A Miscellany of Men
by G. K. Chesterton
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No one who still believes in democracy and the rights of man will admit that any division between men and men can be anything but a fanciful analogy to the division between men and animals. But in the sphere of such fanciful analogy there are even human beings whom I feel to be like eats in this respect: that I can love them without liking them. I feel it about certain quaint and alien societies, especially about the Japanese. The exquisite old Japanese draughtsmanship (of which we shall see no more, now Japan has gone in for Progress and Imperialism) had a quality that was infinitely attractive and intangible. Japanese pictures were really rather like pictures made by cats. They were full of feathery softness and of sudden and spirited scratches. If any one will wander in some gallery fortunate enough to have a fine collection of those slight water-colour sketches on rice paper which come from the remote East, he will observe many elements in them which a fanciful person might consider feline. There is, for instance, that odd enjoyment of the tops of trees; those airy traceries of forks and fading twigs, up to which certainly no artist, but only a cat could climb. There is that elvish love of the full moon, as large and lucid as a Chinese lantern, hung in these tenuous branches. That moon is so large and luminous that one can imagine a hundred cats howling under it. Then there is the exhaustive treatment of the anatomy of birds and fish; subjects in which cats are said to be interested. Then there is the slanting cat-like eye of all these Eastern gods and men—but this is getting altogether too coincident. We shall have another racial theory in no time (beginning "Are the Japs Cats?"), and though I shall not believe in my theory, somebody else might. There are people among my esteemed correspondents who might believe anything. It is enough for me to say here that in this small respect Japs affect me like cats. I mean that I love them. I love their quaint and native poetry, their instinct of easy civilisation, their unique unreplaceable art, the testimony they bear to the bustling, irrepressible activities of nature and man. If I were a real mystic looking down on them from a real mountain, I am sure I should love them more even than the strong winged and unwearied birds or the fruitful, ever multiplying fish. But, as for liking them, as one likes a dog—that is quite another matter. That would mean trusting them.

In the old English and Scotch ballads the fairies are regarded very much in the way that I feel inclined to regard Japs and cats. They are not specially spoken of as evil; they are enjoyed as witching and wonderful; but they are not trusted as good. You do not say the wrong words or give the wrong gifts to them; and there is a curious silence about what would happen to you if you did. Now to me, Japan, the Japan of Art, was always a fairyland. What trees as gay as flowers and peaks as white as wedding cakes; what lanterns as large as houses and houses as frail as lanterns!… but... but... the missionary explained (I read in the paper) that the assertion and denial about the Japanese use of torture was a mere matter of verbal translation. "The Japanese would not call twisting the thumbs back 'torture.'"


I find myself in agreement with Mr. Robert Lynd for his most just remark in connection with the Malatesta case, that the police are becoming a peril to society. I have no attraction to that sort of atheist asceticism to which the purer types of Anarchism tend; but both an atheist and an ascetic are better men than a spy; and it is ignominious to see one's country thus losing her special point of honour about asylum and liberty. It will be quite a new departure if we begin to protect and whitewash foreign policemen. I always understood it was only English policemen who were absolutely spotless. A good many of us, however, have begun to feel with Mr. Lynd, and on all sides authorities and officials are being questioned. But there is one most graphic and extraordinary fact, which it did not lie in Mr. Lynd's way to touch upon, but which somebody really must seize and emphasise. It is this: that at the very time when we are all beginning to doubt these authorities, we are letting laws pass to increase their most capricious powers. All our commissions, petitions, and letters to the papers are asking whether these authorities can give an account of their stewardship. And at the same moment all our laws are decreeing that they shall not give any account of their stewardship, but shall become yet more irresponsible stewards. Bills like the Feeble-Minded Bill and the Inebriate Bill (very appropriate names for them) actually arm with scorpions the hand that has chastised the Malatestas and Maleckas with whips. The inspector, the doctor, the police sergeant, the well-paid person who writes certificates and "passes" this, that, or the other; this sort of man is being trusted with more authority, apparently because he is being doubted with more reason. In one room we are asking why the Government and the great experts between them cannot sail a ship. In another room we are deciding that the Government and experts shall be allowed, without trial or discussion, to immure any one's body, damn any one's soul, and dispose of unborn generations with the levity of a pagan god. We are putting the official on the throne while he is still in the dock.

The mere meaning of words is now strangely forgotten and falsified; as when people talk of an author's "message," without thinking whom it is from; and I have noted in these connections the strange misuse of another word. It is the excellent mediaeval word "charter." I remember the Act that sought to save gutter-boys from cigarettes was called "The Children's Charter." Similarly the Act which seeks to lock up as lunatics people who are not lunatics was actually called a "charter" of the feeble-minded. Now this terminology is insanely wrong, even if the Bills are right. Even were they right in theory they would be applied only to the poor, like many better rules about education and cruelty. A woman was lately punished for cruelty because her children were not washed when it was proved that she had no water. From that it will be an easy step in Advanced Thought to punishing a man for wine-bibbing when it is proved that he had no wine. Rifts in right reason widen down the ages. And when we have begun by shutting up a confessedly kind person for cruelty, we may yet come to shutting up Mr. Tom Mann for feeblemindedness.

But even if such laws do good to children or idiots, it is wrong to use the word "charter." A charter does not mean a thing that does good to people. It means a thing that grants people more rights and liberties. It may be a good thing for gutter-boys to be deprived of their cigarettes: it might be a good thing for aldermen to be deprived of their cigars. But I think the Goldsmiths' Company would be very much surprised if the King granted them a new charter (in place of their mediaeval charter), and it only meant that policemen might pull the cigars out of their mouths. It may be a good thing that all drunkards should be locked up: and many acute statesmen (King John, for instance) would certainly have thought it a good thing if all aristocrats could be locked up. But even that somewhat cynical prince would scarcely have granted to the barons a thing called "the Great Charter" and then locked them all up on the strength of it. If he had, this interpretation of the word "charter" would have struck the barons with considerable surprise. I doubt if their narrow mediaeval minds could have taken it in.

The roots of the real England are in the early Middle Ages, and no Englishman will ever understand his own language (or even his own conscience) till he understands them. And he will never understand them till he understands this word "charter." I will attempt in a moment to state in older, more suitable terms, what a charter was. In modern, practical, and political terms, it is quite easy to state what a charter was. A charter was the thing that the railway workers wanted last Christmas and did not get; and apparently will never get. It is called in the current jargon "recognition"; the acknowledgment in so many words by society of the immunities or freedoms of a certain set of men. If there had been railways in the Middle Ages there would probably have been a railwaymen's guild; and it would have had a charter from the King, defining their rights. A charter is the expression of an idea still true and then almost universal: that authority is necessary for nothing so much as for the granting of liberties. Like everything mediaeval, it ramified back to a root in religion; and was a sort of small copy of the Christian idea of man's creation. Man was free, not because there was no God, but because it needed a God to set him free. By authority he was free. By authority the craftsmen of the guilds were free. Many other great philosophers took and take the other view: the Lucretian pagans, the Moslem fatalists, the modern monists and determinists, all roughly confine themselves to saying that God gave man a law. The mediaeval Christian insisted that God gave man a charter. Modern feeling may not sympathise with its list of liberties, which included the liberty to be damned; but that has nothing to do with the fact that it was a gift of liberties and not of laws. This was mirrored, however dimly, in the whole system. There was a great deal of gross inequality; and in other aspects absolute equality was taken for granted. But the point is that equality and inequality were ranks—or rights. There were not only things one was forbidden to do; but things one was forbidden to forbid. A man was not only definitely responsible, but definitely irresponsible. The holidays of his soul were immovable feasts. All a charter really meant lingers alive in that poetic phrase that calls the wind a "chartered" libertine.

Lie awake at night and hear the wind blowing; hear it knock at every man's door and shout down every man's chimney. Feel how it takes liberties with everything, having taken primary liberty for itself; feel that the wind is always a vagabond and sometimes almost a housebreaker. But remember that in the days when free men had charters, they held that the wind itself was wild by authority; and was only free because it had a father.


The word content is not inspiring nowadays; rather it is irritating because it is dull. It prepares the mind for a little sermon in the style of the Vicar of Wakefield about how you and I should be satisfied with our countrified innocence and our simple village sports. The word, however, has two meanings, somewhat singularly connected; the "sweet content" of the poet and the "cubic content" of the mathematician. Some distinguish these by stressing the different syllables. Thus, it might happen to any of us, at some social juncture, to remark gaily, "Of the content of the King of the Cannibal Islands' Stewpot I am content to be ignorant"; or "Not content with measuring the cubic content of my safe, you are stealing the spoons." And there really is an analogy between the mathematical and the moral use of the term, for lack of the observation of which the latter has been much weakened and misused.

The preaching of contentment is in disrepute, well deserved in so far that the moral is really quite inapplicable to the anarchy and insane peril of our tall and toppling cities. Content suggests some kind of security; and it is not strange that our workers should often think about rising above their position, since they have so continually to think about sinking below it. The philanthropist who urges the poor to saving and simple pleasures deserves all the derision that he gets. To advise people to be content with what they have got may or may not be sound moral philosophy.

But to urge people to be content with what they haven't got is a piece of impudence hard for even the English poor to pardon. But though the creed of content is unsuited to certain special riddles and wrongs, it remains true for the normal of mortal life. We speak of divine discontent; discontent may sometimes be a divine thing, but content must always be the human thing. It may be true that a particular man, in his relation to his master or his neighbour, to his country or his enemies, will do well to be fiercely unsatisfied or thirsting for an angry justice. But it is not true, no sane person can call it true, that man as a whole in his general attitude towards the world, in his posture towards death or green fields, towards the weather or the baby, will be wise to cultivate dissatisfaction. In a broad estimate of our earthly experience, the great truism on the tablet remains: he must not covet his neighbour's ox nor his ass nor anything that is his. In highly complex and scientific civilisations he may sometimes find himself forced into an exceptional vigilance. But, then, in highly complex and scientific civilisations, nine times out of ten, he only wants his own ass back.

But I wish to urge the case for cubic content; in which (even more than in moral content) I take a personal interest. Now, moral content has been undervalued and neglected because of its separation from the other meaning. It has become a negative rather than a positive thing. In some accounts of contentment it seems to be little more than a meek despair.

But this is not the true meaning of the term; it should stand for the idea of a positive and thorough appreciation of the content of anything; for feeling the substance and not merely the surface of experience. "Content" ought to mean in English, as it does in French, being pleased; placidly, perhaps, but still positively pleased. Being contented with bread and cheese ought not to mean not caring what you eat. It ought to mean caring for bread and cheese; handling and enjoying the cubic content of the bread and cheese and adding it to your own. Being content with an attic ought not to mean being unable to move from it and resigned to living in it. It ought to mean appreciating what there is to appreciate in such a position; such as the quaint and elvish slope of the ceiling or the sublime aerial view of the opposite chimney-pots. And in this sense contentment is a real and even an active virtue; it is not only affirmative, but creative. The poet in the attic does not forget the attic in poetic musings; he remembers whatever the attic has of poetry; he realises how high, how starry, how cool, how unadorned and simple—in short, how Attic is the attic.

True contentment is a thing as active as agriculture. It is the power of getting out of any situation all that there is in it. It is arduous and it is rare. The absence of this digestive talent is what makes so cold and incredible the tales of so many people who say they have been "through" things; when it is evident that they have come out on the other side quite unchanged. A man might have gone "through" a plum pudding as a bullet might go through a plum pudding; it depends on the size of the pudding—and the man. But the awful and sacred question is "Has the pudding been through him?" Has he tasted, appreciated, and absorbed the solid pudding, with its three dimensions and its three thousand tastes and smells? Can he offer himself to the eyes of men as one who has cubically conquered and contained a pudding?

In the same way we may ask of those who profess to have passed through trivial or tragic experiences whether they have absorbed the content of them; whether they licked up such living water as there was. It is a pertinent question in connection with many modern problems.

Thus the young genius says, "I have lived in my dreary and squalid village before I found success in Paris or Vienna." The sound philosopher will answer, "You have never lived in your village, or you would not call it dreary and squalid."

Thus the Imperialist, the Colonial idealist (who commonly speaks and always thinks with a Yankee accent) will say, "I've been right away from these little muddy islands, and seen God's great seas and prairies." The sound philosopher will reply, "You have never been in these islands; you have never seen the weald of Sussex or the plain of Salisbury; otherwise you could never have called them either muddy or little."

Thus the Suffragette will say, "I have passed through the paltry duties of pots and pans, the drudgery of the vulgar kitchen; but I have come out to intellectual liberty." The sound philosopher will answer, "You have never passed through the kitchen, or you never would call it vulgar. Wiser and stronger women than you have really seen a poetry in pots and pans; naturally, because there is a poetry in them." It is right for the village violinist to climb into fame in Paris or Vienna; it is right for the stray Englishman to climb across the high shoulder of the world; it is right for the woman to climb into whatever cathedrae or high places she can allow to her sexual dignity. But it is wrong that any of these climbers should kick the ladder by which they have climbed. But indeed these bitter people who record their experiences really record their lack of experiences. It is the countryman who has not succeeded in being a countryman who comes up to London. It is the clerk who has not succeeded in being a clerk who tries (on vegetarian principles) to be a countryman. And the woman with a past is generally a woman angry about the past she never had.

When you have really exhausted an experience you always reverence and love it. The two things that nearly all of us have thoroughly and really been through are childhood and youth. And though we would not have them back again on any account, we feel that they are both beautiful, because we have drunk them dry.


I have republished all these old articles of mine because they cover a very controversial period, in which I was in nearly all the controversies, whether I was visible there or no. And I wish to gather up into this last article a valedictory violence about all such things; and then pass to where, beyond these voices, there is peace—or in other words, to the writing of Penny Dreadfuls; a noble and much-needed work. But before I finally desert the illusions of rationalism for the actualities of romance, I should very much like to write one last roaring, raging book telling all the rationalists not to be so utterly irrational. The book would be simply a string of violent vetoes, like the Ten Commandments. I would call it "Don'ts for Dogmatists; or Things I am Tired Of."

This book of intellectual etiquette, like most books of etiquette, would begin with superficial things; but there would be, I fancy, a wailing imprecation in the words that could not be called artificial; it might begin thus:—

(1) Don't use a noun and then an adjective that crosses out the noun. An adjective qualifies, it cannot contradict. Don't say, "Give me a patriotism that is free from all boundaries." It is like saying, "Give me a pork pie with no pork in it." Don't say, "I look forward to that larger religion that shall have no special dogmas." It is like saying, "I look forward to that larger quadruped who shall have no feet." A quadruped means something with four feet; and a religion means something that commits a man to some doctrine about the universe. Don't let the meek substantive be absolutely murdered by the joyful, exuberant adjective.

(2) Don't say you are not going to say a thing, and then say it. This practice is very flourishing and successful with public speakers. The trick consists of first repudiating a certain view in unfavourable terms, and then repeating the same view in favourable terms. Perhaps the simplest form of it may be found in a landlord of my neighbourhood, who said to his tenants in an election speech, "Of course I'm not going to threaten you, but if this Budget passes the rents will go up." The thing can be done in many forms besides this. "I am the last man to mention party politics; but when I see the Empire rent in pieces by irresponsible Radicals," etc. "In this hall we welcome all creeds. We have no hostility against any honest belief; but only against that black priestcraft and superstition which can accept such a doctrine as," etc. "I would not say one word that could ruffle our relations with Germany. But this I will say; that when I see ceaseless and unscrupulous armament," etc. Please don't do it. Decide to make a remark or not to make a remark. But don't fancy that you have somehow softened the saying of a thing by having just promised not to say it.

(3) Don't use secondary words as primary words. "Happiness" (let us say) is a primary word. You know when you have the thing, and you jolly well know when you haven't. "Progress" is a secondary word; it means the degree of one's approach to happiness, or to some such solid ideal. But modern controversies constantly turn on asking, "Does Happiness help Progress?" Thus, I see in the New Age this week a letter from Mr. Egerton Swann, in which he warns the world against me and my friend Mr. Belloc, on the ground that our democracy is "spasmodic" (whatever that means); while our "reactionism is settled and permanent." It never strikes Mr. Swann that democracy means something in itself; while "reactionism" means nothing—except in connection with democracy. You cannot react except from something. If Mr. Swann thinks I have ever reacted from the doctrine that the people should rule, I wish he would give me the reference.

(4) Don't say, "There is no true creed; for each creed believes itself right and the others wrong." Probably one of the creeds is right and the others are wrong. Diversity does show that most of the views must be wrong. It does not by the faintest logic show that they all must be wrong. I suppose there is no subject on which opinions differ with more desperate sincerity than about which horse will win the Derby. These are certainly solemn convictions; men risk ruin for them. The man who puts his shirt on Potosi must believe in that animal, and each of the other men putting their last garments upon other quadrupeds must believe in them quite as sincerely. They are all serious, and most of them are wrong. But one of them is right. One of the faiths is justified; one of the horses does win; not always even the dark horse which might stand for Agnosticism, but often the obvious and popular horse of Orthodoxy. Democracy has its occasional victories; and even the Favourite has been known to come in first. But the point here is that something comes in first. That there were many beliefs does not destroy the fact that there was one well-founded belief. I believe (merely upon authority) that the world is round. That there may be tribes who believe it to be triangular or oblong does not alter the fact that it is certainly some shape, and therefore not any other shape. Therefore I repeat, with the wail of imprecation, don't say that the variety of creeds prevents you from accepting any creed. It is an unintelligent remark.

(5) Don't (if any one calls your doctrine mad, which is likely enough), don't answer that madmen are only the minority and the sane only the majority. The sane are sane because they are the corporate substance of mankind; the insane are not a minority because they are not a mob. The man who thinks himself a man thinks the next man a man; he reckons his neighbour as himself. But the man who thinks he is a chicken does not try to look through the man who thinks he is glass. The man who thinks himself Jesus Christ does not quarrel with the man who thinks himself Rockefeller; as would certainly happen if the two had ever met. But madmen never meet. It is the only thing they cannot do. They can talk, they can inspire, they can fight, they can found religions; but they cannot meet. Maniacs can never be the majority; for the simple reason that they can never be even a minority. If two madmen had ever agreed they might have conquered the world.

(6) Don't say that the idea of human equality is absurd, because some men are tall and some short, some clever and some stupid. At the height of the French Revolution it was noticed that Danton was tall and Murat short. In the wildest popular excitement of America it is known that Rockefeller is stupid and that Bryan is clever. The doctrine of human equality reposes upon this: That there is no man really clever who has not found that he is stupid. That there is no big man who has not felt small. Some men never feel small; but these are the few men who are.

(7) Don't say (O don't say) that Primitive Man knocked down a woman with a club and carried her away. Why on earth should he? Does the male sparrow knock down the female sparrow with a twig? Does the male giraffe knock down the female giraffe with a palm tree? Why should the male have had to use any violence at any time in order to make the female a female? Why should the woman roll herself in the mire lower than the sow or the she-bear; and profess to have been a slave where all these creatures were creators; where all these beasts were gods? Do not talk such bosh. I implore you, I supplicate you not to talk such bosh. Utterly and absolutely abolish all such bosh—and we may yet begin to discuss these public questions properly. But I fear my list of protests grows too long; and I know it could grow longer for ever. The reader must forgive my elongations and elaborations. I fancied for the moment that I was writing a book.


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