CHESTERTON-WHAT'S WRONG - XII: THE STALENESS OF THE NEW SCHOOLS
There is one thing at least of which there is never so much
as a whisper inside the popular schools; and that is the opinion
of the people The only persons who seem to have nothing
to do with the education of the children are the parents.
Yet the English poor have very definite traditions in many ways.
They are hidden under embarrassment and irony; and those psychologists
who have disentangled them talk of them as very strange,
barbaric and secretive things But, as a matter of fact,
the traditions of the poor are mostly simply the traditions
of humanity, a thing which many of us have not seen for some time.
For instance, workingmen have a tradition that if one is talking
about a vile thing it is better to talk of it in coarse language;
one is the less likely to be seduced into excusing it.
But mankind had this tradition also, until the Puritans
and their children, the Ibsenites, started the opposite idea,
that it does not matter what you say so long as you say it
with long words and a long face. Or again, the educated
classes have tabooed most jesting about personal appearance;
but in doing this they taboo not only the humor of the slums,
but more than half the healthy literature of the world; they put
polite nose-bags on the noses of Punch and Bardolph, Stiggins and
Cyrano de Bergerac. Again, the educated classes have adopted
a hideous and heathen custom of considering death as too dreadful
to talk about, and letting it remain a secret for each person,
like some private malformation. The poor, on the contrary,
make a great gossip and display about bereavement; and they
are right. They have hold of a truth of psychology which is at
the back of all the funeral customs of the children of men.
The way to lessen sorrow is to make a lot of it. The way to endure
a painful crisis is to insist very much that it is a crisis;
to permit people who must feel sad at least to feel important.
In this the poor are simply the priests of the universal civilization;
and in their stuffy feasts and solemn chattering there is
the smell of the baked meats of Hamlet and the dust and echo
of the funeral games of Patroclus.
The things philanthropists barely excuse (or do not excuse)
in the life of the laboring classes are simply the things we have
to excuse in all the greatest monuments of man. It may be that
the laborer is as gross as Shakespeare or as garrulous as Homer;
that if he is religious he talks nearly as much about hell as Dante;
that if he is worldly he talks nearly as much about drink
as Dickens. Nor is the poor man without historic support if he thinks
less of that ceremonial washing which Christ dismissed, and rather
more of that ceremonial drinking which Christ specially sanctified.
The only difference between the poor man of to-day and the saints
and heroes of history is that which in all classes separates the common
man who can feel things from the great man who can express them.
What he feels is merely the heritage of man. Now nobody expects
of course that the cabmen and coal-heavers can be complete
instructors of their children any more than the squires and colonels
and tea merchants are complete instructors of their children.
There must be an educational specialist in loco parentis.
But the master at Harrow is in loco parentis; the master in Hoxton
is rather contra parentem. The vague politics of the squire,
the vaguer virtues of the colonel, the soul and spiritual yearnings
of a tea merchant, are, in veritable practice, conveyed to
the children of these people at the English public schools.
But I wish here to ask a very plain and emphatic question.
Can anyone alive even pretend to point out any way in which these special
virtues and traditions of the poor are reproduced in the education
of the poor? I do not wish the coster's irony to appeal as coarsely
in the school as it does in the tap room; but does it appear at all?
Is the child taught to sympathize at all with his father's
admirable cheerfulness and slang? I do not expect the pathetic,
eager pietas of the mother, with her funeral clothes and funeral
baked meats, to be exactly imitated in the educational system;
but has it any influence at all on the educational system?
Does any elementary schoolmaster accord it even an instant's
consideration or respect? I do not expect the schoolmaster to hate
hospitals and C.O.S. centers so much as the schoolboy's father;
but does he hate them at all? Does he sympathize in the least
with the poor man's point of honor against official institutions?
Is it not quite certain that the ordinary elementary schoolmaster
will think it not merely natural but simply conscientious to
eradicate all these rugged legends of a laborious people, and on
principle to preach soap and Socialism against beer and liberty?
In the lower classes the school master does not work for the parent,
but against the parent. Modern education means handing down the customs
of the minority, and rooting out the customs of the majority.
Instead of their Christlike charity, their Shakespearean laughter
and their high Homeric reverence for the dead, the poor have imposed
on them mere pedantic copies of the prejudices of the remote rich.
They must think a bathroom a necessity because to the lucky it
is a luxury; they must swing Swedish clubs because their masters
are afraid of English cudgels; and they must get over their prejudice
against being fed by the parish, because aristocrats feel no shame
about being fed by the nation.
It is the same in the case of girls. I am often solemnly
asked what I think of the new ideas about female education.
But there are no new ideas about female education.
There is not, there never has been, even the vestige of a new idea.
All the educational reformers did was to ask what was being done to
boys and then go and do it to girls; just as they asked what was being
taught to young squires and then taught it to young chimney sweeps.
What they call new ideas are very old ideas in the wrong place.
Boys play football, why shouldn't girls play football;
boys have school colors, why shouldn't girls have school-colors;
boys go in hundreds to day-schools, why shouldn't girls go
in hundreds to day-schools; boys go to Oxford, why shouldn't
girls go to Oxford--in short, boys grow mustaches, why shouldn't
girls grow mustaches--that is about their notion of a new idea.
There is no brain-work in the thing at all; no root query
of what sex is, of whether it alters this or that, and why,
anymore than there is any imaginative grip of the humor
and heart of the populace in the popular education.
There is nothing but plodding, elaborate, elephantine imitation.
And just as in the case of elementary teaching, the cases are
of a cold and reckless inappropriateness. Even a savage could see
that bodily things, at least, which are good for a man are very likely
to be bad for a woman. Yet there is no boy's game, however brutal,
which these mild lunatics have not promoted among girls.
To take a stronger case, they give girls very heavy home-work;
never reflecting that all girls have home-work already in
their homes. It is all a part of the same silly subjugation;
there must be a hard stick-up collar round the neck of a woman,
because it is already a nuisance round the neck of a man.
Though a Saxon serf, if he wore that collar of cardboard,
would ask for his collar of brass.
It will then be answered, not without a sneer, "And what would
you prefer? Would you go back to the elegant early Victorian female,
with ringlets and smelling-bottle, doing a little in water colors,
dabbling a little in Italian, playing a little on the harp,
writing in vulgar albums and painting on senseless screens?
Do you prefer that?" To which I answer, "Emphatically, yes."
I solidly prefer it to the new female education, for this reason,
that I can see in it an intellectual design, while there is
none in the other. I am by no means sure that even in point
of practical fact that elegant female would not have been
more than a match for most of the inelegant females.
I fancy Jane Austen was stronger, sharper and shrewder than
Charlotte Bronte; I am quite certain she was stronger, sharper and
shrewder than George Eliot. She could do one thing neither
of them could do: she could coolly and sensibly describe a man.
I am not sure that the old great lady who could only smatter
Italian was not more vigorous than the new great lady who can
only stammer American; nor am I certain that the bygone
duchesses who were scarcely successful when they painted
Melrose Abbey, were so much more weak-minded than the modern
duchesses who paint only their own faces, and are bad at that.
But that is not the point. What was the theory, what was the idea,
in their old, weak water-colors and their shaky Italian? The idea
was the same which in a ruder rank expressed itself in home-made
wines and hereditary recipes; and which still, in a thousand
unexpected ways, can be found clinging to the women of the poor.
It was the idea I urged in the second part of this book:
that the world must keep one great amateur, lest we all become
artists and perish. Somebody must renounce all specialist conquests,
that she may conquer all the conquerors. That she may be a queen
of life, she must not be a private soldier in it. I do not think
the elegant female with her bad Italian was a perfect product,
any more than I think the slum woman talking gin and funerals
is a perfect product; alas! there are few perfect products.
But they come from a comprehensible idea; and the new woman comes
from nothing and nowhere. It is right to have an ideal, it is
right to have the right ideal, and these two have the right ideal.
The slum mother with her funerals is the degenerate daughter
of Antigone, the obstinate priestess of the household gods.
The lady talking bad Italian was the decayed tenth cousin of Portia,
the great and golden Italian lady, the Renascence amateur of life,
who could be a barrister because she could be anything.
Sunken and neglected in the sea of modern monotony and imitation,
the types hold tightly to their original truths. Antigone, ugly,
dirty and often drunken, will still bury her father.
The elegant female, vapid and fading away to nothing, still feels
faintly the fundamental difference between herself and her husband:
that he must be Something in the City, that she may be everything
in the country.
There was a time when you and I and all of us were all very close to God;
so that even now the color of a pebble (or a paint), the smell of a flower
(or a firework), comes to our hearts with a kind of authority
and certainty; as if they were fragments of a muddled message,
or features of a forgotten face. To pour that fiery simplicity
upon the whole of life is the only real aim of education;
and closest to the child comes the woman--she understands.
To say what she understands is beyond me; save only this, that it
is not a solemnity. Rather it is a towering levity, an uproarious
amateurishness of the universe, such as we felt when we were little,
and would as soon sing as garden, as soon paint as run. To smatter
the tongues of men and angels, to dabble in the dreadful sciences,
to juggle with pillars and pyramids and toss up the planets like balls,
this is that inner audacity and indifference which the human soul,
like a conjurer catching oranges, must keep up forever.
This is that insanely frivolous thing we call sanity.
And the elegant female, drooping her ringlets over her water-colors, knew
it and acted on it. She was juggling with frantic and flaming suns.
She was maintaining the bold equilibrium of inferiorities which is
the most mysterious of superiorities and perhaps the most unattainable.
She was maintaining the prime truth of woman, the universal mother:
that if a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.
A cultivated Conservative friend of mine once exhibited great
distress because in a gay moment I once called Edmund Burke
an atheist. I need scarcely say that the remark lacked
something of biographical precision; it was meant to.
Burke was certainly not an atheist in his conscious cosmic theory,
though he had not a special and flaming faith in God,
like Robespierre. Nevertheless, the remark had reference to a truth
which it is here relevant to repeat. I mean that in the quarrel
over the French Revolution, Burke did stand for the atheistic attitude
and mode of argument, as Robespierre stood for the theistic.
The Revolution appealed to the idea of an abstract and
eternal justice, beyond all local custom or convenience.
If there are commands of God, then there must be rights of man.
Here Burke made his brilliant diversion; he did not attack
the Robespierre doctrine with the old mediaeval doctrine of
jus divinum (which, like the Robespierre doctrine, was theistic),
he attacked it with the modern argument of scientific relativity;
in short, the argument of evolution. He suggested that
humanity was everywhere molded by or fitted to its environment
and institutions; in fact, that each people practically got,
not only the tyrant it deserved, but the tyrant it ought to have.
"I know nothing of the rights of men," he said, "but I know something
of the rights of Englishmen." There you have the essential atheist.
His argument is that we have got some protection by natural
accident and growth; and why should we profess to think beyond it,
for all the world as if we were the images of God! We are born
under a House of Lords, as birds under a house of leaves;
we live under a monarchy as niggers live under a tropic sun;
it is not their fault if they are slaves, and it is not ours
if we are snobs. Thus, long before Darwin struck his great blow
at democracy, the essential of the Darwinian argument had been
already urged against the French Revolution. Man, said Burke
in effect, must adapt himself to everything, like an animal;
he must not try to alter everything, like an angel.
The last weak cry of the pious, pretty, half-artificial optimism
and deism of the eighteenth century carne in the voice
of Sterne, saying, "God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb."
And Burke, the iron evolutionist, essentially answered,
"No; God tempers the shorn lamb to the wind." It is the lamb
that has to adapt himself. That is, he either dies or becomes
a particular kind of lamb who likes standing in a draught.
The subconscious popular instinct against Darwinism was not a mere
offense at the grotesque notion of visiting one's grandfather in a cage
in the Regent's Park. Men go in for drink, practical jokes and many other
grotesque things; they do not much mind making beasts of themselves,
and would not much mind having beasts made of their forefathers.
The real instinct was much deeper and much more valuable.
It was this: that when once one begins to think of man as a shifting
and alterable thing, it is always easy for the strong and crafty
to twist him into new shapes for all kinds of unnatural purposes.
the popular instinct sees in such developments the possibility
of backs bowed and hunch-backed for their burden, or limbs
twisted for their task. It has a very well-grounded guess that
whatever is done swiftly and systematically will mostly be done
be a successful class and almost solely in their interests.
It has therefore a vision of inhuman hybrids and half-human experiments
much in the style of Mr. Wells's "Island of Dr. Moreau." The rich
man may come to breeding a tribe of dwarfs to be his jockeys,
and a tribe of giants to be his hall-porters. Grooms might be born
bow-legged and tailors born cross-legged; perfumers might have long,
large noses and a crouching attitude, like hounds of scent;
and professional wine-tasters might have the horrible expression
of one tasting wine stamped upon their faces as infants.
Whatever wild image one employs it cannot keep pace with the panic
of the human fancy, when once it supposes that the fixed type
called man could be changed. If some millionaire wanted arms,
some porter must grow ten arms like an octopus; if he wants legs,
some messenger-boy must go with a hundred trotting legs like a centipede.
In the distorted mirror of hypothesis, that is, of the unknown,
men can dimly see such monstrous and evil shapes; men run all to eye,
or all to fingers, with nothing left but one nostril or one ear.
That is the nightmare with which the mere notion of adaptation
threatens us. That is the nightmare that is not so very far
from the reality.
It will be said that not the wildest evolutionist really asks
that we should become in any way unhuman or copy any other animal.
Pardon me, that is exactly what not merely the wildest
evolutionists urge, but some of the tamest evolutionists too.
There has risen high in recent history an important cultus which bids
fair to be the religion of the future--which means the religion
of those few weak-minded people who live in the future. It is typical
of our time that it has to look for its god through a microscope;
and our time has marked a definite adoration of the insect.
Like most things we call new, of course, it is not at all new as an idea;
it is only new as an idolatry. Virgil takes bees seriously
but I doubt if he would have kept bees as carefully as he wrote
about them. The wise king told the sluggard to watch the ant,
a charming occupation--for a sluggard. But in our own time has
appeared a very different tone, and more than one great man,
as well as numberless intelligent men, have in our time seriously
suggested that we should study the insect because we are his inferiors.
The old moralists merely took the virtues of man and distributed
them quite decoratively and arbitrarily among the animals.
The ant was an almost heraldic symbol of industry, as the lion was
of courage, or, for the matter of that, the pelican of charity.
But if the mediaevals had been convinced that a lion was not courageous,
they would have dropped the lion and kept the courage; if the pelican
is not charitable, they would say, so much the worse for the pelican.
The old moralists, I say, permitted the ant to enforce and typify
man's morality; they never allowed the ant to upset it.
They used the ant for industry as the lark for punctuality;
they looked up at the flapping birds and down at the crawling
insects for a homely lesson. But we have lived to see a sect
that does not look down at the insects, but looks up at the insects,
that asks us essentially to bow down and worship beetles,
like ancient Egyptians.
Maurice Maeterlinck is a man of unmistakable genius, and genius
always carries a magnifying glass. In the terrible crystal
of his lens we have seen the bees not as a little yellow swarm,
but rather in golden armies and hierarchies of warriors and queens.
Imagination perpetually peers and creeps further down the avenues
and vistas in the tubes of science, and one fancies every
frantic reversal of proportions; the earwig striding across
the echoing plain like an elephant, or the grasshopper coming
roaring above our roofs like a vast aeroplane, as he leaps from
Hertfordshire to Surrey. One seems to enter in a dream a temple
of enormous entomology, whose architecture is based on something
wilder than arms or backbones; in which the ribbed columns
have the half-crawling look of dim and monstrous caterpillars;
or the dome is a starry spider hung horribly in the void.
There is one of the modern works of engineering that gives one
something of this nameless fear of the exaggerations of an underworld;
and that is the curious curved architecture of the under ground railway,
commonly called the Twopenny Tube. Those squat archways,
without any upright line or pillar, look as if they had been
tunneled by huge worms who have never learned to lift their heads
It is the very underground palace of the Serpent, the spirit
of changing shape and color, that is the enemy of man.
But it is not merely by such strange aesthetic suggestions
that writers like Maeterlinck have influenced us in the matter;
there is also an ethical side to the business.
The upshot of M. Maeterlinck's book on bees is an admiration,
one might also say an envy, of their collective spirituality;
of the fact that they live only for something which he calls
the Soul of the Hive. And this admiration for the communal morality
of insects is expressed in many other modern writers in various
quarters and shapes; in Mr. Benjamin Kidd's theory of living
only for the evolutionary future of our race, and in the great
interest of some Socialists in ants, which they generally prefer
to bees, I suppose, because they are not so brightly colored.
Not least among the hundred evidences of this vague insectolatry
are the floods of flattery poured by modern people on that
energetic nation of the Far East of which it has been said
that "Patriotism is its only religion"; or, in other words,
that it lives only for the Soul of the Hive. When at long intervals
of the centuries Christendom grows weak, morbid or skeptical,
and mysterious Asia begins to move against us her dim populations
and to pour them westward like a dark movement of matter,
in such cases it has been very common to compare the invasion
to a plague of lice or incessant armies of locusts.
The Eastern armies were indeed like insects; in their blind,
busy destructiveness, in their black nihilism of personal outlook,
in their hateful indifference to individual life and love,
in their base belief in mere numbers, in their pessimistic
courage and their atheistic patriotism, the riders and raiders
of the East are indeed like all the creeping things of the earth.
But never before, I think, have Christians called a Turk a locust
and meant it as a compliment. Now for the first time we worship
as well as fear; and trace with adoration that enormous form
advancing vast and vague out of Asia, faintly discernible amid
the mystic clouds of winged creatures hung over the wasted lands,
thronging the skies like thunder and discoloring the skies
like rain; Beelzebub, the Lord of Flies.
In resisting this horrible theory of the Soul of the Hive,
we of Christendom stand not for ourselves, but for all humanity;
for the essential and distinctive human idea that one good and
happy man is an end in himself, that a soul is worth saving.
Nay, for those who like such biological fancies it might well be
said that we stand as chiefs and champions of a whole section
of nature, princes of the house whose cognizance is the backbone,
standing for the milk of the individual mother and the courage
of the wandering cub, representing the pathetic chivalry of the dog,
the humor and perversity of cats, the affection of the tranquil horse,
the loneliness of the lion. It is more to the point, however,
to urge that this mere glorification of society as it is in
the social insects is a transformation and a dissolution in one
of the outlines which have been specially the symbols of man.
In the cloud and confusion of the flies and bees is growing fainter
and fainter, as is finally disappearing, the idea of the human family.
The hive has become larger than the house, the bees are destroying
their captors; what the locust hath left, the caterpillar hath eaten;
and the little house and garden of our friend Jones is in a bad way.
When Lord Morley said that the House of Lords must be either
mended or ended, he used a phrase which has caused some confusion;
because it might seem to suggest that mending and ending are somewhat
similar things. I wish specially to insist on the fact that mending
and ending are opposite things. You mend a thing because you like it;
you end a thing because you don't. To mend is to strengthen.
I, for instance, disbelieve in oligarchy; so l would no more mend
the House of Lords than I would mend a thumbscrew. On the other hand,
I do believe in the family; therefore I would mend the family
as I would mend a chair; and I will never deny for a moment that
the modern family is a chair that wants mending. But here comes
in the essential point about the mass of modern advanced sociologists.
Here are two institutions that have always been fundamental with mankind,
the family and the state. Anarchists, I believe, disbelieve in both.
It is quite unfair to say that Socialists believe in the state,
but do not believe in the family; thousands of Socialists believe
more in the family than any Tory. But it is true to say that while
anarchists would end both, Socialists are specially engaged in mending
(that is, strengthening and renewing) the state; and they are
not specially engaged in strengthening and renewing the family.
They are not doing anything to define the functions of father, mother,
and child, as such; they are not tightening the machine up again;
they are not blackening in again the fading lines of the old drawing.
With the state they are doing this; they are sharpening its machinery,
they are blackening in its black dogmatic lines, they are making mere
government in every way stronger and in some ways harsher than before.
While they leave the home in ruins, they restore the hive,
especially the stings. Indeed, some schemes of labor and Poor Law
reform recently advanced by distinguished Socialists, amount to little
more than putting the largest number of people in the despotic
power of Mr. Bumble. Apparently, progress means being moved on--
by the police.
The point it is my purpose to urge might perhaps be suggested thus:
that Socialists and most social reformers of their color are vividly
conscious of the line between the kind of things that belong to the state
and the kind of things that belong to mere chaos or uncoercible nature;
they may force children to go to school before the sun rises, but they
will not try to force the sun to rise; they will not, like Canute,
banish the sea, but only the sea-bathers. But inside the outline of
the state their lines are confused, and entities melt into each other.
They have no firm instinctive sense of one thing being in its nature
private and another public, of one thing being necessarily bond
and another free. That is why piece by piece, and quite silently,
personal liberty is being stolen from Englishmen, as personal land has
been silently stolen ever since the sixteenth century.
I can only put it sufficiently curtly in a careless simile.
A Socialist means a man who thinks a walking-stick like
an umbrella because they both go into the umbrella-stand.
Yet they are as different as a battle-ax and a bootjack.
The essential idea of an umbrella is breadth and protection.
The essential idea of a stick is slenderness and, partly, attack.
The stick is the sword, the umbrella is the shield,
but it is a shield against another and more nameless enemy--
the hostile but anonymous universe. More properly, therefore,
the umbrella is the roof; it is a kind of collapsible house.
But the vital difference goes far deeper than this; it branches
off into two kingdoms of man's mind, with a chasm between.
For the point is this: that the umbrella is a shield
against an enemy so actual as to be a mere nuisance;
whereas the stick is a sword against enemies so entirely imaginary
as to be a pure pleasure. The stick is not merely a sword,
but a court sword; it is a thing of purely ceremonial swagger.
One cannot express the emotion in any way except by saying
that a man feels more like a man with a stick in his hand,
just as he feels more like a man with a sword at his side.
But nobody ever had any swelling sentiments about an umbrella;
it is a convenience, like a door scraper. An umbrella is a
necessary evil. A walking-stick is a quite unnecessary good.
This, I fancy, is the real explanation of the perpetual losing
of umbrellas; one does not hear of people losing walking sticks.
For a walking-stick is a pleasure, a piece of real
personal property; it is missed even when it is not needed.
When my right hand forgets its stick may it forget its cunning.
But anybody may forget an umbrella, as anybody might
forget a shed that he has stood up in out of the rain.
Anybody can forget a necessary thing.
If I might pursue the figure of speech, I might briefly say
that the whole Collectivist error consists in saying that because
two men can share an umbrella, therefore two men can share
a walking-stick. Umbrellas might possibly be replaced by some kind
of common awnings covering certain streets from particular showers.
But there is nothing but nonsense in the notion of swinging a
communal stick; it is as if one spoke of twirling a communal mustache.
It will be said that this is a frank fantasia and that no sociologists
suggest such follies. Pardon me if they do. I will give a precise
parallel to the case of confusion of sticks and umbrellas,
a parallel from a perpetually reiterated suggestion of reform.
At least sixty Socialists out of a hundred, when they have spoken
of common laundries, will go on at once to speak of common kitchens.
This is just as mechanical and unintelligent as the fanciful
case I have quoted. Sticks and umbrellas are both stiff rods
that go into holes in a stand in the hall. Kitchens and
washhouses are both large rooms full of heat and damp and steam.
But the soul and function of the two things are utterly opposite.
There is only one way of washing a shirt; that is, there is only
one right way. There is no taste and fancy in tattered shirts.
Nobody says, "Tompkins likes five holes in his shirt, but I
must say, give me the good old four holes." Nobody says,
"This washerwoman rips up the left leg of my pyjamas; now if
there is one thing I insist on it is the right leg ripped up."
The ideal washing is simply to send a thing back washed.
But it is by no means true that the ideal cooking is simply
to send a thing back cooked. Cooking is an art; it has
in it personality, and even perversity, for the definition
of an art is that which must be personal and may be perverse.
I know a man, not otherwise dainty, who cannot touch
common sausages unless they are almost burned to a coal.
He wants his sausages fried to rags, yet he does not insist
on his shirts being boiled to rags. I do not say that
such points of culinary delicacy are of high importance.
I do not say that the communal ideal must give way to them.
What I say is that the communal ideal is not conscious of
their existence, and therefore goes wrong from the very start,
mixing a wholly public thing with a highly individual one.
Perhaps we ought to accept communal kitchens in the social crisis,
just as we should accept communal cat's-meat in a siege.
But the cultured Socialist, quite at his ease, by no means
in a siege, talks about communal kitchens as if they
were the same kind of thing as communal laundries.
This shows at the start that he misunderstands human nature.
It is as different as three men singing the same chorus from
three men playing three tunes on the same piano.
CHESTERTON-WHAT'S WRONG - XII: THE STALENESS OF THE NEW SCHOOLS