Title: The Defendant

Author: G.K. Chesterton

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* * * * *

The 'Defences' of which this volume is composed have appeared in The

Speaker, and are here reprinted, after revision and amplification, by

permission of the Editor. Portions of 'The Defence of Publicity'

appeared in The Daily News.

October, 1901.


The reissue of a series of essays so ephemeral and even superfluous may

seem at the first glance to require some excuse; probably the best

excuse is that they will have been completely forgotten, and therefore

may be read again with entirely new sensations. I am not sure, however,

that this claim is so modest as it sounds, for I fancy that Shakespeare

and Balzac, if moved to prayers, might not ask to be remembered, but to

be forgotten, and forgotten thus; for if they were forgotten they would

be everlastingly re-discovered and re-read. It is a monotonous memory

which keeps us in the main from seeing things as splendid as they are.

The ancients were not wrong when they made Lethe the boundary of a

better land; perhaps the only flaw in their system is that a man who had

bathed in the river of forgetfulness would be as likely as not to climb

back upon the bank of the earth and fancy himself in Elysium.

If, therefore, I am certain that most sensible people have forgotten

the existence of this book--I do not speak in modesty or in pride--I

wish only to state a simple and somewhat beautiful fact. In one respect

the passing of the period during which a book can be considered current

has afflicted me with some melancholy, for I had intended to write

anonymously in some daily paper a thorough and crushing exposure of the

work inspired mostly by a certain artistic impatience of the too

indulgent tone of the critiques and the manner in which a vast number of

my most monstrous fallacies have passed unchallenged. I will not repeat

that powerful article here, for it cannot be necessary to do anything

more than warn the reader against the perfectly indefensible line of

argument adopted at the end of p. 28. I am also conscious that the title

of the book is, strictly speaking, inaccurate. It is a legal metaphor,

and, speaking legally, a defendant is not an enthusiast for the

character of King John or the domestic virtues of the prairie-dog. He is

one who defends himself, a thing which the present writer, however

poisoned his mind may be with paradox, certainly never dreamed of


Criticism upon the book considered as literature, if it can be so

considered, I should, of course, never dream of discussing--firstly,

because it is ridiculous to do so; and, secondly, because there was, in

my opinion, much justice in such criticism.

But there is one matter on which an author is generally considered as

having a right to explain himself, since it has nothing to do with

capacity or intelligence, and that is the question of his morals.

I am proud to say that a furious, uncompromising, and very effective

attack was made upon what was alleged to be the utter immorality of this

book by my excellent friend Mr. C.F.G. Masterman, in the 'Speaker.' The

tendency of that criticism was to the effect that I was discouraging

improvement and disguising scandals by my offensive optimism. Quoting

the passage in which I said that 'diamonds were to be found in the

dust-bin,' he said: 'There is no difficulty in finding good in what

humanity rejects. The difficulty is to find it in what humanity accepts.

The diamond is easy enough to find in the dust-bin. The difficulty is to

find it in the drawing-room.' I must admit, for my part, without the

slightest shame, that I have found a great many very excellent things in

drawing-rooms. For example, I found Mr. Masterman in a drawing-room. But

I merely mention this purely ethical attack in order to state, in as few

sentences as possible, my difference from the theory of optimism and

progress therein enunciated. At first sight it would seem that the

pessimist encourages improvement. But in reality it is a singular truth

that the era in which pessimism has been cried from the house-tops is

also that in which almost all reform has stagnated and fallen into

decay. The reason of this is not difficult to discover. No man ever did,

and no man ever can, create or desire to make a bad thing good or an

ugly thing beautiful. There must be some germ of good to be loved, some

fragment of beauty to be admired. The mother washes and decks out the

dirty or careless child, but no one can ask her to wash and deck out a

goblin with a heart like hell. No one can kill the fatted calf for

Mephistopheles. The cause which is blocking all progress today is the

subtle scepticism which whispers in a million ears that things are not

good enough to be worth improving. If the world is good we are

revolutionaries, if the world is evil we must be conservatives. These

essays, futile as they are considered as serious literature, are yet

ethically sincere, since they seek to remind men that things must be

loved first and improved afterwards.

G. K. C.

* * * * *



In certain endless uplands, uplands like great flats gone dizzy, slopes

that seem to contradict the idea that there is even such a thing as a

level, and make us all realize that we live on a planet with a sloping

roof, you will come from time to time upon whole valleys filled with

loose rocks and boulders, so big as to be like mountains broken loose.

The whole might be an experimental creation shattered and cast away. It

is often difficult to believe that such cosmic refuse can have come

together except by human means. The mildest and most cockney imagination

conceives the place to be the scene of some war of giants. To me it is

always associated with one idea, recurrent and at last instinctive. The

scene was the scene of the stoning of some prehistoric prophet, a

prophet as much more gigantic than after-prophets as the boulders are

more gigantic than the pebbles. He spoke some words--words that seemed

shameful and tremendous--and the world, in terror, buried him under a

wilderness of stones. The place is the monument of an ancient fear.

If we followed the same mood of fancy, it would he more difficult to

imagine what awful hint or wild picture of the universe called forth

that primal persecution, what secret of sensational thought lies buried

under the brutal stones. For in our time the blasphemies are threadbare.

Pessimism is now patently, as it always was essentially, more

commonplace than piety. Profanity is now more than an affectation--it is

a convention. The curse against God is Exercise I. in the primer of

minor poetry. It was not, assuredly, for such babyish solemnities that

our imaginary prophet was stoned in the morning of the world. If we

weigh the matter in the faultless scales of imagination, if we see what

is the real trend of humanity, we shall feel it most probable that he

was stoned for saying that the grass was green and that the birds sang

in spring; for the mission of all the prophets from the beginning has

not been so much the pointing out of heavens or hells as primarily the

pointing out of the earth.

Religion has had to provide that longest and strangest telescope--the

telescope through which we could see the star upon which we dwelt. For

the mind and eyes of the average man this world is as lost as Eden and

as sunken as Atlantis. There runs a strange law through the length of

human history--that men are continually tending to undervalue their

environment, to undervalue their happiness, to undervalue themselves.

The great sin of mankind, the sin typified by the fall of Adam, is the

tendency, not towards pride, but towards this weird and horrible


This is the great fall, the fall by which the fish forgets the sea, the

ox forgets the meadow, the clerk forgets the city, every man forgets his

environment and, in the fullest and most literal sense, forgets himself.

This is the real fall of Adam, and it is a spiritual fall. It is a

strange thing that many truly spiritual men, such as General Gordon,

have actually spent some hours in speculating upon the precise location

of the Garden of Eden. Most probably we are in Eden still. It is only

our eyes that have changed.

The pessimist is commonly spoken of as the man in revolt. He is not.

Firstly, because it requires some cheerfulness to continue in revolt,

and secondly, because pessimism appeals to the weaker side of everybody,

and the pessimist, therefore, drives as roaring a trade as the publican.

The person who is really in revolt is the optimist, who generally lives

and dies in a desperate and suicidal effort to persuade all the other

people how good they are. It has been proved a hundred times over that

if you really wish to enrage people and make them angry, even unto

death, the right way to do it is to tell them that they are all the sons

of God. Jesus Christ was crucified, it may be remembered, not because of

anything he said about God, but on a charge of saying that a man could

in three days pull down and rebuild the Temple. Every one of the great

revolutionists, from Isaiah to Shelley, have been optimists. They have

been indignant, not about the badness of existence, but about the

slowness of men in realizing its goodness. The prophet who is stoned is

not a brawler or a marplot. He is simply a rejected lover. He suffers

from an unrequited attachment to things in general.

It becomes increasingly apparent, therefore, that the world is in a

permanent danger of being misjudged. That this is no fanciful or

mystical idea may be tested by simple examples. The two absolutely basic

words 'good' and 'bad,' descriptive of two primal and inexplicable

sensations, are not, and never have been, used properly. Things that are

bad are not called good by any people who experience them; but things

that are good are called bad by the universal verdict of humanity.

Let me explain a little: Certain things are bad so far as they go, such

as pain, and no one, not even a lunatic, calls a tooth-ache good in

itself; but a knife which cuts clumsily and with difficulty is called a

bad knife, which it certainly is not. It is only not so good as other

knives to which men have grown accustomed. A knife is never bad except

on such rare occasions as that in which it is neatly and scientifically

planted in the middle of one's back. The coarsest and bluntest knife

which ever broke a pencil into pieces instead of sharpening it is a good

thing in so far as it is a knife. It would have appeared a miracle in

the Stone Age. What we call a bad knife is a good knife not good enough

for us; what we call a bad hat is a good hat not good enough for us;

what we call bad cookery is good cookery not good enough for us; what we

call a bad civilization is a good civilization not good enough for us.

We choose to call the great mass of the history of mankind bad, not

because it is bad, but because we are better. This is palpably an unfair

principle. Ivory may not be so white as snow, but the whole Arctic

continent does not make ivory black.

Now it has appeared to me unfair that humanity should be engaged

perpetually in calling all those things bad which have been good enough

to make other things better, in everlastingly kicking down the ladder by

which it has climbed. It has appeared to me that progress should be

something else besides a continual parricide; therefore I have

investigated the dust-heaps of humanity, and found a treasure in all of

them. I have found that humanity is not incidentally engaged, but

eternally and systematically engaged, in throwing gold into the gutter

and diamonds into the sea. I have found that every man is disposed to

call the green leaf of the tree a little less green than it is, and the

snow of Christmas a little less white than it is; therefore I have

imagined that the main business of a man, however humble, is defence. I

have conceived that a defendant is chiefly required when worldlings

despise the world--that a counsel for the defence would not have been

out of place in that terrible day when the sun was darkened over Calvary

and Man was rejected of men.

* * * * *


One of the strangest examples of the degree to which ordinary life is

undervalued is the example of popular literature, the vast mass of which

we contentedly describe as vulgar. The boy's novelette may be ignorant

in a literary sense, which is only like saying that a modern novel is

ignorant in the chemical sense, or the economic sense, or the

astronomical sense; but it is not vulgar intrinsically--it is the actual

centre of a million flaming imaginations.

In former centuries the educated class ignored the ruck of vulgar

literature. They ignored, and therefore did not, properly speaking,

despise it. Simple ignorance and indifference does not inflate the

character with pride. A man does not walk down the street giving a

haughty twirl to his moustaches at the thought of his superiority to

some variety of deep-sea fishes. The old scholars left the whole

under-world of popular compositions in a similar darkness.

To-day, however, we have reversed this principle. We do despise vulgar

compositions, and we do not ignore them. We are in some danger of

becoming petty in our study of pettiness; there is a terrible Circean

law in the background that if the soul stoops too ostentatiously to

examine anything it never gets up again. There is no class of vulgar

publications about which there is, to my mind, more utterly ridiculous

exaggeration and misconception than the current boys' literature of the

lowest stratum. This class of composition has presumably always existed,

and must exist. It has no more claim to be good literature than the

daily conversation of its readers to be fine oratory, or the

lodging-houses and tenements they inhabit to be sublime architecture.

But people must have conversation, they must have houses, and they must

have stories. The simple need for some kind of ideal world in which

fictitious persons play an unhampered part is infinitely deeper and

older than the rules of good art, and much more important. Every one of

us in childhood has constructed such an invisible dramatis personae,

but it never occurred to our nurses to correct the composition by

careful comparison with Balzac. In the East the professional

story-teller goes from village to village with a small carpet; and I

wish sincerely that anyone had the moral courage to spread that carpet

and sit on it in Ludgate Circus. But it is not probable that all the

tales of the carpet-bearer are little gems of original artistic

workmanship. Literature and fiction are two entirely different things.

Literature is a luxury; fiction is a necessity. A work of art can hardly

be too short, for its climax is its merit. A story can never be too

long, for its conclusion is merely to be deplored, like the last

halfpenny or the last pipelight. And so, while the increase of the

artistic conscience tends in more ambitious works to brevity and

impressionism, voluminous industry still marks the producer of the true

romantic trash. There was no end to the ballads of Robin Hood; there is

no end to the volumes about Dick Deadshot and the Avenging Nine. These

two heroes are deliberately conceived as immortal.

But instead of basing all discussion of the problem upon the

common-sense recognition of this fact--that the youth of the lower

orders always has had and always must have formless and endless romantic

reading of some kind, and then going on to make provision for its

wholesomeness--we begin, generally speaking, by fantastic abuse of this

reading as a whole and indignant surprise that the errand-boys under

discussion do not read 'The Egoist' and 'The Master Builder.' It is the

custom, particularly among magistrates, to attribute half the crimes of

the Metropolis to cheap novelettes. If some grimy urchin runs away with

an apple, the magistrate shrewdly points out that the child's knowledge

that apples appease hunger is traceable to some curious literary

researches. The boys themselves, when penitent, frequently accuse the

novelettes with great bitterness, which is only to be expected from

young people possessed of no little native humour. If I had forged a

will, and could obtain sympathy by tracing the incident to the influence

of Mr. George Moore's novels, I should find the greatest entertainment

in the diversion. At any rate, it is firmly fixed in the minds of most

people that gutter-boys, unlike everybody else in the community, find

their principal motives for conduct in printed books.

Now it is quite clear that this objection, the objection brought by

magistrates, has nothing to do with literary merit. Bad story writing is

not a crime. Mr. Hall Caine walks the streets openly, and cannot be put

in prison for an anticlimax. The objection rests upon the theory that

the tone of the mass of boys' novelettes is criminal and degraded,

appealing to low cupidity and low cruelty. This is the magisterial

theory, and this is rubbish.

So far as I have seen them, in connection with the dirtiest book-stalls

in the poorest districts, the facts are simply these: The whole

bewildering mass of vulgar juvenile literature is concerned with

adventures, rambling, disconnected and endless. It does not express any

passion of any sort, for there is no human character of any sort. It

runs eternally in certain grooves of local and historical type: the

medieval knight, the eighteenth-century duellist, and the modern cowboy,

recur with the same stiff simplicity as the conventional human figures

in an Oriental pattern. I can quite as easily imagine a human being

kindling wild appetites by the contemplation of his Turkey carpet as by

such dehumanized and naked narrative as this.

Among these stories there are a certain number which deal

sympathetically with the adventures of robbers, outlaws and pirates,

which present in a dignified and romantic light thieves and murderers

like Dick Turpin and Claude Duval. That is to say, they do precisely the

same thing as Scott's 'Ivanhoe,' Scott's 'Rob Roy,' Scott's 'Lady of

the Lake,' Byron's 'Corsair,' Wordsworth's 'Rob Roy's Grave,'

Stevenson's 'Macaire,' Mr. Max Pemberton's 'Iron Pirate,' and a thousand

more works distributed systematically as prizes and Christmas presents.

Nobody imagines that an admiration of Locksley in 'Ivanhoe' will lead a

boy to shoot Japanese arrows at the deer in Richmond Park; no one thinks

that the incautious opening of Wordsworth at the poem on Rob Roy will

set him up for life as a blackmailer. In the case of our own class, we

recognise that this wild life is contemplated with pleasure by the

young, not because it is like their own life, but because it is

different from it. It might at least cross our minds that, for whatever

other reason the errand-boy reads 'The Red Revenge,' it really is not

because he is dripping with the gore of his own friends and relatives.

In this matter, as in all such matters, we lose our bearings entirely by

speaking of the 'lower classes' when we mean humanity minus ourselves.

This trivial romantic literature is not especially plebeian: it is

simply human. The philanthropist can never forget classes and callings.

He says, with a modest swagger, 'I have invited twenty-five factory

hands to tea.' If he said 'I have invited twenty-five chartered

accountants to tea,' everyone would see the humour of so simple a

classification. But this is what we have done with this lumberland of

foolish writing: we have probed, as if it were some monstrous new

disease, what is, in fact, nothing but the foolish and valiant heart of

man. Ordinary men will always be sentimentalists: for a sentimentalist

is simply a man who has feelings and does not trouble to invent a new

way of expressing them. These common and current publications have

nothing essentially evil about them. They express the sanguine and

heroic truisms on which civilization is built; for it is clear that

unless civilization is built on truisms, it is not built at all.

Clearly, there could be no safety for a society in which the remark by

the Chief Justice that murder was wrong was regarded as an original and

dazzling epigram.

If the authors and publishers of 'Dick Deadshot,' and such remarkable

works, were suddenly to make a raid upon the educated class, were to

take down the names of every man, however distinguished, who was caught

at a University Extension Lecture, were to confiscate all our novels and

warn us all to correct our lives, we should be seriously annoyed. Yet

they have far more right to do so than we; for they, with all their

idiotcy, are normal and we are abnormal. It is the modern literature of

the educated, not of the uneducated, which is avowedly and aggressively

criminal. Books recommending profligacy and pessimism, at which the

high-souled errand-boy would shudder, lie upon all our drawing-room

tables. If the dirtiest old owner of the dirtiest old bookstall in

Whitechapel dared to display works really recommending polygamy or

suicide, his stock would be seized by the police. These things are our

luxuries. And with a hypocrisy so ludicrous as to be almost unparalleled

in history, we rate the gutter-boys for their immorality at the very

time that we are discussing (with equivocal German Professors) whether

morality is valid at all. At the very instant that we curse the Penny

Dreadful for encouraging thefts upon property, we canvass the

proposition that all property is theft. At the very instant we accuse it

(quite unjustly) of lubricity and indecency, we are cheerfully reading

philosophies which glory in lubricity and indecency. At the very instant

that we charge it with encouraging the young to destroy life, we are

placidly discussing whether life is worth preserving.

But it is we who are the morbid exceptions; it is we who are the

criminal class. This should be our great comfort. The vast mass of

humanity, with their vast mass of idle books and idle words, have never

doubted and never will doubt that courage is splendid, that fidelity is

noble, that distressed ladies should be rescued, and vanquished enemies

spared. There are a large number of cultivated persons who doubt these

maxims of daily life, just as there are a large number of persons who

believe they are the Prince of Wales; and I am told that both classes of

people are entertaining conversationalists. But the average man or boy

writes daily in these great gaudy diaries of his soul, which we call

Penny Dreadfuls, a plainer and better gospel than any of those

iridescent ethical paradoxes that the fashionable change as often as

their bonnets. It may be a very limited aim in morality to shoot a

'many-faced and fickle traitor,' but at least it is a better aim than to

be a many-faced and fickle traitor, which is a simple summary of a good

many modern systems from Mr. d'Annunzio's downwards. So long as the

coarse and thin texture of mere current popular romance is not touched

by a paltry culture it will never be vitally immoral. It is always on

the side of life. The poor--the slaves who really stoop under the

burden of life--have often been mad, scatter-brained and cruel, but

never hopeless. That is a class privilege, like cigars. Their drivelling

literature will always be a 'blood and thunder' literature, as simple as

the thunder of heaven and the blood of men.

* * * * *


If a prosperous modern man, with a high hat and a frock-coat, were to

solemnly pledge himself before all his clerks and friends to count the

leaves on every third tree in Holland Walk, to hop up to the City on one

leg every Thursday, to repeat the whole of Mill's 'Liberty' seventy-six

times, to collect 300 dandelions in fields belonging to anyone of the

name of Brown, to remain for thirty-one hours holding his left ear in

his right hand, to sing the names of all his aunts in order of age on

the top of an omnibus, or make any such unusual undertaking, we should

immediately conclude that the man was mad, or, as it is sometimes

expressed, was 'an artist in life.' Yet these vows are not more

extraordinary than the vows which in the Middle Ages and in similar

periods were made, not by fanatics merely, but by the greatest figures

in civic and national civilization--by kings, judges, poets, and

priests. One man swore to chain two mountains together, and the great

chain hung there, it was said, for ages as a monument of that mystical

folly. Another swore that he would find his way to Jerusalem with a

patch over his eyes, and died looking for it. It is not easy to see that

these two exploits, judged from a strictly rational standpoint, are any

saner than the acts above suggested. A mountain is commonly a stationary

and reliable object which it is not necessary to chain up at night like

a dog. And it is not easy at first sight to see that a man pays a very

high compliment to the Holy City by setting out for it under conditions

which render it to the last degree improbable that he will ever get


But about this there is one striking thing to be noticed. If men behaved

in that way in our time, we should, as we have said, regard them as

symbols of the 'decadence.' But the men who did these things were not

decadent; they belonged generally to the most robust classes of what is

generally regarded as a robust age. Again, it will be urged that if men

essentially sane performed such insanities, it was under the capricious

direction of a superstitious religious system. This, again, will not

hold water; for in the purely terrestrial and even sensual departments

of life, such as love and lust, the medieval princes show the same mad

promises and performances, the same misshapen imagination and the same

monstrous self-sacrifice. Here we have a contradiction, to explain which

it is necessary to think of the whole nature of vows from the beginning.

And if we consider seriously and correctly the nature of vows, we shall,

unless I am much mistaken, come to the conclusion that it is perfectly

sane, and even sensible, to swear to chain mountains together, and that,

if insanity is involved at all, it is a little insane not to do so.

The man who makes a vow makes an appointment with himself at some

distant time or place. The danger of it is that himself should not keep

the appointment. And in modern times this terror of one's self, of the

weakness and mutability of one's self, has perilously increased, and is

the real basis of the objection to vows of any kind. A modern man

refrains from swearing to count the leaves on every third tree in

Holland Walk, not because it is silly to do so (he does many sillier

things), but because he has a profound conviction that before he had got

to the three hundred and seventy-ninth leaf on the first tree he would

be excessively tired of the subject and want to go home to tea. In other

words, we fear that by that time he will be, in the common but hideously

significant phrase, another man. Now, it is this horrible fairy tale

of a man constantly changing into other men that is the soul of the

Decadence. That John Paterson should, with apparent calm, look forward

to being a certain General Barker on Monday, Dr. Macgregor on Tuesday,

Sir Walter Carstairs on Wednesday, and Sam Slugg on Thursday, may seem a

nightmare; but to that nightmare we give the name of modern culture. One

great decadent, who is now dead, published a poem some time ago, in

which he powerfully summed up the whole spirit of the movement by

declaring that he could stand in the prison yard and entirely comprehend

the feelings of a man about to be hanged:

'For he that lives more lives than one

More deaths than one must die.'

And the end of all this is that maddening horror of unreality which

descends upon the decadents, and compared with which physical pain

itself would have the freshness of a youthful thing. The one hell which

imagination must conceive as most hellish is to be eternally acting a

play without even the narrowest and dirtiest greenroom in which to be

human. And this is the condition of the decadent, of the aesthete, of

the free-lover. To be everlastingly passing through dangers which we

know cannot scathe us, to be taking oaths which we know cannot bind us,

to be defying enemies who we know cannot conquer us--this is the

grinning tyranny of decadence which is called freedom.

Let us turn, on the other hand, to the maker of vows. The man who made a

vow, however wild, gave a healthy and natural expression to the

greatness of a great moment. He vowed, for example, to chain two

mountains together, perhaps a symbol of some great relief, or love, or

aspiration. Short as the moment of his resolve might be, it was, like

all great moments, a moment of immortality, and the desire to say of it

exegi monumentum oere perennius was the only sentiment that would

satisfy his mind. The modern aesthetic man would, of course, easily see

the emotional opportunity; he would vow to chain two mountains together.

But, then, he would quite as cheerfully vow to chain the earth to the

moon. And the withering consciousness that he did not mean what he said,

that he was, in truth, saying nothing of any great import, would take

from him exactly that sense of daring actuality which is the excitement

of a vow. For what could be more maddening than an existence in which

our mother or aunt received the information that we were going to

assassinate the King or build a temple on Ben Nevis with the genial

composure of custom?

The revolt against vows has been carried in our day even to the extent

of a revolt against the typical vow of marriage. It is most amusing to

listen to the opponents of marriage on this subject. They appear to

imagine that the ideal of constancy was a yoke mysteriously imposed on

mankind by the devil, instead of being, as it is, a yoke consistently

imposed by all lovers on themselves. They have invented a

phrase, a phrase that is a black and white contradiction in two

words--'free-love'--as if a lover ever had been, or ever could be, free.

It is the nature of love to bind itself, and the institution of marriage

merely paid the average man the compliment of taking him at his word.

Modern sages offer to the lover, with an ill-flavoured grin, the largest

liberties and the fullest irresponsibility; but they do not respect him

as the old Church respected him; they do not write his oath upon the

heavens, as the record of his highest moment. They give him every

liberty except the liberty to sell his liberty, which is the only one

that he wants.

In Mr. Bernard Shaw's brilliant play 'The Philanderer,' we have a vivid

picture of this state of things. Charteris is a man perpetually

endeavouring to be a free-lover, which is like endeavouring to be a

married bachelor or a white negro. He is wandering in a hungry search

for a certain exhilaration which he can only have when he has the

courage to cease from wandering. Men knew better than this in old

times--in the time, for example, of Shakespeare's heroes. When

Shakespeare's men are really celibate they praise the undoubted

advantages of celibacy, liberty, irresponsibility, a chance of continual

change. But they were not such fools as to continue to talk of liberty

when they were in such a condition that they could be made happy or

miserable by the moving of someone else's eyebrow. Suckling classes love

with debt in his praise of freedom.

'And he that's fairly out of both

Of all the world is blest.

He lives as in the golden age,

When all things made were common;

He takes his pipe, he takes his glass,

He fears no man or woman.'

This is a perfectly possible, rational and manly position. But what have

lovers to do with ridiculous affectations of fearing no man or woman?

They know that in the turning of a hand the whole cosmic engine to the

remotest star may become an instrument of music or an instrument of

torture. They hear a song older than Suckling's, that has survived a

hundred philosophies. 'Who is this that looketh out of the window, fair

as the sun, clear as the moon, terrible as an army with banners?'

As we have said, it is exactly this backdoor, this sense of having a

retreat behind us, that is, to our minds, the sterilizing spirit in

modern pleasure. Everywhere there is the persistent and insane attempt

to obtain pleasure without paying for it. Thus, in politics the modern

Jingoes practically say, 'Let us have the pleasures of conquerors

without the pains of soldiers: let us sit on sofas and be a hardy race.'

Thus, in religion and morals, the decadent mystics say: 'Let us have the

fragrance of sacred purity without the sorrows of self-restraint; let us

sing hymns alternately to the Virgin and Priapus.' Thus in love the

free-lovers say: 'Let us have the splendour of offering ourselves

without the peril of committing ourselves; let us see whether one cannot

commit suicide an unlimited number of times.'

Emphatically it will not work. There are thrilling moments, doubtless,

for the spectator, the amateur, and the aesthete; but there is one

thrill that is known only to the soldier who fights for his own flag, to

the ascetic who starves himself for his own illumination, to the lover

who makes finally his own choice. And it is this transfiguring

self-discipline that makes the vow a truly sane thing. It must have

satisfied even the giant hunger of the soul of a lover or a poet to know

that in consequence of some one instant of decision that strange chain

would hang for centuries in the Alps among the silences of stars and

snows. All around us is the city of small sins, abounding in backways

and retreats, but surely, sooner or later, the towering flame will rise

from the harbour announcing that the reign of the cowards is over and a

man is burning his ships.

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