ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN (1841 - 1901)

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{The Coming Terror 1891}

 

99

ON DESCENDING INTO HELL:

A PROTEST AGAINST OVER-LEGISLATION IN MATTERS LITERARY.

_____

 

             ‘Tell me, where is the place that men call Hell?
Meph.—Under the heavens.
Faust.—Ay, so are all things else; but whereabouts?
Meph.—Within the bowels of these Elements
             Where we are tortured and remain for ever.
             Hell has no limits, nor is circumscribed
             In one self place: but where we are is Hell;
             And where Hell is, there must we ever be
             And, to be short, when all the world dissolves,
             And every creature shall be purified,
             All places shall be Hell that are not Heaven.
Faust.—I think Hell is a fable.
Meph.—Ah! think so still, till experience change thy mind.’

                                                             MARLOWE’S Faustus.

_____

101

 

ON DESCENDING INTO HELL.

 

To the RIGHT HON. HENRY MATTHEWS,

Home Secretary.

 

     RIGHT HON. SIR,

         You are, I understand, a Roman Catholic; I am a Catholic plus an eclectic. I have the highest respect for the creed in which you believe, since it is perhaps the most logically constructed of all human creeds; but while I admire the logic I do not admit all the premises, and cannot consequently follow you to all its conclusions. Is it too much to hope, however, that even Roman Catholicism has shared the fate of other beliefs, and been shorn of many of its imperfections? Its history represents it as at once the friend of literature, and literature’s mortal enemy; it has preserved for us much that is precious, together with many husks of uncleanliness which might have been more wisely destroyed, and it has formulated the Index, before which, from generation to generation, Free Thought has trembled. It washed the sin-stained robes of  St. Augustine with one hand, and it burned Giordano Bruno with the other. All that is over, and just 102 now, in the eighty-ninth year of this century, Roman Catholicism stands face to face with its old enemies, Free Thought and Science, with whom less than a miracle might even yet effect a reconciliation. For the creed of Persecution is also the creed of spiritual Insight: the carnal wolf’s clothing, perhaps, still hides the Lamb of God. If in its supreme moment of eclipse the suffering Church were to admit its sins and reform its terminology, Humanity might almost accept its blessing—forget Torquemada, and remember Bishop Myriel.
     An opportunity occurs now in England. A new Inquisition, with which the Roman Church has fortunately nothing to do, proposes to shut all carnal books, and to punish all men who write, read, and sell them. For issuing to the public the writings of an able Advocate on the Devil’s side, an unfortunate Publisher of Books lies now in prison.* The flourishing Puritan, apt pupil of old Rome in persecution, has decided that Free Thought is to be silenced, and the Arbor Scientiæ cut down and burned. It is the story of Castilio over again, and John Calvin survives in the spirit, to make a martyr’s bonfire. Now, then, I believe, is the time for the Church Catholic, the Church persecuted and purified, to confess her sin, and cast in her lot with the Humanity she once hated, saying, ‘Even as my Saints and Monks preserved

—* Written in 1889.

103 for men the banal humanities of Greece and Rome, even as (while stifling the literature of speculation) they saved for the world the literature of the flesh, letting my children nourish themselves on the bread thereof and cast the leaven away, so will I now proclaim that even the Literature of Hell shall not be hidden quite below the depths of argument.’ If the Church escapes this opportunity, it will be her own misfortune; if she takes it boldly, she will gain at least one day’s triumph. More than any Church still surviving, she believes that her arguments are overpowering. Since she has found it quite useless to suppress her enemies by force, why not suffer them to have their say in open daylight, before the world? By her instrument, a Roman Catholic Home Secretary, she may do this, and she will be wise to do it. Let her by your means, sir, open the prison of one of whom those who love her not have foolishly made a Martyr. Let her proclaim from the housetops, ‘Men, speak out your utmost, lay bare Nature to its depths; your liberation will be my justification, for although you descend into Hell you will only be following my Master, who left his Cross, a flaming symbol, even there.’
     May I, as briefly as possible, review the case to which I solicit your earnest attention?
     A certain

M. EMILE ZOLA,

whom superficial criticism persists in classing among 104 the votaries of pleasure, is a dreary and dismal gentleman whose mind is solely exercised on questions of moral drainage and social sewerage. He goes so far as to assert that Modern Society is full of disease germs scattered through the air from the social deposits; and to prove his case, he takes us, when we are willing to be improved, right down into the sewers and the catacombs. I went there lately with him; and held my nose. The very raiment of my guide, when we emerged into the daylight, was redolent of offal; it looked and smelt unclean, and I got away from it as soon as possible, not before I had recognised, however, that the man was right in some measure, and that the drains were bad. Now, it never occurred to me for one moment that poor Zola ought to be given into custody, but a crowd of very clean persons loudly clamoured around us, and messages were sent for the nearest policeman. Before the stern myrmidon of the law could be found, Zola had disappeared, but an unfortunate and innocent deputy, told off to conduct the public in the absence of his principal, was incontinently laid hold of by one Dogberry, hauled off before Justice Shallow, and then and there condemned as a public nuisance. Moral: Leave the drains alone; let the world wag, even if typhoid fever should flourish. Moral number two, very acceptable to the average insular intelligence: Conceal from all clean people, especially young 105 people, the fact that there is such a thing as sewerage at all.
     I have never held (and I do not hold now) the opinion that drainage is a fit subject for Art, that men grow any better by the contemplation of what is bestial and unpleasant; indeed, I have always been puritan enough to think pornography a nuisance. It is one thing, however, to dislike the obtrusion of things unsavoury and abominable, and quite another to regard any allusion to them as positively criminal. A description even of pigsties, moreover, may sometimes be made tolerable by the cunning of a great artist, and this same M. Zola, though a dullard au fond, for the simple reason that he regards pigsties as the only foreground for his lurid moral landscapes, appears to be so much better and nobler than myself, in so much as he loves Truth more and fears consequences less, that I have again and again taken off my hat to him in open day. His zeal may be mistaken, but it is self-evident; his information may be horrible, but it is certainly given in all good faith; and an honest man being the rarest of phenomena in all literature, this man has my sympathy—though my instinct is to get as far away from him as possible.
     In trying on more than one occasion to do justice to his sincerity, while seriously finding fault with his method, I have had to be constantly reminded that he is a Frenchman; and a Frenchman, 106 from our insular point of view, is synonymous with everything that is unclean and detestable. Despite the fact that we have derived for hundreds of years all our ‘ideas,’ such as they are, from France, despite the fact that Frenchmen have been the pioneers of Freedom and Free Thought all over the world, we still preserve the old superstition that a Frenchman is born a ‘light’ person, whose sole conception of life is derived from his experiences as a boulevardier. The English race has no ‘ideas’ whatever; indeed, it abominates ‘ideas,’ and is thoroughly practical and pragmatical in its views, of social subjects especially. True, when once convinced of a great principle, it can hold to it, as our Puritans did when they got the lambent torch of Protestantism from Geneva, as our philosophers did when they caught the reflex of the Fiery Cross of Free Thought in Paris; but we work by tenacity, like the bull-dog, while Frenchmen, like the greyhound, work by sight. We have had to get even our Byrons and our Shelleys second-hand from the Revolution. We have fought inch by inch against the obtrusion of every new ‘idea’; then at last, accepting it, we have held to it like grim Death. Thus, in religion and even in philosophy, we have been practically converted, but on one point, that of social statics and their expression in literature, we are invulnerable. We won’t be reformed in our morality. We decline to listen to anyone, especially a priest 107 or a Frenchman, who affirms that human nature is not virtuous by instinct and by predisposition. We repudiate all ‘ideas’ connected with the existence of moral Hell. We still our consciences, approve our Social Evil, and refuse to inspect our drains. While doing the best to give one half of the community a foretaste of Hell upon earth, we affirm that this is the best of all possible worlds, and that English civilization is the only possible civilization consistent with the welfare of a troubled planet.
     In this spirit of disingenuous optimism, we have organized

OUR LATTER INQUISITION

—a curious conclave, composed of all phases of character and opinion; with Justice Shallow as chief Inquisitor, and Messrs. Dogberry and Verges as watchmen in ordinary. Decree number one: let all ‘deformed’ individuals, and especially all Frenchmen, be ‘run in’ and ‘charged.’ Decree number two: books being the Devil’s engines, all books are to be ‘inspected,’ and if found guilty of any ‘ideas,’ summarily burnt or expurgated. Decree number three: any publisher of a book calculated to destroy our cardinal principle, that this is the best of all possible worlds, is to be seized, fined and imprisoned. Decree number four: that public virtue is impossible without the sanction of the police, and (as a corollary) that 108 public taste is a thing strictly within the determination of the watchmen and custodians of our virtue. Decree number five: that our system of sewerage is to remain in the region of Supernatural Mystery, and that any literature touching upon it is to be condignly abolished. Imprimantur, the revised New Testament, the ‘Lamplighter,’ and the tracts of Christian knowledge. Condemnantur, all poems, all fictions, which expose the Gehenna underground, or attack the moralities which shine above it. Expurgantur, Shakespeare, Dryden, and Byron (the last delicately, for he was a lord). Signed, Shallow, Grand Inquisitor; Countersigned, Dogberry, Chief Constable in Ordinary. In the intervals of our pleasant Inquisition, we listen blandly to a droning Military Person who beguiles our leisure with prospects of a general Conscription, and who holds up the German system of providential and governmental superintendence in all departments of life and thought as the beacon of modern Civilization!*
     A few words concerning the character of

MR. VIZETELLY,

the imprisoned publisher, may assist you to take an impartial view of the situation. His entire life had been spent in the service of art, journalism and literature. Bound over as an apprentice to his father, James Henry Vizetelly, who had one of the

—* See Lord Wolseley’s utterances, passim.

109 largest printing businesses in the City of London, he acquired his own freedom by servitude, though members of the family had been freemen of the City for several generations. Subsequently Mr. Henry Vizetelly was apprenticed to Orrin Smith, the well-known wood engraver, and proved his best pupil; the works containing wood engravings signed ‘H. Vizetelly’ are nowadays sought after by connoisseurs. Mr. Vizetelly’s connection with journalism dates from the foundation of the Illustrated London News. The first ‘idea’ of that publication germinated in the brain of Mr. Herbert Ingram, who thought of establishing a kind of Illustrated Police Gazette. Mr. Vizetelly prevailed upon him, however, to make the publication more comprehensive in its scope, wrote the prospectus, and largely contributed towards launching the first number. This was the foundation of illustrated journalism. Soon afterwards Mr. Vizetelly, having somewhat abruptly severed his connection with the Illustrated London News, went into publishing. He was the first to introduce ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ and the poems of Edgar Allan Poe to the English public. He also did a great deal to popularize the immaculate Mr. Longfellow .in England. The ‘Evangeline,’ illustrated by Sir John Gilbert, was due mainly to his endeavours; also the ‘Hyperion,’ illustrated by Birket Foster. For the latter he visited all the localities mentioned in the work (accompanied by 110 Foster), and sketches were made on the spot to serve as illustrations. This ‘Hyperion’ is very rare nowadays, and fetches a high price. About the time of the Crimean War Mr. Vizetelly started the Illustrated Times, and gathered round him a number of clever writers—then mostly unknown to fame, but many of whom have since made their way in the world— Thackeray, the Brothers Brough, the Brothers Mayhew, Sala, Edmund Yates, Sutherland Edwards, Frederick Greenwood, and many others. Among the artists were John Gilbert, Birket Foster, Julian Portch, and Gustave Doré (then first introduced to the English public). Whilst starting and editing this new publication, Mr. Vizetelly devoted considerable time and energy to furthering the general interests of his profession. He acted as Honorary Secretary to the Association formed for the Repeal of the Paper Duty, and in regard to the abolition of the Newspaper Stamp he took decisive action by issuing several numbers of the Illustrated Times without the stamp. The Board of Revenue prosecuted him, claiming a fine of several thousand pounds. This was never enforced, however. The question was taken up by public men, and soon afterwards the Stamp impost was abolished. In 1865 he became Paris correspondent of the Illustrated London News—went through the siege of Paris and Commune for that journal— organized a service of sketches by balloon post, so that the 111 paper was able to supply a more complete pictorial record of the siege than appeared in any other journal. He afterwards represented the Illustrated London News at Berlin and Vienna—acted as British Wine Juror at Vienna, 1873, and Paris, 1878 — wrote a number of text-books upon European wines, after visiting all the wine producing districts on the Continent, Madeira, Canary Isles, etc. These books are standard works of reference.
     As an author, Mr. Vizetelly has also written on Berlin and Paris. His ‘Story of the Diamond Necklace’ completely unravelled what was long considered a historical puzzle—supplementing and correcting Carlyle’s well-known essay in many important particulars. He has also contributed numerous articles to Household Words, under Charles Dickens, and was on various occasions a correspondent of the Times, Daily News, and Pall Mall Gazette. He started his present publishing business in 1880, and thereby, as I shall show, did much yeoman’s service for first-class literature.
     That, Right Hon. Sir, is the record of the man whom the Vigilance Committee, trading on the prudery of the English community, casts into prison. His crime is that he has not presumed the business of publishing to include the prerogatives of a censor morum; that he has published in the English language what nearly every educated person reads in the French; that, in a word, he 112 has introduced to the uninitiated the works of Emile Zola and one or two writers of doubtful decency. Even if we admit his error in this last particular, do not his long services far outweigh his indiscretions? Has he not been a brave sergeant in the army of English journalism? But I decline to admit his error.I affirm that Emile Zola was bound to be printed, translated, read. Little as I sympathize with his views of life, greatly as I loathe his pictures of human vice and depravity, I have learned much from him, and others may learn much; and had I been unable to read French, these bald translations would have been to me an intellectual help and boon. I like to have the Devil’s case thoroughly stated, because I know it refutes itself. As an artist, Zola is unjustifiable; as a moralist, he is answerable; but as a free man, a man of letters, he can decline to accept the fiat of a criminal tribunal.
     The details of an interview with Mr. Coote, Secretary of the Vigilance Committee, compel me to add a few words touching the conduct of

THE PERSON FOR THE PROSECUTION;

and to begin with, I take leave to say that Mr. Coote’s assertions were simply infamous. ‘I think it served Vizetelly right,’ said this Secretary of the Vigilance Committee; ‘look over his catalogue, and form your own opinion.’ May I ask, 113 Sir, if you have looked over his catalogue? I have done so, and with the following result. Besides the works of Zola, Flaubert and Daudet, many of them admirable in every sense of the word, Mr. Vizetelly has issued to the English public the works of Count Tolstoï and of Fedor Dostoieffsky; an admirably edited series of the Old Dramatists; Mr. Sala’s ‘America Revisited,’ ‘Under the Sun,’ ‘Dutch Pictures,’ and ‘Paris Herself Again’; the immaculate M. Ohnet’s ‘Ironmaster’; Mr. Greenwood’s ‘In Strange Company’; M. Coppée’s ‘Passer-by’ (Le Passant); the stories of Gaboriau and Du Boisgobey; a whole library of brilliant social romances, including tales by Cherbuliez, Theuriet, About, Féval and Mérimée; and, to crown all, his (Mr. Vizetelly’s) own excellent works on ‘The Diamond Necklace’ and ‘Wines of the World.’ These, among other publications equally worthy and inoffensive, form the bulk of the catalogue for which the Secretary of the Vigilance Committee would keep an honourable man in prison. Does Mr. Coote ever read anything outside the literature of the ‘Lamplighter’ and the ‘Old Helmet’? Does he see no difference between even ‘La Curée’ or ‘Madame Bovary’ and the sealed-up books sold sometimes in Holywell Street? It seems to me that it would be as rational to consult the first area-haunting policeman on the ethical quality of literature, as to accept the evidence of 114 a censor who is either a rnischief-maker or an ignoramus.
     It is no exaggeration to say that the whole existence of the so-called Vigilance Committee is an infamy, and that the treatment of Mr. Vizetelly is merely a specimen of Dogberry’s evidence and Shallow’s justice. The misfortune is that Mr. Vizetelly, instead of taking his stand like a man on his total work as publisher, pleaded in the first instance ‘guilty.’ Possibly he knew British judges and British juries better than I do; but the result is lamentable, and I repeat my question, where is the persecution to stop? Does any sane man imagine that it is really corrupt books that destroy Society, and that any suppression of literature will make Society any better? No; these books, where they are corrupt, merely represent corruption already existing — are merely signs and symbols of social disease. The argument that they bring ‘blushes to the cheek of a young person’ is irrelevant. They are not written for the young person; and if they are, the young person will get at them, now and for ever, in spite of the policeman. Criticise them, attack them, point out their deformities and absurdities as much as you please, and as much as I myself have done; but do not imagine that you will purify the air by suppressing literature, or that you can make people virtuous by penal clauses and Acts of Parliament.
115 And the harmless Ohnet, and the stainless Coppée, and the good Theuriet, and the great Tolstoï, and the sublime Dostoieffsky, not to speak of the full-blooded Old Dramatists and the genial Mr. George Augustus Sala, are all practically condemned to Limbo in the lump, under the shadow of Mr. Vizetelly’s awful ‘Catalogue’! This precious Dogberry of a Vigilance Committee is left to straddle with his watchman’s Lanthorn, and shriek ‘Deformed! Deformed!’ over the mutilated remains of Art and Literature. To-morrow, perchance, he will toddle up to Burlington House, and insist on either seizing or clothing all the ‘improper’ pictures of nude ladies, and we shall soon have the President of the Royal Academy committed to prison for daring to paint a Venus without a bathing costume, or an Ariadne without a petticoat.
     For my own part, I hold the matter so serious that I am appealing to you, on the highest grounds of all, religious grounds, for Mr. Vizetelly’s immediate release. If there is any manhood among English writers, they will see that the matter is one involving their own liberties, now and in the near future.* If there is any consistency

* That there might be no doubt on this head, the Vigilance Committee, in a letter published June 25, 1889, warned English authors to ‘look out,’ and not to go too far, or they, too, might get into trouble! But there wasn’t much danger—not one contemporary English author except myself protested against the persecution!

116 among English publishers, they also will contend for freedom and immunity from constabulary supervision. Special Providence, as embodied in the form of an amateur moralist-detective, is on their track. We shall see our beloved ‘Ouida’ run in to Bow Street, and ‘Ouida’s’ publishers whimpering by her in the dock. Every publisher of the atrocious works of Shakespeare will stand in the pillory. As for Mr. Vizetelly, he may indeed have cause to cry peccavi if neither authors nor publishers come to his aid. He is seventy years of age, he is a littérateur as well as a publisher, and, according to the latest accounts, he is suffering greatly. If it were only for his introduction to the public of one great and perhaps unequalled book, ‘Crime and Punishment,’ I should regard him, not as a criminal, but as a martyr and a public benefactor. Here is a good chance, Right Hon. Sir, to show that the mantle of Beaconsfield has fallen on a Tory Home Secretary! Benjamin Disraeli might have had a thousands faults, but he never forgot his literary inheritance, and in a case like the present he would have defended the freedom of letters against a whole army of canting busybodies and prurient ‘Vigilance Committee-men.’
     For all this civil interference with spiritual prerogative, Right Hon. Sir, must be very distasteful to the Church of which you are a distinguished representative. In matters spiritual, which to a great extent are matters literary, that Church has 117 always upheld her own tests as final, and often, while she has burned a religious heretic, she has afforded sanctuary to a carnal offender. She trembled, it is true, before Galileo and other rectangular dogmatists of scientific discovery, but she never feared pornography, or thought that it could overthrow the higher standards of human nature. One of her most logical postulates, indeed, has been that Man is evil by inheritance and by predisposition, and that only by Faith or Spiritual Knowledge can he be saved. Hence her gentleness to the literature of Heathendom, her complacency in dealing with purely human Art and Letters. While preserving the Christian documents she was quite content to leave Humanity its Sappho, its Lucretius, its Juvenal, its Catullus, even its Aristophanes. For though she was persuaded to make short work of schismatics, who after all have little knowledge of life, she was ever kindly to the poets, the most incontinent of whom knew life thoroughly. She went with Dante into Hell, and she ascended with Calderon up to Heaven; but loving also her cakes and ale, she preserved the gaudriole for the amusement of her monks.She has, in short, been a friend to belles lettres, even the most pornographic.In these respects, as in many others, I sympathize with her. Far less human and sympathetic has been her gloomy half­sister, Protestantism. If Protestantism had its way we should have no books except One, which 118 is excellent, no doubt, but not always amusing. In a word, this is a quite tenable proposition: that Literature has more to fear from the Church which canonizes and exalts one Book, than from the Church which asserts that Human Nature shall not be at the mercy of any Book whatsoever.
     The days are long past when even the Church, Roman and Catholic, had any real cause to be afraid of human flights of fancy, or any anxiety to suppress them; more than one of her monks has chuckled over Pantagruel, and I know that certain of her priests have followed with feverish anxiety the temptations of a certain Abbé Mouret. Putting certain little fanciful dogmas aside, the Roman Church is far more tolerant to human necessities and human weaknesses than any of her offshoots—nay, than even her grim Arch Enemy, the Church of Science; and than this last Church she is in one respect infinitely wiser, that her last word is one of pity and comfort for human backsliding.
     The pity of Science is the pity of Despair; the pity of the Church is the pity of Faith and Hope, and of Regeneration.
     True, you say as of old, ‘Unless a man believes in my confession of faith, he shall surely perish—but if he believes he shall be saved,’ an assumption which Scientists amuse themselves with, to their own final consternation. For, translated into the language of common-sense, your dogma means that foulness, sin, physical disease, hereditary taint, 119 have no power to touch the Soul—that he who believes in the Supreme Love and Pity shall, despite them all, save his Soul alive; whereas that other Church of Science teaches what I contend to be a foolish heresy, that the Soul can be saved only by the Body in which. it dwells, that by the law of heredity the Body may destroy and eliminate even Man’s immortal part.
     As I write an illustration comes to my hand. A certain Scandinavian writer, who is to M. Zola what the dustman of a suburb is to the scavenger of a city, has written a play called ‘Gengangere’—that is, in French, ‘Les Revenants,’ and in English ‘Ghosts.’ To get his material he had literally, like others before him, to enter Hell, nor do I blame him, though I doubt his moral. Picturing an individual whose nature is poisoned through and through by hereditary taint, who is morally and physically diseased because he inherits from an unclean paternity, he leaves this individual in the corruption of hopeless idiocy, gibbering at the Sun. No one ray of Hope brightens the tableau, but the cruel consuming Sun drinks up this wasted life like a drop of dew. A solemn and an awful truth, says Science. But apart from the question (never yet fully reasoned out by physiologists) of how far the spark of life eludes the taints cast upon it, of how far, for example, even the loathsome sores of syphilis may be crystallized after a generation into cells of prismatic thought (as is 120 possibly true in certain examples of meningitis), the lesson we are taught in this doleful drama leaves moral questions entirely within the domain of physiology. Now, I, personally, refuse to exist in that most melancholy domain; and here, again, human evidence is with me. One miserable infant, almost a fœtus in size and development, became the Arouet whose voice rang round the world and liberated Calas. The strumous Keats faced the Sun, and cast it glaring on his canvas as ‘Hyperion.’ Unhealthy men, tainted men, weakly men, have dominated the world of art and literature, where Michael Angelos and Benvenuto Cellinis have been the exceptions. I have known a man reduced by the fault of his progenitors to a state bordering on mental decrepitude, and yet that man was sane and wise, a beautiful soul, happy, and a peacemaker. I decline, then, to believe that Original Sin and Hereditary Taint, though they exist loosely in your dogma and tenaciously in that of Science, can cast me down into nothingness. I know the Soul eludes the Body at every stage of our development. I find every day that perfectly balanced structure, the mens sana in corpore sano, is utterly deaf to the music tainted and polluted structures hear. A perfectly healthy man is frequently a monster, generally a mere machine, and not till that boasted body of his is twisted and tortured, carbonadoed and shaken to pieces, does he become spiritualized.
121 Now, why should the Church, which goes as far as this with me, and declines to accept any text but that which is spiritual, fear

THE DEVIL’S EVIDENCE,

the argument for the Body, the special plea of cheap Science? If the Church does not fear it, the new Inquisition does. A Vigilance Committee casts Mr. Vizetelly, the publisher, into prison, for simply permitting a scientific scavenger to produce his frightful documents; while a no less vigilant Lord Chamberlain refuses under any circumstances to let ‘Gengangere’ be performed in English upon the English stage. No; these things must be veiled, the argument on the other side must not be stated, the descent into Hell must never be alluded to, except by those who are supposed to keep the Keys. Surely there is no truth which Science or Art can bring to light, which Infallibility should fear? Surely Satan should be permitted to argue out his case? ‘No,’ say the Vigilance Committee and the Lord Chamberlain, ‘no, a thousand times; since sewerage is a Mystery, and children and young persons might overhear the argument and be contaminated—that is to say, converted.’ A foolish fear! a feeble superstition! The argument will out somehow, in spite of all Inquisitions. Human nature will not suffer its own salvation or damnation to be discussed in 122 camerâ. The matter must be fought in open day.
     Sometimes, Right Hon. Sir, your Church has feared the truth, and on every occasion when she has done so, the result to herself has been lamentable. Yet it is to the Truth, the Eternal Verity, that she makes her appeal, pledging herself to its infallibility. Now, I could go through her dogmas one by one, and show that they are constructed impregnably on the instincts of human nature; only she herself, unfortunately, has misunderstood them, and hence the hideous historical record which constitutes the popular indictment against her. Yet, amid all follies, all contradictions, all cruelty, all schism, she has kept one particular glory—her patience with physical deterioration, her Faith that no carnal sin or carnal knowledge can really wreck the Soul. She has often been afraid of phantoms of her own conjuring, never of flesh and blood; ‘ideas’ have terrified her, but men and women have always been her sympathetic study.
     In that masterpiece of English eloquence, the ‘Areopagitica,’ the trumpet note of which is now faintly heard in literature, our great Epic Poet has marshalled every argument, produced every proof, in favour of the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing. Nobler words never flowed from the lips of man. Wise on this as on all other vital questions, Milton, a Greek god in the gray robes 123 of a Puritan, through which his roseate nakedness shone in celestial beauty, spoke more than one word for the poor Devil. He, at least, knew that there is weakness in Humanity as well as strength, and that the primitive instincts are perennial; for had he not painted Eden on Adam’s marriage day, when

                 ‘To the nuptial bower
He led her blushing like the morn,’

and had he not pictured to us the amatory exploits of Zephyr and other kindred spirits? True, he appears to reserve to his friends of the Parliament the right of destroying such books as are wholly prejudicial to decency and harmful to the State; ‘and yet, on the other hand,’ he adds, ‘as good almost kill a good man as kill a good book: who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God’s image, but he who destroys a good book kills reason itself, kills the image of God as it were in the eye.’ Even as the holy Chrysostom nightly studied Aristophanes, so did the blameless Milton nourish his mind on the still more scurrilous pages of our own comic dramatists. ‘I cannot,’ he contends, ‘praise a fugitive or cloistered virtue; assuredly we bring not innocence into the world, but impurity much rather: that which purifies us is trial, and trial is by what is contrary.’ ‘Banish all objects of lust, shut up all youth into the severest discipline that can be exercised in any hermitage, ye cannot make them chaste that came not thither so.’
124 Who is to decide for us what is good, if our own nature and inspiration are powerless to help us? Is it to be the Pope of Rome, or any deputy Cardinal, or any Scottish Elder of the Kirk, or some member of a newly-created City Council, or, finally, Mr. Justice Shallow of the law courts? There are zealots who would burn the works of Shakespeare, as there were zealots who cursed and anathematized the works of Burns. To a certain order of intelligence, all literature is profane, dangerous, inexpedient. Large portions of the community believe any stage play whatsoever is an abomination; large portions warn us that the reading of any work of fiction or fairy tale is sinful and pernicious. Whither then might we turn for guidance, if not to the Supreme Church which, after burning her own effete Index, may affirm the perfect

LAWFULNESS OF ALL HUMAN EVIDENCE,

knowing that she can, by the strength of her adamantine logic, refute every carnal lie?
     I can assure you, Right Hon. Sir, that it is in no spirit of levity that I, who have little love for Roman Catholicism, suggest a way in which the Church Infallible may yet be saved. That way is, as I have suggested, to perform a latter-day miracle, and cast in her lot with the Church of Free Thought and Free Speech. For I regard this proposed Suppression of Literature as an encroachment 125 of Puritanism (which has always hated literature) on the one hand, and of Pragmatic Science upon the other. Puritanism affirms with gloomy pertinacity that we are lost if we are not strictly moral, i.e., moral from the Puritan point of view; Science avers with vehemence that its raw and half-verified discoveries are to regulate the conduct of our lives, and promises, if things are so ordered, that Humanity will in due course, after an era or two, arrive at the perfectly-balanced Mind in the perfectly-balanced Body—a Teutonic condition to be found even now in the Fatherland! Neither Puritanism nor Science, however, affect the Church’s prerogative by one hair. The one takes too much care of our conduct, the other is too anxious about our health. The Church alone, at this supreme crisis, when an innocent man is cast into prison, when the suppression of literature is threatened, and when neither Puritan nor Scientist cares to utter one word of public protestation—the Church alone, I say, can command the situation, and deny the right of synods or vestries to silence any voices, even those from Hell. Her spiritual terminology is, after all, far nearer to the pantheism of Servetus, than to the dismal anthropomorphism of John Calvin. ‘I have no doubt,’ said the Spaniard, ‘that this bench, this table, and all you can point to around us is of the substance of God;’ adding, when it was objected that on his showing the Devil must be of God's 126 substance too, ‘I do not doubt it; all things whatever are part of God, and Nature is His substantial manifestation.’ For which and other pestilent heresies, Servetus, to the huge joy of John Calvin, was burned alive, roasting first for two hours in the flames of a slow fire, and begging piteously that they would put on more wood, or do something to end his torture.
     Now, all such cruelties and abominations, together with all the schisms and heresies of the Churches, have arisen (1) from the human anxiety to be too rectangular, too scientific, and (2) from the disposition of novices in discovery to force their opinions upon their neighbours. Just as little as Metaphysics could tell the Church of the real nature of God, while tempting its hearers to tear the human images of God asunder, can Physical Science tell us of the real nature and destiny of Man. Humanity, at the present issue, pines to free itself from all arbitrary assumptions; it yearns for the liberty to inquire, in its own way; and it is out of lay books, to no little extent, that its knowledge must be derived. Das mehr Licht hereinkomme! it cries with Goethe, the Pagan. Just as certainly as the light which leads astray may (as Burns protested) be ‘light from Heaven,’ so may the light which guides and saves be light from Hell. To drape one half of the human figure is not to prove the whole structure to be celestial; to ignore the existence of Evil is not to ensure the 127 triumph of Good. The literature of Hell is God’s literature too.
     How well has suppression worked in other countries? Take Italy, for example, a country of which both Providence and Priesthood have taken such particular care; the chosen home of the Index and the winking Virgin; the region of Pompeii and of oggetti osceni, into which neither women nor children are suffered to enter. There, obscene things are carefully hidden, literature is wistfully burked—with such stupendous good to the community that dirt and disease and libertinage flourish up to the very gates of the Vatican. Then take France, with which Providence has always been in more or less of a temper, where literary freedom has run to licence, and where Art is synonymous with independence, not to say looseness, of morality. In France, the domestic affections flourish to wonderment, and the idea of family relationship is strangely sacred; insomuch that even in polluted Paris, on the stage, the one sentiment which ‘brings down the house’ is the sentiment of parental or filial love. Then take Germany, strangled by the governmental Providence, and reaching to its apex of licensed infamy in Berlin: a free nation without a free thought, smothered by its own strength of Nationality, straddled over by a Martinet of pipes and beer; the Fatherland which every German adores, and escapes from at the first opportunity. Then take England, still 128 free, in spite of the god Jingo; still merry, in spite of the Rev. Mr. Grundy and his wife; yet the chosen home of the ‘young person,’ the land where literature is under the protecting wing of Mr. Mudie, and where the moribund drama gasps and struggles Desdemona-like under the smothering pillow of the blindly jealous Lord Chamberlain. It is with England, of course, that the present inquiry is most concerned. With a literature unequalled for breadth and power, with Shakespeare throned and crowned, and Milton uttering the trumpet notes of freedom, England still languishes without ideals or ideas. She has had her Jonathan Swift and her Henry Fielding, but she has never had her Rousseau—never possessed one man since Milton to stand fearlessly between the two opposing forces of Superstition and Freedom, and to utter the gospel of reconciliation to denounce the Priestcraft of Religion with one breath, and the Priestcraft of Science with the next; to go down into Hell’s most sulphurous depths, and to learn that the only light even there is Light reflected from Heaven.
     For nothing in Roman Catholicism is so beyond contention as the dogma that Hell is—a belief which it holds in common with all creeds called Christian. It remained for a great thinker, Emmanuel Swedenborg, to establish the fact that Hell is not merely a locality, but also an omnipresent ‘condition.’ I know scarcely one great English classic, 129 from ‘Othello’ to ‘Tom Jones,’ from ‘Tom Jones’ to Burns’ ‘Address to the Deil,’ which has not illustrated the theory that

HELL EXISTS,

and that the Devil, who is often very humorous and entertaining, should have a hearing. Since we have adopted Satan’s original suggestion, and eaten of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, I do not think we can alter our food now, and get back to the ambrosia of Eden. The fact that, ashamed of our nakedness, we have made ourselves an apron, does not justify us in covering all our flesh with old-fashioned steel armour. The knowledge we have secured, at the cost of our innocence, is not to be ignored. The freedom we have gained, at the price of our moral peace, is not to be abandoned. In other words, we cannot save ourselves now by ignorance, nor can we be saved by providential suppression. Every man who would be strong for the world’s fight must visit Hell, and become acquainted with its literature; when he is certain to discover, if my own experience is any guide, that the angels there are real, though fallen.
     Even this same Zola is a prophet after your own liking, if you will only bear with his banalities. He prophesies Death and Doom, if purity and self-sacrifice do not arise again to save the world. His text is older even than your Church—‘the 130 wages of Sin is Death.’ He takes us from death­bed to death-bed: some vile and loathsome, like that of poor Nana, some divinely beautiful, like that of little Jeanne. There is a saint and a martyr even in that hotbed of pornography, ‘Pot Bouille’; and when I think of the poor blind bourgeois father, copying folios for a few pence that his wife and daughter may wear finery, and then dying broken-hearted when he finds all his life is founded on corruption, I weep at another Crucifixion. To state this is merely to contend that fine things may be found even in an Inferno: that Proserpine’s flowers did not all fall on the ground from Dis’s waggon, but that some were borne with her right down into Hades. Surely Zola should content those who believe in corruption and deterioration. The Gospel according to the Sewers is your Gospel of Original Sin. The scientific dogma of hereditary taint is your dogma of the Fall. True, in many particulars, your creed is the nobler, and will last the longer. You tell us that we may be saved by Faith, redeemed by obedience to the primal Law, and so, indeed, we may. But we shall never be redeemed by closing up all books, by pretending (in the face of our knowledge to the contrary) that. there is no such thing as Sin at all.
     The point for which I have always contended is that both cynical pessimism and coarse realism are alike infinitely absurd. A thoroughly unclean 131 book is almost invariably a thoroughly foolish one. Zola, for example, is, at his coarsest, merely a subject for laughter; the dirt sticks to him who writes, not to him who reads, and makes the writer look ridiculous. The sense of the absurd, in fact, is the granum salis which keeps literature wholesome. Even Justine becomes innocuous, even Petronius becomes harmless, when so disinfected. Yet when I look at Rabelais in his easy chair, I need no grain of salt, for I am thinking only of the broad humanity of the man. Even Sterne’s dirty snigger is forgotten in his quaint humanities. Nihil humani a me alienum puto; nothing in literary humanities injures me one hair. My eyes are yonder on Mount Pisgah, and though I yearn for the region of stainless snow, I know my way lies through this mud.
     In all these respects, and in others, I follow the Roman Catholic Church. There is only one difference between us, that while she fears one form of Rationalism, that which deals with certain dogmas and symbols for which she has an insane though natural affection, I, adding eclecticism to catholicism, fear no doctrine, no book, and no man. I shall say my say for or against the Devil, as any free man has a right to do, but I shall never contend that he has no existence.
     In this our England, we have numerous priesthoods or deputy Providences, without counting the sad and cloistered priesthood of old Rome. We 132 have, for example, the priesthoods of Episcopacy, of Dissent, of Good Society, of Art and Letters (or Dilettantism), of cheap Science, and, most potent, yet least responsible of all, the Priesthood of the Press, or Journalism. Now, there is not one of all these bodies which is not thoroughly convinced that its own view of the Universe is right, which does not, when occasion offers, persecute and torture unbelievers, which would not, if suffered to do so, summon the executioner or the constable; and if these same priesthoods were to be called together in full  synod, and asked to decide the fate of Literature, the general verdict would possibly be one of Strangulation or Castration. The clergy of all denominations hate each other, the Good Society people suppress each other, the Dilettantes detest all curtain-lifters who are not Dilettantes, and the Journalists are the terror and the scourge of every original thinker under the sun. All, however, are agreed on one point—that, in this most respectable country, there must be no descending into Hell, that Literature especially must be kept clean and wholesome, fit for family perusal. Hence we have been blest for many years with an expurgated literature, in the category of which, I rejoice to say, may be found such books as bring Heaven down to Earth and glorify human nature. Let it be granted, indeed, that a book founded on heavenly intuitions, such a book as the Poems of Tennyson, as the ‘Cloister and the 133 Hearth’ of Charles Reade, as the ‘Esmond’ of Thackeray, as the ‘David Copperfield’ of Dickens, as the ‘Westward Ho!’ of Kingsley, as the ‘Lorna Doone’ of Blackmore, as the ‘Woodlanders’ of Thomas Hardy, as the ‘Greene Ferne Farm’ of Richard Jefferies, as the ‘Angel in the House’ of Coventry Patmore—such a book, with the sunshine and fresh air upon its leaves—is worth a thousand times all the Devil’s documents put together. We thank God for it, and it has God’s blessing. But there are moments when even the best of us crave more—crave the bitterness of knowledge, the sight of the charnel-house, the glimmer of the deep, dim lights of Hell. For, as I have said, Hell is, and we must know it, and to know it is, in the end, to abominate and to avoid it. We are not celestial beings yet. We are earthly and human enough to fancy that the diet of celestial beings is very often insipid. We want the records of human sin and pain. We crave for the elemental passions. We tire even of plum­pudding, and thirst to eat husks with the swine. We miss the tasty leaven, in super-celestial food. And so, when we are sick of a surfeit of holiness, we turn to Farquhar for gay rascality, to Swift for brute-banality, to Byron for lightsome devilry, to Goethe for intellectual concupiscence, to Heine for the persiflage which scorns all sanctities and laughs at all the gods, and to Zola for gruesome testimony against sunlight and human nature. When this is 134 done, after we have seen the Satyr romp and heard the hiccup of Silenus, after we have seen Rabelais charging the monks on his ass Panurge, and left Whitman loafing naked on the sea-shore, do we turn again with less appetite, with less eager insight, towards the shining documents of Heaven?
     Of all the great writers who have been canonized by Humanity, there is scarcely one who, under the proposed Inquisition of Messrs. Shallow and Dogberry, would not have been ‘run in,’ pilloried, fined, or imprisoned. The author of ‘Pericles’ would do his six months as a first-class misdemeanant, in company with the author of ‘Œdipus’ and other foreigners of reputation. Sappho, for one little set of verses, would be tied to the cart's­tail, in company with Nanon and Mrs. Behn. In one long chain, the dramatists of the Elizabethan age would go to the moral galleys, followed by the dirtier dramatists of the Restoration. Fielding and Smollett would find no mercy, Richardson himself would only escape with a warning not to offend any more. To come down to contemporaries, I think Mr. Browning might be adjudged an offender against the law of modest reticence, and Mr. George Meredith a revolutionary in the region of sensuous passion. Not all his odes to infancy, not all his apotheosis of the coral and the lollipop, would save Mr. Swinburne. But the authors of the ‘Heir of Redclyffe’ and ‘A Knight Errant’ would 135 rise up to the stainless shrines of literature, and Mr. Slippery Sweetsong might become the laureate of the new age of Moral Drapery and Popular Mauvaise Honte. How good,  then, would Humanity become, bereft of Shakespeare’s feudal glory, denied even a glimpse of frisky blue stockings under the ballet-skirts of Ouida! Morality would be saved, possibly. All would be innocence, a moral constabulary, and good society. We should have choked up with tracts and pretty poems and proper novelettes the mouth of a sleeping Volcano; but when Ætna, or Sheol, or Hell, had its periodical eruption, what would happen then?
    
I shall not attempt in the space of a brief letter to penetrate into the philosophy of this great question; but it will occur to you that Milton’s famous protest against the suppression of books was echoed indirectly, centuries later, by Mill’s notable plea for Liberty, in which it was contended (1) that the opinion we wish to suppress may be true; (2) that it may, at any rate, contain a portion of truth; (3) that vigorous argument concerning opinions really and wholly true is the only way of saving these opinions from becoming conventional and prejudicial to intellectual activity; and (4) that without such argument, even good moral doctrine would cease to have any vital effect on character or conduct. I rather fear, remembering a certain estrangement which resulted from a quasi-Rabelaisian joke of Carlyle at Mill’s expense, 136 that the author of the ‘Essay on Liberty’ would have drawn the line of indulgence at naughty books—just as Locke did, much earlier. But these are brave words of Locke: ‘It is only light and evidence that can work a change in men’s opinions, and light cannot proceed from corporal sufferings or any outward penalties;’ furthermore, ‘the power of the civil magistrate consists only in outward force, while true and saving religion consists in the inward persuasion of the mind, without which nothing can be acceptable to God.’ Mill’s main contention is that it is well or ill with men just in proportion as they respect truth. The main contention of suppressionist philosophers is that if the majority can crush out vice by law, it is vicious not to do it, even if a little truth has to be sacrificed too. But how shall we decide what is vicious? Shall not the history of persecution warn us to be careful how we judge?And in so far as books are concerned, is not the record of every generation filled with the names of books labelled vicious by the contemporary majority, and afterwards pronounced soul-helping by the verdict of posterity? The suppressed books form in themselves a Bible of Humanity. If it were only for the sake of one or two little chapters, say the Epistle of Shelley to the Muggletonians or the Song of Songs (not of Solomon, but) of Heine, I should regard that BIBLE of HETERODOXY with devout affection.
137   Personally, I claim the right of free deliverance, free speech, free thought, and what I claim for myself I claim for every human being. I claim the right to attack and to defend. I claim the right to justify the Devil, if I want to. I can be suppressed by wiser argument, by deeper insight, by greater knowledge, but not by the magistrate, civil or literary. I would stand even by Judas Iscariot in the dock, if his Judge denied him a free hearing, a fair trial. The Truth, if she is great as we assume her to be, must prevail. The evidence of the Devil is necessary to secure the triumph of God; if it were otherwise, the Devil, not his Judge, would be Omnipotent. And the evidence which proves vice and proves virtue must be from within, from the Spirit which you cannot cast into prison, but which chooses not unfrequently to chain and shackle itself. Meantime, it is Mr. Coote and the Vigilance Committee, not Mr. Vizetelly, who lie in ignoble chains. We want more light, not more Darkness; more knowledge, not more ignorance; not more government, but more freedom of speech—more production of documents, more verification. Let your Church, Right Hon. Sir, turn round upon herself and say this, and we shall witness the last miraculous conversion. Help her to say it. Justify literature, justify free thought, by releasing Mr. Vizetelly from a bondage which its an insult to literature. You have only to lift your hand. You have only to say, ‘God is, and 138 He fears nothing, good or evil, that He has created.’ This would be the last and crowning proof of one man’s wisdom; of the Church’s infallibility, which is insight; of her function, which is the reconciliation and interpenetration of good and evil; and of her prerogative, which is the right of Spiritual Judgment independent of the dim and doubtful lights of the Civil Law. The police magistrate cannot save us from Evil, which is in ourselves, but, even now, Religion can.
     In this country, I believe, only two classes are specially pornographic: those who never read at all, because they cannot or will not, and those who are sufficiently wealthy to buy and read éditions de luxe. Mr. Vizetelly’s publications cannot affect the former classes, and their existence is a matter of indifference to the latter, who finger their Casanova at leisure, and pay readily for costly works like Burton’s translation of the Arabian Nights. The point of the persecution, therefore, appears to be that Mr. Vizetelly’s books are sufficiently attractive and cheap to reach those classes who are pornographic in neither their habits nor their tastes—young clerks, frisky milliners, et hoc genus omne. Now, these people are precisely those who are robust and healthy-minded enough, familiar with the world enough, to discriminate for themselves. Whatever they choose to read will make them neither better nor worse. The milliner will frisk without the aid of a Zola, and the young clerk will 139 follow the milliner, even within the protective shadow of a Young Men’s Christian Association. Wholesale corruption never yet came from corrupt literature; which is the effect, not the cause, of social libertinage. Do we find morality so plentiful amongst the godly farmers and drovers of Annandale, or among the ‘unco’ gude’ of Ayrshire or Dumfriesshire—thumbers of the Bible, sheep of the Kirk? Stands Scotland anywhere but where it did, though it has not yet acquired an æsthetic taste for the Abominable, but merely realizes occasionally the primitive instincts of La Terre? Dwells perfect purity in Brittany and in Normandy, despite the fact that Zola there is an unknown quantity, and Paris itself a thing of dream? ‘Bestialism, animalism, sensualism, realism, call it by what name you will, is antecedent to and triumphant over all books whatsoever. Books may reflect it, that is all; and I fail to see why they should not, since it exists. I love my Burns and like my Byron, though neither was a virtuous or even a ‘decent' person. My Juvenal, my Lucretius, my Catullus, and even my porcus porcorum Petronius, are well read. My ‘Decameron,’ with all its incidence of amativeness, is a breeding nest of poets. Age cannot wither, nor custom stale, La Fontaine’s infinite variety. But I take such books as these as I take all such mental food, cum grano salis, a pinch of which keeps each from corruption. Even the fly-blown Gautier looks well, cold and inedible, 140 on a sideboard, garnished with Style’s fresh parsley. But I have never found that what my teeth nibble at has any power to pollute my immortal part. I must stand on the earth, with Montaigne and Rabelais, but does that prevent me from flying heavenward with Jean Paul, or walking the mountain tops with the Shepherd of Rydal? Inspection of the dung-heaps and slaughter-houses with Jonathan Swift and Zola only makes me more anxious to get away, with Rousseau, to the peaceful height where the Savoyard Vicar prays! By Evil only shall ye distinguish Good, says the Master; yea, and by the husks shall ye know the grain.
     The man who says that a Book has power to pollute his Soul ranks his Soul below a Book. I rank mine infinitely higher.

                                                                                                                           ROBERT BUCHANAN.

 

     NOTE.—Since the above letter was written I have heard that Messrs. Vizetelly have ‘suppressed’ their translation of Murger’s ‘Vie de Bohème,’ a book as good and wholesome, to my mind, as life itself; and that Messrs. Chatto and Windus have burned their ‘stocks’ of Rabelais and Boccaccio. O tempora! O mores! O sæclum insipiens et inficetum! What next?—and next? and next? O yes, the seizure of the pictures painted to illustrate the merry Vicar of Meudon, and the unfettered circulation, in every journal, 141 of the last dirty details of the Divorce Court. And simultaneously comes the legislation which would confine the ragged street-child to the slums, and denies it one glimpse of happiness in the wicked Theatre! Only those who really know the facts, who have been familiar with the blessing a single Drury Lane Pantomime used to bring to a thousand homes, can understand the cruelty and futility of this last example of providential legislation.

                                                                                                                             R. B.

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[Note: ‘On Descending Into Hell’ was originally published as a pamphlet, under the title: On Descending into Hell: a letter addressed to the Right Hon. Henry Matthews, Q.C., Home Secretary, concerning the proposed suppression of literature (London: George Redway, 1889). This original version is available at the Internet Archive. The title page is available here.]

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143

THE MODERN YOUNG MAN AS CRITIC.

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145

 

THE MODERN YOUNG MAN AS CRITIC.

 

FRANKLY, I do not know what the Modern Young Man is coming to! The young man of my own early experience was feather-headed, but earnest; impulsive and uninstructed, but sympathetic and occasionally studious; though his faults were many, lack of conviction was certainly not one of them. He dreamed wildly of fame, of fair women, or beautiful books; and when he read the Masters, he despaired. A great thought, even a fine phrase, stirred him like a trumpet. For him, in his calm and waking moments, female purity was still a sacred certainty, and female shame and suffering were less a proof of woman’s baseness and unworthiness than one of man’s deterioration. He lifted his hat to the Magdalen, in life and in literature. The human form, even when wrapt in the robes of the street-walker, was still sacred to him; and he would as soon have thought of laying sacrilegious hands upon it as of vivisecting his own mother. In Bohemia he had heard the bird-like 146 cry of Mimi; in the forest of Arden he had roamed with Rosalind. For him, in the lightheartedness of his youth, the world was an enchanted dwelling-place. The gods remained, with God above them. The Heaven of his literary infancy lay around him. Out in the darkened streets he met the sunny smile of Dickens, and down among the English lanes he listened to the nightingales of Keats and Tennyson. But now, with the passing of one brief generation, the world has changed; the youth who was a poet and a dreamer has departed, and the modern young man has arisen to take his place. A saturnine young man, a young man who has never dreamed a dream or been a child, a young man whose days have been shadowed by the upas-tree of modern pessimism, and who is born to the heritage of flash cynicism, and cheap science, of literature which is less literature than criticism run to seed. Though varied in the genus, he is invariable in the type, which includes the whole range of modern character, from the young man of culture expressed in the elegant humanities of Mr. Henry James and Mr. Marion Crawford, down to the bank-holiday young man of no culture, of whom the handiest example is (as we shall see) a certain egregious Mr. George Moore. The modern young man, whether with or without education, has no religion and no enthusiasm. Nourished in the new creed of Realism and ‘Art for Art,’ he is ready, with De Goncourt 147 and Zola, to ‘ throw a woman on the dissecting-table,’ and cut the beautiful dead form to pieces, and content, with Paul Bourget (ridiculus mus of a social mud-heap in parturition), to take Love ‘as a subject,’ and call it a cruel enigma. Even the insufferable Gautier was superior to all this; he was not too clever to live, not over-full of insight to write. But the modern young man is the very paradox of prescience and  nescience, of instruction and incapacity. He writes books which are dead books from the birth; he formulates criticisms, which are laborious self-dissections, indecent exposures of the infinitely trivial; he paints, he composes, he toils and moils, and all to no avail. For the faith which is life, and the life which is reverence and enthusiasm, have been denied to him. The sun has gone out above him, and the earth is arid dust beneath him. He has scarcely heard of Bohemia, he is utterly incredulous of Arden, and he is aware with all his eyes, not of Mimi or of Rosalind, but of Sidonie Risler and Emma Bovary. He has looked down Vesuvius, out of his very cradle. In Boston he has measured Shakespeare and Dickens, and found the giants wanting; in France he has talked the argot of L’Assommoir over the grave of Hugo; even in free Scandinavia he has discovered a Zola with a stuttering style and two wooden legs, and made a fetish of Ibsen; while here in England he threatens Turner the painter, and has practically 148 (as he thinks) demolished the gospel of poetical sentiment. And yet, curiously enough, he has done nothing, he has given us nothing; for he is nothing. He is appearing before us, however, in so many forms of pertinacious triviality, that it behoves us to take a passing glance at him, and to inquire, however briefly, into the phenomenon of his existence. To study that phenomenon completely would far transcend the limits of a brief article; so I must confine myself at present to the consideration of the young man in one capacity only, that of Critic, though he is nothing indeed if not critical, as we shall see. From the day when Goethe sent forth his ‘plague of microscopes’ to the day when Matthew Arnold defined poetry itself as a ‘criticism of life’ (committing poetical suicide in that preposterous definition), everybody has been critical, and of course our young man is no exception to the rule. Of the Modern Young Man as Critic, then, I propose to furnish some few easily selected illustrations, subdividing my types as follows: (1) The Young Man who is Superfine; (2) the Detrimental Young Man; (3) the Olfactory Young Man; (4) the Young Man in a Cheap Literary Suit; and (5) the Bank-Holiday Young Man—the last pretty much the same as discovered in real life and classified by Mr. Gilbert. All these young men have drifted into literature, and though there is an immeasurable distance between the distinction and culture of type number one and 149 the unkempt barbarity of type number five, they have all certain characteristics in common—an easy air of omniscience in dealing with the great problems of Life and Thought, an assumption of complete familiarity with the ‘facts’ of existence (they are all, in a word, wonderfully ‘knowing’), an open or secret disrespect for average ideals, a constitutional hatred of ‘conventional morality,’ an equally constitutional hatred of ‘imagination,’ and, above all, a general air of never having been really young, of never having loved or worshipped, or been mastered by, anything or anybody, on the earth or above it.
     Taking the types in their intellectual and natural order, for I propose to work down the scale from the highest note to the lowest, I can find no better example of the Superfine Young Man than Mr. Henry James, well known as the author of several minor novels and numerous minor criticisms. Highly finished, perfectly machined, icily regular, thoroughly representative, Mr. James is the educated young or youngish American whom we have all met in society; the well- dressed person who knows everybody, who has read everything, who has been everywhere, who is nebulously conscious of every astral and mundane influence, but who, as a matter of fact, is most at home on the Boulevards, and whose religion includes as its chief article the well-known humorous formula—that good Americans, when they die, go to Paris. No 150 one can dispute Mr. James’s cleverness; he is very clever. He is, moreover, well-spoken, agreeable,   good-tempered, tolerant. He can even, upon occasion, affect and seem to feel enthusiasm—can talk of Tourgenieff as ‘lovable,’ of Daudet as ‘adorable.’ For the first quarter of an hour of our conversation with him we are largely impressed with his variety, his catholicity; after that comes a certain indescribable sense of vagueness, of superficiality, of indifferentism; finally, if we must give the thing a name, a forlorn feeling of vacuity, of silliness. With a sigh we discover it; this young man, with all his information, with all his variety and catholicity, with all his wonderful knowledge of things caviare to the general, is, au fond, a fatuous young man. Startled at first by our discovery, we turn away from him; then, returning to him, under dishallucination, we perceive that he does not really know so much, even superficially, as we imagined; that his easy air of omniscience is a mere cloak to cover complete intellectual indetermination. For him and his, great literature has really no existence. He is secretly indifferent about all the gods, dead and living. He takes us into his confidence, welcomes us into his study, and we find that the faces on the walls are those, not of a Pantheon, but of the comic newspaper and the circulating library. He appears to recognise the modern Sibyl in George Eliot; and why,  indeed, should he not take that triumphant Talent seriously, when the inspiration 151 of his childhood was the picture- gallery in Punch, when he sees a profound social satirist in Mr. du Maurier, and when he can fall prone before the masterpieces of that hard-bound genius in posse, Mr. Robert Louis Stevenson? These, then, are the glorious discoveries of the young man’s omniscience —George Eliot, Alphonse Daudet, Flaubert, Du Maurier, Mr. Punch, and the author of ‘Treasure Island.’ With these, one is bound to say, he is, like all well-bred Americans, thoroughly at home. He says charming things concerning them. He finds more than one of them (adopting that hideous French phrase) ‘adorable.’ He becomes the little prophet of the little masters, and he publishes a little book* about them—a book full of the agreeable art of conversation, such as we listen to in a hundred drawing-rooms. Nor is it at all out of keeping with this elegant young man’s character that his talk about his literary ideals is, when it is most admiring, most patronizing. He keeps in reserve a latent scepticism even concerning the dii minores of his microscopic religion; nay, he suggests to us that his remarks concerning them are merely lightly thrown-out illustrations of his own superabundant sympathy—that, if you really put him to it, he might read Shakespeare with appreciation, and could share the boy’s enthusiasm about Byron.
     Very characteristic of Mr. James is his neat

* ‘Partial Portraits,’ by Henry James.

152 little paper on Alphonse Daudet—a quite marvellous example of ‘how not to commit one’s self in criticism,’ how to burn incense with one hand and snap the fingers of the other. He begins by saying that ‘a new novel by this admirable genius is to my mind the most delightful literary event that can occur just now;’ he ends by ‘retracting some of the admiration’ he has ‘expressed for him,’ and saying that he has ‘no high imagination, and, as a consequence, no ideas;’ and finally, as an afterthought, to conciliate his Famulus Mr. Facingboth-ways, he cries, ‘And then he is so free!’ and ‘The sight of such freedom is delightful.’ This inconsistency, it will be admitted, is rather hard on an author of whom Mr. James also remarks: ‘If we were talking French, nothing would be simpler than to say that Alphonse Daudet is   adorable, and have done with it.’The ‘admirable genius,’ a book from whose pen is ‘the most delightful literary event that can occur,’ who is so ‘free,’ and whose delight and freedom consists in ‘having no imagination, no ideas,’ must be a little puzzled by such treatment; but, after all, it is only the superfine young man’s way of telling us that he is really so omniscient as to have no clear opinion at all on that or any subject. In one of the best things in the book, a conversation about ‘Daniel Deronda,’ in which the interlocutors are a literary gentleman and two talkative ladies, he is seen at his best or worst—now panting with admiration 153 for George Eliot’s genius, again inferring that she had no genius at all, trimming, finessing, explaining, blaming, excusing, till the poor puzzled reader exclaims in despair, ‘Oh this Superfine Young Man! What does he mean? What does he feel? Why does he not speak out his mind, and have done with it?’ This, however, is not Mr. James’s method. His desire is to convince us at any expense that he sees every side of a question, is familiar with every nuance of a subject; and in the eagerness of this desire he is paralyzed out of all conviction. His perceptive faculties are good enough, naturally; his temper is highly agreeable and his style affable in the extreme; but his courage is as non-existent as his opinions. So clever yet so half-hearted a gentleman never yet committed himself to criticism. Not less amazing than the fact that he should consider a drawing-room discussion on ‘Daniel Deronda’ really worth recording, is the fact that he should labour under the impression that he has really pronounced any dictum on any subject. One can understand the critics who have opinions, wise or unwise. One can follow with amusement the subacid sneers of Hazlitt, the florid flourishes of Macaulay, the sledge-hammer blows of Carlyle, the screaming invective of Mr. Ruskin, because all these writers have something to say and contrive to say it; but when we enter the salon and encounter the superfine young man, who is neither bitter, nor florid, 154 nor brutal, nor shrewish, but is in all respects perfectly well-behaved, we are not amused or edified—we are bored. It matters little whether he is pattering to us about George Eliot, or about ‘his friend’ Tourgenieff, or about Alphonse Daudet, or about the caricatures in Punch, or about the Art of Fiction—the effect is invariably the same. No sooner is one opinion advanced than it is qualified with another; scarcely is one view taken when another is substituted; an endless successionof personal pronouns — ‘I think,’ ‘I will admit,’ ‘I consider,’ ‘I suspect,’ etc., covers a total absence of critical personality. The young man’s very religion is ‘qualified.’ His mind is bewildered by its dreadful catholicity. He has not a spark of hate in him, because (with all his admirations and ‘adorations’) he has not a spark of love. As was said long ago in another connection, ‘How sad and perplexing it must be to be so clever!’
     One regrets not a little that the final impression left by a young man of such cultivation should be one of dulness, of silliness; yet so it is, and it is only another proof that education is sometimes a very misleading thing. I can quite imagine that Mr. Henry James, had he read less, travelled less, known less, might have become a highly interesting writer; but early in his career he appears to have quitted America for Europe, and to have left the possibilities of his grand nativity behind him. 155 To be born an American is surely a great privilege; yet nearly all Americans of talent flit moth-like towards the garish lights of London or Paris, and hover round these lights in wanton, not to say imbecile, gyrations, till they pop into the glare, drop down singed and wingless, and are forgotten. No individual is so catholic as an average American of culture; no individual is, au fond, so worldly, so supremely trivial; and Mr. Henry James is this average American in excelsis. A good deal of this is, of course, matter of temperament; a good deal more, matter of training. Youngish men like Mr. James have refined their perceptions to so thin a point that they are only fit to commemorate the judgments of the drawing-room on the one hand and the smoking-room on the other. The air of free literature asphyxiates and paralyzes them. Outside of society and Paris, they are far too clever, far too educated, to breathe or live at all.
     It is Mr. James’s privilege, or perhaps his misfortune, to write for the English public; but I strongly suspect him of a hidden longing to cater for the public which is Continental. If he were not doomed by his nationality to be a superfine young man, he would perhaps choose to become a Detrimental one, like his friend M. Paul Bourget, who dedicates a book to him and claims at least two-thirds of him as thoroughly Parisian. The Detrimental Young Man, to whom I now come by a very natural transition, is quite as pertinacious 156 as Mr. James, though far less cautious; fully as omniscient, but not nearly so self-assured; far rnore audacious, but in reality quite as dull. He is a refined or superfined sort of naturalist, to whom the coarse method of Zola appears very shocking, and who, before he ‘dissects’ the human subject, is careful to wash his hands; nay, he goes further, and washes his subject too, that the spectator may be spared disgust and pain as far as possible. An elegant young man, with a certain amount of surgical skill, he affects to have studied profoundly the morbid anatomy of the female character; but, alas! we soon discover that his elegance is merely that of a man about town, while his science is only a device to hide the tastes of the boulevardier. Two or three feeble novels, and a few flabby criticisms, form his literary credentials; so that he would be scarcely worth considering if he were not the type of a very numerous class. Like his fellows, he parades a ‘method’; like his superiors, he vaunts the dogma of L’Art pour L’Art, which, in other words, is Art without the aspirate, without any heart at all. The world is beginning to discover, by the way, that the moment a writer begins to talk about his Art he is forfeiting its privileges. It is quite true, moreover, that Art has nothing to do with Morality, directly; but it has a great deal to do with it indirectly; for (as I attempted to show years ago) if a work of Art is beautiful, it must be moral. This, of course, is not 157 saying that it may not offend against conventional canons. But all the palaver about Art of such writers as Flaubert was merely a feint to disguise a radical defect in sympathy, an incapacity for imagining greatly and feeling either deeply or profoundly; and it will be found generally that the writers who echo the palaver are, like Flaubert, workers in mosaic—artists who, instead of working under special inspiration or with inspiring passion, take little bits of subject and piece them together, sometimes with very charming effect, but never with the genius of great literature, The talk of Art for Art is, in short, disingenuous, being used almost invariably to excuse or to justify trivialities of invention and temperamental want of creative insight.
     What kind of a person the Detrimental Young Man is may be gathered from a reference to one of his well-known stories, ‘Un Crime d’Amour,’* a work so far critical that it seems to embody the writer’s theory of social life. It is the very commonplace history of a boulevardier’s love for his friend’s wife, his seduction of her, and the consequent misery and dishallucination. In the opening chapter we are introduced to the only three dramatis personæ—the husband, the wife, and the lover. ‘Le petit salon était éclairé d’une lumière douce par les trois lampes—de hautes lampes posées dans les vases de Japon, et garnies

* By Paul Bourget.

158 de globes sur lesquels s’appliquaient des abat-jour simples de nuance bleu pâle.’ This ‘nuance bleu pâle’ is the only thing which differentiates ‘Un Crime d’Amour’ from other idylls of adultery, and the only quality which distinguishes M. Paul Bourget’s ‘method’ from that of other foolish young men. It permeates the story and the style, it sicklies o’er the countenances of the adulterers and the author, it is used in lieu of honest daylight to give artistic seeming to a theme which is radically prurient yet absurd.In one consummate chapter we are treated to a detailed description of the furnished house which Armand, the lover, takes for his mistress, and in which, dazzled by the ‘nuance bleu pâle,’ ‘elle venait de sentir, sous les caresses de cet homme qu’elle aimait si profondément, une émotion inconnue s’éveiller en elle.’ Then the same ‘nuance’ travels on to the husband, who in course of time, poor fellow! gets very blue indeed; rests on the wretched woman, who deceives her lover as well as her husband and then cries, in articulo mortis, ‘C’est cette souffrance qui m’a sauvée, c’est par elle que j’ai jugé ma vie;’ and finally transfigures the Detrimental Young Man himself, while he informs us that ‘une chose venait de naître en lui, avec laquelle il pourrait toujours trouver des raisons de vivre et d’agir: la religion de la souffrance humaine.’ This is the moral, that experiences of the sort I have described make even a detrimental young man alive to the fact that 159 treachery and seduction turn life into Dead Sea fruit and lead married ladies into much trouble. We have heard it a thousand times before, we shall hear it a thousand times again; for our modern young men are honest enough to admit that Love is not a thing of cakes and ale. No; it is the prerogative, it is the glory, of the Detrimental Young Man to pose himself in the pale blue ‘nuance’ of a picturesque unhappiness. In his sad perception of the sorrows of crim. con. and the dreariness of infidelity, he resembles our own glorious Ouida; and he resembles that classic of the Langham in other respects—in a feverish appreciation of millinery and upholstery, in a love of subdued lights and soft odours, in a rapturous inspiration to paint the splendours of the bedpost and the mysteries of the bath-room.Indeed, if we could imagine Zola and Ouida collaborating on a story to be afterwards revised by Mr. Henry James, we should get a very good idea of a work by M. Paul Bourget. We should have all the nastiness plus all the niceness, and the whole carefully supervised by a master of the superfine.
     In another novel, ‘Cruelle Ënigme,’ the Detrimental Young Man goes further, and for the edification of his friend Mr. James, to whom the work is dedicated, ‘throws a woman on the dissecting table,’ and vivisects her, arriving, after much more millinery, at the conclusion that Love, like life, is ‘a cruel enigma.’ The poor woman 160 deceives everybody, even the very young lover whom she adores, and is, in fact, just the familiar tame-tigress of French fiction; but she is specialized again for us by the pale-blue ‘nuance,’ producing in this case an anatomical study much in the manner of the eccentric artist Van Beers. All this might be very interesting, no doubt, if there were any Science in it.Readers who know what Balzac has done in this way would certainly not deny the attraction to be found in the morbid pathology of the female character. But Balzac was a man, not a boulevardier; and even Zola is a Man deformed. One page of the ‘Human Comedy,’ or one chapter of ‘La Joie de Vivre,’ is worth all that M. Paul Bourget or Mr. Henry James ever wrote or dreamed of writing.And if I return without apology to our Superfine Young Man in this connection, it is not that I am unaware of the ethical distinction between him and the Detrimental Young Man. But there is an ethical resemblance also, though it does not lie upon the surface. It is the business—it may, for all I know, be the boast and pride—of Mr. James and his compeers to translate the fiction of the French Empire and Republic into a vocabulary suitable for the perusal of young American ladies; and young ladies, in England and America, read their dreary books—compared with which the literature of the ‘Lamplighter’ and the ‘Old Helmet’ is edifying. To call them immoral would 161 be exaggeration; they are not vital enough to be immoral. But they, too, parade the pale-blue ‘nuance’ which is to redeem insipidity and impertinence, and turn commonplace into Art. In their cold-blooded self-sufficiency, in their indomitable triviality, in their stupendous dulness and omniscient vacuity, they suggest Zola (a dullard au fond) under ruthless expurgation and Gautier without the flesh. For, the modern French theory of writing being that nothing is too trivial for a subject so long as it gives opportunity for narrative and analysis, French novelists escape dulness by choosing subjects which, though trivial, are suggestive or unclean; and our Art for Art novelists of English race choose, in secret emulation, subjects which, though trivial almost to fatuity, are prurient in their supreme affectation of moral catholicity.
     But let me put it in plainer words, in clearer English. There is neither flesh and blood, nor virility, nor manly vigour, in these young moderns, either in France or England; they breathe no oxygen; they display no intellectual or moral health. They hang about the petticoats of young women, in the ‘nuance bleu pâle’ of a moral atmosphere of their own making. Contrast a book like ‘Un Crime d’Amour’ with a book like Murger’s ‘Vie de Bohème,’ and note the difference between two generations. Compare the ‘Sappho’ of 1887 with even the ‘Dame aux Camélias’ of 162 1850. To go even a little further back, the jaded young man of Alfred de Musset still preserved his hallucinations.Rolla saw his ideal naked, not on the dissecting-table, but alive

‘Et pendant un moment, tous deux avaient aimés!’

He was not a nice young man, with his shirt-collar turned down à la Byron, and his addiction to absinthe; but, compared with this modern young man, he was a gentleman, a poet, and a dreamer. And then, if you will, compare such books as ‘The Portrait of a Lady’ with the early girl-studies of Trollope, a novelist ever thin and trivial enough, in all conscience. There was the fresh flush of English life, the breath of English homes; here we get only the simper of the superior person, the drawl of the superfine young miss etherealized into a heaven of small sensations, small intuitions, and small, infinitesimally small, conversation. It is nothing to the purpose to explain that Mr. Henry James is a strictly moral writer in the ordinary sense of the word, and that M. Paul Bourget is a highly immoral one. My own impression is that the two gentlemen are more nearly akin, both in mind and morals, than either would care to admit. Though one is superfine, while the other is detrimental, both are omnisciently silly; neither has one spark of the vitality, one flash of the insight, which made young men write books a generation ago.
     Whose children are these? Who is responsible 163 for the appearance of these young men in society and literature? I think their literary genealogy, though here and there obscure, may be traced with quasi-Biblical accuracy on both sides of the Channel. There, our own Byron begot Alfred de Musset, and Alfred de Musset begot Dumas fils, and Dumas fils begot Daudet, and Daudet begot Paul Bourget. Here, Richardson begot Jane Austen, and Jane Austen became the mother of Theodore Hook, and Theodore Hook begot Anthony Trollope, and Anthony Trollope begot Henry James. In either succession there was a gradual process of deterioration, resulting at last in what physiologists call ‘an exhausted breed;’ nor is the present threatened intermarriage between Parisian impertinence and English triviality likely to improve the stock. Meantime, the great masters, Balzac and Hugo, Fielding and Dickens, appear to have left no lawful descendants. Look back again at the Paris and the London of a generation ago! How fresh and living, how full of wild enthusiasm and delightful temper, was literature! Here and yonder, the breeze blew lightly from Bohemia. Art was sunny, life was free. The young Frenchmen swaggered like Fluellen, forcing all and ready to honour the green leek of Romanticism.The young Cockneys swarmed everywhere, full of the new gospel of Dickens and a robustious Fairyland. Young writers were neither cynical, nor cautious, nor 164 ‘knowing’; they were mad with the exuberance of their vitality. Since the old boys were childishly reverent and happy, why should not the young boys be so too? In those days there was little or no thought of ‘dissecting’ women, only of loving and honouring and embracing them; no care to hang round the skirts of young ladies, analyzing their intuitions, but rather a desire to roam in Arden with them, or to join them at ‘Roger de Coverley.’ There were girls then, as there were boys. Alas, there are now neither girls nor boys, only nasty little men and women! I rather fancy that the easy descent of Avernus was begun when Thackeray drew Blanche Amory and Becky Sharp, and painted his good women without brains; for though Thackeray had been in Bohemia, and never quite forgot the soft sylvan susurrus of its green glades, he created a school of young cynics who have something in common with the young realists of to-day. Be that as it may, the time of cheap pessimism has come, and good cheer and animal spirits, poetry and enthusiasm, have now no abiding place in literature.
     Next on my list comes the Olfactory Young Man, whom I shall deal with very briefly, as he differs from the Detrimental Young Man only in a few minor particulars, and, like him, is French by nationality. M. Guy de Maupassant, in his introduction to Flaubert’s ‘Correspondence with George Sand,’ entreats us not to get angry with any one 165 artistic theory, ‘since every theory is the generalized expression of a temperament asking itself questions;’ in other words, he contends that it is the business of the artist, not to ascertain truth absolute, but to describe the effect of social phenomena on his own organs, his own temperament. This being admitted, he contends, taking his own point of perception, the only point of view possible to his temperament, that it is a very ugly and a very nasty world. His sense of unpleasant odours in life leads to the most grievous of all afflictions, Naresmia. He goes through life and literature following his unlucky nose.All the meaner phenomena of life, all its baseness, all its triviality, allure and fascinate him, while he is blind, and glories in being blind, to its subtle suggestions, its higher meanings. A critic and a novelist, he parades his little gospel of realism, and declines to subject either his thought or his style to any disturbing influence. But, after all, the main thing in life of which he is conscious is the sexual instinct, and the sexual instinct on its most physical side. His lovers find out each other, like animals, by the sense of smell. From the scent of a rose to the perfume of a petticoat, life is conditioned by its olfactory peculiarities; beneath and within it all is the odour of decaying moral vegetation, the stench, faint or overpowering, of the human dead body, of the tomb. I suppose M. de Maupassant is an artist; he is careful to 166 tell us that he is. For my own part, I am content, with only this stray reference, to pass him by. A young gentleman who threatens to become, like the famous Slawkenbergius of Sterne, ‘all nose,’ would be very useful company for a sanitary inspector or a member of the Board of Works, but, fortunately, literature is much more than osmology, and Humanity contains something beyond and above its epidermis.
     It is a relief, after discovering such subtleties of refinement, literary and olfactory, to come face to face with the good, square, honest, unintelligence of the Young Man in a Cheap Literary Suit. Mr. James, M. Bourget, and M. de Maupassant are models of literary elegance, and would look aghast on the loud, showy, every-day dress of tweed which forms the literary attire of Mr. William Archer, a young gentleman from Scotland who has attained to the proud dignity of being dramatic critic of the World; a saturnine and severe young gentleman, a young gentleman who has taken the Drama under his protection, and writes in all seriousness about plays and players.* I have on a former occasion, in a very rough ad captandum fashion, described Mr. Archer’s literary gifts. It is a curious fact, not to be overlooked in the present survey, that while the critics of twenty years ago were recruited from the ranks of literary aspirants, with special gifts and ambitions

* ‘About the Theatre,’ by William Archer.

167 of their own in other directions, and while such critics were young men of enthusiastic temperament and with minds nourished on free literature, the most boisterous critics of the present moment are recruited from the ranks of the uninspired and unaspiring, are, in other words, young men who seem never to have studied seriously or felt profoundly any literature at all. A little knowledge, a very little English, and much pertinacity, are at any rate Mr. Archer’s equipment, enabling him to pronounce judgment on works of art, to talk glibly about the drama and its professors, and to deliver a lecture on his favourite subjects at the Royal Institution. The pet object of Mr. Archer’s aversion is Mr. Irving. Our young man began his career by an attack on that gentleman, consisting chiefly of ‘Bank-holiday’ personalities. He qualified this attack a little later on by a pamphlet on ‘Mr. Irving as Actor and Manager,’ while his friend and quondam collaborateur, Mr. Low, laid at the popular idol’s feet the dedication of a voluminous work on the drama. Still, Mr. Archer has nothing but scorn, open or disguised, for Mr. Irving as an actor, and for the ‘poetical’ productions of the Lyceum. Ranging further afield, he inveighs against the ‘fanfaronade ‘ of Victor Hugo, and finds his best dramas ‘about on the level of Italian Opera;’ while in Zola and Flaubert he discovers the kind of beauty which enables him to exclaim: ‘This is true! this is real!’ The public, it seems 168 to Mr. Archer, ‘is beginning to demand more and more imperatively that the dramatist shall be, not indeed a moralist (that may come later on!), but an observer, and shall give us in his work, not a judgment or an ideal, but a painting;’ and on this score, and on the score that he finds indications among dramatists of increased observation, he thinks that the drama is ‘advancing.’
     Mr. Archer, in fact, is nothing if not ‘critical’; that is to say, his cheap literary suit is worn by him as armour against all the shafts of imagination. He pines for a drama where there shall be no ‘ideals,’ and which shall be an absolute and accurate ‘transcription of life,’ and he sees hope for it, finds hints of it, when he contemplates such splendid experiments as Mr. Pinero’s ‘Lords and Commons,’ Mr. Grundy’s ‘Snowball,’ and the ‘Great Pink Pearl.’ Poetical and imaginative plays he finds, on the whole, dull and uninteresting; not nearly ‘knowing’ enough, or severe enough, for this generation; and in his gloomy expectation of the hour when the dramatist shall be a ‘moralist’ (which is ‘to come,’ mirabile dictu!) he turns with all the eagerness of which he is capable to the latest dramatist of Scandinavia—to Ibsen, who is ‘stumping’ the North of Europe in the interests of so-called Scientific Realism.
     Shrewd, clever, fearless, individual if not original, Ibsen has produced certain pamphlets which he calls plays, and in each one of which he 169 advances one of those dreary ethical propositions which the world is now receiving ad nauseam. A quite loathsome piece of morbid pathology called ‘Gengangere’ is considered his masterpiece. It is a story of heredity, showing with what has been called ‘relentless fidelity’ how the sins of the parents are visited on the children —a thesis chiefly illustrated by two characters, a miserable and depraved young man who inherits insansity from a dissipated father, and a perkish young woman who takes her foibles from a mother who ‘went wrong.’ As a realistic experiment this play is not uninteresting; as a work of art, it is on the intellectual level of De Goncourt; for it means nothing and is nothing, except a disagreeable reminder of facts with which every thinking man is familiar. A poet might have taken the subject, and stirred us by it. A dramatist would have made it live and move. Ibsen, after disgusting and horrifying us beyond measure, leaves the subject exactly where he found it—in the region of dreary and dirty commonplace. And as this arid writer deals with the subject of Heredity, so does he deal with Sociology, with Morality, with Religion, placing a smudgy finger on the black marks which disfigure the map of life, but seldom if ever assisting us with any flash of poetic vision. Unfortunately for literature, his audacity in attracting the modern young man has infected a far nobler writer of his own nationality, the 170 Björnson who imagined what is perhaps the divinest love-episode in any language, that of Audhild in ‘Sigurd Slembe.’ Of late years Björnson has been drifting towards the shifting sands of realism, attracted thither by the false lights set by Ibsen et hoc genus omne.But not in that direction, not in the way of cheap science and hideous human pathology, lies the freedom of art or the salvation of literature. When the prose of truth has been said, its poetry remains to be told; and when the great writer comes to deal with such themes as physical disease and moral responsibility, he will show us how impossible, how hopeless, how heartbreaking it is, to view these themes from the point of view of the pessimist or of the Modern Young Man as Critic. Fortunately, Shakespeare and fresh air remain, while the artistic progeny of Schopenhauer asphyxiate themselves in close chambers and try experiments on the dead or living subject.
     If Ibsen is a great or even a good writer, as Mr. Archer and his friends assure us that he is, then the great writers of all countries have been from time immemorial hopelessly in the wrong—then we must accept M. Zola’s dictum that the true method of literature is only just discovered. In that case, to be a great writer it is only necessary to be stupendously and supremely unimaginative, and to see nothing beyond the bit of tissue at the point of the scalpel. But Æschylus and 171 Sophocles, Shakespeare and Fielding, Balzac and Victor Hugo (to go no further for examples) have warned us that literature can glorify Science while embracing it. Take a work of any of those masters, no matter how gross or how revolting the subject—choose the ‘Agamemnon’ or the ‘Antigone,’ ‘Macbeth’ or ‘Lear,’ ‘Tom Jones’ or ‘Joseph Andrews,’ ‘Père Goriot’ or the story of Fantine—and what impression remains? The terror, the sadness, the pity, or (as it may be) the mad absurdity of life, but above all, its divine suggestions. What holds true of the masterpieces holds true of all literature which is sound and hale; such literature explains by insight what is dark and horrible, redeems by insight what is base and mean, and instead of leaving the wound of a moral sore wide open to horrify Humanity, heals it with the balm of a subtle interpretation.It is because Zola justifies himself thus occasionally, that even he, with all his banalities, is worth considering.
     But, naturally, the Young Man in a cheap Literary Suit, sunk in the self-satisfaction of being completely though inexpensively rigged out, and consequently overpowering, resents imagination. Great is the truth, he says, and it shall prevail; but there is truth and truth, and what satisfies the needs of a small critic is wormwood to the soul of a thinker or a poet. A little culture is a dangerous thing; for it encourages a dull young man of saturnine proclivities to decry the masters, 172 to extol the dullards, and to pose as a superior person. Writers like Mr. Archer assert that Art may go wrong through too much sentiment, too much imagination, and that photography has been sent to put it right. Yet the outcome of the teaching of all great literature is that, while Realism is the device of blind men and feeble intellects, Poetry, not Pessimism and Cynicism, is the living Truth.
     It would be vain to follow our present young man through all the perversions caused by a hasty literary equipment and a morbid intellectual appetite. As the absinthe-drinker, rapidly losing the sense of taste, finds that only acrid wormwood will suit his palate, so Mr. Archer takes his Ibsen with a relish, and even thanks the gods for Mr. W. S. Gilbert. While he has not one good word for a Titan like Mr. Charles Reade, he waxes almost eloquent when his theme is a small cynic or a huge dullard. Great sentiments, great motives, great emotions, great conceptions, great language, alike repel him. By temperament and by education, he is, like his superiors with whom I have placed him in juxtaposition, wholly unimaginative and unsympathetic.
     One word, before I proceed, on a point suggested by the growth in art of that diabolic love of the Horrible which is to be found among the class of realists so much admired by Mr. Archer and his friends. To those who imagine, as I do, 173 that the world has been growing too cruel and cynical to exist in any sort of moral comfort, there is more than mere social significance in the occurrence of such hideous catastrophes as Whitechapel murders and other epidemics of murder and mutilation; for they show at least that our social philosophy of nescience has reached a cataclysm, and that the world, in its despair, may be driven back at last to some saner and diviner creed. The lurid and ever-vanishing apparition known in the newspapers as ‘Jack the Ripper’ is to our lower social life what Schopenhauer is to philosophy, what Zola and his tribe are to literature, and what Van Beers is to art: the diabolic adumbration of a disease which is slowly but surely destroying moral sentiment, and threatening to corrupt human nature altogether. ‘Jack the Ripper,’ indeed, is a factor to be reckoned with everywhere nowadays, and it behoves us, therefore, to study him carefully. To begin with, he is an instructed, not a merely ignorant, person. He is acquainted with at least the superficialities of Science. His contempt for human nature, his delight in the abominable, his calm and calculating though savage cruelty, his selection of his victims from among the socially helpless and morally corrupt, his devilish ingenuity, his supernatural pitilessness, are all indications by which we may know him as typical, whether in literature or in the slums, in Art or among the lanes of Whitechapel. Most characteristic of all 174 is his irreverence for the human form divine, and his cynical contempt for the weaker sex. As the unknown murderer of the East-End, he desecrates and mutilates his poor street-walking victims. As Zola or De Goncourt, he seizes a living woman, and vivisects her nerve by nerve, for our instruction or our amusement. To him and to his class there are no sanctities, physical or moral or social; no mysteries, human or superhuman. He believes that life is cankered through and through. And as he is, let it be clearly understood, so is the typical, the average, pessimist of the present moment. Everywhere in society we are confronted with the instructed person for whom there are no gods, no holy of holies, no purity, and, above all, no spiritual ideals. Contemporaneous with modern pessimism has arisen the cruel disdain of Woman, the disbelief in that divine Ewigweibliche, or Eternal Feminine, which of old created heroes, lovers, and believers; and this disdain and unbelief, this cruel and brutal scorn, descends with the violence of horror on the unfortunate and the feeble, on the class called ‘fallen,’ which in nobler times supplied to Humanity, to Literature, and to Art, the piteous type of the Magdalen. To understand the revolution in human sentiment which has taken place even within the generation, contrast poor Mimi once more with even Madame Bovary! With the decay of masculine faith and chivalry, with the belief that women are essentially corrupt 175 and fit subjects for mere vivisection, has come a corresponding decline in the feminine character itself; for just as pure and beautiful women made men chivalrous and noble, so did the chivalry and nobility of men keep women safe, in the prerogative of their beauty and their purity.
     For myself, who write as a pure optimist and sentimentalist, and still preserve the illusions of my foolish youth, I see in the change around me only a lurid and hideous nightmare. It cannot be real, it cannot be the living waking truth, for if so, Life is a lazar-house and a slaughter-house, and there is nothing left but Despair and Death. I know (am I not told so on every hand?) that this is rnere ‘sentiment.’ I know that to believe in the Magdalen is almost as retrograde as to believe in the Christ. I am referred, for my guidance, to a whole literature dealing with the morbid pathology of the female  character, and am left free to consult my Thackeray of the drawing-rooms or my Zola of the sewers. Neither Becky Sharp nor Blanche Amory, however, any more than Madame Bovary or the wife of the painter Claude, has any power to interest me, any skill to convert me. My own experience, though poor and uneventful, has shown me that womankind is not entirely composed of silken monsters and ferocious tigress-cats. I have with my own ears heard the cry of the Magdalen just as certainly as I have listened to the bird-like laugh of Mimi and have stood by the bedside of 176 Camille. I am aware, in a word, that what is known as the ‘sentimental’ view of evil is corroborated by my own knowledge of the world and of human nature. Pessimism is a lie; that basest of lies which is half a truth, it attracts, by its special pleadings, its triumphant reference to hideous ‘facts,’ the half-instructed among human beings. It is a creed for the semi-cultivated, for the men of some knowledge and little understanding, and from the bulk of these issue our ‘Jack the Rippers’—in Life, in Literature, in Art, and in Criticism.
     I have now arrived at the bottom rung of the ladder, where Mr. George Moore, the last young man on my list, is waiting for me, ready, nay determined, to throw off the mask and let us see the Modern Young Man as Critic exactly as he is. It is doubtless a far cry from Mr. Henry James to Mr. Moore; but though the one is a barbarous and the other a superfine young man, they have certain typical qualities in common, as we shall discover. In a recently published masterpiece,* Mr. Moore paints his own portrait for a faithless generation. His book goes straight to the mark. Its vanity, its ignorance, its courage, is colossal. Its self-exposure amounts to the sublime.
     I for one am very glad that, after all the lamentable want of candour characteristic of our Harrys with the ‘H,’ the world is treated at last to a complete revelation of the type which has

* ‘A Young Man’s Confessions,’ by George Moore.

177 discarded its ‘H’ for ever. The typical young man of this generation, the ’Arry of the casinos and the music-halls, has broken out in Criticism. A problem well worth studying is this young man of boisterous indecency, with his incidental acquaintance with the argot of Paris and the studios, and his general incapacity for consecutive thought of any kind—this young man who, like those others, has never been young, and will never, we know, be old or wise. I have read his book with no little pleasure, for it is, at any rate, thoroughly candid and representative. The high jinks of the excursion train developed into criticism in which everybody is ‘bonneted,’ even poor Shakespeare, the wild revel of the penny steamboat, the Bacchantic romps of Hampstead Heath, are expressed at last in a malodorous but honest work. The Belshazzar’s Feast of small beer and skittles, the Bohemianism of bad tobacco, the exuberant Cockney horseplay, all is here; and, to crown all, we have the portrait of the young man, not the ’Arry of the revels, but the penitent ’Arry of next day, after the trying excursion to Gravesend or Hampton Court, exclaiming to himself, ‘Oh, I do feel so bad!’ The doleful ’Arry countenance, the ’Arry coat, the ’Arry tie, are all typical of the young man who has never had a clean mind, who glories in his uninstruction, yet who is so far from happy! A noticeable experience in his life has been a holiday trip beyond the Thames, to Paris. 178 He has seen the photographs in the Rue de Rivoli, and visited the Eden Theatre. He talks complacently of his experiences and his predilections—of the great Balzac, of ‘his friend’ Zola (whom he bonnets, too, quite merrily), of girls, of artists, of pictures, of books, of a general ramble and scramble through cafés and bagnios, always ending in the same Elysium of unsavoury jokes and pipes and beer.
     This young man was never a child, never had any eyes to see what ordinary people see. His earliest remembrance is of a miracle—‘plover rising from the water’—so that even as a child he was incapable of observing correctly the simplest natural phenomena. In later life, his reading has embraced, among other works, a book called ‘The Rise and Fall of Rationalism,’ doubtless some prophetic history, which in his Wegg-like way he mingles up with a certain ‘Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.’ If he has studied any books, he is completely fogged as to what books.He knows literature as he knows Nature, out of his own confused, ill-balanced head. He hates everything—Shakespeare, Art, Poetry, Religion, Decency — everything but pipes and beer. When he goes to the theatre and sees Mr. Wilson Barrett as Claudian, he beholds ‘an elderly man in a low-necked dress, posturing for the applause of some poor trull in the gallery.’ He brands Mr. Irving scornfully as a ‘mummer,’ and describes all actors and actresses 179 as idiotic marionettes. His dream is that the tongue of the music-hall shall be loosened, and that we shall then have a New Drama, free, unfettered, primitive; meanwhile he is careful to tell us that ‘Whoa, Emma!’ ‘Charley Dilke,’ and other ballads of the music-hall, are of far deeper artistic value than any more sober productions of the modern stage. For novelists and poets he has as profound a contempt as for ‘mummers’; the only English writer he professes to admire being Mr. Walter Pater, whose jejune essays he assumes to have read with rapture. For himself, he frankly informs us that he is immoral and indecent, and asserts that those who pretend to be otherwise are simply ‘hypocritical.’
     Now, all this, horrible as it may sound, is better than ‘trimming’—better, to my mind, than the superfinities of Mr. James or the literary pretences of Mr. Archer. The young man really respects nothing under the sun, and is honest enough to say so. His more ornate brethren respect and love quite as little, but, unlike him, have not the courage of their emotions. They accept themselves dismally, as omniscient spectators of the human comedy; he accepts himself savagely, as a Cockney Bohemian of the Latin Quarter. But Mr. Moore is frank and fearless, while they are merely polite or saturnine. He goes on his trip to Paris, and thinks he is ‘seeing life.’ Truth, Reality, Naturalism is his cry, as it is theirs; but while they keep to 180 the pavement, he dances in the mud, reels along mud-bespattered, talks and yells, and thinks, C’est maqnifique, et c’est la vie! There is no nonsense about himhe does not pretend to be virtuous or literary— virtue particularly is all ‘gammon’; everything is gammon, except indecency, except horseplay, except the jolly Bank Holiday and all its concomitant delights. The superfine and the saturnine young men secretly detest the proprieties of life and literature. He utters his detestation, and boldly pictures to us the literary future: ’Arry triumphant, the tongue  loosened, the morals and manners free and easy, the old gods of letters set up for cockshies, the music-hall turned into a Temple of all the arts, and ’Arriett, alma Venus of Seven Dials, hominum divumque voluptas, at her apotheosis. Well, all this is infinitely refreshing, after so much disingenuous respectability. The age of Sham is over, and the new prophet of straightforward animalism is Mr. George Moore.We are at last returning to Nature, viâ Rosherville Gardens and the Alexandra Palace. The Young Man as Critic triumphs, after all. He is found everywhere, in varied forms: with Mr. James, writing little novels, studying the little masters; with Messrs. Bourget and De Maupassant, studiously detrimental and avowedly olfactory; with Mr. Archer, grimly intolerant of imagination; at the Universities, lecturing on Art for Art; on the newspapers, giving up Religion and Morality as a bad job; to 181 be known everywhere by his leading characteristics —a temperament which forbids enthusiasm, and a character which is heterodox, not merely by constitution, but out of predetermination to be ‘knowing.’ But this honest young man of ‘A Young Man’s Confessions’ is the spokesman of all the rest.He, at all events, is not disingenuous. He, at all events, has shown his class as it is, in all the nudity of its cynicism, in all the plenary audacity of its unbelief. We ought not, therefore, to be very angry with him, after all.
     So far as the Young Man as Critic is concerned, there is little more to be said. It is with him, under the various forms which I have described, and under others with which my readers are doubtless familiar, that the men of thought, the men of another and, I think, a nobler temperament, have to reckon. It is he who will criticise us or ignore us, praise us or abuse us; from him the rising generation will learn, at least for a little while, how to estimate us. He it is who is talking imbecilities in a thousand magazines and newspapers. He it is who is filling the free air of literature with the chatter of the salon and the argot of the studio. He is fundamentally and constitutionally cynical and destructive, as opposed to those individuals who, be they small or great, are fundamentally and constitutionally sympathetic and creative. Fortunately for Art, for Letters, 182 he is fast becoming a public bore, a crying scandal. But for this fact, which may ensure his summary extinction and self-effacement, this woeful Young Man might succeed in destroying creative literature altogether.

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