Miscellaneous Aphorisms; The Soul of Man
(Miscellaneous aphorisms, followed by The Soul of Man.)
The mystery of love is greater than the mystery of death.
Women are made to be loved, not to be understood.
It is absurd to have a hard and fast rule about what one should read and
what one shouldn't. Moren than half of modern culture depends on what
one shouldn't read.
Women, as someone says, love with their ears, just as men love with
their eyes, if they ever love at all.
It is better to be beautiful than to be good, but it is better to be
good than to be ugly.
Nothing looks so like innocence as an indiscretion.
Misfortunes one can endure, they come from outside, they are accidents.
But to suffer for one's faults--ah! there is the sting of life.
Beauty is the only thing that time cannot harm. Philosophies fall away
like sand, creeds follow one another, but what is beautiful is a joy for
all seasons, a possession for all eternity.
Questions are never indiscreet; answers sometimes are.
Twenty years of romance make a woman look like a ruin; but twenty years
of marriage make her something like a public building.
The only thing that one really knows about human nature is that it
Anyone can sympathise with the sufferings of a friend, but it requires a
very fine nature to sympathise with a friend's success.
Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to
live as one wishes to live: and unselfishness is letting other people's
lives alone, not interfering with them.
A man who does not think for himself does not think at all.
Nowadays people seem to look on life as a speculation. It is not a
speculation. It is a sacrament. Its ideal is love. Its purification is
In old days nobody pretended to be a bit better than his neighbour. In
fact, to be a bit better than one's neighbour was considered excessively
vulgar and middle class. Nowadays, with our modern mania for morality,
everyone has to pose as a paragon of purity, incorruptibility, and all
the other seven deadly virtues. And what is the result? You all go over
like ninepins--one after the other.
All sympathy is fine, but sympathy with suffering is the least fine
If you pretend to be good the world takes you very seriously. If you
pretend to be bad it doesn't. Such is the astounding stupidity of
It is most dangerous nowadays for a husband to pay any attention to his
wife in public. It always makes people think that he beats her when
they're alone. The world has grown so suspicious of anything that looks
like a happy married life.
Actors are so fortunate. They can choose whether they will appear in
tragedy or in comedy, whether they will suffer or make merry, laugh or
shed tears. But in real life it is different. Most men and women are
forced to perform parts for which they have no qualifications. The world
is a stage, but the play is badly cast.
Men know life too early; women know life too late-that is the difference
between men and women.
He who stands most remote from his age is he who mirrors it best.
There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and
that is not being talked about.
Life is not governed by will or intention. Life is a question of nerves
and fibres and slowly built-up cells, in which thought hides itself and
passion has its dreams.
Man is a being with myriad lives and myriad sensations, a complex,
multiform creature that bears within itself strange legacies of thought
and passion, and whose very flesh is tainted with the monstrous maladies
of the dead.
As long as a woman can look ten years younger than her own daughter she
is perfectly satisfied.
There is always something infinitely mean about other people's
Public and private life are different things. They have different laws
and move on different lines.
When one is placed in the position of guardian one has to adopt a very
high moral tone on all subjects. It's one's duty to do so.
I have always been of opinion that a man who desires to get married
should know either everything or nothing.
An engagement should come on a young girl as a surprise, pleasant or
unpleasant, as the case may be. It is hardly a matter that she could be
allowed to arrange for herself.
If the lower classes don't set us a good example what on earth is the
use of them? They seem, as a class, to have absolutely no sense of moral
If a woman cannot make her mistakes charming she is only a female.
The world was made for men and not for women.
It is always with the best intentions that the worst work is done.
If you wish to understand others you must intensify your own
Why do you talk so trivially about life? Because I think that life is
far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about it.
What a pity that in life we only get our lessons when they are of no use
It is better to have a permanent income than to be fascinating.
Relations are simply a tedious pack of people who haven't got the
remotest knowledge of how to live nor the smallest instinct about when
Charity creates a multitude of sins.
My experience is that as soon as people are old enough to know better
they don't know anything at all.
Truth is a very complex thing and politics is a very complex business.
There are wheels within wheels. One may be under certain obligations to
people that one must pay. Sooner or later in political life one has to
compromise. Everyone does.
Men can love what is beneath them--things unworthy, stained,
dishonoured. We women worship when we love; and when we lose our
we lose everything.
The proper basis for marriage is a mutual misunderstanding.
The one advantage of playing with fire is that one never gets even
singed. It is the people who don't know how to play with it who get
There are moments when one has to choose between living one's own life
fully, entirely, completely, or dragging out some false, shallow,
degrading existence that the world in its hypocrisy demands.
When one is in town one amuses oneself. When one is in the country one
amuses other people. It is excessively boring.
Romance is the privilege of the rich, not the profession of the
unemployed. The poor should be practical and prosaic.
An acquaintance that begins with a compliment is sure to develop into a
real friendship. It starts in the right manner.
The truths of metaphysics are the truths of masks.
Science can never grapple with the irrational. That is why it has no
future before it in this world.
The happy people of the world have their value, but only the negative
value of foils. They throw up and emphasise the beauty and the
fascination of the unhappy.
In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one
wants, and the other is getting it. The last is much the worst--the last
is a real tragedy.
Disobedience in the eyes of anyone who has read history is man's
original virtue. It is through disobedience that progress has been
made--through disobedience and rebellion.
It is not wise to find symbols in everything that one sees. It makes
life too full of terrors.
Comfort is the only thing our civilisation can give us.
Politics are my only pleasure. You see nowadays it is not fashionable to
flirt till one is forty or to be romantic till one is forty-five, so we
poor women who are under thirty, or say we are, have nothing open to us
but politics or philanthropy. And philanthropy seems to me to have
become simply the refuge of people who wish to annoy their
fellow-creatures. I prefer politics. I think they are more ... becoming.
One's past is what one is. It is the only way by which people should be
In a very ugly and sensible age the arts borrow, not from life, but from
It is always a silly thing to give advice, but to give good advice is
Secrets from other people's wives are a necessary luxury in modern life.
So, at least, I am told at the club by people who are bald enough to
know better. But no man should have a secret from his own wife. She
invariably finds it out. Women have a wonderful instinct about things.
They discover everything except the obvious.
Life holds the mirror up to art, and either reproduces some strange type
imagined by painter or sculptor or realises in fact what has been
dreamed in fiction.
I feel sure that if I lived in the country for six months I should
become so unsophisticated that no one would take the slightest notice of
To recommend thrift to the poor is both grotesque and insulting. It is
like advising a man who is starving to eat less.
A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it.
I am always saying what I shouldn't say; in fact, I usually say what I
really think--a great mistake nowadays. It makes one so liable to be
Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes.
The true perfection of man lies, not in what man has, but in what man
The basis of every scandal is an absolute immoral certainty.
People talk so much about the beauty of confidence. They seem to
entirely ignore the much more subtle beauty of doubt. To believe is very
dull. To doubt is intensely engrossing. To be on the alert is to live,
to be lulled into security is to die.
Every effect that one produces gives one an enemy. To be popular one
must be a mediocrity.
It is a sad truth, but we have lost the faculty of giving lovely names
to things. Names are everything. I never quarrel with actions, my one
quarrel is with words. That is the reason I hate vulgar realism in
literature. The man who could call a spade a spade should be compelled
to use one. It is the only thing he is fit for.
A high moral tone can hardly be said to conduce very much to either
one's health or one's happiness.
There are terrible temptations that it requires strength--strength and
courage--to yield to. To stake all one's life on one throw--whether the
stake be power or pleasure I care not--there is no weakness in that.
There is a horrible, a terrible, courage.
Nowadays it is only the unreadable that occurs.
All charming people are spoiled. It is the secret of their attraction.
There is more to be said for stupidity than people imagine. Personally,
I have a great admiration for stupidity. It is a sort of fellow-feeling,
All men are monsters. The only thing to do is to feed the wretches well.
A good cook does wonders.
There is no such thing as an omen.
Destiny does not send us heralds. She is too wise or too cruel for that.
Crying is the refuge of plain women but the ruin of pretty ones.
Love art for its own sake and then all things that you need will be
added to you. This devotion to beauty and to the creation of beautiful
things is the test of all great civilisations; it is what makes the life
of each citizen a sacrament and not a speculation.
It is always worth while asking a question, though it is not always
It takes a thoroughly good woman to do a thoroughly stupid thing.
With a proper background women can do anything.
Chiromancy is a most dangerous science, and one that ought not to be
encouraged, except in a 'tŕte-Ó-tŕte.'
One should never take sides in anything. Taking sides is the beginning
of sincerity, and earnestness follows shortly afterwards, and the human
being becomes a bore.
The work of art is beautiful by being what art never has been; and to
measure it by the standard of the past is to measure it by a standard on
the reflection of which its real perfection depends.
There are three kinds of despots. There is the despot who tyrannises
over the body. There is the despot who tyrannises over the soul. There
is the despot who tyrannises over soul and body alike. The first is
called the prince. The second is called the pope. The third is called
Costume is a growth, an evolution, and a most important, perhaps the
most important, sign of the manners, customs, and mode of life of each
I really don't see anything romantic in proposing. It is very romantic
to be in love, but there is nothing romantic about a definite proposal.
Why, one may be accepted. One usually is, I believe. Then the excitement
is all over. The very essence of romance is uncertainty.
What consoles one nowadays is not repentance but pleasure. Repentance is
quite out of date.
Ideals are dangerous things. Realities are better. They wound, but they
Unless one is wealthy there is no use in being a charming fellow.
Shallow sorrows and shallow loves live on. The loves and sorrows that
are great are destroyed by their own plenitude.
An eternal smile is much more wearisome than a perpetual frown. The one
sweeps away all possibilities, the other suggests a thousand.
To disagree with three-fourths of England on all points is one of the
first elements of vanity, which is a deep source of consolation in all
moments of spiritual doubt.
Women live by their emotions and for them, they have no philosophy of
As long as war is regarded as wicked it will always have a fascination.
When it is looked upon as vulgar it will cease to be popular.
There is only one thing worse than injustice, and that is justice
without her sword in her hand. When right is not might it is evil.
We spend our days, each one of us, in looking for the secret of life.
Well, the secret of life is in art.
The truth isn't quite the sort of thing that one tells to a nice, sweet,
If one plays good music people don't listen, and if one plays bad music
people don't talk.
How fond women are of doing dangerous things. It is one of the qualities
in them that I admire most. A woman will flirt with anybody in the world
as long as other people are looking on.
Englishwomen conceal their feelings till after they are married. They
show them then.
Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.
Actions are the first tragedy in life, words are the second. Words are
perhaps the worst. Words are merciless.
Life is terrible. It rules us, we do not rule it.
In art there is no such thing as a universal truth. A truth in art is
that whose contradictory is also true.
One's days are too brief to take the burden of another's sorrows on
one's shoulders. Each man lives his own life, and pays his own price for
living it. The only pity is that one has to pay so often for a single
fault. One has to pay over and over again, indeed. In her dealings with
man Destiny never closes her accounts.
Pleasure is Nature's test, her sign of approval. When we are happy we
are always good, but when we are good we are not always happy.
The people who love only once in their lives are really the shallow
people. What they call their loyalty and their fidelity I call either
the lethargy of custom or their lack of imagination.
Better to take pleasure in a rose than to put its root under a
Of Shakespeare it may be said that he was the first to see the dramatic
value of doublets and that a climax may depend on a crinoline.
Plain women are always jealous of their husbands; beautiful women never
are! They never have time. They are always so occupied in being jealous
of other people's husbands.
What between the duties expected of one during one's lifetime and the
duties exacted from one after one's death land has ceased to be either a
profit or a pleasure. It gives one position and prevents one from
keeping it up.
A man who moralises is usually a hypocrite, and a woman who moralises is
invariably plain. There is nothing in the whole world so unbecoming to a
woman as a nonconformist conscience. And most women know it, I am glad
It was a fatal day when the public discovered that the pen is mightier
than the paving-stone and can be made as offensive as a brickbat.
A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even
glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is
always landing. And when Humanity lands there it looks out, and, seeing
a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realisation of Utopias.
What is the difference between scandal and gossip? Oh! gossip is
charming! History is merely gossip, but scandal is gossip made tedious
All beautiful things belong to the same age.
It is personalities, not principles, that move the age.
Modern pictures are, no doubt, delightful to look at. At least, some of
them are. But they are quite impossible to live with; they are too
clever, too assertive, too intellectual. Their meaning is too obvious
and their method too clearly defined. One exhausts what they have to say
in a very short time, and then they become as tedious as one's
To know nothing about our great men is one of the necessary elements of
The truth is rarely pure and never simple. Modern life would be very
tedious if it were either and modern literature a complete
You may laugh, but it is a great thing to come across a woman who
thoroughly understands one.
The majority of people spoil their lives by an unhealthy and exaggerated
The number of women in London who flirt with their own husbands is
perfectly scandalous. It looks so bad. It is simply washing one's clean
linen in public.
The chief thing that makes life a failure from the artistic point of
view is the thing that lends to life its sordid security--the fact that
one can never repeat exactly the same emotion.
We teach people how to remember, we never teach them how to grow.
Vulgar habit that is people have nowadays of asking one, after one has
given them an idea, whether one is serious or not. Nothing is serious
except passion. The intellect is not a serious thing and never has been.
It is an instrument on which one plays, that is all. The only serious
form of intellect I know is the British intellect, and on the British
intellect the illiterate always plays the drum.
It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either
charming or tedious.
It is only the modern that ever become old-fashioned.
It is only the Philistine who seeks to estimate a personality by the
vulgar test of production.
Musical people are so absurdly unreasonable. They always want one to be
perfectly dumb at the very moment when one is longing to be absolutely
Nothing is so dangerous as being too modern. One is apt to grow
old-fashioned quite suddenly.
The fact of a man being a poisoner is nothing against his prose. The
domestic virtues are not the true basis of art.
To the philosopher women represent the triumph of matter over mind, just
as men represent the triumph of mind over morals.
The only way a woman can ever reform a man is by boring him so
completely that he loses all possible interest in life.
The only horrible thing in the world is 'ennui.' That is the one sin for
which there is no forgiveness.
French songs I cannot possibly allow. People always seem to think that
they are improper, and either look shocked, which is vulgar, or laugh,
which is worse.
It has often been made a subject of reproach against artists and men of
letters that they are lacking in wholeness and completeness of nature.
As a rule this must necessarily be so. That very concentration of vision
and inversity of purpose which is the characteristic of the artistic
temperament is in itself a mode of limitation. To those who are
preoccupied with the beauty of form nothing else seems of so much
The work of art is to dominate the spectator. The spectator is not to
dominate the work of art.
One should sympathise with the joy, the beauty, the colour of life. The
less said about life's sores the better.
You can't make people good by act of Parliament--that is something.
Art creates an incomparable and unique effect, and having done so passes
on to other things. Nature, on the other hand, forgetting that imitation
can be made the sincerest form of insult, keeps on repeating the effect
until we all become absolutely wearied of it.
It is perfectly monstrous the way people go about nowadays saying things
against one behind one's back that are absolutely and entirely true.
A true artist takes no notice whatever of the public. The public are to
One should never trust a woman who tells one her real age. A woman who
would tell one that would tell one anything.
Nothing is so aggravating as calmness. There is something positively
brutal about the good temper of most modern men. I wonder we women
it as well as we do.
The truth is a thing I get rid of as soon as possible. Bad habit, by the
way, makes one very unpopular at the club ... with the older members.
They call it being conceited. Perhaps it is.
My own business always bores me to death. I prefer other people's.
Don't be led astray into the paths of virtue--that is the worst of
women. They always want one to be good. And if we are good, when they
meet us they don't love us at all. They like to find us quite
irretrievably bad and to leave us quite unattractively good.
Men are such cowards. They outrage every law in the world and are afraid
of the world's tongue.
Wicked women bother one. Good women bore one. That is the only
difference between them.
To know the principles of the highest art is to know the principles of
all the arts.
I don't believe in the existence of Puritan women. I don't think there
is a woman in the world who would not be a little flattered if one made
love to her. It is that which makes women so irresistibly adorable.
When I am in trouble eating is the only thing that consoles me. Indeed,
when I am in really great trouble, as anyone who knows me intimately
will tell you, I refuse everything except food and drink.
When one is going to lead an entirely new life one requires regular and
The soul is born old, but grows young. That is the comedy of life. The
body is born young, and grows old. That is life's tragedy.
One can survive everything nowadays except death, and live down anything
except a good reputation.
The past is of no importance. The present is of no importance. It is
with the future that we have to deal. For the past is what men should
not have been. The present is what men ought not to be. The future is
what artists are.
Men become old, but they never become good.
By persistently remaining single a man converts himself into a permanent
public temptation. Men should be more careful; this very celibacy leads
weaker vessels astray.
I think that in practical life there is something about success, actual
success, that is a little unscrupulous, something about ambition that is
Every man of ambition has to fight his century with its own weapons.
What this century worships is wealth. The god of this century is wealth.
To succeed one must have wealth. At all costs one must have wealth.
I love scandals about other people, but scandals about myself don't
interest me. They have not got the charm of novelty.
Moderation is a fatal thing. Enough is as bad as a meal. More than
enough is as good as a feast.
The English can't stand a man who is always saying he is in the right,
but they are very fond of a man who admits he has been in the wrong. It
is one of the best things in them.
Life is simply a 'mauvais quart d'heure' made up of exquisite moments.
There is the same world for all of us, and good and evil, sin and
innocence, go through it hand in hand. To shut one's eyes to half of
life that one may live securely is as though one blinded oneself that
one might walk with more safety in a land of pit and precipice.
Married men are horribly tedious when they are good husbands and
abominably conceited when they are not.
Between men and women there is no friendship possible. There is passion,
enmity, worship, love, but no friendship.
Everybody is clever nowadays. You can't go anywhere without meeting
clever people. This has become an absolute public nuisance.
I don't think man has much capacity for development. He has got as far
as he can, and that is not far, is it?
I am not quite sure that I quite know what pessimism really means. All I
do know is that life cannot be understood without much charity, cannot
be lived without much charity. It is love, and not German philosophy,
that is the explanation of this world, whatever may be the explanation
of the next.
I do not approve of anything that that tampers with natural arrogance.
Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit: touch it, and the blossom is
The whole theory of modern education is radically unsound. Fortunately,
in England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever. If it
did it would prove a serious danger to the upper classes, and probably
lead to acts of violence in Grosvenor Square.
No woman should ever be quite accurate about her age. It looks so
Emotion for the sake of emotion is the aim of art, and emotion for the
sake of emotion is the aim of life and of that practical organisation of
life that we call society.
Men of the noblest possible moral character are extremely susceptible to
the influence of the physical charms of others. Modern, no less than
ancient, history supplies us with many most painful examples of what I
refer to. If it were not so, indeed, history would be quite unreadable.
I am not in favour of long engagements. They give people the opportunity
of finding out each other's character before marriage, which I think is
It is a terrible thing for a man to find out suddenly that all his life
he has been speaking nothing but the truth.
The two weak points in our age are its want of principle and its want of
Thirty-five is a very attractive age. London society is full of women
who have of their own free choice remained thirty-five for years.
Never speak disrespectfully of society. Only people who can't get into
it do that.
It is always painful to part with people whom one has known for a very
brief space of time. The absence of old friends one can endure with
equanimity. But even a momentary separation from anyone to whom one
just been introduced is almost unbearable.
To be natural is to be obvious, and to be obvious is to be inartistic.
One is tempted to define man as a rational animal who always loses his
temper when he is called upon to act in accordance with the dictates of
The essence of thought, as the essence of life, is growth.
What people call insincerity is simply a method by which we can multiply
In a temple everyone should be serious except the thing that is
We are never more true to ourselves than when we are inconsistent.
There is always something ridiculous about the emotions of people whom
one has ceased to love.
Intellectual generalities are always interesting, but generalities in
morals mean absolutely nothing.
To be in society is merely a bore, but to be out of it simply a tragedy.
We live in an age when unnecessary things are our only necessities.
One should never make one's dÚbut with a scandal. One should reserve
that to give an interest to one's old age.
What man has sought for is, indeed, neither pain nor pleasure, but
simply life. Man has sought to live intensely, fully, perfectly. When he
can do so without exercising restraint on others, or suffering it ever,
and his activities are all pleasurable to him, he will be saner,
healthier, more civilised, more himself. Pleasure is nature's test, her
sign of approval. When man is happy he is in harmony with himself and
Society often forgives the criminal, it never forgives the dreamer.
It is so easy for people to have sympathy with suffering. It is so
difficult for them to have sympathy with thought.
Conversation should touch on everything, but should concentrate itself
There is a luxury in self-reproach. When we blame ourselves we feel that
no one else has a right to blame us. It is the confession, not the
priest, that gives us absolution.
There are only two kinds of people who are really fascinating--people
who know absolutely everything and people who know absolutely nothing.
The public is wonderfully tolerant; it forgives everything except
Life makes us pay too high a price for its wares, and we purchase the
meanest of its secrets at a cost that is monstrous and infinite.
This horrid House of Commons quite ruins our husbands for us. I think
the Lower House by far the greatest blow to a happy married life that
there has been since that terrible thing they called the Higher
Education of Women was invented.
Once a man begins to neglect his domestic duties he becomes painfully
effeminate, does he not? And I don't like that. It makes men so very
Experience is a question of instinct about life.
What is true about art is true about life.
One can always be kind to people about whom one cares nothing.
I like men who have a future and women who have a past.
Women, as some witty Frenchman put it, inspire us with the desire to do
masterpieces and always prevent us from carrying them out.
In matters of grave importance style, not sincerity, is the vital thing.
The only way to behave to a woman, is to make love to her if she is
pretty and to someone else if she is plain.
Women give to men the very gold of their lives. Possibly; but they
invariably want it back in such very small change.
Define women as a sex? Sphinxes without secrets.
What do you call a bad man? The sort of man who admires innocence.
What do you call a bad woman? Oh! the sort of woman a man never gets
One can resist everything except temptation.
Don't let us go to life for our fulfilment or our experience. It is a
thing narrowed by circumstances, incoherent in its utterance, and
without that fine correspondence or form and spirit which is the only
thing that can satisfy the artistic and critical temperament.
It is a dangerous thing to reform anyone.
One can always know at once whether a man has home claims upon his life
or not. I have noticed a very, very sad expression in the eyes of so
many married men.
A mother who doesn't part with a daughter every season has no real
To be good is to be in harmony with oneself. Discord is to be forced to
be in harmony with others.
A really grand passion is comparatively rare nowadays. It is the
privilege of people who have nothing to do. That is the one use of the
idle classes in a country.
There is no secret of life. Life's aim, if it has one, is simply to be
always looking for temptations. There are not nearly enough of them; I
sometimes pass a whole day without coming across a single one. It is
quite dreadful. It makes one so nervous about the future.
All thought is immoral. Its very essence is destruction. If you think of
anything you kill it; nothing survives being thought of.
What is truth? In matters of religion it is simply the opinion that has
survived. In matters of science it is the ultimate sensation. In matters
of art it is one's last mood.
It is so easy to convert others. It is so difficult to convert oneself.
A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is
Life cheats us with shadows, like a puppet-master. We ask it for
pleasure. It gives it to us, with bitterness and disappointment in its
train. We come across some noble grief that we think will lend the
purple dignity of tragedy to our days, but it passes away from us, and
things less noble take its place, and on some grey, windy dawn, or
odorous eve of silence and of silver, we find ourselves looking with
callous wonder, or dull heart of stone, at the tress of gold-flecked
hair that we had once so wildly worshipped and so madly kissed.
There are two ways of disliking art One is to dislike it and the other
to like it rationally.
There is nothing sane about the worship of beauty. It is too splendid to
be sane. Those of whose lives it forms the dominant note will always
seem to the world to be mere visionaries.
I am afraid that good people do a great deal of harm in this world.
Certainly the greatest harm they do is that they make badness of such
A sentimentalist is a man who sees an absurd value in everything and
doesn't know the marked price of any single thing.
Punctuality is the thief of time.
Self-culture is the true ideal for man.
There's nothing in the world like the devotion of a married woman. It's
a thing no married man knows anything about.
No woman should have a memory. Memory in a woman is the beginning of
dowdiness. One can always tell from a woman's bonnet whether she has got
a memory or not.
There are things that are right to say but that may be said at the wrong
time and to the wrong people.
The meaning of any beautiful created thing is, at least, as much in the
soul of him who looks at it as it was in his soul who wrought it. Nay,
it is rather the beholder who lends to the beautiful thing its myriad
meanings, and makes it marvellous for us, and sets it in some new
relation to the age, so that it becomes a vital portion of our lives and
a symbol of what we pray for, or perhaps of what, having prayed for, we
fear that we may receive.
The Renaissance was great because it sought to solve no social problem,
and busied itself not about such things, but suffered the individual to
develop freely, beautifully, and naturally, and so had great and
individual artists and great and individual men.
In England people actually try to be brilliant at breakfast. That is so
dreadful of them! Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast.
When one is in love one begins by deceiving oneself, and one ends by
deceiving others. That is what the world calls a romance.
The secret of life is never to have an emotion that is unbecoming.
No artist is ever morbid. The artist can express everything.
The development of the race depends on the development of the
individual, and where self-culture has ceased to be the ideal the
intellectual standard is instantly lowered and often ultimately lost.
An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at
To elope is cowardly; it is running away from danger, and danger has
become so rare in modern life.
When a man is old enough to do wrong he should be old enough to do right
The Book of Life begins with a man and a woman in a garden. It ends with
In married life three is company and two is none.
Out of ourselves we can never pass, nor can there be in creation what in
the creator was not.
Don't tell me that you have exhausted life. When a man says that one
knows that life has exhausted him.
When a woman marries again it is because she detested her first husband.
When a man marries again it is because he adored his first wife. Women
try their luck; men risk theirs.
The highest criticism really is the record of one's own soul. It is more
fascinating than history, as it is concerned simply with oneself. It is
more delightful than philosophy, as its subject is concrete and not
abstract, real and not vague. It is the only civilised form of
autobiography, as it deals, not with the events, but with the thoughts
of one's life, not with life's physical accidents of deed or
circumstance, but with the spiritual moods and imaginative passions of
To know anything about oneself one must know all about others.
Duty is what one expects from others, it is not what one does oneself.
After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one's own relations.
Talk to every woman as if you loved her and to every man as if he bored
you, and at the end of your first season you will have the reputation of
possessing the most perfect social tact.
Man--poor, awkward, reliable, necessary man--belongs to a sex that has
been rational for millions and millions of years. He can't help himself;
it is in his race. The history of women is very different. They have
always been picturesque protests against the mere existence of
common-sense; they saw its dangers from the first.
More marriages are ruined nowadays by the common-sense of the husband
than by anything else. How can a woman be expected to be happy with a
man who insists on treating her as if she were a perfectly rational
It is very vulgar to talk about one's business. Only people like
stock-brokers do that, and then merely at dinner-parties.
It is awfully hard work doing nothing. However, I don't mind hard work
when there is no definite object of any kind.
To do nothing at all is the most difficult thing in the world, the most
difficult and the most intellectual. To Plato, with his passion for
wisdom, this was the noblest form of energy.
To Aristotle, with his passion for knowledge, this was the noblest form
of energy also. It was to this that the passion for holiness led the
saint and the mystic of mediŠval days.
Youth! There is nothing like it. It is absurd to talk of the ignorance
of youth. The only people to whose opinions I listen now with any
respect are persons much younger than myself. They seem in front of me.
Life has revealed to them her latest wonder.
Romance lives by repetition, and repetition converts an appetite into an
I adore simple pleasures. They are the last refuge of the complex.
There is nothing like youth. The middle-aged are mortgaged to life. The
old are in life's lumber-room. But youth is the lord of life. Youth has
a kingdom waiting for it. Everyone is born a king, and most people die
in exile--like most kings.
All crime is vulgar, just as all vulgarity is crime.
Society, civilised society at least, is never very ready to believe
anything to the detriment of those who are both rich and fascinating. It
instinctively feels that manners are of more importance than morals, and
in its opinion the highest respectability is of much less value than the
possession of a good chef. And, after all, it is a very poor consolation
to be told that the man who has given one a bad dinner or poor wine is
irreproachable in his private life. Even the cardinal virtues cannot
atone for half-cold entrees.
While, in the opinion of society, contemplation is the gravest thing of
which any citizen can be guilty, in the opinion of the highest culture
it is the proper occupation of man.
Life is terribly deficient in form. Its catastrophes happen in the wrong
way and to the wrong people. There is a grotesque horror about its
comedies, and its tragedies seem to culminate in farce. One is always
wounded when one approaches it. Things last either too long or not long
If a woman wants to hold a man she has merely to appeal to what is worst
We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.
Beauty has as many meanings as man has moods. It is the symbol of
symbols. It reveals everything, because it expresses nothing. When it
shows us itself it shows us the whole fiery-coloured world.
Men always want to be a woman's first love. That is their clumsy vanity.
Women have a more subtle instinct about things. What they like is to be
a man's last romance.
Anything approaching to the free play of the mind is practically unknown
amongst us. People cry out against the sinner, yet it is not the sinful
but the stupid who are our shame. There is no sin except stupidity.
One regrets the loss even of one's worst habits. Perhaps one regrets
them the most. They are such an essential part of one's personality.
It is through art, and through art only, that we can realise our
perfection; through art and through art only, that we can shield
ourselves from the sordid perils of actual existence.
A man who can dominate a London dinner-table can dominate the world.
future belongs to the dandy. It is the exquisites who are going to rule.
It often happens that the real tragedies of life occur in such an
inartistic manner that they hurt us by their crude violence, their
absolute incoherence, their absurd want of meaning, their entire lack of
style. They affect us just as vulgarity affects us. They give us an
impression of sheer brute force, and we revolt against that. Sometimes,
however, a tragedy that possesses artistic elements of beauty crosses
our lives. If these elements of beauty are real the whole thing simply
appeals to our sense of dramatic effect. Suddenly we find that we are no
longer the actors but the spectators of the play. Or rather we are both.
We watch ourselves, and the mere wonder of the spectacle enthrals us.
When a woman finds out that her husband is absolutely indifferent to
her, she either becomes dreadfully dowdy or wears very smart bonnets
that some other woman's husband has to pay for.
It is immoral to use private property in order to alleviate the horrible
evils that result from the institution of private property.
It is a mistake to think that the passion one feels in creation is ever
really shown in the work one creates. Art is always more abstract than
we fancy. Form and colour tell us of form and colour-that is all.
It is sometimes said that the tragedy of an artist's life is that he
cannot realise his ideal. But the true tragedy that dogs the steps of
most artists is that they realise their ideal too absolutely. For when
the ideal is realised it is robbed of its wonder and its mystery, and
becomes simply a new starting-point for an ideal that is other than
People who go in for being consistent have just as many moods as others
have. The only difference is that their moods are rather meaningless.
It is only shallow people who require years to get rid of an emotion. A
man who is master of himself can end a sorrow as easily as he can invent
Good women have such a limited view of life, their horizon is so small,
their interests so petty. The fact is they are not modern, and to be
modern is the only thing worth being nowadays.
Discontent is the first step in the progress of a man or a nation.
Men marry because they are tired, women because they are curious. Both
All men are married women's property. That is the only true definition
of what married women's property really is.
I am not in favour of this modern mania for turning bad people into good
people at a moment's notice. As a man sows so let him reap.
Nothing refines but the intellect.
It is very painful for me to be forced to speak the truth. It is the
first time in my life that I have ever been reduced to such a painful
position, and I am really quite inexperienced in doing anything of the
The man who regards his past is a man who deserves to have no future to
look forward to.
Just as it is only by contact with the art of foreign nations that the
art of a country gains that individual and separate life that we call
nationality, so, by curious inversion, it is only by intensifying his
own personality that the critic can interpret the personality of others;
and the more strongly this personality enters into the interpretation
the more real the interpretation becomes, the more satisfying, the more
convincing, and the more true.
Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask,
and he will tell you the truth.
All women become like their mothers: that is their tragedy. No man does:
that is his.
Women are a fascinatingly wilful sex. Every woman is a rebel, and
usually in wild revolt against herself.
One should always be in love. That is the reason one should never marry.
No man came across two ideal things. Few come across one.
To become the spectator of one's own life is to escape the suffering of
The state is to make what is useful. The individual is to make what is
A community is infinitely more brutalised by the habitual employment of
punishment than it is by the occasional occurrence of crime.
The systems that fail are those that rely on the permanency of human
nature and not on its growth and development.
Jealousy, which is an extraordinary source of crime in modern life, is
an emotion closely bound up with our conceptions of property, and under
socialism and individualism will die out. It is remarkable that in
communistic tribes jealousy is entirely unknown.
All art is immoral.
He to whom the present is the only thing that is present knows nothing
of the age in which he lives. To realise the nineteenth century one must
realise every century that has preceded it and that has contributed to
Few parents nowadays pay any regard to what their children say to them.
The old-fashioned respect for the young is fast dying out.
The history of woman is the history of the worst form of tyranny the
world has ever known; the tyranny of the weak over the strong. It is the
only tyranny that lasts.
The happiness of a married man depends on the people he has not married.
There is no one type for man. There are as many perfections as there are
imperfect men. And while to the claims of charity a man may yield and
yet be free, to the claims of conformity no man may yield and remain
free at all.
A practical scheme is either a scheme that is already in existence or a
scheme that could be carried out under existing conditions.
All imitation in morals and in life is wrong.
The world has been made by fools that wise men may live in it.
Women love us for our defects. If we have enough of them they will
forgive us everything, even our gigantic intellects.
Society is a necessary thing. No man has any real success in this world
unless he has got women to back him--and women rule society. If you have
not got women on your side you are quite over. You might just as well be
a barrister or a stockbroker or a journalist at once.
The worship of the senses has often, and with much justice, been
decried; men feeling a natural instinct of terror about passions and
sensations that seem stronger than themselves, and that they are
conscious of sharing with the less highly organised forms of existence.
But it is probable the true nature of the senses has never been
understood, and that they have remained savage and animal merely because
the world has sought to starve them into submission or to kill them by
pain instead of aiming at making them elements of a new spirituality, of
which a fine instinct for beauty will be the dominant characteristic.
Women appreciate cruelty more than anything else. They have wonderfully
primitive instincts. We have emancipated them, but they remain slaves,
looking for their master all the same. They love being dominated.
Those who try to lead the people can only do so by following the mob. It
is through the voice of one crying in the wilderness that the way of the
gods must be prepared.
Circumstances are the lashes laid on to us by life. Some of us have to
receive them with bared ivory backs, and others are permitted to keep on
a coat--that is the only difference.
Criticism is itself an art.... It is no more to be judged by any low
standard of imitation or resemblance than is the work of poet or
sculptor. The critic occupies the same relation to the work of art that
he criticises as the artist does to the visible world of form and colour
or the unseen world of passion and thought. He does not even require for
the perfection of his art the finest materials. Anything will serve his
It is very much more difficult to talk about a thing than to do it. In
the sphere of actual life that is, of course, obvious. Anybody can make
history, only a great man can write it.
If we lived long enough to see the results of our actions it may be that
those who call themselves good would be filled with a wild remorse and
those whom the world calls evil stirred with a noble joy. Each little
thing that we do passes into the great machine of life, which may grind
our virtues to powder and make them worthless or transform our sins into
elements of a new civilisation more marvellous and more splendid than
any that has gone before.
Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge
them, sometimes they forgive them.
We live in an age that reads too much to be wise and that thinks too
much to be beautiful.
One should absorb the colour of life, but one should never remember its
details. Details are always vulgar.
It will be a marvellous thing--the true personality of man--when we see
it. It will grow naturally and simply flowerlike, or as a tree grows. It
will not be at discord. It will never argue or dispute. It will not
prove things. It will know everything, and yet it will not busy itself
about knowledge. It will have wisdom. Its value will not be measured by
material things. It will have nothing, and yet it will have everything,
and whatever one takes from it it will still have, so rich it will be.
It will not be always meddling with others or asking them to be like
itself. It will love them because they will be different. And yet, while
it will not meddle with others, it will help all, as a beautiful thing
helps us, by being what it is. The personality of man will be very
wonderful. It will be as wonderful as the personality of a child.
Cynicism is merely the art of seeing things as they are instead of as
they ought to be.
Three addresses always inspire confidence, even in tradesmen.
If one doesn't talk about a thing it has never happened. It is simply
expression that gives reality to things.
No man is able who is unable to get on, just as no woman is clever who
can't succeed in obtaining that worst and most necessary of evils, a
The one charm of the past is that it is the past. But women never know
when the curtain has fallen. They always want a sixth act, and as soon
as the interest of the play is entirely over they propose to continue
it. If they were allowed their way every comedy would have a tragic
ending and every tragedy would culminate in a farce. They are charmingly
artificial, but they have no sense of art.
Each time that one loves is the only time that one has ever loved.
Difference of object does not alter singleness of passion. It merely
The real tragedy of the poor is that they can afford nothing but
self-denial. Beautiful sins, like beautiful things, are the privilege of
Human life is the one thing worth investigating. Compared to it there is
nothing else of any value. It is true that as one watches life in its
curious crucible of pain and pleasure one cannot wear over one's face a
mask of glass nor keep the sulphurous fumes from troubling the brain and
making the imagination turbid with monstrous fancies and misshapen
dreams. There are poisons so subtle that to know their properties one
has to sicken of them. There are maladies so strange that one has to
pass through them if one seeks to understand their nature. And yet what
a great reward one receives! How wonderful the whole world becomes to
one! To note the curious, hard logic of passion and the emotional,
coloured life of the intellect--to observe where they meet, and where
they separate, at what point they are in unison and at what point they
are in discord--there is a delight in that! What matter what the cost
is? One can never pay too high a price for any sensation.
There is only one class in the community that thinks more about money
than the rich, and that is the poor. The poor can think of nothing else.
That is the misery of being poor.
To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist--that is
Personality is a very mysterious thing. A man cannot always be estimated
by what he does. He may keep the law, and yet be worthless. He may break
the law, and yet be fine. He may be bad without ever doing anything bad.
He may commit a sin against society, and yet realise through that sin
his true perfection.
MediŠval art is charming, but mediŠval emotions are out of date. One can
use them in fiction, of course; but then the only things that one can
use in fiction are the only things that one has ceased to use in fact.
Man is complete in himself.
What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value
It's the old, old story. Love--well, not at first sight--but love at the
end of the season, which is so much more satisfactory.
No nice girl should ever waltz with such particularly younger sons! It
looks so fast!
Good resolutions are useless attempts to interfere with scientific laws.
Their origin is pure vanity. Their result is absolutely nil. They give
us now and then some of those luxurious, sterile emotions that have a
certain charm for the weak. That is all that can be said for them. They
are simply cheques that men draw on a bank where they have no account.
What is the difference between literature and journalism? Journalism is
unreadable and literature is unread.
I hope you have not been leading a double life, pretending to be wicked
and being really good all the time. That would be hypocrisy.
My husband is a sort of promissory note; I am tired of meeting him.
Conscience makes egotists of us all.
Never trust a woman who wears mauve, whatever her age may be, or a
over thirty-five who is fond of pink ribbons. It always means that they
have a history.
There is a fatality about good resolutions-they are always made too
We can have in life but one great experience at best, and the secret of
life is to reproduce that experience as often as possible.
Anybody can be good in the country. There are no temptations there. That
is the reason why people who live out of town are so absolutely
uncivilised. Civilisation is not by any means an easy thing to attain
to. There are only two ways by which man can reach it. One is by being
cultured, the other by being corrupt. Country people have no opportunity
of being either, so they stagnate.
What nonsense people talk about happy marriages! A man can be happy
any woman so long as he does not love her.
The things one feels absolutely certain about are never true. That is
the fatality of faith and the lesson of romance.
In the common world of fact the wicked are not punished nor the good
rewarded. Success is given to the strong, failure thrust upon the weak.
Nothing should be able to harm a man except himself. Nothing should be
able to rob a man at all. What a man really has is what is in him. What
is outside of him should be a matter of no importance.
Modern morality consists in accepting the standard of one's age. I
consider that for any man of culture to accept the standard of his age
is a form of the grossest immorality.
Perplexity and mistrust fan affection into passion, and so bring about
those beautiful tragedies that alone make life worth living. Women once
felt this, while men did not, and so women once ruled the world.
Sin is a thing that writes itself across a man's, face. It cannot be
concealed. People talk sometimes of secret vices. There are no such
If a wretched man has a vice it shows itself in the lines of his mouth,
the drop of his eyelids, the moulding of his hands even.
There are sins whose fascination is more in the memory than in the doing
of them, strange triumphs that gratify the pride more than the passions
and give to the intellect a quickened sense of joy, greater than they
bring or can ever bring to the senses.
No civilised man ever regrets a pleasure, and no uncivilised man ever
knows what a pleasure is.
As for a spoiled life, no life is spoiled but one whose growth is
arrested. If you want to mar a nature you have merely to reform it.
Socialism itself will be of value simply because it will lead to
Some years ago people went about the country saying that property has
duties. It is perfectly true. Property not merely has duties, but has so
many duties that its possession to any large extent is a bore. If
property had simply pleasures we could stand it, but its duties make it
It is through joy that the individualism of the future will develop
itself. Christ made no attempt to reconstruct society, and consequently
the individualism that He preached to man could be realised only through
pain or in solitude.
Most people become bankrupt through having invested too heavily in the
prose of life. To have ruined oneself over poetry is an honour.
The only artists I have ever known who are personally delightful are bad
artists. Good artists exist simply on what they make, and consequently
are perfectly uninteresting in what they are.
What are the virtues? Nature, Renan tells us, cares little about
chastity, and it may be that it is to the shame of the Magdalen, and not
to their own purity, that the Lucretias of modern life owe their freedom
from stain. Charity, as even those of whose religion it makes a formal
part have been compelled to acknowledge, creates a multitude of evils.
The mere existence of conscience, that faculty of which people prate so
much nowadays, and are so ignorantly proud, is a sign of our imperfect
development. It must be merged in instinct before we become fine.
Self-denial is simply a method by which man arrests his progress, and
self-sacrifice a survival of the mutilation of the savage, part of that
old worship of pain which is so terrible a factor in the history of the
world, and which even now makes its victims day by day and has its
altars in the land. Virtues! Who knows what the virtues are? Not you.
Not I. Not anyone. It is well for our vanity that we slay the criminal,
for if we suffered him to live he might show us what we had gained by
his crime. It is well for his peace that the saint goes to his
martyrdom. He is spared the sight of the horror of his harvest.
Nowadays all the married men live like bachelors and all the bachelors
like married men.
The higher education of men is what I should like to see. Men need it so
The world is perfectly packed with good women. To know them is a
Hesitation of any kind is a sign of mental decay in the young, of
physical weakness in the old.
Our husbands never appreciate anything in us. We have to go to others
Most women in London nowadays seem to furnish their rooms with nothing
but orchids, foreigners and French novels.
The canons of good society are, or should be, the same as the canons of
art. Form is absolutely essential to it. It should have the dignity of a
ceremony as well as its unreality, and should combine the insincere
character of a romantic play with the wit and beauty that make such
plays delightful to us. Is sincerity such a terrible thing? I think not.
It is merely a method by which we can multiply our personalities.
The tragedy of old age is not that one is old but that one is young.
A great poet, a really great poet, is the most unpoetical of all
creatures. But inferior poets are absolutely fascinating. The worse
their rhymes are the more picturesque they look. The mere fact of having
published a book of second-rate sonnets makes a man quite irresistible.
He lives the poetry that he cannot write. The others write the poetry
that they dare not realise.
Being adored is a nuisance. Women treat us just as humanity treats its
gods. They worship us, and are always bothering us to do something for
If a man treats life artistically his brain is his heart.
The 'Peerage' is the one book a young man about town should know
thoroughly, and it is the best thing in fiction the English have ever
The world has always laughed at its own tragedies, that being the only
way in which it has been able to bear them. Consequently whatever the
world has treated seriously belongs to the comedy side of things.
The only difference between the saint and the sinner is that every saint
has a past and every sinner has a future.
What is termed sin is an essential element of progress. Without it the
world would stagnate or grow old or becomes colourless. By its curiosity
it increases the experience of the race. Through its intensified
assertion of individualism it saves us from the commonplace. In its
rejection of the current notions about morality it is one with the
Formerly we used to canonise our heroes. The modern method is to
vulgarise them. Cheap editions of great books may be delightful, but
cheap editions of great men are absolutely detestable.
Individualism does not come to man with any claims upon him at all. It
comes naturally and inevitably out of man. It is the point to which all
development tends. It is the differentiation to which all organisms
grow. It is the perfection that is inherent in every mode of life and
toward which every mode of life quickens. Individualism exercises no
compulsion over man. On the contrary, it says to man that he should
suffer no compulsion to be exercised over him. It does not try to force
people to be good. It knows that people are good when they are let
alone. Man will develop individualism out of himself. Man is now so
developing individualism. To ask whether individualism is practical is
like asking whether evolution is practical. Evolution is the law of
life, and there is no evolution except towards individualism.
The longer I live the more keenly I feel that whatever was good enough
for our fathers is not good enough for us. In art, as in politics, 'les
grand pŔres ont toujours tort.'
No woman is a genius. Women are a decorative sex. They never have
anything to say but they say it charmingly.
Humanity takes itself too seriously. It is the world's original sin. If
the cave men had known how to laugh history would have been different.
I wonder who it was defined man as a rational animal. It was the most
premature definition ever given. Man is many things, but he is not
Thought and language are to the artist instruments of an art.
To get into the best society nowadays one has either to feed people,
amuse people, or shock people--that is all.
You should never try to understand women. Women are pictures, men are
problems. If you want to know what a woman really means--which, by the
way, is always a dangerous thing to do--look at her, don't listen to
Ordinary women never appeal to one's imagination. They are limited to
their century. No glamour ever transfigures them. One knows their minds
as easily as one knows their bonnets. One can always find them. There is
no mystery in any of them. They ride in the park in the morning and
chatter at tea parties in the afternoon. They have their stereotyped
smile and their fashionable mauve.
Don't run down dyed hair and painted faces. There is an extraordinary
charm in them--sometimes.
To have been well brought up is a great drawback nowadays. It shuts one
out from so much.
The people who have adored me--there have not been very many, but there
have been some--have always insisted on living on long after I had
ceased to care for them or they to care for me. They have become stout
and tedious, and when I meet them they go in at once for reminiscences.
That awful memory of women! What a fearful thing it is! And what an
utter intellectual stagnation it reveals!
Examinations are pure humbug from beginning to end. If a man is a
gentleman he knows quite enough, and if he is not a gentleman whatever
he knows is bad for him.
Credit is the capital of a younger son, and he can live charmingly on
The object of art is not simply truth but complex beauty. Art itself is
really a form of exaggeration, and selection, which is the very spirit
of art, is nothing more than an intensified mode of over-emphasis.
The popular cry of our time is: 'Let us return to Life and Nature, they
will recreate Art for us and send the red blood coursing through her
veins; they will shoe her feet with swiftness and make her hand strong.'
But, alas! we are mistaken in our amiable and well-meant efforts. Nature
is always behind the age. And as for life, she is the solvent that
breaks up Art, the enemy that lays waste her house.
There are only two kinds of women--the plain and the coloured. The plain
women are very useful. If you want to gain a reputation for
respectability you have merely to take them down to supper. The other
women are very charming. They commit one mistake, however--they paint in
order to try and look young.
The way of paradoxes is the way of truth. To test reality we must see it
on the tight-rope. When the verities become acrobats we can judge them.
Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.... The Greeks with
their quick, artistic instinct understood this, and set in the bride's
chamber the statue of Hermes or of Apollo, that she might bear children
as lovely as the works of art that she looked at in her rapture or her
pain. They knew that life gains from art not merely spirituality, depth
of thought and feeling, soul-turmoil or soul-peace, but that she can
form herself on the very lines and colours of art, and can reproduce the
dignity of Pheidias as well as the grace of Praxiteles. Hence came this
objection to realism. They disliked it on purely social grounds. They
felt that it inevitably makes people ugly, and they were perfectly
Faithfulness is to the emotional life what consistency is to the life of
the intellect--simply a confession of failure.
There are many things that we would throw away if we were not afraid
that others might pick them up.
What a fuss people make about fidelity! Why, even in love it is purely a
question for physiology. It has nothing to do with our own will. Young
men want to be faithful and are not; old men want to be faithless and
cannot--that is all one can say.
Modernity of form and modernity of subject-matter are entirely and
absolutely wrong. We have mistaken the common livery of the age for the
vesture of the muses, and spent our days in the sordid streets and
hideous suburbs of our vile cities when we should be out on the hillside
with Apollo. Certainly we are a degraded race, and have sold our
birthright for a mess of facts.
Nothing can cure the soul but the senses, just as nothing can cure the
senses but the soul.
I can stand brute force, but brute reason is quite unbearable. There is
something unfair about its use. It is hitting below the intellect.
Those who live in marble or on painted panel know of life but a single
exquisite instant, eternal, indeed, in its beauty but limited to one
note of passion or one mood of calm. Those whom the poet makes live have
their myriad emotions of joy and terror, of courage and despair, of
pleasure and of suffering. The seasons come and go in glad or saddening
pageant, and with winged or leaden feet the years pass by before them.
They have their youth and their manhood, they are children, and they
grow old. It is always dawn for St Helena as Veronese saw her at the
window. Through the still morning air the angels bring her the symbol of
God's pain. The cool breezes of the morning lift the gilt threads from
her brow. On that little hill by the city of Florence, where the lovers
of Giorgione are lying, it is always the solstice of noon--of noon made
so languorous by summer suns that hardly can the slim, naked girl dip
into the marble tank the round bubble of clear glass, and the long
fingers of the lute player rest idly upon the chords. It is twilight
always for the dancing nymphs whom Corot set free among the silver
poplars of France. In eternal twilight they move, those frail,
diaphanous figures, whose tremulous, white feet seem not to touch the
dew-drenched grass they tread on. But those who walk in epos, drama, or
romance see through the labouring months the young moons wax and wane,
and watch the night from evening into morning star, and from sunrise
into sun-setting can note the shifting day with all its gold and shadow.
For them, as for us, the flowers bloom and wither, and the earth, that
green-tressed goddess, as Coleridge calls her, alters her raiment for
their pleasure. The statue is concentrated to one moment of perfection.
The image stained upon the canvas possesses no spiritual element of
growth or change. If they know nothing of death it is because they know
little of life, for the secrets of life and death belong to those, and
to those only, whom the sequence of time affects, and who possess not
merely the present but the future, and can rise or fall from a past of
glory or of shame. Movement, that problem of the visible arts, can be
truly realised by literature alone. It is literature that shows us the
body in its swiftness and the soul in its unrest.
Behind every exquisite thing that exists there is something tragic.
Worlds have to be in travail that the merest flower may blow.
Beauty is a form of genius--is higher, indeed, than genius, as it needs
no explanation. It is one of the great facts of the world, like
sunlight, or spring-time, or the reflection in dark water of that silver
shell we call the moon. It cannot be questioned, it has its divine right
The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. Resist it and
your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to
Women spoil every romance by trying to make it last for ever.
He's sure to be a wonderful success. He thinks like a Tory and talks
like a Radical, and that's so important nowadays.
Nowadays to be intelligible is to be found out.
We make gods of men and they leave us. Others make brutes of them and
they fawn and are faithful.
The husbands of very beautiful women belong to the criminal classes.
To me beauty is the Wonder of wonders. It is only shallow people who do
not judge by appearances.
The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.
The thoroughly well-informed man is the modern ideal. And the mind of
the thoroughly well-informed man is a dreadful thing. It is like a
bric-a-brac shop, all monsters and dust, with everything priced above
its proper value.
Women have no appreciation of good looks in men--at least good women
To influence a person is to give him one's own soul. He does not think
his natural thoughts or burn with his natural passions. His virtues are
not real to him. His sins, if there are such things as sins, are
borrowed. He becomes an echo of someone else's music, an actor of a part
that has not been written for him.
Those who are faithful know only the trivial side of love; it is the
faithless who know love's tragedies.
An artist should create beautiful things, but should put nothing of his
own life into them. We live in an age when men treat art as if it were
meant to be a form of autobiography. We have lost the abstract sense of
A man cannot be too careful in the choice of his enemies. I have not got
one who is a fool. They are all men of some intellectual power, and
consequently they all appreciate me.
The value of an idea has nothing whatever to do with the sincerity of
the man who expresses it.
I like persons better than principles, and I like persons with no
principles better than anything else in the world.
He who would lead a Christ-like life is he who is perfectly and
absolutely himself. He may be a great poet, or a great man of science;
or a young student at the university, or one who watches sheep upon a
moor; or a maker of dramas, like Shakespeare, or a thinker about God,
like Spinoza; or a child who plays in a garden, or a fisherman who
throws his nets into the sea. It does not matter what he is as long as
he realises the perfection of the soul that is within him.
The aim of life is self-development. To realise one's nature
perfectly--that is what each of us is here for.
There is no such thing as a good influence. All influence is
immoral--immoral from the scientific point of view.
Words have not merely music as sweet as that of viol and lute, colour as
rich and vivid as any that makes lovely for us the canvas of the
Venetian or the Spaniard, and plastic form no less sure and certain than
that which reveals itself in marble or in bronze, but thought and
passion and spirituality are theirs also--are theirs, indeed, alone.
There is nothing so absolutely pathetic as a really fine paradox. The
pun is the clown among jokes, the well-turned paradox is the polished
comedian, and the highest comedy verges upon tragedy, just as the
keenest edge of tragedy is often tempered by a subtle humour. Our minds
are shot with moods as a fabric is shot with colours, and our moods
often seem inappropriate. Everything that is true is inappropriate.
The longer one studies life and literature the more strongly one feels
that behind everything that is wonderful stands the individual, and that
it is not the moment that makes the man but the man who creates the age.
To know the vintage and quality of a wine one need not drink the whole
It is a sad thing to think of, but there is no doubt that genius lasts
longer than beauty. That accounts for the fact that we all take such
pains to over-educate ourselves.
The ugly and the stupid have the best of it in this world. They can sit
at their ease and gape at the play. If they know nothing of victory they
are at least spared the knowledge of defeat.
To have a capacity for a passion, and not to realise it is to make
oneself incomplete and limited.
Even in actual life egotism is not without its attractions. When people
talk to us about others they are usually dull. When they talk to us
about themselves they are nearly always interesting, and if one could
shut them up when they become wearisome as easily as one can shut up a
book of which one has grown wearied they would be perfect absolutely.
Every great man nowadays has his disciples and it is invariably Judas
who writes the biography.
Art finds her own perfection within, and not outside of, herself. She is
not to be judged by any external standard of resemblance. She is a veil
rather than a mirror. She has flowers that no forest knows of, birds
that no woodland possesses. She makes and unmakes many worlds, and
draw the moon from heaven with a scarlet thread. Hers are the 'forms
more real than living man,' and hers the great archetypes, of which
things that have existence are but unfinished copies. Nature has, in her
eyes, no laws, no uniformity. She can work miracles at her will, and
when she calls monsters from the deep they come. She can bid the
almond-tree blossom in winter and send the snow upon the ripe cornfield.
At her word the frost lays its silver finger on the burning mouth of
June, and the winged lions creep out from the hollows of the Lydian
hills. The dryads peer from the thicket as she passes by, and the brown
fauns smile strangely at her when she comes near them. She has
hawk-faced gods that worship her, and the centaurs gallop at her side.
In literature mere egotism is delightful.
If we live for aims we blunt our emotions. If we live for aims we live
for one minute, for one day, for one year, instead of for every minute,
every day, every year. The moods of one's life are life's beauties. To
yield to all one's moods is to really live.
Many a young man starts in life with a natural gift for exaggeration
which, if nurtured in congenial and sympathetic surroundings, or by the
imitations of the best models, might grow into something really great
and wonderful. But, as a rule, he comes to nothing. He either falls into
careless habits of accuracy or takes to frequenting the society of the
aged and the well-informed. Both things are equally fatal to his
The spirit of an age may be best expressed in the abstract ideal arts,
for the spirit itself is abstract and ideal.
As for believing things, I can believe anything provided that it is
'Know thyself' was written over the portal of the antique world. Over
the portal of the new world 'Be thyself' shall be written. And the
message of Christ to man was simply: 'Be thyself.' That is the secret of
London is full of women who trust their husbands. One can always
recognise them, they look so thoroughly unhappy.
For those who are not artists, and to whom there is no mode of life but
the actual life of fact, pain is the only door to perfection.
The English public always feels perfectly at its ease when a mediocrity
is talking to it.
Men always fall into the absurdity of endeavouring to develop the mind,
to push it violently forward in this direction or in that. The mind
should be receptive, a harp waiting to catch the winds, a pool ready to
be ruffled, not a bustling busybody for ever trotting about on the
pavement looking for a new bun shop.
There is nothing more beautiful than to forget, except, perhaps, to be
All bad art comes from returning to life and nature, and elevating them
into ideals. Life and nature may sometimes be used as part of art's
rough material, but before they are of any real service to art they must
be translated into artistic conventions. The moment art surrenders its
imaginative medium it surrenders everything. As a method realism is a
complete failure, and the two things that every artist should avoid are
modernity of form and modernity of subject-matter.
Men may have women's minds just as women may have the minds of men.
London is too full of fogs and serious people. Whether the fogs produce
the serious people or whether the serious people produce the fogs I
How marriage ruins a man! It's as demoralising as cigarettes, and far
He must be quite respectable. One has never heard his name before in the
whole course of one's life, which speaks volumes for a man nowadays.
Literature always anticipates life. It does not copy it, but moulds it
to its purpose.
As long as a thing is useful or necessary to us or affects us in any
way, either for pain or pleasure, or appeals strongly to our sympathies
or is a vital part of the environment in which we live, it is outside
the proper sphere of art.
I couldn't have a scene in this bonnet: it is far too fragile. A harsh
word would ruin it.
Music creates for one a past of which one has been ignorant and fills
one with a sense of sorrows that have been hidden from one's tears.
Nothing is so fatal to personality as deliberation.
I adore London dinner parties. The clever people never listen and the
stupid people never talk.
Learned conversation is either the affection of the ignorant or the
profession of the mentally unemployed.
The Academy is too large and too vulgar. Whenever I have gone there,
there have been either so many people that I have not been able to see
the pictures--which was dreadful, or so many pictures that I have not
been able to see the people--which was worse.
All art is quite useless.
Beauty, real beauty, ends where an intellectual expression begins.
Intellect is in itself a mode of exaggeration and destroys the harmony
of any face. The moment one sits down to think one becomes all nose or
all forehead or something horrid.
The one charm of marriage is that it makes a life of deception
absolutely necessary for both parties.
Secrecy seems to be the one thing that can make modern life mysterious
or marvellous to us. The commonest thing is delightful if one only hides
Conceit is one of the greatest of the virtues, yet how few people
recognise it as a thing to aim at and to strive after. In conceit many a
man and woman has found salvation, yet the average person goes on
all-fours grovelling after modesty.
It is difficult not to be unjust to what one loves.
Humanity will always love Rousseau for having confessed his sins not to
a friend but to the world.
Just as those who do not love Plato more than truth cannot pass beyond
the threshold of the Academe, so those who do not love beauty more than
truth never know the inmost shrine of art.
There is a fatality about all physical and intellectual distinction: the
sort of fatality that seems to dog, through history, the faltering steps
of kings. It is better not to be different from one's fellows.
To be born, or at any rate bred, in a handbag, whether it had handles or
not, seems to me to display a contempt for the ordinary decencies of
family life that reminds one of the worst excesses of the French
Vice and virtue are to the artist materials for an art.
There must be a new Hedonism that shall recreate life and save it from
that harsh, uncomely Puritanism that is having, in our own day, its
curious revival. It must have its service of the intellect, certainly,
yet it must never accept any theory or system that will involve the
sacrifice of any mode of passionate experience. Its aim, indeed, is to
be experience itself and not the fruits of experience, bitter or sweet
as they may be. Of the Šstheticism that deadens the senses, as of the
vulgar profligacy that dulls them, it is to know nothing. But it is to
teach man to concentrate himself upon the moments of a life that is
itself but a moment.
Art never expresses anything but itself. It has an independent life,
just as thought has, and develops purely on its own lines. It is not
necessarily realistic in an age of realism nor spiritual in an age of
faith. So far from being the creation of its time it is usually in
direct opposition to it, and the only history that it preserves for us
is the history of its own progress.
People who mean well always do badly. They are like the ladies who wear
clothes that don't fit them in order to show their piety. Good
intentions are invariably ungrammatical.
Man can believe the impossible, but man can never believe the
When art is more varied nature will, no doubt, be more varied also.
If a man is sufficiently imaginative to produce evidence in support of a
lie he might just as well speak the truth at once.
The ancient historians gave us delightful fiction in the form of fact;
the modern novelist presents us with dull facts under the guise of
Nature is no great mother who has home us. She is our own creation. It
is in our brain that she quickens to life. Things are because we see
them, and what we see and how we see it depends on the arts that have
influenced us. To look at a thing is very different from seeing a thing.
One does not see anything until one sees its beauty.
The proper school to learn art in is not life but art.
I won't tell you that the world matters nothing, or the world's voice,
or the voice of society. They matter a good deal. They matter far too
I wouldn't marry a man with a future before him for anything under the
I am the only person in the world I should like to know thoroughly, but
I don't see any chance of it just at present.
Modern memoirs are generally written by people who have entirely lost
their memories and have never done anything worth recording.
Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to
time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.
Women are like minors, they live upon their expectations.
Twisted minds are as natural to some people as twisted bodies.
It is the very passions about whose origin we deceive ourselves that
tyrannise most strongly over us. Our weakest motives are those of whose
nature we are conscious. It often happens that when we think we are
experimenting on others we are really experimenting on ourselves.
Whenever a man does a thoroughly stupid thing it is always from the
I thought I had no heart. I find I have, and a heart doesn't suit me.
Somehow it doesn't go with modern dress. It makes one look old, and it
spoils one's career at critical moments.
I don't play accurately--anyone can play accurately--but I play with
wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned sentiment is my
forte. I keep science for life.
I delight in men over seventy. They always offer one the devotion of a
Everybody who is incapable of learning has taken to teaching--that is
really what our enthusiasm for education has come to.
Nature hates mind.
From the point of view of form the type of all the arts is the art of
the musician. From the point of view of feeling the actor's craft is the
Where we differ from each other is purely in accidentals--in dress,
manner, tone of voice, religious opinions, personal appearance, tricks
of habit, and the like.
The more we study art the less we care for Nature. What art really
reveals to us is Nature's lack of design, her curious crudities, her
extraordinary monotony, her absolutely unfinished condition.... It is
fortunate for us, however, that nature is so imperfect, as otherwise we
should have had no art at all. Art is our spirited protest, our gallant
attempt to teach Nature her proper place. As for the infinite variety of
nature, that is a pure myth. It is not to be found in Nature herself. It
resides in the imagination or fancy or cultivated blindness of the man
who looks at her.
Facts are not merely finding a footing-place in history but they are
usurping the domain of fancy and have invaded the kingdom of romance.
Their chilling touch is over everything. They are vulgarising mankind.
Ordinary people wait till life discloses to them its secrets, but to the
few, to the elect, the mysteries of life are revealed before the veil is
drawn away. Sometimes this is the effect of art, and chiefly of the art
of literature which deals immediately with the passions and the
intellect. But now and then a complex personality takes the place and
assumes the office of art, is, indeed, in its way a real work of art,
Life having its elaborate masterpieces just as poetry has, or sculpture,
Thinking is the most unhealthy thing in the world, and people die of it
just as they die of any other disease.
A cigarette is the perfect type of a perfect pleasure. It is exquisite
and it leaves one unsatisfied.
The aim of the liar is simply to charm, to delight, to give pleasure. He
is the very basis of civilised society.
It is quite a mistake to believe, as many people do, that the mind shows
itself in the face. Vice may sometimes write itself in lines and changes
of contour, but that is all. Our faces are really masks given to us to
conceal our minds with.
What on earth should we men do going about with purity and innocence? A
carefully thought-out buttonhole is much more effective.
The only difference between a caprice and a lifelong passion is that the
caprice lasts a little longer.
People say sometimes that beauty is only superficial. That may be so,
but at least it is not so superficial as thought is.
It is the spectator and not life that art really mirrors.
Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.
Conscience and cowardice are really the same things. Conscience is the
trade name of the firm--that is all.
In every sphere of life form is the beginning of things. The rhythmic,
harmonious gestures of dancing convey, Plato tells us, both rhythm and
harmony into the mind. Forms are the food of faith, cried Newman, in one
of those great moments of sincerity that make us admire and know the
man. He was right, though he may not have known how terribly right he
was. The creeds are believed not because they are rational but because
they are repeated. Yes; form is everything. It is the secret of life.
Find expression for a sorrow and it will become dear to you. Find
expression for a joy and you intensify its ecstasy. Do you wish to love?
Use love's litany and the words will create the yearning from which the
world fancies that they spring. Have you a grief that corrodes your
heart? Learn its utterance from Prince Hamlet and Queen Constance and
you will find that mere expression is a mode of consolation and that
form, which is the birth of passion, is also the death of pain. And so,
to return to the sphere of art, it is form that creates not merely the
critical temperament but also the Šsthetic instinct that reveals to one
all things under the condition of beauty. Start with the worship of form
and there is no secret in art that will not be revealed to you.
It is only the intellectually lost who ever argue.
Nowadays most people die of a sort of creeping common-sense, and
discover when it is too late that the only things one never regrets are
Lady Henry Wotton was a curious woman, whose dresses always looked as if
they had been designed in a rage and put on in a tempest. She was
usually in love with somebody, and, as her passion was never returned,
she had kept all her illusions. She tried to look picturesque but only
succeeded in being untidy.
Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril.
With an evening coat and a white tie anybody, even a stockbroker, can
gain a reputation for being civilised.
There is nothing so interesting as telling a good man or woman how bad
one has been. It is intellectually fascinating. One of the greatest
pleasures of having been wicked is that one has so much to say to the
Laws are made in order that people in authority may not remember them,
just as marriages are made in order that the divorce court may not play
To get back one's youth one has merely to repeat one's follies.
Never marry a woman with straw-coloured hair. They are so sentimental.
The reason we all like to think so well of others is that we are all
afraid for ourselves. The basis of optimism is sheer terror. We think
that we are generous because we credit our neighbours with the
possession of those virtues that are likely to be a benefit to us. We
praise the banker that we may overdraw our account, and find good
qualities in the high-wayman in the hope that he may spare our pockets.
I have the greatest contempt for optimism.
Art begins with abstract decoration, with purely imaginative and
pleasureable work dealing with what is unreal and non-existent. This is
the first stage. Then life becomes fascinated with this new wonder, and
asks to be admitted into the charmed circle. Art takes life as part of
her rough material, recreates it and refashions it in fresh form; is
absolutely indifferent to facts; invents, imagines, dreams, and keeps
between herself and reality the impenetrable barrier of beautiful style,
of decorative or ideal treatment. The third stage is when Life gets the
upper hand and drives Art out into the wilderness. This is the true
decadence, and it is from this that we are now suffering.
Good intentions have been the ruin of the world. The only people who
have achieved anything have been those who have had no intentions at
I never take any notice of what common people say, and I never interfere
with what charming people do.
You know I am not a champion of marriage. The real drawback to
marriage is that it makes one unselfish, and unselfish people are
colourless--they lack individuality. Still there are certain
temperaments that marriage makes more complex. They retain their
egotism, and add to it many other egos. They are forced to have more
than one life. They become more highly organised, and to be highly
organised is, I should fancy, the object of man's existence. Besides,
every experience is of value, and whatever one may say against marriage
it is certainly an experience.
Those who read the symbol do so at their peril.
I never talk during music--at least not during good music. If anyone
hears bad music it is one's duty to drown it in conversation.
When critics disagree the artist is in accord with himself.
Faith is the most plural thing I know. We are all supposed to believe in
the same thing in different ways. It is like eating out of the same dish
with different coloured spoons.
Experience is of no ethical value. It is merely the name men give to
their mistakes. Moralists have, as a rule, regarded it as a mode of
warning, have claimed for it a certain ethical efficacy in the formation
of character, have praised it as something that teaches us what to
follow and shows us what to avoid. But there is no motive power in
experience. It is as little of an active cause as conscience itself. All
that it really demonstrates is that our future will be the same as our
past and that the sin we have done once, and with loathing, we shall do
many times, and with joy.
Sensations are the details that build up the stories of our lives.
No artist has ethical sympathies. An ethical sympathy in an artist is an
unpardonable mannerism of style.
She looks like an 'edition de luxe' of a wicked French novel meant
specially for the English market.
I never knew what terror was before; I know it now. It is as if a hand
of ice were laid upon one's heart. It is as if one's heart were beating
itself to death in some empty hollow.
We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not
admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one
admires it intensely.
No artist desires to prove anything. Even things that are true can be
One knows so well the popular idea of health. The English country
gentleman galloping along after a fox--the unspeakable in pursuit of the
People seldom tell the truths that are worth telling. We ought to choose
our truths as carefully as we choose our lies and to select our virtues
with as much thought as we bestow upon the selection of our enemies.
Soul and body, body and soul--how mysterious they are! There is
animalism in the soul, and the body has its moments of spirituality. The
senses can refine and the intellect can degrade. Who can say where the
fleshly impulse ceases or the psychical impulse begins? How shallow are
the arbitrary definitions of ordinary psychologists! And yet how
difficult to decide between the claims of the various schools! Is the
soul a shadow seated in the house of sin? Or is the body really in the
soul, as Giordano Bruno thought? The separation of spirit from matter is
a mystery, and the unison of spirit with matter is a mystery also.
Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the
cultivated. For these there is hope.
There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well
written or badly written-that is all.
Marriage is a sort of forcing house. It brings strange sins to fruit,
and sometimes strange renunciations.
The moral life of man forms part of the subject-matter of the artist,
but the morality of art consists in the perfect use of an imperfect
A sense of duty is like some horrible disease. It destroys the tissues
of the mind, as certain complaints destroy the tissues of the body. The
catechism has a great deal to answer for.
They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only beauty.
Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without
being charming. This is a fault.
Few people have sufficient strength to resist the preposterous claims of
She wore far too much rouge last night and not quite enough clothes.
That is always a sign of despair in a woman.
A virtue is like a city set upon a hill--it cannot be hid. We can
conceal our vices if we care to--for a time at least--but a virtue will
Can't make out how you stand London society. The thing has gone to the
dogs: a lot of damned nobodies talking about nothing.
You don't know what an existence they lead down there. It is pure,
unadulterated country life. They get up early because they have so much
to do, and go to bed early because they have so little to think about.
Nothing is so fatal to a personality as the keeping of promises, unless
it be telling the truth.
Who cares whether Mr Ruskin's views on Turner are sound or not? What
does it matter? That mighty and majestic prose of his, so fervid and so
fiery coloured in its noble eloquence, so rich in its elaborate
symphonic music, so sure and certain, at its best, in subtle choice of
word and epithet, is, at least, as great a work of art as any of those
wonderful sunsets that bleach or rot on their corrupted canvases in
England's gallery--greater, indeed, one is apt to think at times, not
merely because its equal beauty is more enduring but on account of the
fuller variety of its appeal--soul speaking to soul in those long,
cadenced lines, not through form and colour alone, though through these,
indeed, completely and without loss, but with intellectual and emotional
utterance, with lofty passion and with loftier thought, with imaginative
insight and with poetic aim--greater, I always think, even as literature
is the greater art.
Laughter is not at all a bad beginning for a friendship, and it is far
the best ending for one.
Mrs Cheveley is one of those very modern women of our time who find a
new scandal as becoming as a new bonnet, and air them both in the Park
every afternoon at 5.30. I am sure she adores scandals, and that the
sorrow of her life at present is that she can't manage to have enough of
The world divides actions into three classes: good actions, bad actions
that you may do, and bad actions that you may not do. If you stick to
the good actions you are respected by the good. If you stick to the bad
actions that you may do you are respected by the bad. But if you perform
the bad actions that no one may do then the good and the bad set upon
you and you are lost indeed.
I choose my friends for their good looks, my acquaintances for their
good characters, and my enemies for their good intellects.
The artist is the creator of beautiful things.
To me the word 'natural' means all that is middle class, all that is of
the essence of Jingoism, all that is colourless and without form and
void. It might be a beautiful word, but it is the most debased coin in
the currency of language.
I pity any woman who is married to a man called John. She would probably
never be allowed to know the entrancing pleasure of a single moment's
It is only when we have learned to love forgetfulness that we have
learned the art of living.
To reveal art and conceal the artist is art's aim.
The world taken 'en masse' is a monster, crammed with prejudices, packed
with prepossessions, cankered with what it calls virtues, a Puritan, a
prig. And the art of life is the art of defiance. To defy--that is what
we ought to live for, instead of living, as we do, to acquiesce.
Some resemblance the creative work of the critic will have to the work
that has stirred him to creation, but it will be such resemblance as
exists, not between nature and the mirror that the painter of landscape
or figure may be supposed to hold up to her, but between nature and the
work of the decorative artist. Just as on the flowerless carpets of
Persia tulip and rose blossom indeed, and are lovely to look on, though
they are not reproduced in visible shape or line; just as the pearl and
purple of the sea shell is echoed in the church of St Mark at Venice;
just as the vaulted ceiling of the wondrous chapel at Ravenna is made
gorgeous by the gold and green and sapphire of the peacock's tail,
though the birds of Juno fly not across it; so the critic reproduces the
work that he criticises in a mode that is never imitative, and part of
whose charm may really consist in the rejection of resemblance, and
shows us in this way not merely the meaning but also the mystery of
beauty, and by transforming each art into literature solves once for all
the problem of art's unity.
Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new,
complex, and vital.
Nothing is more painful to me than to come across virtue in a person in
whom I have never suspected its existence. It is like finding a needle
in a bundle of hay. It pricks you. If we have virtue we should warn
people of it.
The critic is he who can translate into another manner or a new material
his impression of beautiful things.
Hopper is one of nature's gentlemen--the worst type of gentleman I
If one intends to be good one must take it up as a profession. It is
quite the most engrossing one in the world.
I like Wagner's music better than anybody's. It is so loud that one can
talk the whole time without other people hearing what one says.
All art is at once surface and symbol.
Childhood is one long career of innocent eavesdropping, of hearing what
one ought not to hear.
The highest as the lowest form of criticism is a mode of autobiography.
The only things worth saying are those that we forget, just as the only
things worth doing are those that the world is surprised at.
Maturity is one long career of saying what one ought not to say. That is
the art of conversation.
Virtue is generally merely a form of deficiency, just as vice is an
assertion of intellect.
People teach in order to conceal their ignorance, as people smile in
order to conceal their tears.
To be unnatural is often to be great. To be natural is generally to be
To lie finely is an art, to tell the truth is to act according to
People who talk sense are like people who break stones in the road: they
cover one with dust and splinters.
Jesus said to man: You have a wonderful personality. Develop it. Be
yourself. Don't imagine that your perfection lies in accumulating or
possessing external things. Your perfection is inside of you. If only
you could realise that you would not want to be rich. Ordinary riches
can be stolen from a man, real riches cannot. In the treasury-house of
your soul there are infinitely precious things that may not be taken
from you. Try to so shape your life that external things will not harm
you, and try also to get rid of personal property. It involves sordid
preoccupation, endless industry, continual wrong. Personal property
hinders individualism at every step.
When Jesus talks about the poor He simply means personalities, just as
when He talks about the rich He simply means people who have not
developed their personalities.
An echo is often more beautiful than the voice it repeats.
* * * * *
THE SOUL OF MAN
The chief advantage that would result from the establishment of
Socialism is, undoubtedly, the fact that Socialism would relieve us from
that sordid necessity of living for others which, in the present
condition of things, presses so hardly upon almost everybody. In fact,
scarcely anyone at all escapes.
Now and then, in the course of the century, a great man of science, like
Darwin; a great poet, like Keats; a fine critical spirit, like M, Renan;
a supreme artist, like Flaubert, has been able to isolate himself, to
keep himself out of reach of the clamorous claims of others, to stand
'under the shelter of the wall,' as Plato puts it, and so to realise the
perfection of what was in him, to his own incomparable gain, and to the
incomparable and lasting gain of the whole world. These, however, are
exceptions. The majority of people spoil their lives by an unhealthy and
exaggerated altruism--are forced, indeed, so to spoil them. They find
themselves surrounded by hideous poverty, by hideous ugliness, by
hideous starvation. It is inevitable that they should be strongly moved
by all this. The emotions of man are stirred more quickly than man's
intelligence; and, as I pointed out some time ago in an article on the
function of criticism, it is much more easy to have sympathy with
suffering than it is to have sympathy with thought. Accordingly, with
admirable, though misdirected intentions, they very seriously and very
sentimentally set themselves to the task of remedying the evils that
they see. But their remedies do not cure the disease: they merely
prolong it. Indeed, their remedies are part of the disease.
They try to solve the problem of poverty, for instance, by keeping the
poor alive; or, in the case of a very advanced school, by amusing the
But this is not a solution: it is an aggravation of the difficulty. The
proper aim is to try and reconstruct society on such a basis that
poverty will be impossible. And the altruistic virtues have really
prevented the carrying out of this aim. Just as the worst slave-owners
were those who were kind to their slaves, and so prevented the horror of
the system being realised by those who suffered from it, and understood
by those who contemplated it, so, in the present state of things in
England, the people who do most harm are the people who try to do most
good; and at last we have had the spectacle of men who have really
studied the problem and know the life-educated men who live in the East
End--coming forward and imploring the community to restrain its
altruistic impulses of charity, benevolence, and the like. They do so on
the ground that such charity degrades and demoralises. They are
perfectly right. Charity creates a multitude of sins.
There is also this to be said. It is immoral to use private property in
order to alleviate the horrible evils that result from the institution
of private property. It is both immoral and unfair.
Under Socialism all this will, of course, be altered. There will be no
people living in fetid dens and fetid rags, and bringing up unhealthy,
hunger-pinched children in the midst of impossible and absolutely
repulsive surroundings. The security of society will not depend, as it
does now, on the state of the weather. If a frost comes we shall not
have a hundred thousand men out of work, tramping about the streets in a
state of disgusting misery, or whining to their neighbours for alms, or
crowding round the doors of loathsome shelters to try and secure a hunch
of bread and a night's unclean lodging. Each member of the society will
share in the general prosperity and happiness of the society, and if a
frost comes no one will practically be anything the worse.
Upon the other hand, Socialism itself will be of value simply because it
will lead to Individualism.
Socialism, Communism, or whatever one chooses to call it, by converting
private property into public wealth, and substituting co-operation for
competition, will restore society to its proper condition of a
thoroughly healthy organism, and insure the material well-being of each
member of the community. It will, in fact, give Life it's proper basis
and its proper environment. But for the full development of Life to its
highest mode of perfection, something more is needed. What is needed is
Individualism. If the Socialism is Authoritarian; if there are
Governments armed with economic power as they are now with political
power; if, in a word, we are to have Industrial Tyrannies, then the last
state of man will be worse than the first. At present, in consequence of
the existence of private property, a great many people are enabled to
develop a certain very limited amount of Individualism. They are either
under no necessity to work for their living, or are enabled to choose
the sphere of activity that is really congenial to them, and gives them
pleasure. These are the poets, the philosophers, the men of science, the
men of culture--in a word, the real men, the men who have realised
themselves, and in whom all Humanity gains a partial realisation. Upon
the other hand, there are a great many people who, having no private
property of their own, and being always on the brink of sheer
starvation, are compelled to do the work of beasts of burden, to do work
that is quite uncongenial to them, and to which they are forced by the
peremptory, unreasonable, degrading Tyranny of want. These are the poor,
and amongst them there is no grace of manner, or charm of speech, or
civilisation, or culture, or refinement in pleasures, or joy of life.
From their collective force Humanity gains much in material prosperity.
But it is only the material result that it gains, and the man who is
poor is in himself absolutely of no importance. He is merely the
infinitesimal atom of a force that, so far from regarding him, crushes
him: indeed, prefers him crushed, as in that case he is far more
Of course, it might be said that the Individualism generated under
conditions of private property is not always, or even as a rule, of a
fine or wonderful type, and that the poor, if they have not culture and
charm, have still many virtues. Both these statements would be quite
true. The possession of private property is very often extremely
demoralising, and that is, of course, one of the reasons why Socialism
wants to get rid of the institution. In fact, property is really a
nuisance. Some years ago people went about the country saying that
property has duties. They said it so often and so tediously that, at
last, the Church has begun to say it. One hears it now from every
pulpit. It is perfectly true. Property not merely has duties, but has so
many duties that its possession to any large extent is a bore. It
involves endless claims upon one, endless attention to business, endless
bother. If property had simply pleasures, we could stand it; but its
duties make it unbearable. In the interest of the rich we must get rid
of it. The virtues of the poor may be readily admitted, and are much to
be regretted. We are often told that the poor are grateful for charity.
Some of them are, no doubt, but the best amongst the poor are never
grateful. They are ungrateful, discontented, disobedient, and
rebellious. They are quite right to be so. Charity they feel to be a
ridiculously inadequate mode of partial restitution, or a sentimental
dole, usually accompanied by some impertinent attempt on the part of the
sentimentalist to tyrannise over their private lives. Why should they be
grateful for the crumbs that fall from the rich man's table? They should
be seated at the board, and are beginning to know it. As for being
discontented, a man who would not be discontented with such surroundings
and such a low mode of life would be a perfect brute. Disobedience, in
the eyes of anyone who has read history, is man's original virtue. It is
through disobedience that progress has been made, through disobedience
and through rebellion. Sometimes the poor are praised for being thrifty.
But to recommend thrift to the poor is both grotesque and insulting. It
is like advising a man who is starving to eat less. For a town or
country labourer to practise thrift would be absolutely immoral. Man
should not be ready to show that he can live like a badly-fed animal. He
should decline to live like that, and should either steal or go on the
rates, which is considered by many to be a form of stealing. As for
begging, it is safer to beg than to take, but it is finer to take than
to beg. No: a poor man who is ungrateful, unthrifty, discontented, and
rebellious, is probably a real personality, and has much in him. He is
at any rate a healthy protest. As for the virtuous poor, one can pity
them, of course, but one cannot possibly admire them; They have made
private terms with the enemy, and sold their birthright for very bad
pottage. They must also be extraordinarily stupid. I can quite
understand a man accepting laws that protect private property, and admit
of its accumulation, as long as he himself is able under those
conditions to realise some form of beautiful and intellectual life. But
it is almost incredible to me how a man whose life is marred and made
hideous by such laws can possibly acquiesce in their continuance.
However, the explanation is not really difficult to find. It is simply
this. Misery and poverty are so absolutely degrading, and exercise such
a paralysing effect over the nature of men, that no class is ever really
conscious of its own suffering. They have to be told of it by other
people, and they often entirely disbelieve them. What is said by great
employers of labour against agitators is unquestionably true. Agitators
are a set of interfering, meddling people, who come down to some
perfectly contented class of the community, and sow the seeds of
discontent amongst them. That is the reason why agitators are so
absolutely necessary. Without them, in our incomplete state, there would
be no advance towards civilisation. Slavery was put down in America, not
in consequence of any action on the part of the slaves, or even any
express desire on their part that they should be free. It was put down
entirely through the grossly illegal conduct of certain agitators in
Boston and elsewhere, who were not slaves themselves, nor owners of
slaves, nor had anything to do with the question really. It was,
undoubtedly, the Abolitionists who set the torch alight, who began the
whole thing. And it is curious to note that from the slaves themselves
they received, not merely very little assistance, but hardly any
sympathy even; and when at the close of the war the slaves found
themselves free, found themselves indeed so absolutely free that they
were free to starve, many of them bitterly regretted the new state of
things. To the thinker, the most tragic fact in the whole of the French
Revolution is not that Marie Antoinette was killed for being a queen,
but that the starved peasant of the VendÚe voluntarily went out to die
for the hideous cause of feudalism.
It is clear, then, that no Authoritarian Socialism will do. For while
under the present system a very large number of people can lead lives of
a certain amount of freedom and expression and happiness, under an
industrial-barrack system, or a system of economic tyranny, nobody would
be able to have any such freedom at all. It is to be regretted that a
portion of our community should be practically in slavery, but to
propose to solve the problem by enslaving the entire community is
childish. Every man must be left quite free to choose his own work. No
form of compulsion must be exercised over him. If there is, his work
will not be good for him, will riot be good in itself, and will not be
good for others. And by work I simply mean activity of any kind.
I hardly think that any Socialist, nowadays, would seriously propose
that an inspector should call every morning at each house to see that
each citizen rose up and did manual labour for eight hours. Humanity has
got beyond that stage, and reserves such a form of life for the people
whom, in a very arbitrary manner, it chooses to call criminals. But I
confess that many of the socialistic views that I have come across seem
to me to be tainted with ideas of authority, if not of actual
compulsion. Of course, authority and compulsion are out of the question.
All association must be quite voluntary. It is only in voluntary
associations that man is fine.
But it may be asked how Individualism, which is now more or less
dependent on the existence of private property for its development, will
benefit by the abolition of such private property. The answer is very
simple. It is true that, under existing conditions, a few men who have
had private means of their own, such as Byron, Shelley, Browning, Victor
Hugo, Baudelaire, and others, have been able to realise their
personality more or less completely. Not one of these men ever did a
single day's work for hire. They were relieved from poverty. They had an
immense advantage. The question is whether it would be for the good of
Individualism that such an advantage should be taken away. Let us
suppose that it is taken away. What happens then to Individualism? How
will it benefit?
It will benefit in this way, under the new conditions Individualism will
be far freer, far finer, and far more intensified than it is now. I am
not talking of the great imaginatively-realised Individualism of such
poets as I have mentioned, but of the great actual Individualism latent
and potential in mankind generally. For the recognition of private
property has really harmed Individualism, and obscured it, by confusing
a man with what he possesses. It has led Individualism entirely astray.
It has made gain not growth its aim. So that man thought that the
important thing was to have, and did not know that the important thing
is to be. The true perfection of man lies, not in what man has, but in
what man is. Private property has crushed true Individualism, and set up
an Individualism that is false. It has debarred one part of the
community from being individual by starving them. It has debarred the
other part of the community from being individual by putting them on the
wrong road, and encumbering them. Indeed, so completely has man's
personality been absorbed by his possessions that the English law has
always treated offences against a man's property with far more severity
than offences against his person, and property is still the test of
complete citizenship. The industry necessary for the making of money is
also very demoralising. In a community like ours, where property confers
immense distinction, social position, honour, respect, titles, and other
pleasant things of the kind, man, being naturally ambitious, makes it
his aim to accumulate this property, and goes on wearily and tediously
accumulating it long after he has got far more than he wants, or can
use, or enjoy, or perhaps even know of. Man will kill himself by
overwork in order to secure property, and really, considering the
enormous advantages that property brings, one is hardly surprised. One's
regret is that society should be constructed on such a basis that man
has been forced into a groove in which he cannot freely develop what is
wonderful, and fascinating, and delightful in him--in which, in fact, he
misses the true pleasure and joy of living. He is also, under existing
conditions, very insecure. An enormously wealthy merchant may be--often
is--at every moment of his life at the mercy of things that are not
under his control. If the wind blows an extra point or so, or the
weather suddenly changes, or some trivial thing happens, his ship may go
down, his speculations may go wrong, and he finds himself a poor man,
with his social position quite gone. Now, nothing should be able to harm
a man except himself. Nothing should be able to rob a man at all. What a
man really has, is what is in him. What is outside of him should be a
matter of no importance.
With the abolition of private property, then, we shall have true,
beautiful, healthy Individualism. Nobody will waste his life in
accumulating things, and the symbols for things. One will live. To live
is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.
It is a question whether we have ever seen the full expression of a
personality, except on the imaginative plane of art. In action, we never
have. CŠsar, says Mommsen, was the complete and perfect man. But how
tragically insecure was CŠsar! Wherever there is a man who exercises
authority, there is a man who resists authority. CŠsar was very perfect,
but his perfection travelled by too dangerous a road. Marcus Aurelius
was the perfect man, says Renan. Yes; the great emperor was a perfect
man. But how intolerable were the endless claims upon him! He staggered
under the burden of the empire. He was conscious how inadequate one man
was to bear the weight of that Titan and too vast orb. What I mean by a
perfect man is one who develops under perfect conditions; one who is not
wounded, or worried or maimed, or in danger. Most personalities have
been obliged to be rebels. Half their strength has been wasted in
friction. Byron's personality, for instance, was terribly wasted in its
battle with the stupidity, and hypocrisy, and Philistinism of the
English. Such battles do not always intensify strength: they often
exaggerate weakness. Byron was never able to give us what he might have
given us. Shelley escaped better. Like Byron, he got out of England as
soon as possible. But he was not so well known. If the English had had
any idea of what a great poet he really was, they would have fallen on
him with tooth and nail, and made his life as unbearable to him as they
possibly could. But he was not a remarkable figure in society, and
consequently he escaped, to a certain degree. Still, even in Shelley the
note of rebellion is sometimes too strong. The note of the perfect
personality is not rebellion, but peace.
It will be a marvellous thing--the true personality of man--when we see
it. It will grow naturally and simply, flowerlike, or as a tree grows.
It will not be at discord. It will never argue or dispute. It will not
prove things. It will know everything. And yet it will not busy itself
about knowledge. It will have wisdom. Its value will not be measured by
material things. It will have nothing. And yet it will have everything,
and whatever one takes from it, it will still have, so rich will it he.
It will not be always meddling with others, or asking them to be like
itself. It will love them because they will be different. And yet while
it will not meddle with others, it will help all, as a beautiful thing
helps us, by being what it is. The personality of man will be very
wonderful. It will be as wonderful as the personality of a child.
In its development it will be assisted by Christianity, if men desire
that; but if men do not desire that, it will develop none the less
surely. For it will not worry itself about the past, nor care whether
things happened or did not happen. Nor will it admit any laws but its
own laws; nor any authority but its own authority. Yet it will love
those who sought to intensity it, and speak often of them. And of these
Christ was one.
'Know thyself' was written over the portal of the antique world. Over
the portal of the new world, 'Be thyself' shall be written. And the
message of Christ to man was simply 'Be thyself.' That is the secret of
When Jesus talks about the poor he simply means personalities, just as
when he talks about the rich he simply means people who have not
developed their personalities. Jesus moved in a community that allowed
the accumulation of private property just as ours does, and the gospel
that he preached was not that in such a community it is an advantage for
a man to live on scanty, unwholesome food, to wear ragged, unwholesome
clothes, to sleep in horrid, unwholesome dwellings, and a disadvantage
for a man to live under healthy, pleasant, and decent conditions. Such a
view would have been wrong there and then, and would, of course, be
still more wrong now and in England; for as man moves northward the
material necessities of life become of more vital importance, and our
society is infinitely more complex, and displays far greater extremes of
luxury and pauperism than any society of the antique world. What Jesus
meant, was this. He said to man, 'You have a wonderful personality.
Develop it. Be yourself. Don't imagine that your perfection lies in
accumulating or possessing external things. Your perfection is inside of
you. If only you could realise that, you would not want to be rich.
Ordinary riches can be stolen from a man. Real riches cannot. In the
treasury-house of your soul, there are infinitely precious things, that
may not be taken from you. And so, try to so shape your life that
external things will not harm you. And try also to get rid of personal
property. It involves sordid preoccupation, endless industry, continual
wrong. Personal property hinders Individualism at every step. It is to
be noted that Jesus never says that impoverished people are necessarily
good, or wealthy people necessarily bad. That would not have been true.
Wealthy people are, as a class, better than impoverished people, more
moral, more intellectual, more well-behaved. There is only one class in
the community that thinks more about money than the rich, and that is
the poor. The poor can think of nothing else. That is the misery of
being poor. What Jesus does say is that man reaches his perfection, not
through what he has, not even through what he does, but entirely through
what he is. And so the wealthy young man who comes to Jesus is
represented as a thoroughly good citizen, who has broken none of the
laws of his state, none of the commandments of his religion. He is quite
respectable, in the ordinary sense of that extraordinary word. Jesus
says to him, 'You should give up private property. It hinders you from
realising your perfection. It is a drag upon you. It is a burden. Your
personality does not need it. It is within you, and not outside of you,
that you will find what you really are, and what you really want.' To
his own friends he says the same thing. He tells them to be themselves,
and not to be always worrying about other things. What do other things
matter? Man is complete in himself. When they go into the world, the
world will disagree with them. That is inevitable. The world hates
Individualism. But that is not to trouble them. They are to be calm and
self-centred. If a man takes their cloak, they are to give him their
coat, just to show that material things are of no importance. If people
abuse them, they are not to answer back. What does it signify? The
things people say of a man do not alter a man. He is what he is. Public
opinion is of no value whatsoever. Even if people employ actual
violence, they are not to be violent in turn. That would be to fall to
the same low level. After all, even in prison, a man can be quite free.
His soul can be free. His personality can be untroubled. He can be at
peace. And, above all things, they are not to interfere with other
people or judge them in any way. Personality is a very mysterious thing.
A man cannot always be estimated by what he does. He may keep the law,
and yet be worthless. He may break the law, and yet be fine. He may be
bad, without ever doing anything bad. He may commit a sin against
society, and yet realise through that sin his true perfection.
There was a woman who was taken in adultery. We are not told the history
of her love, but that love must have been very great; for Jesus said
that her sins were forgiven her, not because she repented, but because
her love was so intense and wonderful. Later on, a short time before his
death, as he sat at a feast, the woman came in and poured costly
perfumes on his hair. His friends tried to interfere with her, and said
that it was an extravagance, and that the money that the perfume cost
should have been expended on charitable relief of people in want, or
something of that kind. Jesus did not accept that view. He pointed out
that the material needs of Man were great and very permanent, but that
the spiritual needs of Man were greater still, and that in one divine
moment, and by selecting its own mode of expression, a personality might
make itself perfect. The world worships the woman, even now, as a saint.
Yes; there are suggestive things in Individualism. Socialism annihilates
family life, for instance. With the abolition of private property,
marriage in its present form must disappear. This is part of the
programme. Individualism accepts this and makes it fine. It converts the
abolition of legal restraint into a form of freedom that will help the
full development of personality, and make the love of man and woman more
wonderful, more beautiful, and more ennobling. Jesus knew this. He
rejected the claims of family life, although they existed in his day and
community in a very marked form. 'Who is my mother? Who are my
brothers?' he said, when he was told that they wished to speak to him.
When one of his followers asked leave to go and bury his father, 'Let
the dead bury the dead,' was his terrible answer. He would allow no
claim whatsoever to be made on personality.
And so he who would lead a Christ-like like life is he who is perfectly
and absolutely himself. He may be a great poet, or a great man of
science; or a young student at a University, or one who watches sheep
upon a moor; or a maker of dramas, like Shakespeare, or a thinker about
God, like Spinoza; or a child who plays in a garden, or a fisherman who
throws his net into the sea. It does not matter what he is, as long as
he realises the perfection of the soul that is within him. All imitation
in morals and in life is wrong. Through the streets of Jerusalem at the
present day crawls one who is mad and carries a wooden cross on his
shoulders. He is a symbol of the lives that are marred by imitation.
Father Damien was Christ-like when he went out to live with the lepers,
because in such service he realised fully what was best in him. But he
was not more Christ-like than Wagner when he realised his soul in music;
or than Shelley, when he realised his soul in song. There is no one type
for man. There are as many perfections as there are imperfect men. And
while to the claims of charity a man may yield and yet be free, to the
claims of conformity no man may yield and remain free at all.
Individualism, then, is what through Socialism we are to attain to. As a
natural result the State must give up all idea of government. It must
give it up because, as a wise man once said many centuries before
Christ, there is such a thing as leaving mankind alone; there is no such
thing as governing mankind. All modes of government are failures.
Despotism is unjust to everybody, including the despot, who was probably
made for better things. Oligarchies are unjust to the many, and
ochlocracies are unjust to the few. High hopes were once formed of
democracy; but democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people by
the people for the people. It has been found out. I must say that it was
high time, for all authority is quite degrading. It degrades those who
exercise it, and degrades those over whom it is exercised. When it is
violently, grossly, and cruelly used, it produces a good effect, by
creating, or at any rate bringing out, the spirit of revolt and
Individualism that is to kill it. When it is used with a certain amount
of kindness, and accompanied by prizes and rewards, it is dreadfully
demoralising. People, in that case, are less conscious of the horrible
pressure that is being put on them, and so go through their lives in a
sort of coarse comfort, like petted animals, without ever realising that
they are probably thinking other people's thoughts, living by other
people's standards, wearing practically what one may call other people's
second-hand clothes, and never being themselves for a single moment. 'He
who would be free,' says a fine thinker, 'must not conform.' And
authority, by bribing people to conform, produces a very gross kind of
over-fed barbarism amongst us.
With authority, punishment will pass away. This will be a great gain--a
gain, in fact, of incalculable value. As one reads history, not in the
expurgated editions written for schoolboys and passmen, but in the
original authorities of each time, one is absolutely sickened, not by
the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that
the good have inflicted; and a community is infinitely more brutalised
by the habitual employment of punishment, than it is by the occurrence
of crime. It obviously follows that the more punishment is inflicted the
more crime is produced, and most modern legislation has clearly
recognised this, and has made it its task to diminish punishment as far
as it thinks it can. Wherever it has really diminished it, the results
have always been extremely good. The less punishment, the less crime.
When there is no punishment at all, crime will either cease to exist,
or, if it occurs, will be treated by physicians as a very distressing
form of dementia, to be cured by care and kindness. For what are called
criminals nowadays are not criminals at all. Starvation, and not sin, is
the parent of modern crime. That indeed is the reason why our criminals
are, as a class, so absolutely uninteresting from any psychological
point of view. They are not marvellous Macbeths and terrible Vautrins.
They are merely what ordinary, respectable, commonplace people would be
if they had not got enough to eat. When private property is abolished
there will be no necessity for crime, no demand for it; it will cease to
exist. Of course, all crimes are not crimes against property, though
such are the crimes that the English law, valuing what a man has more
than what a man is, punishes with the harshest and most horrible
severity, if we except the crime of murder, and regard death as worse
than penal servitude, a point on which our criminals, I believe,
disagree. But though a crime may not be against property, it may spring
from the misery and rage and depression produced by our wrong system of
property-holding, and so, when that system is abolished, will disappear.
When each member of the community has sufficient for his wants, and is
not interfered with by his neighbour, it will not be an object of any
interest to him to interfere with anyone else. Jealousy, which is an
extraordinary source of crime in modern life, is an emotion closely
bound up with our conceptions of property, and under Socialism and
Individualism will die out. It is remarkable that in communistic tribes
jealousy is entirely unknown.
Now as the State is not to govern, it may be asked what the State is to
do. The State is to be a voluntary association that will organise
labour, and be the manufacturer and distributor of necessary
commodities. The State is to make what is useful. The individual is to
make what is beautiful. And as I have mentioned the word labour. I
cannot help saying that a great deal of nonsense is being written and
talked nowadays about the dignity of manual labour. There is nothing
necessarily dignified about manual labour at all, and most of it is
absolutely degrading. It is mentally and morally injurious to man to do
anything in which he does not find pleasure, and many forms of labour
are quite pleasureless activities, and should be regarded as such. To
sweep a slushy crossing for eight hours on a day when the east wind is
blowing is a disgusting occupation. To sweep it with mental, moral, or
physical dignity seems to me to be impossible. To sweep it with joy
would be appalling. Man is made for something better than disturbing
dirt. All work of that kind should be done by a machine.
And I have no doubt that it will be so. Up to the present, man has been,
to a certain extent, the slave of machinery, and there is something
tragic in the fact that as soon as man had invented a machine to do his
work he began to starve. This, however, is, of course, the result of our
property system and our system of competition. One man owns a machine
which does the work of five hundred men. Five hundred men are, in
consequence, thrown out of employment, and, having no work to do, become
hungry and take to thieving. The one man secures the produce of the
machine and keeps it, and has five hundred times as much as he should
have, and probably, which is of much more importance, a great deal more
than he really wants. Were that machine the property of all, everyone
would benefit by it. It would be an immense advantage to the community.
All unintellectual labour, all monotonous, dull labour, all labour that
deals with dreadful things, and involves unpleasant conditions, must be
done by machinery. Machinery must work for us in coal mines, and do all
sanitary services, and be the stoker of steamers, and clean the streets,
and run messages on wet days, and do anything that is tedious or
distressing. At present machinery competes against man. Under proper
conditions machinery will serve man. There is no doubt at all that this
is the future of machinery, and just as trees grow while the country
gentleman is asleep, so while Humanity will be amusing itself, or
enjoying cultivated leisure--which, and not labour, is the aim of
man--or making beautiful things, or reading beautiful things, or simply
contemplating the world with admiration and delight, machinery will he
doing all the necessary and unpleasant work. The fact is, that
civilisation requires slaves. The Greeks were quite right there. Unless
there are slaves to do the ugly, horrible, uninteresting work, culture
and contemplation become almost impossible. Human slavery is wrong,
insecure, and demoralising. On mechanical slavery, on the slavery of the
machine, the future of the world depends. And when scientific men are no
longer called upon to go down to a depressing East End and distribute
bad cocoa and worse blankets to starving people, they will have
delightful leisure in which to devise wonderful and marvellous things
for their own joy and the joy of everyone else. There will be great
storages of force for every city, and for every house if required, and
this force man will convert into heat, light, or motion, according to
his needs. Is this Utopian? A map of the world that does not include
Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country
at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it
looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the
realisation of Utopias.
Now, I have said that the community by means of organisation of
machinery will supply the useful things, and that the beautiful things
will be made by the individual. This is not merely necessary, but it is
the only possible way by which we can get either the one or the other.
An individual who has to make things for the use of others, and with
reference to their wants and their wishes, does not work with interest,
and consequently cannot put into his work what is best in him. Upon the
other hand, whenever a community or a powerful section of a community,
or a government of any kind, attempts to dictate to the artist what he
is to do, Art either entirely vanishes, or becomes stereotyped, or
degenerates into a low and ignoble form of craft. A work of art is the
unique result of a unique temperament. Its beauty comes from the fact
that the author is what he is. It has nothing to do with the fact that
other people want what they want. Indeed, the moment that an artist
takes notice of what other people want, and tries to supply the demand,
he ceases to be an artist, and becomes a dull or an amusing craftsman,
an honest or a dishonest tradesman. He has no further claim to be
considered as an artist. Art is the most intense mode of Individualism
that the world has known. I am inclined to say that it is the only real
mode of Individualism that the world has known. Crime, which, under
certain conditions, may seem to have created Individualism, must take
cognisance of other people and interfere with them. It belongs to the
sphere of action. But alone, without any reference to his neighbours,
without any interference, the artist can fashion a beautiful thing; and
if he does not do it solely for his own pleasure, he is not an artist at
And it is to be noted that it is the fact that Art is this intense form
of Individualism that makes the public try to exercise over it an
authority that is as immoral as it is ridiculous, and as corrupting as
it is contemptible. It is not quite their fault. The public has always,
and in every age, been badly brought up. They are continually asking Art
to be popular, to please their want of taste, to flatter their absurd
vanity, to tell them what they have been told before, to show them what
they ought to be tired of seeing, to amuse them when they feel heavy
after eating too much, and to distract their thoughts when they are
wearied of their own stupidity. Now Art should never try to be popular.
The public should try to make itself artistic. There is a very wide
difference. If a man of science were told that the results of his
experiments, and the conclusions that he arrived at, should be of such a
character that they would not upset the received popular notions on the
subject, or disturb popular prejudice, or hurt the sensibilities of
people who knew nothing about science; if a philosopher were told that
he had a perfect right to speculate in the highest spheres of thought,
provided that he arrived at the same conclusions as were held by those
who had never thought in any sphere at all--well, nowadays the man of
science and the philosopher would be considerably amused. Yet it is
really a very few years since both philosophy and science were subjected
to brutal popular control, to authority in fact--the authority of
either the general ignorance of the community, or the terror and greed
for power of an ecclesiastical or governmental class. Of course, we have
to a very great extent got rid of any attempt on the part of the
community, or the Church, or the Government, to interfere with the
individualism of speculative thought, but the attempt to interfere with
the individualism of imaginative art still lingers. In fact, it does
more than linger; it is aggressive, offensive, and brutalising.
In England, the arts that have escaped best are the arts in which the
public take no interest. Poetry is an instance of what I mean. We have
been able to have fine poetry in England because the public do not read
it, and consequently do not influence it. The public like to insult
poets because they are individual, but once they have insulted them,
they leave them alone. In the case of the novel and the drama, arts in
which the public do take an interest, the result of the exercise of
popular authority has been absolutely ridiculous. No country produces
such badly-written fiction, such tedious, common work in the novel form,
such silly, vulgar plays as England. It must necessarily be so. The
popular standard is of such a character that no artist can get to it. It
is at once too easy and too difficult to be a popular novelist. It is
too easy, because the requirements of the public as far as plot, style,
psychology, treatment of life, and treatment of literature are concerned
are within the reach of the very meanest capacity and the most
uncultivated mind. It is too difficult, because to meet such
requirements the artist would have to do violence to his temperament,
would have to write not for the artistic joy of writing, but for the
amusement of half-educated people, and so would have to suppress his
individualism, forget his culture, annihilate his style, and surrender
everything that is valuable in him. In the case of the drama, things are
a little better: the theatre-going public like the obvious, it is true,
but they do not like the tedious; and burlesque and farcical comedy, the
two most popular forms, are distinct forms of art. Delightful work may
be produced under burlesque and farcical conditions, and in work of this
kind the artist in England is allowed very great freedom. It is when one
comes to the higher forms of the drama that the result of popular
control is seen. The one thing that the public dislike is novelty. Any
attempt to extend the subject-matter of art is extremely distasteful to
the public; and yet the vitality and progress of art depend in a large
measure on the continual extension of subject-matter. The public dislike
novelty because they are afraid of it. It represents to them a mode of
Individualism, an assertion on the part of the artist that he selects
his own subject, and treats it as he chooses. The public are quite right
in their attitude. Art is Individualism, and Individualism is a
disturbing and disintegrating force. Therein lies its immense value. For
what it seeks to disturb is monotony of type, slavery of custom, tyranny
of habit, and the reduction of man to the level of a machine. In Art,
the public accept what has been, because they cannot alter it, not
because they appreciate it. They swallow their classics whole, and never
taste them. They endure them as the inevitable, and as they cannot mar
them, they mouth about them. Strangely enough, or not strangely,
according to one's own views, this acceptance of the classics does a
great deal of harm. The uncritical admiration of the Bible and
Shakespeare in England is an instance of what I mean. With regard to the
Bible, considerations of ecclesiastical authority enter into the matter,
so that I need not dwell upon the point.
But in the case of Shakespeare it is quite obvious that the public
really see neither the beauties nor the defects of his plays. If they
saw the beauties, they would not object to the development of the drama;
and if they saw the defects, they would not object to the development of
the drama either. The fact is, the public make use of the classics of a
country as a means of checking the progress of Art. They degrade the
classics into authorities. They use them as bludgeons for preventing the
free expression of Beauty in new forms. They are always asking a writer
why he does not write like somebody else, or a painter why he does not
paint like somebody else, quite oblivious of the fact that if either of
them did anything of the kind he would cease to be an artist. A fresh
mode of Beauty is absolutely distasteful to them, and whenever it
appears they get so angry and bewildered, that they always use two
stupid expressions--one is that the work of art is grossly
unintelligible; the other, that the work of art is grossly immoral. What
they mean by these words seems to me to be this. When they say a work is
grossly unintelligible, they mean that the artist has said or made a
beautiful thing that is new; when they describe a work as grossly
immoral, they mean that the artist has said or made a beautiful thing
that is true. The former expression has reference to style; the latter
to subject-matter. But they probably use the words very vaguely, as an
ordinary mob will use ready-made paving-stones. There is not a single
real poet or prose-writer of this century, for instance, on whom the
British public have not solemnly conferred diplomas of immorality, and
these diplomas practically take the place, with us, of what in France,
is the formal recognition of an Academy of Letters, and fortunately make
the establishment of such an institution quite unnecessary in England.
Of course, the public are very reckless in their use of the word. That
they should have called Wordsworth an immoral poet, was only to be
expected. Wordsworth was a poet. But that they should have called
Charles Kingsley an immoral novelist is extraordinary. Kingsley's prose
was not of a very fine quality. Still, there is the word, and they use
it as best they can. An artist is, of course, not disturbed by it. The
true artist is a man who believes absolutely in himself, because he is
absolutely himself. But I can fancy that if an artist produced a work of
art in England that immediately on its appearance was recognised by the
public, through their medium, which is the public press, as a work that
was quite intelligible and highly moral, he would begin to seriously
question whether in its creation he had really been himself at all, and
consequently whether the work was not quite unworthy of him, and either
of a thoroughly second-rate order, or of no artistic value whatsoever.
Perhaps, however, I have wronged the public in limiting them to such
words as 'immoral,' 'unintelligible,' 'exotic,' and 'unhealthy.' There
is one other word that they use. That word is 'morbid.' They do not use
it often. The meaning of the word is so simple that they are afraid of
using it. Still, they use it sometimes, and, now and then, one comes
across it in popular newspapers. It is, of course, a ridiculous word to
apply to a work of art. For what is morbidity but a mood of emotion or a
mode of thought that one cannot express? The public are all morbid,
because the public can never find expression for anything. The artist is
never morbid. He expresses everything. He stands outside his subject,
and through its medium produces incomparable and artistic effects. To
call an artist morbid because he deals with morbidity as his
subject-matter is as silly as if one called Shakespeare mad because he
wrote 'King Lear.'
On the whole, an artist in England gains something by being attacked.
His individuality is intensified. He becomes more completely himself. Of
course, the attacks are very gross, very impertinent, and very
contemptible. But then no artist expects grace from the vulgar mind, or
style from the suburban intellect. Vulgarity and stupidity are two very
vivid facts in modern life. One regrets them, naturally. But there they
are. They are subjects for study, like everything else. And it is only
fair to state, with regard to modern journalists, that they always
apologise to one in private for what they have written against one in
Within the last few years two other adjectives, it may be mentioned,
have been added to the very limited vocabulary of art-abuse that is at
the disposal of the public. One is the word 'unhealthy,' the other is
the word 'exotic.' The latter merely expresses the rage of the momentary
mushroom against the immortal, entrancing, and exquisitely lovely
orchid. It is a tribute, but a tribute of no importance. The word
'unhealthy,' however, admits of analysis. It is a rather interesting
word. In fact, it is so interesting that the people who use it do not
know what it means.
What does it mean? What is a healthy, or an unhealthy work of art? All
terms that one applies to a work of art, provided that one applies them
rationally, have reference to either its style or its subject, or to
both together. From the point of view of style, a healthy work of art is
one whose style recognises the beauty of the material it employs, be
that material one of words or of bronze, of colour or of ivory, and uses
that beauty as a factor in producing the Šsthetic effect. From the point
of view of subject, a healthy work of art is one the choice of whose
subject is conditioned by the temperament of the artist, and comes
directly out of it. In fine, a healthy work of art is one that has both
perfection and personality. Of course, form and substance cannot be
separated in a work of art; they are always one. But for purposes of
analysis, and setting the wholeness of Šsthetic impression aside for a
moment, we can intellectually so separate them. An unhealthy work of
art, on the other hand, is a work whose style is obvious, old-fashioned,
and common, and whose subject is deliberately chosen, not because the
artist has any pleasure in it, but because he thinks that the public
will pay him for it. In fact, the popular novel that the public calls
healthy is always a thoroughly unhealthy production; and what the public
call an unhealthy novel is always a beautiful and healthy work of art.
I need hardly say that I am not, for a single moment, complaining that
the public and the public press misuse these words. I do not see how,
with their lack of comprehension of what Art is, they could possibly use
them in the proper sense. I am merely pointing out the misuse; and as
for the origin of the misuse and the meaning that lies behind it all,
the explanation is very simple. It comes from the barbarous conception
of authority. It comes from the natural inability of a community
corrupted by authority to understand or appreciate Individualism. In a
word, it comes from that monstrous and ignorant thing that is called
Public Opinion, which, bad and well-meaning as it is when it tries to
control action, is infamous and of evil meaning when it tries to control
Thought or Art.
Indeed, there is much more to be said in favour of the physical force of
the public than there is in favour of the public's opinion. The former
may be fine. The latter must be foolish. It is often said that force is
no argument. That, however, entirely depends on what one wants to prove.
Many of the most important problems of the last few centuries, such as
the continuance of personal government in England, or of feudalism in
France, have been solved entirely by means of physical force. The very
violence of a revolution may make the public grand and splendid for a
moment. It was a fatal day when the public discovered that the pen is
mightier than the paving-stone, and can be made as offensive as the
brickbat. They at once sought for the journalist, found him, developed
him, and made him their industrious and well-paid servant. It is greatly
to be regretted, for both their sakes. Behind the barricade there may be
much that is noble and heroic. But what is there behind the
leading-article but prejudice, stupidity, cant, and twaddle? And when
these four are joined together they make a terrible force, and
constitute the new authority.
In old days men had the rack. Now they have the press. That is an
improvement certainly. But still it is very bad, and wrong, and
demoralising. Somebody--was it Burke?--called journalism the fourth
estate. That was true at the time, no doubt. But at the present moment
it really is the only estate. It has eaten up the other three. The Lords
Temporal say nothing, the Lords Spiritual have nothing to say, and the
House of Commons has nothing to say and says it. We are dominated by
Journalism. In America the President reigns for four years, and
Journalism governs for ever and ever. Fortunately in America Journalism
has carried its authority to the grossest and most brutal extreme. As a
natural consequence it has begun to create a spirit of revolt. People
are amused by it, or disgusted by it, according to their temperaments.
But it is no longer the real force it was. It is not seriously treated.
In England, Journalism, not, except in a few well-known instances,
having been carried to such excesses of brutality, is still a great
factor, a really remarkable power. The tyranny that it proposes to
exercise over people's private lives seems to me to be quite
extraordinary. The fact is, that the public have an insatiable curiosity
to know everything, except what is worth knowing. Journalism, conscious
of this, and having tradesman-like habits, supplies their demands. In
centuries before ours the public nailed the ears of journalists to the
pump. That was quite hideous. In this century journalists have nailed
their own ears to the keyhole. That is much worse. And what aggravates
the mischief is that the journalists who are most to blame are not the
amusing journalists who write for what are called Society papers. The
harm is done by the serious, thoughtful, earnest journalists, who
solemnly, as they are doing at present, will drag before the eyes of the
public some incident in the private life of a great statesman, of a man
who is a leader of political thought as he is a creator of political
force, and invite the public to discuss the incident, to exercise
authority in the matter, to give their views, and not merely to give
their views, but to carry them into action, to dictate to the man upon
all other points, to dictate to his party, to dictate to his country; in
fact, to make themselves ridiculous, offensive, and harmful. The private
lives of men and women should not be told to the public. The public have
nothing to do with them at all. In Prance they manage these things
better. There they do not allow the details of the trials that take
place in the divorce courts to be published for the amusement or
criticism of the public. All that the public are allowed to know is that
the divorce has taken place and was granted on petition of one or other
or both of the married parties concerned. In France, in fact, they limit
the journalist, and allow the artist almost perfect freedom. Here we
allow absolute freedom to the journalist, and entirely limit the artist.
English public opinion, that is to say, tries to constrain and impede
and warp the man who makes things that are beautiful in effect, and
compels the journalist to retail things that are ugly, or disgusting, or
revolting in fact, so that we have the most serious journalists in the
world, and the most indecent newspapers. It is no exaggeration to talk
of compulsion. There are possibly some journalists who take a real
pleasure in publishing horrible things, or who, being poor, look to
scandals as forming a sort of permanent basis for an income. But there
are other journalists, I feel certain, men of education and cultivation,
who really dislike publishing these things, who know that it is wrong to
do so, and only do it because the unhealthy conditions under which their
occupation is carried on oblige them to supply the public with what the
public wants, and to compete with other journalists in making that
supply as full and satisfying to the gross popular appetite as possible.
It is a very degrading position for any body of educated men to be
placed in, and I have no doubt that most of them feel it acutely.
However, let us leave what is really a very sordid side of the subject,
and return to the question of popular control in the matter of Art, by
which I mean Public Opinion dictating to the artist the form which he is
to use, the mode in which he is to use it, and the materials with which
he is to work. I have pointed out that the arts which have escaped best
in England are the arts in which the public have not been interested.
They are, however, interested in the drama, and as a certain advance has
been made in the drama within the last ten or fifteen years, it is
important to point out that this advance is entirely due to a few
individual artists refusing to accept the popular want of taste as their
standard, and refusing to regard Art as a mere matter of demand and
supply. With his marvellous and vivid personality, with a style that has
really a true colour-element in it, with his extraordinary power, not
over mere mimicry but over imaginative and intellectual creation, Mr
Irving, had his sole object been to give the public what they wanted,
could have produced the commonest plays in the commonest manner, and
made as much success and money as a man could possibly desire. But his
object was not that. His object was to realise his own perfection as an
artist, under certain conditions, and in certain forms of Art. At first
he appealed to the few; now he has educated the many. He has created in
the public both taste and temperament. The public appreciate his
artistic success immensely. I often wonder, however, whether the public
understand that that success is entirely due to the fact that he did not
accept their standard, but realised his own. With their standard the
Lyceum would have been a sort of second-rate booth, as some of the
popular theatres in London are at present. Whether they understand it or
not the fact however remains, that taste and temperament have, to a
certain extent, been created in the public, and that the public is
capable of developing these qualities. The problem then is, why do not
the public become more civilised? They have the capacity. What stops
The thing that stops them, it must be said again, is their desire to
exercise authority over the artist and over works of art. To certain
theatres, such as the Lyceum and the Haymarket, the public seem to come
in a proper mood. In both of these theatres there have been individual
artists, who have succeeded in creating in their audiences--and every
theatre in London has its own audience--the temperament to which Art
appeals. And what is that temperament? It is the temperament of
receptivity. That is all.
If a man approaches a work of art with any desire to exercise authority
over it and the artist, he approaches it in such a spirit that he cannot
receive any artistic impression from it at all. The work of art is to
dominate the spectator: the spectator is not to dominate the work of
art. The spectator is to be receptive. He is to be the violin on which
the master is to play. And the more completely he can suppress his own
silly views, his own foolish prejudices, his own absurd ideas of what
Art should be, or should not be, the more likely he is to understand and
appreciate the work of art in question. This is, of course, quite
obvious in the case of the vulgar theatre-going public of English men
and women. But it is equally true of what are called educated people.
For an educated person's ideas of Art are drawn naturally from what Art
has been, whereas the new work of art is beautiful by being what Art has
never been; and to measure it by the standard of the past is to measure
it by a standard on the rejection of which its real perfection depends.
A temperament capable of receiving, through an imaginative medium, and
under imaginative conditions, new and beautiful impressions, is the only
temperament that can appreciate a work of art. And true as this is in
the case of the appreciation of sculpture and painting, it is still more
true of the appreciation of such arts as the drama. For a picture and a
statue are not at war with Time. They take no count of its succession.
In one moment their unity may be apprehended. In the case of literature
it is different. Time must be traversed before the unity of effect is
realised. And so, in the drama, there may occur in the first act of the
play something whose real artistic value may not be evident to the
spectator till the third or fourth act is reached. Is the silly fellow
to get angry and call out, and disturb the play, and annoy the artists?
No, the honest man is to sit quietly, and know the delightful emotions
of wonder, curiosity, and suspense. He is not to go to the play to lose
a vulgar temper. He is to go to the play to realise an artistic
temperament. He is to go to the play to gain an artistic temperament. He
is not the arbiter of the work of art. He is one who is admitted to
contemplate the work of art, and, if the work be fine, to forget in its
contemplation all, the egotism that mars him--the egotism of his
ignorance, or the egotism of his information. This point about the drama
is hardly, I think, sufficiently recognised. I can quite understand that
were 'Macbeth' produced for the first time before a modern London
audience, many of the people present would strongly and vigorously
object to the introduction of the witches in the first act, with their
grotesque phrases and their ridiculous words. But when the play is over
one realises that the laughter of the witches in 'Macbeth' is as
terrible as the laughter of madness in 'Lear,' more terrible than the
daughter of Iago in the tragedy of the Moor. No spectator of art needs a
more perfect mood of receptivity than the spectator of a play. The
moment he seeks to exercise authority he becomes the avowed enemy of Art
and of himself. Art does not mind. It is he who suffers.
With the novel it is the same thing. Popular authority and the
recognition of popular authority are fatal. Thackeray's 'Esmond' is a
beautiful work of art because he wrote it to please himself. In his
other novels, in 'Pendennis,' in 'Philip,' in 'Vanity Fair' even, at
times, he is too conscious of the public, and spoils his work by
appealing directly to the sympathies of the public, or by directly
mocking at them. A true artist takes no notice whatever of the public.
The public are to him non-existent. He has no poppied or honeyed cakes
through which to give the monster sleep or sustenance. He leaves that to
the popular novelist. One incomparable novelist we have now in England,
Mr George Meredith. There are better artists in France, but France has
no one whose view of life is so large, so varied, so imaginatively true.
There are tellers of stories in Russia who have a more vivid sense of
what pain in fiction may be. But to him belongs philosophy in fiction.
His people not merely live, but they live in thought. One can see them
from myriad points of view. They are suggestive. There is soul in them
and around them. They are interpretative and symbolic. And he who made
them, those wonderful quickly-moving figures, made them for his own
pleasure, and has never asked the public what they wanted, has never
cared to know what they wanted, has never allowed the public to dictate
to him or influence him in any way, but has gone on intensifying his own
personality, and producing his own individual work. At first none came
to him. That did not matter. Then the few came to him. That did not
change him. The many have come now. He is still the same. He's an
With the decorative arts it is not different. The public clung with
really pathetic tenacity to what I believe were the direct traditions of
the Great Exhibition of international vulgarity, traditions that were so
appalling that the houses in which people lived were only fit for blind
people to live in. Beautiful things began to be made, beautiful colours
came from the dyer's hand, beautiful patterns from the artist's brain,
and the use of beautiful things and their value and importance were set
forth. The public were really very indignant. They lost their temper.
They said silly things. No one minded. No one was a whit the worse. No
one accepted the authority of public opinion. And now it is almost
impossible to enter any modern house without seeing some recognition of
good taste, some recognition of the value of lovely surroundings, some
sign of appreciation of beauty. In fact, people's houses are, as a rule,
quite charming nowadays. People have been to a very great extent
civilised. It is only fair to state, however, that the extraordinary
success of the revolution in house-decoration and furniture and the like
has not really been due to the majority of the public developing a very
fine taste in such matters. It has been chiefly due to the fact that the
craftsmen of things so appreciated the pleasure of making what was
beautiful, and woke to such a vivid consciousness of the hideousness and
vulgarity of what the public had previously wanted, that they simply
starved the public out. It would be quite impossible at the present
moment to furnish a room as rooms were furnished a few years ago,
without going for everything to an auction of second-hand furniture from
some third-rate lodging-house. The things are no longer made. However
they may object to it, people must nowadays have something charming in
their surroundings. Fortunately for them, their assumption of authority
in these art-matters came to entire grief.
It is evident, then, that all authority in such things is bad. People
sometimes inquire what form of government is most suitable for an artist
to live under. To this question there is only one answer. The form of
government that is most suitable to the artist is no government at all.
Authority over him and his art is ridiculous. It has been stated that
under despotisms artists have produced lovely work. This is not quite
so. Artists have visited despots, not as subjects to be tyrannised over,
but as wandering wonder-makers, as fascinating vagrant personalities, to
be entertained and charmed and suffered to be at peace, and allowed to
create. There is this to be said in favour of the despot, that he, being
an individual, may have culture, while the mob, being a monster, has
none. One who is an Emperor and King may stoop down to pick up a brush
for a painter, but when the democracy stoops down it is merely to throw
mud. And yet the democracy have not so far to stoop as the emperor. In
fact, when they want to throw mud they have not to stoop at all. But
there is no necessity to separate the monarch from the mob; all
authority is equally bad.
There are three kinds of despots. There is the despot who tyrannises
over the body. There is the despot who tyrannises over the soul. There
is the despot who tyrannises over the soul and body alike. The first is
called the Prince. The second is called the Pope The third is called the
People. The Prince may be cultivated. Many Princes have been. Yet in the
Prince there is danger. One thinks of Dante at the bitter feast in
Verona, of Tasso in Ferrara's madman's cell. It is better for the artist
not to live with Princes. The Pope may be cultivated. Many Popes have
been; the bad Popes have been. The bad Popes loved Beauty, almost as
passionately, nay, with as much passion as the good Popes hated Thought.
To the wickedness of the Papacy humanity owes much. The goodness of the
Papacy owes a terrible debt to humanity. Yet, though the Vatican has
kept the rhetoric of its thunders, and lost the rod of its lightning, it
is better for the artist not to live with Popes. It was a Pope who said
of Cellini to a conclave of Cardinals that common laws and common
authority were not made for men such as he; but it was a Pope who thrust
Cellini into prison, and kept him there till he sickened with rage, and
created unreal visions for himself, and saw the gilded sun enter his
room, and grew so enamoured of it that he sought to escape, and crept
out from tower to tower, and falling through dizzy air at dawn, maimed
himself, and was by a vine-dresser covered with vine leaves, and carried
in a cart to one who, loving beautiful things, had care of him. There is
danger in Popes. And as for the People, what of them and their
authority? Perhaps of them and their authority one has spoken enough.
Their authority is a thing blind, deaf, hideous, grotesque, tragic,
amusing, serious, and obscene. It is impossible for the artist to live
with the People. All despots bribe. The people bribe and brutalise. Who
told them to exercise authority? They were made to live, to listen, and
to love. Someone has done them a great wrong. They have marred
themselves by imitation of their inferiors. They have taken the sceptre
of the Prince. How should they use it? They have taken the triple tiara
of the Pope. How should they carry its burden? They are as a clown whose
heart is broken. They are as a priest whose soul is not yet born. Let
all who love Beauty pity them. Though they themselves love not Beauty,
yet let them pity themselves. Who taught them the trick of tyranny?
There are many other things that one might point out. One might point
out how the Renaissance was great, because it sought to solve no social
problem, and busied itself not about such things, but suffered the
individual to develop freely, beautifully, and naturally, and so had
great and individual artists, and great and individual men. One might
point out how Louis XIV., by creating the modern state, destroyed the
individualism of the artist, and made things monstrous in their monotony
of repetition, and contemptible in their conformity to rule, and
destroyed throughout all France all those fine freedoms of expression
that had made tradition new in beauty, and new modes one with antique
form. But the past is of no importance. The present is of no importance.
It is with the future that we have to deal. For the past is what man
should not have been. The present is what man ought not to be. The
future is what artists are.
It will, of course, be said that such a scheme as is set forth here is
quite unpractical, and goes against human nature. This is perfectly
true. It is unpractical, and it goes against human nature. This is why
it is worth carrying out, and that is why one proposes it. For what is a
practical scheme? A practical scheme is either a scheme that is already
in existence, or a scheme that could be carried out under existing
conditions. But it is exactly the existing conditions that one objects
to; and any scheme that could accept these conditions is wrong and
foolish. The conditions will be done away with, and human nature will
change. The only thing that one really knows about human nature is that
it changes. Change is the one quality we can predicate of it. The
systems that fail are those that rely on the permanency of human nature,
and not on its growth and development. The error of Louis XIV. was that
he thought human nature would always be the same. The result of his
error was the French Revolution. It was an admirable result. All the
results of the mistakes of governments are quite admirable.
It is to be noted also that Individualism does not come to man with any
sickly cant about duty, which merely means doing what other people want
because they want it; or any hideous cant about self-sacrifice, which is
merely a survival of savage mutilation. In fact, it does not come to man
with any claims upon him at all. It comes naturally and inevitably out
of man. It is the point to which all development tends. It is the
differentiation to which all organisms grow. It is the perfection that
is inherent in every mode of life, and towards which every mode of life
quickens. And so Individualism exercises no compulsion over man. On the
contrary, it says to man that he should suffer no compulsion to be
exercised over him. It does not try to force people to be good. It knows
that people are good when they are let alone. Man will develop
Individualism out of himself. Man is now so developing Individualism. To
ask whether Individualism is practical is like asking whether Evolution
is practical. Evolution is the law of life, and there is no evolution
except towards Individualism. Where this tendency is not expressed, it
is a case of artificially-arrested growth, or of disease, or of death.
Individualism will also be unselfish and unaffected. It has been pointed
out that one of the results of the extraordinary tyranny of authority is
that words are absolutely distorted from their proper and simple
meaning, and are used to express the obverse of their right
signification. What is true about Art is true about Life. A man is
called affected, nowadays, if he dresses as he likes to dress. But in
doing that he is acting in a perfectly natural manner. Affectation, in
such matters, consists in dressing according to the views of one's
neighbour, whose views, as they are the views of the majority, will
probably be extremely stupid. Or a man is called selfish if he lives in
the manner that seems to him most suitable for the full realisation of
his own personality; if, in fact, the primary aim of his life is
self-development. But this is the way in which everyone should live.
Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to
live as one wishes to live. And unselfishness is letting other people's
lives alone, not interfering with them. Selfishness always aims at
creating around it an absolute uniformity of type. Unselfishness
recognises infinite variety of type as a delightful thing, accepts it,
acquiesces in it, enjoys it. It is not selfish to think for oneself. A
man who does not think for himself does not think at all. It is grossly
selfish to require of one's neighbour that he should think in the same
way, and hold the same opinions. Why should he? If he can think, he will
probably think differently. If he cannot think, it is monstrous to
require thought of any kind from him. A red rose is not selfish because
it wants to be a red rose. It would be horribly selfish if it wanted all
the other flowers in the garden to be both red and roses. Under
Individualism people will be quite natural and absolutely unselfish, and
will know the meanings of the words, and realise them in their free,
beautiful lives. Nor will men be egotistic as they are now. For the
egotist is he who makes claims upon others, and the Individualist will
not desire to do that. It will not give him pleasure. When man has
realised Individualism, he will also realise sympathy and exercise it
freely and spontaneously. Up to the present man has hardly cultivated
sympathy at all. He has merely sympathy with pain, and sympathy with
pain is not the highest form of sympathy. All sympathy is fine, but
sympathy with suffering is the least fine mode. It is tainted with
egotism. It is apt to become morbid. There is in it a certain element of
terror for our own safety. We become afraid that we ourselves might be
as the leper or as the blind, and that no man would have care of us. It
is curiously limiting, too. One should sympathise with the entirety of
life, not with life's sores and maladies merely, but with life's joy and
beauty and energy and health and freedom. The wider sympathy is, of
course, the more difficult. It requires more unselfishness. Anybody can
sympathise with the sufferings of a friend, but it requires a very fine
nature--it requires, in fact, the nature of a true Individualist--to
sympathise with a friend's success.
In the modern stress of competition and struggle for place, such
sympathy is naturally rare, and is also very much stifled by the immoral
ideal of uniformity of type and conformity to rule which is so prevalent
everywhere, and is perhaps most obnoxious in England.
Sympathy with pain there will, of course, always be. It is one of the
first instincts of man. The animals which are individual, the higher
animals, that is to say, share it with us. But it must be remembered
that while sympathy with joy intensifies the sum of joy in the world,
sympathy with pain does not really diminish the amount of pain. It may
make man better able to endure evil, but the evil remains. Sympathy with
consumption does not cure consumption; that is what Science does. And
when Socialism has solved the problem of poverty, and Science solved the
problem of disease, the area of the sentimentalists will be lessened,
and the sympathy of man will be large, healthy, and spontaneous. Man
will have joy in the contemplation of the joyous life of others.
For it is through joy that the Individualism of the future will develop
itself. Christ made no attempt to reconstruct society, and consequently
the Individualism that he preached to man could be realised only through
pain or in solitude. The ideals that we owe to Christ are the ideals of
the man who abandons society entirely, or of the man who resists society
absolutely. But man is naturally social. Even the Thebaid became peopled
at last. And though the cenobite realises his personality, it is often
an impoverished personality that he so realises. Upon the other hand,
the terrible truth that pain is a mode through which man may realise
himself exercises a wonderful fascination over the world. Shallow
speakers and shallow thinkers in pulpits and on platforms often talk
about the world's worship of pleasure, and whine against it. But it is
rarely in the world's history that its ideal has been one of joy and
beauty. The worship of pain has far more often dominated the world.
MediŠvalism, with its saints and martyrs, its love of self-torture, its
wild passion for wounding itself, its gashing with knives, and its
whipping with rods--MediŠvalism is real Christianity, and the mediŠval
Christ is the real Christ. When the Renaissance dawned upon the world,
and brought with it the new ideals of the beauty of life and the joy of
living, men could not understand Christ. Even Art shows us that. The
painters of the Renaissance drew Christ as a little boy playing with
another boy in a palace or a garden, or lying back in his mother's arms,
smiling at her, or at a flower, or at a bright bird; or as a noble,
stately figure moving nobly through the world; or as a wonderful figure
rising in a sort of ecstasy from death to life. Even when they drew him
crucified they drew him as a beautiful God on whom evil men had
inflicted suffering. But he did not preoccupy them much. What delighted
them was to paint the men and women whom they admired, and to show the
loveliness of this lovely earth. They painted many religious
pictures--in fact, they painted far too many, and the monotony of type
and motive is wearisome, and was bad for art. It was the result of the
authority of the public in art-matters, and is to be deplored. But their
soul was not in the subject Raphael was a great artist when he painted
his portrait of the Pope. When he painted his Madonnas and infant
Christs, he is not a great artist at all. Christ had no message for the
Renaissance, which was wonderful because it brought an ideal at variance
with his, and to find the presentation of the real Christ we must go to
mediŠval art. There he is one maimed and marred; one who is not comely
to look on, because Beauty is a joy; one who is not in fair raiment,
because that may be a joy also: he is a beggar who has a marvellous
soul; he is a leper whose soul is divine; he needs neither property nor
health; he is a God realising his perfection through pain.
The evolution of man is slow. The injustice of men is great. It was
necessary that pain should be put forward as a mode of self-realisation.
Even now, in some places in the world, the message of Christ is
necessary. No one who lived in modern Russia could possibly realise his
perfection except by pain. A few Russian artists have realised
themselves in Art; in a fiction that is mediŠval in character, hecauae
its dominant note is the realisation of men through suffering. But for
those who are not artists, and to whom there is no mode of life but the
actual life of fact, pain is the only door to perfection. A Russian who
lives happily under the present system of government in Russia must
either believe that man has no soul, or that, if he has, it is not worth
developing. A Nihilist who rejects all authority, because he knows
authority to be evil, and welcomes all pain, because through that he
realises his personality, is a real Christian. To him the Christian
ideal is a true thing.
And yet, Christ did not revolt against authority. He accepted the
imperial authority of the Roman Empire and paid tribute. He endured the
ecclesiastical authority of the Jewish Church, and would not repel its
violence by any violence of his own. He had, as I said before, no scheme
for the reconstruction of society. But the modern world has schemes. It
proposes to do away with poverty and the suffering that it entails. It
desires to get rid of pain, and the suffering that pain entails. It
trusts to Socialism and to Science as its methods. What it aims at is an
Individualism expressing itself through joy. This Individualism will be
larger, fuller, lovelier than any Individualism has ever been. Pain is
not the ultimate mode of perfection. It is merely provisional and a
protest. It has reference to wrong, unhealthy, unjust surroundings. When
the wrong, and the disease, and the injustice are removed, it will have
no further place. It will have done its work. It was a great work, but
it is almost over. Its sphere lessens every day.
Nor will man miss it. For what man has sought for is, indeed, neither
pain nor pleasure, but simply Life. Man has sought to live intensely,
fully, perfectly. When he can do so without exercising restraint on
others, or suffering it ever, and his activities are all pleasurable to
him, he will be saner, healthier, more civilised, more himself. Pleasure
is Nature's test, her sign of approval. When man is happy, he is in
harmony with himself and his environment. The new Individualism, for
whose service Socialism, whether it wills it or not, is working, will be
perfect harmony. It will be what the Greeks sought for, but could not,
except in Thought, realise completely, because they had slaves, and fed
them; it will be what the Renaissance sought for, but could not realise
completely except in Art, because they had slaves, and starved them. It
will be complete, and through it each man will attain to his perfection.
The new Individualism is the new Hellenism.