"I'm getting a little confused," said Vincent.
"Not as much as I am," said Father Payne; "I don't know where I have got to, I am sure. I seem to have changed hares! But one thing does emerge, and that is, that a sort of inspired good taste is the only thing which can regulate morals. The root of all morals is ultimately beauty. Why are we not all as greedy and dirty as the old cave-men? For the simple reason that something, for which he was not responsible, began to work in the caveman's mind. He said to himself, 'This is not the way to behave: it would be nicer not to have killed Mary when I was angry.' And then, when that impulse is once started, human beings go too fast, and want to carry out their new discoveries of rules and principles too far: and you must have a regulating force: and if you can find a better force than the instinct for what is beautiful, tell me, and I'll undertake to talk for at least as long about it. I must stop! My sense of beauty warns me that I am becoming a bore."
Father Payne broke out suddenly after dinner to two or three of us about a book he had been reading.
"It's called a Life," he said, "at the top of every page almost. I don't wonder the author felt it necessary to remind you—or perhaps he was reminding himself? I can see him," said Father Payne, "saying to himself with a rueful expression, 'This is a Life, undoubtedly!' Why, the waxworks of Madame Tussaud are models of vivacity and agility compared to it. I never set eyes on such a book!"
"Why on earth did you go on reading it?" said I.
"Well may you ask!" said Father Payne. "It's one of my weaknesses; if I begin a book, I can put it down if it is moderately good; but if it is either very good or very bad, I can't get out of it—I feel like a wasp in a honey-pot. I make faint sticky motions of flight—but on I go."
"Whose life was it?" I said, laughing.
"I hardly know," said Father Payne. "It leaves on my mind the impression of his having been a decent old party enough. I think he must have been a general merchant—he seems to have had pretty nearly everything on hand. He wrote books, I gather"; and Father Payne groaned.
"What were they about?" I said.
"I don't know, I'm sure," said Father Payne. "History and stuff—literary essays, and people's influence, perhaps. He went in for accounting for things, I fancy, and explaining things away. There were extracts which alienated my attention faster than any extracts I ever read. I could not keep my mind on them. God preserve me from ever falling in with any of his books; I should spend days in reading them! He travelled too—he was always travelling. Why couldn't he leave Europe alone? He has left his trail all over Europe, like a snail. He has defiled all the finest scenery on the Continent. But, by Jove, he met his match in his biographer; he has been accounted for all right. And yet I feel that it was rather hard on him. If he could have held his tongue about things in general, and if his biographer could have held his tongue about him, it would have been all right. He did no harm, so far as I can make out—he was honest and upright; he would have done very well as a trustee."
Father Payne stopped, and looked round with a melancholy air. "I have gathered," he said, "after several hours' reading, three interesting facts about him. The first is that he wore rather loud checks—I liked that—I detected a touch of vanity in that. The second is that he was fond of quoting poetry, and the moment he did so, his voice became wholly inaudible from emotion—that's a good touch. And the third is that, if he had a guest staying with him, he used to talk continuously in the smoking-room, light his candle, go on talking, walk away talking—by Jove, I can hear him doing it—all up the stairs, along the passage to his bedroom—talk, talk, talk—in they went—then he used to begin to undress—no escape—I can hear his voice muffled as he pulled off his shirt—off went his socks—talking still—then he would actually get into bed—more explanations, more quotations, I wonder how the guest got away; that isn't related—in the intervals of an inaudible quotation, perhaps? What do you think?"
We exploded in laughter, in which Father Payne joined. Then he said: "But look here, you know, it's not really a joke—it's horribly serious! A man ought really to be prosecuted for writing such a book. That is the worst of English people, that they have no idea who deserves a biography and who does not. It isn't enough to be a rich man, or a public man, or a man of virtue. No one ought to be written about, simply because he has done things. He must be content with that. No one should have a biography unless he was either beautiful or picturesque or absurd, just as no one should have a portrait painted unless he is one of the three. Now this poor fellow—I daresay there were people who loved him—think what their feelings must be at seeing him stuffed and set up like this! A biography must be a work of art—it ought not to be a post-dated testimonial! Most of us are only fit, when we have finished our work, to go straight into the waste-paper basket. The people who deserve biographies are the vivid, rich, animated natures who lived life with zest and interest. There are a good many such men, who can say vigorous, shrewd, lively, fresh things in talk, but who cannot express themselves in writing. The curse of most biographies is the letters; not many people can write good letters, and yet it becomes a sacred duty to pad a Life out with dull and stodgy documents; it is all so utterly inartistic and decorous and stupid. A biography ought to be well seasoned with faults and foibles. That is the one encouraging thing about life, that a man can have plenty of failings and still make a fine business out of it all. Yet it is regarded as almost treacherous to hint at imperfections. Now if I had had our friend the general merchant to biographise, I would have taken careful notes of his talk while undressing—there's something picturesque about that! I would have told how he spent his day, how he looked and moved, ate and drank. A real portrait of an uninteresting man might be quite a treasure."
"Yes, but you know it wouldn't do," said Barthrop; "his friends would be out at you like a swarm of wasps."
"Oh, I know that," said Father Payne. "It is all this infernal sentimentality which spoils everything; as long as we think of the dead as elderly angels hovering over us while we pray, there is nothing to be done. If we really believe that we migrate out of life into an atmosphere of mild piety, and lose all our individuality at once, then, of course, the less said the better. As long as we hold that, then death must remain as the worst of catastrophes for everyone concerned. The result of it all is that a bad biography is the worst of books, because it quenches our interest in life, and makes life insupportably dull. The first point is that the biographer is infinitely more important than his subject. Look what an enchanting book Carlyle made out of the Life of Sterling. Sterling was a man of real charm who could only talk. He couldn't write a line. His writings are pitiful. Carlyle put them all aside with a delicious irony; and yet he managed to depict a swift, restless, delicate, radiant creature, whom one loves and admires. It is one of the loveliest books ever written. But, on the other hand, there are hundreds of fine creatures who have been hopelessly buried for ever and ever under their biographies—the sepulchre made sure, the stone sealed, and the watch set."
"But there are some good biographies?" said Barthrop.
"About a dozen," said Father Payne. "I won't give a list of them, or I should become like our friend the merchant. I feel it coming on, by Jove—I feel like accounting for things and talking you all up to my bedroom."
"But what can be done about it all?" I said.
"Nothing whatever, my boy," said Father Payne; "as long as people are not really interested in life, but in money and committees, there is nothing to be done. And as long as they hold things sacred, which means a strong dislike of the plain truth, it's hopeless. If a man is prepared to write a really veracious biography, he must also be prepared to fly for his life and to change his name. Public opinion is for sentiment and against truth; and you must change public opinion. But, oh dear me, when I think of the fascination of real personality, and the waste of good material, and the careful way in which the pious biographer strains out all the meat and leaves nothing but a thin and watery decoction, I could weep over the futility of mankind. The dread of being interesting or natural, the adoration of pomposity and full dress, the sickening love of romance, the hatred of reality—oh, it's a deplorable world!"
"I wonder," said Father Payne one day at dinner, "whether any nation's proverbs are such a disgrace to them as our national proverbs are to us. Ours are horribly Anglo-Saxon and characteristic. They seem to me to have been all invented by a shrewd, selfish, complacent, suspicious old farmer, in a very small way of business, determined that he will not be over-reached, and equally determined, too, that he will take full advantage of the weakness of others. 'Charity begins at home,' 'Possession is nine points of the law,' 'Don't count your chickens before they are hatched,' 'When poverty comes in at the door, love flies out of the window.' They are all equally disgraceful. They deride all emotion, they despise imagination, they are unutterably low and hard, and what is called sensible; they are frankly unchristian as well as ungentlemanly. No wonder we are called a nation of shopkeepers."
"But aren't we a great deal better than our proverbs?" said Barthrop: "do they really express anything more than a contempt for weakness and sentiment?"
"Yes," said Father Payne, "but I don't like them any better for that. Why should we be ashamed of all our better feelings? I admit that we have a sense of justice; but that only means that we care for material possessions so much that we are afraid not to admit that others have the right to do the same. The real obstacle to socialism in England is the sense of sanctity about a man's savings. The moment that a man has saved a few pounds, he agrees to any legislation that allows him to hold on to them."
"But aren't we, behind all that," said Barthrop, "an intensely sentimental nation?"
"Yes," said Father Payne, "but that's a fault really—we don't believe in real justice, only in picturesque justice. We are hopeless individualists. We melt into tears over a child that is lost, or a dog that howls; and we let all sorts of evil systems and arrangements grow and flourish. We can't think algebraically, only arithmetically. We can be kind to a single case of hardship; we can't take in a widespread system of oppression. We are improving somewhat; but it is always the particular case that affects us, and not the general principle."
"But to go back to our sense of possession," I said, "is that really much more than a matter of climate? Does it mean more than this, that we, in a temperate climate inclining to cold, need more elaborate houses and more heat-producing food than nations who live in warmer climates? Are not the nations who live in warmer climates less attached to material things simply because they are less important?"
"There is something in that, no doubt," said Father Payne. "Of course, where nature is more hostile to life, men will have to work longer hours to support life than where 'the spicy breezes blow soft o'er Ceylon's isle.' But it isn't that of which I complain—it is the awful sense of respectability attaching to possessions, the hideous way in which we fill our houses with things which we do not want or use, just because they are a symbol of respectability. We like hoarding, and we like luxuries, not because we enjoy them, but because we like other people to know that we can pay for them. I do not imagine that there is any nation in the world whose hospitality differs so much from the mode in which people actually live as ours does. In a sensible society, if we wanted to see our friends, we should ask them to bring their cold mutton round, and have a picnic. What we do actually do is to have a meal which we can't afford, and which our guests know is not in the least like our ordinary meals; and then we expect to be asked back to a similarly ostentatious banquet."
"But isn't there something," said Barthrop, "in Dr. Johnson's dictum, that a meal was good enough to eat, but not good enough to ask a man to? Isn't it a good impulse to put your best before a guest?"
"Oh, no doubt," said Father Payne, "but there's a want of simplicity about it if you only want to entertain people in order that they may see you do it, and not because you want to see them. It's vulgar, somehow—that's what I suspect our nation of being. Our inability to speak frankly of money is another sign. We do money too much honour by being so reticent about it. The fact is that it is the one sacred subject among us. People are reticent about religion and books and art, because they are not sure that other people are interested in them. But they are reticent about money as a matter of duty, because they are sure that everyone is deeply interested. People talk about money with nods and winks and hints—those are all the signs of a sacred mystery!"
"Well, I wonder," said Barthrop, "whether we are as base as you seem to think!"
"I will tell you when I will change my mind," said Father Payne; "all the talk of noble aims and strong purposes will not deceive me. What would convert me would be if I saw generous giving a custom so common that it hardly excited remark. You see a few generous wills—but even then a will which leaves money to public purposes is generally commented upon; and it almost always means, too, if you look into it, that a man has had no near relations, and that he has stuck to his money and the power it gives him during his life. If I could see a few cases of men impoverishing themselves and their families in their lifetime for public objects; if I saw evidence of men who have heaped up wealth content to let their children start again in the race, and determined to support the State rather than the family; if I could hear of a rich man's children beseeching their father to endow the State rather than themselves, and being ready to work for a livelihood rather than to receive an inherited fortune; if I could hear of a few rich men living simply and handing out their money for general purposes,—then I would believe! But none of these things is anything but a rare exception; a man who gives away his fortune, as Ruskin did, in great handfuls, is generally thought to be slightly crazy; and, speaking frankly, the worth of a man seems to depend not upon what he has given to the world, but upon what he has gained from the world. You may say it is a rough test;—so it is! But when we begin to feel that a man is foolish in hoarding and wise in lavishing, instead of being foolish in lavishing and wise in hoarding, then, and not till then, shall I believe that we are a truly great nation. At present the man whom we honour most is the man who has been generous to public necessities, and has yet retained a large fortune for himself. That is the combination which we are not ashamed to admire."
We were walking together, Father Payne and I. It was in the early summer—a still, hot day. The place, as I remember it, was very beautiful. We crossed the stream by a little foot-bridge, and took a bypath across the meadows; up the slope you came to a beautiful bit of old forest country, the trees of all ages, some of them very ancient; there were open glades running into the heart of the woodland, with thorn thickets and stretches of bracken. Hidden away in the depth of the woods, and approached only by green rides, were the ruins of what must have been a big old Jacobean mansion; but nothing remained of it except some grassy terraces, a bit of a fine facade of stone with empty windows, half-hidden in ivy, and some tall stone chimney-stacks. The forest lay silent and still; and, along one of the branching rides, you could discern far away a glimpse of blue hills. The scene was so entirely beautiful that we had gradually ceased to talk, and had given ourselves up to the sweet and quiet influence of the place.
We stood for awhile upon one of the terraces, looking at the old house, and Father Payne said, "I'm not sure that I approve of the taste for ruins; there is something to be said for a deserted castle, because it is a reminder that we do not need to safeguard ourselves so much against each others' ill-will; but a roofless church or a crumbling house—there's something sad about them. It seems to me a little like leaving a man unburied in order that we may come and sentimentalise over his bones. It means, this house, the decay of an old centre of life—there's nothing evil or cruel about it, as there is about a castle; and I am not sure that it ought not to be either repaired or removed—
"'And doorways where a bridegroom trode Stand open to the peering air.'"
"I don't know," I said; "I'm sure that this is somehow beautiful. Can't one feel that nature is half-tender, half-indifferent to our broken designs?"
"Perhaps," said Father Payne, "but I don't like being reminded of death and waste—I don't want to think that they can end by being charming—the vanity of human wishes is more sad than picturesque. I think Dr. Johnson was right when he said, 'After all, it is a sad thing that a man should lie down and die.'"
A little while afterwards he said, "How strange it is that the loneliness of this place should be so delightful! I like my fellow-beings on the whole—I don't want to avoid them or to abolish them—but yet it is one of the greatest luxuries in the world to find a place where one is pretty sure of not meeting one of them."
"Yes," I said, "it is very odd! I have been feeling to-day that I should like time to stand still this summer afternoon, and to spend whole days in rambling about here. I won't say," I said with a smile, "that I should prefer to be quite alone; but I shouldn't mind even that in a place like this. I never feel like that in a big town—there is always a sense of hostile currents there. To be alone in a town is always rather melancholy; but here it is just the reverse."
"Indeed, yes," said Father Payne, "and it is one of the great mysteries of all to me what we really want with company. It does not actually take away from us our sense of loneliness at all. You can't look into my mind, nor can I look into yours; whatever we do or say to break down the veil between us, we can't do it. And I have often been happier when alone than I have ever been in any company."
"Isn't it a sense of security?" I said; "I suppose that it is an instinct derived from old savage days which makes us dread other human beings. The further back you go, the more hatred and mistrust you find; and I suppose that the presence of a friend, or rather of someone with whom one has a kind of understanding, gives a feeling of comparative safety against attack."
"That's it, no doubt," said Father Payne; "but if I had to choose between spending the rest of my life in solitude, or in spending it without a chance of solitude, I should be in a great difficulty. I am afraid that I regard company rather as a wholesome medicine against the evils of solitude than I regard solitude as a relief from company. After all, what is it that we want with each other?—what do we expect to get from each other? I remember," he said, smiling, "a witty old lady saying to me once that eternity was a nightmare to her.—'For instance,' she said, 'I enjoy sitting here and talking to you very much; but if I thought it was going on to all eternity, I shouldn't like it at all.' Do we really want the company of any one for ever and ever? And if so, why? Do we want to agree or to disagree? Is the point of it that we want similarity or difference? Do we want to hear about other people's experiences, or do we simply want to tell our own? Is the desire, I mean, for congenial company anything more than the pleasure of seeing our own thoughts and ideas reflected in the minds of others; or is it a real desire to alter our own thoughts and ideas by comparing them with the experiences of others? Why do we like books, for instance? Isn't it more because we recognise our own feelings than because we make acquaintance with unfamiliar feelings? It comes to this? Can we really ever gain an idea, or can we only recognise our own ideas?"
"It is very difficult," I said; "if I answered hastily, I should say that I liked being with you because you give me many new ideas; but if I think about it, it seems to me that it is only because you make me recognise my own thoughts."
"Yes," said Father Payne, "I think that is so. If I see another man behaving well where I should behave ill, I recognise that I have all the elements in my own mind for doing the same, but that I have given undue weight to some of them and not enough weight to others. I don't think, on the whole, that anyone can give one a new idea; he can only help one to a sense of proportion. But I want to get deeper than that. You and I are friends—at least I think so; but what exactly do we give each other? How do you affect my solitude, or I yours? I'm blessed if I know. It looks to me, indeed, as if you and I might be parts of one great force, one great spirit, and that we recognise our unity, through some material condition which keeps us apart. I am not sure that it isn't only the body that divides us, and that we are a part of the same thing behind it all."
"But why, if that is so," said I, "do we feel a sense of unity with some people, and not at all with others? There are people, I mean, with whom I feel that I have simply nothing in common, and that our spirits could not possibly mix or blend. With you, to speak frankly, it is different. I feel as though I had known you far longer than a few months, and should never be in any real doubt about you. I recognise myself in you and yourself in me. But there are many people in whom I don't recognise myself at all."
Father Payne put his arm through mine, "Well, old man," he said, "we must be content to have found each other, but we mustn't give up trying to find other people too. I think that is what civilisation means—a mutual recognition—we're only just at the start of it, you know. I'm in no doubt as to what you give me—it's a sense of trust. When I think about you, I feel, 'Come, there is someone at all events who will try to understand me and to forgive me and to share his best with me'—but even so, my boy, I shall enjoy being alone sometimes. I shall want to get away from everyone, even from you! There are thoughts I cannot share with you, because I want you to think better of me than I do of myself. I suppose that is vanity—but still old Wordsworth was right when he wrote:
"'And many love me; but by none Am I enough beloved.'"
OF THE WRITER'S LIFE
I was walking once with Father Payne in the fields, and he was talking about the difficulties of the writer's life. He said that the great problem for all industrious writers was how to work in such a way as not to be a nuisance to the people they lived with. "Of course men vary very much in their habits," he said; "but if you look at the lives of authors, they often seem tiresome people to get on with. The difficulty is mostly this," he went on, "that a writer can't write to any purpose for more than about three hours a day—if he works really hard, even that is quite enough to tire him out. Think what the brain is doing—it is concentrated on some idea, some scene, some situation. Take a novelist: he has to have a picture in his mind all the time—a clear visualisation of a place—a room, a garden, a wood; then he must know how his people move and look and speak, and he has to fly backwards and forwards from one to another; then he has the talk to create, and he has to be always rejecting thoughts and impressions and words, good enough in themselves, but not characteristic. It is a fearful strain on imagination and emotion, on phrase-making and word-finding. The real wonder is not that a few people can do it better than others, but that anyone can do it at all. The difference between the worst novelist and the best is much less than the difference between the worst novelist and the person who can't write at all.
"Well, then, there is such a thing as inspiration; most creative writers get a book in their minds, and can think of nothing else, day and night, while it is on. The difficulty is to know what a writer is to do in the intervals between his books, and in the hours in which he is not writing. He has got to take it easy somehow, and the question is what is he to do. He can't, as a rule, do much in the way of hard exercise. Violent exercise in the open air is pleasant enough, but it leaves the brain torpid and stagnant. A man who really makes a business of writing has got to live through ten or twelve hours of a day when he isn't writing. He can't afford to read very much—at least he can't afford to read authors whom he admires, because they affect his style. There is something horribly contagious about style, because it is often much easier to do a thing in someone else's way than to do it in one's own. Pater was asked once if he had read Stevenson or Kipling, I forget which—'Oh no, I daren't!' he said, 'I have peeped into him occasionally, but I can't afford to read him. I have learnt exactly how I can approach and develop a subject, and if I looked to see how he does it, I should soon lose my power. The man with a style is debarred from reading fine books unless they are on lines entirely apart from his own.' That is perfectly true, I expect. There is nothing so dreadful as reading a writer whom one likes, and seeing that he has got deflected from his manner by reading some other craftsman. The effect is a very subtle one. If you really want to see that sort of sympathy at work, you should look at Ruskin's letters—his letters are deeply affected by the correspondent to whom he is writing. If he wrote to Carlyle or to Browning, he wrote like Carlyle and Browning, because, as he wrote, they were strongly in his mind.
"With a painter or a musician it is different—a lot of hand-work comes in which relieves the brain, so that they can work longer hours. But a writer, as a rule, while he is writing, can't even afford to talk very much to interesting people, because talking is hard work too.
"Well, then, a writer, as an artistic person, is rather easily bored. He likes vivid sensations and emphatic preferences—and it is not really good for him to be bored; a man may read the paper, write a few letters, stroll, garden, chatter—but if he takes his writing seriously, he must somehow be fresh for it. It isn't easy to combine writing with any other occupation, and it leaves many hours unoccupied.
"Carlyle is a terrible instance, because he was wretched and depressed when he was not writing; he was melancholy, peevish, physically unwell; and when he was writing, he was wholly absorbed very impatient of his labour, and most intolerable. Indeed, it does not look as if the home lives of writers have generally been very happy—there is too often a patent conspiracy to keep the great irritable babyish giant amused—and that's a bad atmosphere for anyone to live in—an unreal, a royal sort of atmosphere, of deferential scheming."
I said something about Walter Scott. "Ah yes," said Father Payne, "but Scott's work was amazing—it just seemed to overflow from a gigantic reservoir of vitality. He could do his day's work in the early hours, and then tramp about all day, chattering, farming, planting, entertaining—endlessly good-humoured. Of course he wore himself out at last by perfectly ghastly work—most of it very poor stuff. Browning and Thackeray were men of the same sort, sociable, genial, exuberant. They overflowed too—they didn't batter things out.
"But, as a rule, most men who want to do good work, must be content to potter about, and seem lazy and even self-indulgent. And one of the reasons why many men who start as promising writers come to nothing is because they can't be inert, acquiescent, easy-going. I have often thought that a good novel might be written about the wife of a great writer, who marries him, dazzled by his brilliance and then finds him to be a petty, suspicious, wayward sort of child, with all his force lying in one supreme faculty of vision and expression. It must be a fiery trial to see deep, wise, beautiful things produced by a man who can't live his thoughts—can only write them."
"But what should a man do?" I said.
"Well," said Father Payne, "I think, as a practical matter, it would be a good thing to cultivate a hobby of a manual kind—and also, above all, the power of genial loafing. Of course, the real pity is that we are not all taught to do some house-work as a matter of course—we depend too much on servants, and house-work is the natural and amusing outlet of our physical energies; as it is, we specialise too much, and half of our maladies and discomforts and miseries are due to that—that we work a part of ourselves too hard, and the other parts not hard enough. The thing to aim at is equanimity, and the existence of unsatisfied instincts in us is what poisons life for many people."
He was silent for a little, and then he said, "And then, too, there is the great danger of all writers—the feeling that he has the power of giving people what they want, when he ought to remember that he has only the good fortune of expressing what people feel. Art oughtn't to be a thing sprinkled on life, as you shake sugar out on to a pudding—it is just a power of disentangling things; we suffer most of us from finding life too complicated—we don't understand it—it's a mass of confused impressions. Well, the artist puts it all in order, isolates the important things, makes the values distinct—he helps people to feel clearly—that's his only use. And then, if he succeeds, there come silly flatteries and adorations—until he gets to feel as if he were handing down pots of jam and bottles of wine from a high shelf out of reach—until he grows to believe that he put them there, when he only found them there. It's a dreadful thing for an artist never to succeed at all, because then his life appears the most useless business conceivable; but it is almost a worse thing to get to depend upon success—and it is undeniably pleasant to be a personage, to cause a little stir when you enter a room, to find that people know all about you and like meeting you, and saying they have met you. I never had any of that: and I have sometimes found myself with successful writers who made me thank God I couldn't write—such complacency, such lolling among praise, such vexation at not being deferred to! The best fate for a man is to be fairly successful, and to be at the same time pretty severely criticised. That keeps him modest, while it gives him a degree of confidence that he is doing something useful. The danger is of drifting right out of life into unreal civilities and compliments, which you don't wholly like and yet can't do without. The fact is that writing doesn't generally end in very much happiness, except perhaps the happiness of work. That's the solid part of it really, and no one can deprive you of that, whatever happens."
We were discussing Keats and his premature death. Someone had said that, beside being one of the best, he was also one of the most promising of poets; and Father Payne had remarked that reading Keats's letters made him feel more directly in the presence of a man of genius than any other book he knew. Kaye had added that the death of Keats seemed to him the most ghastly kind of waste, at which Father Payne had smiled, and said that that presupposed that he was knocked out by some malign or indifferent force. "It is possible—isn't it?" he added, "that he was needed elsewhere and summoned away." "Then why was he so elaborately tortured first?" said Kaye. "Well," said Father Payne, "I can conceive that if he had recovered his health, and escaped from his engagement with Fanny Brawne, he might have been a much finer fellow afterwards. There were two weak points in Keats, you know—his over-sensuousness and a touch of commonness—I won't call it vulgarity," he added, "but his jokes are not of the best quality! I do not feel sure that his suffering might not have cleared away the poisonous stuff."
"Perhaps," said Kaye; "but doesn't that make it more wasteful still? The world needs beauty—and for a man to die so young with his best music in him seems to me a clumsy affair."
"I don't know," said Father Payne; "it seems to me harder to define the word waste than almost any word I know. Of course there are cases when it is obviously applicable—if a big steamer carrying a cargo of wheat goes down in a storm, that is a lot of human trouble thrown away—and a war is wasteful, because nations lose their best and healthiest parental stock. But it isn't a word to play with. In a middle-class household it is applied mainly to such things as there being enough left of a nice dish for the servants to enjoy; and, generally speaking, I think it might be applied to all cases in which the toil spent over the making of a thing is out of all proportion to the enjoyment derived from it. But the difficulty underlying it is that it assumes a knowledge of what a man's duty is in this world—and I am not by any means sure that we know. Look at the phrase 'a waste of time.' How do we know exactly how much time a man ought to allot to sleep, to work, to leisure? I had an old puritanical friend who was very fond of telling people that they wasted time. He himself spent nearly two hours of every day in dressing and undressing. That is to say that when he died at the age of seventy-six, he had spent about six entire years in making and unmaking his toilet! Let us assume that everyone is bound to give a certain amount of time to doing the necessary work of the world—enough to support, feed, clothe, and house himself, with a margin to spare for the people who can't support themselves and can't work. Then there are a lot of outlying things which must be done—the work of statesmen, lawyers, doctors, writers—all the people who organise, keep order, cure, or amuse people. Then there are all the people who make luxuries and comforts—things not exactly necessary, but still reasonable indulgences. Now let us suppose that anyone is genuinely and sensibly occupied in any one of these ways, and does his or her fair share of the world's work: who is to say how such workers are to spend their margin of time? There are obviously certain people who are mere drones in the hive—rich, idle, extravagant people: we will admit that they are wasters. But I don't admit for a moment that all the time spent in enjoying oneself is wasted, and I think that people have a right to choose what they do enjoy. I am inclined to believe that we are here to live, and that work is only a part of our material limitations. A great deal of the usefulness of work is not its intrinsic value, but its value to ourselves. It isn't only what we perform that matters; it is the fact that work forces us into relations with other people, which I take to be the experience we all need. In the old dreary books of my childhood, the elders were always hounding the young people into doing something useful—useful reading, useful sewing, and so forth. But I am inclined to believe that sociability and talk are more useful than reading, and that solitary musing and dreaming and looking about are useful too. All activity is useful, all interchange, all perception. What isn't useful is anything which hides life from you, any habit that drugs you into inactivity and idleness, anything which makes you believe that life is romantic and sentimental and fatuous. I wouldn't even go so far as to say that all the time spent in squabbling and quarrelling is useless, because it brings you up against people who think differently from yourself. That becomes wasteful the moment it leaves you with the impotent desire to hurt your adversary. No, I am inclined to think that the only thing which is wasteful is anything which suspends interest and animation and the love of life; and I don't blame idle and extravagant people who live with zest and liveliness for doing that. I only blame them for not seeing that their extravagance is keeping people at the other end of the scale in drudgery and dulness. Of course the difficulty of it is, that if we offered the lowest stratum of workers a great increase of leisure, they would largely misuse it; and that is why I believe that in the future a large part of the education of workers will be devoted to teaching them how to employ their leisure agreeably and not noxiously. And I believe that there are thousands of cases in the world which are infinitely worse than the case of Keats—who, after all, had more joy of the finest quality in his short life than most of us achieve. I mean the cases of men and women with fine and sensitive instincts, who by being born under base and down-trodden conditions are never able to get a taste of clean, wholesome, and beautiful life at all—that's a much darker problem."
"But how do you fit that into your theories of life at all?" said Vincent.
"Oh, it fits my theory of life well enough," said Father Payne. "You see, I believe it to be a real battle, and not a sham fight. I believe in God as the source of all the fine, beautiful, and free instincts, casting them lavishly into the world, against a horribly powerful and relentless but ultimately stupid foe. 'Who put the evil there?' you may say, 'and how did it get there first?' Ah, I don't know that—that is the origin of evil. But I don't believe that God put it there first, just for the interest of the fight. I don't believe that He is responsible for waste—I think it is one of the forces He is fighting. He pushes battalion after battalion to the assault, and down they go. It's cruel work, but it isn't anything like so cruel as to suppose that He arranged it all or even permitted it all. That would indeed sicken and dishearten me. No, I believe that God never wastes anything; but it's a fearful and protracted battle; and I believe that He will win in the end. I read a case in the paper the other day of a little child in a workhouse that had learnt a lot of infamous language, and cursed and swore if it was given milk instead of beer or brandy. Am I to believe that God was in any way responsible for putting a little child in that position?—for allowing things to take shape so, if He could have checked it? No, indeed! I do not believe in a God as helpless or as wicked as that! There is something devilish there, for which He is not responsible, and against which He is fighting as hard as He can."
"But doesn't heredity come in there?" said Vincent. "It isn't the child's fault, and probably no amount of decent conditions would turn that child into anything respectable."
"Yes," said Father Payne; "heredity is just one of the evil devices—but don't you see the stupidity of it? It stops progress, but it also helps it on—it hinders, but it also helps; and nothing in the world seems to me so Divine as the way in which God is using and mastering heredity for good. It multiplies evil, but it also multiplies good; and God has turned that weapon against the contriver of it. The wiser that the world grows, the more they will see how to use heredity for happiness, by preventing the tainted from continuing to taint the races. The slow civilisation of the world is the strongest proof I know that the battle is going the right way. The forces of evil are being slowly transformed into the forces of good. The waste of noble things is but the slow arrival of the new armies of light. There is something real in fighting for a General who has a very urgent and terrible business on hand. There is nothing real about fighting for one who has brought both the armies into the field. It doesn't do to sentimentalise about evil, and to say that it is hidden good! The world is a probation, I don't doubt—but it is testing your strength against something which is really there, and can do you a lot of harm, not against something which is only there for the purpose of testing what might have been made and kept both innocent and strong."
Father Payne generally declined to talk about education. "Teaching is one of the things, like golf and hunting, which is exciting to do and pleasant to remember, but intolerable to talk about," he said one evening.
"Well," I said, "it is certainly intolerable to listen to people discussing education, or to read about it; but if you know anything about it, I should have thought it was good fun to talk about it."
"Ah," said Father Payne, "you say, 'If you know anything about it.' The worst of it is that everybody knows everything about it. A man who is a success, thinks that his own education is the only one worth having; a man who is a failure thinks that all systems of education are wrong. And as for talking about teaching, you can't talk about it—you can only relate your own experience, and listen with such patience as you can muster to another man relating his. That's not talking!"
"But it is interesting in a general way," said Vincent,—"the kind of thing you are aiming at, what you want to produce, and so on."
"Yes, my dear Vincent," said Father Payne, "but education isn't that—it's an obstinate sort of tradition; it's a quest, like the Philosopher's Stone. Most people think that it is a sort of charm which, if you could discover it, would transmute all baser metals into gold. The justification of the Philosopher's Stone is, I suppose, that different metals are not really different substances, but only different arrangements of the same atoms. But we can't predicate that of human spirits as yet; and to attempt to find one formula of education is like planting the same crop in different soils. It is the ridiculous democratic doctrine of human equality which is the real difficulty. There is no natural equality in human nature, and the question really is whether you are going to try to reduce all human beings to the same level, which is the danger of discipline, or to let people follow their own instincts unchecked, which is the shadow of liberty. I'm all for liberty, of course."
"But why 'of course'?" said Vincent.
"Because I take the aristocratic view," said Father Payne, "which is that you do more for the human race by having a few fine people, than by having an infinite number of second-rate people. What the first-rate man thinks to-day, the second-rate people think to-morrow—that is how we make progress; and I would like to take infinite pains with the best material, if I could find it, and leave discipline for the second-rate. The Jews and the Greeks, both first-class nations, have done more for the world on the whole than the Romans and the Anglo-Saxons, who are the best of the second-rate stocks."
"But how are you going to begin to sort your material?" said Barthrop.
"Yes, you have me there," said Father Payne. "But I don't despair of our ultimately finding that out. At present, the worst of men of genius is that they are not always the most brisk and efficient boys. A genius is apt to be perceptive and sensitive. His perceptiveness makes him seem bewildered, because he is vaguely interested in everything that he sees; his sensitiveness makes him hold his tongue, because he gets snubbed if he asks too many questions. Men of genius are not as a rule very precocious—they are often shy, awkward, absent-minded. Genius is often strangely like stupidity in its early stages. The stupid boy escapes notice because he is stupid. The genius escapes notice because he is diffident, and wants to escape notice."
"But how would you set about discovering which was which?" said Barthrop.
"Well," said Father Payne, "if you ask me, I don't think we discriminate; I think we go in for teaching children too much, and not trying to make them observe and think more. We give them things to do, and to get by heart; we imprison them in a narrow round of gymnastics. As Dr. Johnson said once, 'You teach your children the use of the globes, and when they get older you wonder that they do not seek your society!' The whole thing is so devilish dull, and it saves the teacher such a lot of trouble! I myself was fairly quick as a boy, and found that it paid to do what I was told. But I never made the smallest pretence to be interested in what I had to do—grammar, Euclid, tiny scraps of Latin and Greek. I used to thank God, in Xenophon lessons, when a bit was all about stages and parasangs, because there were fewer words to look out. The idea of teaching languages like that! If I had a clever boy to teach a language, I would read some interesting book with him, telling him the meaning of words, until he got a big stock of ordinary words; I would just teach him the common inflexions; and when he could read an easy book, and write the language intelligibly, then I would try to teach him a few niceties and idioms, and make him look out for differences of style and language. But we begin at the wrong end, and store his memory with exceptions and idioms and niceties first. No sensible human being who wanted, let us say, to know enough Italian to read Dante, would dream of setting to work as we set to work on classics. Well then," Father Payne went on, "I should cultivate the imagination of children a great deal more. I should try to teach them all I could about the world as it is—the different nations, and how they live, the distribution of plants and animals, the simpler sorts of science. I don't think that it need be very accurate, all that. But children ought to realise that the world is a big place, with all sorts of interesting and exciting things going on. I would try to give them a general view of history and the movement of civilisation. I don't mean a romantic view of it, with the pomps and shows and battles in the foreground; but a real view—how people lived, and what they were driving at. The thing could be done, if it were not for the bugbear of inaccuracy. To know a little perfectly isn't enough; of course, people ought to be able to write their own language accurately, and to do arithmetic. Outside of that, you want a lot of general ideas. It is no good teaching everything as if everyone was to end as a Professor."
"That is a reasonable general scheme," said Barthrop, "but what about special aptitudes?"
"Why," said Father Payne, "I should go on those general lines till boys and girls were about fourteen. And I should teach them with a view to the lives they were going to live. I should teach girls a good deal of house-work, and country boys about the country—we mustn't forget that the common work of the world has to be done. You must somehow interest people in the sort of work they are going to do. It is hopeless without that. And then we must gradually begin to specialise. But I'm not going into all that now. The general aim I should have in view would be to give people some idea of the world they were living in, and try to interest them in the part they were going to play; and I should try to teach them how to employ their leisure. That seems entirely left out at present. I want to develop people on simple and contented lines, with intelligent interests and, if possible, a special taste. The happy man is the man who likes his work, and all education is a fraud if it turns out people who don't like their work; and then I want people to have something to fall back upon which they enjoy. No one can live a decent life without having things to look forward to. But, of course, the whole thing turns on Finance, and that is what makes it so infernally dull. You want more teachers and better teachers; you want to make teaching a profession which attracts the best people. You can't do that without money, and at present education is looked upon as an expensive luxury. That's all part of the stodgy Anglo-Saxon mind. It doesn't want ideas—it wants positions which, carry high salaries; and really the one thing which blocks the way in all our education is that we care so much for money and property, and can't think of happiness apart from them. As long as our real aim in England is income, we shall not make progress; because we persist in thinking of ideas as luxuries in which a man can indulge if he has a sufficient income to afford to do so."
"You take a gloomy view of our national ideals, Father," said Vincent.
"Not a gloomy view, my boy," said Father Payne; "only a dull view! We are a respectable nation—we adore respectability; and I don't think it is a sympathetic quality. What I want is more sympathy and more imagination. I think they lead to happiness; and I don't think the Anglo-Saxon cares enough about happiness; if he is happy, he has an uneasy idea that he is in for a disaster of some kind."
I found Father Payne one morning reading a letter with knitted brows. Presently he cast it down on the table with a gesture of annoyance. "What a fool one is to argue!" he said—and then stopping, he said, "But you wanted something—what is it?" It was a question about some books which was soon answered. Then he said: "Stay a few minutes, won't you, unless you are pressed? I have got a tiresome letter, and if you will let me pour out my complaint to you, I shall be all right—otherwise I shall go about grumbling and muttering all day, and inventing repartees."
I sate down in a chair. "Yes, do tell me!" I said; "I have really very little to do this morning, but finish up a bit of work."
He looked at me with a twinkle in his eye. "I expect you ought to be at work," he said, "and if I were conscientious, I should send you away—but this is rather interesting, I think."
He meditated for a moment, and then went on. "It's this! I have got involved in an argument with an old friend of mine who is a stiff sort of High-Churchman—a parson. It's about religion, too, and it's no good arguing about religion. You only confirm your adversary in his opinion. He brings forth the bow, and makes ready the arrows within the quiver. I needn't go into the argument. It's the old story. He objected to something I said as 'vague,' and I was ass enough to answer him. He is one of those people who is very strong on dogma, and treats his religion as if it were a sort of trades' union. He thinks I am a kind of blackleg, not true to my principles; or rather he thinks that I am not a Christian at all, and only call myself one for the sake of the associations. Of course he triumphs over me at every point. He is entrenched in what he calls a logical system, and he fires off texts as if from a machine-gun. Of course my point is that all strict denominations have got a severely logical system, but that they can't all be sound, because they all deduce different conclusions from the same evidence. All denominational positions are drawn up by able men, and I imagine that an old theology like the Catholic theology is one of the most ingenious constructions in the world from the logical point of view. But the mischief of it all is that the data are incomplete, and many of them are not mathematically demonstrable at all. They are all coloured by human ideas and personalities and temperaments, and half of them are intuitions and experiences, which vary at different times and under different circumstances. All precise denominational systems are the outcome of the desire for a precise certainty in the minds of business-like people—the people who say that they wish to know exactly where they are. Now I don't go so far as to say, or even to think, that religion will always be as mysterious a thing as it is now. I fully expect that we shall know much more about it some day. But we don't at present know very much about the central things of all—the nature of God, the relation of good and evil, life after death, human psychology. We have not reached the point of being able definitely to identify the moral force of the world with the forces which do not appear to be moral, but are undoubtedly, active—with realities, that is, as we come into contact with them. There are no scientific certainties on these points—we simply have not reached that stage. My friend's view is that out of a certain number of denominations, one is undoubtedly right. My view is that all are necessarily incomplete. But the moment I say this, he says that my religion is so vague as not to be a religion at all.
"Now my own position is this, that I think religion, by which I mean our relation to the Power behind the world, is the most important fact in the world, as well as the most absorbingly interesting. Whatever form of religion I study, I seem to see the same thing going on. The saints, however much they differ in dogma, seem to me to have a strong family likeness. Mysticism is a very definite thing indeed, and I have never any doubt that all mystics have the same or a very similar experience, namely, the perception of some perfectly definite force—as real a force as electricity, for instance—with which they are in touch. Something, which is quite clearly there, is affecting them in a particular way.
"If you ask me what that something is, I don't know. I believe it to be a sort of life-force, which can and does mingle itself with our own life; and I believe that we are all affected by it, just as every drop of water on the earth is affected by the moon's attraction—though we can measure that effect in an ocean by observing the tides, when we can't measure it in a basin of water. We are not all equally conscious of it, and I don't know why that is. Sometimes I am aware of it myself, and sometimes not. But I have had enough experience of it to feel that something is making signals to me, affecting me, attracting me. And the reason why I am a Christian is because in Christianity and in the teaching of Christ I feel the influence of it in a way that I feel it nowhere else in the same degree. I feel that Christ was closer to what I recognise as God; knew God better than anyone that ever lived, and in a different kind of way—from inside, so to speak. But it's a life that I find in the Gospel, and not a creed: and I believe that this is religion, to be somehow in touch with a higher life and a higher sort of beauty.
"But I personally don't want this explained and defined and codified. That seems to me only to hem it in and limit it. The moment I find it reduced to dogma and rule, to definite channels of grace, to particular powers entrusted to particular persons, then I begin to be stifled and, what is worse, bored. I don't feel it to be a logical affair at all—I feel it to be a living force, the qualities of which are virtue, beauty, peace, enthusiasm, happiness; all the things which glow and sparkle in life, and make me long to be different—to be stronger, wiser, more patient, more interested, more serene. I want to share my secret with others, not to keep it to myself. But when I argue with my friend, I don't feel it is my secret but his, and that in his mind the force itself is missing, while a lot of rules and logical propositions and arrangements have taken its place. It is just as though I were in love with a girl, and were taken to task by someone, and informed of a score of conventions which I must observe if I wish to be considered really in love. I know what love means to me, and I know, how I want to make love; and the same sort of thing is happening to lovers all the world over, though they don't all make love in the same way. You can't codify the rules of love!"
Presently he went on: "It seems to me like this—like seeing the reflection of the moon. You may see it in the marble basin of a fountain, clear and distinct. You may see it blurred into ripples on a wind-stirred sea. You may see it moulded into liquid curves on a swift stream. The changing shapes of it matter little—you are sure that it is the same thing which is being reflected, however differently it appears. I believe that human nature has a power of reflecting God, and the different denominations seem to me to reflect Him in different ways, like the fountain and the stream and the sea. But the same thing is there, though the forms seem to vary. And therefore we must not quarrel with the different attempts to reflect it—or even be vexed if the fountain tells the sea that it is not reflecting the moon at all. Take my advice, my boy," he added, smiling, "and never argue about religion—only try to make your own spirit as calm and true as you can!"
I came in from a stroll one day with Father Payne and Barthrop. Father Payne opened a letter which was lying on the hall table, and saying, "Hallo, Leonard, look at this. Gladwin is coming down for Sunday—that will be rather fun!"
"I don't know about fun," said Barthrop; "at least I doubt if I should find it fun, if I had the responsibility of entertaining him."
"Yes, it's a great responsibility," said Father Payne. "I feel that. Gladwin is a man who has to be taken as you find him, but who never makes any pretence of taking you as he finds you! But it will amuse me to put him through his paces a bit!"
"Who on earth is Gladwin?" said I, consumed by curiosity.
Father Payne and Barthrop laughed. "I should like Gladwin to hear that!" said Barthrop.
"Only it would grieve him still more if Duncan had heard of him," said Father Payne; "there would be a commonness about that!" Then turning to me, he said, "Gladwin? Well, he's about the most critical man in England, I suppose. He does a little work—a very little: and I think he might have been a great man, if he hadn't become so fearfully dry. He began by despising everyone else, and ended by despising himself—and now it's almost a torture to him to make up his mind. 'There's something base about a decision,' he once said to me. But 'despising' isn't the right word. He doesn't despise—that would be coarse. He only feels the coarseness of things in general. He has got too fine an edge on his mind—everything blunts it!"
"Do you remember Rose's song about him?" said Barthrop.
"Yes, what was it?" said Father Payne.
"The refrain," said Barthrop, "was
"'Not too much of whatever is best, That is enough for me!'"
Father Payne laughed. "Yes, I remember!" he said; "'Not too much' is a good stroke!"
I happened to be with Father Payne when Gladwin arrived. He was a small, trim, compact man, about forty, unembarrassed and graceful, but with an air of dejection. He had a short pointed beard and moustache, and his hair was growing grey. He had fine thin hands, and he was dressed in old but well-fitting clothes. He had an atmosphere of great distinction about him. I had expected something incisive and clear-cut about him, but he was conspicuously gentle, and even deprecating in manner. He greeted Father Payne smilingly, and shook hands with me, with a courteous little bow. We strolled a little in the garden. Father Payne did most of the talking, but Gladwin's silence was sympathetic and impressive. He listened to us tolerantly, as a man might listen to the prattle of children.
"What are you doing just now?" said Father Payne after a pause.
"Oh, nothing worth mentioning," said Gladwin softly. "I work more slowly than ever, I believe. It can hardly be called work, indeed. In fact, I want to consult you about a few little bits—they can hardly be called anything so definite as 'pieces'—but I am in doubt about their arrangement. The placing of independent pieces is such a difficulty to me, you know! One must secure some sort of a progression!"
"Ah, I shall enjoy that," said Father Payne. "But you won't take my advice, you know—you never do!"
"Oh, don't say that," said Gladwin. "Of course one must be ultimately responsible. It can't be otherwise. But I always respect your judgment. You always help me to the materials, at all events, for a decision!"
Father Payne laughed, and said, "Well, I shall be at your service any time!"
A little while after, Gladwin said he thought he would go to his room. "I know your ways here," he said to me with a smile; "one mustn't interfere with a system. Besides I like it! It is such a luxury to obliterate oneself!" When we met again before dinner, Gladwin walked across to a big picture, an old sea-piece, rather effectively painted, which Father Payne had found in a garret, and had had restored and framed.
"What is this?" said Gladwin very gently; "I think this is new?"
Father Payne told him the story of its discovery, adding, "I don't suppose it is worth much—but it has a certain breeziness about it, I think."
Gladwin considered it in silence, and then turned away.
"Do you like it?" said Father Payne—a little maliciously, I thought.
"Like it?" said Gladwin meditatively, "I don't know that I can go as far as that! I like it in your house."
Gladwin said very little at dinner. He ate and drank sparingly; and I noticed that he looked at any dish that was offered him with a quick scrutinising glance. He tasted his first glass of wine with the same air of suspense, and then appeared to be relieved from a preoccupation. But he joined little in the talk, and exercised rather a sobering effect upon us. Once or twice he spoke out. Mention was made of Gissing's Papers of Henry Ryecroft, and Father Payne asked him if he had read it. "Oh no, I couldn't read it, of course," said Gladwin; "I looked into it, and had to put it away. I felt as if I had opened a letter addressed to someone else by mistake!"
At a later period of the evening, a discussion arose about the laws of taste. Father Payne had said that the one phenomenon in art he could not understand was the almost inevitable reaction which seemed to take place in the way in which the work of a great writer or painter or musician is regarded a few years after his vogue declines. "I am not speaking," said Father Payne, "of poor, commonplace, merely popular work, but of work which was acclaimed as great by the best critics of the time, and which will probably return to pre-eminence," He instanced, I remember, Mendelssohn and Tennyson. "Of course," he said, "they both wrote a great deal—perhaps too much—and some kind of sorting is necessary. I don't mind the Idylls of the King, or the Elijah, being relegated to oblivion, because they both show signs of having been done with one eye on the public. But the progressive young man won't hear of Tennyson or Mendelssohn being regarded as serious figures in art at all. Yet I honestly believe that poems like 'Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal,' or 'Come down, O Maid,' have a high and permanent beauty about them; or, again, the overture to the Midsummer Night's Dream. I can't believe that it isn't a thing full of loveliness and delight. I can't for the life of me see what happens to cause such things to be forgotten. Tennyson and Mendelssohn seem to me to have been penetrated with a sense of beauty, and to have been great craftsmen too: and their work at its best not only satisfied the most exacting and trained critics, but thrilled all the most beauty-loving spirits of the time with ineffable content, as of a dream fulfilled beyond the reach of hope. And yet all the light seems to die out of them as the years go on. The new writers and musicians, the new critics, the new audience, are all preoccupied with a different presentment of beauty. And then, very slowly, the light seems to return to the old things—at least to the best of them: but they have to suffer an eclipse, during which they are nothing but symbols of all that is hackneyed and commonplace in music and literature. I think things are either beautiful or not: I can't believe in a real shifting of taste, a merely relative and temporary beauty. If it only happened to the second-rate kinds of goodness, it would be intelligible—but it seems to involve the best as well. What do you think, Gladwin?"
Gladwin, who had been dreamily regarding the wine in his glass, gave a little start almost of pain, as if a thorn had pricked him. He glanced round the table, and then said in his gentlest voice, "Well, Payne, I don't quite know from what point of view you are speaking—from the point of view of serious investigation, or of edification, or of mere curiosity? I should have to be sure of that. But, speaking hurriedly and perhaps intemperately, I should be inclined to think that there was a sort of natural revolt against a convention, a spontaneous disgust at deference being taken for granted. Isn't it like what takes place in politics—though, of course, I know nothing about politics—the way, I mean, in which the electors get simply tired of a political party being in power, and give the other side a chance of doing better? I mean that the gross and unintelligent laudation of any artist who arrives at what is called assured fame, naturally turns one's mind on to the critical consciousness of his imperfections. I don't say it's noble or right—in fact, I think it is probably ungenerous—but I think it is natural."
"Yes, there is a good deal in that," said Father Payne, "but ought not the trained critics to withstand it?"
"The trained critic," said Gladwin, "the man who sells his opinion of a work of art for money, is, of course, the debased outcome of a degrading system. If you press me, I should consider that both the extravagant laudation and the equally extravagant reaction are entirely vulgar and horrible. Personally, I am not easily pleased: but then what does it matter whether I am pleased or not?"
"But you sometimes bring yourself to form, and even express, an opinion?" said Father Payne with a smile.
"An opinion—an opinion"—said Gladwin, shaking his head, "I don't know that I ever get so far as that. One has a kind of feeling, no doubt; but it is so far underground, that one hardly knows what its operations may be."
"'Well said, old mole! Canst work i' the earth so fast? A worthy pioneer!'" said Payne, laughing.
Gladwin gave a quick smile: "A good quotation!" he said, "that was very ready! I congratulate you on that! But there's more of the mole than the pioneer about my work, such as it is!"
Gladwin drifted about the next day like a tired fairy.
He had a long conference with Father Payne, and at dinner he seemed aloof, and hardly spoke at all. He vanished the next day with an air of relief. "Well, what did you think of our guest?" said Father Payne to me, meeting me in the garden before dinner.
"Well," I said, "he seemed to me an unhappy, heavily-burdened man—but he was evidently extraordinarily able."
"Yes," said Father Payne, "that's about it. His mind is too big for him to carry. He sees everything, understands everything, and passes judgment on everything. But he hasn't enough vitality. It must be an awful curse to have no illusions—to see the inferiority of everything so clearly. He's awfully lonely, and I must try to see more of him. But it is very difficult. I used to amuse him, and he appointed me, in a way he has, a sort of State Jester—Royal Letters Patent, you know. But then he began to detect the commonness of my mind and taste, and, one by one, all the avenues of communication became closed. If I liked a book which he disliked, and praised it to him, he became inflicted with a kind of mental nausea: and it's impossible to see much of a man, with any real comfort, when you realise that you are constantly turning him faint and sick. I had a dreary time with him yesterday. He produced some critical essays of his own, which he was thinking of making into a book. They were awfully dry, like figs which have been kept too long—not a drop of juice in them. They were hideously acute, I saw that. But there wasn't any reason why they should have been written. They were mere dissections: I suggested that he should call them 'Depreciations,' and he shivered, and I felt a brute. But that didn't last long, because he has a way of putting you in your place. I felt like something in a nightmare he was having. He annexes you, and he disapproves of you at the same time. I am awfully sorry for him, but I can't help him. The moment I try, I run up against his disapproval, and my vulgar spirit revolts. He's an aristocrat, through and through. He comes and hoists his flag over a place. I felt all yesterday as if I were a rather unwelcome guest in his house, you know. It's a stifling atmosphere. I can't breathe or speak, because I instantly feel myself suspected of crudity! The truth is that Gladwin thinks you can live upon light, and forgets that you also want air."
"It seems rather a ghastly business," I said.
"Yes," said Father Payne, "it's a wretched business! That combination of great sensitiveness and great self-righteousness is the most melancholy thing I know. You have to get rid of one or the other—and yet that is how Gladwin is made. Now, I have plenty of opinions of my own, but I don't consider them final or absolute. It ends, of course, in poor Gladwin knowing about a hundredth part of what is going on in the world, and thinking that it's d—d bad. Of course it is, if you neglect the other ninety-nine parts altogether!"
It was one of those perfectly fine and radiant days of early summer, with a touch of easterly about the breeze, which means perhaps a drier air, and always seems to bring out the true colours of our countryside, as with a touch of ethereal golden-tinged varnish. The humid rain-washed days, so common in England, are beautiful enough, with their rolling cloud-ranges and their soft mistiness: but the clear sparkle of this brighter weather, summer without its haze, intensifying each tone of colour and sharply defining each several tint, has a special beauty of form as well as of hue.
I walked with Father Payne far among the fields. He was at first in a silent mood, observing and enjoying. We passed a field carpeted with buttercups, and he said, "That's a beautiful touch, 'the flower-enamelled field'—it isn't just washed with colour, it is like hammered work of beaten gold, like the letters in old missals!" Presently he burst out into talk: "I don't want to say anything affected," he began, "but a day like this, out in the country, gives me a stronger feeling of what I can only describe as worship than anything else in the world, because the scene holds the beauty of life so firmly up before you. Worship means the sense of the unmistakable presence of beauty, I am sure—a beauty great and overwhelming, which one has had no part in making—'The sea is His, and He made it, and His hands prepared the dry land. O come, let us worship and fall down, and kneel before the Lord our Maker'—it's that exactly—a sense of joyful abasement in the presence of something great and infinitely beautiful. I do wish that were more clearly stated and understood and believed. Religion, as we know it in its technical sense, is so faint-hearted about it all! It has limited worship to things beautiful enough, arches and music and ceremony: and it is so afraid of vagueness, so considerate of man's feeble grasp and small outlook, that it is afraid of recognising all the channels by which that sense is communicated, for fear of weakening a special effect. I'll tell you two or three of the experiences I mean. You know old Mrs. Chetwynd, who is fading away in that little cottage beyond the churchyard. She is poor, old, ill. She can hardly be said to have a single pleasure, as you and I reckon pleasures. She just lies there in that poky room waiting for death, always absolutely patient and affectionate and sweet-tempered, grateful for everything, never saying a hard or cross word. Well, I go to see her sometimes—not as often as I ought. She shakes hands with that old knotted-looking hand of hers which has grown soft enough now after its endless labours. She talks a little—she is interested in all the news, she doesn't regret things, or complain, or think it hard that she can't be out and about. After I have been with her for two minutes, with her bright old eyes looking at me out of such a thicket, so to speak, of wrinkles,—her face simply hacked and seamed by life,—I feel myself in the presence of something very divine indeed,—a perfectly pure, tender, joyful, human spirit, suffering the last extremity of discomfort and infirmity, and yet entirely radiant and undimmed. It is then that I feel inclined to kneel down before God, and thank Him humbly for having made and shown me so utterly beautiful a thing as that poor old woman's courage and sweetness. I feel as I suppose the devout Catholic feels before the reserved Sacrament in the shrine—in the presence of a divine mystery; and I rejoice silently that God is what He is, and that I see Him for once unveiled.
"And then the sight of a happy and contented child, kind and spirited and affectionate, like little Molly Akers, never making a fuss, or seeming to want things for herself, or cross, or tiresome—that gives me the same feeling! Then flowers often give me the same feeling, with their cleanness and fresh beauty and pure outline and sweet scent—so useless in a way, often so unregarded, and yet so content just to be what they are, so apart from every stain and evil passion.
"And then in the middle of that you see a man like Barlow stumbling home tipsy to his frightened wife and children, or you read a bad case in the papers, or a letter from a man of virtue finding fault with everybody and slinging pious Billingsgate about: or I lose my own temper about something, and feel I have made a hash of my life—and then I wonder what is the foul poison that has got into things, and what is the dismal ugliness that seems smeared all over life, so that the soul seems like a beautiful bird caught in a slime-pit, and trying to struggle out, with its pinions fouled and dabbled, wondering miserably what it has done to be so filthily hampered."
He stopped for a minute, and I could see that his eyes were full of tears.
"It is no good giving up the game!" he said. "We are in the devil of a mess, no doubt: and even if we try our best to avoid it, we dip into the slime sometimes! But we must hold fast to the beautiful things, and be on the look-out for them everywhere. Not shut our eyes in a rapture of sentiment, and think that we can:
"'Walk all day, like the Sultan of old, in a garden of spice!'
"That won't do, of course! We can't get out of it like that! But we must never allow ourselves to doubt the beauty and goodness of God, or make any mistake about which side He is on. The marvel of dear old Mrs. Chetwynd is just that beauty has triumphed, in spite of everything. With every kind of trouble, every temptation to be dispirited and spiteful and wretched, that fine spirit has got through—and, by George, I envy her the awakening, when that sweet old soul slips away from the cage where she is caught, and goes straight to the arms of God!"
He turned away from me as he said this, and I could see that he struggled with a sob. Then he looked at me with a smile, and put his arm in mine. "Old man," he said, "I oughtn't to behave like this—but a day like this, when the world looks as it was meant to look, and as, please God, it will look more and more, goes to my heart! I seem to see what God desires, and what He can't bring about yet, for all His pains. And I want to help Him, if I can!
"'We too! We ask no pledge of grace, No rain of fire, no heaven-hung sign. Thy need is written on Thy face— Take Thou our help, as we take Thine!'
"That's what I mean by worship—the desire to be used in the service of a Power that longs to make things pure and happy, with groanings that cannot be uttered. The worst of some kinds of worship is that they drug you with a sort of lust for beauty, which makes you afraid to go back and pick up your spade. We mustn't swoon in happiness or delight, but if we say 'Take me, use me, let me help!' it is different, because we want to share whatever is given us, to hand it on, not to pile it up. Of course it's little enough that we can do: but think of old Mrs. Chetwynd again—what has she to give? Yet it is more than Solomon in all his beauty had to offer. We must be simple, we mustn't be ambitious. Do you remember the old statesman who, praising a disinterested man, said that he was that rare and singular type of man who did public work for the sake of the public? That's what I want you to do—that is what a writer can do. He can remind the world of beauty and simplicity and purity. He can be 'a messenger, an interpreter, one among a thousand, to show unto man his uprightness!' That's what you have got to do, old boy! Don't show unto man his nastiness—don't show him up! Keep on reminding him of what he really is or can be."
He went on after a moment. "I ought not to talk like this," he said, "because I have failed all along the line. 'I put in my thumb and pull out a plum,' like Jack Homer. I try a little to hand it on, but it is awfully nice, you know, that plum! I don't pretend it isn't."
"Why, Father," I said, much moved at his kind sincerity, "I don't know anyone in the world who eats fewer of his plums than you!"
"Ah, that's a friendly word!" said Father Payne. "But you can't count the plum-stones on my plate."
We did not say much after this. We walked back in the summer twilight, and my mind began to stir and soar, as indeed it often did when Father Payne showed me his heart in all its strength and cleanness. No one whom I ever met had his power of lighting a flame of pure desire and beautiful hopefulness, in the fire of which all that was base and mean seemed to shrivel away.
OF A CHANGE OF RELIGION
I was walking one day with Father Payne; he said to me, "I have been reading Newman's Apologia over again—I must have read it a dozen times! It is surely one of the most beautiful and singular books in the whole world?—and I think that the strangest sentence in it is this,—'Who would ever dream of making the world his confidant?' Did Newman, do you suppose, not realise that he had done that? And what is stranger still, did he not know that he had told the world, not the trivial things, the little tastes and fancies which anyone might hear, but the most intimate and sacred things, which a man would hardly dare to say to God upon his knees. Newman seems to me in that book to have torn out his beating and palpitating heart, and set it in a crystal phial for all the world to gaze upon. And further, did Newman really not know that this was what he always desired to do and mostly did—to confide in the world, to tell his story as a child might tell it to a mother? It is clear to me that Newman was a man who did not only desire to be loved by a few friends, but wished everybody to love him. I will not say that he was never happy till he had told his tale, and I will not say that artist-like he loved applause: but he did not wish to be hidden, and he earnestly desired to be approved. He craved to be allowed to say what he thought—it is pathetic to hear him say so often how 'fierce' he was—and yet he hated suspicion and hostility and misunderstanding: and though he loved a refined sort of quiet, he even more loved, I think, to be the centre of a fuss! I feel little doubt in my own mind that, even when he was living most retired, he wished people to be curious about what he was doing. He was one of those men who felt he had a special mission, a prophetical function. He was a dramatic creature, a performer, you know. He read the lessons like an actor: he preached like an actor; he was intensely self-conscious. Naturally enough! If you feel like a prophet, the one sign of failure is that your audience melts away."
Father Payne paused a moment, lost in thought.
"But," I said, "do you mean that Newman calculated all his effects?"
"Oh, not deliberately," said Father Payne, "but he was an artist pure and simple—he was never less by himself than when he was alone, as the old Provost of Oriel said of him. He lived dramatically by a kind of instinct. The unselfconscious man goes his own way, and does not bother his head about other people: but Newman was not like that. When he was reading, it was always like the portrait of a student reading. That's the artist's way—he is always living in a sort of picture-frame. Why, you can see from the Apologia, which he wrote in a few weeks, and often, as he once said, in tears, how tenderly and eagerly he remembered all he had ever done or thought. His descriptions of himself are always romantic: he lived in memories, like all poets."
"But that gives one a disagreeable sense of unreality—of pose," I said.
"Ah, but that's very short-sighted," said Father Payne. "Newman's was a beautiful spirit—wonderfully tender-hearted, self-restrained, gentle, sensitive, beauty-loving. He loved beauty as much as any man who ever lived—beautiful conduct, beautiful life—and then his gift of expression! There's a marvellous thing. It's pure poetry, most of the Apologia: look at the way he flashes into metaphor, at his exquisite pictures of persons, at his irony, his courtesy, his humour, his pathos. He and Ruskin knew exactly how to confide in the world, how to humiliate themselves gracefully in public, how to laugh at themselves, how to be gay—it's all so well-bred, so delicate! Depend upon it, that's the way to make the world love you—to tell it all about yourself like a charming child, without any boasting or bragging. The world is awfully stupid! It adores well-bred egotism. We are all deeply inquisitive about people; and if you can reveal yourself without vanity, and are a lovable creature, the world will overwhelm you with love. You can't pay the world a greater compliment than to open your heart to it. You must not bore it, of course, nor must you seem to be demanding its applause. You must just seem to be in need of sympathy and comfort. You must be a little sad, a little tired, a little bewildered. I don't say that is easy to do, and a man must not set out to do it. But if a man has got something childlike and innocent about him, and a naive way with him, the world will take him to its heart. The world loves to pity, to compassionate, to sympathise, much more than it loves to admire."
"But what about the religious side of it all?" I said.
"Ah," said Father Payne, "I think that is more touching still. The people who change their religion, as it is called,—there is something extremely captivating about them as a rule. To want to change your form of religion simply means that you are unhappy and uneasy. You want more beauty, or more assurance, or more sympathy, or more antiquity. Have you never noticed how all converts personify their new Church in feminine terms? She becomes a Madonna, something at once motherly and young. It is the passion with which the child turns away from what is male and rough, to the mother, the nurse, the elder sister. The convert isn't really in search of dogmas and doctrines: he is in love with a presence, a shape, something which can clasp and embrace and love him. I don't feel any real doubt of that. The man who turns away to some other form of faith wants a home. He sees the ugliness, the spite, the malice, the contentiousness of his own Church. He loathes the hardness and uncharitableness of it; he is like a boy at school sick for home. To me Newman's logic is like the effort of a man desperately constructing a bridge to escape to the other side of the river. The land beyond is like a landscape seen from a hill, a scene of woods and waters, of fields and hamlets—everything seems peaceful and idyllic there. He wants the wings of a dove, to flee away and be at rest. It is the same feeling which makes people wish to travel. When you travel, the new land is a spectacular thing—it is all a picture. It is not that you crave to live in a foreign land: you merely want the luxury of seeing life without living life. No ordinary person goes to live in Italy because he has studied the political constitution and organisation of Italy, and prefers it to that of England. So, too, the charm of a religious conversion is that it doesn't seem unpatriotic to do it—but you get the feel of a new country without having to quit your own. And the essence of it is a flight from conditions which you dread and dislike. Of course Newman does not describe it so—that is all a part of his guilelessness—he speaks of the shadow of a hand upon the wall: but I don't doubt that his subconscious mind thrilled with the sense of a possible escape that way. His heart was converted long before his mind. What he hated in the English Church was having to decide for himself—he wanted to lean on something, to put himself inside a stronghold: he wanted to obey. Some people dislike the way in which he made himself obey,—the way he argued himself into holding things which were frankly irrational. But I don't mind that! It is the pleasure of the child in being told what to do instead of having to amuse itself."
He was silent for a little, and then he said: "I see it all so clearly, and yet of course it is in a sense inconceivable to me, because to my mind all the Churches have got a burden of belief which they can't carry. The Gospel is simple enough, and it is as much as I can do to live on those lines. Besides, I don't want to obey—I want to obey as little as I can! The ecclesiastical and the theological tradition is all a world of shadows to me. I can't be bound by the pious fancies of men who knew no science, and very little about evidence of any kind. What I want is just a simple and beautiful principle of living, such as I feel thrills through the words of Christ. The Prodigal Son—that's almost enough for me! It is simplification that I want, and independence. Of course I see that if that isn't what a man wants, if he requires that something or someone should be infallible, then he does require a good deal of argument and information and history. But though I don't object to people who want all that, it isn't what I am in search of. I want as much strong emotion and as little system as I can get. By emotion I don't mean sentiment, but real motives for acting or not acting. I want to hear someone saying, 'Come up hither,' and to see something in his face which makes me believe he sees something that I don't see and that I wish to see. I don't feel that with Newman! He is fifty times better than myself, but I couldn't do the thing in his way, though I love him with all my heart: it's a quiet sort of brotherhood that I want, and not too many rules. In fact, it is laws I want, and not rules, and to feel the laws rather than to know them, I can't help feeling that Newman spent too much of his time in the law-court, pleading and arguing: and it's stuffy in there! But he will remain for ever one of those figures whom the world will love, because it can pity him as well as admire him. Newman goes to one's head, you know, or to one's heart! And I expect that it was exactly what he wanted to do all the time!"
Father Payne, on our walks, invariably stopped and spoke to animals. I will not say that animals were always fond of him, because that is a privilege confined to saints, and heroes of romantic legends. But they generally responded to his advances. It used to amuse me to hear the way he used to talk to animals. He would stop to whistle to a caged bird: "You like your little prison, don't you, sweet?" he would say. Or he would apostrophise a cat, "Well, Ma'am, you must find it wearing to carry on your expeditions all night, and to live the life of a domestic saint all day?" I asked him once why he did not keep a dog, when he was so fond of animals. "Oh, I couldn't," he said; "it is so dreadful when dogs get old and ill, and when they die! It's sentiment, too; and I can't afford to multiply emotions—there are too many as it is! Besides, there is something rather terrible to me about the affection of a dog—it's so unreasonable a devotion, and I like more critical affections—I prefer to earn affection! I read somewhere the other day," he went on, "that it might easily be argued that the dog was a higher flight of nature even than man; that man has gone ahead in mind and inventiveness; but that the dog is on the whole the better Christian, because he does by instinct what man fails to do by intention—he is so sympathetic, so unresentful, so trustful! It is really amazing, if you come to think of it, the dog's power of attachment to another species. We must seem very mysterious to dogs, and yet they never question our right to use them as we will, while nothing shakes their love. And then there is something wonderful in the way in which the dog, however old he is, always wants to play. Most animals part with that after their first youth; but a dog plays, partly for the fun of it, and partly to make sure that you like his company and are happy. And yet it is a little undignified to care for people like that, you know!"
"How ought one to care for people?" I said.
"Ah, that's a large question," said Father Payne, "the duty of loving—it's a contradiction in terms! To love people seems the one thing in the world you cannot do because you ought to do it; and yet to love your neighbour as yourself can't only mean to behave as if you loved him. And then, what does caring about people mean? It seems impossible to say. It isn't that you want anything which they can give you—it isn't that they need anything you can give them; it isn't always even that you want to see them. There are people for whom I care who rather bore me; there are people who care for me who bore me to extinction; and again there are people whose company I like for whom I don't care. It isn't always by any means that I admire the people for whom I care. I see their faults, I don't want to resemble them. Then, too, there have been people for whom I have cared very much, and wanted to please, who have not cared in the least for me. Some of the best-loved people in the world seem to have had very little love to give away! I have a sort of feeling that the people who evoke most affection are the people who have something of the child always in them—something petulant, wilful, self-absorbed, claiming sympathy and attention. It is a certain innocence and freshness that we love, I think; the quality that seems to say, 'Oh, do make me happy'; and I think that caring for people generally means just that you would like to make them happy, or that they have it in their power to make you happy. I think it is a kind of conspiracy to be happy together, if possible. Probably the mistake we make is to think it is one definite thing, when a good many things go to make it up. I have been interested in a very large number of people—in fact, I am generally interested in people; but I haven't cared for all of them, while I have cared for a good many people in whom I have not been at all interested. But it is easier to say what the qualities are that repel affection, than what the qualities are which attract it. I don't think any faults prevent it, if people are sorry for their faults and are sorry to have hurt you. It seems to me impossible to care for spiteful people, or for the people who turn on you in a sudden anger, and don't want to be forgiven, but are glad to have made you fear them. I don't care for people who claim affection as a right, or who bargain for sacrifices. The bargaining element must be wholly absent from affection. The feeling 'it is your turn to be nice' is fatal to it. No, I think that it is a feeling that you can live at peace with the particular person that is the basis of friendship. The element of reproach must be wholly absent: I don't mean the element of criticism—that can be impersonal—but the feeling 'you ought not to behave like this to me.'"
Father Payne relapsed into silence. "But," I said, "surely the people who make claims for affection are very often most beloved, even when they are unjust, inconsiderate, ill-tempered?"
"By women," said Father Payne, "but not by men—and there's another difficulty. Men and women mean such utterly different things by affection, that they can't even discuss it together. Women will do anything for you, if you claim their help, and make it clear that you need them; they will love you if you do that. A man, on the other hand, will often do his very best to help you, if you appeal to him, but he won't care for you, as a rule, in consequence. Women like emotional surprises, men do not. A man wants to get done with excitement, and to enter on an easy partnership—women like the excitement more than the ease. And then it is all complicated by the admixture of the masculine and feminine temperaments. As a rule, however, women are interested in moody temperaments, and men are bored by them. Personally, my own pleasure in meeting a real friend, or in hearing from a friend, is the pleasure of feeling 'Yes, you are there, just the same,'—it's the tranquillity that one values. The possibility of finding a man angry or pettish is unpleasant to me. I feel 'so all this nonsense has to be cleared away again!' I don't want to be questioned and scrutinised, with a sense that I am on my trial. I don't mind an ironical letter, which shows that a friend is fully aware of my faults and foibles; but it's an end of all friendship with me if I feel a man is bent on improving me, especially if it is for his own convenience. I'm sure that the fault-finding element is fatal to affection. That may sound weak, but I can't be made to feel that I am responsible to other people. I don't recognise anyone's right to censure me. A man may criticise me if he likes, but he mustn't impose upon me the duty of living up to his ideal. I don't believe that even God does that!"
"I don't understand," I said.
"Well," said Father Payne, "I don't believe that God says, 'This is my law, and you must obey it because I choose," I believe He says, 'This is the law, for Me as well as for you, and you will not be happy till you obey it,'—Yes, I have got it, I believe—the essence of affection is equality. I don't mean that you may not recognise superiorities in your friend, and he in you; but they must not come into the question of affection. Love makes equal, and when there is a real sense of equality, love can begin."
"But," I said, "the passion of lovers—isn't that all based on the worship of something infinitely superior to oneself?"
"Yes," said Father Payne, "but that means a sight of something beyond—of the thing which we all love—beauty. I don't say that equality is the thing we love—it's only the condition of loving. The lover can't love, if he feels himself really unworthy of love. He must believe that at worst he can be loved, though he may be astonished at being loved; it is in love that it is possible to meet; it is love that brings beauty within your reach, or down, to your level. It is beauty that you love in your friend, not his right to improve you. He is what you want to be; and the comfort of being loved is the comfort of feeling that there is some touch of the same beauty in yourself. It is so easy to feel dreary, stupid, commonplace—and then someone appears, and you see in his glance and talk that there is, after all, some touch of the same thing in yourself which you love in him, some touch of the beauty which you love in God. But the glory of beauty is that it is concerned with being beautiful and becoming beautiful—not in mocking or despising or finding fault or improving. Love is the finding your friend beautiful in mind and heart, and the joy of being loved is the sense that you are beautiful to him—that you are equal in that! When you once know that, little quarrels and frictions do not matter—what does matter is the recognising of some ugly thing which the man whom you thought was your friend really clings to and worships. Faults do not matter if only the friend is aware of them, and ashamed of them: it is the self-conscious fault, proud of its power to wound, and using affection as the channel along which the envenomed stream may flow, which destroys affection and trust."
"Then it comes to this," I said, "that affection is a mutual recognition of beauty and a sense of equality?"
"It is that, more or less, I believe," said Father Payne. "I don't mean that friends need be aware of that—you need not philosophise about your friendships—but if you ask me, as an analyst, what it all consists in, I believe that those are the essential elements of it—and I believe that it holds good of the dog-and-man friendship as well!"