Post-Prandial Philosophy Part 5

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Meanwhile, I believe it is gradually becoming the fact that our girls, who till lately were so very ill-taught, are beginning to know more of what is really worth knowing than their public-school-bred brothers. For the public school still goes on with the system of teaching it has derived direct from the thirteenth century; while the girls’ schools, having started fair and fresh, are beginning to a.s.similate certain newer ideas belonging to the seventeenth and even the eighteenth. In time they may conceivably come down to the more elementary notions of the present generation. Less hampered by professions and examinations than the boys, the girls are beginning to know something now, not indeed of the universe in which they live, its laws and its properties, but of literature and history, and the princ.i.p.al facts about human development.

Yet all the time, the boys go on as ever with Musa, Musae, like so many parrots, and are turned out at last, in nine cases out of ten, with just enough smattering of Greek and Latin grammar to have acquired a life-long distaste for Horace and an inconquerable incapacity for understanding aeschylus. One year in Italy with their eyes open would be worth more than three at Oxford; and six months in the fields with a platyscopic lens would teach them strange things about the world around them that all the long terms at Harrow and Winchester have failed to discover to them. But that would involve some trouble to the teacher.

What a misfortune it is that we should thus be compelled to let our boys’ schooling interfere with their education!

XVI.

_THE POLITICAL PUPA._

I have picked up on the moor the chrysalis of a common English b.u.t.terfly. As I sit on the heather and turn it over attentively, while it wriggles in my hands, I can’t help thinking how closely it resembles the present condition of our British commonwealth. It is a plat.i.tude, indeed, to say that “this is an age of transition.” But it would be truer and more graphic perhaps to put it that this is an age in which England, and for the matter of that every other European country as well, is pa.s.sing through something like the chrysalis stage in its evolution.

But, first of all, do you clearly understand what a chrysalis is driving at? It means more than it seems; the change that goes on within that impa.s.sive case is a great deal more profound than most people imagine.

When the caterpillar is just ready to turn into a b.u.t.terfly it lies by for a while, full of internal commotion, and feels all its organs slowly melting one by one into a sort of indistinguishable protoplasmic pulp; chaos precedes the definite re-establishment of a fresh form of order.

Limbs and parts and nervous system all disappear for a time, and then gradually grow up again in new and altered types. The caterpillar, if it philosophised on its own state at all (which seems to be very little the habit of well-conducted caterpillars, as of well-conducted young ladies), might easily be excused for forming just at first the melancholy impression that a general dissolution was coming over it piecemeal. It must begin by feeling legs and eyes and nervous centres melt away by degrees into a common indistinguishable organic pulp, out of which the new organs only slowly form themselves in obedience to the law of some internal impulse. But when the process is all over, and–hi, presto!–the b.u.t.terfly emerges at last from the chrysalis condition, what does it find but that instead of having lost everything it has new and stronger legs in place of the old and feeble ones; it has nerves and brain more developed than before; it has wings for flight instead of mere creeping little feet to crawl with? What seemed like chaos was really nothing more than the necessary kneading up of all component parts into a plastic condition which precedes every fresh departure in evolution. The old must fade before the new can replace it.

Now I am not going to work this perhaps somewhat fanciful a.n.a.logy to death, or pretend it is anything more than a convenient metaphor. Still, taken as such, it is not without its luminosity. For a metaphor, by supplying us with a picturable representation, often enables us really to get at the hang of the thing a vast deal better than the most solemn argument. And I fancy communities sometimes pa.s.s through just such a chrysalis stage, when it seems to the timid and pessimistic in their midst as if every component element of the State (but especially the one in which they themselves and their friends are particularly interested) were rushing violently down a steep place to eternal perdition. Chaos appears to be swallowing up everything. “The natural relations of cla.s.ses” disappear. Faiths melt; churches dissolve; morals fade; bonds fail; a universal magma of emanc.i.p.ated opinion seems to take the place of old-established dogma. The squires and the parsons of the period–call them scribes or augurs–wring their hands in despair, and cry aloud that they don’t know what the world is coming to. But, after all, it is only the chrysalis stage of a new system. The old social order must grow disjointed and chaotic before the new social order can begin to evolve from it. The establishment of a plastic consistency in the ma.s.s is the condition precedent of the higher development.

Not, of course, that this consideration will ever afford one grain of comfort to the squires and the parsons of each successive epoch; for what _they_ want is not the reasonable betterment of the whole social organism, but the continuance of just this particular type of squiredom and parsonry. That is what they mean by “national welfare;” and any interference with it they criticise in all ages with the current equivalent for the familiar Tory formula that “the country is going to the devil.”

Sometimes these great social reconstructions of which I speak are forced upon communities by external factors interfering with their fixed internal order, as happened when the influx of northern barbarians broke up the decaying and rotten organism of the Roman Empire. Sometimes, again, they occur from internal causes, in an acute, and so to speak, inflammatory condition, as at the French Revolution. But sometimes, as in our own time and country, they are slowly brought about by organic development, so as really to resemble in all essential points the chrysalis type of evolution. Politically, socially, theologically, ethically, the old fixed beliefs seem at such periods to grow fluid or plastic. New feelings and habits and aspirations take their place. For a while a general chaos of conflicting opinions and nascent ideas is produced. The ma.s.s for the moment seems formless and lawless. Then new order supervenes, as the magma settles down and begins to crystallise; till at last, I’m afraid, the resulting social organism becomes for the most part just as rigid, just as definite, just as dogmatic, just as exacting, as the one it has superseded. The caterpillar has grown into a particular b.u.t.terfly.

Through just such a period of reconstruction Europe in general and Britain in particular are now in all likelihood beginning to pa.s.s. And they will come out at the other end translated and transfigured. Laws and faiths and morals will all of them have altered. There will be a new heaven and a new earth for the men and women of the new epoch. Strange that people should make such a fuss about a detail like Home Rule, when the foundations of society are all becoming fluid. Don’t flatter yourself for a moment that your particular little sect or your particular little dogma is going to survive the gentle cataclysm any more than my particular little sect or my particular little dogma. All alike are doomed to inevitable reconstruction. “We can’t put the Const.i.tution into the melting-pot,” said Mr. John Morley, if I recollect his words aright. But at the very moment when he said it, in my humble opinion, the Const.i.tution was already well into the melting-pot, and even beginning to simmer merrily. Federalism, or something extremely like it, may with great probability be the final outcome of that particular melting; though anything else is perhaps just as probable, and in any case the melting is general, not special. The one thing we can guess with tolerable certainty is that the melting-pot stage has begun to overtake us, socially, ethically, politically, ecclesiastically; and that what will emerge from the pot at the end of it must depend at last upon the relative strength of those unknown quant.i.ties–the various formative elements.

Being the most optimistic of pessimists, however, I will venture (after this disclaimer of prophecy) to prophesy one thing alone: ‘Twill be a b.u.t.terfly, not a grub, that comes out of our chrysalis.

Beyond that, I hold all prediction premature. We may guess and we may hope, but we can have no certainty. Save only the certainty that no element will outlive the revolution unchanged–not faiths, nor cla.s.ses, nor domestic relations, nor any other component factor of our complex civilisation. All are becoming plastic in the organic plasm; all are losing features in the common ma.s.s of the melting-pot. For that reason, I never trouble my head for a moment when people object to me that this, that, or the other petty point of detail in Bellamy’s Utopia or William Morris’s Utopia, or my own little private and particular Utopia, is impossible, or unrealisable, or wicked, or hateful. For these, after all, are mere Utopias; their details are the outcome of individual wishes; what will emerge must be, not a Utopia at all, either yours or mine, but a practical reality, full of shifts and compromises most unphilosophical and illogical–a practical reality distasteful in many ways to all us Utopia-mongers. “The Millennium by return of post” is no more realisable to-day than yesterday. The greatest of revolutions can only produce that unsatisfactory result, a new human organisation.

Yet, it is something, after all, to believe at least that the grub will emerge into a full-fledged b.u.t.terfly. Not, perhaps, quite as glossy in the wings as we could wish; but a b.u.t.terfly all the same, not a crawling caterpillar.

XVII.

_ON THE CASINO TERRACE._

I have always regarded Monte Carlo as an Influence for Good. It helps to keep so many young men off the Stock Exchange.

Let me guard against an obvious but unjust suspicion. These remarks are not uttered under the exhilarating effect of winning at the tables.

Quite the contrary. It is the Bank that has broken the Man to-day at Monte Carlo. They are rather due to the chastening and thought-compelling influence of persistent loss, not altogether unbalanced by a well-cooked lunch at perhaps the best restaurant in any town of Europe. I have lost my little pile. The eight five-franc pieces which I annually devote out of my scanty store to the tutelary G.o.d of roulette have been snapped up, one after another, in breathless haste, by the sphinx-like croupiers, impa.s.sive priests of that rapacious deity, and now I am sitting, cleaned out, by the edge of the terrace, on a brilliant, cloudless, February afternoon, looking across the zoned and belted bay towards the beautiful grey hills of Rocca-bruna and the gleaming white spit of Bordighera in the distance. ‘Tis a modest tribute, my poor little forty francs. Surely the veriest puritan, the oiliest Chadband of them all, will allow a humble scribbler, at so cheap a yearly rate, to purchase wisdom, not unmixed with tolerance, at the gilded shrine of Fors Fortuna!

For what a pother, after all, the unwise of this world are wont to make about one stranded gambling-house, in a remote corner of Liguria! If they were in earnest or sincere, how small a matter they would think it!

Of course, when I say so, hypocrisy holds up its hands in holy horror.

But that is the way with the purveyors of mint, c.u.min, and anise; they raise a mighty hubbub over some unimportant detail–in order to feel their consciences clear when business compels them to rob the widow and the orphan. In reality, though Monte Carlo is bad enough in its way–do I not pay it unwilling tribute myself twice a year out of the narrow resources of The Garret, Grub Street?–it is but a skin-deep surface symptom of a profound disease which attacks the heart and core in London and Paris. Compared with Panama, Argentines, British South Africans, and Liberators, Monte Carlo is a mole on the left ankle.

“The Devil’s advocate!” you say. Well, well, so be it. The fact is, the supposed moral objection to gambling as such is a purely commercial objection of a commercial nation; and the reason so much importance is attached to it in certain places is because at that particular vice men are likely to lose their money. It is largely a fetish, like the sinfulness of cards, of dice, of billiards. Moreover, the objection is only to the _kind_ of gambling. There is another kind, less open, at which you stand a better chance to win yourself, while other parties stand a better chance to lose; and that kind, which is played in great gambling-houses known as the Stock Exchange and the Bourse, is considered, morally speaking, as quite innocuous. Large fortunes are made at this other sort of gambling, which, of course, sanctifies and almost canonises it. Indeed, if you will note, you will find not only that the objection to gambling pure and simple is commonest in the most commercial countries, but also that even there it is commonest among the most commercial cla.s.ses. The landed aristocracy, the military, and the labouring men have no objection to betting; nor have the Neapolitan lazzaroni, the Chinese coolies. It is the respectable English counting-house that discourages the vice, especially among the clerks, who are likely to make the till or the cheque-book rectify the little failures of their flutter on the Derby.

Observe how artificial is the whole mild out-cry: how absolutely it partakes of the nature of d.a.m.ning the sins you have no mind to! Here, on the terrace where I sit, and where ladies in needlessly costly robes are promenading up and down to exhibit their superfluous wealth ostentatiously to one another, my ear is continuously a.s.sailed by the constant _ping, ping, ping_ of the pigeon-shooting, and my peace disturbed by the flapping death-agonies of those miserable victims. Yet how many times have you heard the tables at Monte Carlo denounced to once or never that you have heard a word said of the poor mangled pigeons? And why? Because n.o.body loses much money at pigeon-matches.

That is legitimate sport, about as good and as bad as pheasant or partridge shooting–no better, no worse, in spite of artificial distinctions; and n.o.body (except the pigeons) has any interest in denouncing it. Legend has it at Monte Carlo, indeed, that when the proprietors of the Casino wished to take measures “pour attirer les Anglais” they held counsel with the wise men whether it was best to establish and endow an English church or a pigeon-shooting tournament.

And the church was in a minority. Since then, I have heard more than one Anglican Bishop speak evil of the tables, but I have never heard one of them say a good word yet for the boxed and slaughtered pigeons.

Let me take a more striking because a less hackneyed case–one that still fewer people would think of. Everybody who visits Monte Carlo gets there, of course, by the P.L.M. If you know this coast at all you will know that P.L.M. is the curt and universal abbreviation for the Paris, Lyon, Mediterranee Railway Company–in all probability the most gigantic and wickedest monopoly on the face of this planet. Yet you never once heard a voice raised yet against the company as a company. Individual complaints get into the _Times_, of course, about the crowding of the _train de luxe_, the breach of faith as to places, and the discomforts of the journey; but never a glimmering conception seems to flit across the popular mind that here is a Colossal Wrong, compared to which Monte Carlo is but as a flea-bite to the Asiatic cholera. This chartered abuse connects the three biggest towns in France–Paris, Lyon, Ma.r.s.eilles–and is absolutely without compet.i.tors. It can do as it likes; and it does it, regardless–I say “regardless,” without qualification, because the P.L.M. regards n.o.body and nothing. Yet one hears of no righteous indignation, no uprising of the people in their angry thousands, no moral recognition of the monopoly as a Wicked Thing, to be fought tooth and nail, without quarter given. It probably causes a greater aggregate of human misery in a week than Monte Carlo in a century. Besides, the one is compulsory, the other optional. You needn’t risk a louis on the tables unless you choose, but, like it or lump it, if you’re bound for Nice or Cannes or Mentone, you must open your mouth and shut your eyes and see what P.L.M. will send you. Our own railways, indeed, are by no means free from blame at the hands of the Democracy: the South-Eastern has not earned the eternal grat.i.tude of its season-ticket holders; the children of the Great Western do not rise up and call it blessed.

(Except, indeed, in the most uncomplimentary sense of blessing.) But the P.L.M. goes much further than these; and I have always held that the one solid argument for eternal punishment consists in the improbability that its Board of Directors will be permitted to go scot-free for ever after all their iniquities.

I am not wholly joking. I mean the best part of it. Great monopolies that abuse their trust are far more dangerous enemies of public morals than an honest gambling-house at every corner. Monte Carlo as it stands is just a concentrated embodiment of all the evils of our anti-social system, and the tables are by far the least serious among them. It is an Influence for Good, because it mirrors our own world in all its naked, all its over-draped hideousness. There it rears its meretricious head, that gaudy Palace of Sin, appropriately decked in its Haussmanesque architecture and its coquettish gardens, attracting to itself all the idle, all the vicious, all the rich, all the unworthy, from every corner of Europe and America. But Monte Carlo didn’t make them; it only gathers to its bosom its own chosen children from the places where they are produced–from London, Paris, Brussels, New York, Berlin, St.

Petersburg. The vices of our organisation begot these over-rich folk, begot their diamond-decked women, and their clipped French poodles with gold bangles spanning their aristocratic legs. These are the sp.a.w.n of land-owning, of capitalism, of military domination, of High Finance, of all the social ills that flesh is heir to. I feel as I pace the terrace in the broad Mediterranean sunshine, that I am here in the midst of the very best society Europe affords. That is to say, the very worst. The dukes and the money-lenders, the Jay Goulds and the Reinachs. The idlest, the cruellest: the hereditary drones, the successful blood-suckers. But to find fault with them only for trying to win one another’s ill-gotten gold at a fair and open game of _trente-et-quarante_, with the odds against them, and then to say nothing about the way they came by it, is to make a needless fuss about a trifle of detail, while overlooking the weightiest moral problems of humanity.

Whoever allows red herrings like these to be trailed across the path of his moral consciousness, to the detriment of the scent which should lead him straight on to the lairs of gigantic evils, deserves little credit either for conscience or sagacity. My son, be wise. Strike at the root of the evil. Let Monte Carlo go, but keep a stern eye on London ground-rents.

XVIII.

_THE CELTIC FRINGE._

We Celts henceforth will rule the roost in Britain.

What is that you mutter? “A very inopportune moment to proclaim the fact.” Well, no, I don’t think so. And I’m sorry to hear you say it, for if there _is_ a quality on which I plume myself, it’s the delicate tact that makes me refrain from irritating the susceptibilities of the sensitive Saxon. See how polite I am to him! I call him sensitive. But, opportune or inopportune, Lord Salisbury says we are a Celtic fringe. I beg to retort, we are the British people.

“Conquered races,” say my friends. Well, grant it for a moment. But in civilised societies, conquerors have, sooner or later, to amalgamate with the conquered. And where the vanquished are more numerous, they absorb the victors instead of being absorbed by them. That is the Nemesis of conquest. Rome annexed Etruria; and Etruscan Maecenas, Etruscan Seja.n.u.s organised and consolidated the Roman Empire. Rome annexed Italy; and the _Jus Italic.u.m_ grew at last to be the full Roman franchise. Rome annexed the civilised world; and the provinces under Caesar blotted out the Senate. Britain is pa.s.sing now through the self-same stage. One inevitable result of the widening of the electorate has been the transfer of power from the Teutonic to the Celtic half of Britain. I repeat, we are no longer a Celtic fringe: at the polls, in Parliament, we are the British people. Lord Salisbury may fail to perceive that fact, or, as I hold more probable, may affect to ignore it. What will such tactics avail? The ostrich is not usually counted among men as a perfect model of political wisdom.

And _are_ we, after all, the conquered peoples? Meseems, I doubt it.

They say we Celts dearly love a paradox–which is perhaps only the sensible Saxon way of envisaging the fact that we catch at new truths somewhat quicker than other people. At any rate, ‘tis a pet little paradox of my own that we have never been conquered, and that to our unconquered state we owe in the main our Radicalism, our Socialism, our ingrained love of political freedom. We are tribal not feudal; we think the folk more important than his lordship. The Saxon of the south-east is the conquered man: he has felt on his neck for generations the heel of feudalism. He is slavish; he is sn.o.bbish; he dearly loves a lord. He shouts himself hoa.r.s.e for his Beaconsfield or his Salisbury. Till lately, in his rural avatar, he sang but one song–

“G.o.d bless the squire and his relations, And keep us in our proper stations.”

Trite, isn’t it? but so is the Saxon intelligence.

Seriously–for at times it is well to be serious–South-Eastern England, the England of the plains, has been conquered and enslaved in a dozen ages by each fresh invader. Before the dawn of history, Heaven knows what shadowy Belgae and Iceni enslaved it. But historical time will serve our purpose. The Roman enslaved it, but left Caledonia and Hibernia free, the Cambrian, the Silurian, the Cornishman half-subjugated. The Saxon and Anglian enslaved the east, but scarcely crossed over the watershed of the western ocean. The Dane, in turn, enslaved the Saxon in East Anglia and Yorkshire. The Norman ground all down to a common servitude between the upper and nether millstones of the feudal system–the king and the n.o.bleman. At the end of it all, Teutonic England was reduced to a patient condition of contented serfdom: it had accommodated itself to its environment: no wish was left in it for the a.s.sertion of its freedom. To this day, the south-east, save where leavened and permeated by Celtic influences, hugs its chains and loves them. It produces the strange portent of the Conservative working-man, who yearns to be led by Lord Randolph Churchill.

With the North and the West, things go wholly otherwise. Even Cornwall, the earliest Celtic kingdom to be absorbed, was rather absorbed than conquered. I won’t go into the history of the West Welsh of Somerset, Devon, and Cornwall at full length, because it would take ten pages to explain it; and I know that readers are too profoundly interested in the Shocking Murder in the Borough Road to devote half-an-hour to the origin and evolution of their own community. It must suffice to say that the Devonian and Cornubian Welsh coalesced with the West Saxon for resistance to their common enemy the Dane, and that the West Saxon kingdom was made supreme in Britain by the founder of the English monarchy–one Dunstan, a monk from the West Welsh Abbey of Glas…o…b..ry.

Wales proper, overrun piecemeal by Norman filibusterers, was roughly annexed by the Plantagenet kings; but it was only pacified under the Welsh Tudors, and was never at any time thoroughly feudalised.

Glendower’s rebellion, Richmond’s rebellion, the Wesleyan revolt, the Rebecca riots, the t.i.the war, are all continuous parts of the ceaseless reaction of gallant little Wales against Teutonic aggression. “An alien Church” still disturbs the Princ.i.p.ality. The Lake District and Ayrshire–Celtic c.u.mbria and Strathclyde–only accepted by degrees the supremacy of the Kings of England and Scotland. The brother of a Scotch King was Prince of c.u.mbria, as the elder son of an English King was Prince of Wales. Indeed, David of c.u.mbria, who became David I. of Scotland, was the real consolidator of the Scotch kingdom. c.u.mbria was no more conquered by the Saxon Lothians than Scotland was conquered by the accession of James I. or by the Act of Union. That means absorption, conciliation, a certain degree of tribal independence. For Ireland, we know that the “mere Irish” were never subjugated at all till the days of Henry VII.; that they had to be reconquered by Cromwell and by William of Orange; that they rebelled more or less throughout the eighteenth century; and that they have been thorns in the side of Tory England through the whole of the nineteenth. As for the Highlands, they held out against the Stuarts till England had rejected that impossible dynasty; and then they rallied round the Stuarts as the enemies of the Saxon.

General Wade’s roads and the forts in the Great Glen, aided by a few trifles of Glencoe ma.s.sacres, kept them quiet for a moment. But it was only for a moment. The North is once more in open revolt. Dr. Clark and the crofters are its mode of expressing itself.

Nor is that all. The Celtic ideas have remained unaltered. Of course, I am not silly enough to believe there is any such thing as a Celtic race.

I use the word merely as a convenient label for the league of the unconquered peoples in Britain. Ireland alone contains half-a-dozen races; and none of them appear to have anything in common with the Pict of Aberdeenshire or the West-Welsh of Cornwall. All I mean when I speak of Celtic ideas and Celtic ideals is the ideas and ideals proper and common to unconquered races. As compared with the feudalised and contented serf of South-Eastern England, are not the Irish peasant, the Scotch clansman, the “statesman” of the dales, the Cornish miner, free men every soul of them? English landlordism, imposed from without upon the crofter of Skye or the rack-rented tenant of a Connemara hillside, has never crushed out the native feeling of a right to the soil, the native resistance to an alien system. The south-east, I a.s.sert, has been brutalised into acquiescent serfdom by a long course of feudalism; the west and north still retain the instincts of freemen.

As long as South-Eastern England and the Normanised or feudalised Saxon lowlands of Scotland contained all the wealth, all the power, and most of the population of Britain, the Celtic ideals had no chance of realising themselves. But the industrial revolution of the present century has turned us right-about-face, has transferred the balance of power from the secondary strata to the primary strata in Britain; from the agricultural lowlands to the uplands of coal and iron, the cotton factories, the woollen trade. Great industrial cities have grown up in the Celtic or semi-Celtic area–Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Bradford, Sheffield, Belfast, Aberdeen, Cardiff. The Celt–that is to say, the mountaineer and the man of the untouched country–reproduces his kind much more rapidly than the Teuton. The Highlander and the Irishman swarm into Glasgow; the Irishman and the Welshman swarm into Liverpool; the west-countryman into Bristol; Celts of all types into London, Southampton, Newport, Birmingham, Sheffield. This eastward return-wave of Celts upon the Teuton has leavened the whole ma.s.s; if you look at the leaders of Radicalism in England you will find they bear, almost without exception, true Celtic surnames. Chartists and Socialists of the first generation were marshalled by men of Cymric descent, like Ernest Jones and Robert Owen, or by pure-blooded Irishmen like Fergus O’Connor. It is not a mere accident that the London Socialists of the present day should be led by Welshmen like William Morris, or by the eloquent brogue of Bernard Shaw’s audacious oratory. We Celts now lurk in every corner of Britain; we have permeated it with our ideas; we have inspired it with our aspirations; we have roused the Celtic remnant in the south-east itself to a sense of their wrongs; and we are marching to-day, all abreast, to the overthrow of feudalism. If Lord Salisbury thinks we are a Celtic fringe he is vastly mistaken. But he doesn’t really think so: ‘tis a piece of his ponderous Saxon humour. Talk of “Batavian grace,” indeed! Well, the Cecils came first from the fens of Lincolnshire.

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