There are some things of which the world does not like to be reminded,

for they are the dead loves of the world. One of these is that great

enthusiasm for the Arcadian life which, however much it may now lie open

to the sneers of realism, did, beyond all question, hold sway for an

enormous period of the world's history, from the times that we describe

as ancient down to times that may fairly be called recent. The

conception of the innocent and hilarious life of shepherds and

shepherdesses certainly covered and absorbed the time of Theocritus, of

Virgil, of Catullus, of Dante, of Cervantes, of Ariosto, of Shakespeare,

and of Pope. We are told that the gods of the heathen were stone and

brass, but stone and brass have never endured with the long endurance of

the China Shepherdess. The Catholic Church and the Ideal Shepherd are

indeed almost the only things that have bridged the abyss between the

ancient world and the modern. Yet, as we say, the world does not like

to be reminded of this boyish enthusiasm.

But imagination, the function of the historian, cannot let so great an

element alone. By the cheap revolutionary it is commonly supposed that

imagination is a merely rebellious thing, that it has its chief function

in devising new and fantastic republics. But imagination has its highest

use in a retrospective realization. The trumpet of imagination, like the

trumpet of the Resurrection, calls the dead out of their graves.

Imagination sees Delphi with the eyes of a Greek, Jerusalem with the

eyes of a Crusader, Paris with the eyes of a Jacobin, and Arcadia with

the eyes of a Euphuist. The prime function of imagination is to see our

whole orderly system of life as a pile of stratified revolutions. In

spite of all revolutionaries it must be said that the function of

imagination is not to make strange things settled, so much as to make

settled things strange; not so much to make wonders facts as to make

facts wonders. To the imaginative the truisms are all paradoxes, since

they were paradoxes in the Stone Age; to them the ordinary copy-book

blazes with blasphemy.

Let us, then, consider in this light the old pastoral or Arcadian ideal.

But first certainly one thing must be definitely recognised. This

Arcadian art and literature is a lost enthusiasm. To study it is like

fumbling in the love-letters of a dead man. To us its flowers seem as

tawdry as cockades; the lambs that dance to the shepherd's pipe seem to

dance with all the artificiality of a ballet. Even our own prosaic toil

seems to us more joyous than that holiday. Where its ancient exuberance

passed the bounds of wisdom and even of virtue, its caperings seem

frozen into the stillness of an antique frieze. In those gray old

pictures a bacchanal seems as dull as an archdeacon. Their very sins

seem colder than our restraints.

All this may be frankly recognised: all the barren sentimentality of the

Arcadian ideal and all its insolent optimism. But when all is said and

done, something else remains.

Through ages in which the most arrogant and elaborate ideals of power

and civilization held otherwise undisputed sway, the ideal of the

perfect and healthy peasant did undoubtedly represent in some shape or

form the conception that there was a dignity in simplicity and a dignity

in labour. It was good for the ancient aristocrat, even if he could not

attain to innocence and the wisdom of the earth, to believe that these

things were the secrets of the priesthood of the poor. It was good for

him to believe that even if heaven was not above him, heaven was below

him. It was well that he should have amid all his flamboyant triumphs

the never-extinguished sentiment that there was something better than

his triumphs, the conception that 'there remaineth a rest.'

The conception of the Ideal Shepherd seems absurd to our modern ideas.

But, after all, it was perhaps the only trade of the democracy which was

equalized with the trades of the aristocracy even by the aristocracy

itself. The shepherd of pastoral poetry was, without doubt, very

different from the shepherd of actual fact. Where one innocently piped

to his lambs, the other innocently swore at them; and their divergence

in intellect and personal cleanliness was immense. But the difference

between the ideal shepherd who danced with Amaryllis and the real

shepherd who thrashed her is not a scrap greater than the difference

between the ideal soldier who dies to capture the colours and the real

soldier who lives to clean his accoutrements, between the ideal priest

who is everlastingly by someone's bed and the real priest who is as glad

as anyone else to get to his own. There are ideal conceptions and real

men in every calling; yet there are few who object to the ideal

conceptions, and not many, after all, who object to the real men.

The fact, then, is this: So far from resenting the existence in art and

literature of an ideal shepherd, I genuinely regret that the shepherd is

the only democratic calling that has ever been raised to the level of

the heroic callings conceived by an aristocratic age. So far from

objecting to the Ideal Shepherd, I wish there were an Ideal Postman, an

Ideal Grocer, and an Ideal Plumber. It is undoubtedly true that we

should laugh at the idea of an Ideal Postman; it is true, and it proves

that we are not genuine democrats.

Undoubtedly the modern grocer, if called upon to act in an Arcadian

manner, if desired to oblige with a symbolic dance expressive of the

delights of grocery, or to perform on some simple instrument while his

assistants skipped around him, would be embarrassed, and perhaps even

reluctant. But it may be questioned whether this temporary reluctance of

the grocer is a good thing, or evidence of a good condition of poetic

feeling in the grocery business as a whole. There certainly should be an

ideal image of health and happiness in any trade, and its remoteness

from the reality is not the only important question. No one supposes

that the mass of traditional conceptions of duty and glory are always

operative, for example, in the mind of a soldier or a doctor; that the

Battle of Waterloo actually makes a private enjoy pipeclaying his

trousers, or that the 'health of humanity' softens the momentary

phraseology of a physician called out of bed at two o'clock in the

morning. But although no ideal obliterates the ugly drudgery and detail

of any calling, that ideal does, in the case of the soldier or the

doctor, exist definitely in the background and makes that drudgery worth

while as a whole. It is a serious calamity that no such ideal exists in

the case of the vast number of honourable trades and crafts on which the

existence of a modern city depends. It is a pity that current thought

and sentiment offer nothing corresponding to the old conception of

patron saints. If they did there would be a Patron Saint of Plumbers,

and this would alone be a revolution, for it would force the individual

craftsman to believe that there was once a perfect being who did

actually plumb.

When all is said and done, then, we think it much open to question

whether the world has not lost something in the complete disappearance

of the ideal of the happy peasant. It is foolish enough to suppose that

the rustic went about all over ribbons, but it is better than knowing

that he goes about all over rags and being indifferent to the fact. The

modern realistic study of the poor does in reality lead the student

further astray than the old idyllic notion. For we cannot get the

chiaroscuro of humble life so long as its virtues seem to us as gross as

its vices and its joys as sullen as its sorrows. Probably at the very

moment that we can see nothing but a dull-faced man smoking and drinking

heavily with his friend in a pot-house, the man himself is on his soul's

holiday, crowned with the flowers of a passionate idleness, and far more

like the Happy Peasant than the world will ever know.

* * * * *


It is natural and proper enough that the masses of explosive ammunition

stored up in detective stories and the replete and solid sweet-stuff

shops which are called sentimental novelettes should be popular with the

ordinary customer. It is not difficult to realize that all of us,

ignorant or cultivated, are primarily interested in murder and

love-making. The really extraordinary thing is that the most appalling

fictions are not actually so popular as that literature which deals with

the most undisputed and depressing facts. Men are not apparently so

interested in murder and love-making as they are in the number of

different forms of latchkey which exist in London or the time that it

would take a grasshopper to jump from Cairo to the Cape. The enormous

mass of fatuous and useless truth which fills the most widely-circulated

papers, such as Tit-Bits, Science Siftings, and many of the

illustrated magazines, is certainly one of the most extraordinary kinds

of emotional and mental pabulum on which man ever fed. It is almost

incredible that these preposterous statistics should actually be more

popular than the most blood-curdling mysteries and the most luxurious

debauches of sentiment. To imagine it is like imagining the humorous

passages in Bradshaw's Railway Guide read aloud on winter evenings. It

is like conceiving a man unable to put down an advertisement of Mother

Seigel's Syrup because he wished to know what eventually happened to the

young man who was extremely ill at Edinburgh. In the case of cheap

detective stories and cheap novelettes, we can most of us feel, whatever

our degree of education, that it might be possible to read them if we

gave full indulgence to a lower and more facile part of our natures; at

the worst we feel that we might enjoy them as we might enjoy

bull-baiting or getting drunk. But the literature of information is

absolutely mysterious to us. We can no more think of amusing ourselves

with it than of reading whole pages of a Surbiton local directory. To

read such things would not be a piece of vulgar indulgence; it would be

a highly arduous and meritorious enterprise. It is this fact which

constitutes a profound and almost unfathomable interest in this

particular branch of popular literature.

Primarily, at least, there is one rather peculiar thing which must in

justice be said about it. The readers of this strange science must be

allowed to be, upon the whole, as disinterested as a prophet seeing

visions or a child reading fairy-tales. Here, again, we find, as we so

often do, that whatever view of this matter of popular literature we can

trust, we can trust least of all the comment and censure current among

the vulgar educated. The ordinary version of the ground of this

popularity for information, which would be given by a person of greater

cultivation, would be that common men are chiefly interested in those

sordid facts that surround them on every side. A very small degree of

examination will show us that whatever ground there is for the

popularity of these insane encyclopaedias, it cannot be the ground of

utility. The version of life given by a penny novelette may be very

moonstruck and unreliable, but it is at least more likely to contain

facts relevant to daily life than compilations on the subject of the

number of cows' tails that would reach the North Pole. There are many

more people who are in love than there are people who have any

intention of counting or collecting cows' tails. It is evident to me

that the grounds of this widespread madness of information for

information's sake must be sought in other and deeper parts of human

nature than those daily needs which lie so near the surface that even

social philosophers have discovered them somewhere in that profound and

eternal instinct for enthusiasm and minding other people's business

which made great popular movements like the Crusades or the Gordon


I once had the pleasure of knowing a man who actually talked in private

life after the manner of these papers. His conversation consisted of

fragmentary statements about height and weight and depth and time and

population, and his conversation was a nightmare of dulness. During the

shortest pause he would ask whether his interlocutors were aware how

many tons of rust were scraped every year off the Menai Bridge, and how

many rival shops Mr. Whiteley had bought up since he opened his

business. The attitude of his acquaintances towards this inexhaustible

entertainer varied according to his presence or absence between

indifference and terror. It was frightful to think of a man's brain

being stocked with such inexpressibly profitless treasures. It was like

visiting some imposing British Museum and finding its galleries and

glass cases filled with specimens of London mud, of common mortar, of

broken walking-sticks and cheap tobacco. Years afterwards I discovered

that this intolerable prosaic bore had been, in fact, a poet. I learnt

that every item of this multitudinous information was totally and

unblushingly untrue, that for all I knew he had made it up as he went

along; that no tons of rust are scraped off the Menai Bridge, and that

the rival tradesmen and Mr. Whiteley were creatures of the poet's brain.

Instantly I conceived consuming respect for the man who was so

circumstantial, so monotonous, so entirely purposeless a liar. With him

it must have been a case of art for art's sake. The joke sustained so

gravely through a respected lifetime was of that order of joke which is

shared with omniscience. But what struck me more cogently upon

reflection was the fact that these immeasurable trivialities, which had

struck me as utterly vulgar and arid when I thought they were true,

immediately became picturesque and almost brilliant when I thought they

were inventions of the human fancy. And here, as it seems to me, I laid

my finger upon a fundamental quality of the cultivated class which

prevents it, and will, perhaps, always prevent it from seeing with the

eyes of popular imagination. The merely educated can scarcely ever be

brought to believe that this world is itself an interesting place. When

they look at a work of art, good or bad, they expect to be interested,

but when they look at a newspaper advertisement or a group in the

street, they do not, properly and literally speaking, expect to be

interested. But to common and simple people this world is a work of art,

though it is, like many great works of art, anonymous. They look to life

for interest with the same kind of cheerful and uneradicable assurance

with which we look for interest at a comedy for which we have paid money

at the door. To the eyes of the ultimate school of contemporary

fastidiousness, the universe is indeed an ill-drawn and over-coloured

picture, the scrawlings in circles of a baby upon the slate of night;

its starry skies are a vulgar pattern which they would not have for a

wallpaper, its flowers and fruits have a cockney brilliancy, like the

holiday hat of a flower-girl. Hence, degraded by art to its own level,

they have lost altogether that primitive and typical taste of man--the

taste for news. By this essential taste for news, I mean the pleasure in

hearing the mere fact that a man has died at the age of 110 in South

Wales, or that the horses ran away at a funeral in San Francisco. Large

masses of the early faiths and politics of the world, numbers of the

miracles and heroic anecdotes, are based primarily upon this love of

something that has just happened, this divine institution of gossip.

When Christianity was named the good news, it spread rapidly, not only

because it was good, but also because it was news. So it is that if any

of us have ever spoken to a navvy in a train about the daily paper, we

have generally found the navvy interested, not in those struggles of

Parliaments and trades unions which sometimes are, and are always

supposed to be, for his benefit; but in the fact that an unusually large

whale has been washed up on the coast of Orkney, or that some leading

millionaire like Mr. Harmsworth is reported to break a hundred pipes a

year. The educated classes, cloyed and demoralized with the mere

indulgence of art and mood, can no longer understand the idle and

splendid disinterestedness of the reader of Pearson's Weekly. He still

keeps something of that feeling which should be the birthright of

men--the feeling that this planet is like a new house into which we have

just moved our baggage. Any detail of it has a value, and, with a truly

sportsmanlike instinct, the average man takes most pleasure in the

details which are most complicated, irrelevant, and at once difficult

and useless to discover. Those parts of the newspaper which announce the

giant gooseberry and the raining frogs are really the modern

representatives of the popular tendency which produced the hydra and the

werewolf and the dog-headed men. Folk in the Middle Ages were not

interested in a dragon or a glimpse of the devil because they thought

that it was a beautiful prose idyll, but because they thought that it

had really just been seen. It was not like so much artistic literature,

a refuge indicating the dulness of the world: it was an incident

pointedly illustrating the fecund poetry of the world.

That much can be said, and is said, against the literature of

information, I do not for a moment deny. It is shapeless, it is trivial,

it may give an unreal air of knowledge, it unquestionably lies along

with the rest of popular literature under the general indictment that it

may spoil the chance of better work, certainly by wasting time, possibly

by ruining taste. But these obvious objections are the objections which

we hear so persistently from everyone that one cannot help wondering

where the papers in question procure their myriads of readers. The

natural necessity and natural good underlying such crude institutions is

far less often a subject of speculation; yet the healthy hungers which

lie at the back of the habits of modern democracy are surely worthy of

the same sympathetic study that we give to the dogmas of the fanatics

long dethroned and the intrigues of commonwealths long obliterated from

the earth. And this is the base and consideration which I have to offer:

that perhaps the taste for shreds and patches of journalistic science

and history is not, as is continually asserted, the vulgar and senile

curiosity of a people that has grown old, but simply the babyish and

indiscriminate curiosity of a people still young and entering history

for the first time. In other words, I suggest that they only tell each

other in magazines the same kind of stories of commonplace portents and

conventional eccentricities which, in any case, they would tell each

other in taverns. Science itself is only the exaggeration and

specialization of this thirst for useless fact, which is the mark of the

youth of man. But science has become strangely separated from the mere

news and scandal of flowers and birds; men have ceased to see that a

pterodactyl was as fresh and natural as a flower, that a flower is as

monstrous as a pterodactyl. The rebuilding of this bridge between

science and human nature is one of the greatest needs of mankind. We

have all to show that before we go on to any visions or creations we can

be contented with a planet of miracles.

* * * * *


The modern view of heraldry is pretty accurately represented by the

words of the famous barrister who, after cross-examining for some time a

venerable dignitary of Heralds' College, summed up his results in the

remark that 'the silly old man didn't even understand his own silly old


Heraldry properly so called was, of course, a wholly limited and

aristocratic thing, but the remark needs a kind of qualification not

commonly realized. In a sense there was a plebeian heraldry, since every

shop was, like every castle, distinguished not by a name, but a sign.

The whole system dates from a time when picture-writing still really

ruled the world. In those days few could read or write; they signed

their names with a pictorial symbol, a cross--and a cross is a great

improvement on most men's names.

Now, there is something to be said for the peculiar influence of

pictorial symbols on men's minds. All letters, we learn, were originally

pictorial and heraldic: thus the letter A is the portrait of an ox, but

the portrait is now reproduced in so impressionist a manner that but

little of the rural atmosphere can be absorbed by contemplating it. But

as long as some pictorial and poetic quality remains in the symbol, the

constant use of it must do something for the aesthetic education of

those employing it. Public-houses are now almost the only shops that use

the ancient signs, and the mysterious attraction which they exercise may

be (by the optimistic) explained in this manner. There are taverns with

names so dreamlike and exquisite that even Sir Wilfrid Lawson might

waver on the threshold for a moment, suffering the poet to struggle with

the moralist. So it was with the heraldic images. It is impossible to

believe that the red lion of Scotland acted upon those employing it

merely as a naked convenience like a number or a letter; it is

impossible to believe that the Kings of Scotland would have cheerfully

accepted the substitute of a pig or a frog. There are, as we say,

certain real advantages in pictorial symbols, and one of them is that

everything that is pictorial suggests, without naming or defining. There

is a road from the eye to the heart that does not go through the

intellect. Men do not quarrel about the meaning of sunsets; they never

dispute that the hawthorn says the best and wittiest thing about the


Thus in the old aristocratic days there existed this vast pictorial

symbolism of all the colours and degrees of aristocracy. When the great

trumpet of equality was blown, almost immediately afterwards was made

one of the greatest blunders in the history of mankind. For all this

pride and vivacity, all these towering symbols and flamboyant colours,

should have been extended to mankind. The tobacconist should have had a

crest, and the cheesemonger a war-cry. The grocer who sold margarine as

butter should have felt that there was a stain on the escutcheon of the

Higginses. Instead of doing this, the democrats made the appalling

mistake--a mistake at the root of the whole modern malady--of decreasing

the human magnificence of the past instead of increasing it. They did

not say, as they should have done, to the common citizen, 'You are as

good as the Duke of Norfolk,' but used that meaner democratic formula,

'The Duke of Norfolk is no better than you are.'

For it cannot be denied that the world lost something finally and most

unfortunately about the beginning of the nineteenth century. In former

times the mass of the people was conceived as mean and commonplace, but

only as comparatively mean and commonplace; they were dwarfed and

eclipsed by certain high stations and splendid callings. But with the

Victorian era came a principle which conceived men not as comparatively,

but as positively, mean and commonplace. A man of any station was

represented as being by nature a dingy and trivial person--a person

born, as it were, in a black hat. It began to be thought that it was

ridiculous for a man to wear beautiful garments, instead of it

being--as, of course, it is--ridiculous for him to deliberately wear

ugly ones. It was considered affected for a man to speak bold and heroic

words, whereas, of course, it is emotional speech which is natural, and

ordinary civil speech which is affected. The whole relations of beauty

and ugliness, of dignity and ignominy were turned upside down. Beauty

became an extravagance, as if top-hats and umbrellas were not the real

extravagance--a landscape from the land of the goblins. Dignity became a

form of foolery and shamelessness, as if the very essence of a fool were

not a lack of dignity. And the consequence is that it is practically

most difficult to propose any decoration or public dignity for modern

men without making them laugh. They laugh at the idea of carrying

crests and coats-of-arms instead of laughing at their own boots and

neckties. We are forbidden to say that tradesmen should have a poetry of

their own, although there is nothing so poetical as trade. A grocer

should have a coat-of-arms worthy of his strange merchandise gathered

from distant and fantastic lands; a postman should have a coat-of-arms

capable of expressing the strange honour and responsibility of the man

who carries men's souls in a bag; the chemist should have a coat-of-arms

symbolizing something of the mysteries of the house of healing, the

cavern of a merciful witchcraft.

There were in the French Revolution a class of people at whom everybody

laughed, and at whom it was probably difficult, as a practical matter,

to refrain from laughing. They attempted to erect, by means of huge

wooden statues and brand-new festivals, the most extraordinary new

religions. They adored the Goddess of Reason, who would appear, even

when the fullest allowance has been made for their many virtues, to be

the deity who had least smiled upon them. But these capering maniacs,

disowned alike by the old world and the new, were men who had seen a

great truth unknown alike to the new world and the old. They had seen

the thing that was hidden from the wise and understanding, from the

whole modern democratic civilization down to the present time. They

realized that democracy must have a heraldry, that it must have a proud

and high-coloured pageantry, if it is to keep always before its own mind

its own sublime mission. Unfortunately for this ideal, the world has in

this matter followed English democracy rather than French; and those who

look back to the nineteenth century will assuredly look back to it as we

look back to the reign of the Puritans, as the time of black coats and

black tempers. From the strange life the men of that time led, they

might be assisting at the funeral of liberty instead of at its

christening. The moment we really believe in democracy, it will begin to

blossom, as aristocracy blossomed, into symbolic colours and shapes. We

shall never make anything of democracy until we make fools of ourselves.

For if a man really cannot make a fool of himself, we may be quite

certain that the effort is superfluous.

* * * * *


There are some people who state that the exterior, sex, or physique of

another person is indifferent to them, that they care only for the

communion of mind with mind; but these people need not detain us. There

are some statements that no one ever thinks of believing, however often

they are made.

But while nothing in this world would persuade us that a great friend of

Mr. Forbes Robertson, let us say, would experience no surprise or

discomfort at seeing him enter the room in the bodily form of Mr.

Chaplin, there is a confusion constantly made between being attracted by

exterior, which is natural and universal, and being attracted by what is

called physical beauty, which is not entirely natural and not in the

least universal. Or rather, to speak more strictly, the conception of

physical beauty has been narrowed to mean a certain kind of physical

beauty which no more exhausts the possibilities of external

attractiveness than the respectability of a Clapham builder exhausts

the possibilities of moral attractiveness.

The tyrants and deceivers of mankind in this matter have been the

Greeks. All their splendid work for civilization ought not to have

wholly blinded us to the fact of their great and terrible sin against

the variety of life. It is a remarkable fact that while the Jews have

long ago been rebelled against and accused of blighting the world with a

stringent and one-sided ethical standard, nobody has noticed that the

Greeks have committed us to an infinitely more horrible asceticism--an

asceticism of the fancy, a worship of one aesthetic type alone. Jewish

severity had at least common-sense as its basis; it recognised that men

lived in a world of fact, and that if a man married within the degrees

of blood certain consequences might follow. But they did not starve

their instinct for contrasts and combinations; their prophets gave two

wings to the ox and any number of eyes to the cherubim with all the

riotous ingenuity of Lewis Carroll. But the Greeks carried their police

regulation into elfland; they vetoed not the actual adulteries of the

earth but the wild weddings of ideas, and forbade the banns of thought.

It is extraordinary to watch the gradual emasculation of the monsters

of Greek myth under the pestilent influence of the Apollo Belvedere. The

chimaera was a creature of whom any healthy-minded people would have

been proud; but when we see it in Greek pictures we feel inclined to tie

a ribbon round its neck and give it a saucer of milk. Who ever feels

that the giants in Greek art and poetry were really big--big as some

folk-lore giants have been? In some Scandinavian story a hero walks for

miles along a mountain ridge, which eventually turns out to be the

bridge of the giant's nose. That is what we should call, with a calm

conscience, a large giant. But this earthquake fancy terrified the

Greeks, and their terror has terrified all mankind out of their natural

love of size, vitality, variety, energy, ugliness. Nature intended every

human face, so long as it was forcible, individual, and expressive, to

be regarded as distinct from all others, as a poplar is distinct from an

oak, and an apple-tree from a willow. But what the Dutch gardeners did

for trees the Greeks did for the human form; they lopped away its living

and sprawling features to give it a certain academic shape; they hacked

off noses and pared down chins with a ghastly horticultural calm. And

they have really succeeded so far as to make us call some of the most

powerful and endearing faces ugly, and some of the most silly and

repulsive faces beautiful. This disgraceful via media, this pitiful

sense of dignity, has bitten far deeper into the soul of modern

civilization than the external and practical Puritanism of Israel. The

Jew at the worst told a man to dance in fetters; the Greek put an

exquisite vase upon his head and told him not to move.

Scripture says that one star differeth from another in glory, and the

same conception applies to noses. To insist that one type of face is

ugly because it differs from that of the Venus of Milo is to look at it

entirely in a misleading light. It is strange that we should resent

people differing from ourselves; we should resent much more violently

their resembling ourselves. This principle has made a sufficient hash of

literary criticism, in which it is always the custom to complain of the

lack of sound logic in a fairy tale, and the entire absence of true

oratorical power in a three-act farce. But to call another man's face

ugly because it powerfully expresses another man's soul is like

complaining that a cabbage has not two legs. If we did so, the only

course for the cabbage would be to point out with severity, but with

some show of truth, that we were not a beautiful green all over.

But this frigid theory of the beautiful has not succeeded in conquering

the art of the world, except in name. In some quarters, indeed, it has

never held sway. A glance at Chinese dragons or Japanese gods will show

how independent are Orientals of the conventional idea of facial and

bodily regularity, and how keen and fiery is their enjoyment of real

beauty, of goggle eyes, of sprawling claws, of gaping mouths and

writhing coils. In the Middle Ages men broke away from the Greek

standard of beauty, and lifted up in adoration to heaven great towers,

which seemed alive with dancing apes and devils. In the full summer of

technical artistic perfection the revolt was carried to its real

consummation in the study of the faces of men. Rembrandt declared the

sane and manly gospel that a man was dignified, not when he was like a

Greek god, but when he had a strong, square nose like a cudgel, a

boldly-blocked head like a helmet, and a jaw like a steel trap.

This branch of art is commonly dismissed as the grotesque. We have never

been able to understand why it should be humiliating to be laughable,

since it is giving an elevated artistic pleasure to others. If a

gentleman who saw us in the street were suddenly to burst into tears at

the mere thought of our existence, it might be considered disquieting

and uncomplimentary; but laughter is not uncomplimentary. In truth,

however, the phrase 'grotesque' is a misleading description of ugliness

in art. It does not follow that either the Chinese dragons or the Gothic

gargoyles or the goblinish old women of Rembrandt were in the least

intended to be comic. Their extravagance was not the extravagance of

satire, but simply the extravagance of vitality; and here lies the whole

key of the place of ugliness in aesthetics. We like to see a crag jut

out in shameless decision from the cliff, we like to see the red pines

stand up hardily upon a high cliff, we like to see a chasm cloven from

end to end of a mountain. With equally noble enthusiasm we like to see a

nose jut out decisively, we like to see the red hair of a friend stand

up hardily in bristles upon his head, we like to see his mouth broad and

clean cut like the mountain crevasse. At least some of us like all this;

it is not a question of humour. We do not burst with amusement at the

first sight of the pines or the chasm; but we like them because they are

expressive of the dramatic stillness of Nature, her bold experiments,

her definite departures, her fearlessness and savage pride in her

children. The moment we have snapped the spell of conventional beauty,

there are a million beautiful faces waiting for us everywhere, just as

there are a million beautiful spirits.

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