter the angle at which it is made, the direction in which it points. In the next the really fundamental and most generalized sin is self-isolation. Lying is a sin only because self-isolation is a sin, because it is an effectual way of cutting oneself off from human co-operation. That is why there is no sin in telling a fairy tale to a child. But telling the truth when it will be misunderstood is no whit better than lying; silences are often blacker than any lies. I class secrets with lies and cannot comprehend the moral standards that exonerate secrecy in human affairs.
To all these things one must bring a personal conscience and be prepared to examine particular cases. The excuses I have made, for example, for a very broad churchman to stay in the Church might very well be twisted into an excuse for taking an oath in something one did not to the slightest extent believe, in order to enter and betray some organization to which one was violently hostile. I admit that there may be every gradation between these two things. The individual must examine his special case and weigh the element of treachery against the possibility of co-operation. I do not see how there can be a general rule. I have already shown why in my own case I hesitate to profess a belief in God, because, I think, the misleading element in that profession would outweigh the advantage of sympathy and confidence gained.
The preceding section has been criticized by a friend who writes:—
“In religious matters apparent assent produces false unanimity. There is no convention about these things; if there were they would not exist. On the contrary, the only way to get perfunctory tests and so forth abrogated, is for a sufficient number of people to refuse to take them. It is in this case as in every other; secession is the beginning of a new integration. The living elements leave the dead or dying form and gradually create in virtue of their own combinations a new form more suited to present things. There is a formative, a creative power in sincerity and also in segregation itself. And the new form, the new species produced by variation and segregation will measure itself and its qualities with the old one. The old one will either go to the wall, accept the new one and be renewed by it, or the new one will itself be pushed out of existence if the old one has more vitality and is better adapted to the circumstances. This process of variation, competition and selection, also of intermarriage between equally vital and equally adapted varieties, is after all the process by which not only races exist but all human thoughts.”
So my friend, who I think is altogether too strongly swayed by biological analogies. But I am thinking not of the assertion of opinions primarily but of co-operation with an organization with which, save for the matter of the test, one may agree. Secession may not involve the development of a new and better moral organization; it may simply mean the suicide of one’s public aspect. There may be no room or no need of a rival organization. To secede from State employment, for example, is not to create the beginnings of a new State, however many — short of a revolution — may secede with you. It is to become a disconnected private person, and throw up one’s social side.
I do not think a discussion of man’s social relations can be considered at all complete or satisfactory until we have gone into the question of military service. To-day, in an increasing number of countries, military service is an essential part of citizenship and the prospect of war lies like a great shadow across the whole bright complex prospect of human affairs. What should be the attitude of a right-living man towards his State at war and to warlike preparations?
In no other connexion are the confusions and uncertainty of the contemporary mind more manifest. It is an odd contradiction that in Great Britain and Western Europe generally, just those parties that stand most distinctly for personal devotion to the State in economic matters, the Socialist and Socialistic parties, are most opposed to the idea of military service, and just those parties that defend individual self-seeking and social disloyalty in the sphere of property are most urgent for conscription. No doubt some of this uncertainty is due to the mixing in of private interests with public professions, but much more is it, I think, the result of mere muddle-headedness and an insufficient grasp of the implications of the propositions under discussion. The ordinary political Socialist desires, as I desire, and as I suppose every sane man desires as an ultimate ideal, universal peace, the merger of national partitions in loyalty to the World State. But he does not recognize that the way to reach that goal is not necessarily by minimizing and specializing war and war responsibility at the present time. There he falls short of his own constructive conceptions and lapses into the secessionist methods of the earlier Radicals. We have here another case strictly parallel to several we have already considered. War is a collective concern; to turn one’s back upon it, to refuse to consider it as a possibility, is to leave it entirely to those who are least prepared to deal with it in a broad spirit.
In many ways war is the most socialistic of all forces. In many ways military organization is the most peaceful of activities. When the contemporary man steps from the street of clamorous insincere advertisement, push, adulteration, under-selling and intermittent employment, into the barrack-yard, he steps on to a higher social plane, into an atmosphere of service and co-operation and of infinitely more honourable emulations. Here at least men are not flung out of employment to degenerate because there is no immediate work for them to do. They are fed and drilled and trained for better services. Here a man is at least supposed to win promotion by self-forgetfulness and not by self-seeking. And beside the feeble and irregular endowment of research by commercialism, its little short-sighted snatches at profit by innovation and scientific economy, see how remarkable is the steady and rapid development of method and appliances in naval and military affairs! Nothing is more striking than to compare the progress of civil conveniences which has been left almost entirely to the trader, to the progress in military apparatus during the last few decades. The house appliances of to-day for example, are little better than they were fifty years ago. A house of to-day is still almost as ill-ventilated, badly heated by wasteful fires, clumsily arranged and furnished as the house of 1858. Houses a couple of hundred years old are still satisfactory places of residence, so little have our standards risen. But the rifle or battleship of fifty years ago was beyond all comparison inferior to those we possess; in power, in speed, in convenience alike. No one has a use now for such superannuated things.
What is the meaning of war in life?
War is manifestly not a thing in itself, it is something correlated with the whole fabric of human life. That violence and killing which between animals of the same species is private and individual becomes socialized in war. It is a co-operation for killing that carries with it also a co-operation for saving and a great development of mutual help and development within the war-making group.
War, it seems to me, is really the elimination of violent competition as between man and man, an excretion of violence from the developing social group. Through war and military organization, and through war and military organization only, has it become possible to conceive of peace.
This violence was a necessary phase in human and indeed in all animal development. Among low types of men and animals it seems an inevitable condition of the vigour of the species and the beauty of life. The more vital and various individual must lead and prevail, leave progeny and make the major contribution to the synthesis of the race; the weaker individual must take a subservient place and leave no offspring. That means in practice that the former must directly or indirectly kill the latter until some mitigated but equally effectual substitute for that killing is invented. That duel disappears from life, the fight of the beasts for food and the fight of the bulls for the cows, only by virtue of its replacement by new forms of competition. With the development of primitive war we have such a replacement. The competition becomes a competition to serve and rule in the group, the stronger take the leadership and the larger share of life, and the weaker co-operate in subordination, they waive and compromise the conflict and use their conjoint strength against a common rival.
Competition is a necessary condition of progressive life. I do not know if so far I have made that belief sufficiently clear in these confessions. Perhaps in my anxiety to convey my idea of a human synthesis I have not sufficiently insisted upon the part played by competition in that synthesis. But the implications of the view that I have set forth are fairly plain. Every individual, I have stated, is an experiment for the synthesis of the species, and upon that idea my system of conduct so far as it is a system is built. Manifestly the individual’s function is either self-development, service and reproduction, or failure and an end.
With moral and intellectual development the desire to serve and participate in a collective purpose arises to control the blind and passionate impulse to survival and reproduction that the struggle for life has given us, but it does not abolish the fact of selection, of competition. I contemplate no end of competition. But for competition that is passionate, egoistic and limitless, cruel, clumsy and wasteful, I desire to see competition that is controlled and fair-minded and devoted, men and women doing their utmost with themselves and making their utmost contribution to the specific accumulation, but in the end content to abide by a verdict.
The whole development of civilization, it seems to me, consists in the development of adequate tests of survival and of an intellectual and moral atmosphere about those tests so that they shall be neither cruel nor wasteful. If the test is not to be ‘are you strong enough to kill everyone you do not like?’ that will only be because it will ask still more comprehensively and with regard to a multitude of qualities other than brute killing power, ‘are you adding worthily to the synthesis by existence and survival?’
I am very clear in my mind on this perpetual need of competition. I admit that upon that turns the practicability of all the great series of organizing schemes that are called Socialism. The Socialist scheme must show a system in which predominance and reproduction are correlated with the quality and amount of an individual’s social contribution, and so far I acknowledge it is only in the most general terms that this can be claimed as done. We Socialists have to work out all these questions far more thoroughly than we have done hitherto. We owe that to our movement and the world.
It is no adequate answer to our antagonists to say, indeed it is a mere tu quoque to say, that the existing system does not present such a correlation, that it puts a premium on secretiveness and self-seeking and a discount on many most necessary forms of social service. That is a mere temporary argument for a delay in judgment.
The whole history of humanity seems to me to present a spectacle of this organizing specialization of competition, this replacement of the indiscriminate and collectively blind struggle for life by an organized and collectively intelligent development of life. We see a secular replacement of brute conflict by the law, a secular replacement of indiscriminate brute lust by marriage and sexual taboos, and now with the development of Socialistic ideas and methods, the steady replacement of blind industrial competition by public economic organization. And moreover there is going on a great educational process bringing a greater and greater proportion of the minds of the community into relations of understanding and interchange.
Just as this process of organization proceeds, the violent and chaotic conflict of individuals and presently of groups of individuals disappears, personal violence, private war, cut-throat competition, local war, each in turn is replaced by a more efficient and more economical method of survival, a method of survival giving constantly and selecting always more accurately a finer type of survivor.
I might compare the social synthesis to crystals growing out of a fluid matrix. It is where the growing order of the crystals has as yet not spread that the old resource to destruction and violent personal or associated acts remains.
But this metaphor of crystals is a very inadequate one, because crystals have no will in themselves; nor do crystals, having failed to grow in some particular form, presently modify that form more or less and try again. I see the organizing of forces, not simply law and police which are indeed paid mercenaries from the region of violence, but legislation and literature, teaching and tradition, organized religion, getting themselves and the social structure together, year after year and age after age, halting, failing, breaking up in order to try again. And it seems to me that the amount of lawlessness and crime, the amount of waste and futility, the amount of war and war possibility and war danger in the world are just the measure of the present inadequacy of the world’s system of collective organization to the purpose before them.
It follows from this very directly that only one thing can end war on the earth and that is a subtle mental development, an idea, the development of the idea of the world commonweal in the collective mind. The only real method of abolishing war is to perceive it, to realize it, to express it, to think it out and think about it, to make all the world understand its significance, and to clear and preserve its significant functions. In human affairs to understand an evil is to abolish it; it is the only way to abolish any evil that arises out of the untutored nature of man. Which brings me back here again to my already repeated persuasion, that in expressing things, rendering things to each other, discussing our differences, clearing up the metaphysical conceptions upon which differences are discussed, and in a phrase evolving the collective mind, lies not only the cures of war and poverty but the general form of all a man’s duty and the essential work of mankind.
In our contemporary world, in our particular phase, military and naval organization loom up, colossal and unprecedent facts. They have the effect of an overhanging disaster that grows every year more tremendous, every year in more sinister contrast with the increasing securities and tolerations of the everyday life. It is impossible to imagine now what a great war in Europe would be like; the change in material and method has been so profound since the last cycle of wars ended with the downfall of the Third Napoleon. But there can be little or no doubt that it would involve a destruction of property and industrial and social disorganization of the most monstrous dimensions. No man, I think, can mark the limits of the destruction of a great European conflict were it to occur at the present time; and the near advent of practicable flying machines opens a whole new world of frightful possibilities.
For my own part I can imagine that a collision between such powers as Great Britain, Germany or America, might very well involve nearly every other power in the world, might shatter the whole fabric of credit upon which our present system of economics rests and put back the orderly progress of social construction for a vast interval of time. One figures great towns red with destruction while giant airships darken the sky, one pictures the crash of mighty ironclads, the bursting of tremendous shells fired from beyond the range of sight into unprotected cities. One thinks of congested ways swarming with desperate fighters, of torrents of fugitives and of battles gone out of the control of their generals into unappeasable slaughter. There is a vision of interrupted communications, of wrecked food trains and sunken food ships, of vast masses of people thrown out of employment and darkly tumultuous in the streets, of famine and famine-driven rioters. What modern population will stand a famine? For the first time in the history of warfare the rear of the victor, the rear of the fighting line becomes insecure, assailable by flying machines and subject to unprecedented and unimaginable panics. No man can tell what savagery of desperation these new conditions may not release in the soul of man. A conspiracy of adverse chances, I say, might contrive so great a cataclysm. There is no effectual guarantee that it could not occur.
But in spite of that, I believe that on the whole there is far more good than evil in the enormous military growths that have occurred in the last half century. I cannot estimate how far the alternative to war is lethargy. It is through military urgencies alone that many men can be brought to consent to the collective endowment of research, to public education and to a thousand interferences with their private self-seeking. Just as the pestilence of cholera was necessary before men could be brought to consent to public sanitation, so perhaps the dread of foreign violence is an unavoidable spur in an age of chaotic industrial production in order that men may be brought to subserve the growth of a State whose purpose might otherwise be too high for them to understand. Men must be forced to care for fleets and armies until they have learnt to value cities and self development and a beautiful social life.
The real danger of modern war lies not in the disciplined power of the fighting machine but in the undisciplined forces in the collective mind that may set that machine in motion. It is not that our guns and ships are marvellously good, but that our press and political organizations are haphazard growths entirely inferior to them. If this present phase of civilization should end in a debacle, if presently humanity finds itself beginning again at a lower level of organization, it will not be because we have developed these enormous powers of destruction but because we have failed to develop adequate powers of control for them and collective determination. This panoply of war waits as the test of our progress towards the realization of that collective mind which I hold must ultimately direct the evolution of our specific being. It is here to measure our incoherence and error, and in the measure of those defects to refer us back to our studies.
Just as we understand does war become needless.
But I do not think that war and military organization will so much disappear as change its nature as the years advance. I think that the phase of universal military service we seem to be approaching is one through which the mass of mankind may have to pass, learning something that can be learnt in no other way, that the uniforms and flags, the conceptions of order and discipline, the tradition of service and devotion, of physical fitness, unstinted exertion and universal responsibility, will remain a permanent acquisition, though the last ammunition has been used ages since in the pyrotechnic display that welcomed the coming of the ultimate Peace.
From these large issues of conduct, let me come now to more intimate things, to one’s self control, the regulation of one’s personal life. And first about abstinences and disciplines.
I have already confessed (Chapter 2.6) that my nature is one that dislikes abstinences and is wearied by and wary of excess.
I do not feel that it is right to suppress altogether any part of one’s being. In itself abstinence seems to me a refusal to experience, and that, upon the lines of thought I follow, is to say that abstinence for its own sake is evil. But for an end all abstinences are permissible, and if the kinetic type of believer finds both his individual and his associated efficiency enhanced by a systematic discipline, if he is convinced that he must specialize because of the discursiveness of his motives, because there is something he wants to do or be so good that the rest of them may very well be suppressed for its sake, then he must suppress. But the virtue is in what he gets done and not in what he does not do. Reasonable fear is a sound reason for abstinence, as when a man has a passion like a lightly sleeping maniac that the slightest indulgence will arouse. Then he must needs adopt heroic abstinence, and even more so must he take to preventive restraint if he sees any motive becoming unruly and urgent and troublesome. Fear is a sound reason for abstinence and so is love. Many who have sensitive imaginations nowadays very properly abstain from meat because of butchery. And it is often needful, out of love and brotherhood, to abstain from things harmless to oneself because they are inconveniently alluring to others linked to us. The moderate drinker who sits at table sipping his wine in the sight of one he knows to be a potential dipsomaniac is at best an unloving fool.
But mere abstinence and the doing of barren toilsome unrewarding things for the sake of the toil, is a perversion of one’s impulses. There is neither honour nor virtue nor good in that.
I do not believe in negative virtues. I think the ideas of them arise out of the system of metaphysical errors I have roughly analyzed in my first Book, out of the inherent tendency of the mind to make the relative absolute and to convert quantitative into qualitative differences. Our minds fall very readily under the spell of such unmitigated words as Purity and Chastity. Only death beyond decay, absolute non-existence, can be Pure and Chaste. Life is impurity, fact is impure. Everything has traces of alien matter; our very health is dependent on parasitic bacteria; the purest blood in the world has a tainted ancestor, and not a saint but has evil thoughts. It was blindness to that which set men stoning the woman taken in adultery. They forgot what they were made of. This stupidity, this unreasonable idealism of the common mind, fills life to-day with cruelties and exclusions, with partial suicides and secret shames. But we are born impure, we die impure; it is a fable that spotless white lilies sprang from any saint’s decay, and the chastity of a monk or nun is but introverted impurity. We have to take life valiantly on these conditions and make such honour and beauty and sympathy out of our confusions, gather such constructive experience, as we may.
There is a mass of real superstition upon these points, a belief in a magic purity, in magic personalities who can say:—
My strength is as the strength of ten
Because my heart is pure,
and wonderful clairvoyant innocents like the young man in Mr. Kipling’s “Finest Story in the World.”
There is a lurking disposition to believe, even among those who lead the normal type of life, that the abstinent and chastely celibate are exceptionally healthy, energetic, immune. The wildest claims are made. But indeed it is true for all who can see the facts of life simply and plainly, that man is an omnivorous, versatile, various creature and can draw his strength from a hundred varieties of nourishment. He has physiological idiosyncrasies too that are indifferent to biological classifications and moral generalities. It is not true that his absorbent vessels begin their task as children begin the guessing game, by asking, “Is it animal, vegetable or mineral?” He responds to stimulation and recuperates after the exhaustion of his response, and his being is singularly careless whether the stimulation comes as a drug or stimulant, or as anger or music or noble appeals.
Most people speak of drugs in the spirit of that admirable firm of soap-boilers which assures its customers that the soap they make “contains no chemicals.” Drugs are supposed to be a mystic diabolical class of substance, remote from and contrasting in their nature with all other things. So they banish a tonic from the house and stuff their children with manufactured cereals and chocolate creams. The drunken helot of this system of absurdities is the Christian Scientist who denies healing only to those who have studied pathology, and declares that anything whatever put into a bottle and labelled with directions for its use by a doctor is thereby damnable and damned. But indeed all drugs and all the things of life have their uses and dangers, and there is no wholesale truth to excuse us a particular wisdom and watchfulness in these matters. Unless we except smoking as an unclean and needless artificiality, all these matters of eating and drinking and habit are matters of more or less. It seems to me foolish to make anything that is stimulating and pleasurable into a habit, for that is slowly and surely to lose a stimulus and pleasure and create a need that it may become painful to check or control. The moral rule of my standards is irregularity. If I were a father confessor I should begin my catalogue of sins by asking: “are you a man of regular life?” And I would charge my penitent to go away forthwith and commit some practicable saving irregularity; to fast or get drunk or climb a mountain or sup on pork and beans or give up smoking or spend a month with publicans and sinners. Right conduct for the common unspecialized man lies delicately adjusted between defect and excess as a watch is adjusted and adjustable between fast and slow. We none of us altogether and always keep the balance or are altogether safe from losing it. We swing, balancing and adjusting, along our path. Life is that, and abstinence is for the most part a mere evasion of life.
One aspect of life I had very much in mind when I planned those Samurai disciplines of mine. It was forgetting.
Even after we have found Salvation, we have to keep hold of Salvation; believing, we must continue to believe. We cannot always be at a high level of noble emotion. We have clambered on the ship of Faith and found our place and work aboard, and even while we are busied upon it, behold we are back and drowning in the sea of chaotic things.
Every religious body, every religious teacher, has appreciated this difficulty and the need there is of reminders and renewals. Faith needs restatement and revival as the body needs food. And since the Believer is to seek much experience and be a judge of less or more in many things, it is particularly necessary that he should keep hold upon a living Faith.
How may he best do this?
I think we may state it as a general duty that he must do whatever he can to keep his faith constantly alive. But beyond that, what a man must do depends almost entirely upon his own intellectual character. Many people of a regular type of mind can refresh themselves by some recurrent duty, by repeating a daily prayer, by daily reading or re-reading some devotional book. With others constant repetition leads to a mental and spiritual deadening, until beautiful phrases become unmeaning, eloquent statements inane and ridiculous — matter for parody. All who can, I think, should pray and should read and re-read what they have found spiritually helpful, and if they know of others of kindred dispositions and can organize these exercises, they should do so. Collective worship again is a necessity for many Believers. For many, the public religious services of this or that form of Christianity supply an atmosphere rich in the essential quality of religion and abounding in phrases about the religious life, mellow from the use of centuries and almost immediately applicable. It seems to me that if one can do so, one should participate in such public worship and habituate oneself to read back into it that collective purpose and conscience it once embodied.
Very much is to be said for the ceremony of Holy Communion or the Mass, for those whom accident or scruples do not debar. I do not think your modern liberal thinkers quite appreciate the finer aspects of this, the one universal service of the Christian Church. Some of them are set forth very finely by a man who has been something of a martyr for conscience’ sake, and is for me a hero as well as a friend, in a world not rich in heroes, the Rev. Stewart Headlam, in his book, “The Meaning of the Mass.”
With others again, Faith can be most animated by writing, by confession, by discussion, by talk with friends or antagonists.
One or other or all of these things the Believer must do, for the mind is a living and moving process, and the thing that lies inert in it is presently covered up by new interests and lost. If you make a sort of King Log of your faith, presently something else will be sitting upon it, pride or self-interest, or some rebel craving, King de facto of your soul, directing it back to anarchy.
For many types that, however, is exactly what happens with public worship. They DO get a King Log in ceremony. And if you deliberately overcome and suppress your perception of and repugnance to the perfunctoriness of religion in nine-tenths of the worshippers about you, you may be destroying at the same time your own intellectual and moral sensitiveness. But I am not suggesting that you should force yourself to take part in public worship against your perceptions, but only that if it helps you to worship you should not hesitate to do so.
We deal here with a real need that is not to be fettered by any general prescription. I have one Cambridge friend who finds nothing so uplifting in the world as the atmosphere of the afternoon service in the choir of King’s College Chapel, and another, a very great and distinguished and theologically sceptical woman, who accustomed herself for some time to hear from a distant corner the evening service in St. Paul’s Cathedral and who would go great distances to do that.
Many people find an exaltation and broadening of the mind in mountain scenery and the starry heavens and the wide arc of the sea; and as I have already said, it was part of the disciplines of these Samurai of mine that yearly they should go apart for at least a week of solitary wandering and meditation in lonely and desolate places. Music again is a frequent means of release from the narrow life as it closes about us. One man I know makes an anthology into which he copies to re-read any passage that stirs and revives in him the sense of broad issues. Others again seem able to refresh their nobility of outlook in the atmosphere of an intense personal love.
Some of us seem to forget almost as if it were an essential part of ourselves. Such a man as myself, irritable, easily fatigued and bored, versatile, sensuous, curious, and a little greedy for experience, is perpetually losing touch with his faith, so that indeed I sometimes turn over these pages that I have written and come upon my declarations and confessions with a sense of alien surprise.
It may be, I say, that for some of us forgetting is the normal process, that one has to believe and forget and blunder and learn something and regret and suffer and so come again to belief much as we have to eat and grow hungry and eat again. What these others can get in their temples we, after our own manner, must distil through sleepless and lonely nights, from unavoidable humiliations, from the smarting of bruised shins.
And now having dealt with the general form of a man’s duty and with his duty to himself, let me come to his attitude to his individual fellow-men.
The broad principles determining that attitude are involved in things already written in this book. The belief in a collective being gathering experience and developing will, to which every life is subordinated, renders the cruder conception of aristocracy, the idea of a select life going on amidst a majority of trivial and contemptible persons who “do not exist,” untenable. It abolishes contempt. Indeed to believe at all in a comprehensive purpose in things is to abandon that attitude and all the habits and acts that imply it. But a belief in universal significance does not altogether preclude a belief in an aristocratic method of progress, in the idea of the subordination of a number of individuals to others who can utilize their lives and help and contributory achievements in the general purpose. To a certain extent, indeed, this last conception is almost inevitable. We must needs so think of ourselves in relation to plants and animals, and I see no reason why we should not think so of our relations to other men. There are clearly great differences in the capacity and range of experience of man and man and in their power of using and rendering their experiences for the racial synthesis. Vigorous persons do look naturally for help and service to persons of less initiative, and we are all more or less capable of admiration and hero-worship and pleased to help and give ourselves to those we feel to be finer or better or completer or more forceful and leaderly than ourselves. This is natural and inevitable aristocracy.
For that reason it is not to be organized. We organize things that are not inevitable, but this is clearly a complex matter of accident and personalities for which there can be no general rule. All organized aristocracy is manifestly begotten by that fallacy of classification my Metaphysical book set itself to expose. Its effect is, and has been in all cases, to mask natural aristocracy, to draw the lines by wholesale and wrong, to bolster up weak and ineffectual persons in false positions and to fetter or hamper strong and vigorous people. The false aristocrat is a figure of pride and claims, a consumer followed by dupes. He is proudly secretive, pretending to aims beyond the common understanding. The true aristocrat is known rather than knows; he makes and serves. He exacts no deference. He is urgent to makes others share what he knows and wants and achieves. He does not think of others as his but as the End’s.
There is a base democracy just as there is a base aristocracy, the swaggering, aggressive disposition of the vulgar soul that admits neither of superiors nor leaders. Its true name is insubordination. It resents rules and refinements, delicacies, differences and organization. It dreams that its leaders are its delegates. It takes refuge from all superiority, all special knowledge, in a phantom ideal, the People, the sublime and wonderful People. “You can fool some of the people all the time, and all the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all the people all the time,” expresses I think quite the quintessence of this mystical faith, this faith in which men take refuge from the demand for order, discipline and conscious light. In England it has never been of any great account, but in America the vulgar individualist’s self-protective exaltation of an idealized Common Man has worked and is working infinite mischief.
In politics the crude democratic faith leads directly to the submission of every question, however subtle and special its issues may be, to a popular vote. The community is regarded as a consultative committee of profoundly wise, alert and well-informed Common Men. Since the common man is, as Gustave le Bon has pointed out, a gregarious animal, collectively rather like a sheep, emotional, hasty and shallow, the practical outcome of political democracy in all large communities under modern conditions is to put power into the hands of rich newspaper proprietors, advertising producers and the energetic wealthy generally who are best able to flood the collective mind freely with the suggestions on which it acts.
But democracy has acquired a better meaning than its first crude intentions — there never was a theory started yet in the human mind that did not beget a finer offspring than itself — and the secondary meaning brings it at last into entire accordance with the subtler conception of aristocracy. The test of this quintessential democracy is neither a passionate insistence upon voting and the majority rule, nor an arrogant bearing towards those who are one’s betters in this aspect or that, but fellowship. The true democrat and the true aristocrat meet and are one in feeling themselves parts of one synthesis under one purpose and one scheme. Both realize that self-concealment is the last evil, both make frankness and veracity the basis of their intercourse. The general rightness of living for you and others and for others and you is to understand them to the best of your ability and to make them all, to the utmost limits of your capacity of expression and their understanding and sympathy, participators in your act and thought.
My ethical disposition is all against punctilio and I set no greater value on unblemished honour than I do on purity. I never yet met a man who talked proudly of his honour who did not end by cheating or trying to cheat me, nor a code of honour that did not impress me as a conspiracy against the common welfare and purpose in life. There is honour among thieves, and I think it might well end there as an obligation in conduct. The soldier who risks a life he owes to his army in a duel upon some silly matter of personal pride is no better to me than the clerk who gambles with the money in his master’s till. When I was a boy I once paid a debt of honour, and it is one of the things I am most ashamed of. I had played cards into debt and I still remember burningly how I went flushed and shrill-voiced to my mother and got the money she could so ill afford to give me. I would not pay such a debt of honour now. If I were to wake up one morning owing big sums that I had staked overnight I would set to work at once by every means in my power to evade and repudiate that obligation. Such money as I have I owe under our present system to wife and sons and my work and the world, and I see no valid reason why I should hand it over to Smith because he and I have played the fool and rascal and gambled. Better by far to accept that fact and be for my own part published fool and rascal.
I have never been able to understand the sentimental spectacle of sons toiling dreadfully and wasting themselves upon mere money-making to save the secret of a father’s peculations and the “honour of the family,” or men conspiring to weave a wide and mischievous net of lies to save the “honour” of a woman. In the conventional drama the preservation of the honour of a woman seems an adequate excuse for nearly any offence short of murder; the preservation that is to say of the appearance of something that is already gone. Here it is that I do definitely part company with the false aristocrat who is by nature and intent a humbug and fabricator of sham attitudes, and ally myself with democracy. Fact, valiantly faced, is of more value than any reputation. The false aristocrat is robed to the chin and unwashed beneath, the true goes stark as Apollo. The false is ridiculous with undignified insistence upon his dignity; the true says like God, “I am that I am.”
One word has so far played a very little part in this book, and that is the word Justice.
Those who have read the opening book on Metaphysics will perhaps see that this is a necessary corollary of the system of thought developed therein. In my philosophy, with its insistence upon uniqueness and marginal differences and the provisional nature of numbers and classes, there is little scope for that blind-folded lady with the balances, seeking always exact equivalents. Nowhere in my system of thought is there work for the idea of Rights and the conception of conscientious litigious-spirited people exactly observing nicely defined relationships.
You will note, for example, that I base my Socialism on the idea of a collective development and not on the “right” of every man to his own labour, or his “right” to work, or his “right” to subsistence. All these ideas of “rights” and of a social “contract” however implicit are merely conventional ways of looking at things, conventions that have arisen in the mercantile phase of human development.
Laws and rights, like common terms in speech, are provisional things, conveniences for taking hold of a number of cases that would otherwise be unmanageable. The appeal to Justice is a necessarily inadequate attempt to de-individualize a case, to eliminate the self’s biassed attitude. I have declared that it is my wilful belief that everything that exists is significant and necessary. The idea of Justice seems to me a defective, quantitative application of the spirit of that belief to men and women. In every case you try and discover and act upon a plausible equity that must necessarily be based on arbitrary assumptions.
There is no equity in the universe, in the various spectacle outside our minds, and the most terrible nightmare the human imagination has ever engendered is a Just God, measuring, with himself as the Standard, against finite men. Ultimately there is no adequacy, we are all weighed in the balance and found wanting.
So, as the recognition of this has grown, Justice has been tempered with Mercy, which indeed is no more than an attempt to equalize things by making the factors of the very defect that is condemned, its condonation. The modern mind fluctuates uncertainly somewhere between these extremes, now harsh and now ineffectual.
To me there seems no validity in these quasi-absolute standards.
A man seeks and obeys standards of equity simply to economize his moral effort, not because there is anything true or sublime about justice, but because he knows he is too egoistic and weak-minded and obsessed to do any perfect thing at all, because he cannot trust himself with his own transitory emotions unless he trains himself beforehand to observe a predetermined rule. There is scarcely an eventuality in life that without the help of these generalizations would not exceed the average man’s intellectual power and moral energy, just as there is scarcely an idea or an emotion that can be conveyed without the use of faulty and defective common names. Justice and Mercy are indeed not ultimately different in their nature from such other conventions as the rules of a game, the rules of etiquette, forms of address, cab tariffs and standards of all sorts. They are mere organizations of relationship either to economize thought or else to facilitate mutual understanding and codify common action. Modesty and self-submission, love and service are, in the right system of my beliefs, far more fundamental rightnesses and duties.
We are not mercantile and litigious units such as making Justice our social basis would imply, we are not select responsible persons mixed with and tending weak irresponsible wrong persons such as the notion of Mercy suggests, we are parts of one being and body, each unique yet sharing a common nature and a variety of imperfections and working together (albeit more or less darkly and ignorantly) for a common end.
We are strong and weak together and in one brotherhood. The weak have no essential rights against the strong, nor the strong against the weak. The world does not exist for our weaknesses but our strength. And the real justification of democracy lies in the fact that none of us are altogether strong nor altogether weak; for everyone there is an aspect wherein he is seen to be weak; for everyone there is a strength though it may be only a little peculiar strength or an undeveloped potentiality. The unconverted man uses his strength egotistically, emphasizes himself harshly against the man who is weak where he is strong, and hates and conceals his own weakness. The Believer, in the measure of his belief, respects and seeks to understand the different strength of others and to use his own distinctive power with and not against his fellow men, in the common service of that synthesis to which each one of them is ultimately as necessary as he.
Now here the friend who has read the first draft of this book falls into something like a dispute with me. She does not, I think, like this dismissal of Justice from a primary place in my scheme of conduct.
“Justice,” she asserts, “is an instinctive craving very nearly akin to the physical craving for equilibrium. Its social importance corresponds. It seeks to keep the individual’s claims in such a position as to conflict as little as possible with those of others. Justice is the root instinct of all social feeling, of all feeling which does not take account of whether we like or dislike individuals, it is the feeling of an orderly position of our Ego towards others, merely considered AS others, and of all the Egos merely AS Egos towards each other. LOVE cannot be felt towards others AS others. Love is the expression of individual suitability and preference, its positive existence in some cases implies its absolute negation in others. Hence Love can never be the essential and root of social feeling, and hence the necessity for the instinct of abstract justice which takes no account of preferences or aversions. And here I may say that all application of the word LOVE to unknown, distant creatures, to mere OTHERS, is a perversion and a wasting of the word love, which, taking its origin in sexual and parental preference, always implies a preference of one object to the other. To love everybody is simply not to love at all. And it is JUST BECAUSE of the passionate preference instinctively felt for some individuals, that mankind requires the self-regarding and self-respecting passion of justice.”
Now this is not altogether contradictory of what I hold. I disagree that because love necessarily expresses itself in preference, selecting this rather than that, that it follows necessarily that its absolute negation is implied in the non-selected cases. A man may go into the world as a child goes into a garden and gathers its hands full of the flowers that please it best and then desists, but only because its hands are full and not because it is at an end of the flowers that it can find delight in. So the man finds at last his memory and apprehensions glutted. It is not that he could not love those others. And I dispute that to love everybody is not to love at all. To love two people is surely to love more than to love just one person, and so by way of three and four to a very large number. But if it is put that love must be a preference because of the mental limitations that forbid us to apprehend and understand more than a few of the multitudinous lovables of life, then I agree. For all the individuals and things and cases for which we have inadequate time and energy, we need a wholesale method — justice. That is exactly what I have said in the previous section.
One is apt to write and talk of strong and weak as though some were always strong, some always weak. But that is quite a misleading version of life. Apart from the fact that everyone is fluctuatingly strong and fluctuatingly weak, and weak and strong according to the quality we judge them by, we have to remember that we are all developing and learning and changing, gaining strength and at last losing it, from the cradle to the grave. We are all, to borrow the old scholastic term, pupil-teachers of Life; the term is none the less appropriate because the pupil-teacher taught badly and learnt under difficulties.
It may seem to be a crowning feat of platitude to write that “we have to remember” this, but it is overlooked in a whole mass of legal, social and economic literature. Those extraordinary imaginary cases as between a man A and a man B who start level, on a desert island or elsewhere, and work or do not work, or save or do not save, become the basis of immense schemes of just arrangement which soar up confidently and serenely regardless of the fact that never did anything like that equal start occur; that from the beginning there were family groups and old heads and young heads, help, guidance and sacrifice, and those who had learnt and those who had still to learn, jumbled together in confused transactions. Deals, tradings and so forth are entirely secondary aspects of these primaries, and the attempt to get an idea of abstract relationship by beginning upon a secondary issue is the fatal pervading fallacy in all these regions of thought. At the present moment the average age of the world is I suppose about 21 or 22, the normal death somewhen about 44 or 45, that is to say nearly half the world is “under age,” green, inexperienced, demanding help, easily misled and put in the wrong and betrayed. Yet the younger moiety, if we do indeed assume life’s object is a collective synthesis, is more important than the older, and every older person bound to be something of a guardian to the younger. It follows directly from the fundamental beliefs I have assumed that we are missing the most important aspects of life if we are not directly or indirectly serving the young, helping them individually or collectively. Just in the measure that one’s living falls away from that, do we fall away from life into a mere futility of existence, and approach the state, the extraordinary and wonderful middle state of (for example) those extinct and entirely damned old gentlemen one sees and hears eating and sleeping in every comfortable London club.
That constructive synthetic purpose which I have made the ruling idea in my scheme of conduct may be indeed completely restated in another form, a form I adopted for a book I wrote some years ago called “Mankind in the Making.” In this I pointed out that “Life is a tissue of births”;
“and if the whole of life is an evolving succession of births, then not only must a man in his individual capacity (physically as parent, doctor, food dealer, food carrier, home builder, protector; or mentally as teacher, news dealer, author, preacher) contribute to births and growths and the fine future of mankind, but the collective aspects of man, his social and political organizations must also be, in the essence, organizations that more or less profitably and more or less intentionally set themselves towards this end. They are finally concerned with the birth, and with the sound development towards still better births, of human lives, just as every implement in the toolshed of a seedsman’s nursery, even the hoe and the roller, is concerned finally with the seeding and with the sound development towards still better seeding of plants. The private and personal motive of the seedsman in procuring and using these tools may be avarice, ambition, a religious belief in the saving efficacy of nursery keeping or a simple passion for bettering flowers, that does not affect the definite final purpose of his outfit of tools.
“And just as we might judge completely and criticize and improve that outfit from an attentive study of the welfare of plants, and with an entire disregard of his remoter motives, so we may judge all collective human enterprises from the standpoint of an attentive study of human births and development. ANY COLLECTIVE HUMAN ENTERPRISE, INSTITUTION, MOVEMENT, PARTY OR STATE, IS TO BE JUDGED AS A WHOLE AND COMPLETELY, AS IT CONDUCES MORE OR LESS TO WHOLESOME AND HOPEFUL BIRTHS, AND ACCORDING TO THE QUALITATIVE AND QUANTITATIVE ADVANCE DUE TO ITS INFLUENCE MADE BY EACH GENERATION OF CITIZENS BORN UNDER ITS INFLUENCE TOWARDS A HIGHER AND AMPLER STANDARD OF LIFE.”
And individual conduct, quite as much as collective affairs, comes under the same test. We are guides and school builders, helpers and influences every hour of our lives, and by that standard we can and must judge all our ways of living.
These two ideas, firstly the pupil-teacher parental idea and secondly the democratic idea (that is to say the idea of an equal ultimate significance), the second correcting any tendency in the first to pedagogic arrogance and tactful concealments, do I think give, when taken together, the general attitude a right-living man will take to his individual fellow creature. They play against each other, providing elements of contradiction and determining a balanced course. It seems to me to follow necessarily from my fundamental beliefs that the Believer will tend to be and want to be and seek to be friendly to, and interested in, all sorts of people, and truthful and helpful and hating concealment. To be that with any approach to perfection demands an intricate and difficult effort, introspection to the hilt of one’s power, a saving natural gift; one has to avoid pedantry, aggression, brutality, amiable tiresomeness — there are pitfalls on every side. The more one thinks about other people the more interesting and pleasing they are; I am all for kindly gossip and knowing things about them, and all against the silly and limiting hardness of soul that will not look into one’s fellows nor go out to them. The use and justification of most literature, of fiction, verse, history, biography, is that it lets us into understandings and the suggestion of human possibilities. The general purpose of intercourse is to get as close as one can to the realities of the people one meets, and to give oneself to them just so far as possible.
From that I think there arises naturally a newer etiquette that would set aside many of the rigidities of procedure that keep people apart to-day. There is a fading prejudice against asking personal questions, against talking about oneself or one’s immediate personal interests, against discussing religion and politics and any such keenly felt matter. No doubt it is necessary at times to protect oneself against clumsy and stupid familiarities, against noisy and inattentive egotists, against intriguers and liars, but only in the last resort do such breaches of patience seem justifiable to me; for the most part our traditions of speech and intercourse altogether overdo separations, the preservation of distances and protective devices in general.
So far I have ignored the immense importance of Sex in our lives and for the most part kept the discussion so generalized as to apply impartially to women and men. But now I have reached a point when this great boundary line between two halves of the world and the intense and intimate personal problems that play across it must be faced.
For not only must we bend our general activities and our intellectual life to the conception of a human synthesis, but out of our bodies and emotional possibilities we have to make the new world bodily and emotionally. To the test of that we have to bring all sorts of questions that agitate us to-day, the social and political equality and personal freedom of women, the differing code of honour for the sexes, the controls and limitations to set upon love and desire. If, for example, it is for the good of the species that a whole half of its individuals should be specialized and subordinated to the physical sexual life, as in certain phases of human development women have tended to be, then certainly we must do nothing to prevent that. We have set aside the conception of Justice as in any sense a countervailing idea to that of the synthetic process.
And it is well to remember that for the whole of sexual conduct there is quite conceivably no general simple rule. It is quite possible that, as Metchnikoff maintains in his extraordinarily illuminating “Nature of Man,” we are dealing with an irresolvable tangle of disharmonies. We have passions that do not insist upon their physiological end, desires that may be prematurely vivid in childhood, a fantastic curiosity, old needs of the ape but thinly overlaid by the acquisitions of the man, emotions that jar with physical impulses, inexplicable pains and diseases. And not only have we to remember that we are dealing with disharmonies that may at the very best be only patched together, but we are dealing with matters in which the element of idiosyncrasy is essential, insisting upon an incalculable flexibility in any rule we make, unless we are to take types and indeed whole classes of personality and write them down as absolutely bad and fit only for suppression and restraint. And on the mental side we are further perplexed by the extraordinary suggestibility of human beings. In sexual matters there seems to me — and I think I share a general ignorance here — to be no directing instinct at all, but only an instinct to do something generally sexual; there are almost equally powerful desires to do right and not to act under compulsion. The specific forms of conduct imposed upon these instincts and desires depend upon a vast confusion of suggestions, institutions, conventions, ways of putting things. We are dealing therefore with problems ineradicably complex, varying endlessly in their instances, and changing as we deal with them. I am inclined to think that the only really profitable discussion of sexual matters is in terms of individuality, through the novel, the lyric, the play, autobiography or biography of the frankest sort. But such generalizations as I can make I will.
To me it seems manifest that sexual matters may be discussed generally in at least three permissible and valid ways, of which the consideration of the world as a system of births and education is only the dominant chief. There is next the question of the physical health and beauty of the community and how far sexual rules and customs affect that, and thirdly the question of the mental and moral atmosphere in which sexual conventions and laws must necessarily be an important factor. It is alleged that probably in the case of men, and certainly in the case of women, some sexual intercourse is a necessary phase in existence; that without it there is an incompleteness, a failure in the life cycle, a real wilting and failure of energy and vitality and the development of morbid states. And for most of us half the friendships and intimacies from which we derive the daily interest and sustaining force in our lives, draw mysterious elements from sexual attraction, and depend and hesitate upon our conception of the liberties and limits we must give to that force.
The individual attitudes of men to women and of women to men are necessarily determined to a large extent by certain general ideas of relationship, by institutions and conventions. One of the most important and debatable of these is whether we are to consider and treat women as citizens and fellows, or as beings differing mentally from men and grouped in positions of at least material dependence to individual men. Our decision in that direction will affect all our conduct from the larger matters down to the smallest points of deportment; it will affect even our manner of address and determine whether when we speak to a woman we shall be as frank and unaffected as with a man or touched with a faint suggestion of the reserves of a cat which does not wish to be suspected of wanting to steal the milk.
Now so far as that goes it follows almost necessarily from my views upon aristocracy and democracy that I declare for the conventional equality of women, that is to say for the determination to make neither sex nor any sexual characteristic a standard of superiority or inferiority, for the view that a woman is a person as important and necessary, as much to be consulted, and entitled to as much freedom of action as a man. I admit that this decision is a choice into which temperament enters, that I cannot produce compelling reasons why anyone else should adopt my view. I can produce considerations in support of my view, that is all. But they are so implicit in all that has gone before that I will not trouble to detail them here.
The conception of equality and fellowship between men and women is an idea at least as old as Plato and one that has recurred wherever civilization has reached a phase in which men and women were sufficiently released from militant and economic urgency to talk and read and think. But it has never yet been, at least in the historical period and in any but isolated social groups, a working structural idea. The working structural idea is the Patriarchal Family in which the woman is inferior and submits herself and is subordinated to the man, the head of the family.
We live in a constantly changing development and modification of that tradition. It is well to bring that factor of constant change into mind at the outset of this discussion and to keep it there. To forget it, and it is commonly forgotten, is to falsify every issue. Marriage and the Family are perennially fluctuating institutions, and probably scarcely anything in modern life is changing so much; they are in their legal constitution or their moral and emotional quality profoundly different things from what they were a hundred years ago. A woman who marries nowadays marries, if one may put it quantitatively, far less than she did even half a century ago; the married woman’s property act, for example, has revolutionized the economic relationship; her husband has lost his right to assault her and he cannot even compel her to cohabit with him if she refuses to do so. Legal separations and divorces have come to modify the quality and logical consequences of the bond. The rights of parent over the child have been even more completely qualified. The State has come in as protector and educator of the children, taking over personal powers and responsibilities that have been essential to the family institution ever since the dawn of history. It inserts itself more and more between child and parent. It invades what were once the most sacred intimacies, and the Salvation Army is now promoting legislation to invade those overcrowded homes in which children (it is estimated to the number of thirty or forty thousand) are living as I write, daily witnesses of their mother’s prostitution or in constant danger of incestuous attack from drunken fathers and brothers. And finally as another indication of profound differences, births were almost universally accidental a hundred years ago; they are now in an increasing number of families controlled and deliberate acts of will. In every one of their relations do Marriage and the Family change and continue to change.
But the inherent defectiveness of the human mind which my metaphysical book sets itself to analyze, does lead it constantly to speak of Marriage and the Family as things as fixed and unalterable as, let us say, the characteristics of oxygen. One is asked, Do you believe in Marriage and the Family? as if it was a case of either having or not having some definite thing. Socialists are accused of being “against the Family,” as if it were not the case that Socialists, Individualists, high Anglicans and Roman Catholics are ALL against Marriage and the Family as these institutions exist at the present time. But once we have realized the absurdity of this absolute treatment, then it should become clear that with it goes most of the fabric of right and wrong, and nearly all those arbitrary standards by which we classify people into moral and immoral. Those last words are used when as a matter of fact we mean either conforming or failing to conform to changing laws and developing institutional customs we may or may not consider right or wrong. Their use imparts a flavour of essential wrong-doing and obliquity into acts and relations that may be in many cases no more than social indiscipline, which may be even conceivably a courageous act of defiance to an obsolescent limitation. Such, until a little while ago, was a man’s cohabitation with his deceased wife’s sister. This, which was scandalous yesterday, is now a legally honourable relationship, albeit I believe still regarded by the high Anglican as incestuous wickedness.
Now I will not deal here with the institutional changes that are involved in that general scheme of progress called Socialism. I have discussed the relation of Socialism to Marriage and the Family quite fully in my “New Worlds for Old” (“New Worlds for Old” (A. Constable and Co., 1908).) and to that I must refer the reader. Therein he will see how the economic freedom and independent citizenship of women, and indeed also the welfare of the whole next generation, hang on the idea of endowing motherhood, and he will find too how much of the nature of the marriage contract is outside the scope of Socialist proposals altogether.
Apart from the broad proposals of Socialism, as a matter of personal conviction quite outside the scope of Socialism altogether, I am persuaded of the need of much greater facilities of divorce than exist at present, divorce on the score of mutual consent, of faithlessness, of simple cruelty, of insanity, habitual vice or the prolonged imprisonment of either party. And this being so I find it impossible to condemn on any ground, except that it is “breaking ranks” and making a confusion, those who by anticipating such wide facilities as I propose have sinned by existing standards. How far and in what manner such breaking of ranks is to be condoned I will presently discuss. But it is clear it is an offence of a different nature from actions one believes to be in themselves and apart from the law reprehensible things.
But my scepticisms about the current legal institutions and customary code are not exhausted by these modifications I have suggested. I believe firmly in some sort of marriage, that is to say an open declaration of the existence of sexual relations between a man and a woman, because I am averse to all unnecessary secrecies and because the existence of these peculiarly intimate relationships affects everybody about the persons concerned. It is ridiculous to say as some do that sexual relations between two people affect no one but themselves unless a child is born. They do, because they tend to break down barriers and set up a peculiar emotional partnership. It is a partnership that kept secret may work as anti-socially as a secret business partnership or a secret preferential railway tariff. And I believe too in the general social desirability of the family group, the normal group of father, mother and children, and in the extreme efficacy in the normal human being of the blood link and pride link between parent and child in securing loving care and upbringing for the child. But this clear adhesion to Marriage and to the Family grouping about mother and father does not close the door to a large series of exceptional cases which our existing institutions and customs ignore or crush.
For example, monogamy in general seems to me to be clearly indicated (as doctors say) by the fact that there are not several women in the world for every man, but quite as clearly does it seem necessary to recognize that the fact that there are (or were in 1901) 21,436,107 females to 20,172,984 males in our British community seems to condemn our present rigorous insistence upon monogamy, unless feminine celibacy has its own delights. But, as I have said, it is now largely believed that the sexual life of a woman is more important to her than his sexual life to a man and less easily ignored.
It is true also on the former side that for the great majority of people one knows personally, any sort of household but a monogamous one conjures up painful and unpleasant visions. The ordinary civilized woman and the ordinary civilized man are alike obsessed with the idea of meeting and possessing one peculiar intimate person, one special exclusive lover who is their very own, and a third person of either sex cannot be associated with that couple without an intolerable sense of privacy and confidence and possession destroyed. It is difficult to imagine a second wife in a home who would not be and feel herself to be a rather excluded and inferior person. But that does not abolish the possibility that there are exceptional people somewhere capable of, to coin a phrase, triangular mutuality, and I do not see why we should either forbid or treat with bitterness or hostility a grouping we may consider so inadvisable or so unworkable as never to be adopted, if three people of their own free will desire it.
The peculiar defects of the human mind when they approach these questions of sex are reinforced by passions peculiar to the topic, and it is perhaps advisable to point out that to discuss these possibilities is not the same thing as to urge the married reader to take unto himself or herself a second partner or a series of additional partners. We are trained from the nursery to become secretive, muddle-headed and vehemently conclusive upon sexual matters, until at last the editors of magazines blush at the very phrase and long to put a petticoat over the page that bears it. Yet our rebellious natures insist on being interested by it. It seems to me that to judge these large questions from the personal point of view, to insist upon the whole world without exception living exactly in the manner that suits oneself or accords with one’s emotional imagination and the forms of delicacy in which one has been trained, is not the proper way to deal with them. I want as a sane social organizer to get just as many contented and law-abiding citizens as possible; I do not want to force people who would otherwise be useful citizens into rebellion, concealments and the dark and furtive ways of vice, because they may not love and marry as their temperaments command, and so I want to make the meshes of the law as wide as possible. But the common man will not understand this yet, and seeks to make the meshes just as small as his own private case demands.
Then marriage, to resume my main discussion, does not necessarily mean cohabitation. All women who desire children do not want to be entrusted with their upbringing. Some women are sexual and philoprogenitive without being sedulously maternal, and some are maternal without much or any sexual passion. There are men and women in the world now, great allies, fond and passionate lovers who do not live nor want to live constantly together. It is at least conceivable that there are women who, while desiring offspring, do not want to abandon great careers for the work of maternity, women again who would be happiest managing and rearing children in manless households that they might even share with other women friends, and men to correspond with these who do not wish to live in a household with wife and children. I submit, these temperaments exist and have a right to exist in their own way. But one must recognize that the possibility of these departures from the normal type of household opens up other possibilities. The polygamy that is degrading or absurd under one roof assumes a different appearance when one considers it from the point of view of people whose habits of life do not centre upon an isolated home.
All the relations I have glanced at above do as a matter of fact exist to-day, but shamefully and shabbily, tainted with what seems to me an unmerited and unnecessary ignominy. The punishment for bigamy seems to me insane in its severity, contrasted as it is with our leniency to the common seducer. Better ruin a score of women, says the law, than marry two. I do not see why in these matters there should not be much ampler freedom than there is, and this being so I can hardly be expected to condemn with any moral fervour or exclude from my society those who have seen fit to behave by what I believe may be the standards of A.D. 2000 instead of by the standards of 1850. These are offences, so far as they are offences, on an altogether different footing from murder, or exacting usury, or the sweating of children, or cruelty, or transmitting diseases, or unveracity, or commercial or intellectual or physical prostitution, or any such essentially grave anti-social deeds. We must distinguish between sins on the one hand and mere errors of judgment and differences of taste from ourselves. To draw up harsh laws, to practise exclusions against everyone who does not see fit to duplicate one’s own blameless home life, is to waste a number of courageous and exceptional persons in every generation, to drive many of them into a forced alliance with real crime and embittered rebellion against custom and the law.
But the reader must keep clear in his mind the distinction between conduct that is right or permissible in itself and conduct that becomes either inadvisable or mischievous and wrong because of the circumstances about it. There is no harm under ordinary conditions in asking a boy with a pleasant voice to sing a song in the night, but the case is altered altogether if you have reason to suppose that a Red Indian is lying in wait a hundred yards off, holding a loaded rifle and ready to fire at the voice. It is a valid objection to many actions that I do not think objectionable in themselves, that to do them will discharge a loaded prejudice into the heart of my friend — or even into my own. I belong to the world and my work, and I must not lightly throw my time, my power, my influence away. For a splendid thing any risk or any defiance may be justifiable, but is it a sufficiently splendid thing? So far as he possibly can a man must conform to common prejudices, prevalent customs and all laws, whatever his estimate of them may be. But he must at the same time to his utmost to change what he thinks to be wrong.
And I think that conformity must be honest conformity. There is no more anti-social act than secret breaches, and only some very urgent and exceptional occasion justifies even the unveracity of silence about the thing done. If your personal convictions bring you to a breach, let it be an open breach, let there be no misrepresentation of attitudes, no meanness, no deception of honourable friends. Of course an open breach need not be an ostentatious breach; to do what is right to yourself without fraud or concealment is one thing, to make a challenge and aggression quite another. Your friends may understand and sympathize and condone, but it does not lie upon you to force them to identify themselves with your act and situation. But better too much openness than too little. Squalid intrigue was the shadow of the old intolerably narrow order; it is a shadow we want to illuminate out of existence. Secrets will be contraband in the new time.
And if it chances to you to feel called upon to make a breach with the institution or custom or prejudice that is, remember that doing so is your own affair. You are going to take risks and specialize as an experiment. You must not expect other people about you to share the consequences of your dash forward. You must not drag in confidants and secondaries. You must fight your little battle in front on your own responsibility, unsupported — and take the consequences without repining.
So far as breaches of the prohibitions and laws of marriage go, to me it seems they are to be tolerated by us in others just in the measure that, within the limits set by discretion, they are frank and truthful and animated by spontaneous passion and pervaded by the quality of beauty. I hate the vulgar sexual intriguer, man or woman, and the smart and shallow atmosphere of unloving lust and vanity about the type as I hate few kinds of human life; I would as lief have a polecat in my home as this sort of person; and every sort of prostitute except the victim of utter necessity I despise, even though marriage be the fee. But honest lovers should be I think a charge and pleasure for us. We must judge each pair as we can.
One thing renders a sexual relationship incurably offensive to others and altogether wrong, and that is cruelty. But who can define cruelty? How far is the leaving of a third person to count as cruelty? There again I hesitate to judge. To love and not be loved is a fate for which it seems no one can be blamed; to lose love and to change one’s loving belongs to a subtle interplay beyond analysis or control, but to be deceived or mocked or deliberately robbed of love, that at any rate is an abominable wrong.
In all these matters I perceive a general rule is in itself a possible instrument of cruelty. I set down what I can in the way of general principles, but it all leaves off far short of the point of application. Every case among those we know I think we moderns must judge for ourselves. Where there is doubt, there I hold must be charity. And with regard to strangers, manifestly our duty is to avoid inquisitorial and uncharitable acts.
This is as true of financial and economic misconduct as of sexual misconduct, of ways of living that are socially harmful and of political faith. We are dealing with people in a maladjusted world to whom absolute right living is practically impossible, because there are no absolutely right institutions and no simple choice of good or evil, and we have to balance merits and defects in every case.
Some people are manifestly and essentially base and self-seeking and regardless of the happiness and welfare of their fellows, some in business affairs and politics as others in love. Some wrong-doers again are evidently so through heedlessness, through weakness, timidity or haste. We have to judge and deal with each sort upon no clear issue, but upon impressions they have given us of their spirit and purpose. We owe it to them and ourselves not to judge too rashly or too harshly, but for all that we are obliged to judge and take sides, to avoid the malignant and exclude them from further opportunity, to help and champion the cheated and the betrayed, to forgive and aid the repentant blunderer and by mercy to save the lesser sinner from desperate alliance with the greater. That is the broad rule, and it is as much as we have to go upon until the individual case comes before us.
It has been most convenient to discuss all that might be generalized about conduct first, to put in the common background, the vistas and atmosphere of the scene. But a man’s relations are of two orders, and these questions of rule and principle are over and about and round more vivid and immediate interests. A man is not simply a relationship between his individual self and the race, society, the world and God’s Purpose. Close about him are persons, friends and enemies and lovers and beloved people. He desires them, lusts after them, craves their affection, needs their presence, abhors them, hates and desires to limit and suppress them. This is for most of us the flesh and blood of life. We go through the noble scene of the world neither alone, nor alone with God, nor serving an undistinguishable multitude, but in a company of individualized people.
Here is a system of motives and passions, imperious and powerful, which follows no broad general rule and in which each man must needs be a light unto himself upon innumerable issues. I am satisfied that these personal urgencies are neither to be suppressed nor crudely nor ruthlessly subordinated to the general issues. Religious and moral teachers are apt to make this part of life either too detached or too insignificant. They teach it either as if it did not matter or as if it ought not to matter. Indeed our individual friends and enemies stand between us and hide or interpret for us all the larger things. Few of us can even worship alone. We must feel others, and those not strangers, kneeling beside us.
I have already spoken under the heading of Beliefs of the part that the idea of a Mediator has played and can play in the religious life. I have pointed out how the imagination of men has sought and found in certain personalities, historical or fictitious, a bridge between the blood-warm private life and the intolerable spaciousness of right and wrong. The world is full of such figures and their images, Christ and Mary and the Saints and all the lesser, dearer gods of heathendom. These things and the human passion for living leaders and heroes and leagues and brotherhoods all confess the mediatory role, the mediatory possibilities of personal love between the individual and the great synthesis of which he is a part and agent. The great synthesis may become incarnate in personal love, and personal love lead us directly to universal service.
I write “may” and temper that sentence to the quality of a possibility alone. This is only true for those who believe, for those who have faith, whose lives have been unified, who have found Salvation. For those whose lives are chaotic, personal loves must also be chaotic; this or that passion, malice, a jesting humour, some physical lust, gratified vanity, egotistical pride, will rule and limit the relationship and colour its ultimate futility. But the Believer uses personal love and sustains himself by personal love. It is his provender, the meat and drink of his campaign.
It is well perhaps to look a little into the factors that make up Love.
Love does not seem to me to be a simple elemental thing. It is, as I have already said, one of the vicious tendencies of the human mind to think that whatever can be given a simple name can be abstracted as a single something in a state of quintessential purity. I have pointed out that this is not true of Harmony or Beauty, and that these are synthetic things. You bring together this which is not beautiful and that which is not beautiful, and behold! Beauty! So also Love is, I think, a synthetic thing. One observes this and that, one is interested and stirred; suddenly the metal fuses, the dry bones live! One loves.
Almost every interest in one’s being may be a factor in the love synthesis. But apart from the overflowing of the parental instinct that makes all that is fine and delicate and young dear to us and to be cherished, there are two main factors that bring us into love with our fellows. There is first the emotional elements in our nature that arise out of the tribal necessity, out of a fellowship in battle and hunting, drinking and feasting, out of the needs and excitements and delights of those occupations; and there is next the intenser narrower desirings and gratitudes, satisfactions and expectations that come from sexual intercourse. Now both these factors originate in physical needs and consummate in material acts, and it is well to remember that this great growth of love in life roots there, and, it may be, dies when its roots are altogether cut away.
At its lowest, love is the mere sharing of, or rather the desire to share, pleasure and excitement, the excitements of conflict or lust or what not. I think that the desire to partake, the desire to merge one’s individual identity with another’s, remains a necessary element in all personal loves. It is a way out of ourselves, a breaking down of our individual separation, just as hate is an intensification of that. Personal love is the narrow and intense form of that breaking down, just as what I call Salvation is its widest, most extensive form. We cast aside our reserves, our secrecies, our defences; we open ourselves; touches that would be intolerable from common people become a mystery of delight, acts of self-abasement and self-sacrifice are charged with symbolical pleasure. We cannot tell which of us is me, which you. Our imprisoned egoism looks out through this window, forgets its walls, and is for those brief moments released and universal.
For most of us the strain of primordial sexual emotion in our loves is very strong. Many men can love only women, many women only men, and some can scarcely love at all without bodily desire. But the love of fellowship is a strong one also, and for many, love is most possible and easy when the thought of physical lovemaking has been banished. Then the lovers will pursue interests together, will work together or journey together. So we have the warm fellowships of men for men and women for women. But even then it may happen that men friends together will talk of women, and women friends of men. Nevertheless we have also the strong and altogether sexless glow of those who have fought well together, or drunk or jested together or hunted a common quarry.
Now it seems to me that the Believer must also be a Lover, that he will love as much as he can and as many people as he can, and in many moods and ways. As I have said already, many of those who have taught religion and morality in the past have been neglectful or unduly jealous of the intenser personal loves. They have been, to put it by a figure, urgent upon the road to the ocean. To that they would lead us, though we come to it shivering, fearful and unprepared, and they grudge it that we should strip and plunge into the wayside stream. But all streams, all rivers come from this ocean in the beginning, lead to it in the end.
It is the essential fact of love as I conceive it, that it breaks down the boundaries of self. That love is most perfect which does most completely merge its lovers. But no love is altogether perfect, and for most men and women love is no more than a partial and temporary lowering of the barriers that keep them apart. With many, the attraction of love seems always to fall short of what I hold to be its end, it draws people together in the most momentary of self-forgetfulnesses, and for the rest seems rather to enhance their egotisms and their difference. They are secret from one another even in their embraces. There is a sort of love that is egotistical lust almost regardless of its partner, a sort of love that is mere fleshless pride and vanity at a white heat. There is the love-making that springs from sheer boredom, like a man reading a story-book to fill an hour. These inferior loves seek to accomplish an agreeable act, or they seek the pursuit or glory of a living possession, they aim at gratification or excitement or conquest. True love seeks to be mutual and easy-minded, free of doubts, but these egotistical mockeries of love have always resentment in them and hatred in them and a watchful distrust. Jealousy is the measure of self-love in love.
True love is a synthetic thing, an outcome of life, it is not a universal thing. It is the individualized correlative of Salvation; like that it is a synthetic consequence of conflicts and confusions. Many people do not desire or need Salvation, they cannot understand it, much less achieve it; for them chaotic life suffices. So too, many never, save for some rare moment of illumination, desire or feel love. Its happy abandonment, its careless self-giving, these things are mere foolishness to them. But much has been said and sung of faith and love alike, and in their confused greed these things also they desire and parody. So they act worship and make a fine fuss of their devotions. And also they must have a few half-furtive, half-flaunting fallen love-triumphs prowling the secret backstreets of their lives, they know not why.
(In setting this down be it remembered I am doing my best to tell what is in me because I am trying to put my whole view of life before the reader without any vital omissions. These are difficult matters to explain because they have no clear outlines; one lets in a hard light suddenly upon things that have lurked in warm intimate shadows, dim inner things engendering motives. I am not only telling quasi-secret things but exploring them for myself. They are none the less real and important because they are elusive.)
True love I think is not simply felt but known. Just as Salvation as I conceive it demands a fine intelligence and mental activity, so love calls to brain and body alike and all one’s powers. There is always elaborate thinking and dreaming in love. Love will stir imaginations that have never stirred before.
Love may be, and is for the most part, one-sided. It is the going out from oneself that is love, and not the accident of its return. It is the expedition whether it fail or succeed.
But an expedition starves that comes to no port. Love always seeks mutuality and grows by the sense of responses, or we should love beautiful inanimate things more passionately than we do. Failing a full return, it makes the most of an inadequate return. Failing a sustained return it welcomes a temporary coincidence. Failing a return it finds support in accepted sacrifices. But it seeks a full return, and the fulness of life has come only to those who, loving, have met the lover.
I am trying to be as explicit as possible in thus writing about Love. But the substance in which one works here is emotion that evades definition, poetic flashes and figures of speech are truer than prosaic statements. Body and the most sublimated ecstasy pass into one another, exchange themselves and elude every net of words we cast.
I have put out two ideas of unification and self-devotion, extremes upon a scale one from another; one of these ideas is that devotion to the Purpose in things I have called Salvation; the other that devotion to some other most fitting and satisfying individual which is passionate love, the former extensive as the universe, the latter the intensest thing in life. These, it seems to me, are the boundary and the living capital of the empire of life we rule.
All empires need a comprehending boundary, but many have not one capital but many chief cities, and all have cities and towns and villages beyond the capital. It is an impoverished capital that has no dependent towns, and it is a poor love that will not overflow in affection and eager kindly curiosity and sympathy and the search for fresh mutuality. To love is to go living radiantly through the world. To love and be loved is to be fearless of experience and rich in the power to give.
Love is a thing to a large extent in its beginnings voluntary and controllable, and at last quite involuntary. It is so hedged about by obligations and consequences, real and artificial, that for the most part I think people are overmuch afraid of it. And also the tradition of sentiment that suggests its forms and guides it in the world about us, is far too strongly exclusive. It is not so much when love is glowing as when it is becoming habitual that it is jealous for itself and others. Lovers a little exhausting their mutual interest find a fillip in an alliance against the world. They bury their talent of understanding and sympathy to return it duly in a clean napkin. They narrow their interest in life lest the other lover should misunderstand their amplitude as disloyalty.
Our institutions and social customs seem all to assume a definiteness of preference, a singleness and a limitation of love, which is not psychologically justifiable. People do not, I think, fall naturally into agreement with these assumptions; they train themselves to agreement. They take refuge from experiences that seem to carry with them the risk at least of perplexing situations, in a theory of barred possibilities and locked doors. How far this shy and cultivated irresponsive lovelessness towards the world at large may not carry with it the possibility of compensating intensities, I do not know. Quite equally probable is a starvation of one’s emotional nature.
The same reasons that make me decide against mere wanton abstinences make me hostile to the common convention of emotional indifference to most of the charming and interesting people one encounters. In pleasing and being pleased, in the mutual interest, the mutual opening out of people to one another, is the key of the door to all sweet and mellow living.
For he who has faith, death, so far as it is his own death, ceases to possess any quality of terror. The experiment will be over, the rinsed beaker returned to its shelf, the crystals gone dissolving down the waste-pipe; the duster sweeps the bench. But the deaths of those we love are harder to understand or bear.
It happens that of those very intimate with me I have lost only one, and that came slowly and elaborately, a long gradual separation wrought by the accumulation of years and mental decay, but many close friends and many whom I have counted upon for sympathy and fellowship have passed out of my world. I miss such a one as Bob Stevenson, that luminous, extravagant talker, that eager fantastic mind. I miss him whenever I write. It is less pleasure now to write a story since he will never read it, much less give me a word of praise for it. And I miss York Powell’s friendly laughter and Henley’s exuberant welcome. They made a warmth that has gone, those men. I can understand why I, with my fumbling lucidities and explanations, have to finish up presently and go, expressing as I do the mood of a type and of a time; but not those radiant presences.
And the gap these men have left, these men with whom after all I only sat now and again, or wrote to in a cheerful mood or got a letter from at odd times, gives me some measure of the thing that happens, that may happen, when the mind that is always near one’s thoughts, the person who moves to one’s movement and lights nearly all the common flow of events about one with the reminder of fellowship and meaning — ceases.
Faith which feeds on personal love must at last prevail over it. If Faith has any virtue it must have it here when we find ourselves bereft and isolated, facing a world from which the light has fled leaving it bleak and strange. We live for experience and the race; these individual interludes are just helps to that; the warm inn in which we lovers met and refreshed was but a halt on a journey. When we have loved to the intensest point we have done our best with each other. To keep to that image of the inn, we must not sit overlong at our wine beside the fire. We must go on to new experiences and new adventures. Death comes to part us and turn us out and set us on the road again.
But the dead stay where we leave them.
I suppose that is the real good in death, that they do stay; that it makes them immortal for us. Living they were mortal. But now they can never spoil themselves or be spoilt by change again. They have finished — for us indeed just as much as themselves. There they sit for ever, rounded off and bright and done. Beside these clear and certain memories I have of my dead, my impressions of the living are vague provisional things.
And since they are gone out of the world and become immortal memories in me, I feel no need to think of them as in some disembodied and incomprehensible elsewhere, changed and yet not done. I want actual immortality for those I love as little as I desire it for myself.
Indeed I dislike the idea that those I have loved are immortal in any real sense; it conjures up dim uncomfortable drifting phantoms, that have no kindred with the flesh and blood I knew. I would as soon think of them trailing after the tides up and down the Channel outside my window. Bob Stevenson for me is a presence utterly concrete, slouching, eager, quick-eyed, intimate and profound, carelessly dressed (at Sandgate he commonly wore a little felt hat that belonged to his son) and himself, himself, indissoluble matter and spirit, down to the heels of his boots. I cannot conceive of his as any but a concrete immortality. If he lives, he lives as I knew him and clothed as I knew him and with his unalterable voice, in a heaven of daedal flowers or a hell of ineffectual flame; he lives, dreaming and talking and explaining, explaining it all very earnestly and preposterously, so I picture him, into the ear of the amused, incredulous, principal person in the place.
I have a real hatred for those dreary fools and knaves who would have me suppose that Henley, that crippled Titan, may conceivably be tapping at the underside of a mahogany table or scratching stifled incoherence into a locked slate! Henley tapping! — for the professional purposes of Sludge! If he found himself among the circumstances of a spiritualist seance he would, I know, instantly smash the table with that big fist of his. And as the splinters flew, surely York Powell, out of the dead past from which he shines on me, would laugh that hearty laugh of his back into the world again.
Henley is nowhere now except that, red-faced and jolly like an October sunset, he leans over a gate at Worthing after a long day of picnicking at Chanctonbury Ring, or sits at his Woking table praising and quoting “The Admiral Bashville,” or blue-shirted and wearing that hat that Nicholson has painted, is thrust and lugged, laughing and talking aside in his bath-chair, along the Worthing esplanade . . .
And Bob Stevenson walks for ever about a garden in Chiswick, talking in the dusk.
That parable of the talents I have made such free use of in this book has one significant defect. It gives but two cases, and three are possible. There was first the man who buried his talent, and of his condemnation we are assured. But those others all took their talents and used them courageously and came back with gain. Was that gain inevitable? Does courage always ensure us victory? because if that is so we can all be heroes and valour is the better part of discretion. Alas! the faith in such magic dies. What of the possible case of the man who took his two or three talents and invested them as best he could and was deceived or heedless and lost them, interest and principal together?
There is something harder to face than death, and that is the realization of failure and misdirected effort and wrong-doing. Faith is no Open Sesame to right-doing, much less is it the secret of success. The service of God on earth is no processional triumph. What if one does wrong so extremely as to condemn one’s life, to make oneself part of the refuse and not of the building? Or what if one is misjudged, or it may be too pitilessly judged, and one’s co-operation despised and the help one brought becomes a source of weakness? Or suppose that the fine scheme one made lies shattered or wrecked by one’s own act, or through some hidden blemish one’s offering is rejected and flung back and one is thrust out?
So in the end it may be you or I will find we have been anvil and not hammer in the Purpose of God.
Then indeed will come the time for Faith, for the last word of Faith, to say still steadfastly, disgraced or dying, defeated or discredited, that all is well:—
“This and not that was my appointed work, and this I had to be.”
So these broken confessions and statements of mood and attitude come to an end.
But at this end, since I have, I perceive, run a little into a pietistic strain, I must repeat again how provisional and personal I know all these things to be. I began by disavowing ultimates. My beliefs, my dogmas, my rules, they are made for my campaigning needs, like the knapsack and water-bottle of a Cockney soldier invading some stupendous mountain gorge. About him are fastnesses and splendours, torrents and cataracts, glaciers and untrodden snows. He comes tramping on heel-worn boots and ragged socks. Beauties and blue mysteries shine upon him and appeal to him, the enigma of beauty smiling the faint strange smile of Leonardo’s Mona Lisa. He sees a light on the grass like music; and the blossom on the trees against the sky brings him near weeping. Such things come to him, give themselves to him. I do not know why he should not in response fling his shabby gear aside and behave like a god; I only know that he does not do so. His grunt of appreciation is absurd, his speech goes like a crippled thing — and withal, and partly by virtue of the knapsack and water-bottle, he is conqueror of the valley. The valley is his for the taking.
There is a duality in life that I cannot express except by such images as this, a duality so that we are at once absurd and full of sublimity, and most absurd when we are most anxious to render the real splendours that pervade us. This duplicity in life seems to me at times ineradicable, at times like the confusing of something essentially simple, like the duplication when one looks through a doubly refracting medium. You think in this latter mood that you have only to turn the crystal of Iceland spar about in order to have the whole thing plain. But you never get it plain. I have been doing my halting utmost to get down sincerely and simply my vision of life and duty. I have permitted myself no defensive restraints; I have shamelessly written my starkest, and it is plain to me that a smile that is not mine plays over my most urgent passages. There is a rebellious rippling of the grotesque under our utmost tragedy and gravity. One’s martialled phrases grimace as one turns, and wink at the reader. None the less they signify. Do you note how in this that I have written, such a word as Believer will begin to wear a capital letter and give itself solemn ridiculous airs? It does not matter. It carries its message for all that necessary superficial absurdity.
Thought has made me shameless. It does not matter at last at all if one is a little harsh or indelicate or ridiculous if that also is in the mystery of things.
Behind everything I perceive the smile that makes all effort and discipline temporary, all the stress and pain of life endurable. In the last resort I do not care whether I am seated on a throne or drunk or dying in a gutter. I follow my leading. In the ultimate I know, though I cannot prove my knowledge in any way whatever, that everything is right and all things mine.
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