"Yes, there is something in that," said Father Payne. "Of course that is always the difficulty about the artist, that he appears to live selfishly in joy—but it applies to most things. The best you can do for the world is often to turn your back upon it. Philanthropy is a beautiful thing in its way, but it must be done by people who like it—it is useless if it is done in a grim and self-penalising way. If a man is really big enough to follow art, he had better follow it. I do not believe very much in the doctrine that service to be useful must be painful. No one doubts that Wordsworth gave more joy to humanity by living his own life than if he had been a country doctor. Of course the sad part of it is when a man follows art and does not succeed in giving pleasure. But you must risk that—and a real devotion to a thing gives the best chance of happiness to a man, and is perhaps, too, his best chance of giving something to others. There is no reason to think that Shakespeare was a philanthropist."
"But does that apply to things like horse-racing or golf?" said Rose.
"No, you must not pursue comfort," said Father Payne; "but I don't believe in the theory that we have all got to set out to help other people. That implies that a man is aware of valuable things which he has to give away. Make friends if you can, love people if you can, but don't do it with a sense of duty. Do what is natural and beautiful and attractive to do. Make the little circle which surrounds you happy by sympathy and interest. Don't deal in advice. The only advice people take is that with which they agree. And have your own work. I think we are—many of us—afraid of enjoying work; but in any case, if we can show other people how to perceive and enjoy beauty, we have done a very great thing. The sense of beauty is growing in the world. Many people are desiring it, and religion doesn't cater for it, nor does duty cater for it. But it is the only way to make progress—and religion has got to find out how to include beauty in its programme, or it will be left stranded. Nothing but beauty ever lifted people higher—the unsensuous, inexplicable charm, which makes them ashamed of dull, ugly, greedy, quarrelsome ways. It is only by virtue of beauty that the world climbs higher—and if the world does climb higher by something which isn't obviously beautiful, it is only that we do not recognise it as beautiful. Sin and evil are signals from the unknown, of course; but they are danger signals, and we follow them with terror—but beauty is a signal too, and it is the signal made by peace and happiness and joy."
The talk one evening turned on War; Lestrange said that he believed it was good for a nation to have a war: "It unites them with the sense of a common purpose, it evokes self-sacrifice, it makes them turn to God."
"Yes, yes," said Father Payne, rather impatiently. "But you can't personify a nation like that; that personification of societies and classes and sections of the human race does no end of harm. It is all a matter of statistics, not of generalisation. Take your three statements. 'It is good for a nation to have a war.' You mean, I suppose, that, in spite of the loss of the best stock and the disabling of strong young men, and the disintegration of families, and the hideous waste of time and money—subtracting all that—there is a balance of good to the survivors?"
"Yes, I think so," said Lestrange.
"But are you sure about this?" said Father Payne. "How do you know? Would you feel the same if you yourself were turned out a helpless invalid for life with your occupation gone? Are you sure that you are not only expressing the feeling of relief in the community at having a danger over? Is it more than the sense of gratitude of a man who has not suffered unbearably, to the people who have died and suffered? The only evidence worth having is that of the real sufferers. Take the case of the people who have died. You can't get evidence from them. It is an assumption that they are content to have died. Is not the glory which surrounds them—and how short a time that lasts!—a human attempt to make consciences comfortable, and to relieve human doubts? The worst of that theory is that it makes so light of the worth of life; and, after all, a soldier's business is to kill and not to be killed; while, generally speaking, the worst turn that a strong, healthy, and honest man can do to his country is to die prematurely. Of course war has a great and instinctive prestige about it; are we not misled by that into accepting it as an inevitable business?"
"No, I believe there is a real gain," said Lestrange, "in the national sense of unity, in the feeling of having been equal to an emergency."
"But are you speaking of a nation which conquers or a nation which is defeated?" said Father Payne.
"Both," said Lestrange; "it unites a nation in any case."
"But if a nation is defeated," said Father Payne, "are they the better for the common depression of not having been equal to the emergency?"
"It may make them set their teeth," said Lestrange, "and prepare themselves better."
"Then it does not matter," said Father Payne, "whether they are united by the complacency of conquest or by the desire for revenge?"
"I would not quite say that," said Lestrange. "But at all events a desire for revenge might teach them discipline."
"I can't believe that," said Father Payne; "it seems to me to make all the difference what the purpose has been. I do not believe that a nation gains by being united for a predatory and aggressive purpose. I think the victory of the Germans in the Franco-Prussian war has been wholly bad for them. It has made them believe in aggressiveness. A nation naturally philosophical and moral, and also both energetic and stupid, acquires the sense of a divine mission like that. I don't believe that a belief in your own methods of virtue is a wholesome belief. That seems to me likely to perpetuate war—and I suppose that we should all believe that war was an evil, if we could produce the good results of it without war."
We all agreed to this.
"I will grant," said Father Payne, "that if a nation which sincerely believes in peace and wishes to cultivate goodwill, is wantonly and aggressively attacked, and repels that attack, it may gain much from war if it sticks to its theory, does not attempt reprisals, and leaves the conquered bully in a position to see its mistake and regain its self-respect. But it is a very dangerous kind of success for all that. I do not believe that complacency ever does anything but harm. The purpose must be a good one in the first place, the cause must be a great one, and it must be honestly pursued to the end, if it is to help a nation. But it lets all sorts of old and evil passions loose, and it makes slaughter glorious. No, I believe that at best it is a relapse into barbarism. Hardly any nation is strong enough and great enough to profit either by conquest or by defeat."
"But what about the splendid self-sacrifice it all evokes?" said Lestrange. "People give up their comfort, their careers, they go to face the last risk—is that nothing?"
"No," said Father Payne; "it is a very magnificent and splendid thing,—I don't deny that. But even so, that can't be preserved artificially. I mean that no one would think that, if there were no chance of a real war, it would be a good thing to evoke such self-sacrifice by having manoeuvres in which the best youth of the country were pitted against each other, to kill each other if possible. There must be a real cause behind it. No one would say it was a noble thing for the youth of a country to fling themselves down over a cliff or to infect themselves with leprosy to show that they could despise suffering and death. If it were possible to settle the differences between nations without war, war would be a wholly evil thing. The only thing that one can say is that while there exists a strong nation which believes enough in war to make war aggressively, other nations are bound to resist it. But the nation which believes in war is ipso facto an uncivilised nation."
"But does not a war," said Lestrange, "clear the air, and take people away from petty aims and trivial squabbles into a sterner and larger atmosphere?"
"Yes, I think it does," said Father Payne; "but a great pestilence might do that. We might be thankful for all the good we could get out of a pestilence, and be grateful for it; but we should never dream of artificially renewing it for that reason. I look upon war as a sort of pestilence, a contagion which spreads under certain conditions. But we disguise the evil of it from ourselves, if we allow ourselves to believe in its being intrinsically glorious. I can't believe that highway robbery has only to be organised on a sufficiently large scale to make it glorious. A man who resists highway robbery, and runs the risk of death, because he wants to put a stop to it, seems to me a noble person—quite different from the man who sees a row going on and joins in it because he does not want to be out of a good thing! Do you remember the story of the Irishman who saw a fight proceeding, and rushed into the fray wielding his shillelagh, and praying that it might fall on the right heads? We have all of us uncivilised instincts, but it does not make them civilised to join with a million other people in indulging them. I think that a man who refuses to join from conviction, at the risk of being hooted as a coward, is probably doing a braver thing still."
"But I have often, heard you say that life must be a battle," said Lestrange.
"Yes," said Father Payne, "but I know what I want to fight. I want the human race to join in fighting crime and disease, evil conditions of nurture, dishonesty and sensuality. I don't want to pit the finest stock of each country against each other. That is simple suicide, for two nations to kill off the men who could fight evil best. I want the nations to combine collectively for a good purpose, not to combine separately for a bad one."
"I see that," said Lestrange; "but I regard war as an inevitable element in society as at present constituted. I don't think the world can be persuaded out of it. If it ever ceases, it will die a natural death because it will suddenly be regarded as absurd. Meantime, I think it is our duty to regard the benefits of it; and, as I said, it turns a nation to God—it takes them out of petty squabbles, and makes them recognise a power beyond and behind the world."
"Yes, that is so," said Father Payne, "if you regard war as caused by God. But I rather believe that it is one of the things that God is fighting against! And I don't agree that it produces a noble temper all through. It does in many of the combatants; but there is nothing so characteristic at the outbreak of war as the amount of bullying that is done. Peaceful people are hooted at and shouted down; thousands of general convictions are over-ridden; the violent have it their own way; it seems to me to organise the unruly and obstreperous, and to force all gentler and more civilised natures into an unconvinced silence. Many of the people who do most for the happiness of the world can't face unpopularity. They are apt to think that there must be something wrong with themselves, something spiritless and abnormal, if they find themselves loathing the cruelties of which others seem to approve. I do not believe that war organises wholesome and sane opinion; I believe that it silences it. It is a time when base, heartless, cruel people can become heroes. It is true that it also gives serene, courageous, and calm people a great opportunity. But on the whole it is a bad time for sober, orderly, and peaceable people. I believe that it evokes a good many fine qualities—simplicity, uncomplaining patience, unselfishness, but it reveals them rather than creates them. It shows the worth of a nation, but it should want a great deal of evidence before I believe that it does more than prove to people that they are braver than they know. I can't believe vaguely in death and sorrow and disablement and waste being good things. It is merely a question of what you are paying so ghastly a price for. In the Napoleonic wars the price was paid for the liberties of Europe, to show a great nation that it must abandon the ideal of domination. That is a great cause; but it is great because men are evil, and not because they are good. War seems to me the temporary triumph of the old bad past over the finer and more beautiful future. Do not let us be taken in by the romance of it. That is the childish view, that loves the sight and sound of the marching column and the stirring music. People find it hard to believe that anything so strong and gallant and cheerful can have a sinister side. And no doubt for a young, strong, and bold man the excitement of it is an intense pleasure. But what we have to ask is whether we are right in taking so heavy a toll from the world for all that: I do not think it right, though it may be inevitable. But then I belong to the future, and I think I should be more at home in the world a thousand years hence than I am to-day."
"But I go back to my point," said Lestrange: "does not a great war like that send people to their knees in faith?"
"Depend upon it," said Father Payne, "that anything which makes people acquiesce in preventable evil, and see the beautiful effects of death and pain and waste, is the direct influence of the devil. It is the last and most guileful subtlety that he practises, to make us solemnly mournful and patient in the presence of calamities for which we have ourselves to thank. The only prayer worth praying in the time of war is not, 'Help us to bear this,' but 'Help us to cure this'; and to behave with meek reverence is to behave like the old servant in The Master of Ballantrae, who bore himself like an afflicted saint under an illness, the root of which was drunkenness. The worst religion is that which keeps its sense of repentance alive by its own misdeeds!"
He was silent for a moment, and then he said: "No, we mustn't make terms with war, any more than we must do with cholera. It's a great, heartbreaking evil, and it puts everything back a stage. Of course it brings out fine qualities—I know that—and so does a plague of cholera. It's the evil in both that brings out the fine things to oppose it. But we ought to have more faith, and believe that the fine qualities are there—war doesn't create them, it only shows you that they are present—and we believe in war because it reassures us about the presence of the great qualities. It shows them, and then blows them out, like the flame of a candle. But we want to keep them; we don't want just to be shown them, with a risk of extinguishing them. Example can do something, but not half as much as inheritance; and we sweep away the inheritance for the sake of the romantic delight of seeing the great virtues flare up. No," he said, "war is one of the evil things that is trying to hurt mankind, and disguising itself in shining armour; but it means men ill; it is for ever trying to bring their dreams to an end."
OF CADS AND PHARISEES
"There are only two sorts of people with whom it is impossible to live," said Father Payne one day, in a loud, mournful tone.
"Elderly women and young women, I suppose he means," said Rose softly.
"No," said Father Payne, "I protest! I adore sensible women, simple women, clever women, all non-predatory women—it is they who will not live with me. I forget they are not men, and they do not like that. And then they are so much more unselfish than men, that they have generally axes to grind, and I don't like that."
"Whom do you mean, then?" said I.
"Cads and Pharisees," said Father Payne, "and they are not two sorts really, but one. They are the people without imagination. It is that which destroys social life, the lack of imagination. The Pharisee is the cad with a tincture of Puritanism."
"What is the cad, then?" said I.
"Well," said Father Payne, "he is very easy to detect, and not very easy to define. He is the man who has got a perfectly definite idea of what he wants, and he suffers from isolation. He can't put himself into anyone's place, or get inside other people's minds. He is stupid, and he is unperceptive. He does not detect the little looks, gestures, tones of voice, which show when people are uncomfortable or disgusted. He is not uncomfortable or easily disgusted himself, and he does not much mind other people being so. He says what he thinks, and you have got to lump it. Sometimes he is good-natured enough, and even brave. There is an admirable sketch of a good-natured cad in one of Mrs. Walford's novels, who is the acme of kind indelicacy. The cad is dreadful to live with, because he is always making one ashamed, and ashamed of being ashamed, because many of the things he does do not really matter very much. Then, when he is out of sight and hearing, you cannot trust him. He makes mischief; he throws mud. If he is vexed with you, he injures you with other people. We are all criticised behind our backs, of course, and we have all faults which amuse and interest our friends; and it is not caddish to criticise friends if one is only interested in them. But the cad is not interested, except in clearing other people out of his way. He is treacherous and spiteful. He drops in upon you uninvited, and then he tells people he could not get enough to eat. He repeats things you have said about your friends to the people of whom you have spoken, leaving out all the justifications, and says that he thinks they ought to know how you abuse them. He borrows money of you, and if you ask him for repayment, he says he is not accustomed to be dunned. He never can bring himself to apologise for anything, and if you lose your temper with him, he says you are getting testy in your old age. His one idea is to be formidable, and he says that he does not let people take liberties with him. He takes a mean and solitary view of the world, and other people are merely channels for his own wishes, or obstacles to them. The only way is to keep him at arm's length, because he is not disarmed by any generosity or trustfulness; the discovery of caddishness in a man is the only excuse for breaking off a companionship. The worst of it is that cads are sometimes very clever, and don't let the caddishness appear till you are hooked. The mischief really is that the cad has no morals, no sense of social duty."
"What about Pharisees?" said I.
"Well, the Pharisee has too many morals," said Father Payne. "He is the person whose own tastes are a sort of standard. If you disagree with him, he thinks you must be wicked. If your tastes differ from his, they are of the nature of sin. You live under his displeasure. If he dresses for dinner, it is sloppy and middle-class not to do so. If he doesn't dress for dinner, the people who do are either wasting time or aping the manners of the great. He is always very strong about wasting time. If he likes gardening, he says it is the best sort of exercise; if he does not, he says that it is bilious work muddling about in a corner. Everything that he does is done on principle, but he uses his principles to bludgeon other people. If you make him the subject of a harmless jest, he says that he cannot bear personalities. You can please him only by deferring to him, and the only way to manage him is by gross flattery. A Pharisee can be a gentleman, and he isn't purely noxious like the cad; he is only unpleasant and discouraging. He is quite impervious to argument, and only says that he thought the principle he is contending for was generally accepted. The Pharisee wants in a heavy way to improve the world, and thinks meanly of it, while the cad thinks meanly of it, and wants to exploit it. The Pharisee is a tyrant, and hates freedom; but you can often make a friend of him by asking him a favour, if you are also prepared to be subsequently reminded of the trouble he took to serve you.
"I think that the Pharisee perhaps does most harm in the end, because he hates all experiments. He does harm to the young, because he makes them dislike virtue and mistrust beauty. The cad does not corrupt—in fact, I think he rather improves people, because he is so ugly a case of what no one wishes to be—and it is better to hate people than to be frightened of them. If we got a cad and a Pharisee in here, for instance, it would be easier to get rid of the cad than the Pharisee."
"I begin to breathe more freely," said Vincent. "I had begun to review my conscience."
Father Payne laughed. "It's all blank cartridge," he said.
I was walking with Father Payne in the garden one day of spring. I think I liked him better when I was alone with him than I did when we were all together. His mind expanded more tenderly and simply—less epigrammatically. He spoke of this once to me, saying: "I am at my best when alone; even one companion deflects me. I find myself wishing to please him, pinching off roughnesses, perfuming truth, diplomatising. This ought not to be, of course; and if one was not thorny, self-assertive, stupid, it would not be so; and every companion added makes me worse, because the strain of accommodation grows—I become vulgar and rough and boisterous in a large circle. I often feel: 'How these young men must be hating this gibbering and giggling ape, which after all is not really me!'" I tried to reassure him, but he shook his head, though with a smiling air. "Barthrop is not like that," he said, "the wise Barthrop! He is never suspicious or hasty—he does not think it necessary to affirm; yet you are never in any doubt what he thinks! He moves along like water, never anxious if he is held up or divided, creeping on as the land lies—that is the right way."
Presently he stopped, and looked long at some daffodil blades which were thrusting up in a sheltered place. "Look at the gray bloom on those blades," he said; "isn't that perfect? Fancy thinking of that—each of them so obviously the same thought taking shape, yet each of them different. Do not you see in them something calm, continuous, active—happy, in fact—at work; often tripped up and imprisoned, and thwarted—but moving on?" He was silent a little, and then he said: "This force of life—what a fascinating mystery it is—never dying, never ceasing, always coming back to shape itself into matter. I wonder sometimes it is not content to exist alone; but no, it is always back again, arranging matter, manipulating it into beautiful shapes and creatures, never discouraged; even when the plant falls ill and begins to pine away, the happy life is within it—languid perhaps, but just waiting for the release, till the cage in which it has imprisoned itself is opened, and then—so I believe—back again in an instant somewhere else.
"I am inclined to believe," he went on, "that that is what we are all about; it seems to me the only explanation for the fact that we care so much about the past and the future. If we are creatures of a day, why should we be interested? The only reason we care about the past is because we ourselves were there in it; and we care about the future because we shall be there in it again."
"You mean a sort of re-incarnation," I said.
"That's an ugly word for a beautiful thing," he said. "But this love of life, this impulse to live, to protect ourselves, to keep ourselves alive, must surely mean that we have always lived and shall always live. Some people think that dreadful. They think it is taking liberties with them. If they are rich and comfortable and dignified, they cannot bear to think that they may have to begin again, perhaps as a baby in a slum—or they grow tired, and think they want rest; but we can't rest—we must live again, we must be back at work; and of course the real hope in it all is that, when we do anything to make the world happier, it is our own future that we are working for. Who could care about the future of the world, if he was to be banished from it for ever? I was reading a book the other day, in which a wise and a good man said that he felt about the future progress of the world as Moses did about the promised land, 'not as of something we want to have for ourselves, but as of something which we want to exist, whether we exist or no,' I can't take so impersonal a view! If one really believed that one was going to be extinguished in death, one would care no more about the world's future than one cares where the passengers in a train are going to, when we get out at a station. Who, on arriving at home, can lose himself in wondering where his fellow-travellers have got to? We have better things to do than that! That is the sham altruism. It is as if a boy at school, instead of learning his own lesson, spent his time in imploring the other boys to learn theirs. That is what we are whipped for—for not learning our own lesson."
"But if all this is so," I said, "why don't we know that we shall live again? Why is the one thing which is important for us to know hidden from us?"
"I think we do know it," said Father Payne, "deep down in ourselves. It is why it is worth while to go on living. If we believed our reason, which tells us that we come to an end and sink into silence, we could not care to live, to suffer, to form passionate ties which must all be severed, only to sink into nothingness ourselves. If we will listen to our instincts, they assure us that it is all worth doing, because it all has a significance for us in the life that comes next."
"But if we are to go on living," I said, "are we to forget all the love and interest and delight of life? There seems no continuance of identity without memory."
"Oh," said Father Payne, "that is another delusion of reason. Our qualities remain—our power of being interested, of loving, of caring, of suffering. We practise them a little in one life, we practise them again in the next—that is why we improve. I forget who it was who said it, but it is quite true, that there are numberless people now alive, who, because of their orderliness, their patience, their kindness, their sweetness, would have been adored as saints if they had lived in mediaeval times. And that is the best reason we have for suppressing as far as we can our evil dispositions, and for living bravely and freely in happy energy, that we shall make a little better start next time. It is not the particular people we love who matter—it is the power of loving other people—and if we meet the same people as those we loved again, we shall love them again; and if we do not, why, there will be others to love. One of the worst limitations I feel is the fact that there are so many thousand people on earth whom I could love, if I could but meet them—and I am not going to believe that this wretched span of days is my only chance of meeting them. We need not be in a hurry—and yet we have no time to waste!"
He stopped for a moment, and then added: "When I lived in London, and was very poor, and had either too much or not enough to do, and was altogether very unhappy, I used to wander about the streets and wonder how I could be so much alone when there were so many possible friends. Just above Ludgate Railway Viaduct, as you go to St. Paul's, there is a church on your left, a Wren church, very plain, of white and blackened stone, and an odd lead spire at the top. It has hardly any ornament, but just over the central doorway, under a sort of pediment, there is a little childish angel's head, a beautiful little baby face, with such an expression of stifled bewilderment. It seems to say, 'Why should I hang here, covered with soot, with this mob of people jostling along below, in all this noise and dirt?' The child looks as if it was just about to burst into tears. I used to feel like that. I used to feel that I was meant to be happy, and even to make people happy, and that I had been caught and pinned down in a sort of pillory. It's a grievous mistake to feel like that. Self-pity is the worst of all luxuries! But I think I owe all my happiness to that bad time. Coming here was like a resurrection; and I never grudged the time when I was face to face with a nasty, poky, useless life. And if that can happen inside a single existence, I am not going to despair about the possibility of its happening in many existences. I dreamed the other night that I saw a party of little angels singing a song together, all absorbed in making music, and I recognised the little child of Ludgate Hill in the middle of them singing loud and clear. He gave me a little smile and something like a wink, and I knew that he had got his promotion. We ought all of us, and always, to be expecting that. But we have got to earn it, of course. It does not come if we wait with folded hands."
Father Payne told us an odd story to-day of a big house on the outskirts of London, with a great garden and some fields belonging to it, that was shut up for years and seemed neglected. It was inhabited by an old retired Colonel and his daughter: the daughter had become an invalid, and her mind was believed to be affected. No one ever came to the house or called there. A wall ran, round it, and the trees grew thick and tangled within; the big gates were locked. Occasionally the Colonel came out of a side-door, a tall handsome man, and took a brisk walk; sometimes he would be seen handing his daughter, much wrapped up, into a carriage, and they drove together. But the place had a sinister air, and was altogether regarded with a gloomy curiosity.
When the Colonel died, it was discovered that the place was beautifully kept within, and the house delightfully furnished. It came out that, after a period of mental depression, the daughter had recovered her spirits, though her health was still delicate. The two were devoted to each other, and they decided that, instead of living an ordinary sociable life, they would just enjoy each other's society in peace. It had been the happiest life, simple, tenderly affectionate, the two living in and for each other, and one, moreover, of open-handed, secret benevolence. Apart from the expenses of the household, the Colonel's wealth had been used to support every kind of good work. Only one old friend of the Colonel's was in the secret, and he spoke of it as one of the most beautiful homes he had ever seen.
Someone of us criticised the story, and asked whether it was not a case of refined selfishness. He added rather incisively that the expenditure of money on charitable objects seemed to him to show that the Colonel's conscience was ill at ease.
Father Payne was very indignant. He said the world had gone mad on philanthropy and social service. Three-quarters of it was only fussy ambition. He went on to say that a beautiful and simple life was probably the thing most worth living in the world, and that two people could hardly be better employed than in making each other happy. He said that he did not believe in self-denial unless people liked it. Was it really a finer life to chatter at dinner-parties and tea-parties, and occasionally to inspect an orphanage? Perspiration was not the only evidence of godliness. Why, was it to be supposed that one could not live worthily unless one was always poking one's nose into one's neighbour's concerns? He said that you might as well say that it was refined selfishness to have a rose-tree in your garden, unless you cut off every bud the moment it appeared and sent it to a hospital. If the critic really believed what he said, Aveley was no place for him. Let him go to Chicago!
I forget what led up to the subject; perhaps I did not hear; but Father Payne said, "It isn't for nothing that 'the fearful' head the list of all the abominable people—murderers, sorcerers, idolaters; and liars—who are reserved for the lake of fire and brimstone! Fear is the one thing that we are always wrong in yielding to: I don't mean timidity and cowardice, but the sort of heavy, mild, and rather pious sort of foreboding that wakes one up early in the morning, and that takes all the wind out of one's sails; fear of not being liked, of having given offence, of living uselessly, of wasting time and opportunities. Whatever we do, we must not lead an apologetic kind of life. If we on the whole intend to do something which we think may be wrong, it is better to do it—it is wrong to be cautious and prudent. I love experiments."
"Isn't that rather immoral?" said Lestrange.
"No, my dear boy," said Father Payne, "we must make mistakes: better make them! I am not speaking of things obviously wrong, cruel, unkind, ungenerous, spiteful things; but it is right to give oneself away, to yield to impulses, not to take advice too much, and not to calculate consequences too much. I hate the Robinson Crusoe method of balancing pros and cons. Live your own life, do what you are inclined to do, as long as you really do it. That is probably the best way of serving the world. Don't be argued into things, or bullied out of them. You need not parade it—but rebel silently. It is absolutely useless going about knocking people down. That proves nothing except that you are stronger. Don't show up people, or fight people; establish a stronger influence if you can, and make people see that it is happier and pleasanter to live as you live. Make them envy you—don't make them fear you. You must not play with fear, and you must not yield to fear."
Father Payne came into the hall one morning after breakfast when I was opening a parcel of books which had arrived for me. It was a fine, sunny day, and the sun lit up the portrait framed in the panelling over the mantelpiece, an old and skilful copy (at least I suppose it was a copy) of Reynolds' fine portrait of James, tenth Earl of Shropshire. Father Payne regarded the picture earnestly. "Isn't he magnificent?" he said. "But he was a very poor creature really, and came to great grief. My great-great-grandfather! His granddaughter married my grandfather. Now look at that—that's the best we can do in the way of breeding! There's a man whose direct ancestors, father to son, had simply the best that money can buy—fine houses to live in, power, the pick of the matrimonial market, the best education, a fine tradition, every inducement to behave like a hero; and what did he do—he gambled away his inheritance, and died of drink and bad courses. We can't get what we want, it would seem, by breeding human beings, though we can do it with cows and pigs. Where and how does the thing go wrong? His father and mother were both of them admirable people—fine in every sense of the word.
"And then people talk, too, as if we had got rid of idolatry! We make a man a peer, we heap wealth upon him, and then we worship him for his magnificence, and are deeply affected if he talks civilly to us. We don't do it quite so much now, perhaps—but in that man's day, think what an aroma of rank and splendour is cast, even in Boswell's Life of Johnson, over a dinner-party where a man like that was present! If he paid Johnson the most trumpery of compliments, Johnson bowed low, and down it went on Boswell's cuff! Yet we go on perpetuating it. We don't require that such a man should be active, public-spirited, wise. If he is fond of field-sports, fairly business-like, kindly, courteous, decently virtuous, we think him a great man, and feel mildly elated at meeting him and being spoken to civilly by him. I don't mean that only snobs feel that; but respectable people, who don't pursue fashion, would be more pleased if an Earl they knew turned up and asked for a cup of tea than if the worthiest of their neighbours did so. I don't exaggerate the power of rank—it doesn't make a man necessarily powerful now, but a very little ability, backed up by rank, will go a long way. A great general or a great statesman likes to be made an Earl; and yet a good many people would like an Earl of long descent quite as much. There are a lot of people about who feel as Melbourne did when he said he liked the Garter so much because there was no d——d merit about it. I believe we admire people who inherit magnificence better than we admire people who earn it; and while that feeling is there, what can be done to alter it?"
"I don't think I want to alter it," I said; "it is very picturesque!"
"Yes, there's the mischief," said Father Payne, "it is more picturesque, hang it all! The old aristocrat who feels like a prince and behaves like one, is more picturesque than the person who has sweated himself into it. Think of the old Duke who was told he must retrench, and that he need not have six still-room maids in his establishment, and said, after a brief period of reflection, 'D——n it, a man must have a biscuit!' We like insolence! That is to say, we like it in its place, because we admire power. It's ten times more impressive than the meekness of the saint. The mischief is that we like anything from a man of power. If he is insolent, we think it grand; if he is stupid, we think it a sort of condescension; if he is mild and polite, we think it marvellous; if he is boorish, we think it is simple-minded. It is power that we admire, or rather success, and both can be inherited. If a man gets a big position in England, he is always said to grow into it; but that is because we care about the position more than we care about the man.
"When I was younger," he went on, "I used to like meeting successful people—it was only rarely that I got the chance—but I gradually discovered that they were not, on the whole, the interesting people. Sometimes they were, of course, when they were big animated men, full of vitality and interest. But many men use themselves up in attaining success, and haven't anything much to give you except their tired side. No, I soon found out that freshness was the interesting thing, wherever it was to be found—and, mind you, it isn't very common. Many people have to arrive at success by resolute self-limitation; and that becomes very uninteresting. Buoyancy, sympathy, quick interests, perceptiveness—that's the supreme charm; and the worst of it is that it mostly belongs to the people who haven't taken too much out of themselves. When we have got a really well-ordered State, no one will have any reason to work too hard, and then we shall all be the happier. These gigantic toilers, it's a sort of morbidity, you know; the real success is to enjoy work, not to drudge yourself dry. One must overflow—not pump!"
"But what is an artist to do," I said, "who is simply haunted by the desire to make something beautiful?"
"He must hold his hand," said Father Payne; "he must learn to waste his time, and he must love wasting it. A habit of creative work is an awful thing."
"Come out for a turn," he went on; "never mind these rotten books; don't get into a habit of reading—it's like endlessly listening to good talk without ever joining in it—it makes a corpulent mind!"
We went and walked in the garden; he stopped before some giant hemlocks. "Just look at those great things," he said, "built up as geometrically as a cathedral, tier above tier, and yet not quite regular. There must be something very hard at work inside that, piling it all up, adding cell to cell, carrying out a plan, and enjoying it all. Yet the beauty of it is that it isn't perfectly regular. You see the underlying scheme, yet the separate shoots are not quite mechanical—they lean away from each other, that joint is a trifle shorter—there wasn't quite room at the start in that stem, and the pressure goes on showing right up to the top, I suppose our lives would look very nearly as geometrical to anyone who knew—really knew; but how little geometrical we feel! I don't suppose this hemlock is cursed by the power of thinking it might have done otherwise, or envies the roses. We mustn't spend time in envying, or repenting either—or still less in renouncing life."
"But if I want to renounce it," I said, "why shouldn't I?"
"Yes, there you have me," said Father Payne; "we know so little about ourselves, that we don't always know whether we do better to renounce a thing or to seize it. Make experiments, I say—don't make habits."
"But you are always drilling me into habits," I said.
He gave me a little shake with his hand. "Yes, the habit of being able to do a thing," he said, "not the habit of being unable to do anything else! Hang these metaphysics, if that is what they are! What I want you young men to do is to get a firm hold upon life, and to feel that it is a finer thing than any little presentment of it. I want you to feel and enjoy for yourselves, and to live freely and generously. Bad things happen to all of us, of course; but we mustn't mind that—not to be petty or quarrelsome, or hidebound or prudish or over-particular, that's the point. To leave other people alone, except on the rare occasions when they are not letting other people alone; to be peaceable, and yet not to be afraid; not to be hurt and vexed; to practise forgetting; not to want to pouch things! It's all very well for me to talk," he said; "I made a sufficient hash of it, when I was poor and miserable and overworked; and then I was transplanted out of a slum window-box into a sunny garden, just in time; yet I'm sure that most of my old troubles were in a way of my own making, because I hated being so insignificant; but I fear that was a little poison lurking in me from the Earls of Shropshire. That is the odd thing about ambitions, that they seem so often like regaining a lost position rather than making a new one. The truth is that we are caged; and the only thing to do is to think about the cage as little as we can."
One day I was strolling down the garden among the winding paths, when I came suddenly upon Father Payne, who was hurrying towards the house. He had in each of his hands a large roughly spherical stone, and looked at me a little shamefacedly.
"You look, Father," I said, "as if you were going to stone Stephen."
He laughed, and looked at the stones. "Yes," he said, "they are what the Greeks called 'hand-fillers,' for use in battle—but I have no nefarious designs."
"What are you going to do with them?" I said
"That's a secret!" he said, and made as if he were going in. Then he said, "Come, you shall hear it—you shall share my secret, and be a partner in my dreams, as the fisherman says in Theocritus." But he did not tell me what he was going to do, and seemed half shy of doing so.
"It's like Dr. Johnson and the orange-peel," I said. "'Nay, Sir, you shall know their fate no further.'"
"Well, the truth is," he said at last, "that I'm a perfect baby. I never can resist looking into a hole in the ground, and I happened to look into the pit where we dig gravel. I can't tell you how long I spent there."
"What were you doing?" I said.
"Looking for fossils," he said; "I had a great gift for finding them when I was a child. I didn't find any fossils to-day, but I found these stones, and I think they contain crystals. I am going to break them and see."
I took one in my hand. "I think they are only fossil sponges," I said; "there will only be a rusty sort of core inside."
"You know that!" he said, brightening up; "you know about stones too? But these are not sponges—they would rattle if they were—no, they contain crystals—I am sure of it. Come and see!"
We went into the stable-yard. Father Payne fetched a hammer, and then selected a convenient place in the cobbled yard to break the stones. He put one of them in position, and aimed a blow at it, but it glanced off, and the stone flew off with the impact to some distance. "Lie still, can't you?" said Father Payne, apostrophising the stone, and adding, "This is for my pleasure, not for yours." I recovered the stone, and brought it back, and Father Payne broke it with a well-directed blow. He gathered up the pieces eagerly. "Yes," he said, "it's all right—they are blue crystals: better than I had hoped."
He handed a fragment to me to look at. The inside of the stone was hollow. It had a coagulated appearance, and was thickly coated with minute bluish crystals, very beautiful.
"I don't know that I ever saw a stone I liked as well as this," said Father Payne, musing over another piece. "Think what millions of years this has been like that,—before Abraham was! It has never seen the light of day before—it's a splash of some molten stone, which fell plop into a cool sea-current, I suppose. I wish I knew all about it. The question, is, why is it so beautiful? It couldn't help it, I suppose! But for whose delight?" Then he said, "I suppose this was a vacuum in here till it was broken? That is why it is so clear and fresh. Good Heavens, what would I not give to know why this thing cooled into these lovely little shapes. It's no use talking about the laws of matter—why are the laws of matter what they are, and not different? And odder still, why do I like the look of it?"
"Perhaps that is a law of matter too," I said.
"Oh, shut up!" said Father Payne to me. "But I understand—and of course the temptation is to believe that this was all done on your account and mine. That is as odd a thing as the stone itself, if you come to think of it, that we should be made so that we refer everything to ourselves, and to believe that God prepared this pretty show for us."
"I suppose we come in somewhere?" I said.
"Yes, we are allowed to see it," said Father Payne. "But it wasn't arranged for the benefit of a silly old man like me. That is the worst of our religious theories—that we believe that God is for ever making personal appeals to us. It is that sort of self-importance which spoils everything."
"But I can hardly believe that we have this sense of self-importance only to get rid of it," I said. "It all seems to me a dreadful muddle—to shut up these lovely little things inside millions of stones, and then to give us the wish to break a couple, only that we may reflect that they were not meant for us to see at all."
Father Payne gave a groan. "Yes, it is a muddle!" he said. "But one thing I feel clear about—that a beautiful thing like this means a sense of joy somewhere: some happiness went to the making of things which in a sense are quite useless, but are unutterably lovely all the same. Beauty implies consciousness—but come, we are neglecting our business. Give me the other stone at once!"
I gave it him, and he cracked it. "Very disappointing!" he said. "I made sure there was a beautiful stone, but it is all solid—only a flaky sort of jelly—it's no use at all!"
He threw it aside, but carefully gathered up the fragments of the crystalline stone. "Don't tell of me!" he said, looking at me whimsically. "This is the sort of nonsense which our sensible friends won't understand. But now that I know that you care about stones, we will have a rare hunt together one of these days. But mind—no stuff about geology! It's beauty that we are in search of, you and I."
One day, to my surprise and delight, Father Payne indulged in some personal reminiscences about his early life. He did not as a rule do this. He used to say that it was the surest sign of decadence to think much about the past. "Sometimes when I wake early," he said, "I find myself going back to my childhood, and living through scene after scene. It's not wholesome—I always know I am a little out of sorts when I do that—it is only one degree better than making plans about the future!"
However, on this occasion he was very communicative. He had been talking about Ruskin, and he said: "Do you remember in Praeterita how Ruskin, writing about his sheltered and complacent childhood, describes how entirely he lived in the pleasure of sight? He noticed everything, the shapes and colours of things, the almond blossom, the ants that made nests in the garden walk, the things they saw in their travels. He was entirely absorbed in sense-impressions. Well, that threw a light on my own life, because it was exactly what happened to me as a child. I lived wholly in observation. I had no mind and very little heart. I suppose that I had so much to do looking at everything, getting the shapes and the textures and the qualities of everything by heart, that I had no time to think about ideas and emotions. I had a very lonely childhood, you know, brought up in the country by my mother, who was rather an invalid, my father being dead. I had no companions to speak of, and I didn't care about anyone or need anyone—it was all simply a collecting of impressions. The result is that I can visualise anything and everything—speak of a larch-bud or a fir-cone, and there it is before me—the little rosy fragrant tuft, or the glossy rectangular squares of the cone. Then I went to Marlborough, and I was dreadfully unhappy, I hated everything and everybody—the ugliness and slovenliness of it all, the noise, the fuss, the stink. I did not feel I had anything in common with those little brutes, as I thought them. I lived the life of a blind creature in a fright, groping aimlessly about. I joined in nothing—but I was always strong, and so I was left alone. No one dared to interfere with me; and I have sometimes wished I hadn't been so strong, that I had had the experience of being weak. I dare say that nasty things might have happened—but I should have known more what the world was like, I should have depended more upon other people, I should have made friends. As it was, I left school entirely innocent, very solitary, very modest, thinking myself a complete duffer, and everyone else a beast. It got a little better at the end of my time, and I had a companion or two—but I never dreamed of telling anyone what I was really thinking about."
He broke off suddenly. "This is awful twaddle!" he said. "Why should you care to hear about all this? I was thinking aloud."
"Do go on thinking aloud a little," I said; "it is most interesting!"
"Ah," he said, "with the flatterers were busy mockers! You enjoy staring and looking upon me."
"No, no," I said, rather nettled. "Father Payne, don't you understand? I want to hear more about you. I want to know how you came to be what you are: it interests me more than I can say. You asked me about myself when I came here, and I told you. Why shouldn't I ask you, for a change?"
He smiled, obviously pleased at this. "Why, then," he said, "I'll go on. I'm not above liking to tell my tale, like the Ancient Mariner. You can beat your breast when you are tired of it." He was intent for a moment, and then went on. "Well, I went up to Oxford—to Corpus. A funny little place, I now think—rather intellectual. I could hardly believe my senses when I found how different it was from school, and how independent. Heavens, how happy I was! I made some friends—I found I could make friends after all—I could say what I liked, I could argue, I could even amuse them. I really couldn't make you realise how I adored some of those men. I used to go to sleep after a long evening of chatter, simply hating the darkness which separated me from life and company. There were two in particular, very ordinary young men, I expect. But they were fond of me, and liked being with me, and I thought them the most wonderful and enchanting persons, with a wide knowledge of the great mysterious world. The world! It wasn't, I saw, a nasty, jostling place, as I had thought at school, but a great beautiful affair, full of love and delight, of interest and ideas. I read, I talked, I flew about—it was simply a new birth! I felt like a prisoner suddenly released. Of course, the mischief was that I neglected my work. There wasn't time for that: and I fell in love, too, or thought I did, with the sister of one of those friends, with whom I went to stay. I wonder if anyone was ever in love like that! I daresay it's common enough. But I won't go into that; these raptures are for private consumption. I was roughly jerked up. I took a bad degree. My mother died—I had very little in common with her: she was an invalid without any hold on life, and I took no trouble to be kind to her—I was perfectly selfish and wilful. Then I had to earn my living. I would have given anything to stay at Oxford: and you know, even now, when I think of Oxford, a sort of electric shock goes through me, I love it so much. I daren't even set foot there, I'm so afraid of finding it altered. But when I think of those dark courts and bowery gardens, and the men moving about, and the fronts of blistered stone, and the little quaint streets, and the meadows and elms, and the country all about, I have a physical yearning that is almost a pain—a sort of home-sickness—"
He broke off, and was silent for a moment, and I saw that his eyes were full of tears.
"Then it was London, that accursed place! I had a tiny income: I got a job at a coaching establishment, I worked like the devil. That was a cruel time. I couldn't dream of marriage—that all vanished, and she married pretty soon, I couldn't get a holiday—I was too poor. I tried writing, but I made a hash of that. I simply went down into hell. One of my great friends died, and the other—well, it was awkward to meet, when I had had to break it off with his sister. I simply can't describe to you how utterly horrible it all was. I used to teach all the terms, and in the vacations I simply mooned about. I hadn't a club, and I used to read at the Museum—read just to keep my senses. Then, I suppose I got used to it. Of course, if I had had any adventurousness in me, I should have gone off and become a day-labourer or anything—but I am not that sort of person.
"That went on till I was about thirty-three—and then quite suddenly, and without any warning, I had my experience. I suppose that something was going on inside me all the time, something being burnt out of me in those fires. It was a mixture of selfishness and stupidity and perverseness that was the matter with me. I didn't see that I could do anything. I was simply furious with the world for being such a hole, and with God for sticking me in the middle of it. The occasion of the change was simply too ridiculous. It was nothing else but coming back to my rooms and finding a big bowl of daffodils there. They had been left, my landlady told me, by a young gentleman. It sounds foolish enough—but it suddenly occurred to me to think that someone was interested in me, pitied me, cared for me. A sort of mist cleared away from my eyes, and I saw in a flash, what was the mischief—that I had walled myself in by my misery and bad temper, and by my expectation that something must be done for me. The next day I had to take a lot of pupils, one after another, for composition. One of them had a daffodil in his hand, which he put down carelessly on the table. I stared at it and at him, and he blushed. He wasn't an interesting young man to look at or to talk to—but it was just a bit of simple humanity. It all came out. I had been good to him—I looked as if I were having a bad time. It was just a little human, signal, and a beautiful one. It was there, then, all the time, I saw—human affection—if I cared to put out my hand for it. I can't describe to you how it all developed, but my heart had melted somehow—thawed like a lump of ice. I saw that there was no specific ill-will to me in the world. I saw that everything was there, if I only chose to take it. That was my second awakening—a glimmer of light through a chink—and suddenly, it was day! I had been growling over bones and straw in a filthy kennel, and I was not really tied up at all. Life was running past me, a crystal river. I was dying of thirst: and all because it was not given me in a clean glass on a silver tray, I would not drink it—and God smiling at me all the time."
Father Payne walked on in silence.
"The truth is, my boy," he said a minute later, "that I'm a converted man, and it isn't everyone who can say that—nor do I wish everyone to be converted, because it's a ghastly business preparing for the operation. It isn't everyone who needs it—only those self-willed, devilish, stand-off, proud people, who have to be braised in a mortar and pulverised to atoms. Then, when you are all to bits, you can be built up. Do you remember that stone we broke the other day? Well, I was a melted blob of stone, and then I was crystallised—now I'm full of eyes within! And the best of it is that they are little living eyes, and not sparkling flints—they see, they don't reflect! At least I think so; and I don't think trouble is brewing for me again—though that is always the danger!"
I was very deeply moved by this, and said something about being grateful.
"Oh, not that," said Father Payne; "you don't know what fun it has been to me to tell you. That's the sort of thing that I want to get into one of my novels, but I can't manage it. But the moral is, if I may say so: Be afraid of self-pity and dignity and self-respect—don't be afraid of happiness and simplicity and kindness. Give yourself away with both hands. It's easy for me to talk, because I have been loaded with presents ever since: the clouds drop fatness—a rich but expressive image that!"
"I'm feeling low to-night," said Father Payne in answer to a question about his prolonged silence. "I'm not myself: virtue has gone out of me—I'm in the clutches of a bloodsucker."
"Old debts with compound interest?" said Rose cheerfully.
"Yes," said Father Payne with a frown; "old emotional I.O.U.'s. I didn't know what I was putting my name to."
"A man or a woman?" said Rose.
"Thank God, it's a man!" said Father Payne. "Female bloodsuckers are worse still. A man, at all events, only wants the blood; a woman wants the pleasure of seeing you wince as well!"
"It sounds very tragic," said Kaye.
"No, it's not tragic," said Father Payne; "there would be something dignified about that! It's only unutterably low and degrading. Come, I'll tell you about it. It will do me good to get it off my chest.
"It is one of my old pupils," Father Payne went on. "He once got into trouble about money, and I paid his debts—he can't forgive me that!"
"Does he want you to pay some more?" said Rose.
"Yes, he does," said Father Payne, "but he wants to be high-minded too. He wants me to press him to take the money, to prevail upon him to accept it as a favour. He implies that if I hadn't begun by paying his debts originally, he would not have ever acquired what he calls 'the unhappy habit of dependence.' Of course he doesn't think that really: he wants the money, but he also wants to feel dignified. 'If I thought it would make you happier if I accepted it,' he says, 'of course I should view the matter differently. It would give me a reason for accepting what I must confess would be a humiliation,' Isn't that infernal? Then he says that I may perhaps think that his troubles have coarsened him, but that he unhappily retains all his old sensitiveness. Then he goes on to say that it was I who encouraged him to preserve a high standard of delicacy in these matters."
"He must be a precious rascal," said Vincent.
"No, he isn't," said Father Payne, "that's the worst of it—but he is a frantic poseur. He has got so used to talking and thinking about his feelings, that he doesn't know what he really does feel. That's the part of it which bothers me: because if he was a mere hypocrite, I would say so plainly. One must not be taken in by apparent hypocrisy. It often represents what a man did once really think, but which has become a mere memory. One must not be hard on people's reminiscences. Don't you know how the mildest people are often disposed to make out that they were reckless and daring scapegraces at school? That isn't a lie; it is imagination working on very slender materials."
We laughed at this, and then Barthrop said, "Let me write to him, Father. I won't be offensive."
"I know you wouldn't," said Father Payne; "but no one can help me. It's not my fault, but my misfortune. It all comes of acting for the best. I ought to have paid his debts, and made myself thoroughly unpleasant about it. What I did was to be indulgent and sympathetic. It's all that accursed sentimentality that does it. I have been trying to write a letter to him all the morning, showing him up to himself without being brutal. But he will only write back and say that I have made him miserable, and that I have wholly misunderstood him: and then I shall explain and apologise; and then he will take the money to show that he forgives me. I see a horrible vista of correspondence ahead. After four or five letters, I shall not have the remotest idea what it is all about, and he will be full of reproaches. He will say that it isn't the first time that he has found how the increase of wealth makes people ungenerous. Oh, don't I know every step of the way! He is going to have the money, and he is going to put me in the wrong: that is his plan, and it is going to come off. I shall be in the wrong: I feel in the wrong already!"
"Then in that case there is certainly no necessity for losing the money too!" said Rose.
"It's all very well for you to talk in that impersonal way, Rose," said Father Payne. "Of course I know very well that you would handle the situation kindly and decisively; but you don't know what it is to suffer from politeness like a disease. I have done nothing wrong except that I have been polite when I might have been dry. I see right through the man, but he is absolutely impervious; and it is my accursed politeness that makes it impossible for me to say bluntly what I know he will dislike and what he genuinely will not understand. I know what you are thinking, every one of you—that I say lots of things that you dislike—but then you do understand! I could no more tell this wretch the truth than I could trample on a blind old man."
"What will you really do?" said Barthrop.
"I shall send him the money," said Father Payne firmly, "and I shall compliment him on his delicacy; and then, thank God, I shall forget, until it all begins again. I am a wretched old opportunist, of course; a sort of Ally Sloper—not fit company for strong and concise young men!"
I do not remember what led to this remark of Father Payne's:—"It's a painful fact, from the ethical point of view, that qualities are more admired, and more beautiful indeed, the more instinctive they are. We don't admire the faculty of taking pains very much. The industrious boy at school is rather disliked than otherwise, while the brilliant boy who can construe his lesson without learning it is envied. Take a virtue like courage: the love of danger, the contempt of fear, the power of dashing headlong into a thing without calculating the consequences is the kind of courage we admire. The person who is timid and anxious, and yet just manages desperately to screw himself up to the sticking-point, does not get nearly as much credit as the bold devil-may-care person. It is so with most performances; we admire ease and rapidity much more than perseverance and tenacity, what obviously costs little effort rather than what costs a great deal.
"We all rather tend to be bored by a display of regularity and discipline. Do you remember that letter of Keats, where he confesses his intense irritation at the way in which his walking companion, Brown, I think, always in the evening got out his writing-materials in the same order—first the paper, then the ink, then the pen. 'I say to him,' says Keats, 'why not the pen sometimes first?' We don't like precision; look at the word 'Methodist,' which originally was a nick-name for people of strictly disciplined life. We like something a little more gay and inconsequent.
"Yet the power of forcing oneself by an act of will to do something unpleasant is one of the finest qualities in the world. There is a story of a man who became a Bishop. He was a delicate and sensitive fellow, much affected by a crowd, and particularly by the sight of people passing in front of him. He began his work by holding an enormous confirmation, and five times in the course of it he actually had to retire to the vestry, where he was physically sick. That's a heroic performance; but we admire still more a bland and cheerful Bishop who is not sick, but enjoys a ceremony."
"Surely that is all right, Father Payne?" said Barthrop. "When we see a performance, we are concerned with appreciating the merit of it. A man with a bad headache, however gallant, is not likely to talk as well as a man in perfect health and high spirits; but if we are not considering the performance, but the virtues of the performer, we might admire the man who pumped up talk when he was feeling wretched more than the man from whom it flowed."
"The judicious Barthrop!" said Father Payne. "Yes, you are right—but for all that we do not instinctively admire effort as much as we admire easy brilliance. We are much more inclined to imitate the brilliant man than we are to imitate the man who has painfully developed an accomplishment. The truth is, we are all of us afraid of effort; and instinct is generally so much more in the right than reason, that I end by believing that it is better to live freely in our good qualities, than painfully to conquer our bad qualities; not to take up work that we can't do from a sense of duty, but to take up work that we can do from a sense of pleasure. I believe in finding our real life more than in sticking to one that is not real for the sake of virtue. Trained inclination is the secret. That is why I should never make a soldier. I love being in a rage—no one more—it has all the advantages and none of the disadvantages of getting drunk. But I can't do it on the word of command."
"Isn't that what is called hedonism?" said Lestrange.
"You must not get in the way of calling names!" said Father Payne; "hedonism is a word invented by Puritans to discourage the children of light. It is not a question of doing what you like, but of liking what you do. Of course everyone has got to choose—you can't gratify all your impulses, because they thwart each other; but if you freely gratify your finer impulses, you will have much less temptation to indulge your baser inclinations. It is more important to have the steam up and to use the brake occasionally, than never to have the steam up at all."
We had been listening to a paper by Kaye—a beautiful and fanciful piece of work; when he finished, Father Payne said: "That's a charming thing, Kaye—a little sticky in places, but still beautiful."
"It's not so good as I had hoped," said Kaye mildly.
"Oh, don't be humble," said Father Payne; "that's the basest of the virtues, because it vanishes the moment you realise it! Make your bow like a man. It may not be as good as you hoped—nothing ever is—but surely it is better than you expected?"
Kaye blushed, and said, "Well, yes, it is."
"Now let me say generally," said Father Payne, "that in art you ought never to undervalue your own work. You ought all to be able to recognise how far you have done what you intended. The big men, like Tennyson and Morris, were always quite prepared to praise their own work. They did it quite modestly, more as if some piece of good fortune had befallen them than as if they deserved credit. There's no such thing as taking credit to oneself in art. What you try to do is always bound to be miles ahead of what you can do—that is where the humility comes in. But a man who can't admire his own work on occasions, can't admire anyone's work. If you do a really good thing, you ought to feel as if you had been digging for diamonds and had found a big one. Hang it, you intend to make a fine thing! You are not likely to be conceited about it, because you can't make a beautiful thing every day; and the humiliation comes in when, after turning out a good thing, you find yourself turning out a row of bad ones. The only artists who are conceited are those who can't distinguish between what is good and what is inferior in their own work. You must not expect much praise, and least of all from other artists, because no artist is ever very deeply interested in another artist's work, except in the work of the two or three who can do easily what he is trying to do. But it is a deep pleasure, which may be frankly enjoyed, to turn out a fine bit of work; though you must not waste much time over enjoying it, because you have got to go on to the next."
"I always think it must be very awful," said Vincent, "when it dawns upon a man that his mind is getting stiff and his faculty uncertain, and that he is not doing good work any more. What ought people to do about stopping?"
"It's very hard to say," said Father Payne. "The happiest thing of all is, I expect, to die before that comes; and the next best thing is to know when to stop and to want to stop. But many people get a habit of work, and fall into dreariness without it."
"Isn't it better to go on with the delusion that you are just as good as ever—like Wordsworth and Browning?" said Rose.
"No, I don't think that is better," said Father Payne, "because it means a sort of blindness. It is very curious in the case of Browning, because he learned exactly how to do things. He had his method, he fixed upon an abnormal personality or a curious incident, and he turned it inside out with perfect fidelity. But after a certain time in his life, the thing became suddenly heavy and uninteresting. Something evaporated—I do not know what! The trick is done just as deftly, but one is bored; one simply doesn't care to see the inside of a new person, however well dissected. There's no life, no beauty about the later things. Wordsworth is somehow different—he is always rather noble and prophetic. The later poems are not beautiful, but they issue from a beautiful idea—a passion of some kind. But the later Browning poems are not passionate—they remind one of a surgeon tucking up his sleeves for a set of operations. I expect that Browning was too humble; he loved a gentlemanly convention, and Wordsworth certainly did not do that. If you want to know how a poet should live, read Dorothy Wordsworth's journals at Grasmere; if you want to know how he should feel, read the letters of Keats."
I had been having some work looked over by Father Payne, who had been somewhat trenchant. "You have been beating a broken drum, you know," he had said, with a smile.
"Yes," I said. "It's poor stuff, I see. But I didn't know it was so bad when I wrote it; I thought I was making the best of a poor subject rather ingeniously. I am afraid I am rather stupid."
"If I thought you really felt like that," said Father Payne, "I should be sorry for you. But I expect it is only your idea of modesty?"
"No," I said, "it isn't modesty—it's humility, I think."
"No one has any business to think himself humble," said Father Payne. "The moment you do that, you are conceited. It's not a virtue to grovel. A man ought to know exactly what he is worth. You needn't be always saying what you are, worth, of course. It's modest to hold your tongue. But humility is, or ought to be, extinct as a virtue. It belongs to the time when people felt bound to deplore the corruption of their heart, and to speak of themselves as worms, and to compare themselves despondently with God. That in itself is a piece of insolence; and it isn't a wholesome frame of mind to dwell on one's worthlessness, and to speak of one's righteousness as filthy rags. It removes every stimulus to effort. If you really feel like that, you had better take to your bed permanently—you will do less harm there than pretending to do work in the value of which you don't believe."
"But what is the word for the feeling which one has when one reads a really splendid book, let us say, or hears a perfect piece of music?" I said.
"Well, it ought to be gratitude and admiration," said Father Payne. "Why mix yourself up with it at all?"
"Because I can't help it," I said; "I think of the way in which I muddle on with my writing, and I feel how hopeless I am."
"That's all wrong, my boy," said Father Payne; "you ought to say to yourself—'So that is his way of putting things and, by Jove, it's superb. Now I've got to find my way of putting things!' You had better go and work in the fields like an honest man, if you don't feel you have got anything to say worth saying. You have your own point of view, you know: try and get it down on paper. It isn't exactly the same as, let us say, Shakespeare's point of view: but if you feel that he has seen everything worth seeing, and said everything worth saying, then, of course, it is no good going on. But that is pure grovelling; no lively person ever does feel that—he says, 'Hang it, he has left some things out!' After all, everyone has a right to his point of view, and if it can be expressed, why, it is worth expressing. We want all the sidelights we can get."
"That's one comfort!" I said.
"Yes," said Father Payne, "but you know perfectly well that you knew it before I told you. Why be so undignified? You need not want to astonish or amuse the whole civilised world. You probably won't do that; but you can fit a bit of the mosaic in, if you have it in you. Now look you here! I know exactly what I am worth. I can't write—though I think I can when I'm at it—but I can perceive, and see when a thing is amiss, and lay my finger on a fault; I can be of some use to a fellow like yourself—and I can manage an estate in my own way, and I can keep my tenants' spirits up. I have got a perfectly definite use in the world, and I'm going to play my part for all that I'm worth. I'm not going to pretend that I am a worm or an outcast—I don't feel one; and I am as sure as I can be of anything, that God does not wish me to feel one. He needs me; He can't get on without me just here; and when He can, He will say the word. I don't think I am of any far-reaching significance: but neither am I going to say that I am nothing but vile earth and a miserable sinner. I'm lazy, I'm cross, I'm unkind, I'm greedy: but I know when I am wasting time and temper, and I don't do it all the time. It's no use being abject. The mistake is to go about comparing yourself with other people and weighing yourself against them. The right thing to do is to be able to recognise generously and desirously when you see anyone doing something finely which you do badly, and to say, 'Come, that's the right way! I must do better.' But to be humble is to be grubby, because it makes one proud, in a nasty sort of way, of doing things badly. 'What a poor creature I am,' says the humble man, 'and how nice to know that I am so poor a creature; how noble and unworldly I am.' The mistake is to want to do a thing better than Smith or Jones: the right way is to want to do it better than yourself."
"Yes," I said, "that's perfectly true, Father: and I won't be such a fool again."
"You haven't been a fool, so far as I am aware," said Father Payne. "It is only that you are just a thought too polite. You mustn't be polite in mind, you know—only in manners. Politeness only consists in not saying all you think unless you are asked. But humility consists in trying to believe that you think less than you think. It's like holding your nose, and saying that the bad smell has gone—it is playing tricks with your mind: and if you get into the way of doing that, you will find that your mind has a nasty way of playing tricks upon you. Here! hold on! I am rapidly becoming like Chadband! Send me Vincent, will you—there's a good man? He comes next."
Father Payne had told me that my writing was becoming too juicy and too highly-scented. "You mustn't hide the underlying form," he said; "have plenty of plain spaces. This sort of writing is only for readers who want to be vaguely soothed and made to feel comfortable by a book—it's a stimulant, it's not a food!"
"Yes," I said with a sigh, "I suppose you are right."
"Up to a certain point, I am right," he replied, "because you are in training at present—and people in training have to do abnormal things: you can't live as if you were in training, of course; but when you begin to work on your own account, you must find your own pace and your own manner: and even now you needn't agree with me unless you like."
I determined, however, that I would give him something very different next time. He suggested that I should write an essay on a certain writer of fiction. I read the novels with great care, and I then produced the driest and most technical criticism I could. I read it aloud to Father Payne a month later. He heard it in silence, stroking his beard with his left hand, as his manner was. When I had finished, he said: "Well, you have taken my advice with a vengeance; and as an exercise—indeed, as a tour-de-force—it is good. I didn't think you had it in you to produce such a bit of anatomy. I think it's simply the most uninteresting essay I ever heard in my life—chip, chip, chip, the whole time. It won't do you any harm to have written it, but, of course, it's a mere caricature. No conceivable reason could be assigned for your writing it. It's like the burial of the dead—ashes to ashes, dust to dust!"
"I admit," I said, "that I did it on purpose, to show you how judicious I could be."
"Oh yes," he said, "I quite realise that—and that's why I admire it. If you had produced it as a real thing, and not by way of reprisal, I should think very ill of your prospects. It's like the work of an analytical chemist—I tell you what it's like, it's like the diagnosis of the symptoms of some sick person of rank in a doctor's case-book! But, of course, you know you mustn't write like that, as well as I do. There must be some motive for writing, some touch of admiration and sympathy, something you can show to other people which might escape them, and which is worth while for them to see. In writing—at present, at all events—one can't be so desperately scientific and technical as all that. I suppose that some day, when we treat human thought and psychology scientifically, we shall have to dissect like that; but even so, it will be in the interests of science, not in the interests of literature. One must not confuse the two, and no doubt, when we begin to analyse the development of human thought, its heredity, its genesis and growth, we shall have a Shelley-culture in a test-tube, and we shall be able to isolate a Browning-germ: but we haven't got there yet."
"In that case," I said, "I don't really see what was so wrong with my last essay."
"Why, it was a mere extemporisation," said Father Payne; "a phrase suggested a phrase, a word evoked a lot of other words—there was no real connection of thought. It was pretty enough, but you were not even roving from one place to another, you were just drifting with the stream. Now this last essay is purely business-like. You have analysed the points—but there's no beauty or pleasure in it. It is simply what an engineer might say to an engineer about the building of a bridge. Mind, I am not finding fault with your essay. You did what you set out to do, and you have done it well. I only say there is not any conceivable reason why it should have been written, and there is every conceivable reason why it should not be read."
"It was just an attempt," I said, "to see the points and to disentangle them."
"Yes, yes," said Father Payne; "I see that, and I give you full credit for it. But, after all, you must look on writing as a species of human communication. The one reason for writing is that the writer sees something which other people overlook, perceives the beauty and interest of it, gets behind it, sees the quality of it, and how it differs from other similar things. If the writer is worth anything, his subject must be so interesting or curious or beautiful to himself that he can't help setting it down. The motive of it all must be the fact that he is interested—not the hope of interesting other people. You must risk that, though the more you are interested, the better is your chance of interesting others. Then the next point is that things mustn't be presented in a cold and abstract light—you have done that here—it must be done as you see it, not as a photographic plate records it: and that is where the personality of the artist comes in, and where writers are handicapped, according as they have or have not a personal charm. That is the unsolved mystery of writing—the personal charm: apart from that there is little in it. A man may see a thing with hideous distinctness, but he may not be able to invest it with charm: and the danger of charm is that some people can invest very shallow, muddled, and shabby thinking with a sort of charm. It is like a cloak, if I may say so. If I wear an old cloak, it looks shabby and disgraceful, as it is. But if I lend it to a shapely and well-made friend, it gets a beauty from the wearer. There are men I know who can tell me a story as old as the hills, and yet make it fresh and attractive. Look at that delicious farrago of nonsense and absurdity, Ruskin's Fors Clavigera. He crammed in anything that came into his head—his reminiscences, scraps out of old dreary books he had read, paragraphs snipped out of the papers. There's no order, no sequence about it, and yet it is irresistible. But then Ruskin had the charm, and managed to pour it into all that he wrote. He is always there, that whimsical, generous, perverse, affectionate, afflicted, pathetic creature, even in the smallest scrap of a letter or the dreariest old tag of quotation. But you and I can't play tricks like that. You are sometimes there, I confess, in what you write, while I am never there in anything that I write. What I want to teach you to do is to be really yourself in all that you write."
"But isn't it apt to be very tiresome," said I, "if the writer is always obtruding himself?"
"Yes, if he obtrudes himself, of course he is tiresome," said Father Payne. "But look at Ruskin again. I imagine, from all that I read about him, that if he was present at a gathering, he was the one person whom everyone wanted to hear. If he was sulky or silent, it was everyone's concern to smoothe him down—if only he would talk. What you must learn to do is to give exactly as much of yourself as people want. But it must be a transfusion of yourself, not a presentment, I don't imagine that Ruskin always talked about himself—he talked about what interested him, and because he saw five times as much as anyone else saw in a picture, and about three times as much as was ever there, it was fascinating: but the primary charm was in Ruskin himself. Don't you know the curious delight of seeing a house once inhabited by anyone whom one has much admired and loved? However dull and commonplace it is, you keep on saying to yourself, 'That was what his eyes rested on, those were the books he handled; how could he bear to have such curtains, how could he endure that wallpaper?' The most hideous things become interesting, because he tolerated them. In writing, all depends upon how much of what is interesting, original, emphatic, charming in yourself you can communicate to what you are writing. It has got to live; that is the secret of the commonplace and even absurd books which reviewers treat with contempt, and readers buy in thousands. They have life!"
"But that is very far from being art, isn't it?" I said.
"Of course!" said Father Payne, "but the use of art, as I understand it, is just that—that all you present shall have life, and that you should learn not to present what has not got life. Why I objected to your last essay was because you were not alive in it: you were just echoing and repeating things: you seemed to me to be talking in your sleep. Why I object to this essay is that you are too wide awake—you are just talking shop."
"I confess I rather despair," I said.
"What rubbish!" said Father Payne; "all I want you to do is to live in your ideas—make them your own, don't just slop them down without having understood or felt them. I'll tell you what you shall do next. You shall just put aside all this dreary collection of formulae and scalpel-work, and you shall write me an essay on the whole subject, saying the best that you feel about it all, not the worst that a stiff intelligence can extract from it. Don't be pettish about it! I assure you I respect your talent very much. I didn't think it was in you to produce anything so loathsomely judicious."
OF THE SENSE OF BEAUTY
There had been some vague ethical discussion during dinner in which Father Payne had not intervened; but he suddenly joined in briskly, though I don't remember who or what struck the spark out. "You are running logic too hard," he said; "the difficulty with all morality is not to know where it is to begin, but where it is to stop."
"I didn't know it had to stop," said Vincent; "I thought it had to go on."
"Yes, but not as morality," said Father Payne; "as instinct and feeling—only very elementary people indeed obey rules, because they are rules. The righteous man obeys them because on the whole he agrees with them."
"But in one sense it isn't possible to be too good?" said Vincent.
"No," said Father Payne, "not if you are sure what good is—but it is quite easy to be too righteous, to have too many rules and scruples—not to live your own life at all, but an anxious, timid, broken-winged sort of life, like some of the fearful saints in the Pilgrim's Progress, who got no fun out of the business at all. Don't you remember what Mr. Feeblemind says? I can't quote—it's a glorious passage."
Barthrop slipped out and fetched a Pilgrim's Progress, which he put over Father Payne's shoulder. "Thank you, old man," said Father Payne, "that's very kind of you—that is morality translated into feeling!"
He turned over the pages, and read the bit in his resonant voice:
"'I am, as I said, a man of a weak and feeble mind, and shall be offended and made weak at that which others can bear. I shall like no Laughing: I shall like no gay Attire: I shall like no unprofitable Questions. Nay, I am so weak a man, as to be offended with that which others have a liberty to do. I do not know all the truth: I am a very ignorant Christian man; sometimes, if I hear some rejoice in the Lord, it troubles me, because I cannot do so too.'"
"There," he said, "that's very good writing, you know—full of freshness—but you are not meant to admire the poor soul: that's not the way to go on pilgrimage! There is something wrong with a man's religion, if it leaves him in that state. I don't mean that to be happy is always a sign of grace—it often is simply a lack of sympathy and imagination; but to be as good as Mr. Feeblemind, and at the same time as unhappy, is a clear sign that something is wrong. He is like a dog that will try to get through a narrow gap with a stick in his mouth—he can't make out why he can't do his duty and bring the stick—it catches on both sides, and won't let him through. He knows it is his business to bring the thing back at once, but he is prevented in some mysterious way. It doesn't occur to him to put the stick down, get through himself, and then pull it through by the end. That is why our duty is often so hard, because we think we ought to do it simply and directly, when it really wants a little adjusting—we regard the momentary precept, not the ultimate principle."
"But what is to tell us where to draw the line," said Vincent, "and when to disregard the precept?"
"Ah," said Father Payne, "that's my great discovery, which no one else will ever recognise—that is where the sense of beauty comes in!"
"I don't see that the sense of beauty has anything to do with morality," said Vincent.
"Ah, but that is because you are at heart a Puritan," said Father Payne; "and the mistake of all Puritans is to disregard the sense of beauty—all the really great saints have felt about morality as an artist feels about beauty. They don't do good things because they are told to do them, but because they feel them to be beautiful, splendid, attractive; and they avoid having anything to do with evil things, because such things are ugly and repellent."
"But when you have to do a thoroughly disagreeable thing," said Vincent, "there often isn't anything beautiful about it either way. I'll give you a small instance. Some months ago I had been engaged for a fortnight to go to a thoroughly dull dinner-party with some dreary relations of mine, and a man asked me to come and dine at his club and meet George Meredith, whom I would have given simply anything to meet. Of course I couldn't do it—I had to go on with the other thing. I had to do what I hated, without the smallest hope of being anything but fearfully bored: and I had to give up doing what would have interested me more than anything in the world. Of course, that is only a small instance, but it will suffice."
"It all depends on how you behaved at your dinner-party when you got there," said Father Payne, smiling; "were you sulky and cross, or were you civil and decent?"
"I don't know," said Vincent; "I expect I was pretty much as usual. After all, it wasn't their fault!"
"You are all right, my boy," said Father Payne; "you have got the sense of beauty right enough, though you probably call it by some uncomfortable name. I won't make you blush by praising you, but I give you a good mark for the whole affair. If you had excused yourself, or asked to be let off, or told a lie, it would have been ugly. What you did was in the best taste: and that is what I mean. The ugly thing is to clutch and hold on. You did more for yourself by being polite and honest than even George Meredith could have done for you. What I mean by the sense of beauty, as applied to morality, is that a man must be a gentleman first, and a moralist afterwards, if he can. It is grabbing at your own sense of righteousness, if you use it to hurt other people. Your own complacency of conscience is not as important as the duty of not making other people uncomfortable. Of course there are occasions when it is right to stand up to a moral bully, and then you may go for him for all you are worth: but these cases are rare; and what you must not do is to get into the way of a sort of moral skirmishing. In ordinary life, people draw their lines in slightly different places according to preference: you must allow for temperament. You mustn't interfere with other people's codes, unless you are prepared to be interfered with. It is impossible to be severely logical. Take a thing like the use of money: it is good to be generous, but you mustn't give away what you can't afford, because then your friends have to pay your bills. What everyone needs is something to tell him when he must begin practising a virtue, and when to stop practising it. You may say that common sense does that. Well, I don't think it does! I know sensible people who do very brutal things: there must be something finer than common sense: it must be a mixture of sense and sympathy and imagination, and delicacy and humour and tact—and I can't find a better way of expressing it than to call it a sense of beauty, a faculty of judging, in a fine, sweet-tempered, gentle, quiet way, with a sort of instinctive prescience as to where the ripples of what you do and say will spread to, and what sort of effect they will produce. That's the right sort of virtue—attractive virtue—which makes other people wish to behave likewise. I don't say that a man who lives like that can avoid suffering: he suffers a good deal, because he sees ugly things going on all about him; but he doesn't cause suffering—unless he intends to—and even so he doesn't like doing it. He is never spiteful or jealous. He often makes mistakes, but he recognises them. He doesn't erect barriers between himself and other people. He isn't always exactly popular, because many people hate superiority whenever they see it: but he is trusted and loved and even taken advantage of, because he doesn't go in for reprisals."
"But if you haven't got this sense of beauty," said Vincent, "how are you to get it?"
"By admiring it," said Father Payne. "I don't say that the people who have got it are conscious of it—in fact they are generally quite unconscious of it. Do you remember what Shelley—who was, I think, one of the people who had the sense of beauty as strongly as anyone who ever lived—what he said to Hogg, when Hogg told him how he had shut up an impertinent young ruffian? 'I wish I could be as exclusive as you are,' said Shelley with a sigh, feeling, no doubt, a sense of real failure—'but I cannot!' Shelley's weakness was a much finer thing than Hogg's strength. I don't say that Shelley was perfect: his imagination ran away with him to an extent that may be called untruthful; he idealised people, and then threw them over when he discovered them to be futile; but that is the right kind of mistake to make: the wrong kind of mistake is to see people too clearly, and to take for granted that they are not as delightful as they seem."
"You mean that if one must choose," said Vincent, "it is better to be a fool than a knave."
"Why, of course," said Father Payne; "but don't call it 'a fool'—call it 'a child': that's the kind of beauty I mean, the unsuspicious, guileless, trustful, affectionate temper—that to begin with: and you must learn, as you go on, a quality which the child has not always got—a sense of humour. That is what experience ought to give you—a power, that is, of seeing what is really there, and of being more amused than shocked by it. That helps you to distinguish real knavishness from childish faults. A great many of the absurd, perverse, unkind, unpleasant things which people do are not knavish at all—they are silly, selfish little diplomacies, guileless obedience to conventions, unreasonable deference to imaginary authority. People don't mean any harm by such tricks—they are the subterfuges of weakness: but when you come upon real cynical deliberate knavishness—that is different. There's nothing amusing about that. But you must be indulgent to weakness, and only severe with strength."