"But, as I said, the thing can't be done, unless it is written to a great extent in a man's lifetime. Conversation is a very difficult thing to remember—it can't be remembered afterwards—it needs notes at the time: and few people's talk is worth recording; and even if it is, people are a little ashamed of doing it—there seems something treacherous about it: but it ought to be done, for all that! You don't want so very much of it—I don't suppose that Boswell has got down a millionth part of all Johnson said—you just want specimens—enough to give the feeling of it and the quality of it. One doesn't want immensely long biographies—just enough to make you feel that you have seen a man and sat with him and heard him talk—and the kind of way in which he dealt with things and people. I'll tell you a man who would have made a magnificent biography—Lord Melbourne. He had a great charm, and a certain whimsical and fantastic humour, which made him do funny little undignified things, like a child. But every single dictum of Melbourne's has got something original and graceful about it—always full of good sense, never pompous, always with a delicious lightness of touch. The only person who took the trouble to put down Melbourne's sayings, just as they came out, was Queen Victoria—but then she was in love with him without knowing it: and in the end he got stuck into the heaviest and most ponderous of biographies, and is lost to the world. Stale politics—there's nothing to beat them for dulness unutterable!"
"But isn't it an almost impossible thing," I said, "to expect a man who is a first-rate writer, with ambitions in authorship, to devote himself to putting down things about some interesting person with the chance of their never being published? Very few people would have sufficient self-abnegation for that."
"That's true enough," said Father Payne, "and of course it is a risk—a man must run the risk of sacrificing a good deal of his time and energy to recording unimportant details, perhaps quite uselessly, but with this possibility ahead of him, that he may produce an immortal book—and I grant you that the infernal vanity and self-glorification of authors is a real difficulty in the way."
He was silent for a minute or two, and then he said: "Now, I'll tell you another difficulty, that at present people only want biographies of men of affairs, of big performers, men who have done things—I don't want that. I want biographies of people who wielded a charm of personality, even if they didn't do things—people, I mean, who deserve to live and to be loved.—Those are the really puzzling figures a generation later, the men who lived in an atmosphere of admiring and delighted friendship, radiating a sort of enchanting influence, having the most extravagant things said and believed about them by their friends, and yet never doing anything in particular. People, I mean, like Arthur Hallam, whose letters and remains are fearfully pompous and tiresome—and who yet had In Memoriam written about him, and who was described by Gladstone as the most perfect human being, physically, intellectually and morally, he had ever seen. Then there is Browning's Domett—the prototype of Waring—and Keats's friend James Rice, and Stevenson's friend Ferrier—that's a matchless little biographical fragment, Stevenson's letter about Ferrier—those are the sort of figures I mean, the men who charmed and delighted everyone, were brave and humorous, gave a pretty turn to everything they said—those are the roses by the wayside! They had ill-health some of them, they hadn't the requisite toughness for work, they even took to drink, or went to the bad. But they are the people of quality and tone, about whom one wants to know much more than about sun-burnt and positive Generals—the strong silent sort—or overworked politicians bent on conciliating the riff-raff. I don't want to know about men simply because they did honest work, and still less about men who never dared to say what they thought and felt. You can't make a striking picture out of a sense of responsibility! I'm not underrating good work—it's fine in every way, but it can't always be written about. There are exceptions, of course. Nelson and Wellington would have been splendid subjects, if anyone had really Boswellised them. But Nelson had a theatrical touch about him, and became almost too romantic a hero; while the Duke had a fund of admirable humour and almost grotesque directness of expression,—and he has never been half done justice to, though you can see from Lord Mahon's little book of Table Talk and Benjamin Haydon's Diary, and the letters to Miss J., what a rich affair it all might have been, if only there had been a perfectly bold, candid, and truthful biographer."
"But the charming people of whom you spoke," I said—"isn't the whole thing often too evanescent to be recorded?"
"Not a bit of it!" said Father Payne, "and these are the people we want to hear about, because they represent the fine flower of civilisation. If a man has a delightful friend like that, always animated, fresh, humorous, petulant, original, he couldn't do better than observe him, keep scraps of his talk, record scenes where he took a leading part, get the impression down. It may come to nothing, of course, but it may also come to something worth more than a thousand twaddling novels. The immense use of it—if one must think about the use—is that such a life might really show commonplace and ordinary people how to handle the simplest materials of life with zest and delicacy. Novels don't really do that—they only make people want to escape from middle-class conditions, what everyone is the better for seeing is not how life might conceivably be handled, but how it actually has been handled, freshly and distinctly, by someone in a commonplace milieu. Life isn't a bit romantic, but it is devilish interesting. It doesn't go as you want it to go. Sometimes it lags, sometimes it dances; and horrible things happen, often most unexpectedly. In the novel, everything has to be rounded off and led up to, and you never get a notion of the inconsequence of life. The interest of life is not what happens, but how it affects people, how they meet it, how they fly from it: the relief of a biography is that you haven't got to invent your setting and your character—all that is done for you: you have just got to select the characteristic things, and not to blur the things that you would have wished otherwise. For God's sake, let us get at the truth in books, and not use them as screens to keep the fire off, or as things to distract one from the depressing facts in one's bank-book. I welcome all this output of novels, because it at least shows that people are interested in life, and trying to shape it. But I don't want romance, and I don't want ugly and sensational realism either. That is only romance in another shape. I want real men and women—not from an autobiographical point of view, because that is generally romantic too—but from the point of view of the friends to whom they showed themselves frankly and naturally, and without that infernal reticence which is not either reverence or chivalry, but simply an inability to face the truth,—which is the direct influence of the spirit of evil. If one of my young men turns out a good biography of an interesting person, however ineffective he was, I shall not have lived in vain. For, mind this—very few people's performances are worth remembering, while very many people's personalities are."
Rose told a story one night which amused Father Payne immensely. He had been up in town, and had sate next a Minister's wife, who had been very confidential. She had said to Rose that her husband had just been elected into a small dining-club well known in London, where the numbers were very limited, the society very choice, and where a single negative vote excluded a candidate. "I don't think," said the good lady, "that my husband has ever been so pleased at anything that has befallen him, not even when he was first given office—such a distinguished club—and so exclusive!" Father Payne laughed loud and shrill. "That's human nature at its nakedest!" he said. "It's like Miss Tox, in Dombey and Son, you know, who, when Dombey asked her if the school she recommended was select, said, 'It's exclusion itself!' What people love is the power of being able to exclude—not necessarily disagreeable people, or tiresome people, but simply people who would like to be inside—
"'Loving not, hating not, just choosing so.'
"Those are the two great forces of society, you know—the exclusive force, and the inclusive force: the force that says, 'We few, we happy few, we band of brothers'; and the force which says, 'The more the merrier.' The exclusive force is represented by caste and class, by gentility and donnishness, by sectarianism and nationalism, and even by patriotism—and the inclusive force is represented by Walt Whitmanism and Christianity."
"But what about St. Paul's words," said Lestrange, "'Honour all men: love the brotherhood'?"
"That's an attempt to recognise both," said Father Payne, smiling. "Of course you can't love everyone equally—that's the error of democracy—democracy is really one of the exclusive forces, because it excludes the heroes—it is 'mundus contra Athanasium,'—it is best illustrated by what the American democrat said to Charles Kingsley, 'My principle is "whenever you see a head above the crowd, hit it."' Democracy is, at its worst, the jealousy of the average man for the superior man."
"But which is the best principle?" said Vincent.
"Both are necessary," said Father Payne. "One must aim at inclusiveness, of course: and we must be quite certain that we exclude on the ground of qualities, and not on the ground of superficial differences. The best influences in the world arise not from individuals but from groups—and there is no sort of reason why groups should spoil their intensive qualities by trying to admit outsiders. The strength of a group lies in the fact that one gets the sense of fellowship and common purpose, of sympathy and encouragement. A man who has to fight a battle single-handed is always tempted to wonder whether, after all, it is worth all the trouble and misunderstanding. But, on the other hand, you are at liberty to mistrust the men who say that they don't want to know people. Do you remember how Charles Lamb once said, 'I do hate the Trotters!' 'But I thought you didn't know them?' said someone. 'That's just it,' said Charles Lamb, 'I never can hate anyone that I know!' The best bred man is the man who finds it easy to get on with everybody on equal terms: but it's part of the snobbishness of human nature that exclusiveness is rather admired than otherwise. There's a delightfully exclusive woman in one of Henry James' novels, who refuses to be introduced to a family. She entirely declines, and the man who is anxious to effect the introduction says, 'I can't think why you object to them.' 'They are hopelessly vulgar,' says the incisive lady, 'and in this short life, that is enough!' But St. Paul's remark is really very good, because it means 'Treat everyone with courtesy—but reserve your fine affections for the inner circle, whose worth you really know!'—it's a better theory than that of the man who said, 'It is enough for me to be with those whom I love!' That's rather inhuman."
"Do you remember," said Barthrop, "the lines in Tennyson's Guinevere, which sum up the knightly attributes?
"'High thought, and amiable words, And courtliness, and the desire of fame, And love of truth, and all that makes a man.'"
"That's very interesting and curious!" said Father Payne. "Dear me, I had forgotten that—did Tennyson say that?—Come—let's have it again!"
Barthrop repeated the lines again.
"Now, that's the gentlemanly ideal of the sixties," said Father Payne, "and, good heavens, how offensive it sounds! The most curious part of it really is 'the desire of fame'—of course, a hundred years ago, no one made any secret of that! You remember Nelson's frank confession, made not once, but many times, that he pursued glory, 'Defeat—or Westminster Abbey'—didn't he say that?"
"But surely people pursue fame as much as ever?" said Vincent.
"I daresay," said Father Payne, "but it isn't now considered good taste to say so. You have got to pretend, at all events, that you wish to benefit humanity now-a-days. If a man had said to Ruskin or Carlyle, 'Why do you write all these books?' and they replied, 'It is because of my desire for fame,' it would have been thought vulgar. There's that odd story of Robert Browning, when he received an ovation at Oxford, and someone said to him, 'I suppose you don't care about all this,' he said, 'It is what I have waited for all my life!' I wonder if he did say it! I think he must have done, because it is exactly the sort of thing that one is supposed not to say—and I confess I don't like it—it seems to me vain, and not proud, I don't mind a kind of pride—I think a man ought to know what he is worth: but I hate vanity. Perhaps that's only because I haven't been a success myself."
"But mayn't you desire fame?" said Vincent. "It seems to me rather priggish to condemn it!"
"Many fine things sound priggish when they are said," said Father Payne. "But, to be frank, I don't think that a man ought to desire fame. I think he may desire to do a thing well. I don't think he ought to desire to do it better than other people. It is the wanting to beat other people which is low. Why not wish them to do it well too?"
"You mean that the difference between pride and vanity lies there?" said Barthrop.
"Yes, I do," said Father Payne, "and it is a pity that pride is included in the deadly sins, because the word has changed its sense. Pride used to mean the contempt of others—that's a deadly sin, if you like. It used to mean a ghastly sort of self-satisfaction, arrived at by comparison of yourself with others. But now to be called a proud man is a real compliment. It means that a man can't condescend to anything mean or base. We ought all to be proud—not proud of anything, because that is vulgar, but ashamed of doing anything which we know to be feeble or low. The Pharisee in the parable was vain, not proud, because he was comparing himself with other people. But it is all right to be grateful to God for having a sense of decency, just as you may be grateful for having a sense of beauty. The hatefulness of it comes in when you are secretly glad that other people love indecency and ugliness."
"That is the exclusive feeling then?" said Barthrop.
"Yes, the bad kind of exclusiveness," said Father Payne—"the kind of exclusiveness which ministers to self-satisfaction. And that is the fault of the group when it becomes a coterie. The coterie means a set of inferior people, bolstering up each other's vanity by mutual admiration. In a coterie you purchase praise for your own bad work, by pretending to admire the bad work of other people. But the real group is interested, not in each other's fame, but in the common work."
"It seems to me confusing," said Vincent.
"Not a bit of it," said Father Payne; "we have to consider our limitations: we are limited by time and space. You can't know everybody and love everybody and admire everybody—and you can't sacrifice the joy and happiness of real intimacy with a few for a diluted acquaintance with five hundred people. But you mustn't think that your own group is the only one—that is the bad exclusiveness—you ought to think that there are thousands of intimate groups all over the world, which you could love just as enthusiastically as you love your own, if you were inside them: and then, apart from your own group, you ought to be prepared to find reasonable and amiable and companionable people everywhere, and to be able to put yourself in line with them. Why, good heavens, there are millions of possible friends in the world! and one of my deepest and firmest hopes about the next world, so to speak, is that there will be some chance of communicating with them all at once, instead of shutting ourselves up in a frowsy room like this, smelling of meat and wine. I don't deny you are very good fellows, but if you think that you are the only fit and desirable company in the world for me or for each other, I tell you plainly that you are utterly mistaken. That's why I insist on your travelling about, to avoid our becoming a coterie."
"Then it comes to this," said Vincent drily, "that you can't be inclusive, and that you ought not to be exclusive?"
"Yes, that's exactly it!" said Father Payne. "You meant to shut me up with one of our patent Oxford epigrams, I know—and, of course, it is deuced smart! But put it the other way round, and it's all right. You can't help being exclusive, and you must try to be inclusive—that's the truth, with the Oxford tang taken out!"
We laughed at this, and Vincent reddened.
"Don't mind me, old man!" said Father Payne, "but try to make your epigrams genial instead of contemptuous—inclusive rather than exclusive. They are just as true, and the bitter flavour is only fit for the vitiated taste of Dons." And Father Payne stretched out a large hand down the table, and enclosed Vincent's in his own.
"Yes, it was a nasty turn," said Vincent, smiling, "I see what you mean."
"The world is a friendlier place than people know," said Father Payne. "We have inherited a suspicion of the unknown and the unfamiliar. Don't you remember how the ladies in The Mill on the Floss mistrusted each other's recipes, and ate dry bread in other houses rather than touch jam or butter made on different methods. That is the old bad taint. But I think we are moving in the right direction. I fancy that the awakening may be very near, when we shall suddenly realise that we are all jolly good fellows, and wonder that we have been so blind."
"A Roman Catholic friend of mine," said Rose—"he is a priest—told me that he attended a clerical dinner the other day. The health of the Pope was proposed, and they all got up and sang, 'For he's a jolly good fellow!'"
There was a loud laugh at this. "I like that," said Father Payne, "I like their doing that! I expect that that is exactly what the Pope is! I should dearly love to have a good long quiet talk with him! I think I could let in a little light: and I should like to ask him if he enjoyed his fame, dear old boy: and whether he was interested in his work! 'Why, Mr. Payne, it's rather anxious work, you know, the care of all the churches'—I can hear him saying—'but I rub along, and the time passes quickly! though, to be sure, I'm not as young as I was once: and while I am on the subject, Mr. Payne, you look to me to be getting on in years yourself!' And then I should say 'Yes, your Holiness, I am a man that has seen trouble.' And he would say, 'I'm sorry to hear that! Tell me all about it!' That's how we should talk, like old friends, in a snug parlour in the Vatican, looking out on the gardens!"
OF TAKING LIFE
I was walking with Father Payne one hot summer day upon a field-path he was very fond of. There was a copse, through the middle of which the little river, the Fyllot, ran. It was the boundary of the Aveley estate, and it here joined another stream, the Rode, which came in from the south. The path went through the copse, dense with hazels, and there was always a musical sound of lapsing waters hidden in the wood. The birds sang shrill in the thicket, and Father Payne said, "This is the juncture of Pison and Hiddekel, you know, rivers of Paradise. Aveley is Havilah, where the gold is good, and where there is bdellium, if we only knew where to look for it. I fancy it is rich in bdellium. I came down here, I remember, the first day I took possession. It was wonderful, after being so long among the tents of Kedar, to plant my flag in Havilah; I made a vow that day—I don't know if I have kept it!"
"What was that?" I said.
"Only that I would not get too fond of it all," said Father Payne, smiling, "and that I would share it with other people. But I have got very fond of it, and I haven't shared it. Asking people to stay with you, that they may see what a nice place you have to live in, is hardly sharing it. It is rather the other way—the last refinement of possession, in fact!"
"It's very odd," he went on, "that I should love this little bit of the world so much as I do. It's called mine—that's a curious idea. I have got very little power over it. I can't prevent the trees and flowers from growing here, or the birds from nesting here, if they have a mind to do so. I can only keep human beings out of it, more or less. And yet I love it with a sort of passion, so that I want other people to love it too. I should like to think that after I am gone, some one should come here and see how exquisitely beautiful it is, and wish to keep it and tend it. That's what lies behind the principle of inheritance; it isn't the money or the position only that we desire to hand on to our children—it's the love of the earth and all that grows out of it; and possession means the desire of keeping it unspoiled and beautiful, I could weep at the idea of this all being swept away, and a bdellium-mine being started here, with a factory-chimney and rows of little houses; and yet I suppose that if the population increased, and the land was all nationalised, a great deal of the beauty of England would go. I hope, however, that the sense of beauty might increase too—I don't think the country people here have much notion of beauty. They only like things to remain as they know them. It's a fearful luxury really for a man like myself to live in a land like this, so full of old woodland and pasture, which is only possible under rich proprietors. I'm an abuse, of course. I have got a much larger slice of my native soil than any one man ought to have; but I don't see the way out. The individual can't dispossess himself—it's the system which is wrong."
He stopped in the middle of the copse, and said: "Did you ever see anything so perfectly lovely as this place? And yet it is all living in a state of war and anarchy. The trees and plants against each other, all fighting for a place in the sun. The rabbit against the grass, the bird against the worm, the cat against the bird. There's no peace here really—it's full of terrors! Only the stream is taking it easy. It hasn't to live by taking life, and the very sound of it is innocent."
Presently he said: "This is all cut down every five years. It's all made into charcoal and bobbins. Then the flowers all come up in a rush; then the copse begins to grow again—I never can make up my mind which is most beautiful. I come and help the woodmen when they cut the copse. That's pleasant work, you know, cutting and binding. I sometimes wonder if the hazels hate being slashed about. I expect they do; but it can't hurt them much, for up they come again. It's the right way to live, of course, to begin again the minute you are cut down to the roots, to struggle out to the air and sun again, and to give thanks for life. Don't you feel yourself as if you were good for centuries of living?"
"I'm not sure that I do," I said, "I don't feel as if I had quite got my hand in."
"Yes, that's all right for you, old boy," said Father Payne. "You are learning to live, and you are living. But an old fellow like me, who has got in the way of it, and has found out at last how good it is to be alive, has to realise that he has only got a fag-end left. I don't at all want to die; I've got my hands as full as they can hold of pretty and delightful things; and I don't at all want to be cut down like the copse, and to have to build up my branches again. Yes," he added, pondering, "I used to think I should not live long, and I didn't much want to, I believe! But now—it's almost disgraceful to think how much I prize life, and how interesting I find it. Depend upon it, on we go! The only thing that is mysterious to me is why I love a place like this so much. I don't suppose it loves me. I suppose there isn't a beast or a bird, perhaps not a tree or a flower, in the place that won't be rather relieved when I go back home without having killed something. I expect, in fact, that I have left a track of death behind me in the grass—little beetles and things that weren't doing any harm, and that liked being alive. That's pretty beastly, you know, but how is one to help it? Then my affection for it is very futile. I can't establish a civilised system here; I can't prevent the creatures from eating each other, or the trees from crowding out the flowers. I can't eat or use the things myself, I can't take them away with me; I can only stand and yearn with cheap sentiment.
"And yet," he said after a moment, "there's something here in this bit of copse that whispers to me beautiful secrets—the sunshine among the stems, the rustle of leaves, the wandering breeze, the scent and coolness of it all! It is crammed with beauty; it is all trying to live, and glad to live. You may say, of course, that you don't see all that in it, and it is I that am abnormal. But that doesn't explain it away. The fact that I feel it is a better proof that it is there than the fact that you don't feel it is a proof that it isn't there! The only thing about it that isn't beautiful to me is the fact that life can't live except by taking life—that there is no right to live; and that, I admit, is disconcerting. You may say to me, 'You old bully, crammed with the corpses of sheep and potatoes, which you haven't even had the honesty to kill for yourself, you dare to come here, and talk this stuff about the beauty of it all, and the joy of living. If all the bodies of the things you have consumed in your bloated life were piled together, it would make a thing as big as a whole row of ricks!' If you say that, I admit that you take the sentiment out of my sails!"
"But I don't say it," said I: "Who dies if Father Payne live?"
He laughed at this, and clapped me on the back. "You're in the same case as I, old man," he said, "only you haven't got such a pile of blood and bones to your credit! Here, we must stow this talk, or we shall become both humbugs and materialists. It's a puzzling business, talking! It leads you into some very ugly places!"
I went in to see Father Payne one morning about some work. He was reading a book with knitted brows: he looked up, gave a nod, but no smile, pointed to a chair, and I sate down: a minute or two later he shut the book—a neat enough little volume—with a snap, and skimmed it deftly from where he sate, into his large waste-paper basket. This, by the way, was a curious little accomplishment of his,—throwing things with unerring aim. He could skim more cards across a room into a hat than anyone I have ever seen who was not a professed student of legerdemain.
"What are you doing?" I said—"such a nice little book!" I rose and rescued the volume, which was a careful enough edition of some poems and scraps of poems, posthumously discovered, of a well-known poet.
"Pray accept it with my kindest regards," said Father Payne. "No, I don't know that I ought to give it you. It is the sort of book I object to."
"Why?" I said, examining it—"it seems harmless enough."
"It's the wrong sort of literature," said Father Payne. "There isn't time, or there ought not to be, to go fumbling about with these old scraps. They aren't good enough to publish—and what's more, if the man didn't publish them himself, you may be sure he had very good reasons for not doing so. The only interest of them is that so good a poet could write such drivel, and that he knew it was drivel sufficiently well not to publish it. But the man who can edit it doesn't know that, and the critics who review it don't know it either—it was a respectful review that made me buy the rubbish—and as for the people who read it, God alone knows what they think of it. It's a case of
"'Weave a circle round him thrice, And close your eyes in holy dread.'
"You have to shut your eyes pretty tight not to see what bosh it all is—it is all this infernal reverence paid by people, who have no independence of judgment, to great reputations. It reminds me of the barber who used to cut the Duke of Wellington's hair and nails, who made quite a lot of money by selling clippings to put in lockets!"
"But isn't it worth while to see a great poet's inferior jottings, and to grasp how he worked?" said I.
"No," said Father Payne;—"at least it would be worth while to see how he brought off his good strokes, but it isn't worth while seeing how he missed his stroke altogether. This deification business is all unwholesome. In art, in life, in religion, in literature, it's a mistake to worship the saints—you don't make them divine, you only confuse things, and bring down the divine to your own level. The truth—the truth—why can't people see how splendid it is, and that it is one's only chance of getting on! To shut your eyes to the possibility of the great man having a touch of the commonplace, a touch of the ass, even a touch of the knave in him, doesn't ennoble your conception of human nature. If you can only glorify humanity by telling lies about it, and by ruling out all the flaws in it, you end by being a sentimentalist. "See thou do it not ... worship God!" that's one of the finest things in the Bible. Of course it is magnificent to see a streak of the divine turning up again and again in human nature—but you have got to wash the dirt to find the diamond. Believe in the beauty behind and in and beyond us all—but don't worship the imperfect thing. This sort of book is like selling the dirt out of which the diamonds have been washed, and which would appear to have gained holiness by contact. I hate to see people stopping short on the symbol and the illustration, instead of passing on to the truth behind—it's idolatry. It's one degree better than worshipping nothing; but the danger of idolatry is that you are content to get no further: and that is what makes idolatry so ingenious a device of the devil, that it persuades people to stop still and not to get on."
"But aren't you making too much out of it?" I said. "At the worst, this is a harmless literary blunder, a foolish bit of hero-worship?"
"Yes," said Father Payne, "in a sense that is true, that these little literary hucksters and pedlars don't do any very great harm—I don't mean that they cause much mischief: but they are the symptom of a grave disease. It is this d——d bookishness which is so unreal. I would like to say a word about it to you, if you have time, instead of doing our work to-day—for if you will allow me to say so, my boy, you have got a touch of it about you—only a touch—and I think if I can show you what I mean, you can throw it off—I have heard you say rather solemn things about books! But I want you to get through that. It reminds me of the talk of ritualists. I have a poor friend who is a very harmless sort of parson—but I have heard him talk of a bit of ceremonial with tears in his eyes. 'It was exquisite, exquisite,' he will say,—'the celebrant wore a cope—a bit, I believe of genuine pre-Reformation work—of course remounted—and the Gospeller and Epistoller had copes so perfectly copied that it would have been hard to say which was the real one. And then Father Wynne holds himself so nobly—such a mixture of humility and pride—a priest ought to exhibit both, I think, at that moment?—and his gestures are so inevitable—so inevitable—that's the only word: there's no sense of rehearsal about it: it is just the supreme act of worship expressing itself in utter abandonment'—He will go on like that for an hour if he can find a great enough goose to listen to him. Now, I don't mean to say that the man hasn't a sense of beauty—he has the real ritual instinct, a perfectly legitimate branch of art. But he doesn't know it's art—he thinks it is religion. He thinks that God is preoccupied with such things; 'a full choral High Mass, at nine o'clock, that's a thing to live and die for,' I have heard him say. Of course it's a sort of idealism, but you must know what you are about, and what you are idealising: and you mustn't think that your kind is better than any other kind of idealising."
He made a pause, and then held out his hand for the book.
"Now here is the same sort of intemperate rapture," he said. "Look at this introduction! 'It is his very self that his poems give, and the sharpest jealousy of his name and fame is enkindled by them. Not to find him there, his passion, endurance, faith, rapture, despair, is merely a confession of want in ourselves.' That's not sane, you know—it's the intoxication of the Corybant! It isn't the man himself we want to fix our eyes upon. He felt these things, no doubt: but we mustn't worship his raptures—we must worship what he worshipped. This sort of besotted agitation is little better than a dancing dervish. The poems are little sparks, struck out from a scrap of humanity by some prodigious and glorious force: but we must worship the force, not the spark: the spark is only an evidence, a system, a symbol if you like, of the force. And then see how utterly the man has lost all sense of proportion—he has spent hours and days in identifying with uncommon patience the exact date of these tepid scraps, and he says he is content to have laid a single stone in the "unamended, unabridged, authentic temple" of his idol's fame. That seems to me simply degrading: and then the portentous ass, whose review I read, says that if the editor had done nothing else, he is sure of an honoured place for ever in the hierarchy of impeccable critics! And what is all this jabber about—a few rhymes which a man made when he was feeling a little off colour, and which he did not think it worth while to publish!
"You mustn't get into this kind of a mess, my boy. The artist mustn't indulge in emotion for the sake of the emotion. 'The weakness of life,' says this pompous ass, 'is that it deviates from art!' You might just as well say that the weakness of food was that it deviated from a well-cooked leg of mutton! Art is just an attempt to disentangle something, to get at one of the big constituents of life. It helps you to see clearly, not to confuse one thing with another, not to be vaguely impressed—the hideous danger of bookishness is that it is one of the blind alleys into which people get. These two fellows, the editor and his critic, have got stuck there: they can't see out: they think their little valley is the end of the world. I expect they are both of them very happy men, as happy as a man who goes to bed comfortably drunk. But, good God, the awakening!" Father Payne relapsed into a long silence, with knitted brows. I tried to start him afresh.
"But you often tell us to be serious, to be deadly earnest, about our work?" I said.
"Oh yes," said Father Payne, "that's another matter. We have to work hard, and put the best of ourselves into what we do. I don't want you to be an amiable dilettante. But I also want you to see past even the best art. You mustn't think that the stained-glass window is the body of heaven in its clearness. The sort of worshippers I object to are the men who shut themselves up in a church, and what with the colour and the music and the incense-smoke, think they are in heaven already. It's an intoxication, all that. I don't get you men to come here to make you drunk, but to get you to loathe drunkenness. God—that's the end of it all! God, who reveals Himself in beauty and kindness, and trustfulness, and charm and interest, and in a hundred pure and fine forces—yet each of them are but avenues which lead up to Him, the streets of the city, full of living water. But it is movement I am in search of—and I would rather be drowned in the depth of the sea than mislead anyone, or help him to sit still. I have made an awful row about it all," said Father Payne, relapsing into a milder mood—"But you will forgive me, I know. I can't bear to see these worthy men blocking the way with their unassailable, unabridged, authentic editions. They are like barbed-wire entanglements: and the worst of it is that, in spite of all their holy air of triumph, they enjoy few things more than tripping each other up! They condemn each other to eternal perdition for misplacing a date or misspelling a name. It's like getting into a bed of nettles to get in among these little hierophants. They remind me of the bishops at some ancient Church Council or other who tore the clothes off two right reverend consultants, and literally pulled them limb from limb in the name of Christ. That's the end of these holy raptures, my boy! They unchain the beast within."
There had been a little vague talk about politics, and someone had quoted a definition of a true Liberal as a man who, if he had only to press a button in a dark room to annihilate all cranks, faddists, political quacks, extremists, propagandists, and nostrum-mongers, would not dream of doing so, as a matter of conscience, on the ground that everyone has a right to hold his own beliefs and to persuade the world to accept them if he can. Father Payne laughed at this; but Rose, who had been nettled, I fancy, at a lack of deference for his political experience, his father being a Unionist M.P., said loudly, "Hear, hear! that's the only sort of Liberal whom I respect."
A look of sudden anger passed over Father Payne's face—unmistakable and uncompromising wrath. "Come, Rose," he said, "this isn't a political meeting; and even if it were, why proclaim yourself as accepting a definition which is almost within the comprehension of a chimpanzee?"
There was a faint laugh at this, but everyone had an uncomfortable sense of thunder in the air. Rose got rather white, and his nostrils expanded. "I'm sorry I put it in that way," he said rather frostily, "if you object. But I mean it, I think. I don't like diluted Liberalism."
"Yes, but you beg the question by calling it diluted," said Father Payne. "If anyone had said that the only Tory he respected was a man who if he could press a button in a still darker room, and by doing so bring it to pass that all institutions on the face of the earth would remain immutably fixed for ever and ever, and would feel himself bound conscientiously to do it, you wouldn't accept that as a definition of Conservatism? These things are not hard and fast matters of principle—they are only tendencies. Toryism is an instinct to trust custom and authority, Liberalism is an instinct to welcome development and change. All that the definition of Liberalism which was quoted means is, that the Liberal has a deep respect for freedom of opinion; and all that my grotesque definition of Toryism means is that a Tory prefers to trust a fixed tradition. But, of course, both want a settled Government, and both have to recognise that the world and its conditions change. The Tory says, 'Look before you leap'; the Liberal says, 'Leap before you look.' But it is really all a matter of infinite gradations, and what differentiates people is merely their idea of the pace at which things can go and ought to go. Why should you say that you can only respect a man who wants to go at sixty miles an hour, any more than I should say I can only respect a man who wants to remain absolutely still?"
Rose had by this time recovered his temper, and said, "It was rather crude, I admit. But what I meant was that if a man feels that all opinions are of equal value, he must give full weight to all opinions. The doctrinaire Liberal seems to me to be just as much inclined to tyrannise as the doctrinaire Tory, and to use his authority on the side of suppression when it is convenient to do so, and against all his own principles."
"I don't think that is quite fair," said Father Payne. "You must have a working system; you can't try everyone's experiments. All that the Liberal says is, 'Persuade us if you can.' Pure Liberalism would be anarchy, just as pure Toryism would be tyranny. Both are intolerable. But just as the Liberal has to compromise and say, 'This may not be the ultimate theory of the Government, but meanwhile the world has to be governed,' so the Tory has to compromise, if a large majority of the people say, 'We will not be governed by a minority for their interest; we will be governed for our own.' The parliamentary vote is just a way of avoiding civil war; you can't always resort to force, so you resort to arbitration. But why the Liberal position is on the whole the stronger is because it says frankly, 'If you Tories can persuade the nation to ask you to govern it, we will obey you.' The weakness of the Tory position is that it has to make exactly the same concessions, while it claims to be inspired by a divine sort of knowledge as to what is just and right. I personally mistrust all intuitions which lead to tyranny. Of course, the weakness of the whole affair is that the man who believes in democracy has to assume that all have equal rights; that would be fair enough if all people were born equal in character and ability, and influence and wealth. But that isn't the case; and so the Liberal says, 'Democracy is a bad system perhaps, but it is the only system,' and it is fairer to maintain that everyone who gets into the world has as good a right as anyone else to be there, than it is to say, 'Some people have a right to manage the world and some have only a duty to obey.' Both represent a side of the truth, but neither represents the whole truth. At worst Liberalism is a combination of the weak against the strong, and Toryism a combination of the strong against the weak! I personally wish the weak to have a chance; but what we all really desire is to be governed by the wise and good, and my hope for the world is that the quality of it is improving. I want the weak to become sensible and self-restrained, and the strong to become unselfish and disinterested. It is generosity that I want to see increase—it is the finest of all qualities—the desire, I mean to serve others, to admire, to sympathise, to share, to rejoice, in other people's happiness. That would solve all our difficulties."
"Yes, of course," said Rose. "But I would like to go back again, and say that what I was praising was consistency."
"But there is no such thing," said Father Payne, "except in combination with entire irrationality. One can't say at any time of one's life, 'I know everything worth knowing. I am in a position to form a final judgment.' You can say, 'I will shut off all fresh light from my mind, and I will consider no further evidence,' but that isn't a thing to respect! I begin to suspect, Rose, that why you praised the uncompromising Liberal, as you call him, is because he is the only kind of opponent who isn't dangerous. A man who takes up such a position as I have described is practically insane. He has a fixed idea, which neither argument nor evidence can alter. The uncompromising man of fixed opinions, whatever those opinions may be, is almost the only man I do not respect, because he is really the only inconsistent person. He says, 'I have formed an opinion which is based on experience, and I shall not alter it.' That is tantamount to saying that you have done with experience; it is a claim to have attained infallibility through fallible faculties. Where is the dignity of that? It's just a deification of stupidity and stubbornness and insolence and complacency."
"But you must take your stand on some certainties," said Rose.
"The fewer the better," said Father Payne. "One may learn to discriminate between things, and to observe differences; but that is very different from saying that you have got at the ultimate essence of any one thing. I am all for clearness—we ought not to confuse things with each other, or use the same names for different things; but I'm all against claiming absolute and impeccable knowledge. It may be a comfortable system for a man who doesn't want to be bothered; but he is only deferring the bother—he is like a man who stays in bed because he doesn't like dressing. But it isn't a solution to stay in bed—it is only suspending the solution. No, we mustn't have any regard for human consistency—it's a very paltry attribute; it's the opposite of anthropomorphism. That makes out God to be in the image of man, but consistency claims for man the privilege of God. And that isn't wholesome, you know, either for a man or his friends!"
"I give up," said Rose: "can nothing be logical?"
"Hardly anything," said Father Payne, "except logic itself. You have to coin logical ideas into counters to play with. No two things, for instance, can ever be absolutely equal, except imaginary equalities—and that's the mischief of logic applied to life, that it presumes an exact valuation of the ideas it works with, when no two people's valuations of the same idea are identical, and even one person's valuation varies from time to time; and logic breeds a phantom sort of consistency which only exists in the imagination. You know the story of how Smith and Jones were arguing, and Smith said, 'Brown will agree with me': 'Yes,' said Jones triumphantly, 'he will, but for my reasons!'"
OF WRENS AND LILIES
It was the first warm and sunny day, after a cold and cloudy spring: I took a long and leisurely walk with Father Payne down a valley among woods, of which Father Payne was very fond. "Almost precipitous for Northamptonshire, eh?" he used to say. I was very full of a book I had been reading, but I could not get him to talk. He made vague and foolish replies, and said several times, "I shall have to think that over, you know," which was, I well knew, a polite intimation that he was not in a mood for talk. But I persisted, and at last he said, "Hang it, you know, I'm not attending—I'm very sorry—it isn't your fault—but there's such a lot going on everywhere." He quoted a verse of The Shropshire Lad, of which he was very fond:
"'Now, of my threescore years and ten, Twenty will not come again, And take from seventy springs a score, It only leaves me fifty more'";
adding, "That's the only instance I know of a subtraction sum made into perfect poetry—but it's the other way round, worse luck!
"And add to seventy springs a score, That only leaves me forty more!"
The birds were singing very sweetly in the copses as we passed—"That isn't art, I believe," said Father Payne. "It's only the reproductive instinct, I am told! I wish it took such an artistic form in my beloved brothers in the Lord! There," he added, stopping and speaking in a low tone; "don't move—there's a cock-wren singing his love-song—you can see his wings quivering." There followed a little tremolo, with four or five emphatic notes for a finish. "Now, if you listen, you'll hear the next wren answer him!" said Father Payne. In a moment the same little song came like an echo from a bush a few yards away. "The wren sings in stricter time than any bird but the cuckoo," said Father Payne—"four quavers to a bar. That's very important! Those two ridiculous creatures will go on doing that half the morning. They are so excited that they build sham nests, you know, about now—quite useless piles of twigs and moss, not intended for eggs, just to show what they can do. But that little song! It has all the passion of the old chivalry in it—it is only to say, 'My Dulcinea is prettier, sweeter, brighter-eyed than yours!' and the other says, 'You wait till I can get at you, and then we will see!' If they were two old knights, they would fight to the death over it, till the world had lost a brave man, and one of the Dulcineas was a hapless widow, and nothing proved. That's the sort of thing that men admire, full of fine sentiment. Why can't we leave each other alone? Why does loving one person make you want to fight another? Just look at that wren: he's as full of joy and pride as he can hold: look at the angle at which he holds his tail: he feels the lord of the world, sure enough!"
We walked on, and I asked no more questions. "There's a bit of colour," said Father Payne, pointing to a bare wood, all carpeted with green blades. "That's pure emerald, like the seventh foundation of the city. Now, if I ask you, who are a bit of a poet, what those leaves are, what do you say? You say hyacinth or daffodil, or perhaps lily-of-the-valley. But what does the simple botanist—that's me—say? Garlic, my boy, and nothing else! and you had better not walk musing there, or you will come in smelling of spring onions, like a greengrocer's shop. So much for poetry! It's the loveliest green in creation, and it has a pretty flower too—but it's never once mentioned in English poetry, so far as I know. And yet Keats had the face to say that Beauty was Truth and Truth Beauty! That's the way we play the game."
We rambled on, and passed a pleasant old stone-built cottage in the wood, with a tiny garden. "It's a curious thing," said Father Payne, "but in the spring I always want to live in all the houses I see. It's the nesting instinct, no doubt. I think I could be very happy here, for instance—much happier than in my absurd big house, with all you fellows about. Why did I ever start it? I ought to have had more sense. I want a cottage like this, and a little garden to work in, and a few books. I would live on bread and cold bacon and cheese and cabbages, with a hive of my own honey. I should get wise and silent, and not run on like this."
A dog came out of the cottage garden, and followed us a little way. "Do we belong to your party, sir, or do you belong to ours?" said Father Payne. The dog put his head on one side, and wagged his tail. "It appears I have the pleasure of your acquaintance!" said Father Payne to him. "Very well, you can set us on our way if you like!" The dog gave a short shrill bark, and trotted along with us. When we got to the end of the lane, where it turned into the high road, Father Payne said to the dog, "Now, sir, I expect that's all the time you can spare this morning? You must go back and guard the house, and be a faithful dog. Duty first!" The dog looked mournfully at us, and wagged his tail, but did not attempt to come farther. He watched us for a little longer, but as we did not invite him to come on, he presently turned round and trotted off home. "Now, that's the sort of case where I feel sentimental," said Father Payne. "It's the sham sort of pathos. I hate to see anyone disappointed. A person offering flowers in the street for sale, and people not buying them—the men in London showing off little toys by the pavement, which nobody wants—I can't bear that. It makes me feel absurdly wretched to see anyone hoping to please, and not pleasing. And if the people who do it look old and frail and unhappy, I'm capable of buying the whole stock. The great uncomforted! It's silly, of course, and there is nothing in the world so silly as useless emotion! It is so easy to overflow with cheap benevolence, but the first step towards the joyful wisdom is to be afraid of the emotion that costs you nothing: but we won't be metaphysical to-day!"
Presently Father Payne insisted on sitting down in a sheltered place. He flung his hat off, and sate there, looking round him with a smile, his arms clasped round his big knees. "Well," he said, "it's a jolly place, the old world, to be sure! Plenty of nasty and ugly things, I suppose, going on in corners; but if you look round, they are only a small percentage of the happy things. They don't force themselves upon the eye and ear, the beastly things: and it's a stupid and faithless mistake to fix the imagination and the reason too much upon them. We are all of us in a tight place occasionally, and we have to meet it as best we can. But I don't think we do it any better by anticipating it beforehand. What is more, no one can really help us or deliver us: we can be made a little more comfortable, and that's all, by what they call cooling drinks, and flowers in a vase by the bedside. And it's a bad thing to get the misery of the world in a vague way on our nerves. That's the useless emotion. We have got certain quite definite things to do for other people in our own circle, and we are bound to do them; we mustn't shirk them, and we mustn't shirk our own troubles, though the less we bother about them the better. I am not at all sure that the curse of the newspapers is not that they collect all the evils of the world into a hideous posy, and thrust it under our nose. They don't collect the fine, simple, wholesome things. Now you and I are better employed to-day in being agreeable to each other—at least you are being kind to me, even though I can't talk about that book—and in looking at the delightful things going on everywhere—just think of all the happiness in the world to-day, symbolised by that ridiculous wren!—we are better employed, I say, than if we were extending the commerce of England, or planning how to make war, or scolding people in sermons about their fatal indifference to the things that belong to their peace. Men and women must find and make their own peace, and we are doing both to-day. That awful vague sense of responsibility, that desire to interfere, that wish that everyone else should do uncomplaining what we think to be their duty—that's all my eye! It is the kindly, eager, wholesome life which affects the world, wherever it is lived: and that is the best which most of us can do. We can't be always fighting. Even the toughest old veteran soldier—how many hours of his life has he spent actually under fire? No, I'm not forgetting the workers either: but you need not tell me that they are all sick at heart because they are not dawdling in a country lane. It would bore them to death, and they can live a very happy life without it. That's the false pathos again—to think that everyone who can't do as we like must be miserable. And anyhow, I have done my twenty-five years on the treadmill, and I am not going to pretend it was noble work, because it wasn't. It was useless and disgraceful drudgery, most of it!"
"Ah," I said, "but that doesn't help me. You may have earned a holiday, but I have never done any real drudgery—I haven't earned anything."
"Be content," said Father Payne; "take two changes of raiment! You have got your furrow to plough—all in good time! You are working hard now, and don't let me hear any stuff about being ashamed because you enjoy it! The reward of labour is life: to enjoy our work is the secret. If you could persuade people that the spring of life lies there, you would do more for the happiness of man than by attending fifty thousand committees. But I won't talk any more. I want to consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They don't do it every day!"
Someone said rashly, after dinner to-night, that the one detestable and unpardonable thing in a man was pose. A generalisation of this kind acted on Father Payne very often like a ferret on a rabbit. He had been mournfully abstracted during dinner, shaking his head slowly, and turning his eyes to heaven when he was asked leading questions. But now he said: "I don't think that is reasonable—you might as well say that you always disliked length in a book. A book has got to be some length—it is as short as it's long. Of course, the moment you begin to say, 'How long this book is!' you mean that it is too long, and excess is a fault. Do you remember the subject proposed in a school debating society, 'That too much athletics is worthy of our admiration'? Pose is like that—when you become conscious of pose it is generally disagreeable—that is, if it is meant to deceive: but it is often amusing too, like the pose of the unjust judge in the parable, who prefaces his remarks by saying, 'Though I fear not God, neither regard man.'"
"Oh, but you know what I mean, Father," said the speaker, "the pose of knowing when you don't know, and being well-bred when you are snobbish, and being kind when you are mean, and so on."
"I think you mean humbug rather than pose," said Father Payne; "but even so, I don't agree with you. I have a friend who would be intolerable, but for his pose of being agreeable. He isn't agreeable, and he doesn't feel agreeable; but he behaves as if he was, and it is the only thing that makes him bearable. What you really mean is the pose of superiority—the man whose motives are always just ahead of your own, and whose taste is always slightly finer, and who knows the world a little better. But there is a lot of pose that isn't that. What is pose, after all? Can anyone define it?"
"It's an artist's phrase, I think," said Barthrop; "it means a position in which you look your best."
"Like the Archbishop who was always painted in a gibbous attitude—first quarter, you know—with his back turned to you, and his face just visible over his lawn sleeve," said Father Payne, "but that was in order to hide an excrescence on his left cheek. Do you remember what Lamb said of Barry Cornwall's wen on the nape of his neck? Some one said that Barry Cornwall was thinking of having it cut off. 'I hope he won't do that,' said Lamb, 'I rather like it—it's redundant, like his poetry!' I rather agree with Lamb. I like people to be a little redundant, and a harmless pose is pure redundancy: it only means that a man is up to some innocent game or other, some sort of mystification, and is enjoying himself. It's like a summer haze over the landscape. Now, there's another friend of mine who was once complimented on his 'uplifted' look. Whenever he thinks of it, and that's pretty often, he looks uplifted, like a bird drinking, with his eyes fixed on some far-off vision. I don't mind that! It's only a wish to look his best. It's partly a wish to give pleasure, you know. It's the same thing that makes people wear their hair long, or dress in a flamboyant way. I'll tell you a little story. You know Bertie Nash, the artist. I met him once in a Post Office, and he was buying a sheet of halfpenny stamps. I asked him if he was going to send out some circulars. He looked at me sadly, and said, 'No, I always use these—I can't use the penny stamps—such a crude red!' Now, he didn't do that to impress me: but it was a pose in a way, and he liked feeling so sensitive to colour."
"But oughtn't one to avoid all that sort of nonsense?" said some one; "it's better surely to be just what you are."
"Yes, but what are you, after all?" said Father Payne; "your moods vary. It would be hopeless if everyone tried to keep themselves down to their worst level for the sake of sincerity. The point is that you ought to try to keep at your best level, even if you don't feel so. Hang it, good manners are a pose, if it comes to that. The essence of good manners is sometimes to conceal what you are feeling. Is it a pose to behave amiably when you are tired or cross?"
"No, but that is in order not to make other people uncomfortable," said Vincent.
"Well, it's very hard to draw the line," said Father Payne: "but what we really mean by pose is, I imagine, the attempt to appear to be something which you frankly are not—and that is where the word has changed its sense, Barthrop. An artist's pose is something characteristic, which makes a man look his best. What we generally mean by pose is the affecting a best which one never reaches. Come, tell a story, some one! That's the best way to get at a quality. Won't some one quote an illustration?"
"What about my friend Pearce, the schoolmaster?" said Vincent. "He read a book about schoolmastering, and he said he didn't think much of it. He added that the author seemed only to be giving elegant reasons for doing things which the born schoolmaster did by instinct."
"Well, that's not a bad criticism," said Father Payne; "but it was pose if he meant to convey that he was a born schoolmaster. Is he one, by the way?"
"No," said Vincent, "he is not: he is much ragged by the boys; but he comforts himself by thinking that all schoolmasters are ragged, but that he is rather more successful than most in dealing with it. He has a great deal of moral dignity, has Pearce! I don't know where he would be without it!"
"Well, there's an instance," said Father Payne, "of a pose being of some use. I think a real genuine pose often makes a man do better work in the world than if he was drearily conscious of failure. It's a game, you know—a dramatic game: and I think it's a sign of vitality and interest to want to have a game. It's like the lawyer's clerk in Our Mutual Friend, when Mr. Boffin calls to keep an appointment, being the lawyer's only client; but the boy makes a show of looking it all up in a ledger, runs his finger down a list of imaginary consultants, and says to himself, 'Mr. Aggs, Mr. Baggs, Mr. Caggs, Mr. Daggs, Mr. Boffin—Yes, sir, that is right!' Now there's no harm in that sort of thing—it's only a bit of moral dignity, as Vincent says. It's no good acquiescing in being a humble average person—we must do better than that! Most people believe in themselves in spite of abundant evidence to the contrary—but it's better than disbelieving in yourself. That's abject, you know."
"But if you accept the principle of pose," said Lestrange, "I don't see that you can find fault with any pose."
"You might as well say," said Father Payne, "that if I accept the principle of drinking alcohol, it doesn't matter how much I drink! Almost all morality is relative—in fact, it is doubtful if it is ever absolute. The mischief of pose is not when it makes a man try to be or to appear at his best: but when a man lives a thoroughly unreal life, taking a high line in theory and never troubling about practice, then it's incredible to what lengths self-deception can go. Dr. Johnson said that he looked upon himself as a polite man! It is quite easy to get to believe yourself impeccable in certain points: and as one gets older, and less assailable, and less liable to be pulled up and told the hard truth, it is astonishing how serenely you can sail along. But that isn't pose exactly. It generally begins by a pose, and becomes simple imperviousness; and that is, after all, the danger of pose,—that it makes people blind to the truth about themselves."
"I'm getting muddled," said Vincent.
"It is rather muddling," said Father Payne, "but, in a general way, the point is this. When pose is a deliberate attempt to deceive other people for your own credit, it is detestable. But when it is merely harmless drama, to add to the interest of life and to retain your own self-respect, it's an amiable foible, and need not be discouraged. The real question is whether it is assumed seriously, or whether it is all a sort of joke. We all like to play our little games, and I find it very easy to forgive a person who enjoys dressing up, so to speak, and making remarks in character. Come, I'll confess my sins in public. If I meet a stranger in the roads, I rather like to be thought a bluff and hearty English squire, striding about my broad acres. I prefer that to being thought a retired crammer, a dominie who keeps a school and calls it an academy, as Lord Auchinleck said of Johnson. But if I pretended in this house to be a kind of abbot, and glided about in a cassock with a gold cross round my neck, conferring a benediction on everyone, and then retired to my room to read a French novel and to drink whisky-and-soda, that would be a very unpleasant pose indeed!"
We all implored Father Payne to adopt it, and he said he would give it his serious consideration.
I was sitting in the garden one evening in summer with Father Payne and Barthrop. Barthrop was going off next day to Oxford, and was trying to persuade Father Payne to come too.
"No," he said, "I simply couldn't! Oxford is the city east of the sun and west of the moon—like as a dream when one awaketh! I don't hold with indulging fruitless sentiment, particularly about the past."
"But isn't it rather a pity?" said Barthrop. "After all, most emotions are useless, if you come to that! Why should you cut yourself off from a place you are so fond of, and which is quite the most beautiful place in England too? Isn't it rather—well,—weak?"
"Yes," said Father Payne, "it's weak, no doubt! That is to say, if I were differently made, more hard-hearted, more sure of myself, I should go, and I should enjoy myself, and moon about, and bore you to death with old stories about the chimes at midnight—everybody would be a dear old boy or a good old soul, and I should hand out tips, and get perfectly maudlin in the evenings over a glass of claret. That's the normal thing, no doubt—that's what a noble-minded man in a novel of Thackeray's would do!"
"Well," said Barthrop, "you know best—but I expect that if you did take the plunge and go there, you would find yourself quite at ease."
"I might," said Father Payne; "but then I also might not—and I prefer not to risk it. You see, it would be merely wallowing in sentiment—and I don't approve of sentiment. I want my emotions to live with, not to bathe in!"
"But you don't mind going back to London," said Barthrop.
"No," said Father Payne, "but that bucks me up. I was infernally unhappy in London, and it puts me in a thoroughly sensible and cheerful mood to go and look at the outside of my old lodgings, and the place where I used to teach, and to say to myself, 'Thank God, that's all over!' Then I go on my way rejoicing, and make no end of plans. But if I went to Oxford, I should just remember how happy and young I was; and I might even commit the folly of regretting the lapse of time, and of wishing I could have it back again. I don't think it is wholesome to do anything which makes one discontented, or anything which forces one to dwell on what one has lost. That doesn't matter. Nothing really is ever lost, and it only takes the starch out of one to think about it from that angle. I don't believe in the past. It seems unalterable, and I suppose in a sense it is so. But if you begin to dwell on unalterable things, you become a fatalist, and I'm always trying to get away from that. The point is that no one is unalterable, and, thank God, we are always altering. To potter about in the past is like grubbing in an ash-heap, and shedding tears over broken bits of china. The plate, or whatever it is, was pretty enough, and it had its place and its use; and when the stuff of which it is made is wanted again, it will be used again. It is simply fatuous to waste time over the broken pieces of old dreams and visions; and I mean to use my emotions and my imagination to see new dreams and finer visions. Perhaps the time will come when I can dream no more—the brain gets tired and languid, no doubt. But even then I shall try to be interested in what is going on."
"I see your point," said Barthrop; "but, for the life of me, I can't see why the old place should not take its part in the new visions! When I go down to Oxford I don't regret it. I go gratefully and happily about, and I like to see the young men as jolly as I was, and as unaware what a good time they are having. An old pal of mine is a Don, and he puts me up in College, and it amuses me to go into Hall, and to see some of the young lions at close quarters. It's all pure and simple refreshment."
"I've no doubt of it, old man," said Father Payne; "and it's an excellent thing for you to go, and to draw fresh life from the ancient earth, like Antaeus. But I'm not made that way. I'm not loyal—that is to say, I am not faithful to things simply because I once admired and loved them. If you are loyal in the right way, as you are, it's different. But these old attachments are a kind of idolatry to me—a false worship. I'm naturally full of unreasonable devotion to the old and beautiful things; but they get round my neck like a mill-stone, and it is all so much more weight that I have to carry. I sometimes go to see an old cousin of mine, a widow in the country, who lives entirely in the past, never allows anything to be changed in the house, never talks about anyone who isn't dead or ill. The woman's life is simply buried under old memories, mountains of old china, family plate, receipts for jam and marmalade—everything has got to be done as it was in the beginning. Now most of her friends think that very beautiful and tender, and talk of the old-world atmosphere of the place; but I think it simply a stuffy waste of time. I don't tell her so—God forbid! But I feel that she is lolling in an arbour by the roadside instead of getting on. It's innocent enough, but it does not seem to me beautiful."
"But I still don't see why you give way to the feeling," said Barthrop. "I'm sure that if I felt as you do about Oxford, or any other place, you would tell me it was my duty to conquer it."
"Very likely!" said Father Payne. "But doctors don't feel bound to take their own prescriptions! Everyone must decide for himself, and I know that I should fall under the luxurious enchantment. I should go into cheap raptures, I should talk about 'the tender grace of a day that is dead'—it's no use putting your head in a noose to see what being strangled feels like."
"But do you apply that to everything," I said, "old friendships, old affections, old memories? They seem to me beautiful, and harmlessly beautiful."
"Well, if you can use them up quite freshly, and make a poetical dish out of them, for present consumption, I don't mind," said Father Payne. "But that isn't my way—I'm not robust enough. It's all I can do to take things in as they come along. Of course an old memory sometimes goes through one like a sword, but I pull it out as quick as I can, and cast it away. I am not going to dance with Death if I can help it! I have got my job cut out for me, and I am not going to be hampered by old rubbish. Mind you, I don't say that it was rubbish at the time; but I have no use for anything that I can't use. Sentiment seems to me like letting valuable steam off. The people I have loved are all there still, whether they are dead or alive. They did a bit of the journey with me, and I enjoyed their company, and I shall enjoy it again, if it so comes about. But we have to live our life, and we can't keep more than a certain number of things in mind—that is an obvious limitation. Do you remember the old fairy story of the man who carried a magic goose, and everyone who touched it, or touched anyone who touched it, could not leave go, with the result that there was a long train of helpless people trotting about behind the man. I don't want to live like that, with a long train of old memories and traditions and friendships and furniture trailing helplessly behind me. My business is with my present circle, my present work, and I can't waste my strength in drawing about vehicles full of goods. If anyone wants me, here I am, and I will do my best to meet his wishes; but I am not going to be frightened by words like loyalty into pretending that I am going to stagger along carrying the whole of my past. No, my boy," said Father Payne, turning to Barthrop, "you go to Oxford, and enjoy yourself! But the old place is too tight about my heart for me to put my nose into it. I'm a free man, and I am not going to be in bondage to my old fancies. You may give my love to Corpus and to Wadham Garden—it's all dreadfully bewitching—but I'm not going to run the risk of falling in love with the phantom of the past—that's La Belle Dame Sans Merci for me, and I'm riding on—I'm riding on. I won't have the hussy on my horse.
"I set her on my pacing steed, And nothing else saw all day long, For sideways would she lean, and sing A faery's song.
She found me roots of relish sweet, And honey wild and manna dew. And sure in language strange she said, 'I love thee true,'"
He stopped a moment, as he often did when he made a quotation, overcome with feeling. Then he smiled, and added half to himself, "No; I should say, as Dr. Johnson said to the lady in Fleet Street; 'No, no; it won't do, my girl!'"
"Well, anyhow," said Vincent at dinner, commenting on something that had been said, "you may not get anything else out of a disagreeable affair like that, but you get a sort of discipline."
"Come, hold on," said Father Payne; "that won't do, you know! Discipline, in my belief, is in itself a bad thing, unless you not only get something out of it, but, what is more, know what you get out of it. You can't discipline anyone, unless he desires it! Discipline means the repressing of something—you must be quite sure that it is worth repressing."
"What I mean," said Vincent, "is that it makes you tougher and harder."
"Yes," said Father Payne, "but that is not a good thing in itself, unless there is something soft and weak in you. Discipline may easily knock the good things out of you. There's a general kind of belief that, because the world is a rough place, where you may get tumbles and shocks without any fault of your own, therefore it is as well to have something rough about you. I don't believe in that. The reason why a man gets roughly handled, in nine cases out of ten, is not because he is obnoxious or offensive, but because other people are harsh and indifferent. I want to apply discipline to the brutal, not to brutalise the sensitive. If discipline simply made people brave and patient, it would be different, but it often makes them callous and unpleasant."
"But doesn't everyone want discipline of some kind?" said Vincent.
"Of the right kind, yes," said Father Payne. "Some people want a good deal more than they get, and some a certain amount less than they get. It's a delicate business. It is not always fortifying. Take a simple case. A bold, brazen sort of boy who is untruthful may want a whipping; but a timid and imaginative boy who is untruthful doesn't necessarily want a whipping at all—it makes him more, and not less, timid. One of the most ridiculous and persistent blunders in human life is to believe that a certain penalty is divinely appointed for a certain offence. Our theory of punishment is all wrong; we inflict punishment, as a rule, not to improve an offender, but out of revenge, or because it gives us a comfortable sense of our own justice. And the whole difficulty of discipline is that it is apt to be applied in lumps, and distributed wholesale to people who don't all want the same amount. We haven't really got very far away from the Squeers theory of giving all the boys brimstone and treacle alike."
"Yes, but in a school," said Vincent, "would not the boys themselves resent it, if they were punished differently for the same offence?"
"That is to say," said Father Payne, "that you are to treat boys, whom you are supposed to be training, in accordance with their ideas of justice, and not in accordance with yours! Why should you confirm them in a wholly erroneous view of justice? Justice isn't a mathematical thing—or rather, it ought to be a mathematical thing, because you ought to take into account a lot of factors, which you simply omit from your calculation. I believe very little in punishment, to tell you the truth; it ought only to be inflicted after many warnings, when the offence is deliberately repeated. I don't believe that the sane and normal person is a habitual and deliberate offender. The kind of absence of self-restraint which makes people unable to resist temptation, in any form, is a disease, and ought to be segregated. I haven't the slightest doubt that we shall end by segregating or sterilising the person of criminal tendencies, which only means a total inability, in the presence of a temptation, to foresee consequences, and which gratifies a momentary desire."
"But apart from definite moral disease," said Vincent, "isn't it a good thing to compel people, if possible, into a certain sort of habit? I am speaking of faults which are not criminal—things like unpunctuality, laziness, small excesses, mild untrustworthiness, and so forth."
"Well, I don't personally believe in coercive discipline at all," said Father Payne. "I think it simply gets people out of shape. I believe in trying to give people a real motive for self-discipline: take unpunctuality, for instance. The only way to make an unpunctual person punctual is to convince him that it is rude and unjust to keep other people waiting. There is nothing sacred about punctuality in itself, unless some one else suffers by your being unpunctual. If it comes to that, isn't it quite as good a discipline for punctual people to learn to wait without impatience for the unpunctual? Supposing an unpunctual person were to say, 'I do it on principle, to teach precise people not to mind waiting,' where is the flaw in that? Take what you call laziness. Some people work better by fits and starts, some do better work by regularity. The point is to know how you work best. You must not make the convenience of average people into a moral law. The thing to aim at is that a man should not go on doing a thing which he honestly believes to be wrong and hurtful, out of a mere habit. Take the small excesses of which you speak—food, drink, sleep, tobacco. Some people want more of these things than others; you can't lay down exact laws. A man ought to find out precisely what suits him best; but I'm not prepared to say that regularity in these matters is absolutely good for everyone. The thing is not to be interfered with by your habits; and the end of all discipline is, I believe, efficiency, vitality, and freedom; but it is no good substituting one tyranny for another. I was reading the life of a man the other day who simply could not believe that anyone could think a thing wrong and yet do it. His biographer said, very shrewdly, that his sense of sin was as dead as his ear for music—that he did not possess even the common liberty of right and wrong. That's a bad case of atrophy! You must not, of course, be at the mercy of your moods, but you must not be at the mercy of your ethical habits either. Of the two, I am not sure that the habit isn't the most dangerous."
"You seem to be holding a brief all round, Father," said Vincent.
"No, I am not doing that," said Father Payne, "but my theory is this. You must know, first of all, what you are aiming at, and you must apply your discipline sensibly to that. There are certain things in us which we know to be sloppy—we lie in bed, we dawdle, we eat too much, we moon over our work. All that is obviously no good, and all sensible people try to pull themselves up. When you have found out what suits you, do it boldly; but the man who admires discipline for its own sake is a sort of hypochondriac—a medicine-drinker. I have a friend who says that if he stays in a house, and sees a bottle of medicine in a cupboard, he is always tempted to take a dose. 'Is it that you feel ill?' I once said to him. 'No,' he said; 'but I have an idea that it might do me good.' The disciplinarian is like that: he is always putting a little strain upon himself, cutting off this and that, trying new rules, heading himself off. He has an uneasy feeling that if he likes anything, it is a sort of sign that he should abstain from it: he mistrusts his impulses and instincts. He thinks he is getting to talk too much, and so he practises holding his tongue. The truth is that he is suspicious of life. He is like the schoolmaster who says, 'Go and see what Jack is doing, and tell him not to!' Of course I am taking an extreme case, but there is a tendency in that direction in many people. They think that strength means the power to resist, when it really means the power to flow. I do not think that people ought to be deferential to criticism, timid before rebuke, depressed by disapproval: and, on the whole, I believe that more harm is done by self-repression, obedience, meekness than by the opposite qualities. I want men to live their own lives fearlessly—not offensively, of course—with a due regard to other people's comfort, but without any regard to other people's conventions. I believe in trusting yourself, on the whole, and trusting the world. I do not think it is wholesome or brave to live under the shadow of other people's fears or other people's convictions. All the people, it seems to me, who have done anything for the world, have been the people who have gone their own way; and I think that self-discipline, or external discipline meekly accepted, ends in a flattening out of men's power and character. Of course you fellows here are learning to do a definite technical thing—but you will observe that all the discipline here is defensive, and not coercive. I don't want you to take any shape or mould: I want you just to learn to do things in your own way. I don't ever want you to interfere with each other's minds too much. I don't want to interfere with your minds myself, except in so far as to help you to get rid of sloppiness and prejudices. Here, I mustn't go on—it's becoming like a prospectus! but it comes to this, that I believe in the trained mind, and not in the moulded mind; and I think that the moment discipline ceases to train strength, and begins to mould weakness, it's a thoroughly bad thing. No one can be artificially protected from life without losing life—and life is what I am out for."
I did not hear the argument, but I heard Vincent say to Father Payne: "Of course I couldn't do that—it would have been so inconsistent."
"Oh! consistency's a very cheap affair," said Father Payne; "it is mostly a blend of vanity and slow intelligence."
"But one must stick to something," said Vincent. "There's nothing so tiresome as never knowing how a man is going to behave."