THE SOUL OF MAN
The chief advantage that would result from the establishment of Socialism
is, undoubtedly, the fact that Socialism would relieve us from that
sordid necessity of living for others which, in the present condition
of things, presses so hardly upon almost everybody. In fact, scarcely
anyone at all escapes.
Now and then, in the course of the century, a great man of science,
like Darwin; a great poet, like Keats; a fine critical spirit, like
M. Renan; a supreme artist, like Flaubert, has been able to isolate
himself, to keep himself out of reach of the clamorous claims of others,
to stand ‘under the shelter of the wall,’ as Plato puts
it, and so to realise the perfection of what was in him, to his own
incomparable gain, and to the incomparable and lasting gain of the whole
world. These, however, are exceptions. The majority of people
spoil their lives by an unhealthy and exaggerated altruism—are
forced, indeed, so to spoil them. They find themselves surrounded
by hideous poverty, by hideous ugliness, by hideous starvation.
It is inevitable that they should be strongly moved by all this.
The emotions of man are stirred more quickly than man’s intelligence;
and, as I pointed out some time ago in an article on the function of
criticism, it is much more easy to have sympathy with suffering than
it is to have sympathy with thought. Accordingly, with admirable,
though misdirected intentions, they very seriously and very sentimentally
set themselves to the task of remedying the evils that they see.
But their remedies do not cure the disease: they merely prolong it.
Indeed, their remedies are part of the disease.
They try to solve the problem of poverty, for instance, by keeping
the poor alive; or, in the case of a very advanced school, by amusing
But this is not a solution: it is an aggravation of the difficulty.
The proper aim is to try and reconstruct society on such a basis that
poverty will be impossible. And the altruistic virtues have really
prevented the carrying out of this aim. Just as the worst slave-owners
were those who were kind to their slaves, and so prevented the horror
of the system being realised by those who suffered from it, and understood
by those who contemplated it, so, in the present state of things in
England, the people who do most harm are the people who try to do most
good; and at last we have had the spectacle of men who have really studied
the problem and know the life—educated men who live in the East
End—coming forward and imploring the community to restrain its
altruistic impulses of charity, benevolence, and the like. They
do so on the ground that such charity degrades and demoralises.
They are perfectly right. Charity creates a multitude of sins.
There is also this to be said. It is immoral to use private
property in order to alleviate the horrible evils that result from the
institution of private property. It is both immoral and unfair.
Under Socialism all this will, of course, be altered. There
will be no people living in fetid dens and fetid rags, and bringing
up unhealthy, hunger-pinched children in the midst of impossible and
absolutely repulsive surroundings. The security of society will
not depend, as it does now, on the state of the weather. If a
frost comes we shall not have a hundred thousand men out of work, tramping
about the streets in a state of disgusting misery, or whining to their
neighbours for alms, or crowding round the doors of loathsome shelters
to try and secure a hunch of bread and a night’s unclean lodging.
Each member of the society will share in the general prosperity and
happiness of the society, and if a frost comes no one will practically
be anything the worse.
Upon the other hand, Socialism itself will be of value simply because
it will lead to Individualism.
Socialism, Communism, or whatever one chooses to call it, by converting
private property into public wealth, and substituting co-operation for
competition, will restore society to its proper condition of a thoroughly
healthy organism, and insure the material well-being of each member
of the community. It will, in fact, give Life its proper basis
and its proper environment. But for the full development of Life
to its highest mode of perfection, something more is needed. What
is needed is Individualism. If the Socialism is Authoritarian;
if there are Governments armed with economic power as they are now with
political power; if, in a word, we are to have Industrial Tyrannies,
then the last state of man will be worse than the first. At present,
in consequence of the existence of private property, a great many people
are enabled to develop a certain very limited amount of Individualism.
They are either under no necessity to work for their living, or are
enabled to choose the sphere of activity that is really congenial to
them, and gives them pleasure. These are the poets, the philosophers,
the men of science, the men of culture—in a word, the real men,
the men who have realised themselves, and in whom all Humanity gains
a partial realisation. Upon the other hand, there are a great
many people who, having no private property of their own, and being
always on the brink of sheer starvation, are compelled to do the work
of beasts of burden, to do work that is quite uncongenial to them, and
to which they are forced by the peremptory, unreasonable, degrading
Tyranny of want. These are the poor, and amongst them there is
no grace of manner, or charm of speech, or civilisation, or culture,
or refinement in pleasures, or joy of life. From their collective
force Humanity gains much in material prosperity. But it is only
the material result that it gains, and the man who is poor is in himself
absolutely of no importance. He is merely the infinitesimal atom
of a force that, so far from regarding him, crushes him: indeed, prefers
him crushed, as in that case he is far more obedient.
Of course, it might be said that the Individualism generated under
conditions of private property is not always, or even as a rule, of
a fine or wonderful type, and that the poor, if they have not culture
and charm, have still many virtues. Both these statements would
be quite true. The possession of private property is very often
extremely demoralising, and that is, of course, one of the reasons why
Socialism wants to get rid of the institution. In fact, property
is really a nuisance. Some years ago people went about the country
saying that property has duties. They said it so often and so
tediously that, at last, the Church has begun to say it. One hears
it now from every pulpit. It is perfectly true. Property
not merely has duties, but has so many duties that its possession to
any large extent is a bore. It involves endless claims upon one,
endless attention to business, endless bother. If property had
simply pleasures, we could stand it; but its duties make it unbearable.
In the interest of the rich we must get rid of it. The virtues
of the poor may be readily admitted, and are much to be regretted.
We are often told that the poor are grateful for charity. Some
of them are, no doubt, but the best amongst the poor are never grateful.
They are ungrateful, discontented, disobedient, and rebellious.
They are quite right to be so. Charity they feel to be a ridiculously
inadequate mode of partial restitution, or a sentimental dole, usually
accompanied by some impertinent attempt on the part of the sentimentalist
to tyrannise over their private lives. Why should they be grateful
for the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table? They
should be seated at the board, and are beginning to know it. As
for being discontented, a man who would not be discontented with such
surroundings and such a low mode of life would be a perfect brute.
Disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who has read history, is man’s
original virtue. It is through disobedience that progress has
been made, through disobedience and through rebellion. Sometimes
the poor are praised for being thrifty. But to recommend thrift
to the poor is both grotesque and insulting. It is like advising
a man who is starving to eat less. For a town or country labourer
to practise thrift would be absolutely immoral. Man should not
be ready to show that he can live like a badly-fed animal. He
should decline to live like that, and should either steal or go on the
rates, which is considered by many to be a form of stealing. As
for begging, it is safer to beg than to take, but it is finer to take
than to beg. No: a poor man who is ungrateful, unthrifty, discontented,
and rebellious, is probably a real personality, and has much in him.
He is at any rate a healthy protest. As for the virtuous poor,
one can pity them, of course, but one cannot possibly admire them.
They have made private terms with the enemy, and sold their birthright
for very bad pottage. They must also be extraordinarily stupid.
I can quite understand a man accepting laws that protect private property,
and admit of its accumulation, as long as he himself is able under those
conditions to realise some form of beautiful and intellectual life.
But it is almost incredible to me how a man whose life is marred and
made hideous by such laws can possibly acquiesce in their continuance.
However, the explanation is not really difficult to find. It
is simply this. Misery and poverty are so absolutely degrading,
and exercise such a paralysing effect over the nature of men, that no
class is ever really conscious of its own suffering. They have
to be told of it by other people, and they often entirely disbelieve
them. What is said by great employers of labour against agitators
is unquestionably true. Agitators are a set of interfering, meddling
people, who come down to some perfectly contented class of the community,
and sow the seeds of discontent amongst them. That is the reason
why agitators are so absolutely necessary. Without them, in our
incomplete state, there would be no advance towards civilisation.
Slavery was put down in America, not in consequence of any action on
the part of the slaves, or even any express desire on their part that
they should be free. It was put down entirely through the grossly
illegal conduct of certain agitators in Boston and elsewhere, who were
not slaves themselves, nor owners of slaves, nor had anything to do
with the question really. It was, undoubtedly, the Abolitionists
who set the torch alight, who began the whole thing. And it is
curious to note that from the slaves themselves they received, not merely
very little assistance, but hardly any sympathy even; and when at the
close of the war the slaves found themselves free, found themselves
indeed so absolutely free that they were free to starve, many of them
bitterly regretted the new state of things. To the thinker, the
most tragic fact in the whole of the French Revolution is not that Marie
Antoinette was killed for being a queen, but that the starved peasant
of the Vendée voluntarily went out to die for the hideous cause
It is clear, then, that no Authoritarian Socialism will do.
For while under the present system a very large number of people can
lead lives of a certain amount of freedom and expression and happiness,
under an industrial-barrack system, or a system of economic tyranny,
nobody would be able to have any such freedom at all. It is to
be regretted that a portion of our community should be practically in
slavery, but to propose to solve the problem by enslaving the entire
community is childish. Every man must be left quite free to choose
his own work. No form of compulsion must be exercised over him.
If there is, his work will not be good for him, will not be good in
itself, and will not be good for others. And by work I simply
mean activity of any kind.
I hardly think that any Socialist, nowadays, would seriously propose
that an inspector should call every morning at each house to see that
each citizen rose up and did manual labour for eight hours. Humanity
has got beyond that stage, and reserves such a form of life for the
people whom, in a very arbitrary manner, it chooses to call criminals.
But I confess that many of the socialistic views that I have come across
seem to me to be tainted with ideas of authority, if not of actual compulsion.
Of course, authority and compulsion are out of the question. All
association must be quite voluntary. It is only in voluntary associations
that man is fine.
But it may be asked how Individualism, which is now more or less
dependent on the existence of private property for its development,
will benefit by the abolition of such private property. The answer
is very simple. It is true that, under existing conditions, a
few men who have had private means of their own, such as Byron, Shelley,
Browning, Victor Hugo, Baudelaire, and others, have been able to realise
their personality more or less completely. Not one of these men
ever did a single day’s work for hire. They were relieved
from poverty. They had an immense advantage. The question
is whether it would be for the good of Individualism that such an advantage
should be taken away. Let us suppose that it is taken away.
What happens then to Individualism? How will it benefit?
It will benefit in this way. Under the new conditions Individualism
will be far freer, far finer, and far more intensified than it is now.
I am not talking of the great imaginatively-realised Individualism of
such poets as I have mentioned, but of the great actual Individualism
latent and potential in mankind generally. For the recognition
of private property has really harmed Individualism, and obscured it,
by confusing a man with what he possesses. It has led Individualism
entirely astray. It has made gain not growth its aim. So
that man thought that the important thing was to have, and did not know
that the important thing is to be. The true perfection of man
lies, not in what man has, but in what man is.
Private property has crushed true Individualism, and set up an Individualism
that is false. It has debarred one part of the community from
being individual by starving them. It has debarred the other part
of the community from being individual by putting them on the wrong
road, and encumbering them. Indeed, so completely has man’s
personality been absorbed by his possessions that the English law has
always treated offences against a man’s property with far more
severity than offences against his person, and property is still the
test of complete citizenship. The industry necessary for the making
money is also very demoralising. In a community like ours, where
property confers immense distinction, social position, honour, respect,
titles, and other pleasant things of the kind, man, being naturally
ambitious, makes it his aim to accumulate this property, and goes on
wearily and tediously accumulating it long after he has got far more
than he wants, or can use, or enjoy, or perhaps even know of.
Man will kill himself by overwork in order to secure property, and really,
considering the enormous advantages that property brings, one is hardly
surprised. One’s regret is that society should be constructed
on such a basis that man has been forced into a groove in which he cannot
freely develop what is wonderful, and fascinating, and delightful in
him—in which, in fact, he misses the true pleasure and joy of
living. He is also, under existing conditions, very insecure.
An enormously wealthy merchant may be—often is—at every
moment of his life at the mercy of things that are not under his control.
If the wind blows an extra point or so, or the weather suddenly changes,
or some trivial thing happens, his ship may go down, his speculations
may go wrong, and he finds himself a poor man, with his social position
quite gone. Now, nothing should be able to harm a man except himself.
Nothing should be able to rob a man at all. What a man really
has, is what is in him. What is outside of him should be a matter
of no importance.
With the abolition of private property, then, we shall have true,
beautiful, healthy Individualism. Nobody will waste his life in
accumulating things, and the symbols for things. One will live.
To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that
It is a question whether we have ever seen the full expression of
a personality, except on the imaginative plane of art. In action,
we never have. Caesar, says Mommsen, was the complete and perfect
man. But how tragically insecure was Caesar! Wherever there
is a man who exercises authority, there is a man who resists authority.
Caesar was very perfect, but his perfection travelled by too dangerous
a road. Marcus Aurelius was the perfect man, says Renan.
Yes; the great emperor was a perfect man. But how intolerable
were the endless claims upon him! He staggered under the burden
of the empire. He was conscious how inadequate one man was to
bear the weight of that Titan and too vast orb. What I mean by
a perfect man is one who develops under perfect conditions; one who
is not wounded, or worried or maimed, or in danger. Most personalities
have been obliged to be rebels. Half their strength has been wasted
in friction. Byron’s personality, for instance, was terribly
wasted in its battle with the stupidity, and hypocrisy, and Philistinism
of the English. Such battles do not always intensify strength:
they often exaggerate weakness. Byron was never able to give us
what he might have given us. Shelley escaped better. Like
Byron, he got out of England as soon as possible. But he was not
so well known. If the English had had any idea of what a great
poet he really was, they would have fallen on him with tooth and nail,
and made his life as unbearable to him as they possibly could.
But he was not a remarkable figure in society, and consequently he escaped,
to a certain degree. Still, even in Shelley the note of rebellion
is sometimes too strong. The note of the perfect personality is
not rebellion, but peace.
It will be a marvellous thing—the true personality of man—when
we see it. It will grow naturally and simply, flowerlike, or as
a tree grows. It will not be at discord. It will never argue
or dispute. It will not prove things. It will know everything.
And yet it will not busy itself about knowledge. It will have
wisdom. Its value will not be measured by material things.
It will have nothing. And yet it will have everything, and whatever
one takes from it, it will still have, so rich will it be. It
will not be always meddling with others, or asking them to be like itself.
It will love them because they will be different. And yet while
it will not meddle with others, it will help all, as a beautiful thing
helps us, by being what it is. The personality of man will be
very wonderful. It will be as wonderful as the personality of
In its development it will be assisted by Christianity, if men desire
that; but if men do not desire that, it will develop none the less surely.
For it will not worry itself about the past, nor care whether things
happened or did not happen. Nor will it admit any laws but its
own laws; nor any authority but its own authority. Yet it will
love those who sought to intensify it, and speak often of them.
And of these Christ was one.
‘Know thyself’ was written over the portal of the antique
world. Over the portal of the new world, ‘Be thyself’
shall be written. And the message of Christ to man was simply
‘Be thyself.’ That is the secret of Christ.
When Jesus talks about the poor he simply means personalities, just
as when he talks about the rich he simply means people who have not
developed their personalities. Jesus moved in a community that
allowed the accumulation of private property just as ours does, and
the gospel that he preached was not that in such a community it is an
advantage for a man to live on scanty, unwholesome food, to wear ragged,
unwholesome clothes, to sleep in horrid, unwholesome dwellings, and
a disadvantage for a man to live under healthy, pleasant, and decent
conditions. Such a view would have been wrong there and then,
and would, of course, be still more wrong now and in England; for as
man moves northward the material necessities of life become of more
vital importance, and our society is infinitely more complex, and displays
far greater extremes of luxury and pauperism than any society of the
antique world. What Jesus meant, was this. He said to man,
‘You have a wonderful personality. Develop it. Be
yourself. Don’t imagine that your perfection lies in accumulating
or possessing external things. Your affection is inside of you.
If only you could realise that, you would not want to be rich.
Ordinary riches can be stolen from a man. Real riches cannot.
In the treasury-house of your soul, there are infinitely precious things,
that may not be taken from you. And so, try to so shape your life
that external things will not harm you. And try also to get rid
of personal property. It involves sordid preoccupation, endless
industry, continual wrong. Personal property hinders Individualism
at every step.’ It is to be noted that Jesus never says
that impoverished people are necessarily good, or wealthy people necessarily
bad. That would not have been true. Wealthy people are,
as a class, better than impoverished people, more moral, more intellectual,
more well-behaved. There is only one class in the community that
thinks more about money than the rich, and that is the poor. The
poor can think of nothing else. That is the misery of being poor.
What Jesus does say is that man reaches his perfection, not through
what he has, not even through what he does, but entirely through what
he is. And so the wealthy young man who comes to Jesus is represented
as a thoroughly good citizen, who has broken none of the laws of his
state, none of the commandments of his religion. He is quite respectable,
in the ordinary sense of that extraordinary word. Jesus says to
him, ‘You should give up private property. It hinders you
from realising your perfection. It is a drag upon you. It
is a burden. Your personality does not need it. It is within
you, and not outside of you, that you will find what you really are,
and what you really want.’ To his own friends he says the
same thing. He tells them to be themselves, and not to be always
worrying about other things. What do other things matter?
Man is complete in himself. When they go into the world, the world
will disagree with them. That is inevitable. The world hates
Individualism. But that is not to trouble them. They are
to be calm and self-centred. If a man takes their cloak, they
are to give him their coat, just to show that material things are of
no importance. If people abuse them, they are not to answer back.
What does it signify? The things people say of a man do not alter
a man. He is what he is. Public opinion is of no value whatsoever.
Even if people employ actual violence, they are not to be violent in
turn. That would be to fall to the same low level. After
all, even in prison, a man can be quite free. His soul can be
free. His personality can be untroubled. He can be at peace.
And, above all things, they are not to interfere with other people or
judge them in any way. Personality is a very mysterious thing.
A man cannot always be estimated by what he does. He may keep
the law, and yet be worthless. He may break the law, and yet be
fine. He may be bad, without ever doing anything bad. He
may commit a sin against society, and yet realise through that sin his
There was a woman who was taken in adultery. We are not told
the history of her love, but that love must have been very great; for
Jesus said that her sins were forgiven her, not because she repented,
but because her love was so intense and wonderful. Later on, a
short time before his death, as he sat at a feast, the woman came in
and poured costly perfumes on his hair. His friends tried to interfere
with her, and said that it was an extravagance, and that the money that
the perfume cost should have been expended on charitable relief of people
in want, or something of that kind. Jesus did not accept that
view. He pointed out that the material needs of Man were great
and very permanent, but that the spiritual needs of Man were greater
still, and that in one divine moment, and by selecting its own mode
of expression, a personality might make itself perfect. The world
worships the woman, even now, as a saint.
Yes; there are suggestive things in Individualism. Socialism
annihilates family life, for instance. With the abolition of private
property, marriage in its present form must disappear. This is
part of the programme. Individualism accepts this and makes it
fine. It converts the abolition of legal restraint into a form
of freedom that will help the full development of personality, and make
the love of man and woman more wonderful, more beautiful, and more ennobling.
Jesus knew this. He rejected the claims of family life, although
they existed in his day and community in a very marked form. ‘Who
is my mother? Who are my brothers?’ he said, when he was
told that they wished to speak to him. When one of his followers
asked leave to go and bury his father, ‘Let the dead bury the
dead,’ was his terrible answer. He would allow no claim
whatsoever to be made on personality.
And so he who would lead a Christlike life is he who is perfectly
and absolutely himself. He may be a great poet, or a great man
of science; or a young student at a University, or one who watches sheep
upon a moor; or a maker of dramas, like Shakespeare, or a thinker about
God, like Spinoza; or a child who plays in a garden, or a fisherman
who throws his net into the sea. It does not matter what he is,
as long as he realises the perfection of the soul that is within him.
All imitation in morals and in life is wrong. Through the streets
of Jerusalem at the present day crawls one who is mad and carries a
wooden cross on his shoulders. He is a symbol of the lives that
are marred by imitation. Father Damien was Christlike when he
went out to live with the lepers, because in such service he realised
fully what was best in him. But he was not more Christlike than
Wagner when he realised his soul in music; or than Shelley, when he
realised his soul in song. There is no one type for man.
There are as many perfections as there are imperfect men. And
while to the claims of charity a man may yield and yet be free, to the
claims of conformity no man may yield and remain free at all.
Individualism, then, is what through Socialism we are to attain to.
As a natural result the State must give up all idea of government.
It must give it up because, as a wise man once said many centuries before
Christ, there is such a thing as leaving mankind alone; there is no
such thing as governing mankind. All modes of government are failures.
Despotism is unjust to everybody, including the despot, who was probably
made for better things. Oligarchies are unjust to the many, and
ochlocracies are unjust to the few. High hopes were once formed
of democracy; but democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people
by the people for the people. It has been found out. I must
say that it was high time, for all authority is quite degrading.
It degrades those who exercise it, and degrades those over whom it is
exercised. When it is violently, grossly, and cruelly used, it
produces a good effect, by creating, or at any rate bringing out, the
spirit of revolt and Individualism that is to kill it. When it
is used with a certain amount of kindness, and accompanied by prizes
and rewards, it is dreadfully demoralising. People, in that case,
are less conscious of the horrible pressure that is being put on them,
and so go through their lives in a sort of coarse comfort, like petted
animals, without ever realising that they are probably thinking other
people’s thoughts, living by other people’s standards, wearing
practically what one may call other people’s second-hand clothes,
and never being themselves for a single moment. ‘He who
would be free,’ says a fine thinker, ‘must not conform.’
And authority, by bribing people to conform, produces a very gross kind
of over-fed barbarism amongst us.
With authority, punishment will pass away. This will be a great
gain—a gain, in fact, of incalculable value. As one reads
history, not in the expurgated editions written for school-boys and
passmen, but in the original authorities of each time, one is absolutely
sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the
punishments that the good have inflicted; and a community is infinitely
more brutalised by the habitual employment of punishment, than it is
by the occurrence of crime. It obviously follows that the more
punishment is inflicted the more crime is produced, and most modern
legislation has clearly recognised this, and has made it its task to
diminish punishment as far as it thinks it can. Wherever it has
really diminished it, the results have always been extremely good.
The less punishment, the less crime. When there is no punishment
at all, crime will either cease to exist, or, if it occurs, will be
treated by physicians as a very distressing form of dementia, to be
cured by care and kindness. For what are called criminals nowadays
are not criminals at all. Starvation, and not sin, is the parent
of modern crime. That indeed is the reason why our criminals are,
as a class, so absolutely uninteresting from any psychological point
of view. They are not marvellous Macbeths and terrible Vautrins.
They are merely what ordinary, respectable, commonplace people would
be if they had not got enough to eat. When private property is
abolished there will be no necessity for crime, no demand for it; it
will cease to exist. Of course, all crimes are not crimes against
property, though such are the crimes that the English law, valuing what
a man has more than what a man is, punishes with the harshest and most
horrible severity, if we except the crime of murder, and regard death
as worse than penal servitude, a point on which our criminals, I believe,
disagree. But though a crime may not be against property, it may
spring from the misery and rage and depression produced by our wrong
system of property-holding, and so, when that system is abolished, will
disappear. When each member of the community has sufficient for
his wants, and is not interfered with by his neighbour, it will not
be an object of any interest to him to interfere with anyone else.
Jealousy, which is an extraordinary source of crime in modern life,
is an emotion closely bound up with our conceptions of property, and
under Socialism and Individualism will die out. It is remarkable
that in communistic tribes jealousy is entirely unknown.
Now as the State is not to govern, it may be asked what the State
is to do. The State is to be a voluntary association that will
organise labour, and be the manufacturer and distributor of necessary
commodities. The State is to make what is useful. The individual
is to make what is beautiful. And as I have mentioned the word
labour, I cannot help saying that a great deal of nonsense is being
written and talked nowadays about the dignity of manual labour.
There is nothing necessarily dignified about manual labour at all, and
most of it is absolutely degrading. It is mentally and morally
injurious to man to do anything in which he does not find pleasure,
and many forms of labour are quite pleasureless activities, and should
be regarded as such. To sweep a slushy crossing for eight hours,
on a day when the east wind is blowing is a disgusting occupation.
To sweep it with mental, moral, or physical dignity seems to me to be
impossible. To sweep it with joy would be appalling. Man
is made for something better than disturbing dirt. All work of
that kind should be done by a machine.
And I have no doubt that it will be so. Up to the present,
man has been, to a certain extent, the slave of machinery, and there
is something tragic in the fact that as soon as man had invented a machine
to do his work he began to starve. This, however, is, of course,
the result of our property system and our system of competition.
One man owns a machine which does the work of five hundred men.
Five hundred men are, in consequence, thrown out of employment, and,
having no work to do, become hungry and take to thieving. The
one man secures the produce of the machine and keeps it, and has five
hundred times as much as he should have, and probably, which is of much
more importance, a great deal more than he really wants. Were
that machine the property of all, every one would benefit by it.
It would be an immense advantage to the community. All unintellectual
labour, all monotonous, dull labour, all labour that deals with dreadful
things, and involves unpleasant conditions, must be done by machinery.
Machinery must work for us in coal mines, and do all sanitary services,
and be the stoker of steamers, and clean the streets, and run messages
on wet days, and do anything that is tedious or distressing. At
present machinery competes against man. Under proper conditions
machinery will serve man. There is no doubt at all that this is
the future of machinery, and just as trees grow while the country gentleman
is asleep, so while Humanity will be amusing itself, or enjoying cultivated
leisure—which, and not labour, is the aim of man—or making
beautiful things, or reading beautiful things, or simply contemplating
the world with admiration and delight, machinery will be doing all the
necessary and unpleasant work. The fact is, that civilisation
requires slaves. The Greeks were quite right there. Unless
there are slaves to do the ugly, horrible, uninteresting work, culture
and contemplation become almost impossible. Human slavery is wrong,
insecure, and demoralising. On mechanical slavery, on the slavery
of the machine, the future of the world depends. And when scientific
men are no longer called upon to go down to a depressing East End and
distribute bad cocoa and worse blankets to starving people, they will
have delightful leisure in which to devise wonderful and marvellous
things for their own joy and the joy of everyone else. There will
be great storages of force for every city, and for every house if required,
and this force man will convert into heat, light, or motion, according
to his needs. Is this Utopian? A map of the world that does
not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out
the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when
Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets
sail. Progress is the realisation of Utopias.
Now, I have said that the community by means of organisation of machinery
will supply the useful things, and that the beautiful things will be
made by the individual. This is not merely necessary, but it is
the only possible way by which we can get either the one or the other.
An individual who has to make things for the use of others, and with
reference to their wants and their wishes, does not work with interest,
and consequently cannot put into his work what is best in him.
Upon the other hand, whenever a community or a powerful section of a
community, or a government of any kind, attempts to dictate to the artist
what he is to do, Art either entirely vanishes, or becomes stereotyped,
or degenerates into a low and ignoble form of craft. A work of
art is the unique result of a unique temperament. Its beauty comes
from the fact that the author is what he is. It has nothing to
do with the fact that other people want what they want. Indeed,
the moment that an artist takes notice of what other people want, and
tries to supply the demand, he ceases to be an artist, and becomes a
dull or an amusing craftsman, an honest or a dishonest tradesman.
He has no further claim to be considered as an artist. Art is
the most intense mode of Individualism that the world has known.
I am inclined to say that it is the only real mode of Individualism
that the world has known. Crime, which, under certain conditions,
may seem to have created Individualism, must take cognisance of other
people and interfere with them. It belongs to the sphere of action.
But alone, without any reference to his neighbours, without any interference,
the artist can fashion a beautiful thing; and if he does not do it solely
for his own pleasure, he is not an artist at all.
And it is to be noted that it is the fact that Art is this intense
form of Individualism that makes the public try to exercise over it
in an authority that is as immoral as it is ridiculous, and as corrupting
as it is contemptible. It is not quite their fault. The
public has always, and in every age, been badly brought up. They
are continually asking Art to be popular, to please their want of taste,
to flatter their absurd vanity, to tell them what they have been told
before, to show them what they ought to be tired of seeing, to amuse
them when they feel heavy after eating too much, and to distract their
thoughts when they are wearied of their own stupidity. Now Art
should never try to be popular. The public should try to make
itself artistic. There is a very wide difference. If a man
of science were told that the results of his experiments, and the conclusions
that he arrived at, should be of such a character that they would not
upset the received popular notions on the subject, or disturb popular
prejudice, or hurt the sensibilities of people who knew nothing about
science; if a philosopher were told that he had a perfect right to speculate
in the highest spheres of thought, provided that he arrived at the same
conclusions as were held by those who had never thought in any sphere
at all—well, nowadays the man of science and the philosopher would
be considerably amused. Yet it is really a very few years since
both philosophy and science were subjected to brutal popular control,
to authority—in fact the authority of either the general ignorance
of the community, or the terror and greed for power of an ecclesiastical
or governmental class. Of course, we have to a very great extent
got rid of any attempt on the part of the community, or the Church,
or the Government, to interfere with the individualism of speculative
thought, but the attempt to interfere with the individualism of imaginative
art still lingers. In fact, it does more than linger; it is aggressive,
offensive, and brutalising.
In England, the arts that have escaped best are the arts in which
the public take no interest. Poetry is an instance of what I mean.
We have been able to have fine poetry in England because the public
do not read it, and consequently do not influence it. The public
like to insult poets because they are individual, but once they have
insulted them, they leave them alone. In the case of the novel
and the drama, arts in which the public do take an interest, the result
of the exercise of popular authority has been absolutely ridiculous.
No country produces such badly-written fiction, such tedious, common
work in the novel form, such silly, vulgar plays as England. It
must necessarily be so. The popular standard is of such a character
that no artist can get to it. It is at once too easy and too difficult
to be a popular novelist. It is too easy, because the requirements
of the public as far as plot, style, psychology, treatment of life,
and treatment of literature are concerned are within the reach of the
very meanest capacity and the most uncultivated mind. It is too
difficult, because to meet such requirements the artist would have to
do violence to his temperament, would have to write not for the artistic
joy of writing, but for the amusement of half-educated people, and so
would have to suppress his individualism, forget his culture, annihilate
his style, and surrender everything that is valuable in him. In
the case of the drama, things are a little better: the theatre-going
public like the obvious, it is true, but they do not like the tedious;
and burlesque and farcical comedy, the two most popular forms, are distinct
forms of art. Delightful work may be produced under burlesque
and farcical conditions, and in work of this kind the artist in England
is allowed very great freedom. It is when one comes to the higher
forms of the drama that the result of popular control is seen.
The one thing that the public dislike is novelty. Any attempt
to extend the subject-matter of art is extremely distasteful to the
public; and yet the vitality and progress of art depend in a large measure
on the continual extension of subject-matter. The public dislike
novelty because they are afraid of it. It represents to them a
mode of Individualism, an assertion on the part of the artist that he
selects his own subject, and treats it as he chooses. The public
are quite right in their attitude. Art is Individualism, and Individualism
is a disturbing and disintegrating force. Therein lies its immense
value. For what it seeks to disturb is monotony of type, slavery
of custom, tyranny of habit, and the reduction of man to the level of
a machine. In Art, the public accept what has been, because they
cannot alter it, not because they appreciate it. They swallow
their classics whole, and never taste them. They endure them as
the inevitable, and as they cannot mar them, they mouth about them.
Strangely enough, or not strangely, according to one’s own views,
this acceptance of the classics does a great deal of harm. The
uncritical admiration of the Bible and Shakespeare in England is an
instance of what I mean. With regard to the Bible, considerations
of ecclesiastical authority enter into the matter, so that I need not
dwell upon the point. But in the case of Shakespeare it is quite
obvious that the public really see neither the beauties nor the defects
of his plays. If they saw the beauties, they would not object
to the development of the drama; and if they saw the defects, they would
not object to the development of the drama either. The fact is,
the public make use of the classics of a country as a means of checking
the progress of Art. They degrade the classics into authorities.
They use them as bludgeons for preventing the free expression of Beauty
in new forms. They are always asking a writer why he does not
write like somebody else, or a painter why he does not paint like somebody
else, quite oblivious of the fact that if either of them did anything
of the kind he would cease to be an artist. A fresh mode of Beauty
is absolutely distasteful to them, and whenever it appears they get
so angry, and bewildered that they always use two stupid expressions—one
is that the work of art is grossly unintelligible; the other, that the
work of art is grossly immoral. What they mean by these words
seems to me to be this. When they say a work is grossly unintelligible,
they mean that the artist has said or made a beautiful thing that is
new; when they describe a work as grossly immoral, they mean that the
artist has said or made a beautiful thing that is true. The former
expression has reference to style; the latter to subject-matter.
But they probably use the words very vaguely, as an ordinary mob will
use ready-made paving-stones. There is not a single real poet
or prose-writer of this century, for instance, on whom the British public
have not solemnly conferred diplomas of immorality, and these diplomas
practically take the place, with us, of what in France, is the formal
recognition of an Academy of Letters, and fortunately make the establishment
of such an institution quite unnecessary in England. Of course,
the public are very reckless in their use of the word. That they
should have called Wordsworth an immoral poet, was only to be expected.
Wordsworth was a poet. But that they should have called Charles
Kingsley an immoral novelist is extraordinary. Kingsley’s
prose was not of a very fine quality. Still, there is the word,
and they use it as best they can. An artist is, of course, not
disturbed by it. The true artist is a man who believes absolutely
in himself, because he is absolutely himself. But I can fancy
that if an artist produced a work of art in England that immediately
on its appearance was recognised by the public, through their medium,
which is the public press, as a work that was quite intelligible and
highly moral, he would begin to seriously question whether in its creation
he had really been himself at all, and consequently whether the work
was not quite unworthy of him, and either of a thoroughly second-rate
order, or of no artistic value whatsoever.
Perhaps, however, I have wronged the public in limiting them to such
words as ‘immoral,’ ‘unintelligible,’ ‘exotic,’
and ‘unhealthy.’ There is one other word that they
use. That word is ‘morbid.’ They do not use
it often. The meaning of the word is so simple that they are afraid
of using it. Still, they use it sometimes, and, now and then,
one comes across it in popular newspapers. It is, of course, a
ridiculous word to apply to a work of art. For what is morbidity
but a mood of emotion or a mode of thought that one cannot express?
The public are all morbid, because the public can never find expression
for anything. The artist is never morbid. He expresses everything.
He stands outside his subject, and through its medium produces incomparable
and artistic effects. To call an artist morbid because he deals
with morbidity as his subject-matter is as silly as if one called Shakespeare
mad because he wrote ‘King Lear.’
On the whole, an artist in England gains something by being attacked.
His individuality is intensified. He becomes more completely himself.
Of course, the attacks are very gross, very impertinent, and very contemptible.
But then no artist expects grace from the vulgar mind, or style from
the suburban intellect. Vulgarity and stupidity are two very vivid
facts in modern life. One regrets them, naturally. But there
they are. They are subjects for study, like everything else.
And it is only fair to state, with regard to modern journalists, that
they always apologise to one in private for what they have written against
one in public.
Within the last few years two other adjectives, it may be mentioned,
have been added to the very limited vocabulary of art-abuse that is
at the disposal of the public. One is the word ‘unhealthy,’
the other is the word ‘exotic.’ The latter merely
expresses the rage of the momentary mushroom against the immortal, entrancing,
and exquisitely lovely orchid. It is a tribute, but a tribute
of no importance. The word ‘unhealthy,’ however, admits
of analysis. It is a rather interesting word. In fact, it
is so interesting that the people who use it do not know what it means.
What does it mean? What is a healthy, or an unhealthy work
of art? All terms that one applies to a work of art, provided
that one applies them rationally, have reference to either its style
or its subject, or to both together. From the point of view of
style, a healthy work of art is one whose style recognises the beauty
of the material it employs, be that material one of words or of bronze,
of colour or of ivory, and uses that beauty as a factor in producing
the aesthetic effect. From the point of view of subject, a healthy
work of art is one the choice of whose subject is conditioned by the
temperament of the artist, and comes directly out of it. In fine,
a healthy work of art is one that has both perfection and personality.
Of course, form and substance cannot be separated in a work of art;
they are always one. But for purposes of analysis, and setting
the wholeness of aesthetic impression aside for a moment, we can intellectually
so separate them. An unhealthy work of art, on the other hand,
is a work whose style is obvious, old-fashioned, and common, and whose
subject is deliberately chosen, not because the artist has any pleasure
in it, but because he thinks that the public will pay him for it.
In fact, the popular novel that the public calls healthy is always a
thoroughly unhealthy production; and what the public call an unhealthy
novel is always a beautiful and healthy work of art.
I need hardly say that I am not, for a single moment, complaining
that the public and the public press misuse these words. I do
not see how, with their lack of comprehension of what Art is, they could
possibly use them in the proper sense. I am merely pointing out
the misuse; and as for the origin of the misuse and the meaning that
lies behind it all, the explanation is very simple. It comes from
the barbarous conception of authority. It comes from the natural
inability of a community corrupted by authority to understand or appreciate
Individualism. In a word, it comes from that monstrous and ignorant
thing that is called Public Opinion, which, bad and well-meaning as
it is when it tries to control action, is infamous and of evil meaning
when it tries to control Thought or Art.
Indeed, there is much more to be said in favour of the physical force
of the public than there is in favour of the public’s opinion.
The former may be fine. The latter must be foolish. It is
often said that force is no argument. That, however, entirely
depends on what one wants to prove. Many of the most important
problems of the last few centuries, such as the continuance of personal
government in England, or of feudalism in France, have been solved entirely
by means of physical force. The very violence of a revolution
may make the public grand and splendid for a moment. It was a
fatal day when the public discovered that the pen is mightier than the
paving-stone, and can be made as offensive as the brickbat. They
at once sought for the journalist, found him, developed him, and made
him their industrious and well-paid servant. It is greatly to
be regretted, for both their sakes. Behind the barricade there
may be much that is noble and heroic. But what is there behind
the leading-article but prejudice, stupidity, cant, and twaddle?
And when these four are joined together they make a terrible force,
and constitute the new authority.
In old days men had the rack. Now they have the press.
That is an improvement certainly. But still it is very bad, and
wrong, and demoralising. Somebody—was it Burke?—called
journalism the fourth estate. That was true at the time, no doubt.
But at the present moment it really is the only estate. It has
eaten up the other three. The Lords Temporal say nothing, the
Lords Spiritual have nothing to say, and the House of Commons has nothing
to say and says it. We are dominated by Journalism. In America
the President reigns for four years, and Journalism governs for ever
and ever. Fortunately in America Journalism has carried its authority
to the grossest and most brutal extreme. As a natural consequence
it has begun to create a spirit of revolt. People are amused by
it, or disgusted by it, according to their temperaments. But it
is no longer the real force it was. It is not seriously treated.
In England, Journalism, not, except in a few well-known instances, having
been carried to such excesses of brutality, is still a great factor,
a really remarkable power. The tyranny that it proposes to exercise
over people’s private lives seems to me to be quite extraordinary.
The fact is, that the public have an insatiable curiosity to know everything,
except what is worth knowing. Journalism, conscious of this, and
having tradesman-like habits, supplies their demands. In centuries
before ours the public nailed the ears of journalists to the pump.
That was quite hideous. In this century journalists have nailed
their own ears to the keyhole. That is much worse. And what
aggravates the mischief is that the journalists who are most to blame
are not the amusing journalists who write for what are called Society
papers. The harm is done by the serious, thoughtful, earnest journalists,
who solemnly, as they are doing at present, will drag before the eyes
of the public some incident in the private life of a great statesman,
of a man who is a leader of political thought as he is a creator of
political force, and invite the public to discuss the incident, to exercise
authority in the matter, to give their views, and not merely to give
their views, but to carry them into action, to dictate to the man upon
all other points, to dictate to his party, to dictate to his country;
in fact, to make themselves ridiculous, offensive, and harmful.
The private lives of men and women should not be told to the public.
The public have nothing to do with them at all. In France they
manage these things better. There they do not allow the details
of the trials that take place in the divorce courts to be published
for the amusement or criticism of the public. All that the public
are allowed to know is that the divorce has taken place and was granted
on petition of one or other or both of the married parties concerned.
In France, in fact, they limit the journalist, and allow the artist
almost perfect freedom. Here we allow absolute freedom to the
journalist, and entirely limit the artist. English public opinion,
that is to say, tries to constrain and impede and warp the man who makes
things that are beautiful in effect, and compels the journalist to retail
things that are ugly, or disgusting, or revolting in fact, so that we
have the most serious journalists in the world, and the most indecent
newspapers. It is no exaggeration to talk of compulsion.
There are possibly some journalists who take a real pleasure in publishing
horrible things, or who, being poor, look to scandals as forming a sort
of permanent basis for an income. But there are other journalists,
I feel certain, men of education and cultivation, who really dislike
publishing these things, who know that it is wrong to do so, and only
do it because the unhealthy conditions under which their occupation
is carried on oblige them to supply the public with what the public
wants, and to compete with other journalists in making that supply as
full and satisfying to the gross popular appetite as possible.
It is a very degrading position for any body of educated men to be placed
in, and I have no doubt that most of them feel it acutely.
However, let us leave what is really a very sordid side of the subject,
and return to the question of popular control in the matter of Art,
by which I mean Public Opinion dictating to the artist the form which
he is to use, the mode in which he is to use it, and the materials with
which he is to work. I have pointed out that the arts which have
escaped best in England are the arts in which the public have not been
interested. They are, however, interested in the drama, and as
a certain advance has been made in the drama within the last ten or
fifteen years, it is important to point out that this advance is entirely
due to a few individual artists refusing to accept the popular want
of taste as their standard, and refusing to regard Art as a mere matter
of demand and supply. With his marvellous and vivid personality,
with a style that has really a true colour-element in it, with his extraordinary
power, not over mere mimicry but over imaginative and intellectual creation,
Mr Irving, had his sole object been to give the public what they wanted,
could have produced the commonest plays in the commonest manner, and
made as much success and money as a man could possibly desire.
But his object was not that. His object was to realise his own
perfection as an artist, under certain conditions, and in certain forms
of Art. At first he appealed to the few: now he has educated the
many. He has created in the public both taste and temperament.
The public appreciate his artistic success immensely. I often
wonder, however, whether the public understand that that success is
entirely due to the fact that he did not accept their standard, but
realised his own. With their standard the Lyceum would have been
a sort of second-rate booth, as some of the popular theatres in London
are at present. Whether they understand it or not the fact however
remains, that taste and temperament have, to a certain extent been created
in the public, and that the public is capable of developing these qualities.
The problem then is, why do not the public become more civilised?
They have the capacity. What stops them?
The thing that stops them, it must be said again, is their desire
to exercise authority over the artist and over works of art. To
certain theatres, such as the Lyceum and the Haymarket, the public seem
to come in a proper mood. In both of these theatres there have
been individual artists, who have succeeded in creating in their audiences—and
every theatre in London has its own audience—the temperament to
which Art appeals. And what is that temperament? It is the
temperament of receptivity. That is all.
If a man approaches a work of art with any desire to exercise authority
over it and the artist, he approaches it in such a spirit that he cannot
receive any artistic impression from it at all. The work of art
is to dominate the spectator: the spectator is not to dominate the work
of art. The spectator is to be receptive. He is to be the
violin on which the master is to play. And the more completely
he can suppress his own silly views, his own foolish prejudices, his
own absurd ideas of what Art should be, or should not be, the more likely
he is to understand and appreciate the work of art in question.
This is, of course, quite obvious in the case of the vulgar theatre-going
public of English men and women. But it is equally true of what
are called educated people. For an educated person’s ideas
of Art are drawn naturally from what Art has been, whereas the new work
of art is beautiful by being what Art has never been; and to measure
it by the standard of the past is to measure it by a standard on the
rejection of which its real perfection depends. A temperament
capable of receiving, through an imaginative medium, and under imaginative
conditions, new and beautiful impressions, is the only temperament that
can appreciate a work of art. And true as this is in the case
of the appreciation of sculpture and painting, it is still more true
of the appreciation of such arts as the drama. For a picture and
a statue are not at war with Time. They take no count of its succession.
In one moment their unity may be apprehended. In the case of literature
it is different. Time must be traversed before the unity of effect
is realised. And so, in the drama, there may occur in the first
act of the play something whose real artistic value may not be evident
to the spectator till the third or fourth act is reached. Is the
silly fellow to get angry and call out, and disturb the play, and annoy
the artists? No. The honest man is to sit quietly, and know
the delightful emotions of wonder, curiosity, and suspense. He
is not to go to the play to lose a vulgar temper. He is to go
to the play to realise an artistic temperament. He is to go to
the play to gain an artistic temperament. He is not the arbiter
of the work of art. He is one who is admitted to contemplate the
work of art, and, if the work be fine, to forget in its contemplation
and the egotism that mars him—the egotism of his ignorance, or
the egotism of his information. This point about the drama is
hardly, I think, sufficiently recognised. I can quite understand
that were ‘Macbeth’ produced for the first time before a
modern London audience, many of the people present would strongly and
vigorously object to the introduction of the witches in the first act,
with their grotesque phrases and their ridiculous words. But when
the play is over one realises that the laughter of the witches in ‘Macbeth’
is as terrible as the laughter of madness in ‘Lear,’ more
terrible than the laughter of Iago in the tragedy of the Moor.
No spectator of art needs a more perfect mood of receptivity than the
spectator of a play. The moment he seeks to exercise authority
he becomes the avowed enemy of Art and of himself. Art does not
mind. It is he who suffers.
With the novel it is the same thing. Popular authority and
the recognition of popular authority are fatal. Thackeray’s
‘Esmond’ is a beautiful work of art because he wrote it
to please himself. In his other novels, in ‘Pendennis,’
in ‘Philip,’ in ‘Vanity Fair’ even, at times,
he is too conscious of the public, and spoils his work by appealing
directly to the sympathies of the public, or by directly mocking at
them. A true artist takes no notice whatever of the public.
The public are to him non-existent. He has no poppied or honeyed
cakes through which to give the monster sleep or sustenance. He
leaves that to the popular novelist. One incomparable novelist
we have now in England, Mr George Meredith. There are better artists
in France, but France has no one whose view of life is so large, so
varied, so imaginatively true. There are tellers of stories in
Russia who have a more vivid sense of what pain in fiction may be.
But to him belongs philosophy in fiction. His people not merely
live, but they live in thought. One can see them from myriad points
of view. They are suggestive. There is soul in them and
around them. They are interpretative and symbolic. And he
who made them, those wonderful quickly-moving figures, made them for
his own pleasure, and has never asked the public what they wanted, has
never cared to know what they wanted, has never allowed the public to
dictate to him or influence him in any way but has gone on intensifying
his own personality, and producing his own individual work. At
first none came to him. That did not matter. Then the few
came to him. That did not change him. The many have come
now. He is still the same. He is an incomparable novelist.
With the decorative arts it is not different. The public clung
with really pathetic tenacity to what I believe were the direct traditions
of the Great Exhibition of international vulgarity, traditions that
were so appalling that the houses in which people lived were only fit
for blind people to live in. Beautiful things began to be made,
beautiful colours came from the dyer’s hand, beautiful patterns
from the artist’s brain, and the use of beautiful things and their
value and importance were set forth. The public were really very
indignant. They lost their temper. They said silly things.
No one minded. No one was a whit the worse. No one accepted
the authority of public opinion. And now it is almost impossible
to enter any modern house without seeing some recognition of good taste,
some recognition of the value of lovely surroundings, some sign of appreciation
of beauty. In fact, people’s houses are, as a rule, quite
charming nowadays. People have been to a very great extent civilised.
It is only fair to state, however, that the extraordinary success of
the revolution in house-decoration and furniture and the like has not
really been due to the majority of the public developing a very fine
taste in such matters. It has been chiefly due to the fact that
the craftsmen of things so appreciated the pleasure of making what was
beautiful, and woke to such a vivid consciousness of the hideousness
and vulgarity of what the public had previously wanted, that they simply
starved the public out. It would be quite impossible at the present
moment to furnish a room as rooms were furnished a few years ago, without
going for everything to an auction of second-hand furniture from some
third-rate lodging-house. The things are no longer made.
However they may object to it, people must nowadays have something charming
in their surroundings. Fortunately for them, their assumption
of authority in these art-matters came to entire grief.
It is evident, then, that all authority in such things is bad.
People sometimes inquire what form of government is most suitable for
an artist to live under. To this question there is only one answer.
The form of government that is most suitable to the artist is no government
at all. Authority over him and his art is ridiculous. It
has been stated that under despotisms artists have produced lovely work.
This is not quite so. Artists have visited despots, not as subjects
to be tyrannised over, but as wandering wonder-makers, as fascinating
vagrant personalities, to be entertained and charmed and suffered to
be at peace, and allowed to create. There is this to be said in
favour of the despot, that he, being an individual, may have culture,
while the mob, being a monster, has none. One who is an Emperor
and King may stoop down to pick up a brush for a painter, but when the
democracy stoops down it is merely to throw mud. And yet the democracy
have not so far to stoop as the emperor. In fact, when they want
to throw mud they have not to stoop at all. But there is no necessity
to separate the monarch from the mob; all authority is equally bad.
There are three kinds of despots. There is the despot who tyrannises
over the body. There is the despot who tyrannises over the soul.
There is the despot who tyrannises over the soul and body alike.
The first is called the Prince. The second is called the Pope.
The third is called the People. The Prince may be cultivated.
Many Princes have been. Yet in the Prince there is danger.
One thinks of Dante at the bitter feast in Verona, of Tasso in Ferrara’s
madman’s cell. It is better for the artist not to live with
Princes. The Pope may be cultivated. Many Popes have been;
the bad Popes have been. The bad Popes loved Beauty, almost as
passionately, nay, with as much passion as the good Popes hated Thought.
To the wickedness of the Papacy humanity owes much. The goodness
of the Papacy owes a terrible debt to humanity. Yet, though the
Vatican has kept the rhetoric of its thunders, and lost the rod of its
lightning, it is better for the artist not to live with Popes.
It was a Pope who said of Cellini to a conclave of Cardinals that common
laws and common authority were not made for men such as he; but it was
a Pope who thrust Cellini into prison, and kept him there till he sickened
with rage, and created unreal visions for himself, and saw the gilded
sun enter his room, and grew so enamoured of it that he sought to escape,
and crept out from tower to tower, and falling through dizzy air at
dawn, maimed himself, and was by a vine-dresser covered with vine leaves,
and carried in a cart to one who, loving beautiful things, had care
of him. There is danger in Popes. And as for the People,
what of them and their authority? Perhaps of them and their authority
one has spoken enough. Their authority is a thing blind, deaf,
hideous, grotesque, tragic, amusing, serious, and obscene. It
is impossible for the artist to live with the People. All despots
bribe. The people bribe and brutalise. Who told them to
exercise authority? They were made to live, to listen, and to
love. Someone has done them a great wrong. They have marred
themselves by imitation of their inferiors. They have taken the
sceptre of the Prince. How should they use it? They have
taken the triple tiara of the Pope. How should they carry its
burden? They are as a clown whose heart is broken. They
are as a priest whose soul is not yet born. Let all who love Beauty
pity them. Though they themselves love not Beauty, yet let them
pity themselves. Who taught them the trick of tyranny?
There are many other things that one might point out. One might
point out how the Renaissance was great, because it sought to solve
no social problem, and busied itself not about such things, but suffered
the individual to develop freely, beautifully, and naturally, and so
had great and individual artists, and great and individual men.
One might point out how Louis XIV., by creating the modern state, destroyed
the individualism of the artist, and made things monstrous in their
monotony of repetition, and contemptible in their conformity to rule,
and destroyed throughout all France all those fine freedoms of expression
that had made tradition new in beauty, and new modes one with antique
form. But the past is of no importance. The present is of
no importance. It is with the future that we have to deal.
For the past is what man should not have been. The present is
what man ought not to be. The future is what artists are.
It will, of course, be said that such a scheme as is set forth here
is quite unpractical, and goes against human nature. This is perfectly
true. It is unpractical, and it goes against human nature.
This is why it is worth carrying out, and that is why one proposes it.
For what is a practical scheme? A practical scheme is either a
scheme that is already in existence, or a scheme that could be carried
out under existing conditions. But it is exactly the existing
conditions that one objects to; and any scheme that could accept these
conditions is wrong and foolish. The conditions will be done away
with, and human nature will change. The only thing that one really
knows about human nature is that it changes. Change is the one
quality we can predicate of it. The systems that fail are those
that rely on the permanency of human nature, and not on its growth and
development. The error of Louis XIV. was that he thought human
nature would always be the same. The result of his error was the
French Revolution. It was an admirable result. All the results
of the mistakes of governments are quite admirable.
It is to be noted also that Individualism does not come to man with
any sickly cant about duty, which merely means doing what other people
want because they want it; or any hideous cant about self-sacrifice,
which is merely a survival of savage mutilation. In fact, it does
not come to man with any claims upon him at all. It comes naturally
and inevitably out of man. It is the point to which all development
tends. It is the differentiation to which all organisms grow.
It is the perfection that is inherent in every mode of life, and towards
which every mode of life quickens. And so Individualism exercises
no compulsion over man. On the contrary, it says to man that he
should suffer no compulsion to be exercised over him. It does
not try to force people to be good. It knows that people are good
when they are let alone. Man will develop Individualism out of
himself. Man is now so developing Individualism. To ask
whether Individualism is practical is like asking whether Evolution
is practical. Evolution is the law of life, and there is no evolution
except towards Individualism. Where this tendency is not expressed,
it is a case of artificially-arrested growth, or of disease, or of death.
Individualism will also be unselfish and unaffected. It has
been pointed out that one of the results of the extraordinary tyranny
of authority is that words are absolutely distorted from their proper
and simple meaning, and are used to express the obverse of their right
signification. What is true about Art is true about Life.
A man is called affected, nowadays, if he dresses as he likes to dress.
But in doing that he is acting in a perfectly natural manner.
Affectation, in such matters, consists in dressing according to the
views of one’s neighbour, whose views, as they are the views of
the majority, will probably be extremely stupid. Or a man is called
selfish if he lives in the manner that seems to him most suitable for
the full realisation of his own personality; if, in fact, the primary
aim of his life is self-development. But this is the way in which
everyone should live. Selfishness is not living as one wishes
to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live. And
unselfishness is letting other people’s lives alone, not interfering
with them. Selfishness always aims at creating around it an absolute
uniformity of type. Unselfishness recognises infinite variety
of type as a delightful thing, accepts it, acquiesces in it, enjoys
it. It is not selfish to think for oneself. A man who does
not think for himself does not think at all. It is grossly selfish
to require of ones neighbour that he should think in the same way, and
hold the same opinions. Why should he? If he can think,
he will probably think differently. If he cannot think, it is
monstrous to require thought of any kind from him. A red rose
is not selfish because it wants to be a red rose. It would be
horribly selfish if it wanted all the other flowers in the garden to
be both red and roses. Under Individualism people will be quite
natural and absolutely unselfish, and will know the meanings of the
words, and realise them in their free, beautiful lives. Nor will
men be egotistic as they are now. For the egotist is he who makes
claims upon others, and the Individualist will not desire to do that.
It will not give him pleasure. When man has realised Individualism,
he will also realise sympathy and exercise it freely and spontaneously.
Up to the present man has hardly cultivated sympathy at all. He
has merely sympathy with pain, and sympathy with pain is not the highest
form of sympathy. All sympathy is fine, but sympathy with suffering
is the least fine mode. It is tainted with egotism. It is
apt to become morbid. There is in it a certain element of terror
for our own safety. We become afraid that we ourselves might be
as the leper or as the blind, and that no man would have care of us.
It is curiously limiting, too. One should sympathise with the
entirety of life, not with life’s sores and maladies merely, but
with life’s joy and beauty and energy and health and freedom.
The wider sympathy is, of course, the more difficult. It requires
more unselfishness. Anybody can sympathise with the sufferings
of a friend, but it requires a very fine nature—it requires, in
fact, the nature of a true Individualist—to sympathise with a
In the modern stress of competition and struggle for place, such
sympathy is naturally rare, and is also very much stifled by the immoral
ideal of uniformity of type and conformity to rule which is so prevalent
everywhere, and is perhaps most obnoxious in England.
Sympathy with pain there will, of course, always be. It is
one of the first instincts of man. The animals which are individual,
the higher animals, that is to say, share it with us. But it must
be remembered that while sympathy with joy intensifies the sum of joy
in the world, sympathy with pain does not really diminish the amount
of pain. It may make man better able to endure evil, but the evil
remains. Sympathy with consumption does not cure consumption;
that is what Science does. And when Socialism has solved the problem
of poverty, and Science solved the problem of disease, the area of the
sentimentalists will be lessened, and the sympathy of man will be large,
healthy, and spontaneous. Man will have joy in the contemplation
of the joyous life of others.
For it is through joy that the Individualism of the future will develop
itself. Christ made no attempt to reconstruct society, and consequently
the Individualism that he preached to man could be realised only through
pain or in solitude. The ideals that we owe to Christ are the
ideals of the man who abandons society entirely, or of the man who resists
society absolutely. But man is naturally social. Even the
Thebaid became peopled at last. And though the cenobite realises
his personality, it is often an impoverished personality that he so
realises. Upon the other hand, the terrible truth that pain is
a mode through which man may realise himself exercises a wonderful fascination
over the world. Shallow speakers and shallow thinkers in pulpits
and on platforms often talk about the world’s worship of pleasure,
and whine against it. But it is rarely in the world’s history
that its ideal has been one of joy and beauty. The worship of
pain has far more often dominated the world. Mediaevalism, with
its saints and martyrs, its love of self-torture, its wild passion for
wounding itself, its gashing with knives, and its whipping with rods—Mediaevalism
is real Christianity, and the mediaeval Christ is the real Christ.
When the Renaissance dawned upon the world, and brought with it the
new ideals of the beauty of life and the joy of living, men could not
understand Christ. Even Art shows us that. The painters
of the Renaissance drew Christ as a little boy playing with another
boy in a palace or a garden, or lying back in his mother’s arms,
smiling at her, or at a flower, or at a bright bird; or as a noble,
stately figure moving nobly through the world; or as a wonderful figure
rising in a sort of ecstasy from death to life. Even when they
drew him crucified they drew him as a beautiful God on whom evil men
had inflicted suffering. But he did not preoccupy them much.
What delighted them was to paint the men and women whom they admired,
and to show the loveliness of this lovely earth. They painted
many religious pictures—in fact, they painted far too many, and
the monotony of type and motive is wearisome, and was bad for art.
It was the result of the authority of the public in art-matters, and
is to be deplored. But their soul was not in the subject.
Raphael was a great artist when he painted his portrait of the Pope.
When he painted his Madonnas and infant Christs, he is not a great artist
at all. Christ had no message for the Renaissance, which was wonderful
because it brought an ideal at variance with his, and to find the presentation
of the real Christ we must go to mediaeval art. There he is one
maimed and marred; one who is not comely to look on, because Beauty
is a joy; one who is not in fair raiment, because that may be a joy
also: he is a beggar who has a marvellous soul; he is a leper whose
soul is divine; he needs neither property nor health; he is a God realising
his perfection through pain.
The evolution of man is slow. The injustice of men is great.
It was necessary that pain should be put forward as a mode of self-realisation.
Even now, in some places in the world, the message of Christ is necessary.
No one who lived in modern Russia could possibly realise his perfection
except by pain. A few Russian artists have realised themselves
in Art; in a fiction that is mediaeval in character, because its dominant
note is the realisation of men through suffering. But for those
who are not artists, and to whom there is no mode of life but the actual
life of fact, pain is the only door to perfection. A Russian who
lives happily under the present system of government in Russia must
either believe that man has no soul, or that, if he has, it is not worth
developing. A Nihilist who rejects all authority, because he knows
authority to be evil, and welcomes all pain, because through that he
realises his personality, is a real Christian. To him the Christian
ideal is a true thing.
And yet, Christ did not revolt against authority. He accepted
the imperial authority of the Roman Empire and paid tribute. He
endured the ecclesiastical authority of the Jewish Church, and would
not repel its violence by any violence of his own. He had, as
I said before, no scheme for the reconstruction of society. But
the modern world has schemes. It proposes to do away with poverty
and the suffering that it entails. It desires to get rid of pain,
and the suffering that pain entails. It trusts to Socialism and
to Science as its methods. What it aims at is an Individualism
expressing itself through joy. This Individualism will be larger,
fuller, lovelier than any Individualism has ever been. Pain is
not the ultimate mode of perfection. It is merely provisional
and a protest. It has reference to wrong, unhealthy, unjust surroundings.
When the wrong, and the disease, and the injustice are removed, it will
have no further place. It will have done its work. It was
a great work, but it is almost over. Its sphere lessens every
Nor will man miss it. For what man has sought for is, indeed,
neither pain nor pleasure, but simply Life. Man has sought to
live intensely, fully, perfectly. When he can do so without exercising
restraint on others, or suffering it ever, and his activities are all
pleasurable to him, he will be saner, healthier, more civilised, more
himself. Pleasure is Nature’s test, her sign of approval.
When man is happy, he is in harmony with himself and his environment.
The new Individualism, for whose service Socialism, whether it wills
it or not, is working, will be perfect harmony. It will be what
the Greeks sought for, but could not, except in Thought, realise completely,
because they had slaves, and fed them; it will be what the Renaissance
sought for, but could not realise completely except in Art, because
they had slaves, and starved them. It will be complete, and through
it each man will attain to his perfection. The new Individualism
is the new Hellenism.