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- Without Prejudice - 60/66 -


proposal. I asked if she would have been satisfied with the provincial rights. I am not at all sure that the introduction of this principle of legal partition would not promote domestic harmony, especially in theatrical circles, where the practice already prevails in the matter of plays. Indeed, this principle of partition has already been carried beyond its original sphere. Do I not remember a theatrical lawsuit four or five years ago in which the plaintiff sought to restrain the defendant from styling himself part-author of a piece, on the ground that he (the defendant) had not done a stroke of the work, and had been paid ten pounds for it; while the defendant claimed that he had only parted with his rights as regards London, and that in the provinces he was still entitled to claim a share of the authorship? Pascal long ago pointed out, in his "Pensées," that virtue and vice were largely dependent on distance from the equator (a latitudinarianism in morals that does not seem to have shocked his Port Royal friends). But even he failed to reach this daring conception of "local fame." The marvel is that when once reached it should have been let slip again. It seems to me an invaluable remedy for disputes: absolutely infallible. When Mr. Stuart Cumberland wrote from India to claim the plot of "The Charlatan," how simple to accord him the authorship--_in India!_ At once we perceive a _modus vivendi_ for the followers of Donnelly and the adherents of common-sense. In America Bacon shall be the author of "Hamlet," but the English rights in the piece shall go to Shakespeare. In the same spirit of compromise Cruikshank might have been content to be the author of "Oliver Twist" in the Hebrides and the second-class saloons of Atlantic steamers. Herman should be sole author of "The Silver King" in Pall Mall, and Jones in Piccadilly. Some metropolitan streets belong by one pavement to one parish, and by the other to another; so that in the case of parochial celebrities it would be possible for the rival great men to glare at each other across the road--not, however, daring to cross it, for fear of losing their reputation. The Frenchman's long-standing assumption of Parisian rights in the victory of Waterloo would be put upon a legitimate basis.

By a logical extension of the principle we could allow Homer to be born in Chios on Mondays, in Colophon on Tuesdays, and so with each of the seven cities which starved him. They use up the week nicely. On the odd day of leap year we might concede that he never existed, and allow him to be resolved into the pieces into which he was torn by Wolf. Had this pacificatory principle been discovered earlier, "The Letters of Phalaris" would never have fluttered Europe, and Swift would have had no need to write "The Battle of the Books." It is never too late to mend, however, and an academy of leading politicians and ecclesiastics should be at once formed to draw up an authoritative "Calendar and Topography of Belief," fixing once for all the dates and places on or in which it is permissible to hold any given opinion. Although, when I come to think of it, Science and Religion have long been tacitly reconciled on this principle, Religion being true on Sundays and Science on week-days.

[Sidenote: The Creed of Despair.]

I am convinced that optimism is exactly the wrong sort of medicine for our "present discontents." It is time to try homoeopathy. My suggestion is that the religion of the future shall consist of the most pessimistic propositions imaginable; its creed shall be godless and immoral, its thirty-nine articles shall exhaust the possibilities of unfaith and its burden shall be _vanitas vanitatum_. Man shall be an automaton, and life an hereditary disease, and the world a hospital, and truth a dream, and beauty an optical illusion. These sad tidings of great sorrow shall be organized into a state church, with bishops and paraphernalia, and shall be sucked in by the infant at its mother's breast. Men shall be tutored in unrighteousness, and innocence shall be under ecclesiastical ban. Faith and Hope shall be of the seven deadly virtues, and unalloyed despair of man and nature a dogma it were blasphemous to doubt. The good shall be persecuted and the theists tortured, and those that say there is balm in Gilead, shall be thrust beyond the pale of decent society.

Then, oh, what a spiritual revival there will be! Every gleam of light will be eagerly sought for, every ray focussed; every hint of love and pity and beauty, of significance and divinity, in this infinite and infinitely mysterious universe, will be eagerly snatched up and thrust upon an age hide-bound in orthodoxy; every touch and trace of tenderness that softens suffering and sweetens the bitterness of death, will be treasured up in secret mistrust of the reigning creed; every noble thought and deed, every sacred tear, will be thrown into the balance of heresy with every dear delight of poetry and art, of woods and waters, of dawns and sunsets; with every grace of childhood and glory of man and womanhood. And every suppressed doubt of the hideousness of the universe will sink deep and ferment in darkness, and persecution will sit on every natural safety valve till at last the pent forces will swell and crack the sterile soil, and there will be an explosion that shall send a pillar of living fire towards the heavens of brass. The clerics will be among the first to feel the stirrings of infidel hope--a few will give up their livings rather than preach what they do not believe, but the majority--especially the bishops--will cling to the Church of Despair, hoping against hope that their despair is true. There will be wonderful word-spinnings in the reviews, and the dominant pessimism will be justified by algebraic analogies. But, beneath it all, the church will be infected to the core with faith, and for the first time in history we shall get a believing clergy. There will be secret societies founded to publish the Bible, and Colonel Ingersoll will lecture at the hall of religion, and the prisons will be crowded with martyred iconoclasts incredulous of the gospel of science. No, there is nothing so unwise as your optimistic organized creeds, with their suggestions of officialdom, red-tape, and back-stairs influence. We shall never be perfectly religious and moral till we are trained from childhood to ungodly works, forced to attend long sermons on the error of existence, and badgered into public impiety by force of opinion.

[Sidenote: Social Bugbears.]

First there were the Radicals, who stood for the apogee of human villainy, though it now appears they were Conservatives of the mildest type. Then came the turn of the Atheists, who, for all I have been able to discover, were very respectable creatures full of religious ardour, who spelt God with a small "g" and justice with a capital "J." Then the Socialists had their innings. But "we are all Socialists now," and the empty mantle of villainy has fallen upon Anarchism, which, as far as I can make out, is the simplest and most innocent creed ever invented, and which debars its adherents from exercising any compulsion upon anybody else, relying upon the natural moral working of the human heart. How this is compatible with bombs it is for _Messieurs les Anarchistes_ to explain. Needless to say the assassinous Anarchists are disavowed by their philosophical brethren.

[Sidenote: Martyrs.]

Although we moderns work harder than our fathers for our opinions, we are sometimes taunted with not being so ready to die for them. But, as Renan points out, thinkers have no need to die to demonstrate a theorem. Saints may die for their faith because faith is a personal matter. Even so we are still ready to die for our honour. The Christian martyrs did prove that Christianity was a reality to them; but Galileo's death would have been irrelevant to the rotation of the earth. There is no _argumentum per hominem_ possible here; the truth is impersonal. It is only for beliefs that exclude certainty that a man is tempted to martyrdom. The martyr is indeed, as the etymology implies, a witness; but his death is not a witness to the truth of his belief--merely to the truth of his believing. Blandine at her stake, enduring a hundred horrors unflinchingly, seems in addition to prove that faith was the first anaesthetic. It is curious to note how the word "martyr" has been degraded; so that we have to-day martyrs to the gout instead of to the truth. The idea of suffering has quite ousted the idea of witnessing. What a pity the word got these painful associations! There are "martyrs" to the truth--witnesses who without dying testify to the divine streak in life; and unconscious "martyrs" who, by their simple sincerity, their unpretentious unselfishness, prove more than a bookshelf of theology. I have found "martyrdom" in the grip of a friend's hand, though if I had told him so he would have apologised for squeezing so hard. And is not every pretty woman a "martyr"--a revelation of an inner soul of beauty and goodness in this chaotic universe? There! I have succumbed again to the common masculine impulse to conceive beauty and goodness as a chemical combination, subtly inter-related; whereas the slightest practical experience in the laboratory of life discovers them but a mechanical mixture, dissociable and not seldom antipathetic.

[Sidenote: The London Season]

I remember being so bored one night at dinner, by the ceaseless chatter about Burne-Jones, that I asked my fair neighbour: "Who is Burne-Jones?" Her reply was as smart as it was feminine. "I don't believe you." There is a moral in this. Why be a slave to the season? Why bother to read all the newest novels, see all the newest plays, hear all the newest musicians, remember all the newest "Reminiscences," and believe all the newest religions, when by pleading ignorance you will pass not only as an eccentric but a connoisseur? On second thoughts, why not eschew the season altogether? God made the seasons and man made the season, as Cowper forgot to say. And a nice mess man has made of it, turning night into day and heating his rooms in the summer. The London Season, not Winter, Mr. Cowper, is the true "Ruler of the Inverted Year."

[Sidenote: The Academy]

The Academy has survived Mr. Burne-Jones' desertion of his old associates, as it would survive art itself. I for one should regret its disappearance. It is a whetstone for wit, like everything established and respectable. I am only sorry we have no Academy of Letters. It gives one such a standing not to be a member--almost as good a standing as to be one. If you are left out in the cold you loudly pity those asphyxiating in the heat, and if you have a cozy chair by the fireside you fall asleep and say nothing. This promotes happiness all round, and makes the literary man contented with his lot. In England authors have no Academy, and so have to fall back on the poor publishers: _Hinc illae lachrymae!_

[Sidenote: Portraits of Gentlemen]

Everybody paints the portrait of nobody. Imagine a great writer being called upon to produce a black-and-white picture of a man of no importance: Let us imagine, say Meredith, being offered a thousand pounds for a pen-and-ink portrait of a provincial mayor--being asked to devote his graphic art, his felicitous choice of words, his gifts of insight and sympathy, his genius, in a word, to the portrayal of a real live


Without Prejudice - 60/66

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