In many ways the war has brought us up all standing on the edge of an abyss. When it is over shall we go galloping over the edge, or, reining back, sit awhile in our saddles looking for a better track? We were all on the highway to a hell of material expansion and vulgarity, of cheap immediate profit, and momentary sensation; north and south in our different ways, all "rattling into barbarity." Shall we find our way again into a finer air, where self-respect, not profit, rules, and rare things and durable are made once more?
From Arles we journeyed to Marseilles, to see how the first cosmopolitan town in the world fared in war-time. Here was an amazing spectacle of swarming life. If France has reason to feel the war most of all the great countries, Marseilles must surely feel it less than any other great town; she flourishes in a perfect riot of movement and colour. Here all the tribes are met, save those of Central Europe—Frenchman, Serb, Spaniard, Algerian, Greek, Arab, Khabyle, Russian, Indian, Italian, Englishman, Scotsman, Jew, and Nubian rub shoulders in the thronged streets. The miles of docks are crammed with ships. Food of all sorts abounds. In the bright, dry light all is gay and busy. The most sthetic, and perhaps most humiliating, sight that a Westerner could see we came on there: two Arab Spahis walking down the main street in their long robe uniforms, white and red, and their white linen bonnets bound with a dark fur and canting slightly backwards. Over six feet high, they moved unhurrying, smoking their cigarettes, turning their necks slowly from side to side like camels of the desert. Their brown, thin, bearded faces wore neither scorn nor interest, only a superb self-containment; but, beside them, every other specimen of the human race seemed cheap and negligible. God knows of what they were thinking—as little probably as the smoke they blew through their chiselled nostrils—but their beauty and grace were unsurpassable. And, visioning our western and northern towns and the little, white, worried abortions they breed, one felt downcast and abashed.
Marseilles swarmed with soldiers; Lyon, Valence, Arles, even the smallest cities swarmed with soldiers, and this at the moment when the Allied offensive was just beginning. If France be nearing the end of her man-power, as some assert, she conceals it so that one would think she was at the beginning.
From Marseilles we went to Lyon. I have heard that town described as lamentably plain; but compared with Manchester or Sheffield it is as heaven to hell. Between its two wide rolling rivers, under a line of heights, it has somewhat the aspect of an enormous commercialised Florence. Perhaps in foggy weather it may be dreary, but the sky was blue and the sun shone, a huge Foire was just opening, and every street bustled in a dignified manner.
The English have always had a vague idea that France is an immoral country. To the eye of a mere visitor France is the most moral of the four Great Powers—France, Russia, England, Germany; has the strongest family life and the most seemly streets. Young men and maidens are never seen walking or lying about, half-embraced, as in puritanical England. Fire is not played with—openly, at least. The slow-fly amorousness of the British working classes evidently does not suit the quicker blood of France. There is just enough of the South in the French to keep demonstration of affection away from daylight. A certain school of French novelist, with high-coloured tales of Parisian life, is responsible for his country's reputation. Whatever the Frenchman about town may be, he seems by no means typical of the many millions of Frenchmen who are not about town. And if Frenchwomen, as I have heard Frenchmen say, are lgres, they are the best mothers in the world, and their "lightness" is not vulgarly obtruded. They say many domestic tragedies will be played at the conclusion of the war. If so, they will not be played in France alone; and compared with the tragedies of fidelity played all these dreadful years they will be as black rabbits to brown for numbers. For the truth on morality in France we must go back, I suspect, to that general conclusion about the French character—the swift passage from head to heart and back again, which, prohibiting extremes of puritanism and of licence, preserves a sort of balance.
From this war France will emerge changed, though less changed very likely than any other country. A certain self-sufficiency that was very marked about French life will have sloughed away. I expect an opening of the doors, a toleration of other tastes and standards, a softening of the too narrow definiteness of French opinion.
Even Paris has opened her heart a little since the war; and the heart of Paris is close, hard, impatient of strangers. We noticed in our hospital that whenever we had a Parisian he introduced a different atmosphere, and led us a quiet or noisy dance. We had one whose name was Aim, whose skin was like a baby's, who talked softly and fast, with little grunts, and before he left was quite the leading personality. We had another, a red-haired young one; when he was away on leave we hardly knew the hospital, it was so orderly. The sons of Paris are a breed apart, just as our Cockneys are. I do not pretend to fathom them; they have the texture and resilience of an indiarubber ball. And the women of Paris! Heaven forfend that I should say I know them! They are a sealed book. Still, even Parisians are less intolerant than in pre-war days of us dull English, perceiving in us, perhaps, a certain unexpected usefulness. And, propos! One hears it said that in the regions of our British armies certain natives believe we have come to stay. What an intensely comic notion! And what a lurid light it throws on history, on the mistrust engendered between nations, on the cynicism which human conduct has forced deep into human hearts. No! If a British Government could be imagined behaving in such a way, the British population would leave England, become French citizens, and help to turn out the damned intruders!
But we did not encounter anywhere that comic belief. In all this land of France, chockful of those odd creatures, English men and women, we found only a wonderful and touching welcome. Not once during those long months of winter was an unfriendly word spoken in our hearing; not once were we treated with anything but true politeness and cordiality. Poilus and peasants, porters and officials, ladies, doctors, servants, shop-folk, were always considerate, always friendly, always desirous that we should feel at home. The very dogs gave us welcome! A little black half-Pomeranian came uninvited and made his home with us in our hospital; we called him Aristide. But on our walks with him we were liable to meet a posse of children who would exclaim, "Pom-pom! Voil, Pom-pom!" and lead him away. Before night fell he would be with us again, with a bit of string or ribbon, bitten through, dangling from his collar. His children bored him terribly. We left him in trust to our poilus on that sad afternoon when "Good-bye" must be said, all those friendly hands shaken for the last time, and the friendly faces left. Through the little town the car bore us, away along the valley between the poplar trees with the first flush of spring on their twigs, and the magpies flighting across the road to the river-bank.
The heart of France is deep within her breast; she wears it not upon her sleeve. But France opened her heart for once and let us see the gold.
And so we came forth from France of a rainy day, leaving half our hearts behind us.
ENGLISHMAN AND RUSSIAN
It has been my conviction for many years that the Russian and the Englishman are as it were the complementary halves of a man. What the Russian lacks the Englishman has; what the Englishman lacks, that has the Russian. The works of Gogol, Turgenev, Dostoievsky, Tolstoi, Tchekov—the amazing direct and truthful revelations of these masters—has let me, I think, into some secrets of the Russian soul, so that the Russians I have met seem rather clearer to me than men and women of other foreign countries. For their construing I have been given what schoolboys call a crib. Only a fool pretends to knowledge—the heart of another is surely a dark forest; but the heart of a Russian seems to me a forest less dark than many, partly because the qualities and defects of a Russian impact so sharply on the perceptions of an Englishman, but partly because those great Russian novelists in whom I have delighted, possess, before all other gifts, so deep a talent for the revelation of truth. In following out this apposition of the Russian and the Englishman, one may well start with that little matter of "truth." The Englishman has what I would call a passion for the forms of truth; his word is his bond—nearly always; he will not tell a lie—not often; honesty, in his idiom, is the best policy. But he has little or no regard for the spirit of truth. Quite unconsciously he revels in self-deception and flies from knowledge of anything which will injure his intention to "make good," as Americans say. He is, before all things, a competitive soul who seeks to win rather than to understand or to "live." And to win, or, shall we say, to maintain to oneself the illusion of winning, one must carefully avoid seeing too much. The Russian is light hearted about the forms of truth, but revels in self-knowledge and frank self-declaration, enjoys unbottoming the abysses of his thoughts and feelings, however gloomy. In Russia time and space have no exact importance, living counts for more than dominating life, emotion is not castrated, feelings are openly indulged in; in Russia there are the extremes of cynicism, and of faith; of intellectual subtlety, and simplicity; truth has quite another significance; manners are different; what we know as "good form" is a meaningless shibboleth. The Russian rushes at life, drinks the cup to the dregs, then frankly admits that it has dregs, and puts up with the disillusionment. The Englishman holds the cup gingerly and sips, determined to make it last his time, not to disturb the dregs, and to die without having reached the bottom.
These are the two poles of that instinctive intention to get out of life all there is in it—which is ever the unconscious philosophy guiding mankind. To the Russian it is vital to realise at all costs the fulness of sensation and reach the limits of comprehension; to the Englishman it is vital to preserve illusion and go on defeating death until death so unexpectedly defeats him.
What this wide distinction comes from I know not, unless from the difference of our climates and geographical circumstances. Russians are the children of vast plains and forests, dry air, and extremes of heat and cold; the English, of the sea, small, uneven hedge-rowed landscapes, mist, and mean temperatures. By an ironical paradox, we English have achieved a real liberty of speech and action, even now denied to Russians, who naturally far surpass us in desire to turn things inside out and see of what they are made. The political arrangements of a country are based on temperament; and a political freedom which suits us, an old people, predisposed to a practical and cautious view of life, is proving difficult, if not impossible, for Russians, a young people, who spend themselves so freely. But what Russia will become, politically speaking, he would be rash who prophesied.
I suppose what Russians most notice and perhaps envy in us is practical common sense, our acquired instinct for what is attainable, and for the best and least elaborate means of attaining it. What we ought to envy in Russians is a sort of unworldliness—not the feeling that this world is the preliminary of another, nothing so commercial; but the natural disposition to live each moment without afterthought, emotionally. Lack of emotional abandonment is our great deficiency. Whether we can ever learn to have more is very doubtful. But our imaginative writings, at all events, have of late been profoundly modified by the Russian novel, that current in literature far more potent than any of those traced out in Georg Brandes' monumental study. Russian writers have brought to imaginative literature a directness in the presentation of vision, a lack of self-consciousness, strange to all Western countries, and particularly strange to us English, who of all people are the most self-conscious. This quality of Russian writers is evidently racial, for even in the most artful of them—Turgenev—it is as apparent as in the least sophisticated. It is part, no doubt, of their natural power of flinging themselves deep into the sea of experience and sensation; of their self-forgetfulness in a passionate search for truth.
In such living Russian writers as I have read, in Kuprin, Gorky, and others, I still see and welcome this peculiar quality of rendering life through—but not veiled by—the author's temperament; so that the effect is almost as if no ink were used. When one says that the Russian novel has already profoundly modified our literature, one does not mean that we have now nearly triumphed over the need for ink, or that our temperaments have become Russian; but that some of us have become infected with the wish to see and record the truth and obliterate that competitive moralising which from time immemorial has been the characteristic bane of English art. In other words, the Russian passion for understanding has tempered a little the English passion for winning. What we admire and look for in Russian literature is its truth and its profound and comprehending tolerance. I am credibly informed that what Russians admire and look for in our literature is its quality of "no nonsense" and its assertive vigour. In a word, they are attracted by that in it which is new to them. I venture to hope that they will not become infected by us in this matter; that nothing will dim in their writers spiritual and intellectual honesty of vision or tinge them with self-consciousness. It is still for us to borrow from Russian literary art, and learn, if we can, to sink ourselves in life and reproduce it without obtrusion of our points of view, except in that subtle way which gives to each creative work its essential individuality. Our boisterousness in art is too self-conscious to be real, and our restraint is only a superficial legacy from Puritanism.
Restraint in life and conduct is another matter altogether. There Russians can learn from us, who are past-masters in control of our feelings. In all matters of conduct, indeed, we are, as it were, much older than the Russians; we were more like them, one imagines, in the days of Elizabeth.
Either similarity, or great dissimilarity, is generally needful for mutual liking. Our soldiers appear to get on very well with Russians. But only exceptional natures in either country could expect to understand each other thoroughly. The two peoples are as the halves of a whole; different as chalk from cheese; can supplement, intermingle, but never replace each other. Both in so different ways are very vital types of mankind, very deep sunk in their own atmospheres and natures, very insulated against all that is not Russian, or is not English; deeply unchangeable and impermeable. It is almost impossible to de-Anglicise an Englishman; as difficult to de-Russianise a Russian.
AMERICAN AND BRITON
On the mutual understanding of each other by Britons and Americans the future happiness of nations depends more than on any other world cause.
I have never held a whole-hearted brief for the British character. There is a lot of good in it, but much which is repellent. It has a kind of deliberate unattractiveness, setting out on its journey with the words: "Take me or leave me." One may respect a person of this sort, but it is difficult either to know or to like him. I am told that an American officer said recently to a British staff officer in a friendly voice: "So we're going to clean up Brother Boche together!" and the British staff officer replied "Really!" No wonder Americans sometimes say: "I've got no use for those fellows."
The world is consecrate to strangeness and discovery, and the attitude of mind concreted in that "Really!" seems unforgivable, till one remembers that it is manner rather than matter which divides the hearts of American and Briton.
In a huge, still half-developed country, where every kind of national type and habit comes to run a new thread into the rich tapestry of American life and thought, people must find it almost impossible to conceive the life of a little old island where traditions persist generation after generation without anything to break them up; where blood remains undoctored by new strains; demeanour becomes crystallised for lack of contrasts; and manner gets set like a plaster mask. The English manner of to-day, of what are called the classes, is the growth of only a century or so. There was probably nothing at all like it in the days of Elizabeth or even of Charles II. The English manner was still racy when the inhabitants of Virginia, as we are told, sent over to ask that there might be despatched to them some hierarchical assistance for the good of their souls, and were answered: "D——n your souls, grow tobacco!" The English manner of to-day could not even have come into its own when that epitaph of a lady, quoted somewhere by Gilbert Murray, was written: "Bland, passionate, and deeply religious, she was second cousin to the Earl of Leitrim; of such are the Kingdom of Heaven." About that gravestone motto was a certain lack of the self-consciousness which is now the foremost characteristic of the English manner.
But this British self-consciousness is no mere fluffy gaucherie, it is our special form of what Germans would call "Kultur." Behind every manifestation of thought or emotion the Briton retains control of self, and is thinking: "That's all I'll let them see"; even: "That's all I'll let myself feel." This stoicism is good in its refusal to be foundered; bad in that it fosters a narrow outlook; starves emotion, spontaneity, and frank sympathy; destroys grace and what one may describe roughly as the lovable side of personality. The English hardly ever say just what comes into their heads. What we call "good form," the unwritten law which governs certain classes of the Briton, savours of the dull and glacial; but there lurks within it a core of virtue. It has grown up like callous shell round two fine ideals—suppression of the ego lest it trample on the corns of other people, and exaltation of the maxim: "Deeds before words." Good form, like any other religion, starts well with some ethical truth, but soon gets commonised and petrified till we can hardly trace its origin, and watch with surprise its denial and contradiction of the root idea.
Without doubt good form had become a kind of disease in England. A French friend told me how he witnessed in a Swiss Hotel the meeting between an Englishwoman and her son, whom she had not seen for two years; she was greatly affected—by the fact that he had not brought a dinner-jacket. The best manners are no "manners," or at all events no mannerisms; but many Britons who have even attained to this perfect purity are yet not free from the paralytic effects of "good form"; are still self-conscious in the depths of their souls, and never do or say a thing without trying not to show what they are feeling. All this guarantees a certain decency in life; but in intimate intercourse with people of other nations who have not this particular cult of suppression, we English disappoint, and jar, and often irritate. Nations have their differing forms of snobbery. At one time the English all wanted to be second cousins to the Earl of Leitrim, like that lady bland and passionate. Nowadays it is not so simple. The Earl of Leitrim has become etherealised. We no longer care how a fellow is born so long as he behaves as the Earl of Leitrim would have, never makes himself conspicuous or ridiculous, never shows too much what he's really feeling, never talks of what he's going to do, and always "plays the game." The cult is centred in our public schools and universities.
At a very typical and honoured old public school the writer of this essay passed on the whole a happy time; but what a curious life, educationally speaking! We lived rather like young Spartans; and were not encouraged to think, imagine, or see anything that we learned in relation to life at large. It's very difficult to teach boys, because their chief object in life is not to be taught anything, but I should say we were crammed, not taught at all. Living as we did the herd-life of boys with little or no intrusion from our elders, and they men who had been brought up in the same way as ourselves, we were debarred from any real interest in philosophy, history, art, literature and music, or any advancing notions in social life or politics. I speak of the generality, not of the few black swans among us. We were reactionaries almost to a boy. I remember one summer term Gladstone came down to speak to us, and we repaired to the Speech Room with white collars and dark hearts, muttering what we would do to that Grand Old Man if we could have our way. But he contrived to charm us, after all, till we cheered him vociferously. In that queer life we had all sorts of unwritten rules of suppression. You must turn up your trousers; must not go out with your umbrella rolled. Your hat must be worn tilted forward; you must not walk more than two-a-breast till you reached a certain form, nor be enthusiastic about anything, except such a supreme matter as a drive over the pavilion at cricket, or a run the whole length of the ground at football. You must not talk about yourself or your home people, and for any punishment you must assume complete indifference.
I dwell on these trivialities because every year thousands of British boys enter these mills which grind exceeding small, and because these boys constitute in after life the great majority of the official, military, academic, professional, and a considerable proportion of the business classes of Great Britain. They become the Englishmen who say: "Really!" and they are for the most part the Englishmen who travel and reach America. The great defence I have always heard put up for our public schools is that they form character. As oatmeal is supposed to form bone in the bodies of Scotsmen, so our public schools are supposed to form good, sound moral fibre in British boys. And there is much in this plea. The life does make boys enduring, self-reliant, good-tempered and honourable, but it most carefully endeavours to destroy all original sin of individuality, spontaneity, and engaging freakishness. It implants, moreover, in the great majority of those who have lived it the mental attitude of that swell, who when asked where he went for his hats, replied: "Blank's, of course. Is there another fellow's?"
To know all is to excuse all—to know all about the bringing-up of English public school boys makes one excuse much. The atmosphere and tradition of those places is extraordinarily strong, and persists through all modern changes. Thirty-seven years have gone since I was a new boy, but cross-examining a young nephew who left not long ago, I found almost precisely the same features and conditions. The war, which has changed so much of our social life, will have some, but no very great, effect on this particular institution. The boys still go there from the same kind of homes and preparatory schools and come under the same kind of masters. And the traditional unemotionalism, the cult of a dry and narrow stoicism, is rather fortified than diminished by the times we live in.
Our universities, on the other hand, are now mere ghosts of their old selves. At a certain old college in Oxford, last term, they had only two English students. In the chapel under the Joshua Reynolds window, through which the sun was shining, hung a long "roll of honour," a hundred names and more. In the college garden an open-air hospital was ranged under the old city wall, where we used to climb and go wandering in the early summer mornings after some all-night spree. Down on the river the empty college barges lay void of life. From the top of one of them an aged custodian broke into words: "Ah! Oxford'll never be the same again in my time. Why, who's to teach 'em rowin'? When we do get undergrads again, who's to teach 'em? All the old ones gone, killed, wounded and that. No! Rowin'll never be the same again—not in my time." That was the tragedy of the war for him. Our universities will recover faster than he thinks, and resume the care of our particular "Kultur," and cap the products of our public schools with the Oxford accent and the Oxford manner.
An acute critic tells me that Americans reading such deprecatory words as these by an Englishman about his country's institutions would say that this is precisely an instance of what an American means by the Oxford manner. Americans whose attitude towards their own country is that of a lover to his lady or a child to its mother, cannot—he says—understand how Englishmen can be critical of their own country, and yet love her. Well, the Englishman's attitude to his country is that of a man to himself, and the way he runs her down is but a part of that special English bone-deep self-consciousness. Englishmen (the writer amongst them) love their country as much as the French love France and the Americans America; but she is so much a part of them that to speak well of her is like speaking well of themselves, which they have been brought up to regard as "bad form." When Americans hear Englishmen speaking critically of their own country, let them note it for a sign of complete identification with that country rather than of detachment from it. But on the whole it must be admitted that English universities have a broadening influence on the material which comes to them so set and narrow. They do a little to discover for their children that there are many points of view, and much which needs an open mind in this world. They have not precisely a democratic influence, but taken by themselves they would not be inimical to democracy. And when the war is over they will surely be still broader in philosophy and teaching. Heaven forbid that we should see vanish all that is old, and has, as it were, the virginia-creeper, the wistaria bloom of age upon it; there is a beauty in age and a health in tradition, ill dispensed with. What is hateful in age is its lack of understanding and of sympathy; in a word—its intolerance. Let us hope this wind of change may sweep out and sweeten the old places of our country, sweep away the cobwebs and the dust, our narrow ways of thought, our mannikinisms. But those who hate intolerance dare not be intolerant with the foibles of age; we should rather see them as comic, and gently laugh them out. I pretend to no proper knowledge of the American people; but, though amongst them there are doubtless pockets of fierce prejudice, I have on the whole the impression of a wide and tolerant spirit. To that spirit one would appeal when it comes to passing judgment on the educated Briton. He may be self-sufficient, but he has grit; and at bottom grit is what Americans appreciate more than anything. If the motto of the old Oxford college, "Manners makyth man," were true, one would often be sorry for the Briton. But his manners do not make him; they mar him. His goods are all absent from the shop window; he is not a man of the world in the wider meaning of that expression. And there is, of course, a particularly noxious type of travelling Briton, who does his best, unconsciously, to deflower his country wherever he goes. Selfish, coarse-fibred, loud-voiced—the sort which thanks God he is a Briton—I suppose because nobody else will do it for him.
We live in times when patriotism is exalted above all other virtues, because there happen to lie before the patriotic tremendous chances for the display of courage and self-sacrifice. Patriotism ever has that advantage, as the world is now constituted; but patriotism and provincialism are sisters under the skin, and they who can only see bloom on the plumage of their own kind, who prefer the bad points of their countrymen to the good points of foreigners, merely write themselves down blind of an eye, and panderers to herd feeling. America is advantaged in this matter. She lives so far away from other nations that she might well be excused for thinking herself the only people in the world; but in the many strains of blood which go to make up America there is as yet a natural corrective to the narrower kind of patriotism. America has vast spaces and many varieties of type and climate, and life to her is still a great adventure. Americans have their own form of self-absorption, but seem free as yet from the special competitive self-centrement which has been forced on Britons through long centuries by countless continental rivalries and wars. Insularity was driven into the very bones of our people by the generation-long wars of Napoleon. A distinguished French writer, Andr Chevrillon, whose book[B] may be commended to any one who wishes to understand British peculiarities, used these words in a recent letter: "You English are so strange to us French, you are so utterly different from any other people in the world." Yes! We are a lonely race. Deep in our hearts, I think, we feel that only the American people could ever really understand us. And being extraordinarily self-conscious, perverse, and proud, we do our best to hide from Americans that we have any such feeling. It would distress the average Briton to confess that he wanted to be understood, had anything so natural as a craving for fellowship or for being liked. We are a weird people, though we seem so commonplace. In looking at photographs of British types among photographs of other European nationalities, one is struck by something which is in no other of those races—exactly as if we had an extra skin; as if the British animal had been tamed longer than the rest. And so he has. His political, social, legal life was fixed long before that of any other Western country. He was old, though not mouldering, before the Mayflower touched American shores and brought there avatars, grave and civilised as ever founded nation. There is something touching and terrifying about our character, about the depth at which it keeps its real yearnings, about the perversity with which it disguises them, and its inability to show its feelings. We are, deep down, under all our lazy mentality, the most combative and competitive race in the world, with the exception, perhaps, of the American. This is at once a spiritual link with America, and yet one of the great barriers to friendship between the two peoples. We are not sure whether we are better men than Americans. Whether we are really better than French, Germans, Russians, Italians, Chinese, or any other race is, of course, more than a question; but those peoples are all so different from us that we are bound, I suppose, secretly to consider ourselves superior. But between Americans and ourselves, under all differences, there is some mysterious deep kinship which causes us to doubt and makes us irritable, as if we were continually being tickled by that question: Now am I really a better man than he? Exactly what proportion of American blood at this time of day is British, I know not; but enough to make us definitely cousins—always an awkward relationship. We see in Americans a sort of image of ourselves; feel near enough, yet far enough, to criticise and carp at the points of difference. It is as though a man went out and encountered, in the street, what he thought for the moment was himself, and, wounded in his amour propre, instantly began to disparage the appearance of that fellow. Probably community of language rather than of blood accounts for our sense of kinship, for a common means of expression cannot but mould thought and feeling into some kind of unity. One can hardly overrate the intimacy which a common literature brings. The lives of great Americans, Washington and Franklin, Lincoln and Lee and Grant, are unsealed for us, just as to Americans are the lives of Marlborough and Nelson, Pitt and Gladstone and Gordon. Longfellow and Whittier and Whitman can be read by the British child as simply as Burns and Shelley and Keats. Emerson and William James are no more difficult to us than Darwin and Spencer to Americans. Without an effort we rejoice in Hawthorne and Mark Twain, Henry James and Howells, as Americans can in Dickens and Thackeray, Meredith and Thomas Hardy. And, more than all, Americans own with ourselves all literature in the English tongue before the Mayflower sailed; Chaucer and Spenser and Shakespeare, Raleigh, Ben Jonson, and the authors of the English Bible Version are their spiritual ancestors as much as ever they are ours. The tie of language is all-powerful—for language is the food formative of minds. A volume could be written on the formation of character by literary humour alone. The American and Briton, especially the British townsman, have a kind of bone-deep defiance of Fate, a readiness for anything which may turn up, a dry, wry smile under the blackest sky, and an individual way of looking at things which nothing can shake. Americans and Britons both, we must and will think for ourselves, and know why we do a thing before we do it. We have that ingrained respect for the individual conscience which is at the bottom of all free institutions. Some years before the war an intelligent and cultivated Austrian, who had lived long in England, was asked for his opinion of the British. "In many ways," he said, "I think you are inferior to us; but one great thing I have noticed about you which we have not. You think and act and speak for yourselves." If he had passed those years in America instead of in England he must needs have pronounced the same judgment of Americans. Free speech, of course, like every form of freedom, goes in danger of its life in war-time. The other day, in Russia, an Englishman came on a street meeting shortly after the first revolution had begun. An extremist was addressing the gathering and telling them that they were fools to go on fighting, that they ought to refuse and go home, and so forth. The crowd grew angry, and some soldiers were for making a rush at him; but the chairman, a big, burly peasant, stopped them with these words: "Brothers, you know that our country is now a country of free speech. We must listen to this man, we must let him say anything he will. But, brothers, when he's finished, we'll bash his head in!"
I cannot assert that either Britons or Americans are incapable in times like these of a similar interpretation of "free speech." Things have been done in our country, and will be done in America, which should make us blush. But so strong is the free instinct in both countries that some vestiges of it will survive even this war, for democracy is a sham unless it means the preservation and development of this instinct of thinking for oneself throughout a people. "Government of the people by the people for the people" means nothing unless individuals keep their consciences unfettered and think freely. Accustom people to be nose-led and spoon-fed, and democracy is a mere pretence. The measure of democracy is the measure of the freedom and sense of individual responsibility in its humblest citizens. And democracy—I say it with solemnity—has yet to prove itself.
A scientist, Dr. Spurrell, in a recent book, "Man and his Forerunners," diagnoses the growth of civilisations somewhat as follows: A civilisation begins with the enslavement by some hardy race of a tame race living a tame life in more congenial natural surroundings. It is built up on slavery, and attains its maximum vitality in conditions little removed therefrom. Then, as individual freedom gradually grows, disorganisation sets in and the civilisation slowly dissolves away in anarchy. Dr. Spurrell does not dogmatise about our present civilisation, but suggests that it will probably follow the civilisations of the past into dissolution. I am not convinced of that, because of certain factors new to the history of man. Recent discoveries are unifying the world; such old isolated swoops of race on race are not now possible. In our great industrial States, it is true, a new form of slavery has arisen, but not of man by man, rather of man by machines. Moreover, all past civilisations have been more or less Southern, and subject to the sapping influence of the sun. Modern civilisation is essentially Northern. The individualism, however, which, according to Dr. Spurrell, dissolved the Empires of the past, exists already, in a marked degree, in every modern State; and the problem before us is to discover how democracy and liberty of the subject can be made into enduring props rather than dissolvents. It is the problem of making democracy genuine. And certainly, if that cannot be achieved and perpetuated, there is nothing to prevent democracy drifting into anarchism and dissolving modern States, till they are the prey of pouncing dictators, or of States not so far gone in dissolution. What, for instance, will happen to Russia if she does not succeed in making her democracy genuine? A Russia which remains anarchic must very quickly become the prey of her neighbours on West and East.
Ever since the substantial introduction of democracy nearly a century and a half ago with the American War of Independence, Western civilisation has been living on two planes or levels—the autocratic plane, with which is bound up the idea of nationalism, and the democratic, to which has become conjoined the idea of internationalism. Not only little wars, but great wars such as this, come because of inequality in growth, dissimilarity of political institutions between States; because this State or that is basing its life on different principles from its neighbours. The decentralisation, delays, critical temper, and importance of home affairs prevalent in democratic countries make them at once slower, weaker, less apt to strike, and less prepared to strike than countries where bureaucratic brains subject to no real popular check devise world policies which can be thrust, prepared to the last button, on the world at a moment's notice. The free and critical spirit in America, France, and Britain has kept our democracies comparatively unprepared for anything save their own affairs.
We fall into glib usage of words like democracy and make fetiches of them without due understanding. Democracy is inferior to autocracy from the aggressively national point of view; it is not necessarily superior to autocracy as a guarantee of general well-being; it may even turn out to be inferior unless we can improve it. But democracy is the rising tide; it may be dammed or delayed, but cannot be stopped. It seems to be a law in human nature that where, in any corporate society, the idea of self-government sets foot it refuses to take that foot up again. State after State, copying the American example, has adopted the democratic principle; the world's face is that way set. And civilisation is now so of a pattern that the Western world may be looked on as one State and the process of change therein from autocracy to democracy regarded as though it were taking place in a single old-time country such as Greece or Rome. If throughout Western civilisation we can secure the single democratic principle of government, its single level of State morality in thought and action, we shall be well on our way to unanimity throughout the world; for even in China and Japan the democratic virus is at work. It is my belief that only in a world thus uniform, and freed from the danger of pounce by autocracies, have States any chance to develop the individual conscience to a point which shall make democracy proof against anarchy and themselves proof against dissolution; and only in such a world can a League of Nations to enforce peace succeed.
But even if we do secure a single plane for Western civilisation and ultimately for the world, there will be but slow and difficult progress in the lot of mankind. And unless we secure it, there will be only a march backwards.
For this advance to a uniform civilisation the solidarity of the English-speaking races is vital. Without that there will be no bottom on which to build.
The ancestors of the American people sought a new country because they had in them a reverence for the individual conscience; they came from Britain, the first large State in the Christian era to build up the idea of political freedom. The instincts and ideals of our two races have ever been the same. That great and lovable people, the French, with their clear thought and expression, and their quick blood, have expressed those ideals more vividly than either of us. But the phlegmatic and the dry tenacity of our English and American temperaments has ever made our countries the most settled and safe homes of the individual conscience, and of its children—Democracy, Freedom and Internationalism. Whatever their faults—and their offences cry aloud to such poor heaven as remains of chivalry and mercy—the Germans are in many ways a great race, but they possess two qualities dangerous to the individual conscience—unquestioning obedience and exaltation. When they embrace the democratic idea they may surpass us all in its logical development, but the individual conscience will still not be at ease with them. We must look to our two countries to guarantee its strength and activity, and if we English-speaking races quarrel and become disunited, civilisation will split up again and go its way to ruin. We are the ballast of the new order.
I do not believe in formal alliances or in grouping nations to exclude and keep down other nations. Friendships between countries should have the only true reality of common sentiment, and be animated by desire for the general welfare of mankind. We need no formal bonds, but we have a sacred charge in common, to let no petty matters, differences of manner, or divergencies of material interest, destroy our spiritual agreement. Our pasts, our geographical positions, our temperaments make us, beyond all other races, the hope and trustees of mankind's advance along the only line now open—democratic internationalism. It is childish to claim for Americans or Britons virtues beyond those of other nations, or to believe in the superiority of one national culture to another; they are different, that is all. It is by accident that we find ourselves in this position of guardianship to the main line of human development; no need to pat ourselves on the back about it. But we are at a great and critical moment in the world's history—how critical none of us alive will ever realise. The civilisation slowly built since the fall of Rome has either to break up and dissolve into jagged and isolated fragments through a century of wars; or, unified and reanimated by a single idea, to move forward on one plane and attain greater height and breadth.
Under the pressure of this war there is, beneath the lip-service we pay to democracy, a disposition to lose faith in it because of its undoubted weakness and inconvenience in a struggle with States autocratically governed; there is even a sort of secret reaction to autocracy. On those lines there is no way out of a future of bitter rivalries, chicanery and wars, and the probable total failure of our civilisation. The only cure which I can see lies in democratising the whole world and removing the present weaknesses and shams of democracy by education of the individual conscience in every country. Good-bye to that chance if Americans and Britons fall foul of each other, refuse to pool their thoughts and hopes, and to keep the general welfare of mankind in view. They have got to stand together, not in aggressive and jealous policies, but in defence and championship of the self-helpful, self-governing, "live and let live" philosophy of life.
The house of the future is always dark. There are few corner-stones to be discerned in the temple of our fate. But of these few one is the brotherhood and bond of the English-speaking races, not for narrow purposes, but that mankind may yet see faith and good-will enshrined, yet breathe a sweeter air, and know a life where Beauty passes, with the sun on her wings.
We want in the lives of men a "Song of Honour," as in Ralph Hodgson's poem:
"The song of men all sorts and kinds, As many tempers, moods and minds As leaves are on a tree, As many faiths and castes and creeds, As many human bloods and breeds, As in the world may be."
In the making of that song the English-speaking races will assuredly unite. What made this world we know not; the principle of life is inscrutable and will for ever be; but we know that Earth is yet on the up-grade of existence, the mountain-top of man's life not reached, that many centuries of growth are yet in front of us before Nature begins to chill this planet till it swims, at last, another moon, in space. In the climb to that mountain-top of a happy life for mankind our two great nations are as guides who go before, roped together in perilous ascent. On their nerve, loyalty, and wisdom the adventure now hangs. What American or British knife will sever the rope?
He who ever gives a thought to the life of man at large, to his miseries and disappointments, to the waste and cruelty of existence, will remember that if American or Briton fail himself, or fail the other, there can but be for us both, and for all other peoples, a hideous slip, a swift and fearful fall into an abyss, whence all shall be to begin over again.
We shall not fail—neither ourselves, nor each other. Our comradeship will endure.
[B] "England and the War." Hodder & Stoughton.
ANGLO-AMERICAN DRAMA AND ITS FUTURE[C]
There is a maxim particularly suitable to those who follow any art: "Don't talk about what you do!" And yet, once in a way, one must clear the mind and put into words what lies at the back of endeavour.
What, then, is lying at the back of any growth or development there may have been of late in drama?
In my belief, simply an outcrop of sincerity—of fidelity to mood, to impression, to self. A man here and there has turned up who has imagined something true to what he has really seen and felt, and has projected it across the foot-lights in such a way as to make other people feel it. This is all that has happened lately on our stage. And if it be growth, it will not be growth in quantity, since there is nothing like sincerity for closing the doors of theatres. For, just consider what sincerity excludes: All care for balance at the author's bank—even when there is no balance; all habit of consulting the expression on the public's face; all confectioning of French plays; all the convenient practice of adding up your plots on the principle that two and two make five. These it excludes. It includes: Nothing because it pays; nothing because it will make a sensation; no situations faked; no characters falsified; no fireworks; only something imagined and put down in a passion of sincerity. What plays, you may say, are left? Well, that was the development in our drama before this war began. The war arrested it, as it arrested every movement of the day in civil life. But whether in war or peace, the principles which underlie art remain the same and are always worth consideration.
Sincerity in the theatre and commercial success are not necessarily, but they are generally, opposed. It is more or less a happy accident when, they coincide. This grim truth cannot be blinked. Not till the heavens fall will the majority of the public demand sincerity. And all that they who care for sincerity can hope for is that the supply of sincere drama will gradually increase the demand for it—gradually lessen the majority which has no use for that disturbing quality. The burden of this struggle is on the shoulders of the dramatists. It is useless and unworthy for them to complain that the public will not stand sincerity, that they cannot get sincere plays acted, and so forth. If they have not the backbone to produce what they feel they ought to produce, without regard to what the public wants, then good-bye to progress of any kind. If they are of the crew who cannot see any good in a fight unless they know it is going to end in victory; if they expect the millennium with every spring—they will advance nothing. Their job is to set their teeth, do their work in their own way, without thinking much about result, and not at all about reward, except from their own consciences. Those who want sincerity will always be the few, but they may well be more numerous than now; and to increase their number is worth a struggle. That struggle was the much-sneered-at, much-talked-of so-called "new" movement in our British drama.
Now it was the fashion to dub this new drama the "serious" drama; the label was unfortunate, and not particularly true. If Rabelais or Robert Burns appeared again in mortal form and took to writing plays, they would be "new" dramatists with a vengeance—as new as ever Ibsen was, and assuredly they would be sincere. But could they well be called "serious"? Can we call Synge, or St. John Hankin, or Shaw, or Barrie serious? Hardly! Yet they are all of this new movement in their very different ways, because they are sincere. The word "serious," in fact, has too narrow a significance and admits a deal of pompous stuff which is not sincere. While the word "sincere" certainly does not characterise all that is popularly included under the term "new drama," it as certainly does characterise (if taken in its true sense of fidelity to self) all that is really new in it, and excludes no mood, no temperament, no form of expression which can pass the test of ringing true. Look, for example, at the work of those two whom we could so ill spare—Synge and St. John Hankin. They were as far apart as dramatists well could be, except that each had found a special medium—the one a kind of lyric satire, the other a neat, individual sort of comedy—which seemed exactly to express his spirit. Both forms were in a sense artificial, but both were quite sincere; for through them each of these two dramatists, so utterly dissimilar, shaped forth the essence of his broodings and visions of life, with all their flavour and individual limitations. And that is all one means by—all one asks of—sincerity.
Then why make such a fuss about it?
Because it is rare, and an implicit quality of any true work of art, realistic or romantic.
Art is not art unless it is made out of an artist's genuine feeling and vision, not out of what he has been told he ought to feel and see. For art exists not to confirm people in their tastes and prejudices, not to show them what they have seen before, but to present them with a new vision of life. And if drama be an art (which the great public denies daily, but a few of us still believe), it must reasonably be expected to present life as each dramatist sees it, and not to express things because they pander to popular prejudice, or are sensational, or because they pay.
If you want further evidence that the new dramatic movement is marked out by its struggle for sincerity, and by that alone, examine a little the various half-overt oppositions with which it meets.
Why is the commercial manager against it?
Because it is quite naturally his business to cater for the great public; and, as before said, the majority of the public does not, never will, want sincerity; it is too disturbing. The commercial manager will answer: "The great public does not dislike sincerity, it only dislikes dullness." Well! Dullness is not an absolute, but a very relative term—a term likely to have a different meaning for a man who knows something about life and art from that which it has for a man who knows less. And one may remark that if the great public's standard of what is really "amusing" is the true one, it is queer that the plays which tickle the great public hardly ever last a decade, while the plays which do not tickle them occasionally last for centuries. The "dullest" plays, one might say roughly, are those which last the longest. Witness Euripides!
Why are so many actor-managers against the new drama?
Because their hearts are quite naturally set on such insincere distortions of values as are necessary to a constant succession of "big parts" for themselves. Sincerity does not necessarily exclude heroic characters, but it does exclude those mock heroics which actor-managers have been known to prefer—not to real heroics, perhaps, but to simple and sound studies of character.
Why is the Censorship against it?
Because censorship is quite naturally the guardian of the ordinary prejudices of sentiment and taste, and quaintly innocent of knowledge that in any art fidelity of treatment is essential to a theme. Indeed, I am sure that this peculiar office would regard it as fantastic for a poor devil of an artist to want to be faithful or sincere. The demand would appear pedantic and extravagant.
Some say that the critics are against the new drama. That is not in the main true. The inclination of most critics is to welcome anything with a flavour of its own; it would be odd indeed if it were not so—they get so much of the other food! They are, in general, friends to sincerity. But the trouble with the critic is rather the fixed idea. He has to print his opinion of an author's work, while other men have only to think it; and when it comes to receiving a fresh impression of the same author, his already recorded words are liable to act on him rather as the eyes of a snake act on a rabbit. Indeed, it must be very awkward, when you have definitely labelled an author this, or that, to find from his next piece of work that he is the other as well! The critic who can make blank his soul of all that he has said before may indeed exist—in Paradise!
Why is the greater public against the new drama?
By the greater public I in no sense mean the public who don't keep motor cars—the greater public comes from the West-end as much as ever it comes from the East-end. Its opposition to the "new drama" is neither covert, doubtful, nor conscious of itself. The greater public is like an aged friend of mine, who, if you put into his hands anything but Sherlock Holmes, or The Waverley Novels, says: "Oh! that dreadful book!" His taste is excellent, only he does feel that an operation should be performed on all dramatists and novelists by which they should be rendered incapable of producing anything but what my aged friend is used to. The greater public, in fact, is either a too well-dined organism which wishes to digest its dinner, or a too hard-worked organism longing for a pleasant dream. I sympathise with the greater public!...
A friend once said to me: "Champagne has killed the drama." It was half a truth. Champagne is an excellent thing, and must not be disturbed. Plays should not have anything in them which can excite the mind. They should be of a quality to just remove the fumes by eleven o'clock and make ready the organism for those suppers which were eaten before the war. Another friend once said to me: "It is the rush and hurry and strenuousness of modern life which is scotching the drama." Again, it was half a truth. Why should not the hard-worked man have his pleasant dream, his detective story, his good laugh? The pity is that sincere drama would often provide as agreeable dreams for the hard-worked man as some of those reveries in which he now indulges, if only he would try it once or twice. That is the trouble—to get him to give it a chance.
The greater public will by preference take the lowest article in art offered to it. An awkward remark, and unfortunately true. But if a better article be substituted, the greater public very soon enjoys it every bit as much as the article replaced, and so on—up to a point which we need not fear we shall ever reach. Not that sincere dramatists are consciously trying to supply the public with a better article. A man could not write anything sincere with the elevation of the public as incentive. If he tried, he would be as lost as ever were the Pharisees making broad their phylacteries. He can only express himself sincerely by not considering the public at all. People often say that this is "cant," but it really isn't. There does exist a type of mind which cannot express itself in accordance with what it imagines is required; can only express itself for itself, and take the usually unpleasant consequences. This is, indeed, but an elementary truth, which since the beginning of the world has lain at the bottom of all real artistic achievement. It is not cant to say that the only things vital in drama, as in every art, are achieved when the maker has fixed his soul on the making of a thing which shall seem fine to himself. It is the only standard; all the others—success, money, even the pleasure and benefit of other people—lead to confusion in the artist's spirit, and to the making of dust castles. To please your best self is the only way of being sincere. Most weavers of drama, of course, are perfectly sincere when they start out to ply their shuttles; but how many persevere in that mood to the end of their plays, in defiance of outside consideration? Here—says one to himself—it will be too strong meat; there it will not be sufficiently convincing; this natural length will be too short, that end too appalling; in such and such a shape I shall never get my play taken; I must write that part up and tone this character down. And when it is all done, effectively, falsely—what is there? A prodigious run, perhaps. But—the grave of all which makes the life of an artist worth the living. Well! well! We who believe this will never get too many others to believe it! Those heavens will not fall; theatre doors will remain open; the heavy diners will digest, and the over-driven man will dream. And yet, with each sincere thing made—even if only fit for reposing within a drawer—its maker is stronger, and will some day, perhaps, make that which need not lie covered away, but reach out from him to other men.
It is a wide word—sincerity. "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is no less sincere than "Hamlet," "The Mikado" as faithful to its mood of satiric frolicking as Ibsen's "Ghosts" to its mood of moral horror. Sincerity bars out no themes; it only demands that the dramatist's moods and visions should be intense enough to keep him absorbed; that he should have something to say so engrossing to himself that he has no need to stray here and there and gather purple plums to eke out what was intended to be an apple tart. Here is the heart of the matter: You cannot get sincere drama out of those who do not see and feel with sufficient fervour; and you cannot get good sincere drama out of those who will not hoe their rows to the very end. There is no faking and no scamping to the good in art. You may turn out the machine-made article very natty, but for the real hand-made thing you must have toiled in the sweat of your brow. In Britain it is a little difficult to persuade people that the writing of plays and novels is work. To many it remains one of those inventions of a certain potentate for idle hands to do. To some persons in high life, and addicted to field sports, it is still a species of licensed buffoonery, to be regulated by a sort of circus-master with a whip in one hand and a gingerbread nut in the other. By the truly simple soul it is thus summed up: "Work! Why, 'e sits writin' all day." To some, both green and young, it shines as a vocation entirely glorious and exhilarating. If one may humbly believe the evidence of his own senses, it is not any of these, but a patient calling, glamorous now and then, but with fifty minutes of hard labour and yearning to every ten of satisfaction. Not a pursuit, maybe, which one would change, but then, what man with a profession flies to others that he knows not of?
Novelists, it is true, even if they have not been taken too seriously by the people of these islands, have for a long time past respected themselves, but the calling of a dramatist till quite of late has been but an invertebrate and spiritless concern. Pruned and prismed by the censor, exploited by the actor, dragooned and slashed by the manager, ignored by the public, who never even bothered to inquire the names of those who supplied it with digestives—it was a slave's job. Thanks to a little sincerity it is not now a slave's job, and will not again, I think, become one.
From time to time in that vehicle of improvisation, that modern fairy tale—our daily paper—we read words such as these: "What has become of the boasted renascence of our stage?" or: "So much for all the trumpeting about the new drama!" When we come across such words, we remember that it is only natural for journals to say to-day the opposite of what they said yesterday. For they have to suit all tastes and preserve a decent equilibrium!
There is a new safeguard of the self-respecting dramatist which no amount of improvising for or against will explain away. Plays are now not merely acted, they are published and read, and will be read more and more. This does not mean, as some say, that they are being written for the study—they were never being written more deliberately, more carefully, for the stage. It does mean that they are tending more and more to comply with fidelity to theme, fidelity to self; and therefore are more and more able to bear the scrutiny of cold daylight. And for the first time, perhaps, since the days of Shakespeare there are dramatists in this country, not a few, faithful to themselves.
Now, all this is not merely fortuitous. For, however abhorrent such a notion may be to those yet wedded to Victorian ideals, we were, even before the war, undoubtedly passing through great changes in our philosophy of life. Just as a plant keeps on conforming to its environment, so our beliefs and ideals are conforming to our new social conditions and discoveries. There is in the air a revolt against prejudice, and a feeling that things must be re-tested. The spirit which, dwelling in pleasant places, would never re-test anything is now looked on askance. Even on our stage we are not enamoured of it. It is not the artist's business (be he dramatist or other) to preach. Admitted! His business is to portray; but portray truly he cannot if he has any of that glib doctrinaire spirit, devoid of the insight which comes from instinctive sympathy. He must look at life, not at a mirage of life compounded of authority, tradition, comfort, habit. The sincere artist, by the very nature of him, is bound to be curious and perceptive, with an instinctive craving to identify himself with the experience of others. This is his value, whether he express it in comedy, epic, satire, or tragedy. Sincerity distrusts tradition, authority, comfort, habit; cannot breathe the air of prejudice, and cannot stand the cruelties which arise from it. So it comes about that the new drama's spirit is essentially, inevitably human and—humane, essentially distasteful to many professing followers of the Great Humanitarian, who, if they were but sincere, would see that they secretly abhor His teachings and in practice continually invert them.
It is a fine age we live in—this age of a developing social conscience, and worthy of a fine and great art. But, though no art is fine unless it has sincerity, no amount of sincere intention will serve unless the expression of it be well-nigh perfect. An author is judged, not by intention but by achievement; and criticism is innately inclined to remark first on the peccadillo points of a person, a poem, or a play. If there be a scar on the forehead, a few false quantities, or weak endings, if there is an absence in the third act of some one who appeared in the first—it is always much simpler to complain of this than to feel or describe the essence of the whole. But this very pettiness in our criticism is, fortunately, a sort of safeguard. The French writer Buffon said: "Bien crire, c'est tout; car bien crire c'est bien sentir, bien penser, et bien dire." ... Let the artist then, by all means, make his work impeccable, clothe his ideas, feelings, visions, in just such garments as can withstand the winds of criticism. He himself must be his cruellest critic. Before cutting his cloth let him very carefully determine the precise thickness, shape, and colour best suited to the condition of his temperature. For there are still playwrights who, working in the full blast of an affaire between a poet and the wife of a stockbroker, will murmur to themselves: "Now for a little lyricism!" and drop into it. Or when the strong, silent stockbroker has brought his wife once more to heel: "Now for the moral!" and gives it us. Or when things are getting a little too intense: "Now for humour and variety!" and bring in the curate. This kind of tartan kilt is very pleasant on its native heath of London; but—hardly the garment of good writing. Good writing is only the perfect clothing of mood—the just right form. Shakespeare's form, you will say, was extraordinarily loose, wide, plastic; but then his spirit was ever changing its mood—a true chameleon. And as to the form of Mr. Shaw—who was once compared with Shakespeare—why! there is none. And yet, what form could so perfectly express Mr. Shaw's glorious crusade against stupidity, his wonderfully sincere and lifelong mood of sticking pins into a pig!
We are told, ad nauseam, that the stage has laws of its own, to which all dramatists must bow. Quite true! The stage has the highly technical laws of its physical conditions, which cannot be neglected. But even when they are all properly attended to, it is only behind the elbow of one who feels strongly and tries to express sincerely that right expression stands. The imaginative mood, coming who knows when, staying none too long, is a mistress who deserves, and certainly expects, fidelity. True to her while she is there, do not, when she is not there, insult her by looking in every face and thinking it will serve! These are laws of sincerity which not even a past-master in the laws of the stage can afford to neglect. Anything is better than resorting to moral sentiments and solutions because they are current coin, or to decoration because it is "the thing." And—as to humour: though nothing is more precious than the genuine topsy-turvy feeling, nothing is more pitifully unhumorous than the dragged-in epigram or dismal knockabout, which has no connection with the persons or philosophy of the play.
I suppose it is easy to think oneself sincere; it is certainly difficult to be that same. Imagine the smile, and the blue pencil, of the Spirit of Sincerity if we could appoint him Censor. I would not lift my pen against that Censorship though he excised—as perhaps he might—the half of my work. Sometimes one has a glimpse of his ironic face and his swift fingers, busy with those darkening pages. Once I dreamed about him. It was while a certain Commission was sitting on the British Censorship, which still so admirably guards Insincerity, and he was giving evidence before them. This, I remember, was what he said:
"You wish to learn of me what is sincerity? Look into yourselves, for what lies deepest within you. Each living thing varies from every other living thing, and never twice are there quite the same set of premises from which to draw conclusion. Give up asking of any but yourselves for the whereabouts of truth; and if some one says that he can tell you where it is, don't believe him; he might as well lay a trail of sand and think it will stay there for ever." He stopped, and I could see him looking to judge what impression he had made upon the Commission. But those gentlemen behaved as if they had not heard him. The Spirit of Sincerity coughed. "By Jove, gentlemen," he said, "it's clear you don't care what impression you make on me. Evidently it is for me to learn sincerity from you!"
There was once a gentleman, lately appointed to assist in the control of the exuberance of plays, who stated in public print that there had been no plays of any value written since 1885, entirely denying that this new drama was any better than the old drama, cut to the pattern of Scribe and Sardou. Certainly, novelty is not necessarily improvement. Comparison must be left to history. But it is just as well to remember that we are not born connoisseurs of plays. Without trying the new we shall not know if it is better than the old. To appreciate even drama at its true value, a man must be educated just a little. When I first went to the National Gallery in London I was struck dumb with love of Landseer's stags and a Greuze damsel with her cheek glued to her own shoulder, and became voluble from admiration of the large Turner and the large Claude hung together in that perpetual prize-fight! At a second visit I discovered Sir Joshua's "Countess of Albemarle" and old Crome's "Mousehold Heath," and did not care quite so much for Landseer's stags. And again and again I went, and each time saw a little differently, a little clearer, until at last my time was spent before Titian's "Bacchus and Ariadne," Botticelli's "Portrait of a Young Man," the Francescas, Da Messina's little "Crucifixion," the Uccello battle picture (that great test of education), the Velasquez (?) "Admiral," Hogarth's "Five Servants," and the immortal "Death of Procris." Admiration for stags and maidens—where was it?
This analogy of pictures does not pretend that our "new drama" is as far in front of the old as the "Death of Procris" is in front of Landseer's stags. Alas, no! It merely suggests that taste is encouraged by an open mind, and is a matter of gradual education.
To every man his sincere opinion! But before we form opinions, let us all walk a little through our National Gallery of drama, with inquiring eye and open mind, to see and know for ourselves. For, to know, a man cannot begin too young, cannot leave off too old. And always he must have a mind which feels it will never know enough. In this way alone he will, perhaps, know something before he dies.
And even if he require of the drama only buffoonery, or a digestive for his dinner, why not be able to discern good buffoonery from bad, and the pure digestive from the drug?
One is, I suppose, prejudiced in favour of this "new drama" of sincerity, of these poor productions of the last fifteen years, or so. It may be, indeed, that many of them will perish and fade away. But they are, at all events, the expression of the sincere moods of men who ask no more than to serve an art, which, heaven knows, has need of a little serving.
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So much for the principles underlying the advance of the drama. But what about the chances of drama itself under the new conditions which will obtain when the war ends?
For the moment our world is still convulsed, and art of every kind trails a lame foot before a public whose eyes are fixed on the vast and bloody stage of the war. When the last curtain falls, and rises again on the scenery of Peace, shall we have to revalue everything? Surely not the fundamental truths; these reflections on the spirit which underlie all true effort in dramatic art may stand much as they were framed, now five years ago. Fidelity to mood, to impression, to self will remain what it was—the very kernel of good dramatic art; whether that fidelity will find a more or less favourable environment remains the interesting speculation. When we come to after-war conditions a sharp distinction will have to be drawn between the chances of sincere drama in America and Britain. It is my strong impression that sincere dramatists in America are going to have an easier time than they had before the war, but that with us they are going to have a harder. My reasons are threefold. The first and chief reason is economic. However much America may now have to spend, with her late arrival, vaster resources, and incomparably greater recuperative power, she will feel the economic strain but little in comparison with Britain. Britain, not at once, but certainly within five years of the war's close, will find that she has very much less money to spend on pleasure. Now, under present conditions of education, when the average man has little to spend on pleasure, he spends it first in gratifying his coarser tastes. And the average Briton is going to spend his little on having his broad laughs and his crude thrills. By the time he has gratified that side of himself he will have no money left. Those artists in Britain who respect sthetic truths and practise sincerity will lose even the little support they ever had from the great public there; they will have to rely entirely on that small public which always wanted truth and beauty, and will want it even more passionately after the war. But that little public will be poorer also, and, I think, not more numerous than it was. The British public is going to be split more definitely into two camps—a very big and a very little camp. What this will mean to the drama of sincerity only those who have watched its struggle in the past will be able to understand. The trouble in Britain—and I daresay in every country—is that the percentage of people who take art of any kind seriously is ludicrously small. And our impoverishment will surely make that percentage smaller by cutting off the recruiting which was always going on from the ranks of the great public. How long it will take Britain to recover even pre-war conditions I do not venture to suggest. But I am pretty certain that there is no chance for a drama of truth and beauty there for many years to come, unless we can get it endowed in such a substantial way as shall tide it over—say—the next two decades. What we require is a London theatre undeviatingly devoted to the production of nothing but the real thing, which will go its own way, year in, year out, quite without regard to the great public; and we shall never get it unless we can find some benevolent, public-spirited person or persons who will place it in a position of absolute security. If we could secure this endowment, that theatre would become in a very few years the most fashionable, if not the most popular, in London, and even the great public would go to it. Nor need such a theatre be expensive—as theatres go—for it is to the mind and not to the eye that it must appeal. A sufficient audience is there ready; what is lacking is the point of focus, a single-hearted and coherent devotion to the best, and the means to pursue that ideal without extravagance but without halting. Alas! in England, though people will endow or back almost anything else, they will not endow or back an art theatre.
So much for the economic difficulty in Britain; what about America? The same cleavage obtains in public taste, of course, but numbers are so much larger, wealth will be so much greater, the spirit is so much more inquiring, the divisions so much less fast set, that I do not anticipate for America any block on the line. There will still be plenty of money to indulge every taste.
Art, and especially, perhaps, dramatic art, which of all is most dependent on a favourable economic condition, will gravitate towards America, which may well become in the next ten years not only the mother, but the foster-mother, of the best Anglo-Saxon drama.
My next reason for thinking that sincerity in art will have a better chance with Americans than in Britain in the coming years is psychological. They are so young a nation, we are so old; world-quakes to them are such an adventure, to us a nerve-racking, if not a health-shattering event. They will take this war in their stride, we have had to climb laboriously over it. They will be left buoyant; we, with the rest of Europe, are bound to lie for long years after in the trough of disillusionment. The national mood with them will be more than ever that of inquiry and exploit. With us, unless I make a mistake, after a spurt of hedonism—a going on the spree—there will be lassitude. Every European country has been overtried in this hideous struggle, and Nature, with her principle of balance, is bound to take redress. For Americans the war, nationally speaking, will have been but a bracing of the muscles and nerves, a clearing of the skin and eyes. Such a mental and moral condition will promote in them a deeper philosophy and a more resolute facing of truth.
And that brings me to my third reason. The American outlook will be permanently enlarged by this tremendous experience. Materially and spiritually she will have been forced to witness and partake of the life, thought, culture, and troubles of the old world. She will have, unconsciously, assimilated much, been diverted from the beer and skittles of her isolated development in a great new country. Americans will find themselves suddenly grown up. Not till a man is grown up does he see and feel things deeply enough to venture into the dark well of sincerity.
America is an eager nation. She has always been in a hurry. If I had to point out the capital defect in the attractive temperament of the American people, I should say it was a passion for short cuts. That has been, in my indifferent judgment, the very natural, the inevitable weakness in America's spiritual development. The material possibilities, the opportunities for growth and change, the vast spaces, the climate, the continual influxions of new blood and new habits, the endless shifts of life and environment, all these factors have been against that deep brooding over things, that close and long scrutiny into the deeper springs of life, out of which the sincerest and most lasting forms of art emerge; nearly all the conditions of American existence during the last fifty years have been against the settled life and atmosphere which influence men to the re-creation in art form of that which has sunk deep into their souls. Those who have seen the paintings of the Italian artist Segantini will understand what I mean. There have been many painters of mountains, but none whom I know of save he who has reproduced the very spirit of those great snowy spaces. He spent his life among them till they soaked into his nerves, into the very blood of him. All else he gave up, to see and feel them so that he might reproduce them in his art. Or let me take an instance from America. That enchanting work of art "Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn," by the great Mark Twain. What reproduction of atmosphere and life; what scent of the river, and old-time country life, it gives off! How the author must have been soaked in it to have produced those books!
The whole tendency of our age has been away from hand-made goods, away from the sort of life which produced the great art of the past. That is too big a subject to treat of here. But certainly a sort of feverish impatience has possessed us all, America not least. It may be said that this will be increased by the war. I think the opposite. Hard spiritual experience and contact with the old world will deepen the American character and cool its fevers, and Americans will be more thorough, less impatient, will give themselves to art and to the sort of life which fosters art, more than they have ever yet given themselves. Great artists, like Whistler and Henry James, will no longer seek their quiet environments in Europe. I believe that this war will be for America the beginning of a great art age; I hope so with all my heart. For art will need a kind home and a new lease of life.
A certain humble and yet patient and enduring belief in himself and his own vision is necessary to the artist. I think that Americans have only just begun to believe in themselves as artists, but that this belief is now destined to grow quickly. America has a tremendous atmosphere of her own, a wonderful life, a wonderful country, but so far she has been skating over its surface. The time has come when she will strike down, think less in terms of material success and machine-made perfections. The time has come when she will brood, and interpret more and more the underlying truths, and body forth an art which shall be a spiritual guide, shed light, and show the meaning of her multiple existence. It will reveal dark things, but also those quiet heights to which man's spirit turns for rest and faith in this bewildering maze of a world. And to this art about to come—art inevitably moves slowly—into its own, to American drama, poetry, fiction, music, painting, sculpture—sincerity, an unswerving fidelity to self, alone will bring the dignity worthy of a great and free people.
[C] The first part of this paper was published in the Hibbert Journal in 1910.
"When we survey the world around, the wondrous things which there abound"—especially the developments of these last years—there must come to some of us a doubt whether this civilisation of ours is to have a future. Mr. Lowes Dickenson, in an able book, "The Choice Before Us," has outlined the alternate paths which the world may tread after the war—"National Militarism" or "International Pacifism." He has pointed out with force the terrible dangers on the first of these two paths, the ruinous strain and ultimate destruction which a journey down it will inflict on every nation. But, holding a brief for International Pacifism, he was not, in that book, at all events, concerned to point out the dangers which beset Peace. When, in the words of President Wilson, we have made the world safe for democracy, it will be high time to set about making it safe against civilisation itself.
The first thing, naturally, is to ensure a good long spell of peace. If we do not, we need not trouble ourselves for a moment over the future of civilisation—there will be none. But a long spell of peace is probable; for, though human nature is never uniform, and never as one man shall we get salvation; sheer exhaustion, and disgust with its present bed-fellows—suffering, sacrifice, and sudden death—will almost surely force the world into international quietude. For the first time in history organised justice, such as for many centuries has ruled the relations between individuals, may begin to rule those between States, and free us from menace of war for a period which may be almost indefinitely prolonged. To perpetuate this great change in the life of nations is very much an affair of getting men used to that change; of setting up a Tribunal which they can see and pin their faith to, which works, and proves its utility, which they would miss if it were dissolved. States are proverbially cynical, but if an International Court of Justice, backed by international force, made good in the settlement of two or three serious disputes, allayed two or three crises, it would with each success gain prestige, be firmer and more difficult to uproot, till it might at last become as much a matter of course in the eyes of the cynical States as our Law Courts are in the eyes of our enlightened selves.
Making, then, the large but by no means hopeless assumption that such a change may come, how is our present civilisation going to "pan out"?
In Samuel Butler's imagined country, "Erewhon," the inhabitants had broken up all machinery, abandoned the use of money, and lived in a strange elysium of health and beauty. I often wonder how, without something of the sort, modern man is to be prevented from falling into the trombone he blows so loudly, from being destroyed by the very machines he has devised for his benefit. The problem before modern man is clearly that of becoming master, instead of slave, of his own civilisation. The history of the last hundred and fifty years, especially in England, is surely one long story of ceaseless banquet and acute indigestion. Certain Roman Emperors are popularly supposed to have taken drastic measures during their feasts to regain their appetites; we have not their "slim" wisdom; we do not mind going on eating when we have had too much.
I do not question the intentions of civilisation—they are most honourable. To be clean, warm, well nourished, healthy, decently leisured, and free to move quickly about the world, are certainly pure benefits. And these are presumably the prime objects of our toil and ingenuity, the ideals to be served, by the discovery of steam, electricity, modern industrial machinery, telephony, flying. If we attained those ideals, and stopped there—well and good. Alas! the amazing mechanical conquests of the age have crowded one on another so fast that we have never had time to digest their effects. Each as it came we hailed as an incalculable benefit to mankind, and so it was, or would have been, if we had not the appetites of cormorants and the digestive powers of elderly gentlemen. Our civilisation reminds one of the corpse in the Mark Twain story which, at its own funeral, got up and rode with the driver. It is watching itself being buried. We discover, and scatter discovery broadcast among a society uninstructed in the proper use of it. Consider the town-ridden, parasitic condition of Great Britain—the country which cannot feed itself. If we are beaten in this war, it will be because we have let our industrial system run away with us; because we became so sunk in machines and money-getting that we forgot our self-respect. No self-respecting nation would have let its food-growing capacity and its country life down to the extent that we have. If we are beaten—which God forbid—we shall deserve our fate. And why did our industrial system get such a mad grip on us? Because we did not master the riot of our inventions and discoveries. Remember the spinning jenny—whence came the whole system of Lancashire cotton factories which drained a countryside of peasants and caused a deterioration of physique from which as yet there has been no recovery. Here was an invention which was to effect a tremendous saving of labour and be of sweeping benefit to mankind. Exploited without knowledge, scruple, or humanity, it also caused untold misery and grievous national harm. Read, mark, and learn Mr. and Mrs. Hammond's book, "The Town Labourer." The spinning jenny and similar inventions have been the forces which have dotted beautiful counties of England with the blackest and most ill-looking towns in the world, have changed the proportion of country- to town-dwellers from about 3 as against 2 in 1761 to 2 as against 7 in 1911; have strangled our powers to feed ourselves, and so made us a temptation to our enemies and a danger to the whole world. We have made money by it; our standard of wealth has gone up. I remember having a long talk with a very old shepherd on the South Downs, whose youth and early married life were lived on eight shillings a week; and he was no exception. Nowadays our agricultural wage averages over thirty shillings, though it buys but little more than the eight. Still, the standard of wealth has superficially advanced, if that be any satisfaction. But have health, beauty, happiness among the great bulk of the population?