Opinions Of The Young Fogey by Israel Zangwill

Story type: Essay

When I first met the Young Fogey I thought him very brilliant. His philosophical pose, too, of combining the caution of age with the daring of youth was fascinating. “I have evolved,” he used to say. “Once I would not attach sanctity to ideas because they were old: now I attach no sanctity to ideas because they are new.” But I soon discovered that the Young Fogey was one of that large class of persons who do not evolve but revolve, whose brilliancy is that of the fixed star. They give out arrestive thoughts, and you are vastly impressed, but on longer acquaintance, or on returning to them after an interval, you find that it is they who have been arrested by their thoughts. Such persons do not last you more than one or two years: they require a succession of new audiences to keep up their reputation, like a witty play, which all the world goes to see in turn, but which it would be deucedly dull to see night after night, year in, year out. The cleverest of them know this need of new ears, and of making provincial and foreign tours when they have exhausted London. But when the Young Fogey chanced upon me drinking lager beer at the Austrian Derby, during a tedious interval between the races, he was probably confused by the distance from Piccadilly into a sense of originality, and perceiving a couple of books on my table: “What! do you read the books you review?” he asked in feigned astonishment; adding, with an impromptu air, “I always write the books I review. Criticism of other people is waste of time. An artist who is worth his salt knows his value better than anybody else; and an artist who is not worth his salt is not worth your criticism, and will learn nothing from it in any case. There is immeasurably too much book-making, as it is.”

“But criticism tends to keep down book-making,” I observed meekly.

“Quite the contrary. Criticism encourages it. Most books are not read. Who can possibly read ninety-nine of the worst hundred books published every week? If they were not even criticised, the writers would shut up their inkstands. Publicity is their aim, but publication does not supply it. Most publishers are rather privateers. It is the critics who supply fame to fools. It’s even worse with plays. Why should every trumpery farce that can get itself badly produced by a moneyless manager who decamps the day after, be allotted a space in every morning, evening, and weekly newspaper, Fame blowing simultaneously a hundred trumps? My greatest book never got half as much notice as a wretched little curtain-raiser which took me a morning to knock off, and the news of which was flashed from China to Peru immediately, whereas the eulogies of my book were dribbled out in monthly instalments, and belated testimonials kept straggling in long after its successor had been published. In those days I belonged to a Press-cutting Agency, and I discovered that–to measure Fame by the square inch–you may get many more yards of reputation by the most flippant playlet than by your literary magnum opus; to say nothing of the pictures and interviews of your actors and actresses. That your silliest player–especially if it be a pretty she–gets photographed in the papers sixteen times to your once, goes without saying. The only real recipe for Fame nowadays is to be a pretty girl and exhibit yourself publicly. The modern editor has got it into the paste-brush he calls his head that the public is infinitely greedy for the minutest theatrical details. It is really too idiotic, this fuss over our parrots. If there were only plays for them to talk! The decline of the British drama—-“

“By which you mean that they decline your plays,” I interrupted.

“Granted,” said the Young Fogey; “but even when they give us Shakespeare, they play the patron, and literary critics argue deferentially with them as to the treatment of the text, and beg them not to put William’s head under the pump. Did you see that monumental headline in the ‘Daily Chronicle,’ the paper that poses as the organ of sweetness and light?–

‘Henry IV. At The Haymarket.’

“So Mr. Tree ‘created’ Falstaff in more than the conventional sense of that arrogant stage-verb! Act? Anybody can act! We’re all acting, always, in every phase of our social life. Every back drawing-room is a theatre royal. A child can act, and the ‘infant phenomenon’ cannot be distinguished from the leading lady or gentleman except by size. But no child ever wrote a play. Acting is the lowest of the arts. And even if it were the highest, it would be brought low again by its infinite self-repetition. Imagine playing one part for a season, a year, a decade. Actors are not even parrots–they are automatic puppets that move their limbs in fixed fashions, and make squeaking sounds at prescribed moments. There was a French Minister of Education who drew up a most rigid Time-Code, which hung in his bureau; and it was the joy of his life to take out his watch and say ‘Half-past three! Ha! every boy in France is now learning geography’; or, ‘A quarter to twelve! Ha! every French schoolgirl is now writing in a copy-book.’ I have the same sort of feeling about my actor-acquaintances. ‘Half-past nine? Ah! What is Herbert doing? He is taking poison.’ ‘A quarter to eleven! Dear me! Rose is crawling under a table.’

“And these creatures want every privilege, forsooth! Fame, gold, champagne, the best society and the worst. To be of Bohemia and Belgravia, to make the best of both worlds. If things don’t mend, to sit in a stall will soon become an index of imbecility. It will be like being seen at the Academy.

“And, talking of the Academy, did ever any more infantile idea enter the human brain than that a couple of thousand pictures worth seeing can be painted every year? Why, since the beginning of the world there haven’t been two thousand pictures painted worth seeing! Imagine two thousand manuscript novels being scattered around on two thousand desks, a shilling admission! Do we get one good novel a year? Scarcely. One good symphony or opera? Of course not. Then why expect to get a picture worth hanging? And every picture should hang by itself–it’s an artistic entity, self-complete. To crowd it among a lot of others is like conducting an orchestra every instrument of which is playing a different tune. ‘T isn’t even as if the poor painters got anything out of the show. People won’t buy pictures–prices are monstrously inflated to an artificial point: the artists would take less, only they don’t like to come down from their pedestal, and so they starve up there in dignity. Artists have played a foolish game. They have gone nap on gentility and high prices, and gentility has failed them.

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“When great prices are given for pictures, it is generally with a view to selling them again: a dubious compliment to the artist. No man gets a thousand pounds’ worth of pure art joy out of any picture. He can spend his thousand pounds to much more of aesthetic advantage. But there is no inherent sacredness in prices. A picture is worth only what it will fetch. Let our artists be satisfied with a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work, like any other species of craftsman. After all, they were all craftsmen–Michael Angelo, Titian, Donatello, Canova–wall-decorators, door-painters, ceiling-colourers, tomb-builders, stone-masons, working to contract and to measure. When our artists are content with the pay of manual labourers and the joy of art, taste may be stimulated in the masses, and original work be going at the price of lithographs. Why shouldn’t artists even paint public-house signs? Beer being the national religion, why shouldn’t it find adequate expression in Art?

“Not that it matters much whether our artists live or die,–Art seems about over. It seems to be an accident that happened once or twice in the Past,–among the Greeks, at the Renaissance, in Spain, in Holland,–which no amount of art-schools and art-publications can coax back. To found Academies and R.A.-ships is to spur a dead horse. Look at the Greek sculptures, look at the Italian pictures, and ask yourself what we have to put beside them after all our endless exhibitions! Modern improvements! Plein air! Bah! Where can you show me more ‘atmosphere’ than in Carpaccio, or in Jacques d’Arthois. Impressionism? Look at that snow-effect by old Van Valckenborch here! But we do the modern, the contemporary, you cry—-“

“No, I don’t,” I interrupted feebly, more to let him take breath than for the jest’s sake. But he ignored the opportunity.

“But they’ve all done the contemporary! Only their contemporary, not yours. The fallacy almost amounts to an Irish bull. The ancients were the moderns–to themselves–just as we shall be the ancients to our successors. The Renaissance people all did contemporary work, under pretence of doing historical: contemporary types for Madonnas, local landscapes for Oriental scenery, up-to-date dresses for New Testament episodes, portraits of their patrons for patron-saints and apostles. Did you ever see a more modern figure than Tintoretto’s portrait of himself, the elderly man in a frock-coat who looks on at his own wonderful picture of St. Mark descending to rescue a Christian slave? An Academician or a new English Art Clubbite who had done only one tiny corner of this picture would so swell as to the head that his laurel-wreath wouldn’t fit him any longer. There’s no ambition nowadays–Degas, Whistler, yes. But for the rest–dwarfs. Modern improvements indeed! Science may improve, but not art. Art, like religion, is an absolute in life–nobody will ever paint better than Velasquez, write better than Shakespeare, or pray better than the Psalmist. Science is the variable–always on the go; and when we think of progress it is just as well that we foolishly keep our eye on the machine-room.”

“Won’t you have a drink?” I broke in, seizing the first opportunity.

“Thanks! What’s that book?”

“‘Olympia’s Journal’! It’s all about Olympia’s husband, she married him to write about him–he was such ‘good copy.’”

I had unchained a torrent. “Novelists ought never to be introduced into novels,” burst forth the Young Fogey. “The subject-matter of novelists is real normal life, and novelists are neither real nor normal. They are monsters whose function in life is to observe other people’s lives. For one novelist to make copy of another is like cannibalism.

“If the psychology of the novelist, who is the student of other people’s psychology, is to be studied, where are you to stop? Why not study the peculiarities of the novelist who studies the novelist, of the reflector of life who reflects the reflector of life–nay, of the critic who reflects upon the reflection of the reflector? This modern mania for picking ourselves to pieces is only the old childish desire ‘to see the wheels go wound.’ People were much better in the old days when they didn’t bother so much how their wheels went round. I always sympathised with the indignant old lady who came to my schoolmaster when our class began to take up physiology, and protested that she wasn’t going to have her boy learn what was in his inside–it was indecent. People are not made healthier by knowing how their functions work; animals never study physiology, and plants blossom without knowing anything at all about anything. Knowledge only generates a morbid fussiness, as with Mr. Jerome’s celebrated Cockney who discovered himself to be possessed of every ailment in the medical dictionary except housemaid’s knee. And to learn what is in your mental inside is equally indecent and equally discomposing. ‘I have never thought about thinking,’ said the wise Goethe. No one can go through a treatise on insanity and come out as sane as he started. And there is an even more insidious way in which this human vivisection operates for evil. People now forgive their friends–they call their eccentricities ‘pathological,’ and endure instead of discouraging them. I had two letters this very morning. ‘Poor A!’ said B.: ‘his vanity has ceased to offend me–I feel it is pathological.’ ‘Poor B!’ said A.: ‘it is impossible to resent his egotism–it is simply pathological.’

“This scientific Christianity wouldn’t be so bad if people didn’t condone their own faults, too. They can’t get up early–it’s heredity. The early bird who caught the worm must have had a grandparent who stayed out late. Are they lazy? Their uncle was a country parson. They are like the man who refused to give charity because he had such expensive tastes. To acquiesce in your own weaknesses because they are hereditary, without making an effort to eradicate them, is bad science as well as bad morals. Among the items given you by heredity do not forget the potentiality of self-improvement by inward struggle. No one says, ‘I can’t speak French, and I sha’n’t try, because my father was an illiterate Irishman.’ Self-knowledge tends to weaken self-discipline, foster self-indulgence, and corrode character.”

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“But what of the old Greek maxim ‘Know thyself’?”

“Old Greek sophistry! Knowing requires a subject to know and an object to be known. You can’t be subject and object too–introspection is a self-contradiction. Hasn’t every one noticed that everybody else fails to discover himself in a novel or a sermon, though his lineaments are painted down to the minutest details of wart and mole? And it’s quite natural. Every soul is to itself the centre of the universe–through which the infinite panorama passes; nothing exists but in relation to it: to its standards of beauty, of right and wrong, of humour, of admiration, everything is brought. There’s no man so low or so ridiculous but he finds somebody else more so, and the London street-boy who sneers at the long-haired poet is exalted to a sense of superiority. I once met a human monstrosity–hunch-backed, cross-eyed, palsied, and wooden-legged. My soul sickened with pity, but his face brightened in a smile of contempt and his cross-eyes danced with glee. I appealed to his sense of the ridiculous. Listen to the comments of people upon one another after a party, and confess that a coterie is often but a mutual contempt society. That is what makes life livable–every living creature is an amused eye upon the universe. Terence said as much long ago. We amuse one another, and exist to gratify one another’s sense of superiority, like the islanders who live by taking in one another’s washing. It will be a thousand pities if the spread of travelling removes the mutual superiorities of Englishmen and Frenchmen, Chinamen and Hindoos. I went to a dinner-party the other day. The host and hostess were impossible–like spiteful studies by Thackeray caricatured by Dickens. Yet there were they arrogating to themselves every privilege of judgment and jurisdiction that the most fashionable peers or the sublimest souls could claim; to their own minds the arbiters of elegance, the patrons of the arts, the flagellators of vice and snobbery, the gracious laudators of virtue, the easy fomenters of scandal.

“Prithee, was ever one of us capable of not lecturing on ethics or not preaching a sermon? Did not Sir Barnes Newcome lecture on the Family? Do we not all hold forth on the condition of the poor, the morality of the mining-market; the inferior ethics of the coloured races, and a hundred other lofty topics, warming our coat-tails at the glow of our own virtue? ‘T is the fault of language which enables arrant scoundrels to use fine words that they have never felt. Humility, self-sacrifice, noble-mindedness, are phrases easily picked up by people for whom their only meaning is in the dictionary, and who know it is the correct thing to admire them. They are like students of chemistry who babble of H2SO4 and NH3 by book without ever having seen a laboratory or a retort, or tone-deaf people raving over Beethoven. And these lip-servants of virtue are unconscious that they have never known the real thing. Every discussion between civilised persons presupposes moral perfection all round–a common elevated platform from which one surveys the age and its problems, and considers how to bring the world at large up to one’s own level. You cannot discuss anything with a person who has ever been publicly imperfect–at any point you may tread on his corns. Has he been bankrupt? The slightest reference to honesty, finance, or business may seem an insult. Has he figured in the Divorce Court? How are you to talk about the last new play without seeming personal? This explains why exposed persons are cut: they have made conversation impossible by cutting away the common ground of it, the hypothesis of perfection. Even with persons who have merely lost relatives one has to be careful to avoid references to mortality. The complete diner-out has to be equipped with a knowledge of his fellows to the third and fourth generation, so as to avoid giving offence. To say that late marriages are a mistake or second marriages a folly may be to make enemies for life. Which, by the way, is absurd: all conversation should be regarded as privileged and impersonal. ‘T is brain meeting brain, not foot treading gingerly among irrelevant personal considerations. And just as we are all willing to preach, we are all willing to be preached at–it gives us such an opportunity of gauging the preacher’s morality and ability. The Scotch peasants who denounce their meenister’s orthodoxy are an extreme case, but if we were not really judging our judges we should go to opposition churches. What we demand from preaching–as from newspapers–is an echo of our own voices, and when the preacher or the newspaper leads it is only by pretending to follow. Opportunity makes the politician. Watch the crowd streaming out of church after a sermon. Do they wear an air of edification or humiliation? Are they bowed down with the consciousness of their backslidings? No: they are aesthetes come from a literary and oratorical performance. They are not thinking of themselves at all, but of the quality of the sermon. Yes, around each of us the world turns, and each soul is the hub of the universe. Popular suffrage is the recognition of this great fact: not one of us but is competent to arrange the affairs of the country. Every man Jack and woman Jill is a standard, a test, an imperial weight and measure, and the universe must endure our verdict as it goes round us. To expect this central standard to turn back on itself and become aware of its own defects and distortions is like expecting a pair of scales to weigh itself; or–more absurd still–expecting a false pair of scales to weigh itself truly. ‘All men think all men mortal but themselves,’ and so all men find all men wanting except themselves. If they ever for a moment suspect that they are not perfect–whether the suspicion leak in through reflection or reprobation–‘t is but for a moment. We cannot live on bad terms with ourselves, nor with a consciousness which doubts and despises us–whether it be our own consciousness or a friend’s. Our nature throws up earthworks against a contemptuous opinion. Just as a bodily wound is repaired by the wonderful normal processes of circulation and nutrition, so our self-love tends to repair the wounds of the soul. We feel that even if we are not perfect, we are as perfect as possible under the circumstances. If so-and-so and so-and-so had had to go through our sufferings or our temptations, he or she would have acted no better. And even in our wildest remorse we are self-satisfied with our self-dissatisfaction. Nor is this need of our nature for self-reconcilement wholly without spiritual significance. It points to an incurable morality in the human soul, and to the truth that if we mainly use our ideals to condemn other people by, we are bound to condemn ourselves by them if we can once be got to perceive that we have violated them ourselves, though we at once seek peace in extenuating circumstances. Peace of mind is the homage which vice pays to virtue. Nor, though it matters immensely to society what ideals people have, and that they have the right ones, to the people themselves it matters only that they have ideals, right or wrong. Where there is honour among thieves, a thief may have a fine sense of self-respect.”

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“Plato agrees with you,” said I. “He points out that if thieves were utter scoundrels they could not act in concert.”

“Ah!” said the Young Fogey, “Plato was a great thinker. In truth, the only incorrigible rogue is he who is devoid of ideals, who has allowed his ethical nature to disintegrate. Such a one ceases to be a person. He has lost the integrating factor–the moral–which binds human personality together. He is a mere aggregation of random impulses. The last stage of moral decay is impersonality. Impersonality sums up ‘the daughters of joy,’ with their indifference to aught but the moment.

“But it is wonderful what shreds of personality, what tags and rags of the ideal, the most degraded may retain. Was there ever a soul that did not think some one action beneath its dignity? An absolutely unscrupulous person is a contradiction in terms. To be unscrupulous were to cease to be a person, to have become a bundle of instincts and impulses. But no one is so good or so bad as he appears. The chronicler of the ‘Book of Snobs’ was himself a bit of a snob, and the poet who sought for the spiritual where Thackeray had looked for the snobbish, who bade us note

“All the world’s coarse thumb
And finger failed to plumb,
So passed in making up the main account;
All instincts immature,
All purposes unsure,
That weighed not as his work, yet swelled the man’s amount,

was almost as weak as the satirist in that respect for titles and riches which is the veritable ‘last infirmity of noble minds.’

“Still, Browning’s is the truer view of human life, and till we see our neighbours as Omniscience sees them, our kindest and cruellest estimates will be equally wide of the mark.

“And conversely, unless you develop a personality, you cannot be moral, or even immoral. You can be social or anti-social–that is, your actions can make for the good or the ill of society. But moral or immoral it is not given to everybody to be. For I do not agree with those who would substitute social and anti-social for those ancient adjectives. We are concerned with the quality of acts as well as with their effects, with the soul as well as its environment. And it takes a real live soul to do good or evil. That is the point of Mr. Kipling’s Tomlinson–a mere bundle of hearsays–who could win neither hell nor heaven. It is also the teaching of Ibsen. You must not shrink from wrong because you are told it is wrong, but because you see it is wrong. But few people can expect to develop a personality of their own. Current morality is the automatic application of misunderstood principles. And so it must always be. For the function of the average man is to obey. Was it not Napoleon who said that men are meant either to lead or to obey, and those who can do neither should be killed off? Ethics is the conscience of the best regulating the conduct of the worst. Hence there are no immutable rules of morality:

“For the wildest dreams of Kew are the facts of Khatmandoo,
And the crimes of Clapham chaste at Martaban.

But there are immutable principles. To spit in a guest’s face is with some savage tribes a mark of respect. But this does not invalidate the principle that to guests should be shown courtesy. Rules vary with time and place, principles are eternal; and even if unmentionable things are done in Africa and Polynesia, if ‘the dark places of the earth are full of cruelty,’ that does not invalidate the principles of morality, as our modern blood-and-thunder young man affects to believe. For that the principles of right and justice have not yet been discovered in barbarous countries no more destroys their universality and legitimacy than the principles of the differential calculus are affected by the primitive practice of counting on the fingers. And while the ethical geniuses–the senior wranglers of the soul–are groping towards further truths and finer shades of feeling, deeper reaches of pity and subtler perceptions of justice, the rank and file and the wooden spoons must needs apply the old ethics, even against the new teachers themselves. Every truth has to fight for recognition, to prove itself not a lie. The brilliant and impatient young men who scoff at conventions because the people who hold them are unreal–not persons, feeling and passing moral truths through their own soul, but parrots–forget that just because the people are unreal, their maxims are real; that they do not represent the people who mouth them, but the great moralists and thinkers behind. Against the brilliant rushlights of contemporary cleverness shine the stars of the ages. ‘T is the immemorial mistake of iconoclasts–even granted they are taller than their fellow-men–to be ever conscious of the extra inches, instead of the common feet. Nevertheless” (and here the Young Fogey put on his most judicial manner) “the extra inches must tell. For because real ethics resides not in rules but in principles, obedience to the letter may mean falsity to the spirit, if the circumstances that dictated the rules have changed. This is not casuistry. ‘T is a concept not to be found in Panaetius or Cicero or the Jesuit Fathers. It means that we are not to wear our boyhood’s waistcoats, but to be measured for manhood’s. Tight-lacing is bad for the spiritual circulation. ‘Get rid of the Hebrew old clo’, cried that curious Carlyle, the chief dealer in them. Amen, say I: but do not let us therefore go naked. And since we have stumbled upon ‘Sartor Resartus,’ permit me a comparison in keeping. I once saw a tailor measuring the boys in a charity school. He drew a chalk line five feet up a wall, and dividing the upper part of the line by horizontal chalk-marks, stood the boys beside it, one after another, and according to the chalk-mark which the crown of the unfortunate creature’s head grazed, Master Snip called out ‘Fours,’ ‘Ones,’ ‘Fives.’ Fat boys or lean boys, big-bodied or big-legged, narrow-chested or broad-shouldered, ‘t was all ones–or twos–to him. Did they agree in height, the same clothes–tight or loose–for all! Thus is it with our moral maxims. Genius or goose, saint or sinner–your head to the chalk-mark! And rightly. When one has to deal with great masses one cannot consider little details. The principles of morality must be broad and simple, and the world is right to apply them sternly and undiscriminatingly. The general cannot consider the peculiarities of a particular soldier, though the corporal of the regiment may make allowances for him. And so with breaches of morals. The world at large should condemn; but the private friends, who know the circumstances in every petty involution, who know the temptations and the extenuating factors, should form as it were a court of appeal. If they elected to stand by the offender, the world at large should reconsider its verdict. This is what practically took place in the George Eliot and Lewes instance. Weighed, not by the steelyard of general principle, but by the delicate chemical balance of special detail, they were not found wanting. The Magna Charta is still only a pious aspiration. ‘Every man shall be tried by a jury of his peers.’ How profound! For only our equals can know our travails and temptations. How, now, if we had to try Shakespeare! which of us would dare sit on the panel? Yet we ‘chatter about Shelley.’ He did wrong–granted. But was it wrong of him to do it? That is another question altogether. Subjective morality and objective morality are two different things. But the whole subject of the sexes is wrapped in hypocrisy, and the breaches of morality are committed less by the celebrated than by the obscure. The savage sarcasm of Schopenhauer’s refusal to discuss monogamy because it had never yet come within the range of practical politics is still justified. I remember once reading an anecdote about a besieged town. The defenders resolved to make a sortie on a certain day, only, in dread of their plan somehow leaking out beyond the gates, or of their womankind dissuading some from the perilous enterprise, they administered a solemn oath to one another that
none of them should tell his wife, nor speak of it again even to another man, till the moment arrived. But each individual man told the partner of his bosom, only binding her by most fearsome oaths to say nothing to any other woman or man. All the women kept their oaths, each going about with the proud sense of being the only woman in the great secret. And so the women all met in the market-place, chattering about every subject on earth but that which was nearest their hearts, and the men moved among them, mutually silent. The whole community knew the secret whereof no one spoke. You perceive the parallel? Sex is the secret we are all in. Why shouldn’t we talk openly? Why shouldn’t we face facts? The marriage laws should be made as flexible, not as inflexible, as possible. Why? Because the bad people will evade everything and the good people endure anything. The bad people will break the best laws and the good people will respect the worst laws. Hence, stringency squeezes the saint and lets the sinner slip. Harsh legislation puts a penalty on virtue: the vicious skirt round it surreptitiously, or are openly happy in despite of it. The only thing immutable in sexual morality is the principle of regulating it with a view to the highest ends of the soul and the state: the regulations themselves are mutable, and we should not sacrifice too many human beings to gratify the idealism of the happily married. At the same time do not suspect me of Hilltopsy-turveydom, which seems to me based on bad physiology and worse psychology. Mr. Grant Allen, man of science as he is in his spare moments, is more like Matthew Arnold’s Shelley, a beautiful and ineffectual angel beating in the void his luminous wings in vain. So complex is the problem which seems to him so simple, that it is not improbable that the present monogamy (tempered by polygamy) is the best of all possible arrangements. This is not to belaud the present system, any more than it is optimistic to say this is the best of all possible worlds. It may be so, but it remains a pity that no better was possible. And Mrs. Grundy herself seems to me as over-abused as marriage. The celerity with which she became a byword, from the moment she made her accidental appearance in Tom Morton’s ‘Speed the Plough,’ shows how the popular instinct needed some such incarnation of our neighbours’ opinions. She stands, the representative of the ethical level of the age, not of fixed pruderies. She is by no means the staid old soul her maligners imagine–never was there creature more changeable. As we move on, so will she move on with us. Once she allowed our squires to get drunk after dinner, now she is shocked at a one-bottle man. You will never shake her off, you brilliant young gentlemen. For as you established your own ethics, she would still be there to see that your ideas were carried out. Granted she is a scandal-monger. But scandal is the sewer-system of society: the dirty work must be done somehow. Mrs. Grundy is your scavenger. Americans don’t talk scandal, but I fail to see how they will keep their homes clean without it. The scandal-mongers may be inspired by no lofty motives, but they make a wonderful unpaid detective force. Sheridan was not a philosopher. Ubiquitous and omniscient, Mrs. Grundy is always with you. Once you might have escaped her by making the grand tour, but now she has a Cook’s circular ticket and watches you from the Pyramids or the temples of Japan,–especially if, like myself, you have the misfortune to be a celebrity. The only way to escape her is to be photographed widely. Wasn’t it Adam Smith who said that conscience was only the reflection in ourselves of our neighbours’ opinions? If we didn’t value their opinions there would be no morality. Foreign travel makes you feel there is something in the idea. Who cares what a parcel of jabbering strangers think about his actions? The moment you lose touch with your environment, the moment you cease to vibrate to its nuances, your morality is in a parlous condition. Better go home and sit down on the well-known couch of Catullus, and feel once more that people are real and life is earnest and the horizon is not its goal. What is this mania for movement? If you travel unintelligently you see nothing that you couldn’t have seen more comfortably in a panorama–the world going round you. If you travel intelligently, you discover the relativity of all customs and ideas, you distrust your own beliefs, your backbone is relaxed, your vitality snapped, and you come home a molluscous cosmopolitan. It is the same thing that happens if you travel mentally instead of by mileage–if you go in for that modern curse, ‘Culture.’ You are not meant to absorb the art and literature of foreigners and dead peoples, fluttering like a bee from flower to flower. These things were made by men for their own race and age; they never thought of you,–you are an eavesdropper. Cathedrals were built for Christians to pray in, not for connoisseurs to gloat over. You should develop along your own lines, strong and simple, not be a many-sided nullity. The true Englishmen are ploughmen and sailors and shopkeepers, not culture-snobs.

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“The greatest poets in every language are those who know only their own language. Shakespeare and Keats handled English as a million Professors of Poetry cooperating could never handle it. The greatest Art has always sprung from the direct pressure of the real world upon the souls of the artists. To be cultured is to lose that vivid sense of the reality of the life around you, to see it intellectually rather than to feel it intuitively. Hence art that is too self-conscious misses the throb of life. George Eliot failed as soon as she began to substitute intellectual concepts for the vivid impressions of early memories. The moment people begin to prate about Art, the day of Art is over, and decadence is set in. Art should be the natural semi-unconscious enhancement of other things. The speaker wishing to convince becomes artistically oratorical, the prophet becomes artistically poetic, the church-builder artistically architectural, the painter of Madonnas artistically picturesque, the composer of prayer-chants artistically musical. Art was the child of Religion, but it has long since abandoned its mother. Portrait and landscape painting arose as accessories to sacred pictures; the origin of the opera is to be sought in the Mass; literature developed from religious writings. But gradually it was discovered that you might paint noblemen as well as sages, and that scenery could be dissociated from the backgrounds of Crucifixions and Marriages at Cana. And from seeing that Art needn’t have a religious meaning or content, men came to see that it needn’t have any meaning or content at all. Art, indeed, presents possibilities of a divorce from intellect and morals of which artists have eagerly availed themselves. But Art for Art’s sake is Dead-Sea fruit–rosy without, ashes within. Socrates was not perhaps quite right in saying that the Beautiful was the Useful, but it doesn’t follow that the Beautiful should be the Useless. Even crockery, cutlery, and furniture should never be Beautiful at the cost of utility. Their Beauty should be implicated with their natural shapes, inblent with and inseparable from their uses, not a monstrous accretion from without. The most artistic knife is the quintessence of knifehood.”

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“But that is my idea of Art for Art’s sake,” I interrupted, for he had now got his second wind. “Art has always to express the quintessence of something–be it a street, a life, a national movement, a—-“

“Art for Art’s sake means making beautiful knives that won’t cut and beautiful glasses that won’t hold water, and beautiful pictures and poems that say nothing. The people who want their Art dissociated from their morals are in danger of spiritual blight, and inhabiting a universe of empty nothings. Too much self-consciousness is as sterile as too little. Look at these modern Renaissances! They all—-“

“Yes, I know: I have written about that,” I said. “And now there is another one, the Jewish. Have you read the plan for ‘A Jewish State,’ by Dr. Herzl, of Vienna? No dreamer he, but wonderfully sane, despite his lofty conception of a moralised, rationalised, modern State. Too ‘modern,’ indeed, this idea of Messiah as a joint-stock company! I predicted years ago we should come to that. But methinks the Doctor—-“

“They are starting the Grand Prix,” hastily interrupted the Young Fogey. “Good-bye! Such a delightful talk!” And turning his back on the horses, he hurried off the field to lose himself and perhaps find a new pair of English ears among the parasols and equipages of the sunlit Prater.

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