Essays - ‘The Voice of “The Hooligan.” ’
The last essay of Buchanan’s to create controversy, his attack on Rudyard Kipling was published in The Contemporary Review in December 1899. Sir Walter Besant came to Kipling’s defence in the next issue, and Buchanan’s reply to Besant was then published in the issue of February, 1900. The three essays were reprinted in The Living Age in America and on 13th March, 1900 they were published as The Voice of “The Hooligan”: A Discussion of Kiplingism by Robert Buchanan and Sir Walter Besant: The Bacon Library, No. 3 (New York: Tucker Publishing Co., 1900).
The (Second) Boer War had officially begun in October, 1899 and Buchanan’s essay was obviously inspired by his opposition to war in general, and the spirit of jingoism which was sweeping the nation. Buchanan’s final book of poetry, The New Rome, had been published the previous year, containing several anti-war and anti-Empire poems (‘Song of the Slain’, ‘The Last Bivouac’, ‘The Charter’d Companie’) as well as another attack on Kipling (‘The Ballad of Kiplingson’), but it had been rejected by both the critics and the public. Kipling, on the other hand, was completely in tune with the mood of the nation. My 1915 copy of Barrack-Room Ballads is the forty-third edition, whereas there was only one edition of The New Rome. So the charge that ‘The Voice of “The Hooligan”’ was also motivated by envy is difficult to refute. However, Sir Walter Besant’s reply prompted Buchanan to respond with, what I believe, is one of his finest essays. The most disappointing thing, of course, is that in 2013 (as the preparations for the commemoration of the centenary of the First World War begin), Kipling is still cited as the nation’s favourite poet, whereas Buchanan’s opinions on war would still fall on deaf ears.
The contemporary response in the press to ‘The Voice of the “Hooligan”’ is available in the Buchanan and the Magazines section.
An earlier attack on Kipling’s jingoism was included in the article, ‘The Muses in England’ published in an Australian newspaper (the Melbourne Argus) in October, 1892.
‘The Voice of “The Hooligan”’ and Sir Walter Besant’s response were both reprinted in Kipling: The Critical Heritage edited by Roger Lancelyn Green (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1971). Buchanan’s essay was prefaced with the following remarks:
“Robert Williams Buchanan (1841-1901) was a soured and unsuccessful minor poet, novelist and dramatist, who had already won notoriety for his virulent attack on Rossetti, ‘The Fleshly School of Poetry’, also published in the Contemporary Review (October 1871).
Although some of the present diatribe is general in application, it is included here in its entirety as the first major attack on Kipling for brutality, warmongering and illiberalism—lines soon to be followed by many other so-called critics for reasons almost entirely divorced from literature.”
1. The Voice of “The Hooligan”
2. Is It the Voice of the Hooligan by Sir Walter Besant
3. The Ethics of Criticism
From The Contemporary Review - December, 1899 - Vol. 76, pp. 774-789.
(Reprinted in The Living Age, 6 January, 1900 - Vol. 224, Issue 2896, pp. 1-13,
and The Voice of “The Hooligan”: A Discussion of Kiplingism
(New York: Tucker Publishing Co., March, 1900.))
THE VOICE OF “THE HOOLIGAN.”
AS the years advance which “bring the philosophic mind,” or at least the mind which we fondly flatter ourselves is philosophic—in other words, as men of thought and feeling approach the latter end of their pilgrimage, there is a tendency among them to underreckon the advance which the world has made in the course of their experience, and to discover in the far-off days of their youth a light which has almost ceased to shine on earthly things. Laudatores temporis acti, they look askance at all the results of Progress, and assert, more or less emphatically, that men were wiser and better when they themselves were young. They forget, of course, that distance lends enchantment to the view, and that the very splendour in which the world once appeared came rather from within than from without; and forgetting this, they do scant justice to the achievements of later generations. A little sober reflection, nevertheless, may convince them that the world does advance, though perhaps not so surely and satisfactorily as they would wish to believe; and that, even if there is some occasional retrogression, inevitable under the conditions of human development, it is only after all temporary and due to causes which are inherent in our imperfect human nature. From time to time, however, the momentum towards a higher and more spiritual Ideal seems suspended altogether, and we appear to be swept centuries back, by a great back-wave as it were, in the direction of absolute Barbarism.
Such a back-wave, it appears to me, has been at work during the last few decades, and the accompanying phenomena, in Public Life, in Religion, in Literature, have been extraordinary enough to fill even a fairly philosophical mind with something like despair. Closer contemplation and profounder meditation, however, may prove that in all 775 possibility the retrogression is less real than superficial, that the advance forward of our civilization has only been hampered, not absolutely and finally hindered, and that in due time we may become stronger and wiser through the very lessons hardly learned during the painful period of delay.
It would be quite beyond the scope of the present article to point out in detail the divers ways in which modern Society, in England particularly, has drifted little by little, and day by day, away from those humanitarian traditions which appeared to open up to men, in the time of my own boyhood, the prospect of a new Heaven and a new Earth. At that time, the influence of the great Leaders of modern Thought was still felt, both in politics and in literature; the gospel of Humanity, as expressed in the language of poets like Wordsworth and Shelley, and in the deeds of men like Wilberforce and Mazzini, had purified the very air men breathed; and down lower, in the humbler spheres of duty and human endeavor, humanists like Dickens were translating the results of religious aspiration into such simple and happy speech as even the lowliest of students could understand. It was a time of immense activity in all departments, but its chief characteristic, perhaps, was the almost universal dominance, among educated men, of the sentiment of Philanthropy, of belief in the inherent perfectibility of human nature, as well as of faith in ideals which bore at least the semblance of a celestial origin. Not quite in vain, it seemed, had Owen and Fourier laboured, and Hood sung, and John Leech wielded the pencil, and Dickens and Thackeray* used the pen. The name of Arnold was still a living force in our English schools, and the name of Mazzini was being whispered in every English home. The first noticeable change came, perhaps, with the criminal crusade of the Crimean War; and from that hour to this, owing in no little degree to the rough-and-ready generalisations of popular Science, and the consequent discrediting of all religious sanctions, the Enthusiasm of Humanity among the masses has gradually but surely died away. Sentiment has at last become thoroughly out of fashion, and Humanitarianism is left to the care of eccentric and unauthoritative teachers. Thus, while a few despairing thinkers and dreamers have been trying vainly to substitute a new Ethos for the old religious sanctions, the world at large, repudiating the Enthusiasm of Humanity altogether and exchanging it for the worship of physical force and commercial success in any and every form, has turned rapturously towards activities which need no sanction whatever, or which, at any rate, can be easily sanctified by the wanton will of the majority. Men no longer, in the great civic centres at least, ask themselves whether a particular course of conduct is right
* Curiously enough, the optimistic taste of the day regarded Thackeray, an essential sentimentalist, as an almost brutal cynic!
776 or wrong, but whether it is expedient, profitable, and certain of clamorous approval. Thanks to the Newspaper Press —that “mighty engine,” as Mr. Morley calls it, for “keeping the public intelligence on a low level”—they are fed from day to day with hasty news and gossip, and with bogus views of affairs, concocted in the interests of the wealthy classes. Ephemeral and empirical books of all sorts take the place of serious literature; so that while a great work like Mr. Spencer’s “Justice” falls still-born from the press, a sophistical defence of the status quo like Mr. Balfour’s “Foundations of Belief” is read by thousands. The Aristocracy, impoverished by its own idleness and luxury, rushes wildly to join the Middle-class in speculations which necessitate new conquests of territory and constant acts of aggression. The Mob, promised a merry time by the governing classes, just as the old Roman mob was deluded by bread and pageants—panem et circenses—dances merrily to patriotic War-tunes, while that modern monstrosity and anachronism, the Conservative Working Man, exchanges his birthright of freedom and free thought for a pat on the head from any little rump-fed lord that steps his way and spouts the platitudes of Cockney patriotism. The Established Church, deprived of the conscience which accompanied honest belief, supports nearly every infamy of the moment in the name of the Christianity which it has long ago shifted quietly overboard.* There is an universal scramble for plunder, for excitement, for amusement, for speculation, and above it all the flag of a Hooligan Imperialism is raised, with the proclamation that it is the sole mission of Anglo-Saxon England, forgetful of the task of keeping its own drains in order, to expand and extend its boundaries indefinitely, and, again in the name of the Christianity it has practically abandoned, to conquer and inherit the Earth.
It may be replied that this is an exaggerated picture, and I will admit at once that there is justice in the reply, if it is granted at the same time that the picture is true so far as London itself and an enormous majority of Englishmen are concerned. Only if this is granted, can
* It is sad to read in this connection the poem contributed to the Times, at the outbreak of the South African struggle, by no less a person than the Ven. Dr. Alexander, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of all Ireland:
“They say that ‘War is Hell,’ the ‘great accursed,’
The sin impossible to be forgiven—
Yet I can look upon it at its worst,
And still find blue in heaven!
And as I note how nobly natures form
Under the war’s red rain, I deem it true,
That He who made the earthquake and the storm,
Perchance made battles too!”
God help the Church, indeed, if this is the sort of oracle she delivers to those who rested their faith in God on the message of the Beatitudes.
777 the present relapse back to Barbarism of our Public Life, our Society, our Literature be explained. Now that Mr. Gladstone has departed, we possess no Politician, with the single exception of Mr. Morley (whose sanity and honesty are unquestionable, though he lacks, unfortunately, the dæmonic influence), who demands for the discussion of public affairs any conscientious and unselfish sanction whatever; we possess instead a thousand pertinacious counsellors, cynics like Lord Salisbury or trimmers like Lord Rosebery, for whom no one in his heart of hearts feels the slightest respect. Our fashionable Society is admittedly so rotten, root and branch, that not even the Queen’s commanding influence can impart to it the faintest suggestion of purity or even decency. As for our popular Literature, it has been in many of its manifestations long past praying for; it has run to seed in fiction of the baser sort, seldom or never with all its cleverness, touching the quick of human conscience; but its most extraordinary feature at this moment is the exaltation to a position of almost unexampled popularity of a writer who in his single person adumbrates, I think, all that is most deplorable, all that is most retrograde and savage, in the restless and uninstructed Hooliganism of the time.
The English public’s first knowledge of Mr. Rudyard Kipling was gathered from certain brief anecdotal stories and occasional verses which began to be quoted about a decade ago in England, and which were speedily followed by cheap reprints of the originals, sold on every bookstall. They possessed one not inconsiderable attraction, in so far as they dealt with a naturally romantic country, looming very far off to English readers, and doubly interesting as one of our own great national possessions. We had had many works about India—works of description and works of fiction; and a passionate interest in them, and in all that pertained to things Anglo-Indian, had been awakened by the Mutiny; but few writers had dealt with the ignobler details of military and civilian life, with the gossip of the mess-room, and the scandal of the governmental departments. Mr. Kipling’s little kodak-glimpses, therefore, seemed unusually fresh and new; nor would it be just to deny them the merits of great liveliness, intimate personal knowledge, and a certain unmistakable, though obviously Cockney, humour. Although they dealt almost entirely with the baser aspects of our civilisation, being chiefly devoted to the affairs of idle military men, savage soldiers, frisky wives and widows, and flippant civilians, they were indubitably bright and clever, and in the background of them we perceived, faintly but distinctly, the Shadow of the great and wonderful national life of India. At any rate, whatever their merits were, and I hold their merits to be indisputable, they became rapidly popular, especially with the Newspaper Press, which hailed the writer as a new and quite amazing force in literature. 778 So far as the lazy public was concerned, they had the one delightful merit of extreme brevity; he that ran might read them, just as he read Tit-bits and the Society newspapers, and then treat them like the rose in Browning’s poem—
“Smell, kiss, wear it,—at last throw away!”
Two factors contributed to their vogue: first, the utter apathy of general readers, too idle and uninstructed to study works of any length or demanding any contribution of serious thought on the reader’s part, and eager for any amusement which did not remind them of the eternal problems which once beset Humanity; and second, the rapid growth in every direction of the military or militant spirit, of the Primrose League, of aggression abroad, and indifference at home to all religious ideals—in a word, of Greater Englandism, or Imperialism. For a considerable time Mr. Kipling poured out a rapid succession of these little tales and smoking-room anecdotes, to the great satisfaction of those who loved to listen to banalities about the English Flag, seasoned with strong suggestions of social impropriety, as revealed in camps and barracks and the boudoirs of officers’ mistresses and wives. The things seemed harmless enough, if not very elevating or ennobling. Encouraged by his success, the author attempted longer flights, with very indifferent results; though in the “Jungle Books,” for example, he got near to a really imaginative presentment of fine material, and if he had continued his work in that direction criticism might have had little or nothing to say against him. But, in an unfortunate moment, encouraged by the journalistic praise lavished on certain fragments of verse with which he had ornamented his prose effusions, he elected to challenge criticism as a Poet—as, indeed, the approved and authoritative Poet of the British Empire;—and the first result of this election, or, as I prefer to call it, this delusion and hallucination, was the publication of the volume of poems, partly new and partly reprinted, called “Barrack-room Ballads.”
I have said that Mr. Kipling’s estimate of himself as a Poet was a delusion; it was no delusion, however, so far as his faith in the public was concerned. The book was received with instantaneous and clamorous approval; and, once again, let me pause to admit that it contained, here and there, glimpses of a real verse-making faculty—a faculty which, had the writer been spiritually and intellectually equipped, might have led to the production of work entitled to be called “poetry.” On the first page, however, the note of insincerity was struck in a dedication addressed to Mr. Wolcott Balestier, but recognised at once as having done duty for quite a different purpose—resembling in this respect, the famous acrostic of Mr. Slum, which, although written to fit the name of “Warren,” became at a 779 pinch “a positive inspiration for Jarley.” This dedication, with its false feeling and utterly unsuitable imagery, suggests the remark en passant that Mr. Kipling’s Muse alternates between two extremes—the lowest Cockney vulgarity and the very height of what Americans call “high- falutin’”—so that when it is not setting the teeth on edge with the vocabulary of the London Hooligan, it is raving in capital letters about the Seraphim and the Pit and the Maidens Nine and the Planets.
The “Ballads” thus introduced are twenty-one in number, of which the majority are descriptive of whatever is basest and most brutal in the character of the British mercenary. One deals, naturally enough, with the want of sympathy shown in public-houses to Tommie Atkins in time of Peace, as contrasted with the enthusiasm for him in time of War; another, entitled “Cells,” begins as follows:
“I’ve a head like a concertina; I’ve a tongue like a button-stick:
I’ve a mouth like an old potato, and I’m more than a little sick.
But I’ve had my fun with the Corp’ral’s Guard; I’ve made the cinders fly,
And I’m here in the Clink for a thundering drink and blacking the Corp’ral’s eye”;
it is, in fact, the glorification of the familiar episode of “drunk and resisting the guard.” In an equally sublime spirit is conceived the ballad called “Loot,” beginning:
“If you’ve ever stole a pheasant-egg be’ind the keeper’s back,
If you’ve ever snigged the washin’ from a line,
If you’ve ever crammed a gander in your bloomin’ ’aversack,
You will understand this little song of mine”;
and the verses are indeed, with their brutal violence and their hideous refrain, only too sadly understandable. Worse still, in its horrible savagery, is the piece called “Belts,” which is the apotheosis of the soldier who uses his belt in drunken fury to assault civilians in the streets, and which has this agreeable refrain:
“But it was: ‘Belts, belts, belts, an’ that’s one for you!’
An’ it was ‘Belts, belts, belts, an’ that’s done for you!’
O buckle an’ tongue
Was the song that we sung
From Harrison’s down to the Park!”
If it is suggested that the poems I have quoted are only incidental bits of local colour, interspersed among verses of a very different character, the reply is that those pieces, although they are certainly the least defensible, are quite in keeping with the other ballads, scarcely one of which reaches to the intellectual level of the lowest music-hall effusions. The best of them is a ballad called “Mandalay,” and describing the feelings of a soldier who regrets the heroine of a 780 little amour out in India, and it certainly possesses a real melody and a certain pathos. But in all the ballads, with scarcely an exception, the tone is one of absolute vulgarity and triviality, unredeemed by a touch of human tenderness and pity. Even the little piece called “Soldier, Soldier,” which begins quite naturally and tenderly, ends with the cynical suggestion that the lady who mourns her old love had better take up at once with the party who brings the news of his death:—
“True love! new love!
Best take ’im for a new love!
The dead they cannot rise, an’ you’d better dry your eyes,
An’ you’d best take ’im for your true love.”
With such touching sweetness and tender verisimilitude are these ballads of the barrack filled from end to end. Seriously, the picture they present is one of unmitigated Barbarism. The Tommie Atkins they introduce is a drunken, swearing, coarse-minded Hooligan, for whom, nevertheless, our sympathy is eagerly entreated. Yet these pieces were accepted on their publication, not as a cruel libel on the British soldier, but as a perfect and splendid representation of the red-coated patriot on whom our national security chiefly depended, and who was spreading abroad in every country the glory of our Imperial Flag!
That we might be in no doubt about the sort of thinker who was claiming our suffrages, Mr. Kipling printed at the end of his book certain other lyrics not specially devoted to the military. The best of these, the “Ballad of the Bolivar,” is put into the mouth of seven drunken sailors “rolling down the Ratcliffe Road drunk and raising Cain,” and loudly proclaiming, with the true brag and bluster so characteristic of modern British heroism, how “they took the (water-logged) Bolivar across the Bay.” It seems, by the way, a favourite condition with Mr. Kipling, when he celebrates acts of manly daring, that his subjects should be mad drunk, and, at any rate, as drunken in their language as possible. But this ballad may pass, that we may turn to the poem “Cleared,” in which Mr. Kipling spits all the venom of Cockney ignorance on the Irish party, à propos of a certain Commission of which we have all heard, and while saying nothing on the subject of forged letters and cowardly accusations, affirms that Irish patriots are naturally and distinctively murderers, because in the name of patriotism murders have now and then been done. He who loves blood and gore so much, who cannot even follow the soldier home into our streets without celebrating his drunken assaults and savageries, has only hate and loathing for the unhappy Nation which has suffered untold wrong, and which, when all is said and done, has struck back so seldom. In the poem which follows, “An Imperial Rescript,” he protests with all his might against any bond of 781 brotherhood among the Sons of Toil, pledging the Strong to work for and help the Weak. Here, as elsewhere, he is on the side of all that is ignorant, selfish, base, and brutal in the instincts of Humanity.
Before proceeding further to estimate Mr. Kipling’s contributions to literature, let me glance for a moment at his second book of verse, “The Seven Seas,” published a year or two ago. It may be granted at once that it was a distinct advance on its predecessor, more restrained, less vulgar, and much more varied; here and there, indeed, as in the opening “Song of the English,” it struck a note of distinct and absolute poetry. But in spite of its unquestionable picturesqueness, and of a certain swing and lilt in the go-as-you-please rhythms, it was still characterised by the same indefinable quality of brutality and latent baseness. Many of the poems, such as the “Song of the Banjo,” were on the level of the cleverness to be found in the contributions of the “poet” of the Sporting Times, known to the occult as the Pink ’Un. The large majority, indeed, were Cockney in spirit, in language, and in inspiration, and one or two, such as “The Ladies” and “The Sergeant’s Weddin’,” with its significant refrain:
“Cheer for the Sergeant’s weddin’—
Give ’em one cheer more!
Gray gun-’orses in the lando,
And a rogue is married to,” &c.
were frankly and brutally indecent. The Army appeared again, in the same ignoble light as before, with the same disregard of all literary luxuries, even of grammar and the aspirate. God, too, loomed largely in these productions, a Cockney “Gawd” again, chiefly requisitioned for purposes of blasphemy and furious emphasis. There was no glimpse anywhere of sober and self-respecting human beings—only a wild carnival of drunken, bragging, boasting Hooligans in red coats and seamen’s jackets, shrieking to the sound of the banjo and applauding the English Flag.
Faint almost to inaudibility have been the protests awakened by these Cockney caricatures in the ranks of the Army itself. Here and there a mild voice has been heard, but no military man has declared authoritatively that effusions like those which I have quoted are a libel on the Service, if not on human nature. Are we to assume, then, that there are no refined gentlemen among our officers, and no honest, self-respecting human beings among their men? Is the life of a soldier, abroad as at home, a succession of savage escapades, bestial amusements, fuddlings, tipplings, and intrigues with other men’s wives, redeemed from time to time by acts of brute courage and of sang froid in the presence of danger? Is the spirit of Gordon quite forgotten, in the service over which he shed the glory of his 782 illustrious name? If this is really the case, there is surely very little in the Anglo-Saxon military prestige which offers us any security for the stormy times to come. That Englishmen are brave, and capable of brave deeds is a truism of which we need no longer to be assured; but bravery and brave deeds are not national possessions—they are the prerogative of the militant classes all over the earth. Englishmen in times past were not merely brave, they could be noble and magnanimous; their courage was not only that of the bulldog, but of the patriot, the hero, and even the philanthropist: they had not yet begun to mingle the idea of a national Imperialism with the political game of Brag. I am not contending for one moment that the spirit which inspired them then has altogether departed; I am sure, on the contrary, that it is living yet, and living most strongly and influentially in the heart of the Army itself; but if this is admitted and believed, it is certain that the Tommie Atkins of Mr. Rudyard Kipling deserves drumming out of all decent barracks as a monstrosity and a rogue.
The truth is, however, that these lamentable productions were concocted, not for sane men or self-respecting soldiers, not even for those who are merely ignorant and uninstructed, but for the “mean whites” of our eastern civilisation, the idle and loafing Men in the Street, and for such women, the well-drest Doll Tearsheets of our cities, as shriek at their heels. Mr. Kipling’s very vocabulary is a purely Cockney vocabulary, even his Irishmen speaking a dialect which would cause amazement in the Emerald Isle but is familiar enough in Seven Dials. Turning over the leaves of his poems, one is transported at once to the region of low drinking-dens and gin-palaces, of dirty dissipation and drunken brawls; and the voice we hear is always the voice of the soldier whose God is a Cockney “Gawd,” and who is ignorant of the aspirate in either Heaven or Hell. Are there no Scotchmen in the ranks, no Highlanders, no men from Dublin or Tipperary, no Lancashire or Yorkshire men, no Welshmen, and no men of any kind who speak the Queen’s English? It would seem not, if the poet of “The Sergeant’s Weddin’” is to be trusted. Nor have our mercenaries, from the ranks upwards, any one thing, except brute courage, to distinguish them from the beasts of the field. This, at least, appears to be Mr. Kipling’s contention, and even in the Service itself it seems to be undisputed.
How, then, are we to account for the extraordinary popularity of works so contemptible in spirit and so barbarous in execution? In the first place, even fairly educated readers were sick to death of the insincerities and affectations of the professional “Poets,” with one or two familiar exceptions, and failing the advent of a popular singer like Burns, capable of setting to brisk music the simple joys and sorrows of Humanity, they turned eagerly to any writer who wrote verse, doggerel even, which seemed thoroughly alive. They were amused, 783 therefore, by the free-and-easy rattles, the jog- trot tunes, which had hitherto been heard only in the Music-halls and read only in the sporting newspapers. In the second place, the spirit abroad to-day is the spirit of ephemeral Journalism, and whatever accords with that spirit—its vulgarity, its flippancy, and its radical unintelligence—is certain to attain tremendous vogue. Anything that demands a moment’s thought, or a moment’s severe attention, anything that is not thoroughly noisy, blatant, cocksure, and self-assertive, is caviare to that Man in the Street on whom cheap Journalism depends, and who, it should be said en passant, is often a member of smart Society. In the third place, Mr. Kipling had the good, or bad, fortune to come at the very moment when the wave of false Imperialism was cresting most strongly upward, and when even the great organs of opinion, organs which, like the Times, subsist entirely on the good or bad passions of the hour, were in sore need of a writer who could express in fairly readable numbers the secret yearnings and sympathies of the baser military and commercial spirit. Mr. Kipling, in a word, although not a Poet at all in the true sense of the word, is as near an approach to a Poet as can be tolerated by the ephemeral and hasty judgment of the day. His very incapacity of serious thought or deep feeling is in his favour. He represents, with more or less accuracy, what the Mob is thinking, and for this very reason he is likely to be forgotten as swiftly and summarily as he has been applauded, nay, to be judged and condemned as mean and insignificant on grounds quite as hasty as those on which he has been hailed as important and high-minded. Savage animalism and ignorant vainglory being in the ascendant, he is hailed at every street-corner and crowned by every newspaper. To-morrow, when the wind changes, and the silly crowd is in another and possibly saner temper, he is certain to fare very differently. The misfortune is that his effusions have no real poetical quality to preserve them when their momentary purpose has been served. Of more than one poet of this generation it has been said that “he uttered nothing base.” Of Mr. Kipling it may be said, so far at least as his verses are concerned, that he has scarcely on any single occasion uttered anything that does not suggest moral baseness, or hover dangerously near it.
However, that we might not entertain one lingering doubt as to the nature of the spirit which inspires his easy-going Muse, Mr. Kipling himself, with a candour for which we cannot be sufficiently thankful, has recently laid bare, in a prose work, the inmost springs of his inspiration; in other words, he has described to us, with fearless and shameless accuracy, in a record of English boyhood, his ideal of the human character in adolescence. Now, there is nothing which so clearly and absolutely represents the nature of a grown man’s intelligence as the manner in which he contemplates, looking backward, 784 the feelings and aspirations of youthful days. “Heaven lies about us in our infancy,” says the author of the immortal Ode, and Heaven is still with us very often as we more closely approach to manhood. In Goethe’s reminiscences of his childhood, we discover, faintly developing, all that was wisest and most beautiful in a soul which was distinguished, despite many imperfections, by an inherent love of gentleness and wisdom; the eager intelligence, the vision, the curiosity, are all there, in every thought and act of an extraordinary child. When Dickens, in “David Copperfield,” described under a thin veil of fiction the joys and sorrows of his own boyhood and youth, there welled up out of his great heart a love, a tenderness, a humour which filled the eyes of all Humanity with happy tears. When Thackeray touched the same chords, as he did more than once, he was no longer the glorified Jeames of latter-day fiction—he was as kindly, as tender, and as loving as even his great contemporary. Even George Eliot, with imaginative gifts so far inferior, reached the height of her artistic achievement when she went back to the emotions of her early days—when, for example, she described the personal relations of Tom and Maggie Tulliver, or when, in the one real poem she ever wrote, she told in sonnet-sequence of the little “Brother and Sister.” It would be cruel, even brutal, to talk of Mr. Rudyard Kipling in the same breath as fine artists like these; but all writers, great or little, must finally be judged by the same test—that of the truth and beauty, the sanity or the folly, of their representations of our manifold human nature. Mere truth is not sufficient for Art; the truth must be there, but it must be spiritualised and have become beautiful. In “Stalky & Co.”* Mr. Kipling obviously aims at verisimilitude; the picture he draws is at any rate repulsive and disgusting enough to be true; yet I trust for England’s sake that it is not—that it is, like nearly all his writings with which I am familiar, merely a savage caricature.
Only the spoilt child of an utterly brutalised public could possibly have written “Stalky & Co.,” or, having written it, have dared to publish it. These are strong words, but they can be justified. The story ran originally through the pages of a cheap monthly magazine, and contained, I fancy, in its first form, certain passages which the writer himself was compelled in pure shame to suppress. Its purpose, almost openly avowed, is to furnish English readers with an antidote to what Mr. Kipling styles Ericism, by which label is meant the kind of “sentiment” which was once made familiar to schoolboys by Farrar’s “Eric, or, Little by Little”; or, to put the matter in other words, the truly ideal schoolboy is not a little sentimentalist, he is simply a little beast. The heroes of this deplorable book are three youths, dwelling in a training school near Westward
* Stalky & Co. By Rudyard Kipling. (Macmillan.)
785 Ho; one of them, the Beetle, reads poetry and wears spectacles, the two others, Stalky and M‘Turk, are his bosom companions. This trio are leagued together for purposes of offence and defence against their comrades; they join in no honest play or manly sports, they lounge about, they drink, they smoke, they curse and swear, not like boys at all, but like hideous little men. Owing to their determination to obey their own instincts, and their diabolic ingenuity in revenging themselves on any one who meddles with them, they become a terror to the school. It is quietly suggested, however, that the head-master sympathises with them, especially in their power to inflict pain wantonly and to bear it stoically, which appears to him the noblest attribute of a human being. It is simply impossible to show by mere quotations the horrible vileness of the book describing the lives of these three small fiends in human likeness; only a perusal of the whole work would convey to the reader its truly repulsive character, and to read the pages through, I fear, would sorely test the stomach of any sensitive reader. The nature of one of the longest and most important episodes may be gathered from the statement that the episode turns on the way in which the three young Hooligans revenge themselves, on a number of their schoolmates who have offended them, by means of a dead and putrefying cat. And here is a sample of the dialogue:
“In his absence not less than half the school invaded the infected dormitory to draw their own conclusions. The cat had gained in the last twelve hours, but a battlefield of the fifth day could not have been so flamboyant as the spies reported.
‘My word, she is doin’ herself proud,’ said Stalky. ‘Did you ever smell anything like it? Ah, and she isn’t under White’s dormitory at all yet.’
‘But she will be. Give her time,’ said Beetle. ‘She’ll twine like a giddy honeysuckle. What howlin’ Lazerites they are! No house is justified in makin’ itself a stench in the nostrils of decent——’
‘High-minded, pure-souled boys. Do you burn with remorse and regret?’ said M‘Turk as they hastened to meet the house coming up from the sea.”
Another equally charming episode is the one describing how a certain plebeian called “Rabbits-Eggs,” through the machinations of the trio, wrecked the room of one of the masters, King:
“‘Moi! Je! Ich! Ego!’ gasped Stalky, ‘I waited till I couldn’t hear myself think, while you played the drum! Hid in the coal-locker—and tweaked Rabbits-Eggs—and Rabbits-Eggs rocked King. Wasn’t it beautiful? Did you hear the glass?’
‘Why, he—he—he,’ shrieked M‘Turk, one trembling finger pointed at Beetle.
‘Why, I—I—I was through it all,’ Beetle howled; ‘in his study, being jawed.’
786 ‘Oh, my soul!’ said Stalky with a yell, disappearing under water.
‘The, the glass was nothing. Manders minor’s head ’s cut open. La—la—lamp upset all over the rug. Blood on the books and papers. The gum! The gum! The gum! The ink! The ink! Oh, Lord!’
Then Stalky leaped out, all pink as he was, and shook Beetle into some sort of coherence; but his tale prostrated them afresh.
‘I bunked for the boot-cupboard the second I heard King go down stairs. Beetle tumbled in on top of me. The spare key’s hid behind the loose board. There isn’t a shadow of evidence,’ said Stalky. They were all chanting together.
‘And he turned us out himself—himself—himself !’ This from M‘Turk. ‘He can’t begin to suspect us. Oh, Stalky, it’s the loveliest thing we’ve ever done!’
‘Gum! Gum! Dollops of gum!’ shouted Beetle, his spectacles gleaming through a sea of lather. ‘Ink and blood all mixed. I held the little beast’s head all over the Latin proses for Monday. Golly, how the oil stunk! And Rabbits-Eggs told King to poultice his nose! Did you hit Rabbits-Eggs, Stalky?’
‘Did I jolly well not? Tweaked him all over. Did you hear him curse? Oh, I shall be sick in a minute if I don’t stop!’”
As I have already said, however, the book cannot be represented by extracts. The vulgarity, the brutality, the savagery, reeks on every page. It may be noted as a minor peculiarity that everything, according to our young Hooligans, is “beastly,” or “giddy,” or “blooming”; adjectives of this sort cropping up everywhere in their conversation, as in that of the savages of the London slums. And the moral of the book, for, of course, like all such banalities, it professes to have a moral, is that out of materials like these is fashioned the Humanity which is to ennoble and preserve our Anglo-Saxon Empire! “India’s full of Stalkies,” says the Beetle, “Cheltenham and Haileybury and Marlborough chaps—that we don’t know anything about, and the surprises will begin when there is really a big row on!”
Perhaps, after all, I am unjust to Mr. Kipling in forgetting for the moment to credit him with a Poet’s prophetic vision? For if “Stalky & Co.” was written before and not after recent political developments, it certainly furnishes a foretaste of what has actually happened! The “surprises have begun,” although the “rows” have not been very “big” ones, and the souls of Stalky and his companions have been looming large in our Empire. Studying certain latter-day records, indeed, listening to the voice of the Hooligan in Politics, in Literature, and Journalism, is really very like reading “Stalky & Co.” Some of our battles, even, faithfully reproduce the “blooming” and “giddy” orgies of the schoolroom, and in not a few of our public affairs there is a “stench” like that of “the dead cat.” Yes, there must be Stalkies and M‘Turks and Beetles working busily, after all, and representing the new spirit which appears to have begun in the time of Mr. Kipling’s boyhood. But whether they really represent the 787 true spirit of our civilisation, and make for its salvation, is a question which I will leave my readers to decide.
So much, however, for the voice of the Hooligan, as reverberating in current literature. It is needless to say that it would hardly have been necessary to seriously discuss such literature, if the object was merely to protest on intellectual grounds against its popularity; one might as well examine seriously the current contributions to Answers and the Sporting Times, or hold up to artistic execration the topical songs of a Drury Lane pantomime. But even a straw may indicate the direction in which the wind is blowing, and the vogue of Mr. Kipling, the cheerful acceptance of his banalities by even educated people, is so sure a sign of the times that it deserves and needs a passing consideration. Behind that vogue lies, first and foremost, the influence of the Newspaper Press, and I cannot do better than quote in this connection some pregnant words contained in a recent work by a writer of undoubted insight, Mr. George Gissing: “A wise autocrat might well prohibit newspapers altogether, don’t you think?” says one of Mr. Gissing’s characters. “They have done good, I suppose, but they are just as likely to do harm. When the next great War comes, newspapers will be the chief cause of it. And for mere profit, that’s the worst! There are newspaper proprietors in every country who would slaughter half mankind for the pennies of the half who were left, without caring the fraction of a penny whether they had preached War for a truth or a lie.” “But doesn’t a newspaper,” demands another character, “simply echo the opinions and feelings of the public?” “I’m afraid,” is the reply, ”it manufactures opinions and stirs up feeling. . . . The business of newspapers in general is to give a show of importance to what has no real importance at all, to prevent the world from living quietly, to arouse bitterness, when the natural man would be quite indifferent. . . . I suppose I quarrel with them because they have such gigantic power and don’t make anything like the best use of it.”* If this statement is accepted as true, and few readers who have studied the recent developments of Journalism will be inclined to doubt it, it will be understood at once how the popularity of Mr. Kipling has been accelerated by “that mighty engine,” the Newspaper Press.
It is no purpose of mine, in the present paper, to touch on political questions, except so far as they illustrate the movements of that back-wave towards Barbarism on which, as I have suggested, we are now struggling. I write neither as a Banjo-Imperialist nor as a Little Englander, but simply as a citizen of a great Nation, who loves his country and would gladly see it honoured and respected wherever the English tongue is spoken. It will scarcely be denied, indeed it is frankly admitted by all parties, that the Hooligan spirit of Patriotism,
* The Crown of Life. By George Gissing. (Methuen & Co.)
788 the fierce and quasi-savage militant spirit as expressed in many London newspapers and in such literature as the writings of Mr. Kipling, has measurably lowered the affection and respect once felt for us among European nations. Nor will any honest thinker combat the assertion that we have exhibited lately, in our dealings with other nationalities, a greed of gain, a vain-glory, a cruelty, and a boastful indifference to the rights of others, of which in days when the old philanthropic spirit was abroad we should simply have been incapable. But it is not here, in the region of Politics and Militarism, that I wish to linger. My chief object in writing this paper has been to express my sorrow that Hooliganism, not satisfied with invading our Newspapers, should already threaten to corrupt the pure springs of our Literature. These noisy strains and coarse importations from the Music-hall should not be heard where the fountains of intellectual Light and Beauty once played, where Chaucer and Shakespere once drank inspiration, and where Wordsworth, Hood, and Shelley found messages for the yearning hearts of men. Anywhere but there; anywhere but in the speech of those who loved and blest their fellows. And let it be remembered that those fountains are not yet dry. Poets and dreamers are living yet, to resent the pollution. Only a little while ago the one living novelist who inherits the great human tradition tore out his very heart, figuratively speaking, in revolt against the spirit of savagery and cruelty which is abroad; though when Thomas Hardy wrote “Jude, the Obscure,” touching therein the very quick of divine Pity, only a coarse laugh from the professional critics greeted his protest. Elsewhere, too, there are voices, not to be silenced by the clamour of the crowd; as near as our own shores, where Herbert Spencer is still dwelling; as far away as South Africa, where Olive Schreiner has sought and found human love in the dominion of dreams; and there are others, shrinking away in shame from the brazen idols of the Mart, and praying that this great Empire may yet be warned and saved. To one and all of these has been brought home the lesson—”Woe to you when the world speaks well of you!” and they have elected to let the world speak ill of them, rather than bow down in homage to its Calves of Gold. For to speak the truth as we see it, to confront the evil and folly of the hour, is as dangerous to-day as when Socrates drank his hemlock-cup.
I have left myself no space, I find, to draw a final contrast between the coarse and soulless Patriotism of the hour and that nobler Imperialism in which all true Englishmen, to whatever political camp they may belong for the time being, must still believe. In the federation of Great Britain and her colonies, and in the slow and sure spread of what is best and purest in our Civilisation, there was indeed hope and inspiration for our race, and a message of Freedom for all the world. But true Imperialism has nothing in common with the mere 789 lust of conquest, with the vulgar idea of mere expansion, or with the increase of the spirit of mercenary militarism; its object is to diffuse light, not to darken the sunshine; to feed the toiling millions, not to immolate them; to free Man, not to enslave him; to consecrate and not to desecrate the great temple of Humanity. Some of its ways, like the ways of Nature herself, must inevitably be destructive; the weaker and baser races must sooner or later dissolve away; but the process of dissolution should be made as gentle and merciful as possible, not savage, pitiless, and cruel. True Imperialism should be strong, but the strength should be that of Justice, of Wisdom, of brotherly love and sympathy; for the power which is bred of a mere multitude equipped with the engines of slaughter will in the long run avail nothing against the eternal law which determines that the righteous only shall inherit the Earth. We are a People still, though we seem for the time being to be forgetting the conditions on which we received our charter, and deep in the heart of England survives the sentiment of a world-wide nationality, as expressed in the passionate lines of a modern poet:
“Hands across the Sea!
Feet on British ground!
The Motherhood means Brotherhood the whole world round!
From the parent root,
Sap, and stem, and fruit
Grow the same, or soil or name,—
Hands across the Sea!”
There sounds the true Imperial feeling, which will survive, I think, long after the repulsive school of Patriotism which I have called (for want of a better name) the Hooligan school, is silent and forgotten. Let me at least hope that it may be so—that Englishmen, after their present wild orgy of militant savagery, may become clothed and in their right minds. There is time to pause yet, although they are already paying the penalty, in blood, in tears, in shame. Let them take warning by the fate of France, let them try to remember the old sanctions and the old enthusiasms; for if they continue to forget them, they are in danger of being swept back into the vortex of Barbarism altogether.
From The Contemporary Review - January, 1900 - Vol. 77, pp. 27-39.
(Reprinted in The Living Age, 17 February, 1900 - Vol. 224, Issue 2902, pp. 401-410,
and The Voice of “The Hooligan”: A Discussion of Kiplingism
(New York: Tucker Publishing Co., March, 1900.))
IS IT THE VOICE OF THE HOOLIGAN?
THE most melancholy chapter in the History of Literature is that which relates to the attacks made upon authors by their contemporaries. Among all the Professions, that of Letters is the only one in which its members are permitted to attack, to deride, to abuse, to misrepresent each other. In every other intellectual calling, the dignity of the Fraternity first, and the self-respect of the individual member next, prohibit this unworthy and unseemly practice. In the words of Churchill:
Look through the world—in every other trade,
The same employment’s cause of kindness made.
. . . . . . . .
Cobblers with cobblers smoke away the night:
And in the common cause e’en players unite.
Authors alone, with more than common rage,
Unnatural war with broken authors wage.
Suppose, if you can, the same license granted to, and adopted by, lawyers. Imagine, if you can, the late Lord Coleridge contributing articles to the magazines in abuse of the late Sir George Jessel, attacking his law, deriding his judgments, depreciating his knowledge. We cannot conceive of such a thing: we know that it would be impossible. Self- respect and respect for the Profession, setting aside other important considerations, such as the pretension of superior standing, would make such a thing impossible. Can we, again, imagine Bishop Wilberforce attacking Archbishop Sumner on account of alleged heresy, atheism and immorality? Can we imagine Sir Frederick Leighton asking for a dozen pages in which to call Millais a humbug in art, an impostor, a bungler, a corrupter of the popular taste? Even if all or any of these charges were well 28 founded, would Leighton’s be the hand to write them down? We know that it would not. Self-respect, the dignity of the calling—nay, the ordinary laws of common courtesy—would impose restraint and reticence. It is only in Literature that the world feels no astonishment when one more chapter is added to the long list of venomous attacks by one author upon another.
In the history of the Life of Letters for the last two hundred years two points are remarkable—the respect and affection lavished upon the individual, and the contempt freely bestowed upon the profession. There have been many reasons for this contempt—the poverty of literary men; their dependence: their lack of dignity: but there has been no cause more injurious to the reputation of the Life of Letters than the derision, the satire, the unrestrained savagery of the attacks made by the followers of that life one upon another.
Of late years a better spirit seemed to have sprung up. The old disease— formerly believed to be an incurable disease—peculiar to authorship seemed yielding to treatment: the prescription and administration, namely, of those laws of courtesy and good breeding which obtain in other professions. It is happily rare to find a return to the old methods. There are not many living men or women of letters who at this day take up the old parable and declare themselves moved by indignation to denounce their contemporaries.
It is, of course, in every profession, galling for one who has failed to attract the attention of the world, save to a limited degree, to observe another, whose works he perhaps honestly believes to be no better than his own, borne upwards on a wave of popular admiration. In every profession each man stands by himself; he depends upon his own gifts and abilities: no one can help him: he is alone: he cannot buy, nor sell, nor transmit success. All that he achieves is done by himself. This fact goes far to account for the extraordinary bitterness of professional envy. It means the wounding of personal vanity. “Even players,” says Churchill, mindful of the proverbial envy and jealousy in that profession. But these passions, he suggests, are worse—far worse—in the author than in the actor. The expression of these passions may bring the same kind of relief as tears in sorrow, or strong language in wrath.
A truer form of consolation should be the reflection that popularity is not always a proof of genius: that the commercial value of literature cannot be taken as a measure of its literary worth: that the two things are, in fact, incommensurable: much good work remains unpopular: much popular work is not good work. This reflection, which no one can dispute, should console the most neglected or even the half-neglected. It is open to every writer to abuse the public for not recognizing genius, and to assure himself that his own works will be recognized by that discriminating posterity on whom we lay such heavy burdens.
29 Unfortunately there exists a wide-spread confusion of ideas as to the two values: at first sight it seems absurd that this confusion should be possible: yet it is not only possible, it is common: it is found even in literary papers: it is found in the talk of literary men. The same man will acknowledge that a work of Art cannot be estimated by money, and in the same breath will ask indignantly if the latest “boom” in fiction is worth a hundredth part of the money it has brought the author and the publisher!
Whatever bitterness may be caused by the success of a contemporary one thing is clearly desirable—that there should be some observance of professional etiquette in Literature as in Law. It should be simply impossible for any one, of whatever standing, in the profession of letters to attack another writer, and especially one who has attracted the affection—the passionate affection—of millions, including those of the highest pretensions to culture, with abuse and rancour worthy of a fish-wife.
It may be objected that this restraint would put a stop to criticism. Not at all. We cannot have too much criticism. Literature flourishes best when criticism is at its best. Unfortunately, at the present moment, which can show so great a wealth on the imaginative side; which can also show so many admirable writers on every other side; there are comparatively few critics. The critical faculty, always rare, is, at the present moment, when it is so much wanted and when there are so many organs ready to welcome the true critic, more rarely found than any other. That it is a distinct faculty quite apart from the imaginative or the creative, or the poetical, seems imperfectly understood. The old idea that if a man has written novels and plays and poems he is therefore endowed with the critical faculty, ought surely to have been abandoned long ago. That it has not been abandoned shows that the true function and the true powers of the critic are not fully recognized. We do not suppose that every successful lawyer is fit to become a judge: nor do we pretend that every divine who preaches well can also administer a diocese as a Bishop. Why, then, should every novelist be considered qualified to pose as a critic? The imaginative side of literature is, indeed, opposed to such a theory, as is evident if one considers the natural endowments and the studies necessary to form a critic.
He is a judge: if he possesses the essential qualities that make a judge he must be of a calm and sober temperament: he must be able to discern things as they are—the man of imagination is never able to discern things as they are: he must be able to discern the conditions, the circumstances, the causes which have produced the work, of whatever kind, on which he is to pronounce judgment. In the case of literature he must be a scholar: the opinion of one who has not gone through the classical mill is like a house built without foundations. He must also be a student, not only of his own, but of some other 30 modern literature. You may know him, if you meet him, by certain signs. He is as critical in everything as he is in literature: he carries his criticism into the smaller details of everyday life. He cannot exist without standards in all things. Again, in his judgments, he never falls into a rage: he does not simulate indignation: he never condescends to abuse or to call names: he does not exaggerate: he does not misrepresent: he applies his canons of criticism without mercy, but without bias and without injustice.
The competence of a critic may be tested and proved by a very simple method: that of observing how and why he bestows his commendation. It is easy for the incompetent critic to find faults or to invent them: it is easy to simulate indignation: it is impossible to praise without revealing standards and without betraying incompetence. There is, for example, a certain literary organ whose critical papers I sometimes read in order to observe the timidity and hesitation with which the reviewer ventures to praise, and the delightful way in which he betrays his incompetence when he does praise.
These are very simple rules: if we apply them to the current criticism of the day I think it will be found that there is comparatively little which will stand the tests. There are other qualifications, but of a less simple kind, especially those which enable the critic to take a broad view and a comparative view: and those which separate him from any narrow school or any temporary cénacle.
If, then, a poet or a novelist is not necessarily a critic—is presumably less likely to possess the critical faculty than if he were not a poet—it behoves him to examine himself very carefully before he ventures to pose as a watch-dog of Literature, lest he betray his incompetence by barking and rending the friends instead of the enemies of the Literary craft.
Mr. Robert Buchanan has thought fit to attack Mr. Rudyard Kipling after the ancient manner. I do not suppose that what he has written will cost the younger poet a single friend: nor do I suppose that anything I may say on the other side will advance his reputation. Nor, again, do I pretend, myself, to be a watch-dog of Literature: nor do I profess to be endowed with the critical faculty. But I think that it may be useful to set forth briefly some of the reasons why one among the many millions of Kipling’s readers finds him worthy of the deepest admiration, and, in so doing, to express the views and the judgments of a vast following which may not be critical, yet does not with one consent give its admiration and affection except for good and sufficient reasons.
Except in one point, that of the actual situation, I am not concerned to answer Mr. Buchanan. He has his views and has stated them. Very well, I have mine, and I propose to state them. They are exactly opposite to those of Mr. Buchanan. Why that should be the case is a question which needs no answer in this place.
31 As regards the situation, then. I read with wondering eyes that this generation has drifted away from the humanitarian teaching which forty years ago, or thereabouts, “opened up to men the prospect of a new Heaven and a new Earth.” Drifted away? Is the writer serious? Is he blind to the present? Why, if there is any characteristic note of the times at all, it is the new and practical application of that very humanitarian teaching of the past. This teaching has sunk deep into the national heart: it is producing fruits unlooked for, beyond all expectation. The exercise of practical charity by personal service which is remarkable everywhere is the natural result of that teaching and the proof that it has gone home. In all directions is visible the working of the most real philanthropic endeavour that the world has ever seen: the nearest approach to practical Christianity that has appeared, I believe, since the foundation of the Christian religion. What else is the meaning of Free Schools, Free Libraries, Factory Acts, Continuation Schools, Polytechnics? What else is the meaning of the Settlements in which scholars and refined women give their whole strength with all their thoughts and all their soul to the help of the people round them? What else is the meaning of Toynbee Hall, of Mansfield Hall, of Browning Hall, or of Oxford House? What else is the meaning of the quickened life in the parishes with the flocking companies of those who work for nothing but the love of humanity? What else is meant by the long list of associations for the benefit and help, in every degree, of those who can be helped? Is it possible to live in such a time as this and to be so utterly out of touch with all that is attempted, as to speak of a “drifting away” from the old humanitarian teaching? This said, I leave Mr. Buchanan, and proceed to consider those qualities which the world recognizes in Rudyard Kipling, assuming that, as an average man, my own recognitions are those of what we call the world.
The first essential in fiction is reality. The story must be real: the figures must be real: the dialogue must be real: the action must spring naturally from the situation. Affectations; straining after phrase; a style that suggests labour and repeated correction; these things destroy the interest: the story must be told with directness: it must be told with force: it must he told because the storyteller has to tell it; is constrained to tell it. We want to be carried out of our own environment: we are ready to surrender ourselves willingly to the magnetic force of the storyteller: if he has no magnetic power we turn away: if he has we allow him to play upon us as he pleases: we are like one who is mesmerised and does what he is told to do—he really feels the emotions that the storyteller puts into his mind: he laughs when his master bids him laugh: he cries when he is told to cry.
These conditions are all found in Kipling’s work, and in full 32 measure, without any reservations. He has this magnetic force: he compels us to listen: he tells his story with directness, force, and simplicity. So real is the story, with such an air of reality does he present it, that we see it as we see the moving pictures which the new photography throws upon the canvas.
It is in writing as in drawing. One man produces his effects with many strokes and careful elaboration: another produces the same effect with a single bold stroke or with the least possible curve or deflection of a line. The effect is produced in Kipling’s work by the one bold stroke: without apparent effort the right word presents itself: the right phrase which others seek, and seek in vain, without apparent hesitation takes its place: it belongs to the story.
He also believes his own story: that faith is necessary if he would make his hearers believe it. And because he believes it he is enabled to tell it simply and directly without seeking to add the artificial stimulus of a laboured style.
These reasons for the popularity of a writer are elementary. Yet they have, in this case, to be set forth, as the best answer to any assailant. Another reason, not so obvious to the ordinary reader, is his enthusiasm for humanity. Probably Kipling never gave it, consciously, so fine a name: is ignorant perhaps that this attribute can be found in his work. Yet the thing is there. Always, in every character, he presents a man: not an actor: a man with the passions, emotions, weaknesses and instincts of humanity. It is perhaps one of the Soldiers Three: or it is the Man who went into the mountains because he would be a King: or the man who sat in the lonely lighthouse till he saw streaks: always the real man whom the reader sees beneath the uniform and behind the drink and the blackguardism. It is the humanity in the writer which makes his voice tremulous at times with unspoken pity and silent sympathy: it is the tremor of his voice which touches the heart of his audience. And it is this power of touching the heart which causes men and women of all classes and of every rank to respond with a greater love for the writer than for any other writer living among us at the present moment.
Mr. Henry James, who is certainly a critic as well as a novelist, has called attention to Kipling’s power of attracting all classes. It surprises him that “being so much the sort of figure that the hardened critic likes to meet, he should also be the sort of figure that inspires the multitude with confidence: for a complicated air is, in general, the last thing that does this.” Exactly; but it is the special note of genius that it should present men and women who are real to all who read, and so real that they come with a simple “air” to the simple and uncultivated mind and with a “complicated air” to the scholar. It is not the “complicated air” that the multitude ask or comprehend. For them it is the simple lay, the plain song. To 33 those who, like Mr. Henry James, are practised observers and students, who can read between the lines, the air is as complicated as any study of human nature by Browning or by Meredith.
Going on with his analysis, Mr. Henry James admirably illustrates the different effects produced on different minds by the case of Mulvany, the great Mulvany. He says, speaking for the multitude, that the figure of Mulvany is “a piece of portraiture of the largest, vividest kind, growing and growing on the painter’s hands without ever outgrowing them.” And speaking for himself and those like unto himself, he says: “Hasn’t he the tongue of a hoarse syren, and hasn’t he also mysteries and infinities almost Carlylese?” Not for the multitude: for them he is only “a six-foot saturated Irish private”; but so clearly drawn, so strongly drawn, that not the most simple can fail to understand him after their own fashion.
Another reason why we who are not critics—the many millions—delight in Kipling is that he gives us short stories. Not that we demand, as has been asserted, everything to be in paragraphs and scraps—that is quite an unfair interpretation of the demand for short stories—it is that the short story affords endless opportunities of touching life—I again quote Henry James—“in a thousand different places, taking it up in innumerable pieces, each a specimen and an illustration.” In the long story we are occupied with one place, one sequence of events, one set of characters: perhaps we read for the sequence of events, perhaps for the study of the character. Within the space occupied by the long story Kipling’s volume of short stories gives us twenty situations, twenty scenes, twenty groups and twenty sets of characters. Mr. James’s critical remarks, from which I quote, are written for the volume called “Mine Own People,” which contains, among other things, the stories called respectively, “At the End of the Passage”; “The Incarnation of Krishna Mulvany”; “The Courting of Dinah Shadd” and “The Man who Was.” Every one of these stories— characters, situation and all—is burned into the memory as deeply as if it had been worked up to occupy a volume all to itself. And we would rather have the short story than a long one from our storyteller, because he gives us picture after picture, play after play, dozens of pictures and of plays, in the time generally occupied by one.
But the man who would become a teller of short stories must have a wealth of material which few have the opportunities of collecting. Kipling has had these opportunities: he knows the world—especially the Anglo-Saxon world—the world of our Empire and the world of the American Republic. He is one of those thrice blessed who have not only received the gifts of observation and of sympathy: the gift of storytelling with the dramatic instinct and the power of selection and grouping: but he has obtained the gift of opportunity—he has 34 lived in lands where there are still adventures and the adventurous: where there are still tribes who love fighting and tribes who murder the Englishman; where there are still unknown mysteries of hills and forests: he has found mines of material diverse and new and marvellous, and he has worked these mines as they have never been worked before. Henry James has instanced the figure of Mulvany as one of the most remarkable in Kipling’s gallery of portraits. We may, perhaps, take the Soldiers Three as illustrating the “humanity” of which we have spoken. He has the coarsest and the roughest materials to deal with: three private soldiers of the lower type, which is common enough in our army—and in every other army. The men are foul-mouthed and drunken and tricky. All this must be faced and set forth with no shrinking or false colouring. This has been done, and yet, such is the force of reality in fiction, the result is that we see the real men behind their vices, and that we understand Tommy Atkins as we never understood him before. Had the drawing and the colouring been conventional there would have been found some, no doubt, to call attention to the artistic treatment of the soldier and the finish and polish of his language and his views. They are, however, not in the least conventional, and for the multitude they are real living men, as living as themselves.
I believe that I am not alone in giving the highest praise—at least for “grip”—to the story of the Man who would be King. While that story was told there was not heard in the whole of the vast audience a sound, a whisper, a breath. In dead silence it was received: in dead silence it concluded: in dead silence save for the sigh which spoke of a tension almost too great to be borne. Perhaps that sigh might be taken for applause. Perhaps the storyteller himself took it for applause.
Another point. Kipling presents himself with no apologies, no conventional humility, but with a splendid audacity: a confidence in himself and his own powers which in itself commands admiration: he has the gallant bearing of a soldier: he laughs, knowing that we shall respond: he plunges into his story, knowing that we shall listen: he lets us understand that he has come to conquer the world, and that he means to conquer it. The most finished actor could not impose his part upon the theatre more successfully than Kipling imposes his real nature upon his readers.
These are some of the reasons why we—the many millions—follow after Kipling and listen when he speaks. Some there are who think differently: they have not been carried away: for most of us the reasons above indicated seem sufficient to account for the phenomenal admiration which is also almost universal. To the critic—Henry James’s “hardened critic”—we may leave the analysis of methods and style and art.
I have spoken of Kipling’s audience. But what an audience it is! 35 The people sit in a theatre of which the front seats are at the storyteller’s feet and the farthest tiers are twelve thousand miles away. Never in the history of Literature, has storyteller, in his own lifetime, faced such an audience. Scott and Dickens enjoy, if they can still look on, the posthumous happiness of this unnumbered audience; in their lifetime the theatre was smaller: the people which even then seemed so great a crowd were much less in number than those who come to hear their successor. Other writers speak to-day to crowded houses, but none to such a house as assembles when Kipling speaks. Saul has followers by the thousand: David, by the hundred thousand: Rudyard Kipling is the first of storytellers to whom it has been granted to speak, while he still lives, to the hundred millions of those who read the Anglo-Saxon tongue. From East and West and North and South, wherever the Union Jack or the Stars and Stripes may float, they flock into the vast theatre to listen spellbound to a single voice, which reaches clear and distinct to the most distant tier where the white faces look up and listen while the story is told.
Let us consider him next as the Poet, and especially as the Poet of the Empire. He is emphatically not a Londoner: he does not seek inspiration in the smoking room of a West End club: he does not observe in Piccadilly: he does not evolve humanity out of an easy chair with the aid of a cigarette. He is a son of the Empire: he has brought home to the understanding of the most parochial of Little Englanders the sense and knowledge of what the British Empire means. What Seeley taught scholars, Kipling has taught the multitude. He is the Poet of the Empire. Not the Jingo Rhymer: the Poet with the deepest reverence for those who have built up the Empire: the deepest respect for the Empire; the most profound sense of responsibility.
Fair is our lot. Oh! goodly is our heritage!
(Humble ye, my people; and be fearful in your mirth!)
For the Lord our God most High,
He hath made the deep as dry,
He hath smote for us a pathway to the ends of all the earth!
Yea, though we sinned—and our rulers went from righteousness—
Deep in all dishonour though we stained our garments’ hem.
Oh! be ye not dismayed,
’Though we stumbled and we strayed,
We were led by evil counsellors—the Lord shall deal with them!
That is, I suppose, the “Voice of the Hooligan.” Again, is it the Hooligan who sings of the Last Chantey to the text “And there was no more sea”? 36
Thus saith the Lord in the vault above the cherubim,
Calling to the angels and the souls in their degree;
Lo! earth has passed away
On the smoke of Judgment Day.
That our word may be established shall we gather up the sea?
. . . . . . . .
Long sang the souls of the jolly, jolly mariners,
Plucking at their harps, and they plucked unhandily;
Our thumbs are rough and tarred,
And the tune is somewhat hard—
May we lift a deep sea chantey, such as seamen use at sea?
. . . . . . . .
Sun, wind, and cloud shall fail, not from the face of it,
Singing, ringing spindrift nor the fulmar flying free;
And the ships shall go abroad
To the Glory of the Lord,
Who heard the silly sailor folk and gave them back their sea!
Again, what kind of poet—“not a Poet at all,” says his latest critic—is he who could write the following?:
Take up the White Man’s Burden—
Send forth the best ye breed—
Go, bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives’ need:
To wait in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild—
Your new-caught sullen peoples,
Half devil and half child.
Take up the White Man’s Burden—
No iron rule of kings,
But toil of serf and sweeper—
The tale of common things.
The ports ye shall not enter,
The roads ye shall not tread;
Go, make them with your living,
And mark them with your dead!
It is unnecessary to quote the Recessional Hymn save to remind ourselves of how this poet, alone of poets or preachers, saw, as in a vision of inspiration, the one thing that needed to be said. We were drunk with the Pageant of Power and of Glory. The Empire and all it meant was represented in that long procession of 1897. The people, bewildered with pride, were ready to shout they knew not what—to go they knew not whither. And then the Poet spoke, and his words rang 37 true. I know of no poem in history so opportune, that so went home to all our hearts; that did its work and delivered its message with so much force.
God of our fathers, known of old—
Lord of our far-flung battle line—
Beneath whose awful Hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine.
Lord God of hosts—be with us yet—
Lest we forget—lest we forget!
Far called, our navies melt away—
On dune and headland sinks the fire—
Lo! all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations—spare us yet—
Lest we forget—lest we forget!
If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe—
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
Or lesser creeds without the Law—
Lord God of Hosts—be with us yet—
Lest we forget—lest we forget!
One more note, and I have done. Kipling, in verse and in prose, is one to whom war is an ever present possibility and an ever present certainty. There is a time to speak of War and a time to speak of Peace. At this moment it is well that some one who has a Voice should speak of War. It seems that in the present stage of civilisation, just as in the past, there falls upon the nations, from time to time, the restlessness which can only be pacified by war. The French nation, at this moment, seems to be restless to the highest degree under this obsession. We ourselves are in the throes of the biggest war since the Indian Mutiny. Two years ago, the most pacific country in the world, the Great Republic of North America, was seized with this restlessness, which it is still working off. A time may come when war will not be a necessity—but that time is not yet. For my own part, I entirely agree with Archbishop Alexander in the words quoted by Mr. Buchanan:
And as I note how nobly natures form
Under the war’s red rain, I deem it true
That He who made the earthquake and the storm
Perchance made battles too.
There are worse evils than war. There are
—the lust of Gold
And love of a Peace that is full of wrongs and shames.
38 It is a threadbare commonplace to write that there are worse evils than war, but it must be said over and over again, especially when the horrors of war are upon us. The poisonous weeds that grow rank in times of Peace corrupt the national blood: they deaden the sense of honour: they encourage the ruthless company promoter who trades upon the ignorance of the helpless: they lower the standards of Honour: they enlarge the slough of indulgence and the unclean life. War does not kill these things: but it may restore the sense of duty, sacrifice, patriotism: it may bring back the nobler ideals; it may teach the world that there are better gods than the idols they have fashioned with their own hands: it may seize on the hearts of the young and preserve their instincts of generosity.
Though many a light shall darken, and many shall weep
For those that are crushed in the clash of gaining claims.
. . . . . . . .
And many a darkness into light shall leap,
And shine in the sudden making of splendid names,
And noble thought be freer under the sun,
And the heart of the people beat with one desire.
This potency of war: these possibilities: this necessity of war when the cause is just: this ennobling of a people by war: are present in the mind of Kipling as much as in the mind of Tennyson. The time, indeed, has come again when we are called—
To wake to the higher aims
Of a land that has lost for a little the lust of gold.
It is not on the side of those who are ruled and led by this lust that Kipling stands: nor is it for barbaric conquest and the subjugation of free peoples that he sings.
I have endeavoured to explain and to justify, to a certain extent, the extraordinary affection with which this writer is regarded by millions unnumbered among our own people and our own kin. As was confessed at the outset, nothing that I can say can increase that affection. I leave criticism to those who, being at least scholars, have the right to take upon themselves the work of criticism: it is for them to discuss methods and style. It is enough for me and for those unnumbered millions to know that here is one who has a message to deliver which concerns us all: that he has people to present to us among whom we walk daily, yet have remained hitherto in ignorance of their ways and thoughts and speech: that he has taught the people of the Empire what the Empire means: that he has shown us below their rough and coarse exterior the manhood of soldier and sailor, of engine-man and lighthouse-man and fisherman. 39 It is enough for us that he speaks as no other in his generation—these be reasons enough and to spare why he is loved by old and young in every class and in every country where his language is the language of the folk.
From The Contemporary Review - February, 1900 - Vol. 77, pp. 221-230.
(Reprinted in The Living Age, 24 March, 1900 - Vol. 224, Issue 2907, pp. 729-736,
and The Voice of “The Hooligan”: A Discussion of Kiplingism
(New York: Tucker Publishing Co., March, 1900.))
THE ETHICS OF CRITICISM.
A WORD TO SIR WALTER BESANT.
“DOGBERRY: You shall also make no noise in the streets; for the Watch to babble and talk, is most tolerable and not to be endured. . . . If you meet a thief you may suspect him, by virtue of your office, to be no true man, and for such kind of men, the less you make or meddle with them, why the more is for your honesty!” —Much Ado About Nothing.
WHEN I was editorially informed that my article on the “Voice of the Hooligan” had “startled the dovecots,” and that no less a person than Sir Walter Besant was “going to reply,” I thought I knew the fate in store for me at the hands of that good old custodian of the City’s peace. Long and respectfully had I observed the amiable Knight, becloaked like Dogberry of old, and carrying the official staff and lanthorn, sallying from the round house of the Literary Watch, with more or less decrepit followers at his heels; and always, I observed, had his spiriting been done gently, so that, even when he “ran in” a Publisher or other “Malefactor,” he had dismissed him speedily, with little more than a reprimand. His disposition, I knew, was liberal and kindly: so much so that he had loudly proclaimed to all young Citizens that there was no occupation easier or more profitable than his own daily one of Bookmaking, the only endowments necessary for its pursuit being a pen, a sheet of paper, and a copy of the “Author,” published monthly! His own career had been sunny, and had ended, as all the world knew, in a Knighthood; so it was fitting and natural that he should uphold the ways of Literature as ways of pleasantness and profit, and should devote his leisure to patrolling Grub Street, and proclaiming “All’s Well,” through the still small watches of the present intellectual Darkness.
Knowing this much, if not more, of Sir Walter, I rejoiced to hear that I was to fall into hands so merciful. My treatment would be, I thought, neither fierce nor savage; if I were seized and taken to durance vile, I should at least not be beaten black and blue by the baton of a mere policeman; there would be no handcuff business, and above all no false swearing, when I was brought before the 222 Bench. Yes, I said to myself, with the good old literary Watchman I shall be all right, even if he does call on me to “stand” as a Malefactor! But alas! I had to discover that even the best of us is human after all! I had forgotten that on a recent occasion (on the very occasion that he was proclaiming garrulously that Literature was the easiest of all trades) I had offended this good man deeply.* With my denunciation of the literary Hooligan came his opportunity, and—well, he has taken it to the best of his power. Not content with calling on me to “stand,” he flatly proclaims me a rogue and a liar! Not satisfied with disliking my opinions, he affirms that they are founded on the basest and most selfish of all motives, those of envy and disappointed vanity! This is so unlike Sir Walter, even Sir Walter in a rage, that I scarcely know what to make of it; and I am forced to the disagreeable conclusion that he, like so many worthy souls nowadays, has caught the prevailing epidemic and grown positively homicidal.†
But rightly or wrongfully, justly or unjustly, here I stand “charged,” with Sir Walter Besant (Lord love him) bearing angry witness against me. I have disturbed the Town’s peace; I have wantonly assaulted a good young genius of Christian disposition; and for the rest I bear a bad character, as a person of very doubtful literary morals. Have I anything to say in my defence? Marry, yes, a good deal, if that worshipful Magistrate, the Public, will listen, and if the dear old Watchman will only be quiet, even when I accuse him (as I am reluctantly compelled to do) of malice and false swearing.
First, however, let me examine his contention that Literary People disgrace themselves and their profession whenever they say severe and unsympathetic things about each other. This, from a Literary Person who calmly imputes the basest and meanest of motives to his opponent, and who taunts him from the witness-box with want of trade-success and the most despicable of trade-vanity, is rather a rich contention to begin with! But let us try to ascertain what it means, or rather let me try to make this not too sapient guardian of literary morals see what I mean. From the point of view of Sir Walter Besant, Literature is a little ring of amiable and worthy gentlemen, whose mission it is to make an honourable subsistence by writing works for the market, and to extend to each other, under all circumstances, the polite courtesies of their trade union. Their duty is to support each other, praise each other, in every way be loyal and kindly to each other. Members of the medical and legal professions, it is contended, never denounce
* “The Profession of Literature, an Open Letter to Sir Walter Besant,” published in the Sunday Special.
† “Is it the Voice of the Hooligan?” By Sir Walter Besant. CONTEMPORARY REVIEW, January, 1900.
223 each other. We cannot imagine “the late Lord Coleridge contributing articles to the magazines in abuse of the late Sir George Jessel” (this, by-the-by, is a little necrologically mixed, but such is Deponent’s way), or “Bishop Wilberforce attacking Archbishop Sumner for alleged heresy, atheism, or immorality,” or “Sir Frederick Leighton asking for a dozen pages in which to call Millais a humbug in Art, an imposter, a corrupter of the popular taste.” “Even if these charges were proved,” says the Witness, “would Leighton’s be the hand to write them down? No; self-respect, dignity for the calling” (please note this phrase) ‘‘would impose restraint and reticence. It is only in Literature that the World feels no astonishment when one more chapter is added to the long list of venomous attacks by one author upon another.”
Now what Sir Walter means is perfectly clear, although the language in which he expresses himself is somewhat difficult to construe. His references, however, are unfortunate, since they chiefly concern individuals less noteworthy for candour and originality than for prosperous trimming and social finesse. One can hardly conceive Bishop Wilberforce belonging to any ethical Forlorn Hope, or Sir Frederick Leighton sounding the note of any intellectual revolt. All the men whom Sir Walter names as incapable of personal discourtesy were, I fancy, quite as incapable of personal originality or heroism; at any rate, if the truth had to be told concerning either Art or Religion, one would hardly have selected the speaker from among the magnates of the English Church or the President and Council of the Royal Academy! A Clique is a Clique, whether it is concerned with the practical business of organized Episcopacy, or the equally practical business of selling pictures, or the quite as practical business of producing books for the market; and whenever a new thing has to be uttered to the world it is seldom or never voiced by those who have interests vested in the high officialism of any prosperous Trade Union.
But putting aside Sir Walter’s assumption that personal attacks and accusations are altogether confined to Literature, and that our Doctors, Lawyers, and Artists are quite angelically incapable of expressing their honest opinion of each other, what follows? That the Ethics of Literature is lower and baser than that of Medicine, or the Bar, or Pictorial Art, and that men of letters, men who use the pen, are less generous, less dignified, less amiable, than the followers of those other professions? By no means. Literature, although itself only a very small part of Life, is a much broader and larger part of Life than either Medicine, the Bar, or Art; indeed, it includes all these branches of human activity, of only one of which, the last, can we say that it is something more than a mere Profession. The pursuit of Medicine is very indirectly concerned with the question of Ethics, while the profession of the Law is to a large 224 extent absolutely opposed to the highest Ethical sanctions. Of Literature alone can it be said that its very breath and being, its essential fons et origo, is ethical; that without ethics, without ethical truth and beauty, Literature would be non-existent. A man absolutely without heart or kindly sympathy may be a great Physician. A man utterly devoid of common humanity may be, and often has been, a great Lawyer. A man of very inferior literary and moral sense may be, and occasionally has been, a great Painter. But no man who is devoid of prescience and wisdom, of commanding insight and humanity, can ever be a great Author.
However much this last assertion may be traversed and confuted, illustrations being at hand of very strong and powerful and prosperous Writers in whom the highest moral qualities seem more or less deficient, it will be found that all Writers who have achieved permanent immortality have done so by virtue of their ethical greatness. Even Rabelais, with whom our good Sir Walter consorted during his literary youth, has been justified to posterity by the clean part of him, that which startled the Church and scared the Cowls, not by that which has turned so many stomachs, and, I honestly admit, turns mine. If we glance at random over the line of noble names, from Socrates to Shakespeare, from Virgil to Dante, from Aristophanes to Fielding and Dickens, from Chaucer to Milton, from Milton to Wordsworth, from Shelley to Walt Whitman, we shall discover that our Poets and Thinkers are great exactly in proportion to the wisdom and beauty of their message to the world; and that whenever a Writer has proved a traitor to Progress and to Humanity, whenever he has shouted with the Crowd and has represented the vileness and not the purity of his generation, he has been doomed to more or less rapid oblivion, as practically a criminal against his kind.
This being admitted, and I think few individuals except members of the old-fashioned literary Watch will seriously dispute it, is it not a matter of some importance that we should attempt to discover such traitors to Truth and to Humanity, when, from one cause or another, they are really devitalising the very air we breathe? Even accepting Sir Walter’s delectable conception of Literature as a Pickwick Club of amiable and prosperous shopkeepers, dutifully admiring and praising each other’s wares, ought there not to be a limit to friendly nepotism, and an end occasionally to the compounding of moral felonies against mankind? Is it not now more than ever notorious that the evils of the Literary profession, the evils which still break many hearts and drive many honest aspirants to the workhouse and the grave, are due to the system of log-rolling and personal collusion, expressing itself through the endless tricks of the trade? And then, to come to the crucial moral question, if a Baker sells poisoned bread, is no other Baker in the town to say so?
225 According to Sir Walter, Literature is the only profession the members of which denounce wrong-doing in each other. If this were so, how proud and unique would be the position of Literature! Unfortunately, it is not so. Members of the Medical profession may hesitate to denounce individual quackery, although they punish in the severest manner the slightest breach of professional etiquette; but it would be better for the world, a thousand times better, if in this profession and in all the others, including Literature, there were less etiquette and more honesty, more truth-speaking on the part of individuals and less trimming and lying to conciliate trades and cliques. In the medical profession, for example, there is, I believe, a professional etiquette which forbids one practitioner, on being called in to a patient who is dying through the ignorance and malpractice of another practitioner, apprising those concerned of such ignorance and malpractice! An etiquette of the same sort, according to Sir Walter, forbids a man of letters avowing his detestation of a Hooliganism which, he believes, is not merely causing the death of one sick individual, but is sowing the whole world broadcast with butchered and martyred men.
Here at last we come to the very core of the moral question, and reach the real inwardness of my criticism. According to Sir Walter Besant, a man of letters has no right to say a word against any Jack Cade of his own craft who rushes from street to street with a howling Mob at his heels, and is indirectly or directly concerned in fanning the evil passions of semi-barbarous crowds. To our Knight, who vaunts Literature as a roaring trade, the question is merely one of professional etiquette, and of personal vanity, envy, and uncharitableness on the part of a craftsman! “Self-respect, the dignity of the calling, nay, the ordinary laws of common courtesy,” should, Sir Walter thinks, prevent one author from expressing his bad opinion of another, especially when that other is generally admired. The expression of any such bad opinion can only be inspired by one sentiment, that of professional jealousy or trade malice. So that when Byron exposes in a masterpiece the shameful sycophancy and wicked servility of the laureate Southey, or when Shelley bewails in burning numbers the faults and backslidings of hireling poets, or when Browning says of a contemporary:
“Just for a handful of silver he left us,
Just for a ribbon to stick on his coat,”
the motive is always the same one—envy of the other’s dirty gains! The truth must not be spoken, even if the Doctor is a murderous quack, the Lawyer a lying rogue, the Literary Man a public nuisance! Foul and evil teaching must not be exposed, even when it is poisoning the very Wells!
226 I do not propose to examine in detail Sir Walter’s vindication of Mr. Rudyard Kipling. So enthusiastic is it that it actually makes the good Knight drop into poetry, and talk in mixed metaphors about “the hundred millions who read the Anglo-Saxon tongue and flock into the vast theatre to listen spell-bound to a single voice,”—that of him whom I have christened Hooligan. Sir Walter’s literary tastes do not interest me; his moral predilections are my chief concern. Let me now inquire, a little more closely, into these.
“Kipling in prose and in verse,” says Sir Walter, gloatingly, “is one to whom War is an ever present possibility and an ever present certainty! There is a time to speak of Peace and a time to speak of War! At this moment it is well that someone who has a voice should speak of War!” And so on, and so on. The vein is ’Ercles vein, a tyrant’s vein, a bloodthirsty vein, wonderful on the lips of so mild and home-bred a citizen! Sir Walter is frank enough, indeed, to avow that he likes bloodshed, that there are “worse evils than War,” and he is not afraid to echo, at this hour of the day, the mad platitudes which drove Englishmen into homicidal frenzy forty years ago. There are worse things than War, quotha? Worse things even than War beginning and ending in the lust for Gold, and the ardour of freebooters to grab the solid Earth?
Well, since Sir Walter Besant has chosen to express his honest admiration of Fire, Famine, and Slaughter, and to cite chapter and verse from a great Poet in support of his case and that of a Church which is now crying havoc to the War- wolves, let me show the hopelessness of any agreement between us by frankly answering him to this effect—that I take my stand on the belief that there is no worse evil than War, and that all the talk of its power to purify a nation or an individual is the veriest and foulest Cant. Two blacks never yet made a white, nor any two wrongs a right, and, disguise the truth under what phrases we may, War is simply Murder with another name. That is my belief, and if that belief is false, every word which I have written concerning Mr. Kipling is false as well.
Under one condition only is the slaying of our fellow men justifiable, or at least, pardonable—the condition of righteous Self-defence. Our good Sir Walter, so full of anxiety for his fellow craftsmen, so shocked and shamed when one of those craftsmen protests against homicidal mania and Jingo-patriotism in another, can contemplate with serenity the bloody holocaust of suffering martyred thousands; snugly seated in his office chair, reeling out Literature at so much per thousand words, can assure his readers that the processes of Plunder and Slaughter are glorious and ultimately purifying; can glibly quote from a poem of which Tennyson lived long enough to be ashamed, but which is still among the few 227 blots on a noble reputation; can talk of the “potency of War,” “the ennobling of a People by War”; nay, can utter the usual banalities about “noble aims,” in connection with a crusade baser even, if that is possible, than the mad Crimean crusade which once deluged Europe with innocent blood!
Even so, it seems to me, might Robert Shallow, Esquire, have defended the civic bloodshed of his own generation; and certainly Robert Shallow, Esquire, could not have darkened counsel more thoroughly than Sir Walter Besant, Knight. I pass again over his enthusiasm for Mr. Rudyard Kipling, whom he further justifies on the score of a legion of omnivorous readers. Even so Ponson de Terrail might be justified by any one of the millions who honestly admire him, and even so might Xavier de Montepin be exalted by a reader of Le Petit Journal, on the basis of the “largest circulation in the world”! Sir Walter’s taste in books does not concern me; let it go. I pass over also the sleepy arguments by which he seeks to establish the idea that Literature is a mere business of success and non-success, sale and non-sale, conditioned and inspired by some more or less nepotic Author’s Club. In all this his ideas are amiable, if ideas they may be termed. But when, with the finger of blood on every door, and the cry of the Hooligan in every street, and the mad cry of Cain in the market-place, and the shadow of Death passing from land to land, this shallowest of literary Knights Non-combatant assures me that there “are worse things than War,” I answer him again from the bottom of my heart that there is only one thing worse—that thing being the cultivated Stupidity, the hopeless, senseless Folly and Obtusity, against which even the very gods still strive in vain.
I regret to have to speak so roundly to such a harmless soul, essentially kindly perhaps, and only erring from sheer lack of imagination; but in answering his somewhat rambling charges against me, I chiefly desire to make my own cause clear. I must explain, therefore, despite the strong prejudice which the statement will awaken, that I am unable to conjure up any more enthusiasm for War itself than for its leading Expositors and Poets, and that even the glory of men who die bravely upon the battle-field leaves me comparatively cold. A soldier to my mind is not necessarily a hero; he enters the game of killing other people at the risk of being killed himself, and if he loses he pays the forfeit; if he were not killed he would be killing, and I personally see nothing heroic in that. Nor am I, in the new sense of the word, a Patriot. Although I love my country and if necessary would die in its defence, I would not stir one foot to help my countrymen in any cause which I believed to be cowardly, treacherous, and merely homicidal. To follow the ravings of a howling Political Majority, excited to frenzy 228 by ignorant Leaders and their attendant nigger minstrels, is not, to my thinking, Patriotism. These things I state roundly, leaving Sir Walter Besant to make the most of them, in his estimate of my moral baseness.
Sir Walter, true to his character of old-fashioned Watchman, carries from the night-time into the daytime his sleepy cry of “All’s Well.” He is highly indignant with me, therefore, because I have said that, Militarism being rampant, Humanitarianism is out of fashion, a statement which I am glad to say has since been endorsed by no less a person than Mr. Frederick Harrison.* “There never was a time in the history of Christianity,” says Sir Walter, when Philanthropy, practical Christianity, was so much in fashion; and to support his statement, he runs glibly off his tongue the shibboleths— Free Schools, Free Libraries, Factory Acts, Continuation Schools, Polytechnics, adding to these, as if they were not enough, Toynbee Hall, Mansfield Hall, and Oxford House! Even so, it seems to me, and with like relevance, would the inimitable Mr. Gradgrind have discoursed to his hearers on the beauties of a mathematical Philanthropy. Is there no difference, then, between human sympathy and the teachings of the Board Schools, between Love and loving Charity and the opening of picture galleries and museums on Sundays? The Workhouse is a beneficent institution, but somehow or other the Poor have always regarded it askance! The Board School does incalculable good, but its ministrations seldom or never, I fear, recall the Beatitudes! Not for one instant would I seek to depreciate any one of these or similar benefactions, or detract one hair’s breadth from the honour of such men and women as are working bravely to enlighten and to help their fellows; but what answer is it to me, when I quote the Poet of the Poor, and cry:—
“Alas for the rarity
Of Christian charity
Under the sun!”
to be assured, by optimists like Sir Walter, that the scheme of the Charity Organization Society works out on the whole quite admirably! Bread may often become very bitter in the giving, and much of the bread of British philanthropy has, I fear, a somewhat Gradgrindian, not to say Besantian, savour!
Indeed, indeed, good Sir Walter Besant, Knight, this cry of “All’s well” sounds feeble almost to fatuousness at this epoch of plunder and bloodshed, of Jameson raids and Chartered shares, of City train-bands, rushing to assist in the spoliation of Naboth’s Vineyard.
* In his address as President of the English Positivist Society.
229 Philanthropy, quotha? Christianity, i’ faith? I have but to open my Daily Alarmist, and my eye falls upon the following:—
“THE BOY WHO SHOT THREE BOERS!
“ENGLISH BOYS AND GIRLS SEND HIM A CHRISTMAS PRESENT.
“Trumpeter Shurlock, who with his own hand shot three Boers at Elands Laagte, has stirred a practical responsive chord in the hearts of patriotic boys and girls at Benhall School, Saxmundham, Suffolk.
“We have received from Mr. John Chambers, the schoolmaster, a watch and chain, subscribed for by the children, and accompanied by a letter intended for the trumpeter of the 5th Lancers. Here is the letter which Trumpeter Shurlock’s youthful admirers are sending him:—
“‘DEAR TRUMPETER SHURLOCK,—Our schoolmaster reads us the war news every morning, and what we liked best was to hear about you, and how you shot the three Boers, and we thought we should like to send you a Christmas present.
“‘We thought at first we would send you a plum pudding, and then a flannel shirt, but we got too much money for that. So, as some kind friends helped us, we got enough to send you a watch and chain, which we hope you will accept.
“‘If ever you come to Suffolk, we hope you will call and see us, so that we may give you a cheer.
“‘Please let us know if you get it and if you like it.
“‘Hoping you will come safe home and be able to show it to your mother. We are pleased you are our young countryman, and we hope if any of us are ever soldiers, we will do our duty like you.
“‘Wishing you all good luck, we remain,
“‘Your young English Friends,
“‘(For the Children of Benhall School).’”
So that the beneficent homicide of youthful England is not confined to “Stalky and Co.” and other creations of the egregious Mr. Kipling, but runs red in our very streets and lanes, and infects our very errand boys and urchins at play! The Boy who killed three Boers! How dear must he be to the heart of the Knight who dotes on War, and Bloodshed, and Mr. Kipling! Doubtless, too, this boy has partaken of the Christianity of the School Board, and may even have strolled in his regimentals through the very educational People’s Palace!
I am very sorry for Sir Walter Besant. He has always had a place in my heart with the other Knights of fame—the good souls who mean so well, yet who are always on the side of the loaves and fishes and the big battalions. I am quite sure that he hates cruelty and wrong doing just as much as I do, and is incapable of a brutal thought or deed. But the mischief is that his very amiability leads him astray. I blame him not for loving and defending his fellow 230 craftsmen; for kindling with indignation when he witnesses what he considers “a venomous attack” on a noble reputation. I am quite sure, indeed, that he would defend even the malefactor Buchanan, if he thought him subjected to cruel and cowardly maltreatment. But alas, although he is kindly, he is not wise. He fails to see that far higher issues than those of mere writing and selling books underlie the question of Morality in Literature—that Literature, indeed, although but a part of Life, only fulfils its functions when it is the noblest and the purest part of it. The question of Mr. Kipling’s genius, of my base motives, my misappreciation, really does not count in the discussion. What counts is the Carnage to which every Weathercock of a scribbler is pointing, and the brutality which is expressing itself daily and hourly, not only in mere words, but in deeds which have made the name of England execrated all over the civilised globe. Sir Walter Besant avers that I have no right to speak of these things, because they concern the prestige and the pocket of one who, with a Publisher on each side of him (like the Bishop on each side of Richard in the play) lately cried aloud for and obtained the sympathy of two Continents. I say that I have every right to speak of these things, because they concern the honour and the prosperity, nay, the very existence, of those two Continents, and the happiness of every humane and peace-loving citizen who dwells therein.