Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

honor to describe bim, in blushing print, never dreamt of, our posterity may sway as “the man who isn't allowed.With with pen and pencil. But at the present sharp prods of his keen pen, Mr. Ilenley moment, English literature, the Cinderella made much fun of his temporary victim, of Europe, is the least cosmopolitan, the for complaining of these artificial limits most provincial literature on the face of imposed on modern English literature by the earth. It stops at home, and cowers the respectable classes. But he inissed over the fire of the family circle. And tbat insignificant unit's point. It isn't why? Because it appeals to an exclusive that I am not allowed : it is that we are and narrow-minded English Philistine not allowed. Letters as a whole in Britain audience. That is not the fault of the have a great injustice done them by their authors, but the fault of the Philistines. inartistic environment. Men can't write These narrow creatures, whether they sit as they would (unless they are rich and under Benson or Spurgeon, will hear no can afford to publish, like “ Orion” gospel preached but the precise stodgy Horne, at a farthing a copy), because the gospel that meets their own views and mirpublic and its distributing agents dictate to rors their own vacuity. They have been them so absolutely how and what they are the dispensers of patronage so long, that to produce that they can't escape from it. all works of literature in Britain have been The definiteness of the demand, indeed, written to suit them. Of course, the exhas become almost ludicrous. Rigid con act opposite ought to be the case. The tracts are nowadays signed beforehand for more a man's ideas and beliefs and feelthe production of such and such a piece ings and sentiments differ from other of work, consisting, let us say, of three heople's—the more unusual, and singular, volumes, divided into twenty-six weekly and personal, and revolutionary they are parts ; each part comprising two chapters, the more unique and disturbing—the to average two thousand five hundred more ought he to be encouraged to prowords apiece. Often enough, a clause is claim them openly, and to work them out even inserted in the agreement that the in full to their legitimate conclusions. work shall contain nothing that may not Original ideas, novel ideas, startling ideas, be read aloud in any family circle. Con- odd ideas—these are the good seed the sider what, in the existing condition of intelligent fraction is always looking out English bourgeois opinion, that restriction for. But the Philistine cares for none of means ! It means that you are to follow these things. In the simply touching in every particular the dissenting grocer's words of Mr. Peter Magnus, he hates view of life : that you are carefully to originality, What he wants is just the avoid introducing anything which might, same old hash as ever, dished up in fresh remotely or indirectly, lead man or woman sauce under à new-found name ; nothing to reflect about any problem whatsoever of to shock his stodgy middle-class morals ; earth or heaven, of morals, religion, cos- nothing to stimulate thought in his torpid mology, politics, philosophy, human life, mercantile brain. Ten thousand Mr. Bulor social relations. “ You are an agile titudes, with wives and daughters to match, man,” says in effect the middleman who have given laws up till now to the disconducts the bargain ; " come, dance for tracted producer of British fiction. us in fetters! You have wings that can A paradox is always a precious learen fly over sea or land ; come, bind them in the world. Every good cause that round with this stout hemp rope, and ever flourished on earth always began as proceed to frisk like a sucking lamb on somebody's fad and somebody's paradox. some convenient hillock. You are a man ; No new and true thing you could possibly come, write like a bread-and-butter miss. say can fail, at first hearing, to sound parOur people object very much to flight; adoxical to nine-tenths of your audience. but it amuses my clients to see you dance Therefore the wise man is very tender to in clogs like a mountebank.”

fads, to eccentricities, to novel ideas, English literature started fair on its path even when he is least disposed bimself at with a noble chance. The cosmopolitaniza- the outset to accept them. They have tion of the world, which is going on germinal energy. He knows how dangerapace before our very eyes, has increased ous it is to crush new thoughts ; he knows its possible field of action a thousand-fold how, by befriending them in their evil in every direction. Regions Shakespeare days, many have entertained angels un

awares,

we

are

was

But the Philistine goes upon the England to go on to all time suppressing exact opposite tack. He says, Here's a

what they really think and feel and bestranger in the world of ideas. Heave lieve, in order to accommodate the jejune half a brick at it.”

social and political views of collective And why should Mr. Bultitude so over- Podsnapdom? Or is there some loophole awe our pens? Do we want obscenity ? of escape, some chance of release in the Do we want adultery? Do want days to come? I believe there is ; and Zolaism in its ugliest developments ? Not things will work it out in this way. at all ; but we want liberty to paint the Podsnap, and Bultitude, and Mrs. Grunpicture we know we can paint best—to dy, and the rest, arc moribund relics of depict human life as it really is, not as the the state of things which came in some half giggling schoolgirl of seventeen conceives century since, with the reign of capital. it ought to be. We want to see English In the Elizabethan age they didn't exist ; literature so written in our midst that it plays and poems were flung straight at the may spread over the earth, as smaller and big heart of the people. Nobody could newer Continental literatures are spreading accuse Shakespeare and Spenser of mawkat tbis moment. Can anybody pretend ishness. In the eighteenth century they that any English work of imagination of still didn't exist ; novels and essays were the last thirty years has ever produced directed point-blank at the ears of a cultianything like the immediate sensation vated and appreciative aristocracy. That produced over Europe by the Kreuzer aristocracy had many faults-heaven Sonata, by Thermidor, by Les Rois en knows, nobody wishes to condone them Exil, by Hedda Gabler ? More people on less than myself ; but at any rate it wasn't the Continent reading Frédéric narrow-minded, stolid, hypocritical, Mistral's Mireio in Provençal at the pres- squint-eyed. The gay world one gets ent moment than are reading any book in glimpses of in Walpole's letters the English language, spoken by a larger neither Puritanical nor stupid, neither number of human beings than any other prejudiced nor dull. Indeed, a certain civilized tongue. What a national dis- reckless, devil-may-care daring, as of Tom

What a painful confession ! Jones in one direction or Dick Turpin in And English literature doesn't so spread, another, rather took that pre-revolutionary just because the people who produce it are world by storm than otherwise.

So long compelled against their own will, and in as it was amused, pricked, titillated, disspite of their own taste, artistic impulse, tracted, it asked little of the opinions or and judgment, to grovel before the dicta- ethics of its entertainer. It concerned tion of the cheesemonger's wife-some- itself no more with Roderick Random's times the glorified cheesemonger in Bel- morals than with Polly Peacham's private grave Square, but a cheesemonger still in life or Lucy Locket's lovers. As Fox said heart beneath his ducal coronet. Respect- truly, the French Revolution spoiled conability is a peculiarly British vice. It versation, for it checked this free spirit ; means an utter lack of moral and intellect- it made men afraid to push their most

Nowhere else in the world, pregnant ideas to legitimnate conclusions. save in this Britain of ours, has that odious With the rise of the British mercantile forin of low ethical sense and pig-headed middle class, the Philistine in our midst stupidity succeeded in imposing itself as began to assert his personality blatantly, pure law upon the terrorized community. John Bull thought himself identical with In Britain it has. A gentleman who wrote England. For I take it, the istine is the hymns was long the arbiter of the circu- most purely Teutonic element in our mixed lating libraries; and the First Lord of the nationality ; and he gets his stodginess in Treasury, that decorous embodiment of the main from his Saxon ancestry. Our the bourgeois soul, still exercises through aristocracy is largely Norman, even to the puny subordinates a disciplinary super present day ; and mixing freely as it has vision over the etbics of the bookstall. done with the noble Irish, Welsh, Cornish,

Is there any hope that in the near future and Highland Scotch families, it has inthis odious tyranny of the stupid over the fused at last a considerable mixture of clever, of the dense over the enlightened, good Celtic blood into its own blue veins of the thick-headed over the wise, will —much to its spiritual advantage. Our ever be broken down ? Are authors in laboring classes, I believe, have every

grace !

ual courage.

where a notable proportion of the ancient its power the other day, when it managed British strain, and are still in many places almost to overthrow the strongest man in much the same in race as in the days of Ireland for a breach of etiquette—if I Cæsar. But the Respectable Middle remember aright, he'd broken an egg at Classes, from the farmer to the financier, the little end, or got out of a house withfrom the Methodist grocer to the man out the aid of a footman. But it's falling ufacturing M.P., are mainly Saxon or for all that. Its power to harm will be Anglian, perverse narrow brains, thick great, far too great, for many years to skulls inflated with the conceit of their own come ; but it begins even now to mumble stability, pig-beaded in their devotion to toothless at the mouth of its cave, like a false standard of morals, and a studiously Bunyan's Giant Pope, and it will soon be limited intellectual outlook. It is people able to grasp at few victims save those who like these who form the tribunal of public allow themselves too readily and imopinion in Britain at present, for the little prudently to fall into its clutches. knot of cultivated and wide minded men The masses, I said just now, are craving who have to cut blocks with a razor through for knowledge, for culture, for letters and life at their bidding.

art of a very high order. They have none Still, the reign of the bourgeoisie, thank of the shallowness or the narrowness of the God ! is nearly over. Their epoch was bourgeoisie. They love bold treatment ; short-lived ; and Macaulay was their audacity, one of the most valuable and esprophet. They came in about 1820 ; sential components of genius, always dethey obtained supreme political power in lights and takes them. That is the secret of 1832 ; they reached their apotheosis in their liking for men like Mr. Labouchere 1851, in a suitable Walhalla of glass and and Lord Randolph Churchill; that is why iron. Then the decline began. Reform they swear by John Burns, by Stewart bills despoiled the trading classes bit by Headlam, by Bernard Shaw, by Cuningbit of their oligarchical importance ; the hame Graham. And in literature the same Education Act sapped or is sapping by tastes are making themselves slowly felt. degrees their social position. New Periodicals like the New Review, Short Pharaohs are rising from below who know Cuts, Great Thoughts, Treasure Trove, not that Joseph. New social strata are all suggest how the people are beginning surging up in yeasty waves into unexpected to wake up to a desire for real thinking importance. And here again I am wholly and plain speaking in science, politics, with Mr. Stead, the apostle of the English. social life, religion. In some of these new speaking race, the apostle, though he penny journals, bold fresh thought is know it not, of Celticism in England. allowed to air itself far more freely than Till very lately, the only thing that in any old-established sixpenny weekly, counted, were it in politics, in social and readers are not disgusted ; on the conaffairs, in art, in literature, was the bour- trary, they admire the larger and more geois or his betters, the thick-headed, pot- open utterance. Few people who read bellied, self-satisfied, smirking, respectable The Fortnightly, no doubt, ever take up Teuton. Nowadays all that is changing these cheap sheets that lie broadcast on fast. The School Board has educated our the bookstalls ; but if they did, they would masses apace ; and the masses are every- probably be astonished to find how high a where beginning to think for themselves, level of thinking and of artistic workmanand are craving visibly for knowledge, for ship is often attained in them. It is a culture, for letters and art of a very high real sign of the times that Tit Bits should order. London and England no longer have carried Mr. Newnes into Parliament ; compose our whole British world. Conne- that Short Cuts should be now in a fair mara and Donegal, Caithness and the way to waft Mr. Archibald Grove into the Lewis, Glamorgan and Merioneth, have same august assembly; that the Strand taken heart of grace to assert their right to Magazine should be sold for sixpence ; a hearing in the counsels of our complex that even Mr. Frederick Greenwood, in nation. The bourgeoisie is falling, and his hopeless crusade against the rising falling fast. I don't say it isn't still very ocean of socialism with a Partington powerful, very formidable. It can kick a broom, should choose a twopenny Antifellow even now, when he's down, most Jacobin as the best implement for his pureffectively. It gave sinister evidence of pose.

The fact is, even in England itself, it ture that the Far West affects—a type as was only, at the best of times, a fraction, different as possible from the Puritan re-the inert, impenetrable, pachydermatous spectability of half-Anglicized New EngSaxon bourgeois fraction, that ever im- landers like Holmes and Lowell. posed its Podsnappery upon art and litera Now, up to the present, viewed merely ture. The People in England are fairly as audience, America and the Colonies quick-receptive, unprejudiced, accessible have counted for nothing. Literature in to ideas, when once you can get at them. England has been fired point-blank at the In London itself, the congested and snob- head of the English Philistine, and esencumbered heart of Teutonic Britain, a pecially of Miss Podsnap. We have popular audience will seize a point, will thought of little else save that young lady's laugh, will melt, will thrill responsive, sensibilities. In the future, it is possible where a bourgeois audience would only that America and the Colonies may soon gape open-mouthed, would draw down count for something. That will depend the shocked corners of its scandalized lips, in part, of course, upon the settlement of would sit stolidly, vacantly, and woodenly the copyright question. As long as unreceptive. And nowadays London and America paid the English author nothing, the Southeast are ceasing to be All Eng- the English author naturally addressed land. Scotland, Ireland, Wales, the himself to England only. He must con. Celtic West Country, begin before our sult his pocket. But it is not inconceivable eyes to count for something. And the that in process of time America may genCelt had always a keen appetite for ideas. erously cease to rob and starve us ; and if He was never narrow-minded. Pure at so, a new and largely unknown element heart, and sometimes even Methodistical, will be imported into the problem. In any he has a twinkle in his eye none the less, case, I believe the new social strata in which allows him to appreciate at its full Britain itself, with the public of Greater worth even Rabelaisian humor : he sees Britain potentially at their back, will prove the wit where the stupid staring Saxon too strong before long for collective secs only the immorality, the rough edge, Philistia. Books will be produced for the coarseness. So that in proportion as them (tell it not in Gath) irrespective of the People throughout the United King- the cult of the divine Mrs. Grundy : dom assert themselves against the bour books in which the artistic temperament geoisie, will literature tend to free itself will have its own fling, in which bold and by leaps and throes from its existing free thought will find untrammelled extrammels.

pression. All this is still more true of America, For the masses, with Ireland, Wales, of Australia, of the Colonies. Over Scotland, the Colonies, to boot, are not there, while social thought tends to be profoundly Philistine, like the bourgeois even narrower than with ourselves, there Englishman. Wbenever we can tap that is yet a ready receptivity for fresh ideas great reservoir of readers, whenever we can little known in England. The initiative, fall back upon that reserve-force of to be sure, is small, but the judgment is English-speaking people, we will get a new not narrowed.

Especially in the new literature unrestrained by the conventionStates of the Far West thought is ex alities dear to Mr. Mudie ; the artist in tremely free. “There is no God,” says those days will say what he likes, and say the American proverb, “ beyond the Mis- it in his own way: and his public will apsissippi.” In those virgin lands where plaud instead of hooting and howling the coyote roams at large and the cowboy But this good time coming will hardly shoots free, nobody is shocked or sur affect the existing crop of men of letters prised or scandalized at anything. You at all. They have lost their elasticity. may say what you think ; and though you The writers over thirty in England have niay get a bullet in your chest for your been trained by this time into an ingrained opinions from some genial dissident, you timidity, or second nature of self-restraint will at least escape the dead-weight of an artificial incapacity for saying out social condemnation you might receive at their plain thought, unmoved by fear or the stolid hands of respectable England. favor. We are a generation sacrificed. Bret Harte and “ Jim Bludso” mark very We are the scape-goats of our own cenwell the reckless easy-going type of litera- tury. A contemptuous respect for Phil

istia has warped and distorted our artistic beaten path, and revel contentedly in wellfaculties. With a few rare exceptions, worn platitudes. On the present occalike George Meredith, who never cared sion, for example, many honest and worthy for any public at all, and Robert Louis critics, good citizens to a man, will no Stevenson, who, divining the future, threw doubt object that English literature in the himself frankly from the very first on this past produced no small store of very poble wider public, the English littérateurs of works, in spite of Philistia.--Ah nie, how our generation have sold themselves for hard it is to get one's point seized ! That Saxon gold to Satan. They have gained, objection, dear friends, is wholly beside not the whole world, but a modest com the question. My contention is, not that petence ; and they have lost their souls English literature isn't a fine article in its blithely, in exchange for the pittance. way-our own preparation—but that it Every one of us in his turn has had to bow isn't cosmopolitan. Instead of addressing the knee in the temple of Rimmon-some the world, it addresses nobody but the of us submissively, some of us rebelliously English churchwarden. It gives np to and after a hard struggle—but almost all Methodism what was meant for mankind. have bowed till the knees have become too And by narrowing itself to meet the views supple and the back too much bent ever of a peculiarly vulgar and provincial pubagain to assume the upright attitude. lic, it fails to produce the effect it ought Purveyors by appointment to Messrs. upon the four quarters of the planet, from Pecksniff and Podsnap, we must go on China to Peru. Shakespeare and Milton purveying milk-and-water now to the end were very great men : oh, yes, we admit of the chapter. But we don't like it ; oh it. But in Shakespeare's and Milton's no ! we don't like it. It goes against our time such a thing as a cosmopolitan literaconscience to truckle to Miss Podsnap. ture had never yet been dreamt of. It Every one of us in his heart is ashamed of became possible only at the beginning of it and disgusted at it.

the present century, with the Goethes, the The world, however, as I said just now, Schillers, the De Staels, the Byrons, the is indeed to the young. The new crop of Scotts, the Châteaubriands. But as ill budding English writers, who will burgeon luck would have it, just about the time and bloom under these new conditions, when it became really possible, the unneed no longer roar as gently as any suck- clean bourgeois spirit took possession of ing dove to our insular Askelon, but may England, body and soul, so that for fifty speak with an audible voice to the cosmo years Englishmen of genius were compelled politan assemblage. Then modern English to write, with their hands tied and literature will achieve a destiny worthy of cramped, not what they felt and believed the English tongue, which puts a girdle and knew themselves, but what they round the world in either hemisphere. As thought would prove as incense in the the Elizabethan expansion produced the nostrils of Dagon. They were dragged in Elizabethan outburst of song and drama, triumph through the streets of Gath, at the so the expansion of our own day I take it chariot-wheels of the ingenuous young per(the greatest ever known) must inevitably son from the coasts of the Philistines. produce in time a corresponding outburst “ But Dickens ? But Thackeray ! of fresh and vigorous thought in literature Well, and do you think Dickens and and philosophy. We shall have a new Thackeray loved their Philistia ? Do you heaven and a new earth ; our Parnassus will think they were well pleased with the cenbreak forth into beautiful flowers that all sorship and the edicts of Mrs. Grundy ? the world will come to cull as from an We know Thackeray wasn't : he kicked open garden.

against the pricks very unaffectedly in I'm aware that this humble essay of many a long digression. And as for Dickmine will provoke in certain quarters in- ens, is it conceivable that the creator of dignant criticism. It's unfortunate in- Stiggins and Chadband, of Podsnap and deed, that if by accident one ever blurts Pecksniff

, was really enamored of the colout anything one really ineans, it in- lective Podsnappery and Chadbanddom variably puts up the back of innumerable that smiled complacent all round him ? good souls who feel themselves aggrieved No, no ; incredible ! English liierary men by it. That's why it's so much more have never ceased to chafe in secret uncomfortable in the end to stick to the der the galling strait waistcoat imposed

« VorigeDoorgaan »