Some little time ago I stood among immemorial English trees that seemed

to take hold upon the stars like a brood of Ygdrasils. As I walked among

these living pillars I became gradually aware that the rustics who lived

and died in their shadow adopted a very curious conversational tone.

They seemed to be constantly apologizing for the trees, as if they were

a very poor show. After elaborate investigation, I discovered that their

gloomy and penitent tone was traceable to the fact that it was winter

and all the trees were bare. I assured them that I did not resent the

fact that it was winter, that I knew the thing had happened before, and

that no forethought on their part could have averted this blow of

destiny. But I could not in any way reconcile them to the fact that it

was winter. There was evidently a general feeling that I had caught

the trees in a kind of disgraceful deshabille, and that they ought not

to be seen until, like the first human sinners, they had covered

themselves with leaves. So it is quite clear that, while very few

people appear to know anything of how trees look in winter, the actual

foresters know less than anyone. So far from the line of the tree when

it is bare appearing harsh and severe, it is luxuriantly indefinable to

an unusual degree; the fringe of the forest melts away like a vignette.

The tops of two or three high trees when they are leafless are so soft

that they seem like the gigantic brooms of that fabulous lady who was

sweeping the cobwebs off the sky. The outline of a leafy forest is in

comparison hard, gross and blotchy; the clouds of night do not more

certainly obscure the moon than those green and monstrous clouds obscure

the tree; the actual sight of the little wood, with its gray and silver

sea of life, is entirely a winter vision. So dim and delicate is the

heart of the winter woods, a kind of glittering gloaming, that a figure

stepping towards us in the chequered twilight seems as if he were

breaking through unfathomable depths of spiders' webs.

But surely the idea that its leaves are the chief grace of a tree is a

vulgar one, on a par with the idea that his hair is the chief grace of a

pianist. When winter, that healthy ascetic, carries his gigantic razor

over hill and valley, and shaves all the trees like monks, we feel

surely that they are all the more like trees if they are shorn, just as

so many painters and musicians would be all the more like men if they

were less like mops. But it does appear to be a deep and essential

difficulty that men have an abiding terror of their own structure, or of

the structure of things they love. This is felt dimly in the skeleton of

the tree: it is felt profoundly in the skeleton of the man.

The importance of the human skeleton is very great, and the horror with

which it is commonly regarded is somewhat mysterious. Without claiming

for the human skeleton a wholly conventional beauty, we may assert that

he is certainly not uglier than a bull-dog, whose popularity never

wanes, and that he has a vastly more cheerful and ingratiating

expression. But just as man is mysteriously ashamed of the skeletons of

the trees in winter, so he is mysteriously ashamed of the skeleton of

himself in death. It is a singular thing altogether, this horror of the

architecture of things. One would think it would be most unwise in a man

to be afraid of a skeleton, since Nature has set curious and quite

insuperable obstacles to his running away from it.

One ground exists for this terror: a strange idea has infected humanity

that the skeleton is typical of death. A man might as well say that a

factory chimney was typical of bankruptcy. The factory may be left naked

after ruin, the skeleton may be left naked after bodily dissolution; but

both of them have had a lively and workmanlike life of their own, all

the pulleys creaking, all the wheels turning, in the House of Livelihood

as in the House of Life. There is no reason why this creature (new, as I

fancy, to art), the living skeleton, should not become the essential

symbol of life.

The truth is that man's horror of the skeleton is not horror of death at

all. It is man's eccentric glory that he has not, generally speaking,

any objection to being dead, but has a very serious objection to being

undignified. And the fundamental matter which troubles him in the

skeleton is the reminder that the ground-plan of his appearance is

shamelessly grotesque. I do not know why he should object to this. He

contentedly takes his place in a world that does not pretend to be

genteel--a laughing, working, jeering world. He sees millions of animals

carrying, with quite a dandified levity, the most monstrous shapes and

appendages, the most preposterous horns, wings, and legs, when they are

necessary to utility. He sees the good temper of the frog, the

unaccountable happiness of the hippopotamus. He sees a whole universe

which is ridiculous, from the animalcule, with a head too big for its

body, up to the comet, with a tail too big for its head. But when it

comes to the delightful oddity of his own inside, his sense of humour

rather abruptly deserts him.

In the Middle Ages and in the Renaissance (which was, in certain times

and respects, a much gloomier period) this idea of the skeleton had a

vast influence in freezing the pride out of all earthly pomps and the

fragrance out of all fleeting pleasures. But it was not, surely, the

mere dread of death that did this, for these were ages in which men went

to meet death singing; it was the idea of the degradation of man in the

grinning ugliness of his structure that withered the juvenile insolence

of beauty and pride. And in this it almost assuredly did more good than

harm. There is nothing so cold or so pitiless as youth, and youth in

aristocratic stations and ages tended to an impeccable dignity, an

endless summer of success which needed to be very sharply reminded of

the scorn of the stars. It was well that such flamboyant prigs should be

convinced that one practical joke, at least, would bowl them over, that

they would fall into one grinning man-trap, and not rise again. That the

whole structure of their existence was as wholesomely ridiculous as that

of a pig or a parrot they could not be expected to realize; that birth

was humorous, coming of age humorous, drinking and fighting humorous,

they were far too young and solemn to know. But at least they were

taught that death was humorous.

There is a peculiar idea abroad that the value and fascination of what

we call Nature lie in her beauty. But the fact that Nature is beautiful

in the sense that a dado or a Liberty curtain is beautiful, is only one

of her charms, and almost an accidental one. The highest and most

valuable quality in Nature is not her beauty, but her generous and

defiant ugliness. A hundred instances might be taken. The croaking noise

of the rooks is, in itself, as hideous as the whole hell of sounds in a

London railway tunnel. Yet it uplifts us like a trumpet with its coarse

kindliness and honesty, and the lover in 'Maud' could actually persuade

himself that this abominable noise resembled his lady-love's name. Has

the poet, for whom Nature means only roses and lilies, ever heard a pig

grunting? It is a noise that does a man good--a strong, snorting,

imprisoned noise, breaking its way out of unfathomable dungeons through

every possible outlet and organ. It might be the voice of the earth

itself, snoring in its mighty sleep. This is the deepest, the oldest,

the most wholesome and religious sense of the value of Nature--the value

which comes from her immense babyishness. She is as top-heavy, as

grotesque, as solemn and as happy as a child. The mood does come when we

see all her shapes like shapes that a baby scrawls upon a slate--simple,

rudimentary, a million years older and stronger than the whole disease

that is called Art. The objects of earth and heaven seem to combine into

a nursery tale, and our relation to things seems for a moment so simple

that a dancing lunatic would be needed to do justice to its lucidity and

levity. The tree above my head is flapping like some gigantic bird

standing on one leg; the moon is like the eye of a Cyclops. And, however

much my face clouds with sombre vanity, or vulgar vengeance, or

contemptible contempt, the bones of my skull beneath it are laughing for


* * * * *


It is a very significant fact that the form of art in which the modern

world has certainly not improved upon the ancient is what may roughly be

called the art of the open air. Public monuments have certainly not

improved, nor has the criticism of them improved, as is evident from the

fashion of condemning such a large number of them as pompous. An

interesting essay might be written on the enormous number of words that

are used as insults when they are really compliments. It is in itself a

singular study in that tendency which, as I have said, is always making

things out worse than they are, and necessitating a systematic attitude

of defence. Thus, for example, some dramatic critics cast contempt upon

a dramatic performance by calling it theatrical, which simply means that

it is suitable to a theatre, and is as much a compliment as calling a

poem poetical. Similarly we speak disdainfully of a certain kind of work

as sentimental, which simply means possessing the admirable and

essential quality of sentiment. Such phrases are all parts of one

peddling and cowardly philosophy, and remind us of the days when

'enthusiast' was a term of reproach. But of all this vocabulary of

unconscious eulogies nothing is more striking than the word 'pompous.'

Properly speaking, of course, a public monument ought to be pompous.

Pomp is its very object; it would be absurd to have columns and pyramids

blushing in some coy nook like violets in the woods of spring. And

public monuments have in this matter a great and much-needed lesson to

teach. Valour and mercy and the great enthusiasms ought to be a great

deal more public than they are at present. We are too fond nowadays of

committing the sin of fear and calling it the virtue of reverence. We

have forgotten the old and wholesome morality of the Book of Proverbs,

'Wisdom crieth without; her voice is heard in the streets.' In Athens

and Florence her voice was heard in the streets. They had an outdoor

life of war and argument, and they had what modern commercial

civilization has never had--an outdoor art. Religious services, the most

sacred of all things, have always been held publicly; it is entirely a

new and debased notion that sanctity is the same as secrecy. A great

many modern poets, with the most abstruse and delicate sensibilities,

love darkness, when all is said and done, much for the same reason that

thieves love it. The mission of a great spire or statue should be to

strike the spirit with a sudden sense of pride as with a thunderbolt. It

should lift us with it into the empty and ennobling air. Along the base

of every noble monument, whatever else may be written there, runs in

invisible letters the lines of Swinburne:

'This thing is God:

To be man with thy might,

To go straight in the strength of thy spirit, and live

out thy life in the light.'

If a public monument does not meet this first supreme and obvious need,

that it should be public and monumental, it fails from the outset.

There has arisen lately a school of realistic sculpture, which may

perhaps be better described as a school of sketchy sculpture. Such a

movement was right and inevitable as a reaction from the mean and dingy

pomposity of English Victorian statuary. Perhaps the most hideous and

depressing object in the universe--far more hideous and depressing than

one of Mr. H.G. Wells's shapeless monsters of the slime (and not at all

unlike them)--is the statue of an English philanthropist. Almost as bad,

though, of course, not quite as bad, are the statues of English

politicians in Parliament Fields. Each of them is cased in a cylindrical

frock-coat, and each carries either a scroll or a dubious-looking

garment over the arm that might be either a bathing-towel or a light

great-coat. Each of them is in an oratorical attitude, which has all the

disadvantage of being affected without even any of the advantages of

being theatrical. Let no one suppose that such abortions arise merely

from technical demerit. In every line of those leaden dolls is expressed

the fact that they were not set up with any heat of natural enthusiasm

for beauty or dignity. They were set up mechanically, because it would

seem indecorous or stingy if they were not set up. They were even set up

sulkily, in a utilitarian age which was haunted by the thought that

there were a great many more sensible ways of spending money. So long as

this is the dominant national sentiment, the land is barren, statues and

churches will not grow--for they have to grow, as much as trees and

flowers. But this moral disadvantage which lay so heavily upon the early

Victorian sculpture lies in a modified degree upon that rough,

picturesque, commonplace sculpture which has begun to arise, and of

which the statue of Darwin in the South Kensington Museum and the statue

of Gordon in Trafalgar Square are admirable examples. It is not enough

for a popular monument to be artistic, like a black charcoal sketch; it

must be striking; it must be in the highest sense of the word

sensational; it must stand for humanity; it must speak for us to the

stars; it must declare in the face of all the heavens that when the

longest and blackest catalogue has been made of all our crimes and

follies there are some things of which we men are not ashamed.

The two modes of commemorating a public man are a statue and a

biography. They are alike in certain respects, as, for example, in the

fact that neither of them resembles the original, and that both of them

commonly tone down not only all a man's vices, but all the more amusing

of his virtues. But they are treated in one respect differently. We

never hear anything about biography without hearing something about the

sanctity of private life and the necessity for suppressing the whole of

the most important part of a man's existence. The sculptor does not work

at this disadvantage. The sculptor does not leave out the nose of an

eminent philanthropist because it is too beautiful to be given to the

public; he does not depict a statesman with a sack over his head because

his smile was too sweet to be endurable in the light of day. But in

biography the thesis is popularly and solidly maintained, so that it

requires some courage even to hint a doubt of it, that the better a man

was, the more truly human life he led, the less should be said about it.

For this idea, this modern idea that sanctity is identical with secrecy,

there is one thing at least to be said. It is for all practical purposes

an entirely new idea; it was unknown to all the ages in which the idea

of sanctity really flourished. The record of the great spiritual

movements of mankind is dead against the idea that spirituality is a

private matter. The most awful secret of every man's soul, its most

lonely and individual need, its most primal and psychological

relationship, the thing called worship, the communication between the

soul and the last reality--this most private matter is the most public

spectacle in the world. Anyone who chooses to walk into a large church

on Sunday morning may see a hundred men each alone with his Maker. He

stands, in truth, in the presence of one of the strangest spectacles in

the world--a mob of hermits. And in thus definitely espousing publicity

by making public the most internal mystery, Christianity acts in

accordance with its earliest origins and its terrible beginning. It was

surely by no accident that the spectacle which darkened the sun at

noonday was set upon a hill. The martyrdoms of the early Christians were

public not only by the caprice of the oppressor, but by the whole desire

and conception of the victims.

The mere grammatical meaning of the word 'martyr' breaks into pieces at

a blow the whole notion of the privacy of goodness. The Christian

martyrdoms were more than demonstrations: they were advertisements. In

our day the new theory of spiritual delicacy would desire to alter all

this. It would permit Christ to be crucified if it was necessary to His

Divine nature, but it would ask in the name of good taste why He could

not be crucified in a private room. It would declare that the act of a

martyr in being torn in pieces by lions was vulgar and sensational,

though, of course, it would have no objection to being torn in pieces by

a lion in one's own parlour before a circle of really intimate friends.

It is, I am inclined to think, a decadent and diseased purity which has

inaugurated this notion that the sacred object must be hidden. The stars

have never lost their sanctity, and they are more shameless and naked

and numerous than advertisements of Pears' soap. It would be a strange

world indeed if Nature was suddenly stricken with this ethereal shame,

if the trees grew with their roots in the air and their load of leaves

and blossoms underground, if the flowers closed at dawn and opened at

sunset, if the sunflower turned towards the darkness, and the birds

flew, like bats, by night.

* * * * *


There are two equal and eternal ways of looking at this twilight world

of ours: we may see it as the twilight of evening or the twilight of

morning; we may think of anything, down to a fallen acorn, as a

descendant or as an ancestor. There are times when we are almost

crushed, not so much with the load of the evil as with the load of the

goodness of humanity, when we feel that we are nothing but the

inheritors of a humiliating splendour. But there are other times when

everything seems primitive, when the ancient stars are only sparks blown

from a boy's bonfire, when the whole earth seems so young and

experimental that even the white hair of the aged, in the fine biblical

phrase, is like almond-trees that blossom, like the white hawthorn grown

in May. That it is good for a man to realize that he is 'the heir of all

the ages' is pretty commonly admitted; it is a less popular but equally

important point that it is good for him sometimes to realize that he is

not only an ancestor, but an ancestor of primal antiquity; it is good

for him to wonder whether he is not a hero, and to experience ennobling

doubts as to whether he is not a solar myth.

The matters which most thoroughly evoke this sense of the abiding

childhood of the world are those which are really fresh, abrupt and

inventive in any age; and if we were asked what was the best proof of

this adventurous youth in the nineteenth century we should say, with all

respect to its portentous sciences and philosophies, that it was to be

found in the rhymes of Mr. Edward Lear and in the literature of

nonsense. 'The Dong with the Luminous Nose,' at least, is original, as

the first ship and the first plough were original.

It is true in a certain sense that some of the greatest writers the

world has seen--Aristophanes, Rabelais and Sterne--have written

nonsense; but unless we are mistaken, it is in a widely different sense.

The nonsense of these men was satiric--that is to say, symbolic; it was

a kind of exuberant capering round a discovered truth. There is all the

difference in the world between the instinct of satire, which, seeing in

the Kaiser's moustaches something typical of him, draws them continually

larger and larger; and the instinct of nonsense which, for no reason

whatever, imagines what those moustaches would look like on the present

Archbishop of Canterbury if he grew them in a fit of absence of mind. We

incline to think that no age except our own could have understood that

the Quangle-Wangle meant absolutely nothing, and the Lands of the

Jumblies were absolutely nowhere. We fancy that if the account of the

knave's trial in 'Alice in Wonderland' had been published in the

seventeenth century it would have been bracketed with Bunyan's 'Trial of

Faithful' as a parody on the State prosecutions of the time. We fancy

that if 'The Dong with the Luminous Nose' had appeared in the same

period everyone would have called it a dull satire on Oliver Cromwell.

It is altogether advisedly that we quote chiefly from Mr. Lear's

'Nonsense Rhymes.' To our mind he is both chronologically and

essentially the father of nonsense; we think him superior to Lewis

Carroll. In one sense, indeed, Lewis Carroll has a great advantage. We

know what Lewis Carroll was in daily life: he was a singularly serious

and conventional don, universally respected, but very much of a pedant

and something of a Philistine. Thus his strange double life in earth and

in dreamland emphasizes the idea that lies at the back of nonsense--the

idea of escape, of escape into a world where things are not fixed

horribly in an eternal appropriateness, where apples grow on pear-trees,

and any odd man you meet may have three legs. Lewis Carroll, living one

life in which he would have thundered morally against any one who walked

on the wrong plot of grass, and another life in which he would

cheerfully call the sun green and the moon blue, was, by his very

divided nature, his one foot on both worlds, a perfect type of the

position of modern nonsense. His Wonderland is a country populated by

insane mathematicians. We feel the whole is an escape into a world of

masquerade; we feel that if we could pierce their disguises, we might

discover that Humpty Dumpty and the March Hare were Professors and

Doctors of Divinity enjoying a mental holiday. This sense of escape is

certainly less emphatic in Edward Lear, because of the completeness of

his citizenship in the world of unreason. We do not know his prosaic

biography as we know Lewis Carroll's. We accept him as a purely fabulous

figure, on his own description of himself:

'His body is perfectly spherical,

He weareth a runcible hat.'

While Lewis Carroll's Wonderland is purely intellectual, Lear

introduces quite another element--the element of the poetical and even

emotional. Carroll works by the pure reason, but this is not so strong a

contrast; for, after all, mankind in the main has always regarded reason

as a bit of a joke. Lear introduces his unmeaning words and his

amorphous creatures not with the pomp of reason, but with the romantic

prelude of rich hues and haunting rhythms.

'Far and few, far and few,

Are the lands where the Jumblies live,'

is an entirely different type of poetry to that exhibited in

'Jabberwocky.' Carroll, with a sense of mathematical neatness, makes his

whole poem a mosaic of new and mysterious words. But Edward Lear, with

more subtle and placid effrontery, is always introducing scraps of his

own elvish dialect into the middle of simple and rational statements,

until we are almost stunned into admitting that we know what they mean.

There is a genial ring of commonsense about such lines as,

'For his aunt Jobiska said "Every one knows

That a Pobble is better without his toes,"'

which is beyond the reach of Carroll. The poet seems so easy on the

matter that we are almost driven to pretend that we see his meaning,

that we know the peculiar difficulties of a Pobble, that we are as old

travellers in the 'Gromboolian Plain' as he is.

Our claim that nonsense is a new literature (we might almost say a new

sense) would be quite indefensible if nonsense were nothing more than a

mere aesthetic fancy. Nothing sublimely artistic has ever arisen out of

mere art, any more than anything essentially reasonable has ever arisen

out of the pure reason. There must always be a rich moral soil for any

great aesthetic growth. The principle of art for art's sake is a very

good principle if it means that there is a vital distinction between the

earth and the tree that has its roots in the earth; but it is a very bad

principle if it means that the tree could grow just as well with its

roots in the air. Every great literature has always been

allegorical--allegorical of some view of the whole universe. The 'Iliad'

is only great because all life is a battle, the 'Odyssey' because all

life is a journey, the Book of Job because all life is a riddle. There

is one attitude in which we think that all existence is summed up in the

word 'ghosts'; another, and somewhat better one, in which we think it

is summed up in the words 'A Midsummer Night's Dream.' Even the

vulgarest melodrama or detective story can be good if it expresses

something of the delight in sinister possibilities--the healthy lust for

darkness and terror which may come on us any night in walking down a

dark lane. If, therefore, nonsense is really to be the literature of the

future, it must have its own version of the Cosmos to offer; the world

must not only be the tragic, romantic, and religious, it must be

nonsensical also. And here we fancy that nonsense will, in a very

unexpected way, come to the aid of the spiritual view of things.

Religion has for centuries been trying to make men exult in the

'wonders' of creation, but it has forgotten that a thing cannot be

completely wonderful so long as it remains sensible. So long as we

regard a tree as an obvious thing, naturally and reasonably created for

a giraffe to eat, we cannot properly wonder at it. It is when we

consider it as a prodigious wave of the living soil sprawling up to the

skies for no reason in particular that we take off our hats, to the

astonishment of the park-keeper. Everything has in fact another side to

it, like the moon, the patroness of nonsense. Viewed from that other

side, a bird is a blossom broken loose from its chain of stalk, a man a

quadruped begging on its hind legs, a house a gigantesque hat to cover a

man from the sun, a chair an apparatus of four wooden legs for a cripple

with only two.

This is the side of things which tends most truly to spiritual wonder.

It is significant that in the greatest religious poem existent, the Book

of Job, the argument which convinces the infidel is not (as has been

represented by the merely rational religionism of the eighteenth

century) a picture of the ordered beneficence of the Creation; but, on

the contrary, a picture of the huge and undecipherable unreason of it.

'Hast Thou sent the rain upon the desert where no man is?' This simple

sense of wonder at the shapes of things, and at their exuberant

independence of our intellectual standards and our trivial definitions,

is the basis of spirituality as it is the basis of nonsense. Nonsense

and faith (strange as the conjunction may seem) are the two supreme

symbolic assertions of the truth that to draw out the soul of things

with a syllogism is as impossible as to draw out Leviathan with a hook.

The well-meaning person who, by merely studying the logical side of

things, has decided that 'faith is nonsense,' does not know how truly he

speaks; later it may come back to him in the form that nonsense is


* * * * *


A book has at one time come under my notice called 'Terra Firma: the

Earth not a Planet.' The author was a Mr. D. Wardlaw Scott, and he

quoted very seriously the opinions of a large number of other persons,

of whom we have never heard, but who are evidently very important. Mr.

Beach of Southsea, for example, thinks that the world is flat; and in

Southsea perhaps it is. It is no part of my present intention, however,

to follow Mr. Scott's arguments in detail. On the lines of such

arguments it may be shown that the earth is flat, and, for the matter of

that, that it is triangular. A few examples will suffice:

One of Mr. Scott's objections was that if a projectile is fired from a

moving body there is a difference in the distance to which it carries

according to the direction in which it is sent. But as in practice there

is not the slightest difference whichever way the thing is done, in the

case of the earth 'we have a forcible overthrow of all fancies relative

to the motion of the earth, and a striking proof that the earth is not

a globe.'

This is altogether one of the quaintest arguments we have ever seen. It

never seems to occur to the author, among other things, that when the

firing and falling of the shot all take place upon the moving body,

there is nothing whatever to compare them with. As a matter of fact, of

course, a shot fired at an elephant does actually often travel towards

the marksman, but much slower than the marksman travels. Mr. Scott

probably would not like to contemplate the fact that the elephant,

properly speaking, swings round and hits the bullet. To us it appears

full of a rich cosmic humour.

I will only give one other example of the astronomical proofs:

'If the earth were a globe, the distance round the surface, say, at 45

degrees south latitude, could not possibly be any greater than the same

latitude north; but since it is found by navigators to be twice the

distance--to say the least of it--or double the distance it ought to be

according to the globular theory, it is a proof that the earth is not a


This sort of thing reduces my mind to a pulp. I can faintly resist when

a man says that if the earth were a globe cats would not have four

legs; but when he says that if the earth were a globe cats would not

have five legs I am crushed.

But, as I have indicated, it is not in the scientific aspect of this

remarkable theory that I am for the moment interested. It is rather with

the difference between the flat and the round worlds as conceptions in

art and imagination that I am concerned. It is a very remarkable thing

that none of us are really Copernicans in our actual outlook upon

things. We are convinced intellectually that we inhabit a small

provincial planet, but we do not feel in the least suburban. Men of

science have quarrelled with the Bible because it is not based upon the

true astronomical system, but it is certainly open to the orthodox to

say that if it had been it would never have convinced anybody.

If a single poem or a single story were really transfused with the

Copernican idea, the thing would be a nightmare. Can we think of a

solemn scene of mountain stillness in which some prophet is standing in

a trance, and then realize that the whole scene is whizzing round like a

zoetrope at the rate of nineteen miles a second? Could we tolerate the

notion of a mighty King delivering a sublime fiat and then remember

that for all practical purposes he is hanging head downwards in space? A

strange fable might be written of a man who was blessed or cursed with

the Copernican eye, and saw all men on the earth like tintacks

clustering round a magnet. It would be singular to imagine how very

different the speech of an aggressive egoist, announcing the

independence and divinity of man, would sound if he were seen hanging on

to the planet by his boot soles.

For, despite Mr. Wardlaw Scott's horror at the Newtonian astronomy and

its contradiction of the Bible, the whole distinction is a good instance

of the difference between letter and spirit; the letter of the Old

Testament is opposed to the conception of the solar system, but the

spirit has much kinship with it. The writers of the Book of Genesis had

no theory of gravitation, which to the normal person will appear a fact

of as much importance as that they had no umbrellas. But the theory of

gravitation has a curiously Hebrew sentiment in it--a sentiment of

combined dependence and certainty, a sense of grappling unity, by which

all things hang upon one thread. 'Thou hast hanged the world upon

nothing,' said the author of the Book of Job, and in that sentence

wrote the whole appalling poetry of modern astronomy. The sense of the

preciousness and fragility of the universe, the sense of being in the

hollow of a hand, is one which the round and rolling earth gives in its

most thrilling form. Mr. Wardlaw Scott's flat earth would be the true

territory for a comfortable atheist. Nor would the old Jews have any

objection to being as much upside down as right way up. They had no

foolish ideas about the dignity of man.

It would be an interesting speculation to imagine whether the world will

ever develop a Copernican poetry and a Copernican habit of fancy;

whether we shall ever speak of 'early earth-turn' instead of 'early

sunrise,' and speak indifferently of looking up at the daisies, or

looking down on the stars. But if we ever do, there are really a large

number of big and fantastic facts awaiting us, worthy to make a new

mythology. Mr. Wardlaw Scott, for example, with genuine, if unconscious,

imagination, says that according to astronomers, 'the sea is a vast

mountain of water miles high.' To have discovered that mountain of

moving crystal, in which the fishes build like birds, is like

discovering Atlantis: it is enough to make the old world young again.

In the new poetry which we contemplate, athletic young men will set out

sturdily to climb up the face of the sea. If we once realize all this

earth as it is, we should find ourselves in a land of miracles: we shall

discover a new planet at the moment that we discover our own. Among all

the strange things that men have forgotten, the most universal and

catastrophic lapse of memory is that by which they have forgotten that

they are living on a star.

In the early days of the world, the discovery of a fact of natural

history was immediately followed by the realization of it as a fact of

poetry. When man awoke from the long fit of absent-mindedness which is

called the automatic animal state, and began to notice the queer facts

that the sky was blue and the grass green, he immediately began to use

those facts symbolically. Blue, the colour of the sky, became a symbol

of celestial holiness; green passed into the language as indicating a

freshness verging upon unintelligence. If we had the good fortune to

live in a world in which the sky was green and the grass blue, the

symbolism would have been different. But for some mysterious reason this

habit of realizing poetically the facts of science has ceased abruptly

with scientific progress, and all the confounding portents preached by

Galileo and Newton have fallen on deaf ears. They painted a picture of

the universe compared with which the Apocalypse with its falling stars

was a mere idyll. They declared that we are all careering through space,

clinging to a cannon-ball, and the poets ignore the matter as if it were

a remark about the weather. They say that an invisible force holds us in

our own armchairs while the earth hurtles like a boomerang; and men

still go back to dusty records to prove the mercy of God. They tell us

that Mr. Scott's monstrous vision of a mountain of sea-water rising in a

solid dome, like the glass mountain in the fairy-tale, is actually a

fact, and men still go back to the fairy-tale. To what towering heights

of poetic imagery might we not have risen if only the poetizing of

natural history had continued and man's fancy had played with the

planets as naturally as it once played with the flowers! We might have

had a planetary patriotism, in which the green leaf should be like a

cockade, and the sea an everlasting dance of drums. We might have been

proud of what our star has wrought, and worn its heraldry haughtily in

the blind tournament of the spheres. All this, indeed, we may surely do

yet; for with all the multiplicity of knowledge there is one thing

happily that no man knows: whether the world is old or young.

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