ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN (1841 - 1901)

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{The Coming Terror 1891}

 

183

IS CHIVALRY STILL POSSIBLE?

_____

185

 

IS CHIVALRY STILL POSSIBLE?

 

To the Editor of the 'Daily Telegraph.'

     SIR,
         While congratulating myself on the complimentary expressions contained in your editorial article, on the subject of my paper* in the current number of the Universal Review, I am constrained to deprecate certain remarks in which you appear to class me with merely destructive critics, incapable of enthusiasm for anything contemporary. I know that I have been previously so classified, chiefly because I have thought it my duty on more than one occasion to attack popular reputations. I have invariably done so, however, on public—never on merely literary—grounds. But to say that I do not honour or glorify every contemporary is quite another thing to saying that I have depreciated all. My error, indeed, has been, in certain cases, on the side of enthusiasm. As one instance in point, I may mention the fact that I worked loyally twenty years ago to establish the literary reputation of

* The preceding article.

186 Mr. Browning, and that I have at this moment before me a letter from that gentleman describing me as ‘the kindest critic he ever had.’ In short, I hold him to be a poor critic indeed, or no critic at all, who reserves all his idolatry for the gods of the past, and can find no divinities, literary or artistic, in the present. This, however, is merely by the way. The matter which moves me to write this letter is of far higher importance than any of my personal sympathies or antipathies—of far more burning consequence than any subject merely ‘literary.’ I have touched upon it currente calamo in the paper you have criticised so sympathetically. I am anxious to touch upon it again, with your permission.
     One of my strongest contentions against the Modern Young Man as Critic—against, in other words, the average half- educated, semi-cultivated, small pessimist of the present generation—is that, thanks to him and his, Chivalry is fast becoming forgotten; that the old faith in the purity of womanhood, which once made men heroic, is being fast exchanged for an utter disbelief in all feminine ideals whatsoever; and that women, in their turn, in their certainty of the contempt of men, are spiritually deteriorating. As an illustration of this, I state that the piteous type of the Magdalen, which had so signal and sublime an influence on life, on literature, and on art, is now put aside, not merely as sentimental, but as practically ‘inexpedient,’ 187 while the pent-up barbarity and savagery of the pseudo-scientist falls with all the violence of horror on the class called ‘fallen.’ As I write, one of your contemporaries proposes to get rid of certain midnight nuisances, which culminated a few nights ago in a disgraceful street scene, by giving absolute and practically despotic power ‘to the police’—that is, to its individual members. Every day, in every club-room, we are told by men of the world that there is practically no such thing as ‘seduction,’ and that the hideous nightmare which haunts our civilization is really born out of the folly and the depravity of womankind. So that, it would seem, the only way to deal with the Abominable is to put it under the control of the guardians of the peace, and, while accepting its necessity, to take care that it does not trouble our social comfort.
     Here, again, I am in serious disagreement with the quasi-scientific Pessimist of To-day. So far from having the Abominable hushed up and well regulated, I would have it flaunted publicly, in all its hideousness, till the real truth is understood—that it is a creation of the filth of man’s heart, and that the class called ‘fallen’ is practically a class of Martyrs. Heaven knows, I am not writing as a would-be moralist and Pharisee; Heaven knows, I am not blind to my own or my sister’s infirmity! But when the pessimist postulates, firstly, with Swedenborg, that this human sacrifice is a necessity, and, secondly, that women as a class wilfully and 188 cheerfully sacrifice themselves, I know out of my own experience that he is uttering a lie!
     We have consistently degraded Women. From generation to generation we have denied them their moral privileges. We have asserted that their only function is parasitic, their best qualities less intellectual than instinctive. But hitherto, while complacently admitting their inferiority, we have believed in their moral influence, in their divine sympathy. Now at last, while Jack the Ripper in Whitechapel desecrates and destroys the bodily mansion, his kinsman, the Pessimist of To- day, pollutes the tabernacle of Woman’s Soul. He frankly despises and persistently depreciates what was once a temple where all strong men, all men who were sons, husbands, or fathers, might meet and pray. There is, he says, no  ‘seduction.’ Women minister, for the most part cheerfully, to our vanities and our pleasures. Antigones, Cordelias, Rosalinds, Imogens, Eugénie Grandets, are the mere dreams of ‘poets.’ A popular dramatist thinks he touches the quick of the question by making comic capital of ‘Woman’s Rights.’ Popular poets and novelists swarm the bagnios of literature with Monsters, which they label ‘Studies of Women.’ Certain of contempt, certain of misconception, women at last throw off their lendings, and become what men make them. The Rome of Juvenal repeats itself in the London of to- day. And masculine corruption, male deterioration, is, I contend, at the 189 bottom of it all. The master, who once worshipped his slave because she was beautiful, now scorns her because he believes her to be base. Let it not be forgotten, either, in this connection, that those women who most cheerfully accept the master’s supremacy, and wear with his sanction the raiment of conventional morality—those women who are bought and sold, not in the streets, but in the higher marriage market—are the bitterest enemies, the cruellest judges, of such members of their own sex as sink to sorrow or try to escape convention. The petted favourite assists her lord to hunt down her less fortunate sisters.
     This question is far too broad and world-embracing to be discussed in a newspaper letter. Some good may be done, however, by asking if it is not possible, in the face of the grievous social peril—the threatened loss of a Feminine Ideal—for some few men, knights errant in the modern sense, but full of the old faith, the old enthusiasm, to remind the world, in the very teeth of modern pessimists, of what woman has been to the world, and of what she may yet become; to keep intact for our civilization the living belief which sanctified a Madonna and a Magdalen; to protect the helpless, to sympathize with the unfortunate, and, above all, despite the familiar sneer of the worldling and the coarse laugh of the sensualist, to reverse the familiar adage now and then, and read it cherchez l’Homme? Quite recently, I am happy to  say, 190 the man has been sought and found. We may find him much oftener, if we try! I for one, at least, look forward anxiously and hopefully for some glimpse of the old Chivalry, which set the name of Bayard high as a star in Heaven, and made even the eccentric Don Quixote a figure to sweeten human happiness and ‘brighten the sunshine.’

                                                                                                                                   ROBERT BUCHANAN.

 

     [The preceding letter elicited a long and characteristic letter from Mrs. Lynn Lynton, from which I quote as follows:]

     ‘Can anyone explain how it is that, when people discuss the Woman Question in any of its phases, they lose sight of proportion and take their leave of common-sense? The Idealists seem to hold women as altogether of a different race from men; not only different in degree, but different in kind; not only told off by Nature for certain special functions, whereby are emphasized certain common qualities, but as possessing intentions, faculties, characteristics with which men have nothing to do. To these Idealists women, quâ women, are semi-divine, where men are more than half bestial. The sex is sacred, and to be a woman is to be ex officio consecrated. To the Cynics, on the other hand, to be a woman is to be the source of all the evil in the world—where each daughter of Eve repeats her mother’s folly and transgression, 191 and where men are but the puppets whom she makes dance at her pleasure. Mr. Buchanan offers himself as an Idealist, and talks sentimental bunkum with splendid literary power. . . . Where has woman deteriorated? Why, even the poor Abominables are less degraded than of olden times; and the modern danger with respect to them is not of their oppression, but of their being treated with undue partiality—so that the good of the community is less considered than their unchecked individuality. As for the Chivalry of which so much nonsense is talked and so little true knowledge is afloat—well, it may stand as a sign, like any other algebraic symbol. We need these signs and symbols in life—words which evoke ideas, no matter whether the root be real or not. The past of Chivalry was a very different thing from this  all-embracing, all-suggestive, this verbal symbol for an impossible ideal. . . . Chivalry died because it became corrupt, affected, and unreal. The true hold that women had then on the respect and love of men was to be found in the bower and the hall—the house, where women reign, and where alone they ought to reign. Men came from the heat and passion of the strife to the rest and peace, the wholesome purity and order, of the house. Women were their solace, ministering to their needs, soothing their weariness, healing their wounds.The clash and din of battle were exchanged for the music of the bower, the peaceful 192 revelry of the hall. Thus it came about that in those rough fighting times women were indeed, in a sense, sacred; that the house was, as it were, their temple; and that, alternating as they did with the rude life without the castle walls, they were idealized and reverenced by the men who died to protect them. How this spirit will survive the modern acceptance of warfare as part of woman’s life remains to be seen. We have no longer harryings and raids, burning of homesteads, and lifting of cattle, but we have, instead, party cries and political passions; and when these have invaded the home, and women are fighters with their men and against their men, it is to be feared the fabric of society as at present constituted will fall to pieces, to be built up again on a different—but a better?—plan.
     ‘As for the degradation of women by men, that applies to only one of the various relations between the sexes. Do men degrade their mothers, their sisters, their daughters, their wives?* Here and there a few wretches may, just as here and there a few women kill their children for the sake of their insurance money; but not the mass—not the generality. In that most tremendous problem of how to reconcile the imperative laws of human nature with the arbitrary requirements

* Most absolutely. By the existing moral codes, they degrade them. Corruption begins in the household, and spreads thence into the street.—R. B.

193 of society, women suffer, and must suffer. . . . The Magdalen is a very beautiful theme for art and poetry, but the poor drunken flaunting Professionals are stern facts—the results of poverty and passion combined—and white kid gloves are as much out of place when dealing with them as either art or poetry. Let that pass. Women have inflicted the deadliest wrong on their generation in connection with their unhappy sisters, but in a very different sense from that deprecated by Mr. Buchanan; and I repeat it—the present danger is not in over-severity, but in over-petting and sentimentality, in maudlin pity and unjust partiality. If, as Mr. Buchanan says, men are the causes of all the misery of the world, and cherchez l’Homme ought to take the place of the familiar cherchez la Femme, are not men the direct and absolute creation of woman? Built up day by day out of the very substance of her body, do they not also receive their first ineffaceable mental impressions from her? As mothers, have not women unchecked power—absolute authority? How foolish it is to differentiate the sexes on one ground only, and to judge of men and women simply on the platform of unlawful love! For that is what the whole thing comes to. The wholesome orderliness of marriage, the dignity of the home and family, the domestic influence of women—all this is ignored; and the wife and mother, mistress of her house and shaper of her children’s minds and characters; is 194 forgotten for the sake of the poor Abominable whom Mr. Buchanan wants us to idealize as the Magdalen! But, indeed, all this clamour about woman, whether as ideals, as subjects for ‘dissection,’ or as very pitiful realities, is in itself destructive of the virtues which should be specially theirs before all of that modesty which was the very core of her chivalrous ideal. And why all this fatal incense of flattery? Smaller than men, with weaker animal instincts and weaker heroic virtues, why should they be worshipped as superior beings, too good for life as we have it? If men are to worship us, what are we to reverence? Ourselves—like the Buddha on the lotus-leaf? Some already do, not to the edification of the race at large; while those who still frankly and womanfully acknowledge their natural leaders in men are treated as traitresses to the divine cause. . . .

                                                                                                                                           E. LYNN LINTON.

 

To the Editor of the ‘Daily Telegraph.’

     SIR,
         I was in hopes that Mrs. Lynn Linton’s very characteristic letter, published in your issue of the 27th, would have been answered by some authoritative person of her own sex. In common with everybody else, I admire Mrs. Linton hugely, and have done so ever since the days when she who had sat at the feet of the old heathen Landor first began scarifying her less accomplished sisters. 195 Who does not love a clever woman, even one with a bee—in this case was it a wasp?—in her bonnet? Who cannot forgive a brilliant woman, even when she becomes angry and describes male Chivalry as ‘sentimental bunkum’? This gifted lady begins by asking in a tone of no little asperity, ‘Can anyone explain why it is that, when people discuss the Woman Question in any of its phases, they take their leave of common-sense?’ Let me, in Scottish fashion, duplicate this question with another. Can anyone explain why it is that when ladies of a certain temperament discuss the characters of their own sex they take their leave of common charity?
     Mrs. Lynn Linton is a serious writer, and deserves to be dealt with seriously; otherwise I should have looked upon her letter as a mere flash from the sombre spectacles of some Mrs. Pardiggle converted to the religion of the Hall of Science. Strangely enough, she, a woman of rare intellectual gifts, is on the side of those who would rivet the chains on womankind; who sneer at men in whose opinion the ‘sex is sacred’; who talk about the ‘idealization’ of woman as ‘absurd’; who think that the world is in danger, not of being too cruel to the fallen and the driven, but of treating them ‘with undue partiality.’ Well, I suppose she ought to know. George Eliot could never get over her hatred of pretty women—of poor butterflies like Hetty Sorrel; and Mrs. Linton, if she spoke her mind, would no doubt say that all 196  naughty creatures deserve ‘slapping.’ Thus far, indeed, I can understand her; but when she goes on to talk about ‘the imperative laws of human nature,’ and says that ‘the whole question of the Abominable is one not of sentimentality, but of political economy,’ I am lost in wonder. I remember on one occasion, many years ago, when someone was talking at the late G. H. Lewes’s about a simple social question chiefly affecting the nursery, the voice of George Eliot suddenly intoned, ‘Very true; but, in that case, what is to become of our Jurisprudence?’ Jurisprudence was a good word, and so is political economy, but I have yet to learn what political economy has to do with Chivalry. And then, mirabile dictu! ‘the imperative laws of human nature.’ Is Sensuality, then, a ‘law’? Just as much, perhaps, as Virtue is a ‘law,’ or Purity, or Philanthropy, or Misanthropy, or any other ‘anthropy’; and in this case, I suppose, Mrs. Linton’s ferocious Nymphophobia is a ‘law’ too!
     This is not the place, nor is the present the occasion, to discuss the interminable question of Woman’s Rights. To many sensible people the very idea of social and political activity on the part of women is annoying, if not repulsive. For my part, I sympathize with any movement which may render Woman more happy, more active, more beneficent, and, above all, more influential.Woman will never be the equal of Man, because (pace Mrs. Linton) she is so infinitely his superior. Just as 197 the reason of a human being transcends the instinct of an animal, so does the insight of a woman transcend the reason of a man. Deep in the nature of Humanity abides a light which illustrates truth better than any syllogism, and this light burns brightest in the clear souls of the weaker sex. The great Positivist, as we know, admitted this. For what, after all, is Insight? Reason enlarged and glorified. And what, to proceed still higher, is Faith? Insight purified till it reaches the subtlety of Divination.Faith and Insight, the power of perceiving those verities which constitute Religion, are often denied to great men; they are seldom denied to a pure and perfect woman. This, of course, is the creed of Chivalry. In the eyes of a modern knight-errant Woman is the purifier of the earth, the creature

                             ‘Without whom
The earth would smell like what it is—a tomb!’

Whatever sullies her, whatever degrades her to a lower level of thought and action, injures and hampers man’s own progress upwards. I am now, of course, talking of the Ideal, not always, yet very often, realized in contemporary experience. Unhappy, however, is that man who has never realized such an Ideal at all; who, after base moments of the strenuous sense, after misconception and moral backsliding, after the blows and buffets of the world, after all the efforts of his reason to solve the ever-present Mystery, has not been comforted and 198 strengthened by the faith and insight, the pure benediction of a woman’s belief and love. The free-and-easy scientists, the patterers about ‘heredity,’ ‘development of species,’ ‘laws of nature,’ ‘moral dynamics,’ resolve the difference between the sexes into a mere little matter of physiology. Just so; a little matter which, according to some physiologists, gives Woman a second and supplementary brain, or, according to sentimentalists, gives her a clearer spiritual vision, the lens of a finer-seeing soul. The votaries of Chivalry, the preachers of sentimental bunkum, find in the Ewigweibliche an abiding temple; on its threshhold, kneeling prone, the Magdalen; in its inmost shrine, typical and supremely spiritual, the Madonna.
     Here, however, I would pause to deprecate all misconception. When I wrote of masculine purity, I was not posing as a moralist, least of all as an Ascetic. I am not of that sect which macerates the flesh, and pretends to find baseness in all sensuous passion. I simply contend that the relations between the sexes, when not consecrated by spiritual Love, become purely animal; that the buying and selling of what is the divinest possession given by God to human nature is a living horror and a deadly sin. Personally, indeed, I would rather be Burns than St. Simeon Stylites, and should prefer, on the whole, to be lost with Byron than saved with Mrs. Hannah More.
199 Chastity is the noblest privilege of Womanhood; it is more, it is a quality appertaining to Woman as light to the ruby, ‘growing more precious as it nears the core’; but it does not preclude, it includes and sanctifies, Passion. A passionless heart is not necessarily a pure one; on the contrary; those hearts are the purest which can burn most ardently. In one suggestion, perhaps, Mrs. Linton is right enough—that we are all very human. For that very reason let us beware how we forget that the purest Soul who ever wore earth about Him was not only the greatest Sentimentalist, but the greatest Logician. He knew the truth so far as it concerns our poor human nature; and out of His infinite insight came the deathless Ideal from which Mrs. Linton turns to ‘laws of human nature’ and to ‘political economy’—the Ideal of the Magdalen.

                   I am, etc.,
                             ROBERT BUCHANAN.

 

     [To the foregoing Mrs. Linton replied as follows:]

     Mr. Buchanan calls my letter ‘characteristic.’ I accept the term as meaning that in this, as in other matters, I have kept my head cool and level in the midst of the heated and sickly wave of sentimentality with which we are flooded for the moment—let us hope only for the moment! And 200 in this special part of the great, rampant, noisy Woman Question, I trust that it is characteristic in me to remember what the idealizers of street-walkers do not, that we have our virtuous young to care for even more than their poor erring sisters, and that any class movement which weakens the joints of national virtue is an evil to be fought against by all who regard the general good.
     Let Mr. Buchanan or any of his school consider what is the likely effect of all this high-flown idealization on the mind and principles of the struggling hard-worked girl who resists the easy temptation of the streets, and prefers, to vice and champagne, chastity and a crust. She resists that temptation importuning her at every turn, in part for self-respect, in part for religious fear, but in part also for that potent influence—the esteem of the world, with its correlative, the loss of character and consequent loss of consideration. But when she reads of the women whose lives she has been taught to loathe, talked of as only the pitiable victims of man’s brutality, held as themselves free from moral blame, and as the fit objects for admiration and pathetic idealization, how much easier does that make her own hard struggle? Difficult enough as things are—her fall offering her all things pleasant to youth and womanhood—this perversion of the wholesome moral law which pronounced these women moral outcasts makes it ten times harder. It takes away one of the 201 strongest of the props which support her poor fragile temple of virtue, and it undermines the others. There is no religious fear of offending God necessary for a woman who qualifies herself to be called the Magdalen—the beloved of Christ, whose sins were forgiven because she loved much. Instead of the contempt of the world she has the prurient petting of the men who stand and sigh over her—of the women who question first and exhort afterwards. Her self-respect receives no shock, for in her fall she is more cared for than ever she was in her virtue, and the joy of the angels in heaven over one sinner that repenteth is nothing compared to the excitement of which she is the centre. If she believes the newspapers and the idealists, she cannot condemn herself. She is a victim, according to some; a martyr whose life was a sacrifice, and who is worthy of all esteem, according to others. That she preferred fine dresses, idleness, and the excitements of drink and adventures to close, dry, ill-paid work was no sign of a lower taste, but was all the fault of men—as, indeed, in one way it was, but not in the way meant by the idealists. I repeat it, and I know that thousands of kindly women and humane men will bear me out in what I say.This sentimental placing of prostitutes on an ideal pedestal as objects for poetry and pity only, and not at all as objects for condemnation, is one of the most disastrous things in all this flabby age, in view 202 of the young who have to be kept straight against difficulties and in the face of temptations. Anyone who for over forty years has walked about London as I have done must have seen and heard things which take all the sentimentality about vice out of one.Good, generous, loving, and even essentially pure-hearted girls there are, one in ten thousand among the class; but, as a class, to treat them with poetry and sentimentality is a wrong done to society at large, and an infinite wrong done to the virtuous.
     On another account, too, I differ from the idealists. While seeking to enlarge the sphere of woman’s influence and power—as some of us think, disastrously to the nation—they, in the matter of chastity, take from her the moral responsibility she has ever had as the conservator of virtue. It is the fashion now to say it is all the men’s fault, and the women are not to be blamed if they fall—they are helpless to protect themselves. The rnen ought even to resist temptations offered to them. The conscience of woman says differently.Save in the case of the very young, whose ruin rests on the mothers who did not properly safeguard them, women are their own guardians. And ought to be. If they are to be held capable of governing the Empire, they should be made accountable at least for their own self-governance. If they are to be man’s ‘abiding temple,’ they should of their own proper force keep that temple clean and pure. 203 It is emphatically in their own choice not to listen to serpents and not to eat forbidden apples; or to lend a willing ear, and run the danger of the rest. To give them a broader political margin, and to narrow their moral borders, seems to me, and to many more than myself, a terrible inversion of good sense and right reasoning. . . .

                   I am, etc.,
                             E. LYNN LINTON.

 

     [Like some ladies when they argue, Mrs. Linton would not see the point. I charged men with being the chief factors in the debasement of women, and she retorted that prostitutes must not be idealized, and that we must keep our women pure! etc.
     Perhaps recent revelations, such as the West Ham tragedy, may incline my matron militant to think men are not quite such superior creatures. If she still holds to that opinion, let her consult the Sisters of Nazareth who took under their protection two little children, of seven and five years old respectively. True, these things are not for common publication. The men who defiled a public newspaper with the details of a bestial record must have been without conscience and without shame. But it is well not to blind ourselves altogether to the horrors of masculine Lust; it is as well not to forget the failures of the Beast that walks upright.
204 Again, Chastity in itself is merely a negative merit. There may be, and is, infinite harlotry of the Soul even in so-called virtue. The poetry of life seduces nobody, and is not prurient. The prurient woman is she who hugs to herself the finery of her own purity, and scoffs at sentiment in connection with her driven sisters. Mrs. Linton is, so far as her present utterance is concerned, another example of my proposition—that culture and intelligence are lower in the moral scale than temperament, than sympathy. Reduced to the elements of Science, her opinions would fortify all the filth, all the destructiveness, of our social system.]

 

To the Editor of the ‘Daily Telegraph.’

     SIR,
         Mr. Robert Buchanan asks you whether ‘Chivalry is still possible’—meaning, as I gather, Is it possible to revive that ideal of conduct on the part of man towards women, which is designated, in strictly modern metaphor, ‘chivalrous’? I say in metaphor, and in modern metaphor, because, as Mr. Buchanan is of course well aware, the ideal which men of later days have constructed for themselves in this matter has never had any complete historical realization in the past—the position of woman in the so-called age of chivalry being, in more than one respect, conspicuously inferior to that which she occupies even in our own unchivalrous 205 times. Taking the word, however, in the meaning which Mr. Buchanan obviously intends us to assign to it, and asking ourselves the question whether it is possible to revive chivalry in this sense, it appears to me that we are at once brought face to face with two preliminary questions: First, did chivalry of this description ever exist at all, except among a comparatively small class of the community? And, secondly, is it not to the limited extent of that existence still as flourishing and as little in need of revival as ever?
     That genuine examples of this noble habit of mind and lofty standard of conduct are, and always have been, to be found among us, I would be the last to deny. There have always been men of pure and high nature who have constructed for themselves an ideal type of womanhood, which they have not only reverenced as sacred in itself, but have regarded as extending its consecration to every individual member of the sex; so that there shall be no woman, however humble or homely — nay, however sunken and degraded — who can be deemed to have altogether forfeited her title to some share of that exceptional leniency of judgment, that special gentleness of treatment, which chivalry recognises as the inalienable birthright of the whole sisterhood. Such men, I admit, have always existed. Colonel Newcome, their immortal representative in English fiction, is no 206 mere fanciful creation in a novelist’s brain. Originals of that inspiring and pathetic portrait are to be found among us yet; but they are few, and, with submission to Mr. Buchanan, they never have been, never will be, otherwise than few. It is not given to the average man to idealize, to discern for himself the ‘soul of goodness in things evil,’ the indestructible element of purity in things impure; and it is of the average man that Mr. Buchanan, I have a right to assume, is talking. If he is not, he on his part has no right to frame, as he appears to me to have framed, an indictment against society at large. Such an indictment can only be sustained by showing that a general decline has taken place in the masculine conception of womanhood—that the average masculine mind is more sceptical than formerly of the existence of female purity, truth, and goodness, and less ready to do homage to these qualities where their presence is too unmistakable to be denied.
     It is for Mr. Buchanan to produce proof, or at any rate, if absolute demonstration is, as it well may be, impossible in such a matter, to establish a reasonable presumption that such a change has taken place. I cannot think that he has done so. I cannot admit that his appeals to the cynical talk of ‘club-rooms,’ to the disquisitions of the ‘quasi-scientific pessimist,’ and to the ‘analytical’ fictions of the day, prove anything. As to the 207 cynicism of the club-rooms, it is no doubt, so far as it is sincere, and indeed, to some extent, if it is insincere, a decidedly unlovely thing. But I altogether decline to treat it as a portentous sign of the times. Does Mr. Buchanan imagine that the walls of those apartments have ever listened to talk of any other kind since clubs, or the taverns which were their forerunners, first came into being? Does he suppose that the ‘man of the world,’ and still more the ‘boy of the world’—if he will forgive my calling him so—has ever talked otherwise in any age; that the young bloods of Mr. Richardson’s day did not think it fine to give themselves the airs of his Lovelace, and proclaim with many a ‘damme’ their profound disbelief in the possibility of female virtue? It is no doubt true that even among the rakes of that time there were many too honest and too manly to feign an incredulity so dishonouring to the sex to which their mothers and sisters belonged. Tom Jones—to cite an example which Mr. Buchanan ought especially to appreciate—scapegrace as he was, held no such debasing view of women.His attachment to Sophia saved him from that, and his love for that young lady was no doubt a passion of the most purely chivalrous kind. But Tom, after all, would be a dangerous witness for Mr. Buchanan to call, for he would certainly be cross-examined as to his relations with Molly Seagrim and Lady Bellaston, towards neither of whom was 208 the element of chivalry very apparent in his behaviour. Probably he would have brought himself under your correspondent’s condemnation by citing these two ladies in proof of the odious proposition that ‘Women minister, for the most part cheerfully, to our vanities and our pleasures.’ No, sir; I do not believe that cynical dicta of this kind are at all more frequently propounded in our own day than at any previous period. There has never been a time when men, and especially young men—and still more especially vain young men—have not professed this ‘delightfully wicked’ disbelief in female virtue. It is a necessity of their own conception of themselves, for how else could they be the irresistible dogs they are? Men, however, who have outgrown this little weakness, and have no longer the character of Lotharios to support, are as ready to recognise and to respect purity in woman as ever they were; whilst their attitude towards women of whom that feminine grace can no longer be predicated has, I make bold to say, distinctly changed for the better and the more ‘chivalrous’ in these latter days. Mr. Buchanan seems to take peculiar exception to man’s present treatment of ‘the class called “fallen,”’ as though it had undergone a change for the worse. But surely it is a matter of the commonest experience and observation that the class he refers to are, on the whole, treated nowadays with a forbearance and tenderness which our 209 rougher ancestors would have been simply unable to comprehend.
     As to Pessimism and the modern ‘naturalistic’ and ‘analytical’ novelist, they do not appear to me to play anything like that important part as causæ causantes of the decline of Chivalry which Mr. Buchanan assigns to them. ‘Naturalism,’ or the discovery of the great fact that human nature consists wholly of the hideous, is a constant phenomenon in life and letters; and its exceptional popularity and vogue at any given moment only shows that the writers who for the time being are the preachers of that dismal gospel happen to be preachers of exceptional directness and force. Byron made the same discovery in poetry, and, lo! a wind of Byronism swept over the land, laying all young men’s collars flat before it. Now it is Zola who makes the discovery in prose, and very unpoetic prose, and straightway follows the epidemic of Zolaism. Of course the great discovery is the discovery of a mare’s-nest, and in their secret hearts the discoverers know it. They do not believe in their own theory of humanity. Only one man of letters ever did; and he died mad, and is buried in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin. Mr. Buchanan should seek consolation and reassurance in a pilgrimage to that sombre shrine. Jonathan Swift has preached the gospel that your correspondent abhors as no man ever preached it before him, and as none is ever likely 210 to preach it again; and Mr. Buchanan may console himself with the reflection that a race which has retained its faith in itself after reading the ‘Voyage to the Houyhnhnms,’ is not likely to be converted to the doctrine of despair by the author of ‘L’Assommoir.’
     As to the operation of Pessimism considered as a philosophy, and the grave injustice of Mr. Buchanan’s attempt to fix it with responsibility for the decline of Chivalry and other mischievous consequences, there is much which I should like to say. And some day, sir, when you can put seven or eight columns of your esteemed journal at my disposal, I may perhaps endeavour to say it. I will content myself at present with asserting that the most complete acceptance of the philosophical doctrine of Pessimism is perfectly compatible with as complete a recognition and as anxious a cultivation of all that (in unphilosophical language) is ‘pure, lovely and of good report’ in life; and that, pending an opportunity of expounding and defending this truth at greater length,

                   I am, etc.,
                             AN INJURED PESSIMIST.

 

To the Editor of the ‘Daily Telegraph.’

     SIR,
         Would that Fortune always sent me adversaries like your correspondent ‘An Injured Pessimist,’ 211 who, while lightly and playfully tilting at me, manages to make his gallant steed frisk and curvet all round, to the discomfiture of my original opponents! I have only one fault to find with him, which he shares with the famous knight in ‘Ivanhoe’—that he comes disguised, and very lugubriously! In point of fact he is about as much ‘a pessimist’ as Charles Dickens. I fancy, indeed, that if he deigned to lift his visor, the world would laugh merrily in recognition of one whose name is a synonym for kindliness and kindly optimism. He challenges me, however, to prove my case further, and, since your insertion of the challenge intimates your approval, I will join issue with him at once. Let me premise, however, by saying that the subject is one of unusual delicacy, and could not be completed save with the addition of evidence necessarily given in camerâ, not in the columns of a newspaper; nor would even the six columns asked for by your correspondent afford sufficient space for its full and absolute discussion. One can only select a few points out of many, and leave all corroborative testimony to the experience of our jury, your readers.
     Of course students of Modern Pessimism know very well that, as a philosophy, it claims to be beneficent. Its founder, Schopenhauer, and its chief apostle and re-creator, Hartmann, feeling profoundly for the sufferings of creatures emerging 212 into life and pain, have assured us that the only comfort and joy of Humanity, so soon to perish, is in acts of mutual service, mutual pity, mutual love. The blind Will or the blind Unconscious (whichever name we give it) flowers up to its apex of moral sentiment, gleams piteously, and disappears. These philosophers, like all others, testify, of course, to the beauty of human affection; and, so far as I personally am concerned, I could as easily find comfort in their gloomy Nirwâna as in the mysterious Immanence of approved Pantheists like Spinoza. It is not with pure pessimistic philosophy, however, that I have at present to deal.

When Bishop Berkeley said there was no matter,
And proved it—’twas no matter what he said,’

and there is nothing that Metaphysics cannot establish, when we once grant its premisses. I spoke of Pessimism and Pessimists as they emerge in Literature, I spoke more particularly of Pessimistic Realism. Your correspondent’s contention appears to be that the phenomenon to which I alluded is merely a familiar one, certain to emerge from time to time, and equally certain to disappear. To support this contention, he asserts, truly enough, that a certain class of men have always been cynical and unchivalrous, just as the majority of men have always been impure. Lovelace and his friends, he says, talked much the same banalities as the modern young men about town. Quite true. But 213 just then, in the person of the inspired little printer, in some respects the sanest and wisest soul of his generation, rose the Knight- errant of Literary Chivalry. It is the custom, as we all know, to sneer at Richardson. While the warm weak heart of Fielding awakens love, Richardson’s piercing intellect almost repels it. Women, however, who are supposed to have no logic, recognised the great Logician of Morality, and cried, ‘This man is our champion! This man understands us— justifies us!’ In the story of Clarissa Harlowe—tedious, monotonous, straggling, bourgeois—the great tradition of Literary Chivalry was carried on, and the world had the spectacle of a Chaste Soul, reaching its fulness at that moment when the martyred girl, with the libertine maundering at her feet and offering to make her ‘an honest woman’ by  marriage, turned quietly and proudly away, and passed through the portals of the tomb. Almost any English author, from that moment to this, would have satisfied himself and his readers by bringing down the curtain on the happy union of Miss Harlowe and the tamed, repentant Lovelace. Good, honest, virile Fielding would have done it, and chuckled over it. Richardson, far wiser, knew that, horrible as is the outrage of the body, still more horrible may be the outrage of the Soul; that for a Soul once violated, once disenchanted, there is no possible human reparation; that for Woman cast from her sphere of purity, bereft of 214 her faith in Humanity, the only hope lies beyond the shades of Death!
     Which brings me to the heart of my sad argument. I have mourned the decay of Chivalry; I have asked if its revival is not possible. Your correspondent—who loves Chivalry as much as I do, who has bowed down as I bow down before Don Quixote and Colonel Newcome—says, firstly, that Chivalry never existed at all save in a small class of the community. Yet it is admitted by the realists that Literature represents the spirit of itsage—is, in other words, the adumbration of the noblest temper of the community at large. What, then, must have been the temper of communities which, crystallizing in individual genius, produced Iphigenia and Antigone, Beatrice and Francesca, Cordelia and Imogen (to say nothing of the whole female galaxy of Elizabethan drama), Eve and the Lady of Comus, Clarissa Harlowe and Sophia Western, Beatrice Cenci and the heroine of Epipsychidion, Eugénie Grandet and Modeste Mignon, Lady Esmond and Laura Pendennis, Lizzie Hexam and Little Nell? I should be unjust, moreover, to the lights under which we live if I denied that, even now, this tradition of purity survives, that now and then Divine things come to us, such as I found the other day when I read the infinitely piteous episode of Lyndale in the ‘Story of an African Farm,’ such as give modesty and charm to the ‘girls’ of Black and Besant, and 215 power to the full-blooded women of Thomas Hardy, such as ennoble the stainless page of Mrs. Oliphant and brighten the gladsome books of Bret Harte, such as lend glory to the maidens of Alfred Tennyson, to the Madonna-like young mothers of Coventry Patmore, and to the Shakespearean women of Robert Browning. But, alas! most of the writers I have named belong to the last generation, and several of them are already voted ‘old-fashioned.’ The triumph now is with the realist, with the pessimist, with the young man who has never been a child, who has never dwelt in Bohemia. Why, the whole attempt of my original argument was to draw a comparison between the last generation and the one in which we live!
     Your correspondent asserts, secondly, that after all Chivalry is still flourishing, and as little in need of revival as ever. Does he deny, then, that within the last decade, since the apotheosis of popular science and the spread of popular materialism, a very great change has taken place in the moral estimate of women? Of their social position I say nothing—that is another matter; but they, like the Irish nation, have won all that for themselves. It is not a question of whether we fear their power more, but of whether we honour and reverence them as much? The best proof of such honour and reverence would be the condition of our own morals, the purity of our own lives. Are we, then, so pure? I will turn away from the revelations of the Divorce 216 Court, from the reports of the newspapers, and just walk out once more into the midnight streets. What do I see there? Instead of the bold, painted woman’s face of twenty years ago, I see the pale, thin face of a child! Instead of the coarse, robust young person from the country, I see the delicate young person, who has perhaps been a ‘lady’ and has known luxury. Let me tell, in this connection, two absolutely true stories within my own knowledge. A little while ago two pure young girls, daughters of a clergyman, left Yorkshire and came to London deliberately, out of choice, dispassionately, to throw themselves on the London streets! They did so, and were swept away into the great vortex. Here, certainly, we seem to have a proof in favour of the man of the world’s argument that there is no ‘seduction’; but the exception is meant to prove the rule. These young girls, well educated, familiar with modern pessimistic books, concluded that the world was impure, and, having lost all vital belief, followed their despair to a logical conclusion. My second story is of a young girl who, when I first met her, was a beautiful child of seventeen, reared in luxury, accomplished in music and painting, the idol of her home. She, too, became a reader of the new literature; she, too, had become utterly without faith, either in God or human nature, when, a few years later, she made the acquaintance of a married man, an officer in the army. This man deliberately set himself to undermine 217 those moral instincts which still kept her personally pure. He convinced her that society was honeycombed through and through with libertinism; that there were no pure women; that, since life was transient, indulgence of all kinds was wise and justifiable. Eager, like poor Lyndale, to know, she came at last to as piteous and terrible an end, dying in utter despair. Never shall I forget the contrast between the bright, happy girl I first met, all intellectual ardour, all moral purity, all faith and hope, and the poor heart-broken woman whom, only a few years later, I saw lying on her bed of death.
     My correspondent thinks the world is no worse; that Chivalry is no longer needed. Let him remember, however, that a generation ago the Devil lacked his one last convincing argument which proves to the weak and blind that there is absolutely no God, no hope, no succour beyond these voices. If Pessimism means anything, it means that. Science corroborates it. Experience seems to justify it. So that, after all is said and done, we come to the final and irresistible conclusion that there is no hope in this world because there is no faith in another, and that Schopenhauer was right when he described Death—i.e., annihilation—as the great and only Nirwâna. In that case, of course, it is useless to trouble ourselves about what old-fashioned people call the Soul. Let us legislate for something more substantial.
218 So the world is no worse?—nay, hints your correspondent, it is possibly much better, especially in this particular point of woman’s condition. How, then, does he account for the fact—which I suppose he will not deny—that the ranks of the so-called ‘fallen’ (I say the ‘driven’) are now to so large an extent recruited from the educated classes, from those classes which are aware of the culture of the age? I speak within my own knowledge when I state that I have personally found, among the throngs who nightly haunt such places as the Empire and the Alhambra, women whose refinement of manner and purity of accomplishment would grace any drawing-room; faces which not all the fever of the gaslight could rob of the beauty and distinction which come of gentle blood. A generation ago these types did not exist on this side of the Channel. But now, as the satirist sings:

‘Instead of Greece, whose lewd arts poisoned Rome,
The harlot France infects our island home!’

and the educated girl who discovers that she has been brought up in a dead Faith, and turns her early accomplishment to use in the secret study of detrimental French novelists, soon loses the hallucinations which kept her pure.She, too, discovers that Divine sanctions are no longer needed. She, too, finds that Pessimism is the only creed thoroughly alive. Her father, possibly, is either an open sceptic or a person who still accepts 219 religion because it is ‘respectable.’ Her brothers, perhaps, are young men about town, from whom she soon learns the argot of fast life. It is a horrible thing to say in this connection, but I have known many instances of pure young girls whose minds first became polluted through the conversation of their own brothers.
     Now, Chivalry, as I conceive it, and as I hope and pray for it, might do something to remedy this grievous state of things, on which I have touched but very lightly. But Chivalry, unfortunately, means Religion—not necessarily the religion of any creed or sect, but that large faith in a Divine Power conditioning all we think and feel; and even that nebulous sort of religion, as we know, is hard to find. Energetic Mr. Frederic Harrison, contemptuous of an anthropomorphic God, offered us his master’s fetish, Humanity, the Grand Être, as a substitute, until quite lately a ferocious Professor, not to be humbugged that way, pulverised the Monster, to the general satisfaction (see Professor Huxley’s diatribe against Positivism, passim). In all the conflict of the new discovery that the moon is made, not of green cheese, but of magnesium, there is not much time for reverence; and, unfortunately, the scientists are even harder on Woman than the poets and romancists. How, then, shall Chivalry arise?
     In one way only. Through the physical purification of men. I am certainly not for turning the 220 world into a moral seminary, for eliminating from life that Passion which alone, perhaps, lifts it towards divinity. But the man who goes out into the market-place to buy the body or the soul of a woman is a leper, and as such he should be treated. Put a label on his breast, put a clapper into his hand, that all the world may know he is ‘unclean.’ My entire argument is that Man is the sinner here, and that Woman is the martyr. I know well how my good physician and physiologist, Mr. Worldly Wiseman, will smile at my logic. From time immemorial the Master has usurped the privileges of sensuality, while the Slave has been forced to acquiesce. Only when the master has become a knight-errant, and has said to his ideal, ‘Be pure, and I will emulate, so far as my coarser nature may, your purity! Be good, and I will uphold your goodness before the world!’ then, and only then, has Woman become glorified—no longer a Martyr, but a Madonna.
     I have hinted pretty broadly at certain social phenomena which I allege to be taking place in our midst. Thousands of your readers, if they cared to speak, could, I feel sure, corroborate me on such points as the decay of self-respect in women owing to male contamination, and as the want of Chivalry or purity in the young men of their homes. With what your correspondent says on the abominations and absurdities of Naturalism I thoroughly agree; but I open my eyes in wonder when I find him 221 classing Byron among the discoverers ‘of the great fact that Nature consists only of the hideous.’ Byron was a romanticist pure and simple. He discovered that the world and society were full of shams, and he turned in gloomy pride to Nature, to the mountains and the sea. Bitter things said about mankind, sarcastic things said about the sex, do not make a Pessimist—in fact, Poetry and Pessimism are antagonistic terms. Byron’s idea of Woman was not, perhaps, the highest, but it was a high one, nevertheless, and I only wish we had a few of his women now. To put the creator of Haidée in the same pillory as the author of ‘La Curée’ seems rough-and-ready justice indeed! Byron, with all his thoughts, was a Man, and when he revolted against what Mr. Morley justly calls ‘the piggish virtues of the Georges,’ Nature revolted with him and proclaimed him right.Had he lived a little longer, he would have become, perhaps, the noblest knight-errant that modern Chivalry has seen.

                   I am, etc.,
                             ROBERT BUCHANAN.

 

     NOTE ON THE PRECEDING.—My question, ‘Is Chivalry still possible?’ elicited, in addition to the letters of Mrs.  Linton, a vast amount of correspondence, occupying the columns of the Daily Telegraph for some weeks. As usual, the discussion ended on the level to which all high things 222 fall in this country—that of the comic paper; and there the question arrived at its reductio ad absurdum, whether men who travelled in omnibuses were still sufficiently chivalrous to get outside to oblige a lady? As a matter of fact, however, it was found impossible, in the columns of a daily journal, to touch the quick of the matter, which chiefly concerned Prostitution, classed by me with War, as one of the two hideous Sphynxes of modern civilization.
     I may remark in this contention that my statements concerning the change of type among fallen women, concerning the spread of social disease to the higher classes of society, were corroborated by innumerable private correspondents, as well as by a letter of emphatic assent from the present Secretary of the Lock Hospital.
     By far the most important published communications were the letters from the pen of Mrs. Lynn Linton, conveying as they did the anti-sentiment of that large class of women which is moved alike by the scientific spirit and the puritanical bias—in other words, by a desire to dogmatize in matters of feeling, and to be severe on the weaknesses of human nature. I do not dispute for a moment that Mrs. Lynn Linton’s ideal of womanhood is a high one; but it is an ideal based quite unconsciously on the British ideal of commercial virtue. Mrs. Linton sees in Woman only the type of chastity and maternity; I see in her the partner 223 of Man’s passion and Man’s power. She sees a domestic machine; I see an ever- present inspiration. She elevates conventional Chastity as the highest of female virtues; I see in it only the unchastity of English legislation.She would limit the sphere of woman’s activity and energy; I would enlarge that sphere indefinitely. She has spoken of the inexorable Laws of Human Nature, and indirectly has drawn from these laws an inference that Prostitution is a necessary evil; I, on the other hand, have affirmed that there are no laws to turn man from a rational being into a beast of the field, and have asserted that spurious Chastity, the puritanical bias in ethics and in legislation, is sacrificing the rights of one class of human beings to the vices of another. We are trying to appease the angry gods by a holocaust of helpless women. That holocaust would be recognised as what it is, an enormity, if women were made more free and men became more pure. The Passion of Love is not of necessity, as puritans affirm, an unclean passion. It is the breath of Heaven which sweetens and purifies every coarse necessity of Earth.

_____

225

IMPERIAL COCKNEYDOM.

_____

227

 

IMPERIAL COCKNEYDOM.

A REJOINDER TO CRITICS.

 

FOR an article by the writer who still lives, I am glad to find, to subscribe himself ‘A. K. H. B.,’ ‘On certain Terms of Opprobrium’ would be a felicitous title. Perhaps the most notorious manufacturer of such terms was Carlyle, following close in the wake of Goethe; but the late Mr. Arnold ran him very hard, inventing many catchwords and nicknames which have passed into the current vocabulary of journalism. For example, everyone who did not agree with Mr. Arnold, or who called a spade a spade, was a ‘Philistine,’ and everyone who emulated him in the suppression of vitality possessed ‘sweetness and light.’ ‘Anthropomorphism’ is another epithet much in vogue with those writers who dislike the idea of a personal God; it was invented for us, I fancy, by Professor Tyndall. Well, an epithet, be it opprobrious or complimentary, is to be valued in proportion to its aptness and suitably. Of course, such terms are coarse and trivial enough, and need 228 abundant qualification. Most living writers have at one time and another, when uttering some disagreeable truth, been called ‘Philistines.’ Some of them, too, have been called ‘Provincial’ a term which has its antithesis in the other magnificent term ‘Cockney,’ invented by Professor Wilson, but applied with singular ineptitude to the school of Keats and Leigh Hunt. In the present article I purpose to appropriate this term, and for the first time, I believe, to apply it properly. For, as I have suggested, a term or a nickname, to possess any force and durability, must be felicitous. When Mr. Andrew Lang, in view of certain expressions in a recent article, calls me ‘provincial,’ the epithet has meaning. I am very provincial, as I purpose to show, while showing, at the same time, that Mr. Andrew Lang, though Scottish by birth, is a Cockney of Cockneys.
     For to be a Cockney, it is not after all necessary to be born within the sound of Bow Bells; the word implies, not a nationality, but a temperament, an environment, and a habit of mind. Charles Lamb was a Cockney in the best and finest sense of the word; Hazlitt and Gifford were Cockneys in its worst and earthiest sense. The true Cockney, like the true Parisian, regards his own City as the Centre of the Universe; his own outlook as the one outlook on life and literature; his own taste as the only taste to appreciate what is pleasant and what is beautiful; his own little pool of 229 thought and feeling as the one Ocean where a man-tadpole can comfortably push about. There has never been a great Cockney, but there have been shrewd and sagacious and delightful ones; the type rises as high as Ben Jonson and sinks as low as ‘Mr. Gigadibs.’ The true ‘Provincial,’ on the other hand, is considerably sceptical as to the centralization of all thought and feeling, all brilliance and all activity, in any particular city, although, if he sinks very low, he may rather incline to the opinion that the centralization should take place in Birmingham, or Glasgow, or Stoke Pogis, or Kilmarnock. He has no particular bias towards any form of life or literature. For the narrowness of personal taste he substitutes the breadth of ideal principles, and is guided by those principles. He moves about this merry England, about the waters of the world, with a full consciousness of his own insignificance, yet with no disposition to take minnows and tadpoles for leviathans or even bottle-nosed whales. He, in a word, is ‘free.’ Shakespeare and Milton, Wordsworth and Byron, were glorified provincials. In the great periods of literature the men of light and leading have been Provincials always. In the little periods, e.g., those of the Georges and Queen Anne, the victorious writers have generally been Cockney to the marrow. But Richardson was a true Provincial, and so, thank heaven, was Harry Fielding.
230 Are we getting near to a definition? If not, we may get quite close to it as we go on, and furnish contemporary illustrations. It is, by the way, a very certain sign of provincialism to say severe things of any contemporary, more particularly if he is a Cockney. The Cockney way, the way of ‘sweetness and light,’ is to take one’s stand apart, to say nothing personal, but to depreciate by complacent innuendoes, and at any rate, if fighting has to be done, to do it in kid gloves. I can imagine nothing in literature more trivial and more spiteful than the late Mr. Arnold’s comments on his contemporaries but Mr. Arnold was jejune, and talked so much of ‘culture’ that many who read him thought him sweet instead of bitter. Then, says the Cockney, if you must attack, instead of taking your cakes and ale comfortably, for Heaven’s sake attack only Things in General, Things which are helpless and incapable of self-defence; it is very bad taste indeed to do as Byron and Shelley did, and ‘name’ your Southeys and Castlereaghs. This, however, with a reservation. If it is merely a ‘provincial’ you have to deal with, call him what names you like. Call him, as they called Coleridge, a genius manqué. Call him, as they called Wordsworth, a ‘driveller,’ a ‘Lakist.’ Call him, as they called Christopher North, ‘that damn’d Scotchman!’ The whole vocabulary is at your service. Call him, if at a loss for an adjective, a scrofulous 231 Scotch, or Irish, or Manx poet. And then, should the poor Provincial, irritated by your ill-treatment of him, retaliate by calling you a fleshly poet, or a society journalist, or a chirpy smoking-room critic, or a Bank-Holiday young man, you are still free to hold up your hands and exclaim, ‘How provincial! how ill-bred! how barbarous!’ Your strong point is that the world in general still confounds the Cockney with the Londoner, and when the Cockney utters his fiat, is ready to accept it as representative of the great Centre of Opinion.* You are localized for the time being, you build your little nest, in the Temple of all the Sciences and all the Arts, London; and so, if you are noisy enough, the sound you make may seem, not the caw of the jackdaw, but the voice of the Oracle.
     Let us understand, clearly, however, what we mean by Cockneydom. It by no means follows that a Londoner is necessarily a Cockney. Your

* On the other side of the Channel it is still the highest possible compliment to call a man or an author ‘a true Parisian of the  Parisians.’ Admiration even went so far as to apply the compliment to Balzac and (mirabile dictu!) Victor Hugo. But though Hugo himself said that Paris was France, and France was the centre of the Universe, every line he wrote under inspiration rebuked the absurdity. We are learning just now what to be a ‘true Parisian’ means in literature; it means simply to be a boulevardier. A similar lesson is being taught us, here in England, as to the true meaning of the word ‘Cockney,’ though Cockneydom, of course, works by stealth towards imperialization, instead of vaunting it grandiloquently.

232 true Londoner, like your true American, is cosmopolitan; he is fortunately very numerous, and may still be found writing books, painting pictures, editing newspapers. In many cases, indeed, he is merely a transplanted provincial; in journalism, especially, the strength, the vigour and intellectual capacity is constantly supplied from the provinces; and because journalists are for the most part not Cockneys, but liberal men of the world, some of our criticism is broad, generous and fair. Cockneydom is to Cosmopolitanism what the Gironde was to Jacobinism. Its philosophy is epicurean, its humour is persiflage, its poetry is vers de société, and its wisdom is the wisdom of the clubs. Within its own little sphere it is triumphant, because it suits well the temperament of men thoughtless by disposition and busy in occupation.It has its libraries, its theatres, its journals. It exchanges for a provincial worship of Truth and Beauty, a lightsome admiration for the pretty, the elegant, the comme il faut. It quite objects to take life seriously. It regards Thought itself as an almost disturbing influence. It occupies itself with the manners of accomplished men and nuances of well-dressed women. A glorified Cockney is a sort of literary or artistic ‘Buck’ of the period, exhibiting himself in the salon or the club, showing to ordinary people the pink of literary manners, and accepting with easy complacence life as it really is, in London clubs. He has seen the 233 sea at Scarborough and Margate, and he has seen the mountains from the door of an hotel in Switzerland. As the degenerate Roman copied the elegancies of moribund Greece, the Cockney frequently apes the affectations of honeycombed France. He has the light literature of Paris at his fingers’ ends.
     And what has this glorified being to tell us? About manners, much; about those questions which determine the thoughts and feelings of aspiring men, nothing. His inclinations are lightsome and practical, and his injunction upon us is that, since life and religion and philosophy are all a muddle, it is best to exist comfortably, to ask no more of Providence than a good dinner, a cheerful friend, a pleasant, well-printed book, a picture or two, a newspaper, and a charming woman to flirt with upon occasion. His motto is laissez aller. Pessimist and epicurean in one, he regards all conduct that is not ill-bred with equal sympathy; with a ‘one thing is as good as another’ sort of criticism, forbearing in appearance if fundamentally heartless. Great deeds and great thoughts have no real interest for him, but he has a cultivated appreciation of them on the æsthetic side.‘For heaven’s sake,’ he says to us, ‘be calm! Things may be very bad indeed, society may be rotten to the core, London may be a warren of the poor and wretched, but all this is really not worth troubling about; it will so soon 234 be over! To excite yourself over the loss of a Religion is like crying childishly over the breaking of a  toy. To protest against public nuisances is to make yourself a nuisance.The most disinterested Man that ever lived, the Man who your teachers tell you was Divine, has been a puritanical Bore for nearly two thousand years, and his preaching and prosing has all come to—nothing! You can’t make the world better. You can’t keep the monkey-blood out of humanity. You can, however, “sit apart, holding no form of creed, but contemplating all.” You can always find a piano, or a flower, or a set of verses, or a bit of scandal, or a pretty woman; all of which make life gladsome. And when it is all over, when the lute is unstrung and the golden bowl is broken, you can at least go comfortably to sleep!’
     I am obliged, in this connection, to proclaim my belief that the man who, more than anyone who ever lived, wrote most about the Metropolis, was not a Cockney. The cheeriest of all humourists, Charles Dickens, whom the true Cockney is so fond of quoting and yet underrating, was awfully and hopelessly provincial, and was frequently reproached for the fact by the Saturday Review. An idealist and a dreamer, he found in this great City, not Cockneydom, but Fairyland, and he was never tired of wondering at its piteous oddity and delightful quiddity. Now a Cockney sees nothing of all this, though it is all so near to him. Wordsworth 235 had to come up from Cumberland, at the very time when every clique and coterie voted him an utter failure, and when every Cockney literary man professed total ignorance of and contempt for his works, before the world could realize the beauty and solemnity of the Dawn seen from Westminster Bridge:

‘Dear Lord, the very houses seem asleep,
And all that Mighty Heart is lying still!’

That Mighty Heart! which sends no pulsation whatever through the veins of the contingent poetaster. Why, it required even a poor Glasgow poet, whom the Cockneys first welcomed and then stoned and killed, to produce even the fine lines—describing London as:

‘The terrible City, whose neglect is Death,
Whose smile is Fame!’

     That Mighty Heart! The Terrible City! How felicitous, and yet how provincial! No Cockney has ever yet expressed in literature the mystery and the awfulness of this London in the shallows of which he sports. A fine old Cockney once attempted it, and was told by his friends that he was a great poet; and indeed if all Cockneys were like that honest, purblind, pertinacious, prosaist, Samuel Johnson, how we should adore the breed! But in those days a Cockney had not discovered that ‘there is no God,’ and that Life means comfortableness and prettiness. He had 236 only begun by discovering that the world is Fleet Street, and that it is merry to hear the chimes at midnight. The rest has followed in the usual way of Evolution.
     The great Cockney organ of opinion is still the Quarterly Review. Many years ago the standard of revolt was raised in Edinburgh by the Whigs, and the Edinburgh Review was started; but a very short time sufficed to show that this was, after all, a Cockney organ too. Gifford and Jeffrey were both arrant Cockneys. They cackled endless praises to Byron because he was a lord, but there was not a stainless reputation, not one flower of original genius, they did not pollute and try to kill. In their dotage, the good old Quarterlies, once the watchmen of our literature, survive still, but amid universal neglect or derision, as things far too slow for the times. Poor old Dogberry and Verges! Lanthorn and clapper in hand they pop out of their pigeon-boxes, and months after the henroost is robbed and the house burned down, utter their wheezy cries of ‘Fox’ or ‘Fire.’ And they are still Cockney to the marrow; still cheerfully unconscious that the world is in earnest, still ready to aim their paralytic blows at ‘Deformed’ and other malefactors.Only yesterday, Dogberry told us that Mr. John Morley was the inheritor of the character and temperament of—Rousseau! The good old man had somehow muddled Rousseau with ‘Deformed,’ and was quite unconscious that 237 he was comparing an inspired Deist, the one writer who kept the soul of men aflame when Rationalism had almost blown it out, with a belated Hume whose mind had been nurtured on the gospel of the Hall of Science, who printed God with a small ‘g,’ and who had descended from the azure of the Savoyard Vicar’s prayer into the atmosphere of stump oratory. Only the other day, the same asthmatic authority told us that Lord Tennyson was ‘no poet.’
     For Cockneydom to speak in the name of London, then, is a preposterous impertinence. The chirp of the sparrows which nest in the ear of a stone Colossus is not likely to be mistaken for the voice of the giant. Fortunately for free thought, for literature, for art, for science, London remains cosmopolitan. The great journals, with notorious exceptions, are broad and eclectic. The best writers for the press are men of the world, many-sided, many-minded, free from the prejudices of clique or class. The most popular actor of the day, Mr. Irving, is so sublimely ‘provincial’ as to believe, in the very teeth of the Cockneydom which never ceases to decry him, in the ideal side of the Drama. Only very low down in the intellectual scale is heard the clamour of the cliques, the voice of eager Cockneydom.
     If this article were political I might proceed to point out the Cockney statesman and the Cockney publicist. My readers, however, know them well, 238 and so I need not particularize, save to say that they have more than once imperilled the honour and threatened the ruin of their country. A thoroughly provincial politician, however, may be quoted in the form of the late Mr. Bright, who was abused throughout his whole career for his anti-Cockney proclivities, who never feared to speak his mind, and who was guided from first to last by solid principles. It may be remarked here, in this connection, that on great public questions involving the progress of humanity and the rights of minorities, Cockneydom is nearly always on the wrong side, and generally the last to be converted. It was a great Cockney organ, the Times, which steadily upheld the South almost to the bitter end, when all sane men saw the inevitable issue of the conflict between Nationality and barbaric Revolt in the United States of America. It was the same organ which, to damage a forlorn cause and destroy a martyred Nation, instituted an infamous prosecution against the Perseus of Ireland, Parnell. In Cockneydom alone the god St. Jingo has found idolaters. Mere provincials have passed him by with contempt or indifference, and turned from the clash of cymbals and the battle-cry of eunuchs to the teachings of wisdom and the humanitarian sentiment of virile men.
     Yet Cockneydom, not content with metropolitan or even national triumphs, hungers to become imperial, to possess, like Great Britain, an Empire 239 on which the sun never sets. For example, so far as current literature is concerned, its missionaries have completely converted, while its central powers have complacently annexed, the distant city of Boston. Mr. Henry James has become a Cockney. So has Mr. Howells, in spite of his contempt for Dickens. Through the cult of Cockneydom, spreading through mysterious channels of journalism, people yonder are beginning to think dubiously about those good old Puritan fathers, Whittier, Emerson, and Longfellow, and to welcome with complacence the dii minores of the Savile Club. In New York, and as far away as Chicago, Cockneydom spreads its propaganda; so effectually, indeed, that young men have given no ear to the ‘barbaric yawp’ of Whitman, know not even the name of Hermann Melville,* and have found little fascination in the Idylls of Dudley Warner or Charles Warren Stoddard. Of course, I know Americans too well to believe that the Gospel according to Cockneydom, expressed in easy essayism and patter-versification, will ever do for them. It fills certain of their magazines, but to

* When I went to America my very first inquiry was concerning the author of ‘Typee,’ ‘Omoo,’ and ‘The White Whale.’ There was some slight evidence that he was ‘alive,’ and I heard from Mr. E. C. Stedman, who seemed much astonished at my interest in the subject, that Melville was dwelling ‘somewhere in New York,’ having resolved, on account of the public neglect of his works, never to write another line. Conceive this Titan silenced, and the bookstalls flooded with the illustrated magazines.

240 these, in reality, they pay no serious attention. Omnivorous readers, they devour everything; free cosmopolitans, they accept in a friendly way even Cockney missionaries; but as the future masters of the world, they are certain never to be annexed en masse. Nearer home, at Paris, imperial Cockneydom is likely to be more successful. Very busy there has been the good Apostle, James, and we find the Cockneys of Paris dedicating books to him and writing articles about Cockneydom in the Revue des Deux Mondes. My acquaintance with the missionary reports of the new religion is not intimate enough to enable me to say whether any Cockneys have been converted in Tasmania or New South Wales; but I met a Parsee the other day who confided to me his belief that all religions except Epicureanism were equally nonsensical, and that the greatest of English poets was Mr. Austin Dobson.*
     My article on the Modern Young Man as Critic has at least done something. It has drawn Mr. Andrew Lang, a very typical Cockney, from the obscurity of his club and the anonymous sanctities of his daily and weekly journals. Gently and not ill-naturedly, calmly and not angrily, he chides me (in the St. James’s Gazette) for ‘discourtesy,’ for

* Here followed in the original article a description of Mr. Lang’s lecturing visit to Scotland, in which, by following certain newspaper reports and comments, I appear to have exaggerated or mistaken Mr. Lang’s utterances. I therefore suppress the passage.

241 (in House of Commons fashion) ‘naming’ particular offenders. He knows—no man knows better—that the covert sneer, the lifted shoulder, the smug innuendo, the depreciating smile, are far more à la mode than plain speaking and rushing into print. The former, however, has never been my method of warfare; I leave it to the cheery pessimists, and the prophets of modern Nepotism. I call a spade a spade with the Philistines, and a Cockney a Cockney with the provincials. For Mr. Andrew Lang personally I have no little respect. He is a gentleman and a scholar, and in certain moments, when he forgets his newspaper and his club, a poet. I have still ringing in my ears certain lines of his about the ‘Iliad’ and the ‘Odyssey’—lines full of the swing of the early periods of literature. Yet I am going to arraign him on the very score of his natural abilities and literary gifts. ‘Sir,’ I say to him, after the manner of a certain famous justice of the peace, ‘you are clever, well-educated, able-bodied, intellectual, instead of which you go about disguised as a Cockney.’ I blame him not, as others have blamed him, for now and then showing the courage of his opinions. I am with him even when he vindicates the ‘imagination’ of Mr. Rider Haggard, and holds that one gleam of creative power atones for a host of small technical imperfections. Never, in my wildest moments, should I condemn him for his occasional courage. My charge against him, 242 of course, would rather convict him of constitutional literary cowardice, of chronic anxiety to keep out of brawls and take things ‘easy,’ of urbane freedom from anything like real enthusiasm—in a word, of a desire, at the hazard of all disingenuous suppressions, to ‘get comfortably along.’ Even now, I apologize with all my heart for disturbing him in his pet studies of linguistic ‘origins’ and the manners of primeval Man. But he is a journalist as well as a scholar, a clubman as well as a student, and in a moment of distraction he has put on his ‘war-paint’ and fingered his tomahawk. ‘Is this a free fight?’ asked the pugnacious American. Quite free; and it is indeed a pleasure to find that Mr. Andrew Lang, not content with indulging in cynical ‘asides’ in the Daily News and elsewhere, has stepped out, armed at all points, to join the fray. He, above all men, was the one we of the opposite faction wished to meet. To attack him without some personal provocation, I, for one, had hardly the heart, for despite his literary offences he has often been kindly to a fault. Now that he himself has voluntarily come forward, there can be no harm (and I am sure there will be no bitterness) in touching on certain matters in which he has urgent personal concern.
     But before I join issue with Mr. Lang on these matters, let me refer to one or two points of his criticism of my article. I may pass on one side his suggestion that the same charge as mine was 243 brought against the young men of the last generation; that is a suggestion easily met by a reference to the literature of the eighteen-sixties. His first serious assumption is that I ought not to have ‘mentioned individuals,’ or have ‘called them names.’ My reply to that has been given; my charge was specific, not general. Mr. Lang goes on to say that about several of the gentlemen I denounce one ‘may easily be silent,’ as ‘it is not given to everyone to keep up with current literature.’ Very characteristic this, as we shall see later on, of an author who, more than most of us, watches every swirl and current of the literary tide. Of course Mr. Lang knows these gentlemen as well as I do, but they do not belong to his ‘set,’ and he has no particular call to defend them. He then goes on to say that M. Bourget, though he may be a ridiculus mus, can ‘interest us, in spite of everything’; and he adds, lightly, that ‘M. Bourget has “done a murder very well indeed, with pleasing circumstances of good taste.”’ Here again, as we shall see, is characteristic levity in dealing with a serious accusation. Mr. Lang then defends Mr. James, and vows that he has written at least four admirable novels. I do not think that I denied Mr. James’s cleverness; I said, indeed, that he was very clever. My charge was that he was superfined to the point of indetermination, that he became feeble from supreme good taste and overweening catholicity. My critic, then, with 244 growing irritation, refers to Mr. Robert Louis Stevenson, a valuable reference, as we shall see. I called Mr. Stevenson ‘a hard-bound genius in posse’; by which I meant that he was a genius who had never expressed himself in creative work, although Mr. Lang and his friends have attached noisy importance to every one of his callow flights in literature. Mr. Lang refers me triumphantly to ‘Kidnapped’ and ‘Treasure Island,’ two excellent books for boys, and (as a proof that this cannot be the period when ‘all young men never have dreamed a dream or been children’)* to ‘A Child’s Garden of Verse.’ I am loath to say one word in deprecation of the praise Mr. Stevenson has received from his contemporaries; personally, he deserves it all for modest gentleness and persistent work; and the exaggeration of his performances would matter little if every such exaggeration did not mean the neglect of young writers at least equally deserving. The late Mr. Jefferies, who was a genius in esse, had to die miserably before the fact of his genius was discovered; and for every word of praise he gained, Mr. Stevenson received a thousand. Mr. Lang, in his reckless light-heartedness, has actually talked of the author of ‘Treasure Island’ in the same day with Walter Scott, but he has refrained from informing the reader of such trifling matters as the bodily theft of the young writer’s leading character, the one

* Of course I said nothing of the kind.

245 striking character in the book, viz., the blind man, out of the pages of ‘Barnaby Rudge.’ For the rest, ‘Treasure  Island,’ excellent as it is, is a story of ‘reminiscences’ of better stories; at its best, it is worthy (though that, indeed, is no little honour) of Mr. R. N. Ballantyne; but work so trivial can never justify the serious language used concerning it by nepotic criticism. The ‘Child’s Garland of Verse‘ is another matter; as poor and made-up a matter, from any child’s point of view, as one can well conceive; and yet it has been treated as the work of a poet. The late James Thomson, who died miserable and neglected only a little while ago in the casual ward of a London hospital, and who wrote poetry which will live, would never have died, perhaps, so miserably, if he had received one modicum of the encouragement vouchsafed to Mr. Stevenson. Mr. Lang goes on to say that the value of my criticism may be estimated by my casual references to writers of another age, and of more settled reputation. I call Théophile Gautier ‘insufferable’—Théophile, ‘the joy of youth.’ Heaven help the youth of whom this extraordinary stylist, who treats the flesh like a porkbutcher, and makes love like a cony of the burrows, is to be the joy! Since Mr. Lang has faith in the ‘golden book of spirit and sense, the Holy Writ of Beauty,’ I leave him to his religion. Again, I have said that Zola is a dullard au fond; and so I hold him to be in spite of all his genius (which I was among 246 the very first to praise), and so I hold every man to be who believes, au fond, that baseness and bestiality predominate in human life and character. I called this pessimism ‘dulness,’ and sought no harsher term.
     A criticism of Mr. Arnold as a poet would be out of place here. What I said of him dead I said long ago of him living. He was a poet when he wrote ‘Thyrsis ‘ and ‘The Strayed Reveller.’ He was no longer a poet when he perpetrated his verses in unrhymed Heinesque; when he compared the receding tide at Dover to the receding Sea of Faith, and could find nothing better to say of a sublime Humourist than that ‘the World smiled, and the smile was Heine.’ This may be criticism of life, but it is neither poetry nor even decent imagery. Au reste, Mr. Arnold forgot that Poetry, so far from being a dilettante’s opinion or ‘criticism’ of life, is the very Spirit of Life itself.
     We shall get into deep waters if we discuss in detail the correctness or incorrectness of my opinions on literature. They have one poor merit—they are at least my own. If Mr. Lang wishes to understand them (and no man is better able if he will try), he will learn that from my point of view literary accomplishments are nothing, and literary fame is less than nothing, when they do not imply that spiritual insight which I believe to be the one prerogative and proof of genius. I am not at all what Mr. Lang calls me, a virtuous person.I am 247 not at all what he implies me to be, a person who makes it a condition that anyone to be worthy of admiration must agree with a certain view of life and ethics. I find the spiritual insight I demand in Herbert Spencer as well as Dr. Martineau, in Walt Whitman as well as Lord Tennyson, in the late  Mr. Darwin as well as Faraday, in Byron as well as the late Mr. Longfellow, in Burns as well as Keble, in Mr. Bradlaugh as well as Mr. Gladstone. I do not find this insight in any thinker who has a retrograde, or a contemptuous, or a dilettante view of human nature. I sit at the feet of no bogus reputation, however magnificent; worship no idols, however bedizened by criticism; follow no particular religion, and assume no particular morality. My cardinal literary crime, up to the present moment, is that I do not worship Goethe; that I hold him to be, with certain qualifications, a tedious, a tiresome, and a dilettante writer; an opinion based, not upon ‘The Grand Coptha’ and his voluminous miscellanies, but on his popular masterpieces. Thus it is clear I am not a hero-worshipper, that I reverence no qualities in a writer or in a man but Truth and Goodness. All this, I am aware, is highly provincial, but I am a provincial, not a Cockney. If Mr. Andrew Lang can give as good reasons for his prepossessions as I can for every one of mine, he has my sincere congratulation. They will be far more valuable to him in a worldly point of view, since, unlike mine, they 248 will facilitate his philosophy of easy acquiescence, general discretion, and ‘jogging comfortably along.’
     Let us touch now in this connection on another question directly connected with the subject of the present article. There is no charge which so seriously affects the character of a contemporary, whether he be politician, poet, artist, or general man of letters, as that of Nepotism. Nepotism is congenital Trades Unionism; it is, in other words, an attempt in criticism at Over-legislation, or Providence made Easy—to those who believe in a literary Providence. Often, when proven, it has caused the fall of a great statesman; and I see no reason why it should not wreck the reputation of a small critic, or small body of critics. In literature it is a cruel crime, since it means the exaltation of mediocrity, and the perversion of the rising generation. Nepotism is the poison of which such men as Keats and Coleridge, as Richard Jefferies and James Thomson, miserably died. Read the life of Coleridge. Read the words which were written by the cliques of that great and good man up till a few months before his death, and note en passant that Blackwood’s Magazine, which labelled him at the height of his living achievement as a dotard and a driveller, honoured him on his decease a few months afterwards as the greatest of English writers! Nepotism, of course, does not kill strong men. Wordsworth, we know, survived its endless persecution. But the weak, too gentle man, the 249 struggling writer, the genius out of tune with the times, perishes by it daily. What comfort is it to him who starves for bread, who hungers for a little praise, who saddens for a kindly word, to be told that neglect and insult are the historic credentials of originality, and that he who does not humour and pander to the Cockney cliques must be persecuted by them? So long as little men band together, Cockneydom and Nepotism will always flourish. To be outside their barriers is to be a ‘provincial.’ To be within them, at the present moment, is to be a ‘Cockney.’ Pass the word round: Trades Unionism is rampant, and if the non-union man is not discharged, the unionists of criticism will strike en masse. We have to ask ourselves, therefore, if Cockneydom is to prevail in Literature, while it fails so miserably, as it has failed on every great occasion, in Politics, while it gains only a precarious and a doubtful victory in Art and even Science?
     It is, as many contend, a small affair, a miserable affair, and he who comes forward to discuss it will doubtless be set down, as every reformer has been set down, as cantankerous. What does it matter, after all, how a few light-hearted gentlemen combine to criticise or ignore their contemporaries? That ‘no man was ever written down, save by himself,’ is the truest of all sayings. But in the meantime? At the beginning of this century Wordsworth was busily ‘writing himself down’; 250 so even was the prodigious Goethe, if we may trust the Edinburgh Review, just before Carlyle rushed in to ‘write him up,’ and to find in ‘Wilhelm Meister’ not a tawdry didactic essay, but a ‘masterpiece.’ Is it not a little hard that mediocrity plus Nepotism should have all the cakes and ale, while originality plus dissent should be denied even a little bread? It is the weak, the unknown, the non-unionist, who suffer most by Cockneydom. If only for their sakes, it is worth inquiring how far literature is now suffering from the old disease.
     There appeared some little time ago in a leading monthly review an article which caused the initiated infinite amusement; so naïve, so outspoken, so fresh and yet florid, was its impudence, so specious was its pleading on behalf of the gospel of literary trades unionism, that more than one reader exclaimed: ‘Nepotism is at last to be vindicated as a literary religion; there are, after all, many gods, and Mr. Andrew Lang is their prophet.’ We all knew the chirpy Prophet well; admired him for his abundant cleverness, liked him for his easy good temper, even when we most wondered at his temerity. He was one among a group of light-hearted and feather-brained gentlemen who had come to the conclusion that literature is not literature, but high jinks; who had adopted the moral philosophy of Mr. Puff and the worldly wisdom of Mr. Dangle, and who were resolved to 251 exchange for the freedom of pure letters the trades unionism of a social club. Working out in practice a well-known theory of the great Balzac, that a dozen bold and unscrupulous writers might easily conquer criticism and occupy all its bastions, by religiously banding together and working for each other in and out of season, these gay fellows had for at least a dozen years been working hard for a common apotheosis; and the result had fully justified the great Frenchman’s theory. True, there had been moments of peril and hesitation; heartburnings and backslidings caused by the occasional obtrusion of individual vanity and selfishness; but on the whole the spiriting had been done so cunningly and so cleverly, the anonymous system of criticism had been utilized so judiciously, that the reading public—or at least the Cockney portion of it—had been converted to the belief that England was labouring under an absolute plethora of original genius—nay, even America had been invaded, and Boston itself had paraded in its newspapers and magazines the likenesses of the new gods of literature. Great little poets, great little novelists, great little essayists, great little critics and journalists, swarmed on the walls of our modern Babylon; helping each other up, praising each other’s prowess, singing each other’s songs, sharing with each other the hot ginger of ambition, and chuckling to one another over their adventurous feats of warfare. Well, it was magnificent, but it 252 was not war at all. It was the mere skirmishing of Nepotism. It needed only one piece of sound artillery to put all the skirmishers to rout, and, strangely enough, the Prophet of the new religion provided that same artillery, and by bungling turned it upon his own friends, when he recklessly opened fire from the masked battery of ‘Our Noble Selves.’*
     Let me now turn aside from the personal question to one broader and more cosmopolitan. My article on ‘The Young Man as Critic’ elicited, among many other comments, one in the editorial columns of the Daily Telegraph, in which the writer, while expressing sympathy with my views in general, objected that I was somewhat unjust to the higher work of my contemporaries. I therefore wrote and published a letter, under the title ‘Is Chivalry Still Possible?’ pointing out that the issue involved affected the whole fabric of modern society, and more particularly the moral and social status of the two sexes. The Cockney pessimist, I contended, had poisoned the wells of life and literature to such an extent that Chivalry, by which I implied the old-fashioned faith in female purity and goodness, was, like other religions, fast passing away. The discussion raged for some little time, but of the many letters which appeared on the subject, scarcely one dealt logically, or even instructedly,

* See the Fortnightly Review.
† See ante, the section under that head.

253 with my main contention. As usual, also, the subject had to be expurgated of all objectionable matter; for I had touched on what is known as the Great Social Evil, asserting that its existence was the shame of civilization. The remedy I suggested was a higher standard of purity on the part of men—a remedy which every Cockney regarded with supreme derision. I took the sentimental view—the provincial view—which still regards ‘seduction’ as the great factor of public immorality, and I proclaimed my sympathy with the martyred class.At this point I had to join issue with Mrs. Lynn  Linton, a lady who is intellectually an honour to her sex, but who has unfortunately sided with those who are sceptical as to the powers of womanhood. Mrs. Linton dubbed me roundly a ‘sentimentalist,’ and scouted the idea that women were to be ‘coddled’ and persuaded that they were superior beings. But my fair antagonist, like the rest, entirely lost sight of the premisses on which my argument had started—viz., that the true cause of feminine deterioration was masculine corruption, and that the real cause of masculine corruption was the omnipresent want of faith in spiritual, or in other words religious, ideals. I contended, moreover, and I again contend, that a man has no right to set up for a woman any personal standard of thought or conduct by which he is unable or unwilling to measure himself. If women are to be pure, I said, let men be pure too. I did not mean 254 by purity the negation of human passion. Unfortunately, in the artificial atmosphere of Cockneydom any man who professes to be a logician is liable to be set down as a Puritan—even a ‘prig’; and so I, who never had any virtue to speak of, who profess no particular personal piety, was taunted with being a virtuous and a pious person—a taunt which, if it had been applicable, would certainly have been complimentary. All I held was that men who are notoriously impure themselves have no right to persecute the individuals who minister to their impurity; that the man whose life is (as Goethe said of his walk) a series of falls, has no right to despise the woman whom he drags down with him. And yet, as everyone is aware, all the onus mali falls on the weaker sex—falls more especially on her whom I designated, after a Divine Ideal, the Magdalen. With curious want of logic, Mrs. Lynn Linton identified my Magdalen with the depraved, drunken, besotted creature of the streets and the gin-shops, battered by misery out of all human likeness; whereas the true Magdalen is the woman who, in spite of all physical degradation, brings her penitence, the spikenard and myrrh of her spiritual yearning, to the feet of a Redeemer. The modern pessimist contends that this Magdalen is an impossibility—that the true original is even as himself, evil because evil is of the very essence of her nature; and Mrs. Lynn Linton, a pure woman, a good woman, and a woman (I am sure) who is 255 generous and loving to a fault, sides herself, I am grieved to say, with the modern pessimist.
     Chivalry, as I understand it, is (1) the belief that the moral temperament of women is superior to that of men, and (2) that men should regulate their social conduct by the laws feminine insight has discovered.* Of course, this belief goes right in the face of modern Pessimism, not to say modern Science. A grim young pessimist confided to me only the other day his belief that there were no really ‘good’ women except ‘fools’—i.e., unintellectual persons; and this belief is very common. Science fortifies it by asserting that woman has a smaller brain, a narrower understanding, than man; that in her case the sexual evolution dwarfs and narrows the mental evolution at every stage. And Mrs. Linton, herself a woman whose intellectual gifts it would be difficult to parallel among men—a woman who is careful to tell us that she has fulfilled all feminine functions and duties—scoffs at the equality of the sexes with the very accomplishment which refutes her theory! Surely, some less disqualified person, not a woman of genius, should tell us that a woman unsexes herself when she

* I was delighted to note that Mr. Pinero, in a recent play, ‘The Profligate,’ upheld this view, but unfortunately he conciliated the Cockneys by his catastrophe, and made the pure woman, as usual, give her profligate a clean bill of domestic health. Reverse the positions, and how criticism would protest! Yet I cannot understand for the life of me how any average man can dare to pronounce judgment on any woman, however fallen.

256 measures herself against man, and demands from him equal rights and equal privileges! My own experience is that intellectual culture, so far from making women hard and rectangular, almost invariably deepens their insight and makes them more spiritual. If it occasionally renders them ‘masculine,’ it only does in the inverse ratio what it does to some men, by rendering them, in the bad sense, feminine. Intellectual culture, whether in man or woman, is the poorest and meanest of all accomplishments when it is not coincident with spiritual development. What is called culture is often only another word for narrow- mindedness, for dilettantism. If a human being does not become better and wiser through what he or she knows, the knowledge is practically worthless. Supernatural cleverness did not create in Goethe the enthusiasm of Humanity, but it created it in Schiller and Richter, who were infinitely less ‘clever,’ infinitely less ‘knowing.’
     Chivalry, however, is, as I have discovered, quite provincial. Imperial Cockneydom will have none of it. The Cockney, with Mr. Podsnap and the editor of Truth, puts all moral difficulties behind him; the discussion of the wrongs of women is ‘unsavoury’; the great journal which opened its columns to that discussion was ‘pandering to a morbid appetite, in order to increase its circulation.’ Elsewhere, in less discredited quarters, there is the same prurient tendency to ‘hush up’ those agitations which imperil 257 the moral status of men. If you vindicate Marion de Lorme, you asperse directly or indirectly the character of the Cardinal, with a possible innuendo concerning the King himself! The Cockney sentiment—a sentiment existing wherever Cockneydom prevails —appears to be, that open discussion is inexpedient, and that, if left alone, the world (with Mr. Lang) can ‘jog comfortably along.’ Of course, there is a possibility of such revelations being made as absolutely corrupt and poison the atmosphere they assume to clear; and this was notoriously exemplified a short time ago. ‘Unto the pure all things are pure’ is true enough as applied to grown men and women, whose purity is a matter of degree; but many things which are pure enough from our point of view are utterly impure from the point of view of a maiden or a child. ‘The young person’ is a fact, even in the exaggerated caricature of a Miss Podsnap; and her innocence is also a fact, with which even a publicist should reckon.
     Perhaps, when all is said and done, there is a dash of the ‘Cockney’ in us all; in all of us, at any rate, who have lived in the great cities, and known little of the solitudes. I myself can remember being very much shocked at Mr. Bradlaugh when he first uttered those diatribes which earned him so unenviable a name, and I could not at once realize that I was listening to the best music in the world, the voice of an honest man. Cockneyism, after all, is only self-righteousness 258 and self-conceit, using a flippant vocabulary to cover envy, hate, and all uncharitableness. Cockneyism, imperialized, is completed social and literary vanity, extending from a metropolitan centre to organizations all over the earth. Yet the gospel of ‘jogging comfortably along,’ the art of conventional veneer, the methods of Nepotism, have always been more or less sanctioned by Society, while the bold Provincialism which calls things by their true names, and is always over- ready for martyrdom, has never been, and never will be, either profitable or fashionable.

_____

259

IS THE MARRIAGE CONTRACT ETERNAL?

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261

 

IS THE MARRIAGE CONTRACT ETERNAL?

 

To the Editor of the ‘Daily Telegraph.’

     SIR,
         Mr. Gladstone’s ideas on the subject of ‘Marriage and Divorce,’ as set forth in the current number of the North American Review, have been familiar to us all ever since the publication of his paper on the same subject which appeared among the ‘Ecclesiastical Essays.’ For my own part, much as I dissent from the views expressed, I honour and reverence them, as symbolic of a perfectly stainless and beautiful wedded life. I know that every word they contain comes from the bottom of one of the kindest hearts beating on this planet, and in presuming to correct so apostolic a person as Mr. Gladstone, a man who belongs to the high-priesthood of human nature, I am restrained by no little reverence and affection. But I know well, as all sane men must know by this time, that this great leader would prefer to any half-hearted acquiescence a firm yet respectful contradiction. ‘Great is the truth, and it must 262 prevail,’ has been his watchword throughout his life,’ and he will forgive now, for the Truth’s sake, the denial of one who sympathizes, but who is not a disciple.
     Veiled in the golden cloud of a happy destiny, crowned with the lilies and roses of that perfect conjugal peace which Swedenborg justly thought the noblest blessing of human life, Mr. Gladstone, confident of his individual happiness, forgets the conditions of human nature. His appeal to Christian documents, his erudite citation of the Christian Fathers, to prove a point which can only be established by human Science, may be gently set aside for the present as irrelevant. To contend upon Biblical evidence that Marriage is a Contract for Eternal Life, never to be entered into with a new individual after bodily and spiritual separation from another, is not much more tenable than to hold carnal Love itself a thing to be avoided because the Apostle Paul rebuked the fleshly appetites and held matrimony only a little better than concupiscence. Surely that Protestantism which Mr. Gladstone loves so well decided long ago that human Conscience is superior to any constituted authority; and surely also Free-Thought, the heir male of Protestantism, has convinced us at last that Knowledge is antecedent to, and supreme over, the domination of any Documents. As I have elsewhere written, the man who says that a Book can corrupt his Soul ranks his Soul lower than a Book; 263 and even when a Book is wise beyond the possibility of corruption, it is poorer and feebler at best than the human inspiration out of which it came. Unless the sun of human intelligence, like the sun of Joshua, has stood and is standing still, the later inspiration must supplement the earlier, and the Bible of Humanity remain incomplete, until many another Book is written. Generations ago Milton added to it one luminous page—that in which, starting from Mr. Gladstone’s side of the compass, he vindicated the right of Divorce in the name of the Christian documents; and Milton, were he living now, had he learned what Man knows now, would have uttered truer, though not mightier, words in the name of human inspiration.
     For surely, the hour has come when the rights and needs of human nature are no longer to be decided by the straggling traditions, the vagrant and often feeble utterances, of those who were Martyrs and Apostles of Liberty once, but who, were they living now, and waging the same conflict against social science, would be regarded as fit subjects for Bedlam. Since the age of St. Athanasius we have had the age of St. Servetus, whom I, for my own part, value more highly than most saints in the Church’s Calendar. We have drained our cities, reformed our manners, invented soap as an adjunct to water, and become, if a little less credulous of documents, a great deal more tolerant to Inspiration. The Poet and the Philosopher may 264 now get in a word occasionally in the intervals of pastoral homilies and domiciliary exhortations. True, many of our discoveries, and a little even of our inspiration, are of comparatively small value. To find magnesium in the moon is perhaps not much more precious than to ascertain, with Panurge, that the moon is made of green cheese; while to establish the caudal ancestry of man is merely to corroborate the irony of Voltaire, and to verify the fanciful flights of Lord Monboddo. Even Goethe’s discovery of the intermaxillary bone, though precious to sheer scientists, has had very little effect on human knowledge. A larger and certainly less doubtful discovery is the quasi-legal one—that no contracts are really binding when the very nature of a contract is unintelligible to the contracting individuals; and since, pace Christian documents, the Marriage Contract is very seldom made in Heaven, and is very frequently entered into by practically irrational persons, the corollary of our discovery in this direction is—that such a Contract as Marriage should certainly not be eternal.
     To argue this part of the question thoroughly out would far transcend the limits of a brief letter. Far more important to the present issue is Mr. Gladstone’s extraordinary suggestion that the laxness of public opinion on the subject of the Marriage Contract is the main cause of the loose morals of Modern Society! Even here, up to a certain point, I am with the modern apostle. I believe true Marriage 265 to be in its very nature Divine, but that is only another way of saying that conjugal Love is of necessity eternal.Well has it been said that ‘he who loves once can never love again.’ Perfect love between man and woman means complete fusion of two beings into one immortal Soul. But when this Love comes—and it does come, since miracles are daily wrought—we do not talk any longer of a contract; it is abolished, it has vanished; for the parties to it have no separate identity—they are

‘Two souls with but a single thought,
Two hearts that beat as one.’

Unfortunately, however, the miracle, if it happens at all, only happens once in a life-time, and after, in the majority of cases, many episodes of dishallucination. Are we to be told, in the face of experience, of reason, of knowledge in ourselves and around us, that, because a man or a woman has blindly signed one contract, has reached out loving arms and clasped only corruption, has awakened from a dream of Heaven to the realizations of an Inferno, that he or she is to be precluded for ever from that moral redemption which Love alone can give? Through the imperfection of even our present civilization many individuals commit in lawful marriage an innocent and pitiful adultery. Is the sin so committed, by those who in thought are sinless, to be ratified, to be eternalized and christened ‘holy,’ by any so-called Law of God, by any belated Spectres 266 of the Apostles? Is eternal solitude, eternal isolation from all that makes life beautiful, eternal misery and shame, to be the portion of the creature who has been blinded, who has been hoodwinked, who has been charmed by Circe, poisoned treacherously by the Siren, polluted shamefully by the Satyr? If Christianity had taught this, it would have long ago been cold and dead as the stones of the Sepulchre. It has not taught, and it does not teach it. At its highest point of aspiration it embraces and uplifts, instead of corrupting, misleading, and destroying, poor human nature. It teaches us that the one Divine thing in Humanity is Love. It convinces us that when Love attains its apogee, it is not when stooping to sign a contract, but when soaring to an apotheosis.
     If the morals of modern society are lax (as Mr. Gladstone premises, and as may possibly be the case), it is precisely because we have elevated Marriage, as an institution, as a contract, and have lowered the standard of conjugal Love; it is because there has come, following Man’s conventional scorn of Woman, Woman’s revolt against and contempt for Man. I do not myself believe that Humanity has suffered in the least from the clear laws of Rationalism; I do believe that it has suffered, and is still suffering, from the miasma of moral Superstition. I have no respect whatever for the Marriage Contract, for any contract, per se. I want first to know the character of the contracting 267 parties, and their physical and spiritual relation to each other. When asthmatic January weds buxom May, I know the wedding-bells are being rung by the Devil. When two mistaken Souls embrace in the sanctuary, and discover sooner or later that Nature never meant them to mingle into one, I say, ‘Tear that blundering contract; put the poor creatures back to back, and let them march, far as the ends of earth, from one another.’ When one Soul turns apart in cold disdain, and another Soul vainly tries to draw it back, I think ‘all this is hopeless—say the sad word, Farewell.’ For unless a union of Souls is consecrated by Love, that union is an embrace of dead branches on two withering trees. Shall the light and the dew and the pure air fall on neither—and for ever? Set the trees asunder, and each may grow; the eglantine shall come to one and the woodbine to the other, and both may become green and glad in the garden of the World.
     True Marriage, indeed, is but the symbol (beautiful, like all symbols of things spiritual) of which the reality is Love. But reason teaches us, experience warns us, that there may be a symbol for things bodily as well as one for things spiritual. To the great majority of human beings the marriage contract means no more than a pledge to be kind and faithful, to resist temptation, to fulfil gently and affectionately the duties of the household. Such a contract is excellent, and 268 suffices for the needs of large classes of the community; but surely there is nothing in its nature to warrant the assumption that it cannot be broken, if by no slighter cause, at least by the death of the individual.Out of the Body it grew, and it perishes with the Body. Love had little to do with it, indeed nothing; for Love is of the Soul.
     I have no space, at least now, to traverse the whole ground of an argument which Mr. Gladstone carefully confines to the region of orthodox belief: The Dome of Heaven is wider than that of St. Peter’s or St. Paul’s, and the Bible of Humanity is broader even than the Old and New Testaments and the whole library of the Christian Fathers. It is sad, yet pitiful, in this nineteenth century, in the era of religious freedom and moral emancipation, to behold a great and good man gazing mildly backwards on the Fairylands of Palestine and Judæa, and in order to find some vanished star of Love, waving aside such cloudy apparitions as the countless wives and concubines of Solomon.Most strange of all it is to be told at the present period of social despair, that a Man or a Woman has only one solitary stake for happiness, and that, although the Bride is a Faustina, or the Bridegroom a Trimalchio-Cæsar, the Marriage Contract is nevertheless eternal!

                                                                                                                                   ROBERT BUCHANAN.

269

To the Editor of the ‘Daily Telegraph.’

     SIR,
         I regret for many reasons that your correspondent ‘Realist,’ in commenting upon the subject of Marriage and Divorce, has imparted into the discussion that polemical bias which so often sets honest arguers by the ears. This is no question of Œcumenical Councils, of Papal influences, of Infallibility, of Agnostic Cardinals; it can be debated, I think, without awakening the religious prejudices of any class of believers. There are many Roman Catholics sound to the core who are in sympathy with the intellectual progress of mankind; nay, there have been far-seeing and saintly souls even at the Vatican. The hope and moral salvation of the world lie now in the fusion of the creeds into one High Creed of Humanity, and the healing of the world lies in its thousand nameless saints. Whatever my creed may be, I bow my head before Father Damien and that noble priest—truly, priest of God—who during the recent trouble which threatened our whole social system stepped bravely forward and proved the one infallibility—that of Goodness. Let us not drift backward to these old charges and counter-charges, these battles of the books, these vilifications of one creed by another. It is not merely because he is a dogmatic Christian, but because he is a thinker 270 open to all the gentle influence of spiritual forces, that Mr. Gladstone has become the champion of Marriage as an Eternal Contract, never to be broken save at the risk of moral destruction. There can be no doubt that he would think as he thinks on this subject even if he were as free a rationalist as Mr. John Morley. It is his temperament, not merely his religion, which makes him regard the marriage bond as a holy thing. The documents in which he believes seem to verify his human instinct, that is all.
     The history of the Churches is one thing; the history of the Christian ideal is another. Baffled for centuries by the adamantine and indestructible logic framed by the Apostles, from John downwards—those Titans who scaled the very walls of Heaven, and only just failed in their attempt to set the Cross above the seat of Jehovah—Religion has at last resolved to seek its premises, not in any religious dogma, not in any metaphysical chimera, not in any crude physical discovery, but in the highest Science of all, that of human Sentiment. This Science —a product of all moral and religious inspiration—has established as one of its cardinal principles that nothing is really holy which conflicts either with the natural instincts or with the verified insight of human nature. It has rejected the dogma of Eternal Punishment because that dogma is repellent to common justice and common-sense, and it has rejected the no less dreary rationalistic 271 dogma that Man is only one of the beasts that perish, because that dogma, too, though promulgated so eagerly by the philosophic undertaker, is opposed at every point to common instinct. It utterly refuses also, in the light of social knowledge, to regard Marriage as invariably and essentially sacramental. To accept a sacrament of any kind a man or a woman must be purified, must be ‘born again.’ Beautiful indeed is Marriage when the recipients of its happiness can accept it as a sacrament. How many do so? For how many is to do so possible? To the great majority of human beings, Love is (as I said in my first letter) of the Body. Now the time is long past when the Science of Human Sentiment is content to assume that Man is a spiritual being only, without flesh and blood, without passions, without animal instincts, without those corporeal attributes which are often the beauty, and now and then the glory, of Humanity. By his mouth is he fed; by his appetites is his life conditioned. ‘Carnal, carnal!’ cried St. Simeon of the Pillar, and so cry the Saint’s emasculated modern descendants. But the very spirit of Christian theology asserts in its supremest sacrament that Flesh and Blood may be themselves divine. During the fierce asceticism of the early centuries of Christianity (see the great historian of Rationalism, passim) every human sentiment, every natural affection, was repudiated as carnal, as emanating from the Spirit of Evil. Fathers, to 272 prove their spirituality, dashed out the brains of their little children; sons, to prove their purity, turned in loathing from their own mothers. To be indifferent to every human tie, scornful of every human impulse, was to be certain of the hall-mark of Salvation.
     Well, that is all over. There is no danger to poor human nature in that direction. Science, which is only Religion veiled, has taught us to reverence the abodes of flesh in which we dwell, has proved to us that, so surely as we desecrate them, so surely shall the House of Life fall in ruins about our ears. We believe now that there is sweetness and wholesomeness in every human function, that neither Asceticism (which degraded the body of man) nor Virginity (which became a rock of wretchedness for women) is necessarily holy in itself. Purity, like Love, attains its apogee when the Soul fulfils, through the perfect organization of natural passions and instincts, the sane and lovely laws of life.
     As I write these words, there bounces in upon me, flushed and fluent, the ‘Wife and Mother’ who has told you, in resonant periods, that the highest bond of love is all nonsense, and that she is content, for her part, to take her husband as he is (a very fragile specimen of humanity), and to shake hands with him for ever at the gates of Death. Now this frank, honest, dish-and-all-swallowing matron pleases me well, as the rooks 273 in the rookery and the cattle in the fields please me. Right honestly she admits that the father of her children is a cleverer being than herself, and must, therefore, have plenty of rope to wander astray with.

‘ “Oh, naughty, naughty world!” she cries;
       “Men are a dear, immoral set!”
   And flirts her fan and winks her eyes,
       And gaily turns a pirouette.’

     She is, doubtless, one of those purely beautiful creatures who have made men what they are. Talking the other day with a friend of fair intelligence, I was assured by him that Man, being an intellectual being, was independent of the moral restrictions incumbent on Woman, who is not intellectual. Men of genius more particularly, my friend averred, were to be allowed to do exactly as they pleased. The question of the relative intelligence of men and women is too long to be discussed here; but in a remarkable work recently published—Dr. Campbell’s book on the ‘Causation of Disease’—the evidence will be found fairly weighed. I should say myself, from the little I have observed, that the average man is in no respect superior intellectually to the average woman, while the names of Mary Somerville, of Georges Sand, of Mrs. Browning, and of many others, are sufficient to establish that women of genius are tall and strong enough to stand beside men of genius now and for ever. But Genius—so called—is to me a very unknown 274 quantity. I deny that it has any privileges whatever, or that it can make any laws for itself outside the laws of love and sympathy by which the highest and the lowest live. So far as this very question of Marriage is concerned, our men and women of genius have often got into very serious trouble—not, I think, because they have erred in their interpretations of its sanctions, but because they have generally, in the face of public opinion, overlooked the contract and searched everywhere for the sacrament. Nothing proved so completely the necessity of a Science of human Sentiment, as opposed to the still lingering dogmas of unhuman spirituality, than the conduct of men like Shelley and women like Georges Sand. Twenty-fold intellectual power would not save them from condemnation. Unless Genius is a synonym for Goodness, it is a sham and a phantom; and Goodness, the Soul of human sentiment, believes that no intellectual power whatever can justify the shameless profanation of any one human function, the cruel rending asunder of any one human tie.
     The point upon which I am now touching is more important than it may seem at first sight. For many centuries Man has justified his infamies to Woman on the score of his intellectual superiority, while individual men of genius have considered themselves entitled—on the score of their flatulent ‘inspiration’—to base their pyramid of 275 greatness on broken hearts. Lacking the temper of hero-worship, and having little or no reverence for mere cleverness, I follow the records of certain famous lives with much the same feeling that I peruse the ‘Newgate Calendar,’ and I could, with little or no compunction, see Rousseau whipped at the cart’s tail, or Alexander Pope put in the pillory. The right of indiscriminate and limitless aberration claimed for men of genius is claimed, in most matters of conduct, for men generally. Common-sense recognises neither claim. If his artistic gift does not render a man saner and wiser it is a false counter, worth nothing. If the superior cleverness claimed by men over women does not enable them to keep their souls saner and their bodies purer, it is only the cleverness of the parrot or the ape. Physiologists and Sociologists are very fond of telling us that since there is a radical difference between the two sexes it is absurd to lay down laws of conduct for both alike. While the wife sits at home among her children, the husband is free to amuse himself at his own sweet will. It is indeed in the very nature of things that, to quote the vulgarism, he ‘may do as he darn pleases’! The majority of women accept this condition as inevitable. Even women of genius are found ready to proclaim the superior intellectual power, and the greater moral freedom of men. And thus, in the very land where a gray modern apostle proclaims that Marriage 276 is Eternal, we find the eternal parade of the two meanest of all privileges, that of Intelligence and that of Sex; we find that to be a little cleverer than one’s neighbour is only to be a little baser, a little fouler both in mind and appetite; we find that to be a man, hailed as the highest of creatures, is only to exist on the same plane of passions as the beast. No wonder the world is getting tired of the religious ideal, of the faith which recognises only one privilege—that of truth, of goodness, of purity, both personal and spiritual. No wonder the laughter echoes from club to club at the mere notion that the Matrimonial Farce, the humour of which consists of jokes about male hypocrisy and female toleration, is to be played on for ever!
     In asking whether Marriage is an Eternal Contract, we mean by the word ‘Eternal’ simply the period of moral consciousness.Whether or not we believe in eternal Life is neither here nor there. It matters little whether a Soul is married or single when it has been absorbed into such abstract states of practical nonentity as the ‘Immanence’ of Spinoza, the ‘Will’ of Schopenhauer, or the ‘Unconscious’ of Hartmann. Marriage, be it contract or sacrament, is a relation only possible to a state of individuality. The whole question, therefore, narrows itself thus, So long as we are conscious creatures, whether in this world or another, have we the right to marry a second time? I have answered that question in the 277 affirmative, while asserting that, when Marriage is really and absolutely sacramental, it must of its own nature be permanent. The fusion of two perfectly united Souls lasts for ever, survives all bodily conditions. This, I am aware, is regarded by the world in general, and by your merry ‘wife and mother’ in particular, as the very madness of sentimental optimism. Well, it is the optimism of the Science I arn upholding, that of human Sentiment. Just as surely as the moment of supreme insight comes with the sacrament of Death, touching our tearful eyelids with the euphrasy of glorious pain, so does the moment of supreme Marriage come with the sacrament of Love. There are men who can stand in a death-chamber and see only the stone mask and the shadow of mysterious dread. There are men who can come fresh from Belshazzar’s Feast—fresh from the very Handwriting on the Wall—and put on over their uncleanness and their impurity the white robes of the bridegroom. For such men Marriage may serve as a contract; it is all they need for self-protection, all Society needs for its security. To tie such creatures by a Sacrament is monstrous; they are incapable by very temperament of understanding its nature. But, over and above the lower strata of Humanity, there exist those who have seen Death transfigured and known Love unveiled; men and women, many of them, who are stained and fallen, who have experienced endless dishallucinations, who have 278 been in revolt against the conventions— nay, even against the very sanctities—of Society. These men know that Love, like Death, comes to the Soul but once; that Love and Death may come hand in hand, that once, together. Far, far more beautiful than the sight of a Shelley standing on Harriet Westbrook’s grave, or running from his next wife’s chamber to follow the frisky heels of homebred or foreign ladies, is the picture of poor Byron, besmirched with his own mad sensuality from head to foot, yet still dreaming of the sacrament, the sublime moment, the eternal passion, which never came. The old couple sitting side by side and crooning ‘John Anderson, my Joe,’ as gentle Death opens its arms to receive them, are diviner still. In a few short hours* all England will be looking reverently on while the body of Robert Browning is committed to its native dust. The crown and glory of that great man’s life was its consecration to one serene and sacramental passion. Through all these years of loneliness, amid literary detraction or coterie fume and incense, in the midst of the busy world or out of it, in the silence of his own chamber, Browning listened to that immortal voice which sings of eternal love:

‘O, lyric Love, half angel and half bird,
And all a wonder and a wild desire!’

Thus, for the instruction and beatification of humanity, the supremely great remained the

* Written just after Browning’s death.

279 supremely good, and in his great song his great goodness, completed in a transfiguration of Love and Death, eternally survives. It is better, perhaps, even in these days of unbelief, to listen to the song of the poet than to the purr of the contented Matron, who looks cheerfully forward to the inevitable moment of saying, ‘Good-bye, old fellow; we’ve got along very comfortably on the whole, and we part on the best of terms.’ Poor little Matron!Does she really live, or is she only a male cynic masquerading in a petticoat? If she lives, I see no reason why she should not be very happy. The legal contract was made for her, and suits her admirably. I see no reason, moreover, why she should not, if occasion offers, renew it just as often as she pleases. The Sacrament of Love is another thing.

                                                                                                                                     ROBERT BUCHANAN.

 

NOTE ON THE PRECEDING.

MR. GLADSTONE’S ECCLESIASTICAL ESSAYS.*

Essay-writing appears to be a lost art, or at least an art in which few people now take any interest, except those scattered individuals to whom the Quarterly and Edinburgh and other old-fashioned reviews still form an inspiration. Instead

* ‘Gleanings of Past Years, 1851—1875,’ by the Right Hon. W. E. Gladstone, M.P. Ecclesiastical, vols. v. and vi. London: Murray.—

280 of the essay proper, with its air of superhuman insight, its rapid generalizations, its bold survey of its subject as of mankind ‘from China to Peru,’ we get now the fragments of Experts, on whom there sits that priggish profession of infallibility which is even more irritating, sometimes, than the once popular assumption of omniscience. I confess frankly that I miss the old style, of which Johnson was the forerunner, and Macaulay the supreme and imperial outcome. It was royal in its massive impudence, splendid in its glorious marshallings of fact and fiction, viewy, broad, blatant, and very entertaining. Now, the new style, whatever its other merits, is not so entertaining. It is far too correct, microscopic, technical, and neglectful of what we may call the grand manner of English prose. Your old-fashioned essayist might be, and generally was, a humbug, knowing little of details, smelling the paper-knife when he was dealing with a book, scornful of truth when he was dealing with things and men; but what ground he managed to cover! how fine was his verisimilitude! how well oiled his periods! how fluent his general eloquence! how brilliant his particular flourishes of rhetoric! how bright his occasional flashes of wit! Add to this, that he did his best to make his essay exhaustive of the subject. When Macaulay had done with Johnson and Boswell, the topic was squeezed dry; there was no necessity even to go back to Boswell’s 281 life. The reader, omniscient like the critic, knew all about it! When Jeffrey had disposed of Wordsworth, Wordsworth was sentenced; the reader knew all about him, and there was an end. When so much knowledge could be gained at secondhand, it was quite unnecessary to go to the fountain-heads. Of course it was all very stupid, very blatant, and very unjust; but on the other hand it was so thoroughly judicial! Nowadays we get only little bits of literary special pleadings, instead of grand, swinging, overpowering summings-up.
     Mr. Gladstone’s manner, in these so-called ‘Ecclesiastical Essays,’ is, to my thinking, a compromise between the old style and the new. Like the old style, verbose, rotund, fluent, and at times omniscient; like the new style, careful,  watchful, accurate, and zealous of correction. Born under the protection of the old gods of Edinburgh and Albemarle Street, Mr. Gladstone has lived long enough to recognise the later pantheon of scientists, experts, and professional doctrinaires. As the world well knows, he is a man of much knowledge and many gifts, with a good deal of the lost grand manner, modulated by a fine modern feeling for truth and verification. In an omniscient generation, like that of our grandfathers, there would have been no question of his critical greatness; he would have sat upon the Olympian hill of criticism, and felt the world tremble at his nod. In a 282 generation like the present, divided between moods of paralyzing caution and states of total nescience, his hand is weakened, and his influence almost doubtful. He would fain pronounce judgments, but he is too conscientious; he would limit himself to special pleading, but as a special pleader he is very roundabout indeed. Seen as he here appears before us, in half a dozen representative essays, he strikes me as a writer of eager authoritativeness, who, under happier circumstances, would have made a first-class Bishop, but who suffers peculiar discomfort from being compelled to inhale the too clear atmosphere of modern advanced ideas.
     Perhaps the most characteristic of these Essays is the one on ‘The Bill for Divorce,’ reprinted from the Quarterly Review of 1857. It commences in the old way, with a lordly outlook on Creation and the period in general. ‘The age in which we live claims, and in some respects deserves, the praise of being active, prudent, and practical: active in the endeavour to detect evils, prudent in being content with limited remedies, and practical in choosing them according to effectiveness rather than to the canons of ideology,’ etc., etc. ‘Canons of ideology’ is good, even if it means nothing. We have not read much further before we know what side the writer is on; that he is, like all the omniscient school, on the side of authority and the powers that be. Very familiar indeed are the phrases—‘the fences which enclose the sacred 283 precinct’ (Marriage), ‘general decay of the spirit of traditionary discipline,’ ‘the relaxed tone of modern society.’ Mr. Gladstone, like a very Bishop, asseverates that marriage is a life-long compact, ‘according to the Holy Scripture,’ which may sometimes be put in abeyance by the separation of a couple, but which can never be rightfully dissolved, so as to set them free, during their lives, to unite with other persons. As might be expected, his arguments are almost entirely Scriptural, though he is not above passing references to the Greeks of Homer, to Athenæus, and even to Gibbon. Nothing could be more idle than his examination of those passages in the New Testament which touch upon the question of Marriage and Divorce, unless, perhaps, that other portion of his essays where he cross-examines the mediæval authorities and Church dignitaries. I have no concern here with his argument, which it is no business of mine either to support or refute; but surely no one not saturated with the spirit of the Old Church could talk in this way on so solemn a topic, quite oblivious of the fact that no such topic can be settled without an occasional reference to Science, to Philosophy, and to Physiology. In some places, notably where he alludes to the ‘adamantine laws of grammar,’ and examines a Greek abstraction with the solemnity of a pedant, Mr. Gladstone almost passes the limits of human patience. He himself talks of arguments of ‘that deplorably 284 fatuous description which almost makes a man despair of his age, if not of the whole future of his kind.’ Conceive the man who could despair of his age, not to speak of ‘the whole future of his kind,’ because doctors and divines differ as to the nature of Marriage, and its character as a ‘Sacrament’! With quite forensic fervour Mr. Gladstone tells of the ‘pestilent ideas’ of Milton. ‘That for which he (Milton) pleads is a license of divorce for aversion or incompatibility; the wildest libertine, the veriest Mormon, could not devise words more conformable to his ideas, if, indeed, we are just to the Mormon sages in assuming that they alienate as freely as they acquire!’
     The other essays in the volume are on such themes as ‘The Functions of Laymen in the Church,’ ‘The Church of England and Ritualism,’ ‘Ward’s Ideal of a Christian Church,’ and ‘On the Royal Supremacy.’ They are none of them, perhaps, quite so earnest or quite so wrong as the essay on the ‘Bill for Divorce’; but they all evince the same confusion of the old style and the new. They are all conscientious, careful, ornate, and fairly liberal of view. They are all old- fashioned in the sense of a dictatorial manner and a lost style; all new-fashioned in the sense of intellectual uneasiness and indisputable zeal for truth. But they are none of them above the average episcopal or clerical intellect; they none of them possess the 285 higher sort of literary or spiritual insight. If I knew Mr. Gladstone by these Essays alone, I should think him a very able and zealous, but by no means extraordinary, person; knowing him, as I do, as one of the most prominent political figures of the day, I can now clearly understand why he has become the great disorganizing force, the most disturbing and contradictory influence, of the Liberal Party.

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