H. G. Wells
THE NEW MACHIAVELLI
BOOK THE FIRST
THE MAKING OF A MAN
I. CONCERNING A BOOK THAT WAS NEVER WRITTEN
II. BROMSTEAD AND MY FATHER
BOOK THE SECOND
I. MARGARET IN STAFFORDSHIRE
II. MARGARET IN LONDON
III. MARGARET IN VENICE
IV. THE HOUSE IN WESTMINSTER
BOOK THE THIRD
THE HEART OF POLITICS
I. THE RIDDLE FOR THE STATESMAN
II. SEEKING ASSOCIATES
IV. THE BESETTING OF SEX
BOOK THE FOURTH
I. LOVE AND SUCCESS
II. THE IMPOSSIBLE POSITION
III. THE BREAKING POINT
BOOK THE FIRST
THE MAKING OF A MAN
CHAPTER THE FIRST
CONCERNING A BOOK THAT WAS NEVER WRITTEN
Since I came to this place I have been very restless, wasting my
energies in the futile beginning of ill-conceived books. One does
not settle down very readily at two and forty to a new way of
living, and I have found myself with the teeming interests of the
life I have abandoned still buzzing like a swarm of homeless bees in
justifications. In any case I should have found difficulties enough
in expressing the complex thing I have to tell, but it has added
greatly to my trouble that I have a great analogue, that a certain
Niccolo Machiavelli chanced to fall out of politics at very much the
age I have reached, and wrote a book to engage the restlessness of
his mind, very much as I have wanted to do. He wrote about the
character and weaknesses, and so far his achievement lies like a
deep rut in the road of my intention. It has taken me far astray.
It is a matter of many weeks now-diversified indeed by some long
drives into the mountains behind us and a memorable sail to Genoa
across the blue and purple waters that drowned Shelley-since I
began a laboured and futile imitation of "The Prince." I sat up
late last night with the jumbled accumulation; and at last made a
little fire of olive twigs and burnt it all, sheet by sheet-to
begin again clear this morning.
But incidentally I have re-read most of Machiavelli, not excepting
those scandalous letters of his to Vettori, and it seems to me, now
that I have released myself altogether from his literary precedent,
that he still has his use for me. In spite of his vast prestige I
claim kindred with him and set his name upon my title-page, in
partial intimation of the matter of my story. He takes me with
sympathy not only by reason of the dream he pursued and the humanity
of his politics, but by the mixture of his nature. His vices come
in, essential to my issue. He is dead and gone, all his immediate
correlations to party and faction have faded to insignificance,
leaving only on the one hand his broad method and conceptions, and
upon the other his intimate living personality, exposed down to its
salacious corners as the soul of no contemporary can ever be
exposed. Of those double strands it is I have to write, of the
subtle protesting perplexing play of instinctive passion and desire
against too abstract a dream of statesmanship. But things that
seemed to lie very far apart in Machiavelli's time have come near to
one another; it is no simple story of white passions struggling
against the red that I have to tell.
history. It plays too small a part in novels. Plato and Confucius
are but the highest of a great host of minds that have had a kindred
finer, securer. They imagined cities grown more powerful and
peoples made rich and multitudinous by their efforts, they thought
in terms of harbours and shining navies, great roads engineered
marvellously, jungles cleared and deserts conquered, the ending of
muddle and diseases and dirt and misery; the ending of confusions
that waste human possibilities; they thought of these things with
beauty of women. Thousands of men there are to-day almost mastered
by this white passion of statecraft, and in nearly every one who
reads and thinks you could find, I suspect, some sort of answering
response. But in every one it presents itself extraordinarily
entangled and mixed up with other, more intimate things.
It was so with Machiavelli. I picture him at San Casciano as he
lived in retirement upon his property after the fall of the
Republic, perhaps with a twinge of the torture that punished his
conspiracy still lurking in his limbs. Such twinges could not stop
his dreaming. Then it was "The Prince" was written. All day he
went about his personal affairs, saw homely neighbours, dealt with
his family, gave vent to everyday passions. He would sit in the
shop of Donato del Corno gossiping curiously among vicious company,
meditations. In the evening he returned home and went to his study.
At the entrance, he says, he pulled off his peasant clothes covered
with the dust and dirt of that immediate life, washed himself, put
on his "noble court dress," closed the door on the world of toiling
and getting, private loving, private hating and personal regrets,
sat down with a sigh of contentment to those wider dreams.
I like to think of him so, with brown books before him lit by the
light of candles in silver candlesticks, or heading some new chapter
of "The Prince," with a grey quill in his clean fine hand.
So writing, he becomes a symbol for me, and the less none because of
his animal humour, his queer indecent side, and because of such
lapses into utter meanness as that which made him sound the note of
the begging-letter writer even in his "Dedication," reminding His
Magnificence very urgently, as if it were the gist of his matter, of
the continued malignity of fortune in his affairs. These flaws
complete him. They are my reason for preferring him as a symbol to
Plato, of whose indelicate side we know nothing, and whose
correspondence with Dionysius of Syracuse has perished; or to
Confucius who travelled China in search of a Prince he might
instruct, with lapses and indignities now lost in the mists of ages.
They have achieved the apotheosis of individual forgetfulness, and
Plato has the added glory of that acquired beauty, that bust of the
Indian Bacchus which is now indissolubly mingled with his tradition.
They have passed into the world of the ideal, and every humbug takes
his freedoms with their names. But Machiavelli, more recent and
less popular, is still all human and earthly, a fallen brother-and
That vision of the strengthened and perfected state is protagonist
in my story. But as I re-read "The Prince" and thought out the
manner of my now abandoned project, I came to perceive how that stir
and whirl of human thought one calls by way of embodiment the French
Revolution, has altered absolutely the approach to such a question.
Machiavelli, like Plato and Pythagoras and Confucius two hundred odd
was by seizing the imagination of a Prince. Directly these men
what shall I call it?-secretarial. Machiavelli, it is true, had
some little doubts about the particular Prince he wanted, whether it
was Caesar Borgia of Giuliano or Lorenzo, but a Prince it had to be.
Before I saw clearly the differences of our own time I searched my
mind for the modern equivalent of a Prince. At various times I
redrafted a parallel dedication to the Prince of Wales, to the
Emperor William, to Mr. Evesham, to a certain newspaper proprietor
who was once my schoolfellow at City Merchants', to Mr. J. D.
Rockefeller-all of them men in their several ways and circumstances
and possibilities, princely. Yet in every case my pen bent of its
own accord towards irony because-because, although at first I did
not realise it, I myself am just as free to be a prince. The appeal
was unfair. The old sort of Prince, the old little principality has
vanished from the world. The commonweal is one man's absolute
estate and responsibility no more. In Machiavelli's time it was
indeed to an extreme degree one man's affair. But the days of the
Prince who planned and directed and was the source and centre of all
power are ended. We are in a condition of affairs infinitely more
complex, in which every prince and statesman is something of a
servant and every intelligent human being something of a Prince. No
magnificent pensive Lorenzos remain any more in this world for
In a sense it is wonderful how power has vanished, in a sense
wonderful how it has increased. I sit here, an unarmed discredited
man, at a small writing-table in a little defenceless dwelling among
the vines, and no human being can stop my pen except by the
deliberate self-immolation of murdering me, nor destroy its fruits
except by theft and crime. No King, no council, can seize and
torture me; no Church, no nation silence me. Such powers of
ruthless and complete suppression have vanished. But that is not
because power has diminished, but because it has increased and
become multitudinous, because it has dispersed itself and
specialised. It is no longer a negative power we have, but
positive; we cannot prevent, but we can do. This age, far beyond
all previous ages, is full of powerful men, men who might, if they
had the will for it, achieve stupendous things.
The things that might be done to-day! The things indeed that are
being done! It is the latter that give one so vast a sense of the
former. When I think of the progress of physical and mechanical
science, of medicine and sanitation during the last century, when I
measure the increase in general education and average efficiency,
the power now available for human service, the merely physical
increment, and compare it with anything that has ever been at man's
incidental, undisciplined and uncoordinated minority of inventors,
experimenters, educators, writers and organisers has achieved this
development of human possibilities, achieved it in spite of the
disregard and aimlessness of the huge majority, and the passionate
resistance of the active dull, my imagination grows giddy with
dazzling intimations of the human splendours the justly organised
heights that may be scaled, the splendid enterprises made possible.
But the appeal goes out now in other forms, in a book that catches
at thousands of readers for the eye of a Prince diffused. It is the
old appeal indeed for the unification of human effort, the ending of
confusions, but instead of the Machiavellian deference to a
flattered lord, a man cries out of his heart to the unseen
fellowship about him. The last written dedication of all those I
burnt last night, was to no single man, but to the socially
constructive passion-in any man…
There is, moreover, a second great difference in kind between my
world and Machiavelli's. We are discovering women. It is as if
they had come across a vast interval since his time, into the very
chamber of the statesman.
In Machiavelli's outlook the interest of womanhood was in a region
of life almost infinitely remote from his statecraft. They were the
vehicle of children, but only Imperial Rome and the new world of to-
day have ever had an inkling of the significance that might give
earth bears its crops. Apart from their function of fertility they
gave a humorous twist to life, stimulated worthy men to toil, and
wasted the hours of Princes. He left the thought of women outside
with his other dusty things when he went into his study to write,
dismissed them from his mind. But our modern world is burthened
with its sense of the immense, now half articulate, significance of
women. They stand now, as it were, close beside the silver
candlesticks, speaking as Machiavelli writes, until he stays his pen
and turns to discuss his writing with them.
It is this gradual discovery of sex as a thing collectively
portentous that I have to mingle with my statecraft if my picture is
to be true which has turned me at length from a treatise to the
telling of my own story. In my life I have paralleled very closely
the slow realisations that are going on in the world about me. I
began life ignoring women, they came to me at first perplexing and
dishonouring; only very slowly and very late in my life and after
misadventure, did I gauge the power and beauty of the love of man
and woman and learnt how it must needs frame a justifiable vision of
the ordered world. Love has brought me to disaster, because my
career had been planned regardless of its possibility and value.
But Machiavelli, it seems to me, when he went into his study, left
not only the earth of life outside but its unsuspected soul.
Like Machiavelli at San Casciano, if I may take this analogy one
step further, I too am an exile. Office and leading are closed to
me. The political career that promised so much for me is shattered
and ended for ever.
I look out from this vine-wreathed veranda under the branches of a
stone pine; I see wide and far across a purple valley whose sides
are terraced and set with houses of pine and ivory, the Gulf of
Liguria gleaming sapphire blue, and cloud-like baseless mountains
hanging in the sky, and I think of lank and coaly steamships heaving
on the grey rollers of the English Channel and darkling streets wet
with rain, I recall as if I were back there the busy exit from
Charing Cross, the cross and the money-changers' offices, the
splendid grime of giant London and the crowds going perpetually to
and fro, the lights by night and the urgency and eventfulness of
that great rain-swept heart of the modern world.
It is difficult to think we have left that-for many years if not
clink and clatter of hansoms and the quick quiet whirr of motors; I
go in vivid recent memories through the stir in the lobbies, I sit
again at eventful dinners in those old dining-rooms like cellars
below the House-dinners that ended with shrill division bells, I
think of huge clubs swarming and excited by the bulletins of that
electoral battle that was for me the opening opportunity. I see the
stencilled names and numbers go up on the green baize, constituency
after constituency, amidst murmurs or loud shouting…
It is over for me now and vanished. That opportunity will come no
more. Very probably you have heard already some crude inaccurate
version of our story and why I did not take office, and have formed
your partial judgement on me. And so it is I sit now at my stone
table, half out of life already, in a warm, large, shadowy leisure,
splashed with sunlight and hung with vine tendrils, with paper
before me to distil such wisdom as I can, as Machiavelli in his
exile sought to do, from the things I have learnt and felt during
the career that has ended now in my divorce.
I climbed high and fast from small beginnings. I had the mind of my
party. I do not know where I might not have ended, but for this red
blaze that came out of my unguarded nature and closed my career for
CHAPTER THE SECOND
BROMSTEAD AND MY FATHER
a little boy in knickerbockers.
to me the memory of an enormous bleak room with its ceiling going up
to heaven and its floor covered irregularly with patched and
defective oilcloth and a dingy mat or so and a "surround" as they
call it, of dark stained wood. Here and there against the wall are
trunks and boxes. There are cupboards on either side of the
fireplace and bookshelves with books above them, and on the wall and
rather tattered is a large yellow-varnished geological map of the
South of England. Over the mantel is a huge lump of white coral
rock and several big fossil bones, and above that hangs the portrait
of a brainy gentleman, sliced in half and displaying an interior of
intricate detail and much vigour of coloring. It is the floor I
think of chiefly; over the oilcloth of which, assumed to be land,
spread towns and villages and forts of wooden bricks; there are
steep square hills (geologically, volumes of Orr's CYCLOPAEDIA OF
THE SCIENCES) and the cracks and spaces of the floor and the bare
brown surround were the water channels and open sea of that
continent of mine.
I still remember with infinite gratitude the great-uncle to whom I
owe my bricks. He must have been one of those rare adults who have
not forgotten the chagrins and dreams of childhood. He was a
prosperous west of England builder; including my father he had three
nephews, and for each of them he caused a box of bricks to be made
by an out-of-work carpenter, not the insufficient supply of the
made out of oak and shaped and smoothed, bricks about five inches by
two and a half by one, and half-bricks and quarter-bricks to
correspond. There were hundreds of them, many hundreds. I could
build six towers as high as myself with them, and there seemed quite
enough for every engineering project I could undertake. I could
build whole towns with streets and houses and churches and citadels;
I could bridge every gap in the oilcloth and make causeways over
crumpled spaces (which I feigned to be morasses), and on a keel of
whole bricks it was possible to construct ships to push over the
high seas to the remotest port in the room. And a disciplined
population, that rose at last by sedulous begging on birthdays and
all convenient occasions to well over two hundred, of lead sailors
and soldiers, horse, foot and artillery, inhabited this world.
Justice has never been done to bricks and soldiers by those who
write about toys. The praises of the toy theatre have been a common
theme for essayists, the planning of the scenes, the painting and
cutting out of the caste, penny plain twopence coloured, the stink
and glory of the performance and the final conflagration. I had
such a theatre once, but I never loved it nor hoped for much from
it; my bricks and soldiers were my perpetual drama. I recall an
incessant variety of interests. There was the mystery and charm of
the complicated buildings one could make, with long passages and
steps and windows through which one peeped into their intricacies,
and by means of slips of card one could make slanting ways in them,
and send marbles rolling from top to base and thence out into the
hold of a waiting ship. Then there were the fortresses and gun
emplacements and covered ways in which one's soldiers went. And
there was commerce; the shops and markets and store-rooms full of
nasturtium seed, thrift seed, lupin beans and suchlike provender
from the garden; such stuff one stored in match-boxes and pill-
boxes, or packed in sacks of old glove fingers tied up with thread
and sent off by waggons along the great military road to the
beleaguered fortress on the Indian frontier beyond the worn places
that were dismal swamps. And there were battles on the way.
That great road is still clear in my memory. I was given, I forget
by what benefactor, certain particularly fierce red Indians of lead-
I have never seen such soldiers since-and for these my father
helped me to make tepees of brown paper, and I settled them in a
hitherto desolate country under the frowning nail-studded cliffs of
an ancient trunk. Then I conquered them and garrisoned their land.
(Alas! they died, no doubt through contact with civilisation-one my
mother trod on-and their land became a wilderness again and was
ravaged for a time by a clockwork crocodile of vast proportions.)
And out towards the coal-scuttle was a region near the impassable
thickets of the ragged hearthrug where lived certain china Zulus
brandishing spears, and a mountain country of rudely piled bricks
concealing the most devious and enchanting caves and several mines
of gold and silver paper. Among these rocks a number of survivors
from a Noah's Ark made a various, dangerous, albeit frequently
invalid and crippled fauna, and I was wont to increase the
uncultivated wildness of this region further by trees of privet-
twigs from the garden hedge and box from the garden borders. By
these territories went my Imperial Road carrying produce to and fro,
bridging gaps in the oilcloth, tunnelling through Encyclopaedic
hills-one tunnel was three volumes long-defended as occasion
required by camps of paper tents or brick blockhouses, and ending at
last in a magnificently engineered ascent to a fortress on the
cliffs commanding the Indian reservation.
My games upon the floor must have spread over several years and
developed from small beginnings, incorporating now this suggestion
and now that. They stretch, I suppose, from seven to eleven or
twelve. I played them intermittently, and they bulk now in the
retrospect far more significantly than they did at the time. I
played them in bursts, and then forgot them for long periods;
through the spring and summer I was mostly out of doors, and school
and classes caught me early. And in the retrospect I see them all
not only magnified and transfigured, but fore-shortened and confused
together. A clockwork railway, I seem to remember, came and went;
one or two clockwork boats, toy sailing ships that, being keeled,
would do nothing but lie on their beam ends on the floor; a
detestable lot of cavalrymen, undersized and gilt all over, given me
by a maiden aunt, and very much what one might expect from an aunt,
that I used as Nero used his Christians to ornament my public
buildings; and I finally melted some into fratricidal bullets, and
therewith blew the rest to flat splashes of lead by means of a brass
cannon in the garden.
I find this empire of the floor much more vivid and detailed in my
memory now than many of the owners of the skirts and legs and boots
that went gingerly across its territories. Occasionally, alas! they
stooped to scrub, abolishing in one universal destruction the slow
hatred and disgust of these catastrophes. Like Noah I was given
warnings. Did I disregard them, coarse red hands would descend,
plucking garrisons from fortresses and sailors from ships, jumbling
them up in their wrong boxes, clumsily so that their rifles and
swords were broken, sweeping the splendid curves of the Imperial
Road into heaps of ruins, casting the jungle growth of Zululand into
Well, Master Dick," the voice of this cosmic calamity would say,
"you ought to have put them away last night. No! I can't wait until
you've sailed them all away in ships. I got my work to do, and do
it I will."
And in no time all my continents and lands were swirling water and
swiping strokes of house-flannel.
That was the worst of my giant visitants, but my mother too, dear
lady, was something of a terror to this microcosm. She wore spring-
sided boots, a kind of boot now vanished, I believe, from the world,
with dull bodies and shiny toes, and a silk dress with flounces that
were very destructive to the more hazardous viaducts of the Imperial
Road. She was always, I seem to remember, fetching me; fetching me
for a meal, fetching me for a walk or, detestable absurdity!
fetching me for a wash and brush up, and she never seemed to
understand anything whatever of the political Systems across which
she came to me. Also she forbade all toys on Sundays except the
bricks for church-building and the soldiers for church parade, or a
Scriptural use of the remains of the Noah's Ark mixed up with a
thing was a church or not unless it positively bristled with cannon,
and many a Sunday afternoon have I played Chicago (with the fear of
God in my heart) under an infidel pretence that it was a new sort of
ark rather elaborately done.
Chicago, I must explain, was based upon my father's description of
the pig slaughterings in that city and certain pictures I had seen.
You made your beasts-which were all the ark lot really,
provisionally conceived as pigs-go up elaborate approaches to a
central pen, from which they went down a cardboard slide four at a
time, and dropped most satisfyingly down a brick shaft, and pitter-
litter over some steep steps to where a head slaughterman (ne Noah)
strung a cotton loop round their legs and sent them by pin hooks
along a wire to a second slaughterman with a chipped foot (formerly
Mrs. Noah) who, if I remember rightly, converted them into Army
sausage by means of a portion of the inside of an old alarum clock.
My mother did not understand my games, but my father did. He wore
bright-coloured socks and carpet slippers when he was indoors-my
mother disliked boots in the house-and he would sit down on my
little chair and survey the microcosm on the floor with admirable
understanding and sympathy.
It was he gave me most of my toys and, I more than suspect, most of
my ideas. "Here's some corrugated iron," he would say, "suitable
for roofs and fencing," and hand me a lump of that stiff crinkled
paper that is used for packing medicine bottles. Or, "Dick, do you
see the tiger loose near the Imperial Road?-won't do for your
cattle ranch." And I would find a bright new lead tiger like a
special creation at large in the world, and demanding a hunting
expedition and much elaborate effort to get him safely housed in the
city menagerie beside the captured dragon crocodile, tamed now, and
his key lost and the heart and spring gone out of him.
And to the various irregular reading of my father I owe the
inestimable blessing of never having a boy's book in my boyhood
except those of Jules Verne. But my father used to get books for
himself and me from the Bromstead Institute, Fenimore Cooper and
Mayne Reid and illustrated histories; one of the Russo-Turkish war
and one of Napier's expedition to Abyssinia I read from end to end;
Stanley and Livingstone, lives of Wellington, Napoleon and
Garibaldi, and back volumes of PUNCH, from which I derived
conceptions of foreign and domestic politics it has taken years of
adult reflection to correct. And at home permanently we had Wood's
NATURAL HISTORY, a brand-new illustrated Green's HISTORY OF THE
ENGLISH PEOPLE, Irving's COMPANIONS OF COLUMBUS, a great number of
unbound parts of some geographical work, a VOYAGE ROUND THE WORLD I
think it was called, with pictures of foreign places, and Clarke's
NEW TESTAMENT with a map of Palestine, and a variety of other
informing books bought at sales. There was a Sowerby's BOTANY also,
with thousands of carefully tinted pictures of British plants, and
one or two other important works in the sitting-room. I was allowed
to turn these over and even lie on the floor with them on Sundays
and other occasions of exceptional cleanliness.
And in the attic I found one day a very old forgotten map after the
fashion of a bird's-eye view, representing the Crimea, that
fascinated me and kept me for hours navigating its waters with a
My father was a lank-limbed man in easy shabby tweed clothes and
with his hands in his trouser pockets. He was a science teacher,
taking a number of classes at the Bromstead Institute in Kent under
the old Science and Art Department, and "visiting" various schools;
and our resources were eked out by my mother's income of nearly a
hundred pounds a year, and by his inheritance of a terrace of three
palatial but structurally unsound stucco houses near Bromstead
They were big clumsy residences in the earliest Victorian style,
interminably high and with deep damp basements and downstairs
coal-cellars and kitchens that suggested an architect
vindictively devoted to the discomfort of the servant class. If so,
he had overreached himself and defeated his end, for no servant
would stay in them unless for exceptional wages or exceptional
tolerance of inefficiency or exceptional freedom in repartee. Every
storey in the house was from twelve to fifteen feet high (which
would have been cool and pleasant in a hot climate), and the stairs
went steeply up, to end at last in attics too inaccessible for
occupation. The ceilings had vast plaster cornices of classical
design, fragments of which would sometimes fall unexpectedly, and
the wall-papers were bold and gigantic in pattern and much
variegated by damp and ill-mended rents.
As my father was quite unable to let more than one of these houses
at a time, and that for the most part to eccentric and undesirable
tenants, he thought it politic to live in one of the two others, and
devote the rent he received from the let one, when it was let, to
the incessant necessary repairing of all three. He also did some of
the repairing himself and, smoking a bull-dog pipe the while, which
my mother would not allow him to do in the house, he cultivated
vegetables in a sketchy, unpunctual and not always successful manner
in the unoccupied gardens. The three houses faced north, and the
back of the one we occupied was covered by a grape-vine that
yielded, I remember, small green grapes for pies in the spring, and
imperfectly ripe black grapes in favourable autumns for the purposes
of dessert. The grape-vine played an important part in my life, for
my father broke his neck while he was pruning it, when I was
My father was what is called a man of ideas, but they were not
always good ideas. My grandfather had been a private schoolmaster
and one of the founders of the College of Preceptors, and my father
had assisted him in his school until increasing competition and
diminishing attendance had made it evident that the days of small
private schools kept by unqualified persons were numbered.
Thereupon my father had roused himself and had qualified as a
science teacher under the Science and Art Department, which in these
days had charge of the scientific and artistic education of the mass
of the English population, and had thrown himself into science
teaching and the earning of government grants therefor with great if
transitory zeal and success.
I do not remember anything of my father's earlier and more energetic
time. I was the child of my parents' middle years; they married
when my father was thirty-five and my mother past forty, and I saw
only the last decadent phase of his educational career.
The Science and Art Department has vanished altogether from the
world, and people are forgetting it now with the utmost readiness
more or less completely digested into the Board of Education.
The world does move on, even in its government. It is wonderful how
many of the clumsy and limited governing bodies of my youth and
early manhood have given place now to more scientific and efficient
machinery. When I was a boy, Bromstead, which is now a borough, was
ruled by a strange body called a Local Board-it was the Age of
Boards-and I still remember indistinctly my father rejoicing at the
breakfast-table over the liberation of London from the corrupt and
devastating control of a Metropolitan Board of Works. Then there
were also School Boards; I was already practically in politics
before the London School Board was absorbed by the spreading
tentacles of the London County Council.
It gives a measure of the newness of our modern ideas of the State
to remember that the very beginnings of public education lie within
my father's lifetime, and that many most intelligent and patriotic
people were shocked beyond measure at the State doing anything of
the sort. When he was born, totally illiterate people who could
neither read a book nor write more than perhaps a clumsy signature,
were to be found everywhere in England; and great masses of the
population were getting no instruction at all. Only a few schools
flourished upon the patronage of exceptional parents; all over the
country the old endowed grammar schools were to be found sinking and
dwindling; many of them had closed altogether. In the new great
centres of population multitudes of children were sweated in the
factories, darkly ignorant and wretched and the under-equipped and
under-staffed National and British schools, supported by voluntary
contributions and sectarian rivalries, made an ineffectual fight
against this festering darkness. It was a condition of affairs
clamouring for remedies, but there was an immense amount of
indifference and prejudice to be overcome before any remedies were
possible. Perhaps some day some industrious and lucid historian
will disentangle all the muddle of impulses and antagonisms, the
commercialism, utilitarianism, obstinate conservatism, humanitarian
enthusiasm, out of which our present educational organisation arose.
I have long since come to believe it necessary that all new social
institutions should be born in confusion, and that at first they
should present chiefly crude and ridiculous aspects. The distrust
of government in the Victorian days was far too great, and the
general intelligence far too low, to permit the State to go about
the new business it was taking up in a businesslike way, to train
teachers, build and equip schools, endow pedagogic research, and
provide properly written school-books. These things it was felt
MUST be provided by individual and local effort, and since it was
manifest that it was individual and local effort that were in
default, it was reluctantly agreed to stimulate them by money
payments. The State set up a machinery of examination both in
Science and Art and for the elementary schools; and payments, known
technically as grants, were made in accordance with the examination
send into the world. In this way it was felt the Demand would be
established that would, according to the beliefs of that time,
inevitably ensure the Supply. An industry of "Grant earning" was
created, and this would give education as a necessary by-product.
In the end this belief was found to need qualification, but Grant-
earning was still in full activity when I was a small boy. So far
as the Science and Art Department and my father are concerned, the
task of examination was entrusted to eminent scientific men, for the
most part quite unaccustomed to teaching. You see, if they also
were teaching similar classes to those they examined, it was feared
that injustice might be done. Year after year these eminent persons
set questions and employed subordinates to read and mark the
increasing thousands of answers that ensued, and having no doubt the
national ideal of fairness well developed in their minds, they were
careful each year to re-read the preceding papers before composing
the current one, in order to see what it was usual to ask. As a
result of this, in the course of a few years the recurrence and
permutation of questions became almost calculable, and since the
practical object of the teaching was to teach people not science,
but how to write answers to these questions, the industry of Grant-
earning assumed a form easily distinguished from any kind of genuine
Other remarkable compromises had also to be made with the spirit of
the age. The unfortunate conflict between Religion and Science
prevalent at this time was mitigated, if I remember rightly, by
making graduates in arts and priests in the established church
Science Teachers EX OFFICIO, and leaving local and private
enterprise to provide schools, diagrams, books, material, according
to the conceptions of efficiency prevalent in the district. Private
enterprise made a particularly good thing of the books. A number of
competing firms of publishers sprang into existence specialising in
Science and Art Department work; they set themselves to produce
text-books that should supply exactly the quantity and quality of
knowledge necessary for every stage of each of five and twenty
subjects into which desirable science was divided, and copies and
models and instructions that should give precisely the method and
gestures esteemed as proficiency in art. Every section of each book
was written in the idiom found to be most satisfactory to the
examiners, and test questions extracted from papers set in former
years were appended to every chapter. By means of these last the
teacher was able to train his class to the very highest level of
grant-earning efficiency, and very naturally he cast all other
methods of exposition aside. First he posed his pupils with
questions and then dictated model replies.
That was my father's method of instruction. I attended his classes
as an elementary grant-earner from the age of ten until his death,
and it is so I remember him, sitting on the edge of a table,
smothering a yawn occasionally and giving out the infallible
formulae to the industriously scribbling class sitting in rows of
desks before him. Occasionally be would slide to his feet and go to
a blackboard on an easel and draw on that very slowly and
deliberately in coloured chalks a diagram for the class to copy in
coloured pencils, and sometimes he would display a specimen or
arrange an experiment for them to see. The room in the Institute in
which he taught was equipped with a certain amount of apparatus
prescribed as necessary for subject this and subject that by the
Science and Art Department, and this my father would supplement with
maps and diagrams and drawings of his own.
But he never really did experiments, except that in the class in
systematic botany he sometimes made us tease common flowers to
pieces. He did not do experiments if he could possibly help it,
because in the first place they used up time and gas for the Bunsen
burner and good material in a ruinous fashion, and in the second
they were, in his rather careless and sketchy hands, apt to endanger
the apparatus of the Institute and even the lives of his students.
Then thirdly, real experiments involved washing up. And moreover
they always turned out wrong, and sometimes misled the too observant
learner very seriously and opened demoralising controversies. Quite
early in life I acquired an almost ineradicable sense of the
unscientific perversity of Nature and the impassable gulf that is
fixed between systematic science and elusive fact. I knew, for
example, that in science, whether it be subject XII., Organic
Chemistry, or subject XVII., Animal Physiology, when you blow into a
glass of lime water it instantly becomes cloudy, and if you continue
to blow it clears again, whereas in truth you may blow into the
stuff from the lime-water bottle until you are crimson in the face
and painful under the ears, and it never becomes cloudy at all. And
I knew, too, that in science if you put potassium chlorate into a
retort and heat it over a Bunsen burner, oxygen is disengaged and
may be collected over water, whereas in real life if you do anything
of the sort the vessel cracks with a loud report, the potassium
chlorate descends sizzling upon the flame, the experimenter says
"Oh! Damn!" with astonishing heartiness and distinctness, and a lady
student in the back seats gets up and leaves the room.
Science is the organised conquest of Nature, and I can quite
understand that ancient libertine refusing to cooperate in her own
undoing. And I can quite understand, too, my father's preference
for what he called an illustrative experiment, which was simply an
arrangement of the apparatus in front of the class with nothing
whatever by way of material, and the Bunsen burner clean and cool,
and then a slow luminous description of just what you did put in it
when you were so ill-advised as to carry the affair beyond
illustration, and just exactly what ought anyhow to happen when you
did. He had considerable powers of vivid expression, so that in
this way he could make us see all he described. The class, freed
from any unpleasant nervous tension, could draw this still life
without flinching, and if any part was too difficult to draw, then
my father would produce a simplified version on the blackboard to be
copied instead. And he would also write on the blackboard any
exceptionally difficult but grant-earning words, such as
"empyreumatic" or "botryoidal."
Some words in constant use he rarely explained. I remember once
sticking up my hand and asking him in the full flow of description,
"Please, sir, what is flocculent?"
"The precipitate is."
"Yes, sir, but what does it mean?"
"Oh! flocculent! " said my father, "flocculent! Why-" he extended
his hand and arm and twiddled his fingers for a second in the air.
"Like that," he said.
I thought the explanation sufficient, but he paused for a moment
after giving it. "As in a flock bed, you know," he added and
resumed his discourse.
affairs to an exceptionally high level. He combined practical
incompetence, practical enterprise and a thoroughly sanguine
temperament, in a manner that I have never seen paralleled in any
human being. He was always trying to do new things in the briskest
manner, under the suggestion of books or papers or his own
spontaneous imagination, and as he had never been trained to do
anything whatever in his life properly, his futilities were
extensive and thorough. At one time he nearly gave up his classes
for intensive culture, so enamoured was he of its possibilities; the
peculiar pungency of the manure he got, in pursuit of a chemical
theory of his own, has scarred my olfactory memories for a lifetime.
The intensive culture phase is very clear in my memory; it came near
the end of his career and when I was between eleven and twelve. I
was mobilised to gather caterpillars on several occasions, and
assisted in nocturnal raids upon the slugs by lantern-light that
wrecked my preparation work for school next day. My father dug up
both lawns, and trenched and manured in spasms of immense vigour
alternating with periods of paralysing distaste for the garden. And
for weeks he talked about eight hundred pounds an acre at every
A garden, even when it is not exasperated by intensive methods, is a
thing as exacting as a baby, its moods have to he watched; it does
not wait upon the cultivator's convenience, but has times of its
own. Intensive culture greatly increases this disposition to
trouble mankind; it makes a garden touchy and hysterical, a drugged
and demoralised and over-irritated garden. My father got at cross
purposes with our two patches at an early stage. Everything grew
wrong from the first to last, and if my father's manures intensified
nothing else, they certainly intensified the Primordial Curse. The
peas were eaten in the night before they were three inches high, the
beans bore nothing but blight, the only apparent result of a
spraying of the potatoes was to develop a PENCHANT in the cat for
being ill indoors, the cucumber frames were damaged by the
catapulting of boys going down the lane at the back, and all your
cucumbers were mysteriously embittered. That lane with its
occasional passers-by did much to wreck the intensive scheme,
because my father always stopped work and went indoors if any one
watched him. His special manure was apt to arouse a troublesome
spirit of inquiry in hardy natures.
In digging his rows and shaping his patches he neglected the guiding
string and trusted to his eye altogether too much, and the
consequent obliquity and the various wind-breaks and scare-crows he
erected, and particularly an irrigation contrivance he began and
never finished by which everything was to be watered at once by
means of pieces of gutter from the roof and outhouses of Number 2,
and a large and particularly obstinate clump of elder-bushes in the
abolished hedge that he had failed to destroy entirely either by axe
or by fire, combined to give the gardens under intensive culture a
singularly desolate and disorderly appearance. He took steps
towards the diversion of our house drain under the influence of the
Sewage Utilisation Society; but happily he stopped in time. He
hardly completed any of the operations he began; something else
became more urgent or simply he tired; a considerable area of the
Number 2 territory was never even dug up.
In the end the affair irritated him beyond endurance. Never was a
man less horticulturally-minded. The clamour of these vegetables he
had launched into the world for his service and assistance, wore out
after a day or so of disregard, talking to me of history perhaps or
social organisation, or summarising some book he had read. He
talked to me of anything that interested him, regardless of my
limitations. Then he would begin to note the growth of the weeds.
"This won't do," he would say and pull up a handful.
More weeding would follow and the talk would become fragmentary.
His hands would become earthy, his nails black, weeds would snap off
in his careless grip, leaving the roots behind. The world would
darken. He would look at his fingers with disgusted astonishment.
"CURSE these weeds!" he would say from his heart. His discourse was
at an end.
I have memories, too, of his sudden unexpected charges into the
tranquillity of the house, his hands and clothes intensively
enriched. He would come in like a whirlwind. "This damned stuff
all over me and the Agricultural Chemistry Class at six! Bah!
My mother would never learn not to attempt to break him of swearing
on such occasions. She would remain standing a little stiffly in
the scullery refusing to assist him to the adjectival towel he
"If you say such things-"
He would dance with rage and hurl the soap about. "The towel!" he
would cry, flicking suds from big fingers in every direction; "the
towel! I'll let the blithering class slide if you don't give me the
towel! I'll give up everything, I tell you-everything!"…
At last with the failure of the lettuces came the breaking point. I
was in the little arbour learning Latin irregular verbs when it
happened. I can see him still, his peculiar tenor voice still
echoes in my brain, shouting his opinion of intensive culture for
all the world to hear, and slashing away at that abominable mockery
of a crop with a hoe. We had tied them up with bast only a week or
so before, and now half were rotten and half had shot up into tall
slender growths. He had the hoe in both hands and slogged. Great
wipes he made, and at each stroke he said, "Take that!"
The air was thick with flying fragments of abortive salad. It was a
fantastic massacre. It was the French Revolution of that cold
tyranny, the vindictive overthrow of the pampered vegetable
aristocrats. After he had assuaged his passion upon them, he turned
for other prey; he kicked holes in two of our noblest marrows,
flicked off the heads of half a row of artichokes, and shied the hoe
with a splendid smash into the cucumber frame. Something of the awe
of that moment returns to me as I write of it.
Well, my boy," he said, approaching with an expression of beneficent
happiness, "I've done with gardening. Let's go for a walk like
reasonable beings. I've had enough of this"-his face was convulsed
for an instant with bitter resentment-" Pandering to cabbages."
That afternoon's walk sticks in my memory for many reasons. One is
that we went further than I had ever been before; far beyond Keston
and nearly to Seven-oaks, coming back by train from Dunton Green,
and the other is that my father as he went along talked about
had done with it. He monologued so that at times he produced an
effect of weird world-forgetfulness. I listened puzzled, and at
that time not upderstanding many things that afterwards became plain
to me. It is only in recent years that I have discovered the pathos
of that monologue; how friendless my father was and uncompanioned in
the sympathy of the undeveloped youngster who trotted by his side.
"I suppose man was created to mind a garden… But the Fall let
us out of that! What was I created for? God! what was I created
"Slaves to matter! Minding inanimate things! It doesn't suit me,
with life. Mucked about with life." He suddenly addressed himself
to me, and for an instant I started like an eavesdropper discovered.
"Whatever you do, boy, whatever you do, make a Plan. Make a good
Plan and stick to it. Find out what life is about-I never have-
and set yourself to do whatever you ought to do. I admit it's a
"Those damned houses have been the curse of my life. Stucco white
elephants! Beastly cracked stucco with stains of green-black and
green. Conferva and soot… Property, they are!… Beware
of Things, Dick, beware of Things! Before you know where you are
you are waiting on them and minding them. They'll eat your life up.
Eat up your hours and your blood and energy! When those houses came
to me, I ought to have sold them-or fled the country. I ought to
have cleared out. Sarcophagi-eaters of men! Oh! the hours and
days of work, the nights of anxiety those vile houses have cost me!
The painting! It worked up my arms; it got all over me. I stank of
it. It made me ill. It isn't living-it's minding…
"Property's the curse of life. Property! Ugh! Look at this
country all cut up into silly little parallelograms, look at all
those villas we passed just now and those potato patches and that
tarred shanty and the hedge! Somebody's minding every bit of it
like a dog tied to a cart's tail. Patching it and bothering about
it. Bothering! Yapping at every passer-by. Look at that notice-
board! One rotten worried little beast wants to keep us other
rotten little beasts off HIS patch,-God knows why! Look at the
weeds in it. Look at the mended fence!… There's no property
worth having, Dick, but money. That's only good to spend. All
these things. Human souls buried under a cartload of blithering
"I'm not a fool, Dick. I have qualities, imagination, a sort of go.
I ought to have made a better thing of life.
"I'm sure I could have done things. Only the old people pulled my
leg. They started me wrong. They never started me at all. I only
began to find out what life was like when I was nearly forty.
"If I'd gone to a university; if I'd had any sort of sound training,
if I hadn't slipped into the haphazard places that came easiest…
"Nobody warned me. Nobody. It isn't a world we live in, Dick; it's
a cascade of accidents; it's a chaos exasperated by policemen! YOU
be warned in time, Dick. You stick to a plan. Don't wait for any
one to show you the way. Nobody will. There isn't a way till you
make one. Get education, get a good education. Fight your way to
the top. It's your only chance. I've watched you. You'll do no
Bromstead won't be able to skin you at suchlike games. You and I
are the brainy unstable kind, topside or nothing. And if ever those
blithering houses come to you-don't have 'em. Give them away!
Dynamite 'em-and off! LIVE, Dick! I'll get rid of them for you if
I can, Dick, but remember what I say."…
So it was my father discoursed, if not in those particular words,
yet exactly in that manner, as he slouched along the southward road,
with resentful eyes becoming less resentful as he talked, and
flinging out clumsy illustrative motions at the outskirts of
Bromstead as we passed along them. That afternoon he hated
Bromstead, from its foot-tiring pebbles up. He had no illusions
about Bromstead or himself. I have the clearest impression of him
in his garden-stained tweeds with a deer-stalker hat on the back of
his head and presently a pipe sometimes between his teeth and
sometimes in his gesticulating hand, as he became diverted by his
talk from his original exasperation…
many other afternoons; all sorts of things my father said and did at
different times have got themselves referred to it; it filled me at
the time with a great unprecedented sense of fellowship and it has
become the symbol now for all our intercourse together. If I didn't
understand the things he said, I did the mood he was in. He gave me
two very broad ideas in that talk and the talks I have mingled with
it; he gave them to me very clearly and they have remained
and waste and planlessness of the human life that went on all about
us; and the other of a great ideal of order and economy which he
called variously Science and Civilisation, and which, though I do
not remember that he ever used that word, I suppose many people
nowadays would identify with Socialism,-as the Fabians expound it.
He was not very definite about this Science, you must understand,
but he seemed always to be waving his hand towards it,-just as his
contemporary Tennyson seems always to be doing-he belonged to his
age and mostly his talk was destructive of the limited beliefs of
his time, he led me to infer rather than actually told me that this
Science was coming, a spirit of light and order, to the rescue of a
world groaning and travailing in muddle for the want of it…
When I think of Bromstead nowadays I find it inseparably bound up
with the disorders of my father's gardening, and the odd patchings
and paintings that disfigured his houses. It was all of a piece
Let me try and give something of the quality of Bromstead and
something of its history. It is the quality and history of a
thousand places round and about London, and round and about the
other great centres of population in the world. Indeed it is in a
measure the quality of the whole of this modern world from which we
who have the statesman's passion struggle to evolve, and dream still
of evolving order.
First, then, you must think of Bromstead a hundred and fifty years
ago, as a narrow irregular little street of thatched houses strung
out on the London and Dover Road, a little mellow sample unit of a
social order that had a kind of completeness, at its level, of its
own. At that time its population numbered a little under two
thousand people, mostly engaged in agricultural work or in trades
serving agriculture. There was a blacksmith, a saddler, a chemist,
a doctor, a barber, a linen-draper (who brewed his own beer); a
veterinary surgeon, a hardware shop, and two capacious inns. Round
and about it were a number of pleasant gentlemen's seats, whose
owners went frequently to London town in their coaches along the
very tolerable high-road. The church was big enough to hold the
whole population, were people minded to go to church, and indeed a
large proportion did go, and all who married were married in it, and
everybody, to begin with, was christened at its font and buried at
last in its yew-shaded graveyard. Everybody knew everybody in the
place. It was, in fact, a definite place and a real human community
in those days. There was a pleasant old market-house in the middle
of the town with a weekly market, and an annual fair at which much
cheerful merry making and homely intoxication occurred; there was a
pack of hounds which hunted within five miles of London Bridge, and
the local gentry would occasionally enliven the place with valiant
cricket matches for a hundred guineas a side, to the vast excitement
of the entire population. It was very much the same sort of place
that it had been for three or four centuries. A Bromstead Rip van
Winkle from 1550 returning in 1750 would have found most of the old
houses still as he had known them, the same trades a little improved
and differentiated one from the other, the same roads rather more
carefully tended, the Inns not very much altered, the ancient
familiar market-house. The occasional wheeled traffic would have
struck him as the most remarkable difference, next perhaps to the
swaggering painted stone monuments instead of brasses and the
protestant severity of the communion-table in the parish church,-
both from the material point of view very little things. A Rip van
Winkle from 1350, again, would have noticed scarcely greater
changes; fewer clergy, more people, and particularly more people of
the middling sort; the glass in the windows of many of the houses,
the stylish chimneys springing up everywhere would have impressed
him, and suchlike details. The place would have had the same
boundaries, the same broad essential features, would have been still
itself in the way that a man is still himself after he has "filled
out" a little and grown a longer beard and changed his clothes.
But after 1750 something got hold of the world, something that was
destined to alter the scale of every human affair.
That something was machinery and a vague energetic disposition to
improve material things. In another part of England ingenious
people were beginning to use coal in smelting iron, and were
producing metal in abundance and metal castings in sizes that had
hitherto been unattainable. Without warning or preparation,
increment involving countless possibilities of further increment was
coming to the strength of horses and men. "Power," all
unsuspected, was flowing like a drug into the veins of the social
Nobody seems to have perceived this coming of power, and nobody had
calculated its probable consequences. Suddenly, almost
inadvertently, people found themselves doing things that would have
amazed their ancestors. They began to construct wheeled vehicles
much more easily and cheaply than they had ever done before, to make
up roads and move things about that had formerly been esteemed too
heavy for locomotion, to join woodwork with iron nails instead of
wooden pegs, to achieve all sorts of mechanical possibilities, to
trade more freely and manufacture on a larger scale, to send goods
abroad in a wholesale and systematic way, to bring back commodities
from overseas, not simply spices and fine commodities, but goods in
bulk. The new influence spread to agriculture, iron appliances
replaced wooden, breeding of stock became systematic, paper-making
and printing increased and cheapened. Roofs of slate and tile
appeared amidst and presently prevailed over the original Bromstead
thatch, the huge space of Common to the south was extensively
enclosed, and what had been an ill-defined horse-track to Dover,
only passable by adventurous coaches in dry weather, became the
Dover Road, and was presently the route first of one and then of
several daily coaches. The High Street was discovered to be too
tortuous for these awakening energies, and a new road cut off its
worst contortions. Residential villas appeared occupied by retired
tradesmen and widows, who esteemed the place healthy, and by others
of a strange new unoccupied class of people who had money invested
in joint-stock enterprises. First one and then several boys'
boarding-schools came, drawing their pupils from London,-my
grandfather's was one of these. London, twelve miles to the north-
west, was making itself felt more and more.
But this was only the beginning of the growth period, the first
trickle of the coming flood of mechanical power. Away in the north
they were casting iron in bigger and bigger forms, working their way
to the production of steel on a large scale, applying power in
factories. Bromstead had almost doubted in size again long before
the railway came; there was hardly any thatch left in the High
Street, but instead were houses with handsome brass-knockered front
doors and several windows, and shops with shop-fronts all of square
glass panes, and the place was lighted publicly now by oil lamps-
previously only one flickering lamp outside each of the coaching
inns had broken the nocturnal darkness. And there was talk, it long
remained talk,-of gas. The gasworks came in 1834, and about that
date my father's three houses must have been built convenient for
the London Road. They mark nearly the beginning of the real
suburban quality; they were let at first to City people still
engaged in business.
And then hard on the gasworks had come the railway and cheap coal;
there was a wild outbreak of brickfields upon the claylands to the
east, and the Great Growth had begun in earnest. The agricultural
placidities that had formerly come to the very borders of the High
Street were broken up north, west and south, by new roads. This
enterprising person and then that began to "run up" houses,
irrespective of every other enterprising person who was doing the
same thing. A Local Board came into existence, and with much
hesitation and penny-wise economy inaugurated drainage works. Rates
became a common topic, a fact of accumulating importance. Several
chapels of zinc and iron appeared, and also a white new church in
commercial Gothic upon the common, and another of red brick in the
residential district out beyond the brickfields towards Chessington.
The population doubled again and doubled again, and became
particularly teeming in the prolific "working-class" district about
the deep-rutted, muddy, coal-blackened roads between the gasworks,
Blodgett's laundries, and the railway goods-yard. Weekly
properties, that is to say small houses built by small property
owners and let by the week, sprang up also in the Cage Fields, and
presently extended right up the London Road. A single national
school in an inconvenient situation set itself inadequately to
collect subscriptions and teach the swarming, sniffing, grimy
offspring of this dingy new population to read. The villages of
Beckington, which used to be three miles to the west, and Blamely
four miles to the east of Bromstead, were experiencing similar
of locality or community had gone from these places long before I
was born; hardly any one knew any one; there was no general meeting
place any more, the old fairs were just common nuisances haunted by
gypsies, van showmen, Cheap Jacks and London roughs, the churches
were incapable of a quarter of the population. One or two local
papers of shameless veniality reported the proceedings of the local
Bench and the local Board, compelled tradesmen who were interested
in these affairs to advertise, used the epithet "Bromstedian" as one
weak tradition of some local quality that embraced us all. Then the
parish graveyard filled up and became a scandal, and an ambitious
area with an air of appetite was walled in by a Bromstead Cemetery
Company, and planted with suitably high-minded and sorrowful
varieties of conifer. A stonemason took one of the earlier villas
with a front garden at the end of the High Street, and displayed a
supply of urns on pillars and headstones and crosses in stone,
marble, and granite, that would have sufficed to commemorate in
elaborate detail the entire population of Bromstead as one found it
The cemetery was made when I was a little boy of five or six; I was
in the full tide of building and growth from the first; the second
railway with its station at Bromstead North and the drainage
followed when I was ten or eleven, and all my childish memories are
of digging and wheeling, of woods invaded by building, roads gashed
men peeped at and seen toiling away deep down in excavations, of
hedges broken down and replaced by planks, of wheelbarrows and
builders' sheds, of rivulets overtaken and swallowed up by drain-
pipes. Big trees, and especially elms, cleared of undergrowth and
left standing amid such things, acquired a peculiar tattered
dinginess rather in the quality of needy widow women who have seen
The Ravensbrook of my earlier memories was a beautiful stream. It
came into my world out of a mysterious Beyond, out of a garden,
splashing brightly down a weir which had once been the weir of a
mill. (Above the weir and inaccessible there were bulrushes growing
in splendid clumps, and beyond that, pampas grass, yellow and
crimson spikes of hollyhock, and blue suggestions of wonderland.)
From the pool at the foot of this initial cascade it flowed in a
leisurely fashion beside a footpath,-there were two pretty thatchcd
cottages on the left, and here were ducks, and there were willows on
the right,-and so came to where great trees grew on high banks on
either hand and bowed closer, and at last met overhead. This part
was difficult to reach because of an old fence, but a little boy
might glimpse that long cavern of greenery by wading. Either I have
actually seen kingfishers there, or my father has described them so
them there anyhow. Most of that overhung part I never penetrated at
all, but followed the field path with my mother and met the stream
again, where beyond there were flat meadows, Roper's meadows. The
Ravensbrook went meandering across the middle of these, now between
steep banks, and now with wide shallows at the bends where the
cattle waded and drank. Yellow and purple loose-strife and ordinary
rushes grew in clumps along the bank, and now and then a willow. On
rare occasions of rapture one might see a rat cleaning his whiskers
at the water's edge. The deep places were rich with tangled weeds,
and in them fishes lurked-to me they were big fishes-water-boatmen
and water-beetles traversed the calm surface of these still deeps;
in one pool were yellow lilies and water-soldiers, and in the shoaly
places hovering fleets of small fry basked in the sunshine-to
vanish in a flash at one's shadow. In one place, too, were Rapids,
where the stream woke with a start from a dreamless brooding into
foaming panic and babbled and hastened. Well do I remember that
half-mile of rivulet; all other rivers and cascades have their
reference to it for me. And after I was eleven, and before we left
Bromstead, all the delight and beauty of it was destroyed.
The volume of its water decreased abruptly-I suppose the new
drainage works that linked us up with Beckington, and made me first
acquainted with the geological quality of the London clay, had to do
with that-until only a weak uncleansing trickle remained. That at
first did not strike me as a misfortune. An adventurous small boy
might walk dryshod in places hitherto inaccessible. But hard upon
that came the pegs, the planks and carts and devastation. Roper's
out into parallelograms of untidy road, and built upon with rows of
working-class cottages. The roads came,-horribly; the houses
followed. They seemed to rise in the night. People moved into them
as soon as the roofs were on, mostly workmen and their young wives,
and already in a year some of these raw houses stood empty again
from defaulting tenants, with windows broken and wood-work warping
and rotting. The Ravensbrook became a dump for old iron, rusty
cans, abandoned boots and the like, and was a river only when
unusual rains filled it for a day or so with an inky flood of
Bromstead. The Ravensbrook had been important to my imaginative
life; that way had always been my first choice in all my walks with
my mother, and its rapid swamping by the new urban growth made it
indicative of all the other things that had happened just before my
time, or were still, at a less dramatic pace, happening. I realised
that building was the enemy. I began to understand why in every
direction out of Bromstead one walked past scaffold-poles into
litter, why fragments of broken brick and cinder mingled in every
path, and the significance of the universal notice-boards, either
white and new or a year old and torn and battered, promising sites,
proffering houses to be sold or let, abusing and intimidating
passers-by for fancied trespass, and protecting rights of way.
It is difficult to disentangle now what I understood at this time
and what I have since come to understand, but it seems to me that
even in those childish days I was acutely aware of an invading and
growing disorder. The serene rhythms of the old established
cultivation under notice and snatch crops; hedges ceased to be
repaired, and were replaced by cheap iron railings or chunks of
corrugated iron; more and more hoardings sprang up, and contributed
more and more to the nomad tribes of filthy paper scraps that flew
before the wind and overspread the country. The outskirts of
Bromstead were a maze of exploitation roads that led nowhere, that
ended in tarred fences studded with nails (I don't remember barbed
wire in those days; I think the Zeitgeist did not produce that until
later), and in trespass boards that used vehement language. Broken
glass, tin cans, and ashes and paper abounded. Cheap glass, cheap
tin, abundant fuel, and a free untaxed Press had rushed upon a world
quite unprepared to dispose of these blessings when the fulness of
enjoyment was past.
I suppose one might have persuaded oneself that all this was but the
replacement of an ancient tranquillity, or at least an ancient
balance, by a new order. Only to my eyes, quickened by my father's
intimations, it was manifestly no order at all. It was a multitude
of incoordinated fresh starts, each more sweeping and destructive
than the last, and none of them ever really worked out to a ripe and
satisfactory completion. Each left a legacy of products, houses,
humanity, or what not, in its wake. It was a sort of progress that
had bolted; it was change out of hand, and going at an unprecedented
pace nowhere in particular.
No, the Victorian epoch was not the dawn of a new era; it was a
hasty, trial experiment, a gigantic experiment of the most slovenly
and wasteful kind. I suppose it was necessary; I suppose all things
are necessary. I suppose that before men will discipline themselves
the folly and muddle that come from headlong, aimless and haphazard
methods. The nineteenth century was an age of demonstrations, some
of them very impressive demonstrations, of the powers that have come
to mankind, but of permanent achievement, what will our descendants
cherish? It is hard to estimate what grains of precious metal may
not be found in a mud torrent of human production on so large a
scale, but will any one, a hundred years from now, consent to live
in the houses the Victorians built, travel by their roads or
railways, value the furnishings they made to live among or esteem,
except for curious or historical reasons, their prevalent art and
That age which bore me was indeed a world full of restricted and
undisciplined people, overtaken by power, by possessions and great
new freedoms, and unable to make any civilised use of them whatever;
stricken now by this idea and now by that, tempted first by one
possession and then another to ill-considered attempts; it was my
father's exploitahon of his villa gardens on the wholesale level.
a year ago now-is a dull useless boiling-up of human activities, an
immense clustering of futilities. It is as unfinished as ever; the
builders' roads still run out and end in mid-field in their old
fashion; the various enterprises jumble in the same hopeless
contradiction, if anything intensified. Pretentious villas jostle
slums, and public-house and tin tabernacle glower at one another
across the cat-haunted lot that intervenes. Roper's meadows are now
quite frankly a slum; back doors and sculleries gape towards the
railway, their yards are hung with tattered washing unashamed; and
there seem to be more boards by the railway every time I pass,
advertising pills and pickles, tonics and condiments, and suchlike
solicitudes of a people with no natural health nor appetite left in
Well, we have to do better. Failure is not failure nor waste wasted
if it sweeps away illusion and lights the road to a plan.
Chaotic indiscipline, ill-adjusted effort, spasmodic aims, these
give the quality of all my Bromstead memories. The crowning one of
them all rises to desolating tragedy. I remember now the wan spring
sunshine of that Sunday morning, the stiff feeling of best clothes
and aggressive cleanliness and formality, when I and my mother
returned from church to find my father dead. He had been pruning
the grape vine. He had never had a ladder long enough to reach the
sill of the third-floor windows-at house-painting times he had
borrowed one from the plumber who mixed his paint-and he had in his
own happy-go-lucky way contrived a combination of the garden fruit
ladder with a battered kitchen table that served all sorts of odd
purposes in an outhouse. He had stayed up this arrangement by means
of the garden roller, and the roller had at the critical moment-
rolled. He was lying close by the garden door with his head queerly
bent back against a broken and twisted rainwater pipe, an expression
of pacific contentment on his face, a bamboo curtain rod with a
tableknife tied to end of it, still gripped in his hand. We had
been rapping for some time at the front door unable to make him
hear, and then we came round by the door in the side trellis into
the garden and so discovered him.
"Arthur!" I remember my mother crying with the strangest break in
her voice, "What are you doing there? Arthur! And-SUNDAY!"
I was coming behind her, musing remotely, when the quality of her
voice roused me. She stood as if she could not go near him. He had
always puzzled her so, he and his ways, and this seemed only another
enigma. Then the truth dawned on her, she shrieked as if afraid of
him, ran a dozen steps back towards the trellis door and stopped and
clasped her ineffectual gloved hands, leaving me staring blankly,
too astonished for feeling, at the carelessly flung limbs.
The same idea came to me also. I ran to her. "Mother!" I cried,
pale to the depths of my spirit, "IS HE DEAD?"
I had been thinking two minutes before of the cold fruit pie that
glorified our Sunday dinner-table, and how I might perhaps get into
the tree at the end of the garden to read in the afternoon. Now an
immense fact had come down like a curtain and blotted out all my
childish world. My father was lying dead before my eyes… I
perceived that my mother was helpless and that things must he done.
"Mother!" I said, "we must get Doctor Beaseley,-and carry him
CHAPTER THE THIRD
My formal education began in a small preparatory school in
Bromstead. I went there as a day boy. The charge for my
instruction was mainly set off by the periodic visits of my father
with a large bag of battered fossils to lecture to us upon geology.
I was one of those fortunate youngsters who take readily to school
appetite for commendation, and when I was barely twelve I got a
scholarship at the City Merchants School and was entrusted with a
scholar's railway season ticket to Victoria. After my father's
death a large and very animated and solidly built uncle in tweeds
from Staffordshire, Uncle Minter, my mother's sister's husband, with
a remarkable accent and remarkable vowel sounds, who had plunged
into the Bromstead home once or twice for the night but who was
otherwise unknown to me, came on the scene, sold off the three gaunt
houses with the utmost gusto, invested the proceeds and my father's
life insurance money, and got us into a small villa at Penge within
sight of that immense facade of glass and iron, the Crystal Palace.
Then he retired in a mood of good-natured contempt to his native
habitat again. We stayed at Penge until my mother's death.
School became a large part of the world to me, absorbing my time and
interest, and I never acquired that detailed and intimate knowledge
of Penge and the hilly villadom round about, that I have of the town
and outskirts of Bromstead.
It was a district of very much the same character, but it was more
completely urbanised and nearer to the centre of things; there were
the same unfinished roads, the same occasional disconcerted hedges
and trees, the same butcher's horse grazing under a builder's
notice-board, the same incidental lapses into slum. The Crystal
Palace grounds cut off a large part of my walking radius to the west
with impassable fences and forbiddingly expensive turnstiles, but it
added to the ordinary spectacle of meteorology a great variety of
gratuitous fireworks which banged and flared away of a night after
supper and drew me abroad to see them better. Such walks as I took,
to Croydon, Wembledon, West Wickham and Greenwich, impressed upon me
the interminable extent of London's residential suburbs; mile after
mile one went, between houses, villas, rows of cottages, streets of
shops, under railway arches, over railway bridges. I have forgotten
the detailed local characteristics-if there were any-of much of
that region altogether. I was only there two years, and half my
perambulations occurred at dusk or after dark. But with Penge I
associate my first realisations of the wonder and beauty of twilight
and night, the effect of dark walls reflecting lamplight, and the
mystery of blue haze-veiled hillsides of houses, the glare of shops
by night, the glowing steam and streaming sparks of railway trains
and railway signals lit up in the darkness. My first rambles in the
evening occurred at Penge-I was becoming a big and independent-
twilight prowls with the threepenny packets of American cigarettes
then just appearing in the world.
My life centred upon the City Merchants School. Usually I caught
the eight-eighteen for Victoria, I had a midday meal and tea; four
nights a week I stayed for preparation, and often I was not back
home again until within an hour of my bedtime. I spent my half
holidays at school in order to play cricket and football. This, and
a pretty voracious appetite for miscellaneous reading which was
fostered by the Penge Middleton Library, did not leave me much
leisure for local topography. On Sundays also I sang in the choir
at St. Martin 's Church, and my mother did not like me to walk out
wrote or read at home. I must confess I was at home as little as I
Home, after my father's death, had become a very quiet and
uneventful place indeed. My mother had either an unimaginative
temperament or her mind was greatly occupied with private religious
solicitudes, and I remember her talking to me but little, and that
usually upon topics I was anxious to evade. I had developed my own
view about low-Church theology long before my father's death, and my
meditation upon that event had finished my secret estrangement from
my mother's faith. My reason would not permit even a remote chance
of his being in hell, he was so manifestly not evil, and this
religion would not permit him a remote chance of being out yet.
When I was a little boy my mother had taught me to read and write
and pray and had done many things for me, indeed she persisted in
washing me and even in making my clothes until I rebelled against
these things as indignities. But our minds parted very soon. She
never began to understand the mental processes of my play, she never
interested herself in my school life and work, she could not
regard me with something of the same hopeless perplexity she had
felt towards my father.
Him she must have wedded under considerable delusions. I do not
in their union; but no doubt he played up to her requirements in the
half ingenuous way that was and still is the quality of most wooing,
and presented himself as a very brisk and orthodox young man. I
wonder why nearly all lovemaking has to be fraudulent. Afterwards
he must have disappointed her cruelly by letting one aspect after
another of his careless, sceptical, experimental temperament appear.
Her mind was fixed and definite, she embodied all that confidence in
church and decorum and the assurances of the pulpit which was
characteristic of the large mass of the English people-for after
all, the rather low-Church section WAS the largest single mass-in
early Victorian times. She had dreams, I suspect, of going to
church with him side by side; she in a little poke bonnet and a
large flounced crinoline, all mauve and magenta and starched under a
little lace-trimmed parasol, and he in a tall silk hat and peg-top
trousers and a roll-collar coat, and looking rather like the Prince
Consort,-white angels almost visibly raining benedictions on their
amiable progress. Perhaps she dreamt gently of much-belaced babies
and an interestingly pious (but not too dissenting or fanatical)
little girl or boy or so, also angel-haunted. And I think, too, she
vivarium in the conservatory that opened out of the drawing-room, or
again, making preserves in the kitchen. My father's science-
teaching, his diagrams of disembowelled humanity, his pictures of
prehistoric beasts that contradicted the Flood, his disposition
towards soft shirts and loose tweed suits, his inability to use a
clothes brush, his spasmodic reading fits and his bulldog pipes,
must have jarred cruelly with her rather unintelligent
anticipations. His wild moments of violent temper when he would
swear and smash things, absurd almost lovable storms that passed
like summer thunder, must have been starkly dreadful to her. She
was constitutionally inadaptable, and certainly made no attempt to
understand or tolerate these outbreaks. She tried them by her
standards, and by her standards they were wrong. Her standards hid
him from her. The blazing things he said rankled in her mind
nearly all his moods and all his enterprises was a sceptical
disapproval. She treated him as something that belonged to me and
not to her. "YOUR father," she used to call him, as though I had
got him for her.
She had married late and she had, I think, become mentally self-
subsisting before her marriage. Even in those Herne Hill days I
used to wonder what was going on in her mind, and I find that old
speculative curiosity return as I write this. She took a
considerable interest in the housework that our generally
servantless condition put upon her-she used to have a charwoman in
two or three times a week-but she did not do it with any great
skill. She covered most of our furniture with flouncey ill-fitting
covers, and she cooked plainly and without very much judgment. The
Penge house, as it contained nearly all our Bromstead things, was
crowded with furniture, and is chiefly associated in my mind with
the smell of turpentine, a condiment she used very freely upon the
veneered mahogany pieces. My mother had an equal dread of "blacks"
by day and the "night air," so that our brightly clean windows were
She took a morning paper, and she would open it and glance at the
headlines, but she did not read it until the afternoon and then, I
think, she was interested only in the more violent crimes, and in
railway and mine disasters and in the minutest domesticities of the
Royal Family. Most of the books at home were my father's, and I do
not think she opened any of them. She had one or two volumes that
dated from her own youth, and she tried in vain to interest me in
them; there was Miss Strickland's QUEENS OF ENGLAND, a book I
remember with particular animosity, and QUEECHY and the WIDE WIDE
WORLD. She made these books of hers into a class apart by sewing
outer covers upon them of calico and figured muslin. To me in these
habiliments they seemed not so much books as confederated old
My mother was also very punctual with her religious duties, and
rejoiced to watch me in the choir.
On winter evenings she occupied an armchair on the other side of the
table at which I sat, head on hand reading, and she would be darning
stockings or socks or the like. We achieved an effect of rather
was wont to put her work down on her knees and fall into a sort of
thoughtless musing that would last for long intervals and rouse my
curiosity. For like most young people I could not imagine mental
She carried on a correspondence with a number of cousins and
friends, writing letters in a slanting Italian hand and dealing
mainly with births, marriages and deaths, business starts (in the
vaguest terms) and the distresses of bankruptcy.
And yet, you know, she did have a curious intimate life of her own
that I suspected nothing of at the time, that only now becomes
credible to me. She kept a diary that is still in my possession, a
diary of fragmentary entries in a miscellaneous collection of pocket
books. She put down the texts of the sermons she heard, and queer
stiff little comments on casual visitors,-" Miss G. and much noisy
shrieking talk about games and such frivolities and CROQUAY. A.
delighted and VERY ATTENTIVE." Such little human entries abound.
She had an odd way of never writing a name, only an initial; my
followed the domestic events in the life of the Princess of Wales,
who is now Queen Mother, with peculiar interest and sympathy. "Pray
G. all may be well," she writes in one such crisis.
But there are things about myself that I still find too poignant to
tell easily, certain painful and clumsy circumstances of my birth in
very great detail, the distresses of my infantile ailments. Then
later I find such things as this: "Heard D. s--." The "s" is
evidently "swear "-" G. bless and keep my boy from evil." And
again, with the thin handwriting shaken by distress: "D. would not
go to church, and hardened his heart and said wicked infidel things,
much disrespect of the clergy. The anthem is tiresome!!! That men
should set up to be wiser than their maker!!!" Then trebly
underlined: "I FEAR HIS FATHER'S TEACHING." Dreadful little tangle
of misapprehensions and false judgments! More comforting for me to
I suspect myself of forgotten hypocrisies.
At just one point my mother's papers seem to dip deeper. I think
the death of my father must have stirred her for the first time for
any peace at all, believing that he had indeed been flung headlong
into hell. Of this gnawing solicitude she never spoke to me, never,
and for her diary also she could find no phrases. But on a loose
half-sheet of notepaper between its pages I find this passage that
follows, written very carefully. I do not know whose lines they are
nor how she came upon them. They run:-
"And if there be no meeting past the grave;
If all is darkness, silence, yet 'tis rest.
Be not afraid ye waiting hearts that weep,
For God still giveth His beloved sleep,
And if an endless sleep He wills, so best."
That scrap of verse amazed me when I read it. I could even wonder
if my mother really grasped the import of what she had copied out.
It affected me as if a stone-deaf person had suddenly turned and
joined in a whispered conversation. It set me thinking how far a
After that I went through all her diaries, trying to find something
more than a conventional term of tenderness for my father. But I
found nothing. And yet somehow there grew upon me the realisation
that there had been love… Her love for me, on the other hand,
was abundantly expressed.
expression as it found was all beyond my schoolboy range. I did not
Chiefly I was aware of my mother as rather dull company, as a mind
thorny with irrational conclusions and incapable of explication, as
one believing quite wilfully and irritatingly in impossible things.
So I suppose it had to be; life was coming to me in new forms and
with new requirements. It was essential to our situation that we
should fail to understand. After this space of years I have come to
realisations and attitudes that dissolve my estrangement from her, I
when I would have her alive again, if only that I might be kind to
her for a little while and give her some return for the narrow
intense affection, the tender desires, she evidently lavished so
abundantly on me. But then again I ask how I could make that
return? And I realise the futility of such dreaming. Her demand
was rigid, and to meet it I should need to act and lie.
So she whose blood fed me, whose body made me, lies in my memory as
I saw her last, fixed, still, infinitely intimate, infinitely
My own case with my mother, however, does not awaken the same regret
turned his weaknesses into thorns for her own tormenting. I wish I
could look back without that little twinge to two people who were
father seems to me one of the essentially tragic things that have
come to me personally, one of those things that nothing can
transfigure, that REMAIN sorrowful, that I cannot soothe with any
explanation, for as I remember him he was indeed the most lovable of
weak spasmodic men. But my mother had been trained in a hard and
narrow system that made evil out of many things not in the least
evil, and inculcated neither kindliness nor charity. All their
estrangement followed from that.
These cramping cults do indeed take an enormous toll of human love
and happiness, and not only that but what we Machiavellians must
needs consider, they make frightful breaches in human solidarity. I
by religious organisations. All my life has been darkened by
irrational intolerance, by arbitrary irrational prohibitions and
exclusions. Mahometanism with its fierce proselytism, has, I
suppose, the blackest record of uncharitableness, but most of the
Christian sects are tainted, tainted to a degree beyond any of the
anterior paganisms, with this same hateful quality. It is their
exclusive claim that sends them wrong, the vain ambition that
inspires them all to teach a uniform one-sided God and be the one
and only gateway to salvation. Deprecation of all outside the
household of faith, an organised undervaluation of heretical
goodness and lovableness, follows, necessarily. Every petty
difference is exaggerated to the quality of a saving grace or a
damning defect. Elaborate precautions are taken to shield the
are deterred by dark allusions, by sinister warnings, from books,
from theatres, from worldly conversation, from all the kindly
instruments that mingle human sympathy. For only by isolating its
flock can the organisation survive.
Every month there came to my mother a little magazine called, if I
remember rightly, the HOME CHURCHMAN, with the combined authority of
print and clerical commendation. It was the most evil thing that
ever came into the house, a very devil, a thin little pamphlet with
one woodcut illustration on the front page of each number; now the
uninviting visage of some exponent of the real and only doctrine and
attitudes, now some coral strand in act of welcoming the
missionaries of God's mysterious preferences, now a new church in
the Victorian Gothic. The vile rag it was! A score of vices that
shun the policeman have nothing of its subtle wickedness. It was an
outrage upon the natural kindliness of men. The contents were all
admirably adjusted to keep a spirit in prison. Their force of
sustained suggestion was tremendous. There would be dreadful
intimations of the swift retribution that fell upon individuals for
Sabbath-breaking, and upon nations for weakening towards Ritualism,
or treating Roman Catholics as tolerable human beings; there would
be great rejoicings over the conversion of alleged Jews, and
terrible descriptions of the death-beds of prominent infidels with
boldly invented last words,-the most unscrupulous lying; there
would be the appallingly edifying careers of "early piety"
lusciously described, or stories of condemned criminals who traced
their final ruin unerringly to early laxities of the kind that leads
people to give up subscribing to the HOME CHURCHMAN.
Every month that evil spirit brought about a slump in our mutual
love. My mother used to read the thing and become depressed and
anxious for my spiritual welfare, used to be stirred to
A few years ago I met the editor of this same HOME CHURCHMAN. It
was at one of the weekly dinners of that Fleet Street dining club,
I heard the paper's name with a queer little shock and surveyed the
man with interest. No doubt he was only a successor of the purveyor
of discords who darkened my boyhood. It was amazing to find an
influence so terrible embodied in a creature so palpably petty. He
was seated some way down a table at right angles to the one at which
I sat, a man of mean appearance with a greyish complexion, thin,
with a square nose, a heavy wiry moustache and a big Adam's apple
sticking out between the wings of his collar. He ate with
considerable appetite and unconcealed relish, and as his jaw was
underhung, he chummed and made the moustache wave like reeds in the
swell of a steamer. It gave him a conscientious look. After dinner
he a little forced himself upon me. At that time, though the shadow
of my scandal was already upon me, I still seemed to be shaping for
great successes, and he was glad to be in conversation with me and
anxious to intimate political sympathy and support. I tried to make
him talk of the HOME CHURCHMAN and the kindred publications he ran,
but he was manifestly ashamed of his job so far as I was concerned.
"One wants," he said, pitching himself as he supposed in my key, "to
put constructive ideas into our readers, but they are narrow, you
know, very narrow. Very." He made his moustache and lips express
judicious regret. "One has to consider them carefully, one has to
respect their attitudes. One dare not go too far with them. One
has to feel one's way."
He chummed and the moustache bristled.
A hireling, beyond question, catering for a demand. I gathered
there was a home in Tufnell Park, and three boys to be fed and
clothed and educated…
I had the curiosity to buy a copy of his magazine afterwards, and it
seemed much the same sort of thing that had worried my mother in my
boyhood. There was the usual Christian hero, this time with mutton-
chop whiskers and a long bare upper lip. The Jesuits, it seemed,
were still hard at it, and Heaven frightfully upset about the Sunday
opening of museums and the falling birth-rate, and as touchy and
vindictive as ever. There were two vigorous paragraphs upon the
utter damnableness of the Rev. R. J. Campbell, a contagious
damnableness I gathered, one wasn't safe within a mile of Holborn
Viaduct, and a foul-mouthed attack on poor little Wilkins the
novelist-who was being baited by the moralists at that time for
desire a baby and say so…
The broadening of human thought is a slow and complex process. We
do go on, we do get on. But when one thinks that people are living
and dying now, quarrelling and sulking, misled and misunderstanding,
vaguely fearful, condemning and thwarting one another in the close
darknesses of these narrow cults-Oh, God! one wants a gale out of
Heaven, one wants a great wind from the sea!
While I lived at Penge two little things happened to me, trivial in
themselves and yet in their quality profoundly significant. They
had this in common, that they pierced the texture of the life I was
of these experiences left me with a sense of shock, with all the
values in my life perplexingly altered, attempting readjustment.
One of these disturbing and illuminating events was that I was
robbed of a new pocket-knife and the other that I fell in love. It
was altogether surprising to me to be robbed. You see, as an only
child I had always been fairly well looked after and protected, and
the result was an amazing confidence in the practical goodness of
the people one met in the world. I knew there were robbers in the
world, just as I knew there were tigers; that I was ever likely to
meet robber or tiger face to face seemed equally impossible.
The knife as I remember it was a particularly jolly one with all
sorts of instruments in it, tweezers and a thing for getting a stone
out of the hoof of a horse, and a corkscrew; it had cost me a
carefuly accumulated half-crown, and amounted indeed to a new
experience in knives. I had had it for two or three days, and then
one afternoon I dropped it through a hole in my pocket on a footpath
crossing a field between Penge and Anerley. I heard it fall in the
way one does without at the time appreciating what had happened,
then, later, before I got home, when my hand wandered into my pocket
to embrace the still dear new possession I found it gone, and
instantly that memory of something hitting the ground sprang up into
consciousness. I went back and commenced a search. Almost
immediately I was accosted by the leader of a little gang of four or
five extremely dirty and ragged boys of assorted sizes and slouching
carriage who were coming from the Anerley direction.
"Lost anythink, Matey?" said he.
"'E's dropped 'is knife," said my interlocutor, and joined in the
"What sort of 'andle was it, Matey?" said a small white-faced
sniffing boy in a big bowler hat.
I supplied the information. His sharp little face scrutinised the
ground about us.
"GOT it," he said, and pounced.
"Give it 'ere," said the big boy hoarsely, and secured it.
I walked towards him serenely confident that he would hand it over
to me, and that all was for the best in the best of all possible
"No bloomin' fear!" he said, regarding me obliquely. "Oo said it
was your knife?"
Remarkable doubts assailed me. "Of course it's my knife," I said.
The other boys gathered round me.
"This ain't your knife," said the big boy, and spat casually.
"I dropped it just now."
"Findin's keepin's, I believe," said the big boy.
"Nonsense," I said. "Give me my knife."
"'Ow many blades it got?"
"And what sort of 'andle?"
"Got a corkscrew like?"
"Ah! This ain't your knife no'ow. See?"
He made no offer to show it to me. My breath went.
"Look here!" I said. "I saw that kid pick it up. It IS my knife."
"Rot!" said the big boy, and slowly, deliberately put my knife into
his trouser pocket.
I braced my soul for battle. All civilisation was behind me, but I
doubt if it kept the colour in my face. I buttoned my jacket and
clenched my fists and advanced on my antagonist-he had, I suppose,
the advantage of two years of age and three inches of height. "Hand
over that knife," I said.
Then one of the smallest of the band assailed me with extraordinary
vigour and swiftness from behind, had an arm round my neck and a
knee in my back before I had the slightest intimation of attack, and
so got me down. "I got 'im, Bill," squeaked this amazing little
ruffian. My nose was flattened by a dirty hand, and as I struck out
and hit something like sacking, some one kicked my elbow. Two or
three seemed to be at me at the same time. Then I rolled over and
sat up to discover them all making off, a ragged flight, footballing
my cap, my City Merchants' cap, amongst them. I leapt to my feet in
a passion of indignation and pursued them.
But I did not overtake them. We are beings of mixed composition,
required me to pursue, and I had a vivid impression of having just
been down in the dust with a very wiry and active and dirty little
antagonist of disagreeable odour and incredible and incalculable
unscrupulousness, kneeling on me and gripping my arm and neck. I
wanted of course to be even with him, but also I doubted if catching
him would necessarily involve that. They kicked my cap into the
ditch at the end of the field, and made off compactly along a cinder
lane while I turned aside to recover my dishonoured headdress. As I
knocked the dust out of that and out of my jacket, and brushed my
knees and readjusted my very crumpled collar, I tried to focus this
startling occurrence in my mind.
I had vague ideas of going to a policeman or of complaining at a
police station, but some boyish instinct against informing prevented
that. No doubt I entertained ideas of vindictive pursuit and
murderous reprisals. And I was acutely enraged whenever I thought
of my knife. The thing indeed rankled in my mind for weeks and
weeks, and altered all the flavour of my world for me. It was the
first time I glimpsed the simple brute violence that lurks and peeps
beneath our civilisation. A certain kindly complacency of attitude
towards the palpably lower classes was qualified for ever
But the other experience was still more cardinal. It was the first
clear intimation of a new motif in life, the sex motif, that was to
rise and increase and accumulate power and enrichment and interweave
with and at last dominate all my life.
It was when I was nearly fifteen this happened. It is inseparably
connected in my mind with the dusk of warm September evenings. I
never met the girl I loved by daylight, and I have forgotten her
name. It was some insignificant name.
Yet the peculiar quality of the adventure keeps it shining darkly
like some deep coloured gem in the common setting of my memories.
It came as something new and strange, something that did not join on
to anything else in my life or connect with any of my thoughts or
beliefs or habits; it was a wonder, a mystery, a discovery about
myself, a discovery about the whole world. Only in after years did
sexual feeling lose that isolation and spread itself out to
illuminate and pervade and at last possess the whole broad vision of
It was in that phase of an urban youth's development, the phase of
the cheap cigarette, that this thing happened. One evening I came
by chance on a number of young people promenading by the light of a
row of shops towards Beckington, and, with all the glory of a
glowing cigarette between my lips, I joined their strolling number.
These twilight parades of young people, youngsters chiefly of the
lower middle-class, are one of the odd social developments of the
great suburban growths-unkindly critics, blind to the inner
meanings of things, call them, I believe, Monkeys' Parades-the shop
apprentices, the young work girls, the boy clerks and so forth,
stirred by mysterious intimations, spend their first-earned money
upon collars and ties, chiffon hats, smart lace collars, walking-
sticks, sunshades or cigarettes, and come valiantly into the vague
transfiguring mingling of gaslight and evening, to walk up and down,
to eye meaningly, even to accost and make friends. It is a queer
instinctive revolt from the narrow limited friendless homes in which
so many find themselves, a going out towards something, romance if
you will, beauty, that has suddenly become a need-a need that
hitherto has lain dormant and unsuspected. They promenade.
Vulgar!-it is as vulgar as the spirit that calls the moth abroad in
the evening and lights the body of the glow-worm in the night. I
made my way through the throng, a little contemptuously as became a
public schoolboy, my hands in my pockets-none of your cheap canes
for me!-and very careful of the lie of my cigarette upon my lips.
And two girls passed me, one a little taller than the other, with
dim warm-tinted faces under clouds of dark hair and with dark eyes
like pools reflecting stars.
I half turned, and the shorter one glanced back at me over her
shoulder-I could draw you now the pose of her cheek and neck and
shoulder-and instantly I was as passionately in love with the girl
as I have ever been before or since, as any man ever was with any
woman. I turned about and followed them, I flung away my cigarette
ostentatiously and lifted my school cap and spoke to them.
The girl answered shyly with her dark eyes on my face. What I said
something absolutely vapid. It really did not matter; the thing was
suddenly its urgent headlong searching brings it in tremulous
amazement upon its mate.
We met, covered from each other, with all the nets of civilisation
keeping us apart. We walked side by side.
It led to scarcely more than that. I think we met four or five
times altogether, and always with her nearly silent elder sister on
the other side of her. We walked on the last two occasions arm in
arm, furtively caressing each other's hands, we went away from the
glare of the shops into the quiet roads of villadom, and there we
whispered instead of talking and looked closely into one another's
warm and shaded face. "Dear," I whispered very daringly, and she
answered, "Dear!" We had a vague sense that we wanted more of that
quality of intimacy and more. We wanted each other as one wants
beautiful music again or to breathe again the scent of flowers.
And that is all there was between us. The events are nothing, the
thing that matters is the way in which this experience stabbed
through the common stuff of life and left it pierced, with a light,
with a huge new interest shining through the rent.
When I think of it I can recall even now the warm mystery of her
face, her lips a little apart, lips that I never kissed, her soft
shadowed throat, and I feel again the sensuous stir of her
Those two girls never told me their surname nor let me approach
their house. They made me leave them at the corner of a road of
small houses near Penge Station. And quite abruptly, without any
intimation, they vanished and came to the meeting place no more,
they vanished as a moth goes out of a window into the night, and
left me possessed of an intolerable want…
The affair pervaded my existence for many weeks. I could not do my
work and I could not rest at home. Night after night I promenaded
up and down that Monkeys' Parade full of an unappeasable desire,
with a thwarted sense of something just begun that ought to have
gone on. I went backwards and forwards on the way to the vanishing
place, and at last explored the forbidden road that had swallowed
them up. But I never saw her again, except that later she came to
me, my symbol of womanhood, in dreams. How my blood was stirred! I
lay awake of nights whispering in the darkness for her. I prayed
Indeed that girl, who probably forgot the last vestiges of me when
her first real kiss came to her, ruled and haunted me, gave a Queen
to my imagination and a texture to all my desires until I became a
I generalised her at last. I suddenly discovered that poetry was
about her and that she was the key to all that had hitherto seemed
nonsense about love. I took to reading novels, and if the heroine
could not possibly be like her, dusky and warm and starlike, I put
the book aside…
I hesitate and add here one other confession. I want to tell this
thing because it seems to me we are altogether too restrained and
secretive about such matters. The cardinal thing in life sneaks in
to us darkly and shamefully like a thief in the night.
One day during my Cambridge days-it must have been in my first year
Strand an engraving of a girl that reminded me sharply of Penge and
its dusky encounter. It was just a half length of a bare-
shouldered, bare-breasted Oriental with arms akimbo, smiling
faintly. I looked at it, went my way, then turned back and bought
it. I felt I must have it. The odd thing is that I was more than a
little shamefaced about it. I did not have it framed and hung in my
room open to the criticism of my friends, but I kept it in the
drawer of my writing-table. And I kept that drawer locked for a
year. It speedily merged with and became identified with the dark
girl of Penge. That engraving became in a way my mistress. Often
when I had sported my oak and was supposed to be reading, I was
sitting with it before me.
Obeying some instinct I kept the thing very secret indeed. For a
time nobody suspected what was locked in my drawer nor what was
locked in me. I seemed as sexless as my world required.
These things stabbed through my life, intimations of things above
and below and before me. They had an air of being no more than
The broad substance of my existence at this time was the City
Merchants School. Home was a place where I slept and read, and the
mooning explorations of the south-eastern postal district which
occupied the restless evenings and spare days of my vacations mere
interstices, giving glimpses of enigmatical lights and distant
spaces between the woven threads of a school-boy's career. School
life began for me every morning at Herne Hill, for there I was
joined by three or four other boys and the rest of the way we went
together. Most of the streets and roads we traversed in our
morning's walk from Victoria are still intact, the storms of
rebuilding that have submerged so much of my boyhood's London have
passed and left them, and I have revived the impression of them
again and again in recent years as I have clattered dinnerward in a
hansom or hummed along in a motor cab to some engagement. The main
gate still looks out with the same expression of ancient well-
proportioned kindliness upon St. Margaret's Close. There are
imposing new science laboratories in Chambers Street indeed, but the
old playing fields are unaltered except for the big electric trams
that go droning and spitting blue flashes along the western
boundary. I know Ratten, the new Head, very well, but I have not
been inside the school to see if it has changed at all since I went
up to Cambridge.
I took all they put before us very readily as a boy, for I had a
estate and developed a more and more comprehensive view of our
by the oddity of the educational methods pursued, their aimless
disconnectedness from the constructive forces in the community. I
suppose if we are to view the public school as anything more than an
institution that has just chanced to happen, we must treat it as
having a definite function towards the general scheme of the nation,
as being in a sense designed to take the crude young male of the
more or less responsible class, to correct his harsh egotisms,
broaden his outlook, give him a grasp of the contemporary
developments he will presently be called upon to influence and
control, and send him on to the university to be made a leading and
ruling social man. It is easy enough to carp at schoolmasters and
set up for an Educational Reformer, I know, but still it is
impossible not to feel how infinitely more effectually-given
certain impossibilities perhaps-the job might be done.
My memory of school has indeed no hint whatever of that quality of
elucidation it seems reasonable to demand from it. Here all about
me was London, a vast inexplicable being, a vortex of gigantic
forces, that filled and overwhelmed me with impressions, that
stirred my imagination to a perpetual vague enquiry; and my school
not only offered no key to it, but had practically no comment to
make upon it at all. We were within three miles of Westminster and
Charing Cross, the government offices of a fifth of mankind were all
within an hour's stroll, great economic changes were going on under
our eyes, now the hoardings flamed with election placards, now the
Salvation Army and now the unemployed came trailing in procession
through the winter-grey streets, now the newspaper placards outside
news-shops told of battles in strange places, now of amazing
discoveries, now of sinister crimes, abject squalor and poverty,
imperial splendour and luxury, Buckingham Palace, Rotten Row,
Mayfair, the slums of Pimlico, garbage-littered streets of bawling
costermongers, the inky silver of the barge-laden Thames-such was
the background of our days. We went across St. Margaret's Close and
through the school gate into a quiet puerile world apart from all
these things. We joined in the earnest acquirement of all that was
necessary for Greek epigrams and Latin verse, and for the rest
played games. We dipped down into something clear and elegantly
proportioned and time-worn and for all its high resolve of stalwart
virility a little feeble, like our blackened and decayed portals by
Within, we were taught as the chief subjects of instruction, Latin
and Greek. We were taught very badly because the men who taught us
did not habitually use either of these languages, nobody uses them
any more now except perhaps for the Latin of a few Levantine
monasteries. At the utmost our men read them. We were taught these
languages because long ago Latin had been the language of
civilisation; the one way of escape from the narrow and localised
life had lain in those days through Latin, and afterwards Greek had
come in as the vehicle of a flood of new and amazing ideas. Once
these two languages had been the sole means of initiation to the
detached criticism and partial comprehension of the world. I can
imagine the fierce zeal of our first Heads, Gardener and Roper,
teaching Greek like passionate missionaries, as a progressive
Chinaman might teach English to the boys of Pekin, clumsily,
impatiently, with rod and harsh urgency, but sincerely,
patriotically, because they felt that behind it lay revelations, the
irresistible stimulus to a new phase of history. That was long ago.
A new great world, a vaster Imperialism had arisen about the school,
had assimilated all these amazing and incredible ideas, had gone on
to new and yet more amazing developments of its own. But the City
Merchants School still made the substance of its teaching Latin and
amidst the harvesting.
There is no fierceness left in the teaching now. Just after I went
up to Trinity, Gates, our Head, wrote a review article in defence of
our curriculum. In this, among other indiscretions, he asserted
that it was impossible to write good English without an illuminating
knowledge of the classic tongues, and he split an infinitive and
failed to button up a sentence in saying so. His main argument
conceded every objection a reasonable person could make to the City
Merchants' curriculum. He admitted that translation had now placed
a field of endeavour remained in which modern work had not long
since passed beyond the ancient achievement. He disclaimed any
utility. But there was, he said, a peculiar magic in these
grammatical exercises no other subjects of instruction possessed.
Nothing else provided the same strengthening and orderly discipline
for the mind.
schools as we knew them, and with the sort of assistant available,
the sort of assistant who has been trained entirely on the old
attention, restraint, sustained constructive effort and various yet
systematic adjustment. And that was as far as his imagination could
It is infinitely easier to begin organised human affairs than end
them; the curriculum and the social organisation of the English
public school are the crowning instances of that. They go on
because they have begun. Schools are not only immortal institutions
sure, of Gates' pedagogic values and would, I feel certain, have
dealt with them disrespectfully. But public schools and university
colleges sprang into existence correlated, the scholars went on to
the universities and came back to teach the schools, to teach as
use of the teaching; the crowd of boys herded together, a crowd
perpetually renewed and unbrokenly the same, adjusted itself by
means of spontaneously developed institutions. In a century, by its
very success, this revolutionary innovation of Renascence public
schools had become an immense tradition woven closely into the
fabric of the national life. Intelligent and powerful people ceased
to talk Latin or read Greek, they had got what was wanted, but that
only left the schoolmaster the freer to elaborate his point. Since
most men of any importance or influence in the country had been
through the mill, it was naturally a little difficult to persuade
of man could devise. And, moreover, they did not want their
children made strange to them. There was all the machinery and all
the men needed to teach the old subjects, and none to teach whatever
new the critic might propose. Such science instruction as my father
gave seemed indeed the uninviting alternative to the classical
grind. It was certainly an altogether inferior instrument at that
So it was I occupied my mind with the exact study of dead languages
for seven long years. It was the strangest of detachments. We
would sit under the desk of such a master as Topham like creatures
who had fallen into an enchanted pit, and he would do his
considerable best to work us up to enthusiasm for, let us say, a
Greek play. If we flagged he would lash himself to revive us. He
would walk about the class-room mouthing great lines in a rich roar,
and asking us with a flushed face and shining eyes if it was not
"GLORIOUS." The very sight of Greek letters brings back to me the
dingy, faded, ink-splashed quality of our class-room, the banging of
books, Topham's disordered hair, the sheen of his alpaca gown, his
deep unmusical intonations and the wide striding of his creaking
boots. Glorious! And being plastic human beings we would consent
that it was glorious, and some of us even achieved an answering
reverberation and a sympathetic flush. I at times responded freely.
We all accepted from him unquestioningly that these melodies, these
strange sounds, exceeded any possibility of beauty that lay in the
Gothic intricacy, the splash and glitter, the jar and recovery, the
stabbing lights, the heights and broad distances of our English
tongue. That indeed was the chief sin of him. It was not that he
was for Greek and Latin, but that he was fiercely against every
beauty that was neither classic nor deferred to classical canons.
And what exactly did we make of it, we seniors who understood it
best? We visualised dimly through that dust and the grammatical
difficulties, the spectacle of the chorus chanting grotesquely,
helping out protagonist and antagonist, masked and buskined, with
the telling of incomprehensible parricides, of inexplicable incest,
of gods faded beyond symbolism, of that Relentless Law we did not
believe in for a moment, that no modern western European can believe
costumes of our school performance. No Gilbert Murray had come as
yet to touch these things to life again. It was like the ghost of
an antiquarian's toy theatre, a ghost that crumbled and condensed
into a gritty dust of construing as one looked at it.
Marks, shindies, prayers and punishments, all flavoured with the
leathery stuffiness of time-worn Big Hall…
And then out one would come through our grey old gate into the
evening light and the spectacle of London hurrying like a cataract,
London in black and brown and blue and gleaming silver, roaring like
the very loom of Time. We came out into the new world no teacher
has yet had the power and courage to grasp and expound. Life and
intricacy as never Greek nor Roman knew. The interminable
procession of horse omnibuses went lumbering past, bearing countless
foot passengers jostled one, a thousand appeals of shop and boarding
caught the eye. The multi-coloured lights of window and street
mingled with the warm glow of the declining day under the softly
flushing London skies; the ever-changing placards, the shouting
news-vendors, told of a kaleidoscopic drama all about the globe.
One did not realise what had happened to us, but the voice of Topham
was suddenly drowned and lost, he and his minute, remote
That submerged and isolated curriculum did not even join on to
living interests where it might have done so. We were left
absolutely to the hints of the newspapers, to casual political
speeches, to the cartoons of the comic papers or a chance reading of
some Socialist pamphlet for any general ideas whatever about the
huge swirling world process in which we found ourselves. I always
look back with particular exasperation to the cessation of our
modern history at the year 1815. There it pulled up abruptly, as
though it had come upon something indelicate…
But, after all, what would Topham or Flack have made of the huge
adjustments of the nineteenth century? Flack was the chief
cricketer on the staff; he belonged to that great cult which
pretends that the place of this or that county in the struggle for
the championship is a matter of supreme importance to boys. He
obliged us to affect a passionate interest in the progress of county
matches, to work up unnatural enthusiasms. What a fuss there would
be when some well-trained boy, panting as if from Marathon, appeared
with an evening paper! "I say, you chaps, Middlesex all out for a
hundred and five!"
Under Flack's pressure I became, I confess, a cricket humbug of the
first class. I applied myself industriously year by year to
mastering scores and averages; I pretended that Lords or the Oval
were the places nearest Paradise for me. (I never went to either.)
Through a slight mistake about the county boundary I adopted Surrey
for my loyalty, though as a matter of fact we were by some five
hundred yards or so in Kent. It did quite as well for my purposes.
I bowled rather straight and fast, and spent endless hours acquiring
the skill to bowl Flack out. He was a bat in the Corinthian style,
rich and voluminous, and succumbed very easily to a low shooter or
an unexpected Yorker, hut usually he was caught early by long leg.
The difficulty was to bowl him before he got caught. He loved to
lift a ball to leg. After one had clean bowled him at the practice
nets one deliberately gave him a ball to leg just to make him feel
Flack went about a world of marvels dreaming of leg hits. He has
been observed, going across the Park on his way to his highly
respectable club in Piccadilly, to break from profound musings into
a strange brief dance that ended with an imaginary swipe with his
umbrella, a roofer, over the trees towards Buckingham Palace. The
hit accomplished, Flack resumed his way.
Inadequately instructed foreigners would pass him in terror,
These schoolmasters move through my memory as always a little
distant and more than a little incomprehensible. Except when they
wore flannels, I saw them almost always in old college caps and
gowns, a uniform which greatly increased their detachment from the
world of actual men. Gates, the head, was a lean loose-limbed man,
rather stupid I discovered when I reached the Sixth and came into
contact with him, but honest, simple and very eager to be liberal-
minded. He was bald, with an almost conical baldness, with a
grizzled pointed beard, small featured and, under the stresses of a
Zeitgeist that demanded liberality, with an expression of puzzled
but resolute resistance to his own unalterable opinions. He made a
tall dignified figure in his gown. In my junior days he spoke to me
only three or four times, and then he annoyed me by giving me a
wrong surname; it was a sore point because I was an outsider and not
one of the old school families, the Shoesmiths, the Naylors, the
Marklows, the Tophams, the Pevises and suchlike, who came generation
after generation. I recall him most vividly against the background
of faded brown book-backs in the old library in which we less
destructive seniors were trusted to work, with the light from the
stained-glass window falling in coloured patches on his face. It
gave him the appearance of having no colour of his own. He had a
habit of scratching the beard on his cheek as he talked, and he used
to come and consult us about things and invariably do as we said.
That, in his phraseology, was "maintaining the traditions of the
He had indeed an effect not of a man directing a school, but of a
man captured and directed by a school. Dead and gone Elizabethans
had begotten a monster that could carry him about in its mouth.
Yet being a man, as I say, with his hair a little stirred by a
Zeitgeist that made for change, Gates did at times display a
disposition towards developments. City Merchants had no modern
side, and utilitarian spirits were carping in the PALL MALL GAZETTE
and elsewhere at the omissions from our curriculum, and particularly
at our want of German. Moreover, four classes still worked
together with much clashing and uproar in the old Big Hall that had
once held in a common tumult the entire school. Gates used to come
and talk to us older fellows about these things.
"I don't wish to innovate unduly," he used to say. But we ought to
get in some German, you know,-for those who like it. The army men
will be wanting it some of these days."
He referred to the organisation of regular evening preparation for
the lower boys in Big Hall as a "revolutionary change," but he
achieved it, and he declared he began the replacement of the hacked
wooden tables, at which the boys had worked since Tudor days, by
sloping desks with safety inkpots and scientifically adjustable
seats, "with grave misgivings." And though he never birched a boy
scuffle, he retained the block and birch in the school through all
his term of office, and spoke at the Headmasters' Conference in
temperate approval of corporal chastisement, comparing it, dear
soul! to the power of the sword…
I wish I could, in some measure and without tediousness, convey the
effect of his discourses to General Assembly in Big Hall. But that
is like trying to draw the obverse and reverse of a sixpence worn to
complete illegibility. His tall fine figure stood high on the days,
his thoughtful tenor filled the air as he steered his hazardous way
through sentences that dragged inconclusive tails and dropped
redundant prepositions. And he pleaded ever so urgently, ever so
finely, that what we all knew for Sin was sinful, and on the whole
best avoided altogether, and so went on with deepening notes and
even with short arresting gestures of the right arm and hand, to
stir and exhort us towards goodness, towards that modern,
which the Zeitgeist seemed to indicate in those transitional years.
The school never quite got hold of me. Partly I think that was
because I was a day-boy and so freer than most of the boys, partly
and have my private dreams, partly because I was a little
antagonised by the family traditions that ran through the school. I
was made to feel at first that I was a rank outsider, and I never
quite forgot it. I suffered very little bullying, and I never had a
fight-in all my time there were only three fights-but I followed
my own curiosities. I was already a very keen theologian and
politician before I was fifteen. I was also intensely interested in
modern warfare. I read the morning papers in the Reading Room
during the midday recess, never missed the illustrated weeklies, and
often when I could afford it I bought a PALL MALL GAZETTE on my way
I do not think that I was very exceptional in that; most intelligent
boys, I believe, want naturally to be men, and are keenly interested
in men's affairs. There is not the universal passion for a
magnified puerility among them it is customary to assume. I was
indeed a voracious reader of everything but boys' books-which I
detested-and fiction. I read histories, travel, popular science
and controversy with particular zest, and I loved maps. School work
and school games were quite subordinate affairs for me. I worked
well and made a passable figure at games, and I do not think I was
abnormally insensitive to the fine quality of our school, to the
charm of its mediaeval nucleus, its Gothic cloisters, its scraps of
Palladian and its dignified Georgian extensions; the contrast of the
old quiet, that in spite of our presence pervaded it everywhere,
with the rushing and impending London all about it, was indeed a
living and central interests of my life.
I had to conceal my wider outlook to a certain extent-from the
masters even more than from the boys. Indeed I only let myself go
freely with one boy, Britten, my especial chum, the son of the
Agent-General for East Australia. We two discovered in a chance
conversation A PROPOS of a map in the library that we were both of
us curious why there were Malays in Madagascar, and how the Mecca
pilgrims came from the East Indies before steamships were available.
Neither of us had suspected that there was any one at all in the
school who knew or cared a rap about the Indian Ocean, except as
water on the way to India. But Britten had come up through the Suez
Canal, and his ship had spoken a pilgrim ship on the way. It gave
him a startling quality of living knowledge. From these pilgrims we
got to a comparative treatment of religions, and from that, by a
sudden plunge, to entirely sceptical and disrespectful confessions
concerning Gates' last outbreak of simple piety in School Assembly.
We became congenial intimates from that hour.
The discovery of Britten happened to me when we were both in the
Lower Fifth. Previously there had been a watertight compartment
between the books I read and the thoughts they begot on the one hand
and human intercourse on the other. Now I really began my higher
education, and aired and examined and developed in conversation the
time we organised walks and expeditions together, and my habit of
solitary and rather vague prowling gave way to much more definite
joint enterprises. I went several times to his house, he was the
youngest of several brothers, one of whom was a medical student and
let us assist at the dissection of a cat, and once or twice in
vacation time he came to Penge, and we went with parcels of
provisions to do a thorough day in the grounds and galleries of the
Crystal Palace, ending with the fireworks at close quarters. We
went in a river steamboat down to Greenwich, and fired by that made
an excursion to Margate and back; we explored London docks and
Bethnal Green Museum, Petticoat Lane and all sorts of out-of-the-way
We confessed shyly to one another a common secret vice, "Phantom
warfare." When we walked alone, especially in the country, we had
both developed the same practice of fighting an imaginary battle
about us as we walked. As we went along we were generals, and our
attacks pushed along on either side, crouching and gathering behind
hedges, cresting ridges, occupying copses, rushing open spaces,
fighting from house to house. The hillsides about Penge were
honeycombed in my imagination with the pits and trenches I had
created to cheek a victorious invader coming out of Surrey. For him
West Kensington was chiefly important as the scene of a desperate
and successful last stand of insurrectionary troops (who had seized
the Navy, the Bank and other advantages) against a royalist army-
reinforced by Germans-advancing for reasons best known to
themselves by way of Harrow and Ealing. It is a secret and solitary
game, as we found when we tried to play it together. We made a
success of that only once. All the way down to Margate we schemed
defences and assailed and fought them as we came back against the
sunset. Afterwards we recapitulated all that conflict by means of a
large scale map of the Thames and little paper ironclads in plan cut
out of paper.
A subsequent revival of these imaginings was brought about by
Britten's luck in getting, through a friend of his father's,
admission for us both to the spectacle of volunteer officers
fighting the war game in Caxton Hall. We developed a war game of
our own at Britten's home with nearly a couple of hundred lead
soldiers, some excellent spring cannons that shot hard and true at
six yards, hills of books and a constantly elaborated set of rules.
For some months that occupied an immense proportion of our leisure.
Some of our battles lasted several days. We kept the game a
profound secret from the other fellows. They would not have
And we also began, it was certainly before we were sixteen, to
write, for the sake of writing. We liked writing. We had
discovered Lamb and the best of the middle articles in such weeklies
as the SATURDAY GAZETTE, and we imitated them. Our minds were full
of dim uncertain things we wanted to drag out into the light of
expression. Britten had got hold of IN MEMORIAM, and I had
disinterred Pope's ESSAY ON MAN and RABBI BEN EZRA, and these things
had set our theological and cosmic solicitudes talking. I was
somewhere between sixteen and eighteen, I know, when he and I walked
along the Thames Embankment confessing shamefully to one another
that we had never read Lucretius. We thought every one who mattered
had read Lucretius.
When I was nearly sixteen my mother was taken ill very suddenly, and
died of some perplexing complaint that involved a post-mortem
examination; it was, I think, the trouble that has since those days
been recognised as appendicitis. This led to a considerable change
in my circumstances; the house at Penge was given up, and my
Staffordshire uncle arranged for me to lodge during school terms
with a needy solicitor and his wife in Vicars Street, S. W., about a
mile and a half from the school. So it was I came right into
London; I had almost two years of London before I went to Cambridge.
Tehose were our great days together. Afterwards we were torn apart;
Britten went to Oxford, and our circumstances never afterwards threw
us continuously together until the days of the BLUE WEEKLY.
As boys, we walked together, read and discussed the same books,
pursued the same enquiries. We got a reputation as inseparables and
the nickname of the Rose and the Lily, for Britten was short and
thick-set with dark close curling hair and a ruddy Irish type of
face; I was lean and fair-haired and some inches taller than he.
Our talk ranged widely and yet had certain very definite
limitations. We were amazingly free with politics and religion, we
went to that little meeting-house of William Morris's at Hammersmith
and worked out the principles of Socialism pretty thoroughly, and we
got up the Darwinian theory with the help of Britten's medical-
student brother and the galleries of the Natural History Museum in
Cromwell Road. Those wonderful cases on the ground floor
illustrating mimicry, dimorphism and so forth, were new in our
times, and we went through them with earnest industry and tried over
our Darwinism in the light of that. Such topics we did
exhaustively. But on the other hand I do not remember any
discussion whatever of human sex or sexual relationships. There, in
spite of intense secret curiosities, our lips were sealed by a
peculiar shyness. And I do not believe we ever had occasion either
of us to use the word "love." It was not only that we were
instinctively shy of the subject, but that we were mightily ashamed
of the extent of our ignorance and uncertainty in these matters. We
evaded them elaborately with an assumption of exhaustive knowledge.
We certainly had no shyness about theology. We marked the
emancipation of our spirits from the frightful teachings that had
oppressed our boyhood, by much indulgence in blasphemous wit. We
had a secret literature of irreverent rhymes, and a secret art of
theological caricature. Britten's father had delighted his family
by reading aloud from Dr. Richard Garnett's TWILIGHT OF THE GODS,
and Britten conveyed the precious volume to me. That and the BAB
BALLADS were the inspiration of some of our earliest lucubrations.
For an imaginative boy the first experience of writing is like a
tiger's first taste of blood, and our literary flowerings led very
directly to the revival of the school magazine, which had been
comatose for some years. But there we came upon a disappointment.
In that revival we associated certain other of the Sixth Form boys,
and notably one for whom our enterprise was to lay the foundations
of a career that has ended in the House of Lords, Arthur Cossington,
now Lord Paddockhurst. Cossington was at that time a rather heavy,
rather good-looking boy who was chiefly eminent in cricket, an
outsider even as we were and preoccupied no doubt, had we been
sufficiently detached to observe him, with private imaginings very
much of the same quality and spirit as our own. He was, we were
inclined to think, rather a sentimentalist, rather a poseur, he
affected a concise emphatic styl, played chess very well, betrayed
a belief in will-power, and earned Britten's secret hostility,
Britten being a sloven, by the invariable neatness of his collars
and ties. He came into our magazine with a vigour that we found
extremely surprising and unwelcome.
Britten and I had wanted to write. We had indeed figured our
project modestly as a manuscript magazine of satirical, liberal and
brilliant literature by which in some rather inexplicable way the
vague tumult of ideas that teemed within us was to find form and
expression; Cossington, it was manifest from the outset, wanted
neither to write nor writing, but a magazine. I remember the
inaugural meeting in Shoesmith major's study-we had had great
trouble in getting it together-and how effectually Cossington
bolted with the proposal.
"I think we fellows ought to run a magazine," said Cossington. "The
school used to have one. A school like this ought to have a
"The last one died in '84," said Shoesmith from the hearthrug.
"Called the OBSERVER. Rot rather."
"Bad title," said Cossington.
"There was a TATLER before that," said Britten, sitting on the
writing table at the window that was closed to deaden the cries of
the Lower School at play, and clashing his boots together.
"We want something suggestive of City Merchants."
"CITY MERCHANDIZE," said Britten.
"Too fanciful. What of ARVONIAN? Richard Arvon was our founder,
and it seems almost a duty-"
"They call them all -usians or -onians," said Britten.
"I like CITY MERCHANDIZE," I said. "We could probably find a
quotation to suggest-oh! mixed good things."
Cossington regarded me abstractedly.
Don't want to put the accent on the City, do we?" said Shoesmith,
who had a feeling for county families, and Naylor supported him by a
murmur of approval.
"We ought to call it the ARVONIAN," decided Cossington, "and we
might very well have underneath, 'With which is incorporated the
OBSERVER.' That picks up the old traditions, makes an appeal to old
boys and all that, and it gives us something to print under the
I still held out for CITY MERCHANDIZE, which had taken my fancy.
"Some of the chaps' people won't like it," said Naylor, "certain not
to. And it sounds Rum."
"Sounds Weird," said a boy who had not hitherto spoken.
"We aren't going to do anything Queer," said Shoesmith, pointedly
not looking at Britten.
The question of the title had manifestly gone against us. "Oh! HAVE
it ARVONIAN," I said.
"And next, what size shall we have?" said Cossington.
"Something like MACMILLAN'S MAGAZINE-or LONGMANS'; LONGMANS' is
better because it has a whole page, not columns. It makes no end of
difference to one's effects."
"What effects?" asked Shoesmith abruptly.
"Oh! a pause or a white line or anything. You've got to write
closer for a double column. It's nuggetty. You can't get a swing
on your prose." I had discussed this thoroughly with Britten.
"If the fellows are going to write-" began Britten.
"We ought to keep off fine writing," said Shoesmith. "It's cheek.
I vote we don't have any."
"We sha'n't get any," said Cossington, and then as an olive branch
to me, "unless Remington does a bit. Or Britten. But it's no good
making too much space for it."
"We ought to be very careful about the writing," said Shoesmith.
"We don't want to give ourselves away."
"I vote we ask old Topham to see us through," said Naylor.
Britten groaned aloud and every one regarded him. "Greek epigrams
on the fellows' names," he said. " Small beer in ancient bottles.
Let's get a stuffed broody hen to SIT on the magazine."
"We might do worse than a Greek epigram," said Cossington. "One in
each number. It-it impresses parents and keeps up our classieal
tradition. And the masters CAN help. We don't want to antagonise
them. Of course-we've got to dcpartmentalise. Writing is only one
section of the thing. The ARVONIAN has to stand for the school.
There's questions of space and questions of expense. We can't turn
out a great chunk of printed prose like-like wet cold toast and
call it a magazine."
Britten writhed, appreciating the image.
"There's to be a section of sports. YOU must do that."
"I'm not going to do any fine writing," said Shoesmith.
"What you've got to do is just to list all the chaps and put a note
to their play:-'Naylor minor must pass more. Football isn't the
place for extreme individualism.' 'Ammersham shapes well as half-
back.' Things like that."
"I could do that all right," said Shoesmith, brightening and
manifestly hecoming pregnant with judgments.
"One great thing about a magazine of this sort," said Cossington,
"is to mention just as many names as you can in each number. It
keeps the interest alive. Chaps will turn it over looking for their
own little bit. Then it all lights up for them."
"Do you want any reports of matches?" Shoesmith broke from his
"Rather. With comments."
"Naylor surpassed himself and negotiated the lemon safely home,"
"Shut it," said Naylor modestly.
"Exactly," said Cossington. "That gives us three features,"
touching them off on his fingers, "Epigram, Literary Section,
Sports. Then we want a section to shove anything into, a joke, a
notice of anything that's going on. So on. Our Note Book."
"Oh, Hell!" said Britten, and clashed his boots, to the silent
disapproval of every one.
"Then we want an editorial."
"A WHAT?" cried Britten, with a note of real terror in his voice.
"Well, don't we? Unless we have our Note Book to begin on the front
page. It gives a scrappy effect to do that. We want something
manly and straightforward and a bit thoughtful, about Patriotism,
say, or ESPRIT DE CORPS, or After-Life."
I looked at Britten. Hitherto we had not considered Cossington
mattered very much in the world.
He went over us as a motor-car goes over a dog. There was a sort of
energy about him, a new sort of energy to us; we had never realised
that anything of the sort existed in the world. We were hopelessly
at a disadvantage. Almost instantly we had developed a clear and
detailed vision of a magazine made up of everything that was most
acceptable in the magazines that flourished in the adult world about
us, and had determined to make it a success. He had by a kind of
instinct, as it were, synthetically plagiarised every successful
magazine and breathed into this dusty mixture the breath of life.
He was elected at his own suggestion managing director, with the
earnest support of Shoesmith and Naylor, and conducted the magazine
so successfully and brilliantly that he even got a whole back page
of advertisements from the big sports shop in Holborn, and made the
printers pay at the same rate for a notice of certain books of their
own which they said they had inserted by inadvertency to fill up
space. The only literary contribution in the first number was a
column by Topham in faultless stereotyped English in depreciation of
some fancied evil called Utilitarian Studies and ending with that
noble old quotation:-
"To the glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome."
And Flack crowded us out of number two with a bright little paper on
the "Humours of Cricket," and the Head himself was profusely
thoughtful all over the editorial under the heading of "The School
Chapel; and How it Seems to an Old Boy."
Britten and I found it difficult to express to each other with any
grace or precision what we felt about that magazine.
CHAPTER THE FOURTH
interpretation followed interpretation in my ever-spreading, ever-
deepening, ever-multiplying and enriching vision of this world into
which I had been born. Every day added its impressions, its hints,
the living interlacing threads of a mind weave together. Every
morning now for three weeks and more (for to-day is Thursday and I
started on a Tuesday) I have been trying to convey some idea of the
factors and early influences by which my particular scrap of
subjective tapestry was shaped, to show the child playing on the
nursery floor, the son perplexed by his mother, gazing aghast at his
dead father, exploring interminable suburbs, touched by first
intimations of the sexual mystery, coming in with a sort of confused
avidity towards the centres of the life of London. It is only by
such an effort to write it down that one realises how marvellously
crowded, how marvellously analytical and synthetic those ears must
be. One begins with the little child to whom the sky is a roof of
blue, the world a screen of opaque and disconnected facts, the home
unquestioned authority; and one comes at last to the vast world of
one's adult perception, pierced deep by flaring searchlights of
partial understanding, here masked by mists, here refracted and
distorted through half translucent veils, here showing broad
prospects and limitless vistas and here impenetrably dark.
I recall phases of deep speculation, doubts and even prayers by
night, and strange occasions when by a sort of hypnotic
contemplation of nothingness I sought to pierce the web of
appearances about me. It is hard to measure these things in
receding perspective, and now I cannot trace, so closely has mood
succeeded and overlaid and obliterated mood, the phases by which an
utter horror of death was replaced by the growing realisation of its
necessity and dignity. Difficulty of the imagination with infinite
space, infinite time, entangled my mind; and moral distress for the
reformation in the future seem but the grimmest irony upon now
irreparable wrongs. Many an intricate perplexity of these
broadening years did not so much get settled as cease to matter.
Life crowded me away from it.
I have confessed myself a temerarious theologian, and in that
passage from boyhood to manhood I ranged widely in my search for
to be urgently interesting. I came at last into a phase that
confidence in whatever that Incomprehensible Comprehensive which
must needs be the substratum of all things, may be. Feeling OF IT,
clearly and finally to that adjustment long before my Cambridge days
like an accident or distress in the nursery; that God is my Father
and that I may trust Him, even though life hurts so that one must
needs cry out at it, even though it shows no consequence but
failure, no promise but pain…
But while I was fearless of theology I must confess it was
comparatively late before I faced and dared to probe the secrecies
of sex. I was afraid of sex. I had an instinctive perception that
it would be a large and difficult thing in my life, but my early
training was all in the direction of regarding it as an irrelevant
thing, as something disconnected from all the broad significances of
life, as hostile and disgraceful in its quality. The world was
never so emasculated in thought, I suppose, as it was in the
I was afraid to think either of sex or (what I have always found
inseparable from a kind of sexual emotion) beauty. Even as a boy I
knew the thing as a haunting and alluring mystery that I tried to
keep away from. Its dim presence obsessed me none the less for
all the extravagant decency, the stimulating silences of my
The plaster Venuses and Apollos that used to adorn the vast aisle
and huge grey terraces of the Crystal Palace were the first
intimations of the beauty of the body that ever came into my life.
As I write of it I feel again the shameful attraction of those
gracious forms. I used to look at them not simply, but curiously
and askance. Once at least in my later days at Penge, I spent a
shilling in admission chiefly for the sake of them…
The strangest thing of all my odd and solitary upbringing seems to
me now that swathing up of all the splendours of the flesh, that
strange combination of fanatical terrorism and shyness that fenced
me about with prohibitions. It caused me to grow up, I will not say
blankly ignorant, but with an ignorance blurred and dishonoured by
shame, by enigmatical warnings, by cultivated aversions, an
ignorance in which a fascinated curiosity and desire struggled like
indeed no Aphrodite at all in my youthful Pantheon, but instead
there was a mysterious and minatory gap. I have told how at last a
new Venus was born in my imagination out of gas lamps and the
twilight, a Venus with a cockney accent and dark eyes shining out of
the dusk, a Venus who was a warm, passion-stirring atmosphere rather
than incarnate in a body. And I have told, too, how I bought a
All this was a thing apart from the rest of my life, a locked
It was not until my last year at Trinity that I really broke down
the barriers of this unwholesome silence and brought my secret
broodings to the light of day. Then a little set of us plunged
suddenly into what we called at first sociological discussion. I
can still recall even the physical feeling of those first tentative
talks. I remember them mostly as occurring in the rooms of Ted
Hatherleigh, who kept at the corner by the Trinity great gate, but
we also used to talk a good deal at a man's in King's, a man named,
if I remember rightly, Redmayne. The atmosphere of Hatherleigh's
rooms was a haze of tobacco smoke against a background brown and
deep. He professed himself a socialist with anarchistic leanings-
he had suffered the martyrdom of ducking for it-and a huge French
May-day poster displaying a splendid proletarian in red and black on
a barricade against a flaring orange sky, dominated his decorations.
Hatherleigh affected a fine untidiness, and all the place, even the
floor, was littered with books, for the most part open and face
downward; deeper darknesses were supplied by a discarded gown and
our caps, all conscientiously battered, Hatherleigh's flopped like
an elephant's ear and inserted quill pens supported the corners of
mine; the highlights of the picture came chiefly as reflections from
his chequered blue mugs full of audit ale. We sat on oak chairs,
except the four or five who crowded on a capacious settle, we drank
a lot of beer and were often fuddled, and occasionally quite drunk,
and we all smoked reckless-looking pipes,-there was a transient
fashion among us for corn cobs for which Mark Twain, I think, was
responsible. Our little excesses with liquor were due far more to
conscience than appetite, indicated chiefly a resolve to break away
from restraints that we suspected were keeping us off the
instructive knife-edges of life. Hatherleigh was a good Englishman
of the premature type with a red face, a lot of hair, a deep voice
and an explosive plunging manner, and it was he who said one
all Rot, this Shutting Up about Women. We OUGHT to talk about them.
What are we going to do about them? It's got to come. We're all
festering inside about it. Let's out with it. There's too much
Decency altogether about this Infernal University!"
We rose to his challenge a little awkwardly and our first talk was
clumsy, there were flushed faces and red ears, and I remember
Hatherleigh broke out into a monologue on decency. "Modesty and
Decency," said Hatherleigh, "are Oriental vices. The Jews brought
them to Europe. They're Semitic, just like our monasticism here and
the seclusion of women and mutilating the dead on a battlefield.
And all that sort of thing."
Hatherleigh's mind progressed by huge leaps, leaps that were usually
wildly inaccurate, and for a time we engaged hotly upon the topic of
those alleged mutilations and the Semitic responsibility for
decency. Hatherleigh tried hard to saddle the Semitic race with the
less elegant war customs of the Soudan and the northwest frontier of
India, and quoted Doughty, at that time a little-known author, and
Cunninghame Graham to show that the Arab was worse than a county-
town spinster in his regard for respectability. But his case was
too preposterous, and Esmeer, with his shrill penetrating voice and
his way of pointing with all four long fingers flat together,
carried the point against him. He quoted Cato and Roman law and the
monasteries of Thibet.
"Well, anyway," said Hatherleigh, escaping from our hands like an
intellectual frog, "Semitic or not, I've got no use for decency."
We argued points and Hatherleigh professed an unusually balanced and
spreading out of decency until it darkens the whole sky, until it
makes a man's father afraid to speak of the most important things,
until it makes a man afraid to look a frank book in the face or
think-even think! until it leads to our coming to-to the business
at last with nothing but a few prohibitions, a few hints, a lot of
dirty jokes and, and "-he waved a hand and seemed to seek and catch
his image in the air-" oh, a confounded buttered slide of
talk about it until I see a little more daylight than I do at
present. I'm twenty-two. Things might happen to me anywhen. You
men can go out into the world if you like, to sin like fools and
marry like fools, not knowing what you are doing and ashamed to ask.
You'll take the consequences, too, I expect, pretty meekly,
sniggering a bit, sentimentalising a bit, like-like Cambridge
He paused to drink, and I think I cut in with ideas of my own. But
one is apt to forget one's own share in a talk, I find, more than
one does the clear-cut objectivity of other people's, and I do not
however, pretty certain that it was then that ideal that we were
pleased to call aristocracy and which soon became the common
property of our set was developed. It was Esmeer, I know, who laid
down and maintained the proposition that so far as minds went there
were really only two sorts of man in the world, the aristocrat and
the man who subdues his mind to other people's.
"'I couldn't THINK of it, Sir,'" said Esmeer in his elucidatory
tones; "that's what a servant says. His mind even is broken in to
run between fences, and he admits it. WE'VE got to he able to think
of anything. And 'such things aren't for the Likes of Us!' That's
another servant's saying. Well, everything IS for the Likes of Us.
If we see fit, that is."
A small fresh-coloured man in grey objected.
"Well," exploded Hatherleigh, "if that isn't so what the deuce are
we up here for? Instead of working in mines? If some things aren't
to be thought about ever! We've got the privilege of all these
extra years for getting things straight in our heads, and then we
us. We were not going to be afraid of ideas any longer, we were
going to throw down every barrier of prohibition and take them in
and see what came of it. We became for a time even intemperately
experimental, and one of us, at the bare suggestion of an eminent
psychic investigator, took hashish and very nearly died of it within
a fortnight of our great elucidation.
The chief matter of our interchanges was of course the discussion of
sex. Once the theme had been opened it became a sore place in our
intercourse; none of us seemed able to keep away from it. Our
imaginations got astir with it. We made up for lost time and went
round it and through it and over it exhaustively. I recall
prolonged discussion of polygamy on the way to Royston, muddy
November tramps to Madingley, when amidst much profanity from
Hatherleigh at the serious treatment of so obsolete a matter, we
weighed the reasons, if any, for the institution of marriage. The
fine dim night-time spaces of the Great Court are bound up with the
inconclusive finales of mighty hot-eared wrangles; the narrows of
Trinity Street and Petty Cury and Market Hill have their particular
associations for me with that spate of confession and free speech,
sometimes crippled ideas.
And we went on a reading party that Easter to a place called
Pulborough in Sussex, where there is a fishing inn and a river that
goes under a bridge. It was a late Easter and a blazing one, and we
boated and bathed and talked of being Hellenic and the beauty of the
body until at moments it seemed to us that we were destined to
restore the Golden Age, by the simple abolition of tailors and
Those undergraduate talks! how rich and glorious they seemed, how
splendidly new the ideas that grew and multiplied in our seething
minds! We made long afternoon and evening raids over the Downs
towards Arundel, and would come tramping back through the still keen
moonlight singing and shouting. We formed romantic friendships with
one another, and grieved more or less convincingly that there were
no splendid women fit to be our companions in the world. But
Hatherleigh, it seemed, had once known a girl whose hair was
gloriously red. "My God!" said Hatherleigh to convey the quality of
her; just simply and with projectile violence: "My God!
Benton had heard of a woman who lived with a man refusing to be
married to him-we thought that splendid beyond measure,-I cannot
now imagine why. She was "like a tender goddess," Benton said. A
sort of shame came upon us in the dark in spite of our liberal
intentions when Benton committed himself to that. And after such
by chance we passed a girl in a governess cart, or some farmer's
daughter walking to the station, we became alertly silent or
obstreperously indifferent to her. For might she not be just that
one exception to the banal decency, the sickly pointless
conventionality, the sham modesty of the times in which we lived?
We felt we stood for a new movement, not realising how perennially
this same emancipation returns to those ancient courts beside the
Cam. We were the anti-decency party, we discovered a catch phrase
that we flourished about in the Union and made our watchword,
namely, "stark fact." We hung nude pictures in our rooms much as if
they had been flags, to the earnest concern of our bedders, and I
disinterred my long-kept engraving and had it framed in fumed oak,
and found for it a completer and less restrained companion, a
companion I never cared for in the slightest degree…
our more formal university work, for most of us took firsts, and
three of us got Fellowships in one year or another. There was
Benton who had a Research Fellowship and went to Tubingen, there was
Esmeer and myself who both became Residential Fellows. I had taken
the Mental and Moral Science Tripos (as it was then), and three
years later I got a lectureship in political science. In those days
it was disguised in the cloak of Political Economy.
It was our affectation to be a little detached from the main stream
of undergraduate life. We worked pretty hard, but by virtue of our
beer, our socialism and suchlike heterodoxy, held ourselves to be
differentiated from the swatting reading man. None of us, except
Baxter, who was a rowing blue, a rather abnormal blue with an
appetite for ideas, took games seriously enough to train, and on the
other hand we intimated contempt for the rather mediocre,
undergraduate men who made up the mass of Cambridge life. After the
manner of youth we were altogether too hard on our contemporaries.
We battered our caps and tore our gowns lest they should seem new,
and we despised these others extremely for doing exactly the same
things; we had an idea of ourselves and resented beyond measure a
similar weakness in these our brothers.
There was a type, or at least there seemed to us to be a type-I'm a
little doubtful at times now whether after all we didn't create it-
for which Hatherleigh invented the nickname the "Pinky Dinkys,"
intending thereby both contempt and abhorrence in almost equal
measure. The Pinky Dinky summarised all that we particularly did
not want to be, and also, I now perceive, much of what we were and
all that we secretly dreaded becoming.
But it is hard to convey the Pinky Dinky idea, for all that it meant
so much to us. We spent one evening at least during that reading
party upon the Pinky Dinky; we sat about our one fire after a walk
in the rain-it was our only wet day-smoked our excessively virile
pipes, and elaborated the natural history of the Pinky Dinky. We
improvised a sort of Pinky Dinky litany, and Hatherleigh supplied
deep notes for the responses.
"The Pinky Dinky extracts a good deal of amusement from life," said
"Damned prig! " said Hatherleigh.
"The Pinky Dinky arises in the Union and treats the question with a
light gay touch. He makes the weird ones mad. But sometimes he
cannot go on because of the amusement he extracts."
"I want to shy books at the giggling swine," said Hatherleigh.
"The Pinky Dinky says suddenly while he is making the tea, 'We're
all being frightfully funny. It's time for you to say something
"The Pinky Dinky shakes his head and says: 'I'm afraid I shall never
"Frivolous but not vulgar," said Esmeer.
"Pinky Dinkys are chaps who've had their buds nipped," said
Hatherleigh. "They're Plebs and they know it. They haven't the
Guts to get hold of things. And so they worry up all those silly
little jokes of theirs to carry it off."…
We tried bad ones for a time, viciously flavoured.
Pinky Dinkys are due to over-production of the type that ought to
keep outfitters' shops. Pinky Dinkys would like to keep outfitters'
shops with whimsy 'scriptions on the boxes and make your bill out
funny, and not be snobs to customers, no!-not even if they had
"Every Pinky Dinky's people are rather good people, and better than
most Pinky Dinky's people. But he does not put on side."
"Pinky Dinkys become playful at the sight of women."
"'Croquet's my game,' said the Pinky Dinky, and felt a man
"But what the devil do they think they're up to, anyhow?" roared old
Hatherleigh suddenly, dropping plump into bottomless despair.
We felt we had still failed to get at the core of the mystery of the
We tried over things about his religion. "The Pinky Dinky goes to
King's Chapel, and sits and feels in the dusk. Solemn things! Oh
HUSH! He wouldn't tell you-"
"He COULDN'T tell you."
"Religion is so sacred to him he never talks about it, never reads
"But in his heart of hearts, oh! ever so deep, the Pinky Dinky has a
Some one protested.
"Not a vulgar doubt," Esmeer went on, "but a kind of hesitation
whether the Ancient of Days is really exactly what one would call
world somehow. SOMEBODY put it there… And anyhow there's no
particular reason why a man should be seen about with Him. He's
jolly Awful of course and all that-"
"The Pinky Dinky for all his fun and levity has a clean mind."
"A thoroughly clean mind. Not like Esmeer's-the Pig!"
"It's their Damned Modesty," said Hatherleigh suddenly, "that's
what's the matter with the Pinky Dinky. It's Mental Cowardice
dressed up as a virtue and taking the poor dears in. Cambridge is
soaked with it; it's some confounded local bacillus. Like the thing
that gives a flavour to Havana cigars. He comes up here to be made
into a man and a ruler of the people, and he thinks it shows a nice
disposition not to take on the job! How the Devil is a great Empire
to be run with men like him?"
"All his little jokes and things," said Esmeer regarding his feet on
the fender, "it's just a nervous sniggering-because he's afraid…
Oxford's no better."
"What's he afraid of?" said I.
"God knows!" exploded Hatherleigh and stared at the fire.
"LIFE!" said Esmeer. "And so in a way are we," he added, and made a
thoughtful silence for a time.
"I say," began Carter, who was doing the Natural Science Tripos,
"what is the adult form of the Pinky Dinky?"
But there we were checked by our ignorance of the world.
"What is the adult form of any of us?" asked Benton, voicing the
thought that had arrested our flow.
I do not remember that we ever lifted our criticism to the dons and
the organisation of the University. I think we took them for
multitude of things that we took for granted. It seemed to us that
Cambridge was in the order of things, for all the world like having
eyebrows or a vermiform appendix. Now with the larger scepticism of
middle age I can entertain very fundamental doubts about these old
universities. Indeed I had a scheme-
I do not see what harm I can do now by laying bare the purpose of
the political combinations I was trying to effect.
My educational scheme was indeed the starting-point of all the big
project of conscious public reconstruction at which I aimed. I
wanted to build up a new educational machine altogether for the
governing class out of a consolidated system of special public
service schools. I meant to get to work upon this whatever office I
was given in the new government. I could have begun my plan from
the Admiralty or the War Office quite as easily as from the
reforming the old public schools and universities to meet the needs
of a modern state, they send their roots too deep and far, the cost
sought a way round this invincible obstacle. I do think it would be
quite practicable to side-track, as the Americans say, the whole
system by creating hardworking, hard-living, modern and scientific
boys' schools, first for the Royal Navy and then for the public
service generally, and as they grew, opening them to the public
without any absolute obligation to subsequent service.
Simultaneously with this it would not be impossible to develop a new
college system with strong faculties in modern philosophy, modern
history, European literature and criticism, physical and biological
science, education and sociology.
We could in fact create a new liberal education in this way, and cut
the umbilicus of the classical languages for good and all. I should
have set this going, and trusted it to correct or kill the old
public schools and the Oxford and Cambridge tradition altogether. I
had men in my mind to begin the work, and I should have found
others. I should have aimed at making a hard-trained, capable,
intellectually active, proud type of man. Everything else would
have been made subservient to that. I should have kept my grip on
the men through their vacation, and somehow or other I would have
it effectually enough that they didn't get at croquet and tennis
with the vicarage daughters and discover sex in the Peeping Tom
fashion I did, and that they realised quite early in life that it
isn't really virile to reek of tobacco. I should have had military
manoeuvres, training ships, aeroplane work, mountaineering and so
forth, in the place of the solemn trivialities of games, and I
should have fed and housed my men clean and very hard-where there
wasn't any audit ale, no credit tradesmen, and plenty of high
I have revisited Cambridge and Oxford time after time since I came
down, and so far as the Empire goes, I want to get clear of those
Always I renew my old feelings, a physical oppression, a sense of
lowness and dampness almost exactly like the feeling of an
underground room where paper moulders and leaves the wall, a feeling
of ineradicable contagion in the Gothic buildings, in the narrow
ditch-like rivers, in those roads and roads of stuffy little villas.
Those little villas have destroyed all the good of the old monastic
system and none of its evil…
Some of the most charming people in the world live in them, but
their collective effect is below the quality of any individual among
them. Cambridge is a world of subdued tones, of excessively subtle
it has no fear of God; it offers amidst surroundings that vary
between disguises and antiquarian charm the inflammation of
literature's purple draught; one hears there a peculiar thin scandal
always reminded of Ibsen in Cambridge. In Cambridge and the plays
of Ibsen alone does it seem appropriate for the heroine before the
great crisis of life to "enter, take off her overshoes, and put her
wet umbrella upon the writing desk."…
We have to make a new Academic mind for modern needs, and the last
One might as soon try to fake the old VICTORY at Portsmouth into a
line of battleship again. Besides which the old Academic mind, like
those old bathless, damp Gothic colleges, is much too delightful in
its peculiar and distinctive way to damage by futile patching.
My heart warms to a sense of affectionate absurdity as I recall dear
old Codger, surely the most "unleaderly" of men. No more than from
the old Schoolmen, his kindred, could one get from him a School for
Princes. Yet apart from his teaching he was as curious and adorable
as a good Netsuke. Until quite recently he was a power in
Cambridge, he could make and bar and destroy, and in a way he has
become the quintessence of Cambridge in my thoughts.
I see him on his way to the morning's lecture, with his plump
childish face, his round innocent eyes, his absurdly non-prehensile
fat hand carrying his cap, his grey trousers braced up much too
high, his feet a trifle inturned, and going across the great court
with a queer tripping pace that seemed cultivated even to my naive
undergraduate eye. Or I see him lecturing. He lectured walking up
and down between the desks, talking in a fluting rapid voice, and
with the utmost lucidity. If he could not walk up and down he could
not lecture. His mind and voice had precisely the fluid quality of
some clear subtle liquid; one felt it could flow round anything and
overcome nothing. And its nimble eddies were wonderful! Or again I
recall him drinking port with little muscular movements in his neck
and cheek and chin and his brows knit-very judicial, very
concentrated, preparing to say the apt just thing; it was the last
thing he would have told a lie about.
occasion in Regent's Park above two eyes scarcely more limpidly
innocent than his-"Born in the Menagerie." Never once since Codger
began to display the early promise of scholarship at the age of
eight or more, had he been outside the bars. His utmost travel had
been to lecture here and lecture there. His student phase had
culminated in papers of quite exceptional brilliance, and he had
gone on to lecture with a cheerful combination of wit and mannerism
that had made him a success from the beginning. He has lectured
ever since. He lectures still. Year by year he has become plumper,
more rubicund and more and more of an item for the intelligent
visitor to see. Even in my time he was pointed out to people as
part of our innumerable enrichments, and obviously he knew it. He
has become now almost the leading Character in a little donnish
world of much too intensely appreciated Characters.
He boasted he took no exercise, and also of his knowledge of port
wine. Of other wines he confessed quite frankly he had no "special
knowledge." Beyond these things he had little pride except that he
claimed to have read every novel by a woman writer that had ever
entered the Union Library. This, however, he held to be remarkable
rather than ennobling, and such boasts as he made of it were tinged
with playfulness. Certainly he had a scholar's knowledge of the
works of Miss Marie Corelli, Miss Braddon, Miss Elizabeth Glyn and
Madame Sarah Grand that would have astonished and flattered those
ladies enormously, and he loved nothing so much in his hours of
relaxation as to propound and answer difficult questions upon their
books. Tusher of King's was his ineffectual rival in this field,
their bouts were memorable and rarely other than glorious for
Codger; but then Tusher spread himself too much, he also undertook
to rehearse whole pages out of Bradshaw, and tell you with all the
changes how to get from any station to any station in Great Britain
by the nearest and cheapest routes…
Codger lodged with a little deaf innocent old lady, Mrs. Araminta
absurd anecdotes. He displayed a marvellous invention in ascribing
to her plausible expressions of opinion entirely identical in import
with those of the Oxford and Harvard Pragmatists, against whom he
waged a fierce obscure war…
It was Codger's function to teach me philosophy, philosophy! the
intimate wisdom of things. He dealt in a variety of Hegelian stuff
like nothing else in the world, but marvellously consistent with
itself. It was a wonderful web he spun out of that queer big active
childish brain that had never lusted nor hated nor grieved nor
feared nor passionately loved,-a web of iridescent threads. He had
luminous final theories about Love and Death and Immortality, odd
matters they seemed for him to think about! and all his woven
flimsy and irrelevant and clever and beautiful, oh!-as a dew-wet
spider's web slung in the morning sunshine across the black mouth of
All through those years of development I perceive now there must
have been growing in me, slowly, irregularly, assimilating to itself
all the phrases and forms of patriotism, diverting my religious
impulses, utilising my esthetic tendencies, my dominating idea, the
statesman's idea, that idea of social service which is the
protagonist of my story, that real though complex passion for
Making, making widely and greatly, cities, national order,
civilisation, whose interplay with all those other factors in life I
no man intending it.
I have tried to show how, quite early in my life, the fact of
disorderliness, the conception of social life as being a
multitudinous confusion out of hand, came to me. One always of
course simplifies these things in the telling, but I do not think I
ever saw the world at large in any other terms. I never at any
stage entertamed the idea which sustained my mother, and which
sustains so many people in the world,-the idea that the universe,
whatever superficial discords it may present, is as a matter of fact
"all right," is being steered to definite ends by a serene and
unquestionable God. My mother thought that Order prevailed, and
that disorder was just incidental and foredoomed rebellion; I feel
and have always felt that order rebels against and struggles against
disorder, that order has an up-hill job, in gardens, experiments,
suburbs, everything alike; from the very beginnings of my experience
I discovered hostility to order, a constant escaping from control.
The current of living and contemporary ideas in which my mind was
presently swimming made all in the same direction; in place of my
mother's attentive, meticulous but occasionally extremely irascible
Providence, the talk was all of the Struggle for Existenc and the
survival not of the Best-that was nonsense, but of the fittest to
Individualist's LAISSEZ FAIRE never won upon me. I disliked Herbert
Spencer all my life until I read his autobiography, and then I
laughed a little and loved him. I remember as early as the City
Merchants' days how Britten and I scoffed at that pompous question-
begging word "Evolution," having, so to speak, found it out.
Evolution, some illuminating talker had remarked at the Britten
lunch table, had led not only to man, but to the liver-fluke and
skunk, obviously it might lead anywhere; order came into things only
through the struggling mind of man. That lit things wonderfully for
us. When I went up to Cambridge I was perfectly clear that life was
a various and splendid disorder of forces that the spirit of man
sets itself to tame. I have never since fallen away from that
I do not think I was exceptionally precocious in reaching these
conclusions and a sort of religious finality for myself by eighteen
or nineteen. I know men and women vary very much in these matters,
just as children do in learning to talk. Some will chatter at
eighteen months and some will hardly speak until three, and the
thing has very little to do with their subsequent mental quality.
So it is with young people; some will begin their religious, their
social, their sexual interests at fourteen, some not until far on in
the twenties. Britten and I belonged to one of the precocious
types, and Cossington very probably to another. It wasn't that
there was anything priggish about any of us; we should have been
prigs to have concealed our spontaneous interests and ape the
The world of man centred for my imagination in London, it still
centres there; the real and present world, that is to say, as
distinguished from the wonder-lands of atomic and microscopic
science and the stars and future time. I had travelled scarcely at
all, I had never crossed the Channel, but I had read copiously and I
had formed a very good working idea of this round globe with its
mountains and wildernesses and forests and all the sorts and
conditions of human life that were scattered over its surface. It
was all alive, I felt, and changing every day; how it was changing,
and the changes men might bring about, fascinated my mind beyond
I used to find a charm in old maps that showed The World as Known to
the Ancients, and I wish I could now without any suspicion of self-
nineteen. So far as extension went it was, I fancy, very like the
world I know now at forty-two; I had practically all the mountains
and seas, boundaries and races, products and possibilities that I
have now. But its intension was very different. All the interval
has been increasing and deepening my social knowledge, replacing
crude and second-hand impressions by felt and realised distinctions.
In 1895-that was my last year with Britten, for I went up to
Cambridge in September-my vision of the world had much the same
relation to the vision I have to-day that an ill-drawn daub of a
mask has to the direct vision of a human face. Britten and I looked
side that we had no suspicion were interdependent. We had no
conception of the roots of things nor of the reaction of things. It
did not seem to us, for example, that business had anything to do
with government, or that money and means affected the heroic issues
of war. There were no wagons in our war game, and where there were
guns, there it was assumed the ammunition was gathered together.
Finance again was a sealed book to us; we did not so much connect it
with the broad aspects of human affairs as regard it as a sort of
intrusive nuisance to be earnestly ignored by all right-minded men.
We had no conception of the quality of politics, nor how "interests"
came into such affairs; we believed men were swayed by purely
intellectual convictions and were either right or wrong, honest or
dishonest (in which ease they deserved to be shot), good or bad. We
knew nothing of mental inertia, and could imagine the opinion of a
whole nation changed by one lucid and convincing exposition. We
were capable of the most incongruous transfers from the scroll of
history to our own times, we could suppose Brixton ravaged and
Hampstead burnt in civil wars for the succession to the throne, or
Cheapside a lane of death and the front of the Mansion House set
about with guillotines in the course of an accurately transposed
French Revolution. We rebuilt London by Act of Parliament, and once
in a mood of hygienic enterprise we transferred its population EN
MASSE to the North Downs by an order of the Local Government Board.
We thought nothing of throwing religious organisations out of
employment or superseding all the newspapers by freely distributed
bulletins. We could contemplate the possibility of laws abolishing
whole classes; we were equal to such a dream as the peaceful and
orderly proclamation of Communism from the steps of St. Paul's
Cathedral, after the passing of a simply worded bill,-a close and
not unnaturally an exciting division carrying the third reading. I
remember quite distinctly evolving that vision. We were then fully
fifteen and we were perfectly serious about it. We were not fools;
it was simply that as yet we had gathered no experience at all of
I think this statement does my boyhood justice, and yet I have my
did not understand. It isn't only that every day changed one's
general outlook, but also that a boy fluctuates between phases of
quite adult understanding and phases of tawdrily magnificent
puerility. Sometimes I myself was in those tumbrils that went along
Cheapside to the Mansion House, a Sydney Cartonesque figure, a white
defeated Mirabean; sometimes it was I who sat judging and condemning
and ruling (sleeping in my clothes and feeding very simply) the soul
and autocrat of the Provisional Government, which occupied, of all
inconvenient places! the General Post Office at St. Martin's-le-
I cannot trace the development of my ideas at Cambridge, but I
believe the mere physical fact of going two hours' journey away from
London gave that place for the first time an effect of unity in my
imagination. I got outside London. It became tangible instead of
being a frame almost as universal as sea and sky.
At Cambridge my ideas ceased to live in a duologue; in exchange for
Britten, with whom, however, I corresponded lengthily, stylishly and
self-consciously for some years, I had now a set of congenial
friends. I got talk with some of the younger dons, I learnt to
speak in the Union, and in my little set we were all pretty busily
sharpening each other's wits and correcting each other's
interpretations. Cambridge made politics personal and actual. At
City Merchants' we had had no sense of effective contact; we
boasted, it is true, an under secretary and a colonial governor
among our old boys, but they were never real to us; such
distinguished sons as returned to visit the old school were allusive
and pleasant in the best Pinky Dinky style, and pretended to be in
earnest about nothing but our football and cricket, to mourn the
abolition of "water," and find a shuddering personal interest in the
ancient swishing block. At Cambridge I felt for the first time that
down to debate in the Union, the older dons had been their college
intimates, their sons and nephews expounded them to us and made them
the first time in my life expected to read and think and discuss, my
secret vice had become a virtue.
That combination-room world is at last larger and more populous and
various than the world of schoolmasters. The Shoesmiths and Naylors
who had been the aristocracy of City Merchants' fell into their
place in my mind; they became an undistinguished mass on the more
athletic side of Pinky Dinkyism, and their hostility to ideas and to
brighter men of each generation stay up; these others go down to
propagate their tradition, as the fathers of families, as mediocre
professional men, as assistant masters in schools. Cambridge which
perfects them is by the nature of things least oppressed by them,-
except when it comes to a vote in Convocation.
We were still in those days under the shadow of the great
Victorians. I never saw Gladstone (as I never set eyes on the old
Queen), but he had resigned office only a year before I went up to
Trinity, and the Combination Rooms were full of personal gossip
about him and Disraeli and the other big figures of the gladiatorial
stage of Parlimentary history, talk that leaked copiously into such
sets as mine. The ceiling of our guest chamber at Trinity was
glorious with the arms of Sir William Harcourt, whose Death Duties
had seemed at first like a socialist dawn. Mr. Evesham we asked to
come to the Union every year, Masters, Chamberlain and the old Duke
of Devonshire; they did not come indeed, but their polite refusals
brought us all, as it were, within personal touch of them. One
heard of cabinet councils and meetings at country houses. Some of
us, pursuing such interests, went so far as to read political
memoirs and the novels of Disraeli and Mrs. Humphry Ward. From
gossip, example and the illustrated newspapers one learnt something
of the way in which parties were split, coalitions formed, how
permanent officials worked and controlled their ministers, how
measures were brought forward and projects modified.
And while I was getting the great leading figures on the political
stage, who had been presented to me in my schooldays not so much as
men as the pantomimic monsters of political caricature, while I was
getting them reduced in my imagination to the stature of humanity,
and their motives to the quality of impulses like my own, I was also
acquiring in my Tripos work a constantly developing and enriching
conception of the world of men as a complex of economic,
intellectual and moral processes…
Socialism is an intellectual Proteus, but to the men of my
generation it came as the revolt of the workers. Rodbertus we never
Morris, the Chicago Anarchists, JUSTICE and Social Democratic
Federation (as it was then) presented socialism to our minds.
Hatherleigh was the leading exponent of the new doctrines in
Trinity, and the figure upon his wall of a huge-muscled, black-
haired toiler swaggering sledgehammer in hand across a revolutionary
barricade, seemed the quintessence of what he had to expound.
Landlord and capitalist had robbed and enslaved the workers, and
were driving them quite automatically to inevitable insurrection.
They would arise and the capitalist system would flee and vanish
like the mists before the morning, like the dews before the sunrise,
giving place in the most simple and obvious manner to an era of
Perfectly Splendid Time.
I had already discussed this sort of socialism under the guidance of
Britten, before I went up to Cambridge. It was all mixed up with
ideas about freedom and natural virtue and a great scorn for kings,
titles, wealth and officials, and it was symbolised by the red ties
we wore. Our simple verdict on existing arrangements was that they
were "all wrong." The rich were robbers and knew it, kings and
princes were usurpers and knew it, religious teachers were impostors
in league with power, the economic system was an elaborate plot on
the part of the few to expropriate the many. We went about feeling
a curtain that was presently to be torn aside…
It was Hatherleigh's poster and his capacity for overstating things,
I think, that first qualified my simple revolutionary enthusiasm.
Perhaps also I had met with Fabian publications, but if I did I
forget the circumstances. And no doubt my innate constructiveness
with its practical corollary of an analytical treatment of the
material supplied, was bound to push me on beyond this melodramatic
interpretation of human affairs.
I compared that Working Man of the poster with any sort of working
and indeed could not under any stimulus whatever be expected to
change, into the former. It crept into my mind as slowly and surely
as the dawn creeps into a room that the former was not, as I had at
first rather glibly assumed, an "ideal," but a complete
misrepresentation of the quality and possibilities of things.
I do not know now whether it was during my school-days or at
Cambridge that I first began not merely to see the world as a great
multitudinous majority of people who toil continually, who are for
ever anxious about ways and means, who are restricted, ill clothed,
suffer misadventures, hardships and distresses through the want of
money. My lot had fallen upon the fringe of the possessing
shabbiness, and the world that let me go on to a university
education intimated very plainly that there was not a thing beyond
the primary needs that my stimulated imagination might demand that
it would not be an effort for me to secure. A certain aggressive
radicalism against the ruling and propertied classes followed almost
naturally from my circumstances. It did not at first connect itself
at all with the perception of a planless disorder in human affairs
that had been forced upon me by the atmosphere of my upbringing, nor
did it link me in sympathy with any of the profounder realities of
poverty. It was a personal independent thing. The dingier people
one saw in the back streets and lower quarters of Bromstead and
Penge, the drift of dirty children, ragged old women, street
loafers, grimy workers that made the social background of London,
the stories one heard of privation and sweating, only joined up very
slowly with the general propositions I was making about life. We
could become splendidly eloquent about the social revolution and the
triumph of the Proletariat after the Class war, and it was only by a
sort of inspiration that it came to me that my bedder, a garrulous
old thing with a dusty black bonnet over one eye and an
ostentatiously clean apron outside the dark mysteries that clothed
her, or the cheeky little ruffians who yelled papers about the
streets, were really material to such questions.
Directly any of us young socialists of Trinity found ourselves in
immediate contact with servants or cadgers or gyps or bedders or
plumbers or navvies or cabmen or railway porters we became
unconsciously and unthinkingly aristocrats. Our voices altered, our
gestures altered. We behaved just as all the other men, rich or
poor, swatters or sportsmen or Pinky Dinkys, behaved, and exactly as
we were expected to behave. On the whole it is a population of poor
quality round about Cambridge, rather stunted and spiritless and
very difficult to idealise. That theoretical Working Man of ours!-
if we felt the clash at all we explained it, I suppose, by assuming
that he came from another part of the country; Esmeer, I remember,
who lived somewhere in the Fens, was very eloquent about the Cornish
fishermen, and Hatherleigh, who was a Hampshire man, assured us we
ought to know the Scottish miner. My private fancy was for the
Lancashire operative because of his co-operative societies, and
And also I had never been in Lancashire.
By little increments of realisation it was that the profounder
verities of the problem of socialism came to me. It helped me very
much that I had to go down to the Potteries several times to discuss
my future with my uncle and guardian; I walked about and saw Bursley
Wakes and much of the human aspects of organised industrialism at
close quarters for the first time. The picture of a splendid
Working Man cheated out of his innate glorious possibilities, and
presently to arise and dash this scoundrelly and scandalous system
of private ownership to fragments, began to give place to a
limitless spectacle of inefficiency, to a conception of millions of
people not organised as they should be, not educated as they should
be, not simply prevented from but incapable of nearly every sort of
beauty, mostly kindly and well meaning, mostly incompetent, mostly
obstinate, and easily humbugged and easily diverted. Even the
tragic and inspiring idea of Marx, that the poor were nearing a
wrongs, began to develop into the more appalling conception that the
poor were simply in a witless uncomfortable inconclusive way-
"muddling along"; that they wanted nothing very definitely nor very
urgently, that mean fears enslaved them and mean satisfactions
decoyed them, that they took the very gift of life itself with a
spiritless lassitude, hoarding it, being rather anxious not to lose
it than to use it in any way whatever.
The complete development of that realisation was the work of many
years. I had only the first intimations at Cambridge. But I did
followed the visit of Chris Robinson. Chris Robinson was heralded
by such heroic anticipations, and he was so entirely what we had not
Hatherleigh got him to come, arranged a sort of meeting for him at
Redmayne's rooms in King's, and was very proud and proprietorial.
It failed to stir Cambridge at all profoundly. Beyond a futile
attempt to screw up Hatherleigh made by some inexpert duffers who
used nails instead of screws and gimlets, there was no attempt to
rag. Next day Chris Robinson went and spoke at Bennett Hall in
Newnham College, and left Cambridge in the evening amidst the cheers
of twenty men or so. Socialism was at such a low ebb politically in
those days that it didn't even rouse men to opposition.
And there sat Chris under that flamboyant and heroic Worker of the
poster, a little wrinkled grey-bearded apologetic man in ready-made
clothes, with watchful innocent brown eyes and a persistent and
invincible air of being out of his element. He sat with his stout
boots tucked up under his chair, and clung to a teacup and saucer
and looked away from us into the fire, and we all sat about on
tables and chair-arms and windowsills and boxes and anywhere except
upon chairs after the manner of young men. The only other chair
whose seat was occupied was the one containing his knitted woollen
comforter and his picturesque old beach-photographer's hat. We were
all shy and didn't know how to take hold of him now we had got him,
and, which was disconcertingly unanticipated, he was manifestly
having the same difficulty with us. We had expected to be gripped.
"I'll not be knowing what to say to these Chaps," he repeated with a
north-country quality in his speech.
We made reassuring noises.
The Ambassador of the Workers stirred his tea earnestly through an
"I'd best tell 'em something of how things are in Lancashire, what
with the new machines and all that," he speculated at last with red
reflections in his thoughtful eyes.
We had an inexcusable dread that perhaps he would make a mess of the
But when he was no longer in the unaccustomed meshes of refined
conversation, but speaking with an audience before him, he became a
different man. He declared he would explain to us just exactly what
socialism was, and went on at once to an impassioned contrast of
social conditions. "You young men," he said "come from homes of
luxury; every need you feel is supplied-"
We sat and stood and sprawled about him, occupying every inch of
Redmayne's floor space except the hearthrug-platform, and we
listened to him and thought him over. He was the voice of wrongs
that made us indignant and eager. We forgot for a time that he had
been shy and seemed not a little incompetent, his provincial accent
became a beauty of his earnest speech, we were carried away by his
indignations. We looked with shining eyes at one another and at the
various dons who had dropped in and were striving to maintain a
front of judicious severity. We felt more and more that social
sleep upon it. At the end we clapped and murmured our applause and
wanted badly to cheer.
Then like a lancet stuck into a bladder came the heckling. Denson,
that indolent, liberal-minded sceptic, did most of the questioning.
He lay contorted in a chair, with his ugly head very low, his legs
crossed and his left boot very high, and he pointed his remarks with
a long thin hand and occasionally adjusted the unstable glasses that
hid his watery eyes. "I don't want to carp," he began. "The
present system, I admit, stands condemned. Every present system
always HAS stood condemned in the minds of intelligent men. But
where it seems to me you get thin, is just where everybody has been
thin, and that's when you come to the remedy."
"Socialism," said Chris Robinson, as if it answered everything, and
"I suppose I OUGHT to take that as an answer," said Denson, getting
his shoulder-blades well down to the seat of his chair; "but I
don't. I don't, you know. It's rather a shame to cross-examine you
after this fine address of yours"-Chris Robinson on the hearthrug
made acquiescent and inviting noises-"but the real question
remains how exactly are you going to end all these wrongs? There
are the admimstrative questions. If you abolish the private owner,
I admit you abolish a very complex and clumsy way of getting
businesses run, land controlled and things in general administered,
but you don't get rid of the need of administration, you know."
"Democracy," said Chris Robinson.
"Organised somehow," said Denson. "And it's just the How perplexes
me. I can quite easily imagine a socialist state administered in a
sort of scrambling tumult that would be worse than anything we have
"Nothing could be worse than things are now," said Chris Robinson.
"I have seen little children-"
"I submit life on an ill-provisioned raft, for example, could easily
be worse-or life in a beleagured town."
They wrangled for some time, and it had the effect upon me of coming
out from the glow of a good matinee performance into the cold
daylight of late afternoon. Chris Robinson did not shine in
conflict with Denson; he was an orator and not a dialectician, and
he missed Denson's points and displayed a disposition to plunge into
untimely pathos and indignation. And Denson hit me curiously hard
with one of his shafts. "Suppose," he said, "you found yourself
I looked at Chris Robinson, bright-eyed and his hair a little
ruffled and his whole being rhetorical, and measured him against the
huge machine of government muddled and mysterious. Oh! but I was
And then we took him back to Hatherleigh's rooms and drank beer and
smoked about him while he nursed his knee with hairy wristed hands
that protruded from his flannel shirt, and drank lemonade under the
cartoon of that emancipated Worker, and we had a great discursive
talk with him.
"Eh! you should see our big meetings up north?" he said.
Denson had ruffled him and worried him a good deal, and ever and
again he came back to that discussion. "It's all very easy for your
learned men to sit and pick holes," he said, "while the children
suffer and die. They don't pick holes up north. They mean
He talked, and that was the most interesting part of it all, of his
going to work in a factory when he was twelve-" when you Chaps were
all with your mammies "-and how he had educated himself of nights
until he would fall asleep at his reading.
"It's made many of us keen for all our lives," he remarked, "all
that clemming for education. Why! I longed all through one winter
to read a bit of Darwin. I must know about this Darwin if I die for
it, I said. And I couldno' get the book."
Hatherleigh made an enthusiastic noise and drank beer at him with
round eyes over the mug.
"Well, anyhow I wasted no time on Greek and Latin," said Chris
Robinson. "And one learns to go straight at a thing without
splitting straws. One gets hold of the Elementals."
(Well, did they? That was the gist of my perplexity.)
"One doesn't quibble," he said, returning to his rankling memory of
Denson, "while men decay and starve."
"But suppose," I said, suddenly dropping into opposition, "the
alternatve is to risk a worse disaster-or do something patently
"I don't follow that," said Chris Robinson. "We don't propose
anything futile, so far as I can see."
The prevailing force in my undergraduate days was not Socialism but
Kiplingism. Our set was quite exceptional in its socialistic
professions. And we were all, you must understand, very distinctly
Imperialists also, and professed a vivid sense of the "White Man's
It is a little difficult now to get back to the feelings of that
period; Kipling has since been so mercilessly and exhaustively
mocked, criticised and torn to shreds;-never was a man so violently
exalted and then, himself assisting, so relentlessly called down.
But in the middle nineties this spectacled and moustached little
figure with its heavy chin and its general effect of vehement
gesticulation, its wild shouts of boyish enthusiasm for effective
force, its lyric delight in the sounds and colours, in the very
odours of empire, its wonderful discovery of machinery and cotton
waste and the under officer and the engineer, and "shop" as a poetic
dialect, became almost a national symbol. He got hold of us
wonderfully, he filled us with tinkling and haunting quotations, he
stirred Britten and myself to futile imitations, he coloured the
very idiom of our conversation. He rose to his climax with his
"Recessional," while I was still an undergraduate.
What did he give me exactly?
He helped to broaden my geographical sense immensely, and he
provided phrases for just that desire for discipline and devotion
and organised effort the Socialism of our time failed to express,
that the current socialist movement still fails, I think, to
express. The sort of thing that follows, for example, tore
something out of my inmost nature and gave it a shape, and I took it
back from him shaped and let much of the rest of him, the tumult and
the bullying, the hysteria and the impatience, the incoherence and
inconsistency, go uncriticised for the sake of it:-
"Keep ye the Law-be swift in all obedience-
Clear the land of evil, drive the road and bridge the ford,
Make ye sure to each his own
That he reap where he hath sown;
By the peace among Our peoples let men know we serve the Lord!"
And then again, and for all our later criticism, this sticks in my
The 'eathen in 'is blindness bows down to wood an' stone;
'E don't obey no orders unless they is 'is own;
'E keeps 'is side-arms awful: 'e leaves 'em all about
An' then comes up the regiment an' pokes the 'eathen out.
All along o' dirtiness, all along o' mess,
All along o' doin' things rather-more-or-less,
All along of abby-nay, kul, an' hazar-ho,
It is after all a secondary matter that Kipling, not having been
born and brought up in Bromstead and Penge, and the war in South
Africa being yet in the womb of time, could quite honestly entertain
the now remarkable delusion that England had her side-arms at that
time kept anything but "awful." He learnt better, and we all learnt
with him in the dark years of exasperating and humiliating struggle
that followed, and I do not see that we fellow learners are
justified in turning resentfully upon him for a common ignorance and
South Africa seems always painted on the back cloth of my Cambridge
memories. How immense those disasters seemed at the time, disasters
our facile English world has long since contrived in any edifying or
profitable sense to forget! How we thrilled to the shouting
newspaper sellers as the first false flush of victory gave place to
the realisation of defeat. Far away there our army showed itself
officers we had imagined would change to wonderful heroes at the
first crackling of rifles, remained the pleasant, rather incompetent
men they had always been, failing to imagine, failing to plan and
co-operate, failing to grip. And the common soldiers, too, they
were just what our streets and country-side had made them, no sudden
magic came out of the war bugles for them. Neither splendid nor
disgraceful were they,-just ill-trained and fairly plucky and
wonderfully good-tempered men-paying for it. And how it lowered
our vitality all that first winter to hear of Nicholson's Nek, and
then presently close upon one another, to realise the bloody waste
of Magersfontein, the shattering retreat from Stormberg, Colenso-
Colenso, that blundering battle, with White, as it seemed, in
Ladysmith near the point of surrender! and so through the long
unfolding catalogue of bleak disillusionments, of aching,
unconcealed anxiety lest worse should follow. To advance upon your
enemy singing about his lack of cleanliness and method went out of
fashion altogether! The dirty retrogressive Boer vanished from our
scheme of illusion.
All through my middle Cambridge period, the guns boomed and the
rifles crackled away there on the veldt, and the horsemen rode and
the tale of accidents and blundering went on. Men, mules, horses,
stores and money poured into South Africa, and the convalescent
it through a window instead of through the pages of the illustrated
papers; I recall as if I had been there the wide open spaces, the
ragged hillsides, the open order attacks of helmeted men in khaki,
the scarce visible smoke of the guns, the wrecked trains in great
lonely places, the burnt isolated farms, and at last the blockhouses
and the fences of barbed wire uncoiling and spreading for endless
miles across the desert, netting the elusive enemy until at last,
though he broke the meshes again and again, we had him in the toils.
If one's attention strayed in the lecture-room it wandered to those
And that imagined panorama of war unfolds to an accompaniment of
yelling newsboys in the narrow old Cambridge streets, of the flicker
of papers hastily bought and torn open in the twilight, of the
rejoicings at last that seemed to some of us more shameful than
A book that stands out among these memories, that stimulated me
immensely so that I forced it upon my companions, half in the spirit
of propaganda and half to test it by their comments, was Meredith's
ONE OF OUR CONQUERORS. It is one of the books that have made me.
In that I got a supplement and corrective of Kipling. It was the
first detached and adverse criticism of the Englishman I had ever
encountered. It must have been published already nine or ten years
when I read it. The country had paid no heed to it, had gone on to
the expensive lessons of the War because of the dull aversion our
people feel for all such intimations, and so I could read it as a
book justified. The war endorsed its every word for me, underlined
each warning indication of the gigantic dangers that gathered
against our system across the narrow seas. It discovered Europe to
me, as watching and critical.
But while I could respond to all its criticisms of my country's
intellectual indolence, of my country's want of training and
discipline and moral courage, I remember that the idea that on the
continent there were other peoples going ahead of us, mentally alert
while we fumbled, disciplined while we slouched, aggressive and
preparing to bring our Imperial pride to a reckoning, was extremely
novel and distasteful to me. It set me worrying of nights. It put
all my projects for social and political reconstruction upon a new
uncomfortable footing. It made them no longer merely desirable but
urgent. Instead of pride and the love of making one might own to a
baser motive. Under Kipling's sway I had a little forgotten the
continent of Europe, treated it as a mere envious echo to our own
world-wide display. I began now to have a disturbing sense as it
were of busy searchlights over the horizon…
One consequence of the patriotic chagrin Meredith produced in me was
an attempt to belittle his merit. "It isn't a good novel, anyhow,"
The charge I brought against it was, I remember, a lack of unity.
It professed to be a study of the English situation in the early
nineties, but it was all deflected, I said, and all the interest was
confused by the story of Victor Radnor's fight with society to
vindicate the woman he had loved and never married. Now in the
Meredith justice, and admit the conflict was not only essential but
cardinal in his picture, that the terrible inflexibility of the rich
aunts and the still more terrible claim of Mrs. Burman Radnor, the
"infernal punctilio," and Dudley Sowerby's limitations, were the
central substance of that inalertness the book set itself to assail.
So many things have been brought together in my mind that were once
remotely separated. A people that will not valiantly face and
whatever. But in those days what is now just obvious truth to me
was altogether outside my range of comprehension…
As I seek to recapitulate the interlacing growth of my apprehension
of the world, as I flounder among the half-remembered developments
that found me a crude schoolboy and left me a man, there comes out,
as if it stood for all the rest, my first holiday abroad. That did
not happen until I was twenty-two. I was a fellow of Trinity, and
the Peace of Vereeniging had just been signed.
I went with a man named Willersley, a man some years senior to
myself, who had just missed a fellowship and the higher division of
the Civil Service, and who had become an enthusiastic member of the
London School Board, upon which the cumulative vote and the support
of the "advanced" people had placed him. He had, like myself, a
small independent income that relieved him of any necessity to earn
a living, and he had a kindred craving for social theorising and
some form of social service. He had sought my acquaintance after
reading a paper of mine (begotten by the visit of Chris Robinson) on
We went by train to Spiez on the Lake of Thun, then up the Gemmi,
and thence with one or two halts and digressions and a little modest
climbing we crossed over by the Antrona pass (on which we were
benighted) into Italy, and by way of Domo D'ossola and the Santa
Maria Maggiore valley to Cannobio, and thence up the lake to Locarno
(where, as I shall tell, we stayed some eventful days) and so up the
Val Maggia and over to Airolo and home.
As I write of that long tramp of ours, something of its freshness
excitement of the boat train, the trampling procession of people
with hand baggage and laden porters along the platform of the
Folkestone pier, the scarcely perceptible swaying of the moored boat
beneath our feet. Then, very obvious and simple, the little emotion
of standing out from the homeland and seeing the long white Kentish
cliffs recede. One walked about the boat doing one's best not to
feel absurdly adventurous, and presently a movement of people
directed one's attention to a white lighthouse on a cliff to the
east of us, coming up suddenly; and then one turned to scan the
little different French coast villages, and then, sliding by in a
pale sunshine came a long wooden pier with oddly dressed children
upon it, and the clustering town of Boulogne.
One took it all with the outward calm that became a young man of
nearly three and twenty, but one was alive to one's finger-tips with
pleasing little stimulations. The custom house examination excited
one, the strangeness of a babble in a foreign tongue; one found the
French of City Merchants' and Cambridge a shy and viscous flow, and
then one was standing in the train as it went slowly through the
rail-laid street to Boulogne Ville, and one looked out at the world
in French, porters in blouses, workmen in enormous purple trousers,
police officers in peaked caps instead of helmets and romantically
cloaked, big carts, all on two wheels instead of four, green
shuttered casements instead of sash windows, and great numbers of
neatly dressed women in economical mourning.
"Oh! there's a priest!" one said, and was betrayed into suchlike
It was a real other world, with different government and different
methods, and in the night one was roused from uneasy slumbers and
sat blinking and surly, wrapped up in one's couverture and with
one's oreiller all awry, to encounter a new social phenomenon, the
German official, so different in manner from the British; and when
one woke again after that one had come to Bale, and out one tumbled
to get coffee in Switzerland…
I have been over that route dozens of times since, but it still
revives a certain lingering youthfulness, a certain sense of
cheerful release in me.
I remember that I and Willersley became very sociological as we ran
on to Spiez, and made all sorts of generalisations from the steeply
sloping fields on the hillsides, and from the people we saw on
platforms and from little differences in the way things were done.
The clean prosperity of Bale and Switzerland, the big clean
stations, filled me with patriotic misgivings, as I thought of the
vast dirtiness of London, the mean dirtiness of Cambridgeshire. It
came to me that perhaps my scheme of international values was all
wrong, that quite stupendous possibilities and challenges for us and
our empire might be developing here-and I recalled Meredith's
Skepsey in France with a new understanding.
Willersley had dressed himself in a world-worn Norfolk suit of
greenish grey tweeds that ended unfamiliarly at his rather
impending, spectacled, intellectual visage. I didn't, I remember,
like the contrast of him with the drilled Swiss and Germans about
us. Convict coloured stockings and vast hobnail boots finished him
below, and all his luggage was a borrowed rucksac that he had tied
askew. He did not want to shave in the train, but I made him at one
of the Swiss stations-I dislike these Oxford slovenlinesses-and
then confound him! he cut himself and bled…
Next morning we were breathing a thin exhilarating air that seemed
to have washed our very veins to an incredible cleanliness, and
eating hard-boiled eggs in a vast clear space of rime-edged rocks,
snow-mottled, above a blue-gashed glacier. All about us the
monstrous rock surfaces rose towards the shining peaks above, and
there were winding moraines from which the ice had receded, and then
dark clustering fir trees far below.
I had an extraordinary feeling of having come out of things, of
"But this is the round world!" I said, with a sense of never having
perceived it before; "this is the round world!"
That holiday was full of big comprehensive effects; the first view
of the Rhone valley and the distant Valaisian Alps, for example,
which we saw from the shoulder of the mountain above the Gemmi, and
the early summer dawn breaking over Italy as we moved from our
night's crouching and munched bread and chocolate and stretched our
stiff limbs among the tumbled and precipitous rocks that hung over
Lake Cingolo, and surveyed the winding tiring rocky track going down
and down to Antronapiano.
And our thoughts were as comprehensive as our impressions.
Willersley's mind abounded in historical matter; he had an
inaccurate abundant habit of topographical reference; he made me see
and trace and see again the Roman Empire sweep up these winding
valleys, and the coming of the first great Peace among the warring
tribes of men…
In the retrospect each of us seems to have been talking about our
same question, very near and altogether predominant to us, the
question: "What am I going to do with my life?" He saw it almost as
importantly as I, but from a different angle, because his choice was
largely made and mine still hung in the balance.
"I feel we might do so many things," I said, "and everything that
calls one, calls one away from something else."
Willersley agreed without any modest disavowals.
"We have got to think out," he said, "just what we are and what we
are up to. We've got to do that now. And then-it's one of those
questions it is inadvisable to reopen subsequently."
He beamed at me through his glasses. The sententious use of long
words was a playful habit with him, that and a slight deliberate
humour, habits occasional Extension Lecturing was doing very much to
"You've made your decision?"
He nodded with a peculiar forward movement of his head.
"How would you put it?"
"Social Service-education. Whatever else matters or doesn't
matter, it seems to me there is one thing we MUST have and increase,
and that is the number of people who can think a little-and have "-
he beamed again-" an adequate sense of causation."
"You're sure it's worth while."
"For me-certainly. I don't discuss that any more."
state, joining wall to wall and way to way, the new great England
rising out of the decaying old… we are the real statesmen-I
like that use of 'statesmen.'…"
"Yes," I said with many doubts. "Yes, of course…"
Willersley is middle-aged now, with silver in his hair and a
deepening benevolence in his always amiable face, and he has very
fairly kept his word. He has lived for social service and to do
vast masses of useful, undistinguished, fertilising work. Think of
the days of arid administrative plodding and of contention still
more arid and unrewarded, that he must have spent! His little
affectations of gesture and manner, imitative affectations for the
most part, have increased, and the humorous beam and the humorous
intonations have become a thing he puts on every morning like an old
coat. His devotion is mingled with a considerable whimsicality, and
they say he is easily flattered by subordinates and easily offended
into opposition by colleagues; he has made mistakes at times and
followed wrong courses, still there he is, a flat contradiction to
all the ordinary doctrine of motives, a man who has foregone any
chances of wealth and profit, foregone any easier paths to
distinction, foregone marriage and parentage, in order to serve the
community. He does it without any fee or reward except his personal
self-satisfaction in doing this work, and he does it without any
hope of future joys and punishments, for he is an implacable
from the spending and husbanding of large sums of public money, and
from the inevitable proprietorship he must feel in the fair, fine,
well-ordered schools he has done so much to develop. "But for me,"
he can say, "there would have been a Job about those diagrams, and
that subject or this would have been less ably taught."…
The fact remains that for him the rewards have been adequate, if not
to content at any rate to keep him working. Of course he covets the
notice of the world he has served, as a lover covets the notice of
his mistress. Of course he thinks somewhere, somewhen, he will get
credit. Only last year I heard some men talking of him, and they
were noting, with little mean smiles, how he had shown himself self-
conscious while there was talk of some honorary degree-giving or
other; it would, I have no doubt, please him greatly if his work
were to flower into a crimson gown in some Academic parterre. Why
shouldn't it? But that is incidental vanity at the worst; he goes
on anyhow. Most men don't.
But we had our walk twenty years and more ago now. He was oldish
even then as a young man, just as he is oldish still in middle age.
Long may his industrious elderliness flourish for the good of the
world! He lectured a little in conversation then; he lectures more
now and listens less, toilsomely disentangling what you already
like callosities that come from a man's work.
Our long three weeks' talk comes back to me as a memory of ideas and
smoke and pine woods and huge precipices and remote gleams of snow-
fields and the sound of cascading torrents rushing through deep
gorges far below. It is mixed, too, with gossips with waitresses
and fellow travellers, with my first essays in colloquial German and
Italian, with disputes about the way to take, and other things that
I will tell of in another section. But the white passion of human
service was our dominant theme. Not simply perhaps nor altogether
unselfishly, but quite honestly, and with at least a frequent self-
their developing, to lessen misery, to broaden and exalt life. It
is very hard-perhaps it is impossible-to present in a page or two
the substance and quality of nearly a month's conversation,
conversation that is casual and discursive in form, that ranges
carelessly from triviality to immensity, and yet is constantly
resuming a constructive process, as workmen on a wall loiter and
jest and go and come back, and all the while build.
We got it more and more definite that the core of our purpose
beneath all its varied aspects must needs be order and discipline.
"Muddle," said I, "is the enemy." That remains my belief to this
for Good. It was muddle had just given us all the still freshly
painful disasters and humiliations of the war, muddle that gives us
the visibly sprawling disorder of our cities and industrial country-
side, muddle that gives us the waste of life, the limitations,
wretchedness and unemployment of the poor. Muddle! I remember
myself quoting Kipling-
"All along o' dirtiness, all along o' mess,
All along o' doin' things rather-more-or-less."
"We build the state," we said over and over again. "That is what we
are for-servants of the new reorganisation!"
We planned half in earnest and half Utopianising, a League of Social
We talked of the splendid world of men that might grow out of such
unpaid and ill-paid work as we were setting our faces to do. We
spoke of the intricate difficulties, the monstrous passive
resistances, the hostilities to such a development as we conceived
our work subserved, and we spoke with that underlying confidence in
the invincibility of the causes we adopted that is natural to young
and scarcely tried men.
We talked much of the detailed life of politics so far as it was
better informed than I; we discussed possible combinations and
possible developments, and the chances of some great constructive
movement coming from the heart-searchings the Boer war had
occasioned. We would sink to gossip-even at the Suetonius level.
Willersley would decline towards illuminating anecdotes that I
capped more or less loosely from my private reading. We were
great things were to be done through newspapers. We talked of
swaying opinion and moving great classes to massive action.
Men are egotistical even in devotion. All our splendid projects
were thickset with the first personal pronoun. We both could write,
and all that we said in general terms was reflected in the
writing and speaking that moving word. We had already produced
manuscript and passed the initiations of proof reading; I had been a
frequent speaker in the Union, and Willersley was an active man on
the School Board. Our feet were already on the lower rungs that led
up and up. He was six and twenty, and I twenty-two. We intimated
our individual careers in terms of bold expectation. I had
prophetic glimpses of walls and hoardings clamorous with "Vote for
committee and that, saying a few slightly ironical words after the
declaration of the poll, and then sitting friendly beside me on the
government benches. There was nothing impossible in such dreams.
Why not the Board of Education for him? My preference at that time
wavered between the Local Government Board-I had great ideas about
town-planning, about revisions of municipal areas and re-organised
internal transit-and the War Office. I swayed strongly towards the
latter as the journey progressed. My educational bias came later.
The swelling ambitions that have tramped over Alpine passes! How
many of them, like mine, have come almost within sight of
realisation before they failed?
There were times when we posed like young gods (of unassuming
exterior), and times when we were full of the absurdest little
solicitudes about our prospects. There were times when one surveyed
the whole world of men as if it was a little thing at one's feet,
and by way of contrast I remember once lying in bed-it must have
been during this holiday, though I cannot for the life of me fix
where-and speculating whether perhaps some day I might not be a
K. C. B., Sir Richard Remington, K. C. B., M. P.
But the big style prevailed…
We could not tell from minute to minute whether we were planning for
this prospect of life. So much seemed possible, and everything we
could think of so improbable. There were lapses when it seemed to
me I could never be anything but just the entirely unimportant and
undistinguished young man I was for ever and ever. I couldn't even
Once I remember Willersley going over a list of failures, and why
they had failed-but young men in the twenties do not know much
Willersley and I professed ourselves Socialists, but by this time I
knew my Rodbertus as well as my Marx, and there was much in our
socialism that would have shocked Chris Robinson as much as anything
in life could have shocked him. Socialism as a simple democratic
cry we had done with for ever. We were socialists because
Individualism for us meant muddle, meant a crowd of separated,
undisciplined little people all obstinately and ignorantly doing
things jarringly, each one in his own way. "Each," I said quoting
words of my father's that rose apt in my memory, "snarling from his
own little bit of property, like a dog tied to a cart's tail."
"Essentially," said Willersley, "essentially we're for conscription,
in peace and war alike. The man who owns property is a public
official and has to behave as such. That's the gist of socialism as
I understand it."
"Or be dismissed from his post," I said, " and replaced by some
better sort of official. A man's none the less an official because
he's irresponsible. What he does with his property affects people
just the same. Private! No one is really private but an outlaw…
Order and devotion were the very essence of our socialism, and a
splendid collective vigour and happiness its end. We projected an
science, as balanced and beautiful as a body, as beneficent as
sunshine, the organised state that should end muddle for ever; it
ruled all our ideals and gave form to all our ambitions.
Every man was to be definitely related to that, to have his
predominant duty to that. Such was the England renewed we had in
mind, and how to serve that end, to subdue undisciplined worker and
undisciplined wealth to it, and make the Scientific Commonweal,
King, was the continuing substance of our intercourse.
Every day the wine of the mountains was stronger in our blood, and
the flush of our youth deeper. We would go in the morning sunlight
along some narrow Alpine mule-path shouting large suggestions for
national re-organisation, and weighing considerations as lightly as
though the world was wax in our hands. "Great England," we said in
effect, over and over again, "and we will be among the makers!
England renewed! The country has been warned; it has learnt its
lesson. The disasters and anxieties of the war have sunk in.
England has become serious… Oh! there are big things before
us to do; big enduring things!"
One evening we walked up to the loggia of a little pilgrimage
church, I forget its name, that stands out on a conical hill at the
head of a winding stair above the town of Locarno. Down below the
houses clustered amidst a confusion of heat-bitten greenery. I had
been sitting silently on the parapet, looking across to the purple
mountain masses where Switzerland passes into Italy, and the drift
of our talk seemed suddenly to gather to a head.
accumulating. My words have long since passed out of my memory, the
phrases of familiar expression have altered for me, but the
substance remains as clear as ever. I said how we were in our
measure emperors and kings, men undriven, free to do as we pleased
with life; we classed among the happy ones, our bread and common
necessities were given us for nothing, we had abilities,-it wasn't
modesty but cowardice to behave as if we hadn't-and Fortune watched
us to see what we might do with opportunity and the world.
"There are so many things to do, you see," began Willersley, in his
judicial lecturer's voice.
"So many things we may do," I interrupted, "with all these years
before us… We're exceptional men. It's our place, our duty,
to do things."
"Here anyhow," I said, answering the faint amusement of his face;
"I've got no modesty. Everything conspires to set me up. Why
should I run about like all those grubby little beasts down there,
seeking nothing but mean little vanities and indulgencies-and then
imagination. Modesty! I know if I don't attempt the very biggest
to attempt them. I feel like a loaded gun that is only a little
perplexed because it has to find out just where to aim itself…"
The lake and the frontier villages, a white puff of steam on the
distant railway to Luino, the busy boats and steamers trailing
triangular wakes of foam, the long vista eastward towards
battlemented Bellinzona, the vast mountain distances, now tinged
with sunset light, behind this nearer landscape, and the southward
waters with remote coast towns shining dimly, waters that merged at
last in a luminous golden haze, made a broad panoramic spectacle.
It was as if one surveyed the world,-and it was like the games I
used to set out upon my nursery floor. I was exalted by it; I felt
larger than men. So kings should feel.
That sense of largness came to me then, and it has come to me since,
again and again, a splendid intimation or a splendid vanity. Once,
I remember, when I looked at Genoa from the mountain crest behind
the town and saw that multitudinous place in all its beauty of width
and abundance and clustering human effort, and once as I was
steaming past the brown low hills of Staten Island towards the
towering vigour and clamorous vitality of New York City, that mood
rose to its quintessence. And once it came to me, as I shall tell,
on Dover cliffs. And a hundred times when I have thought of England
as our country might be, with no wretched poor, no wretched rich, a
nation armed and ordered, trained and purposeful amidst its vales
and rivers, that emotion of collective ends and collective purposes
has returned to me. I felt as great as humanity. For a brief
moment I was humanity, looking at the world I had made and had still
And mingled with these dreams of power and patriotic service there
was another series of a different quality and a different colour,
like the antagonistic colour of a shot silk. The white life and the
red life, contrasted and interchanged, passing swiftly at a turn
from one to another, and refusing ever to mingle peacefully one with
the other. I was asking myself openly and distinctly: what are you
going to do for the world? What are you going to do with yourself?
and with an increasing strength and persistence Nature in spite of
my averted attention was asking me in penetrating undertones: what
are you going to do about this other fundamental matter, the beauty
of girls and women and your desire for them?
I have told of my sisterless youth and the narrow circumstances of
my upbringing. It made all women-kind mysterious to me. If it had
not been for my Staffordshire cousins I do not think I should have
known any girls at all until I was twenty. Of Staffordshire I will
tell a little later. But I can remember still how through all those
ripening years, the thought of women's beauty, their magic presence
in the world beside me and the unknown, untried reactions of their
room when one is occupied by other things. I busied myself and
pretended to be wholly occupied, and there the woman stood, full
half of life neglected, and it seemed to my averted mind sometimes
that she was there clad and dignified and divine, and sometimes
Aphrodite shining and commanding, and sometimes that Venus who
stoops and allures.
This travel abroad seemed to have released a multitude of things in
my mind; the clear air, the beauty of the sunshine, the very blue of
the glaciers made me feel my body and quickened all those
about me, in the cheerful waitresses at the inns, in the pedestrians
one encountered in the tracks, in the chance fellow travellers at
the hotel tables. "Confound it!" said I, and talked all the more
zealously of that greater England that was calling us.
I remember that we passed two Germans, an old man and a tall fair
girl, father and daughter, who were walking down from Saas. She
came swinging and shining towards us, easy and strong. I worshipped
her as she approached.
"Gut Tag!" said Willersley, removing his hat.
"Morgen!" said the old man, saluting.
I stared stockishly at the girl, who passed with an indifferent
That sticks in my mind as a picture remains in a room, it has kept
there bright and fresh as a thing seen yesterday, for twenty
I flirted hesitatingly once or twice with comely serving girls, and
was a little ashamed lest Willersley should detect the keen interest
I took in them, and then as we came over the pass from Santa Maria
Maggiore to Cannobio, my secret preoccupation took me by surprise
and flooded me and broke down my pretences.
The women in that valley are very beautiful-women vary from valley
to valley in the Alps and are plain and squat here and divinities
five miles away-and as we came down we passed a group of five or
six of them resting by the wayside. Their burthens were beside
them, and one like Ceres held a reaping hook in her brown hand. She
watched us approaching and smiled faintly, her eyes at mine.
There was some greeting, and two of them laughed together.
"Glorious girls they were," said Willersley, and suddenly an immense
winding road, talking of politics and parties and bills of
parliament and all sorts of dessicated things. That road seemed to
me to wind on for ever down to dust and infinite dreariness. I knew
it for a way of death. Reality was behind us.
sure," he said in a voice of intense discriminations, "after all,
that agricultural work isn't good for women."
"Damn agricultural work!" I said, and broke out into a vigorous
cursing of all I held dear. "Fettered things we are!" I cried. "I
wonder why I stand it!"
"Why don't I go back and make love to those girls and let the world
and you and everything go hang? Deep breasts and rounded limbs-and
we poor emasculated devils go tramping by with the blood of youth in
"I'm not quite sure, Remington," said Willersley, looking at me with
a deliberately quaint expression over his glasses, "that picturesque
scenery is altogether good for your morals."
That fever was still in my blood when we came to Locarno.
Along the hot and dusty lower road between the Orrido of Traffiume
and Cannobio Willersley had developed his first blister. And partly
because of that and partly because there was a bag at the station
that gave us the refreshment of clean linen and partly because of
the lazy lower air into which we had come, we decided upon three or
four days' sojourn in the Empress Hotel.
We dined that night at a table-d'hote, and I found myself next to an
Englishwoman who began a conversation that was resumed presently in
the hotel lounge. She was a woman of perhaps thirty-three or
thirty-four, slenderly built, with a warm reddish skin and very
abundant fair golden hair, the wife of a petulant-looking heavy-
faced man of perhaps fifty-three, who smoked a cigar and dozed over
his coffee and presently went to bed. "He always goes to bed like
that," she confided startlingly. "He sleeps after all his meals. I
never knew such a man to sleep."
Then she returned to our talk, whatever it was.
We had begun at the dinner table with itineraries and the usual
topographical talk, and she had envied our pedestrian travel. "My
husband doesn't walk," she said. "His heart is weak and he cannot
manage the hills."
There was something friendly and adventurous in her manner; she
conveyed she liked me, and when presently Willersley drifted off to
write letters our talk sank at once to easy confidential undertones.
I felt enterprising, and indeed it is easy to be daring with people
beautiful scenery and all beautiful things, and the pointing note in
my voice made her laugh. She told me I had bold eyes, and so far as
I can remember I said she made them bold. "Blue they are," she
remarked, smiling archly. "I like blue eyes." Then I think we
compared ages, and she said she was the Woman of Thirty, "George
Moore's Woman of Thirty."
I had not read George Moore at the time, but I pretended to
good-night quite prettily down the big staircase, and I and
Willersley went out to smoke in the garden. My head was full of
her, and I found it necessary to talk about her. So I made her a
problem in sociology. "Who the deuce are these people?" I said, and
how do they get a living? They seem to have plenty of money. He
strikes me as being-Willersley, what is a drysalter? I think he's
a retired drysalter."
Willersley theorised while I thought of the woman and that
provocative quality of dash she had displayed. The next day at
lunch she and I met like old friends. A huge mass of private
another. We talked for a time of insignificant things.
"What do you do," she asked rather quickly, "after lunch? Take a
"Sometimes," I said, and hung for a moment eye to eye.
We hadn't a doubt of each other, but my heart was beating like a
steamer propeller when it lifts out of the water.
"Do you get a view from your room?" she asked after a pause.
"It's on the third floor, Number seventeen, near the staircase. My
friend's next door."
She began to talk of books. She was interested in Christian
Science, she said, and spoke of a book. I forget altogether what
that book was called, though I remember to this day with the utmost
exactness the purplish magenta of its cover. She said she would
lend it to me and hesitated.
Wlllersley wanted to go for an expedition across the lake that
afternoon, but I refused. He made some other proposals that I
rejected abruptly. " I shall write in my room," I said.
"Why not write down here?"
"I shall write in my room," I snarled like a thwarted animal, and he
looked at me curiously. "Very well," he said; "then I'll make some
notes and think about that order of ours out under the magnolias."
I hovered about the lounge for a time buying postcards and
feverishly restless, watching the movements of the other people.
Finally I went up to my room and sat down by the windows, staring
out. There came a little tap at the unlocked door and in an
instant, like the go of a taut bowstring, I was up and had it open.
"Here is that book," she said, and we hesitated.
"COME IN!" I whispered, trembling from head to foot.
"You're just a boy," she said in a low tone.
safe-door nearly opened. "Come in," I said almost impatiently, for
anyone might be in the passage, and I gripped her wrist and drew her
"What do you mean?" she answered with a faint smile on her lips, and
awkward and yielding.
I shut the door behind her, still holding her with one hand, then
turned upon her-she was laughing nervously-and without a word drew
her to me and kissed her. And I remember that as I kissed her she
made a little noise almost like the purring miaow with which a cat
will greet one and her face, close to mine, became solemn and
She was suddenly a different being from the discontented wife who
had tapped a moment since on my door, a woman transfigured…
That evening I came down to dinner a monster of pride, for behold! I
adventurers. It was hard to believe that any one in the world
before had done as much. My mistress and I met smiling, we carried
things off admirably, and it seemed to me that Willersley was the
dullest old dog in the world. I wanted to give him advice. I
wanted to give him derisive pokes. After dinner and coffee in the
lounge I was too excited and hilarious to go to bed, I made him come
with me down to the cafe under the arches by the pier, and there
drank beer and talked extravagant nonsense about everything under
the sun, in order not to talk about the happenings of the afternoon.
"What shall we do to-morrow?" said he.
"I'm for loafing," I said. "Let's row in the morning and spend to-
morrow afternoon just as we did to-day."
"They say the church behind the town is worth seeing."
"We'll go up about sunset; that's the best time for it. We can
start about five."
We heard music, and went further along the arcade to discover a
place where girls in operatic Swiss peasant costume were singing and
dancing on a creaking, protesting little stage. I eyed their
generous display of pink neck and arm with the seasoned eye of a man
who has lived in the world. Life was perfectly simple and easy, I
felt, if one took it the right way.
Next day Willersley wanted to go on, but I delayed. Altogether I
kept him back four days. Then abruptly my mood changed, and we
decided to start early the following morning. I remember, though a
little indistinctly, the feeling of my last talk with that woman
whose surname, odd as it may seem, either I never learnt or I have
forgotten. (Her christian name was Milly.) She was tired and
rather low-spirited, and disposed to be sentimental, and for the
first time in our intercourse I found myself liking her for the sake
of her own personality. There was something kindly and generous
appearing behind the veil of naive and uncontrolled sensuality she
had worn. There was a curious quality of motherliness in her
attitude to me that something in my nature answered and approved.
She didn't pretend to keep it up that she had yielded to my
initiative. "I've done you no harm," she said a little doubtfully,
an odd note for a man's victim! And, "we've had a good time. You
have liked me, haven't you?"
She interested me in her lonely dissatisfied life; she was childless
and had no hope of children, and her husband was the only son of a
rich meat salesman, very mean, a mighty smoker-"he reeks of it,"
she said, "always"-and interested in nothing but golf, billiards
(which he played very badly), pigeon shooting, convivial Free
Masonry and Stock Exchange punting. Mostly they drifted about the
Riviera. Her mother had contrived her marriage when she was
eighteen. They were the first samples I ever encountered of the
great multitude of functionless property owners which encumbers
modern civilisation-but at the time I didn't think much of that
aspect of them…
I tell all this business as it happened without comment, because I
have no comment to make. It was all strange to me, strange rather
than wonderful, and, it may be, some dream of beauty died for ever
in those furtive meetings; it happened to me, and I could scarcely
have been more irresponsible in the matter or controlled events less
if I had been suddenly pushed over a cliff into water. I swam, of
course-finding myself in it. Things tested me, and I reacted, as I
have told. The bloom of my innocence, if ever there had been such a
thing, was gone. And here is the remarkable thing about it; at the
time and for some days I was over-weeningly proud; I have never been
so proud before or since; I felt I had been promoted to virility; I
was unable to conceal my exultation from Willersley. It was a mood
of shining shameless ungracious self-approval. As he and I went
along in the cool morning sunshine by the rice fields in the throat
of the Val Maggia a silence fell between us.
"You know?" I said abruptly,-"about that woman?"
Willersley did not answer for a moment. He looked at me over the
corner of his spectacles.
"Things went pretty far?" he asked.
"Oh! all the way!" and I had a twinge of fatuous pride in my
"She came to your room?"
"I heard her. I