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Title: A Sheaf

Date of first publication: 1916

Author: John Galsworthy (1867-1933)

Date first posted: Aug. 24, 2018

Date last updated: Aug. 24, 2018

Faded Page eBook #20180888

This ebook was produced by: Mardi Desjardins & the online Distributed Proofreaders Canada team at http://www.pgdpcanada.net














London: William Heinemann. 1916.









This volume is but a garnering of non-creative writings; mostly pleas of some sort or other—wild oats of a novelist, which he has been asked to bind up. He cannot say that he had any wanton pleasure in sowing any of them; and lest there be others of the same opinion as the anonymous gentleman who thus joyously addressed him last July: “But there—I suppose you are getting a bit out of it. Men of your calibre will do anything for filthy lucre—you old and cunning reptile!”—he mentions that he has not, personally, profited a penny by anything in this volume, and that the future proceeds therefrom will be given to St. Dunstan’s, and the National Institute for the Blind, London.

In these days of manifold human misery, many will be impatient reading some of the pleas written before the war; but the war will not last for ever, and in the peace that follows life will be rougher, the need for those pleas even more insistent than it was.

The writings have been pruned a little, and a few have not yet met the public eye.

To the many Editors of Journals and Reviews wherein the others have appeared—cordial thanks.

J. G.

August, 1916.












For Love of Beasts

(A Paper in the Pall Mall Gazette, 1912.)

§ 1.

We had left my rooms, and were walking briskly down the street towards the river, when my friend stopped before the window of a small shop and said:


I[1] looked at him very doubtfully; one had known him so long that one never looked at him in any other way.

“Can you imagine,” he went on, “how any sane person can find pleasure in the sight of those swift things swimming for ever and ever in a bowl about twice the length of their own tails?”

“No,” I said, “I cannot—though, of course, they’re very pretty.”

“That is, no doubt, the reason why they are kept in misery.”

Again I looked at him; there is nothing in the world I distrust so much as irony.

“People don’t think about these things,” I said.

“You are right,” he answered, “they do not. Let me give you some evidence of that. . . . I was travelling last spring in a far country, and made an expedition to a certain woodland spot. Outside the little forest inn I noticed a ring of people and dogs gathered round a gray animal rather larger than a cat. It had a sharp-nosed head too small for its body, and bright black eyes, and was moving restlessly round and round a pole to which it was tethered by a chain. If a dog came near, it hunched its bushy back and made a rush at him. Except for that it seemed a shy-souled, timid little thing. In fact, by its eyes, and the way it shrank into itself, you could tell it was scared of everything around. Now, there was a small, thin-faced man in a white jacket holding up a tub on end and explaining to the people that this was the little creature’s habitat, and that it wanted to get back underneath; and, sure enough, when he held the tub within its reach, the little animal stood up at once on its hind legs and pawed, evidently trying to get the tub to fall down and cover it. The people all laughed at this; the man laughed too, and the little creature went on pawing. At last the man said: ‘Mind your back-legs, Patsy!’ and let the tub fall. The show was over. But presently another lot came up; the white-coated man lifted the tub, and it began all over again.

“ ‘What is that animal?’ I asked him.

“ ‘A ’coon.’

“ ‘How old?’

“ ‘Three years—too old to tame.’

“ ‘Where did you catch it?’

“ ‘In the forest—lots of ’coons in the forest.’

“ ‘Do they live in the open, or in holes?’

“ ‘Up in the trees, sure; they only gits in the hollows when it rains.’

“ ‘Oh! they live in the open? Then isn’t it queer she should be so fond of her tub?’

“ ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘she do that to git away from people!’ and he laughed—a genial little man. ‘She not like people and dogs. She too old to tame. She know me, though.’

“ ‘I see,’ I said. ‘You take the tub off her, and show her to the people, and put it back again. Yes, she would know you!’

“ ‘Yes,’ he repeated, rather proudly, ‘she know me—Patsy, Patsy! Presently, you bet, we catch lot more, and make a cage, and put them in.’

“He was gazing very kindly at the little creature, who on her gray hind legs was anxiously begging for the tub to come down and hide her, and I said: ‘But isn’t it rather a miserable life for this poor little devil?’

“He gave me a very queer look. ‘There’s lots of people,’ he said—and his voice sounded as if I’d hurt him—‘never gits a chance to see a ’coon’—and he dropped the tub over the racoon. . . .

“Well! Can you conceive anything more pitiful than that poor little wild creature of the open, begging and begging for a tub to fall over it and shut out all the light and air? Doesn’t it show what misery caged things have to go through?”

“But, surely,” I said, “those other people would feel the same as you. The little white-coated man was only a servant.”

He seemed to run them over in his memory. “Not one!” he answered slowly. “Not a single one! I am sure it never even occurred to them—why should it? They were there to enjoy themselves.”

We walked in silence till I said:

“I can’t help feeling that your little white-coated man was acting good-heartedly according to his lights.”

“Quite! And after all what are the sufferings of a racoon compared with the enlargement of the human mind?”

“Don’t be extravagant! You know he didn’t mean to be cruel.”

“Does a man ever mean to be cruel? He merely makes or keeps his living; but to make or keep his living he will do anything that does not absolutely prick to his heart through the skin of his indolence or his obtuseness.”

“I think,” I said, “that you might have expressed that less cynically, even if it’s true.”

“Nothing that’s true is cynical, and nothing that is cynical is true. Indifference to the suffering of beasts always comes from over-absorption in our own comfort.”

“Absorption, not over-absorption, perhaps.”

“Ha! Let us see that! Very soon after seeing the racoon I was staying at the most celebrated health resort of that country, and, walking in its grounds, I came on an aviary. In the upper cages were canaries, and in the lower cage a splendid hawk. It was as large as our buzzard hawk, brown-backed and winged, light underneath, and with the finest dark-brown eyes of any bird I ever saw. The cage was quite ten feet each way—a noble allowance for the very soul of freedom! The bird had every luxury. There was water, and a large piece of raw meat that hadn’t been touched. Yet it was never still for a moment, flying from perch to perch, and dropping to the ground again and again so lightly, to run, literally run, up to the bars to see if perhaps—they were not there. Its face was as intelligent as any dog’s——”

My friend muttered something I couldn’t catch, and then went on:

“That afternoon I took the drive for which one visits that hotel, and it occurred to me to ask my chauffeur what kind of hawk it was. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘I ain’t just too sure what it is they’ve got caged up now; they changes ’em so often.’

“ ‘Do you mean,’ I said, ‘that they die in captivity?’

“ ‘Yes,’ he answered, ‘them big birds soon gits moulty and go off.’ Well, when I paid my bill I went up to the semblance of proprietor—it was one of those establishments where the only creature responsible is ‘Co.’—and I said:

“ ‘I see you keep a hawk out there?’

“ ‘Yes. Fine bird. Quite an attraction!’

“ ‘People like to look at it?’

“ ‘Just so. They’re uncommon—that sort.’

“ ‘Well,’ I said, ‘I call it cruel to keep a hawk shut up like that.’

“ ‘Cruel? Why? What’s a hawk, anyway—cruel devils enough!’

“ ‘My dear sir,’ I said, ‘they earn their living just like men, without caring for other creatures’ sufferings. You are not shut up, apparently, for doing that. Good-bye.’ ”

As he said this, my friend looked at me, and added:

“You think that was a lapse of taste. What would you have said to a man who cloaked the cruelty of his commercial instincts by blaming a hawk for being what Nature had made him?”

There was such feeling in his voice that I hesitated long before answering.

“Well,” I said, at last, “in England, anyway, we only keep such creatures in captivity for scientific purposes. I doubt if you could find a single instance nowadays of its being done just as a commercial attraction.”

He stared at me.

“Yes,” he said, “we do it publicly and scientifically, to enlarge the mind. But let me put to you this question. Which do you consider has the larger mind—the man who has satisfied his idle curiosity by staring at all the caged animals of the earth, or the man who has been brought up to feel that to keep such indomitable creatures as hawks and eagles, wolves and panthers, shut up, to gratify mere curiosity, is a dreadful thing?”

To that singular question I knew not what to answer. At last I said:

“I think you underrate the pleasure they give. We English are so awfully fond of animals!”

For “I” read “almost anyone.”—J. G.

§ 2.

We had entered Battersea Park by now, and since my remark about our love of beasts we had not spoken. A wood-pigeon which had been strutting before us just then flew up into a tree and began puffing out its breast. Seeking to break the silence, I said:

“Pigeons are so complacent.”

My friend smiled in his dubious way, and answered:

“Do you know the ‘blue rock’?”


“Ah! there you have a pigeon who has less complacency than any living thing. You see, it depends on circumstances. Suppose, for instance, that we happened to keep Our Selves—perhaps the most complacent class of human beings—in a large space enclosed by iron railings, feeding them up carefully, until their natural instincts caused them to run up and down at a considerable speed from side to side of the enclosure. And suppose when we noticed that they had attained the full speed and strength of their legs we took them out, holding them gingerly in order that they might not become exhausted by struggling, and placed them in little tin compartments so dark and stuffy that they would not care of their own accord to stay there, and then stood back about thirty paces with a shot gun and pressed a spring which let the tin compartment collapse. And then, as each one of Our Selves ran out, we let fly with the right barrel and peppered him in the tail, whereon, if he fell, we sent a dog out to fetch him in by the slack of his breeches, and after holding him idly for a minute by the neck we gave it a wring round; or, if he did not fall, we prayed Heaven at once and let fly with the left barrel. Do you think in these circumstances Our Selves would be complacent?”

“Don’t be absurd!” I said.

“Very well,” he replied, “I will come to ‘blue rocks’—do you still maintain that they are so complacent as to deserve their fate?”

“I don’t know—I know nothing about their fate.”

“What the eyes do not swallow, the heart does not throw up! There are other places, but—have you been to Monte Carlo?”

“No, and I should never think of going there.”

“Oh, well,” he answered, “it’s a great place; but there’s just one little thing about it, and that’s in the matter of those ‘blue rocks.’ You’ll agree, I suppose, that one can’t complain of people amusing themselves in any way they like so long as they hurt no one but themselves——”

I caught him up: “I don’t agree at all.”

He smiled: “Yours is perhaps the English point of view. Still——”

“It’s more important that they shouldn’t hurt themselves than that they shouldn’t hurt pigeons, if that’s what you’re driving at,” I said.

“There wouldn’t appear to you, I suppose, to be any connection in the matter?”

“I tell you,” I repeated, “I know nothing about pigeon-shooting!”

He stared very straight before him.

“Imagine,” he said, “a blue sea, and a half-circle of grass, with a low wall. Imagine on that grass five traps, from which lead paths—like the rays of a star—to the central point on the base of that half-circle. And imagine on that central point a gentleman with a double-barrelled gun, another man, and a retriever dog. And imagine one of those traps opening, and a little dazed gray bird (not a bit like that fellow you saw just now) emerge and fly perhaps six yards. And imagine the sound of the gun and the little bird dipping in its flight, but struggling on. And imagine the sound of the gun again and the little bird falling to the ground and wriggling on along it. And imagine the retriever dog run forward and pick it up and walk slowly back with it, still quivering, in his mouth. Or imagine, once in a way, the little bird drop dead as a stone at the first sound. Or imagine again that it winces at the shots, yet carries on over the boundary, to fall into the sea. Or—but this very seldom—imagine it wing up and out, unhurt, to the first freedom it has ever known. My friend, the joke is this: To the man who lets no little bird away to freedom comes much honour, and a nice round sum of money! Do you still think there is no connection?”

“Well,” I said, “it doesn’t sound too sportsman-like. And yet, I suppose, looking at it quite broadly, it does minister in a sort of way to the law of the survival of the fittest.”

“In which species—man or pigeon?”

“The sportsman is necessary to the expansion of Empire. Besides, you must remember that one does not expect high standards at Monte Carlo.”

He looked at me. “Do you never read any sporting paper?” he asked.


“Did you ever hunt the carted stag?”

“No, I never did.”

“Well, you’ve been coursing, anyway.”

“Certainly; but there’s no comparing that with pigeon-shooting.”

“In coursing I admit,” he said, “there’s pleasure to the dogs, and some chance for the hare, who, besides, is not in captivity. Also that where there is no coursing there are few hares, in these days. And yet——”; he seemed to fall into a reverie.

Then, looking at me in a queer, mournful sort of way, he said suddenly:

“I don’t wish to attack that sport, when there are so many much worse, but by way of showing you how liable all these things are to contribute to the improvement of our species I will tell you a little experience of my own. When I was at college I was in a rather sporting set; we hunted, and played at racing, and loved to be ‘au courant’ with all that sort of thing. One year it so happened that the uncle of one of us won the Waterloo Cup with a greyhound whose name was—never mind. We became at once ardent lovers of the sport of coursing, consumed by the desire to hold a Waterloo Cup Meeting in miniature, with rabbits for hares and our own terriers for greyhounds. Well, we held it; sixteen of us nominating our dogs. Now kindly note that of those sixteen eight at least were members of the aristocracy, and all had been at public schools of standing and repute. For the purposes of our meeting, of course, we required fifteen rabbits caught and kept in bags. These we ordered of a local blackguard, with a due margin over to provide against such of the rabbits as might die of fright before they were let out, or be too terrified to run after being loosed. We made the fellow whose uncle had won the Waterloo Cup judge, apportioned among ourselves the other officers, and assembled—the judge on horseback, in case a rabbit might happen to run, say, fifty yards. Assembled with us were many local cads, two fourth-rate bookies, our excited, yapping terriers, and twenty-four bagged rabbits. The course was cleared. Two of us advanced, holding our terriers by the loins; the judge signed that he was ready; the first rabbit was turned down. It crept out of the bag, and squatted, close to the ground, with its ears laid back. The local blackguard stirred it with his foot. It crept two yards, and squatted closer. All the terriers began shrieking their little souls out, all the cads began to yell, but the rabbit did not move—its heart, you see, was broken. At last the local blackguard took it up and wrung its neck. After that some rabbits ran, and some did not, till all were killed! The terrier of one of us was judged victor by him whose uncle had won the Waterloo Cup; and we went back to our colleges to drink everybody’s health. Now, my friend, mark! We were sixteen decent youths, converted by infection into sixteen rabbit-catching cads. Two of us are dead; but the rest of us—what do we think of it now? I tell you this little incident, to confirm you in your feeling that pigeon-shooting, coursing, and the like, tend to improve our species, even here in England.”

§ 3.

Before I could comment on my friend’s narrative we were spattered with mud by passing riders, and stopped to repair the damage to our coats.

“Jolly for my new coat!” I said. “Do you notice, by the way, that they are cutting men’s tails longer this spring? More becoming to a fellow, I think.”

He raised those quizzical eyebrows of his and murmured:

“And horses’ tails shorter. Did you see those that passed just now?”


“There were none!”

“Nonsense!” I said. “My dear fellow, you really are obsessed about beasts! They were just ordinary.”

“Quite—a few scrubby hairs, and a wriggle.”

“Now, please,” I said, “don’t begin to talk of the cruelty of docking horses’ tails, and tell me a story of an old horse in a pond.”

“No,” he answered, “for I should have to invent that. What I was going to say was this: Which do you think the greater fools in the matter of fashion—men or women?”

“Oh! Women.”


“There’s always some sense at the bottom of men’s fashions.”

“Even of docking tails?”

“You can’t compare it, anyway,” I said, “with such a fashion as the wearing of ‘aigrettes.’ That’s a cruel fashion if you like.”

“Ah! But you see,” he said, “the women who wear them are ignorant of its cruelty. If they were not, they would never wear them. No gentlewoman wears them, now that the facts have come out.”

“What is that you say?” I remarked.

He looked at me gravely.

“Do you mean to tell me,” he asked, “that any woman of gentle instincts, who knows that the ‘aigrette,’ as they call it, is a nuptial plume sported by the white egret only during the nesting season—and that, in order to obtain it, the mother-birds are shot, and that, after their death, practically all their young die from hunger and exposure—do you mean to tell me that any gentlewoman, knowing that, wears them? Why! most women are mothers themselves! What would they think of gods who shot women with babies in arms for the sake of obtaining their white skins or their crop of hair to wear on their heads, eh?”

“But, my dear fellow,” I said, “you see these plumes about all over the place!”

“Only on people who don’t mind wearing imitation stuff.”

I gaped at him.

“You need not look at me like that,” he said. “A woman goes into a shop. She knows that real ‘aigrettes’ mean killing mother-birds and starving all their nestlings. Therefore, if she’s a real gentlewoman she doesn’t ask for a real ‘aigrette.’ But still less does she ask to be supplied with an imitation article so good that people will take her for the wearer of the real thing. I put it to you, would she want to be known as an encourager of such a practice? You can never have seen a lady wearing an ‘aigrette.’ ”

“What!” I said. “What?”

“So much for the woman who knows about ‘aigrettes,’ ” he went on. “Now for the woman who doesn’t. Either, when she is told these facts about, ‘aigrettes’ she sets them down as ‘hysterical stuff,’ or she is simply too ‘out of it’ to know anything. Well, she goes in and asks for an ‘aigrette.’ Do you think they sell her the real thing—I mean, of course, in England—knowing that it involves the shooting of mother-birds at breeding time? I put it to you: Would they?”

His inability to grasp the real issues astonished me, and I said:

“You and I happen to have read the evidence about ‘aigrettes’ and the opinion of the House of Lords’ Committee that the feathers of egrets imported into Great Britain are obtained by killing the birds during the breeding season; but you don’t suppose, do you, that people whose commercial interests are bound up with the selling of ‘aigrettes’ are going to read it, or believe it if they do read it?”

“That,” he answered, “is cynical, if you like. I feel sure that, in England, people do not sell suspected articles about which there has been so much talk and inquiry as there has been about ‘aigrettes’ without examining in good faith into the facts of their origin. No, believe me, none of the ‘aigrettes’ sold in England can have grown on birds.”

“This is fantastic,” I said. “Why! if what you’re saying is true, then—then real ‘aigrettes’ are all artificial; but that—that would be cheating!”

“Oh, no!” he said. “You see, ‘aigrettes’ are in fashion. The word ‘real’ has therefore become parliamentary. People don’t want to be cruel, but they must have ‘real aigrettes.’ So, all these ‘aigrettes’ are ‘real,’ unless the customer has a qualm, and then they are ‘real imitation aigrettes.’ We are a highly-civilized people!”

“That is very clever,” I said, “but how about the statistics of real egret plumes imported into this country?”

He answered like a flash: “Oh, those, of course, are only brought here to be exported again at once to countries where they do not mind confessing to cruelty; yes, all exported, except—well, those that aren’t!”

“Oh!” I said: “I see! You have been speaking ironically all this time.”

“Have you grasped that?” he answered. “Capital!”

After that we walked in silence.

“The fact is,” I said, presently, “ordinary people, shopmen and customers alike, never bother their heads about such things at all.”

“Yes,” he replied sadly, “they take the line of least resistance. It is just that which gives Fashion its chance to make such fools of them.”

“You have yet to prove that it does make fools of them.”

“I thought I had; but no matter. Take horses’ tails—what’s left of them—do you defend that fashion?”

“Well,” I said, “I——”

“Would you if you were a horse?”

“If you mean that I am a donkey——?”

“Oh, no! Not at all!”

“It’s going too far,” I said, “to call docking cruel.”

“Personally,” he answered, “I don’t think it is going too far. It’s painful in itself, and Heaven alone knows what irritation horses have to suffer from flies through being tailless. I admit that it saves a little brushing, and that some people are under the delusion that it averts carriage accidents. But put cruelty and utility aside, and look at it from the point of view of fashion. Can anybody say it doesn’t spoil a horse’s looks?”

“You know perfectly well,” I said, “that many people think it smartens him up tremendously. They regard a certain kind of horse as nothing with a tail; just as some men are nothing with beards.”

“The parallel with man does not hold, my friend. We are not shaved—with or against our wills—by demi-gods!”

“Exactly! And isn’t that in itself an admission that we are superior to beasts, and have a right to some say in their appearance?”

“I will not,” he answered, “for one moment allow that men are superior to horses in point of looks. Take yourself, or any other personable man, and stand him up against a thoroughbred and ask your friends to come and look. How much of their admiration do you think you will get?”

It was not the sort of question I could answer.

“I am not speaking at random,” he went on; “I have seen the average lord walking beside the average winner of the Derby.” He cackled disagreeably.

“But it’s just on this point of looks that people defend docking,” I said. “They breed the horses, and have a right to their own taste. Many people dislike long swishy appendages.”

“And bull-terriers, or Yorkshires, or Great Danes, with natural ears; and fox-terriers and spaniels with uncut tails; and women with merely the middles so small as Nature gave them?”

“If you’re simply going to joke——”

“I never was more serious. The whole thing is of a piece, and summed up in the word ‘smart,’ which you used just now. That word, sir, is the guardian angel of all fashions, and if you don’t mind my saying so, fashions are the guardian angels of vulgarity. Now, a horse is not a vulgar animal, and I can never get away from the thought that to dock his tail must hurt his feelings of refinement.”

“Well, if that’s all, I dare say he’ll get over it.”

“But will the man who does it?”

“You must come with me to the Horse Show,” I said, “and look at the men who have to do with horses; then you’ll know if such a thing as docking the tails of these creatures can do them harm or not. And, by the way, you talk of refinement and vulgarity. What is your test? Where is the standard? It’s all a matter of taste.”

“You want me to define these things?” he asked.


“Very well! Do you believe in what we call the instincts of a gentleman?”

“Of course.”

“Such as—the instinct to be self-controlled; not to be rude or intolerant; not to ‘slop-over’; not to fuss, nor to cry out; to hold your head up, so that people refrain from taking liberties; to be ready to do things for others, to be chary of asking others to do things for you, and grateful when they do them?”

“Yes,” I said, “all these I believe in.”

“What central truth do you imagine that these instincts come from?”

“Well, they’re all such a matter of course—I don’t think I ever considered.”

“If by any chance,” he replied, “you ever do, you will find they come from an innate worship of balance, of the just mean; an inborn reverence for due proportion, a natural sense of harmony and rhythm, and a consequent mistrust of extravagance. What is a bounder? Just a man without sufficient sense of proportion to know that he is not so important in the scheme of things as he thinks he is!”

“You are right there!”

“Very well. Refinement is a quality of the individual who has—and conforms to—a true (not a conventional) sense of proportion; and vulgarity is either the natural conduct of people without that sense of proportion, or of people who imitate and reproduce the tricks of refinement wholesale, without any real feeling for proportion; or again, it is mere conscious departure from the sense of proportion for the sake of cutting a dash.”

“Ah!” I said; “and to which of these kinds of vulgarity is the fashion of docking horses’ tails a guardian angel?”

“Imagine,” he answered gravely, “that you dock your horse’s tail. You are either horribly deficient in feeling for a perfectly proportioned horse, or you imitate what you believe—goodness knows why—to be the refined custom of docking horses’ tails, without considering the question of proportion at all.”

“Yes,” I said; “but what makes so many people do it, if there isn’t something in it, either useful or ornamental?”

“Because people as a rule do not love proportion; they love the grotesque. You have only to look at their faces, which are very good indications of their souls.”

“You have begged the question,” I said. “Who are you to say that the perfect horse is not the horse——?”

“With the imperfect tail?”

“Imperfect? Again, you’re begging.”

“As Nature made it, then. Oh!” he went on with vehemence, “think of the luxury of having your own tail. Think of the cool swish of it. Think of the real beauty of it! Think of the sheer hideousness of all that great front balanced behind by a few scrub hairs and a wriggle! It became ‘smart’ to dock horses’ tails; and smart to wear ‘aigrettes.’ ‘Smart’—‘neat’—‘efficient’—for all except the horse and the poor egrets.”

“Your argument,” I said, “is practically nothing but æsthetics.”

He fixed his eyes upon my hat.

“Well,” he said slowly, “I admit that neither on horse nor on man would long tails go at all well with that bowler hat of yours. Odd how all of a piece taste is! From a man’s hat, or a horse’s tail, we can reconstruct the age we live in, like that scientist, you remember, who reconstructed a mastodon from its funny-bone.”

The thought went sharply through my head: Is his next tirade to be on mastodons? Till I remembered with relief that the animal was extinct, at all events in England.

§ 4.

With but little further talk we had nearly reached my rooms, when he said abruptly:

“A lark! Can’t you hear it? Over there, in that wretched little gold-fish shop again.”

But I could only hear the sounds of traffic.

“It’s your imagination,” I said. “It really is too lively on the subject of birds and beasts.”

“I tell you,” he persisted, “there’s a caged lark there. Very likely, half-a-dozen.”

“My dear fellow,” I said, “suppose there are! We could go and buy them and set them free, but it would only encourage the demand. Or we could assault the shopmen. Do you recommend that?”

“I don’t joke on this subject,” he answered shortly.

“But surely,” I said, “if we can’t do anything to help the poor things we had better keep our ears from hearing.”

“And our eyes shut? Suppose we all did that, what sort of world should we be living in?”

“Very much the same as now, I expect.”

“Blasphemy! Rank, hopeless blasphemy!”

“Please don’t exaggerate!”

“I am not. There is only one possible defence of that attitude, and it’s this: The world is—and was deliberately meant to be—divided into two halves: the half that suffers and the half that benefits by that suffering.”


“Is it so?”


“You acquiesce in that definition of the world’s nature? Very well, if you belong to the first half you are a poor-spirited creature, consciously acquiescing in your own misery. If to the second, you are a brute, consciously acquiescing in your own happiness, at the expense of others. Well, which are you?”

“I have not said that I belong to either.”

“There are only two halves to a whole. No, my friend, disabuse yourself once for all of that cheap and comfortable philosophy of shutting your eyes to what you think you can’t remedy, unless you are willing to be labelled ‘brute.’ ‘He who is not with me is against me,’ you know.”

“Well,” I said, “after that, perhaps you’ll be good enough to tell me what I can do by making myself miserable over things I can’t help?”

“I will,” he answered. “In the first place, kindly consider that you are not living in a private world of your own. Everything you say and do and think has its effect on everybody around you. For example, if you feel, and say loudly enough, that it is an infernal shame to keep larks and other wild song-birds in cages, you will infallibly infect a number of other people with that sentiment, and in course of time those people who feel as you do will become so numerous that larks, thrushes, blackbirds, and linnets will no longer be caught and kept in cages. Whereas, if you merely think: ‘Oh! this is dreadful, quite too dreadful, but, you see, I can do nothing; therefore consideration for myself and others demands that I shall stop my ears and hold my tongue,’ then, indeed, nothing will ever be done, and larks, blackbirds, etc., will continue to be caught and prisoned. How do you imagine it ever came about that bears and bulls and badgers are no longer baited; cocks no longer openly encouraged to tear each other in pieces; donkeys no longer beaten to a pulp? Only by people going about and shouting out that these things made them uncomfortable. How did it come about that more than half the population of this country are not still classed as ‘serfs’ under the law? Simply because a few of our ancestors were made unhappy by seeing their fellow-creatures owned and treated like dogs, and roundly said so—in fact, were not ashamed to be sentimental humanitarians like me.”

“That is all obvious. But my point is that there is moderation in all things, and a time for everything.”

“By your leave,” he said, “there is little moderation desirable when we are face to face with real suffering, and, as a general rule, no time like the present.”

“But there is, as you were saying just now, such a thing as a sense of proportion. I cannot see that it’s my business to excite myself about the caging of larks when there are so many much greater evils.”

“Forgive my saying so,” he answered, “but if, when a caged lark comes under your nose, excitement does not take hold of you, with or against your will, there is mighty little chance of your getting excited about anything. For, consider what it means to be a caged lark—what pining and misery for that little creature, which only lives for its life up in the blue. Consider what blasphemy against Nature, and what an insult to all that is high and poetic in man, it is to cage such an exquisite thing of freedom!”

“You forget that it is done out of love for the song—to bring it into towns where people can’t otherwise hear it.”

“It is done for a living—and that people without imagination may squeeze out of unhappy creatures a little gratification!”

“It is not a crime to have no imagination.”

“No, sir; but neither is the lack of it a thing to pride oneself on, or pass by in silence, when it inflicts suffering.”

“I am not defending the custom of caging larks.”

“No; but you are responsible for its continuance.”


“You! and all those other people who believe in minding their own business.”

“Really,” I said; “you must not attack people on that ground. We cannot all be busybodies!”

“The saints forbid!” he answered. “But when a thing exists which you really abhor—as you do this—I do wish you would consider a little whether, in letting it strictly alone, you are minding your own business on principle, or because it is so jolly comfortable to do so.”

“Speaking for myself——”

“Yes,” he broke in; “quite! But let me ask you one thing: Have you, as a member of the human race, any feeling that you share in the advancement of its gentleness, of its sense of beauty and justice—that, in proportion as the human race becomes more lovable and lovely, you too become more lovable and lovely?”


“Then is it not your business to support all that you feel makes for that advancing perfection?”

“I don’t say that it isn’t.”

“In that case it is not your business to stop your ears, and shut your eyes, and hold your tongue, when you come across wild song-birds caged.”

But we had reached my rooms.

“Before I go in,” I said, “there is just one little thing I’ve got to say to you: Don’t you think that, for a man with your ‘sense of proportion,’ you exaggerate the importance of beasts and their happiness?”

He looked at me for a long time without speaking, and when he did speak it was in a queer, abstracted voice:

“I have often thought over that,” he said, “and honestly I don’t believe I do. For I have observed that before men can be gentle and broad-minded with each other, they are always gentle and broad-minded about beasts. These dumb things, so beautiful—even the plain ones—in their different ways, and so touching in their dumbness, do draw us to magnanimity, and help the wings of our hearts to grow. No; I don’t think I exaggerate, my friend. Most surely I don’t want to; for there is no disservice one can do to all these helpless things so great as to ride past the hounds, to fly so far in front of public feeling as to cause nausea and reaction. But I feel that most of us, deep down, really love these furred and feathered creatures that cannot save themselves from us—that are like our own children, because they are helpless; that are in a way sacred, because in them we watch, and through them we understand, those greatest blessings of the earth—Beauty and Freedom. They give us so much, they ask nothing from us. What can we do in return but spare them all the suffering we can? No, my friend; I do not think—whether for their sakes or our own—that I exaggerate.”

When he had said those words he turned away, and left me standing there.


Reverie of a Sportsman

(From the Fortnightly Review, 1915.)

I set out one morning in late August, with some potted grouse sandwiches in one pocket and a magazine in the other, for a tramp toward Causdon. I had not been in that particular part of the moor since I used to go snipe-shooting there as a boy—my first introduction, by the way, to sport. It was a very lovely day, almost too hot; and I never saw the carpet of the moor more exquisite—heather, fern, the silvery white cotton grass, dark peat turves, and green bog-moss, all more than customarily clear in hue under a very blue sky. I walked till two o’clock, then sat down in a little scoop of valley by a thread of stream, which took its rise from an awkward-looking bog at the top. It was wonderfully quiet. A heron rose below me and flapped away; and while I was eating my potted grouse I heard the harsh cheep of a snipe, and caught sight of the twisting bird vanishing against the line of sky above the bog. “That must have been one of the bogs we used to shoot,” I thought; and having finished my snack of lunch, I rolled myself a cigarette, opened the magazine, and idly turned its pages. I had no serious intention of reading—the calm and silence were too seductive, but my attention became riveted by an exciting story of some man-eating lions, and I read on till I had followed the adventure to the death of the two ferocious brutes, and found my cigarette actually burning my fingers. Crushing it out against the dampish roots of the heather, I lay back with my eyes fixed on the sky, thinking of nothing.

Suddenly I became conscious that between me and that sky a leash of snipe high up were flighting and twisting and gradually coming lower; I appeared, indeed, to have a sort of attraction for them. They would dash toward each other, seem to exchange ideas, and rush away again, like flies that waltz together for hours in the centre of a room. As they came lower and lower over me I could almost swear I heard them whisper to each other with their long bills, and presently I absolutely caught what they were saying: “Look at him! The ferocious brute! Oh, look at him!”

Amazed at such an extraordinary violation of all the laws of Nature, I began to rub my ears, when I distinctly heard the “Go-back, go-back” of an old cock grouse, and, turning my head cautiously, saw him perched on a heathery knob within twenty yards of where I lay. Now, I knew very well that all efforts to introduce grouse on Dartmoor have been quite unsuccessful, since for some reason connected with the quality of the heather, the nature of the soil, or the over-mild dampness of the air, this king of game birds most unfortunately refuses to become domiciled there; so that I could hardly credit my senses. But suddenly I heard him also: “Look at him! Go back! The ferocious brute! Go back!” He seemed to be speaking to something just below; and there, sure enough, was the first hare I had ever seen out on the full of the moor. I have always thought a hare a jolly beast, and not infrequently felt sorry when I rolled one over; it has a way of crying like a child if not killed outright. I confess then that in hearing it, too, whisper: “Look at him! The ferocious brute! Oh, look at him!” I experienced the sensation that comes over one when one has not been quite fairly treated. Just at that moment, with a warm stirring of the air, there pitched within six yards of me a magnificent old black-cock—the very spit of that splendid fellow I shot last season at Balnagie, whose tail my wife now wears in her hat. He was accompanied by four gray-hens, who, settling in a semi-circle, began at once: “Look at him! Look at him! The ferocious brute! Oh, look at him!” At that moment I say with candour that I regretted the many times I have spared gray-hens with the sportsmanlike desire to encourage their breed.

For several bewildered minutes after that I could not turn my eyes without seeing some bird or other alight close by me: more and more grouse, and black game, pheasants, partridges—not only the excellent English bird, but the very sporting Hungarian variety—and that unsatisfactory red-legged Frenchman which runs any distance rather than get up and give you a decent shot at him. There were woodcock too, those twisting delights of the sportsman’s heart, whose tiny wing-feather trophies have always given me a distinct sensation of achievement when pinned in the side of my shooting-cap; wood-pigeons too, very shy and difficult, owing to the thickness of their breast-feathers—and, after all, only coming under the heading “sundry”; wild duck, with their snaky dark heads, that I have shot chiefly in Canada, lurking among rushes in twilight at flighting time—a delightful sport, exciting, as the darkness grows; excellent eating too, with red pepper and sliced oranges in oil! Certain other sundries kept coming also; landrails, a plump, delicious little bird; green and golden plover; even one of those queer little creatures, moorhens, that always amuse one by their quick, quiet movements, plaintive note, and quaint curiosity, though not really, of course, fit to shoot, with their niggling flight and fishy flavour! Ptarmigan, too, a bird I admire very much, but have only once or twice succeeded in bringing down, shy and scarce as it is in Scotland. And, side by side, the alpha and omega of the birds to be shot in these islands, a capercailzie and a quail. I well remember shooting the latter in a turnip-field in Lincolnshire—a scrap of a bird, the only one I ever saw in England. Apart from the pleasurable sensation at its rarity, I recollect feeling that it was almost a mercy to put the little thing out of its loneliness. It ate very well. There, too, was that loon or northern diver that I shot with a rifle off Denman Island as it swam about fifty yards from the shore. Handsome plumage; I still have the hat it made. One bird only seemed to refuse to alight, remaining up there in the sky, and uttering continually that trilling cry which makes it perhaps the most spiritual of all birds that can be eaten—I mean, of course, the curlew. I certainly never shot one. They fly, as a rule, very high and seem to have a more than natural distrust of the human being. This curlew—ah! and a blue rock (I have always despised pigeon-shooting)—were the only two winged creatures that one can shoot for sport in this country that did not come and sit round me.

There must have been, I should say, as many hundred altogether as I have killed in my time—a tremendous number. They sat in a sort of ring, moving their beaks from side to side, just as I have seen penguins doing on the films that explorers bring back from the Antarctic; and all the time repeating to each other those amazing words: “Look at him! The ferocious brute! Oh, look at him!”

Then, to my increased astonishment, I saw behind the circles of the birds a number of other animals besides the hare. At least five kinds of deer—the red, the fallow, the roe, the common deer, whose name I’ve forgotten, which one finds in Vancouver Island, and the South African springbok, that swarm in from the Karoo at certain seasons, among which I had that happy week once in Namaqualand, shooting them from horseback after a gallop to cut them off—very good eating as camp fare goes, and making nice rugs if you sew their skins together. There, too, was the hyena I missed, probably not altogether; but he got off, to my chagrin—queer-looking brute! Rabbits of course had come—hundreds and hundreds of them. If—like everybody else—I’ve done such a lot of it, I can’t honestly say I’ve ever cared much for shooting rabbits, though the effect is neat enough when you get them just right and they turn head over heels—and anyway, the prolific little brutes have to be kept down. There, too, actually was my wild ostrich—the one I galloped so hard after, letting off my Winchester at half a mile, only to see him vanish over the horizon. Next him was the bear whose lair I came across at the Nanaimo Lakes. How I did lurk about to get that fellow! And, by Jove! close to him, two cougars. I never got a shot at them, never even saw one of the brutes all the time I was camping in Vancouver Island, where they lie flat along the branches over your head, waiting to get a chance at deer, sheep, dog, pig, or anything handy. But they had come now sure enough, glaring at me with their greenish cats’ eyes—powerful-looking creatures! And next them sat a little meerkat—not much larger than a weasel—without its head! Ah yes!—that trial shot, as we trekked out from Rous’ farm, and I wanted to try the little new rifle I had borrowed. It was sitting over its hole fully seventy yards from the wagon, quite unconscious of danger. I just took aim and pulled; and there it was, without its head, fallen across its hole. I remember well how pleased our “boys” were. And I too! Not a bad little rifle, that!

Outside the ring of beasts I could see foxes moving, not mixing with the stationary creatures, as if afraid of suggesting that I had shot them, instead of being present at their deaths in the proper fashion. One, quite a cub, kept limping round on three legs—the one, no doubt, whose pad was given me, out cubbing, as a boy. I put that wretched pad in my hat-box, and forgot it, so that I was compelled to throw the whole stinking show away. There were quite a lot of grown foxes; it certainly showed delicacy on their part, not sitting down with the others. There was really a tremendous crowd of creatures altogether by this time! I should think every beast and bird I ever shot, or even had a chance of killing, must have been there, and all whispering: “Look at him! The ferocious brute! Oh, look at him!”

Animal lover, as every true sportsman is, those words hurt me. If there is one thing on which we sportsmen pride ourselves, and legitimately, it is a humane feeling toward all furred and feathered creatures—and, as every one knows, we are foremost in all efforts to diminish their unnecessary sufferings.

The corroboree about me which they were obviously holding became, as I grew used to their manner of talking, increasingly audible. But it was the quail’s words that I first distinguished.

“He certainly ate me,” he said; “said I was good, too!”

“I do not believe”—this was the first hare speaking—“that he shot me for that reason; he did shoot me, and I was jugged, but he wouldn’t touch me. And the same day he shot eleven brace of partridges, didn’t he?” Twenty-two partridges assented. “And he only ate two of you all told—that proves he didn’t want us for food.”

The hare’s words had given me relief, for I somehow disliked intensely the gluttonous notion conveyed by the quail that I shot merely in order to devour the result. Any one with the faintest instincts of a sportsman will bear me out in this.

When the hare had spoken there was a murmur all round. I could not at first make out its significance, till I heard one of the cougars say: “We kill only when we want to eat”; and the bear, who, I noticed, was a lady, added: “No bear kills anything she cannot devour”; and, quite clear, I caught the quacking words of a wild duck. “We eat every worm we catch, and we’d eat more if we could get them.”

Then again from the whole throng came that shivering whisper: “Look at him! The ferocious brute! Oh, look at him!”

In spite of their numbers, they seemed afraid of me, seemed actually to hold me in a kind of horror—me, an animal lover, and without a gun! I felt it bitterly. “How is it,” I thought, “that not one of them seems to have an inkling of what it means to be a sportsman, not one of them seems to comprehend the instinct which makes one love sport just for the—er—danger of it?” The hare spoke again.

“Foxes,” it murmured, “kill for the love of killing. Man is a kind of fox.” A violent dissent at once rose from the foxes, till one of them, who seemed the eldest, said: “We certainly kill as much as we can, but we should always carry it all off and eat it if man gave us time—the ferocious brutes!” You cannot expect much of foxes, but it struck me as especially foxy that he should put the wanton character of his destructiveness off on man, especially when he must have known how carefully we preserve the fox, in the best interests of sport. A pheasant ejaculated shrilly: “He killed sixty of us one day to his own gun, and went off that same evening without eating even a wing!” And again came that shivering whisper: “Look at him! The ferocious brute! Oh, look at him!” It was too absurd! As if they could not realize that a sportsman shoots almost entirely for the mouths of others! But I checked myself, remembering that altruism is a purely human attribute. “They get a big price for us!” said a woodcock, “especially if they shoot us early. I fetched several shillings.” Really, the ignorance of these birds! As if modern sportsmen knew anything of what happens after a day’s shooting! All that is left to the butler and the keeper. Beaters, of course, and cartridges must be paid for, to say nothing of the sin of waste. “I would not think them so much worse than foxes,” said a rabbit, “if they didn’t often hurt you, so that you take hours dying. I was seven hours dying in great agony, and one of my brothers was twelve. Weren’t you, brother?” A second rabbit nodded. “But perhaps that’s better than trapping,” he said. “Remember mother!” “Ah!” a partridge muttered, “foxes at all events do bite your head off clean. But men often break your wing, or your leg, and leave you!” And again that shivering whisper rose: “Look at him! The ferocious brute! Oh, look at him!”

By this time the whole thing was so getting on my nerves that if I could have risen I should have rushed at them, but a weight as of lead seemed to bind me to the ground, and all I could do was to thank God that they did not seem to know of my condition, for, though there were no man-eaters among them, I could not tell what they might do if they realized that I was helpless—the sentiments of chivalry and generosity being confined to man, as we all know.

“Yes,” said the capercailzie slowly, “I am a shy bird, and was often shot at before this one got me; and though I’m strong, my size is so against me that I always took a pellet or two away with me; and what can you do then? Those ferocious brutes take the shot out of their faces and hands when they shoot each other by mistake—I’ve seen ’em; but we have no chance to do that.” A snipe said shrilly: “What I object to is that he doesn’t eat us till he’s had too much already. I come in on toast at the fifth course; it hurts one’s feelings.”

“Ferocious brute, killing everything he sees.”

I felt my blood fairly boil, and longed to cry out: “You beasts! You know that we don’t kill everything we see! We leave that to cockneys, and foreigners.” But just as I had no power of movement, so I seemed to have no power of speech. And suddenly a little voice, high up over me, piped down: “They never shoot us larks.” I have always loved the lark; how grateful I felt to that little creature—till it added: “They do worse; they take and shut us up in little traps of wire till we pine away! Ferocious brutes!” In all my life I think I never was more disappointed! The second cougar spoke: “He once passed within spring of me. What do you say, friends; shall we go for him?” The shivering answer came from all: “Go for him! Ferocious brute! Oh, go for him!” And I heard the sound of hundreds of soft wings and pads ruffling and shuffling. And, knowing that I had no power to move an inch, I shut my eyes. Lying there motionless, as a beetle that shams dead, I felt them creeping, creeping, till all round me and over me was the sound of nostrils sniffing; and every second I expected to feel the nip of teeth and beaks in the fleshy parts of me. But nothing came, and with an effort I reopened my eyes. There they were, hideously close, with an expression on their faces that I could not read; a sort of wry look, every nose and beak turned a little to one side. And suddenly I heard the old fox saying: “It’s impossible, with a smell like that; we could never eat him!” From every one of them came a sort of sniff or sneeze as of disgust, and as they began to back away I distinctly heard the hyena mutter: “He’s not wholesome—not wholesome—the ferocious brute!”

The relief of that moment was swamped by my natural indignation that these impudent birds and beasts should presume to think that I, a British sportsman, would not be good to eat. Then that beastly hyena added: “If we killed him, you know, and buried him for a few days, he might be tolerable.”

An old cock grouse called out at once: “Go back! Let us hang him! We are always well hung. They like us a little decayed—ferocious brutes! Go back!” And once more I felt, from the stir and shuffle, that my fate hung in the balance; and I shut my eyes again, lest they might be tempted to begin on them. Then, to my infinite relief, I heard the cougar—have we not always been told that they were the friends of man?—mutter: “Pah! It’s clear we could never eat him fresh, and what we do not eat at once we do not touch!”

All the birds cried out in chorus: “No! That would be crow’s work.” And again I felt that I was saved. Then, to my horror, that infernal loon shrieked: “Kill him and have him stuffed—specimen of Ferocious Brute! Or fix his skin on a tree, and look at it—as he did with me!”

For a full minute I could feel the currents of opinion swaying over me, at this infamous proposal; then the old black cock, the one whose tail is in my wife’s hat, said sharply: “Specimen! He’s not good enough!” And once more, for all my indignation at that gratuitous insult, I breathed freely.

“Come!” said the lady bear quietly: “Let us dribble on him a little, and go. The ferocious brute is not worth more!” And, during what seemed to me an eternity, one by one they came up, deposited on me a little saliva, looking into my eyes the while with a sort of horror and contempt, then vanished on the moor. The last to come up was the little meerkat without its head. It stood there; it could neither look at me nor drop saliva, but somehow it contrived to say: “I forgive you, ferocious brute; but I was very happy!” Then it, too, withdrew. And from all around, out of invisible presences in the air and the heather, came once more the shivering whisper: “Look at him! The ferocious brute! Oh, look at him!”

I sat up. There was a trilling sound in my ears. Above me in the blue a curlew was passing, uttering its cry. Ah! Thank Heaven!—I had been asleep! My day-dream had been caused by the potted grouse, and the pressure of the Review, which had lain, face downwards, on my chest, open at the page where I had been reading about the man-eating lions, and the death of those ferocious brutes. It shows what tricks of disproportion little things will play with the mind when it is not under reasonable control.

And, to get the unwholesome taste of it all out of my mouth, I at once jumped up and started for home at a round pace.


The Slaughter of Animals for Food

(Papers in the Daily Mail, 1912.)[2]

The thing is horrible, but it is necessary. Why then drag it out into the light? Why make our thoughts miserable with contemplation of horrors which must exist?

If it were true that the present methods of slaughtering animals for food in this country were necessary, if all the suffering they involve was inevitable, I should be the first to say: “Let us shut our eyes!” For, needless suffering—even to ourselves—is stupid. It is just because this particular suffering is avoidable, and easily avoidable, that one feels we must face the matter if we want to call ourselves a decent people.

I am a meat-eater—we are nearly all meat-eaters. Well! We cannot sit down at present to a single meal without complicity in methods that produce a large amount of preventable suffering to creatures for whom the least sensitive among us has at heart a certain friendly feeling. For, to those who say that they do not care for animals, or that animals, even domestic ones, have no rights except such as for our own advantage we accord them, let me at once reply: I do not agree, but for the sake of argument, granted; and then conceive, if you can, a world without cattle, sheep, and pigs, and tell me honestly whether you do not miss something friendly. No! the fact is, we, who are the descendants of countless generations to whom these animals have been literally the breath of life, cannot—even now that we have become such highly civilized townsmen—disclaim all sensibility in their regard.

Consider the magnitude of this matter. The calculations of an expert give the following approximate numbers of animals annually killed for food in England and Wales: 1,850,000 beasts, 8,500,000 sheep, and 3,200,000 pigs. These figures are hard to come at, and may be a million or so out, one way or the other, but even if they be, is there any feature of the national life which can touch this for possibilities of preventable physical suffering? And is there any department so neglected by public opinion and the law?

Save the eating of bread, have we any practice in our lives so consistent as that of eating meat, or any from which we, perhaps wrongly, consider that we derive more benefit, or any about whose conditions, sanitary or humane, we are so careless?

If a donkey is beaten to death, a dog stoned, or a cat killed with a riding-whip, the chances are that a prosecution will ensue or a question be asked in Parliament; for public opinion and the law lay it down that the infliction of unnecessary suffering on animals is an offence punishable by fine or imprisonment. But if in slaughter-houses some 8,000,000 sheep are killed yearly, without first being stunned, by a method which, even in the hands of an expert, produces some seconds of acute suffering (Report of the Admiralty Committee on Humane Slaughtering of Animals, 1904); if thousands of cattle require two or more blows of that primitive instrument, the pole-axe (if even only one in a hundred cattle requires a second blow it means 18,000 in a year); if pigs are driven in gangs into a small space and there killed, one by one, with the others squealing in terror round their dead bodies; if all this preventable suffering is inflicted daily in our slaughterhouses, what does public opinion know of it, and what does the law care?

There was a time in this country when men beat their donkeys, set cocks fighting, baited bears and badgers, tied tin pots to dogs’ tails, with the lightest of light hearts and no consciousness at all that they were outside the pale of decency in doing so. We, their descendants, now look on the unnecessary suffering involved in such doings with aversion; but we still allow our sheep and pigs to be killed without stunning, our pigs to be driven in gangs into the slaughtering chamber, and the uncertain pole-axe to be used for cattle—all without a qualm.

Why should this enormous field, wherein does occur such an amount of easily preventable suffering, be left so unpatrolled by the law, which has interested itself in warding off all needless suffering from cats and dogs and horses? Well! The law stands idle partly because the animals we kill for food are not so near and dear to us as those others. We should never stand the horses and dogs and cats we make such pets of being killed when their time comes in the manner in which we kill our sheep and pigs. And partly the law stands idle because in the case of horses and dogs and cats there is no large leagued interest, such as that of the meat trades, unconvinced of the need for improvement.

I am told that the meat trades constitute the strongest body in the kingdom. And well they may, considering the vast proportions of their business. The meat trades are controlled by men like ourselves—as humane, and undesirous of inflicting unnecessary suffering. Surely they will reconsider their convictions and accept such simple, elementary safeguards against unnecessary suffering as were outlined by the Admiralty Committee on Humane Slaughtering, of 1904. There is nothing really prejudicial to their interest in these suggestions. Nothing extravagant, or experimental. The case has been proved up to the hilt. What is the good of appointing a governmental committee of first-rate men[3] to examine into facts if their Report is to be paid about as much attention to as one would pay to the suggestions of seven lunatics? Why set going a laborious inquiry, for negligible or puny results? It can no longer be pretended that humane-killers are not effective, in the face of so much evidence from abroad; in the face of numerous testimonials from butchers in this country; in the face of the fact that Mr. Christopher Cash (for whose consistent advocacy of humane slaughtering the thanks of us all are due) in the year 1910 had 4,000 animals, the property of thirty butchers, killed by “humane” methods, and though he was in every case willing to pay full compensation for any injury he might do to a carcase, had not one single claim made on him. (From a pamphlet entitled “The Humane Slaughtering of Animals for Food,” by Christopher Cash. Issued by the R.S.P.C.A.).

Butchers and slaughtermen perform a necessary task from which most of us would shrink, and it is both unbecoming and nonsensical to suggest intentional cruelty on their part. I do not for a moment. But I do say that it is the business of the law so to control the methods of slaughter as to obviate to the utmost all needless suffering, however unintentionally it may be inflicted.

In the following brief summary of our want of system I am not dealing at all with the Jewish method of killing, for not being a Jew, I cannot pretend to be qualified to discuss a custom which appears to have been necessary hitherto to the peace of the Jewish mind. I only urge a people in some respects more humane than ourselves to search their consciences, and see if they can still endure this method. Neither am I speaking as to Scotland, which is ahead of us, having provided by the Burgh Police Act, of 1892, that where there are public there shall be no private slaughter-houses; and where—at all events in Edinburgh—they have abattoirs that compare, I am told, with the best on the Continent.

The following is a rough outline of what at present seems good to a nation which prides itself on being at once the most practical and the most humane in the whole world: —

A mixed system of private and public slaughter-houses—thousands of private slaughter-houses (some of them highly insanitary) alongside of a few municipally controlled abattoirs.

No regulation that where there are public abattoirs there shall be no private ones; hence great difficulty in making these public slaughterhouses pay their way.

Inspection of private slaughter-houses, in spite of all the good intentions of local authorities and medical officers, admitted to be very inefficient in so far as condition of meat and method of slaughter are concerned.

Supervision of public slaughter-houses much hampered by the present widespread custom of allowing butchers to send in their beasts with their own slaughtermen.

No general statutory regulations as to method of slaughter. Model by-laws have been drawn up by the Local Government Board and recommended to local authorities—but they are not compulsory and have been as yet but sparsely adopted.

Slaughtermen not licensed; nor—except in slaughterhouses directly controlled by a Government Department (such as the Admiralty)—required by law to be proficient before they commence slaughtering.

These are the methods of slaughter we adopt at present: —

Cattle are almost universally stunned before their throats are cut. So far—good! But they are still, for the most part, stunned with the pole-axe. This weapon produces complete unconsciousness at the first blow, if well wielded. If not well wielded——! I have been assured that the cases of misfire amount to a very small percentage. But I can only say, on the first two beasts slaughtered before my eyes the first blow of the pole-axe—wielded in each case by an experienced slaughterman—descended without effect. The animals moaned, and waited for the second and successful blow. Thanks to the efforts of the Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Council of Justice to Animals, the Humanitarian League, of Mr. Christopher Cash, and others, there are now a considerable number of improved instruments for stunning cattle in use—the Greener and Behr pistols; the Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals humane-killer and large captive-bolt pistol; the Swedish Cattle-killer (used throughout Scandinavia), and others. But the number of these improved instruments in use at present is only a fringe to the mass of time-hallowed and uncertain pole-axes.

Calves.—“The usual practice in this country appears to be to run the animal up first (by a tackle fastened to its hind legs) and then to stun it, previous to bleeding.” (Report of the Admiralty Committee.) On this method the Committee thus commented: “This order of procedure is not so humane, and appears to be unnecessary.” . . . “Calves should first be stunned by a blow on the head with a club”—i.e., before being run up. When this Committee conducted its investigation in 1904, the best humane-killers had not been invented, or were not known here.

Sheep, with few exceptions, are not stunned before they are bled. The method of killing them and the amount of suffering they undergo are thus summed up in the Report of the Admiralty Committee:

“The usual method in this country is to lay the sheep on a wooden ‘crutch’ and then to thrust a knife through the neck below the ears, and with a second motion to insert the point from within between the joints of the vertebrae, thus severing the spinal cord. In the hands of an expert this method is fairly rapid but somewhat uncertain, the time which elapses between the first thrust of the knife and complete loss of sensibility varying, according to Professor Starling’s observations, from five to thirty seconds. In the hands of an inexpert operator it may be some time before death supervenes, and there can be little doubt that this method must be very painful to the sheep as long as consciousness remains.

“At the best it is a somewhat difficult operation and yet in practice is often entrusted to the younger and less experienced hands in the slaughter-house, the probable reason being that sheep are easy to handle, and do not struggle or give trouble when stuck. . . .”

In other words, the more helpless the creature the less need for humanity!

“In Denmark and many parts of Germany and Switzerland the law requires that sheep shall always be stunned previous to being stuck, and the Committee have satisfied themselves, by practical experiments and observation, that this can be done expeditiously and without difficulty. A small club with a heavy head should be used, and the sheep should be struck on the top of the head between the ears. This point is important, as it is almost impossible to stun a sheep by striking it on the forehead. . . . It was also clearly demonstrated that the stunning caused no injury to the sheep’s head or to the ‘scrag of mutton’ which could in any way depreciate their market value.”

Notwithstanding this recommendation, the Local Government Board had (up to 1915) omitted from their model by-laws (which, as before said, are not obligatory) a regulation requiring the stunning of sheep. In 1915, however, they added the following alternative clause:

“9 (b). A person shall not in a slaughter-house proceed to slaughter any animal until the same shall have been effectually stunned with a mechanically operated instrument suitable and sufficient for the purpose.”

And in their memorandum they say:

“At the present time the Board understand that a ‘humane-killer’ can be got which is adapted for stunning any kind of animal, reasonable in cost, and effective and simple in operation. It appears, too, that the use of the improved instruments can readily be learnt, so that no prolonged training is needed for their proper manipulation.”

One can only hope that every Local Authority will now adopt this clause, and insist on the stunning of sheep as well as of all other animals.

Pigs.—“The Committee ascertained that it is the usual practice in large establishments in England to stun pigs by a blow on the forehead previous to sticking them, and there is no difficulty in carrying this out, as the pig’s head is soft as compared with that of the sheep. The Committee are of opinion that the preliminary stunning should be enforced in all cases, the evidence tending to show that this operation is often limited to pigs which are so large or strong as to give trouble, or to cases where, owing to the location of the slaughter-house, the squeals of the stuck pigs cause annoyance to the neighbourhood. The Committee feel that considerations of humanity are at least as important as those above mentioned.

A sentiment with which most of us will presumably agree. Note, however, that the Admiralty Committee refer above only to large establishments. Pigs still appear to be killed in ways that the following quotation describes:

“I, with another witness, saw five pigs killed—three small ones and two large ones. The pigs were ‘knifed’ one at a time and allowed to wander round the slaughter-house bleeding and in a drunken, reeling, rolling state, and at the same time uttering most plaintive cries.” (From a letter to a daily journal.)

And Mr. R. O. P. Paddison (one of the foremost workers in the cause of humane slaughtering) thus describes the method adopted in most of our bacon factories:

“First the animals are hung up alive head downwards by a chain fastened to a hind foot, and then they are stuck and bleed to death. The work is done quickly in a collective sense—at the rate possibly of 100 to 200 pigs an hour, but each individual pig suffers from forty seconds to two or three minutes, and several pigs struggle and shriek at the same time.”

I have not personally witnessed either of the methods so described.

I understand that some bacon-curers consider, or did consider, stunning cruel, on the ground that several blows were often required. The use of humane-killers disposes of this objection.

The late eminent physiologist, Sir Benjamin Ward Richardson, in a paper read before the Medical Society of London some years ago, says:

“Pigs, I have said, suffer a mental terror of death, and to them commonly is also given a severe degree of physical pain. . . . When they are killed by the knife alone they die by a hæmorrhage that may extend with persistent consciousness over three or four minutes of time.”

In relation to the pig’s mental horror of death, I myself saw the following sight:—Fifteen or so pigs in a slaughtering chamber just large enough to hold them and the slaughterer. Of these pigs three or four had already been stunned and knifed and lay dead and bleeding among their living brethren, who with manifest terror were squealing and straining here and there against the walls, while the slaughterer moved about among them selecting the next victim. A blow, a cut, and there was another dead pig, and this would go on, no doubt, till the whole fifteen were despatched and their bodies shot down the slide. Terror of death! Yes! At all this, by the way, a boy of about thirteen was looking on—and this in a public slaughter-house with a good superintendent and under municipal control.

Segregation of Animals about to be slaughtered from slaughtering operations.—“It appears to be the common practice, even in modern and well-regulated slaughter-houses, to keep the animals, which are immediately awaiting slaughter, in pens which are mere annexes to the slaughter chamber itself, and in many cases in full view of all that goes on inside . . . There is no point which the Committee have more carefully investigated than the question as to whether animals do or do not suffer from fear from this contact, and the evidence of those best qualified to judge is so conflicting that no absolute verdict can be given . . . The animal should be given the full benefit of the doubt.” (Report of the Admiralty Committee.)

But the animal is not given the benefit of the doubt. Whatever the degree of consciousness of animals awaiting slaughter (sometimes for a whole hour) just divided by a door which, all regulations to the contrary, is far from always shut, whether they know or not that it is death which awaits them, any spectator accustomed to animals in their normal state has only to look at their eyes, as they stand waiting, to feel sure that they are in fear of something.

Such then, in brief and in rough, are the conditions and methods of slaughter which still seem good to us. When the Admiralty Committee issued their report in 1904 they made the following recommendations: —

(a) All animals (cattle, calves, sheep, lambs, and pigs) without exception must be stunned or otherwise rendered unconscious before blood is drawn.

(b) Animals awaiting slaughter must be so placed that they cannot see into the slaughter-house, and the doors of the latter must be kept closed while slaughtering is going on.

(c) The drainage of the slaughter-house must be so arranged that no blood or other refuse can flow out within the sight or smell[4] of animals awaiting slaughter, and no such refuse shall be deposited in proximity to the waiting pens.

(d) If more animals than one are being slaughtered in one slaughter-house at one time they must not be in view of each other.

(e) None but licensed men shall be employed in or about slaughter-houses.

What has been done to carry out these recommendations, the fruit of most thorough and laborious investigations carried out at a considerable expenditure of public money and presumably with some object, by men well qualified for their task?

Just this much has been done. The recommendations have been adopted and are worked successfully by the Admiralty themselves, and they form the basis of certain clauses in the Local Government Board’s Voluntary Model Bye-laws, to which attention is only just beginning to be paid.

Seeing that the condition of affairs is such as I have detailed; seeing that the Admiralty Committee made the following wise remarks: “However humane and scientific in theory may be the methods of slaughter, it is inevitable that abuses and cruelty may result in practice, unless there is a proper system of official inspection”; and: “In the interests not only of humanity, but of sanitation, order, and ultimate economy, it is highly desirable that, where circumstances permit, private slaughter-houses should be replaced by public abattoirs, and that no killing should be permitted except in the latter under official supervision”; seeing the enormous dimensions of this matter, and that our methods are behind those of nearly every Continental country, and very much behind those of Denmark, Switzerland, and Germany, it would occur to the simple mind that here was eminently a case for broad and sweeping action on the part of the Legislature.

I have not even thought it worth while to dwell on the insanitary aspect of the present system, because the Royal Commission on Food from Tuberculous Animals (again at a considerable expenditure of public money) reported thus—“The actual amount of tuberculous disease among certain classes of food animals is so large as to afford to man frequent occasions for contracting tuberculous disease through his food. We think it probable that an appreciable part of the tuberculosis that affects man is obtained through his food”—practically without effect! If the public likes to spend its money on ascertaining a risk to itself and likes to disregard that risk to itself when ascertained, far be it from me to gainsay the public. But if any one be interested in the sanitary side of our want of system, let him go to the superintendent of some large public slaughter-house and ask what percentage of meat is condemned daily; then let him ask some medical officer of health how far it is possible to inspect the condition of carcases in private slaughter-houses; and then let him go home and think! There I leave the matter. For, frankly, it is not this, but the disregard by the public of needless suffering inflicted on helpless creatures, bred and killed for its own advantage, that moves me. Surely no one can call the following suggestions unreasonable:

No animal to be bled before being stunned (or otherwise rendered instantaneously insensible).

No animal to be slaughtered in sight of another animal.

No slaughter-refuse and blood to be allowed within sight or smell of an animal awaiting slaughter.

No stunning or slaughtering implement to be used that has not been approved by the Local Government Board.

The licence of no slaughter-house to be renewed unless it possesses these approved stunning and slaughtering implements, a copy of official instructions how to use them, and can prove that it does use them and them alone.

All offenders against these regulations to be liable to penalties on summary conviction.

Why has not this simple harmless minimum of decent humanity been—as in other countries—long ago adopted? For the usual reasons: Dislike of change; dislike of a little extra trouble and a little extra expense; liberty of the subject. To take the last point first. Dictate to a man how he shall slaughter his own animals—what next! Well! I am all for liberty of the subject. I am for letting him hurt himself as much as ever he likes. I even go so far as to say that prosecutions for attempted suicide are wrong and ridiculous; but where the subject claims to hurt the helpless with impunity, then it seems to me time to hurt the subject.

I fancy that in most men’s minds there lurks the feeling: “Oh! a little extra suffering to animals who are going to die anyway in a minute or two—what does it matter? Now, if you were to put it on the ground that it hurts the slaughterer, there’d be something in it!” Yes! It certainly may hurt the morale of the slaughterer—but not much, for he inflicts the needless suffering without consciousness of cruelty; and ill actions of which one is not conscious only negatively deteriorate morale, in so far as they are a waste of time in which good actions might have been performed. But to say that it does not matter whether we needlessly hurt the sheep or pig because they are going to die anyway is really to say that no suffering matters, however unnecessary, since we must all die and it will be all the same a hundred years hence. It is at all events not a saying that I can imagine coming out of the mouth of a human being in perfect health and the possession of all his faculties, with a knife going in just behind his right ear and wiggling about in his neck and head till it finds his spinal cord between the joints of his vertebræ. And though you may think that the infliction of some seconds of excruciating torture on an animal does not really hurt the animal because she cannot tell you that it does—it conceivably might hurt you a little to feel it was needlessly inflicted.

The meat-trades and butchers generally deny the need for change, and claim that the humanity of existing methods cannot be improved on. I really cannot understand this. Take for example two conversations I had with quite humane butchers.

I: “So you never stun your sheep before bleeding them?”

First Butcher: “Oh! no.”

“Why not?”

“It isn’t necessary.”

“Not to avoid pain?”

“Oh! no; there’s no pain.”

Ten minutes later:—

I: “You always stun your cattle before bleeding them?”

Same Butcher: “Oh! yes, always.”


“Oh! it avoids a lot of pain.”

To the second butcher:—

I: “Then you never stun your sheep before bleeding them.”

Second Butcher: “No, never.”

“Why not? Is there any objection?”

“No, I don’t see any objection; only it’s never done. I’ve never seen a sheep stunned.”

“Just custom?”

“Yes, just that.”

The old, ignorant prejudice that animals do not bleed freely if stunned first is now, I think, never advanced.

So much for custom and dislike of change.

But now we come to what is perhaps the real gravamen of the resistance—a little extra trouble, a suspicion of extra expense. This touches all the points in the irreducible minimum of reform. For instance, the various R.S.P.C.A. humane-killers cost about thirty-five shillings; the Swedish cattle-killer ten shillings and sixpence, with cartridges four shillings per hundred. You must spend perhaps an hour in learning how to use them, and five minutes or so per day in cleaning them. They are still new things—“fads”—although they have passed all tests, been proved by dozens of testimonials from butchers in this country to be perfectly efficient; and the Swedish cattle-killer is used throughout several countries.

Again, it is convenient not to have to be careful to shut doors between slaughtering chambers and animals awaiting slaughter, or to have to pave your floors so that blood runs well away from the waiting pens. It is handy (especially in ill-constructed slaughter-houses) to kill animals in sight of each other. It is always, in fact, a nuisance to make any change that involves readjustment. And unfortunately animals have no force behind them, are not represented on the public bodies of the country; cannot lobby in the House of Commons, withdraw votes or commit outrages; cannot instruct counsel; have no rights save those which mere chivalry shall give them. “Besides,” says Defence, “everything is already done as well as it can be done. Switzerland, Denmark—who knows whether they are really better? The ways of our own country are good enough for us—the good old-fashioned methods—if there were any real need for reform we should be the first to undertake it!” Waste-paper, then, the Admiralty Report! Waste-paper!

I have reckoned that in the case of sheep alone the amount of needless suffering inflicted must amount to some 33,000 hours of solid, uninterrupted death agony each year (number of sheep slaughtered without stunning, 8,000,000; period of suffering, five to thirty seconds—Admiralty Committee’s report)—all preventable by a few strokes of the legislative pen.

But the truth is we don’t reflect; or if by any chance we do, we pass on with the thought: “Nothing can be done till the butchers themselves are convinced!” Is that true?

Just this far true: As in every other case of new law, there would be required at first a little special activity. It is only a question of starting a new standard. In two years’ time, if these simple, harmless regulations concerning the slaughter of animals for food were enforced—not merely recommended, as now—there would hardly be an animal in this country bled without first being stunned by humane methods, or any beasts watching their fellows being killed.

I attack no one in this matter; I blame no one, for I am not in a position to—the charge of callousness falls heavily on my own shoulders, who have eaten meat all these years without ever troubling as to what went before it. Nor can I hope that these words will do more than ruffle the nerves of the public; but I do trust that such of our legislators as may chance to read them may be moved to feel that it is their part to save patient creatures, who cannot plead in their own behalf, from all suffering that the proper satisfaction of our wants does not compel us to inflict on them.

If what I have written has seemed extravagant, he who reads has only to go and see for himself. And let those who would attack this plea train their guns on the Report of the Admiralty Committee, 1904. For I have but conveniently summarized the unanimous verdict of able and disinterested men, who, officially appointed to examine the whole matter, held many sittings, heard many witnesses, saw with their own eyes, and made their own experimental investigations. I have, in fact, done nothing but give an added publicity to the deliberate conclusions of an impartial tribunal, which had an unique opportunity of forming and delivering a comprehensive, dispassionate judgment, and delivered it—to what end?

Things have moved a little, I believe, but not nearly enough.—J. G.

The Admiralty Committee on Humane Slaughtering, 1904 Chairman, Mr. Arthur Lee, M.P.

I believe it is the smell of blood, rather than the sight, which affects animals.—J. G.


On Performing Animals


(A Letter to the Daily Express, 1913.)

Writing from the standpoint of one whose love of animals at one time caused him to enjoy the spectacle of them performing tricks and capers, into the educational history of which he never thought of going, I believe I well understand the attraction of “the animal show” in music-halls or circuses. Nor do I doubt that there are animal trainers with such a natural gift and love of beasts that the process of training becomes almost pleasurable to creatures who are not by nature intended to ape mankind.

I even believe that there may be animals, especially among dogs, who grow to appreciate the glamour of the footlights, and the sense of their own importance. But when all this is said, I have come to abominate the thought of the whole thing, and I fancy that any one who takes the trouble to think the matter out, any one who does not allow his natural delight in animals to run away with his sense of proportion and the fitness of things, must come to the same conclusion.

To simply bring a horse, a dog, a cat, or even an elephant or camel on the stage as part of the atmosphere or machinery of a play, treating it with the kindness that is invariable I believe in such cases, is one thing, and I by no means object to it. But the deliberate training and use, for the purpose of making a living out of them, of numbers of animals, taking them from place to place, hall to hall, suitable or unsuitable, is a very different “proposition,” as Americans would say.

The very nature of it invites suffering. And I do not well see how any amount of inspection and the granting of licences is going to do away with the greater part of a wretchedness that comes from forcing creatures away from more or less natural to highly unnatural conditions of life; nor can I see how, for the purpose of granting licences, satisfactory evidence is ever going to be obtained that training (which is and must be quite a private affair between trainer and animal) is not accompanied by cruelty.

In a word, I would like to see the “animal show” abolished in this country. It is too ironical altogether that our love of beasts should make us tolerate and even enjoy what our common sense, when we let it loose, tells us must, in the main, spell misery for the creatures we profess to be so fond of.


(A Speech made at Kensington Town Hall, 1913.)

I am here to say a very few words on the whole question of the treatment of animals by our civilized selves. For I have no special knowledge, like some who will speak to you, of the training of performing animals; I have only a certain knowledge of human and animal natures, and a common sense which tells me that wild animals are more happy in freedom than in captivity—domestic animals more happy as companions than as clowns. And, quite apart from the definite question of inhumanity, it is perfectly clear to me that these animal shows are among the many surviving evidences, the lingering symptoms, of a creed that—thank Heaven!—is beginning to pass, and must pass, from us. That creed said: We human beings have the right, for our pleasure, convenience, and distraction, to disregard, in the matter of dumb creatures, those principles which our religion, morality, and education fix as the guiding stars of our conduct towards human beings. (Please note that I do not touch on the question of our rights over dumb creatures in so far as our actual self-preservation is concerned; I limit my words to pleasure, convenience, profit, and distraction.)

Now, “Do unto others as you would they should do unto you!” is not only the first principle of Christianity, but the first principle of all social conduct—the essence of that true gentility which is the only saving grace of men and women in all ranks of life. And I am certain that the word “others” cannot any longer be limited to the human creature. Whether or no animals have what are called “rights” is an academic question of no value whatever in the consideration of this matter. But, lest there be any one who wishes to take up this point of abstruse philosophy, I admit at once that animals have no more rights than have babies under the age when they may be said to have duties (on which rights, we are told, depend), that animals have no more rights than imbeciles, or those who are deaf, dumb, and blind. Rights or no rights, I care not; the fact remains that by so much as we inflict on sentient creatures unnecessary suffering, by so much have we outraged our own consciences, by so much fallen short of that secret standard of gentleness and generosity, that, believe me, is the one firm guard of our social existence, the one bulwark we have against relapse into savagery. Once admit that we have the right to inflict unnecessary suffering, and you have destroyed the very basis of human society, as we know it in this age. You have committed blasphemy, the only blasphemy that really matters—against your conscience. For the true conscience of this country is proved by the wording of the law, with its ruling that the infliction of unnecessary suffering is an offence; and in a country like this, the law does not precede, but follows, conscience. Let me quote the law, and the latest judicial dictum upon it.

Section 1 (1) of the Protection of Animals Act, 1911:

“If any person (a) shall cruelly ill-treat any animal . . . or being the owner shall by . . . unreasonably doing or omitting to do any act . . . cause any unnecessary suffering,” he shall be guilty of an offence.

And Mr. Justice Darling, on November 19th, 1913, said:

“Where unnecessary suffering is caused by some act of an owner, it cannot be justified on the ground of old custom, and of benefit to commercial persons.”

Nothing so endangers the fineness of the human heart as the possession of power over others; nothing so corrodes it as the callous or cruel exercise of that power; and the more helpless the creature over whom power is cruelly or callously exercised, the more the human heart is corroded. It is recognition of this truth which has brought the conscience of our age and with it the law, to say that we cannot any longer with impunity regard ourselves as licensed torturers of the rest of creation; that we cannot, for our own sakes, afford it.

In all this matter, then, of the treatment of animals it comes to the definition of the words “unnecessary suffering.” And I say this: All suffering that is inflicted merely for our pleasure, distraction, and even for our convenience, and profit, as distinct from our preservation, is unnecessary and an abomination. And the fact that it is inflicted on creatures unable to raise hand to help themselves, or voice to tell us what they suffer, makes it ever the more abominable. Whether it be the destruction of mother-birds (with their whole families of nestlings) for the sake of the nuptial plumes to be worn in the hats and hair of human mothers, or the painful docking of the tails of horses, their sole weapon against the torment of stinging flies, for the sake of an ugly fashion; whether it be the treacherous sale of horses worn out in our service, the snaring of rabbits in needlessly cruel traps, the turning adrift of friendly but unwanted dogs and cats; whether it be the unnecessarily slow and painful slaughtering of animals for food, the wretched keeping in captivity of wild song-birds, the prisoning of eagles, hawks, and many another creature that cannot bear confinement, in zoos and other places; whether it be any of these, or this sometimes distressing and always unnatural training of performing animals, in all suffering is inflicted for our pleasure, distraction, convenience or profit, and all of it is unnecessary, all against the conscience of the age.

To those who, tempted by the devil of irreflection, say “But this is the creed of sentiment and softness,” I return the answer, “Sirs, no man ever became a stoic, and acquired the virtues of fortitude and courage, by inflicting pain on others.” There is nothing in this new creed that prevents any one from inflicting on himself as much hardship, risk, and privation as he considers needful to inspire him with fortitude.

Let me draw your attention to an anomaly, which accounts for most of our callousness towards the sufferings of animals. Nearly every one who witnesses with his own eyes the infliction of needless pain on an animal feels revolted, and even hastens to the creature’s aid; yet these same men and women, or the vast majority of them, merely hearing or reading of such things, pass by on the other side, with the feeling that to pay attention would be either credulous or sentimental. Now, in regard to credulousness, note that it is hardly ever to the interest of any one to draw attention to cruelty—certainly not to fabricate such a charge; very much the contrary. And in regard to sentiment, there seems to be a slight confusion as to the meaning of that word. A man only moved by cruelty seen with his own eyes is no whit less sentimental than the man who takes fire at the mere recital of it; he is only more deficient in understanding, more cautious in judgment, or more sluggish in blood. Just as sentimental, but less sensitive. The longer I live the more I become convinced that people only use that favourite reproach—sentimental—to stigmatize sympathy with sufferings that they themselves have been unwilling or unable to realize. The moment they do realize, they become just as “sentimental,” just as moved by pity and anger—for that is what sentimental means—as those at whom they sneer.

Ah! but—says the public—even if there be suffering for animals, the pleasure that their freaks or their fur or their feathers give us is greater than this suffering; we are entitled to weigh the one against the other. Yet few of that same public would dream of saying this if with their own eyes they saw the tortures; for then the pleasure they talk of would have vanished in the memory of those quivering visions. Out of sheer sluggishness of imagination, out of mere laziness of mind, then, is made that rather pitiable plea—our pleasure is greater than their suffering.

Yes! Nearly all the suffering we inflict, whether on human beings or on animals, comes from our not thinking. Many people gravely distrust that practice. For all that, I venture to suggest that a little more thought will do no harm to any of us.

We pass this way but once, but once tread this world, and live in communion with these furred and feathered things, many of them beautiful, in a thousand ways so like ourselves, often friendly if we would let them be, and yet who, one and all, are so simple and helpless in the face of our force and ingenuity. Shall we, as we vanish, say: “I have lived my life as a true lord of creation, taking toll from the captivities and sufferings of every creature that had not my strength and cunning!” Or shall we pass out with the thought: “I wish I had not given needless pain to any living thing!”


Vivisection of Dogs

(Letters to The Times, 1913.)


Whatever one’s beliefs concerning the whole question of experiments on the living body, the vivisection of dogs is a strange anomaly. Even if it be granted that the dog, by reason of its intelligence and nervous organisation, is more fitted than other animals for certain vivisectional experiments (though I believe this is disputed), there are yet basic considerations which make such treatment of the dog a scandalous betrayal. Man, no doubt, first bound or bred the dog to his service and companionship for purely utilitarian reasons; but we of to-day, by immemorial tradition and a sentiment that has become almost as inherent in us as the sentiment towards children, give him a place in our lives utterly different from that which we accord to any other animal (not even excepting cats); a place that he has won for himself throughout the ages, and that he ever increasingly deserves. He is by far the nearest thing to man on the face of the earth; the one link that we have spiritually with the animal creation; the one dumb creature into whose eyes we can look and tell pretty well for certain what emotion, even what thought is at work within; the one dumb creature which—not as a rare exception, but almost always—steadily feels the sentiments of love and trust. This special nature of the dog is our own handiwork, a thing instilled into him through thousands of years of intimacy, care, and mutual service, deliberately and ever more carefully fostered; extraordinarily precious even to those of us who profess to be without sentiment. It is one of the prime factors of our daily lives in all classes of society—this mute partnership with dogs; and—we are still vivisecting them!

I am told that pro-vivisectionists are fighting tooth and nail against the Bill (now in committee stage in the House of Commons) which has for object the exemption of dogs from all vivisectional and inoculative experiments. If it indeed be so, I ask them: “Would you, any one of you, give your own dog up to the vivisector’s knife, or respect a man who gave or sold you his dog for your experiments?” I take it they would reply: “We would not give our own dogs. We should think poorly of the man who sold or gave us his dog. The dogs we use are homeless, masterless, dogs.” And in turn I would answer: “There are no dogs born in this country without home or master. The dogs you use are those who have already fallen on cruelty or misfortune, whom as kindly men you pity or should pity; these are the dogs, the lost dogs that you take for your experiments, to make their ends more wretched than their lives have been!”

If this be sentiment, it is not mere cultured sentiment, but based on a very real and simple sense of what is decent. Miners, farmers, shepherds, little shopmen, gamekeepers, and humble men of all sorts, who own dogs, have precisely the same feeling—that the dog is essentially the friend of man, deserving loyal treatment. We all have this feeling; yet, when for our alleged benefit we want to violate it, we can still say: “Oh! it does not matter; this dog is already down!” In a word, what we would not do with our own dogs we have no right to do with dogs that have not had the luck to be ours. It is not so much a question of love of dogs as of good faith in men.

I do not wish to enter here into the general question of vivisection, but I do plead that, whether we believe in vivisection or not, we are bound, in common honour, to make a clean and whole-hearted exception of the one creature whom we have trained to really trust and love us. By not doing so we injure the human spirit.


I answer the rejoinders to my plea for the exemption of dogs from vivisection in no spirit of hostility to science, with all respect for investigators who are inspired by the desire to lessen the sum of suffering in the world, and not at all assuming that those who support the vivisection of dogs must needs be without fondness for their companionship.

I suggest that there is a distinction between being “vivisected” (and in that word I include inoculations) to save your own life or lessen your own suffering and being vivisected by your neighbours to save their lives or lessen their sufferings. The distinction indeed might almost be called profound. And if my contention that the dog has earned for himself a consideration from man, I do not say equal, but analogous, to that which man has for his own species, be admitted, it would follow that if we approve of cutting up and inoculating the dog, not for his individual benefit, but for our benefit and for that of his fellow-dogs, we must also approve of cutting up and inoculating our children and ourselves, not for our individual benefit, but for the benefit of the race, having regard to the immeasurably more direct results which science would secure from vivisections and inoculations on the human body. It is possible, indeed, that some vivisectors are prepared, in the interests of the scientific treatment of disease, to say: “I am so entirely, so definitely, convinced of the benefits to the human race of these experiments that I am ready to give not only my dog but my child, my wife, myself if necessary, for the good of mankind.” But I personally—and I venture to think there may be others of the same opinion—am not prepared to go so far. And I plead simply that if we are not ready to make martyrs of our children and heroes of ourselves, the time has come when we are no longer entitled to make martyrs of dogs. The issue raised, in fact, is whether or no the dog has reached a position where it becomes unethical to treat him as if he had not reached that position.

There are innumerable people in all ranks of our civilized world who would echo the words I heard last night: “If I were condemned to spend twenty-four hours alone with a single creature, I would choose to spend them with my dog.” Granting that most people would make two or three human exceptions, the saying expresses a true feeling. There is a quiet comfort in the companionship of a dog, with its ever-ready touching humility, which human companionship, save of the nearest, does not bring; and I assert that this boon, to mankind—of dog’s companionship—does raise the dog on to the peculiar plane of ethical consideration which we apply to ourselves. There is no need to adduce stories of how “Dash” or “Don” saved the gardener’s baby from setting herself on fire, or swam to the rescue of little Thomas who was drowning; we have only to watch dogs in house or street. I noted three yesterday afternoon, the only three in the street at the moment. The first, a fox-terrier, was trotting along quite by himself with an air of mastery of London that could not have been excelled by the best “man of the world” amongst us. No other sort of animal could have even begun to walk the streets of man with that quiet busy confidence. The second, a spaniel, was looking up at his mistress—it is not often that children and their mothers have the confidence in each other that those two certainly had. The third, a retriever, was towing an infirm old gentleman.

Yes, the position of the dog is unique. We have made him intelligent; and it is sinister ethics to choose him for vivisections or inoculations because of the very intelligence we have implanted. We have taught him faith and love, and I feel are ourselves bound by what we have taught him. Into other animals we have not instilled these qualities, we are therefore not bound to the same special faith with them that we owe to the dog.

My plea being simply that men cannot make friends of dogs and then treat them as if that relationship did not exist, I am not concerned to discuss the disputed question of whether or not special benefit does arise from experiments on dogs; but, in regard to suffering in such experiments, take the Home Office Returns for 1911: “Dogs and cats experimented upon without anæsthetics, 452. Dogs and cats allowed to recover after serious operations, 393”; and the words of the Report of the Royal Commission on Vivisection: “It is clear that even if the initial procedure may be regarded as trivial, the subsequent results of this procedure must in some cases, at any rate, be productive of great pain and much suffering.”

After all, we have not only bodies but spirits, and when our minds have once become alive to ethical doubt on a question such as this (there are 870,000 signatures to a petition for the total exemption of dogs from vivisection), when we are no longer sure that we have the right so to treat our dog comrades, there has fallen a shadow on the human conscience that will surely grow, until, by adjustment of our actions to our ethical sense, it has been remedied.


Horses in Mines


(A Letter to The Times, 1910.)

The experience which has just befallen the 300 horses and ponies imprisoned underground during the strike riots at Clydach Vale spurs me to an appeal to all owners of collieries and mines to abandon, as far as possible the use of horses and ponies below ground.

The question of the treatment of pit ponies has of late attracted much attention, and is under examination by the Royal Commission on Mines. Into discussion of the truth of particular stories of cruelty I do not intend to enter. I have no first-hand knowledge, and, short of becoming a pit-pony driver, or mine inspector, no real chance of obtaining any. I wish simply to draw the attention of owners and managers of collieries and mines to certain considerations that need not in the least hurt a just belief in their own humanity or that of their employees.

Apart from the aberrations of human brutes, who flourish as well above ground as below, cruelty in these days is not deliberate, but requires for its existence three primary fostering conditions: the first, an overdriven or irritated state of nerves; the second, secrecy; the third, a helpless object.

The first of these conditions is always more or less present in mine work, not only because of the atmosphere and unnatural environment, but also because a certain amount of work has to be got through under difficulties in a certain amount of time. The second of these conditions is always present to a greater extent than almost anywhere above ground. The third of these conditions is obviously present. In mines and collieries, therefore, we have human nature, neither better nor worse underground than it is above, working continually under circumstances in which the three primary fostering conditions of cruelty are present. We, thus have a primâ facie case for supposing—all other things being equal—that there must be more cruelty in the treatment of animals underground than on the surface. If there were not, it would mean that miners were not only as humane as the rest of mankind, which is freely admitted, but much more humane, which is not likely. The existence of these three primary fostering conditions in perpetual combination, in fact, renders the conclusion, apart from all actual evidence, as inevitable as a chemical equation.

But far beyond all this we have the fact that herbivorous animals, accustomed to daylight and fresh air, are kept from the age of four to the age at which they are about to die in a place where no green thing of any sort can grow, where the air is strange and dark, and there is neither rain nor sunshine. And, further, we have those occasional catastrophes, such as that which so nearly did to death the unfortunate 300 horses in Clydach Vale.

One assumes as a matter of course that mine owners are as personally humane in their treatment of animals as the rest of us; that they do not lack desire to see that their ponies and horses underground are treated well; that they would recoil from the sight of neglectful treatment of four-legged creatures that came under their own eyes. I merely appeal to them to consider, apart from the breezes and contradictions of a vexed question, the plain common sense of the matter. There are, no doubt, thousands of well-fed, well-treated, well-kept ponies employed in pits; but with human nature and animal nature fixed quantities, and the conditions what they are, must there not inevitably be far more suffering, on the whole, in their lives underground than in the lives of animals employed on the surface? The heart of the matter lies in the unnatural conditions.

Small engines are used with success both here and abroad for some kinds of mine traction. For other kinds of mine traction animals may always have to be employed—though that is a hard saying, seeing what human ingenuity can accomplish. But surely a great deal more of the traction in English collieries and mines could be done by engines with safety and economy. Is it too much to beg kindly men that they should do their utmost to substitute, so far as possible, this mechanical traction for the labour of those four-legged creatures whose lives underground must, even in the best circumstances, be unnatural and sad.

It is no more desirable for human beings than for animals to have to spend their lives underground; and what men can put up with animals certainly can. But men have at all events some choice in the matter, and they do spend half the week at least on the surface.

The unnatural conditions of our own lives do not justify us in employing animals under unnatural conditions where we can avoid it. I take it we all wish to see suffering reduced to its irreducible minimum.


(A Letter to The Times, 1913.)

The inspectors appointed to carry out the provisions of the Coal Mines (Regulation) Act in regard to pit ponies are to be six in number: one for each division in the United Kingdom, which contains 3,325 coal mines.

I understand that this provision is based on the grounds that the ordinary mine inspectors, of whom there are many, will not be thereby absolved from that part of their duties; and that the multiplication of officials is an expensive and undesirable thing.

I wish to point out that the ordinary inspectors will, almost to a man, feel that the appointment of special inspectors, in regard to a particular branch of their duties, relieves them from what is a very thankless job. It is only human nature not to want to spy on one’s own kind if one is not absolutely obliged.

Under the ordinary system of inspection, the figures for the year 1907 give only twenty-two prosecutions for cruelty to animals, underground, in the United Kingdom. Taking the boys and men employed in mines as average kindly folk, neither more nor less given to cruelty than the rest of us, this number of prosecutions would work out, relatively to opportunity, at extraordinarily below the number of prosecutions above ground. And we can only deduce from this the fact that the conditions in mines are such that acts which above ground would lead to prosecution pass unnoticed underground.

I do beg the Home Secretary to reconsider this aspect of the question—that is to say, the certainty that the appointment of special inspectors of animals will in practice bring a feeling of absolution to the ordinary inspector from the duty of reporting on animals.

For, if this is admitted, the number of six special inspectors is shown to be ludicrous. It means about two mines a day all the year round for each inspector. Those of us who have been down coal mines know how perfunctory such inspection must be.

It is certainly undesirable to multiply officials without due cause; but there really is a point of common sense and compromise which will hardly be reached even if twelve instead of six special inspectors are appointed.

The new regulations are admirably wide and directed to bettering the lives of these unfortunate little beasts; for, putting everything at the best, they remain unfortunate compared with their brethren above ground. But these regulations will want a lot of looking after, especially at first, if they are not to be a dead letter.

The great bulk of our material comfort comes out of our coal mines; surely we can spare a little more of it than this to guarantee so far as we can the welfare of the ponies.


The Docking of Horses’ Tails

(Foreword to a Pamphlet, 1913.)

In the year A.D. 785 the Council of Celchyth—it seems—thus addressed our ancestors:

“From the influence of a vile and unbecoming custom you deform and mutilate your horses. . . . You cut off their tails; and when you enjoy them uninjured and perfect, you choose rather to maim and blemish them, so as to make them odious and disgustful objects to all who see them. . . . This you are admonished to renounce.”

Thus the Council of Celchyth in A.D. 785. The Council of Westminster in A.D. 1913 has not yet been moved to admonish us, in the only way it can—by law—to renounce this “vile and unbecoming custom” of docking the tails of horses.

“Vile and unbecoming!” If it be not, still, vile to mutilate a defenceless beast (sometimes at cost of acute suffering) for the sake of a fashion, and of a market value dictated by that fashion; if it be not, still, vile to deprive a very sensitive animal of its natural protection against stinging insects, and against the exposure of what ought to be protected—by what word shall we describe this practice? And if it be not, still, unbecoming to destroy the untouched sweep and grace of one of the most beautiful of creatures, and turn what is natural and decent into the indecently grotesque—what significance has all our talk of beauty, and all our so-called taste? The idea that a natural tail causes carriage accidents is an exploded myth. The plea that a docked tail saves trouble in cleaning is readily met, if need be, by shortening the hair of the tail as far as the end of the “dock” or bone of the tail, without touching the bone itself. The tail will then be as short as even a stable hand can reasonably desire, the horse not mutilated, and the hair ready to grow again.

In certain exceptional circumstances it may be necessary to dock a horse. But, to make a fashion of it. . . .!

Ye gods! What a sense of beauty and of decency we must have, to approve the miserable stumps left on our horses by this “disgustful” practice! If we must indulge in mutilation for the sake of “beauty” let us perform on ourselves; tattoo our faces, perforate our lips, flatten our craniums, with other devices suitable to savages. But let us leave the horse alone, who in his unmutilated state is far less in need of “decoration” than we.

There are some customs that seem to spell despair. How far, indeed, are we removed from savages, when we can blindly follow a custom so thoughtless and tormenting, so stupid and ugly?



(A note in Pearson’s Magazine, 1913.)

Am I in favour of legislation prohibiting the importation of plumage into Great Britain?

I cannot conceive of any one, man or woman, with imagination, and knowledge of the facts, who would not be in favour of such legislation. That English women—English ladies—after years of revelation concerning this dismal matter, should continue to support by their demands the killing of myriads of beautiful birds at breeding season is the most discouraging instance I know of the blindness of the human creature whose vanity is threatened.

American law has banned the aigrette; why does English law lag behind?

Not one of our legislators would torture a bird, yet because a few thousand miles separate them from the scenes of this butchery, they seem either unable to imagine what it means or to find time to put a stop to it. I commend to one and all the Report of the House of Lords Committee who examined the whole question some years ago, and said:

“The evidence has been such as to show conclusively, in the opinion of the Committee, that not only are birds of many species slaughtered recklessly, but also that the methods employed for slaughter are such as in many cases, and especially in that of egrets, to involve the destruction of the young birds and eggs.

“Birds are, as a rule, in their finest plumage at the time of nesting, and have been shown to be especially the prey of hunters at that season.”

Such Committees should not be appointed if their conclusions are not to be paid attention to.



On Procedure in Parliament

(A Letter to The Times, March, 1914.)

I am moved to speak out what, I am sure, many are feeling. We are a so-called civilized country; we have a so-called Christian religion; we profess humanity. We have an elected Parliament, to each member of which we pay £400 a year; so that we have at least some right to say: “Please do our business, and that quickly!”

And yet we sit and suffer such barbarities and mean cruelties to go on amongst us as must dry the heart of God. I cite at random a few only of the abhorrent things done daily, daily left undone—done and left undone, without a shadow of a doubt, against the conscience and general will of the community: —

(1) Sweating of women workers.

(2) Insufficient feeding of children.

(3) Employment of boys on work that to all intents ruins their chances in after-life.

(4) Foul housing of those who have as much right as you and I to the first decencies of life.

(5) Consignment of paupers (that is, those without money or friends) to lunatic asylums on the certificate of one doctor—the certificate of two doctors being essential in the case of a person who has money or friends.

(6) Export of horses worn out in work. Export that, for a few pieces of blood-money, delivers up old and faithful servants to wretchedness.

(7) Mutilation of horses by docking, so that they suffer, offend the eye, and are defenceless against the attacks of flies.

(8) Caging of wild things, especially wild song-birds, by those who themselves think liberty the breath of life.

(9) Slaughter for food of millions of creatures every year by methods that can easily be improved.

(10) Importation of the plumes of ruthlessly slain wild birds, mothers with young in the nest, to decorate our women.

Such as these—shameful barbarities done to helpless creatures—we suffer amongst us year after year. They are admitted to be anathema; in favour of their abolition there would be found at any moment a round majority of unfettered parliamentary and general opinion. One and all they are removable, and many of them by small expenditure of parliamentary time, public money, and expert care. It is pitiable that, for mere want of parliamentary time, we cannot get manifest sores such as these treated and banished once for all from the nation’s body; pitiable that due machinery cannot be devised to deal with these and other barbarities to man and beast, concerning which, in the main, no real controversy exists; scandalous that their removal should be left to the mercy of the ballot, to private members’ Bills—for ever liable to be obstructed; or to the hampered and inadequate efforts of societies unsupported by legislation.

Rome, I know, was not built in a day. Parliament works hard, has worked harder during these last years than ever perhaps before; all honour to it for that! It is an august assembly of which I wish to speak with all respect. But it works without sense of proportion, or sense of humour. Over and over again it turns things already talked into their graves; over and over again listens to the same partizan bickerings, to arguments which everybody knows by heart. And all the time the fires of live misery that could, most of them, so easily be put out are raging, and the reek thereof is going up.

It is I, of course, who will be mocked at for lack of the senses of proportion and humour. But if the tale of hours spent on certain party measures be set against the tale of hours not yet spent on measures of health and humanity, the mockers will yet be mocked.

I am not one of those who believe we can do without party; but I do see and I do say that party business absorbs far too much of the time that our common sense and common humanity demands for the redress of crying shames. And if laymen see this with grief and anger, how much more poignant must be the feeling of members of Parliament themselves, to whom alone remedy has been entrusted!


The Nature of Laws

(Written in 1914.)

Among comments on the foregoing letter there occurred again and again criticisms conveniently summed up in a sentence from an American journal: “It is not the part of Government to make men moral.”

One who is generally blamed for offering no practical remedies for the hard cases he provides is not quite so foolish as to think men are to be made into angels by law. Cut-and-dried formulæ are hardly his little gods; and he knows well that far more important than change and reform of laws and systems is improvement in the spirit of the men who administer them. For all that, it is fatal to think that public feeling can be divorced from law in the social organism. In effect these critics say:

“It is impossible to diminish cruelty and injustice by law; any attempt to do so will only divert the cruelty or injustice banned to another form of expression.” Very well! It is therefore demonstrably needless and even ridiculous to prohibit, by law, murder, rape, and the deliberate torture of children. The murderer, the ravisher, and the torturer should be allowed to vent their cruelty in these forms, for fear that if they are not so allowed they will vent it in other forms! That is the reductio ad absurdum implicit in all such anarchistic doctrine; and how far it is really held by those who talk of the futility of passing laws against inhumanity one must leave to their own consciences. In any case, the doctrine takes no account of the real nature of laws. In a democratic society, such as ours, only public opinion, or, I would rather say, the true secret consensus of general thought, makes laws possible—I am speaking of laws against inhumanity. And laws so made are but constant reminders to every one that public opinion is against such and such a thing. Laws were made against murder and rape because public feeling against such acts became so strong that, until the laws were made, normal individuals did not rest till they had torn to pieces persons who acted in such abnormal ways. It was therefore considered more convenient that certain recognized professional persons should undertake the work of punishment. And so on through all the gamut of laws down to those against quite minor cruelties, which would not perhaps provoke individual retaliation, but which nevertheless would evoke pity and anger from a majority of those who with their own eyes saw them inflicted. Admitting that the state of public feeling toward a particular form of cruelty must always be more or less a matter of discretionary judgment for legislators, it is yet quite wrong to suppose that laws must wait until the majority of individuals in a community have openly declared a feeling of which perhaps, never having been tested personally, they are not conscious. When one urges the passing of laws to prohibit certain cruelties, one is only urging that the Legislature should give concrete expression to what it believes would be the general opinion of the country, if every man and woman therein could be taken apart—isolated, as juries are—and then actually put face to face with instances of these cruelties, so that they might judge them with the fresh and genuine feelings of unfettered men and women. One is, in fact, only urging the recording of a judgment which he believes to have been secretly delivered; asking that this secret judgment should be published in the form of law as a daily and forcible reminder that some things are “not done.”

“Still!” would say these critics who want to see no more laws made because men cannot be made humane by law, and who certainly should logically wish all our present laws removed by law (for this criticism is radical and not one of degree!). “Still!” they would say, “all you have done is to make A. and B. mechanically avoid, for example, caging wild song-birds, or docking horses’ tails; but the devil of natural man is so strong in A. and B. that they will instantly set to work to invent some other form of torture.” This is too cynical. Many of the cruelties that can be prohibited by law—that is to say, those for whose prohibition the true and secret public feeling is ripe—are cruelties that come rather from lack of thought than from a natural savagery. And it is a very large order to say that, because you stop A. and B. from “not thinking” in a certain direction, their lack of thought must result in other cruelties. True, the reason for their “lack of thought” is often that they profit by it; but, even so, it does not follow that if one channel of thoughtless and pain-provoking profit be cut off, they must necessarily seek another. As a fact, many social cruelties (such as the sweating of women, foul housing, and the harmful kind of child labour) are but dubious sources of profit in the long run; and some cruelties practised on animals (such as the wearing of certain feathers, or the docking of horses’ tails) are but the outcome of “fashion.”

To put it another way. We feel there are certain things our neighbours must not do—we even feel that we ourselves must not do them; and we pass laws to put it out of our own reach to yield to the temptation of profit or temper!

Take a person who is guiltless of thought or temptation in the matter, and show him first a number of wild song-birds in freedom, and then a bird fancier’s shop, with the same kinds of birds in their tiny cages, and ask him whether or no he thinks they ought to be kept like that. In nine cases out of ten he will say: “Poor little beggars! No.”

If then, the Legislature passes a law to penalize such caging, this law will be effective and will in time stop wild birds from being caged, because the secret feeling of the majority is really against such a practice.

But pass a law to penalize the moderate smacking of small naughty children, it will simply be disregarded, because nine out of ten people do not see any harm in either their neighbours or themselves moderately smacking their imps.

Spirit and body (that is, public feeling and the law) in the social organism are as inextricably conjoint as the spirit and body of a man—public feeling needing its proper clothing of laws, as our souls need due clothing by our bodies. And if men cannot be made kind by law, they can and are by law reminded that they must not, under temptation, do what, in cool and disinterested blood, they disapprove of their neighbours doing.

But there is another and perhaps more convincing answer to these critics. “You say it’s no good passing laws. If men are prevented from ill-treating one object, they’ll only ill-treat another.” So be it! Is that any reason for not trying to save the victims of such cruelty as we can actually see. Are we in fact to disregard the sufferer because his torturer may break out in a fresh direction. That would be as much as to say that a man watching another making his beasts go faster to market by jabbing them with a pitch-fork must pass by on the other side and do nothing to help the creatures, because if the prodder be prevented he may to-morrow cut off the tail of his horse to improve the poor brute’s value. No! Where you see cruelty, stop it! On that principle the individual and the State know where they are; the opposite is but that: “What’s the good of anyfink—why! noffink!” philosophy which, purged from all need for effort, in a world of facts, is so truly ethereal and pleasant to hold!

Some of these critics, no doubt, would carry the matter further. “We don’t think of the object,” they would say, “because the weak must go to the wall, cruelty being inherent in the struggle for existence.” Well! The sort of cruelties we have any chance of legislating against are certainly not necessary to the preservation of our existence; they are luxuries, excrescences, or that kind of short-cut which often takes one round the longer way. The struggle for sheer existence we cannot, of course, annul; it goes on, and always will. But in this age the human being is surely bound to say: “I am not only thankful that I am alive, but that all these other creatures are alive; I am not only thankful that I am without pain, but that none of these others are in pain either. I wish the world to be a decent place for them as well as for myself!”

And if these critics, returning to their mutton, say: “Quite so, sir, we desire that as much as you, perhaps more; we only tell you that you can’t make men feel like that by law!” the answer once more is: “Freely admitted! But if you do not concrete and record in laws such humane feelings as you secretly and truly have, if you do not keep the body of the social organism in time and tune with its soul, you are handicapping the growth of your humane feeling for want of signboards against temptation to profit at the expense of others; and you are passing by on the other side instead of going to the help of those you see being ill-treated.”



(From the Westminster Gazette, 1914.)

I was standing on the Bridge before dawn of the summer morning; heat-mist down on the water, and the bright face of Big Ben up there, disjoint, set as it were in sky—so dark it was.

I had been there some time, seeking what air there might be in the town, staring vaguely down the broadway of blackness between the misted lights of the river banks, thinking idle thoughts, dreaming perhaps a little, when suddenly I became conscious of something on the parapet. It seemed to be perching there, a thin, gray shape, without face or limbs; and, peering at it, I sidled along, till I found that I was getting no nearer! Startled, I said:

“What is that? Who is it?”

Only a faint sigh answered.

I called again: “Who are you?”

A soft voice replied: “Don’t be alarmed, sir, I am the Plumage Bill.”

Its shape had grown no clearer; but in sheer amazement I went on speaking as though it were a being.

“What are you doing out here? Why aren’t you in there?” And I pointed to Big Ben.

The voice answered again: “They have no time for me, sir. I am resting a moment before I pass.”

“But,” I said, “you ‘pass’ in there, not out here!”

I could have sworn I heard it laugh, much as a dying child will laugh if you show it a jumping toy: “Oh! no, sir! It is here we pass into nothing and the summer night.”

And, as it spoke, around me came the most extraordinary beating and vibration in the air, a kind of white-gray wonder of invisible wings wheeling and hovering. The whole of dark space seemed full of millions of these invisible wings, so that I stood utterly bewildered. Then from out of that noiseless swirl rose suddenly hundreds of thousands of tiny voices as of birds too young to fly, calling, crying, calling. And, flinging up my hands, I pressed them against the drums of my ears till I thought I should break them in; but still I heard the hundreds of thousands of shrill little voices crying, and crying. “Hush!” I called out: “For heaven’s sake, hush!” But on they went, feeble and shrill amid that invisible swirl of winged mothers trying to reach and feed them; then, just when I thought I could bear it no longer, the mist on the water curled over and broke like a wave, something sighed out “Farewell!” and the thin gray shape was no longer there.

All was still once more. The Bridge stretched empty. Big Ben glowed in the sky. I drew a long breath and turned to look down at the water. There, on the parapet, was that thin gray shape again!

“Not gone?” I cried.

A voice answered: “Sir, I have only just come. I am the Bill of the Worn-out Horses.”

“What!” I cried; “had they no time even for you?”

And, as I spoke, I heard the sound of thousands of hoofs, and saw, passing me slowly on the dark air, the gaunt shapes of horses. From side to side, up, down—horses dragging worn feet, halting, passing—their heads lower than their hoofs.

And I cried out: “For Christ’s sake, pass!”

The voice answered: “We pass, sir. Farewell!”

With a sound of plunging the water rose black through the mist to the level of the Bridge, fell again, and all was once more still.

“I’m haunted!” I thought; and crossed to the other side. There, again, before me on the parapet was a gray shape that said: “I am the Bill of the Slaughtered Beasts.”

And, on the instant, there came at me in the air, as though I were the centre of a wheel, a million spokes of beasts, great beasts and little, snorting, writhing, quivering, with a sound of the gurgling of blood. And in terror I cried: “Pass!”

The voice answered: “We pass, sir. Farewell.”

And the river ran by below, swollen to the height of a hill—all red.

I began to run, crying out: “Enough!”

But still there on the parapet before me was the thin gray shape, and its voice said: “I am the Bill of the Caged Wild Songbirds.”

And from the darkness above came the flutter of myriads of tiny hearts maddened with terror, and a sound such as no other man can have heard—of thousands on thousands of little wings struggling, beating, struggling against cage wires. That sound came slanting down to the water like a swallow dipping, and passed—invisible as wind.

On either parapet, before me, behind, were many, many thin gray shapes, like rows of penguins. They sighed and waved, moving this way and that, as though saying farewell, then one by one dived and passed into the dark water below. And the whole air was alive with the sobbing of men and women, of children, and the cries of pain and terror from beasts and birds. And just as I thought that I, too, would leap down into the water and escape, the dawn broke . . .

I rubbed my eyes. Nothing there, save the river running quiet and full, with a gray sheen on it; that bright clock joined once more to earth by its tower; and the sky flecked from pole to pole with tiny white clouds. A breeze fanned my face. Beside me on the Bridge a gentleman in top hat and black coat was stretching himself, and breathing deeply. I turned to him.

“Did you see them, sir?”

“See what?”

“The Bills.”

“What Bills?”

“The Bills of Suffering! There, on the parapet; thin gray things, passing into nothing and the summer night?”

He looked at me, and I saw he thought I was demented. Then, with a smile on his pleasant red face, he pointed to the Clock Tower, and said:

“Bills! I get enough of them in there!”

“Didn’t you even hear them?”

He answered coldly:

“My dear Sir, I am a matter-of-fact and hard-worked man, with no time to ‘see’ things; I have seen and heard nothing. I came out here for a breath of air after sitting there all night!” And pounding with his clenched fist at the air, he added:

“We have just had a glorious scrap!”

Understanding then that I must have dreamed, I begged his pardon and moved towards home, passing the Clock Tower.


The Modern Stoic: An Ill-natured Duologue.

(From the Outlook, 1913.)

“Well, I can only say that to my mind it’s just another appeal to false emotion; pandering to the softness of our times. This mawkish humanitarianism is undermining our virility. I protest against all this agitation and rot about suffering.”

“Suffering of others is what you mean, I believe?”

“How do you know they suffer?”

“Forgive me, but where there is all the primâ facie evidence of suffering, it is surely ‘up’ to you to prove its non-existence. Now, if you yourself were to try these various experiences of animals which you tell us it is mawkish to concern ourselves about, then when you say they are nothing, we shall perhaps believe you.”

“Ah! Will you be good enough to suggest how I can do that?”

“Get yourself chained to your study chair—as a watchdog is to its kennel—for a year or so. You could then write convincingly on our morbidity for desiring to do away with your chain by law. ‘It is nothing,’ you would say; ‘no virile person——’ Or, better, cause yourself to be taken down a mine and kept there all your life working goodness knows how many hours a day, like one of those pit ponies, to gush about whose sufferings you told me was effeminate. The papers would be delighted to get a letter from your death-bed saying that it was all greatly exaggerated.”

“Your suggestions don’t excite me, so far.”

“Very well. Why not, in the interests of science, submit your body to some of the less exacting vivisections, in order that you may reinforce from personal experience your remarks about the squeamishness of cranks, and the efficacy of curare. For, think how much more valuable to us all experiments on the human you would be! I won’t go so far as to suggest that you should be killed for food; for even under the comparatively slow present methods, which, in contempt of morbid sensibility I suppose you would uphold, you would not be in a condition (though you might possibly have time) to write a letter to the paper saying that your suffering was really nothing. No! I should rather advise you to have little bits cut off your ears—a pity you have not a tail!—but the effect can well be got by having your hands tied behind you on a hot day in a fly-infested field. We should then get from you a definite pronouncement that the sufferings of being nicked and docked are nothing, instead of the mere contemptuous silence with which you at present regard our mawkish attempts to stop these processes. Oh! there are lots of things you could experience, so that your letters to the Press might acquire that convincing quality which at present seems to me rather lacking.”

“Quite finished? You forget a little, don’t you, that a human being is not an animal; so that if I followed your charming suggestions I should still be no nearer knowing whether or no animals suffer, as you say they do.”

“Oh! there’s no necessity for you to restrict your experiences to those which you advocate for animals. I’ve noticed that you are always complaining of the morbid twaddle talked about the sufferings of criminals, the unhappily married, and the poor. It would very much increase our respect for your pronouncements if you would cause yourself to be confined in a space eight feet by twelve, in your own company, for twenty-three hours out of twenty-four, for those nine months, whose reduction not long ago, in the case of convicts, I remember you disapproved of. Or again, if you would marry a hopeless inebriate, or merely grow to hate your wife—a letter from you to some well-known journal to say that it was all really of no consequence would then be of incalculably greater value than it is at present. Or dare I hope that you might be induced to embrace the career of making match-boxes, or carding buttons, or sewing shirts or trousers for, say, twelve or fifteen hours a day, on a wage of seven shillings or so a week, in order that we might have the benefit of knowing that your strenuous remarks about the mawkishness of believing that the poor really suffer were inspired by a thorough and personal knowledge of the subject.”

“You’re unfortunate in your choice of sufferings. Those you mention are all necessary—society being what it is.”

“Oh! then you admit that they are sufferings?”

“To an extent—much exaggerated.”

“Very well! You have not yet, I perceive, grasped my points: First, what gives you the right to say these sufferings are necessary to society, and to interfere with our attempts to reduce them so far as we can? Secondly, what makes you an authority at all on the nature and degree of suffering?”

“I refuse to answer your first question, which I consider insolent. As to the second, which is also insolent, of what use is one’s imagination, if not to gauge the experiences of others without experiencing them oneself?”

“My dear sir, imagination is not, believe me, a mere capacity for failing to grasp what you have not yourself experienced. It is an active quality, and even when stretched to the utmost is a little liable to fall short of the poignancy of experience. Let me remind you of Poe’s tale about the man on whom the walls of a room gradually closed in. That tale, I am sure, made even you feel that his sufferings might not be nil—though I honestly believe it only roused you because it was so obviously romance. But do you think your imagination when you read the story really provided you with the intensity of the sensations of that man, especially at the moment when the walls were grinding his bones?”

“That was, as you say, romance. But you humanitarians are always magnifying and distorting into the dreadful what is very ordinary experience; your imaginations are your masters, not your servants. What you want is to be familiarized with the ordinary sights of Nature, and the look of blood; we shouldn’t then have all this namby-pambyism to put up with.”

“You recommend that we should be familiarized with the sight of blood? Might I suggest that no blood could be so educative as that of one who propounds the doctrine: Suffering is nil! Let your own blood flow for our enlightenment. Believe me, we shall pay a much more rapt attention to it than we should to that of any other creature.”

“That, as you well know, is an absurd suggestion.”

“Yes! Quite. But what I want you to appreciate is, how tiny the difference between us is. We think, that a man should make light of his own suffering, but make light the suffering of others. Now, transposing that first ‘of’ would make our philosophy identical with yours.”

“And how do you know that I have not sufferings, made light of—hidden from every one?”

“Have you? We have, you see, no means of knowing; and you must prove it if you wish for the luxury of having attention paid to you when you make light of suffering for others. But if indeed you have, are you not a most unhappy person in that you do not let a fellow-feeling make you wondrous kind?”

“Ah! I thought that was coming. Shall I tell you my opinion of you, sir? You are a sickly sentimentalist.”

“My feeling about you, is not so hackneyed. With your philosophy of: ‘I am all right. Let them suffer!’—you are—the Modern Stoic.”



Solitary Confinement


(An Open Letter to the Home Secretary—at that time, May, 1909, the Right Hon. Herbert John Gladstone, M.P.—printed in The Nation.)

Sir,—In addressing you, I desire to say that I do so with a gratitude and respect that must be shared by those who know how much you have already done for the improvement of our prison system.

I head this letter “Solitary Confinement” because, though the expression has long been officially abandoned in favour of the term “Separate Confinement,” it more adequately defines the seclusion undergone by prisoners in closed cells, and distinguishes that system from a practice obtaining in local prisons of setting prisoners to work separately in their cells with open doors (when it is impossible to find them work in association).

Solitary, or closed-cell, confinement—that is to say, complete seclusion every day for nearly twenty-three hours out of twenty-four—is now, sir, as you, but not all men, know, endured by every convict (persons sentenced to penal servitude for three years and over) during the first three, six, or nine months of his sentence, according to class—star, intermediate, or recidivist, and for the first month of their sentence by all prisoners (except juveniles) sentenced to hard labour. Closed-cell confinement for women convicts lasts four months.

It is the object of this letter to urge on you the complete abandonment of this closed-cell confinement, save where it is rendered necessary by the conduct of the convict or prisoner after his arrival in prison.

In order to demonstrate the weakness of the case for its retention, I shall first quote certain paragraphs from the Report of the Departmental Committee, 1895, over which you, sir, presided. (The italics are my own.)

52. “We do not agree with the view that separate confinement is desirable, on the ground that it enables the prisoner to meditate on his misdeeds. We are, however, disposed to agree that the separate system as a general principle is the right policy. The separate system rests on two considerations only. It is a deterrent, and it is a necessary safeguard against contamination. But we are not of the opinion that association for industrial labour under proper conditions is productive of harm. On the contrary, we believe that the advantages largely outweigh the disadvantages. . . . Subject to this condition” (careful supervision) “and to a proper system of classification, Colonel Garsia, a prison official of great experience, stated in his evidence that there was no danger whatever in associated work. . . .”

53. “. . . We think that this limited form of association is desirable for several reasons. (1) It is a welcome relief to most prisoners from the dull and wearying monotony of the constant isolation which forces men back on themselves, and in many cases leads to moral and physical deterioration. (2) It can be made in the nature of a privilege liable to suspension, and would be, therefore, a satisfactory addition to the best kind of available punishment. (3) It materially lessens the difficulty of providing and organising industrial labour in prisons. Prisoners can be taught trades in classes, and they can then work in association under proper and economical supervision in regular workshops or halls provided for the purpose. (4) It is more healthy. It is desirable that cells should be untenanted for some hours in the day, and in any case it is better that work which produces dust should not be carried on in the cells.”

55. “In recommending a wider adoption of associated work, we must admit that several competent witnesses expressed disapproval of the principle. . . . But upon cross-examination, it did not appear that they could sustain their objection to associated labour properly supervised, and they seemed to us to have formed their opinion rather because separation has been the accepted rule of the prison system than on any experience of failure of the associated system. . . .”

76. “In the consideration of several matters contained in the reference we had to touch upon the practice of confining convicts for nine months’ ” (now, 1909, three, six or nine) “solitary imprisonment either in local or convict prisons. . . . The history of it is interesting and suggestive. It was originated in 1842 by Sir James Graham, then Home Secretary. . . . We shall show how complete a change in the apparent object of the practice has since occurred.”

77. “. . . The convict was to undergo eighteen months’ solitary imprisonment, but he was to be freely visited by chaplain and prison officials . . . he was to be kept in a state of cheerfulness; hope, energy, resolution, and virtue were to be imparted to him, and he was to be trained to be fully competent to make his own way and become a respectable member in the penal settlements. . . .”

78. “In 1848 it was determined that, eighteen months being too long a period for isolated confinement, a system should be introduced based on a period of separate confinement, followed by a term of associated labour, with a maximum of twelve months. This was reduced by Lord Palmerston in 1853 to nine months. The original intention of Sir J. Graham, which was that this period should be primarily of a reformatory character, appears fifteen years later to have been lost sight of. . . .”

79. “It would appear from Sir J. Jebb’s evidence in 1853 that the main object of the separate (solitary) confinement had come to be deterrence. . . .”

80. “In effect, this is the purpose which it must be regarded as now designed to serve. . . . It is certainly a practical convenience in the sense that the expense of sending convicts immediately after sentence to convict prisons, either singly or in small detachments, is curtailed by the system of gathering prisons. This consideration alone is not sufficient to justify the practice. The argument that it is a necessary discipline for penal servitude, if true, is no argument for sending the convicts to local prisons. We do not regard the system with favour. We see no objection to short periods of detention in local prisons for the purpose of collecting parties for transfer to the convict prisons; but if the system is a good one at all, we think it ought, as far as possible, to be worked out in the convict prisons from first to last. We think it cannot be denied that cases occur in which a nervous condition, agitated by remorse and by a long continuance of the separate system, may be injuriously affected by it. From the evidence before us, we have no reason to believe that such cases are of other than exceptional occurrence. We think it is worth considering whether the severity of the system might not be mitigated by a substantial reduction in the period of separation. . . .”

These, sir, were the conclusions of your Committee as far back as 1895. I submit that, as a whole, they point to the existence of very grave doubts in the minds of its members as to the wisdom of retaining this system of closed-cell confinement at all. Since then great strides have been made in the direction of the classification of prisoners, and of associated labour, and the whole slow trend of thought and effort in regard to prisons has been in the direction of reformation of the prisoner.

The late Sir Edmund Du Cane, though one of its chief supporters, has called solitary confinement “. . . an artificial state of existence absolutely opposed to that which Nature points out as the condition of mental, moral, and physical health . . .” (“The Punishment and Prevention of Crime,” p. 138.) Its effect on a highly-strung temperament is thus described by a young woman who had served a long term of penal servitude.

“. . . It is like nothing else in the world—it is impossible to describe it; no words can paint its miseries, nothing that I can say would give any idea of the horrors of solitary confinement—it maddens one even to think of it. No one who has not been through it can conceive the awful anguish one endures when shut up in a living tomb, thrown back upon yourself . . . The overpowering sensation is one of suffocation. You feel you must and can smash the walls, burst open the doors, kill yourself! . . .”

Add to this Sir Robert Anderson’s description of his sensations (Nineteenth Century, March, 1902), after he had caused himself to be locked up for only a few hours with a political prisoner. “I seemed to be in a pit. There was no want of air, and yet I felt smothered. My nerves would not have long stood the strain of it.”

This is the conclusion, from personal experience, of H. B. Montgomery:

“The whole of this procedure” (solitary confinement) “is cruel and barbarous, unworthy of a humane or civilized nation. To my knowledge it drives many men mad, and even when it does not induce lunacy, mentally affects a large proportion of those subjected to it . . .” And: “The less a prisoner is thrown in on himself and the more he is encouraged to foster his home ties, the less likely is he to descend into that condition of despair and demoralization which are such potent factors in driving men to perdition.”

These are the words of Colonel Baker, of the Salvation Army, before your Departmental Committee of 1895:

“As to convicts on discharge, I should like to say that we find a great number of them incapable of pursuing any ordinary occupation. They are mentally weak and wasted, requiring careful treatment for months after they have been received by us. In several cases they are men who are only fit to be sent off home or to a hospital.”

These, after personal experience, are the comments of W. B. N. in his moderate, and stoical, book “Penal Servitude”:

“. . . but, at the best, the system of ‘separate confinement’ is a very bad one. It is only solitary confinement slightly improved, and it has some of the worst effects of that terrible punishment. The intention of it, doubtless, is to impress the prisoner with the gravity of his offence against society, and to bring him to a better state of mind. But in some cases, I am convinced, it has quite the opposite result. The solitude and the hopeless monotony, with nothing to think of but the long years of suffering and disgrace ahead, produces nervous irritation approaching, in some cases, to frenzy, and instead of softening the man brings out all the evil there is in him. Under such conditions, the worst companions he could have are his own thoughts. In men of a different temperament, again, it deadens all sensibility, so that they do not care a straw what happens afterwards, but would just as soon become habitual criminals as not. It is this sullen hatred of themselves and of everybody else engendered and fostered during the long dismal months of separate confinement that makes the most dangerous and troublesome prisoners at a later stage. There are a third class, who, having no criminal instincts, nor any strong instincts at all, merely give way mentally, without any acute distress, and become little better than half-witted by the time their separate confinement is at an end. . . .”

These are the remarks of Professor Prins, Inspector-General of Belgian prisons:

“Solitude produces in him (the vacuous-minded, erratic, and animal person who is usually the criminal) no intellectual activity and no searching of conscience; it serves to deepen his mental vacuity and to deliver him over to unnatural indulgence in the one animal appetite of which he cannot be deprived.” (“The Criminal,” Havelock Ellis, p. 328.)

Beltrani-Scalia, formerly Inspector-General of Prisons in Italy, is of the same opinion, and remarks that “the cellular system looks upon man as a brother of La Trappe.” (“The Criminal,” p. 329.)

The following passage, taken from Prince Kropotkin’s “Memoirs of a Revolutionist,” refers to a peasant confined solitarily in a cell beneath him in the Fortress of Peter and Paul, and with whom he and his neighbour could communicate by knocking.

“Soon I began to notice, to my terror, that from time to time his mind wandered. Gradually his thoughts became more and more confused and we two perceived, step by step, day by day, evidences that his reason was failing, until his talk became at last that of a lunatic. Frightful noises and wild cries came next from the lower storey; our neighbour was mad. . . . To witness the destruction of a man’s mind under such conditions was terrible.”

Finally, this is the judgment of the rector of St. Marylebone, Dr. W. D. Morrison (after more than ten years’ experience as Prison Chaplain): “It tends to have a demoralising effect upon many classes of prisoners.”

Such evidence might be multiplied indefinitely.

Now, sir, in regard to the object of solitary confinement we have surely no need to go behind the finding of your committee:

“It would appear that the main object of the separate” (closed-cell) “confinement had come to be deterrence . . . In effect this is the purpose which it must be regarded as now designed to serve.”

In regard to its nature, we have, as surely, no need of other description than its supporter’s, the late Sir Edmund Du Cane’s “An artificial state of existence absolutely opposed to that which Nature points out as the condition of mental, moral, and physical health.”

The questions arising, then, are two:—

(a) Is this practice of solitary confinement, in fact, deterrent?

(b) Has a civilized nation the right to retain offenders for months in a state of existence absolutely opposed to mental, moral, and physical health, even for the purpose of deterrence?

As to question (a). No support can be gathered for the plea of deterrence from the statistics of penal servitude; mere severity of punishment has never been proved to be a factor of deterrence. When men were hung for horse or sheep stealing those offences were far more prevalent than they are now. Moreover, the nature of their coming punishment is too vaguely known to those who have never been in prison for the thought of solitary confinement to have any deterrent effect on ninety-nine out of a hundred first offenders. Indeed, that it is not sufficiently present to any man’s mind is shown by the fact that so humane a public as ours knows and thinks so little about the suffering of solitary confinement as to have allowed it to remain part of their prison system.

The effect of a period of solitary confinement which comes at the beginning of long years of imprisonment is inevitably wiped out by the monotony of the prison life which follows. Mechanical adjustment to environment is always going on in the human being. Solitary confinement is a smothering process to which the mind must adapt itself, or perish. The mental demoralization remains after the confinement comes to an end, but the consciousness of that mental ruin, the consciousness of the suffering, has become dulled; from his closed cell the convict passes on to the ordinary prison life, actually unable to appreciate the extent of the misery he has undergone. Obviously, moreover, deterrence (if there be deterrence) paid for by mental and moral weakening is not true deterrence; for the acquired power of resistance to crime, if any, is nullified through deterioration of the prisoner’s fibre.

The true deterrence of imprisonment lies in the general fear of loss of liberty; in that nightmare of a thought all details of impending punishment (even if known) mechanically merge.

This solitary confinement, however, is sometimes justified on the ground that it is necessary to buoy the convict up with hope. It is thought that by placing him at the outset in the seventh hell of pain we lessen his sufferings in the minor hells which await him at the expiration of those first dire months. That, sir, is humanity with a vengeance. Imagine this principle logically applied to social life. The husband would beat the wife that she might not so greatly feel the inevitable wear and tear of matrimony; the mother would starve the child that it might experience with more equanimity the ordinary pangs of hunger; the master would withhold wages that the servant might more duly appreciate the receipt of what was due to him. It appears, indeed, to be almost what is called a vicious principle.

To question (b)—Whether a civilized country has the right to retain its offenders in a state of existence absolutely opposed to mental, moral, and physical health, even for the sake of a supposed deterrence—I conceive, sir, but this one answer: Only so long as we do not realize what this solitary confinement means.

Six months (to take the mean sentence) is a short time to a free man; it is an eternity to a prisoner confined in solitude. One hundred and eighty days—four thousand hours, of utter solitude and silence in a cell, which—in the words of Sir Robert Anderson (Nineteenth Century, March, 1902)—“differs from every other sort of apartment designed for human habitation in that all view of external nature, such as might soothe, and possibly alleviate, the mind, is, with elaborate care, excluded”—solitude broken only by one hour a day, of chapel, and walking up and down a yard, by the sight of a warder, three times or so a day, bringing in food; by a ten minutes’ visit perhaps from chaplain or governor.

Four thousand hours of utter solitude in a closed space thirteen feet by seven—with the prospect of anything from two to twenty years of monotonous routine and loss of liberty to follow! Can a Public Opinion, which succeeds in bringing these facts home to its imagination, justly say that two and a half to twenty years of loss of liberty, with all that this means in prison, is not sufficient punishment for any crime that man can commit, without the preliminary agony of four thousand hours of solitude in a closed space thirteen feet by seven?

Sir, Public Opinion has never yet succeeded in realizing what this so-called separate confinement means. In the year ending March, 1907, we set 1,035 persons, of whom 691 had never been sentenced to penal servitude before, to endure these hours of agony and demoralization. In the year ending March, 1908, we set another 1,179 to endure the same, 749 of them for the first time. At the present moment another thousand, more or less, are undergoing it.

In thus subjecting year by year a thousand persons to nine, six, or three months of an “artificial state of existence absolutely opposed to that which Nature points out as the condition of mental, moral, and physical health,” we are annually committing an offence against our reason, of which we reap the full reward in the mental, moral, and physical deterioration of persons already demoralized enough; and an offence against our humanity in reality as great as if we had placed them on the rack.

I by no means lose sight of the fact that this closed-cell confinement falls with different effect on different temperaments; it falls, no doubt, far less heavily on the sluggish and the brutalized than on the nervous types, of which, however, we are now breeding great numbers. But, sir, even the habitual criminal—popularly supposed to dread flogging more than anything—has been known while enduring solitary confinement to beg for the lash in place of it. Sir J. Jebb, giving evidence before the Penal Servitude Acts Commission in 1863, uses these words: “With burglars and reckless characters I think that separate confinement is dreaded more than any other kind of discipline.” And in regard to other effects on the habitual criminal, the words of Professor Prins, above quoted, are significant. The sluggish brutality of many recidivists is produced in the first place by this very process of closed-cell confinement. Man, even the lowest type of man, is a social and gregarious animal—all that is best in him depends on, and is brought out by, contact with his fellow-creatures; if that be not so, our religion and whole social scheme are falsely conceived. Deprive man of all contact with his fellow-man, shut him in upon himself, hopelessly, utterly, month by month, and he will come out of that artificial existence lower and more brutal than when he entered it. Prolonged starvation and agony of the mind is worse than starvation and agony of the body, carrying, as it does, the wreck of the body with it.

We have the right to restrain offenders and to safeguard society; in doing this we unavoidably punish with that already terrible punishment “loss of liberty.” But, sir, we have—surely—not the right to inflict unnecessary and harmful suffering. I recognise to the full that there is no lack of humanity among those who work our prison system; recognise to the full that they would not willingly inflict any suffering that they acknowledged to be unnecessary; but in every department of life those who administer a system are, in the nature of things, with rare exceptions, too habituated to that system, too close to it, to be able to see it in due perspective.

I ask you, sir, and I ask the common sense of the public, whether harmful and unnecessary suffering must not inevitably be endured by the mind, and through the mind by the body, of a human being during these thousands of hours of closed-cell confinement. To answer that question fairly each member of the public has but to ask what would be the effect on himself or herself of nine or six or even three months’ utter seclusion (except for one hour each day) from all sight and sound not only of human beings, but of animals, trees, flowers, and from the sight even of the sky, all but a patch no bigger than a tea-tray. We are on the whole a humane people; and it is not so much a question of our humanity as of our imaginations. The position is plainly this: Those who have to work our prison system perhaps could not do so at all if they allowed their imaginations fair play. The community are too aloof to realize what that prison system means. And so the unnecessary demoralization and suffering caused by this closed-cell confinement goes on at the rate of (for convicts alone) more than four million hours a year!

I do not base the appeal of this letter so much on humanity as on common sense. Why, when we are faced with appalling statistics of criminality, with appalling difficulties in dealing with and reforming criminals, do we deliberately continue a practice which both evidence and reason tell us contributes to the more complete demoralization of such as are already demoralized?

In the Report of your Departmental Committee of 1895 occur these words:

“It should be the object of the prison authorities, through the prison staff and any suitable auxiliary effort that can be employed, to humanize the prisoners, to prevent them from feeling that the State merely chains them for a certain period and cares nothing about them beyond keeping them in safe custody and under iron discipline.”

And again: “. . . it strengthens our belief that the main fault of our prison system is that it treats prisoners too much as irreclaimable criminals instead of reclaimable men and women.”

I submit that no unprejudiced man can regard this closed-cell confinement as a humanizing influence, except in the rarest cases, or maintain that it helps to reclaim men and women.

I refer again to this paragraph in the Report of your Committee:

“It” (the detention of convicts in closed-cell confinement at local prisons) “is certainly a practical convenience in the sense that the expense of sending convicts immediately after sentence to convict prisons, either singly or in detachments, is curtailed by the system of gathering prisons. This consideration alone is not sufficient to justify the practice.

I am credibly informed that the whole matter is one of administration, and can be modified without Act of Parliament. I appeal, then, to you, sir, who have already done so much towards reforming our prison system, to work for the abandonment of this custom of confining convicts in closed cells for nine, six or three months, or any less period, either in local or in convict prisons; to substitute therefore work in association from the commencement of sentence; or, where such is not immediately possible, work in separate cells with open doors. And I would further appeal to you to advocate the reduction of the twenty-eight days, closed-cell confinement endured by prisoners serving sentences of hard labour.

Than this great and necessary reform I can conceive none that will, at a single stroke, remove so much harmful and unnecessary suffering, or do more to reconcile our Penal Laws with Justice and Common Sense.


(From a Letter to Sir Evelyn Ruggles Brise, K.C.B., Prison Commission, Whitehall, July, 1909.)

“. . . I was at X. Prison on Tuesday, at Y. Prison yesterday. Saw all the officials, and talked with twelve convicts. . . .

“It was suggested to me at X. that I ought to stay some days there and see every convict. I would be willing, if you will allow me, to stay some days at X. Prison, see every convict, and keep record of the answers obtained from each one as to the effect on him of separate confinement. I think they would speak to me freely. From all I hear, and certainly from its situation and general airiness and lightness, X. Prison is the best of the four collecting prisons, and there would be no danger of getting an impression more unfavourable to separate confinement than I should get from seeing each convict in all four prisons.

“An expression used during our conversation the other day leads me for a moment into the deeper and wider significance of this question. It was the expression ‘a downright enemy of society’ used of a certain class of prisoner. I have been thinking over that phrase ‘a downright enemy of society’ to see if one more meditation on it would correct the conclusions of a hundred previous meditations, but I do not feel that it has. I think of it like this: Every now and then, seldom enough but still too frequently, we come across children, in all classes, who, from the age when they begin to act at all, show that there is something in them warped, distorted, inherently inimical to goodness. It is in them, of them, a taint in their blood, a lesion of their brain. They grow up. They are not insane, but they have a blind spot, a place in their souls or internal economy—or whatever you like to call it—that some mysterious, rather awful, hand has darkened. They are doomed from their birth by reason of that blind spot sooner or later to become criminals, that is, to commit some action which is not consonant with the actions of those who are born without this blind spot; some are not found out, some are. When found out they are known as ‘the criminal type.’ They form a portion, not perhaps a very large one, of our convicts. Can those, who have had the good fortune to be born like their fellows, punish these unfortunates for the sake of punishing them, for the sake of avenging society? I cannot bring myself to think so.

“These are not, however, the bulk of our convicts. The greater part of them are those who are born more or less normal, but with what is called a weak character.[5] I don’t know if you have ever been much amongst those classes which supply the vast proportion of our criminals; if you have, you will recognize, as I do, what a wonderful thing it is that so small a proportion of them become criminals. You will have seen the very dreadful struggle they have against luck from the time when they begin to know anything. You will feel, as I do, that keeping their heads above water is, and must be, touch and go with them from day to day; they’ve just a plank between them and going down, and a very little extra sea (it runs high all the time) tips that plank over. Many of them are bred in slums and garrets where the only real God is Drink. When they go under, they are suddenly up against the most inexorable thing in life, Law and Order, to whose mercilessness every citizen subscribes in self-defence, whether he will or no. When they have paid their debt to Law, they emerge into the same conditions against which they were too weak by nature to stand up before, with the one weapon they had, character, either gone or gravely damaged. It is not remarkable that they go down again, and then again, and so on, until they become ‘enemies of society.’

“It seems to me that gentlemen (I speak in the spirit), holding as their creed the duty of putting themselves in the place of others, cannot reconcile it with that creed to punish for the mere sake of punishing those whose chances in life have been so vastly inferior to their own.

“These general considerations must be platitudes to you, and I feel that you do not, any more than I, believe in punishment as a means of revenging society, but merely as a means of protecting society by restraining and trying to reform the offender. Society (I speak in the widest sense of heredity and environment) makes the offender; it can restrain, but it cannot with justice exact vengeance from the victims of its own shortcomings.

“All hope of real diminution in crime and criminals (in default of better social conditions) depends, in my belief, not on the infliction of ‘deterrent suffering’ in prisons, but, first, on the extension of probation, and your splendid Borstal system; secondly, on abolition of ‘tickets of leave,’ and that vicious principle of not having done with the offence when you have paid the penalty for it; thirdly, on a moderate, humane, and reformatory use of the principle of detention of the hopeless recidivist; fourthly, on the increase of humanizing influences brought to bear on prisoners in prison. I give full weight to the necessity for not making prison life a treat, and to the consideration that what would be hell to us may be comparative ease to the habitual criminal; but I think that, with ‘closed-cell’ confinement abolished, society might still make its mind easy. The man who will come back to prison life from choice, so long as he can get his bread in freedom, does not exist; the cumulative force of hard and regular work, of silence, of no tobacco, of no drink, of no knowledge of what is going on outside, of being ordered about from morning to night, of being, a number, not a man, of losing all touch with his family and friends, above all, of utter monotony, of the sense at the best of being in school, at the worst of being in slavery, of the feeling of having whole years sponged out of his life (for a man does not live in prison), may not be easy to grasp for those who live in liberty themselves, but it is none the less tremendous.

“It is perhaps superfluous to remind you, who for so many years have been fighting for and achieving reforms, of what a queer, hypnotizing influence ‘things as they are’—in fact, the existing system has on the minds of those who are constantly confronted with it; and to beg you for that reason to take due discount from the evidence of those who are necessarily under that hypnotic influence; just as no doubt you will, without my begging you, take discount from my appeal on the ground that I am an outsider.

“I can’t close this letter without saying that it’s impossible to go over our prisons and not see that the country has in yourself a great reforming administrator; I shall consider it a rare piece of good fortune if any words of mine help to bring about in your mind the belief that this particular feature of our prison system, closed-cell confinement, requires immediate mitigation and ultimate elimination, except in individual cases. . . .”

Criminality, I now think, is as often the result of too strong a character, or rather of too much unbalanced self-will.—J. G.


A Minute on Separate Confinement

Forwarded to the Home Secretary and the Prison Commissioners, September, 1909.

(Compiled from visits paid to sixty convicts undergoing separate confinement in X. and Y. Prisons, July and September, 1909.)

By the courtesy of the Prison Commissioners, to whom my thanks are due, I visited these convicts in their cells, and conversed privately with each one of them for from ten minutes to a quarter of an hour. I put certain definite questions to each in regard to the effect of separate confinement on themselves, and, so far as they could tell me, on other prisoners, prefacing each conversation by the information that I was in no way connected with the prison authorities. My object in the course of these conversations was to get behind the formal question and answer to the man’s real feelings. I met with no hostility, defiance, or conscious evasion in any single case. In some cases a word or two was sufficient to bring a rush of emotion. Several men were in tears throughout the interview. In the majority of cases, however, I found it difficult to get the prisoners to express themselves; and in some cases formal answers, stolidly given, were reversed by some sudden revelation of feeling evoked, as it were, in spite of the prisoner’s self. Generally speaking, I judged that feelings were understated rather than overstated.

The summary of these interviews is as follows: (sixty convicts interviewed): —

Of these:

Eight preferred separate confinement to working in association, and were not conscious of harmfulCategory A.
Fifteen would prefer work in association, but
(1) Having suffered from their separate confinement, had got more or less used to it (three cases).
(2) Were suffering, but thought it was good for them (three cases).
(3) Were so incapable of expressing their experiences, that no definite answer could be got from them (nine cases).
Category B.
Thirty-seven preferred association; suffered severely from separate confinement; and asserted that they had been harmed; that all prisoners were harmed, and some driven crazy.Category C.

Of the eight convicts in Category A, who preferred separate:

Four were educated men (three of whom asserted a natural preference for their own society in or out of prison).

One was an old recidivist with five sentences of penal servitude.

Two (of a callous type) preferred separate confinement because they had no temptation to talk and get into trouble.

One was the only prisoner I saw who said he had deliberately committed his offence in order to get into prison.

The following phrases taken from notes made immediately after each interview indicate the general nature of the suffering experienced by prisoners separately confined:

“I used to look up at the window, and something seemed to pull me back.”

“The first month was awful, I didn’t hardly know how to keep myself together. I thought I should go mad.”

“It’s made me very nervous. The least thing upsets me; I was not nervous before.”

“I’ve got a daughter, and I grieve over her all the time; there’s nothing to take your mind off.”

“I’ve never felt right since—it’s got all over me.” (This man cried all the time. He seemed utterly unnerved, and broken up. A Star Class man.)

“I feel it dreadfully. It gets worse as it goes on.”

“It’s no life at all. I’d sooner be dead than here.” (This man was very tearful and quavery.)

“My first spell of ‘separate’ nearly drove me raving.” (This was a recidivist serving his third term.)

“It broke me down on my first sentence. It destroys a man.”

“I had a cold lonely feeling. . . . Nine months of it is killing for most men.”

“It’s punishment to shut up a man for nine months.” (This is a fair specimen of the very general under-statement of evidently acute feelings.)

“It’ll send men ‘up the stick.’ ” (Off their heads.)

“I’m very miserable and down-’earted. You feel it more and more as you get older. I hardly know sometimes what I’m doing.” (This was from an old man of sixty-one who had been twenty years in prison, and said he did not expect to last through this sentence. He had still six months of separate to run, and struck me as very broken up, and suffering.)

“I keep ‘picturing’ things, and walking about. It sends men ‘up the pole!’ ” (Another bad case of a young recidivist of twenty-nine, with five months of his ‘separate’ still to run.)

“Walls seem to close in. . . . I get blankness in the brain; have to stop reading.”

“It’s hell upon earth.” (An educated prisoner.)

“Almost unbearable depression.” (An educated prisoner.)

“Sleep’s the only comfort.”

“I sit there sometimes at work, not knowing what I’m doing.”

“I’ve good nerves. A man with bad nerves would soon snuff out in ‘separate’.”

“If a man had the spy-hole open even, so that he could see out, it would make a vast deal of difference. . . . I’ve seen numbers of men come on the public works from their ‘separate,’ quite silly.”

“I’ve seen many a man driven queer.” (This recidivist had served four terms of penal servitude.)

“I’ve seen men driven off their nuts.”

I could not get an admission from any prisoner that the suffering they underwent in separate confinement deterred them from coming back to prison. The two reasons they assigned for coming back to prison were:

(1) That they had so little chance outside. (2) Drink.

It is obvious, however, that the separate period is almost universally regarded as much the worst part of the sentence.

My reasons for believing that, in spite of this, separate confinement is not, in fact, deterrent were given in my open letter to the Home Secretary (the Nation, May 1st and May 8th, 1909); this belief has been strengthened rather than weakened in the course of this investigation. As a final result of these visits I record my deliberate conviction that no competent observer with any knack of getting at men’s feelings, and the opportunity of conversing in private and as a private person, with the prisoners could come to any other conclusion than that an immense amount of harmful and unnecessary suffering is inflicted by closed-cell confinement extending over the periods (especially the longer periods) now prevailing. It is my belief that if the authorities were able to adopt this method of getting at the real state of the case the system would not remain unaltered for a single day.


(From a Letter to the Home Secretary, the Right Hon. Herbert John Gladstone, M.P., October, 1909.)

“. . . Every day that passes with this question undealt with means so many thousand hours of solid, tangible, harmful, removable misery. There is a distinction between this particular kind of misery and any other experienced by man in a state of society such as we now have in England. There is no other form of acute, prolonged misery enforced on people in such a way as that they can by no possibility avoid it. The old saying, ‘He deserves all he’ll get and more,’ stultifies itself the moment it is looked into; the plea of deterrence does not hold water; and this misery stands out stark—a survival from the philosophy (!) of the dark ages. . . .”

Note.—Solitary (or separate) confinement for convicts has been reduced from nine, six, and three months to three months for “old hands,” and one month for the other two classes of convicts. But the writer feels as strongly as ever that, except in special cases, it should be done away with altogether.—J. G.


The Spirit of Punishment

(An Article in the Daily Chronicle, 1910.)

In the matter of our administration of justice there is a very simple question to be asked by every man of his own conscience: What do I believe is the object of punishment? Until this question has been asked and coherently answered by the community it is obviously as mad to apply punishment as for a man to set out to dine with a friend of whose address he has no knowledge. But by how many people has this question been asked; by how many has it been coherently answered?

The whole administration of our justice at present treads the quicksands of ambiguity as to the object of punishment. The vast majority of us have never put to ourselves the question at all, being quite satisfied that the object of punishment is to “serve people right”; and out of the small minority who have asked the question the far greater number have given themselves no coherent answer. And yet it is only from a coherent and wise answer, graven in letters of stone on our law courts and prisons, in letters of feeling in our hearts, that hope of diminution in crime, and in the damage which arises from it, both to the community and to the offender, can come.

Now, whatever sentimental relation there be between punishment and our deep instincts of equity, the object of punishment is the protection of society and the reformation of the offender. That is the only safe rule in practice; and everything in our administration of justice which conflicts with it is falsely conceived. But it is the commonest thing in the world for people to accept that definition without considering in the least what it means; for experts, after thoroughly agreeing with it, to suddenly remark that for such and such a crime they, personally, would have no mercy; for sentences to be passed in which the judge has obviously fitted the punishment to his private views of the heinousness of the crime, without real regard for the protection of society, or for the reformation of the person sentenced. All which is extremely natural, and very bad.

The confusion arises from not keeping the idea of the protection of society closely enough coupled with the idea of the reformation of the offender; from dwelling too much on the past, and not looking enough to the future; from the continued existence of the old theory, “an eye for an eye” condemned to death over nineteen hundred years ago, but still dying very hard in this Christian country.

The protection of Society includes the adjustment of punishment so as not to leave on the mind of the injured person a crude sense of injury unhealed by retribution. It includes the removal from individuals of the desire to take the law into their own hands. It is necessary to preserve in punishment a due element of deterrence. The State and those who administer its functions have no business with anything but the scientific application of the best means to do all this, and reform the offender.

Yet in the glibbest way that golden rule “protection of society and reformation of the offender” is cited to cover all the flaws in our administration of justice.

In its name men are prosecuted, when with better comprehension they should be warned or helped.

In its name first offenders are imprisoned, when with better comprehension the imprisonment of first offenders, of whatever age, for whatever offence, should be unknown; a much greater danger to society arises, and infinitely less chance of reforming the delinquent exists, when that delinquent has once been committed to prison. Place him on probation, or send him to a reformatory institution such as Borstal, for whatever fixed period may seem necessary—but to a prison, as prisons now are, never! To send him there is fatal, hopeless, uneconomic, unscientific.

In its name, the continuance of closed-cell confinement is defended; and we endeavour to reform men by consigning them to the operation of what, in the words of its staunch supporter (the late Sir Edmund Du Cane), is, “an artificial state of existence, absolutely opposed to that which Nature points out as the condition of mental, moral, and physical health.” We try in fact to protect society by a method that does not reform. Many have raised their voices against this strange practice since evidence, given before the Select Committee on Prison Discipline, 1850, described closed-cell confinement as dangerous to health, and unjust to the prisoner “because it throws him back into society with diminished physical ability to encounter the variableness of climate, the severity of labour, and the pinchings of want, to which as a labourer in the market of competition he must ever be liable.” . . .! Yet in the name of the golden rule the practice lingers on, helping to rot men and women.

In the name of this golden rule, prisoners working in association are, in our prisons, forced into an unnatural silence, for ever furtively evaded. Some silence may be good, but perpetual silence is too unnatural not to defeat itself. Classification is the true preventive of contamination, not complete separation, nor perpetual silence.

In its name the handicap of the ticket-of-leave (now, thank heaven, modified) is placed on those who are desperately handicapped already.

The idea behind these and other practices of the administration of our justice is that much deterrent suffering is needful for the protection of society and the reformation of the offender. But those who know human nature know that, except in rare cases, human beings cannot be reformed by suffering inflicted on them against their will, and it is no use having a system of punishment beneficial to the few and harmful to the majority. The late Lord Coleridge once made these remarks:—

“There are few things more frequently borne in on a judge’s mind than the little good he can do the criminal by the sentences he imposes. These sentences often do nothing but unmixed harm, though I am sure that throughout the country the greatest pains are taken to make our prisons as useful as possible in the way of being reformatories. But, as a matter of fact, they are not so.”

Greater pains are now taken than when those words were spoken, but a man cannot go over prisons (I do not speak of the Borstal institutions) without seeing that they are not, cannot be, reformatory.

Reformation does not come from beating on the prisoner’s fibre with the dull mallet of suffering. To reform one must inspire. There is a spark of good in every man’s breast; the only chance lies in fanning that spark. But if we are not reforming men in our prisons, how can we be said to be protecting society, by sending them there? We are surely endangering society; and nurturing the spirit of crime.

The fact of the matter is this: Revenge is still at the back of our minds. Let a man argue on the subject with whomsoever he will, ten minutes will not have passed before he makes that discovery. The State still feels that because a man has hurt it, it must hurt him. And this feeling destroys all the economy and science of our laws. When a crime is committed, all we should be concerned with, in our own interests, is the application of the best possible means to minimize the results of that crime, to ensure that society shall run the least possible risk of a repetition of the crime, and the offender the least possible risk of remaining a criminal.

In doing this we cannot, in very many cases, avoid the detention of our criminals; but we can, and should, avoid inflicting suffering on those whom we detain, beyond the already great suffering and deprivation inseparable from disciplinary detention, and all that disciplinary detention implies; for by deliberately superadding such sufferings as solitude, or perpetual unrelieved silence, we do not to any appreciable degree deter others from committing offences, and we do foster in those whom we imprison the disposition to commit fresh offences when they are released.

That diminution of crime, depends not on deterrent punishment, but on wide and impalpable influences—growth of social feeling, spread of education, betterment of manners, decrease of intemperance, improvement in housing, a hundred other causes—is plain from the official statement lately issued. “The members of the predatory classes are appreciably fewer than in 1857, in spite of the fact that in the interim population has almost doubled.” And this in the face of admittedly milder penal measures! For further evidence that mere severity of treatment does not deter we need only look at the comparative success of the Elmira Reformatory in the United States, and the Borstal institutions here. Under these systems, which allow the offender some kind of natural life, the percentage of those who return to crime is most notably smaller.

Crime is disease—if not in the medical, in the moral sense of the word. It is either the disease of weakness, or of unbalanced self-will, or the disease of inherited taint. We have fought against this conclusion because we still harbour the spirit of revenge; but as knowledge advances we shall, we must, accept it. And the sooner we do accept it the less money we shall waste, the less harmful and unnecessary suffering shall we inflict.

The difficulties of judicial and prison administration are enormous, the force of prejudice encountered by reforming administrators terrific—all the more terrific because these prejudices, in the main conscientious, are wholly reinforced by the fact that change means trouble and expense, by fears of making things worse, by all the accumulated momentum of “things as they are.” For a man with any understanding in his composition it is impossible not to sympathize with those who, administering justice, earnestly desire to do their best, and are often, one is sure, sick at heart from the feeling that what they are doing is not the best.

It rests with public opinion in this country to re-animate our attitude towards crime; to shake itself free of our muddled conceptions of the object of punishment; to scotch once for all the spirit of revenge; to rise to a higher, more scientific and incidentally more economic, conception of our duty towards criminals. Let us get rid of the idea that we are protecting society and reforming offenders by inflicting suffering that we falsely call deterrent. Let us change our prisons into Borstal Institutions, and let us do it as soon as is humanly possible. Loss of liberty is, next to loss of life, the most dreaded of all fates; it has, in and by itself, almost all the deterrent force that is needful. There may be here and there men who prefer to be detained under strict discipline to being at liberty; but if there be, it can only be said that the conditions of their lives outside prison must constitute a disgrace to our civilization, and that our penal system cannot safely or justly be allowed to rest on any acquiescence in that disgrace. In the last annual report of the Borstal Association occur the following words:

“It is not a namby-pamby method. . . . The panic-monger who prophesies that the ambitious youth of the working classes will still clamour for admission through the gateway of crime to the advantages of Borstal, would be regarded as a humorist by those who have been there and ‘have had enough and learnt sense.’ ”

Let us, then, take discipline and loss of liberty as our sole deterrents, and on those whom we deprive of liberty let us use all the resources of a common sense that shall refuse to apply to criminals methods which would be scouted in the reform of human beings outside prisons.

All evidence shows that mere, so-called deterrent, severity is useless. Let us no longer fly in the face of evidence. Let us conform to facts. If we seriously desire to reduce crime to its irreducible minimum we must go to work like doctors.


An Unpublished Preface

(Written in 1910.)

It is not my habit to write prefaces, but there are certain things I want to say concerning the play “Justice,” as to its subject-matter, not its artistic qualities, bad, good, or indifferent.

Holding perhaps a more intimate knowledge of its author’s mind than can elsewhere be obtained, I would remark that the play is no indictment or attack, but a picture of the whole process of Justice as seen by this painter’s eye. There are thickenings of line here, and thinnings there, occasioned by lack of technical knowledge, or demanded by the exigencies of dramatic craft, but the spiritual essence of the matter is set down honestly, as best it could be perceived by him.

Justice was known by the ancients to be blind; by ourselves is admitted blind; will be acclaimed blind by the tongues of our descendants. It is blind because it is depart- or rather compart-mental.

The prosecutor, be he ancient Roman or Englishman of to-day, cannot gauge or control the whole effect on the offender and on society of the process which he initiates. The Judge, be he Solon or Judge of the High Court, cannot know enough of the temperament and antecedents of a prisoner to adequately apportion a sentence which he cannot see being carried out. The prison official is tied to the terms of the sentence and the conditions of the system, for some system there must be. The Public, on the prisoner’s release, acts mechanically in its own defence against a marked man. All see only their own bits of the game.

From this general blindness, it follows that punishment is almost always out of proportion. This is why it seemed to me worth while to make a picture of Blind Justice, and to hang it on the wall. There are some who believe that this picture will rapidly become out of date. I am not so sanguine. Short of our all becoming not only eager, but able, to see that which does not lie underneath our noses, I much fear that this picture will remain valid for some considerable time The conditions will change, but the spirit will remain—Justice is too naturally and inevitably blind. Is that any reason why we should not occasionally be reminded of the evil—one of the enduring, but perhaps diminishable, evils of human life? Even the administrators of this Justice might like now and then to glance at a picture of its blindness.

One word about the cell scene. It has been called false and exaggerated. . . . Two brothers went to see this play. At the end of the cell scene the younger, who stammers, turned to his elder and said: “It’s n-not so—j-j—olly as all that!”

Precisely! Prisoners do not commonly enjoy the relief of beating on their cell doors, though the incident is not unknown. But he who can project himself into the minds of others knows that prisoners, in closed cells, moping and brooding week after week, month after month, shut off from all real distraction, from all touch with the outer world and everything they care for, with the knowledge of years of imprisonment before them and of broken lives when they come out—knows that such prisoners, thousands of them, unseen by any eye, reach a state of mind which would make them constantly fling themselves for relief on their cell doors, if it were not for fear. No, it is not so jolly as all that!

The characteristics of all prison life, at all events in England, are silence and solitude, physical or spiritual; and this cell scene was selected to convey as nearly as the limitations of the stage permitted, these commonest characteristics of detention.

For the truth of this picture of Blind Justice as a whole I rely on the testimonial of that theatre attendant, employed out of charity, who, having been prosecuted, sentenced, imprisoned, and released, knew, let us hope, more of the matter spiritually, than those who criticize. After the play on the first night, to the question of his manager, “Well, is it true?” he looked up from his sweeping, and said: “Every word of it, sir.”

I have only this to add. If each scene is taken separately and looked on with a departmentally professional eye, it must needs seem out of drawing, for it was visualized by an eye looking on each department only in relation to the whole. When the professional reader or spectator of the Court or Prison scene, says “Oh! this or that is not true!” he is criticizing from the departmental, and not from the bird’s-eye point of view, which an author must needs assume. Even if the sentence be more than typically severe, though I doubt that, or the judgment not typically worded, they serve well enough as illustrations of that blindness which has accompanied the wisest judgments of one human being on another since the world began.

No, the only legitimate criticism which the professional reader or spectator can pass is that the particular bird’s-eye view is wrong. To that criticism this bird can make no answer, except to say with deference and courtesy that he must believe in his own eye—for it is all he has to see with.



Gentles, Let Us Rest!

(A Paper in the Nation, 1910.)

A man asked to define the essential characteristics of a gentleman—using the term in its widest sense—would presumably reply: The will to put himself in the place of others; the horror of forcing others into positions from which he himself would recoil; the power to do what seems to him right without fear of what others may say or think.

There is need just now of aid from these principles of gentility in a question of some importance—the future position of women.

The ground facts of difference between the sexes few are likely to deny:

Women are not, and in all probability never will be, physically, as strong as men.

Men are not, nor ever will be, mothers.

Women are not, and, perhaps, never should be, warriors.

To these ground facts of difference are commonly added, in argument, many others of more debatable character. But it is beside the purpose of this paper to inquire whether women have as much political sense or aptitude as men, whether a woman has ever produced a masterpiece of music, whether the brain of a woman ever weighed as much as the brain of Cuvier or Turgenev.

This paper designs to set forth one cardinal and overmastering consideration, in comparison with which all the other considerations affecting the question seem to this writer but as the little stars to the full moon.

In the lives of all nations there come moments when an idea, hitherto vaguely, almost unconsciously, held, assumes sculptured shape, and is manifestly felt to be of vital significance to a large, important, and steadily increasing section of the community. At such moments a spectre has begun to haunt the national house—a ghost which cannot be laid till it has received quietus.

Such a ghost now infests our home.

The full emancipation of women is an idea long vaguely held, but only in the last half-century formulated and pressed forward with real force and conviction, not only by women, but by men. Of this full emancipation of women, the political vote is assuredly not, as is rather commonly supposed in a land of party politics, the be-all and end-all; it is a symbol, whose practical importance—though considerable—is as nothing beside the fulfilment of the idea which it symbolizes.

The Will to Power and the Will to Love have been held up, in turn, as the animating principles of the Universe; but these are, rather, correlative half-truths, whose rivalry is surely stilled and reconciled in a yet higher principle, the Will to Harmony, to Balance, to Equity—a supreme adjustment, or harmonising power, present wherever a man turns; by which, in fact, he is conditioned, for he can with his mental apparatus no more conceive of a Universe without a Will to Equity holding it together than he can conceive the opposite of the axiom, “Ex nihilo nihil fit.” There is assuredly no thought so staggering as that, if a blade of grass or the energy contained within a single emotion were—not transmuted—but withdrawn entirely from the Universe, the balance would tip for ever and the Universe crumble in our imaginations to thin air.

Now social and political Equity emanates slowly, with infinite labour, from our dim consciousness of this serene and overlording principle of Equity. There would seem, for example, no fundamental reason why limits should ever have been put to autocracy, the open ballot destroyed, slavery abolished, save that these things came to be regarded as inequitable. In all such cases, before reaching the point of action the society of the day puts forward practical reasons, being, so to speak, unaware of its own sense of divinity. But, underneath all the seeming matter-of-factness of political and social movements, the spirit of Equity is guiding those movements, subtly, unconsciously, a compelling hand quietly pushing humanity onward, ever unseen save in the rare minutes when the spirits of men glow and light up and things are beheld for a moment as they are. The history of a nation’s spiritual development is but the tale of its wistful groping towards the provision of a machinery of State, which shall, as nearly as may be, accord with the demand of this spirit of Equity. Society, worthy of the name, is ever secretly shaping around it a temple, within which all the natural weaknesses and limitations of the dwellers shall be, not exploited and emphasized, but to the utmost levelled away and minimized. It is ever secretly providing for itself a roof under which there shall be the fullest and fairest play for all human energies, however unequal.

The destinies of mankind are seen to be guided, very slowly, by something more coherent than political opportunity; shaped steadily in a given direction towards the completion of that temple of Justice. There is no other way of explaining the growth of man from the cave-dweller to his present case. And this slow spiritual shaping towards Equity proceeds in spite of the workings of the twin bodily agents, force and expediency. Social and political growth is, in fact, a process of evolution, controlled, directed, spiritualized by the supreme principle of Equity.

This is to state no crazy creed, that because equality is mathematically admirable, equality should at all times and in all places forthwith obtain. Equality, balance, is a dream, the greatest of all visions, the beloved star—ever to be worshipped, never quite reached. And the long road towards it travels the illimitable land of compromise. It would have been futile, as it was in fact impossible, to liberate slaves, when the consciousness of the injustice of slavery was present only in a few abnormal minds, and incommunicable by them to the mind of the surrounding society of the time. The process is slow and steady. Equity well knows that there is a time for her, as for all other things. She is like the brain, saying to the limbs and senses: You are full of queer ways. It is for me to think out gradually the best rule of life, under which you must get on as you can, the Devil taking the hindmost; and from trying to devise this scheme of perfection I may not, nor ever shall, rest.

Social and political justice, then, advances by fits and starts, through ideas—children of the one great idea of Harmony—which are suggested now by one, now by another, section or phase of national life. The process is like the construction and shaping of a work of art. For an artist is ever receiving vague impressions from people unconsciously observed, from feelings unconsciously experienced, till in good time he discovers that he has an idea. This idea is but a generalization or harmonious conception derived subconsciously from these vague impressions. Being moved to embody that idea, he at once begins groping back to, and gathering in, those very types and experiences from which he derived this general notion in order adequately to shape the vehicle—his picture, his poem, his novel—which shall carry his idea forth to the world.

So in social and political progress. The exigencies and inequalities of existing social life produce a crop of impressions on certain receptive minds, which suddenly burst into flower in the form of ideas. The minds in which these abstractions or ideas have flowered seek then to burgeon them forth, and their method of doing so is to bring to public notice those exigencies and inequalities which were the original fuel of their ideas. In this way is the seed of an idea spread amongst a community. But wherever the seed of an idea falls it has to struggle up through layers of prejudice, to overcome the rule of force and expediency; and if this idea, this generalization from social exigencies or inequalities, be petty, retrograde, or distorted, it withers and dies during the struggle. If, on the other hand, it be large, consonant with the future, and of true promise, it holds fast and spreads.

Now, one may very justly say that this is all a platitudinal explanation of the crude process of social and political development. In taking a given idea, such as the full emancipation of women, the fight only begins to rage round the question whether that idea is in fact holding fast and spreading, and, if so, whether the community is, or is not, yet sufficiently permeated with the idea to be safely entrusted with its fulfilment. None the less must it be borne in mind that if this idea can be proved to be surely spreading, it must be an idea emanating from the root divinity in things, from the overmastering principle of Equity, and sure of ultimate fulfilment; and the only question will then be, exactly how long the rule of expediency and force may advisably postpone its fulfilment.

Now, in order to discover whether the idea of the full emanicipation of women is in accord with the great principle of Equity, it will be necessary, first, to show the present inferiority of woman’s political and social position; secondly, to consider the essential reason of that inferiority; and, thirdly, to see whether the facts and figures of the movement towards the removal of that inferiority clearly prove that the idea has long been holding fast and spreading.

To show, however, that the present political and social position of women is not equal to that of men, it will certainly suffice to state two admitted facts. Women have not the political vote. Women, who can be divorced for one offence, must, before they obtain divorce, prove two kinds of offence against their husbands.

And to ascertain the essential reason of this present inferiority we need hardly go beyond the ground facts of difference between men and women already mentioned:

Women are not physically as strong as men.

Men are never mothers.

Women are not warriors.

From these ground facts, readily admitted by all, the reason for the present inferiority of women’s position emerges clear and unmistakable. Women are weaker than men. They are weaker because they are not in general built so strongly; because they have to bear and to rear children; because they are unarmed. There is no getting away from it, they are weaker; and one cannot doubt for a moment that their inferior position is due to this weakness. But—so runs an immemorial argument—however equal their opportunities might be, women will never be as strong as men! Why then, for sentimental reasons, disturb the present order of things, why equalize those opportunities? This is the plea which was used before married women were allowed separate property, before the decision in “Regina versus Jackson,” which forbade a husband to hold his wife prisoner. The argument, in fact, of expediency and force.

Now there are no finer statements of the case for the full emancipation of women than Mill’s “Subjection of Women,” and Miss Jane Harrison’s essay entitled “Homo Sum.” The reasonings in the former work are too well-known, but to the main thesis of “Homo Sum” allusion must here be made. The most common, perhaps most telling, plea against raising the social and political status of women to a level with that of men is this: Men and women are already equal, but in separate spheres of activity. The difference between their physical conformation and functions underlies everything in the lives of both. The province and supremacy of women are in the home; the province and supremacy of men in the State. Why seek to alter what Nature has ordained? A plea, in fact, which glorifies sex qua sex.

But the writer of “Homo Sum” is at pains to show that “the splendid and vital instinct of sex,” with all its “singular power of interpenetrating and reinforcing other energies,” is in essence egoistic, exclusive, anti-social; and that, besides and beyond being men and women, we are all human beings. “The whole women’s movement,” the writer says, “is just the learning of that lesson. It is not an attempt to arrogate man’s prerogative of manhood; it is not even an attempt to assert and emphasize woman’s privilege of womanhood; it is simply the demand that in the life of woman, as in the life of man, space and liberty shall be found for a thing bigger than either manhood or womanhood—for humanity.”

In fact the splendid instinct of sex—for all its universality, for all that through and by it life is perpetuated, for all its power of bringing delight, and of revealing the heights and depths of human emotion—is still essentially an agent of the rule of force. We cannot but perceive that there is in both men and women something more exalted and impersonal, akin to the supreme principle of Equity, to the divinity in things; and that this something keeps men and women together, as strongly, as inevitably, as sex keeps them apart. What is all the effort of civilization but the gradual fortifying of that higher part of us—the exaltation of the principle of Justice, the chaining of the principle of Force? The full emancipation of women would be one more step in the march of our civilization—a sign that this nation was still serving humanity, still trying to be gentle and just. For if it has ceased to serve humanity, we must surely pray that the waters may rise over this island, and that she may go down all standing!

If, then, women’s position is inferior to men’s, if the essential reason of this inferiority is her weakness, or, in other words, the still unchecked dominance of force, to what extent do the facts and figures of the movement towards removing the inferiority of women’s position prove that the idea of the full emancipation of women is, not petty and false, withering and dying, but large and true, holding fast and spreading?

In 1866, a petition for the vote, signed by 1,499 women, was presented to Parliament by John Stuart Mill.

In 1873, petitions for the suffrage from 11,000 women were presented to Gladstone and Disraeli.

In 1896, an appeal was made to members of Parliament by 257,000 women of all classes and parties.

In 1897, 1,285 petitions in favour of a Women’s Suffrage Bill were presented to Parliament, being 800 more petitions than those presented in favour of any other Bill.

In 1867, Mill’s amendment to substitute “person” for “man” in the Representation of the People Act was rejected by a majority of 121.

In 1908, Stanger’s Bill to enable women to vote on the same terms as men passed its second reading by a majority of 179.

In 1893, 1894, and 1895, the franchise was granted to women in New Zealand, Colorado, South Australia, and Utah.

In 1900, 1902, 1903, 1905, 1908, and 1910, the franchise was granted to women in Western Australia, New South Wales, Tasmania, Finland, Norway, Victoria, and the State of Washington.

In 1902, a petition was signed by 750 women graduates.

In 1906, a petition was signed by 1,530 women graduates.

In 1910, the membership of the various Women’s Suffrage Societies, and of bodies of men and women who have declared in favour of the idea of women’s suffrage, is estimated by some at over half a million—a figure subject, no doubt, to great deduction; but certainly also to very great addition for sympathisers who belong to no such societies or bodies.

These, briefly, are the main facts and figures. From them but one conclusion can be drawn. The idea of the full emancipation of women having fulfilled the requirements of steady growth over a long space of years, and giving every promise of further steady growth, is in accord with the principle of Equity; intrinsically just. How long will it remain possible in the service of expediency and force to refuse to this idea its complete fruition; how long will it be wise? For when the limit of wisdom is reached, expediency has obviously become inexpedient and force unworthy.

When out of 670 members of a House of Commons 400 have given pledges to support women’s suffrage; when a measure for the enfranchisement of women on the same terms as men has passed its second reading by a majority of 179, and in face of this declaration of sentiment Government has refused to afford facilities for carrying it into law, there must obviously be some definite hostile factor in the political equation. In a country governed as ours is, it is but natural that those who are, so to speak, trustees for its policy, should not look with favour on any measure which may in their opinion definitely set back that policy, or affect it in some way which they cannot with sufficient clearness foresee. The cause of women, in fact, is a lost dog owned by neither party, distrusted by both. While there is yet danger of being bitten, each watches that dog carefully, holding out a more or less friendly hand. But when the door of the house is safely closed, she may howl her heart out in the cold. The Press, too, with few exceptions is committed to one or other of these parties. To the Press, also, then, the cause of women is a homeless wanderer to whom it is proper to give casual alms, but who can hardly be brought in to the fire, lest she take up the room of the children of the house. And so out of the despair caused by this lost drifting in a vicious circle, out of a position created by party expediency, the inevitable has come to pass. Militant suffragism has arisen—ironically, and, to my thinking, regrettably, since the real spiritual significance and true national benefit of the full emancipation of women will lie in the victory of justice over force; and to employ what must needs be inferior force to achieve the victory of justice over force is not only futile, but so befogging to the whole matter that the essential issue of Equity is more than ever hidden from the mind of the public. Militancy may have served certain purposes, but it has added one more element of fixity to an impasse already existing, for the woman of action is saying, “Until you give me the vote I shall act like this,” and the man of action is answering her, “So long as you act like that I shall not give you the vote. To yield to you would be to admit the efficacy of threats and establish a bad precedent.”

None the less, human nature being what it is, militancy was inevitable, and the wise will look at the situation, not as it was, or might be, but as it is. We must consider what effect that situation is having on the national character. Every little outrage committed on men by women is met by a little outrage committed on women by men; and each time one of these mutual outrages takes place, tens of thousands of minds in this country are blunted in that most sensitive quality, gentleness. It is idle to pretend that women have not stood, and do not still stand, to men as the chief reason for being gentle; that men have not, and do not still stand to women, in the same capacity. By every little mutual outrage, then, the beneficence of sex is being weakened, its maleficence awakened throughout the land. And the harm which is thus being done is so impalpable, so subtle, as to be beyond the power of most to notice at all, and surely beyond the power of statesmen to assess. That is the mischief. The scent is stealing away out of the flower of our urbanity. It will be long before the gardeners discover how odourless and arid that flower has become.

For it is not so much the action of the militant women themselves, nor that of those who are suppressing them, which is doing this subtle harm. It is the effect of this scrimmage on the spectators; the coarsening, and hardening, and general embitterment; the secret glorification of the worst side of the sex instinct; the constant exaltation of the rule of force; the rapid growth of a rankling sense of injustice amongst tens of thousands of women. To say that hundreds of thousands of women are opposed, or indifferent, to the full emancipation of their sex is not, in truth, to say very much. No civilizing movement was ever brought to fruition save in the face of the indifference or opposition of the majority. What proportion of agricultural labourers were actively concerned to win for themselves the vote? How small a fraction of the people actively demanded free education! But when these privileges were won, what number of those for whom they were won would have been willing to resign them? If women were fully emancipated to-morrow, many would certainly resent what they would deem a blow at the influence and power already wielded by them in virtue of their sex. But in two years’ time how many would be willing to surrender their freedom? As certainly, not ten in a hundred! To compare the disapproval of women raised against their wills to a state of emancipation in which they can remain inactive if they like with the bitter resentment spreading like slow poison in the veins of those who fruitlessly demand emancipation is to compare the energy of vanishing winter snow with that of the spring sun which melts it.

In an age when spirituality has ever a more desperate struggle to maintain hold at all against the inroads of materialism, any increase of bitterness in the national life, any loss of gentleness, aspiration, and mutual trust between the sexes, however silent, secret, and unmeasurable, is, surely, a serious thing. Justice, neglected, works her own insidious revenge. Every month, every year, the germs of bitterness and brutality will be spreading. If any think that this people has gentleness to spare, and can afford to tamper with the health of its spirit, they are mistaken. If any think that repression can put an end to this aspiration—again they are mistaken. The idea of the full emancipation of women is so rooted that nothing can now uproot it.

But, apart from the political impasse, there are those who, satisfied that women have not the political aptitude of men, are chiefly opposed to the granting of the vote for fear that it will come to mean the return of women to Parliament. Now, if their conviction regarding the inferiority of women’s political capacity be sound—as I for one, speaking generally, am inclined to believe—there is no danger of women being returned to Parliament save in such small numbers as to make no matter. If it be unsound—if the political capacity of woman be equal to man’s—it is time Parliament were reinforced by women’s presence. New waters soon find their level. Nor are such as distrust the political capacities of women qualified to prophesy a flood. To debar women for fear of their competition is a policy of little spirit, and not one that the men of this country will consciously adopt, unless we have indeed lost the fire of our fathers. There are many, too, who believe that the granting of the vote to women will increase the emotional element in an electorate whose emotional side they already distrust, and thereby endanger our relations with foreign Powers. But it has yet to be proved that women are, in a wide sense of the word, more emotional than men; and, even conceding that they are, why forget that they will bring to the consideration of international matters the solid reinforcement of two qualities—the first, a practical domestic sense lacking to men, and likely to foster national reluctance to plunge into wild-cat wars, the second, a greater faculty for self-sacrifice, tending to fortify national determination to persist in a war once undertaken. It is well known that during the American Civil War the women of the Southern States displayed a spirit of resistance even more heroic than that of their men folk. But, in any case, to retain women in their present state of social and political inferiority for reasons which are so debatable savours, surely, somewhat of the sultanic. We have, in fact, yet to imbibe the spirit of Mill’s wisest saying: “Amongst all the lessons which men require for carrying on the struggle against the evident imperfections of their lot on earth, there is no lesson which they more need than not to add to the evils which Nature inflicts, by their jealous and prejudiced restrictions on one another.”

In fine, out of the practical perplexities brooding over this whole matter there is no way save by resort to the first principles of gentility. It has been uncontrovertibly established that there is in this country a great and ever-increasing body of women suffering from a bitter sense of injustice. What course then, compatible with true gentility, is left open to us men? Our whole social life is in essence but a long, slow, striving for the victory of justice over force; and this demand of our women for full emancipation is but a sign of that striving. Are we not bound in honour to admit this simple fact? Shall we not at last give fulfilment to this idea—with the due caution that should mark all political experiment? Has not, in truth, the time come for us to say: From this resistance to the claims of Equity; from this bitter and ungracious conflict with those weaker than ourselves; from this slow poisoning of the well-springs of our national courtesy, and kindliness, and sense of fair play: “Gentles, let us rest!”


Appeal to the Press

(A Letter to the Daily News, 1911.)

I write as a supporter of woman’s suffrage, but not of militant suffragism. Whenever I have remonstrated with a militant Suffragist I have received this answer:

“We could not keep the movement before the eyes of the public without militant tactics, because the papers, with two or three exceptions, would not report peaceful work. For this reason we adopted our methods, and the event has justified us. We have advanced the cause—simply by forcing it on people’s attention in the only way open to us—more in the last three years than those who pursued peaceful methods had done in the last forty.”

Whatever may now be the feelings and intentions of the militant Suffragists, this answer did undoubtedly set forth the true reason for the inception of militant tactics.

All political and social movements in this country depend for vitality on catching the eye and the thought of the community. And we may draw one of two alternative morals from that prolonged silence of the Press towards woman’s suffrage which originally brought about the campaign of violence: Either, that men having possession of the organs of public opinion, deliberately kept them closed to the discussion of the political rights of women—a supposition, I should prefer not to entertain. Or, that reports of violence and sensationalism are more sought after than tales of reason and sobriety! Whichever the moral drawn, it is very discreditable to public feeling in this country.

Is it too late for those who are responsible for the Press to take the lead in removing that stigma? It is lugubrious that, in our England of free speech and fair play, in this nation hitherto supposed to excel in political sense, women should have found it necessary to advocate and advertise by mere sensationalism a political and social movement of more wide-reaching and universal nature than any now before the public; a movement of such epoch-making character that few people have at present grasped its real significance. Surely it is important that the people of this country should be educated in the reason and the rights of a question such as this. But in order that they may be so educated it is necessary that they should read, not the account of how “So-and-so’s windows were broken,” or of how “Such an one was arrested,” but arguments presented in speech and writing for and against suffrage.

The extent to which the formation of public opinion on any political measure depends on the publication in the Press of reason, pro and con., can be seen from the growth of the Tariff Reform Party, which a few years ago was a negligible faction. The imminence and gravity of this issue of woman’s suffrage can no longer be denied. It has to be faced. It will have to be decided. Does the Press of this country wish it to be decided by an electorate utterly unversed in its merits and demerits? Would the Press of this country wish any big political or social measure to be so decided? Is it just, generous, or politic that, when women try by peaceful and constitutional means to promulgate their cause, there should be silence? If there had not been this silence, militant suffragism would never have been born. By the removal of this silence militant suffragism may still be helped towards a natural death.

I appeal to all editors (whether friends or enemies of the movement), who have already shown themselves alive to what is rapidly becoming the desperate importance of this issue, to combine and advocate an alteration of the general Press policy—to advocate the throwing open of all journals to fair and full report, not of the sensational, but of the reasonable, sides, for and against, of woman’s suffrage. For, whether consciously or unconsciously, the general Press policy has hitherto been most unfortunate, and is fast contributing to the growth of a bitter feeling between the sexes, in the last degree noxious to the national life.


(A Paper in the Daily Mail, 1912.)

“This is a psychological question, a matter of mental states” (H. G. Wells). It is. And in examining these mental states there are two, out of many factors, on which I do not think too much emphasis can be laid, not only because they are in themselves vital to the evil, but because they both arise from the same prime underlying deficiency in our national life.

The first is the influence on society at large produced by the great and rapid growth of the fiduciary element in the conduct of commercial enterprise and landed estates. The agent, the director, the manager, the trustee, have almost entirely displaced the old-time owner, merchant, and manufacturer, who did business by and for themselves.

A class has been created who, already in a state of professional altruism, are impervious, and on the face of it rightly impervious, to altruism of any other kind.

What large business nowadays is not conducted as a limited company by a board of directors appointed and paid by the shareholders as trustees to produce for them a maximum of profit? What large estate is not managed by a paid agent on the same principle? And, however generous our aspirations, which of us does not know the deflecting power of trusteeship, rigidified, as it is, by law and by the sense that we are paid for the performance of a job inimical to generosity? True—the rates of wages and of rent come not under rules but under the broad heading of policy; and, in deep reality, I suspect it to be equally true that the maximum of generosity ministers in the long run to the maximum of stability and profit; nevertheless there can be no doubt whatever that the trustee system not only befogs and deadens the human relationship between employer and employed, but affords an overwhelming support to our natural instinct to take the immediate view and line of least resistance.

Broadly speaking, where there is trusteeship, as trusteeship is now understood, there is no wide view of the relation of Capital to Labour in the light of the good of Society as a whole; there is only a faithful, cold-blooded, purblind service for the benefit of a cestui que trust, who is himself freed from a sense of personal responsibility and from all apparent need for a wide and human outlook. The trustee system, if not already, will soon be universal, and I see no means of counteracting its secret, dangerous, and irritating effect on the mind of Labour, save by such process of education as shall soak the spirit of the prosperous classes with an altogether larger and saner feeling of the fundamental unity and interdependence of Society, with a good-will so vastly increased that the shareholder and cestui que trust shall no longer require the director or trustee to consider them and them alone, but bid him instead consider equally the interests of the employed. Such a mood of altruism is now, roughly speaking, absent from the minds of the prosperous classes; and to attain to it is a consummation that I fear will never come about under our present system of education.

The second influence on which I would lay great emphasis is the state of mind produced by our system of education in the young of the prosperous classes at our private and public schools, and, to a less extent, at our universities. Before dwelling on this let me suggest two truths. In life, where a fortunate person is brought into contact with one less fortunate, the first step towards cordial relationship must obviously come from the fortunate. For human nature is happily so constituted that the less fortunate feels ashamed to make advances which, liable to misconstruction, are not compatible with self-respect. Every man of any worth can test, indeed is testing, this truth continually in his own life; it cannot indeed be doubted. Again, where advances are made by the fortunate from sheer friendliness and without ulterior motive, they most certainly evoke response in the same friendly spirit from all save exceptional churls.

Now, since these primary truths concerning human nature underlie the whole question of Labour Unrest, it becomes of the first importance to consider how far the young of the prosperous classes are made actively familiar with them. How far are the legions at our private and public schools (those legions from whom the ranks of Capital are, in the main, recruited) made to understand, and—more than understand—to feel that they are fortunate, that Labour is less fortunate, that they will have to live their lives in interdependence with Labour, and that if they do not make—out of a free and fine heart make—the first advances to good-fellowship with less fortunate Labour, those advances can—by a law, and a good law, of human nature—never be made? How far are they at present brought up to see this? I would go so far as to say—hardly at all. In my day at a public school—and I have no reason at all to hope that, whatever be the exceptions, the general rule has greatly changed—the Universe was divided into ourselves and “outsiders,” “bounders,” “chaws,” “cads,” or whatever more or less offensive name best seemed to us to characterise those less fortunate than ourselves. It is true that we applied the name mainly to the lower ranks of Capital rather than to actual Labour, but this was only because we lived so far away from industrial workers that we never even thought of them. Such working folk as we actually came into personal contact with we never dreamed of associating with any such offensive thought in our minds or speech on our tongues; but, generally, the working man did not exist for us except as a person outside, remote, and almost inimical. From our homes, touched already by this class feeling, caught up from political talk by chance overheard, we went to private schools, where the teaching of manners, mainly under clerical supervision, effectually barred us from any contaminating influence; so that if by chance we encountered the “lower class” boy we burned to go for him and correct his “cheek.” Thence we were passed into the great “caste” factory, a public school, where the feeling became, by mere process of being left to itself, as set and hard as iron. It is true that a levelling process went on among the boys themselves, so that a duke’s son was no more accounted of than a stockbroker’s, but nevertheless all learned to consider themselves “the elect.” Of ten public schoolboys, seven have come from “caste-”infected homes and private schools, and have active prejudice already. The remaining three may still be open-minded or indifferent; of these, two will infallibly follow the sway of the herd instinct; one may perhaps develop a line of his own, or adhere to the influence of a home inimical to “caste,” and become a “smug” or Radical. In result, failing definite sustained effort to break up a narrow “caste” feeling, the public school presents a practically solid phalanx of the fortunate, insulated against real knowledge of, or sympathy with, the less fortunate. This phalanx marches out into the professions, into business, into the universities, where, it is true, some awaken to a sense of wider values—but not too many. From the point of view of any one who tries to see things as they are, and see them as a whole, there is something terrific about this automatic “caste” moulding of the young. And in the present condition of our country it is folly, and dangerous folly, to blink it.[6]

For all my love of my old school, for all my realization of the fact that her training equips her children with certain qualities invaluable to public life and public service, I do feel that she and all her sisters are disserving the national welfare by refraining from really active and resolute attempt to destroy the bad side of “caste” feeling. They let it grow of its own momentum through the herd instinct till it blinds the eyes and blunts the feelings of those who, being fortunate, must by the laws of human nature make the first advances toward friendship with the less fortunate, if those advances are to be made at all; and must make them not because to neglect them is dangerous, but out of brotherly feeling and a real hearty wish to give all the help they can to such as are not so lucky as themselves. I do not mean that our public schools and universities are consciously refraining. They are not, and their very unconsciousness in the matter is half the danger. And I do not say that there are no masters, or dons, conscious of the danger and trying their best to remove it, but I do say there are not nearly enough. A few swallows do not make a summer.

Since, in relation to the foregoing, four objections, at all events, are bound to be made, let me make them myself, and answer them too. First: It is not the public school and ’varsity man who is lacking in sympathy and good-will towards Labour; it is the self-made capitalist, or the grammar school man. The truth is that, with exceptions, they all are lacking. But the defect is more dangerous and insidious within “the caste” than without; for not only is “the caste” homogeneous, and far more influential in every way, but it veils its lack of sympathy in this very pretension of having sympathy. Next it will be said: “You accuse us of lack of sympathy! But we would gladly be sympathetic, if they would only let us!” Now this in the main is a perfectly genuine belief in members of “the caste” when they have once gone out into life and rubbed off the rawness of youthful hostility and prejudice. But it is the genuine belief of people only passively inclined to friendship; in other words, the belief of the fortunate not imbued with a spirit sufficiently high and generous to take, from the best motives, active steps towards friendship with the less fortunate.

Further it will be said: “But Labour is not really less fortunate than ourselves—it has freedom from cares, responsibilities, and expenses, such as we can never know; in fact, we are not sure that it is not really the more fortunate class.” Well! Apart from the fact that not one in ten thousand of “the caste” would change places with an industrial worker, there is this answer: “On your hypothesis, evolution, which is ‘caste’s’ main justification, is absurd and our system is standing on its head. If, indeed, you require Labour to consider itself at least as fortunate as yourselves, you must set to work at once and revalue everything, alter every present ideal in your social life, and annul the importance of property. Are you prepared to do this?” Finally it will be objected: “It may be as you say, but the evil is implicit and inevitable, for everything possible is already done by our educational authorities to counteract a narrow ‘caste’ spirit and imbue the children of the fortunate with a brotherly feeling towards the less fortunate.” The answer to this is simply: “Has everything been done? Has anything like everything been done? For example, is the danger of this narrow ‘caste’ spirit ever taken into account in the appointment of these same educational authorities?”

Besides being “snobs” in the best sense of that word, boys are high-spirited, generous, and malleable creatures. Let any fair-minded man of “the caste” ask himself: “What sustained and really ‘felt’ effort did he encounter from his own teachers in school and college days to turn that high spirit, and generosity, and malleability of his into a state of mind that regarded his good fortune as a thing to be held in trust to share to the full with the less fortunate?” A few will answer truly: “Yes, I have met with such effort.” But how few!

Again, then, I am brought to the point of saying: There is a general absence of active and sustained effort to produce in the young of the prosperous classes this “good-will” state of mind; to change such general absence of effort into a general presence of effort is a consummation that will never, I think, be reached under our present system of education.

Both these influences, then, contributing to Social Unrest—the one produced by the increasing presence of the fiduciary element, and the other by the unchecked growth of a narrow “caste” spirit—lead us to the same prime underlying deficiency in our national life, the lack of right purpose in our education. They happen to be both incident to Capital, but it is probable that influences incident to Labour, of which I hesitate to speak, since I cannot from personal experience and feeling, may also in measure be traced to the same underlying deficiency in our education.

No national improvement can come from outside. It must come from within, from gradually improved feeling in the body politic. To hope for growth without this improvement is to hope that a man shall raise himself from the ground by the hair of his own head. But improved feeling has no chance of spreading throughout the body politic without that machinery of infection which we know by the name of education. Therefore education is the most sacred concern, indeed the only hope, of a nation.

How do we now treat our education—this sacred thing, this only hope? In regard to the classes, its direction and control are left entirely to the haphazard beck and call of each separate school or college, without conformity to or guidance from any professed national aim, principle, or ideal. In regard to the masses, it is the concern of a Department of State, just as are Trade, the Post Office, or the Navy, and is treated, not as a spiritual matter underlying all else, but as a material affair. The spiritual side of education is supposed to be the concern of the religious bodies; but if we are quite honest we have to confess that the religious bodies have no longer sufficient hold on classes or masses to inspire in either such wide mutual good-will and sense of service as will forward any real improvement in the relations between Capital and Labour, between the fortunate and less fortunate classes. The religious bodies, let us say, have tried their best, but, since our last state is worse than our first, they must be considered to have failed. Their influence, indeed, is too incoherent and dispersed, pervasive here and there, but without either the centrality or force to promote in us a great national change towards that essence of Christianity—mutual good-will and sense of service. There is no longer, I am afraid, hope in that direction.

Deep down, we know all this, but we have not yet bestirred ourselves to find out what it is that we are trying to do with our civilization, or indeed whether we are trying to do anything except just keep our heads above water from hour to hour.

And we have not yet bestirred ourselves, partly because we are still breathless and uncertain after that long and tremendous struggle within us between Science and Orthodox Religion, which has torn the wings off both, and partly because we are paralysed by the word Democracy. We dare not move for fear of endowing education with too much authority. There may, of course, be another and far more deadly reason why we have not bestirred ourselves. We may be too far gone to devise any improved standard or machinery of education, too flaccid to impart, or even to desire to impart, to our education that spiritual quality, that devotion to an ideal, which is our only hope. If so, we must resign ourselves to a desperate Class struggle, as to some bitter, poisonous tonic, from which we may perhaps gain strength to deal with our disease, but of which we may take too much and die. Personally—being, as they say, a pessimist—I prefer to think that all is not yet lost; that we are still capable of expressing in the form of a faith the aspiration towards Perfection that does, that must, lie inarticulate within us; still capable of finding machinery, and men to work it, that shall drive this faith into the very heart of all classes.

At all events, I refuse to believe that we cannot do a good deal more with education as a solvent of our troubles than we have done hitherto. The main and obvious difficulty—one might say the only real difficulty—in education, as in all the affairs of life, is to find the men; and to find the men we can only make use of machinery which is acceptable to a democratic age. Yes, we cannot now go outside Democracy, and that is something to be profoundly grateful for. The only trouble with Democracy is that it is slow and inarticulate. And I do not feel that the democratic principle—in which I believe as much as any man—will ever do itself justice until it discovers some quicker way than it yet has of shaping out of itself its spiritual essence, some swifter way of extracting from itself and utilizing for its own service the highest aspiration and finest feeling within it. It has succeeded on the whole fairly well in discovering and making use of its best business and administrative minds; but so far it has regarded spirituality as completely outside its province and deliberately left it to religious bodies that have no longer, nationally speaking, a real hold on us, and are professedly autocratic. In fact, Democracy at present—and not only here but in America—offers the spectacle of a man running down a road followed at a more and more respectful distance by his own soul.

Can our education any longer be safely treated in this casual way, be safely left to Churches from whose hand it has too far slipped; be safely left as to the Classes to chance and to vested interests; as to the Masses to mere business management?

Should we not rather trust it coherently and as a whole to the finest spirits and broadest minds in the country; to spirits that can be relied on to hold, and to minds that can be relied on to apply, a really high ideal; relied on, too, to select and train the best men available for the propagation of that Ideal? If by some democratic process we could sift out these minds from among us, and endow them with wholesale powers of selection, appointment, and training of teachers, we should have established a sort of endless band on which might travel a perpetual vitalizing current of the best feeling within us. To find these finest spirits and broadest minds we might conceivably use the existing representative machinery of Parliament, or some reformed representative system; or we might institute a special straining and sifting process, by means of plebiscite within plebiscite, till we were reasonably sure of arriving at the men best fitted to be entrusted with a high, coherent plan of education. We have, then, to found and place under their guidance a great training college, wherein the higher leaders of education may be imbued with the new spirit, trained in the new standards, and pass out, as posts fall vacant, to the headship of schools and colleges. And if it be objected, as it certainly will, that this is to constitute a too rigid spiritual bureaucracy, the answer is two-fold: This is the plan on which you order all your political, your material life, without regarding it as in the least dangerous or undemocratic. And, secondly, you have at present exactly the same bureaucratic methods of appointment in education, only they are exercised in a hole-and-corner manner, quite incoherently, and without any democratic check at all.

There is no revolution in this idea, and it will certainly prove no immediate or quack remedy. It is, in few words, a suggestion that we should adopt for spiritual things, for states of mind, the method that, roughly speaking, we have found works best in material matters. Democracy will never really flourish till it has taken charge, and that right heartily, of its own spirituality.

Life itself is the best education in spirituality a nation gets. But the plea here is only for better machinery to express and direct the experience and latent good-will which is implicit within the nation, and is not now brought out into the light for the nation’s service. We are living in a parched field under which there is plenty of water, but we have sunk no well, put up no pumping gear, with which to make our pasture green. Is the notion that we can still do this a preposterous dream, a mere presumptuous counsel of perfection?

We have at present an air charged with trouble; if we are not to shut our eyes, fold our hands, and drift, all that we do must be in the direction of improving our state of mind. But there is no way of improving a state of mind save by fertilizing it with the faith and good-will of a higher mind. Our machinery for doing this has failed us. Indeed, nationally speaking, we no longer have any such machinery. What more useful efforts, then, can we make than efforts in the direction of discovering a new machinery? And the finer the spirits, the broader the minds, we place in charge thereof, the greater power we give them, always subject to the safeguard of election, the more we may hope to emerge gradually from our sinister situation.

Many think the war will alter all this. I only wish I did.—J. G.



The Will to Peace

(From the Daily Mail, 1909.)

I was walking in the district known as Notting Dale looking for signs of the Millennium, when I saw on a poster these words: “Why England and Germany must go to war.”

I stood gazing at them in the company of a woman the worse for drink, a brutal-looking man, a consumptive boy, and a half-starved horse harnessed to a cart. With the exception of the horse, these persons were soon replaced by a little labourer with a very sad face, and a sick-looking woman, in a ragged shawl. When they, in turn, passed on, I was joined in front of the poster by three girls going home from work—the sound of whose laughter was like the snapping of dried sticks—and by a whisky-perfumed man with that peculiar, brazen look in the eye which is liable to sudden eclipse. These, too, stayed but a short time, and their places before the poster were filled by two youths in ragged clothes, with dun-coloured faces, and the stumps of cigarettes between pale lips. Their foot-steps and obscenity having died away, I was left alone with the poster and the horse. This horse’s ribs were conspicuous, and from the size of eggcup-shaped hollows above eyes covered with a bluish film, he had evidently laboured to the limit of his capacity. He was resting one thin leg—too hairless at the knee, too hairy at the heel. Two very young children came now, and, holding each other’s hands, flattened their noses against the poster in the shop window. One of them moved her feet continually as if her boots hurt her, while on the feet of the other were the wrecks of boots.

And I said to myself: In hundreds of towns all over the country, people like this are standing before that poster, or passing by it. One third of the population are below the line of reasonable subsistence, another third are able by the constant employment of every energy to keep their heads just on that line. We are the richest country in the world, so that even in organised Germany conditions little better may very well be prevalent. This poster declares that England and Germany must go to war. And this poster is no joke, but the indication of a frame of mind. Moreover, I mused, credit for sincerity being due to all men until the opposite is proved against them, this frame of mind must be honest and founded on genuine fear—must be, in fact, the conviction of many, not only in this country, but in Germany. They contemplate a war between two nations, two thirds of whose respective populations are as yet barely able to make a living; a war that means wasting many hundred million pounds and the earning power of many hundred thousand lives; a war that will in six months cast on to the dust heap twenty years of social progress; a war that may well have no semblance of nobility, no great motto, no inspiring cause, but be a mere sordid struggle between two business communities, for so-called commercial ends; a war that may be unparalleled for cold-blooded horror and myopic puerility. And the poster speaks of this war as if it were inevitable!

Where, I asked myself, can the people who thus think and speak have lived? Where have they kept their hearts, and brains, and eyes, and noses? Can they not see these millions of ghosts in their midst? Or do they think to fatten them by war? Do they think by war to cheapen the price of bread and coals, to spread education, to foster the growth of science and of the arts? Will they by war preserve the strongest males for the improvement of the human stock? Will they by war advance in any single way the slow process of humanizing a civilization which still produces in millions the beings who have been standing with me here before that poster? No—I thought—they will certainly reply: “War is an evil, but it is necessary; for the human race is divided into breeds, distinct from one another, and plunged into struggle from their births up. Only in each country’s jealous preservation of itself can we look for the welfare of the whole. There is no avail in dreams of peace; no use in preparation for it; men have always killed each other for their own advantage and always will; if they did not so kill their neighbours they could not themselves survive. Life is so conditioned; there is not enough for all. We know, therefore, that this war must come. We see it coming. We have fastened our eyes on it. We cannot get out of its way. We must offer ourselves up in holy sacrifice before this bloody, predestined monster.”

Well!—I thought—if it is sacrifice you want, look at that horse! Look at all the people who have stood before this poster! They will take all your powers of sacrifice before you have done with them! And I, myself, looked at the horse; with his bleared eyes and the curves at the corners of his mouth, I thought I had never seen such a cynical-looking creature. “What are you, after all,” he seemed to be saying to me, “but a set of sanguinary tailless animals?”

But suddenly the eyes of my mind travelled beyond sight of that poster, and as in a vision I seemed to see all the great lives men have lived, all the high thoughts they have conceived, all their wonderful ingenuity and perseverance and strength of will; how they have always found a way to fulfil that on which they have set their hearts. And as background to that vision there seemed disclosed to me the untold, unexploited wealth of the fields, woods, and waters under the sun. And I thought: “What that poster says is only true of such as will it to be true. Where there is a will to peace there is a way.[7] War between two such countries, two trustees of civilization need not be inevitable. To believe that is to blaspheme; to belittle human nature, to deny the Earth.”

I recollect that the journal which this poster served to sell contained an article proposing to prove that war between England and Germany was inevitable, because of the rivalry between their trades. I thought then, and think now, that such a reason was revolting. In spite of all the bitter cry for commercial war that has now arisen, we did not begin, we never should have begun a war with Germany for such a reason alone. The war that—alas!—has come, has for us a better cause. None the less, I freely admit not gauging rightly the state of mind of Germany’s ruling classes. I always thought the question of war or no war was a great “toss-up” between the craze for armament and the growth of international feeling through social democracy. I thought the latter would win if people would set their wills on peace, and we could tide over the next few years. I was wrong.—J. G.


Peace of the Air

(A Letter to The Times, 1911.)

Beyond all the varying symptoms of madness in the life of modern nations the most dreadful is this prostitution of the conquest of the air to the ends of warfare.

If ever men presented a spectacle of sheer inanity it is now—when, having at last triumphed in their struggle to subordinate to their welfare the unconquered element, they have straightway commenced to defile that element, so heroically mastered, by filling it with engines of destruction. If ever the gods were justified of their ironic smile—by the gods, it is now! Is there any thinker alive watching this still utterly preventable calamity without horror and despair? Horror of what must come of it if not promptly stopped; despair that men can be so blind, so hopelessly and childishly the slaves of their own marvellous inventive powers. Was there ever so patent a case for scotching at birth a hideous development of the black arts of warfare; ever such an occasion for the Powers in conference to ban once and for all a new and ghastly menace?

A little reason, a grain of common sense, a gleam of sanity before it is too late; before vested interests and the chains of a new habit have enslaved us too hopelessly. If this fresh devilry be not quenched within the next few years, it will be too late. Water and earth are wide enough for men to kill each other on. For the love of the sun, and stars, and the blue sky, that have given us all our aspirations since the beginning of time, let us leave the air to innocence! Will not those who have eyes to see, good-will, and the power to put that good-will into practice, bestir themselves while there is yet time, and save mankind from this last and worst of all its follies?









(From the Nation, 1915.)

God, I am travelling out to death’s sea,

  I, who exulted in sunshine and laughter,

Thought not of dying—death is such waste of me!—

  Grant me one comfort: Leave not the hereafter

Of mankind to war, as though I had died not—

  I, who in battle, my comrade’s arm linking,

Shouted and sang—life in my pulses hot

  Throbbing and dancing! Let not my sinking

In dark be for naught, my death a vain thing!

  God, let me know it the end of man’s fever!

Make my last breath a bugle call, carrying

  Peace o’er the valleys and cold hills, for ever!


(From the Neutral Press, 1914.)

To love peace with all one’s heart. To feel that war is a black stain on the humanity and fame of man. To hate militarism. To go any length to avoid war for material interests, war that involves no great principle, distrusting profoundly the common meaning of the phrase “national honour”—all this is my belief.

But there is a national honour charged with the future happiness of man; loyalty is due from those living to those that will come after; civilization can only wax and flourish in a world where faith is kept; for nations, as for individuals, there are laws of duty, whose violation harms the whole human race; in sum, stars of conduct shine for peoples, as for private men.

And so I hold that without tarnishing true honour, endangering civilization present and to come, and ruining all hope of future tranquillity, my Country could not have refused to take up arms for the defence of her little neighbour Belgium’s outraged neutrality, which she had solemnly guaranteed.

I claim from the trend of events, and of national character, during the last century that in democracy alone lies any coherent hope of progressive civilization or any chance of lasting peace in Europe, or the world.

I believe that this democratic principle, however imperfectly developed, has so worked in France, in Britain, in the United States, that these countries are already nearly safe from inclination to aggress, or to subdue other nationalities that have reached approximately their stage of development.

And I believe that while there remain autocratic Governments basing themselves on militarism, hostile at heart to the democratic principle, Europe will never be free of the surcharge of swollen armaments, the nightmare menace of wars like this—the paralysis that creeps on civilizations which adore the god of force.

And so I hold that without betrayal of trusteeship, without shirking the elementary defence of beliefs coiled within its fibre, or beliefs vital to the future welfare of all men, my Country could not stand by and see the ruin of France, that very cradle of democracy.

I believe that democratic culture spreads from West to East, that only by maintenance of consolidate democracy in Western Europe can democracy ever hope to push on and prevail till the Eastern Powers have also that ideal under which alone humanity can flourish.

And so I hold that my Country is justified at this juncture in its alliance with the autocratic power of Russia, whose people will never know freedom till her borders are joined to the borders of a true democracy in Central Europe.

I do not believe that jealous, frightened jingoism has been more than the dirty fringe of Britain’s peace-loving temper, and I profess my sacred faith that my Country has gone to war, against her will, because she must—for honour, for democracy, and for the future of mankind.


(From the Westminster Gazette, 1914.)

France! Beautiful word! Beautiful land! What a proud soul lives in that France, now racked and tortured! What chimes will ring when the last invader is pushed back over the edge of the lost provinces! Land for whom, when you are hard driven, the heart most aches! Is it that you are Woman, with a caress in your eyes, and your floating robe; with mystery in your clear, woman’s smile, and that promise of eternal constancy which Man never offers? Is it that in you we feel, as in no other Land, a Presence, such as in some houses makes life assured, and lovely; a Presence inhabiting the air of every room, more precious than its garniture? Take away the trappings, make desolate that place of all material things, and there will yet be the loved one, there will yet be the gracious ardent spirit.

France! You, of all Countries, have the gift of Living Form, of a coherent grace, like that of your own flower of light, or such as haunts La Gioconda, listening to life.

When I think of you there comes into my mind the image of a lime-tree, in her spring garb of buds delicate, breaking to little gay leaves ecstatic in each wind; in her summer dress so full, so perfumed with honey-coloured blossoms; in her autumn robe of few golden leaves, flat on the clear air, and trembling, trembling with each breath of the day; and in her pale winter nakedness—ever the same essential goddess of a tree, perfect in form.

France! It is your power to see that “soul in things” which we call Ideals, to bring to life the truth you have seen, and so to concrete and shape your vision that it becomes the rock spiritual on which nations stand. Because you are the living incarnation of your clear, unflinching spirit, we others love you.

You stand before the world, true embodiment of your three immortal words; as your immortal tune is the true voice of a Land’s ardour and devotion.

You have sloughed off the gross and the vainglorious flesh of nations! You are the flame in the night! In this hour we see, and know you!

Great and touching comrade! Clear, invincible France! To-day, in your grave chivalry, you were never so high, so desirable, so true to yourself and to Humanity!


(From King Albert’s Book, 1914.)

In my dream I saw a fertile plain, rich with the hues of autumn. Tranquil it was and warm. Men, women, children, and the beasts, worked and played and wandered there in peace. Under the blue sky and the white clouds low-hanging, great trees shaded the fields; and from all the land rose a murmur as from bees clustering on the rose-coloured blossoms of tall clover. In my dream I roamed, looking into faces—prosperous and well-favoured—of people living in a land of plenty, drinking the joy of life, caring nothing for the morrow. But I could not see their eyes, which seemed ever cast down, watching the progress of their feet over the rich grass and the golden leaves already fallen from the trees. The longer I walked among them the more I wondered that I could see the eyes of none, not even of the little children, not even of the beasts.

And, while I mused on this, the sky began to darken. A mutter as of distant waters came travelling. The children stopped their play, the beasts raised their heads; men and women halted and cried to each other: “The River is rising! If it floods, we are lost! Our beasts will drown; we, even we, shall drown! The River!” And women stood like images of stone, listening; men shook their fists at the black sky; the beasts sniffed the darkening air.

Then I heard a clear voice call: “Brothers! The dyke is breaking! Link arms; with the dyke of our bodies we will save our homes! Link arms behind us, Sisters! Children close in! The River!” And all that multitude, whom I had seen treading quietly the grass, came hurrying, their eyes no longer fixed on the rich plain, but lifted in trouble and defiance. And the Voice called: “Hasten! The dyke is broken.”

By thousands and thousands they pressed, shoulder to shoulder—men, women, children, and the beasts lying down behind, till the living dyke was formed. And the black flood came travelling till its wave crests glinted like the whites of glaring eyes, and the harsh clamour of the waters was as a roar from a million mouths. But the Voice called: “Hold, brothers!” And from the living dyke came answer: “We hold!”

Then the dark water broke; and from all the wall of bodies rose the cry of struggle.

But above it ever the Voice called: “Hold!”

And the answer still came from the mouths of drowning men and women, of the very children: “We hold!”

But the water rolled over and on. Down in its black tumult, beneath its cruel rush, I saw men still with arms linked; women on their knees, clinging to earth; little children drifting—all dead. But the shades of the dead with arms yet linked were fronting the edge of the savage waters. None had turned away . . .

Once more I dreamed. The plain was free of darkness, free of waters. The River, shrunk and muddied, flowed again within its banks. And Dawn was breaking.

At first it seemed to me that only trees stood on that plain; then, in the ground mist fast clearing, I saw the forms of men and women, children, beasts; and I moved among them, looking at their faces—not broad and prosperous, but grave from suffering, carved and strong. And their eyes were shining.

While I stood thus watching, the sun rose, and, above the plain clad in the hues of spring, the heaven brightened to full morning. Amazed, I saw that the stars had not gone in, but shone there in the blue.

And clear I heard the same Voice call: “Brothers! Behold! The Stars are lit for ever!”


(From Scribner’s Magazine, 1914.)

§ 1.

Three hundred thousand church spires raised to the glory of Christ! Three hundred million human creatures baptized into His service! And—War to the death of them all! “I trust the Almighty to give the victory to my arms!” “Let your hearts beat to God, and your fists in the face of the enemy!” “In prayer we call God’s blessing on our valiant troops!”

God on the lips of each potentate, and under a hundred thousand spires prayer that twenty-two million servants of Christ may receive from God the blessed strength to tear and blow each other to pieces, to ravage and burn, to wrench husbands from wives, fathers from their children, to starve the poor, and everywhere destroy the works of the spirit! Prayer under the hundred thousand spires for the blessed strength of God, to use the noblest, most loyal instincts of the human race to the ends of carnage! “God be with us to the death and dishonour of our foes”—whose God He is no less than ours! The God who gave His only begotten Son to bring on earth peace and good-will toward men! No supernatural creed—in these days when two and two are put together—can stand against such reeling subversion. After this monstrous mockery, beneath this grinning skull of irony, how shall there remain faith in this personal outside God, whom we can thus divide, appropriate, and invoke; how remain faith in the articles, the formal structure of a religion preached and practised to such ends? When this war is over and reason resumes its sway, our dogmas will be found to have been scored through for ever. Whatever else be the outcome of this business, let us at least realize the truth: It is the death of dogmatic Christianity! Let us will that it be the birth of a God within us, and an ethic Christianity that men really practise!

§ 2.

Yes! Dogmatic Christianity was dying before this war began. When it is over, or as soon as men’s reason comes back to them, it will be dead. In France, England, Germany, in Belgium, and the other small countries, dead; and only kept wonderingly alive in Russia and some parts of Austria through peasant simplicity. “Tell me, brother, what have the Japanese done to us that we should kill them?” So said the Russian peasant in the Japanese war. So they may say in this war. And at the end go back and resume praise of the tribal God who fought for Holy Russia against the tribal God who fought for valiant Austria and the mailed fists of Germany.

This superstitional Christianity will not die in the open and be buried with pomp and ceremony; it will merely be dead—a very different thing; like the nerve in a tooth, that, to the outward eye, is just as it was. That which will take its place has already been a long time preparing to come forward. It will be too much in earnest to care for forms and ceremonies. And one thing is certain—it will be far more Christian than the so-called Christianity which has brought us to these present ends. Its creed will be a noiseless and passionate conviction that man can be saved, not by a far-away, despotic God who can be enlisted by each combatant for the destruction of his foes, but by the Divine element in man, the God within the human soul. That, in proportion as man is high, so will the life of man be high, safe from shames like this, and devoid of his old misery. The creed will be a fervent, almost secret application of the saying: “Love thy neighbour as thyself!” It will be ashamed of appeal to God to put right that which man has bungled; of supplications to the deity to fight against the deity. It will have the pride of the artist and the artizan. And it will have its own mysticism, its own wonder, and reverence for the mystery of the all-embracing Principle which has produced such a creature as this man, with such marvellous potentiality for the making of fine things, and the living of fine lives; such heroism, such savagery; such wisdom and such black stupidity; such a queer insuperable instinct for going on and on and ever on!

§ 3.

The Western world has had its lesson now—the lesson indelibly writ in death: There is no longer room in civilization for despotic Governments. In Germany, in Austria, in the country where despotism most reigns supreme—our ally, Russia—they are doomed in theory, if not as yet in fact.

The Slav is no more by nature the enemy of the Teuton than is the Briton of the Frank. That enmity is a fostered thing of imperial and bureaucratic dreams.

What stands out from all this welter? The ambitious diplomacy of the despotic Powers, in pursuit of so-called “national ideals,” a diplomacy begotten of vicious traditions and the misconceptions of egomania, removed by a ring fence from the people of the nations for whom it professes to speak. An ambitious and cynical diplomacy, battening on the knowledge that it can at almost any time raise for its ends a whirlwind of feeling out of the love men ever have for the land wherein they are born.

It is the divorce of executive power from popular sanction that has made possible this greatest of all the disasters in history. In democratic countries the aggressive faculty is imperceptibly yet continually weakened by the obscure but real link between ministers elect and the people. Only in those countries where, under a cloak perhaps of democratic forms, the administrative force is responsible to none save an imperial director, is a ruthless and unchecked pursuit of so-called national dreams, an aggressive parade of so-called national honour, possible.

If only autocracies—masquerading or naked—go down in the wreckage of this war!

§ 4.

The superstition that unmilitarized nations suffer from fatty degeneration of the heart has perished in the forty-fourth year of its age, at the siege of Liège, blown away by the heroism of a little unmilitary nation!

Democracy and citizen armies! If this war brings that in its train its horror will not have been all hateful. But so surely as States remain autocratic at heart will the dire spirit that animates almighty bureaucracy rear its head again and demand revenge. So surely will this war bring another, and yet another! In these last twenty years civilization has not even marked time; it has gone backward under the curb and pressure of professional armaments masquerading under the words “Si vis pacem, para bellum.” The principle of universal service by men not professionally soldiers, the principle that no man shall be called to fight one step outside his native land—save as part of an international Police to enforce the authority of a League for Peace—these are the only principles that will in the future still the gnawings of anxiety and gradually guarantee the peace of the West. They are principles that, I fear, will never obtain while States are subject to military bureaucracy and dynastic ambitions. If they cannot be purged of these we are “doomed to something great” every generation—the greatness of the shambles! It is enough to make heart stand still and brain reel for ever if one must believe that man is never to find better means of keeping his spirit from rust, his body from decay, than these sporadic outbursts of “greatness.” “War is the only cleanser!” Ah!—because the word “patriotism” has so limited a meaning. But—to believe that this must always be . . . ! When men have ceased to look on war as the proper vehicle for self-sacrifice, will they not turn to a greatness that is not soaked with blood and black with the crows of death, to save their souls alive? Will there not, can there not, arise an emotion as strong as this present patriotism—a sentiment as passionate and sweeping, bearing men on to the use of every faculty and the forgetfulness of self, for the salvation, instead of the destruction, of their fellow-man? Or is this a dream, and are we forever doomed, each generation, to the greatness of tearing each other limb from limb?

§ 5.

Three weeks before this war began I was in one of those East End London parishes whose inhabitants exist from hand to mouth on casual employment and sweated labour; where the women, poor, thin, overworked souls, have neither time nor strength nor inclination for cleanliness and comeliness in person or house; where the men are undersized and underfed, with the faces of those without a future; where pale and stunted children playing in the gutters have a monopoly of any mirthless gaiety there is.

In one household of two rooms they were “free of debt, thank Gawd!” having just come back from fruit-picking, and were preparing to take up family existence again on the wife’s making of matchboxes at a maximum of six shillings a week, the husband not having found a job as yet. In another household, of one room swarming with flies and foul with a sickly acrid odour, a baby was half-asleep on the few rags of a bed bereft of bedclothes, its lips pressed to something rubbery, and flies about its eyes; dirty bowls of messes stood about; an offal heap lay in the empty grate; and at a table in the little window a pallid woman of forty with a running cold was desperately sewing the soles on to tiny babies’ shoes. Beside her was a small dirty boy, who had just been lost and brought home by a policeman, because he had remembered the name of the street he lived in. The woman looked up at us wistfully, and said: “I thought I’d lost ’im too, I did; like the one that fell in the canal.” Though she still had seven, though her husband was out of work, though she only made five to six shillings a week, she could not spare any of the children she had borne.

Prices have gone up. What is happening to such as these? They exist in all countries. You military bureaucrats, who safeguard and pursue “national aspirations,” who open the gates of the kennel and let loose these mad dogs of war; who rive husbands from their wives, sons from their mothers, and send them out by the hundred thousand to become lumps of bloody clay—spare a fraction of time to see the peoples for “whose good” you launch this glorious murder; come and sniff for one moment that sickly, acrid smell in the homes of the poor! And then talk of national aspirations and necessities!

There is only one national aspiration worth the name, only one national necessity—to have from roof to basement a clean, healthy, happy national house. “War the cleanser! Without war—no sacrifice, no nobility!” I refer you to that mother, slaving without hope and without glory, starved and ill, and slaving in a war with death that lasts all her life, for the children she has borne.

§ 6.

The Russian people is not Russia, unless it should become so in this war. There has hitherto been an almost absolute divorce between the essentially democratic nature of the Russian and the despotic methods by which Russia is governed. We English and French, fighting not only for our lives, but for democracy, for the decent preservation of treaty rights, and a humanity that we believe can only flourish under democratic rule, find it somewhat ironical that we have with us a despotism. And there is a profound reason why it has been and will be difficult for Russia to change its form of government. The emotional, uncalculating Russian has little sense of money, space, or time; he falls an easy prey to those sterner, more matter-of-fact than himself. Bureaucracy attracts the hard and practical elements of a population; there are, or were, many of Teutonic origin manning Russian officialdom. And Russia is so huge; democratic rule will find it difficult to be swift enough; in decentralization there is danger of disruption. Nevertheless, we welcome the help of Russia, for, if France and we were beaten, it would not only be our own deaths, but the death of democracy and humanism in Europe—perhaps in the world. The tide of democracy sets from the West. It must permeate Germany before it reaches Russia. Out of this war many things may come. If Fate grant that military despotisms fall in any country, they may well fall in all, and our ally, Russia, gain at last a Constitution and some real measure of democratic freedom, some real coherence between the Russian people and Russian policy.

§ 7.

When the conscript souls disembodied by this war meet, if they meet at all, how will they talk of this last madness? Perhaps one in each hundred will be able to say from his heart: “I was happy with a rifle or sword and some of you to be killed in front of me!” The remaining ninety-nine will say: “Like you I loved the sun, and a woman, and the good things of life; like you I meant well by others; I had no wish to kill any man; no wish to die. But I was told that it was necessary. I was told that, unless I killed as many of you as I could, my country would suffer. I don’t know whether in my heart I believed what I was told, but I did know that I should feel disgraced if I did not take rifle and sword and try to kill some of you; I knew, too, that unless I did, they would shoot me for a deserter. So I went. Nearly all the time that I was marching, or resting dead-tired, or lying in the trenches, I thought; ‘Shall I ever see home again? Let me see home again!’ But I knew that my first duty was to kill you, so that you should never see home again. I did not want to kill you, but I knew I had to. When I was under fire or tired or hungry, it is true I hated you so that I had only a savage wish to kill you. But when it was over I had an ache in my heart. We used to sing while marching, make jokes, enjoy the feel of our comrades’ shoulders touching our own, say to ourselves: ‘We’re fine fellows, serving our country, doing our duty!’ But still the ache went on underneath, very deep, as if one were asleep and could not come to the end of a bad dream. We seldom knew what our bullets were doing, but sometimes we came to fighting hand to hand. The first time, I remember, we had advanced through a wood under shell-fire, and were lying down at the edge. I had that ache all the time I was coming through the wood; it was fine weather, and the larches smelled sweet. But when I saw you charging down on us with the sun gleaming on your bayonets, it left me; I felt weak and queer down the backs of my legs, wondering which of you, yelling and running towards me, would plunge his steel into my stomach. Then my officer shouted; I fired once, twice, three times, and began to run forward. If I had not, I should have turned and fled. I did not feel savage, but I knew I must move every bit of me as quick as I could, and defend myself and stab. Then our supports came through the wood, and you were beaten. My bayonet was bloody. One or more of you I must have killed; I had been brave, we had won; I felt excited and yet sick. In the evening when I lay down my ache was worse than ever. All my life I had been taught that to kill a fellow-man was the worst thing man can do; it did not come natural to me to kill. It was having to risk my life so dear to me, in order that I might kill, that gave me that ache. If I had been risking it trying to save you, it would have been more natural; I should not have ached then!”

§ 8.

“The glories of war!”

Courage, devotion, endurance, contempt of death! These are glories that the unmartial may not deride. Even the humblest of brave soldiers is a hero, for all that his heroism coins the misery of others; but what does the soldier know, see, feel, of the real “glories of war”? That knowledge is confined to the readers of newspapers and books! The Pressman, the romancer, the historian can with glowing pen call up in the reader a feeling that war is glorious; that there is something in itself desirable and to be admired in that licensed murder, arson, robbery that we call war. Glorious war! Every penny thrill of each reader of the newspaper, every spasm of each one who sees armed men passing, or hears the fifes and drums, is manufactured out of blood and groans, wrung out of the torments of the human heart and the torture of human flesh.

When I read in the paper of some glorious charge and the great slaughter of the enemy, I feel a thrill through every fibre. It is grand, it is splendid! I take a deep breath of joy, almost of rapture. Grand, splendid! That there should be lying, with their faces haggard to the stars, hundreds, thousands of men like myself, better men than myself! Hundreds, thousands, who loved life as much as I; whose women loved them as much as mine love me! Grand, splendid! That the blood should be oozing from them into grass that once smelled as sweet to them as it does to me! That their eyes which delighted in sunlight and beauty as much as mine, should be glazing fast with death; that their mouths, which mothers and wives and children are aching to kiss again, should be twisted into gaps of horror! Grand, splendid! That other men, no more savage than myself, should have strown them, there! Grand, splendid! That in thousands of far-off houses women, children, and old men will soon lie quivering with anguished memories of those lying there dead. . .

Pressmen, romancers, historians—you have given me a noble thrill in recounting these glories of war!

§ 9.

This is the grand defeat of all Utopians, dreamers, poets, philosophers, idealists, humanitarians, lovers of peace and the arts; bag and baggage they are thrown out of a world that has for a time no use for them. To the despot, the bureaucrat, the militarist, the man of affairs, they have always been hateful. They are soft, yet dangerous, because they venture to hold up another flag in the face of the big flag of force; venture to distract men’s attention from dwelling on the beauty of its size. I believe solemnly that we English have had to join this carnival of force to guard democracy, honour, and the sanctity of treaty rights. It was a sacred necessity; let us keep it sacred, without the loathsome reek of a satisfaction that peace, humanism, and the arts are down, and the country once more showing the stuff of which it is made, a tusky lover of a fight, as jealous and afraid of a rival as ever.

The idealist said in his heart: The god of force is dead, or dying. He has been proven the fool that the man of affairs and the militarist always said he was. But the fools of this world—generally after they are gone—have a way of moving men which the wise and practical believers in force have not. If they had not this power man would still be, year in year out, the savage that the believers in force have for the moment once more made him. The battle between the god of love and the god of force endures for ever. Fools of the former camp, drummed out and beaten to their knees, in due time will get up again and plant their poor flag a little farther on. “All men shall be brothers,” said the German fool, Schiller; so shall the fools say again when the time comes; and again, and again, after every beating!

§ 10.

Last night, when the half-moon was golden and the white stars very high, I saw the souls of the killed passing. They came riding through the dark—some on grey horses, some on black; they came marching, white-faced—hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands.

The night smelled sweet, the breeze rustled, the stream murmured; and past me on the air the souls of the killed came marching. They seemed of one great company, no longer enemies. All had the same fixed stare, braving something strange that they were trying terribly to push away. All had their eyes narrowed yet fixed open in their grey-white, smoke-grimed faces. They made no sound as they passed. Whence were they coming, where going, trailing the ghosts of guns, riding the ghosts of horses; into what river of oblivion—far from horror, and the savagery of man!

They passed. The golden half-moon shone, and the high white stars. The fields smelled sweet; the wind gently stirred the trees. The moon and stars would be shining over the battlefields, the wind rustling the trees there, the earth sleeping in dark beauty. So would it be all over the Western world. The peace of God doth indeed pass our understanding!


(From a Symposium onNationality,” 1915.)

In these times one dread lies heavy on heart and brain—the thought that after all the unimaginable suffering, waste, and sacrifice of this war nothing may come of it, no real relief, no permanent benefit to Europe, no improvement to the future of mankind.

The pronouncements of publicists: “This must never happen again,” “Conditions for abiding peace must be secured,” “The United States of Europe must be founded,” “Militarism must cease”—all such are the natural outcome of this dread. They are proclamations admirable in sentiment and intention. But, human nature being what it has been and is likely to remain, we must face the possibility that nothing will come of the war, save the restoration of Belgium (that, at least, is certain); some alterations of boundaries; a long period of economic and social trouble more bitter than before; a sweeping moral reaction after too great effort. Cosmically regarded, this war is a debauch rather than a purge, and debauches have always to be paid for.

Confronting the situation in this spirit, we shall be the more rejoiced if any of our wider hopes should by good fortune be attained.

Leaving aside the restoration of Belgium—for what do we continue to fight? We go on, as we began, because we all believe in our own countries and what they stand for. And in considering how far the principle of nationality should be exalted, one must remember that it is in the main responsible for the present state of things. In truth, the principle of nationality of itself and by itself is a quite insufficient ideal. It is a mere glorification of self in a world full of other selves; and only of value in so far as it forms part of that larger ideal, an international ethic, which admits the claims and respects the aspirations of all nations. Without that ethic little nations are (as at the present moment) the prey—and, according to the naked principle of nationality, the legitimate prey—of bigger nations. Germany absorbed Schleswig, Alsace-Lorraine, and now Belgium, by virtue of nationalism, of an overweening belief in the perfection of its national self. Austria would subdue Serbia from much the same feeling. France does not wish to absorb or subdue any European people of another race, because France, as ever, a little in advance of her age, is already grounded in this international ethic of solid respect for the rights of all nations which belong, broadly speaking, to the same stage of development. The same may now be said of the other Western democratic Powers, Britain and America, “To live and let live,” “To dwell together in unity,” are the guiding maxims of the international ethic, by virtue of which alone have the smaller communities of men—the Belgiums, Bohemias, Polands, Serbias, Denmarks, Irelands, Switzerlands of Europe—any chance of security in the maintenance of their national existence. In short, the principle of nationality, unless it is prepared to serve this international ethic, is but a frank abettor of the devilish maxim: “Might is right.” All this is truism; but truisms are often the first things we forget.

The whole question of nationality in Europe bristles with difficulties. It cannot be solved by theory and rule of thumb. What is a nation? Shall it be determined by speech, by blood, by geographical boundary, by historic tradition? The freedom and independence of a country can and ever should be assured when with one voice it demands the same. It is seldom so simple as that. Belgium, no doubt, is as one man. Poland is one man in so far as the Poles are concerned, but what of the Austrians, Russians, Germans settled among them? What of Ireland split into two camps? What of the Germans in Bohemia; in Alsace; in Schleswig? Compromise alone is possible in many cases, going by favour of majority. And there will always remain the very poignant question of the rights and aspirations of the minorities. Let us by all means clear the air by righting glaring wrongs, removing palpable anomalies, redressing obvious injustices, securing so far as possible the independent national life of homogeneous groups; but let us not, dazzled by the glamour of a word, dream that by restoring a few landmarks, altering a few boundaries, and raising a pæan to the word “nationality” we can banish all clouds from the sky of Europe and muzzle the ambitions of the stronger nations.

In my belief the best hope for lasting peace, the chief promise of security for the rights and freedom of little countries, the most reasonable guarantee of international justice and general humanity, lies in the gradual growth of democracy, of rule by consent of the governed. When Europe is all democratic, and its civilization on one plane—instead of as now on two—then and then only we shall begin to draw the breath of real assurance. Then only will the little countries sleep quietly in their beds. It is conceivable, nay probable, that an ideal autocracy could achieve more good for its country and for the world at large in a given time than the rule of the most enlightened democracy. It is certain that ideal autocracies hold sway but once in a blue moon.

If proof be needed that the prevalence of democracy will end aggression among nations that belong to the same stage of development, secure the rights of small peoples, foster justice and humaneness in man, let the history of this last century and a half be well examined, and let the human probabilities be weighed. Which is the more likely to advocate wars of aggression? They who, by age, position, wealth, are secure against the daily pressure of life, they who have passed their time out of touch with the struggle for existence, in an atmosphere of dreams, ambitions, and power over other men? Or they who every hour are reminded how hard life is, even at its most prosperous moments, who have nothing to gain by war, and all, even life, to lose; who by virtue of their own struggles have a deep knowledge of the struggles of their fellow-creatures; an instinctive repugnance to making those struggles harder; who have heard little and dreamed less of those so-called “national interests” that are so often mere chimeras; who love, no doubt, in their inarticulate way, the country where they were born and the modes of life and thought to which they are accustomed, but know of no traditional and artificial reasons why the men of other countries should not be allowed to love their own lands and modes of thought and life in equal peace and security?

Assuredly, the latter of these two kinds of men are the less likely to favour ambitious projects and aggressive wars. According as “the people,” through their representatives, have or have not the final decision in such matters, the future of Europe shall be made of war or peace, of respect or of disregard for the rights of little nations.

It is advanced against democracies that the workers of a country, ignorant and provincial in outlook, have no grasp of international politics. True—in a Europe where national ambitions and dreams are still for the most part hatched and nurtured in nests perched high above the real needs and sentiments of the simple working folk who form nine-tenths of the population in each country. But once those nests of aggressive nationalism have fallen from their high trees, so soon as all Europe conforms to the principle of rule by consent of the governed, it will be found—as it has already been found in France and in this country—that the general sense of the community informed by growing publicity (through means of communication ever speeding-up) is quite sufficient trustee of national safety; quite able, even enthusiastically able, to defend its country from attack.

It is said that democracies are liable to be swept by gusts of passion, in danger of yielding to Press or mob sentiment. But are not the peoples of democratic countries as firmly counselled and held in check by their responsible ministers and elected representatives as are the peoples of autocratically governed countries? What power of initiative have “the people” in either case? They act only through their leaders. But their leaders are elected—that is the point.

Representative Governments must answer for their actions to their fellow-men. Autocratic Governments need only answer to their gods. The eyes of representative Governments are turned habitually inwards towards the condition of the people whom they represent. The eyes of autocratic Governments may indeed be turned inwards, but what they usually see of the people whom they do not represent is liable to make them turn outwards. In other words, they find in successful foreign adventure and imperialism a potent safeguard against internal troubles.

The problem before the world at the end of this war is how to eliminate the virus of an aggressive nationalism that will lead to fresh outbursts of death. It is a problem that I, for one, fear will beat the powers and good-will of all, unless there should come a radical change of Governments in Central Europe; unless the real power in Germany and Austria-Hungary passes into the hands of the people of those countries, through their elected representatives, as already it has passed in France and Britain. This is in my belief the only chance for the defeat of militarism, of that raw nationalism, which, even if beaten down at first, will ever be lying in wait, preparing secret revenge and fresh attacks. How this democratization of Central Europe can be brought about I cannot tell. It is far off as yet. But if this be not at long last the outcome of the war, we may still, I fear, talk in vain of the rights of little nations, of peace, disarmament, of chivalry, justice, and humanity. We may whistle for a changed Europe.


(From the Amsterdamer Revue, 1915.)

After many months of war, search for the cause thereof borders on the academic. Comment on the physical facts of the situation does not come within the scope of one who by disposition and training is concerned with states of mind.

But as to the result: The period of surprise is over; the forces known; the issue fully joined. It is now a case of “Pull devil, pull baker!” and a question of the fibre of the combatants. For this reason it may not be amiss to try to present to any whom it may concern as detached a picture as one can of the real nature of that combatant who is called the Englishman. Ignorance in Central Europe of his character tipped the balance in favour of war, and speculation as to the future is useless without right comprehension of his nature.

The Englishman is taken advisedly, because he represents four-fifths of the population of the British Isles.

And first let it be said that there is no more unconsciously deceptive person on the face of the globe. The Englishman does not know himself; outside England he is but guessed at.

Racially the Englishman is so complex and so old a blend that no one can say what he is. In character he is just as complex. Physically, there are two main types: one inclining to length of limb, narrowness of face and head (you will see nowhere such long and narrow heads as in our islands), and bony jaws; the other approximating more to the ordinary “John Bull.” The first type is gaining on the second. There is little or no difference in the main character behind.

In attempting to understand the real nature of the Englishman, certain salient facts must be borne in mind.

The Sea.—To be surrounded generation after generation by the sea has developed in him a suppressed idealism, a peculiar impermeability, a turn for adventure, a faculty for wandering, and for being sufficient unto himself in far and awkward surroundings.

The Climate.—Whoso weathers for centuries a climate that, though healthy and never extreme, is, perhaps, the least reliable and one of the wettest in the world, must needs grow in himself a counter-balance of dry philosophy, a defiant humour, an enforced medium temperature of soul. The Englishman is no more given to extremes than is his climate; against its damp and perpetual changes he has become coated with a sort of bluntness.

The Political Age of his Country.—This is by far the oldest settled Western Power, politically speaking. For eight hundred and fifty years England has known no serious military disturbance from without; for nearly two hundred she has known no serious political turmoil within. This is partly the outcome of her isolation, partly the happy accident of her political constitution, partly the result of the Englishman’s habit of looking before he leaps, which comes, no doubt, from the climate and the mixture of his blood. This political stability has been a tremendous factor in the formation of English character, has given the Englishman of all ranks a certain deep slow sense of form and order, an engrained culture—if one may pirate the word—that makes no show, being in the bones of the man, as it were.

The Great Preponderance for Several Generations of Town over Country Life.—Taken in conjunction with centuries of political stability, this is the main cause of a growing inarticulate humaneness, of which—speaking generally—the Englishman appears to be rather ashamed.

The Public Schools.—This potent element in the formation of the modern Englishman, not only in the upper but of all classes, is something that one rather despairs of making understood—in countries which have no similar institution. But! Imagine one hundred thousand youths of the wealthiest, healthiest, and most influential classes, passed, during each generation, at the most impressionable age, into a sort of ethical mould, emerging therefrom stamped to the core with the impress of a uniform morality, uniform manners, uniform way of looking at life; remembering always that these youths fill seven-eighths of the important positions in the professional administration of their country and the conduct of its commercial enterprise; remembering too, that, through perpetual contact with every other class, their standard of morality and way of looking at life filters down into the very toes of the land. This great character-forming machine is remarkable for an unself-consciousness which gives it enormous strength and elasticity. Not inspired by the State, it inspires the State. The characteristics of the philosophy it enjoins are mainly negative, and, for that, the stronger. “Never show your feelings—to do so is not manly, and bores your fellows. Don’t cry out when you’re hurt, making yourself a nuisance to other people. Tell no tales about your companions and no lies about yourself. Avoid all ‘swank,’ ‘side,’ ‘swagger,’ braggadocio of speech or manner, on pain of being laughed at.” (This maxim is carried to such a pitch that the Englishman, except in his Press, habitually understates everything.) “Think little of money, and speak less of it. Play games hard, and keep the rules of them, even when your blood is hot and you are tempted to disregard them. In three words: Play the Game”—a little phrase which may be taken as the characteristic understatement of the modern Englishman’s creed of honour, in all classes. This great, unconscious machine has great defects. It tends to the formation of “caste”; it is a poor teacher of sheer learning; and, æsthetically, with its universal suppression of all interesting and queer individual traits of personality—it is almost horrid. Yet it imparts a remarkable incorruptibility to English life; it conserves vitality, by suppressing all extremes; and it implants everywhere a kind of unassuming stoicism and respect for the rules of the great game—Life. Through its unconscious example, and through its cult of games, it has vastly influenced even the classes not directly under its control.

Three more main facts must be borne in mind:—

Essential Democracy of Government.

Freedom of Speech and the Press.

Absence hitherto of Compulsory Military Service.

These, the outcome of the quiet and stable home life of an island people, have done more than anything to make the Englishman a deceptive personality to the outside eye. He has for centuries been licensed to grumble. There is no such confirmed grumbler—until he really has something to grumble at; and then, no one perhaps who grumbles less. There is no such confirmed carper at the condition of his country, yet no one really so profoundly convinced that it is the best in the world. A stranger might well think from his utterances that he was spoiled by the freedom of his life, unprepared to sacrifice anything for a land in such a condition. Threaten that country, and with it his liberty, and you will find that his grumbles have meant less than nothing. You will find, too, that behind the apparent slackness of every arrangement and every individual are powers of adaptability to facts, elasticity, practical genius, a spirit of competition amounting almost to disease, and a determination, that are staggering. Before this war began, it was the fashion amongst a number of English to lament the decadence of the race. These very grumblers are now foremost in praising the spirit shown in every part of their country. Their lamentations, which plentifully deceived the outside ear, were just English grumbles; for if, in truth, England had been decadent, there could have been no such universal display for them to be praising now. All this democratic grumbling, and habit of “going as you please,” serve a deep purpose. Autocracy, Censorship, Compulsion, destroy humour in a nation’s blood and elasticity in its fibre; they cut at the very mainsprings of national vitality. Only if reasonably free from control can a man really arrive at what is or is not national necessity, and truly identify himself with a national ideal by simple conviction from within.

Two words of caution to strangers trying to form an estimate of the Englishman: He must not be judged from his Press, which, manned (with certain exceptions) by those who are not typically English, is much too-highly-coloured to illustrate the true English spirit; nor can he be judged from his literature.

The Englishman is essentially inexpressive, unexpressed. Further, he must not be judged by the evidence of his wealth. England may be the richest country in the world per head of population, but not 5 per cent. of that population have any wealth to speak of, certainly not enough to have affected their hardihood; and, with inconsiderable exceptions, those who have enough are brought up to worship hardihood. For the vast proportion of Englishmen, active military service is merely a change from work as hard, and even more monotonous.

From these main premises, then, we come to what the Englishman really is.

When, after months of travel, one returns to England, he can taste, smell, and feel the difference in the atmosphere, physical and moral—the curious damp, blunt, good-humoured, happy-go-lucky, old-established, slow-seeming formlessness of everything. You hail a porter; if you tell him you have plenty of time, he muddles your things amiably with an air of, “It’ll be all right,” till you have only just time. But if you tell him you have no time—he will set himself to catch that train for you, and catch it faster than a porter of any other country. Let no foreigner, however, experiment to prove the truth of this, for a porter—like any other Englishman—is incapable of taking a foreigner seriously (after a year of war he is not even yet taking the Germans seriously); and, quite friendly, but a little pitying, will lose him the train, assuring the unfortunate that he can’t possibly know what train he wants to catch.

The Englishman must have a thing brought under his nose before he will act; bring it there and he will go on acting after everybody else has stopped. He lives very much in the moment because he is essentially a man of facts and not a man of imagination. Want of imagination makes him, philosophically speaking, rather ludicrous; in practical affairs it handicaps him at the start; but once he has “got going”—as we say—it is of incalculable assistance to his stamina. The Englishman, partly through this lack of imagination and nervous sensibility, partly through his inbred dislike of extremes and habit of minimising the expression of everything, is a perfect example of the conservation of energy. It is very difficult to come to the end of him. Add to this his unimaginative practicality, and tenacious moderation, his inherent spirit of competition—not to say pugnacity—a spirit of competition so extreme that it makes him, as it were, patronize Fate; add the sort of vulgarity that grows like fungus on people who despise ideas and analysis, and make a cult of unintellectuality; add a peculiar, ironic, “don’t care” sort of humour; an underground humaneness, and an ashamed idealism—and you get some notion of the pudding of English character. It has a kind of terrible coolness, a rather awful level-headedness—by no means reflected in his Press. The Englishman makes constant small blunders; but few, almost no, deep mistakes. He is a slow starter, but there is no stronger finisher, because he has by temperament and training the faculty of getting through any job he gives his mind to with a minimum expenditure of vital energy; nothing is wasted in expression, style, spread-eagleism; everything is instinctively kept as near to the practical heart of the matter as possible. He is—to the eyes of an artist—distressingly matter-of-fact; a tempting mark for satire. And yet he is at bottom an idealist, though it is his nature to snub, disguise, and mock his own inherent optimism. To admit enthusiasm is “bad form” if he is a “gentleman”; and “swank,” or mere waste of good heat, if he is not a “gentleman.” England produces more than its proper percentage of cranks and poets; this is Nature’s way of redressing the balance in a country where feelings are not shown, sentiments not expressed, and extremes laughed at. Not that the Englishman is cold, as is generally supposed in foreign countries—on the contrary, he is warm-hearted and feels strongly; but just as peasants, for lack of words to express their feelings, become stolid, so does the Englishman, from sheer lack of the habit of self-expression. The Englishman’s proverbial “hypocrisy”—that which I myself have dubbed his “island Pharisaism”—comes chiefly, I think, from his latent but fearfully strong instinct for competition which will not let him admit himself beaten, or in the wrong, even to himself; and from an ingrained sense of form that impels him always to “save his face”; but partly it comes from his powerlessness to explain his feelings. He has not the clear and fluent cynicism of expansive natures, wherewith to confess exactly how he stands. It is the habit of men of all nations to want to have things both ways; the Englishman wants it both ways, I think, more strongly than any; and he is unfortunately so unable to express himself, even to himself, that he has never realized this truth, much less confessed it—hence his “hypocrisy.”

He is sometimes abused for being over-attached to money. His island position, his early discoveries of coal, iron, and processes of manufacture have made him, of course, a confirmed industrialist and trader; but he is more of an adventurer in wealth than a heaper-up of it. He is far from sitting on his money-bags—has no vein of proper avarice (the humble Englishman is probably the least provident man in the world)—and for national ends he will spill out his money like water, if convinced of the necessity.

In everything it comes to that with the Englishman—he must be convinced; and he takes a lot of convincing. He absorbs ideas slowly; would rather not imagine anything decidedly till he is obliged; but in proportion to the slowness with which he can be moved, is the slowness with which he can be removed! Hence the symbol of the bulldog. When he does see and seize a thing, he holds fast.

For the particular situation which the Englishman has now to face, he is terribly well adapted. Because he has so little imagination, so little power of expression, he is saving nerve all the time. Because he never goes to extremes he is saving energy of body and spirit. That the men of all nations are about equally endowed with courage and self-sacrifice, has been proved in these last six months; it is to other qualities that one must look for final victory in a war of exhaustion. The Englishman does not look into himself; he does not brood; he sees no further forward than is necessary; and he must have his joke. These are fearful and wonderful advantages. Examine the letters and diaries of the various combatants, and you will see how far less imaginative and reflecting (though often shrewd, practical, and humorous) the English are than any others; you will gain, too, a deep, a deadly conviction that behind them is a fibre like rubber, that may be frayed and bent a little this way and that, but can neither be permeated nor broken.

When this war began, the Englishman rubbed his eyes steeped in peace, he is still rubbing them just a little, but less and less every day. A profound lover of peace by habit and tradition, he has actually realized by now that he is “in for it” up to the neck. To any one who really knows him—that is a portent!

Let it be freely confessed that from an æsthetic point of view the Englishman, devoid of high lights and shadows, coated with drab, and superhumanly steady on his feet, is not too attractive. But for the wearing, tearing, slow, and dreadful business of this war, the Englishman—fighting of his own free will, unimaginative, humorous, competitive, practical, never in extremes, a dumb, inveterate optimist, and terribly tenacious—is equipped with victory.


(From The Times Literary Supplement, 1915.)

For the purpose of the following speculations the word Literature is used to describe the imaginative work of artists and thinkers—that is, of writers who have had, and will have, something to say of more or less lasting value; it leaves out the work of those who, for various reasons, such as patriotic sentiment, or the supplying of the Public with what it may be supposed to want, will, no doubt, dish up the war as a matter of necessity, whether serving it wholesale in eight courses, or merely using it as sauce to the customary meat and fish.

How will our literature, thus defined, be affected by the war? Will it be affected at all?

One must first remember that to practically all imaginative writers of any quality war is an excrescence on human life, a monstrous calamity and evil. The fact that they recognize the gruesome inevitability of this war, in so far as the intervention of our country is concerned, does not in any way lessen their temperamental horror of war in itself, of the waste and the misery, and the sheer stupid brutality thereof.

The nature of the imaginative artist is sensitive, impressionable; impatient of anything superimposed; thinking and feeling for itself; recoiling from conglomerate views and sentiment. It regards the whole affair as a dreadful though sacred necessity, to be got through somehow, lest there be lost that humane freedom which is the life-blood of any world where the creative imagination and other even more precious things can flourish. The point is that there is no glamour about the business—none whatever, for this particular sort of human being. Writers to whom war is glamorous (with the few exceptions that prove the rule) are not those who produce literature. We must therefore discount at once prophecies that the war will lift literature on to an epic plane, cause it to glow and blow with heroic deeds, and figures eight feet high. They come from those who do not know the temperament of the imaginative artist, his fundamental independence, and habit of revolting against what is expected of him. But the whole thing is much deeper than that.

It seems to be forgotten by some who write on this matter that the producer of literature has been giving of his best in the past, and will be able to do no more in the future. The first thing that has mattered to him has been (in the words of de Maupassant, but which might have been those of any other first-rate writer) “to make something fine, in the form that shall best suit him according to his temperament.” No amount of wars can vary for the artist that ideal—as it was for him, so it will be. It seems also to be thought that the war has been a startling revelation to the imaginative writer of the heroism in human nature. This is giving him credit for very little imagination. The constant tragedies of peace—miners entombed, sinking liners, volcanic eruptions, outbreaks of pestilence, together with the long endurances of daily life, are always bringing home to any sensitive mind the inherent heroism of men and women. The very glut of heroism in this war is likely, as it were, to put an artist’s nature off, to blunt the edge of perceptions that are always groping after fresh sensation, that must be always groping, in order that expression may be of something really felt—for novelty is, of all, the greatest spur to sharp feeling.

The top notes of human life and conduct can be but sparingly sung, or they grate on the nerves, and jar the hearing of the singer, no less than of his listener. By some mysterious law frontal attacks to capture heroism and imprison it in art are almost always failures. Few of the great imagined figures of literature are heroic.

Another thing is forgotten. The real artist does not anticipate and certainly cannot regulate the impulses that shall move his brain and heart and hand. What exactly starts him off, even he cannot tell. He will never write heroics to the order of the Public.

Ah! but he will now be influenced unconsciously in the choice of subjects by sympathy with the fine deeds of the day, a lift will come into his work, his eyes will be raised to the stars! True, perhaps, for the moment; but, then, such times as these are in many ways unfavourable to the creative instinct; moreover they will leave in restless, sensitive natures lassitude, recoil, a sense of surfeit. Quite probably the war may produce a real masterpiece or two, formed out of its very stuff, by some eager mind innocent hitherto of creative powers, for whom actual experience of the sights and feelings of war may be a baptism into art. Almost certainly there will come of it a masterpiece or two of satire. But, generally speaking, this welter of sacrifice and suffering, the sublimity and horror of these days, their courage and their cruelty, are enveloping the writer like the breath of a sirocco, whirling his brain and heart around at the moment, but likely to leave him with an intense longing for a deep draught of peace, and quiet scented winds. On one whose whole natural life is woven, not of deeds, but of thoughts and visions, moods and dreams, all this intensely actual violence, product of utterly different natures from his own, offspring of men of action and affairs, cannot have the permanent, deepening, clarifying influence that long personal experience or suffering have had on some of the world’s greatest writers—on Milton in his blindness; on Dostoevsky, reprieved at the very moment of death, then long imprisoned; on de Maupassant in his fear of coming madness; on Tolstoi in the life-struggle of his dual nature; on Beethoven in his deafness, and Nietzsche in his deadly sickness. It is from the stuff of his own life that the creative writer moulds out for the world something fine, in the form that best suits him, following his own temperament. His momentary and, perhaps, intense identification with the struggle of this war has in it something spasmodic, feverish, and almost false; a kind of deep and tragic inconsistency. It is too foreign to the real self within him. At one time it was said of certain new troops: “They’re first-rate, except for one thing—they will not bayonet the Germans.” It is like that in the artist writer’s soul—with the work of his hands, the words of his lips, his thoughts and the feelings of his heart, he identifies himself with this war drama, yet in the very depths of him he recoils. What would you have? The artist-man has but one nature.

For all these reasons the war is likely to have little deep or lasting influence on literature. But one immediate effect it may surely have. Let who will snatch a moment in these days to be with Nature—let him go into a wood, or walk down the Flower Walk in Kensington Gardens, of a fine afternoon. On the still birch trees a pigeon will be sitting motionless among the grey twig tracery; the cedar-branches are dark and flat on the air; the sun warms the cheek, and brightens the cream and pink chestnut and maple buds just opening; the waxy hyacinths deepen in hue, and the little green shoots everywhere swell as he gazes. A sensation of delight begins to lift his heart, he takes a deep breath; and suddenly, from a bench he hears: “One of ’em’s alive an’ two’s dead.” Or: “The Germans are movin’ ’em!” Gone is the beginning of delight. The heavy hand comes down again. No good! There is no Spring! The sky is not bright. The heart cannot rejoice. As with any man, so, and even more, with the artist-writer. When the war is over and the heavy hand lifted, his heart and brain will rush to that of which he has been deprived too long—will rush to the beauty which, for sheer pity and horror, he cannot now enjoy, will rush as a starved and thirsting creature. There may well be an instant outburst of joyful and sensuous imaginings; a painting of beauty, not faked but really felt, by brushes at once more searching and yet softer.

And very likely, too, there will be a spurt of zest and frankness, as from men who have been too long constrained to a single emotion under the spell of a powerful drug.

One more thought may be jotted down. Unless the national unity now prevailing lasts on into the years of peace that follow, the country will certainly pass through great internal stress. That stress will most likely have a more intimate and powerful influence upon literature than the war itself. If there is to come any startling change, it should be five or ten years after the war rather than at once.


(From the Atlantic Monthly and Fortnightly Review, 1915.)

Monsieur Rodin—perhaps the greatest living artist—has lately defined art as the pursuit of beauty, and beauty as “the expression of what there is best in man.” “Man,” he says, “needs to express in a perfect form of art all his intuitive longings towards the Unknowable.” His words may serve as warning to those who imagine that the war will loosen one root of the tree of art—a tree which has been growing slowly since first soul came into men’s eyes.

This world (as all will admit) is one of the innumerable expressions of an Unknowable Creative Purpose, which colloquially we call God; that which not every one will admit is that this Creative Purpose works in its fashioning not only of matter but of what we call spirit, through friction, through the rubbing together of the noses, the thoughts, and the hearts of men. While the material condition of our planet—the heat or friction within it—remains favourable to human life, there will, there must needs be, a continual crescendo in the stature of Humanity, through the ever-increasing friction of human spirits one with the other; friction supplied by life itself, and, next after life, by those transcripts of life, those expressions of human longing, which we know as art. Art for art’s sake—if it meant what it said, which is doubtful—was always a vain and silly cry. As well contend that an artist is not a man. Art was ever the servant as well as the mistress of men, and ever will be. Civilization, which after all is but the gradual conversion of animal man into human man, has come about through art even more than through religion, law, and science. For the achieved “expression of man’s intuitive longing towards the Unknowable, in more or less perfect forms of art” has ever—after life itself—been the chief influence in broadening men’s hearts.

The aim of human life no doubt is happiness. But, after all, what is happiness? Efficiency, wealth, material comfort? Many by their lives do so affirm; few are cynical enough to say so; and on their death-beds none will feel that they are. Not even freedom in itself brings happiness. Happiness lies in breadth of heart. And breadth of heart is that inward freedom, which has the power to understand, feel with, and, if need be, help others. In breadth of heart are founded justice, love, sacrifice; without it there would seem no special meaning to any of our efforts, and the tale of all human life would still be no more than that of very gifted animals, many of whom, indeed, are highly efficient, and have unity partly instinctive, partly founded on experiences of the utility thereof; but none of whom have that conscious altruism which is without perception of benefit to self, and works from sheer recognition of its own beauty. In sum, human civilization is the growth of conscious altruism; and the directive moral purpose in the world nothing but our dim perception, ever growing through spiritual friction, that we are all bound more and more towards the understanding of ourselves and each other, and all that this carries with it. To imagine, then, that a conflagration like this war, however vast and hellish, will do aught but momentarily retard the crescendo of that understanding, is to miss perception of the whole slow process by which man has become less and less an animal throughout the ages; and to fear that the war will scorch and wither art, that chief agent of understanding, is either to identify oneself with the petty and eclectic views which merely produce æsthetic excrescences, or to be frankly ignorant of what art means.

Recognition of the relativity of art is constantly neglected by those who talk and write about it. For one school the audience does not exist; for another nothing but the audience. Obviously neither view is right. Art may be very naïve and still be art—still be the expression of a childish vision appealing to childish visions, making childish hearts beat. Thus:

“Mary had a little lamb,

   Its wool was white as snow,

 And everywhere that Mary went

   The lamb was sure to go,”

is art to the child of five, whose heart and fancy it affects. And:

“Tiger, tiger, burning bright

 Through the forests of the night—

 What immortal hand and eye

 Framed thy fearful symmetry?”

is art to the writer and the reader of these words.

On the other hand, Tolstoi, in limiting art to such of it as might be understanded of simple folk, served his purpose of attacking the extravagant dandyisms of æstheticism, but fell lugubriously short of the wide truth. The essence of art is the power of communication between heart and heart. Yes! But since no one shall say to human nature: “Be of this or that pattern,” or to the waves of human understanding: “Thus far and no further,” so no man shall say these things to art.

Anybody can draw a tree, but few can draw a tree that others can see is like a tree, and not one in a million can convey the essential spirit of Tree. The power of getting over the footlights to some audience or other is clearly necessary before a man can be called an artist by any but himself. But so soon as he has established genuine connection between his creation and the gratified perception of others, he is making art, though it may be, and usually is, very childish art. The point to grasp is this, and again this: Art is rooted in life for its inspiration, and dependent for its existence as art on affecting other human beings, sooner or later. The statue, the picture, or the book which, having been given a proper chance, has failed to move any but its creator, is certainly not art. It does not follow that the artist should consider his public, or try to please others than his own best self; but if, in pleasing his best self, he does not succeed in pleasing others, in the past, the present, or the future, he will certainly not have produced art. Not, of course, that the size of his public is proof of an artist’s merit. The public of all time is generally but a small public at any given moment. Tolstoi seems to have forgotten that, and to have neglected the significance attaching to the quality of a public. For, if the essence of art be its power of bridging between heart and heart (as he admitted), its value may well be greater if at first it only reaches and fertilizes the hearts of other artists rather than those of the public, for through these other artists it sweeps out again in further circles and ripples of expression. Art is the universal traveller, essentially international in influence. Revealing the spirit of things lying behind parochial surfaces and circumstance, delving down into the common stuff of nature and human nature, and recreating therefrom, it passes ten thousand miles of space, ten thousand years of time, and yet appeals to the men it finds on those far shores. It is the one possession of a country which that country’s enemies usually still respect and take delight in. War—destructive outcome of the side of man’s nature which is hostile to all breadth of heart—can for the moment paralyse the outward activities of art, but can it ever chain its spirit, or arrest the inner ferment of the creative instinct? For thousands of generations war has been the normal state of man’s existence, yet alongside war has flourished art, reflecting man’s myriad aspirations and longings, and, by innumerable expressions of individual vision and sentiment, ever unifying human life, through the common factor of impersonal emotion passing from heart to heart by ways more invisible than the winds travel, carrying the seeds and pollen of herb life. If one could only see those countless tenuous bridges spun by art, a dewy web over the whole lawn of life! If for a moment we could see them, discouragement would cease its uneasy buzzing. What can this war do that a million wars have not? It is bigger, and more bloody—the reaction from it will but be the greater. If every work of art existing in the Western world were obliterated, and every artist killed, would human nature return to the animalism from which art has in a measure raised it? Not so. Art makes good in the human soul all the positions that it conquers.

When the war is over, the world will find that the thing which has changed least is art. There will be less money to spend on it; some artists will have been killed; certain withered leaves, warts, and dead branches will have sloughed off from the tree; and that is all. The wind of war reeking with death will neither have warped nor poisoned it. The utility of art, which in these days of blood and agony is mocked at, will be rising again into the view even of the mockers, almost before the thunder of the last shell has died away. “Beauty is useful,” says Monsieur Rodin. Aye! it is useful!

Who knows whether, even in the full whirlwind of this most gigantic struggle, art work may not be produced which, in sum of its ultimate effect on mankind, will outlive and outweigh the total net result of that struggle, just as the work of Euripides, Shakespeare, Leonardo, Beethoven, and Tolstoi outweighed the net result of the Peloponnesian, sixteenth century, Napoleonic, and Crimean wars? War is so unutterably tragic, because—without it—Nature, given time, would have attained the same ends in other ways. A war is the spasmodic uprising of old savage instincts against the slow and gradual humanizing of the animal called man. It emanates from restless and so-called virile natures fundamentally intolerant of men’s progress towards the understanding of each other—natures that often profess a blasphemous belief in art, a blasphemous alliance with God. It still apparently suffices for a knot of such natures to get together, and play on mass fears and loyalties, to set a continent on fire. And at the end? Those of us who are able to look back from thirty years hence on this tornado of death will conclude with a dreadful laugh that if it had never come the state of the world would be very much the same.

It is not the intention of these words to deny the desperate importance of this conflict now that it has been joined. Humanism and Democracy have been forced into a sudden and spasmodic death-grapple with their arch-enemies; and the end of that struggle must be brought into conformity with the slow, sure, general progress of mankind. But if, by better fortune, this fearful conflict had not been forced upon civilization, the same victory would have made good, in course of time, by other processes. That is the irony. For, of a surety, wars or no wars—the future is to Humanism.

But art has no cause to droop its head, nor artists to be discouraged. They are the servants of the future every bit as much as, and more than, they have been the servants of the past; they are even the faithful servants of the present, for they must keep their powers in training, and their vision keen against the time when they are once more accounted of. A true picture is a joy that will move hearts some day, though it may not sell now, nor even for some years after the war; beauty none the less “the expression of what there is best in man” because the earth is being soaked with blood.

Monsieur Sologub, the Russian poet, speaking recently on the future of art, seems to have indicated his view that after the war art will move away from the paths of naturalism; and he defines the naturalists as “people who describe life from the standpoint of material satisfaction.” With that definition I do not at all agree, but it is never good to argue about words. Confusion in regard to the meaning of terms describing art activity is so profound that it is well to sweep them out of our minds, and, in considering what forms art ought to take, go deep down to the criterion of communication between heart and heart. The only essential is, that vision, fancy, feeling should be given the concrete clothing that shall best make them perceptible by the hearts of others; the simpler, the more direct and clear and elemental the form, the better; and that is all you can say about it. To seek remote, intricate, and “precious” clothings for the imagination is but to handicap vision and imperil communication and appeal; the artists who seek them are not usually of much account. The greatness of Blake is the greatness of his simpler work. Though, in this connection, it is as much affectation to pretend that men are more childish than they are, as to pretend that they all have the subtlety of a Robert Browning. If the range of an artist’s vision, the essential truth of his fancy, and the heat of his feeling be great, then, obviously, the simpler, the more accessible the form he takes, the wider will be his reach, the deeper the emotion he stirs, the greater the value of his art.

“What is wanted,” says Monsieur Sologub, “is true art.” Quite so! What is wanted in a work of art is an unforced natural and adequate correspondence between fancy and form, matter and spirit, so that one shall not be distracted by its naturalism, mysticism, cubism, whatnotism, but shall simply be moved in a deep impersonal way by perception of another’s vision. Two instances come into the mind: A picture of Spring, by Jean François Millet, in the Louvre. Therein, by simple selection, without any departure whatever from the normal representation of life, the very essence of Spring, the brooding and the white flash of it, the suspense and stir, the sense of gathered torrents, all the special emotion, which, every Spring of the year, is sooner or later felt by every heart, has been stored by the painter’s vision and feeling, and projected from his eyes and heart to other eyes and hearts.

And: Those chapters in a novel of Monsieur Sologub’s compatriot, Turgenev—“Fathers and Children”—which describe with the simplest naturalism the death of Bazarov. There, too, is the heart-beat of emotion as universal as it well can be, rendered so vividly that one is not conscious at all of how it is rendered.

These are two cases of that complete welding of form and spirit which is all one need or should demand of art; the rest is a mere question of the artist’s emotional quality and stature. Art, in fact, will take all paths after the war just as before; and now and then the artist will fashion that true blend of form and fancy which is the achievement of beauty.

For Monsieur Rodin, beauty is the adoration of all that man perceives with his spiritual senses. Yes. And the task of artists is to kneel before life till they rive the heart from it and with that heart twine their own; out of such marriages come precious offspring, winged messengers.

There is a picture of Francesca’s in the Louvre, too much restored—some say it is not a Francesca, but if not, then neither are they Francescas in the English National Gallery, and those, so far as I know, are not disputed—a picture of the Virgin, with hands pressed together, before her naked Babe, in a landscape of hills and waters. Her kneeling figure has in it I cannot tell what of devotion and beauty, which makes the heart turn over within one. With his spiritual senses the painter has perceived, and in adoration set down what he has seen, mingling with it the longings of his own heart. And they who look on that picture know for evermore what devotion and beauty are. And if they be artists, they go away fortified again to the taking up of a long quest.

This is the utility of art. It plays between men like light, showing the heights and depths of nature, beckoning on, or warning of destruction, and ever through emotion revealing heart to heart. It is the priestess of Humanism, confirming to us our future, reassuring our faltering faith in our own approach to the Unknowable, till the tides of the Creative Purpose turn, and our world gets cold; and Man, having lived his day to the uttermost, finds gradual sleep.


(From the Book of Italy, 1916.)

Most of us who have lived a good long time have found some part of the world to look on as the happy hunting-ground of our spirits, the place most blessed by memory. And within that sacred circle there will be some spot, above all others, enchanted.

Tre Cime di Lavaredo! Drei Zinnen! You three rock mountains above Misurina of the Italian Tyrol—how many times have we not climbed up, to lie on your high stony slopes, steeping our eyes in wild form and colour, wherefrom even a dull spirit must take wings and soar a little! Width of thought is surely born, in some sort, of majestic sights—cloud forms, and a burning sky, rock pinnacles, and wandering, deep-down valleys, the gray-violet shadows on the hills, the frozen serenity of far snows. All the outspread miracle there lies fan-shaped to the south, south-east, south-west, having that warmth which so makes the heart rejoice the moment one passes over and looks southward from any mountain. What traveller does not feel strange loveliness steal up into his soul from southern slopes? Domodossola below the Simplon; Val d’Aosta beyond the Matterhorn; Bormio beneath the Stelvio; and many another holy place. It is not merely charm and mellowness—the South can be savage as the North—it is some added poignancy of form and colour, and a look of being blessed.

Tre Cime di Lavaredo! Music comes drifting up your slopes, from pasture far down enough to give magic to cow-bells.

But now, where but three years ago we watched a little white cow licking its herd’s sprained hand, men are fighting to the death. Batteries must be adorning that steep forcella running from the refuge hut. A new kind of thunder reverberates, in whose roar the stones that were for ever falling will have lost their voices. And the beasts, the gray, the dun, the white, mild-eyed—their pasture below must be a desert! Even the goats surely have gone. Or do they and their young masters attend placidly on these new mysteries, just pricking their ears now and again at some too raucous clap and clatter of guns?

Let those who are killed up there be buried in their tracks! Out of their bodies on the lower slopes a few more flowers will spring—gentian, mountain-dandelion, alpen-rose; and higher, nearer those peaks, they will be grateful food for root of edelweiss. And may their spirits—if men have such after death—stay up on those wild heights! Nowhere else could they have such free flitting space! Friend-spirit, foe-spirit, they will fight no more, but on the winter nights in comradeship haunt the frozen hills, where no shred of man or beast or bird or plant is left, till Spring comes again.

To fight up here, where Nature has designed one vast demonstration of her own fierce untameness, of all the stubborn face she opposes to the crafts of man! What irony! Up in this wild stony citadel, among these rock minarets and red-and-gold-stained bastions, above ravines remote from man—up here, where in winter all is ice, and even in summer no green thing grows; on these invincible outposts of an earth not yet subdued by incalculable human toil throughout a million years; among these sublime unconquered monuments, reminding us of labour and peril infinite in our long death-grip with Nature—up here man has fellow-man by the throat. Yea! Irony complete! Nor the less perfect in that each soldier on these heights who in duty clubs his fellow-Christian’s brains out, or sends forth the shell that shall mingle his body with the rock rubble and the edelweiss, and sets up a little cross, perhaps, to the departed soul, is a true hero, holding his life in his hand, throwing it down grandly for his country’s honour. Verily we are strange animals, we men—little walking magazines of too great vitality! Out of our sheer rampancy comes war; as though superfluity of vital fluid were for ever accumulating, to free ourselves of which we have found as yet no better way than this. Shall we never learn to spend the surplus of our vital force in efforts of salvation rather than destruction? If the mountains cannot teach us, and the wide night skies above them, sparkling with other worlds, then nothing will. For on mountains and beneath such skies man feels at his greatest, flies far in fancy, dreams of nobility; yet does he perceive what a puny midget of a creature walks on his two feet, glad of any little help he can get or give, glad of good-will from any living thing. In loneliness up here he would soon be frozen and starved, or slip to death. His tiny strength, his feeble cunning, would avail him but short span. Unroped to other men, he is but a sigh in the night, a cross of bleaching lime in to-morrow’s sunlight. . . .

Tre Cime di Lavaredo! Golden sounds of a golden speech! When, if ever, we see your beloved rocks again, that may be your only name; no longer perhaps will the words Drei Zinnen compete for you . . . But will you know the difference? As of old, gigantic, silent, or, clamorously, in the loosening rains and heat, casting down your stones—you will lift up your black defiance in the clear mountain nights, your grandeur to the sun by day.

Once we saw you with the young moon flying toward, like a white swallow, like an arrow aimed at your hearts, as it might be in duel between bright swiftness and dark strength. The moon was vanquished—for she flew into you that stood unmoved.

Tre Cime di Lavaredo! You will outlast the race of men upon this earth. When we, quarrelsome midget heroes that we be, are all frozen from this planet, you will be there, whitened for ever from head to foot. You will have no name, then—neither of North nor South!


(From Scribner’s Magazine, 1915.)

§ 1.

I went out into the wind—the first south-west wind after many days of easterly drought. All the morning it had rained, but now the gray sky was torn; the sun shone, and long white clouds were driven over pools of blue, or piled up into heavenly mountains. The land of moor and valley, the hills and fields and woods gleamed in the sunlight, or were shadowed dark by the drifting clouds. Moss on the top of the old gray walls was wet, but warm to the touch; the birds—daws, pigeons, hawks—flung themselves at the wind. And the scent! Every frond of the bracken, each sprig of the gorse and the heather, all the soughing boughs of young pine-tree and oak, and the grass, gray-powdered with rain, were exhaling their fragrance so that each breath drawn was a draught of wild perfume.

And in one’s heart rose an ecstasy of love for this wind-sweetened earth, for the sun, and the clouds, the rain, and the wind, the trees and the flowering plants, for the streams and the rocks—for this earth which breeds us all, and into which we reabsorb, a passion as untutored, wild, and natural as the love of life in the merest dumb thing that knows nothing of ideals, of country, realms and policies, nothing of war.

Germany calls the war “this English war;” we English as fervently believe it a Prussian war, having deep root in Prussian will, and history. One thing is certain: At the last moment the world, desperately balancing, was thrust over the edge of the abyss by a sudden swoop of the Prussian war party.

“Pourtales (German Ambassador to Russia) called Sazonoff’s attention in the most serious manner to the fact that nowadays measures of mobilization would be a highly dangerous form of diplomatic pressure; for in that event the purely military consideration of the question by the General Staffs would find expression, and that if that button were once touched in Germany the situation would get out of control.” (Count Szapary, Austrian Ambassador to Russia. Austrian Book, No. 28.)[8]

In a Europe teeming with mutual fears a few men, perhaps not a score in all, have had the power to strip from millions their meed of life on this wind-sweetened earth! For myths conceived in a few ambitious brains, and the “strike-first” theory of a knot of strategists, the whole world must pay with grief and agony! What can we do, when this war is over, to insure that we shall not again be stampeded by professional soldiers, and those—in whatever country—who dream paper dreams of territory, trade, and glory, caring nothing for the lives of the simple, knowing nothing of the beauty of the earth which is their heritage.

Since this was written Maximilian Harden in his paper Zukunft has used these words: “Germany is calumniated when it is said that she wanted war, not to defend herself, but in order to conquer. But it is equally false to suppose that England, France, or Russia, who were either not armed at all, or only half ready . . . deliberately planned an attack. The outbreak of the war could not be arrested; because at the decisive moment the Will of the Strategists was stronger than the Will of the Statesmen.”

§ 2.

“No corn planted, more men wanted!”—words of the Old Dalmatian song!

It is no use crying over spilt milk, and no good throwing down the instruments in the middle of an operation. But there is every use in keeping before oneself perpetually the thought that this war is an operation to excise the trampling instinct; for there are many among us willing to speak of an operation while it serves their purpose, who unconsciously believe in that which they profess to be cutting out. Human nature is much the same all the world over. The Prussian Junker is but a specially favoured variety of a well-marked type that grows in every land. And the business of other men is to keep circumstances from being favourable to its development and ascendancy.

When we talk of safeguarding democracy, liberty, and the rights of small nations, we really only mean the muzzling of the Junkerism in human nature—the restraint of this trampling instinct. Who would give a rush for the immunity of any nation from the resurgence within itself of that instinct, unless it watches with lynx eyes? I cannot but think that, when peace comes and Prussian Junkerism is held harmless for a span, Junkerism in general will have a better chance of pushing up its hydra heads than it had before this war. Times will be very hard—the “have nots” and “they who have” will be very nakedly set over against each other. Circumstances will be favourable to civil strife; and civil strife, whichever side wins, fosters despotic leaderships and the trampling instinct. Those not merely hoping and meaning to try for a better world, after the war, but expecting one almost as a matter of course, forget that the devotion and unity, which men display under the shadow of a great fear and the stimulus of that most powerful and universal emotion, patriotism, will slip away from them when the fear and the emotion are removed. If before the war men were incapable of rising to great and united effort for their own betterment out of sheer desire for perfection, are they even as likely to be able when, after the war, economic stress puts a greater strain on each individual’s good-will?

The words of a certain prophet, “Literature, Art, Industry, Commerce, Politics, Statesmanship will, when this fighting day is over, come into a new and better era,” are soothing syrup. Let us by all means hope for and intend the best, but let us set ourselves to face the worst.

§ 3.

Because pens lie unused, or are but feebly wielded over the war, they would have us believe that modern literature has been found wanting. “Look,” they say, “how nobly the Greek and the Elizabethan pens rhymed the epic struggles of their ages. What a degenerate, nerveless creature is this modern pen! See how it fails when put to the touchstone of great events and the thrilling realities of war!” I think this is nonsense. The greatest pens of the past were strangers to the glamour of war. Euripides made it the subject of a dirge; Shakespeare of casual treatment; Cervantes of his irony. They were in advance of the feeling of their day about war; but now their feeling has become that of mankind at large; and the modern pen, good, bad, or indifferent, follows—longo intervallo—their prevision of war’s downfalling glory. In the words of a certain officer, war is now “damn dull, damn dirty, and damn dangerous.” The people of Britain, and no doubt of the other countries—however bravely they may fight—are fighting not because they love it, not because it is natural to them, but because—alas!—they must. This makes them the more heroic since the romance of war for them is past, belonging to cruder stages of the world’s journey.

In our consciousness to-day there is a violent divorce between our admiration for the fine deeds, the sacrifices, and heroisms of this war, and our feeling about war itself. A shadowy sense of awful waste hangs over it all in the mind of the simplest soldier as in that of the subtlest penman. It may be real that we fight for our conceptions of liberty and justice; but we feel all the time that we ought not to have had to fight, that these things should be respected of the nations; that we have grown out of such savagery; that the whole business is a kind of monstrous madness suddenly let loose on the world. Such feelings were never in the souls of ordinary men, whether soldiers or civilians, in the days of Elizabeth or Themistocles. They fought, then, as a matter of course. In those so-called heroic ages “the thrilling realities of war” were truly the realities of life and feeling. To-day they are but a long nightmare. We have discovered that man is a creature slowly, by means of thought and life and art, evolving from the animal he was into the human being he will be some day, and in that desperately slow progression sloughing off the craving for physical combat and the destruction of his fellow-man. This process does not apparently mean the loss of stoicism and courage, but rather the increase thereof, as millions in this war, after the most peaceful century in the world’s history, have proved. But we are a few paces farther on toward the fully evolved human being than were the compatriots of Themistocles or Elizabeth.

The true realities of to-day lie in peace. The great epic of our time is the expression of man’s slow emergence from the blood-loving animal he was. To that great epic the modern pen has long been consecrate, and is not likely to betray its trust.

§ 4.

One day we read in our journals how an enemy Socialist or Pacifist has raised his voice against the mob passions and war spite of his country, and we think: “What an enlightened man!” And the next day, in the same journals, we read that So-and-so has done the same thing in our own country, and we think: “My God! He ought to be hung!” To-day we listen with enthusiasm to orations of our statesmen about the last drop of our blood, and the last pennies in our purses, and we think: “That is patriotism!” To-morrow we read utterance by enemy notables about arming the cats and dogs, and exclaim: “What truculent insanity!” We learn on Monday that some disguised fellow-countryman has risked his life to secure information from the heart of the enemy’s country, and we think: “That was real courage!” And on Tuesday our bile rises at discovering that an enemy has been arrested in our midst for espionage, and we think: “The dirty spy!” Our blood boils on Wednesday at hearing of the scurvy treatment of one of ourselves resident in the enemy’s country. And on Thursday we read of the wrecking by our mob of aliens’ shops, and think: “Well, what could they expect, belonging to that nation!” When one of our regiments has defended itself with exceptional bravery, and inflicted great loss on the enemy, we justly call it heroism. When some enemy regiment has done the same, we use the word ferocity. The comic papers of the enemy guy us, and we think: “How childish!” Ours guy the enemy, and we cry: “Ah! that’s good!” Our enemies use a hymn of hate, and we despise them for it. We do our hate in silence, and feel ourselves the better for the practice.

Shall we not rather fight our fight, and win it, without these little ironies?

§ 5.

The first thing he does when he comes down each morning is to read his paper, and the moment he has finished breakfast he sticks the necessary flags into his big map. He began to do that very soon after the war broke out, and has never missed a day. It would seem to him almost as if peace had been declared, and the universe were suddenly unbottomed, if any morning he omitted to alter slightly three flags at least. What will he do when the end at last is reached, and he can no longer tear the paper open with a kind of trembling avidity; no longer debate within himself the questions of strategy, and the absorbing chances of the field, when he has, in fact, to sweep his flags into a drawer and forget they ever were? It would haunt him, if he thought of it. But sufficient unto his day is the good thereof. Yes! It has almost come to that with him; though he will still talk to you of “this dreadful war,” and never alludes to the days as “great” or to the times as “stirring” as some folk do. No, he sincerely believes that he is distressed beyond measure by the continuance of “the abominable business,” and would not confess for worlds that he would miss it, that it has become for him a daily “cocktail” to his appetite for life. It is not he, after all, who is being skinned; to the skinning of other eels the individual eel is soon accustomed. By proxy to be “making history,” to be witnessing the “greatest drama” known to man since the beginning of the world—after all it is something! He will never have such a chance again. He still remembers with a shudder how he felt the first weeks after war was declared; and the mere fact that he shudders shows that his present feelings are by no means what they were. After all, one cannot remain for ever prepossessed with suffering that is not one’s own, or with fears of invasion indefinitely postponed. True, he has lost a nephew, a second cousin, the sons of several friends. He has been duly sorry, duly sympathetic, but then, he was not dangerously fond of any of them. His own son is playing his part, and he is proud of it. If the boy should be killed he will feel poignant grief, but even then there is revenge to be considered. His pocket is suffering, but it is for the Country; and that almost makes it a pleasure. And he goes on sticking in his flags in spots where the earth is a mush of mangled flesh, and the air shrill with the whir of shells, the moans of dying men, and the screams of horses.

Is this pure fantasy, or does it hold a grain of truth?

§ 6.

The war brings up with ever greater insistence the two antagonistic feelings of which one was always conscious: That men are radically alike. And that there are two kinds of men, subtly but hopelessly divided from each other.

Men are radically alike in the way they meet danger and death, in their sentiment and in their laughter, in their endurance, their passions, their self-sacrifice, their selfishness, their superstitions, and their gratitude. They are radically divided by possession, or not, of that extra sensitiveness to proportion, form, colour, sound, which we call the sense of beauty. Would there still be war in a world the most of whose dwellers had the sense of beauty? I think not. And they who have it, so few by comparison, are tragically compelled to live and bear their part in this hell, created by a world of which they are not.

These two kinds of men shade subtly the one into the other; but the division is real, for all that—the bristles on the backs of each true specimen on either side of the line rise at sight of the other sort.

And the war with its toil and hardships, its common humanity, deaths and dangers and sacrifices shared, will not bring them one jot nearer one to the other. Is there evidence for thinking that a sense of beauty is more common than it was? I am not sure. But there is certainly no chance that the sense of beauty can increase within measurable time, so as to give its possessors a majority. No chance that wars will cease from that reason. The little world of beauty-lovers will for many ages yet, perhaps always, be pitifully in tow, half-drowned by the following surge of the big insensitive world when it loses for a time what little feeling for harmony it has, and goes full speed ahead.

§ 7.

Some argue earnestly that what really restrains and regulates the conduct of individuals is not force, but the general sense of decency, the public opinion of the community; and that the same rule applies to nations. In other words, that there is no reason why inter-State morality should be different from that prevailing amongst the individuals within a State.

This argument neglects to perceive, first: That the public opinion of a community is, in reality, latent force; that in a real community “Right is Might,” up to a certain point. And, secondly: That there is as yet no community within which the nations dwell.

An individual cannot pursue rank egotism to the complete overriding of his neighbours without knowing that those neighbours can and will give concrete expression to their resentment and suppress him. This latent force is at the back of all State-law, and of all public opinion, which is but State-law unwritten. The essence of its efficacy is the fact that individuals do live in community, each one perceiving with the non-rampant part of him that the rest are right in squashing his rampancy, since life in community would soon be impossible if they did not. He consents, subconsciously, to being squashed when he is rampant, because he recognizes himself to be part of a whole.

Until nations have come to be parts of communities, or group-States, there will be no really effective analogy between individual morality and State morality. There is, of course, a growing international decency, a reaching out toward co-operation, a recognition that certain things are “not done”; but it is liable to be violated, as we have seen, at any moment by any State which is, or thinks itself, strong enough to override laws which have no adequate latent force behind them. To create this latent controlling force we have paramount need of a system of group-States, leading on by slow degrees, through the linking of one group with another, to a United States of the world. The necessary line of progression is sufficiently disclosed by the violation of Belgian neutrality and other matters in this war. Public opinion not backed by latent force has been proved useless. There is no such thing, I fear, as public opinion worth the name except within a definite community. The task of statesmen when peace comes is the formation of a United States of Europe—linked if possible with the countries of America—the creation of a real public opinion backed by a real, if latent, force.

§ 8.

Nietzsche was an individualist, a hater of the State and of the Prussians, a sick man, a great artist in words to be read with delight and—your tongue in your cheek. By quaint irony his central idea, “the ego-rampant,” was temperamentally suited to those Prussians whom he hated. The Neo-German conception of the State, (if one may fairly judge it out of the mouths of certain Germans) as a law unto itself, demanding all from the individuals who compose it, and taking all it can get from the world at large, may be inverted Nietzscheism, but it is the creature of Prussian history, and of very different men. It is based on what we others, and I should imagine many Germans, think is a transient and false notion of what States should be. We say they should not roam the earth considering only their own strength. True that, in the absence as yet of the system of group-States, States still can seize here or seize there, if they be strong enough, but we emphatically deny that they should do so on principle, as the new German philosophy seems to teach, and set the robber’s ideal, the robber’s fashion of morality, for the individuals who compose those States. The philosophy, not only of the rest of Europe, but of Germany, before all, in the days of Kant and Hegel, presumed that the hard-won morality of individuals amongst themselves would ultimately become the morality of States.

“The fact that the sense of community among the peoples of the earth has gone so far that the violation of right in one place is felt everywhere, has made the idea of a Citizenship of the world no fantastic dream, but a necessary extension of the unwritten Code of States and Peoples.” (Kant.)

“The binding cord is not force, but the deep-seated feeling of order that is possessed by us all.” (Hegel.)

The new German philosophy has anointed the present immorality of States and thereby fixed it as the morality for individuals. I think these philosophers in their characteristic German exuberance, with its habit of over-statement, have been hard on Germany. For the German people at large have presumably been acquiring throughout the ages some such instincts toward altruism as the peoples of other countries. The new German philosophy has succeeded to a dismal extent in its inoculation of the German people, but it cannot in the long run impose its logical ideal of the wild man in the forest, though never so gorgeously decked out, on the Germans, any more than the old German philosophy made the Germans replicas of Christ.

Man never attains to his philosophical ideal; but it is just as well that he should see clearly its apotheosis before he tries too hard to reach it.

§ 9.

Our enemy now proclaims that his objective is the crushing of Britain’s world-power in the interests of mankind.

Are we justified in retaining if we can what, in a by no means unstained past, we have acquired, or should we hand over our position, well and ill-gotten, to this new claimant, with his new culture, for the benefit of the world?

Man has a somewhat incurable belief that he can manage his own affairs, and we Britons hold the faith that our character, ideals, and experience fit us to control our own lives and property for the general good of mankind, side by side with other nations of like mind. The fortunate possessors of the greater Empire and the greater trade are not perhaps the most convincing advocates of the principle “Live and let live.” For all that, we find it impossible to admit the right of any nation to an aggressive policy toward us. Germany, after being petrified with surprise at our intervention, now accuses us of having planned the war and deliberately attacked her. It is divinely easy to claim things both ways when you are at war. We all see just now rather as in a glass darkly. And yet, with an immense Empire, an immense trade, and nothing that we wanted anywhere, with a crop of serious social and political troubles on hand, “a contemptible little army,” a tradition of abstention from European quarrels, a Free Trade policy, a democratic system of government, a Foreign Minister remarkable up to then for his services to peace, and a “degenerate, wealth-rotted, huckstering” population, it still seems to us (always excepting our handful of pre-war Jingoes) as improbable as it once seemed to Germany that we hatched and set on foot such a wildcat enterprise.

§ 10.

“A war of exhaustion.” How often we use those words! They are current in all the belligerent countries, and in all they are unreally used, as yet. But they are, I fear, literally true. It is a war which—save for some happy chance—can hardly end till one group or the other have no longer the men to hold their lines. The sway of the fighting is of no great moment; it does not seem to matter where precisely the killing, maiming, and capturing go on, so long as they do go on with a certain mathematical regularity. A year or so hence, when the total disablement is nearer twenty than ten millions, the meaning of the words will be a little clearer, and they will probably only then be used by the side whose united population is still more than twice that of the other side. Two years hence they will be seen to have meant exactly what they said. All the swinging from optimism to pessimism and back again, the cock-a-hoop of the Press one day, the dirge of the Press the next; the alarms and excursions about the failure of this or that—they are all storms in teacups. The wills of the nations fighting are equally engaged, and will not break; the energies will not break; the food will probably not quite fail; the money will be found somehow; but the human flesh will give out, in time—that is all; on which side it will give out first may be left to the child who can count up to two. No glory about this business—just ding-dong shambles!

If one believed, with a certain Englishman, that there was no real struggle of ideals involved, these words “a war of exhaustion,” meaning what they really do, would be too intolerable even to think of. He who denies this to be a struggle of ideals may have a brilliant intellect, but he can surely have none of that instinctive perception of the essence and atmosphere of things, which is a so much surer guide than reason. He has perceived doubtless that autocratists and force-worshippers in England, in Russia, in Italy (there are but few in France) are fighting against the Central Empires as furiously as if they were the most ardent lovers of liberty; and that the democrats and humanists in Central Europe are fighting for their countries as devotedly as their force-worshipping rulers, and he has thought: “This is a mere blind game of ‘kill your neighbour,’ with nothing real at stake save the aggrandizement of one group of countries or the other.” But behind all this is the psychological heart of the matter—the states of mind in the belligerent countries before they began to fight. There are racial temperaments to which certain ideals are fatal. The Teuton of all men requires the Christian, or shall we say the humanistic, ethic, to modify something science-ridden, overbearing, and heady in his soul. The Teuton, before the new philosophy of self-expansion at all costs laid hold on him, was welcome, from his many great qualities, in a world of other men. But his was the last nature that could afford to succumb wholesale to the faith that his race was the only race that mattered. If he could see himself he would realize that the very thoroughness and over-exaltation of his nature made it ruinous for him to tamper with this particular ideal, for he was bound sooner or later to run it to death, to the danger and alarm of all other races. No one outside Germany, unless his mind was warped, could miss this latter-day Teutonic absorption in self; the Teuton has dinned it into every ear, and forgotten, in so doing, that we should not take off discount for temperamental extravagance of diction. The German imperialistic patriot has done an incalculable, perhaps fatal, harm to the country he loves so passionately. But even discounting for rhodomontade, no observer who has feelers, can fail to be aware of the spiritual change in Germany. I remember one tiny instance out of many—a mere straw showing the direction of the wind. The winter before the war there were in a certain hotel in Egypt four Teutons. A quiet, dignified old man, his tiny, quiet, dignified wife, and their two big sons. The difference between the two generations was distressing. In the older, such an air of unassuming goodness, in the younger a demeanour so intolerant, and domineering; those two sons were respectful and good to their father and mother; but toward the rest of the world—to natives, English, Americans, and other small fry—they displayed an astounding contempt.

The Berlin Concordia has just issued maxims of conduct to the German people, in a little book called “Let Germany Learn.” I cull two of them: “The soft corner in your heart for the foreigner will never give you his affection, but only his contempt!” And: “Everything depends on your own strength.”

It would be easy to make out some sort of case against any of the belligerent nations. It would not be easy to show that any nation save Germany was in that peculiar state of full-blooded self-confidence which upholds the Will to Power, and denies the Will to Equity.

§ 11.

It seems certain that the practice of doping soldiers with ether or other spirit before an attack has been largely resorted to by certain nations in this war. Nothing that is happening so illuminates the nature of modern warfare; illustrates more utterly the absorption of human bodies and souls into the Machines that are crashing into each other. Men have become mere lumps of coal to be converted into driving power. And in supreme moments, lest the bewildered spirit, brought up to peace, should move hand or foot in protest or recoil, that spirit is first stolen away. The usage is not prompted by motives of mercy, yet has in it a kind of awful humanity. Granted the premises, who dare grudge this anodyne to the doomed?

Verily on every man who in time of peace speaks or writes one word to foster bad spirit between nations a curse should rest; he is part and parcel of that malevolence which at last sets these great Engines, fed by lumps of human coal, to crash along, and pile up against each other, in splintered wreckage. Only too well he plays the game of those grim schemers to whose account lie the death, the dehumanization, the despair of millions of their brother men.

§ 12.

A wonderful night to-night, so that the spirit goes forth a little, enters the harmony of things, drinks the magic of the world. How beauty moves the heart! And war cannot destroy it, cannot take from us the feeling that—living or dead—we belong to such perfection. It cannot take the voice from the streams, remove the flight of small wings in the darkness, the gleam of moonlight, the whisper of night about us, nor that bright star. It cannot take from within us the soul that vibrates to loveliness, to the universal rhythm round us.

If in this war the figures of cruelty and death have surpassed themselves in darkness, the figure of Humanity has never been so radiant and so lovely. Perhaps we do not know enough what man was really like in past ages to compare him with man to-day. But it does seem as if he had grown in power for evil, and even more in power for good. Or perhaps it is only that, being more sensitive and highly strung, the story of his doings is altogether more poignant.

From the letters of a young French painter, who, after months in the trenches, disappeared in an engagement on April 7th, 1915, I quote these sayings:

“You know what I call religion—that which binds together in man all his thoughts of the universal and of the eternal, those two forms of God! . . . Don’t let’s lose hope; the trials of hope are many, but all beauty lives for ever. . . . The dead won’t hurt the Spring! . . . Did you see yesterday’s sun? How noble the country is, and how good Nature! She seems to say to him who listens that nothing will be lost. . . . We know not whether all this violence and disorder may not be leading us toward a crowning good. . . . Out of this torment we shall be left with one great aspiration toward pity, fraternity, and goodness. . . . Never has life brought me such abundance of noble feelings;—never, perhaps, have I had such freshness of sensibility for their recording; such a sensation of safety in my spirit. . . . We spend the days like children. . . . And the good from this war will be the making young again the hearts of those who have been through it.”

And his last written words: “Beloved mother, I send you all my love. Whatever happens, life will have been beautiful.”

Not to many is given so clear a soul as this, so fine a spirit. Peace and loveliness be with him, and with all who die like him before their time, following the light within them. And with all who live on in this world of beauty, where the Dead harm not the Spring, may there be—in his words—the longing for pity, fraternity, and goodness!


(From The Observer, 1916.)

If I were that! Not as one getting into the yellow leaf, but with all the Spring-running in me. If I lay, just turning my eyes here and there! How should I feel?

How do they feel—those helpless soldiers and sailors already lying in the old ball-room of the “Star and Garter”?

In that hospital ward, a ghostly officer is ever crying:

“Stick it, men! Stick it! Only for life! Stick it!”

Only for life—how many years! In the year only three hundred and sixty-five awakenings; only all those returns from merciful sleep!

“Stick it, men! Stick it!”

Totally disabled—incurably helpless! No! One can’t realize what it feels like to be caught young and strong in such a net; to be caught—not for your own folly and excesses, not through accident or heredity, but as reward for giving yourself body and soul to your country. Better so, more easily borne; and yet how much more ironically tragic!

Who knows what the freedom of limbs means, till he has lost it? Who can measure the ecstasy of vigour, till every power of movement has been cut off? Who really grasps what it’s like to lie like a log dependent for everything on others, save those who have to? Think of the trout in the streams, of the birds of the air, the winged creatures innumerable, think of each beast and creeping thing—can one even imagine them without movement? Men, also, are meant to be free of their world, masters of their limbs and senses.

They who lie helpless are no longer quite bodies, for the essence of body is movement; already they are almost spirits. It is as if, in passing, one looked at minds, nearly all in the heyday of consciousness and will.

Sometimes I vaguely fancy that after violent death a man’s spirit may go on clinging above the earth just so long as his normal life would have run; that a spirit rived before its time wanders till such date as consciousness would have worn itself out in the body’s natural death. If that random fancy were true, we to-day would all be passing among unseen crowds of these rived spirits, watching us, without envy perhaps, being freer than ourselves. But those who lie hopelessly disabled, having just missed that enfranchisement, are tied to what still exists, and yet in truth has died already. Of all men they have the chance to prove the mettle of the human soul—that mysterious consciousness capable of such heights and depths; no, not a greater chance than men tortured by long solitary confinement, or even than those who through excess or through heredity lie for ever helpless—but yet so great a chance that they are haloed for all of us happier ones, who are free of our limbs and our lives. Some among those prisoned spirits must needs shrink and droop, and become atrophied in the long helplessness of a broken body. But many will grow finer; according to their natures—some pursuing the ideal of recompense in another world; some, in the stoic belief that serenity and fortitude are the fine flowers of life, unconsciously following the artist’s creed—that to make a perfect thing, even if it be only of his own spirit, is in itself all the reward.

Whichever it be, slow decay or slow perfecting, we others approach them with heads bowed, in as great reverence as we give to the green graves of our brave dead. And if pity—that pity which to some, it seems, is but ignoble weakness—be not driven from this earth, then with pity we shall nerve our resolve that never shall anything be lacking to support or comfort those who gave all for us and are so broken by their sacrifice.

As I write the sun is hot for the first time this year, and above the snow spring is in the air. Under Richmond Hill the river will be very bright, winding among trees not yet green. And the helpless who are lying there already will be thinking “I shall never walk under trees again—nor by a riverside.”

If one dwells too much on the miseries this world contains, there must come a moment when one will say: “Life’s not worth living; I will end it!” But by some dispensation few of us reach that point—too sanely selfish, or saved by the thought that we must work to reduce the sum of misery.

For these greatest of all sufferers—these helpless and incurable—can we do too much, ever reach the word: Enough?

To you, women of Great and Greater Britain, it has fallen to raise on Richmond Hill this refuge and home for our soldiers and sailors totally disabled. Where thirty-two are now lying there will soon be two hundred more. Nearly all my life I have known the spot on which this home will stand; and truly, no happier choice could have been made. If beauty consoles—and it can, a little—it is there in all the seasons; a benign English beauty of fields and trees and water spread below, under a wide sky.

One hundred thousand pounds you need to raise this monument of mercy in tribute to the brave. If it were five hundred thousand you would give it; for is not this monument to be the record and token of your gratitude, your love, and your pity? Each one of you, I think, however poor, must wish to lay one brick or stone of the house that is to prove your ministering.

If the misery through this war could be balanced in scales, I do not think men’s suffering would pull down that of wives, and mothers, sisters, daughters; but this special suffering of incurable disablement—this has been spared you, who yet by nature are better at enduring than men. It has been spared you; and in return you have vowed this home for the helpless; a more sacred place than any church, for within it every hour of day and night pain will be assuaged, despair be overcome, actual living tenderness be lavished.

When you have built this refuge for the prisoners of Fate—when you have led them there to make out the rest of their lives as best they can—remember this: Men who are cut off in their youth from life and love will prize beyond all things woman’s sympathy, and the sight of woman’s beauty. Give—your money to build, your hands to lead them home; and, when they are there, take them your sympathy, take them your beauty!


(From The Nation, 1916.)

. . . I cannot describe the street I turned into, then, like no street I have ever been in; so long, so narrow, so regular, yet somehow so unsubstantial; one had continually a feeling that, walking at the gray houses on either side, one would pass through them. I must have gone miles down it without meeting even the shadow of a human being; till, just as it was growing dusk, I saw a young man come silently out, as I suppose, from a door, though none was opened. I can depict neither his dress nor figure; like the street he looked unsubstantial, and the expression on his shadowy face haunted me, it was so like that of a starving man before whom one has set a meal, then snatched it away. And now, in the deepening dusk, out of every house, young men like him were starting forth in the same mysterious manner, all with that hungry look on their almost invisible faces.

Peering at one of them, I said:

“What is it—whom do you want?”

But he gave me no answer. It was too dark now to see any face; and I had only the feeling of passing between presences as I went along, without getting to any turning out of that endless street. Presently, in desperation, I doubled in my tracks.

A lamplighter must have been following me, for every lamp was lighted, giving a faint flickering greenish glare, as might lumps of phosphorescent matter hung out in the dark. The hungry, phantom-like young men had all vanished, and I was wondering where they could have gone, when I saw—some distance ahead—a sort of grayish whirlpool stretching across the street, under one of those flickering marsh-light looking lamps. A noise was coming from that swirl, which seemed to be raised above the ground—a ghostly swishing, as of feet among dry leaves, broken by the gruntings of some deep sense gratified. I went on till I could see that it was formed of human figures slowly whirling round the lamp. And suddenly I stood still in horror. Every other figure was a skeleton, and between danced a young girl in white—the whole swirling ring was formed alternately of skeletons and gray-white girls. Creeping a little nearer still, I could tell that these skeletons were the young men I had seen starting out of the houses as I passed, having the same look of awful hunger on their faces. And the girls who danced between them had a wan, wistful beauty, turning their eyes to their partners whose bony hands grasped theirs, as though begging them to return to the flesh. Not one noticed me, so deeply were they all absorbed in their mystic revel. And then I saw what it was they were dancing round. Above their heads, below the greenish lamp, a dark thing was dangling. It swung and turned there, never still, like a joint of meat roasting before a fire—the clothed body of an elderly man. The greenish lamp-light glinted on his gray hair, and on his features, every time the face came athwart the light. He swung slowly from right to left, and the dancers whirled from left to right, always meeting that revolving face, as though to enjoy the sight of it. What did it mean—these sad shapes rustling round the obscene thing suspended there! What strange and awful rite was I watching by the lamp’s ghostly phosphorescence? More haunting even than those hungry skeletons and wan gray girls, more haunting and gruesome, was that dead face up there with the impress still on it of bloated life; how it gripped and horrified me, with its pale, fishy eyes, and its neck thick-rolled with flabby flesh, turning and turning on its invisible spit, to the sound of that weird swishing of dead leaves, and those grunting sighs! Who was it they had caught and swung up there, like some dead crow, to sway in the winds? This gibbeted figure, which yet had a look of cold and fattened power—what awful crime towards these skeleton youths and bereaved gray-wan maidens could it be expiating?

Then with a shudder I seemed to recognize that grisly thing—suddenly I knew: I was watching the execution of the Past! There it swung! Gibbeted by the Future, whom, through its manifold lusts it had done to death! And seized with panic I ran forward through the fabric of my dream, that swayed and rustled to left and right of me. . . .


(From the Book of the Homeless, 1916.)

The sky to-night looks as if a million bright angels were passing—a gleaming cloud-mesh drawn across the heaven. One star, very clear, shines beside a full moon white as the globe-campion flower. The hills and valleys, the corn-stooks, casting each its shadow, the grey boles of the beeches—all have the remoteness of an ineffable peace. And the past day was so soft, so glamorous; such a hum, such brightness, and the harvest going on. . . .

These last years millions have died with energy but one third spent; millions more unripe for death will yet herald us into the long shades before these shambles cease—boys born just to be the meat of war, spitted on each other’s reddened bayonets, without inkling of guilt or knowledge. To what shall we turn that we may keep sane, watching this green, unripe corn, field on field, being scythed by Death for none to eat? There is no solace in the thought that death is nothing!—save for those who still believe they go straight to Paradise. To us who dare not know the workings of the Unknowable, and in our heart of hearts cannot tell what, if anything, becomes of us—to us, the great majority of the modern world—life is valuable, good, a thing worth living out for its natural span. For, if it were not, long ere this we should have sat with folded arms, lifting no hand till the last sighing breath of the human race had whispered itself out into the wind, and a final darkness come; sat, like the Hindu Yogi, watching the sun and moon a little, and expired. The moon would be as white, and the sun as golden, if we were gone, the hills and valleys as mysterious, the beech-trees just as they are, only the stooks of corn would vanish with those who garner them. If life were not good we should make of ourselves dust indifferently—we human beings; quietly, peacefully; not in murderous horror reaped by the curving volleys, mown off by rains of shrapnel, and the long yellow scythe of the foul gases. But life is good, and no living thing wishes to die; even they who kill themselves, despairing, resign out of sheer love of life, out of craving for what they have found too mutilated and starved, out of yearning for their meed of joy cruelly frustrated. And they who die that others may live are but those in whom the life-flame burns so hot and bright that they can feel the life and the longing to live in others as if it were their own—more than their own. Yes, life carries with it a very passion for existence.

To what, then, shall we turn that we may keep sane, watching this harvest of too young deaths, the harvest of the brave, whose stooks are raised before us, casting each its shadow in the ironic moonlight? Green corn!

If, having watched those unripe blades reaped off and stacked so pitifully, watched the great dark Wagoner clear those unmellowed fields, we let their sacrifice be vain; if we sow not, hereafter, in a peaceful Earth that which shall become harvest more golden than the world has seen—then Shame on us, unending, in whatever land we dwell. . . .

This harvest night is still. And yet, up there, the bright angels are passing. One Star!









(From The Observer, 1916.)


Peace! The thought of it has become almost strange. Yet we must face that thought, or we shall be as unprepared for it as we were for war. Practical men are fighting this war, practical men will make the peace that comes some day. And this unpractical pen ventures no speculation on how it will be brought about; it jots down merely some of the wider thoughts that throng, when for a moment the vision of Peace starts up before the mind!

Statesmen have said that the sequel of this war must be a League for Peace—a League for the enforcement by international action of international right. Whether that can be brought about at a Round Table Conference of the belligerents, or whether the League must be formed by the victorious Allies with the adherence of the neutral countries, and the Central Empires invited to fall in with their conclusions, on pain of ostracism, I hazard here no opinion. But, by whichever means the League for Peace is formed, it will be valueless unless three elements of security are present. Due machinery to secure time for the arbitration of dispute; due force to secure submission to such arbitration; due intention on the part of individual nations to serve the League loyally for the good of all. And the greatest of these three is the last.

The strength of a League for Peace will depend before all on the conduct of each separate nation. We in this country cannot control the faith, conduct, or stability of the other members of the League; we can control our own.

However it ends, this war must leave the bitterest feelings. League for Peace or none, there will remain for this country a menace from without.

If Germany were what is called “crushed”—a queer notion in connection with sixty-five millions of people—she would smoulder with such a fire of vengeance that a victorious British nation, slumbering in dreams of security, waxing fat and swollen-headed, would in a few years time be in as great danger as ever. If Germany be merely shorn of her pretensions and forced back within her former boundaries, then, unless good fortune bring her a social revolution and the comparative blessings of Democracy, Germany may be much the same as she has been, a soldier-ridden State, quickly or slowly gathering force, to reforge the iron machinery of the Prussian soul, and lead the armoured dance again. Stung to the quick by memory of mistake, knowing that she misjudged our nature and our power, she will not make mistake a second time. However ardently the successful may desire to forget—it takes two to bury the hatchet. Let no one think that Germany will forget. Should we, if we were beaten, or even badly thwarted?

The writer is as great a lover of Peace as any who will resent his suggestion that enmity will not readily be changed. But it is well to remember that the menace from without is only increased by forgetting that human nature is fundamentally the same all the world over; and still more increased by not remembering that what we dream and desire is not as a rule what we can obtain. Granted, that all must hope and strive for the constitution of a League for Peace, and aim at making its conditions permanent, it will still be folly to blink the contingency of further war for years to come.

The validity of such a League will hang on the first years. Keep it intact, enforce respect for its decisions, get men’s minds used to it, and after a short span nothing is more unlikely than that they will forego its blessings. But militarism will automatically and proportionately decrease only as men gain confidence in the League’s authority, recognizing at last that an impartial justice may apply to nations every bit as well as to individuals, when there is the force of general consent behind it. Given a generation of its rule, and the nations will no longer carry daggers to stab each other in the back, or swords to avenge their “honour.” There is no need for premature disarmament. Recognition of the menace from without will not harm a League for Peace during its first years, so long as we shy at all spirit of aggression, and are loyal to its first principle of “All for one, and One for all.”

But Peace will also bring to us in this country the menace from within which was with us before the war began, as it is with every nation at whatever time of life—the menace of its individual failings, of its rankness and its uncompleted justice, its riot after riches at the expense of national health, its exaggerated party strife, its penny wisdom and pound folly, its lack of an ideal, and perpetual drifting it knows not whither. If when the war ends we remain a nation, masters of our own lives—and there is no Briton who is not convinced that we shall—the menace from within must again be faced; faced with a stouter heart and a quicker brain; faced at last with some sort of corporate will to that victory over ourselves, so much more difficult to win than over hostile fleets and fortresses. To win the war, and thereafter lose to our own weakness, would cap the event with irony indeed!

It is the fashion with some to talk glibly of this war as if it were a purge that will drain from our State innumerable ills. The war’s honourable necessity none of us dispute, but for us it has in truth only the one advantage—of having revealed to ourselves our quality, re-established our faith. That quality, that faith, to be of any lasting use, will have to stand not only the dreadful spasm of war, but the long exhaustion, the manifold increase of economic stress and social trouble that will infallibly begin when the war ends. Unless we are resolved to carry on our effort of sacrifice, good-will, and courage long into the future, the last state of this land will be worse than the first. The purge that we like to speak of will be proven nothing but a debauch, paid for, like all debauches, by lassitude and spleen.

All national energy at the moment is inevitably bent to the ending of a state of things dreadful to every man and woman living; but, while doing this with all our might, we need to keep alive in our minds the feeling that the fight is not for mere gratification of the passion to down our foes, not just a spurt of military heroism, to be drowned in the drink and applause of victory; but a fight for something abiding in ourselves and in the world—for spiritual, not material, ends.

If, even while we are at war, we cannot keep the feeling that what we are fighting for is a permanent and steady advance in the just and reasonable life of nations, beginning with ourselves, we had better never have fought, for at the end we shall but have added to our vanity, and taken from the stock of our patience, our humanity, and our sense of justice. And so the feelings of the present are linked with the feelings and necessities that will arrive with peace. If the fine phrases we have used, and are still using, about Liberty, Humanity, Democracy, and Peace are not genuinely felt, they will come home to us and roost most vilely. By the outside world we shall be judged according to the measure of actuality we give hereafter to the claim we now make of being champion of Freedom and Humanity; and only according to our inward habit of thought during the war shall we be able to act when it is over. We can do nothing now perhaps, save prosecute the fight to its appointed end; but, if we are not to turn out fraudulent after the event, it is already time to feel ahead—to accustom our minds to the thought of the future efforts, Imperial and social, needful to meet future dangers, and to fulfil the trusts we shall have taken up.

From facile imaginings and Utopian dreams of a purged social life and a fortified morale to the real conditions that this war will leave is likely to be the farthest cry any of us will ever hear. We cannot have it both ways. If war, as most of us believe, is a terrible calamity, it will not leave an improved world. A sloppy optimism is not the slightest good, no more than a deliberate pessimism. “It will be all right after the war!” is, no doubt, the attitude of many minds just now. It will only be all right after the war if, with all the might of a sustained national will, we take care that it is. A great and solemn opportunity, the greatest our country has ever known, will be there, to be made or marred. The records of history are not too cheering, and experience of human nature in the past brings no very happy augury—for after too great effort comes reaction. But this age has higher aspirations, more self-consciousness than any that has gone before. To turn the possible calamity of this war to blessing we shall have to set our foot on Fatalism. There is no real antagonism between the doctrines of Determinism and Free Will. When things have happened, we see that they must have happened as they did; but how does this affect the freedom of our will before they happen—before we know which way they will turn out? Men and nations are what they make themselves.

What are we going to make ourselves—after?


What is this thing called the British Empire? A family of children, ruled by a Mother, or a gathering of kinsfolk under the roof of one ideal? Is it in reality an Empire or a Confederacy? It has been the first, it is fast becoming the second.

Imperialism is governed for good or ill by the principle that underlies it. At the time of the American War of Independence British government stood for the principle of Domination; even so late as the Boer War there is much doubt whether, for the moment at least, it stood for anything very different. A great change has come. The British Empire stands now, as it never yet stood, for the principle “Live and let live”; for coherence through common ideals and affections, rather than for coherence through force. In this war we have not ceased to assert that, besides the preservation of our own safety, we fight for the independence of little countries, and the rights of nations to settle their own affairs. By this declared championship, unless we wish to bring down poetic justice on our heads, we have consecrated the principle of Freedom within the confederacy of the British Empire; we have abrogated the right of coercion. Whether we realize it or no, we have fixed our national attitude. When the war is over, the feeling of Britain towards her kindred will be warmer and more generous than it has ever been; they have stood side by side with us like men and brothers, in touching loyalty. And the feeling in the kindred countries will be warmer and fuller of respect; they have seen the Old Country on her trial, have seen that she did not fail of what the world expected from her; seen that she had stuff in her beyond their hopes—for a new country is ever inclined to impatience, even to a certain contempt, for an old country. It was just as well for Britain’s reputation with her kinsfolk that this war came.

Yes, we shall be a true Confederacy, a great Democratic Confederacy, bound in honour to observe towards the world the principles that it observes towards itself; to keep its hands clean of narrow and provincial patriotism, of that raw overriding of the rights and interests of others, the ugliness of which we have just seen in the violation of Belgium, the Nemesis of which we are about to see.

And, looking first at home, we have got to get used now, at once, while we are still fighting, before we have the leisure and the energy to revive old animosities and party cries, to the idea that civil strife in Ireland after this war is over would be criminal lunacy, making us the playboy of the world, and destroying the prestige we shall have gained. It seems that our statesmen now recognize this. But whatever seems to settle the Irish question in time of war may not survive the strain of the peace that follows. If the lamentable cleavage in Ireland reappears—as it well may, for it is based on such real differences of temperament—let us in England be resolute not to be re-involved in partizanship. Let us resolve to force neither one party nor the other; confine ourselves to insisting that those who object so strenuously to inclusion in an opposite camp shall be as loth to include their opponents as they are to be included. Only of its own free will can Ireland ever be made one. If the halves be not forced, they will become one the faster. Time is the healer; time and forbearance, given an elastic machinery to encourage and ripen reconciliation. Of a surety, renewed trouble over Ireland would be the very worst augury for the future of an Empire that stands, and is to stand, for Freedom.

To be trustee for the principle “Live and let live”; watchdog against aggression by herself or any other; cornerstone of a world so built that all peoples, however small and weak, may know that they can safely work out their own destinies—that would be for Britain the grand ideal. But the British Empire can only hope to stand for it by keeping the form of a Free Confederacy, by the most rigid scrutiny of its own conduct, and by developing the feeling that it is beneath Imperial dignity to wrest material benefit from the losses of others.

When the war began we were in what is commonly called “a tidy mess.” If we really want to extract from the furnace of this fearful conflagration some gold of comfort, we shall see to it that we do not go back to the deadlock of futile and bitter strife that was then paralyzing the country’s soul. We shall see to it over Ireland; and over the woman’s question. Strife is the very condition of life and human progress, but in the name of reason let us have it over real live issues, not over those on which the national conscience has already in secret given judgment. Will not the first act of justice be the giving of the vote to women on the same terms as to men—with, perhaps, some limitation of age to equalize numbers, since the preponderance of women is brought about mainly by the less dangerous nature of their lives? A more humiliating or poisonous relation than that which prevailed between the sexes in this country before the war over the question of the vote can hardly be conceived. In the supreme appeal to our patriotism, that grievous trouble, that mischievous irritation, has vanished. The war has exorcised mutual exasperation, refounded mutual faith, healed many wounds, laid the ghosts of many doubts and arguments. The old bogeys are gone—that women are more bellicose than men; that they are less bellicose than men; that national safety would be imperilled one way or the other. The old plea is gone—that, since women do not fight and suffer for the State, they are not worthy to vote for her—gone, dispersed by service, sacrifice, and suffering. Every man has had to ask his heart which he would rather do: Go, as a man goes, to the trenches, or sit at home, as a woman has had to do, waiting for news of his life or death. And every man knows the answer.

The women of Britain have put themselves and their claims aside, to work and suffer for the country of which they are not yet citizens. It will be too black altogether if, after all they have gone through, they are again refused admittance to that citizenship.

Women who do not want the vote need never exercise it; women who think the vote bad for their sex will still be free as air, when the vote has been given, to organise their sex against use of the deadly thing. But to continue after this war to debar from being citizens, if they so wish, the hundreds of thousands of women who have served as loyally as men, and suffered more; to hang up again in hopeless chancery a measure of common justice that has long commended itself to nearly all the best minds in the country, a measure that, but for political accidents, would have already been granted, would be an unspeakable piece of national folly and ingratitude. There is surely now a general will to give the vote. What our minds must be turned to is the need, at the conclusion of the war, to have ready some means by which that general desire may be carried into effect, and women welcomed into the body politic, before the old deadlock difficulties and heart-burnings can begin again.

It is not my part to suggest to superior wisdom what those means should be; but perhaps one may express the personal conviction that a measure of universal suffrage, granting one vote to every man above a certain age (not necessarily so young as twenty-one), and one vote to every woman—possibly over such higher age as would equalize the voting power of the sexes, though I myself do not fear that inequality—that such a measure would not affect to any appreciable extent the balance between the great parties in the State, and would ensure that those parties in future sprang from the main cleavages of human nature rather than from the accidents of privilege. Is it too much to hope that, in heroic times, such a measure might be passed by consent? Too much to expect that after this struggle, where all stand shoulder to shoulder, we shall feel that a man, however poor, and a woman, however humble, has a stake in the country which has done so little for him or her, yet for which he or she is suffering perhaps more than the rest of us, and, extending the hand of fellowship, say: “It is time you stood shoulder to shoulder with us in peace as well as war.” The voteless man! The woman! How many of the first will have given their lives; how many of the second their hearts! Have heroism, death, sacrifice, gone by privilege of property or sex, in this war? Shall we really take the lives, the wounds, the sufferings of the many men debarred from citizenship by mere lack of property, the services and sacrifice of innumerable women, and just say: “Thank you, helots!” For in a real democracy what is he or she who has no vote, save a helot, at the absolute disposal of the enfranchised community? It is as the symbol of freedom that the vote is so precious! Granted! But if from the infancy of this country we had not been sticklers for symbols, should we now be the free people that we are—as peoples go?

If there is not to emerge from this community of suffering some community of fellowship and gladness, some sweeping out of old rancours from our hearts and of prejudices from our brains, and a resolve to fight the contests of the future with a greater generosity—then Peace will be a sorry festival.

There is so much work to be done, so great a fight for the nation’s health, ahead. It is time the decks were cleared of lumber!


We have adopted Compulsion, become a militarist Power! Melancholy consummation; but for the period of the war it was always, I think, a foregone conclusion. What is to happen after? How is national security to be guaranteed without permanent surrender to militarism?

Assuming that attention will be paid to retaining due command at sea and in the air, what further will be necessary to fit us for our part in a League for Peace if it comes, or, if it does not come, to make us safe?

There will here be put forward in roughest outline a notion—long in the writer’s mind, but for which there has seemed hitherto little chance of serious consideration—with the plea that there is really no alternative solution commensurate with the need for being thoroughly prepared, no other adequate way, in fact, out of a dilemma, short of retaining a measure of Continental militarism, repugnant to our traditions, and ruinously costly to a people in our position.

Put with the utmost brevity it is this: That all boys between the ages of fourteen and eighteen, not then at school, shall pass four months yearly in camps, which shall give them continuation schooling so far as practicable, technical education in the craft, trade, or occupation for which the boy is most suited or intends to adopt, together with training in all the essentials of a soldier’s life. At the close of their fourth training the boys should be affiliated to Territorial regiments, and pass at once to one definite period of military service, from three to six months, as may be necessary to convert them into potential soldiers; and that, from that point on, we should rely, as hitherto, on purely voluntary service. From such a nucleus a really efficient Territorial force of at least a million could probably be enrolled, and the skeleton of a much larger force kept in being.

The scheme is admittedly heroic, but it could be as gingerly introduced as seemed good to more practical men than is this writer.

There are in England, Scotland, and Wales some 1,500,000 boys between the ages of fourteen and eighteen; there are eight months in the year when such education and training could be carried on. There will be an infinity of camps in being before the war is over. And however unsuited these camps may be at the moment for combining technical instruction with military training, many of them could undoubtedly be adapted. The chance of so much suitable material at hand, so much organizing capacity, and so much sense of awakened public spirit and necessity, will never come again. Some plan more or less heroic has got to be adopted, and it is submitted that no other could possibly kill so many birds with one stone. For, to the writer this proposal is even more important in relation to the menace from within than in relation to the menace from without.

The worst feature of our social scheme at present—the most dangerous flaw in the machine—is the waste, the absolute throwing away of the years between fourteen and eighteen, the most important period of the male life (and, for that matter, of the female life), the years when physique and character are forming when the instrument is malleable; years for the most part now left to chance and to blind-alley occupations. If we want to be a strong and healthy nation, this is the weakness of all others to overcome. The following is taken from the introduction to Mr. Arnold Freeman’s intimate and careful book: “Boy Life and Labour”: —

“What we need to consider is not the sacrifice of a certain number of youths through faulty industrial arrangements, but the lack of training and the manufacture of inefficiency in the majority of boys between school and manhood.

“At the present time it would seem to be the consensus of opinion of school teachers, employers, and all those who are intimate with the problem that great masses of boys are growing up to manhood inefficient for adult work, and incapable of performing the elementary duties of home life and citizenship. The truer mode of regarding the problem may be illustrated by the following quotation:

“ ‘According to the main statistical sources of information the very serious fact emerges that between 70 and 80 per cent. of the boys leaving elementary schools enter unskilled occupations. Thus, even when the boy ultimately becomes apprenticed or enters a skilled trade, those intervening years from the national point of view are entirely wasted. Indeed the boy, naturally reacting from the discipline to which school accustomed him, usually with abundance of spare time not sufficiently utilized, and without educative work, is shaped during these years directly towards evil.’ (Majority Report of the Poor Law Commission, Part VI., Chap. VII.)”

Now, if the richer classes of this country could be brought face to face with a sight of their own boys from fourteen to eighteen planted in this morass that boys of the poorer classes have as a matter of course to struggle through, they would marvel that the poorer classes have not long ago demanded that it be drained. Working-class parents have not demanded this chiefly because the boy from fourteen to eighteen has meant so many scanty shillings in the family pocket. When shillings are scarce one more or less seems vital. But, economically as well as nationally speaking, such rotting-down of the boys is grievously short-sighted. By this scheme, I believe, the working classes would be the first to benefit, and, after a few years, the last to wish it given up. Their ultimate gain would be incalculable, and, collectively speaking, their immediate loss even would be small. One million five hundred thousand boys training four months in the year means a seeming withdrawal of one boy in three, or half a million boys annually, from labour. But the number of boys between fourteen and eighteen actually employed before the war was only 1,264,000, so that there would be available some unemployed towards filling the places of the half million withdrawn. In the withdrawal too, of so large a number of boys from the labour market lies some chance of solving a problem that will begin to loom as soon as Peace comes: How to find places for the women whom the war has accustomed to work and wages? By this withdrawal, also, old and unemployed men would benefit; we shall want all the help we can get to minimize the unemployment that will sooner or later follow the war. So far as the labour market is concerned, the problem, in fact, would be mainly one of adjustment, but boys could be paired for their four years of training, one taking the other’s job—boy A. working it eight months the first and third years and four months the second and fourth year; vice versâ with boy B. A nation which has achieved in these last few months such miracles of organization is surely equal to a task of adjustment no harder of accomplishment than that which has long confronted every militarist country in time of peace, and which may at any moment confront this country, if it neglects adequate preparation for home defence on some such lines.

Consider the life of the working man at present. The State provides him as a boy with education up to the age of fourteen; provides him as a man with labour exchanges, insurance, and old-age pensions. The one period, which in the more fortunate ranks of Society is regarded as above all preparatory for life, is the one period of which the State takes no account. It is a fatal hole in the ballot. Why should not the workers have the privilege for their sons that belongs by mere good fortune to the wealthier classes—the privilege of a training that will give them greater health, greater knowledge and technical skill, better habits, more self-respect, and the power as well as the inclination to defend their country if need be?

After this war the national readjustments that take place to meet the menace from without and the menace from within must surely have relation to fundamental necessities, and not merely be the top-dressing and timorous expedients that accompany the piping times of a long-unshaken peace.

In the expenditure of large sums to achieve its ends the State need not look for its money back this year or next, so long as there is a certainty of the money back manifold ten and twenty years hence.

The expense of a national scheme for the training and technical education of all boys from fourteen to eighteen would have been looked on before the war as an insuperable objection. But the truly wonderful example of faith shown by the Russian Government in cutting off their own colossal revenue from drink at the outbreak of the war, and the immediate incalculable advantage to the strength of the Russian nation that accrued thereby, has knocked penny-wisdom off its perch.

This is not the time or place, nor am I qualified to examine the cost in detail. But, whatever that cost, can there be any doubt that the increased physical and industrial efficiency, coupled with the national security guaranteed by such training, would bring the outlay back tenfold within a generation? And can there be any question that it would conserve wealth, which adult training would but dissipate? When the war is over there will be great numbers of men whose lives have been hopelessly jolted, who have to find new occupations—men qualified, and probably only too willing, to take positions of technical instruction and military training under such a scheme. And the boys of the nation, already infected with desire to stand for something in the national security, would fall in with good spirit.

Apart from the question of expense, opposition would come, no doubt, from the employers of boy labour, and from the working-class parents of boys who are contributing to the family purse.

Both these objections can surely be met in the main by careful organization and dovetailing of employment. Only half the boys would be training at once; and for the winter months, of greatest stress for the poorer classes, none would be training; boy-labour is not highly-skilled labour, it is rarely of a nature that cannot equally well be supplied by another boy, and, failing that, by women, or men past the prime of work. With good-will and co-operation it should not surpass the wit either of employers or of the officials of special Boy-Labour Exchanges to cope with the dislocation. A boy’s earnings are not vast; when his own keep has been paid there remain but few shillings for the family exchequer. The value of these few shillings is in many cases, however, enormous; the loss might be made good by some system of insurance. Nor is it inconceivable that camp work would produce a small wage that could go to the assistance of the boys’ families. Omelettes cannot be made without breaking eggs; and, even if distress were caused at the start, can it be seriously weighed against the great ultimate benefit to the working classes, and the overwhelming advantages of rejuvenation in the blood and brain of a whole nation? The war has shown what those who have had to do with camp life for boys knew well before—the vast change that can be made in the physique and bearing of young fellows by a few months of fresh air and training. If those months are repeated yearly for four years, the training combined with civil instruction, and followed by a short spell of full military service, the country will have not only potential soldiers, but real men and citizens, at the end.

This is interference with the liberty of the subject. Yes; but a boy is only a boy. In the richer classes he is sent to school till he is eighteen without any say whatever in his fate. And as to interference with the liberty of the parents: Are they not now completely interfered with, in reference to their children up to the age of fourteen; and is there any sane reason why that interference should not be continued partially, for the good of the boys, and of us all, up to the age of eighteen?

The scheme is nothing but a form of militarism! Yes, but facts must be faced. After the lesson of this war, its appalling suddenness, its complete disregard of the law of nations, after the hatred it has evoked and the burning for revenge it will leave, are we prepared to trust our country and all that it stands for, to old-time methods and—luck? If not what form of training can we have that will be less militarist than this? To relapse into our unpreparedness is but to court the chances of an attack, to shirk our share perhaps of duty under a League for Peace; and to risk being forced into rank militarism, in one of those panics certain to come freely after such a war.

If I thought such a scheme of boy-training would bolster up privilege, foster a dangerous docility, put power into the hands of our Junkers, and generally convert our country into a kind of Germany, I would shun it like the devil. To keep boys of that age at it all the time would be dangerous; to train them for civil and military life four months in the year, with one short final period of military service—harmless. After the war—perhaps not at once, but within a few years—there will almost certainly be serious civil troubles, and any such scheme of boy training would need to be inaugurated under the most solemn engagements not to employ the youth of the nation in the quelling of strikes, civil riot, or what-not. It would be for Labour to fix those guarantees before they gave adherence to the plan. Having secured themselves, I believe they might look forward to nothing but benefit, after the first rubs and jolts.

Consider, too, that except under some such scheme there is practically no chance of putting into practice another national dream—the resettlement of the land. By attaching farm lands to those camps, town boys could be instructed in the difficult work of modern agriculture. Farm workers do not grow on thorn-trees, or even spring full-fledged from the brains of ardent reformers. They are made, not born, and made in youth. It is time to begin making them, if indeed it is not already too late. No adequate land scheme will flourish without machinery on a large scale for educating boys in modern farm work.

But there is another aspect of this matter worth more than passing attention. If the war ends victoriously, Great Britain will bulk very large, dangerously large, in the eyes of the world. The German cry is: “Great Britain is the tyrant; the Fleet of England is the menace, threatening every country!” No effort will be left untried to din that whisper into every ear, to implant that suspicion in every mind. To escape the world’s jealousy will not be possible. And, if in addition to a dominant Fleet, and possibly a dominant air service, we preserve militarism on the present Continental lines, we shall excite—whatever the peaceful nature of our conduct and intentions—the most profound uneasiness and envy in quarters where we most wish to be regarded with perfect equanimity. On the one hand, then, we have the danger of relapsing into a state of unpreparedness that may provoke another war; on the other, the danger of rousing too great fear and envy by an ostentatious strength, and of increasing a burden of armament already too heavy on our shoulders. Between these dangers lies a path of safety in the training of our boys. But there lies much more than that. There lies the grander social future of our country—an incalculable physical, moral and economic uplifting, a nation more self-reliant and more eager, purged of that don’t-care look, of the town blight which was settling on it fast—there is no nation suffering from town life to anything like the extent to which we suffer from it. Just now the war has lifted that blight; but with peace it will come down again, unless we fight it.

Is this lamely outlined plan a mere dream, or is it a possible, nay, a probable, measure, in times big with chances—in times such as we may never have again, for tuning up our life, for equalizing fortune, removing foul places, and essential weakness?

With the suggestion that it is worth thinking over, at any rate, the writer leaves the answer to those less fatuous than himself.


What were already glaring national ills before the war will, afterwards, be ills demanding the most immediate, sustained, and resolute attention.

There exists in America a vehicle called the “rubber-neck” car, in which the tourist is taken and shown the interesting features of the neighbourhood. Before the political machine settles down again to work, legislators, editors, business men, writers—we might all with profit take a round trip and see again evils that our country has never really faced in the past, but will have to face, and grievously swollen at that, in the future. At the back of all lack of effort is lack of realization. Statistics of national problems may foster an impersonal and scientific attitude, but they do nothing to supply the feeling from which alone comes driving force.

Take our slums! The powers vested in the State or in local bodies for dealing with slum areas are obviously either not sufficient or not sufficiently put to use. Not, of course, that any quick or light-hearted transformation can be expected; the roots of this evil are too tortuously coiled in economies and natural selfishness.

Still, just as realization of our country’s danger at the hands of Germany has produced a marvellous crop of effort and sacrifice, so realization of the equally distressing menace to the country from within should produce something similar, when patriotic attention is once more free, and time and strength at liberty, for fighting dangers at home.

The housing problem desperately needs attention; but, though much can be done, good gamblers cut their losses, and the adult generation of the slums has got more or less to be cut, that greater effort may be concentrated on the children.

The war has focussed attention on the need for arresting infant mortality. Good! But there is little use in saving babies if you are not going to feed them decently when they are out of swaddling clothes. A big step forward has been taken of late years towards the feeding of necessitous children, both at school and in crêches but many more steps need to be taken. If this is not a State matter, then nothing is. To neglect the nourishment of its children is at once the paltriest economy, the least sagacious policy, and the worst inhumanity of which a nation can be guilty. The old-fashioned idea that children must go hungry or be fed so as to grow up rickety because their parents (being “rotters” already) must not be rotted further is a doctrine devoid both of common sense and compassion. A nation either has a will towards a future, or it has none. If it has none, for what are we fighting this most bloody war? What does our honour matter, or our independence either? But the future of a nation is its children. As they grow up, healthy, clean, hopeful, efficient, so will our future be. As they grow up—half-fed, dirty, don’t care, and ignorant—so will Britain! If to look after the children makes worse paupers of the parents, well—let it! Have some courage. Do not be hypnotized by a word, and, grasping the shadow, lose the substance. Give the children blood in their little bodies, and hope in their little brains. Any decent parent will be the better for that; the indecent parent is a loss already, and must be cut. Working-class mothers who neglect to feed their children better than themselves are but exceptions, nor will a sounder system of State-help seriously alter the deepest instinct of human nature. The heroism of British soldiers in the trenches is no greater than the lifelong heroism of British mothers in the slums struggling against want. This is a matter that should not be left to the discretion of local bodies. Once the principle has been admitted—and who can honestly deny that it has?—the rest should be simply a question of fact medically certified not here and there, but all over the country. Either it is justice and wisdom to feed the children, or it is not, and the scruples, however philosophical, of gentlemen prepared to watch other people’s children go hungry should not any longer be indulged.

The estimated number of school children in England and Wales being fed by the State in 1911-1912 was 230,000 out of a school population of 5,357,367. The estimated number of this school population showing signs of malnutrition is variously given at from 10 to 20 per cent. Taking it at 15 per cent., or 800,000 children, we have more than half a million school children wanting meals and not getting them. This is appalling. There is no other word for it. But when the children under school age who need food and are not getting it, are added to this number, the proportions of this national folly and inhumanity stagger the brain. It does not yet seem to be grasped that these children, who are fighting not only against insufficiency of proper food, but against bad air and bad housing, grow up with so much per cent. knocked off their national value. A stitch in time is supposed to save nine. A pound spent on the age of growth brings back many pounds from the age of stability. To those few who ride the doctrine of Liberty to the death of national health it may simply be said: So long as you have no hope of repealing compulsory education, you have no right to let children receive it in an unfit condition. Education and decent nourishment are inseparable; and decent nourishment is as necessary in the years that come before as in the years of schooling. No! In reality the principle is now rooted, and, like other things, it’s all a question of money. But a country with a capital of £16,000,000,000 and an income of £2,100,000,000 cannot really afford to allow this state of affairs to continue—especially after the gold-letting of this war. The state our national finances will be in makes it all the more imperative that we should have a well-nourished and efficient population, or we shall never get out of the slough.

During this war our heroism has jibbed at Liquor. That jovial monster looms nearly as large as ever. We shall have a National Debt after the war of three or four thousand millions, perhaps more. And yet the cheapest thing that could possibly be done, in the long run, would be to increase it and buy up the Liquor Trade; achieve that dream of Joseph Chamberlain, “the total and absolute elimination of any idea of private gain in the retail sale of liquor”; convert drink into food to the tune of some eighty millions a year; and vastly diminish the number of children that require State nourishment, and the number of underfed men and women. In 1911, £162,797,229 was the drink bill of the nation; of which it is estimated that about £110,000,000 was spent by the working class. The working classes are no more inclined to liquor than the rest of the population, but they have obviously less to spare for the indulgence of their inclination. With proper control of the liquor traffic they will perhaps spend half what they spend now, extracting therefrom just as much enjoyment, and most of the other half will go into the bodies of themselves and their children in the form of food.

Before the war one-tenth of our people were getting too little food; two-tenths more just balanced on a knife-edge of bare sufficiency. And the great majority of this third of our population were too closely or too badly housed for health.

What is it going to be—after—unless our measures in regard to food, to housing, and to drink, are heroic? For heroic measures we shall need a keener sense of justice, a larger humanity, than we have ever had. Though the war may conceivably not diminish humane feeling in those who fight, it blunts the sensibilities of those who do not see its horrors at first-hand. Tales of others’ sufferings have become the daily fodder of the brain; narratives of death and misery the companions of every hour. Alongside the brutalities and agonies of the war, the injustice and cruelties of normal civil live seem pale and tame. Man has only a certain capacity for feeling; one expects callousness now towards civil inhumanities. But must that callousness last after peace has come? If so, we are in a bad way.

What is it that our modern State is reaching after? Presumably health, and balance. And what are these qualities built on, if not on Justice? At the back of all social inhumanities will be found a lack of reasonable freedom and opportunity for some people, and the possession in other people of too much freedom and opportunity. And for the swift redress of social cruelties, the thorough attainment of social justice, we have at present not only to contend with human nature, but with an admitted deficiency in our legislative machinery.

When the chief obstacle to laws is not the callousness of public opinion, but a mere block on the lines of procedure, some drastic change is due, a new departure wanted. Before the war many measures of reform hung in the wind year after year, not because there was no public feeling behind them, not even because there were the usual political cleavages concerning them, but simply because time could not be found in which to pass them. Of such were: Measures for the feeding and education of children; the control of drink; rural housing; improvement of slum areas; furtherance of the minimum wage; reform of the Poor Law; of the Divorce Law; of the disability that attends the needy in their access to civil justice; of the imprisonment of poor persons for debt; of the procedure in regard to pauper lunatics; of the prison system; of provision for the blind; measures for the better treatment of animals. All these and others hung in the wind; are they to go on hanging those when the war is over? Wanted before, they will be wanted still more badly then, because the general conditions of life will for some years, perhaps many years, be harder; and economic pressure fosters rough and unjust treatment.

Is it too early for a united effort, to think out, in readiness for peace, a scheme of parliamentary procedure which shall afford time for the serious and uninterrupted consideration of non-party measures, and the furtherance of needed reforms?

Party no longer exists, but they who think it has gone for good dwell in a fools’ paradise. As sure as fate it will spring up again, because it is rooted in temperamental difference. But must it come back with all its old cat-and-dog propensities, and waste of national time? It will, unless some method be devised that will remove some of party’s unhandsome opportunities and save it from itself. Politicians alone know the difficulties, many and great, in the way of a better procedure. Surely, while faction is in abeyance, Parliament will set its wits to overcoming those difficulties, so that when the war ends we may not witness again the tedious and distressful blocking of so many needed measures that prevailed aforetime. Party was made for the Country, not the Country for Party; and what was tolerated with Job-like patience before this vast upheaval is not by any means likely to be tolerated after. Needs will be more insistent; the sense of reality much greater; the aspiration towards National Health a live thing, because it will be so desperately necessary.

Reform of parliamentary procedure is obviously the prime precedent for national reform. Shall not then the question be even now given all the attention that can be spared to it? What better moment—when men of all parties are filled with the one great thought—Our Country!


One more word before these vapourings cease. The national task in this war is still mighty enough to absorb all action, but not quite all thought, for it is no spasmodic effort, meaning nothing to the future. To carry the spirit of to-day into a long to-morrow, making of our patriotism not a mere torrent soon spent and leaving an arid plain, but a life-giving, even-flowing river—for that one must not lose the sense of continuity; one must think ahead. More! One must resolve—resolve that this new unity shall stand not only the strain of war, but the greater strain of the coming Peace. After—will come the test. Having guaranteed our country for the moment from destructive powers without, shall we at once redeliver it to the destructive powers within—go back to strife over Ireland, the Suffrage, the Welsh Church, and the Second Chamber? Or, preserving our new-found unity, settle generously and in a large spirit those distressful matters, and pass on to the real work—to a wider and freer view of Empire, to the right training of the nation, the right feeding of the nation, to securing for each man, woman, and child a solid foundation of health and hope; to the restoration of the land and of our food supply; to clearance of mutual suspicions, and the stablishing of a new trustfulness between Labour and Capital; to the banishment of inhumanity; the freeing of the eyes of Justice; and interment of the privileges of class?

Shall we go back to rolling in the troughs of a dirty sea or set new sail and steer out with a true faith in our destiny as the Ship of Freedom and Justice?

“When the devil was sick, the devil a saint would be,

 But when the devil got well, the devil a saint was he!”

Is that to be our case? Let us not underrate the danger. At this moment and until the war is over, we are full of patriotism and good-will. We have to be. There’s the trouble. Once Peace comes, and the unifying force of our common peril is over, what then? Is the old raw party spirit to ramp among us again? If a man would discover what danger there is of a return to every kind of disunity, let him take a definite national question and see how much of his private interest or conviction he is prepared to abate for the sake of the public good. Mighty little! Are we to dissolve again into those “rascally Radicals” and those “infernal Tories”; into “grinders of the poor” and “discontented devils”; into “brutal men” and “hysterical females” with all the other warring tribes of the Armageddon of Peace? Are we to lose utterly the inspiring vision of our Country, in the squabbles of domestic life? Some of that intense vision must go, alas! But surely not all. And yet all will go unless we keep in mind the thought that this war is not an end, but the means to an end, which none of us will see, but all of us can further in time of peace as well as in time of war—an end for whose attainment the blood and treasure now spilled is but as a preliminary.

It will be heart-breaking if from this stupendous cataclysm no lasting good to the world and to Britain can be brought forth. Its horror, even now, few realize who are not at the front. One who was many months on ambulance duty in the French lines wrote these words:

“They talk of the war! Let them come close in! Let them see lying around emaciated heads with no bodies within a couple of hundred yards; let them see the bloody confusion of heads and entrails and limbs which is showered around when a trench is mined; let them see the heads with ears and noses bitten off as if by mad dogs; let them see the men driven insane by the sights and sounds of the battlefield, who turn and rend their comrades and have to be shot down by them; let them come where hundreds of wounded men are lying on contested ground screaming the whole night through (and not one in a million has ever heard a man scream!) and then talk of the war!”

If from this horror, fought through and endured, as we believe, for the future of our Land and the future of mankind, there is to come no blessing, no advance to freedom and health and justice. . . . What then? Nothing will be easier than to take up again the peace life of Britain as it was, and worse than it was, because coarsened by the passions of war, and embittered by the strain of a greater economic stress. Nothing will be easier than to give rein to the instincts of greed, pugnacity, and rancour, now hard held in by sentiment and the common peril; to step back and walk blindly in a country where all is faction; where class shuns class, and men and women are bitterly opposed; where the youth of the nation is all the time running to seed; where children go hungry and millions throughout the land are miserably housed and fed; where the access to justice is often still beyond the reach of the poor; where helplessness is not yet a guarantee against ill-usage. Once the war effort is over, nothing will be easier than—from a resolved and united nation—to become a crowd pressing this way and that, without view and without vision, seeking purse and place, or, at the best, fulfilment of small factious policies.

No one can tell yet what will be the world-sequel of this war—whether it will bring a long peace or other wars; the enlargement of democracy or the hardening of autocratic rule; the United States of Europe or a congery of distrustful Powers working for another “Day.” Only one thing we know, that in our charge will be our own national life, to make or to mar; to prepare against whatever fortune the outer world shall brew, to prepare against the subtle march of inward dissolution. Our future does not lie on the knees of the gods; it lies in our own hands, and hearts, and brains, and the use that we shall make of them.

Swift is the descent to hell, and no wings fly so fast thither as the wings of material success. Shall we go that way? Or shall we, having fixed our eyes on a goal far beyond the finish of this war, quietly, resolutely in our conduct to the outer world and in our national life, begin at once transmuting into deeds those words: Freedom, Health, Justice for All?

As a man thinks and dreams, so does he act. It is time to think and dream a little of the future, while the spirit of unity is on us, the vision of our Country with us; so that, when we see again the face of Peace, we may continue to act in unity, having in our hearts the good of our Land, and in our eyes the vision of her, growing ever to truer greatness and beauty.


(Read at a Conference on the National Life of the Allied Countries, Stratford-on-Avon, August, 1916.)

I suppose there are Britons who have never seen the sea; thousands, perhaps—unfortunate. But is there a Briton who has not in some sort the feeling that he is a member of a great ship’s crew? Is there one who never rejoices that his Land sails in space, unboarded, untouched by other lands? It must be strange to be native of a country where, strolling forth, one may pass into the fields or woods of another race. In all that we are, have been, and shall be, the sea comes first—the sea, sighing up quiet beaches, thundering off headlands, the sea blue and smiling under our white cliffs, or lashing the long sands, the sea out beyond foreshore and green fields, or rolling in on wind-blown rocks and wastes. The sea with its smile, and its frown, and its restless music; the grim, loyal, protecting sea—our mother and our comrade, our mysterious friend!

The ancients dreamed of “the islands of the blessed”; we of these green and misty isles almost, I think, believe that we inhabit them.

A strange and abiding sense is love of Country! Though reason may revolt, and life here be hard, ugly, thankless, though one may even say, “I care no more for my own countrymen than for those of other lands; I am a citizen of the world!” No use! A stealing love has us fast bound; a web of who knows what memories of misty fields, and scents of clover and turned earth; of summer evenings, when sounds are far and clear; of long streets half-lighted, and town sights, not beautiful but homely; of the skies we were born beneath, and the roads we have trodden all our lives. What memories, too, of names and tales, small visions all upside down perhaps, yet true and warm to us because we listened and saw when we were no older than foals at their dams’ heels. It is not our actual Country, but its halo, that we love—the halo each one of us has made for it. There are evenings under the moon, dewy mornings, late afternoons, when over field and wood, over moor or park or town, unearthliness hovers; so, over our native land hovers a glamour that burns brighter when we are absent, and flames up in glory above her when we see her driven or hard pressed. No man yet knows the depths of our love for these islands of the blessed. May no man ever know it!

And to each of us there will be some ingle-nook where the spirit of our country most inhabits, where the fire of hearth and home glows best, and draws us with its warmth from wanderings bodily or spiritual. To know that in these isles no native-born but has a quiet shrine, be it lovely, or devoid of earthly beauty, where he or she in fancy worships the whole land, gives reality to the word Patriotism.

This love of country is so deep and sacred that we cannot utter it; let us not forget that it is as deep and sacred to the natives of other lands!

Looking back into the dark of history, how quaint is our origin—offspring of invading robbers, wave after wave, for some two thousand years before the Norman Conquest! If these be not in truth the blessed islands that the ancients dreamed of, they seem to have been sufficiently attractive. Who our Neolithic forerunners were, whence they came, or whether they were here before our isles cut loose from the mainland and set out on an endless voyage, we shall never, I suppose, know. A strain of their blood, more than we think perhaps, must still be alive within us; the rest of it is freebooting fluid—Celts and Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Danes, Normans, all robbers; blent at last—and in Ireland not yet quite blent—to the observance of honour among thieves.

Ever since the sea brought us here—all but the Neolithic few—in the long-ships of the past, what a slow, ceaseless fusing has gone to the making of the modern Briton—that most singular among men! I hold the theory—how far scientifically tenable I know not—that the continued vitality of a race depends on two main conditions: the presence of many strains of blood not too violently differing one from the other, and the absence of too much sun. I hold that nations may become too inbred; or may have the sap dried out of them by heat. In Britain we cannot yet have reached the point of perfect fusion—are not in danger for a long time of becoming too inbred. Nor can the sun be called a desperate peril. We are “game,” as they say, for centuries yet; unless——! For our besetting danger is another.

How many of us realize that far beyond all other nations we are town dwellers, subject to town blight? That is a new, an insidious, malady, whose virulence we have hardly yet appreciated or had time to study. Can it be arrested by homœopathy—or must sweeping allopathic remedies be applied? Will town blight be cured by better town conditions, and our gradual adaptation—or by going back to the land? By both. But, if not by both within the next half-century, then—I fear—by neither. Town blight has had as yet but two full generations to lay its grip on us. We have time for its defeat if we have courage and sense. But it is an enemy more deadly than the Germans; not so easy to see and to fight against!

When children first discover gooseberries or other kindly fruits of the earth, they eat too quickly and too much. We were the first people to discover the means to “happiness” known as modern industrialism. With huge appetite we set upon it, and are caught by surfeit. I have heard this view of our case seriously countered—the Cockney and the northern townsman are thought to be our most vital types. Verily they have a pretty courage; but to such as are light-hearted on this matter I would say: “Go, in summer, to some seaside place where humble townsfolk have come to make holiday, as healthy and little pallid as they ever are, and—watch. Then wing off to some remote fishing village, or countryside where such peasants as are left are not too badly off, and—watch. Then summon your candour, and tell in which of your two fields of observation you have seen more vigour of limb, beauty of face, or at all events more freedom from petty distortions and a look of dwindling.”

I cannot explain exactly what I mean by town blight. It is not mere pallor or weakliness, but rather a loss of balance—a tendency to jut here and be squashed in there; an over-narrowness of head; an over-development of this feature at the expense of that; with a look of living too fast, of giving out more than is taken in. The modifications of the Briton through town life are countless, and all the time subtly going on. I do not deny that there is much good, too, in the transformation—the quickening of a temperament by no means quick; a widening of sympathies in a character not too sympathetic; the deepening of humaneness and the love of justice in a nature with an old Adam in it of brutality. A frank humanitarian and humanist, like myself, dwells cheerfully on that, for it does seem, while other changes in human life are always arguable—such as the increase of efficiency purchased by loss of breadth and kindliness; economic gain by loss of health and balance; greater will-power by loss of understanding and tolerance—that the increase of humane instinct, with which is bound up the love of justice, is alone sheer gain. Some, I know, think it bought at the expense of what is called “virility.” To those I recommend a steady glimpse at the modern British sailor. Of late years I have been reading accounts of Arctic and Antarctic exploration. There is no better study for those who doubt whether men can be brave and hard and at the same time chivalrous and gentle. One returns from mental travel with those heroes convinced that true humanity and gentleness and justice actually depend on bravery and stoicism. Picked men, you say! Well, go to the British Fleet, or the British Army—in a word, to the British male population of robust age—and you will come back, I believe, with the same general conviction—that where the truest bravery is there also is humaneness—that these qualities grow naturally twined together. All evidence from the war proves that the Briton is as hard a fighter, and far better behaved, than he ever was. Better behaviour under war conditions means nothing but increase in each individual fighter, of just and humane instinct, and that sense of personal responsibility which is the other main advantage coming to us from town life. In towns a man finds his level, acquires the corporate sense, sees himself as part of the civic whole, learns that his own ills are shared by too many, to bear thinking of save with a touch of humour and contempt. The British sailor whose shattered arm was being dressed in the battle of Jutland well summed up what I mean: “To hell with my arm, doctor; I want to get up there again and give the boys a hand!” That would seem very much the spirit of the modern town-bred British.

Now, is there anything which in some sort differentiates this Britain of ours from other lands?

A country is such a huge conglomeration of types and qualities; such a seething mass of energies! It seems sometimes as impossible to thread one’s way to the heart of that maze as to fix the pattern of a thousand gnats dancing in a sunlit lane! One turns eyes here, there, follows this movement and that, thinks one has the clue, falls back gaping. Is there any essence which sets the British soul apart, as an oak is set apart from beech or lime tree? Can there, indeed, be any single essence in a land where Iberian and Celt, Saxon and Norseman, still quarrel in the blood? I think there is, and will hazard an attempt to throw on the screen some faint shadow of the elusive thing.

Take certain salient British characteristics: Our peculiar national under-emphasis and stolidity; our want of imagination; that desire to have things both ways—which is generally called our “hypocrisy”; our turn of ironic humour; our bulldog grip; our lack of joie de vivre; our snobbishness—dying, but dying very hard; our perpetual desire for the moral in action or art; our regard for “good form”; our slow dumb idealism, hand in hand with our profound distrust of ideas; our propensity for grumbling under prosperity, and our cheeriness under hardship; our passion for games, and our creed of “playing the game”; our love of individual liberty—even our perversity and crankiness. . . . Take them all, and consider whether there is not some fundamental underlying instinct.

I believe that the mainspring of the British soul, concealed by a layer of mental laziness from superficial scrutiny, is nothing but an inveterate instinct for competition. The Briton is the most competitive creature on the face of the earth—save possibly the American of British descent. True—we would, as they phrase it on the turf, make a race with a donkey, for our climate has certainly sluggarded the circulation of our blood. None the less, we have a perpetual secret itch for competition, so bone deep that most of us do not even know of it. All through our lives we are playing a match. When the Briton is not secretly pitting himself against somebody or something, he can hardly be said to be alive. I do not think, speaking racially, that he cares so much for what he gets by the game as for the game itself and victory in it. He sets little store by the perfection of his handiwork so long as it beats the handiwork of others; or—and this is the saving grace—so long as in the accomplishment he has defeated the slackness or cowardice in his own nature—won the match within himself.

Let us turn them over one by one, those salient British characteristics:

Stolidity! Under-emphasis! It is surely nothing but contempt of fuss; and what is fuss but allowing too much importance to the task or person you are up against? The instinct of competition forbids that in the Briton; he is so competitive that he does not deign to let people see that he is stretching himself.

Want of imagination! That is partly the mental laziness, no doubt, engendered by our thick climate; but much of it, I think, is only the subconscious refusal by our competitive natures to see too quickly and clearly what we have before us, lest we be discouraged. A great help—to have muddled through most of the battle before you are aware of the size and length of it!

Our rather grim turn of humour! Is it not generally a jest at the expense of a fate which thought it could set us down?

Our hypocrisy! One would not admit a physical defeat, but clench the teeth and have at it again; then, how admit moral defeat? Impossible! Face must be saved—instinctively again, unconsciously—for the last thing we plead guilty to is our “hypocrisy.”

The bulldog grip—speaks for itself.

Our lack of joie de vivre! We are playing a match—we have no chance or time to relax, to lie on our backs and let the sunlight warm our faces. We have not time to give ourselves up to life; there is so much to beat—we are playing a match.

Our veneration for rank of every kind! Snobbishness! This is surely nothing but our recognition of the value of attainment; acknowledgment of victories won, if not in the present, in the past; tacit confession that we, too, want to win such victories.

Our craving for a moral! Well, what is a moral, if not the triumph of what we call “good” over what we call “evil”? We crave that triumph—not only in action, but also, I fear, in art. Art must not merely excite within us impersonal emotion; it must be useful to us in our match with life—a pity!

Our worship of “good form” is partly dread of that ridicule which would be a proof of our having fallen short, and partly recognition by a people who have long lived an exceptionally stable social life, that this competitive instinct of ours, unchecked by rules, becomes a nuisance to ourselves and others. In the same way, “playing the game” is but the necessary check on our passion for a match.

Our inveterate dumb idealism is of course a primary constituent element in the fighting nature; and our distrust of ideas a natural lazy dread of being pushed on too fast by that idealism.

Our grumbling habits, when there is little or nothing to grumble at, show, I think, that in slackness and prosperity we are really out of our element; while our ironic cheerfulness under hardship—the cry “Are we down-hearted? No-o!” proves that times of stress suit our competitive temperament.

Our love of individual liberty! A man, the joy of whose life is winning an event over himself or others, naturally desires the utmost latitude for these perpetual contests. And so the Briton becomes “a crank” more often than members of any other race.

One should never drive theory too far, but I seriously believe that the foundation of the Briton’s soul is this dumb and utter refusal to admit that he ever can be beaten, either by himself or any other. He is concerned to win, rather than to understand or to enjoy. I do not know whether this is admirable, but I am pretty sure that it is true. And behind and beyond all the better reasons for pursuing this war to a victorious end, there is always the inarticulate, intense, instinctive feeling, that we must win the match, since to fail would mean not only defeat by the Germans, but the defeat within us of our will and of our own nature.

If I am right as to this essence of the British soul, what does it signify to the world of our friends and enemies? It means, of course, a rock on which our friends may build—it assures the fulfilment of all pledges, and endurance till the day of victory; but it carries with it a certain element of danger. Vice treads on the heels of Virtue in the competitive soul. How far may our nature become a peril, not only to ourselves, but to our Allies and the whole world?

Underneath all our resolution not to fall short of such measure of victory as shall free the invaded lands, and prove to all that the over-riding of a little harmless neutral country has not paid; underneath this absolute resolve, which of us does not long for a real peace, an end of a world that is like a powder magazine which malevolent or foolish hands can fire at any moment? The difficulties that lie between us and such a peace are very great; far be it from me to minimize them, or blink the seeming impasse of the situation ahead. When the end draws near, in every warring land the great dumb mass-of-the-people’s only thought will be: “For God’s sake, have done with it, and let us get back to life!” But, jutting out of this mass, in each country, and especially in our own, there will be, on the one hand, idealists and dreamers, a little band, seeing a vision too visionary, telling of it to the wind; on the other, a far larger, louder band of men of affairs, judging of matters with the immediate eye, for immediate profit, or, as they will rather phrase it, for permanent profit, under the waving flags of patriotism; of men talking of a lasting peace and genuinely wishing for it—so long as it does not mean foregoing anything, so long as they may let go no advantage so dearly bought. Already the cry on both sides is for a commercial war starting from the final battle. All that is stupendously natural! But in this medley of demand, how will statesmen steer? Will they, who have to remake the world, have a large vision, and see that, vital before all else, is the seizing of a chance—that has never come before and may never come again—to establish and set going a Court of Nations, backed this time by real force? Will they grasp the wisdom implicit in the feeling of the great dumb multitudes: “For God’s sake have done with it, and let us live!”

We have not yet got to the moment on which the whole future will hang. When we do, I fancy that this competitive soul of ours may want too much to have things both ways. Whatever the terms of the peace that comes, that peace will not last without a League of Nations to guarantee it; and such a League we cannot have unless impartiality be its backbone; unless we mean that it shall judge justly, and enforce judgment without fear or favour; unless we are willing to accept its judgments in all matters, and not merely when it suits us. A man does not guarantee the health of his body just by holding his neighbour down; and the true path to security and a great future lies in the efforts we make to improve ourselves, rather than in those we make to injure others. The freedom and fair opportunity which are vital to a lasting peace need not bar us from national preparedness, from intelligent effort to save ourselves and our Allies from unfair commercial competition, need not prevent us from assuring our safety and improving our corporate life. But they do mean that we must keep free of a militarist and tyrannical spirit. How far will our competitive British soul, when peace comes, be proof against that virus? Are we, in the winning of military victory, going quietly to accept moral defeat, letting our ideals turn turtle and float with their keels to the stars? I wonder.

This League for Peace we talk of—that even statesmen talk of—will not be born of violent minds, but out of level and long-headedness, and the desire to benefit not only our own country, but the world. It is an undertaking fraught with the most poignant difficulty. If you imagine it fledged from birth, with wings full grown—if you imagine a world disarmed, immediately responsive to law—it is but an Utopian dream. The world will assuredly remain armed; at a single stride one cannot step from hell to heaven. But armedness need not prevent the nations from establishing procedure for the delay of warlike action—a tribunal to which all disputes must be referred; need not prevent them from pledging themselves to forcible support of its decisions, from declaring commerce sacro-sanct between members of the League, and punishing by blockade and ostracism any nation that betrays its membership, or flouts a decision, so that the sanctity of a nation’s commerce may in future depend on that nation’s loyalty to other nations; nor need it prevent States from taking the manufacture of war material out of private hands. Only on the proved efficacy of such measures as these will the disarmament of nations follow, slowly, surely, equally; for man will then be acting, as he loves to act, not by rote and theory, but on the evidence of facts.

Is all this a wild-cat notion, or a mere natural growth out of what went before the war, and out of the terrific tragedy of the war itself—a plan tentative and experimental, that may gradually force its way to confidence, till the Court of Nations reaches the unquestioned authority and permanence of each individual nation’s courts of justice?

We of the Allied countries must surely long for such a plan; nor, I think can any neutral nation which has watched and trembled at this war be other than well-disposed towards it; and, whatever their rulers and journalists may desire, the peoples of the Central Empires will not wish to be left out. Yet when the time comes for peace discussions one sees only too well the deadlock. The Allied nations, if victorious, will not want a round table séance with their enemies and a cosy settlement. The Central Empires will not wish to accept forced membership of a League for Peace founded by their enemies, in which—however mistakenly—they believe they will always be outvoted. This vicious deadlock, however, is less real, I think, than it seems. There are new forces at work; and if a League for Peace can make even a lame and partial start, it may by these new forces soon be fortified. After this war, deep-planted in the heart of every people, whether fighting or looking on, will be the loathing of national aggressiveness! Such a feeling has never existed before because men have never before been so stirred, so injured, and so frightened. We soon forget, of course, all save that of which we are constantly reminded; but the aftermath of this war will be full of startling revelations of the ruin it has caused; the world will reek with reminder that so-called national aspirations cannot with impunity be aggressively pursued; that so-called defensive wars cannot be light-heartedly incepted. During the march of a war, however terrible, the fascination of strife colours and subdues its horror; its heroisms hypnotize, its rancours drug all reason, blur all vision. But in the cold thinned blood of a maimed future, how different it will all seem, how terrifically disproportionate!

Love of country has never before had such calls made on it; men have never so suffered for their patriotism. That, too, must bring a sweeping reaction, which will gradually force the hands of reluctant Governments into adhesion to any scheme which promises relief from a repetition of such agonies. And so, in spite of all the difficulties, I believe some sort of League for Peace will come, imperfect and experimental at first, but which, once founded, will wax and grow strong, in the real—not merely pious—horror of war which will follow this fearful carnival. Let it but hold together for a few years, survive one or two serious trials, and I think no sane nation will ever desire its dissolution.

Such a scheme will not come down to us from Heaven. From our own brains and wills it must spring; from our sense of—shall we say—the inconvenience of wars like this. If the killing and disablement of some ten million men, the waste of some ten to twenty thousand million pounds, persuades us to nothing but the leaving of the world exactly as it was, as liable to these irruptions of death and misery—then, better say with the Spanish poet, “Of all the misfortunes of man, the greatest is to have been born.”

Even before the guns cease roaring, shall not our nine Allied peoples agree informally among themselves upon the structure of a League for Peace, and secure the sympathetic understanding of America, and the other neutral countries, on whose wisdom and good-will so much depends?

I, for one, would wish my Country foremost in pursuing this great chance—wish that she might place all her power in the favouring scale; I would wish to see her as ready to submit to the decisions of an International Tribunal, as each one of us is ready as a matter of course to submit to the decisions of our judges.

We in this green Britain of ours, still free of the invader’s foot, can measure the value of freedom now, looking across to lands waiting for deliverance. No country of Europe but has suffered, during long centuries, outrage and trampling, siege and slaughter, that we have been spared—saved by our sea. It is not irony that calls these the islands of the blessed.

But Fortune is a jealous goddess; and offerings are due to her who has given us an inviolate soil. I seem to see Fortune standing apart, watching—wondering. “What have they made—what are they going to make of their Land?” I seem to see Fortune thinking: “If I grant them success once more, these islanders, are they great enough to survive it? Under my smile the empires of the past one by one went down—Assyria, Egypt, Persia, Rome, others of long, long ago. Will this empire live, or will it too rot away, and sink?”

Those empires of the past fell through prosperity, through inordinate pride, through luxury and slavery hand in hand. May Fortune hold up a mirror to us, that we see ourselves as we are! Freedom and Humanity are not mere words; nor is a people’s greatness measured in acres or in pounds, in the number of its ships on the sea, or of the rifles it can muster. A people’s greatness is in the breadth and quality of its soul, in its fortitude, alertness, justice, gentleness, within itself and to the world without; and in its faith that man has his fate in his own hands.

As the individual, so the State; the aggregate of individual virtue decides and shapes the lot of nations. May there be no slaves among us and none who fatten upon slavery; no brutes among us and none who cower under brutality! Let us not hold ourselves as the elect in a blind patriotism, but have some vision of the world beyond our shores, of its hopes and dreads and natural ambitions. A narrow national spirit never served mankind!

Let the sea be our inspiration and our reminder! For, if it is our fortification, the sea is also our link with all the world, and the greatest force of untamed Nature. It seems to me that they who live dependent on the sea should never be puffed up. Its changing moods and salt winds, its wildness, beauty, desolation, the sudden fates that lurk within it, that leap and clutch and draw away from us our best; the great spaces of it beneath sun and stars—these are constant, and to our souls should surely carry breadth, sweep out of us the littleness of Imperial complacency. The sea is never chained, and the eyes of sailors have in them a look that any man might covet—a steady fronting of something inscrutable, shifting, dangerous. They know the little worth of human strength, the need of unity; they know that when a man slackens his watch, Fate leaps upon him.

The ship of each nation sails a sea of incalculable currents and uncharted channels. Sailing that sea, may we have the eyes of sailors, lest our Fate leap upon us!

Who would not desire, rushing through the thick dark of the future, to stand on the cliffs of vision—two hundred years, say, hence—and view this world?

Will there then be this League for War, this cauldron where, beneath the thin crust, a boiling lava bubbles, and at any minute may break through and leap up, as now, jet high? Will there still be reek and desolation, and man at the mercy of the machines he has made; still be narrow national policies and rancours, and such mutual fear, that no country dare be generous? Or will there be over the whole world something of the glamour that each one of us now sees hovering above his own country; and men and women—all—feel they are natives of one land? Who dare say?

When the guns cease fire and all is still, from the woods and fields and seas, from the skeleton towns of ravaged countries, the wistful dead will rise, and with their eyes accuse us. In that hour we shall have for answer only this: We fought for a better Future for Mankind!

Did we? Do we? That is the great question. Is our gaze really fixed on the far horizon? Or do we only dream it; and have the slain no comfort in their untimely darkness; the maimed, the ruined, the bereaved, no shred of consolation? Is it all to be for nothing but the salving of national prides? And shall the Ironic Spirit fill the whole world with his laughter?

Or shall the nations take the first step in that grand march of real deliverance which will make the whole earth—at last—the islands of the blessed?




Issued by William Heinemann.




















    Illustrated by Maud Earl.



Issued by other Publishers.



PLAYS: 3 vols.


Transcriber’s Notes:

The list of other works by the author has been moved from the front of the book to the end. Spelling and hyphenation have been left as in the original. A few obvious typesetting and punctuation errors have been corrected without note.

[The end of A Sheaf by John Galsworthy]