H. M. (Henry Major) Tomlinson.

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penetrate the bark. But it was not the spring of this year.

How often, like another tortoise, has the mind come out of its winter to
sun itself in the new warmth of a long-gone Selborne April? Did Gilbert
White imagine he was bequeathing light to us? Of course not. He lived
quietly in the obscure place where he was born, and did not try to
improve or influence anybody. It seems he had no wish to be a great
leader, or a great thinker, or a great orator. The example of Chatham did
not fire him. He was friendly with his neighbours, but went about his
business. When he died there did not appear to be any reason whatever to
keep him in memory. He had harmed no man. He left us without having
improved gunpowder. Could a man have done less?

Think of the events which were stirring men while he was noting the
coming and going of swallows. While he lived, Clive began the conquest of
India, and Canada was taken from the French. White heard the news that
our American colonists had turned Bolshevik because of the traditional
skill of the administrators of other people's affairs at Whitehall. The
world appears to have been as full then of important uproar as it is
to-day. I suppose the younger Pitt, "the youngest man ever appointed
Prime Minister," had never heard of White. But Gilbert does not seem to
have heard of _him_; nor of Hargreaves' spinning jenny, nor of the
inventor of the steam engine. "But I can show you some specimens of my
new mice," he remarks on March 30, 1768. That was the year in which the
great Pitt resigned. His new mice!

Yet for all the stirring affairs and inventions of his exciting time,
with war making and breaking empires, and the foundations of this
country's wealth and power being nobly laid, it would not be easy to show
that we to-day are any the happier. Our own War was inherent in the
inventions of mechanical cotton-spinning and the steam-engine - the need
to compel foreign markets to buy the goods we made beyond our own needs.
We know now what were the seeds the active and clever fellows of
Gilbert's day were sowing for us. We were present at the harvesting. Why
did not those august people, absorbed in the momentous deeds which have
made history so sonorous, the powder shaking out of their wigs with the
awful gravity of their labours (while all the world wondered), just stop
doing such consequential things, and accept Gilbert's invitation to go
and listen to him about those new mice? The mice might have saved us, and
the opportunity was lost.

Looking back at those times, of all the thunderous events which then
loosened excited tongues, caused by high-minded men of action expertly
conjuring crisis after crisis while their docile followers scrambled out
of one sublime trouble into another, heated and exhausted, but still
gaping with obedience and respect, we can see that nothing remains but
the burial parties, whose work is yet uncompleted in France. What good
does persist out of those days is the light in which Gilbert's tortoise
sunned itself. It is a light which has not gone out. And it makes us
wonder, not how much of our work in these years will survive to win the
gratitude of those who will follow us, but just what it is they will be
grateful for. Where is it, and what happy man is doing it? And what are
we thinking of him? Do we even know his name?




XXIII. Ruskin


APRIL 19, 1919. Some good people have been celebrating Ruskin, whose
centenary it is. And to-day a little friend of mine left her school books
so that I might wonder what they were when I saw them on my table. One of
them was _The Crown of Wild Olive_. It put me in a reminiscent mood. I
looked at Ruskin's works on my shelves, and tried to recall how long it
was since they interested me. Nevertheless, I would not part with them.
In my youth Ruskin's works were only for the wealthy, and I remember that
my purchase of those volumes was an act of temerity, and even of
sacrifice. And who but an ingrate would find fault with Ruskin, or would
treat him lightly? With courage and eloquence he denounced dishonesty in
the days when it was not supposed that cheating could be wrong if it were
successful. He did that when minds were so dark that people blinked with
surprise at a light which showed as a social iniquity naked children
crawling with chains about them in the galleries of coal-mines. Was it
really wrong to make children do that? Or was Ruskin only an impossible
idealist? They were the happy years, radiant with the certain knowledge
of the British that the Holy Grail would be recognized immediately it was
seen, for over it would be proudly floating the confirmatory Union Jack.
We had not even begun to suspect that our morals, manners, and laws were
fairly poor compared with the standards of the Mohawks and Mohicans whom
our settlers had displaced in America a century before. And Ruskin told
that Victorian society it had an ugly mind, and did ugly things. When
Ruskin said so, with considerable emotion, Thackeray was so hurt that he
answered as would any clever editor to-day about a contribution which
convinced him that it would make readers angry; he told Ruskin it would
never do. Thackeray's readers, of course, were assured they were the best
people, and that worldly cynic did well to reject Ruskin, and preserve
the _Cornhill Magazine_.

"Ruskin," it says in the introduction to _The Crown of Wild Olive_ which
my little friend reads at school, "is certainly one of the greatest
masters of English prose." That has often been declared. But is he? Or
is our tribute to Ruskin only a show of gratitude to one who revealed to
us the unpleasant character of our national habits when contrasted with a
standard for gentlemen? It ought not to have required much eloquence to
convince us that Widnes is unlovely; the smell of it should have been
enough. It is curious that we needed festoons of chromatic sentences to
warn us that cruelty to children, even when profit can be made of it, is
not right. But I fear some people really enjoy remorseful sobbing. It is
half the fun of doing wrong. Yet I would ask in humility - for it is a
fearful thing to doubt Ruskin, the literary divinity of so many
right-thinking people - whether English children who are learning the
right way to use their language, and the noblest ideas to express, should
run the risk of having Ruskin's example set before them by softhearted
teachers? I think that a parent who knew a child of his, on a certain
day, was to take the example of Ruskin as a prose stylist on the subject
of war, would do well, on moral and ├Žsthetic grounds, to keep his child
away from school on that day to practise a little roller-skating. For
humility and gratitude should not blind us to the fact that few writers
in English of Ruskin's reputation have ever considered such a rosy cloud
of rhetoric as is his lecture on war, in which a reasonable shape no
sooner looms than it is lost again, to be worth preserving. The subject
of war is of importance, inflammable humanity being what it is, and the
results of war being what we know; and the quality of the critical
attention we give to so great a matter is unfortunately clear when we
regard the list of distinguished critics of letters who have accepted,
apparently without difficulty, as great prose, Ruskin's heedless rush of
words upon it. Perhaps his language appears noble because the rhythmic
pour of its sentences lulls reason into a comfortable and benignant
sleepiness.

I remember the solemn voice of a lecturer on English literature, years
ago, moving me to buy _The Crown of Wild Olive_. Such obvious ignorance
as I knew mine to be could not be tolerated. Whatever I went without, it
could not be that book. I put it in my hold-all when, as was my duty, I
went for my training with the artillery volunteers. I read in camp the
essay on war, when bombardiers no longer claimed my attention, and the
knightly words of sergeant instructors were taking a needed rest. I
pondered over that essay, and concluded that though plainly I was very
young and very wrong to feel puzzled and even derisive over English
prose which fascinated a learned lecturer into solemnity, yet I would
sooner learn to make imitation flowers of wool than read that essay to a
critical audience, especially if I had written it myself.

Ruskin, in fact, with no more experience of war than a bishop's wife, did
not know what he was talking about. Throughout the essay, too, he is in
two minds. One is that of a gentleman who knows that war is the same
phenomenon, artistically, ethically, and socially, as a public-house riot
with broken bottles caused by a dispute over one of those fundamental
principles which are often challenged in such a place. Those riots are
natural enough. They are caused by the nature of man. They continue to
happen, for it has taken the Church longer to improve our manners than it
has taken stock-raisers to improve the milking qualities of kine. And
Ruskin's other mind is still in the comical Tennysonian stage about war,
dwelling with awe on swords and shields, glory, honour, patriotism,
courage, spurs, pennants, and tearful but resolute ladies who wave their
handkerchiefs in the intervals of sobbing over their "loved ones."

He calls war "noble play." He scorns cricket. As for his "style" and his
"thought": "I use," says Ruskin, "in such a question, the test which I
have adopted, of the connexion of war with other arts, and I reflect how,
as a sculptor, I should feel if I were asked to design a monument for
Westminster Abbey, with a carving of a bat at one end and a ball at the
other. It may be there remains in me only a savage Gothic prejudice; but
I had rather carve it with a shield at one end and a sword at the
other."

I cannot tell whether Ruskin reflected so because of a savage Gothic
prejudice, but I am certain he wrote like that moved by what we feel - the
feeling goes deeper into time even than the Goths - about the victim for
sacrifice. We must justify that sacrifice, and so we give it a ceremonial
ritual and dignity. Otherwise, I think, Ruskin would not have suggested
the shield and sword as the symbolic decorations. He felt instinctively
and because of a long-accepted tradition that those antique symbols were
the only way to hide the ugly look of the truth. For certainly he could
have used a ball at one end - a cannon-ball - and a mortar at the other.
Just as we might use an aerial torpedo at one end, and the image of a
mutilated child at the other; or a gas cylinder at one end, and a
gas-mask at the other. But the artist is not going to be deprived of his
romance through a touch of the actual, any more than the lady with the
handkerchief can be expected to forego her anguished sob over her hero as
he goes forth to battle.

We saw that in our Great War. The ancient appeal of the patriots rushed
us away from reason with "last stands," and the shot-riddled banners
wavering in the engulfing waves of barbarians, till an irresistible
cavalry charge scattered the hordes. All this replaced the plumes, the
shining armour, and the chivalrous knights. Ruskin, however, was a subtle
improvement even on the last stand with the shot-riddled banner. He
anticipated those who have been most popular because they made our War
entrancing and endurable. He went to the heart of the matter. He knew
that the audience which would the more readily agree with him when he
made an emotional case for the ennobling nature of war would be mainly of
reclused women. He addressed them. So did, of late, some of our most
successful writers on war. They, like Ruskin, made their appeal to that
type of mind which obtains a real satisfaction, a sensuous pleasure, from
contemplating the unseen sufferings of the young and vicarious victim
sobbing, and feeling noble and enduring.




XXIV. The Reward of Virtue


MAY 9, 1919. The Treaty of Peace is published. Compared with what the
innocent in 1915 called the "objects of the War," this treaty is as the
aims of Captain Morgan's ruffians to those of the Twelve Apostles. The
truth is, some time ago the Versailles drama fell to the level of an
overworked newspaper story which shrewd editors saw was past its day.
Those headlines, Humiliate the Hun, Hang the Kaiser, and Make Germany
Pay, had become no more interesting than a copy of last week's _Morning
Mischief_ in a horse-pond. The subject was old and wet. Because five
months ago we thoughtfully elected men of the counting-house to the work
of governing the State, of late we have been too indignant over the cost
and difficulty of living to spare a thought for the beauty of Peace; that
is why we are now examining the clauses of the famous Treaty with about
as much care for what they may mean to us as if they concerned the
movements of the Asteroids. A year ago the German attacks seemed near to
making guns the deciding voice in the affairs of unhappy humanity. On the
chill and overcast spring morning when the Treaty was published, it was
significant that those very few men to whom we could go for courage a
year ago were the only people dismayed by the terms of the Peace Treaty.
And the timid, who once went to those stout hearts for assurance - to
have, as the soldiers used to say, their cold feet massaged - were the
bright and cheerful souls. It was ominous. Yet those careless and happy
hearts are not so trying to me as the amiable but otherwise sensible men
who were sure our statesmen would not betray the dead, and who are
incredulous over the Treaty now they see what it clearly intends to
convey. They cannot believe that the War, which they thought began as a
war of liberation, a struggle of Europe to free itself from the
intolerable bonds of its past, continues in the Peace Treaty as a force
malignantly deflected to the support of the very evils out of which
August, 1914, arose. Then did they imagine the well-meaning leopard would
oblige by changing his spots if spoken to kindly while he was eating the
baby?




XXV. Great Statesmen


MAY, 31, 1919. What is wrong with our statesmen? I think the answer is
simple. Success in a political career can be understood by all of us. It
attracts the attention which applauds the owner of a Derby winner, or the
Bishop who began as a poor, industrious, but tactful child. John the
Baptist failed to attract the publicity he desired; and Christ drew it as
a criminal, for the religious and political leaders of his day recognized
what his teaching would lead to as easily as would any magistrate to-day
who had before him a carpenter accused of persuading soldiers that
killing is murder. Politicians move on the level of the common
intelligence, and compete there with each other in charging the ignorance
of the commonalty with emotion. A politician need be no more than
something between a curate and a card-sharper. If he knows anything of
the arts, of history, of economics, or of science, he had better forget
it, or else use it as a forestaller would a knowledge of the time when
prices should be raised. A confident man with a blood-shot voice and a
gift for repartee is sure to make a success of politics, especially if he
is not too particular. This did not matter once, perhaps, when politics
merely afforded excitement for taverns and a career for the avid and
meddlesome. The country was prosperous, and so it was difficult to do it
serious harm.

But to-day, just when we must have the leading of moral, judicious, and
well-informed minds, or perish, we have only our statesmen. It never
occurs to the crowd that its business would be more successfully
transacted by a chance group, say of headmasters of elementary schools,
than by the statesmen who, at Versailles recently, dared not face the
shocking realities because these could not be squared with a Treaty which
had to frame the figments of the hustings. The trouble with our statesmen
is that they have been concerned hitherto merely to attend to the
machinery, running freely and with little friction, of industrial
society. They did not create that machinery. They but took it over. They
knew nothing of the principles which motived it. Our statesmen were only
practical politicians and business men. They held in contempt the fine
abstract theories of physics, mechanics, and dynamics. It was safe for
them to do so. The machinery went on running, apparently of its own
volition. All went well until the War. Now the propeller-shaft of
industrial society is fractured, our ship is wallowing in the trough of
the seas, and the men who should put things right for us do not even know
that it is the main shaft on which they should concentrate. They are
irritating the passengers by changing the cabins, confiscating luggage,
insisting on higher fares, cutting down the rations, and instructing the
sailors in the goose-step; but the ship has no way on her, and the sound
of breakers grows louder from a sombre, precipitous, and unknown coast.




XXVI. Joy


JULY 19, 1919. It has come. This is the great day of the English. Many
have doubted whether we should ever have it, for faith had been weak and
the mind weary while the enemy was still fixed in his fanatic resolution.
But here it is, half my window-blind already bright with its first light.
To-day we celebrate our return to peace, to an earth made the fairer for
children, fit for the habitation of free men, safe for quiet folk ... the
day that once had seemed as remote as truth, as inaccessible as good
fortune; a day, so we used to think in France, more distant even than
those incredible years of the past that were undervalued by us, when we
were happy in our ignorance of the glory men could distil from misery and
filth; when we had not guessed what wealth could be got from the needs of
a public anxious for its life; nor that sleeping children could be bombed
in a noble cause. Yes, it had seemed to us even farther off than our
memories of the happy past. Yet here it is, its coffee-cups tinkling
below, and I welcome its early shafts of gold like the fortune they are.
The fortune seems innocent and unaware of its nature. It does not know
what it means to us. I had often been with soldier friends across the
water when with mock rapture they had planned an itinerary for this day.
They spoke of it where their surroundings made the thought of secure
leisure or unremarkable toil only a painful reminder of what was
beatific, but might never be. This day had not come to them. But it had
come to me.

I was luckier than they. Yet when luck comes to us, does it ever look
quite as we had imagined it when it was not ours? I lift the curtain on
this luck, and look out. From an upper window of the house opposite the
national emblem of the American Republic is hanging like an apron. Next
door to it a man is decorating his windowsills with fairy lamps, and from
his demeanour he might be devising a taboo against evil. I see no other
sign that the new and better place of our planet was being acknowledged.
The street is as the milkman and the postman have always known it on a
quiet morning.

A cock crowed. It was then I knew that, though the morning was like all
good sunrises, which are the same for the unjust and the righteous, I,
somehow, was different. Chanticleer was quite near, but his confident and
defiant voice, I recognized with a start, was a call from some other
morning. It was the remembered voice of life at sunrise, as old as the
jungle, alert, glad, and brave. Then why did it not sound as if it were
meant for me? Why did it not accord, as once it did, with the coming of a
new day, when the renewed and waiting earth was veritably waiting for us?
Yet the morning seemed the same, its sounds the familiar confidences, its
light the virgin innocence of a right beginning. Was this new light ours?
While looking at it I thought that perhaps there is another light, an
aura of something early and rare, which, once it is doused, cannot be
re-kindled, even by the sun which rises to shine on a great victory.

I began to feel that this early confusion of thought, over even so plain
a cause for joy as morning, might be a private hint that it would be as
hard to tell the truth about peace as it used to be about battle. And how
difficult it is to tell the truth about war, and even how improper, some
of us know. For what a base traitor even truth may be to good patriots,
when she insists that her mirror cannot help reflecting what is there!
Why should the best instincts of loyal folk be thus embarrassed? If they
do not wish to know what is there, when that is what it is like, is it
right, is it gentlemanly, to show them?

How easy it would be to write of peace in the Capital, where the old
highways have been decorated for many kings, marshals, and admirals, and
the flags have been hung for victories since England first bore arms. So
why should one be dubious of a few unimportant suburban byways, where the
truth is plain, and is not charged with many emotions through the
presence of an emperor and his statesmen and soldiers, all of them great,
all of them ready for our superlatives to add to their splendour?

But perhaps the more you know of a place, the greater is your perplexity.
That old vicarage wall, lower down my street, is merely attractive in the
sun of Peace Day. A stranger, if he noticed it, might at the most admire
its warm tones, and the tufts of hawkweed and snapdragon which are
scattered on its ledges. But from this same window, on a winter morning,
when affairs were urgent in France, I have seen youth assembled by that
wall. Youth was silent. There was only a sergeant's voice in all the
street. I think I hear now the diminishing trampling of quick feet
marching away; and see a boy's face as he turned near the top of the rise
to wave his hand. But look now, and say where are the shades on a bright
morning!

I went out, a dutiful citizen, to celebrate. No joy can be truthfully
reported till just this side of the High Street, where there were three
girls with linked arms dancing in lax and cheerful oblivion, one of them
quite drunk. Near them stood a cart with a man, a woman, and a monkey in
it. The superior animals were clothed in red, white, and blue, and the
monkey was wearing a Union Jack for a ruff. The ape was humping himself
on the tail-board, and from his expression he might have been wondering
how long all this would last. His gay companions were rosily chanting
that if they caught some one bending it would be of no advantage to him.
The main thoroughfare was sanded, and was waiting for the official
procession. Quiet citizens were strolling about with their children, and
what they were thinking is as great a mystery as what the populace at
Memphis thought when the completion of the Great Pyramid was celebrated
by the order of Cheops. In a room of an upper storey near the town hall a
choir was singing the Hallelujah Chorus, and below, on the pavement, a
hospital nurse, in a red wig, stood gravely listening, swaying to and
fro, holding her skirts high, so that we saw beneath the broad slacks of
an able seaman.

The chorus ceased, and in gratitude for the music the nurse embraced a
Highland soldier, who was standing near and who was secretly amused, I
believe, by the nurse's trousers. Then we heard the bands of the military
procession in the distance, and it was in that moment I saw a young
officer I knew, who was out as early as Neuve Chapelle, gazing, like
everybody else, in the direction of the martial sounds. Before I could
reach him through the press he had turned, and was walking hurriedly down
a side street, as though in flight. I could not follow him. I wanted to
see the soldiers. My reason was no better than some sentimental emotion;
for I saw the original Contemptibles march off for Mons; and was with a
battalion of the 9th Division, the first of Kitchener's men to go into
the line; and saw the Derby men come out and begin; and at the last
discovered that the conscripts were as good as the rest. Some of the
survivors were marching towards me.

But I did not recognize them. Many were elderly men who were displaying
proud tunics of volunteer regiments as old as Hyde Park Parades by Queen
Victoria. One looked then for the sections from the local lodges of the
Druids, Oddfellows, Buffaloes, and the He-Goats. There was the band of
the local cadets, spontaneous in its enthusiasm, its zest for martial
music no different, of course. Just behind these lads a strange figure
walked in the procession, a bent and misshapen old man, whose face had no
expression but a fixed and hypnotic stare. He was keeping time to the
measure of the boys' music by snapping the spring of a mouse-trap which


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Online LibraryH. M. (Henry Major) TomlinsonWaiting for daylight → online text (page 7 of 10)