Infomotions, Inc.Where No Fear Was / Benson, Arthur Christopher, 1862-1925



Author: Benson, Arthur Christopher, 1862-1925
Title: Where No Fear Was
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Title: Where No Fear Was:  A Book About Fear

Author: Arthur Christopher Benson

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WHERE NO FEAR WAS

A BOOK ABOUT FEAR



By ARTHUR CHRISTOPHER BENSON

1914






"Thus they went on till they came to about the middle of the
galley, and then Christiana said, 'Methinks I see something yonder
on the read before us, a thing of such a shape such as I have not
seen.' Then said Joseph, 'Mother, what is it?' 'An ugly thing,
Child, an ugly thing,' said she. 'But, Mother, what is it like?'
said he. ''Tis like I cannot tell what,' said she. And now it was
but a little way off. Then said she, 'It is nigh.'"

"Pilgrim's Progress," Part II.






Where No Fear Was

I

THE SHADOW





There surely may come a time for each of us, if we have lived with
any animation or interest, if we have had any constant or even
fitful desire to penetrate and grasp the significance of the
strange adventure of life, a time, I say, when we may look back a
little, not sentimentally or with any hope of making out an
impressive case for ourselves, and interrogate the memory as to
what have been the most real, vivid, and intense things that have
befallen us by the way. We may try to separate the momentous from
the trivial, and the important from the unimportant; to discern
where and how and when we might have acted differently; to see and
to say what has really mattered, what has made a deep mark on our
spirit; what has hampered or wounded or maimed us. Because one of
the strangest things about life seems to be our incapacity to
decide beforehand, or even at the time, where the real and fruitful
joys, and where the dark dangers and distresses lie. The things
that at certain times filled all one's mind, kindled hope and aim,
seemed so infinitely desirable, so necessary to happiness, have
faded, many of them, into the lightest and most worthless of husks
and phantoms, like the withered flowers that we find sometimes shut
in the pages of our old books, and cannot even remember of what
glowing and emotional moment they were the record!

How impossible it is ever to learn anything by being told it! How
necessary it is to pay the full price for any knowledge worth
having! The anxious father, the tearful mother, may warn the little
boy before he goes to school of the dangers that await him. He does
not understand, he does not attend, he is looking at the pattern of
the carpet, and wondering for the hundredth time whether the oddly-
shaped blue thing which appears and reappears at intervals is a
bird or a flower--yes, it is certainly meant for a bird perched on
a bough! He wishes the talk were over, he looks at the little scar
on his father's hand, and remembers that he has been told that he
cut it in a cucumber-frame when he was a boy. And then, long
afterwards perhaps, when he has made a mistake and is suffering for
it, he sees that it was THAT of which they spoke, and wonders that
they could not have explained it better.

And this is so all along! We cannot recognise the dark tower, to
which in the story Childe Roland came, by any description. We must
go there ourselves; and not till we feel the teeth of the trap
biting into us, do we see that it was exactly in such a place that
we had been warned that it would be laid.

There is an episode in that strange and beautiful book Phantastes,
by George Macdonald, which comes often to my mind. The boy is
wandering in the enchanted forest, and he is told to avoid the
house where the Daughter of the Ogre lives. His morose young guide
shows him where the paths divide, and he takes the one indicated to
him with a sense of misgiving.

A little while before he had been deceived by the Alder-maiden, and
had given her his love in error. This has taken some of the old joy
out of his heart, but he has made his escape from her, and thinks
he has learned his lesson.

But he comes at last to the long low house in the clearing; he
finds within it an ancient woman reading out of an old volume; he
enters, he examines the room in which she sits, and yielding to
curiosity, he opens the door of the great cupboard in the corner,
in spite of a muttered warning. He thinks, on first opening it,
that it is just a dark cupboard; but he sees with a shock of
surprise that he is looking into a long dark passage, which leads
out, far away from where he stands, into the starlit night. Then a
figure, which seems to have been running from a long distance,
turns the corner, and comes speeding down towards him. He has not
time to close the door, but stands aside to let it pass; it passes,
and slips behind him; and soon he sees that it is a shadow of
himself, which has fallen on the floor at his feet. He asks what
has happened, and then the old woman says that he has found his
shadow, a thing which happens to many people; and then for the
first time she raises her head and looks at him, and he sees that
her mouth is full of long white teeth; he knows where he is at
last, and stumbles out, with the dark shadow at his heels, which is
to haunt him so miserably for many a sad day.

That is a very fine and true similitude of what befalls many men
and women. They go astray, they give up some precious thing--their
innocence perhaps--to a deluding temptation. They are delivered for
a time; and then a little while after they find their shadow, which
no tears or anguish of regret can take away, till the healing of
life and work and purpose annuls it. Neither is it always annulled,
even in length of days.

But it is a paltry and inglorious mistake to let the shadow have
its disheartening will of us. It is only a shadow, after all! And
if we capitulate after our first disastrous encounter, it does not
mean that we shall be for ever vanquished, though it means perhaps
a long and dreary waste of shame-stained days. That is what we
must try to avoid--any WASTE of time and strength. For if anything
is certain, it is that we have all to fight until we conquer, and
the sooner we take up the dropped sword again the better.

And we have also to learn that no one can help us except ourselves.
Other people can sympathise and console, try to soothe our injured
vanity, try to persuade us that the dangers and disasters ahead are
not so dreadful as they appear to be, and that the mistakes we have
made are not irreparable. But no one can remove danger or regret
from us, or relieve us of the necessity of facing our own troubles;
the most that they can do, indeed, is to encourage us to try again.

But we cannot hope to change the conditions of life; and one of its
conditions is, as I have said, that we cannot foresee dangers. No
matter how vividly they are described to us, no matter how eagerly
those who love us try to warn us of peril, we cannot escape. For
that is the essence of life--experience; and though we cannot
rejoice when we are in the grip of it, and when we cannot see what
the end will be, we can at least say to ourselves again and again,
"this is at all events reality--this is business!" for it is the
moments of endurance and energy and action which after all justify
us in living, and not the pleasant spaces where we saunter among
flowers and sunlit woods. Those are conceded to us, to tempt us to
live, to make us desire to remain in the world; and we need not be
afraid to take them, to use them, to enjoy them; because all things
alike help to make us what we are.






II

SHAPES OF FEAR





Now as I look back a little, I see that some of my worst experiences
have not hurt or injured me at all. I do not claim more than my
share of troubles, but "I have had trouble enough for one," as
Browning says,--bereavements, disappointments, the illness of those
I have loved, illness of my own, quarrels, misunderstandings,
enmities, angers, disapprovals, losses; I have made bad mistakes, I
have failed in my duty, I have done many things that I regret, I
have been unreasonable, unkind, selfish. Many of these things have
hurt and wounded me, have brought me into sorrow, and even into
despair. But I do not feel that any of them have really injured me,
and some of them have already benefited me. I have learned to be a
little more patient and diligent, and I have discovered that there
are certain things that I must at all costs avoid.

But there is one thing which seems to me to have always and
invariably hampered and maimed me, whenever I have yielded to it,
and I have often yielded to it; and that is Fear. It can be called
by many names, and all of them ugly names--anxiety, timidity, moral
cowardice. I can never trace the smallest good in having given way
to it. It has been from my earliest days the Shadow; and I think it
is the shadow in the lives of many men and women. I want in this
book to track it, if I can, to its lair, to see what it is, where
its awful power lies, and what, if anything, one can do to resist
it. It seems the most unreal thing in the world, when one is on the
other side of it; and yet face to face with it, it has a strength,
a poignancy, a paralysing power, which makes it seem like a
personal and specific ill-will, issuing in a sort of dreadful
enchantment or spell, which renders it impossible to withstand.
Yet, strange to say, it has not exercised its power in the few
occasions in my life when it would seem to have been really
justified. Let me quote an instance or two which will illustrate
what I mean.

I was confronted once with the necessity of a small surgical
operation, quite unexpectedly. If I had known beforehand that it
was to be done, I should have depicted every incident with horror
and misery. But the moment arrived, and I found myself marching to
my bedroom with a surgeon and a nurse, with a sense almost of
amusement at the adventure.

I was called upon once in Switzerland to assist with two guides in
the rescue of an unfortunate woman who had fallen from a precipice,
and had to be brought down, dead or alive. We hurried up through
the pine-forest with a chair, and found the poor creature alive
indeed, but with horrible injuries--an eye knocked out, an arm and
a thigh broken, her ulster torn to ribbons, and with more blood
about the place in pools than I should have thought a human body
could contain. She was conscious; she had to be lifted into the
chair, and we had to discover where she belonged; she fainted away
in the middle of it, and I had to go on and break the news to her
relations. If I had been told beforehand what would have had to be
done, I do not think I could have faced it; but it was there to do,
and I found myself entirely capable of taking part, and even of
wondering all the time that it was possible to act.

Again, I was once engulfed in a crevasse, hanging from the ice-
ledge with a portentous gulf below, and a glacier-stream roaring
in the darkness. I could get no hold for foot or hand, my
companions could not reach me or extract me; and as I sank into
unconsciousness, hearing my own expiring breath, I knew that I was
doomed; but I can only say, quite honestly and humbly, that I had
no fear at all, and only dimly wondered what arrangements would be
made at Eton, where I was then a master, to accommodate the boys of
my house and my pupils. It was not done by an effort, nor did I
brace myself to the situation: fear simply did not come near to me.

Once again I found myself confronted, not so long ago, with an
incredibly painful and distressing interview. That indeed did
oppress me with almost intolerable dread beforehand. I was to go to
a certain house in London, and there was just a chance that the
interview might not take place after all. As I drove there, I
suddenly found myself wondering whether the interview could REALLY
be going to take place--how often had I rehearsed it beforehand
with anguish--and then as suddenly became aware that I should in
some strange way be disappointed if it did not take place. I wanted
on the whole to go through with it, and to see what it would be
like. A deep-seated curiosity came to my aid. It did take place,
and it was very bad--worse than I could have imagined; but it was
not terrible!

These are just four instances which come into my mind. I should be
glad to feel that the courage which undoubtedly came had been the
creation of my will; but it was not so. In three cases, the events
came unexpectedly; but in the fourth case I had long anticipated
the moment with extreme dread. Yet in that last case the fear
suddenly slipped away, without the smallest effort on my part; and
in all four cases some strange gusto of experience, some sense of
heightened life and adventure, rose in the mind like a fountain--so
that even in the crevasse I said to myself, not excitedly but
serenely, "So this is what it feels like to await death!"

It was this particular experience which gave me an inkling into
that which in so many tragic histories seems incredible--that men
often do pass to death, by scaffold and by stake, at the last
moment, in serenity and even in joy. I do not doubt for a moment
that it is the immortal principle in man, the sense of
deathlessness, which comes to his aid. It is the instinct which, in
spite of all knowledge and experience, says suddenly, in a moment
like that, "Well, what then?" That instinct is a far truer thing
than any expectation or imagination. It sees things, in supreme
moments, in a true proportion. It asserts that when the rope jerks,
or the flames leap up, or the benumbing blow falls, there is
something there which cannot possibly be injured, and which indeed
is rather freed from the body of our humiliation. It is but an
incident, after all, in a much longer and more momentous voyage. It
means only the closing of one chapter of experience and the
beginning of another. The base element in it is the fear which
dreads the opening of the door, and the quitting of what is
familiar. And I feel assured of this, that the one universal and
inevitable experience, known to us as death, must in reality be a
very simple and even a natural affair, and that when we can look
back upon it, it will seem to us amazing that we can ever have
regarded it as so momentous and appalling a thing.






III

THE DARKEST DOUBT





Now we can make no real advance in the things of the spirit until we
have seen what lies on the other side of fear; fear cannot help us
to grow, at best it can only teach us to be prudent; it does not of
itself destroy the desire to offend--only shame can do that; if our
wish to be different comes merely from our being afraid to
transgress, then, if the fear of punishment were to be removed, we
should go back with a light heart to our old sins. We may obey
irresponsible power, because we know that it can hurt us if we
disobey; but unless we can perceive the reason why this and that is
forbidden, we cannot concur with law. We learn as children that
flame has power to hurt us, but we only dread the fire because it
can injure us, not because we admire the reason which it has for
burning. So long as we do not sin simply because we know the laws of
life which punish sin, we have not learned any hatred of sin; it is
only because we hate the punishment more than we love the sin, that
we abstain.

Socrates once said, in one of his wise paradoxes, that it was
better to sin knowingly than ignorantly. That is a hard saying, but
it means that at least if we sin knowingly, there is some purpose,
some courage in the soul. We take a risk with our eyes open, and
our purpose may perhaps be changed; whereas if we sin ignorantly,
we do so out of a mere base instinct, and there is no purpose that
may be educated. Anyone who has ever had the task of teaching boys
or young men to write will know how much easier it is to teach
those who write volubly and exuberantly, and desire to express
themselves, even if they do it with many faults and lapses of
taste; taste and method may be corrected, if only the instinct of
expression is there. But the young man who has no impulse to write,
who says that he could think of nothing to say, it is impossible to
teach him much, because one cannot communicate the desire for
expression.

And the same holds good of life. Those who have strong vital
impulses can learn restraint and choice; but the people who have no
particular impulses and preferences, who just live out of mere
impetus and habit, who plod along, doing in a dispirited way just
what they find to do, and lapsing into indolence and indifference
the moment that prescribed work ceases, those are the spirits that
afford the real problem, because they despise activity, and think
energy a mere exhibition of fussy diffuseness.

But the generous, eager, wilful nature, who has always some aim in
sight, who makes mistakes perhaps, gives offence, collides high-
heartedly with others, makes both friends and enemies, loves and
hates, is anxious, jealous, self-absorbed, resentful, intolerant--
there is always hope for such an one, for he is quick to despair,
capable of shame, swift to repent, and even when he is worsted and
wounded, rises to fight again. Such a nature, through pain and
love, can learn to chasten his base desires, and to choose the
nobler and worthier way.

But what does really differentiate men and women is not their power
of fearing and suffering, but their power of caring and admiring.
The only real and vital force in the world is the force which
attracts, the beauty which is so desirable that one must imitate it
if one can, the wisdom which is so calm and serene that one must
possess it if one may.

And thus all depends upon our discerning in the world a loving
intention of some kind, which holds us in view, and draws us to
itself. If we merely think of God and nature as an inflexible
system of laws, and that our only chance of happiness is to slip in
and out of them, as a man might pick his way among red-hot
ploughshares, thankful if he can escape burning, then we can make
no sort of advance, because we can have neither faith nor trust.
The thing from which one merely flees can have no real power over
our spirit; but if we know God as a fatherly Heart behind nature,
who is leading us on our way, then indeed we can walk joyfully in
happiness, and undismayed in trouble; because troubles then become
only the wearisome incidents of the upward ascent, the fatigue, the
failing breath, the strained muscles, the discomfort which is
actually taking us higher, and cannot by any means be avoided.

But fear is the opposite of all this; it is the dread of the
unknown, the ghastly doubt as to whether there is any goal before
us or not; when we fear, we are like the butterfly that flutters
anxiously away from the boy who pursues it, who means out of mere
wantonness to strike it down tattered and bruised among the grass-
stems.






IV

VULNERABILITY





There have been many attempts in the history of mankind to escape
from the dominion of fear; the essence of fear, that which prompts
it, is the consciousness of our vulnerability. What we all dread is
the disease or the accident that may disable us, the loss of money
or credit, the death of those whom we love and whose love makes the
sunshine of our life, the anger and hostility and displeasure and
scorn and ill-usage of those about us. These are the definite things
which the anxious mind forecasts, and upon which it mournfully
dwells.

The object then in the minds of the philosophers or teachers who
would fain relieve the unhappiness of the world, has been always to
suggest ways in which this vulnerability may be lessened; and thus
their object has been to disengage as far as possible the hopes and
affections of men from things which must always be fleeting. That
is the principle which lies behind all asceticism, that, if one can
be indifferent to wealth and comfort and popularity, one has a
better chance of serenity. The essence of that teaching is not that
pleasant things are not desirable, but that one is more miserable
if one loses them than if one never cares for them at all. The
ascetic trains himself to be indifferent about food and drink and
the apparatus of life; he aims at celibacy partly because love
itself is an overmastering passion, and partly because he cannot
bear to engage himself with human affections, the loss of which may
give him pain. There is, of course, a deeper strain in asceticism
than this, which is a suspicious mistrust of all physical joys and
a sense of their baseness; but that is in itself an artistic
preference of mental and spiritual joys, and a defiance to
everything which may impair or invade them.

The Stoic imperturbability is an attempt to take a further step;
not to fly from life, but to mingle with it, and yet to grow to be
not dependent on it. The Stoic ideal was a high one, to cultivate a
firmness of mind that was on the one hand not to be dismayed by
pain or suffering, and on the other to use life so temperately and
judiciously as not to form habits of indulgence which it would be
painful to discontinue. The weakness of Stoicism was that it
despised human relations; and the strength of primitive
Christianity was that, while it recommended a Stoical simplicity of
life, it taught men not to be afraid of love, but to use and lavish
love freely, as being the one thing which would survive death and
not be cut short by it. The Christian teaching came to this, that
the world was meant to be a school of love, and that love was to be
an outward-rippling ring of affection extending from the family
outwards to the tribe, the nation, the world, and on to God
Himself. It laid all its emphasis on the truth that love is the one
immortal thing, that all the joys and triumphs of the world pass
away with the decay of its material framework, but that love passes
boldly on, with linked hands, into the darkness of the unknown.

The one loss that Christianity recognised was the loss of love; the
one punishment it dreaded was the withholding of love.

As Christianity soaked into the world, it became vitiated, and drew
into itself many elements of human weakness. It became a social
force, it learned to depend on property, it fulminated a code of
criminality, and accepted human standards of prosperity and wealth.
It lost its simplicity and became sophisticated. It is hard to say
that men of the world should not, if they wish, claim to be
Christians, but the whole essence of Christianity is obscured if it
is forgotten that its vital attributes are its indifference to
material conveniences, and its emphatic acceptance of sympathy as
the one supreme virtue.

This is but another way of expressing that our troubles and our
terrors alike are based on selfishness, and that if we are really
concerned with the welfare of others we shall not be much concerned
with our own.

The difficulty in adopting the Christian theory is that God does
not apparently intend to cure the world by creating all men
unselfish. People are born selfish, and the laws of nature and
heredity seem to ordain that it shall be so. Indeed a certain
selfishness seems to be inseparable from any desire to live. The
force of asceticism and of Stoicism is that they both appeal to
selfishness as a motive. They frankly say, "Happiness is your aim,
personal happiness; but instead of grasping at pleasure whenever it
offers, you will find it more prudent in the end not to care too
much about such things." It is true that popular Christianity makes
the same sort of appeal. It says, or seems to say, "If you grasp at
happiness in this world, you may secure a great deal of it
successfully; but it will be worse for you eventually."

The theory of life as taught and enforced, for instance, in such a
work as Dante's great poem is based upon this crudity of thought.
Dante, by his Hell and his Purgatory, expressed plainly that the
chief motive of man to practise morality must be his fear of
ultimate punishment. His was an attempt to draw away the curtain
which hides this world from the next, and to horrify men into
living purely and kindly. But the mind only revolts against the
dastardly injustice of a God, who allows men to be born into the
world so corrupt, with so many incentives to sin, and deliberately
hides from them the ghastly sight of the eternal torments, which
might have saved them from recklessness of life. No one who had
trod the dark caverns of Hell or the flinty ridges of Purgatory, as
Dante represented himself doing, who had seen the awful sights and
heard the heart-broken words of the place, could have returned to
the world as a light-hearted sinner! Whatever we may believe of
God, we must not for an instant allow ourselves to believe that
life can be so brief and finite, so small and hampered an
opportunity, and that punishment could be so demoniacal and so
infinite. A God who could design such a scheme must be essentially
evil and malignant. We may menace wicked men with punishment for
wanton misdeeds, but it must be with just punishment. What could we
say of a human father who exposed a child to temptation without
explaining the consequences, and then condemned him to lifelong
penalties for failing to make the right choice? We must firmly
believe that if offences are finite, punishment must be finite too;
that it must be remedial and not mechanical. We must believe that
if we deserve punishment, it will be because we can hope for
restoration. Hell is a monstrous and insupportable fiction, and the
idea of it is simply inconsistent with any belief in the goodness
of God. It is easy to quote texts to support it, but we must not
allow any text, any record in the world, however sacred, to shatter
our belief in the Love and Justice of God. And I say as frankly and
directly as I can that until we can get rid of this intolerable
terror, we can make no advance at all.

The old, fierce Saints, who went into the darkness exulting in the
thought of the eternal damnation of the wicked, had not spelt the
first letter of the Christian creed, and I doubt not have
discovered their mistake long ago! Yet there are pious people in
the world who will neither think nor speak frankly of the subject,
for fear of weakening the motives for human virtue. I will at least
speak frankly, and though I believe with all my heart in a life
beyond the grave, in which suffering enough may exist for the cure
of those who by wilful sin have sunk into sloth and hopelessness
and despair, and even into cruelty and brutality, I do not for an
instant believe that the conduct of the vilest human being who ever
set foot on the earth can deserve more than a term of punishment,
or that such punishment will have anything that is vindictive about
it.

It may be said that I am here only combating an old-fashioned idea,
and that no one believes in the old theory of eternal punishment,
or that if they believe that the possibility exists, they do not
believe that any human being can incur it. But I feel little doubt
that the belief does exist, and that it is more widespread than one
cares to believe. To believe it is to yield to the darkest and
basest temptation of fear, and keeps all who hold it back from the
truth of God.

What then are we to believe about the punishment of our sins? I
look back upon my own life, and I see numberless occasions--they
rise up before me, a long perspective of failures--when I have
acted cruelly, selfishly, self-indulgently, basely, knowing
perfectly well that I was so behaving. What was wrong with me? Why
did I so behave? Because I preferred the baser course, and thought
at the time that it gave me pleasure.

Well then, what do I wish about all that? I wish it had not
happened so, I wish I had been kinder, more just, more self-
restrained, more strong. I am ashamed, because I condemn myself,
and because I know that those whom I love and honour would condemn
me, if they knew all. But I do not, therefore, lose all hope of
myself, nor do I think that God will not show me how to be
different. If it can only be done by suffering, I dread the
suffering, but I am ready to suffer if I can become what I should
wish to be. But I do not for a moment think that God will cast me
off or turn His face away from me because I have sinned; and I can
pray that He will lead me into light and strength.

And thus it is not my vulnerability that I dread; I rather welcome
it as a sign that I may learn the truth so. And I will not look
upon my desire for pleasant things as a proof that I am evil, but
rather as a proof that God is showing me where happiness lies, and
teaching me by my mistakes to discern and value it. He could make
me perfect if He would, in a single instant. But the fact that He
does not, is a sign that He has something better in store for me
than a mere mechanical perfection.






V

THE USE OF FEAR





The advantages of the fearful temperament, if it is not a mere
unmanning and desolating dread, are not to be overlooked. Fear is
the shadow of the imaginative, the resourceful, the inventive
temperament, but it multiplies resource and invention a hundredfold.
Everyone knows the superstition which is deeply rooted in humanity,
that a time of exaltation and excitement and unusual success is held
to be often the prelude to some disaster, just as the sense of
excitement and buoyant health, when it is very consciously
perceived, is thought to herald the approach of illness. "I felt so
happy," people say, "that I was sure that some misfortune was going
to befall me--it is not lucky to feel so secure as that!" This
represented itself to the Greeks as part of the divine government of
the world; they thought that the heedless and self-confident man
was beguiled by success into what they called ubris, the insolence
of prosperity; and that then atae, that is, disaster, followed. They
believed that the over-prosperous man incurred the envy and jealousy
of the gods. We see this in the old legend of Polycrates of Samos,
whose schemes all succeeded, and whose ventures all turned out well.
He consulted a soothsayer about his alarming prosperity, who advised
him to inflict some deliberate loss or sacrifice upon himself; so
Polycrates drew from his finger and flung into the sea a signet-ring
which he possessed, with a jewel of great rarity and beauty in it.
Soon afterwards a fish was caught by the royal fisherman, and was
served up at the king's table--there, inside the body of the fish,
was the ring; and when Polycrates saw that, he felt that the gods
had restored him his gift, and that his destruction was determined
upon; which came true, for he was caught by pirates at sea, and
crucified upon a rocky headland.

No nation, and least of all the Greeks, would have arrived at this
theory of life and fate, if they had not felt that it was supported
by actual instances. It was of the nature of an inference from the
facts of life; and the explanation undoubtedly is that men do get
betrayed, by a constant experience of good fortune, into rashness
and heedlessness, because they trust to their luck and depend upon
their fortunate star.

But the man who is of an energetic and active type, if he is
haunted by anxiety, if his imagination paints the possibilities of
disaster, takes every means in his power to foresee contingencies,
and to deal cautiously and thoroughly with the situation which
causes him anxiety. If he is a man of keen sensibilities, the
pressure of such care is so insupportable that he takes prompt and
effective measures to remove it; and his fear thus becomes an
element in his success, because it urges him to action, and at the
same time teaches him the need of due precaution. As Horace wrote:


     "Sperat infestis, metuit secundis
      Alteram sortem."


"He hopes for a change of fortune when things are menacing, he
fears a reverse when things are prosperous." And if we look at the
facts of life, we see that it is not by any means the confident and
optimistic people who succeed best in their designs. It is rather
the man of eager and ambitious temperament, who dreads a repulse and
anticipates it, and takes all possible measures beforehand to avoid
it.

We see the same principle underlying the scientific doctrine of
evolution. People often think loosely that the idea of evolution,
in the case, let us say, of a bird like a heron, with his
immobility, his long legs, his pointed beak, his muscular neck, is
that such characteristics have been evolved through long ages by
birds that have had to get their food in swamps and shallow lakes,
and were thus gradually equipped for food-getting through long ages
of practice. But of course no particular bird is thus modified by
circumstances. A pigeon transferred to a fen would not develop the
characteristics of the heron; it would simply die for lack of food.
It is rather that certain minute variations take place, for unknown
reasons, in every species; and the bird which happened to be
hatched out in a fenland with a rather sharper beak or rather
longer legs than his fellows, would have his power of obtaining
food slightly increased, and would thus be more likely to
perpetuate in his offspring that particular advantage of form. This
principle working through endless centuries would tend slowly to
develop the stock that was better equipped for life under such
circumstances, and to eliminate those less suited to the locality;
and thus the fittest would tend to survive. But it does not
indicate any design on the part of the birds themselves, nor any
deliberate attempt to develop those characteristics; it is rather
that such characteristics, once started by natural variation, tend
to emphasize themselves in the lapse of time.

No doubt fear has played an enormous part in the progress of the
human race itself. The savage whose imagination was stronger than
that of other savages, and who could forecast the possibilities of
disaster, would wander through the forest with more precaution
against wild beasts, and would make his dwelling more secure
against assault; so that the more timid and imaginative type would
tend to survive longest and to multiply their stock. Man in his
physical characteristics is a very weak, frail, and helpless
animal, exposed to all kinds of dangers; his infancy is protracted
and singularly defenceless; his pace is slow, his strength is
insignificant; it is his imagination that has put him at the top of
creation, and has enabled him both to evade dangers and to use
natural forces for his greater security. Though he is the youngest
of all created forms, and by no means the best equipped for life,
he has been able to go ahead in a way denied to all other animals;
his inventiveness has been largely developed by his terrors; and
the result has been that whereas all other animals still preserve,
as a condition of life, their ceaseless attitude of suspicion and
fear, man has been enabled by organisation to establish communities
in which fear of disaster plays but little part. If one watches a
bird feeding on a lawn, it is strange to observe its ceaseless
vigilance. It takes a hurried mouthful, and then looks round in an
agitated manner to see that it is in no danger of attack. Yet it is
clear that the terror in which all wild animals seem to live, and
without which self-preservation would be impossible, does not in
the least militate against their physical welfare. A man who had to
live his life under the same sort of risks that a bird in a garden
has to endure from cats and other foes, would lose his senses from
the awful pressure of terror; he would lie under the constant
shadow of assassination.

But the singular thing in Nature is that she preserves
characteristics long after they have ceased to be needed; and so,
though a man in a civilised community has very little to dread, he
is still haunted by an irrational sense of insecurity and
precariousness. And thus many of our fears arise from old
inheritance, and represent nothing rational or real at all, but
only an old and savage need of vigilance and wariness.

One can see this exemplified in a curious way in level tracts of
country. Everyone who has traversed places like the plain of
Worcestershire must remember the irritating way in which the roads
keep ascending little eminences, instead of going round at the
foot. Now these old country roads no doubt represent very ancient
tracks indeed, dating from times when much of the land was
uncultivated. They get stereotyped, partly because they were
tracks, and partly because for convenience the first enclosures and
tillages were made along the roads for purposes of communication.
But the perpetual tendency to ascend little eminences no doubt
dates from a time when it was safer to go up, in order to look
round and to see ahead, partly in order to be sure of one's
direction, and partly to beware of the manifold dangers of the
road.

And thus many of the fears by which one is haunted are these old
survivals, these inherited anxieties. Who does not know the frame
of mind when perhaps for a day, perhaps for days together, the mind
is oppressed and uneasy, scenting danger in the air, forecasting
calamity, recounting all the possible directions in which fate or
malice may have power to wound and hurt us? It is a melancholy
inheritance, but it cannot be combated by any reason. It is of no
use then to imitate Robinson Crusoe, and to make a list of one's
blessings on a piece of paper; that only increases our fear,
because it is just the chance of forfeiting such blessings of which
we are in dread! We must simply remind ourselves that we are
surrounded by old phantoms, and that we derive our weakness from
ages far back, in which risks were many and security was rare.






VI

FEARS OF CHILDHOOD





If I look back over my own life, I can discern three distinct stages
of fear and anxieties, and I expect it is the same with most people.
The terrors of childhood are very mysterious things, and their
horror consists in the child's inability to put the dread into
words. I remember how one night, when we were living in the Master's
Lodge at Wellington College, I had gone to bed, and waking soon
afterwards heard a voice somewhere outside. I got out of bed, went
to the door, and looked out. Close to my door was an archway which
looked into the open gallery that ran round the big front hall,
giving access to the bedrooms. At the opposite end of the hall, in
the gallery, burnt a gaslight: to my horror I observed close to the
gas what seemed to me a colossal shrouded statue, made of a black
bronze, formless, silent, awful. I crept back to my bed, and there
shivered in an ecstasy of fear, till at last I fell asleep. There
was no statue there in the morning! I told my old nurse, after a day
or two of dumb dread, what I had seen. She laughed, and told me that
a certain Mrs. Holder, an elderly widow who was a dressmaker, had
been to see her, about some piece of work. They had turned out the
nursery lights and were going downstairs, when some question arose
about the stuff of the frock, whatever it was. Mrs. Holder had
mounted on a chair to look close at the stuff by the gaslight; and
this was my bogey!

We had a delightful custom in nursery days, devised by my mother,
that on festival occasions, such as birthdays or at Christmas, our
presents were given us in the evening by a fairy called
Abracadabra.

The first time the fairy appeared, we heard, after tea, in the
hall, the hoarse notes of a horn. We rushed out in amazement. Down
in the hall, talking to an aunt of mine who was staying in the
house, stood a veritable fairy, in a scarlet dress, carrying a wand
and a scarlet bag, and wearing a high pointed scarlet hat, of the
shape of an extinguisher. My aunt called us down; and we saw that
the fairy had the face of a great ape, dark-brown, spectacled, of a
good-natured aspect, with a broad grin, and a curious crop of white
hair, hanging down behind and on each side. Unfortunately my eldest
brother, a very clever and imaginative child, was seized with a
panic so insupportable at the sight of the face, that his present
had to be given him hurriedly, and he was led away, blanched and
shuddering, to the nursery. After that, the fairy never appeared
except when he was at school: but long after, when I was looking in
a lumber-room with my brother for some mislaid toys, I found in a
box the mask of Abracadabra and the horn. I put it hurriedly on,
and blew a blast on the horn, which seemed to be of tortoise-shell
with metal fittings. To my amazement, he turned perfectly white,
covered his face with his hands, and burst out with the most
dreadful moans. I thought at first that he was making believe to be
frightened, but I saw in a minute or two that he had quite lost
control of himself, and the things were hurriedly put away. At the
time I thought it a silly kind of affectation. But I perceive now
that he had had a real shock the first time he had seen the mask;
and though he was then a big schoolboy, the terror was indelible.
Who can say of what old inheritance of fear that horror of the
great ape-like countenance was the sign? He had no associations of
fear with apes, but it must have been, I think, some dim old
primeval terror, dating from some ancestral encounter with a forest
monster. In no other way can I explain it.

Again, as a child, I was once sitting at dinner with my parents,
reading an old bound-up Saturday Magazine, looking at the pictures,
and waiting for dessert. I turned a page, and saw a picture of a
Saint, lying on the ground, holding up a cross, and a huge and
cloudy fiend with vast bat-like wings bending over him, preparing
to clutch him, but deterred by the sacred emblem. That was a really
terrible shock. I turned the page hastily, and said nothing, though
it deprived me of speech and appetite. My father noticed my
distress, and asked if I felt unwell, but I said "No." I got
through dessert somehow; but then I had to say good-night, go out
into the dimly-lit hall, slip the volume back into the bookcase,
and get upstairs. I tore up the staircase, feeling the air full of
wings and clutching hands. That was too bad ever to be spoken of;
and as I did not remember which volume it was, I was never able to
look at the set of magazines again for fear of encountering it; and
strange to say some years afterwards, when I was an Eton boy, I
looked curiously for the picture, and again experienced the same
overwhelming horror.

My youngest brother, too, an imaginative child, could never be
persuaded by any bribes or entreaties to go into a dark room to
fetch anything out. Nothing would induce him. I remember that he
was catechised at the tea-table as to what he expected to find, to
which he replied at once, with a horror-stricken look and a long
stammer, "B--b--b--bloodstained corpses!"

It seems fantastic and ridiculous enough to older people, but the
horror of the dark and of the unknown which some children have is
not a thing to be laughed at, nor should it be unsympathetically
combated. One must remember that experience has not taught a child
scepticism; he thinks that anything in the world may happen; and
all the monsters of nursery tales, goblins, witches, evil fairies,
dragons, which a child in daylight will know to be imaginary,
begin, as the dusk draws on, to become appalling possibilities.
They may be somewhere about, lurking in cellars and cupboards and
lofts and dark entries by day, and at night they may slip out to do
what harm they can. For children, not far from the gates of birth,
are still strongly the victims of primeval and inherited fears, not
corrected by the habitual current of life. It is not a reason for
depriving children of the joys of the old tales and the exercise of
the faculty of wonder; but the tendency should be very carefully
guarded and watched, because these sudden shocks may make indelible
marks, and leave a little weak spot in the mind which may prove
difficult to heal.

It is not only these spectral terrors against which children have
to be guarded. All severity and sharp indignity of punishment, all
intemperate anger, all roughness of treatment, should be kept in
strict restraint. There are noisy, boisterous, healthy children, of
course, who do not resent or even dread sharp usage. But it is not
always easy to discover the sensitive child, because fear of
displeasure will freeze him into a stupor of apparent dullness and
stubbornness. I am always infuriated by stupid people who regret
the disappearance of sharp, stern, peremptory punishments, and
lament the softness of the rising generation. If punishment must be
inflicted, it should be done good-naturedly and robustly as a
natural tit-for-tat. Anger should be reserved for things like
spitefulness and dishonesty and cruelty. There is nothing more
utterly confusing to the childish mind than to have trifling faults
treated with wrath and indignation. It is true that, in the world
of nature, punishment seems often wholly disproportionate to
offences. Nature will penalise carelessness in a disastrous
fashion, and spare the cautious and prudent sinner. But there is no
excuse for us, if we have any sense of justice and patience at all,
for not setting a better example. We ought to show children that
there is a moral order which we are endeavouring to administer. If
parents and schoolmasters, who are both judges and executioners,
allow their own rule to be fortuitous, indulge their own irritable
moods, punish severely a trifling fault, and sentimentalise or
condone a serious one, a child is utterly confused. I know several
people who have had their lives blighted, have been made
suspicious, cynical, crafty, and timid, by severe usage and
bullying and open contempt in childhood. The thing to avoid, for
all who are responsible in the smallest degree for the nurture of
children, is to call in the influence of fear; one may speak
plainly of consequences, but even there one must not exaggerate, as
schoolmasters often do, for the best of motives, about moral
faults; one may punish deliberate and repeated disobedience, wanton
cruelty, persistent and selfish disregard of the rights of others,
but one must warn many times, and never try to triumph over a fault
by the infliction of a shock of any kind. The shock is the most
cruel and cowardly sort of punishment, and if we wilfully use it,
then we are perpetuating the sad tyranny of instinctive fear, and
using the strength of a great angel to do the work of a demon, such
as I saw long ago in the old magazine, and felt its tyranny for
many days.

As a child the one thing I was afraid of was the possibility of my
father's displeasure. We did not see a great deal of him, because
he was a much occupied headmaster; and he was to me a stately and
majestic presence, before whom the whole created world seemed
visibly to bow. But he was deeply anxious about our upbringing, and
had a very strong sense of his responsibility; and he would
sometimes reprove us rather sternly for some extremely trifling
thing, the way one ate one's food, or spoke, or behaved. This
descended upon me as a cloud of darkness; I attempted no excuses, I
did not explain or defend myself; I simply was crushed and
confounded. I do not think it was the right method. He never
punished us, but we were not at ease with him. I remember the agony
with which I heard a younger sister once repeat to him some silly
and profane little jokes which a good-natured and absurd old lady
had told us in the nursery. I felt sure he would disapprove, as he
did. I knew quite well in my childish mind that it was harmless
nonsense, and did not give us a taste for ungodly mirth. But I
could not intervene or expostulate. I am sure that my father had
not the slightest idea how weighty and dominant he was; but many of
the things he rebuked would have been better not noticed, or if
noticed only made fun of, while I feel that he ought to have given
us more opportunity of stating our case. He simply frightened me
into having a different morality when I was in his presence to what
I had elsewhere. But he did not make me love goodness thereby, and
only gave me a sense that certain things, harmless in themselves,
must not be done or said in the presence of papa. He did not always
remember his own rules, and there was thus an element of injustice
in his rebukes, which one merely accepted as part of his awful and
unaccountable greatness.

When I was transferred to a private school, a great big place, very
well managed in every way, I lived for a time in atrocious terror
of everything and everybody. I was conscious of a great code of
rules which I did not know or understand, which I might quite
unwittingly break, and the consequences of which might be fatal. I
was never punished or caned, nor was I ever bullied. But I simply
effaced myself as far as possible, and lived in dread of disaster.
The thought even now of certain high blank walls with lofty barred
windows, the remembered smells of certain passages and corners, the
tall form and flashing eye of our headmaster and the faint
fragrance of Havana cigars which hung about him, the bare corridors
with their dark cupboards, the stone stairs and iron railings--all
this gives me a far-off sense of dread. I can give no reason for my
unhappiness there; but I can recollect waking in the early summer
mornings, hearing the screams of peacocks from an adjoining garden,
and thinking with a dreadful sense of isolation and despair of all
the possibilities of disaster that lay hid in the day. I am sure it
was not a wholesome experience. One need not fear the world more
than is necessary--but my only dream of peace was the escape to
the delights of home, and the thought of the larger world was only
a thing that I shrank from and shuddered at.

No, it is wrong to say one had no friends, but how few they seemed
and how clearly they stand out! I did not make friends among the
boys; they were pleasant enough acquaintances, some of them, but
not to be trusted or confided in; they had to be kept at arm's
length, and one's real life guarded and hoarded away from them;
because if one told them anything about one's home or one's ideas,
it might be repeated, and the sacred facts shouted in one's ears as
taunts and jests. But there was a little bluff master, a clergyman,
with shaggy rippled red-brown hair and a face like a pug-dog. He
was kind to me, and had me to lunch one Sunday in a villa out at
Barnes--that was a breath of life, to sit in a homelike room and
look at old Punches half the afternoon; and there was another young
man, a master, rather stout and pale, with whom I shared some
little jokes, and who treated me as he might treat a younger
brother; he was pledged, I remember, to give me a cake if I won an
Eton Scholarship, and royally he redeemed his promise. He died of
heart disease a little while after I left the school. I had
promised to write to him from Eton and never did so, and I had a
little pang about that when I heard of his death. And then there
was the handsome loud-voiced maid of my dormitory, Underwood by
name, who was always just and kind, and who, even when she rated
us, as she did at times, had always something human beckoning from
her handsome eye. I can see her now, with her sleeves tucked up,
and her big white muscular arms, washing a refractory little boy
who fought shy of soap and water. I had a wild idea of giving her a
kiss when I went away, and I think she would have liked that. She
told me I had always been a good boy, and that she was sorry that I
was going; but I did not dare to embrace her.

And then there was dear Louisa, the matron of the little sanatorium
on the Mortlake road. She had been a former housemaid of ours; she
was a strong sturdy woman, with a deep voice like a man, and when I
arrived there ill--I was often ill in those days--she used to hug
and kiss me and even cry over me; and the happiest days I spent at
school were in that poky little house, reading in Louisa's little
parlour, while she prepared some special dish as a treat for my
supper; or sitting hour by hour at the window of my room upstairs,
watching a grocer opposite set out his window. I certainly did love
Louisa with all my heart; and it was almost pleasant to be ill, to
be welcomed by her and petted and made much of. "My own dear boy,"
she used to say, and it was music in my ears.

I feel on looking back that, if I had children of my own, I should
study very carefully to avoid any sort of terrorism. Psychologists
tell us that the nervous shocks of early years are the things that
leave indelible marks throughout life. I believe that mental
specialists often make a careful study of the dreams of those whose
minds are afflicted, because it is held that dreams very often
continue to reproduce in later life the mental shocks of childhood.
Anger, intemperate punishment, any attempt to produce instant
submission and dismay in children, is very apt to hurt the nervous
organisation. Of course it is easy enough to be careful about these
things in sheltered environments, where there is some security and
refinement of life. And this opens up a vast problem which cannot
be touched on here, because it is practically certain that many
children in poor and unsatisfactory homes sustain shocks to their
mental organisation in early life which damage them irreparably,
and which could be avoided if they could be brought up on more
wholesome and tender lines.






VII

FEARS OF BOYHOOD





There is a tendency, I am sure, in books, to shirk the whole subject
of fear, as though it were a thing disgraceful, shameful, almost
unmentionable. The coward, the timid person, receives very little
sympathy; he is rather like one tainted with a shocking disease, of
which the less said the better. He is not viewed with any sympathy
or commiseration, but as something almost lower in the scale of
humanity. Take the literature that deals with school life, for
instance. I do not think that there is any province of our
literature so inept, so conventional, so entirely lacking in
reality, as the books which deal with the life of schools. The
difficulty of writing them is very great, because they can only be
reconstructed by an effort of memory. The boy himself is quite
unable to give expression to his thoughts and feelings; school life
is a time of sharp, eager, often rather savage emotions, lived by
beings who have no sense of proportion, no knowledge of life, no
idea of what is really going on in the world. The actual incidents
which occur are very trivial, and yet to the fresh minds and spirits
of boyhood they seem all charged with an intense significance. Then
again the talk of schoolboys is wholly immature and shapeless. They
cannot express themselves, and moreover there is a very strict and
peremptory convention which dictates what may be talked about and
what may not. No society in the world is under so oppressive a
taboo. They must not speak of anything emotional or intellectual, at
the cost of being thought a fool or a prig. They talk about games,
they gossip about boys and masters, sometimes their conversation is
nasty and bestial. But it conceals very real if very fitful
emotions; yet it is impossible to recall or to reconstruct; and when
older people attempt to reconstruct it, they remember the emotions
which underlay it, and the eager interests out of which it all
sprang; and they make it something picturesque, epigrammatic, and
vernacular which is wholly untrue to life. The fact is that the talk
of schoolboys is very trivial and almost wholly symbolical; emotion
reveals itself in glance and gesture, not in word at all. I suppose
that most of us remember our boyish friendships, ardent and eager
personal admirations, extraordinary deifications of quite
commonplace boys, emotions none of which were ever put into words at
all, hardly even into coherent thought, and were yet a swift and
vital current of the soul.

Now the most unreal part of the reconstructions of school life is
the insistence on the boyish code of honour. Neither as a boy nor
as a schoolmaster did I ever have much evidence of this. There were
certain hard and fast rules of conduct, like the rule which
prevented any boy from giving information to a master against
another boy. But this was not a conscientious thing. It was part of
the tradition, and the social ostracism which was the penalty of
its infraction was too severe to risk incurring. But the boys who
cut a schoolfellow for telling tales, did not do it from any high-
minded sense of violated honour. It was simply a piece of self-
defence, and the basis of the convention was merely this, that, if
the rule were broken, it would produce an impossible sense of
insecurity and peril. However much boys might on the whole approve
of, respect, and even like their masters, still they could not make
common cause with them. The school was a perfectly definite
community, inside of which it was often convenient and pleasant to
do things which would be penalised if discovered; and thus the
whole stability of that society depended upon a certain secrecy.
The masters were not disliked for finding out the infractions of
rules, if only such infractions were patent and obvious. A master
who looked too closely into things, who practised any sort of
espionage, who tried to extort confession, was disapproved of as a
menace, and it was convenient to label him a sneak and a spy, and
to say that he did not play the game fair. But all this was a mere
tradition. Boys do not reflect much, or look into the reasons of
things. It does not occur to them to credit masters with the motive
of wishing to protect them against themselves, to minimise
temptation, to shelter them from undesirable influences; that
perhaps dawns on the minds of sensible and high-minded prefects,
but the ordinary boy just regards the master as an opposing power,
whom he hoodwinks if he can.

And then the boyish ideal of courage is a very incomplete one. He
does not recognise it as courage if a sensitive, conscientious, and
right-minded boy risks unpopularity by telling a master of some
evil practice which is spreading in a school. He simply regards it
as a desire to meddle, a priggish and pragmatical act, and even as
a sneaking desire to inflict punishment by proxy.

Courage, for the schoolboy, is merely physical courage, aplomb,
boldness, recklessness, high-handedness. The hero of school life is
one like Odysseus, who is strong, inventive, daring, full of
resource. The point is to come out on the top. Odysseus yields to
sensual delight, he is cruel, vindictive, and incredibly deceitful.
It is evident that successful beguiling, the power of telling an
elaborate, plausible, and imperturbable lie on occasions, is an
heroic quality in the Odyssey. Odysseus is not a man who scorns to
deceive, or who would rather take the consequences than utter a
falsehood. His strength rather lies in his power, when at bay, of
flashing into some monstrous fiction, dramatising the situation,
playing an adopted part, with confidence and assurance. One sees
traces of the same thing in the Bible. The story of Jacob deceiving
Isaac, and pretending to be Esau in order to secure a blessing is
not related with disapprobation. Jacob does not forfeit his
blessing when his deceit is discovered. The whole incident is
regarded rather as a master-stroke of cunning and inventiveness.
Esau is angry not because Jacob has employed such trickery, but
because he has succeeded in supplanting him.

I remember, as a boy at Eton, seeing a scene which left a deep
impression on me. There was a big unpleasant unscrupulous boy of
great physical strength, who was a noted football player. He was
extremely unpopular in the school, because he was rude, sulky, and
overbearing, and still more because he took unfair advantages in
games. There was a hotly contested house-match, in which he tried
again and again to evade rules, while he was for ever appealing to
the umpires against violations of rule by the opposite side. His
own house was ultimately victorious, but feeling ran very high
indeed, because it was thought that the victory was unfairly won.
The crowd of boys who had been watching the match drifted away in a
state of great exasperation, and finally collected in front of the
house of the unpopular player, hissed and hooted him. He took very
little notice of the demonstration and walked in, when there arose
a babel of howls. He turned round and came out again, facing the
crowd. I can see him now, all splashed and muddy, with his shirt
open at the neck. He was pale, ugly, and sinister; but he surveyed
us all with entire effrontery, drew out a pince-nez, being very
short-sighted, and then looked calmly round as if surprised. I have
certainly never seen such an exhibition of courage in my life. He
knew that he had not a single friend present, and he did not know
that he would not be maltreated--there were indications of a rush
being made. He did not look in the least picturesque; he was ugly,
scowling, offensive. But he did not care a rap, and if he had been
attacked, he would have defended himself with a will. It did not
occur to me then, nor did it, I think, occur to anyone else, what
an amazing bit of physical and moral courage it was. No one, then
or after, had the slightest feeling of admiration for his pluck.
"Did you ever see such a brute as P-- looked?" was the only sort
of comment made.

This just serves to illustrate my point, that boys have no real
discernment for what is courageous. What they admire is a certain
grace and spirit, and the hero is not one who constrains himself to
do an unpopular thing from a sense of duty, not even the boy who,
being unpopular like P--, does a satanically brave thing. Boys
have no admiration for the boy who defies them; what they like to
see is the defiance of a common foe. They admire gallant, modest,
spirited, picturesque behaviour, not the dull and faithful
obedience to the sense of right.

Of course things have altered for the better. Masters are no longer
stern, severe, abrupt, formidable, unreasonable. They know that
many a boy, who would be inclined on the whole to tell the truth,
can easily be frightened into telling a lie; but they have not yet
contrived to put the sense of honour among boys in the right
proportion. Such stories as that of George Washington--when the
children were asked who had cut down the apple-tree, and he rose
and said, "Sir, I cannot tell a lie; it was I who did it with my
little hatchet"--do not really take the imagination of boys
captive. How constantly did worthy preachers at Eton tell the story
of how Bishop Selwyn, as a boy, rose and left the room at a boat-
supper because an improper song was sung! That anecdote was
regarded with undisguised amusement, and it was simply thought to
be a piece of priggishness. I cannot imagine that any boy ever
heard the story and went away with a glowing desire to do likewise.
The incident really belongs to the domain of manners rather than to
that of morals.

The truth is really that boys at school have a code which resembles
that of the old chivalry. The hero may be sensual, unscrupulous,
cruel, selfish, indifferent to the welfare of others. But if he
bears himself gallantly, if he has a charm of look and manner, if
he is a deft performer in the prescribed athletics, he is the
object of profound and devoted admiration. It is really physical
courage, skill, prowess, personal attractiveness which is envied
and praised. A dull, heavy, painstaking, conscientious boy with a
sturdy sense of duty may be respected, but he is not followed;
while the imaginative, sensitive, nervous, highly-strung boy, who
may have the finest qualities of all within him, is apt to be the
most despised. Such a boy is often no good at games, because public
performance disconcerts him; he cannot make a ready answer, he has
no aplomb, no cheek, no smartness; and he is consequently thought
very little of.

To what extent this sort of instinctive preference can be altered,
I do not know; it certainly cannot be altered by sermons, and still
less by edicts. Old Dr. Keate said, when he was addressing the
school on the subject of fighting, "I must say that I like to see a
boy return a blow!" It seems, if one considers it, to be a curious
ideal to start life with, considering how little opportunity
civilisation now gives for returning blows! Boys in fact are still
educated under a system which seems to anticipate a combative and
disturbed sort of life to follow, in which strength and agility,
violence and physical activity, will have a value. Yet, as a matter
of fact, such things have very little substantial value in an
ordinary citizen's life at all, except in so far as they play their
part in the elaborate cult of athletic exercises, with which we
beguile the instinct which craves for manual toil. All the races,
and games, and athletics cultivated so assiduously at school seem
now to have very little aim in view. It is not important for
ordinary life to be able to run a hundred yards, or even three
miles, faster than another man; the judgment, the quickness of eye,
the strength and swiftness of muscle needed to make a man a good
batsman were all well enough in days when a man's life might
afterwards depend on his use of sword and battle-axe. But now it
only enables him to play games rather longer than other people, and
to a certain extent ministers to bodily health, although the
statistics of rowing would seem clearly to prove that it is a
pursuit which is rather more apt to damage the vitality of strong
boys than to increase the vitality of weak ones.

So, if we look facts fairly in the face, we see that much of the
training of school life, especially in the direction of athletics,
is really little more than the maintenance of a thoughtless old
tradition, and that it is all directed to increase our admiration
of prowess and grace and gallantry, rather than to fortify us in
usefulness and manual skill and soundness of body. A boy at school
may be a skilful carver or carpenter; he may have a real gift for
engineering or mechanics; he may even be a good rider, a first-rate
fisherman, an excellent shot. He may have good intellectual
abilities, a strong memory, a power of expression; he may be a
sound mathematician, a competent scientist; he may have all sorts
of excellent moral qualities, be reliable, accurate, truthful,
punctual, duty-loving; he may in fact be equipped for life and
citizenship, able to play his part sturdily and manfully, and to do
the world good service; but yet he may never win the smallest
recognition or admiration in his school-days, while all the glory
and honour and credit is still reserved for the graceful,
attractive, high-spirited athlete, who may have nothing else in the
background.

That is certainly the ideal of the boy, and the disconcerting thing
is that it is also the ideal, practically if not theoretically, of
the parent and the schoolmaster. The school still reserves all its
best gifts, its sunshine and smiles, for the knightly and the
skilful; it rewards all the qualities that are their own reward.
Why, if it wishes to get the right scale adopted, does it not
reward the thing which it professes to uphold as its best result,
worth of character namely? It claims to be a training-ground for
character first, but it does little to encourage secret and
unobtrusive virtues. That is, it adds its prizes to the things
which the natural man values, and it neglects to crown the one
thing at which it professes first to aim. In doing this it only
endorses the verdict of the world, and while it praises moral
effort, it rewards success.

The issue of all this is that the sort of courage which it enforces
is essentially a graceful and showy sort of courage, a lively
readiness, a high-hearted fearlessness--so that timidity and
slowness and diffidence and unreadiness become base and feeble
qualities, when they are not the things of which anyone need be
ashamed! Let me say then that moral courage, the patient and
unrecognised facing of difficulties, the disregard of popular
standards, solidity and steadfastness of purpose, the tranquil
performance of tiresome and disagreeable duties, homely
perseverance, are not the things which are regarded as supreme in
the ideal of the school; so that the fear which is the shadow of
sensitive and imaginative natures is turned into the wrong
channels, and becomes a mere dread of doing the unpopular and
unimpressive thing, or a craven determination not to be found out.
And the dread of being obscure and unacceptable is what haunts the
minds of boys brought up on these ambitious and competitive lines,
rather than the fear which is the beginning of wisdom.






VIII

FEARS OF YOUTH





The fears of youth are as a rule just the terrors of
self-consciousness and shyness. They are a very irrational thing,
something purely instinctive and of old inheritance. How irrational
they are is best proved by the fact that shyness is caused mostly by
the presence of strangers; there are many young people who are
bashful, awkward, and tongue-tied in the presence of strangers,
whose tremors wholly disappear in the family circle. If these were
rational fears, they might be caused by the consciousness of the
inspection and possible disapproval of those among whom one lives,
and whose annoyance and criticism might have unpleasant practical
effects. Yet they are caused often by the presence of those whose
disapproval is not of the smallest consequence, those, in fact, whom
one is not likely to see again. One must look then for the cause of
this, not in the fact that one's awkwardness and inefficiency is
likely to be blamed by those of one's own circle, but simply in the
terror of the unknown and the unfamiliar. It is probably therefore
an old inherited instinct, coming from a time when the sight of a
stranger might contain in it a menace of some hostile usage. If one
questions a shy boy or girl as to what it is they are afraid of in
the presence of strangers, they are quite unable to answer. They are
not afraid of anything that will be said or done; and yet they will
have become intensely conscious of their own appearance and
movements and dress, and will be quite unable to command themselves.
That it is a thing which can be easily cured is obvious from the
fact which I often observed when I was a schoolmaster, that as a
rule the boys who came from houses where there was much
entertaining, and a constant coming and going of guests, very rarely
suffered from such shyness. They had got used to the fact that
strangers could be depended upon to be kind and friendly, and
instead of looking upon a new person as a possible foe, they
regarded him as a probable friend.

I often think that parents do not take enough trouble in this
respect to make children used to strangers. What often happens is
that parents are themselves shy and embarrassed in the presence of
strangers, and when they notice that their children suffer from the
same awkwardness, they criticise them afterwards, partly because
they are vexed at their own clumsy performance; and thus the
shyness is increased, because the child, in addition to his sense
of shyness before strangers, has in the background of his mind the
feeling that any mauvaise honte that he may display may he
commented upon afterwards. No exhibition of shyness on the part of
a boy or girl should ever be adverted upon by parents. They should
take for granted that no one is ever willingly shy, and that it is
a misery which all would avoid if they could. It is even better to
allow children considerable freedom of speech with strangers, than
to repress and silence them. Of course impertinence and unpleasant
comments, such as children will sometimes make on the appearance or
manners of strangers, must be checked, but it should be on the
grounds of the unpleasantness of such remarks, and not on the
ground of forwardness. On the other hand, all attempts on the part
of a child to be friendly and courteous to strangers should be
noted and praised; a child should be encouraged to look upon itself
as an integral part of a circle, and not as a silent and lumpish
auditor.

Probably too there are certain physical and psychological laws,
which we do not at all understand, which account for the curious
subjective effects which certain people have at close quarters;
there is something hypnotic and mesmeric about the glance of
certain eyes; and there is in all probability a curious blending of
mental currents in an assembly of people, which is not a mere
fancy, but a very real physical fact. Personalities radiate very
real and unmistakable influences, and probably the undercurrent of
thought which happens to be in one's mind when one is with others
has an effect, even if one says or does nothing to indicate one's
preoccupation. A certain amount of this comes from an unconscious
inference on the part of the recipients. We often augur, without
any very definite rational process, from the facial expressions,
gestures, movements, tones of others, what their frame of mind is.
But I believe that there is a great deal more than that. We must
all know that when we are with friends to whose moods and emotions
we are attuned, there takes place a singular degree of thought-
transference, quite apart from speech. I had once a great friend
with whom I was accustomed to spend much time tete-a-tete. We used
to travel together and spend long periods, day after day, in close
conjunction, often indeed sharing the same bedroom. It became a
matter at first of amusement and interest, but afterwards an
accepted fact, that we could often realise, even after a long
silence, in what direction the other's thought was travelling. "How
did you guess I was thinking of that?" would be asked. To which the
reply was, "I did not guess--I knew." On the other hand I have an
old and familiar friend, whom I know well and regard with great
affection, but whose presence, and particularly a certain fixity of
glance, often, even now, causes me a curious subjective disturbance
which is not wholly pleasant, a sense of some odd psychical control
which is not entirely agreeable.

I have another friend who is the most delightful and easy company
in the world when we are, alone together; but he is a sensitive and
highly-strung creature, much affected by personal influences, and
when I meet him in the company of other people he is often almost
unrecognisable. His mind becomes critical, combative, acrid; he
does not say what he means, he is touched by a vague excitement,
and there passes over him an unnatural sort of brilliance, of a
hard and futile kind, which makes him sacrifice consideration and
friendliness to the instinctive desire to produce an effect and to
score a point. I sometimes actually detest him when he is one of a
circle. I feel inclined to say to him, "If only you could let your
real self appear, and drop this tiresome posturing and fencing, you
would be as delightful as you are to me when I am alone with you;
but this hectic tittering and feverish jocosity is not only not
your real self, but it gives others an impression of a totally
unreal and not very agreeable person." But, alas, this is just the
sort of thing one cannot say to a friend!

As one goes on in life, this terrible and disconcerting shyness of
youth disappears. We begin to realise, with a wholesome loss of
vanity and conceit, how very little people care or even notice how
we are dressed, how we look, what we say. We learn that other
people are as much preoccupied with their thoughts and fancies and
reflections as we are with our own. We realise that if we are
anxious to produce an agreeable impression, we do so far more by
being interested and sympathetic, than by attempting a brilliance
which we cannot command. We perceive that other people are not
particularly interested in our crude views, nor very grateful for
the expression of them. We acquire the power of combination and co-
operation, in losing the desire for splendour and domination. We
see that people value ease and security, more than they admire
originality and fantastic contradiction. And so we come to the
blessed time when, instead of reflecting after a social occasion
whether we did ourselves justice, we begin to consider rather the
impression we have formed of other personalities.

I believe that we ought to have recourse to very homely remedies
indeed for combating shyness. It is of no use to try to console and
distract ourselves with lofty thoughts, and to try to keep eternity
and the hopes of man in mind. We so become only more self-conscious
and superior than ever. The fact remains that the shyness of youth
causes agonies both of anticipation and retrospect; if one really
wishes to get rid of it, the only way is to determine to get used
somehow to society, and not to endeavour to avoid it; and as a
practical rule to make up one's mind, if possible, to ask people
questions, rather than to meditate impressive answers. Asking other
people questions about things to which they are likely to know the
answers is one of the shortest cuts to popularity and esteem. It is
wonderful to reflect how much distress personal bashfulness causes
people, how much they would give to be rid of it, and yet how very
little trouble they ever take to acquiring any method of dealing
with the difficulty. I see a good deal of undergraduates, and am
often aware that they are friendly and responsive, but without any
power of giving expression to it. I sometimes see them suffering
acutely from shyness before my eyes. But a young man who can bring
himself to ask a perfectly simple question about some small matter
of common interest is comparatively rare; and yet it is generally
the simplest way out of the difficulty.






IX

FEARS OF MIDDLE AGE





Now with all the tremors, reactions, glooms, shadows, and despairs
of youth--it is easy enough to forget them, but they were there--
goes a power of lifting and lighting up in a moment at a chord of
music, a glance, a word, the song of a bird, the scent of a flower,
a flying sunburst, which fills life up like a cup with bubbling and
sparkling liquor.


  "My soul, be patient! Thou shalt find
   A little matter mend all this!"


And that is the part of youth which we remember, till on looking
back it seems like a time of wandering with like-hearted comrades
down some sweet-scented avenue of golden sun and green shade. Our
memory plays us beautifully false--splendide mendax--till one wishes
sometimes that old and wise men, retelling the story of their life,
could recall for the comfort of youth some part of its languors and
mischances, its bitter jealousies, its intense and poignant sense of
failure.

And then in a moment the door of life opens. One day I was an
irresponsible, pleasure-loving, fantastic youth, and a week later I
was, or it seemed to me that I was, a professional man with all the
cares of a pedagogue upon my back. It filled me at first, I
remember, with a gleeful amazement, to find myself in the desk,
holding forth, instead of on the form listening. It seemed
delicious at first to have the power of correcting and slashing
exercises, and placing boys in order, instead of being corrected
and examined, and competing for a place. It was a solemn game at
the outset. Then came the other side of the picture. One's pupils
were troublesome, they did badly in examinations, they failed
unaccountably; and one had a glimpse too of some of the tragedies
of school life. Almost insensibly I became aware that I had a task
to perform, that my mistakes involved boys in disaster, that I had
the anxious care of other destinies; and thus, almost before I knew
it, came a new cloud on the horizon, the cloud of anxiety. I could
not help seeing that I had mismanaged this boy and misdirected
that; that one could not treat them as ingenuous and lively
playthings, but that what one said and did set a mark which perhaps
could not be effaced. Gradually other doubts and problems made
themselves felt. I had to administer a system of education in which
I did not wholly believe; I saw little by little that the rigid old
system of education was a machine which, if it made a highly
accomplished product out of the best material, wasted an enormous
amount of boyish interest and liveliness, and stultified the
feebler sort of mind. Then came the care of a boarding-house, close
relations with parents, a more real knowledge of the infinite
levity of boy nature. I became mixed up with the politics of the
place, the chance of more ambitious positions floated before me;
the need for tact, discretion, judiciousness, moderation, tolerance
emphasized itself. I am here outlining my own experience, but it is
only one of many similar experiences. I became a citizen without
knowing it, and my place in the world, my status, success, all
became definite things which I had to secure.

The cares, the fears, the anxieties of middle life lie for most men
and women in this region; if people are healthy and active, they
generally arrive at a considerable degree of equanimity; they do
not anticipate evil, and they take the problems of life cheerfully
enough as they come; but yet come they do, and too many men and
women are tempted to throw overboard scornfully and disdainfully
the dreams of youth as a luxury which they cannot afford to
indulge, and to immerse themselves in practical cares, month after
month, with perhaps the hope of a fairly careless and idle holiday
at intervals. What I think tends to counteract this for many people
is love and marriage, the wonder and amazement of having children
of their own, and all the offices of tenderness that grow up
naturally beside their path. But this again brings a whole host of
fears and anxieties as well--arrangements, ways and means,
household cares, illnesses, the homely stuff of life, much of it
enjoyed, much of it cheerfully borne, and often very bravely and
gallantly endured. It is out of this simple material that life has
to be constructed. But there is a twofold danger in all this. There
is a danger of cynicism, the frame of mind in which a man comes to
face little worries as one might put up an umbrella in a shower--
"Thou know'st 'tis common!" Out of that grows up a rude dreariness,
a philosophy which has nothing dignified about it, but is merely a
recognition of the fact that life is a poor affair, and that one
cannot hope to have things to one's mind. Or there is a dull frame
of mind which implies a meek resignation, a sense of disappointment
about life, borne with a mournful patience, a sense of one's sphere
having somehow fallen short of one's deserts. This produces the
grumpy paterfamilias who drowses over a paper or grumbles over a
pipe; such a man is inimitably depicted by Mr. Wells in Marriage.
That sort of ugly disillusionment, that publicity of
disappointment, that frank disregard of all concerns except one's
own, is one of the most hideous features of middle-class life, and
it is rather characteristically English. It sometimes conceals a
robust good sense and even kindliness; but it is a base thing at
best, and seems to be the shadow of commercial prosperity. Yet it
at least implies a certain sturdiness of character, and a stubborn
belief in one's own merits which is quite impervious to the lessons
of experience. On sensitive and imaginative people the result of
the professional struggle with life, the essence of which is often
social pretentiousness, is different. It ends in a mournful and
distracted kind of fatigue, a tired sort of padding along after
life, a timid bewilderment at conditions which one cannot alter,
and which yet have no dignity or seemliness.

What is there that is wrong with all this? The cause is easy enough
to analyse. It is the result of a system which develops
conventional, short-sighted, complicated households, averse to
effort, fond of pleasure, and with tastes which are expensive
without being refined. The only cure would seem to be that men and
women should be born different, with simple active generous
natures; it is easy to say that! But the worst of the situation is
that the sordid banality and ugly tragedy of their lot do not dawn
on the people concerned. Greedy vanity in the more robust, lack of
moral courage and firmness in the more sensitive, with a social
organisation that aims at a surface dignity and a cheap showiness,
are the ingredients of this devil's cauldron. The worst of it is
that it has no fine elements at all. There is a nobility about real
tragedy which evokes a quality of passionate and sincere emotion.
There is something essentially exalted about a fierce resistance, a
desperate failure. But this abject, listless dreariness, which can
hardly be altered or expressed, this miserable floating down the
muddy current, where there is no sharp repentance or fiery
battling, nothing but a mean abandonment to a meaningless and
unintelligible destiny, seems to have in it no seed of recovery at
all.

The dark shadow of professional anxiety is that it has no tragic
quality; it is like ploughing on day by day through endless mud-
flats. One does not feel, in the presence of sharp suffering or
bitter loss, that they ought not to exist. They are there, stern,
implacable, august; stately enemies, great combatants. There is a
significance about their very awfulness. One may fall before them,
but they pass like a great express train, roaring, flashing, things
deliberately and intently designed; but these dull failures which
seem not the outgrowth of anyone's fierce longing or wilful
passion, but of everyone's laziness and greediness and stupidity,
how is one to face them? It is the helpless death of the quagmire,
not the death of the fight or the mountain-top. Is there, we ask
ourselves, anything in the mind of God which corresponds to
comfort-loving vulgarity, if so strong and yet so stagnant a stream
can overflow the world? The bourgeois ideal! One would rather have
tyranny or savagery than anything so gross and smug.

And yet we see high-spirited and ardent husbands drawn into this by
obstinate and vulgar-minded wives. We see fine-natured and
sensitive women engulfed in it by selfish and ambitious husbands.
The tendency is awfully and horribly strong, and it wins, not by
open combat, but by secret and dull persistence. And one sees too--
I have seen it many times--children of delicate and eager natures,
who would have flourished and expanded in more generous air, become
conventional and commonplace and petty, concerned about knowing the
right people and doing the right things, and making the same stupid
and paltry show, which deceives no one.

There is nothing for it but independence and simplicity and,
perhaps best of all, a love of beauty. William Morris asserted
passionately enough that art was the only cure for all this
dreariness--the love of beautiful sounds and sights and words; and
I think that is true, if it be further extended to a perception of
the quality of beauty in the conduct and relations of life. For
those are the cheap and reasonable pleasures of life, accessible to
all; and if men and women cared for work first and the decent
simplicities of wholesome living, and could further find their
pleasure in art, in whatever form, then I believe that many of
these fears and anxieties, so maiming and impairing to all that is
fine in life, would vanish quietly out of being. The thing seems
both beautiful and possible, because one knows of households where
it is so, and where it grows up naturally and easily enough. I know
households of both kinds--where on the one hand the standard is
ambitious and mean, where the inmates calculate everything with a
view to success, or rather to producing an impression of success;
and there all talk and intercourse is an unreal thing, not the
outflow of natural interests and pleasant tastes, but a sham
culture and a refinement that is only pursued because it is the
right sort of surface to present to the world. One submits to it
with boredom, one leaves it with relief. They have got the right
people together, they have shown that they can command their
attendance; it is all ceremony and waste.

And then I know households where one sees in the books, the
pictures, the glances, the gestures, the movements of the inmates,
a sort of grace and delicacy which comes of really caring about
things that are beautiful and fine. Sincere things are simply said,
humour bubbles up and breaks in laughter; one feels that light is
thrown on a hundred topics and facts and personalities. The whole
of life then becomes a garden teeming with strange and wonderful
secrets, and influences that flash and radiate, passing on into
some mysterious and fragrant gloom. Everything there seems charged
with significance and charm; there are no pretences--there are
preferences, prejudices if you will; but there is tolerance and
sympathy, and a desire to see the point of view of others. The
effect of such an atmosphere is to set one wondering how one has
contrived to miss the sense of so much that is beautiful and
interesting in life, and sends one away longing to perceive more,
and determined if possible to interpret life more truly and more
graciously.






X

FEARS OF AGE





And then age creeps on; and that brings fears of its own, and fears
that are all the more intolerable because they are not definite
fears at all, merely a loss of nervous vigour, which attaches itself
to the most trivial detail and magnifies it into an insuperable
difficulty. A friend of mine who was growing old once confided to me
that foreign travel, which used to be such a delight to him, was now
getting burdensome. "It is all right when I have once started," he
said, "but for days before I am the prey of all kinds of
apprehensions." "What sort of apprehensions?" I said. He laughed,
and replied, "Well, it is almost too absurd to mention, but I find
myself oppressed with anxiety for weeks beforehand as to whether,
when we get to Calais, we shall find places in the train." And I
remember, too, how a woman friend of mine once told me that she
called at the house of an elderly couple in London, people of rank
and wealth. Their daughter met her in the drawing-room and said, "I
am glad you are come--you may be able to cheer my mother up. We are
going down to-morrow to our place in the country; the servants and
the luggage went this morning, and my mother and father are to drive
down this afternoon--my mother is very low about it." "What is the
matter?" said my friend. The daughter replied, "She is afraid that
they will not get there in time!" "In time for what?" said my
friend, thinking that there was some important engagement. "In time
for tea!" said the daughter gravely.

It is all very well to laugh at such fears, but they are not
natural fears at all, they just indicate a low vitality; they are
the symptoms and not the causes of a disease. It is the frame of
mind of the sluggard in the Bible who says, "There is a lion in the
way." Younger people are apt to be irritated by what seems a wilful
creating of apprehensions. They ought rather to be patient and
reassuring, and compassionate to the weakness of nerve for which it
stands.

With such fears as these may be classed all the unreal but none the
less distressing fears about health which beset people all their
lives, in some cases; it is extremely annoying to healthy people to
find a man reduced to depression and silence at the possibility of
taking cold, or at the fear of having eaten something unwholesome.
I remember an elderly gentleman who had lived a vigorous and
unselfish life, and was indeed a man of force and character, whose
activity was entirely suspended in later years by his fear of
catching cold or of over-tiring himself. He was a country
clergyman, and used to spend the whole of Sunday between his
services, in solitary seclusion, "resting," and retire to bed the
moment the evening service was over; moreover his dread of taking
cold was such that he invariably wore a hat in the winter months to
go from the drawing-room to the dining-room for dinner, even if
there were guests in his house. He used to jest about it, and say
that it no doubt must look curious; but he added that he had found
it a wise precaution, and that we had no idea how disabling his
colds were. Even a very healthy friend of my own standing has told
me that if he ever lies awake at night he is apt to exaggerate the
smallest and most trifling sense of discomfort into the symptom of
some dangerous disease. Let me quote the well-known case of Hans
Andersen, whose imagination was morbidly strong. He found one
morning when he awoke that he had a small pimple under his left
eyebrow. He reflected with distress upon the circumstance, and soon
came to the rueful conclusion that the pimple would probably
increase in size, and deprive him of the sight of his left eye. A
friend calling upon him in the course of the morning found him
writing, in a mood of solemn resignation, with one hand over the
eye in question, "practising," as he said, "how to read and write
with the only eye that would soon be left him."

One's first impulse is to treat these self-inflicted sufferings as
ridiculous and almost idiotic. But they are quite apt to beset
people of effectiveness and ability. To call them irrational does
not cure them, because they lie deeper than any rational process,
and are in fact the superficial symptoms of some deep-seated
weakness of nerve, while their very absurdity, and the fact that
the mind cannot throw them off, only proves how strong they are.
They are in fact signs of some profound uneasiness of mind; and the
rational brain of such people, casting about for some reason to
explain the fear with which they are haunted, fixes on some detail
which is not worthy of serious notice. It is of course a species of
local insanity and monomania, but it does not imply any general
obscuration of faculties at all. Some of the most intellectual
people are most at the mercy of such trials, and indeed they are
rather characteristic of men and women whose brain is apt to work
at high pressure. One recollects in the life of Shelley, how he
used to be haunted by these insupportable fears. He was at one time
persuaded that he had contracted leprosy, and he used to disconcert
his acquaintances by examining solicitously their wrists and necks
to see if he could detect symptoms of the same disease.

There is very little doubt that as medical knowledge progresses we
shall know more about the cause of such hallucinations. To call
them unreal is mere stupidity. Sensible people who suffer from them
are often perfectly well aware of their unreality, and are
profoundly humiliated by them. They are some disease or weakness of
the imaginative faculty; and a friend of mine who suffered from
such things told me that it was extraordinary to him to perceive
the incredible ingenuity with which his brain under such
circumstances used to find confirmation for his fears from all
sorts of trivial incidents which at other times passed quite
unnoticed. It is generally quite useless to think of removing the
fear by combating the particular fancy; the affected centre,
whatever it is, only turns feverishly to some other similar
anxiety. Occupation of a quiet kind, exercise, rest, are the best
medicine.

Sometimes these anxieties take a different form, and betray
themselves by suspicion of other people's conduct and motives. That
is of course allied to insanity. In sane and sound health we
realise that we are not, as a rule, the objects of the malignity
and spitefulness of others. We are perhaps obstacles to the
carrying out of other people's plans; but men and women as a rule
mind their own business, and are not much concerned to intervene in
the designs and activities of others. Yet a man whose mental
equilibrium is unstable is apt to think that if he is disappointed
or thwarted it is the result of a deliberate conspiracy on the part
of other people. If he is a writer, he thinks that other writers
are aware of his merits, but are determined to prevent them being
recognised out of sheer ill-will. A man in robust health realises
that he gets quite as much credit or even more credit than he
deserves, and that his claims to attention are generously
recognised; one has exactly as much influence and weight as one can
get, and other people as a rule are much too much occupied in their
own concerns to have either the time or the inclination to
interfere. But as a man grows older, as his work stiffens and
weakens, he falls out of the race, and he must be content to do so;
and he is well advised if he puts his failure down to his own
deficiencies, and not to the malice of others. The world is really
very much on the look out for anything which amuses, delights,
impresses, moves, or helps it; it is quick and generous in
recognition of originality and force; and if a writer, as he gets
older, finds his books neglected and his opinions disdained, he may
be fairly sure that he has said his say, and that men are
preoccupied with new ideas and new personalities. Of course this is
a melancholy and disconcerting business, especially if one has been
more concerned with personal prominence than with the worth and
weight of one's ideas; mortified vanity is a sore trial. I remember
once meeting an old author who, some thirty years before the date
at which I met him, had produced a book which attracted an
extraordinary amount of attention, though it has long since been
forgotten. The old man had all the airs of solemn greatness, and I
have seldom seen a more rueful spectacle than when a young and
rising author was introduced to him, and when it became obvious
that the young man had not only never heard of the old writer, but
did not know the name of his book.

The question is what we can do to avoid falling under the dominion
of these uncanny fears and fancies, as we fall from middle age to
age. A dreary, dispirited, unhappy, peevish old man or old woman is
a very miserable spectacle; while, at the same time, generous,
courteous, patient, modest, tender old age is one of the most
beautiful things in the world. We may of course resolve not to
carry our dreariness into all circles, and if we find life a poor
and dejected business, we can determine that we will not enlarge
upon the theme. But the worst of discouragement is that it removes
even the desire to play a part, or to make the most and best of
ourselves. Like Mrs. Gummidge in David Copperfield, if we are
reminded that other people have their troubles, we are apt to reply
that we feel them more. One does not desire that people should
unduly indulge themselves in self-dramatisation. There is something
very repugnant in an elderly person who is bent on proving his
importance and dignity, in laying claim to force and influence, in
affecting to play a large part in the world. But there is something
even more afflicting in the people who drop all decent pretence of
dignity, and pour the product of an acrid and disappointed spirit
into all conversations.

Age can establish itself very firmly in the hearts of its circle,
if it is kind, sympathetic, appreciative, ready to receive
confidences, willing to encourage the fitful despondencies of
youth. But here again we are met by the perennial difficulty as to
how far we can force ourselves to do things which we do not really
want to do, and how far again, if we succeed in forcing ourselves
into action, we can give any accent of sincerity and genuineness to
our comments and questions.

In this particular matter, that of sympathy, a very little effort
does undoubtedly go a long way, because there are a great many
people in the world eagerly on the look out for any sign of
sympathy, and not apt to scrutinise too closely the character of
the sympathy offered. And the best part of having once forced
oneself to exhibit sympathy, at whatever cost of strain and effort,
is that one is at least ashamed to withdraw it.

I remember a foolish woman who was very anxious to retain the hold
upon the active world which she had once possessed. She very seldom
spoke of any subject but herself, her performances, her activities,
the pressure of the claims which she was forced to try to satisfy.
I can recall her now, with her sanguine complexion, her high voice,
her anxious and restless eye wandering in search of admiration.
"The day's post!" she cried, "that is one of my worst trials--so
many duties to fulfil, so many requests for help, so many
irresistible claims come before me in the pile of letters--that
high," indicating about a foot and a half of linear measurement
above the table. "It is the same story every day--a score of people
bringing their little mugs of egotism to be filled at my pump of
sympathy!"

It was a ridiculous exhibition, because one was practically sure
that there was nothing of the kind going on. One was inclined to
believe that they were mugs of sympathy filled at the pump of
egotism! But if the thing were really being done, it was certainly
worth doing!

One of the causes of the failure of nerve-force in age, which lies
behind so much of these miseries, is that people who have lived at
all active lives cannot bring themselves to realise their loss of
vigour, and try to prolong the natural energies of middle age into
the twilight of elderliness. Men and women cling to activities, not
because they enjoy them, but to delude themselves into believing
that they are still young. That terrible inability to resign
positions, the duties of which one cannot adequately fulfil, which
seems so disgraceful and unconscientious a handling of life to the
young, is often a pathetic clinging to youth. Such veterans do not
reflect that the only effect of such tenacity is partly that other
people do their work, and partly also that the critic observes that
if a post can be adequately filled by so old a man it is a proof
that such a post ought not to exist. The tendency ought to be met
as far as possible by fixing age-limits to all positions. Because
even if the old and weary do consult their friends as to the
advisability of retirement, it is very hard for the friends
cordially to recommend it. A public man once told me that a very
aged official consulted him as to the propriety of resignation. He
said in his reply something complimentary about the value of the
veteran's services. Whereupon the old man replied that as he set so
high an estimation upon his work, he would endeavour to hold on a
little longer!

The conscientious thing to do, as we get older and find ourselves
slower, more timid, more inactive, more anxious, is to consult a
candid friend, and to follow his advice rather than our own
inclination; a certain fearfulness, an avoidance of unpleasant
duty, a dreary foreboding, is apt to be characteristic of age. But
we must meet it philosophically. We must reflect that we have done
our work, and that an attempt to galvanise ourselves into activity
is sure to result in depression. So we must condense our energies,
be content to play a little, to drowse a little, to watch with
interest the game of life in which we cannot take a hand, until
death falls as naturally upon our wearied eyes as sleep falls upon
the eyes of a child tired with a long summer day of eager pleasure
and delight.

But there is one practical counsel that may here be given to all
who find a tendency to dread and anxiety creeping upon them as life
advances. I have known very truly and deeply religious people who
have been thus beset, and who make their fears the subject of
earnest prayer, asking that this particular terror may be spared
them, that this cup may be withdrawn from their shuddering lips. I
do not believe that this is the right way of meeting the situation.
One may pray as whole-heartedly as one will against the tendency to
fear; but it is a great help to realise that the very experiences
which seem now so overwhelming had little or no effect upon one in
youthful and high-hearted days. It is not really that the quality
of events alter; it is merely that one is losing vitality, and
parting with the irresponsible hopefulness that did not allow one
to brood, simply because there were so many other interesting and
delightful things going on.

One must attack the disease, for it is a disease, at the root; and
it is of little use to shrink timidly from the particular evil,
because when it is gone, another will take its place. We may pray
for courage, but we must practise it; and the best way of meeting
particular fears is to cultivate interests, distractions,
amusements, which may serve to dispel them. We cannot begin to do
that while we are under the dominion of a particular fear, for the
strength of fear lies in its dominating and nauseating quality, so
that it gives us a dreary disrelish for life; but if we really wish
to combat it, we must beware of inactivity; it may be comfortable,
as life goes on, to cultivate a habit of mild contemplation, but it
is this very habit of mind which predisposes us to anxiety when
anxiety comes. Dr. Johnson pointed out how comparatively rare it
was for people who had manual labour to perform, and whose work lay
in the open air, to suffer from hypochondriacal terrors. The truth
is that we are made for labour, and we have by no means got rid of
the necessity for it. We have to pay a price for the comforts of
civilisation, and above all for the pleasures of inactivity. It is
astonishing how quickly a definite task which one has to perform,
whether one likes it or not, draws off a cloud of anxiety from
one's spirit. I am myself liable to attacks of depression, not
causeless depression, but a despondent exaggeration of small
troubles. Yet in times of full work, when meetings have to be
attended, papers tackled, engagements kept, I seldom find myself
suffering from vague anxieties. It is simply astonishing that one
cannot learn more common sense! I suppose that all people of
anxious minds tend to find the waking hour a trying one. The mind,
refreshed by sleep, turns sorrowfully to the task of surveying the
difficulties which lie before it. And yet a hundred times have I
discovered that life, which seemed at dawn nothing but a tangle of
intolerable problems, has become at noon a very bearable and even
interesting affair; and one should thus learn to appreciate the
tonic value of occupation, and set oneself to discern some pursuit,
if we have no compulsory duties, which may set the holy mill
revolving, as Dante says; for it is the homely grumble of the gear
which distracts us from the other sort of grumbling, the self-
pitying frame of mind, which is the most fertile seed-plot of fear.

"How happy I was long ago; how little I guessed my happiness; how
little I knew all that lay before me; how sadly and strangely
afflicted I am!" These are the whispers of the evil demon of
fearfulness; and they can only be checked by the murmur of
wholesome and homely voices.

The old motto says, "Orare est laborare," "prayer is work"--and it
is no less true that "laborare est orare," "work is prayer." The
truth is that we cannot do without both; and when we have prayed
for courage, and tried to rejoice in our beds, as the saints who
are joyful in glory do, we had better spend no time in begging that
money may be sent us to meet our particular need, or that health
may return to us, or that this and that person may behave more
kindly and considerately, but go our way to some perfectly
commonplace bit of work, do it as thoroughly as we can, and simply
turn our back upon the hobgoblin whose grimaces fill us with such
uneasiness. He melts away in the blessed daylight over the volume
or the account-book, in the simple talk about arrangements or
affairs, and above all perhaps in trying to disentangle and relieve
another's troubles and anxieties. We cannot get rid of fear by
drugs or charms; we have to turn to the work which is the appointed
solace of man, and which is the reward rather than the penalty of
life.






XI

DR. JOHNSON





There is one great and notable instance in our annals which ought
once and for all to dispose of the idea that there is anything weak
or unmanly in finding fear a constant temptation, and that is the
case of Dr. Johnson. Dr. Johnson holds his supreme station as the
"figure" par excellence of English life for a number of reasons. His
robustness, his wit, his reverence for established things, his
secret piety are all contributory causes; but the chief of all
causes is that the proportion in which these things were mixed is
congenial to the British mind. The Englishman likes a man who is
deeply serious without being in the least a prig; a man who is
tender-hearted without being sentimental; he likes a rather
combative nature, and enjoys repartee more than he enjoys humour.
The Englishman values good sense above almost all qualities; by a
sensible man he means a man with a clear judgment of right and
wrong, a man who is not taken in by pretences nor gulled by
rhetoric; a man who can instinctively see what is important and what
is unimportant. But of course the chief external reason, apart from
the character of Johnson himself, for his supremacy of fame, is that
his memory is enshrined in an incomparable biography. It shows the
strange ineptness of Englishmen for literary and artistic criticism,
their incapacity for judging a work of art on its own merits, their
singular habit of allowing their disapprobation of a man's private
character to depreciate his work, that an acknowledged critic like
Macaulay could waste time in carefully considering whether Boswell
was more fool or more knave, and triumphantly announce that he
produced a good book by accident. Probably Boswell did not realise
how matchless a biographer he was, though he was not disposed to
belittle his own performances. But his unbridled interest in the
smallest details, his power of hero-worship, his amazing style, his
perception, his astonishing memory and the training he gave it, his
superb dramatic faculty, which enabled him to arrange his other
characters around the main figure, and to subordinate them all to
his central emphasis--all these qualities are undeniable. Moreover
he was himself the most perfect foil and contrast to Johnson that
could be imagined, while he possessed in a unique degree the power
of both stimulating and provoking his hero to animation and to
wrath. Boswell may not have known what an artist he was, but he is
probably one of the best literary artists who has ever lived.

But the supreme quality of his great book is this--that his
interest in every trait of his hero, large and small, is so strong
that he had none of that stiff propriety or chilly reserve which
mars almost all English biographies. He did not care a straw
whether this characteristic or that would redound to Johnson's
credit. He saw that Johnson was a large-minded, large-hearted man,
with an astonishing power of conversational expression, and an
extremely picturesque figure as well. He perceived that he was big
enough to be described in full, and that the shadows of his
temperament only brought out the finer features into prominence.

Since the days of Johnson there are but two Englishmen whose lives
we know in anything like the same detail--Ruskin and Carlyle. We
know the life of Ruskin mainly from his own power of impassioned
autobiography, and because he had the same sort of power of
exhibiting both his charm and his weakness as Boswell had in
dealing with Johnson. But Ruskin was not at all a typical
Englishman; he had a very feminine side to his character, and
though he was saved from sentimentality by his extreme trenchancy,
and by his irritable temper, yet his whole temperament is
beautiful, winning, attractive, rather than salient and
picturesque. He had the qualities of a poet, a quixotic ideal, and
an exuberant fancy; but though his spell over those who understand
him is an almost magical one, his point of view is bound to be
misunderstood by the ordinary man.

Carlyle's case is a different one again. There the evidence is
mainly documentary. We know more about the Carlyle interior than we
know of the history of any married pair since the world began.
There is little doubt that if Carlyle could have had a Boswell, a
biographer who could have rendered the effect of his splendid power
of conversation, we might have had a book which could have been put
on the same level as the life of Johnson, because Carlyle again was
pre-eminently a "figure," a man made by nature to hold the
enraptured attention of a circle. But it would have been a much
more difficult task to represent Carlyle's talk than it was to
represent Johnson's, because Carlyle was an inspired soliloquist,
and supplied both objection and repartee out of his own mind. I
think it probable that Carlyle was a typical Scotchman; he was more
impassioned in his seriousness than Johnson, but he had a grimness
which Johnson did not possess, and he had not Johnson's good-
natured tolerance for foolish and well-meaning people. Carlyle
himself had a good deal of Boswell's own gift, a power of minute
and faithful observation, and a memory which treasured and
reproduced characteristic details. If Carlyle had ever had the time
or the taste to admire any human being as Boswell admired Johnson,
he might have produced fully as great a book; but Carlyle had a
prophetic impulse, an instinct for inverting tubs and preaching
from them, a desire for telling the whole human race what to do and
how to do it, which Johnson was too modest to claim.

There is but one other instance that I know in English literature
of a man who had the Boswellian gift to the full, but who never had
complete scope, and that was Hogg. If Hogg could have spent more of
his life with Shelley, and had been allowed to complete his book,
we might, I believe, have had a monument of the same kind.

But in the case of Boswell and Johnson, it is Boswell's magnificent
scorn of reticence which has done the trick, like the spurt of
acid, of which Browning speaks in one of his best similes. The
final stroke of genius which has established the Life of Johnson so
securely in the hearts of English readers, lies in the fact that
Boswell has given us something to compassionate. As a rule the
biographer cannot bear to evoke the smallest pity for his hero. The
absence of female relatives in the case of Johnson was probably a
part of his good fortune. No biographer likes, and seldom dares, to
torture the sensibilities of a great man's widow and daughters. And
the strength as well as the weakness of the feminine point of view
is that women have a power not so much of not observing, as of
actually obliterating the weaknesses of those whom they love. It is
sentiment which ruins biographies, the sentiment that cannot bear
the truth.

Boswell did not shrink from admitting the reader to a sight of
Johnson's hypochondria, his melancholy fears, his dreary miseries,
his dread of illness, his terror of death. Johnson's horror of
annihilation was insupportable. He so revelled in life, in the
contact and company of other human beings, that he once said that
the idea of an infinity of torment was preferable to the thought of
annihilation. He wrote, in his last illness, to his old friend Dr.
Taylor:


"Oh! my friend, the approach of death is very dreadful. I am afraid
to think on that which I know I cannot avoid. It is vain to look
round and round for that help which cannot be had. Yet we hope and
hope, and fancy that he who has lived to-day may live to-morrow.
But let us learn to derive our hope only from God.

"In the meantime, let us be kind to one another. I have no friend
now living but you and Mr. Hector that was the friend of my youth.--
Do not neglect, sir, yours affectionately, SAM. JOHNSON."


Was ever the last fear put into such simple and poignant words as
in the above letter? It is like that other saying of Johnson's,
when all sorts of good reasons had been given why men should wish
to be released from their troubles by death, "After all, it is a
sad thing for a man to lie down and die." There is no more that can
be said, and not the best reasons in the world for desiring to
depart and have done with life can ever do away with that sadness.

Dr. Johnson supplies the clearest proof, if proof were needed, that
no robustness of temperament, no genius of common sense, no array
of rationality, no degree of courage, can save a man from the
assaults of fear, and even of fear which the sufferer knows to be
unreal. Some of the most severe and angry things which Johnson ever
said were said to Boswell and others who persisted in discussing
the question of death. Yet Johnson had no rational doubt of
immortality, and believed with an almost childlike simplicity in
the Christian faith. He was not afraid of pain, or of the act of
dying; it was of the unknown conditions beyond the grave that he
was afraid. Probably as a rule very robust people are so much
occupied in living that they have little time to think of the
future, while men and women who hold to life by a frail tenure are
not much concerned at quitting a scene which is phantasmal and full
of pain. But in Johnson we have the two extremes brought together.
He was the most gregarious of men; he loved company so well that he
would follow his friends to the very threshold, in the hope, as he
once told Boswell, that they might perhaps return. When he was
alone and undistracted, his melancholy came back upon him like a
cloud. He tortured himself over the unprofitableness of his life,
over his failure to achieve official prominence. He does not seem
to have brooded over the favourite subject for Englishmen to lose
heart over, namely, his financial position. It is a very
significant fact in our English life that if at an inquest upon a
suicide it can be established that a man has financial
difficulties, a verdict of temporary insanity is instantly
conceded. Loss of property rather than loss of affection is the
thing which the Englishman thinks is likely to derange a man. But
Johnson seems never to have been afraid of poverty, nor to have
ever troubled about fame. He was very angry once when it was
laughingly suggested to him that if he had gone to the Bar he might
have been Lord Chancellor; and I have no doubt, as I have said,
that one of his uncomfortable reflections was that he did not seem
to himself to be in a position of influence and authority. But,
apart from that, it is obvious that Johnson's broodings took the
form of lamenting his own sinfulness and moral worthlessness: what
the faults which troubled him were, it is hard to say. He does not
seem to have been repentant about the mortification he caused
others by his witty bludgeoning--indeed he considered himself a
polite man! But I believe, from many slight indications, that
Johnson was distressed by the consciousness of sensual impulses,
though he held them in severe restraint. His habit of ejaculatory
prayer was, I think, directed against this tendency. The agitation
with which he once said that corruption had entered into his heart
by means of a dream seems to me a proof of this. He took a tolerant
view of the lapses of others, and of course the standard of the age
was lax in this respect. But I have little doubt myself that here
Johnson found himself often confronted with a sensuous tendency
which he thought degrading, and which he constantly combated.

Apart from this, he was not afraid of illness in itself, except as
a prelude of mortality. Indeed I believe that he took a
hypochondriac pleasure in observing his symptoms minutely, and in
dosing himself in all sorts of ways. His mysterious preoccupations
with dried orange-peel had no doubt a medicinal end in view. But
when it came to suffering pain and even to enduring operations, he
had no tremors. His one constant fear was the fear of death. He
kept it at arm's length, he loved any social amusement that
banished it, but it is obvious, in several of his talks, when the
subject was under discussion, that the cloud descended upon him
suddenly and made him miserable. It was all summed up in this, that
life was to his taste, that even when oppressed with gloom and
depression, he never desired to escape. I have heard a great doctor
say that he believed that human beings were very sharply divided in
this respect, that there were some people in whom any extremity of
prolonged anguish, bodily or mental, never produced the smallest
desire to quit life; while there were others whose attachment to
life was slight, and that a very little pressure of care or
calamity developed a suicidal impulse. This is, I suppose, a
question of vitality, not necessarily of activity of mind and body,
but a deep instinctive desire to live; the thought of deliberate
suicide was wholly unintelligible to Johnson, death was his
ultimate fear, and however much he suffered from disease or
depression, his intention to live was always inalienable.

His fear then was one which no devoutness of faith, no resolute
tenacity of hope, no array of reasons could ever touch. It was
simply the unknown that he feared. Life had not been an easy
business for Johnson; he had known all the calamities of life, and
he was familiar with the worst calamity of all, the causeless
melancholy which makes life weary and distasteful without ever
removing the certainty that it is in itself desirable.

We may see from all this that to attempt to seek a cure for fear in
reason is foredoomed to failure, because fear lies in a region that
is behind all reason. It exists in the depth of the spirit, as in
the fallen gloom of the glimmering sea-deeps, and it can be touched
by no activity of life and joy and sunlight on the surface, where
the speeding sail moves past wind-swept headlands. We must follow
it into those depths if we are to deal with it at all, and it must
be vanquished in the region where it is born, and where it skulks
unseen.






XII

TENNYSON, RUSKIN, CARLYLE





There were three great men of the nineteenth century of whom we know
more than we know of most men, Carlyle, Ruskin, and Tennyson, in
whose lives fear was a prominent element.

Tennyson has suffered no loss of fame, but he has suffered of late
a certain loss of influence, which was bound to come, if simply
from the tremendous domination which his writings exercised in his
lifetime. He was undoubtedly one of the first word-artists who ever
lived and wrote, but he was a great deal more than that; he was a
great mystic, a man whose mind moved in a shining cloud of
inspiration. He had the constitution and the temperament of a big
Lincolnshire yeoman, with that simple rusticity that is said to
have characterised Vergil. But his spirit dwelt apart, revolving
dim and profound thoughts, brooding over mysteries; if he is
lightly said to be Early Victorian, it is not because he was
typical of his age, but because he contributed so much to make it
what it was. While Browning lived an eager personal life, full of
observation, zest, and passion, Tennyson abode in more impersonal
thoughts. In the dawn of science, when there was a danger of life
becoming over-materialised, contented with the first steps of
swiftly apprehended knowledge, and with solutions which were no
solutions at all, but only the perception of laws, Tennyson was the
man of all others who saw that science had a deeply poetical side,
and could enforce rather than destroy the religious spirit; he saw
that a knowledge of processes was not the same thing as an
explanation of impulses, and that while it was a little more clear
in the light of science what was actually happening in the world,
men were no nearer the perception of why it happened so, or why it
happened at all. Tennyson saw clearly the wonders of astronomy and
geology, and discerned that the laws of nature were nothing more
than the habits, so to speak, of a power that was incredibly dim
and vast, a power which held within itself the secrets of motion
and rest, of death and life. Thus he claimed for his disciples not
only the average thoughtful men, but the very best and finest minds
of his generation who wished to link the past and the present
together, and not to break with the old sanctities.

Tennyson's art suffered from the consciousness of his enormous
responsibility, and where he failed was from his dread of
unpopularity, or his fear of alienating the ordinary man. Browning
was interested in ethical problems; his robust and fortunate
temperament allowed him to bridge over with a sort of buoyant
healthiness the gaps of his philosophy. But Tennyson's ethical
failure lay in his desire to improve the occasion, and to rule out
all impulses that had not a social and civic value. In the later
"Idylls" he did his best to represent the prig trailing clouds of
glory, and to discourage lawlessness in every form; but he was more
familiar with the darker and grosser sides of life than he allowed
to appear in his verse, which suffers from an almost prudish
delicacy, which is more akin to respectability than to moral
courage.

But all this was the shadow of a very sensitive and melancholy
temperament. Comparatively little is known of the first forty years
of his life; it is after that time that the elaborate legend
begins. Till the time of his marriage, he must have been a constant
anxiety to his friends; his gloom, his inertia, his drifting
mooning ways, his hypochondria, his incapacity for any settled plan
of life, all seemed to portend an ultimate failure. But this
troubled inertness was the soil of his inspiration; his conceptions
took slow and stately shape. He never suffered from the haste,
which as Dante says "mars all decency of act." After that time he
enjoyed a great domestic happiness, and practised considerable
sociability. His terrifying demeanour, his amazing personal dignity
and majesty, the certainty that he would say whatever came into his
head, whether it was profound and solemn, or testy and
discourteous, gave him a personal ascendancy that never
disappointed a pilgrim.

But he lived all his life in a perpetual melancholy, feeling the
smallest slights acutely, hating at once obscurity and publicity,
aware of his renown, yet shrinking from the evidences of it. He
could be distracted by company, soothed by wine and tobacco; but
left to itself, his mind fell helplessly down the dark slope into a
sadness and a dreariness which deprived life of its savour. It was
not that his dread was a definite one; he was strong and tough
physically, and he regarded death with a solemn curiosity; but he
had a sense of the profitlessness of vacant hours, unthrilled by
beauty and delight, and had also a morbid pride, of the nature of
vanity, which caused him to resent the smallest criticism of his
works from the humblest reader. There are many stories of this, how
he declaimed against the lust of gossip, which he called with rough
appositeness "ripping up a man like a pig," and thanked God with
all his heart and soul that he knew nothing of Shakespeare's
private life; and in the same breath went on to say that he thought
that his own fame was suffering from a sort of congestion, because
he had received no letters about his poems for several days.

In later life he became very pessimistic, and believed that the
world was sinking fast into dull materialism, petty selfishness,
and moral anarchy. He had less opportunity of knowing what was
going on in the world than most people, in his sheltered and
secluded life, with his court of friends and worshippers. And
indeed it was not a rational pessimism; it was but the shadow of
his fear. And the fact remains that in spite of a life of great
good fortune, and an undimmed supremacy of fame, he spent much of
his time in fighting shadows, involved in clouds of darkness and
dissatisfaction. That was no doubt the price he paid for his
exquisite perception of beauty and his power of melodious
expression. But we make a great mistake if we merely think of
Tennyson as a rich and ample nature moving serenely through life.
He was "black-blooded," he once said, adding, "like all the
Tennysons." Doubtless he had in his mind his father, a man often
deeply in the grip of melancholy. And the absurd legend, invented
probably by Rossetti, contains a truth in it and may be quoted
here. Rossetti said that he once went to dine with a friend in
London, and was shown into a dimly lit drawing-room with no one to
receive him. He went towards the fireplace, and suddenly to his
surprise discovered an immensely tall man in evening dress lying
prostrate on the hearthrug, his face downwards, in an attitude of
prone despair. While he gazed, the stranger rose to his feet,
looked fixedly at him, and said, "I must introduce myself; I am
Octavius, the most morbid of the Tennysons."

With Ruskin we have a different case. He was brought up in the most
secluded fashion, and though he was sharply enough disciplined into
decorous behaviour by his very grim and positive mother, he was
guarded like a precious jewel, and as he grew up he was endlessly
petted and indulged. The Ruskins lived a very comfortable life in a
big villa with ample grounds at Denmark Hill. Whatever the
wonderful boy did was applauded and even dangerously encouraged,
both in the way of drawing and of writing. Though he seems to have
been often publicly snubbed by both his parents, it was more a
family custom than anything else, and was accompanied by
undisguised admiration and patent pride. They were his stupefied
critics, when he read aloud his works in the family circle, and his
father obediently produced large sums of money to gratify his
brilliant son's artistic desire for the possession of Turner's
paintings. Ruskin in his morbid moments, in later life, turned
fiercely and unjustly against his fond and tender father. He
accused him with an in temperate bitterness of having lavished
everything upon him except the intelligent sympathy of which he
stood in need, and his father's gentle and mournful apologies have
an extraordinary beauty of puzzled and patient dignity about them.

When Ruskin went to Oxford, his mother went to reside there too, to
look after her darling. One might have supposed that this would
have involved Ruskin in ridicule, but he was petted and indulged by
his fellow-undergraduates, who found his charm, his swift wit, his
childlike waywardness, his freakish humour irresistible. Then he
had a serious illness, and his first taste of misery; he was afraid
of death, he hated the constraints of invalid life and the grim
interruption to his boundless energies and plans. Then came his
first great book, and he strode full-fledged into fame. His amazing
attractiveness, his talk, which combined incisiveness and fancy and
humour and fire and gentleness, made him a marked figure from the
first. Moreover, he had the command of great wealth, yet no
temptation to be idle. The tale of Ruskin's industry for the next
fifty years is one that would be incredible if it were not true.
His brief and dim experience of married life seems hardly to have
affected him. As a critic of art and ethics, as the writer of
facile magnificent sentences, full of beauty and rhythm, as the
composer of word-structures, apparently logical in form but deeply
prejudiced and inconsequent in thought, he became one of the great
influences of the day, and wielded not only power but real
domination. The widespread delusion of the English educated
classes, that they are interested in art, was of Ruskin's making.
Then something very serious happened to him; a baffled passion of
extraordinary intensity, a perception of the realities of life, the
consciousness that his public indulged and humoured him as his
parents had done, and admired his artistic advice without paying
the smallest heed to his ethical principles--all these experiences
broke over him, wearied as he was with excessive strain, like a
bitter wave. But his pessimism took the noble form of an intense
concern with the blindness and impenetrability of the world at
large. He made a theory of political economy, which, peremptory and
prejudiced as it is, is yet built on large lines, and has been
fruitful in suggestiveness. But he tasted discouragement and
failure in deep draughts. His parents frankly expressed their
bewildered disappointment, his public looked upon him as a perverse
man who was throwing away a beautiful message for the sake of a
crabbed whim; and he fell into a fierce depression, alternating
between savage energy and listless despondency, which lasted for
several years, till at last the overwrought brain and mind gave
way; and for the rest of his life he was liable to recurrent
attacks of insanity, which cleared off and left him normal again,
or as normal as he ever had been. Wide and eager as Ruskin's
tenderness was, one feels that his heart was never really engaged;
he was always far away, in a solitude full of fear, out of the
reach of affection, always solemnly and mournfully alone. Ruskin
was never really allied with any other human soul; he knew most of
the great men of the day; he baited Rossetti, he petted Carlyle; he
had correspondents like Norton, to whom he poured out his
overburdened heart; but he was always the spoiled and indulged
child of his boyhood, infinitely winning, provoking, wilful. He
could not be helped, because he could never get away from himself;
he could admire almost frenziedly, but he could not worship; he
could not keep himself from criticism even when he adored, and he
had a bitter superiority of spirit, a terrible perception of the
imperfections and faults of others, a real despair of humanity.

I do not know exactly what the terrors which Ruskin suffered were--
very few people will tell the tale of the valley of hobgoblins, or
probably cannot! In the Pilgrim's Progress itself, the unreality of
the spirits of fear, their secrecy and leniency, is very firmly and
wittily told. They scream in their dens, sitting together, I have
thought, like fowls in a roost. They come padding after the
pilgrim, they show themselves obscurely, swollen by the mist at the
corners of the road. They give the sense of being banded together
in a numerous ambush, they can deceive eye and ear, and even nose
with noisome stenches; but they cannot show themselves, and they
cannot hurt. If they could be seen, they would be nothing but limp
ungainly things that would rouse disdain and laughter and even
pity, at anything at once so weak and so malevolent. But they are
not like the demons of sin that can hamper and wound; they are just
little gnomes and elves that can make a noise, and their strength
is a spiteful and a puny thing.

Ruskin had no sordid or material fears; he had no fear of poverty,
for he flung his father's hard-earned wealth profusely away; nor
did he fear illness; indeed one of the bravest and most gallant
things about him was the way in which he talked and wrote about his
insane fits, described his haunted visions, told, half-ruefully,
half-humorously, how he fought and struggled with his nurses, and
made fun of the matter. That was a very courageous thing to do,
because most people are ashamed of insanity, no doubt from the old
sad ignorant tradition that it was the work of demoniacal agencies,
and not a mere disease like other diseases. Half the tragedy of
insanity is that it shocks people, and cannot be alluded to or
spoken about; but one can take the sting out of almost any calamity
if one can make fun of it, and this Ruskin did.

But he was wounded by his fears, as we most of us are, not only
through his vanity but through his finest emotions. He felt his
impotence and his failure. He had thought of his gift of language
as one might think of a magic wand which one can wave, and thus
compel duller spirits to do one's bidding. Ruskin began by thinking
that there was not much amiss with the world except a sort of
pathetic stupidity; and he thought that if only people could be
told, clearly and loudly enough, what was right, they would do it
gladly; and then it dawned upon him by slow degrees that the
confusion was far deeper than that, that men mostly did not live in
motives but in appetites. And so he fell into a sort of noble rage
with the imperfection of mortal things; and one of the clearest
signs, as he himself knew, that he was drifting into one of the
mind-storms which swept across him, was that in these moods
everything that people said or wrote had power to arouse his
irritation, to interrupt his work, to break his sleep, and to show
him that he was powerless indeed. What he feared was derision, and
the good-natured indifferent stolidity that is worse than any
derision, and the knowledge that, with all his powers and
perceptions, his common-sense, which was great, and his sense of
responsibility, he was treated by the world like a spoilt child,
charming even in his wrath, who had full license to be as vehement
as he liked, with the understanding that no one would act on his
advice.

I often go to Brantwood, which is a sacred place indeed, and see
with deep emotion the little rooms, with all their beautiful
treasures, and all the great accumulations of that fierce industry
of mind, and remember that in that peaceful background a man of
exquisite genius fought with sinister shadows, and was worsted in
the fight, for a time; because the last ten years of that long life
were a time of serene waiting for death, a beguiling by little
childish and homely occupations the heavy hours: he could uplift
his voice no more, often could hardly frame an intelligible
thought. But meanwhile his great message went on rippling out to
the world, touching heart after heart into light and hope, and
doing, insensibly and graciously, by the spirit, the very thing he
had failed to do by might and power.

And then we come to Carlyle, and here we are on somewhat different
ground. Carlyle had a colossal quarrel with the age, but he thought
very little of the message of beauty and peace. His idea of the
world was that of a stern combative place, with the one hope a
strenuous and grim righteousness; Carlyle thought of the world as a
place where cheats and liars cozened and beguiled men, for their
own advantage, with all sorts of shams and pretences: but he did
not really know the world; he put down to individual action and
deliberate policy much that was due simply to the prevalence of
tradition and system, and to the complexity of civilisation. He was
so fierce an individualist himself that he credited everyone else
with purpose and prejudice. He did not realise the vast
preponderance of helpless good-nature and muddled kindliness. The
mistake of much of Carlyle's work is that it is too poignantly
dramatic, and bristles with intention and significance; and he did
not allow sufficiently for the crowd of vague supers who throng the
background of the stage. Neither did he ever go about the world
with his eyes open for general facts. Wherever he was, he was
intensely observant, but he spent his days either in a fierce
absorption of work, blind even to the sorrow and discomfort of his
wife, or taking rapid tours to store his mind with the details of
historical scenes, or in the big houses of wealthy people, where he
kept much to himself, stored up irresistibly absurd caricatures of
the other guests, and lamented his own inaction. I have never been
able to discover exactly why Carlyle spent so much time in staying
at great houses, deriding and satirising everything he set eyes
upon; it was, I believe, vaguely gratifying to him to have raised
himself unaided into the highest social stratum; and the old man
was after all a tremendous aristocrat at heart. Or else he skulked
with infinite melancholy in his mother's house, being waited upon
and humoured, and indulging his deep and true family affection. But
he was a solitary man for the most part, and mixed with men,
involved in a cloud of his own irresistibly fantastic and whimsical
talk; for his real gift was half-humorous, half-melancholy
improvisation rather than deliberate writing.

But it is difficult to discern in all this what his endless and
plangent melancholy was concerned with. He had a very singular
physical frame, immensely tough and wiry, with an imagination which
emphasized and particularised every slight touch of bodily
disorder. When he was at work, he toiled like a demon day after
day, entirely and vehemently absorbed. When he was not at work he
suffered from dreary reaction. He fought out in early days a severe
moral combat, and found his way to a belief in God which was very
different from his former Calvinism. Carlyle can by no stretch of
the word be called a Christian, but he was one of the most
thoroughgoing Deists that ever lived. The terror that beset him in
that first great conflict was a ghastly fear of his own
insignificance, and a horrible suspicion that the world was made on
fortuitous and indifferent lines. His dread was that of being
worsted, in spite of all his eager sensibility and immense desire
to do a noble work, of being crushed, silenced, thrown ruthlessly
on the dust-heap of the world. He learned a fiery sort of
Determinism, and a faith in the stubborn power of the will, not to
achieve anything, but to achieve something.

Yet after this tremendous conflict, described in Sartor Resartus,
where he found himself at bay with his back to the wall, he never
had any ultimate doubt again of his own purpose. Still, it brought
him no serenity; and I suppose there is no writer in the world
whose letters and diaries are so full of cries of anguish and
hopelessness. He was crushed under the sense of the world's
immensity; his own observation was so microscopic, his desire to
perceive and know so strong, his appetite for definiteness so
profound, that I feel that Carlyle's terror was like that of a mite
in an enormous cheese, longing to explore it all, lost in the high-
flavoured dusk, and conscious of a scale of mystery so vast that it
humiliated a brain that wanted to know the truth about everything.
In these sad hours--and they were numerous and protracted--he felt
like a knight worn out by conflict, under a listless enchantment
which he could not break. I know few confessions that are so filled
with gleams of high poetry and beauty as many of these solitary
lamentations. But I believe that the terrors that Carlyle had to
face were the terrors of a swift, clear-sighted, feverishly active,
intuitive brain, prevented by mortal weakness and frailty from
dealing as he desired with the dazzling immensity and intricacy of
the world's life and history.

I feel no real doubt of this, because Carlyle's passion for
accurate and minute knowledge, his intense interest in temperament
and character, his almost unequalled power of observation--which is
really the surest sign of genius--come out so clearly all through
his life, that his finite limitations must have been of the nature
of a torture to him. One who desired to know the truth about
everything so vehemently, was crushed and bewildered by the narrow
range and limited scope of his own insatiable thought. His power of
expressing all that he saw and felt, so delicately, so humorously,
and at times so tenderly, must have beguiled his sadness more than
he knew. It was Ruskin who said that he could never fit the two
sides of the puzzle together--on the one side the awful dejection
and despondency which Carlyle always claimed to feel in the
presence of his work, as a dredger in lakes of mud and as a sorter
of mountains of rubbish, and on the other side the endless relish
for salient traits, and the delighted apprehension of quality which
emerges so clearly in all he wrote.

But it is clear that Carlyle suffered ceaselessly, though never
unutterably. He was a matchless artist, with an unequalled gift of
putting into vivid words everything he experienced; but his sadness
was a disease of the imagination, a fear, not of anything definite--
for he never even saw the anxieties that were nearest to him--but
a nightmare dream of chaos and whirling forces all about him, a
dread of slipping off his own very fairly comfortable perch into
oceans of confusion and dismay.






XIII

CHARLOTTE BRONTE





I doubt if the records of intimate biography contain a finer
object-lesson against fear and all its obsessions than the life of
Charlotte Bronte. She was of a temperament which in many ways was
more open to the assaults of fear than any which could well be
devised. She was frail and delicate, liable to acute nervous
depression, intensely shy and sensitive, and susceptible as well;
that is to say that her shyness did not isolate her from her kind;
she wanted to be loved, respected, even admired. When she did love,
she loved with fire and passion and desperate loyalty.

Her life was from beginning to end full of sharp and tragic
experiences. She was born and brought up in a bleak moorland
village, climbing steeply and grimly to the edge of heathery
uplands. The bare parsonage, with its little dark rooms, looks out
on a churchyard paved with graves. Her father was a kindly man, but
essentially moody and solitary. He took all his meals alone, walked
alone, sate alone. Her mother died of cancer, when she was but a
child. Then she was sent to an ill-managed austere school, and here
when she was nine years old her two elder sisters died. She took
service two or three times as a governess, and endured agonies of
misunderstanding, suspicious of her employers, afraid of her
pupils, longing for home with an intense yearning. Then she went
out to a school at Brussels, where under the teaching of M. Heger,
a gifted professor, her mind and heart awoke, and she formed for
him a strange affection, half an intellectual devotion, half an
unconscious passion, which deprived her of her peace of mind. Her
sad and wistful letters to him, lately published, were disregarded
by him, partly because his wife was undoubtedly jealous of the
relation, partly because he was disconcerted by the emotion he had
aroused. Her brother, a brilliant, wayward, and in some ways
attractive boy, got into disgrace, and drifted home, where he tried
to console himself with drink and opium. After three years of this
horrible life, he died, and within twelve months her two surviving
sisters, Emily and Anne, developed consumption and died. As Robert
Browning says, there indeed was "trouble enough for one!"

Now it must be borne in mind that her temperament was naturally
hypochondriacal.

Let me quote a passage dealing with the same experience; it is
undoubtedly autobiographical, though it comes from Villette, into
which Charlotte Bronte threw the picture of her own solitary
experiences in Brussels. She is left alone at the pensionnat in the
vacation, strained by work and anxiety, and tortured by exhaustion,
restlessness, and sleeplessness:--


"One day, perceiving this growing illusion, I said, 'I really
believe my nerves are getting overstretched: my mind has suffered
somewhat too much; a malady is growing upon it--what shall I do?
How shall I keep well?'

"Indeed there was no way to keep well under the circumstances. At
last a day and night of peculiarly agonising depression were
succeeded by physical illness; I took perforce to my bed. About
this time the Indian summer closed, and the equinoctial storms
began; and for nine dark and wet days, of which the hours rushed on
all turbulent, deaf, dishevelled--bewildered with sounding
hurricane--I lay in a strange fever of the nerves and blood. Sleep
went quite away. I used to rise in the night, look round for her,
beseech her earnestly to return. A rattle of the window, a cry of
the blast only replied--Sleep never came!

"I err. She came once, but in anger. Impatient of my importunity
she brought with her an avenging dream. By the clock of St. Jean
Baptiste, that dream remained scarce fifteen minutes--a brief
space, but sufficing to wring my whole frame with unknown anguish;
to confer a nameless experience that had the hue, the mien, the
terror, the very tone of a visitation from eternity. Between twelve
and one that night a cup was forced to my lips, black, strong,
strange, drawn from no well, but filled up seething from a
bottomless and boundless sea. Suffering, brewed in temporal or
calculable measure, and mixed for mortal lips, tastes not as this
suffering tasted. Having drank [sic] and woke, I thought all was
over: the end come and passed by. Trembling fearfully--as
consciousness returned--ready to cry out on some fellow-creature to
help me, only that I knew no fellow-creature was near enough to
catch the wild summons--Goton in her far distant attic could not
hear--I rose on my knees in bed. Some fearful hours went over me;
indescribably was I torn, racked and oppressed in mind. Amidst the
horrors of that dream I think the worst lay here. Methought the
well-loved dead, who had loved ME well in life, met me elsewhere
alienated; galled was my inmost spirit with an unutterable sense of
despair about the future. Motive there was none why I should try to
recover or wish to live; and yet quite unendurable was the pitiless
and haughty voice in which Death challenged me to engage his
unknown terrors. When I tried to pray I could only utter these
words:--

"'From my youth up Thy terrors have I suffered with a troubled
mind.'"


The deep interest of this experience is that it was endured by one
who was not only intellectually endowed beyond most women of her
time, but whose sanity, reasonableness, and moral force were
conspicuously strong. Charlotte Bronte was not one of those
impulsive and imaginative women who are the prey of every fancy.
Throughout the whole of her career, she was for ever compelling her
frail and sensitive temperament, with indomitable purpose, to
perform whatever she had undertaken to do. There never was anyone
who lived so sternly by principle and reason, or who so maintained
her self-control in the face of sorrow, disaster, unhappiness, and
bereavement. She never gave way to feeble or morbid self-
accusation, and therefore the fact that she could thus have
suffered is a sign that this unnamed terror can coexist with a
dauntless courage and an essential self-command.

Here again is the cry of a desolate heart! She had been going
through her sisters' papers not long after their death, and wrote
to her great friend:


"I am both angry and surprised at myself for not being in better
spirits; for not growing accustomed, or at least resigned, to the
solitude and isolation of my lot. But my late occupation left a
result, for some days and indeed still, very painful. The reading
over of papers, the renewal of remembrances, brought back the pangs
of bereavement and occasioned a depression of spirits well-nigh
intolerable. For one or two nights I hardly knew how to get on till
morning; and when morning came I was still haunted by a sense of
sickening distress. I tell you these things because it is
absolutely necessary to me to have SOME relief. You will forgive me
and not trouble yourself, or imagine that I am one whit worse than
I say. It is quite a mental ailment, and I believe and hope is
better now. I think so, because I can speak about it, which I never
can when grief is at its worst. I thought to find occupation and
interest in writing when alone at home, but hitherto my efforts
have been in vain: the deficiency of every stimulus is so complete.
You will recommend me, I dare say, to go from home; but that does
no good, even could I again leave papa with an easy mind. . . . I
cannot describe what a time of it I had after my return from London
and Scotland. There was a reaction that sank me to the earth, the
deadly silence, solitude, depression, desolation were awful; the
craving for companionship, the hopelessness of relief were what I
should dread to feel again."


Or again, in a somewhat calmer mood, she writes:


"I feel to my deep sorrow, to my humiliation, that it is not in my
power to bear the canker of constant solitude. I had calculated
that when shut out from every enjoyment, from every stimulus but
what could be desired from intellectual exertion, my mind would
rouse itself perforce. It is not so. Even intellect, even
imagination will not dispense with the ray of domestic
cheerfulness, with the gentle spur of family discussions. Late in
the evening and all through the nights, I fall into a condition of
mind which turns entirely to the past--to memory, and memory is
both sad and relentless. This will never do, and will produce no
good. I tell you this that you may check false anticipations. You
cannot help me, and must not trouble yourself in any shape to
sympathise with me. It is my cup, and I must drink it as others do
theirs."


It would be difficult to create a picture of more poignant
suffering; yet she was at this time a famous writer. She had
published Jane Eyre and Shirley, and on her visits to London, to
her hospitable publisher, had found herself welcomed, honoured,
feted. The great lions of the literary world had flocked eagerly to
meet her. Even these simple festivities were accompanied by a
deadly sense of strain, anxiety, and exhaustion. Mrs. Gaskell
describes how a little later she met Charlotte Bronte at a quiet
country-house, and how Charlotte was reduced from tolerable health
to a bad nervous headache by the announcement that they were going
to drive over in the afternoon to have tea at a neighbour's house--
the prospect of meeting strangers was so alarming to her.

But in spite of this agonising susceptibility and vulnerability,
there is never the least touch either of sentimentality or self-
pity about Charlotte Bronte. She stuck to her duty and faced life
with an infinity of patient courage. One of her friends said of her
that no one she had ever known had sacrificed more to others, or
done it with a fuller consciousness of what she was sacrificing. If
duty and affection bade her act, no sense of weakness or of
inclination had any power over her. She was afraid of life, but she
stood up to it; she was never crushed or broken. Consider the
circumstances under which she began to write Jane Eyre. She had
written her novel The Professor, and it was returned to her nine
several times, by publisher after publisher. Her father was
threatened with blindness. She had taken him to Manchester for an
operation, installed him in lodgings, and settled down alone to
nurse him. The ill-fated Professor came back to her once more with
a polite refusal. That very day she wrote the first lines of Jane
Eyre. Later on too, with her brother dying of opium and drink, she
had begun Shirley, and she finished it after the deaths of her
sisters. She was perfectly merciless to herself, saw no reason why
she should be spared any sorrow or suffering or ill-health, but
looked upon it all as a stern but not unjust discipline. She had
one of the most passionately affectionate natures both in
friendship and home relations--"my hot tenacious heart," she once
says! But there was no touch of softness or sentimentality about
her; she never feebly condoned weaknesses; her observation of
people was minute, her judgment of them severe and even satirical.
Her letters abound in pungent humour and acute perception; and her
idea of charity was not that of mild and muddled tolerance. She had
a vein of frank and rather bitter irony when she was indignant, and
she could return stroke for stroke.

She knew well that, whatever life was meant to be, it was not
intended to be an easy business; but she did not face it stoically
or indifferently; she had a fierce desire for knowledge, culture,
ideas; she was ambitious; and above everything she desired to be
loved; yet she did not think of love in the way in which all
English romancers had treated it for over a century, as a
condescending hand held out by a superior being, for the glory of
which a woman submitted to a more or less contented servitude; but
as a glowing equality of passion and worship, in which two hearts
clasped each other close, with a sacred concurrence of soul. And
thus it was that she and Robert Browning, above all other writers
of the century, put the love of man and woman in the true light, as
the supreme worth of life; not as a half-sensuous excitement, with
lapses and reactions, but as a great and holy mystery of devotion
and service and mutual help. She too had her little taste of love.
Mr. Nicholls, her father's curate, a man of deep tenderness behind
his quiet homely ways, had proposed to her; she had refused him;
but his suffering and bewilderment had touched her deeply, and at
last she consented, though she went to her wedding in fear and
dread; but she was rewarded, and for a few short months tasted a
calm and sweet happiness, the joy of being needed and desired, and
at the same time guarded and tended well. Her pathetic words, when
she knew from his lips that she must die, "God will not part us--we
have been so happy," are full of the deepest tragedy.

I say again that I know of no instance among the most intimate
records of the human heart, in which life was faced with such
splendid courage as it was by Charlotte Bronte. It contained so
many things which she desired--art, beauty, thought, peace, deep
and tender relations, and the supreme crown of love. But she never
dreamed of trying to escape or shirk her lot. After her first great
success with Jane Eyre, she might have lived life on her own lines;
her writing meant wealth to one of her simple tastes; and as her
closest friend said, if she had chosen to set up a house of her
own, she would have been gratefully thanked for any kindness she
might have shown to her household, instead of being, as she was,
ruthlessly employed and even tyrannised over. Consider how a young
authoress, with that splendid success to her credit, would nowadays
be made much of and tended, begged to consult her own wishes and
make, her own arrangements. But Charlotte Bronte hated notoriety,
and took her fame with a shrinking and modest amazement. She never
gave herself airs, or displayed any affectation, or caught at any
flattery. She just went back to her tragic home, and carried the
burden of housekeeping on her frail shoulders. The simplicity, the
delicacy, the humility of it all is above praise. If ever there was
a human being who might have pleaded to be excused from any gallant
battling with life because of her bleak, comfortless, unhappy
surroundings, and her own sensitive temperament, it was Charlotte
Bronte. But instead of that she fought silently with disaster and
unhappiness, neither pitying herself for her destiny, nor taking
the smallest credit for her tough resistance. It does not
necessarily prove that all can wage so equal a fight with fears and
sorrows; but it shows at least that an indomitable resolution can
make a noble thing out of a life from which every circumstance of
romance and dignity seems to be purposely withdrawn.

I do not think that there is in literature a more inspiring and
heartening book than Mrs. Gaskell's Life of Charlotte Bronte. The
book was written with a fine frankness and a daring indiscretion
which cost Mrs. Gaskell very dear. It remains as one of the most
matchless and splendid presentments of duty and passion and genius,
waging a perfectly undaunted fight with life and temperament, and
carrying off the spoils not only of undying fame, but the far more
supreme crown of moral force. Charlotte Bronte never doubted that
she had been set in the forefront of the battle, and that her first
concern was with the issues of life and sorrow and death. She died
at thirty-eight, at a time when many men and women have hardly got
a firm hold of life at all, or have parted with weak illusions. Yet
years before she had said sternly to a friend who was meditating a
flight from hard conditions of life: "The right course is that
which necessitates the greatest sacrifice of self-interest." Many
people could have said that, but I know no figure who more
relentlessly and loyally carried out the principle than Charlotte
Bronte, or who waged a more vigorous and tenacious battle with
every onset of fear. "My conscience tells me," she once wrote about
an anxious decision, "that it would be the act of a moral poltroon
to let the fear of suffering stand in the way of improvement. But
suffer I shall. No matter!"






XIV

JOHN STERLING





I believe that the most affecting, beautiful, and grave message ever
written from a death-bed is John Sterling's last letter to Carlyle.
It reflects, perhaps, something of Carlyle's own fine manner, but
then Sterling had long been Carlyle's friend and confidant.

Before I give it, let me add a brief account of Sterling. He was
some ten years Carlyle's junior, the son of the redoubtable Edward
Sterling, the leader-writer of the Times, a man who in his day
wielded a mighty influence. Carlyle describes the father's way of
life, how he spent the day in going about London, rolling into
clubs, volubly questioning and talking; then returned home in the
evening, and condensed it all into a leader, "and is found," said
Carlyle, "to have hit the essential purport of the world's
immeasurable babblement that day with an accuracy above all other
men."

The younger Sterling, Carlyle's friend, was at Cambridge for a
time, but never took his degree; he became a journalist, wrote a
novel, tales, plays, endless poems--all of thin and vapid quality.
His brief life, for he died at thirty-eight, was a much disquieted
one; he travelled about in search of health, for he was early
threatened with consumption; for a short time he was a curate in
the English Church, but drifted away from that. He lived for a time
at Falmouth, and afterwards at Ventnor. He must have been a man of
extraordinary charm, and with quite unequalled powers of
conversation. Even Carlyle seems to have heard him gladly, and that
is no ordinary compliment, considering Carlyle's own volubility,
and the agonies, occasionally suppressed but generally trenchantly
expressed, with which Carlyle listened to other well-known talkers
like Coleridge and Macaulay.

Carlyle certainly had a very deep affection and admiration for
Sterling; he rains down praises upon him, in that wonderful little
biography, which is probably the finest piece of work that Carlyle
ever did.

He speaks of Sterling as "brilliant, beautiful, cheerful with an
ever-flowing wealth of ideas, fancies, imaginations . . . with
frank affections, inexhaustible hopes, audacities, activities, and
general radiant vivacity of heart and intelligence, which made the
presence of him an illumination and inspiration wherever he went."

But all Carlyle's love and admiration for his friend did not induce
him to praise Sterling's writings; he looked upon him as a poet,
but without the gift of expression. He says that all Sterling's
work was spoilt by over-haste, and "a lack of due inertia." The
fact is that Sterling was a sort of improvisatore, and what was
beautiful and natural enough when poured out in talk, and with the
stimulus of congenial company, grew pale and indistinct when he
wrote it down; he had, in fact, no instinct for art or for design,
and he failed whenever he tried to mould ideas into form.

The shadow of illness darkened about him, and he spent long periods
in prostrate seclusion, tended by his wife and children, unable to
write or talk or receive his friends. Then a terrible calamity
befell him. His mother, to whom he was devotedly attached, died
after a long illness, Sterling not being allowed to go to her, or
to leave his own sick-room. He received the news one morning by
letter, that all was over, went in to tell his wife, who was ill;
while they were talking, his wife became faint, and died two hours
later. So that within a few hours he lost the two human beings whom
he most devotedly loved, and on whom he most depended for sympathy
and help.

But in all Sterling's sorrows and illnesses, he never seems to have
lost his interest in life and thought, in ideas, questions, and
problems. Again and again he came back to the surface, with an
irrepressible zest and freshness, and even gaiety, until at last
all hope of life was extinguished. He lay dying for many weeks, and
it was then that he wrote his last letter to Carlyle, which must be
given in full:--


HILLSIDE, VENTNOR,
10th August 1844.

MY DEAR CARLYLE,--For the first time for many months it seems
possible to send you a few words; merely, however, for Remembrance
and Farewell. On higher matters there is nothing to say. I tread
the common road into the great darkness, without any thought of
fear, and with very much of hope. Certainty indeed I have none.
With regard to you and me I cannot begin to write; having nothing
for it but to keep shut the lid of those secrets with all the iron
weights that are in my power. Towards me it is still more true than
towards England that no man has been and done like you. Heaven
bless you! If I can lend a hand when THERE, that will not be
wanting. It is all very strange, but not one hundredth part so sad
as it seems to the standers-by.

Your Wife knows my mind towards her, and will believe it without
asseverations.--Yours to the last, JOHN STERLING.


That letter may speak for itself. In its dignity, its nobleness,
its fearlessness, it is one of the finest human documents I know.
But let it be remembered that it is not the letter of a mournful
and heart-broken man, turning his back on life in an ecstasy of
despair; but the letter of one who had taken a boundless delight in
life, had known upon equal terms most of the finest intellects of
the day, and had been frankly recognised by them as a chosen
spirit. All Sterling's designs for life and work had been slowly
and surely thwarted by the pressure of hopeless illness; yet he had
never complained or fretted or brooded, or indulged in any bitter
recriminations against his destiny. That seems to me a very heroic
attitude; while the letter itself, in its perfect frankness and
courage, without a touch of solemnity or affectation, or any trace
of craven shrinking from his doom, makes it in its noble simplicity
one of the finest "last words" that I have ever read, and finer, I
verily believe, than any flight of poetical imagination.

A few days later he sent Carlyle some stanzas of verse, "written,"
says Carlyle, "as if in star-fire and immortal tears; which are
among my sacred possessions, to be kept for myself alone."

A few weeks before he wrote his last letter to Carlyle, Sterling
had written a letter to his son, who was then a boy at school in
London. In that he says:


"When I fancy how you are walking in the same streets, and moving
along the same river, that I used to watch so intently, as if in a
dream, when younger than you are--I could gladly burst into tears,
not of grief, but with a feeling that there is no name for.
Everything is so wonderful, great and holy, so sad and yet not
bitter, so full of Death and so bordering on Heaven. Can you
understand anything of this? If you can, you will begin to know
what a serious matter our Life is; how unworthy and stupid it is to
trifle it away without heed; what a wretched, insignificant,
worthless creature anyone comes to be, who does not as soon as
possible bend his whole strength, as in stringing a stiff bow, to
doing whatever task lies first before him."


That again is a noble letter; but over it I think there lies a
little shadow of regret, a sense that he had himself wasted some of
the force of life in vague trifling; but even that mood had passed
away in the nearness of the great impending change, leaving him
upborne upon the greatness of God, in deep wonder and hope, knowing
nothing more, in his weariness and his suffering, but the calmness
of the Eternal Will.






XV

INSTINCTIVE FEAR





The fears then from which men suffer, and even the greatest men not
least, seem to be strangely complicated by the fact that nature does
not seem to work as fast in the physical world as in the mental
world. The mosquitoes of South American swamps are all fitted with a
perfect tool-box of implements for piercing the hides of
warm-blooded animals and drawing blood, although warm-blooded
animals have long ceased to exist in those localities. But as the
mosquito is one of the few creatures which can propagate its kind
without ever partaking of food, the mosquito has therefore not died
out; and though for many generations billions upon billions of
mosquitoes have never had a chance of doing what they seem born to
do, they have not discarded their apparatus. If mosquitoes could
reason and philosophise, the prospect of such a meal might remain as
a far-off and inspiring ideal of life and conduct, a thing which
heroes in the past had achieved, and which might be possible again
if they remained true to their highest instincts. So it is with
humanity. Many of our fears do not correspond to any real danger;
they are part of a panoply which we inherit, and have to do with the
instinct of self-preservation. We are exposed to dangers still,
dangers of infection for instance, but we have developed no
instinctive fear which helps us to recognise the presence of
infection. We take rational precautions against it when we recognise
it, but the vast prevalence and mortality of consumption a
generation or two ago was due to the fact that men did not recognise
consumption as infectious; and many fine lives--Keats and Emily
Bronte, to name but two--were sacrificed to careless proximity as
well as to devoted tendance; but here nature, with all her instinct
of self-preservation, did not hang out any danger signal, or provide
human beings with any instinctive fear to protect them. Our
instinctive fears, such as our fear of darkness and solitude, and
our suspicion of strangers, seem to date from a time when such
conditions were really dangerous, though they are so no longer.

At the same time the development of the imaginative faculty has
brought with it a whole series of new terrors, through our power of
anticipating and picturing possible calamities; while our increased
sensitiveness as well as our more sentimental morality expose us to
yet another range of fears. Consider the dread which many of us
feel at the prospect of a painful interview, our avoidance of an
unpleasant scene, our terror of arousing anger. The basis of all
this is the primeval dread of personal violence. We are afraid of
arousing anger, not because we expect to be assailed by blows and
wounds, but because our far-off ancestors expected anger to end in
an actual assault. We may know that we shall emerge from an
unpleasant interview unscathed in fortune and in limb, but we
anticipate it with a quite irrational terror, because we are still
haunted by fears which date from a time when injury was the natural
outcome of wrath. It may be our duty, and we may recognise it to be
our duty, to make a protest of an unpleasant kind, or to withstand
the action of an irritable person; but though we know well enough
that he has no power to injure us, the flashing eye, the distended
nostril, the rising pallor, the uplifted voice have a disagreeable
effect on our nerves, although we know well that no physical
disaster will result from it. Mrs. Browning, for instance, though
she had high moral courage and tenacity of purpose, could not face
an interview with her father, because an exhibition of his anger
caused her to faint away on the spot. One does not often experience
this whiff of violent anger in middle life; but the other day I had
occasion to speak to a colleague of mine on a Board of which I am a
member, at the conclusion of a piece of business in which I had
proposed and carried a certain policy. I did not know that he
disapproved of the policy in question, but I found on speaking to
him that he was in a towering passion at my having opposed the
policy which he preferred. He grew pale with rage; the hair on his
head seemed to bristle, his eyes flashed fire; he slammed down a
bundle of papers in his hand on the table, he stamped with passion;
and I confess that it was profoundly disturbing and disconcerting.
I felt for a moment that sickening sense of misgiving with which as
a little boy one confronted an angry schoolmaster. Though I knew
that I had a perfect right to my opinion, though I recognised that
my sensations were quite irrational, I felt myself confronted with
something demoniacal and insane, and the basis of it was, I am
sure, physical and not moral terror. If I had been bullied or
chastised as a child, I should be able to refer the discomfort I
felt to old associations. But I feel no doubt that my emotion was
something far more primeval than that, and that the dumb and
atrophied sense of self-preservation was at work. The fear then
that I felt was an instinctive thing, and was experienced in the
inner nature and not in the rational mind; and the perplexity of
the situation arises from the fact that such fear cannot be
combated by rational considerations. Though no harm whatever
resulted or could result from such an interview, yet I am certain
that the prospect of such an outbreak would make me in the future
far more cautious in dealing with this particular man, more anxious
to conciliate him, and probably more disposed to compromise a
matter.

Such an incident makes one unpleasantly aware of the quality of
one's nature and temperament. It shows one that though one may have
a strong moral and intellectual sense of what is the right and
sensible course to take, one may be sadly hampered in carrying it
out, by this secret and hidden instinct of which one may be
rationally ashamed, but which is characteristic of what seems to be
the stronger and more vital part of one's self.

The whole of civilisation is a combat between these two forces, a
struggle between the rational and the instinctive parts of the
mind. The instinctive mind bids one follow profit, need, advantage,
the pleasure of the moment; the rational part of the mind bids one
abstain, resist, balance contingencies, act in accordance with a
moral standard. Many such abstentions become a mere matter of
habit. If one is hungry and thirsty, and meets a child carrying
bread or milk, one has no impulse to seize the food and eat it. One
does not reflect upon the possible outcome of following the impulse
of plunder; it simply does not enter one's head so to act. And
there is of course a slow process going on in the world by which
this moral restraint is becoming habitual and instinctive; but
notably in the case of fear our instinct is a belated one, and
results in many causeless and baseless anxieties which our reason
in vain assures us are wholly false.

What then is our practical way of escape from the dominion of these
shadows? Not, I am sure, in any resolute attempt to combat them by
rational weapons; the rational argument, the common-sense
consolation, only touches the rational part of the mind; we have
got to get behind and below that, we have got somehow to fight
instinct by instinct, and quell the terror in its proper home. By
our finite nature we are compelled to attend to one thing at a
time, and thus if we use rational argument, we are recognising the
presence of the irrational fear; it is of little use then to array
our advantages against our disadvantages, our blessings against our
sufferings, as Michael Finsbury did with such small effect in The
Wrong Box; our only chance is to turn tail altogether, and try to
set some other dominant instinct at work; while we remember, we
shall continue to suffer; our best chance lies in forgetting, and
we can only do that by calling some other dominant emotion into
play.

And here comes in the peculiarly paralysing effect of these baser
emotions. As Victor Hugo once said, in a fine apophthegm, "Despair
yawns." Fear and anxiety bring with them a particular kind of
physical fatigue which makes us listless and inert. They lie on the
spirit with a leaden dullness, which takes from us all possibility
of energy and motion. Who does not know the instinct, when one is
crushed and tortured by depression, to escape into solitude and
silence, and to let the waves and streams flow over one. That is a
universal instinct, and it is not wholly to be disregarded; it
shows that to torture oneself into rational activity is of little
use, or worse than useless.

When I was myself a sufferer from long nervous depression, and had
to face a social gathering, I used out of very shame, and partly I
think out of a sense of courtesy due to others, to galvanise myself
into a sort of horrid merriment. The dark tide flowed on beneath in
its sore and aching channels. It was common enough then for some
sympathetic friend to say, "You seemed better to-night--you were
quite yourself; that is what you want; if you would only make the
effort and go out more into society, you would soon forget your
troubles." There is something in it, because the sick mind must be
persuaded if possible not to grave its dolorous course too
indelibly in the temperament; but no one else could see the acute
and intolerable reaction which used to follow such a strain, or
how, the excitement over, the suffering resumed its sway over the
exhausted self with an insupportable agony. I am sure that in my
long affliction I never suffered more than after occasions when I
was betrayed by excitement into argument or lively talk, and the
worst spasms of melancholy that I ever endured were the direct and
immediate results of such efforts.

The counteracting force in fact must be an emotional and
instinctive one, not a rational and deliberate one; and this must
be our next endeavour, to see in what direction the counterpoise
must lie.

In depression then, and when causeless fears assail us, we must try
to put the mind in easier postures, to avoid excess and strain, to
live more in company, to do something different. Human beings are
happiest in monotony and settled ways of life; but these also
develop their own poisons, like sameness of diet, however wholesome
it may be. It is, I believe, an established fact that most people
cannot eat a pigeon a day for fourteen days in succession; a pigeon
is not unwholesome, but the digestion cannot stand iteration. There
is an old and homely story of a man who went to a great doctor
suffering from dyspepsia. The doctor asked him what he ate, and he
said that he always lunched off bread and cheese. "Try a mutton
chop," said the doctor. He did so with excellent results. A year
later he was ill again and went to the same doctor, who put him
through the same catechism. "What do you have for luncheon?" said
the doctor. "A chop," said the patient, conscious of virtuous
obedience. "Try bread and cheese," said the doctor. "Why," said the
patient, "that was the very thing you told me to avoid." "Yes,"
said the doctor, "and I tell you to avoid a chop now. You, are
suffering not from diet, but from monotony of diet--and you want a
change."

The principle holds good of ordinary life; it is humiliating to
confess it, but these depressions and despondencies which beset us
are often best met by very ordinary physical remedies. It is not
uncommon for people who suffer from them to examine their
consciences, rake up forgotten transgressions, and feel themselves
to be under the anger of God. I do not mean that such scrutiny of
life is wholly undesirable; depression, though it exaggerates our
sinfulness, has a wonderful way of laying its finger on what is
amiss, but we must not wilfully continue in sadness; and sadness is
often a combination of an old instinct with the staleness which
comes of civilised life; and a return to nature, as it is called,
is often a cure, because civilisation has this disadvantage, that
it often takes from us the necessity of doing many of the things
which it is normal to man by inheritance to do--fighting, hunting,
preparing food, working with the hands. We combat these old
instincts artificially by games and exercises. It is humiliating
again to think that golf is an artificial substitute for man's need
to hunt and plough, but it is undoubtedly true; and thus to break
with the monotony of civilisation, and to delude the mind into
believing that it is occupied with primal needs is often a great
refreshment. Anyone who fishes and shoots knows that the joy of
securing a fish or a partridge is entirely out of proportion to any
advantages resulting. A lawyer could make money enough in a single
week to buy the whole contents of a fishmonger's shop, but this
does not give him half the satisfaction which comes from fishing
day after day for a whole week, and securing perhaps three salmon.
The fact is that the old savage mind, which lies behind the
rational and educated mind, is having its fling; it believes itself
to be staving off starvation by its ingenuity and skill, and it
unbends like a loosened bow.

We may be enjoying our work, and we may even take glad refuge in it
to stave off depression, but we are then often adding fuel to the
fire, and tiring the very faculty of resistance, which hardly knows
that it needs resting.

The smallest change of scene, of company, of work may effect a
miraculous improvement when we are feeling low-spirited and
listless. It is not idleness as a rule that we want, but the use of
other faculties and powers and muscles.

And thus though our anxieties may be a real factor in our success,
and may give us the touch of prudence and vigilance we want, it
does not do to allow ourselves to drift into vague fears and dull
depressions, and we must fight them in a practical way. We must
remember the case of Naaman, who was vexed at being told to go and
dip himself in a mud-stained stream running violently in rocky
places, when he might have washed in Abana and Pharpar, the
statelier, purer, fuller streams of his native land. It is just the
little homely torrent that we need, and part of our cares come from
being too dignified about them. It is pleasanter to think oneself
the battle-ground for high and tragical forces of a spiritual kind,
than to realise that some little homely bit of common machinery is
out of gear. But we must resist the temptation to feel that our
fears have a dark and great significance. We must simply treat them
as little sicknesses and ailments of the soul.

I therefore believe that fears are like those little fugitive
gliding things that seem to dart across the field of the eye when
it is weak and ailing, vague clusters and tangles and spidery webs,
that float and fly, and can never be fixed and truly seen; and that
they are best treated as we learn to treat common ailments, by not
concerning ourselves very much about them, by enduring and evading
them and distracting the mind, and not by facing them, because they
will not be faced; nor can they be dispelled by reason, because
they are not in the plane of reason at all, but phantoms gathered
by the sick imagination, distorted out of their proper shape, evil
nightmares, the horror of which is gone with the dawn. They are the
shadows of our childishness, and they show that we have a long
journey before us; and they gain their strength from the fact that
we gather them together out of the future like the bundle of sticks
in the fable, when we shall have the strength to snap them singly
as they come.

The real way to fight them is to get together a treasure of
interests and hopes and beautiful visions and emotions, and above
all to have some definite work which lies apart from our daily
work, to which we can turn gladly in empty hours; because fears are
born of inaction and idleness, and melt insensibly away in the
warmth of labour and duty.

Nothing can really hurt us except our own despair. But the problem
which is difficult is how to practise a real fulness of life, and
yet to keep a certain detachment, how to realise that what we do is
small and petty enough, but that the greatness lies in our energy
and briskness of action; we should try to be interested in life as
we are interested in a game, not believing too much in the
importance of it, but yet intensely concerned at the moment in
playing it as well and skilfully as possible. The happiest people
of all are those who can shift their interest rapidly from point to
point, and throw themselves into the act of the moment, whatever it
may be. Of course this is largely at first a matter of temperament,
but temperament is not unalterable; and self-discipline working
along the lines of habit has a great attractiveness, the moment we
feel that life is beginning to shape itself upon real lines.






XVI

FEAR OF LIFE





Let us divide our fears up into definite divisions, and see how it
is best to deal with them. Lowest and worst of all is the shapeless
and bodiless fear, which is a real disease of brain and nerves. I
know no more poignant description of this than in the strange book
Lavengro:


"'What ails you, my child,' said a mother to her son, as he lay on
a couch under the influence of the dreadful one; 'what ails you?
you seem afraid!'

"Boy. And so I am; a dreadful fear is upon me.

"Mother. But of what? there is no one can harm you; of what are you
apprehensive?

"Boy. Of nothing that I can express; I know not what I am afraid
of, but afraid I am.

"Mother. Perhaps you see sights and visions; I knew a lady once who
was continually thinking that she saw an armed man threaten her,
but it was only an imagination, a phantom of the brain.

"Boy. No armed man threatens me; and 'tis not a thing that would
cause me any fear. Did an armed man threaten me, I would get up and
fight him; weak as I am, I would wish for nothing better, for then,
perhaps, I should lose this fear; mine is a dread of I know not
what, and there the horror lies.

"Mother. Your forehead is cool, and your speech collected. Do you
know where you are?

"Boy. I know where I am, and I see things just as they are; you are
beside me, and upon the table there is a book which was written by
a Florentine. All this I see, and that there is no ground for being
afraid. I am, moreover, quite cool, and feel no pain--but--but--

"And then there was a burst of 'gemiti, sospiri ed alti guai.'
Alas, alas, poor child of clay! as the sparks fly upward, so wast
thou born to sorrow--Onward!"


That is a description of amazing power, but of course we are here
dealing with a definite brain-malady, in which the emotional
centres are directly affected. This in a lesser degree no doubt
affects more people than one would wish to think; but it may be
considered a physical malady of which fear is the symptom and not
the cause.

Let us then frankly recognise the physical element in these
irrational terrors; and when one has once done this, a great burden
is taken off the mind, because one sees that such fear may be a
real illusion, a sort of ghastly mockery, which by directly
affecting the delicate machinery through which emotion is
translated into act, may produce a symptom of terror which is both
causeless and baseless, and which may imply neither a lack of
courage nor self-control.

And, therefore, I feel, as against the Ascetic and the Stoic, that
I am meant to live and to taste the fulness of life; and that if I
begin by choosing the wrong joys, it is that I may learn their
unreality. I have learned already to compromise about many things,
to be content with getting much less than I desire, to acquiesce in
missing many good things altogether. But asceticism for the sake of
prudence seems to me a wilful error, as though a man practised
starvation through uneasy days, because of the chance that he might
some day find himself with not enough to eat. The only self-denial
worth practising is the self-denial that one admires, and that
seems to one to be fine and beautiful.

For we must emphatically remember that the saint is one who lives
life with high enjoyment, and with a vital zest; he chooses
holiness because of its irresistible beauty, and because of the
appeal it makes to his mind. He does not creep through life
ashamed, depressed, anxious, letting ordinary delights slip through
his nerveless fingers; and if he denies himself common pleasures,
it is because, if indulged, they thwart and mar his purer and more
lively joys.

The fear of life, the frame of mind which says, "This attractive
and charming thing captivates me, but I will mistrust it and keep
it at arm's length, because if I lose it, I shall experience
discomfort," seems to me a poor and timid handling of life. I would
rather say, "I will use it generously and freely, knowing that it
may not endure; but it is a sign to me of God's care for me, that
He gives me the desire and the gratification; and even if He means
me to learn that it is only a small thing, I can learn that only by
using it and trying its sweetness."

This may be held a dangerous doctrine; but I do not mean that life
must be a foolish and ingenuous indulgence of every appetite and
whim. One must make choices; and there are many appetites which
come hand in hand with their own shadow. I am not here speaking of
tampering with sin; I think that most people burn their fingers
over that in early life. But I am speaking rather of the delights
of the body that are in no way sinful, food and drink, games and
exercise, love itself; and of the joys of the mind and the artistic
sense; free and open relations with men and women of keen interests
and eager fancies; the delights of work, professional success, the
doing of pleasant tasks as vigorously and as perfectly as one can--
all the stir and motion and delight of life.

To shrink back in terror from all this seems to me a sort of
cowardice; and it is a cowardice too to go on indulging in things
which one does not enjoy for the sake of social tradition. One must
not be afraid of breaking with social custom, if one finds that it
leads one into dreary and useless formalities, stupid and expensive
entertainments, tiresome gatherings, dull and futile assemblies. I
think that men and women ought gaily and delightedly to choose the
things that minister to their vigour and joy, and to throw
themselves willingly into these things, so long as they do not
interfere with plainer and simpler duties.

Another way of escape from the importunities of fear is to be very
resolute in fighting against our personal claims to honour and
esteem. We are sorely wounded through our ambitions, whether they
be petty or great; and it is astonishing to find how frail a basis
often serves for a sense of dignity. I have known lowly and
unimportant people who were yet full of pragmatical self-concern,
and whose pride took the form not so much of exalting their own
consequence as of thinking meanly of other people. It is easy to
restore one's own confidence by dwelling with bitter emphasis on
the faults and failings of those about one, by cataloguing the
deficiencies of those who have achieved success, by accustoming
oneself to think of one's own lack of success as a sign of
unworldliness, and by attributing the success of others to a
cynical and unscrupulous pursuit of reputation. There is nothing in
the world which so differentiates men and women as the tendency to
suspect and perceive affronts, and to nurture grievances. It is so
fatally easy to think that one has been inconsiderately treated,
and to mistake susceptibility for courage. Let us boldly face the
fact that we get in this world very much what we earn and deserve,
and there is no surer way of being excluded and left out from
whatever is going forward than a habit of claiming more respect and
deference than is due to one. If we are snubbed and humiliated, it
is generally because we have put ourselves forward and taken more
than our share. Whereas if we have been content to bear a hand, to
take trouble, and to desire useful work rather than credit, our
influence grows silently and we become indispensable. A man who
does not notice petty grumbling, who laughs away sharp comments,
who does not brood over imagined insults, who forgets irritable
passages, who makes allowance for impatience and fatigue, is
singularly invulnerable. The power of forgetting is infinitely more
valuable than the power of forgiving, in many conjunctions of life.
In nine cases out of ten, the wounds which our sensibilities
receive are the merest pin-pricks, enlarged and fretted by our own
hands; we work the little thorn about in the puncture till it
festers, instead of drawing it out and casting it away.

Very few of the prizes of life that we covet are worth winning, if
we scheme to get them; it is the honour or the task that comes to
us unexpectedly that we deserve. I have heard discontented men say
that they never get the particular work that they desire and for
which they feel themselves to be suited; and meanwhile life flies
swiftly, while we are picturing ourselves in all sorts of coveted
situations, and slighting the peaceful happiness, the beautiful
joys which lie all around us, as we go forward in our greedy
reverie.

I have been much surprised, since I began some years ago to receive
letters from all sorts of unknown people, to realise how many
persons there are in the world who think themselves unappreciated.
Such are not generally people who have tried and failed;--an honest
failure very often brings a wholesome sense of incompetence;--but
they are generally persons who think that they have never had a
chance of showing what is in them, speakers who have found their
audiences unresponsive, writers who have been discouraged by
finding their amateur efforts unsaleable, men who lament the
unsuitability of their profession to their abilities, women who
find themselves living in what they call a thoroughly unsympathetic
circle. The failure here lies in an incapacity to believe in one's
own inefficiency, and a sturdy persuasion of the malevolence of
others.

Here is a soil in which fears spring up like thorns and briars.
"Whatever I do or say, I shall be passed over and slighted, I shall
always find people determined to exclude and neglect me!" I know
myself, only too well, how fertile the brain is in discovering
almost any reason for a failure except what is generally the real
reason, that the work was badly done. And the more eager one is for
personal recognition and patent success, the more sickened one is
by any hint of contempt and derision.

But it is quite possible, as I also know from personal experience,
to go patiently and humbly to work again, to face the reasons for
failure, to learn to enjoy work, to banish from the mind the uneasy
hope of personal distinction. We may try to discern the humour of
Providence, because I am as certain as I can be of anything that we
are humorously treated as well as lovingly regarded. Let me relate
two small incidents which did me a great deal of good at a time of
self-importance. I was once asked to give a lecture, and it was
widely announced. I saw my own name in capital letters upon
advertisements displayed in the street. On the evening appointed, I
went to the place, and met the chairman of the meeting and some of
the officials in a room adjoining the hall where I was to speak. We
bowed and smiled, paid mutual compliments, congratulated each other
on the importance of the occasion. At last the chairman consulted
his watch and said it was time to be beginning. A procession was
formed, a door was majestically thrown open by an attendant, and we
walked with infinite solemnity on to the platform of an entirely
empty hall, with rows of benches all wholly unfurnished with
guests. I think it was one of the most ludicrous incidents I ever
remember. The courteous confusion of the chairman, the dismay of
the committee, the colossal nature of the fiasco filled me, I am
glad to say, not with mortification, but with an overpowering
desire to laugh.

I may add that there had been a mistake about the announcement of
the hour, and ten minutes later a minute audience did arrive, whom
I proceeded to address with such spirit as I could muster; but I
have always been grateful for the humorous nature of the snub
administered to me.

Again on another occasion I had to pay a visit of business to a
remote house in the country. A good-natured friend descanted upon
the excitement it would be to the household to entertain a living
author, and how eagerly my utterances would be listened to. I was
received not only without respect but with obvious boredom. In the
course of the afternoon I discovered that I was supposed to be a
solicitor's clerk, but when a little later it transpired what my
real occupations were, I was not displeased to find that no member
of the party had ever heard of my existence, or was aware that I
had ever published a book, and when I was questioned as to what I
had written, no one had ever come across anything that I had
printed, until at last I soared into some transient distinction by
the discovery that my brother was the author of Dodo.

I cannot help feeling that there is something gently humorous about
this good-humoured indication that the whole civilised world is not
engaged in the pursuit of literature, and that one's claims to
consideration depend upon one's social merits. I do honestly think
that Providence was here deliberately poking fun at me, and showing
me that a habit of presenting one's opinions broadcast to the world
does not necessarily mean that the world is much aware either of
oneself or of one's opinions.

The cure then, it seems to me, for personal ambition, is the
humorous reflection that the stir and hum of one's own particular
teetotum is confined to a very small space and range; and that the
witty description of the Greek politician who was said to be well
known throughout the whole civilised world and at Lampsacus, or of
the philosopher who was announced as the author of many epoch-
making volumes and as the second cousin of the Earl of Cork,
represents a very real truth,--that reputation is not a thing which
is worth bothering one's head about; that if it comes, it is apt to
be quite as inconvenient as it is pleasant, while if one grows to
depend upon it, it is as liable to part with its sparkle as soda-
water in an open glass.

And then if one comes to consider the commoner claim, the claim to
be felt and respected and regarded in one's own little circle, it
is wholesome and humiliating to observe how generously and easily
that regard is conceded to affectionateness and kindness, and how
little it is won by any brilliance or sharpness. Of course
irritable, quick-tempered, severe, discontented people can win
attention easily enough, and acquire the kind of consideration
which is generally conceded to anyone who can be unpleasant. How
often families and groups are drilled and cautioned by anxious
mothers and sisters not to say or do anything which will vex so-
and-so! Such irritable people get the rooms and the chairs and the
food that they like, and the talk in their presence is eagerly kept
upon subjects on which they can hold forth. But how little such
regard lasts, and how welcome a relief it is, when one that is thus
courted and deferred to is absent! Of course if one is wholly
indifferent whether one is regarded, needed, missed, loved, so long
as one can obtain the obedience and the conveniences one likes,
there is no more to be said. But I often think of that wonderful
poem of Christina Rossetti's about the revenant, the spirit that
returns to the familiar house, and finds himself unregretted:


  "'To-morrow' and 'to-day,' they cried;
     I was of yesterday!"


One sometimes sees, in the faces of old family servants, in
unregarded elderly relatives, bachelor uncles, maiden aunts, who
are entertained as a duty, or given a home in charity, a very
beautiful and tender look, indescribable in words but unmistakable,
when it seems as if self, and personal claims, and pride, and
complacency had really passed out of the expression, leaving
nothing but a hope of being loved, and a desire to do some humble
service.

I saw it the other day in the face of a little old lady, who lived
in the house of a well-to-do cousin, with rather a bustling and
vigorous family pervading the place. She was a small frail
creature, with a tired worn face, but with no look of fretfulness
or discontent. She had a little attic as a bedroom, and she was not
considered in any way. She effaced herself, ate about as much as a
bird would eat, seldom spoke, uttering little ejaculations of
surprise and amusement at what was said; if there was a place
vacant in the carriage, she drove out. If there was not, she
stopped at home. She amused herself by going about in the village,
talking to the old women and the children, who half loved and half
despised her for being so very unimportant, and for having nothing
she could give away. But I do not think the little lady ever had a
thought except of gratitude for her blessings, and admiration for
the robustness and efficiency of her relations. She claimed nothing
from life and expected nothing. It seemed a little frail and
vanquished existence, and there was not an atom of what is called
proper pride about her; but it was fine, for all that! An infinite
sweetness looked out of her eyes; she suffered a good deal, but
never complained. She was glad to live, found the world a beautiful
and interesting place, and never quarrelled with her slender share
of its more potent pleasures. And she will slip silently out of
life some day in her attic room; and be strangely mourned and
missed. I do not consider that a failure in life, and I am not sure
that it is not something much more like a triumph. I know that as I
watched her one evening knitting in the corner, following what was
said with intense enjoyment, uttering her little bird-like cries, I
thought how few of the things that could afflict me had power to
wound her, and how little she had to fear. I do not think she
wanted to take flight, but yet I am sure she had no dread of death;
and when she goes thitherward, leaving the little tired and
withered frame behind, it will be just as when the crested lark
springs up from the dust of the roadway, and wings his way into the
heart of the dewy upland.






XVII

SIMPLICITY





If we are to avoid the dark onset of fear, we must at all costs
simplify life, because the more complicated and intricate our life
is, and the more we multiply our defences, the more gates and
posterns there are by which the enemy can creep upon us. Property,
comforts, habits, conveniences, these are the vantage-grounds from
which fears can organise their invasions. The more that we need
excitement, distraction, diversion, the more helpless we become
without them. All this is very clearly recognised and stated in the
Gospel. Our Saviour does not seem to regard the abandonment of
wealth as a necessary condition of the Christian life, but He does
very distinctly say that rich men are beset with great difficulties
owing to their wealth, and He indicates that a man who trusts
complacently in his possessions is tempted into a disastrous
security. He speaks of laying up treasure in heaven as opposed to
the treasures which men store up on earth; and He points out that
whenever things are put aside unused, in order that the owner may
comfort himself by the thought that they are there if he wants them,
decay and corruption begin at once to undermine and destroy them.
What exactly the treasure in heaven can be it is hard to define. It
cannot be anything quite so sordid as good deeds done for the sake
of spiritual investment, because our Saviour was very severe on
those who, like the Pharisees, sought to acquire righteousness by
scrupulosity. Nothing that is done just for the sake of one's own
future benefit seems to be regarded in the Gospel as worth doing.
The essence of Christian giving seems to be real giving, and not a
sort of usurious loan. There is of course one very puzzling parable,
that of the unjust steward, who used his last hours in office,
before the news of his dismissal could get abroad, in cheating his
master, in order to win the favour of the debtors by arbitrarily
diminishing the amount of their debts. It seems strange that our
Saviour should have drawn a moral out of so immoral an incident.
Perhaps He was using a well-known story, and even making allowances
for the admiration with which in the East resourcefulness, even of a
fraudulent kind, was undoubtedly regarded. But the principle seems
clear enough, that if the Christian chooses to possess wealth, he
runs a great risk, and that it is therefore wiser to disembarrass
oneself of it. Property is regarded in the Gospel as an undoubtedly
dangerous thing; but so far from our Lord preaching a kind of
socialism, and bidding men to co-operate anxiously for the sake of
equalising wealth, He recommends an individualistic freedom from the
burden of wealth altogether. But, as always in the Gospel, our Lord
looks behind practice to motive; and it is clear that the motive for
the abandonment of wealth is not to be a desire to act with a
selfish prudence, in order to lay an obligation upon God to repay
one generously in the future for present sacrifices, but rather the
attainment of an individual liberty, which leaves the spirit free to
deal with the real interests of life. And one must not overlook the
definite promise that if a man seeks virtue first, even at the cost
of earthly possessions and comforts, he will find that they will be
added as well.

Those who would discredit the morality of the Gospel would have one
believe that our Saviour in dealing with shrewd, homely, literal
folk was careful to promise substantial future rewards for any
worldly sacrifices they might make; but not so can I read the
Gospel. Our Saviour does undoubtedly say plainly that we shall find
it worth our while to escape from the burdens and anxieties of
wealth, but the reward promised seems rather to be a lightness and
contentment of spirit, and a freedom from heavy and unnecessary
bonds.

In our complicated civilisation it is far more difficult to say
what simplicity of life is. It is certainly not that expensive and
dramatic simplicity which is sometimes contrived by people of
wealth as a pleasant contrast to elaborate living. I remember the
son of a very wealthy man, who had a great mansion in the country
and a large house in London, telling me that his family circle were
never so entirely happy as when they were living at close quarters
in a small Scotch shooting-lodge, where their life was
comparatively rough, and luxuries unattainable. But I gathered that
the main delight of such a period was the sense of laying up a
stock of health and freshness for the more luxurious life which
intervened. The Anglo-Saxon naturally loves a kind of feudal
dignity; he likes a great house, a crowd of servants and
dependants, the impression of power and influence which it all
gives; and the delights of ostentation, of having handsome things
which one does not use and indeed hardly ever sees, of knowing that
others are eating and drinking at one's expense, which is a thing
far removed from hospitality, are dear to the temperament of our
race. We may say at once that this is fatal to any simplicity of
life; it may be that we cannot expect anyone who is born to such
splendours deliberately to forego them; but I am sure of this, that
a rich man, now and here, who spontaneously parted with his wealth,
and lived sparely in a small house, would make perhaps as powerful
an appeal to the imagination of the English world as could well be
made. If a man had a message to deliver, there could be no better
way of emphasizing it. It must not be a mere flight from the
anxiety of worldly life into a more congenial seclusion. It should
be done as Francis of Assisi did it, by continuing to live the life
of the world without any of its normal conveniences. Patent and
visible self-sacrifice, if it be accompanied by a tender love of
humanity, will always be the most impressive attitude in the world.

But if one is not capable of going to such lengths, if indeed one
has nothing that one can resign, how is it possible to practise
simplicity of life? It can be done by limiting one's needs, by
avoiding luxuries, by having nothing in one's house that one cannot
use, by being detached from pretentiousness, by being indifferent
to elaborate comforts. There are people whom I know who do this,
and who, even though they live with some degree of wealth, are yet
themselves obviously independent of comfort to an extraordinary
degree. There is a Puritanical dislike of waste which is a very
different thing, because it often coexists with an extreme
attachment to the particular standard of comfort that the man
himself prefers. I know people who believe that a substantial
midday meal and a high tea are more righteous than a simple midday
meal and a substantial dinner. But the right attitude is one of
unconcern and the absence of uneasy scheming as to the details of
life. There is no reason why people should not form habits, because
method is the primary condition of work; but the moment that habit
becomes tyrannous and elaborate, then the spirit is at once in
bondage to anxiety. The real victory over these little cares is not
for ever to have them on one's mind; or one becomes like the bread-
and-butter fly in Through the Looking-Glass, whose food was weak
tea with cream in it. "But supposing it cannot find any?" said
Alice. "Then it dies," says the gnat, who is acting the part of
interpreter. "But that must happen very often?" said Alice. "It
ALWAYS happens!" says the gnat with sombre emphasis.

Simplicity is, in fact, a difficult thing to lay down rules for,
because the essence of it is that it is free from rules; and those
who talk and think most about it, are often the most uneasy and
complicated natures. But it is certain that if one finds oneself
growing more and more fastidious and particular, more and more
easily disconcerted and put out and hampered by any variation from
the exact scheme of life that one prefers, even if that scheme is
an apparently simple one, it is certain that simplicity is at an
end. The real simplicity is a sense of being at home and at ease in
any company and mode of living, and a quiet equanimity of spirit
which cannot be content to waste time over the arrangements of
life. Sufficient food and exercise and sleep may be postulated; but
these are all to be in the background, and the real occupations of
life are to be work and interests and talk and ideas and natural
relations with others. One knows of houses where some trifling
omission of detail, some failure of service in a meal, will plunge
the hostess into a dumb and incommunicable despair. The slightest
lapse of the conventional order becomes a cloud that intercepts the
sun. But the right attitude to life, if we desire to set ourselves
free from this self-created torment, is a resolute avoidance of
minute preoccupations, a light-hearted journeying, with an amused
tolerance for the incidents of the way. A conventional order of
life is useful only in so far as it removes from the mind the
necessity of detailed planning, and allows it to flow punctually
and mechanically in an ordered course. But if we exalt that order
into something sacred and solemn, then we become pharisaical and
meticulous, and the savour of life is lost.

One remembers the scene in David Copperfield which makes so fine a
parable of life; how the merry party who were making the best of an
ill-cooked meal, and grilling the chops over the lodging-house
fire, were utterly disconcerted and reduced to miserable dignity by
the entry of the ceremonious servant with his "Pray, permit me,"
and how his decorous management of the cheerful affair cast a gloom
upon the circle which could not even be dispelled when he had
finished his work and left them to themselves.






XVIII

AFFECTION





One of the ways in which our fears have power to wound us most
grievously is through our affections, and here we are confronted
with a real and crucial difficulty. Are we to hold ourselves in, to
check the impulses of affection, to use self-restraint, not
multiply intimacies, not extend sympathies? One sees every now and
then lives which have entwined themselves with every tendril of
passion and love and companionship and service round some one
personality, and have then been bereaved, with the result that the
whole life has been palsied and struck into desolation by the loss.
I am thinking now of two instances which I have known; one was a
wife, who was childless, and whose whole nature, every motive and
every faculty, became centred upon her husband, a man most worthy
of love. He died suddenly, and his wife lost everything at one
blow; not only her lover and comrade, but every occupation as well
which might have helped to distract her, because her whole life had
been entirely devoted to her husband; and even the hours when he
was absent from her had been given to doing anything and everything
that might save him trouble or vexation. She lived on, though she
would willingly have died at any moment, and the whole fabric of
her life was shattered. Again, I think of a devoted daughter who
had done the same office for an old and not very robust father. I
heard her once say that the sorrow of her mother's death had been
almost nullified for her by finding that she could do everything
for and be everything to her father, whom she almost adored. She
had refused an offer of marriage from a man whom she sincerely
loved, that she might not leave her father, and she never even told
her father of the incident, for fear that he might have felt that
he had stood in the way of her happiness. When he died, she too
found herself utterly desolate, without ties and without
occupation, an elderly woman almost without friends or companions.

Ought one to feel that this kind of jealous absorption in a single
individual affection is a mistake? It certainly brought both the
wife and daughter an intense happiness, but in both cases the
relation was so close and so intimate that it tended gradually to
seclude them from all other relations. The husband and the father
were both reserved and shy men, and desired no other companionship.
One can see so easily how it all came about, and what the
inevitable result was bound to be, and yet it would have been
difficult at any point to say what could have been done. Of course
these great absorbed emotions involve large risks; and it may be
doubted whether life can be safely lived on these intensive lines.
These are of course extreme instances, but there are many cases in
the world, and especially in the case of women whose life is
entirely built up on certain emotions like the love and care of
children; and when that is so, a nature becomes liable to the
sharpest incursions of fear. It is of little use arguing such cases
theoretically, because, as the proverb says, as the land lies the
water flows,--and love makes very light of all prudential
considerations.

The difficulty does not arise with large and generous natures which
give love prodigally in many directions, because if one such
relation is broken by death, love can still exercise itself upon
those that remain. It is the fierce and jealous sort of love that
is so hard to deal with, a love that exults in solitariness of
devotion, and cannot bear any intrusion of other relations.

Yet if one believes, as I for one believe, that the secret of the
world is somehow hidden in love, and can be interpreted through
love alone, then one must run the risks of love, and seek for
strength to bear the inevitable suffering which love must bring.

But men and women are very differently made in this respect. Among
innumerable minor differences, certain broad divisions are clear.
Men, in the first place, both by training and temperament, are far
less dependent upon affection than women. Career and occupation
play a much larger part in their thoughts. If one could test and
intercept the secret and unoccupied reveries of men, when the mind
moves idly among the objects which most concern it, it would be
found, I do not doubt, that men's minds occupy themselves much more
about definite and tangible things--their work, their duties, their
ambitions, their amusements--and centre little upon the thought of
other people; an affection, an emotional relation, is much more of
an incident than a settled preoccupation; and then with men there
are two marked types, those who give and lavish affection freely,
who are interested and attracted by others and wish to attach and
secure close friends; and there are others who respond to advances,
yet do not go in search of friendship, but only accept it when it
comes; and the singular thing is that such natures, which are often
cold and self-absorbed, have a power of kindling emotion in others
which men of generous and eager feeling sometimes lack. It is
strange that it should be so, but there is some psychological law
at the back of it; and it is certainly true in my experience that
the men who have been most eagerly sought in friendship have not as
a rule been the most open-hearted and expansive natures. I suppose
that a certain law of pursuit holds good, and that people of self-
contained temperament, with a sort of baffling charm, who are
critical and hard to please, excite a certain ambition in those who
would claim their affection.

Women, I have no doubt, live far more in the thought of others, and
desire their intention; they wish to arrive at mutual understanding
and confidence, to explore personality, to pierce behind the
surface, to establish a definite relation. Yet in the matter of
relations with others, women are often, I believe, less
sentimental, and even less tender-hearted than men, and they have a
far swifter and truer intuition of character. Though the two sexes
can never really understand each other's point of view, because no
imagination can cross the gulf of fundamental difference, yet I am
certain that women understand men far better than men understand
women. The whole range of motives is strangely different, and men
can never grasp the comparative unimportance with which women
regard the question of occupation. Occupation is for men a definite
and isolated part of life, a thing important and absorbing in
itself, quite apart from any motives or reasons. To do something,
to make something, to produce something--that desire is always
there, whatever ebb and flow of emotions there may be; it is an end
in itself with men, and with many women it is not so; for women
mostly regard work as a necessity, but not an interesting
necessity. In a woman's occupation, there is generally someone at
the end of it, for whom and in connection with whom it is done.
This is probably largely the result of training and tradition, and
great changes are now going on in the direction of women finding
occupations for themselves. But take the case of such a profession
as teaching; it is quite possible for a man to be an effective and
competent teacher, without feeling any particular interest in the
temperaments of his pupils, except in so far as they react upon the
work to be done. But a woman can hardly take this impersonal
attitude; and this makes women both more and less effective,
because human beings invariably prefer to be dealt with
dispassionately; and this is as a rule more difficult for women;
and thus in a complicated matter affecting conduct, a woman as a
rule forms a sounder judgment on what has actually occurred than a
man, and is perhaps more likely to take a severe view. The attitude
of a Galileo is often a useful one for a teacher, because boys and
girls ought in matters that concern themselves to learn how to
govern themselves.

Thus in situations involving relation with others women are more
liable to feel anxiety and the pressure of personal responsibility;
and the question is to what extent this ought to be indulged, in
what degree men and women ought to assume the direction of other
lives, and whether it is wholesome for the director to allow a
desire for personal dominance to be substituted for more
spontaneous motives.

It very often happens that the temperaments which most claim help
and support are actuated by the egotistical desire to find
themselves interesting to others, while those who willingly assume
the direction of other lives are attracted more by the sense of
power than by genuine sympathy.

But it is clear that it is in the region of our affections that the
greatest risks of all have to be run. By loving, we render
ourselves liable to the darkest and heaviest fears. Yet here, I
believe, we ought to have no doubt at all; and the man who says to
himself, "I should like to bestow my affection on this person and
on that, but I will keep it in restraint, because I am afraid of
the suffering which it may entail,"--such a man, I say, is very far
from the kingdom of God. Because love is the one quality which, if
it reaches a certain height, can altogether despise and triumph
over fear. When ambition and delight and energy fail, love can
accompany us, with hope and confidence, to the dark gate; and thus
it is the one thing about which we can hardly be mistaken. If love
does not survive death, then life is built upon nothingness, and we
may be glad to get away; but it is more likely that it is the only
thing that does survive.






XIX

SIN





It is every one's duty to take himself seriously--that is the right
mean between taking oneself either solemnly or apologetically. There
is no merit in being apologetic about oneself. One has a right to be
there, wherever one is, a right to an opinion, a right to take some
kind of a hand in whatever is going on; natural tact is the only
thing which can tell us exactly how far those rights extend; but it
is inconvenient to be apologetic, because if one insists on
explaining how one comes to be there, or how one comes to have an
opinion, other people begin to think that one needs explanation and
excuse; but it is even worse to be solemn about oneself, because
English people are very critical in private, though they are
tolerant in public, because they dislike a scene, and have not got
the art of administering the delicate snub which indicates to a man
that his self-confidence is exuberant without humiliating him; when
English people inflict a snub, they do it violently and
emphatically, like Dr. Johnson, and it generally means that they are
relieving themselves of accumulated disapproval. An Englishman is
apt to be deferential, and one of the worst temptations of official
life is the temptation to be solemn. There is an old story about
Scott and Wordsworth, when the latter stayed at Abbotsford; Scott,
during the whole visit, was full of little pleasant and courteous
allusions to Wordsworth's poems; and one of the guests present
records how at the end of the visit not a single word had ever
passed Wordsworth's lips which could have indicated that he knew his
host to have ever written a line of poetry or prose.

I was sitting the other day at a function next a man of some
eminence, and I was really amazed at the way in which he discoursed
of himself and his habits, his diet, his hours of work, and the
blank indifference with which he received similar confidences. He
merely waited till the speaker had finished, and then resumed his
own story.

It is this sort of solemn egotism which makes us overvalue our
anxieties quite out of all proportion to their importance, because
they all appear to us as integral elements of a dignified drama in
which we enact the hero's part. We press far too heavily on the
sense of responsibility; and if we begin by telling boys, as is too
often done in sermons, that whatever they do or say is of far-
reaching consequence, that every lightest word may produce an
effect, that any carelessness of speech or example may have
disastrous effects upon the character of another, we are doing our
best to encourage the self-emphasis which is the very essence of
priggishness.

There is a curious conflict going on at the present time in English
life between light-mindedness and solemnity; there is a great
appetite for living, a love of amusement, a tendency to subordinate
the interests of the future to the pleasure of the moment, and to
think that the one serious evil is boredom; that is a healthy
manifestation enough in its way, because it stands for interest and
delight in life; but there is another strain in our nature, that of
a rather heavy pietism, inherited from our Puritan ancestors. It
must not be forgotten that the Puritan got a good deal of interest
out of his sense of sin; as the old combative elements of feudal
ages disappeared, the soldierly blood retained the fighting
instinct, and turned it into moral regions. The sense of adventure
is impelled to satiate itself, and the Pilgrim's Progress is a
clear enough proof that the old combativeness was all there,
revelling in danger, and exulting in the thought that the human
being was in the midst of foes. Sin represented itself to the
Puritan as a thing out of which he could get a good deal of fun;
not the fun of yielding to it, but the fun of whipping out his
sword and getting in some shrewd blows. When preachers nowadays
lament that we have lost the sense of sin, what they really mean is
that we have lost our combativeness: we no longer believe that we
must treat our foes with open and brutal violence, and we perceive
that such conduct is only pitting one sin against another. There is
no warrant in the Gospel for the combative idea of the Christian
life; all such metaphors and suggestions come from St. Paul and the
Apocalypse. The fact is that the world was not ready for the utter
peaceableness of the Gospel, and it had to be accommodated to the
violence of the world.

Now again the Christian idea is coloured by scientific and medical
knowledge, and sin, instead of an enemy which we must fight, has
become a disease which we must try to cure.

Sins, the ordinary sins of ordinary life, are not as a rule
instincts which are evil in themselves, so much as instincts which
are selfishly pursued to the detriment of others; sin is in its
essence the selfishness which will not cooperate, and which secures
advantages unjustly, without any heed to the disadvantage of
others. SYMPATHETIC IMAGINATION is the real foe of sin, the power
of putting oneself in the place of another; and much of the
sentiment which is so prevalent nowadays is the evidence of the
growth of sympathy.

The old theory of sin lands one in a horrible dilemma, because it
implies a treacherous enmity on the part of God, to create man weak
and unstable, and to pit his weakness against tyrannous desires; to
allow his will to do evil to be stronger than his power to do
right, is a satanical device. One must not sacrifice the truth to
the desire for simplicity and effective statement. The truth is
intricate and obscure, and to pretend that it is plain and obvious
is mere hypocrisy. The strength of Calvinism is its horrible
resemblance to a natural inference from the facts of life; but if
any sort of Calvinism is true, then it is a mere insult to the
intelligence to say that God is loving or just. The real basis for
all deep-seated fear about life is the fear that one will not be
dealt with either lovingly or justly. But we have to make a simple
choice as to what we will believe, and the only hope is to believe
that immediate harshness and injustice is not ultimately
inconsistent with Love. No one who knows anything of the world and
of life can pretend to think or say that suffering always results
from, or is at all proportioned to, moral faults; and if we are
tempted to regard all our disasters as penal consequences, then we
are tempted to endure them with gloomy and morbid immobility.

It is far more wholesome and encouraging to look upon many
disasters that befall us as opportunities to show a little spirit,
to evoke the courage which does not come by indolent prosperity, to
increase our sympathy, to enlarge our experience, to make things
clearer to us, to develop our mind and heart, to free us from
material temptations. Past suffering is not always an evil, it is
often an exciting reminiscence. It is good to take life
adventurously, like Odysseus of old. What would one feel about
Odysseus if, instead of contriving a way out of the Cyclops' cave,
he had set himself to consider of what forgotten sin his danger was
the consequence? Suffering and disaster come to us to develop our
inventiveness and our courage, not to daunt and dismay us; and we
ought therefore to approach experience with a sense of humour, if
possible, and with a lively curiosity. I recollect hearing a man
the other day describing an operation to which he had been
subjected. "My word," he said, his eyes sparkling with delight at
the recollection, "that was awful, when I came into the operating-
room, and saw the surgeons in their togs, and the pails and basins
all about, and was invited to step up to the table!" There is
nothing so agreeable as the remembrance of fears through which we
have passed; and we can only learn to despise them by finding out
how unbalanced they were.

I do not mean that fears can ever be pleasant at the time, but we
do them too much honour if we court them and defer to them. However
much we may be tortured by them, there is always something at the
back of our mind which despises our own susceptibility to them; and
it is that deeper instinct which we ought to trust.

But we cannot even begin to trust it, as long as we allow ourselves
to believe pietistically that the Mind of God is set on punishment.
That is the ghastly error which humanity tends to make. It has been
dinned into us, alas, from our early years, and religious
phraseology is constantly polluted by it. Our Saviour lent no
countenance to this at all; He spoke perfectly plainly against the
theory of "judgments." Of course suffering is sometimes a
consequence of sin, but it is not a vindictive punishment; it is
that we may learn our mistake. But we must give up the revengeful
idea of God: that is imported into our scale of values by the
grossest anthropomorphism. Only the weak man, who fears that his
safety will be menaced if he does not make an example, deals in
revenge. He is indignant at anything which mortifies his vanity,
which implies any doubt of his power or any disregard of his
wishes. Revenge is born of terror, and to think of God as
vindictive is to think of Him as subject to fear. Serene and
unquestioned strength can have nothing to do with fear. Milton is
largely responsible for perpetuating this belief. He makes the
Almighty say to the Son--


  "Let us advise, and to this hazard draw
   With speed what force is left, and all employ
   In our defence, lest unawares we lose
   This our high place, our sanctuary, our hill."


Milton's idea of the Almighty was frankly that of a Power who had
undertaken more than he could manage, and who had allowed things to
go too far. But it is a puerile conception of God; and to allow
ourselves to think or speak of God as a Power that has to take
precautions, or that has anything to fear from the exercise of
human volition, is to cloud the whole horizon at once.

But we ought rather to think of God as a Power which for some
reason works through imperfection. The battle of the world is that
of force against inertness: and our fears are the shadow of that
combat.

Fear should then rather show us that we are being confronted with
experience; and that our duty is to disregard it, to march forward
through it, to come out on the other side of it. It is all an
adventure, in fact! The disaster in which we are involved is not
sent to show us that the Eternal Power which created us is vexed at
our failures, or bent on crushing us. It is exactly the opposite;
it is to show us that we are worth testing, worth developing, and
that we are to have the glory of going on; the very fear of death
is the last test of our belief in Love. We are assuredly meant to
believe that the coward is to learn the beauty of courage, that the
laggard is to perceive the worth of energy, that the selfish man is
to be taught sympathy. If we must take a metaphor, let us rather
think of God as the graver of the gem than as the child that beats
her doll for collapsing instead of sitting upright.

It is our dishonouring thought of God as jealous, suspicious, fond
of exhibiting power, revengeful, cruel, that does us harm. We must
rather think of His Heart as full of courage, energy, and hope; as
teeming with joy, lightness, zest, mirth; and then we can begin to
think of failures, fears, delays as things small and unimportant,
not as malicious ambushes, but as rough bits of road, as obstacles
to reveal and to develop our strength and gaiety. There is no joy
in the world so great as the joy of finding ourselves stronger than
we know; and that is what God is bent upon showing us, and not upon
proving to us that we are vile and base, in the spirit of the old
Calvinist who said to his own daughter when she was dying of a
painful disease, that she must remember that all short of Hell was
mercy. It is so; but Hell is rather what we start from, and out of
which we have to find our way, than the waste-paper basket of life,
the last receptacle for our shattered purposes.






XX

SERENITY





To achieve serenity we must have the power of keeping our hearts and
minds fixed upon something which is beyond and above the passing
incidents of life, which so disconcert and overshadow us, and which
are after all but as clouds in the sky, or islets in a great ocean.
Think with what smiling indifference a man would meet indignation
and abuse and menace, if he were aware that an hour hence he would
be triumphantly vindicated and applauded. How calmly would a man
sleep in a condemned cell if he knew that a free pardon were on its
way to him! Of course the more eagerly and enjoyably we live, so
much the more we are affected by little incidents, beyond which we
can hardly look when they bring us so much pleasure or so much
discomfort; and thus it is always the men and women of keen and
highly-strung natures, who taste the quality of every moment, in its
sweetness and its bitterness, who will most feel the influence of
fear. Edward FitzGerald once sadly confessed that, as life went on,
days of perfect delight--a beautiful scene, a melodious music, the
society of those whom he loved best--brought him less and less joy,
because he felt that they were passing swiftly, and could not be
recalled. And of course the imaginative nature which lives
tremulously in delight will be most apt to portend sadness in hours
of happiness, and in sorrow to anticipate the continuance of sorrow.
That is an inevitable effect of temperament; but we must not give
way helplessly to temperament, or allow ourselves to drift wherever
the mind bears us. Just as the skilled sailor can tack up against
the wind, and use ingenuity to compel a contrary breeze to bring him
to the haven of his desire, so we must be wise in trimming our sails
to the force of circumstance; while there is an eager delight in
making adverse conditions help us to realise our hopes.

The timid soul that loves delight is apt to say to itself, "I am
happy now in health and circumstances and friends, but I lean out
into the future, and see that health must fail and friends must
drift away; death must part me from those I love; and beyond all
this, I see the cloudy gate through which I must myself pass, and I
do not know what lies beyond it." That is true enough! It is like
the story of the old prince, as told by Herodotus, who said in his
sorrowful age that the Gods gave man only a taste of life, just
enough to let him feel that life was sweet, and then took the cup
from his lips. But if we look fairly at life, at our own life, at
other lives, we see that pleasure and contentment, even if we
hardly realised that it was contentment at the time, have largely
predominated over pain and unhappiness; a man must be very rueful
and melancholy before he will deliberately say that life has not
been worth living, though I suppose that there have probably been
hours in the lives of all of us when we have thought and said and
even believed that we would rather not have lived at all than
suffer so. Neither must we pass over the fact that every day there
are men and women who, under the pressure of calamity and dismay,
bring their lives to a voluntary end.

But we have to be very dull and thankless and slow of heart not to
feel that by being allowed to live, for however short a time, we
have been allowed to take part in a very beautiful and wonderful
thing. The loveliness of earth, its colours, its lights, its
scents, its savours, the pleasures of activity and health, the
sharp joys of love and friendship, these are surely very great and
marvellous experiences, and the Mind which planned them must be
full of high purpose, eager intention, infinite goodwill. And we
may go further than that, and see that even our sorrows and
failures have often brought something great to our view, something
which we feel we have learned and apprehended, something which we
would not have missed, and which we cannot do without. If we will
frankly recognise all this, we cannot feebly crumple up at the
smallest touch of misery, and say suspiciously and vindictively
that we wish we had never opened our eyes upon the world; and even
if we do say that, even if we abandon ourselves to despair, we yet
cannot hope to escape; we did not enter life by our own will, it is
not our own prudence that has kept us there, and even if we end it
voluntarily, as Carlyle said, by noose or henbane, we cannot for an
instant be sure that we are ending it; every inference in the
world, in fact, would tend to indicate that we do not end it. We
cannot destroy matter, we can only disperse and rearrange it; we
cannot generate a single force, we can only summon it from
elsewhere, and concentrate it, as we concentrate electricity, at a
single glowing point. Force seems as indestructible as matter, and
there is no reason to think that life is destructible either. So
that if we are to resign ourselves to any belief at all, it must be
to the belief that "to be, or not to be" is not a thing which is in
our power at all. We may extinguish life, as we put out a light;
but we do not destroy it, we only rearrange it.

And we can thus at least practise and exercise ourselves in the
belief that we cannot bring our experiences to an end, however
petulantly and irritably we desire to do so, because it simply is
not in our power to effect it. We talk about the power of the will,
but no effort of will can obliterate the life that we have lived,
or add a cubit to our stature; we cannot abrogate any law of
nature, or destroy a single atom of matter. What it seems that we
can do with the will is to make a certain choice, to select a
certain line, to combine existing forces, to use them within very
small limits. We can oblige ourselves to take a certain course,
when every other inclination is reluctant to do it; and even so the
power varies in different people. It is useless then to depend
blindly upon the will, because we may suddenly come to the end of
it, as we may come to the end of our physical forces. But what the
will can do is to try certain experiments, and the one province
where its function seems to be clear, is where it can discover that
we have often a reserve of unsuspected strength, and more courage
and power than we had supposed. We can certainly oppose it to
bodily inclinations, whether they be seductions of sense or
temptations of weariness. And in this one respect the will can give
us, if not serenity, at least a greater serenity than we expect. We
can use the will to endure, to wait, to suspend a hasty judgment;
and impulse is the thing which menaces our serenity most of all.
The will indeed seems to be like a little weight which we can throw
into either scale. If we have no doubt how we ought to act, we can
use the will to enforce our judgment, whether it is a question of
acting or of abstaining; if we are in doubt how to act, we can use
our will to enforce a wise delay.

The truth then about the will is that it is a force which we cannot
measure, and that it is as unreasonable to say that it does not
exist as to say that it is unlimited. It is foolish to describe it
as free; it is no more free than a prisoner in a cell is free; but
yet he has a certain power to move about within his cell, and to
choose among possible employments.

Anyone who will deliberately test his will, will find that it is
stronger than he suspects; what often weakens our use of it is that
we are so apt to look beyond the immediate difficulty into a long
perspective of imagined obstacles, and to say within ourselves,
"Yes, I may perhaps achieve this immediate step, but I cannot take
step after step--my courage will fail!" Yet if one does make the
immediate effort, it is common to find the whole range of obstacles
modified by the single act; and thus the first step towards the
attainment of serenity of life is to practise cutting off the vista
of possible contingencies from our view, and to create a habit of
dealing with a case as it occurs.

I am often tempted myself to send my anxious mind far ahead in
vague dismay; at the beginning of a week crammed with various
engagements, numerous tasks, constant labour, little businesses,
many of them with their own attendant anxiety, it is easy to say
that there is no time to do anything that one wants to do, and to
feel that the matters themselves will be handled amiss and bungled.
But if one can only keep the mind off, or distract it by work, or
beguile it by a book, a walk, a talk, how easily the thread spins
off the reel, how quietly one comes to harbour on the Saturday
evening, with everything done and finished!

Again, I am personally much disposed to dread the opposition and
the displeasure of colleagues, and to shrink nervously from
anything which involves dealing with a number of people. I ought to
have found out before now how futile such dread is; other people
forget their vexation and even grow ashamed of it, much as one does
oneself; and looking back I can recall no crisis which turned out
either as intricate or as difficult as one expected.

Let me admit that I have more than once in life made grave mistakes
through this timidity and indolence, or through an imaginativeness
which could see in a great opportunity nothing but a sea of
troubles, which would, I do not doubt, have melted away as one
advanced. But no one has suffered except myself! Institutions do
not depend upon individuals; and I regard such failures now just as
the petulant casting away of a chance of experience, as a lesson
which I would not learn; but there is nothing irreparable about it;
one only comes, more slowly and painfully, to the same goal at
last. I dare not say that I regret it all, for we are all of us,
whether small or great, being taught a mighty truth, whether we
wish it or know it; and all that we can do to hasten it is to put
our will into the right scale. I do not think mistakes and failures
ought to trouble one much; at all events there is no fear mingled
with them. But I do not here claim to have attained any real
serenity--my own heart is too impatient, too fond of pleasure for
that!--yet I can see clearly enough that it is there, if I could
but grasp it; and I know well enough how it is to be attained, by
being content to wait, and by realising at every instant and moment
of life that, in spite of my tremors and indolences, my sharp
impatiences, my petulant disgusts, something very real and great is
being shown me, which I shall at last, however dimly, perceive; and
that even so the goal of the journey is far beyond any horizon that
I can conceive, and built up like the celestial city out of
unutterable brightness and clearness, upon a foundation of peace
and joy.

It is very difficult to determine, by any exercise of the intellect
or imagination, what fears would remain to us if we were freed from
the dominion of the body. All material fears and anxieties would
come to an end; we should no longer have any poverty to dread, or
any of the limitations or circumscriptions which the lack of the
means of life inflicts upon us; we should have no ambitions left,
because the ambitions which centre on influence--that is, upon the
desire to direct and control the interests of a nation or a group
of individuals--have no meaning apart from the material framework
of civil life. The only kind of influence which would survive would
be the influence of emotion, the direct appeal which one who lives
a higher and more beautiful life can make to all unsatisfied souls,
who would fain find the way to a greater serenity of mood. Even
upon earth we can see a faint foreshadowing of this in the fact
that the only personalities who continue to hold the devotion and
admiration of humanity are the idealists. Men and women do not make
pilgrimages to the graves and houses of eminent jurists and
bankers, political economists or statisticians: these have done
their work, and have had their reward. Even the monuments of
statesmen and conquerors have little power to touch the
imagination, unless some love for humanity, some desire to uplift
and benefit the race, have entered into their schemes and policies.
No, it is rather the soil which covers the bones of dreamers and
visionaries that is sacred yet, prophets and poets, artists and
musicians, those who have seen through life to beauty, and have
lived and suffered that they might inspire and tranquillise human
hearts. The princes of the earth, popes and emperors, lie in
pompous sepulchres, and the thoughts of those who regard them, as
they stand in metal or marble, dwell most on the vanity of earthly
glory. But at the tombs of men like Vergil and Dante, of
Shakespeare and Michelangelo, the human heart still trembles into
tears, and hates the death that parts soul from soul. So that if,
like Dante, we could enter the shadow-land, and hold converse with
the spirits of the dead, we should seek out to consort with, not
those who have subdued and wasted the earth, or have terrified men
into obedience and service, but those whose hearts were touched by
dreams of impossible beauty, and who have taught us to be kind and
compassionate and tender-hearted, to love God and our neighbour,
and to detect, however faintly, the hope of peace and joy which
binds us all together.

And thus if emotion, by which I mean the power of loving, is the
one thing which survives, the fears which may remain will be
concerned with all the thoughts which cloud love, the anger and
suspicion that divide us; so that perhaps the only fears which will
survive at all will be the fears of our own selfishness and
coldness, that inner hardness which has kept us from the love of
God and isolated us from our neighbour. The pride which kept us
from admitting that we were wrong, the jealousy that made us hate
those who won the love we could not win, the baseness which made us
indifferent to the discomfort of others if we could but secure our
own ease, these are the thoughts which may still have the power to
torture us; and the hell that we may have to fear may be the hell
of conscious weakness and the horror of retrospect, when we
recollect how under these dark skies of earth we went on our way
claiming and taking all that we could get, and disregarding love
for fear of being taken advantage of. One of the grievous fears of
life is the fear of seeing ourselves as we really are, in all our
baseness and pettiness; yet that will assuredly be shown us in no
vindictive spirit, but that we may learn to rise and soar.

There is no hope that death will work an immediate moral change in
us; it may set us free from some sensual and material temptations,
but the innermost motives will indeed survive, that instinct which
makes us again and again pursue what we know to be false and
unsatisfying.

The more that we shrink from self-knowledge, the more excuses that
we make for ourselves, the more that we tend to attribute our
failures to our circumstances and to the action of others, the more
reason we have to fear the revelation of death. And the only way to
face that is to keep our minds open to any light, to nurture and
encourage the wish to be different, to pray hour by hour that at
any cost we may be taught the truth; it is useless to search for
happy illusions, to look for short cuts, to hope vaguely that
strength and virtue will burst out like a fountain beside our path.
We have a long and toilsome way to travel, and we can by no device
abbreviate it; but when we suffer and grieve, we are walking more
swiftly to our goal; and the hours we spend in fear, in sending the
mind in weariness along the desolate track, are merely wasted, for
we can alter nothing so. We use life best when we live it eagerly,
exulting in its fulness and its significance, casting ourselves
into strong relations with others, drinking in beauty, making high
music in our hearts. There is an abundance of awe in the
experiences through which we pass, awe at the greatness of the
vision, at the vastness of the design, as it embraces and enfolds
our weakness. But we are inside it all, an integral and
indestructible part of it; and the shadow of fear falls when we
doubt this, when we dread being overlooked or disregarded. No such
thing can happen to us; our inheritance is absolute and certain,
and it is fear that keeps us away from it, and the fear of
fearlessness. For we are contending not with God, but with the fear
which hides Him from our shrinking eyes; and our prayer should be
the undaunted prayer of Moses in the clefts of the mountain, "I
beseech Thee, show me Thy Glory!"

THE END
The Project Gutenberg Etext of Where No Fear Was:  A Book About Fear
by Arthur Christopher Benson
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