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- Without Prejudice - 20/66 -


daughters of joy,' with their indifference to aught but the moment.

"But it is wonderful what shreds of personality, what tags and rags of the ideal, the most degraded may retain. Was there ever a soul that did not think some one action beneath its dignity? An absolutely unscrupulous person is a contradiction in terms. To be unscrupulous were to cease to be a person, to have become a bundle of instincts and impulses. But no one is so good or so bad as he appears. The chronicler of the 'Book of Snobs' was himself a bit of a snob, and the poet who sought for the spiritual where Thackeray had looked for the snobbish, who bade us note

"All the world's coarse thumb And finger failed to plumb, So passed in making up the main account; All instincts immature, All purposes unsure, That weighed not as his work, yet swelled the man's amount,

was almost as weak as the satirist in that respect for titles and riches which is the veritable 'last infirmity of noble minds.'

"Still, Browning's is the truer view of human life, and till we see our neighbours as Omniscience sees them, our kindest and cruellest estimates will be equally wide of the mark.

"And conversely, unless you develop a personality, you cannot be moral, or even immoral. You can be social or anti-social--that is, your actions can make for the good or the ill of society. But moral or immoral it is not given to everybody to be. For I do not agree with those who would substitute social and anti-social for those ancient adjectives. We are concerned with the quality of acts as well as with their effects, with the soul as well as its environment. And it takes a real live soul to do good or evil. That is the point of Mr. Kipling's Tomlinson--a mere bundle of hearsays--who could win neither hell nor heaven. It is also the teaching of Ibsen. You must not shrink from wrong because you are told it is wrong, but because you see it is wrong. But few people can expect to develop a personality of their own. Current morality is the automatic application of misunderstood principles. And so it must always be. For the function of the average man is to obey. Was it not Napoleon who said that men are meant either to lead or to obey, and those who can do neither should be killed off? Ethics is the conscience of the best regulating the conduct of the worst. Hence there are no immutable rules of morality:

"For the wildest dreams of Kew are the facts of Khatmandoo, And the crimes of Clapham chaste at Martaban.

But there are immutable _principles_. To spit in a guest's face is with some savage tribes a mark of respect. But this does not invalidate the principle that to guests should be shown courtesy. Rules vary with time and place, principles are eternal; and even if unmentionable things are done in Africa and Polynesia, if 'the dark places of the earth are full of cruelty,' that does not invalidate the principles of morality, as our modern blood-and-thunder young man affects to believe. For that the principles of right and justice have not yet been discovered in barbarous countries no more destroys their universality and legitimacy than the principles of the differential calculus are affected by the primitive practice of counting on the fingers. And while the ethical geniuses--the senior wranglers of the soul--are groping towards further truths and finer shades of feeling, deeper reaches of pity and subtler perceptions of justice, the rank and file and the wooden spoons must needs apply the old ethics, even against the new teachers themselves. Every truth has to fight for recognition, to prove itself not a lie. The brilliant and impatient young men who scoff at conventions because the people who hold them are unreal--not persons, feeling and passing moral truths through their own soul, but parrots--forget that just because the people are unreal, their maxims are real; that they do not represent the people who mouth them, but the great moralists and thinkers behind. Against the brilliant rushlights of contemporary cleverness shine the stars of the ages. 'T is the immemorial mistake of iconoclasts--even granted they are taller than their fellow-men--to be ever conscious of the extra inches, instead of the common feet. Nevertheless" (and here the Young Fogey put on his most judicial manner) "the extra inches must tell. For because real ethics resides not in rules but in principles, obedience to the letter may mean falsity to the spirit, if the circumstances that dictated the rules have changed. This is not casuistry. 'T is a concept not to be found in Panaetius or Cicero or the Jesuit Fathers. It means that we are not to wear our boyhood's waistcoats, but to be measured for manhood's. Tight-lacing is bad for the spiritual circulation. 'Get rid of the Hebrew old clo', cried that curious Carlyle, the chief dealer in them. Amen, say I: but do not let us therefore go naked. And since we have stumbled upon 'Sartor Resartus,' permit me a comparison in keeping. I once saw a tailor measuring the boys in a charity school. He drew a chalk line five feet up a wall, and dividing the upper part of the line by horizontal chalk-marks, stood the boys beside it, one after another, and according to the chalk-mark which the crown of the unfortunate creature's head grazed, Master Snip called out 'Fours,' 'Ones,' 'Fives.' Fat boys or lean boys, big-bodied or big-legged, narrow-chested or broad-shouldered, 't was all ones--or twos--to him. Did they agree in height, the same clothes--tight or loose--for all! Thus is it with our moral maxims. Genius or goose, saint or sinner--your head to the chalk-mark! And rightly. When one has to deal with great masses one cannot consider little details. The principles of morality must be broad and simple, and the world is right to apply them sternly and undiscriminatingly. The general cannot consider the peculiarities of a particular soldier, though the corporal of the regiment may make allowances for him. And so with breaches of morals. The world at large should condemn; but the private friends, who know the circumstances in every petty involution, who know the temptations and the extenuating factors, should form as it were a court of appeal. If they elected to stand by the offender, the world at large should reconsider its verdict. This is what practically took place in the George Eliot and Lewes instance. Weighed, not by the steelyard of general principle, but by the delicate chemical balance of special detail, they were not found wanting. The Magna Charta is still only a pious aspiration. 'Every man shall be tried by a jury of his peers.' How profound! For only our equals can know our travails and temptations. How, now, if we had to try Shakespeare! which of us would dare sit on the panel? Yet we 'chatter about Shelley.' He did wrong--granted. But was it wrong of him to do it? That is another question altogether. Subjective morality and objective morality are two different things. But the whole subject of the sexes is wrapped in hypocrisy, and the breaches of morality are committed less by the celebrated than by the obscure. The savage sarcasm of Schopenhauer's refusal to discuss monogamy because it had never yet come within the range of practical politics is still justified. I remember once reading an anecdote about a besieged town. The defenders resolved to make a sortie on a certain day, only, in dread of their plan somehow leaking out beyond the gates, or of their womankind dissuading some from the perilous enterprise, they administered a solemn oath to one another that none of them should tell his wife, nor speak of it again even to another man, till the moment arrived. But each individual man told the partner of his bosom, only binding her by most fearsome oaths to say nothing to any other woman or man. All the women kept their oaths, each going about with the proud sense of being the only woman in the great secret. And so the women all met in the market-place, chattering about every subject on earth but that which was nearest their hearts, and the men moved among them, mutually silent. The whole community knew the secret whereof no one spoke. You perceive the parallel? Sex is the secret we are all in. Why shouldn't we talk openly? Why shouldn't we face facts? The marriage laws should be made as flexible, not as inflexible, as possible. Why? Because the bad people will evade everything and the good people endure anything. The bad people will break the best laws and the good people will respect the worst laws. Hence, stringency squeezes the saint and lets the sinner slip. Harsh legislation puts a penalty on virtue: the vicious skirt round it surreptitiously, or are openly happy in despite of it. The only thing immutable in sexual morality is the principle of regulating it with a view to the highest ends of the soul and the state: the regulations themselves are mutable, and we should not sacrifice too many human beings to gratify the idealism of the happily married. At the same time do not suspect me of Hilltopsy-turveydom, which seems to me based on bad physiology and worse psychology. Mr. Grant Allen, man of science as he is in his spare moments, is more like Matthew Arnold's Shelley, a beautiful and ineffectual angel beating in the void his luminous wings in vain. So complex is the problem which seems to him so simple, that it is not improbable that the present monogamy (tempered by polygamy) is the best of all possible arrangements. This is not to belaud the present system, any more than it is optimistic to say this is the best of all possible worlds. It may be so, but it remains a pity that no better was possible. And Mrs. Grundy herself seems to me as over-abused as marriage. The celerity with which she became a byword, from the moment she made her accidental appearance in Tom Morton's 'Speed the Plough,' shows how the popular instinct needed some such incarnation of our neighbours' opinions. She stands, the representative of the ethical level of the age, not of fixed pruderies. She is by no means the staid old soul her maligners imagine--never was there creature more changeable. As we move on, so will she move on with us. Once she allowed our squires to get drunk after dinner, now she is shocked at a one-bottle man. You will never shake her off, you brilliant young gentlemen. For as you established your own ethics, she would still be there to see that your ideas were carried out. Granted she is a scandal-monger. But scandal is the sewer-system of society: the dirty work must be done somehow. Mrs. Grundy is your scavenger. Americans don't talk scandal, but I fail to see how they will keep their homes clean without it. The scandal-mongers may be inspired by no lofty motives, but they make a wonderful unpaid detective force. Sheridan was not a philosopher. Ubiquitous and omniscient, Mrs. Grundy is always with you. Once you might have escaped her by making the grand tour, but now she has a Cook's circular ticket and watches you from the Pyramids or the temples of Japan,--especially if, like myself, you have the misfortune to be a celebrity. The only way to escape her is to be photographed widely. Wasn't it Adam Smith who said that conscience was only the reflection in ourselves of our neighbours' opinions? If we didn't value their opinions there would be no morality. Foreign travel makes you feel there is something in the idea. Who cares what a parcel of jabbering strangers think about his actions? The moment you lose touch with your environment, the moment you cease to vibrate to its nuances, your morality is in a parlous condition. Better go home and sit down on the well-known couch of Catullus, and feel once more that people are real and life is earnest and the horizon is not its goal. What is this mania for movement? If you travel unintelligently you see nothing that you couldn't have seen more comfortably in a panorama--the world going round you. If you travel intelligently, you discover the relativity of all customs and ideas, you distrust your own beliefs, your backbone is relaxed, your vitality snapped, and you come home a molluscous cosmopolitan. It is the same thing that happens if you travel mentally instead of by mileage--if you go in for that modern curse, 'Culture.' You are not meant to absorb the art and literature of foreigners and dead peoples, fluttering like a bee from flower to flower. These things were made by men for their own race and age; they never thought of you,--you are an eavesdropper. Cathedrals were built for Christians to pray in, not for connoisseurs to gloat over. You should develop along your own lines, strong and simple, not be a many-sided nullity. The true Englishmen are ploughmen and sailors and shopkeepers, not culture-snobs.

"The greatest poets in every language are those who know only their own language. Shakespeare and Keats handled English as a million Professors of Poetry cooperating could never handle it. The greatest Art has always sprung from the direct pressure of the real world upon the souls of the artists. To be cultured is to lose that vivid sense of the reality of the life around you, to see it intellectually rather than to feel it intuitively. Hence art that is too self-conscious misses the throb of


Without Prejudice - 20/66

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