Part 5 out of 6
"That is right," said Father Payne, "I think the test is simply this--that
whenever you feel yourself paralysed, and your natural growth arrested by
your obedience to any one claim--instinct, reason, conscience, whatever it
is--the ultimate power cuts the knot, and tells you unfailingly where your
real life lies. That is the real failure, when owing to some habit, some
dread, some shrinking, you do not follow your real life. That, it seems to
me, is where the old unflinching doctrines of sin and repentance have done
harm. The old self-mortifying saints, who thought so badly of human nature,
and who tore themselves to pieces, resisting wholesome impulses--celibate
saints who ought to have been married, morbidly introspective saints who
needed hard secular work, those were the people who did not dare to trust
the sense of proportion, and were suspicious of the call of life. Look at
St. Augustine in the wonderful passage about light, 'sliding by me in
unnumbered guises'--he can only end by praying to be delivered from the
temptation to enjoy the sight of dawn and sunset, as setting his affections
too much upon the things of earth. I mistrust the fear of life--I mistrust
all fear--at least I think it will take care of itself, and must not be
cultivated. I think the call of God is the call of joy--and I believe that
the superstitious dread of joy is one of the most potent agencies of the
"But there are many joys which one has to mistrust," said Lestrange; "mere
sensual delights, for instance."
"Yes," said Father Payne, "but most healthy and normal people, after a very
little meddling with such delights, learn certainly enough that they only
obscure the real, wholesome, temperate joys. You have to compromise wisely
with your instincts, I think. You mustn't spend too much time in frontal
attacks upon them. You have a quick temper, let us say. Well, it is better
to lose it occasionally and apologise, than to hold your tongue about
matters in which you are interested for fear of losing it. You are
avaricious--well, hoard your money, and then yield on occasions to a
generous impulse. That's a better way to defeat evil, than by dribbling
money away in giving little presents which no one wants. I don't believe in
petty warfare against faults. You know the proverb that if you knock too
long at a closed door, the Devil opens it to you? Just give your sins a
knock-down blow every now and then. I believe in the fire of life more than
I believe in the cold water you use to quench it. Everything can be
forgiven to passion; nothing can be forgiven to chilly calculation. The
beautiful impulse is the thing that one must not disobey; and when I see
people do big, wrong-headed, unguarded, unwise things, get into rows,
sacrifice a reputation or a career without counting the cost, I am inclined
to feel that they have probably done better for themselves than if they had
been prudent and cautious. I don't say that they are always right, because
people yield sometimes to a mere whim, and sometimes to a childishly
overwhelming desire; but if there is a real touch of unselfishness about a
sacrifice--that's the test, that some one else's joy should be
involved--then I feel that it isn't my business to approve or disapprove. I
feel in the presence of a force--an 'ought' as Lestrange says, which makes
me shy of intervening. It's the wind of the Spirit--it blows where it
will--and I know this, that I'm thankful beyond everything when I feel it
in my own sails."
"Tell me when you feel it next, Father," said Vincent.
"I feel it now," said Father Payne, "now and here." And there was something
in his face which made us disinclined to ask him any further questions.
Someone had been telling a curious story about a contested peerage. It was
a sensational affair, involving the alteration of registers, the burning
down of a vestry, and the flight of a clergyman.
"I like that story," said Father Payne, "and I like heraldry and rank and
all that. It's decidedly picturesque. I enjoy the zigzagging of a title
through generations. But the worst of it is that the most picturesque of
all distinctions, like being the twentieth baron, let us say, in direct
descent, is really of the nature of a stigma; a man whose twentieth
ancestor was a baron has no excuse for not being a duke."
"But what I don't like," said Rose, "is the awful sense of sanctity which
some people have about it. I read a book the other day where the hero
sacrificed everything in turn, a career, a fortune, an engagement to a
charming girl, a reputation, and last of all an undoubted claim to an
ancient barony. I don't remember exactly why he did all these things--it
was noble, undoubtedly it was noble! But there was something which made me
vaguely uncomfortable about the order in which he spun his various
"It's only a sense of beauty slightly awry," said Father Payne; "names are
curiously sacred things--they often seem to be part of the innermost
essence of a man. I confess I would rather change most things than change
my name. I would rather shave my head, for instance."
"But my hero would have had to change his name if he had claimed the
peerage," said Rose.
"Yes, but you see the title was his _right_ name," said Father Payne;
"he was only masquerading as a commoner, you must remember. Why I should
value an ancient peerage is because I think it might improve my manners."
"Impossible!" said Vincent.
"Thank you," said Father Payne. "Yes, my manners are very good for a
commoner--but I should like to be a little more in the grand style. I
should like to be able to look long at a person, who said something of
which I disapproved, and then change the subject. That would be fine! But I
daren't do that now. Now I have to argue. Do you remember in _Daniel
Deronda_, Grandcourt's habit of looking stonily at smiling persons. I
have often envied that! Whereas my chief function in life is looking
smilingly at stony persons, and that's very bourgeois."
"We must show more animation," said Barthrop to his neighbour.
"I mean it!" said Father Payne, "but come, I won't be personal! Seriously,
you know, the one thing I have admired in the very few great people I have
ever met is the absence of embarrassment. They don't need to explain who
they are, they haven't got to preface their statements of opinion by
fragments of autobiography, to show their right to speak. It is convenient
to feel that if people don't know who you are, they will feel slightly
foolish afterwards when they discover, like the man who shook hands warmly
with Queen Victoria, and said, "I know the face quite well, but I can't put
a name to it." It did not show any pride of birth in the Queen to be
extremely amused by the incident. But even more than that I admire the case
which people of that sort get by having had, from childhood onwards, to
meet all sorts of persons, and to behave themselves, and to see that people
do not feel shy or uncomfortable. I sometimes go about the village simply
teeming with benevolence, and I pass some one, and can't think of anything
to say. If I had the great manner, I should say, "Why, Tommy, is that you?"
or some such human signal, which would not mean anything in particular, but
would after all express exactly what is in my mind. But I can't just do
that. I rack my brains for an _appropriate_ remark, because I am
bourgeois, and have not the point of honour, as the French say. And by the
time I have elaborated it, Tommy is gone, and Jack is passing, and I begin
elaborating again; whereas I should simply add, if I were aristocratic,
'And that's you, Jack, isn't it?' That's the way to talk."
We all laughed; and Barthrop said, "Well, I must say, Father, that I have
often envied you your power of saying something to everyone."
"I have spent more trouble on it than it is worth," said Father Payne; "and
that's my point, that if I were only a great man, I should have learnt it
all in childhood, and should not have to waste time over it at all. That's
the best of rank; it's a device for saving trouble; it saves introduction
and explanation and autobiography and elaborate civility, and makes people
willing to be pleased by the smallest sign of affability. You may depend
upon it that it was a very true instinct which made the Scotch minister
pray that all might have honourable ancestors. It isn't a sacred thing,
rank, and it isn't a magnificent thing--but it's a pleasant human sort of
thing in the right hands. What is more, in these democratic days, it tends
to make people of rank additionally anxious not to parade the fact--and I
doubt if there is anything on the whole happier than having advantages
which you don't want to parade--it gives a tranquil sort of contentment,
and it removes all futile ambitions. To be, by descent, what a desperately
industrious lawyer or a successful general feels himself amply rewarded for
his toil by becoming, isn't nothing. I'm always rather suspicious of the
people who try to pretend that it is nothing at all. The rank is but the
guinea stamp, of course. But after all the stamp is what makes it a guinea
instead of an unnegotiable disc of metal!"
Father Payne used often to say that he was more interested in biography
than in any other form of art, and believed that there was a greater future
before it than before any other sort of literature. "Just think," I
remember his saying, "human portraiture--the most interesting thing in the
world by far--what the novel tries to do and can't do!"
"What exactly do you mean by 'can't do'?" I said.
"Why, my boy," said Father Payne, "because we are all so horrified at the
idea of telling the truth or looking the truth in the face. The novel
accommodates human nature, patches it up, varnishes it, puts it in a good
light: it may be artistic and romantic and poetical--but it hasn't got the
beauty of truth. Life is much more interesting than any imaginative
fricassee of it! These realistic fellows--they are moving towards
biography, but they haven't got much beyond the backgrounds yet."
"But why shouldn't it be done?" I said. "There's Boswell's Johnson--why
does that stand almost alone?"
"Why, think of all the difficulties, my boy," said Father Payne. "There's
nothing like Boswell's Johnson, of course--but what a subject! There's
nothing that so proves Boswells genius--we mustn't forget that--as the
other wretched stuff written about Johnson. There's a passage in Boswell,
when he didn't see Johnson for a long time, and stuck in a few stories
collected from other friends. They are awfully flat and flabby--they have
all been rolled about in some one's mind, till they are as smooth as
pebbles--some bits of the crudest rudeness, not worked up to--some
knock-down schoolboy retorts which most civilised men would have had the
decency to repress--and then we get back to the real Boswell again, and how
fresh and lively it is!"
"But what are the difficulties you spoke of?" I said.
"Why, in the first place," said Father Payne, "a biography ought to be
written _during_ a man's life and not _after_ it--and very few
people will take the trouble to write things down day after day about
anyone else, as Boswell did. If it waits till after a man's death, a hush
falls on the scene--everyone is pious and sentimental. Of course, Boswell's
life is inartistic enough--it wanders along, here a letter, there a lot of
criticism, here a talk, there a reminiscence. It isn't arranged--it has no
scheme: but how full of _zest_ it is! And then you have to be pretty
shameless in pursuing your hero, and elbowing other people away, and
drawing him out; and you have to be prepared to be kicked and trampled
upon, when the hero is cross: and then you have to be a considerable snob,
and say what you really value and admire, however vulgar it is. And then
you must expect to be called hard names when the book appears. I was
reading a review the other day of what seemed to me to be a harmless
biography enough--a little frank and enthusiastic affair, I gathered: and
the reviewer wrote in the style of Pecksniff, caddish and priggish at the
same time: he called the man to task for botanising on his friend's
grave--that unfortunate verse of Wordsworth's, you know--and he left the
impression that the writer had done something indelicate and impious, and
all with a consciousness of how high-minded he himself was.
"You ought to write a biography as though you were telling your tale in a
friendly and gentle ear--you ought not to lose your sense of humour, or be
afraid of showing your subject in a trivial or ridiculous light. Look at
Boswell again--I don't suppose a more deadly case could be made out against
any man, with perfect truth, than could be made out against Johnson. You
could show him as brutal, rough, greedy, superstitious, prejudiced, unjust,
and back it all up by indisputable evidence--but it's the balance, the net
result, that matters! We have all of us faults; we know them, our friends
know them--why the devil should not everyone know them? But then an
interesting man dies, and everyone becomes loyal and sentimental. Not a
word must be said which could pain or wound anyone. The friends and
relations, it would seem, are not pained by the dead man's faults, they are
only pained that other people should know them. The biography becomes a
mixture of disinfectants and perfumes, as if it were all meant to hide some
putrid thing. It's like what Jowett said about a testimonial, 'There's a
strong smell here of something left out!' We have hardly ever had anything
but romantic biographies hitherto, and they all smell of something left
out. There's a tribe somewhere in Africa who will commit murder if anyone
tries to sketch them. They think it brings bad luck to be sketched, a sort
of 'overlooking' as they say. Well that seems to be the sort of
superstition that many people have about biographies, as if the departed
spirit would be vexed by anything which isn't a compliment. I suppose it is
partly this--that many people are ill-bred, glum, and suspicious, and can't
bear the idea of their faults being recorded. They hate all frankness: and
so when anything frank gets written, they talk about violating sacred
confidences, and about shameless exposures. It is really that we are all
horribly uncivilised, and can't bear to give ourselves away, or to be given
away. Of course we don't want biographies of merely selfish, stupid,
brutal, ill-bred men--but everyone ought to be thankful when a life can be
told frankly, and when there's enough that is good and beautiful to make it
"But, as I said, the thing can't be done, unless it is written to a great
extent in a man's lifetime. Conversation is a very difficult thing to
remember--it can't be remembered afterwards--it needs notes at the time:
and few people's talk is worth recording; and even if it is, people are a
little ashamed of doing it--there seems something treacherous about it: but
it ought to be done, for all that! You don't want so very much of it--I
don't suppose that Boswell has got down a millionth part of all Johnson
said--you just want specimens--enough to give the feeling of it and the
quality of it. One doesn't want immensely long biographies--just enough to
make you feel that you have seen a man and sat with him and heard him
talk--and the kind of way in which he dealt with things and people. I'll
tell you a man who would have made a magnificent biography--Lord Melbourne.
He had a great charm, and a certain whimsical and fantastic humour, which
made him do funny little undignified things, like a child. But every single
dictum of Melbourne's has got something original and graceful about
it--always full of good sense, never pompous, always with a delicious
lightness of touch. The only person who took the trouble to put down
Melbourne's sayings, just as they came out, was Queen Victoria--but then
she was in love with him without knowing it: and in the end he got stuck
into the heaviest and most ponderous of biographies, and is lost to the
world. Stale politics--there's nothing to beat them for dulness
"But isn't it an almost impossible thing," I said, "to expect a man who is
a first-rate writer, with ambitions in authorship, to devote himself to
putting down things about some interesting person with the chance of their
never being published? Very few people would have sufficient
self-abnegation for that."
"That's true enough," said Father Payne, "and of course it is a risk--a man
must run the risk of sacrificing a good deal of his time and energy to
recording unimportant details, perhaps quite uselessly, but with this
possibility ahead of him, that he may produce an immortal book--and I grant
you that the infernal vanity and self-glorification of authors is a real
difficulty in the way."
He was silent for a minute or two, and then he said: "Now, I'll tell you
another difficulty, that at present people only want biographies of men of
affairs, of big performers, men who have done things--I don't want that. I
want biographies of people who wielded a charm of personality, even if they
didn't _do_ things--people, I mean, who deserve to live and to be
loved.--Those are the really puzzling figures a generation later, the men
who lived in an atmosphere of admiring and delighted friendship, radiating
a sort of enchanting influence, having the most extravagant things said and
believed about them by their friends, and yet never doing anything in
particular. People, I mean, like Arthur Hallam, whose letters and remains
are fearfully pompous and tiresome--and who yet had _In Memoriam_
written about him, and who was described by Gladstone as the most perfect
human being, physically, intellectually and morally, he had ever seen. Then
there is Browning's Domett--the prototype of Waring--and Keats's friend
James Rice, and Stevenson's friend Ferrier--that's a matchless little
biographical fragment, Stevenson's letter about Ferrier--those are the sort
of figures I mean, the men who charmed and delighted everyone, were brave
and humorous, gave a pretty turn to everything they said--those are the
roses by the wayside! They had ill-health some of them, they hadn't the
requisite toughness for work, they even took to drink, or went to the bad.
But they are the people of quality and tone, about whom one wants to know
much more than about sun-burnt and positive Generals--the strong silent
sort--or overworked politicians bent on conciliating the riff-raff. I don't
want to know about men simply because they did honest work, and still less
about men who never dared to say what they thought and felt. You can't make
a striking picture out of a sense of responsibility! I'm not underrating
good work--it's fine in every way, but it can't always be written about.
There are exceptions, of course. Nelson and Wellington would have been
splendid subjects, if anyone had really Boswellised them. But Nelson had a
theatrical touch about him, and became almost too romantic a hero; while
the Duke had a fund of admirable humour and almost grotesque directness of
expression,--and he has never been half done justice to, though you can see
from Lord Mahon's little book of _Table Talk_ and Benjamin Haydon's
_Diary_, and the letters to Miss J., what a rich affair it all might
have been, if only there had been a perfectly bold, candid, and truthful
"But the charming people of whom you spoke," I said--"isn't the whole thing
often too evanescent to be recorded?"
"Not a bit of it!" said Father Payne, "and these are the people we want to
hear about, because they represent the fine flower of civilisation. If a
man has a delightful friend like that, always animated, fresh, humorous,
petulant, original, he couldn't do better than observe him, keep scraps of
his talk, record scenes where he took a leading part, get the impression
down. It may come to nothing, of course, but it may also come to something
worth more than a thousand twaddling novels. The immense _use_ of
it--if one must think about the use--is that such a life might really show
commonplace and ordinary people how to handle the simplest materials of
life with zest and delicacy. Novels don't really do that--they only make
people want to escape from middle-class conditions, what everyone is the
better for seeing is not how life might conceivably be handled, but how it
actually has been handled, freshly and distinctly, by someone in a
commonplace milieu. Life isn't a bit romantic, but it is devilish
interesting. It doesn't go as you want it to go. Sometimes it lags,
sometimes it dances; and horrible things happen, often most unexpectedly.
In the novel, everything has to be rounded off and led up to, and you never
get a notion of the inconsequence of life. The interest of life is not what
happens, but how it affects people, how they meet it, how they fly from it:
the relief of a biography is that you haven't got to invent your setting
and your character--all that is done for you: you have just got to select
the characteristic things, and not to blur the things that you would have
wished otherwise. For God's sake, let us get at the truth in books, and not
use them as screens to keep the fire off, or as things to distract one from
the depressing facts in one's bank-book. I welcome all this output of
novels, because it at least shows that people are interested in life, and
trying to shape it. But I don't want romance, and I don't want ugly and
sensational realism either. That is only romance in another shape. I want
real men and women--not from an autobiographical point of view, because
that is generally romantic too--but from the point of view of the friends
to whom they showed themselves frankly and naturally, and without that
infernal reticence which is not either reverence or chivalry, but simply an
inability to face the truth,--which is the direct influence of the spirit
of evil. If one of my young men turns out a good biography of an
interesting person, however ineffective he was, I shall not have lived in
vain. For, mind this--very few people's performances are worth remembering,
while very many people's personalities are."
Rose told a story one night which amused Father Payne immensely. He had
been up in town, and had sate next a Minister's wife, who had been very
confidential. She had said to Rose that her husband had just been elected
into a small dining-club well known in London, where the numbers were very
limited, the society very choice, and where a single negative vote excluded
a candidate. "I don't think," said the good lady, "that my husband has ever
been so pleased at anything that has befallen him, not even when he was
first given office--such a distinguished club--and so exclusive!" Father
Payne laughed loud and shrill. "That's human nature at its nakedest!" he
said. "It's like Miss Tox, in _Dombey and Son_, you know, who, when
Dombey asked her if the school she recommended was select, said, 'It's
exclusion itself!' What people love is the power of being able to
_exclude_--not necessarily disagreeable people, or tiresome people,
but simply people who would like to be inside--
"'Loving not, hating not, just choosing so.'
"Those are the two great forces of society, you know--the exclusive force,
and the inclusive force: the force that says, 'We few, we happy few, we
band of brothers'; and the force which says, 'The more the merrier.' The
exclusive force is represented by caste and class, by gentility and
donnishness, by sectarianism and nationalism, and even by patriotism--and
the inclusive force is represented by Walt Whitmanism and Christianity."
"But what about St. Paul's words," said Lestrange, "'Honour all men: love
"That's an attempt to recognise both," said Father Payne, smiling. "Of
course you can't love everyone equally--that's the error of
democracy--democracy is really one of the exclusive forces, because it
excludes the heroes--it is '_mundus contra Athanasium_,'--it is best
illustrated by what the American democrat said to Charles Kingsley, 'My
principle is "whenever you see a head above the crowd, hit it."' Democracy
is, at its worst, the jealousy of the average man for the superior man."
"But which is the best principle?" said Vincent.
"Both are necessary," said Father Payne. "One must aim at inclusiveness, of
course: and we must be quite certain that we exclude on the ground of
qualities, and not on the ground of superficial differences. The best
influences in the world arise not from individuals but from groups--and
there is no sort of reason why groups should spoil their intensive
qualities by trying to admit outsiders. The strength of a group lies in the
fact that one gets the sense of fellowship and common purpose, of sympathy
and encouragement. A man who has to fight a battle single-handed is always
tempted to wonder whether, after all, it is worth all the trouble and
misunderstanding. But, on the other hand, you are at liberty to mistrust
the men who say that they don't want to know people. Do you remember how
Charles Lamb once said, 'I do hate the Trotters!' 'But I thought you didn't
know them?' said someone. 'That's just it,' said Charles Lamb, 'I never can
hate anyone that I know!' The best bred man is the man who finds it easy to
get on with everybody on equal terms: but it's part of the snobbishness of
human nature that exclusiveness is rather admired than otherwise. There's a
delightfully exclusive woman in one of Henry James' novels, who refuses to
be introduced to a family. She entirely declines, and the man who is
anxious to effect the introduction says, 'I can't think why you object to
them.' 'They are hopelessly vulgar,' says the incisive lady, 'and in this
short life, that is enough!' But St. Paul's remark is really very good,
because it means 'Treat everyone with courtesy--but reserve your fine
affections for the inner circle, whose worth you really know!'--it's a
better theory than that of the man who said, 'It is enough for me to be
with those whom I love!' That's rather inhuman."
"Do you remember," said Barthrop, "the lines in Tennyson's Guinevere, which
sum up the knightly attributes?
"'High thought, and amiable words,
And courtliness, and the desire of fame,
And love of truth, and all that makes a man.'"
"That's very interesting and curious!" said Father Payne. "Dear me, I had
forgotten that--did Tennyson say that?--Come--let's have it again!"
Barthrop repeated the lines again.
"Now, that's the gentlemanly ideal of the sixties," said Father Payne,
"and, good heavens, how offensive it sounds! The most curious part of it
really is 'the desire of fame'--of course, a hundred years ago, no one made
any secret of that! You remember Nelson's frank confession, made not once,
but many times, that he pursued glory, 'Defeat--or Westminster
Abbey'--didn't he say that?"
"But surely people pursue fame as much as ever?" said Vincent.
"I daresay," said Father Payne, "but it isn't now considered good taste to
say so. You have got to pretend, at all events, that you wish to benefit
humanity now-a-days. If a man had said to Ruskin or Carlyle, 'Why do you
write all these books?' and they replied, 'It is because of my desire for
fame,' it would have been thought vulgar. There's that odd story of Robert
Browning, when he received an ovation at Oxford, and someone said to him,
'I suppose you don't care about all this,' he said, 'It is what I have
waited for all my life!' I wonder if he _did_ say it! I think he must
have done, because it is exactly the sort of thing that one is supposed not
to say--and I confess I don't like it--it seems to me vain, and not proud,
I don't mind a kind of pride--I think a man ought to know what he is
worth: but I hate vanity. Perhaps that's only because I haven't been a
"But mayn't you desire fame?" said Vincent. "It seems to me rather priggish
to condemn it!"
"Many fine things sound priggish when they are said," said Father Payne.
"But, to be frank, I don't think that a man ought to desire fame. I think
he may desire to do a thing well. I don't think he ought to desire to do it
better than other people. It is the wanting to beat other people which is
low. Why not wish them to do it well too?"
"You mean that the difference between pride and vanity lies there?" said
"Yes, I do," said Father Payne, "and it is a pity that pride is included in
the deadly sins, because the word has changed its sense. Pride used to mean
the contempt of others--that's a deadly sin, if you like. It used to mean a
ghastly sort of self-satisfaction, arrived at by comparison of yourself
with others. But now to be called a proud man is a real compliment. It
means that a man can't condescend to anything mean or base. We ought all to
be proud--not proud _of_ anything, because that is vulgar, but ashamed
of doing anything which we know to be feeble or low. The Pharisee in the
parable was vain, not proud, because he was comparing himself with other
people. But it is all right to be grateful to God for having a sense of
decency, just as you may be grateful for having a sense of beauty. The
hatefulness of it comes in when you are secretly glad that other people
love indecency and ugliness."
"That is the exclusive feeling then?" said Barthrop.
"Yes, the bad kind of exclusiveness," said Father Payne--"the kind of
exclusiveness which ministers to self-satisfaction. And that is the fault
of the group when it becomes a coterie. The coterie means a set of inferior
people, bolstering up each other's vanity by mutual admiration. In a
coterie you purchase praise for your own bad work, by pretending to admire
the bad work of other people. But the real group is interested, not in each
other's fame, but in the common work."
"It seems to me confusing," said Vincent.
"Not a bit of it," said Father Payne; "we have to consider our limitations:
we are limited by time and space. You can't know everybody and love
everybody and admire everybody--and you can't sacrifice the joy and
happiness of real intimacy with a few for a diluted acquaintance with five
hundred people. But you mustn't think that your own group is the only
one--that is the bad exclusiveness--you ought to think that there are
thousands of intimate groups all over the world, which you could love just
as enthusiastically as you love your own, if you were inside them: and
then, apart from your own group, you ought to be prepared to find
reasonable and amiable and companionable people everywhere, and to be able
to put yourself in line with them. Why, good heavens, there are millions of
possible friends in the world! and one of my deepest and firmest hopes
about the next world, so to speak, is that there will be some chance of
communicating with them all at once, instead of shutting ourselves up in a
frowsy room like this, smelling of meat and wine. I don't deny you are very
good fellows, but if you think that you are the only fit and desirable
company in the world for me or for each other, I tell you plainly that you
are utterly mistaken. That's why I insist on your travelling about, to
avoid our becoming a coterie."
"Then it comes to this," said Vincent drily, "that you can't be inclusive,
and that you ought not to be exclusive?"
"Yes, that's exactly it!" said Father Payne. "You meant to shut me up with
one of our patent Oxford epigrams, I know--and, of course, it is deuced
smart! But put it the other way round, and it's all right. You can't help
being exclusive, and you must try to be inclusive--that's the truth, with
the Oxford tang taken out!"
We laughed at this, and Vincent reddened.
"Don't mind me, old man!" said Father Payne, "but try to make your epigrams
genial instead of contemptuous--inclusive rather than exclusive. They are
just as true, and the bitter flavour is only fit for the vitiated taste of
Dons." And Father Payne stretched out a large hand down the table, and
enclosed Vincent's in his own.
"Yes, it was a nasty turn," said Vincent, smiling, "I see what you mean."
"The world is a friendlier place than people know," said Father Payne. "We
have inherited a suspicion of the unknown and the unfamiliar. Don't you
remember how the ladies in _The Mill on the Floss_ mistrusted each
other's recipes, and ate dry bread in other houses rather than touch jam or
butter made on different methods. That is the old bad taint. But I think we
are moving in the right direction. I fancy that the awakening may be very
near, when we shall suddenly realise that we are all jolly good fellows,
and wonder that we have been so blind."
"A Roman Catholic friend of mine," said Rose--"he is a priest--told me that
he attended a clerical dinner the other day. The health of the Pope was
proposed, and they all got up and sang, 'For he's a jolly good fellow!'"
There was a loud laugh at this. "I like that," said Father Payne, "I like
their doing that! I expect that that is exactly what the Pope is! I should
dearly love to have a good long quiet talk with him! I think I could let in
a little light: and I should like to ask him if he enjoyed his fame, dear
old boy: and whether he was interested in his work! 'Why, Mr. Payne, it's
rather anxious work, you know, the care of all the churches'--I can hear
him saying--'but I rub along, and the time passes quickly! though, to be
sure, I'm not as young as I was once: and while I am on the subject, Mr.
Payne, you look to me to be getting on in years yourself!' And then I
should say 'Yes, your Holiness, I am a man that has seen trouble.' And he
would say, 'I'm sorry to hear that! Tell me all about it!' That's how we
should talk, like old friends, in a snug parlour in the Vatican, looking
out on the gardens!"
OF TAKING LIFE
I was walking with Father Payne one hot summer day upon a field-path he was
very fond of. There was a copse, through the middle of which the little
river, the Fyllot, ran. It was the boundary of the Aveley estate, and it
here joined another stream, the Rode, which came in from the south. The
path went through the copse, dense with hazels, and there was always a
musical sound of lapsing waters hidden in the wood. The birds sang shrill
in the thicket, and Father Payne said, "This is the juncture of Pison and
Hiddekel, you know, rivers of Paradise. Aveley is Havilah, where the gold
is good, and where there is bdellium, if we only knew where to look for it.
I fancy it is rich in bdellium. I came down here, I remember, the first day
I took possession. It was wonderful, after being so long among the tents of
Kedar, to plant my flag in Havilah; I made a vow that day--I don't know if
I have kept it!"
"What was that?" I said.
"Only that I would not get too fond of it all," said Father Payne, smiling,
"and that I would share it with other people. But I have got very fond of
it, and I haven't shared it. Asking people to stay with you, that they may
see what a nice place you have to live in, is hardly sharing it. It is
rather the other way--the last refinement of possession, in fact!"
"It's very odd," he went on, "that I should love this little bit of the
world so much as I do. It's called mine--that's a curious idea. I have got
very little power over it. I can't prevent the trees and flowers from
growing here, or the birds from nesting here, if they have a mind to do so.
I can only keep human beings out of it, more or less. And yet I love it
with a sort of passion, so that I want other people to love it too. I
should like to think that after I am gone, some one should come here and
see how exquisitely beautiful it is, and wish to keep it and tend it.
That's what lies behind the principle of inheritance; it isn't the money or
the position only that we desire to hand on to our children--it's the love
of the earth and all that grows out of it; and possession means the desire
of keeping it unspoiled and beautiful, I could weep at the idea of this all
being swept away, and a bdellium-mine being started here, with a
factory-chimney and rows of little houses; and yet I suppose that if the
population increased, and the land was all nationalised, a great deal of
the beauty of England would go. I hope, however, that the sense of beauty
might increase too--I don't think the country people here have much notion
of beauty. They only like things to remain as they know them. It's a
fearful luxury really for a man like myself to live in a land like this, so
full of old woodland and pasture, which is only possible under rich
proprietors. I'm an abuse, of course. I have got a much larger slice of my
native soil than any one man ought to have; but I don't see the way out.
The individual can't dispossess himself--it's the system which is wrong."
He stopped in the middle of the copse, and said: "Did you ever see anything
so perfectly lovely as this place? And yet it is all living in a state of
war and anarchy. The trees and plants against each other, all fighting for
a place in the sun. The rabbit against the grass, the bird against the
worm, the cat against the bird. There's no peace here really--it's full of
terrors! Only the stream is taking it easy. It hasn't to live by taking
life, and the very sound of it is innocent."
Presently he said: "This is all cut down every five years. It's all made
into charcoal and bobbins. Then the flowers all come up in a rush; then the
copse begins to grow again--I never can make up my mind which is most
beautiful. I come and help the woodmen when they cut the copse. That's
pleasant work, you know, cutting and binding. I sometimes wonder if the
hazels hate being slashed about. I expect they do; but it can't hurt them
much, for up they come again. It's the right way to live, of course, to
begin again the minute you are cut down to the roots, to struggle out to
the air and sun again, and to give thanks for life. Don't you feel yourself
as if you were good for centuries of living?"
"I'm not sure that I do," I said, "I don't feel as if I had quite got my
"Yes, that's all right for you, old boy," said Father Payne. "You are
learning to live, and you are living. But an old fellow like me, who has
got in the way of it, and has found out at last how good it is to be alive,
has to realise that he has only got a fag-end left. I don't at all want to
die; I've got my hands as full as they can hold of pretty and delightful
things; and I don't at all want to be cut down like the copse, and to have
to build up my branches again. Yes," he added, pondering, "I used to think
I should not live long, and I didn't much want to, I believe! But now--it's
almost disgraceful to think how much I prize life, and how interesting I
find it. Depend upon it, on we go! The only thing that is mysterious to me
is why I love a place like this so much. I don't suppose it loves me. I
suppose there isn't a beast or a bird, perhaps not a tree or a flower, in
the place that won't be rather relieved when I go back home without having
killed something. I expect, in fact, that I have left a track of death
behind me in the grass--little beetles and things that weren't doing any
harm, and that liked being alive. That's pretty beastly, you know, but how
is one to help it? Then my affection for it is very futile. I can't
establish a civilised system here; I can't prevent the creatures from
eating each other, or the trees from crowding out the flowers. I can't eat
or use the things myself, I can't take them away with me; I can only stand
and yearn with cheap sentiment.
"And yet," he said after a moment, "there's something here in this bit of
copse that whispers to me beautiful secrets--the sunshine among the stems,
the rustle of leaves, the wandering breeze, the scent and coolness of it
all! It is crammed with beauty; it is all trying to live, and glad to live.
You may say, of course, that you don't see all that in it, and it is I that
am abnormal. But that doesn't explain it away. The fact that I feel it is a
better proof that it is there than the fact that you don't feel it is a
proof that it isn't there! The only thing about it that isn't beautiful to
me is the fact that life can't live except by taking life--that there is no
right to live; and that, I admit, is disconcerting. You may say to me, 'You
old bully, crammed with the corpses of sheep and potatoes, which you
haven't even had the honesty to kill for yourself, you dare to come here,
and talk this stuff about the beauty of it all, and the joy of living. If
all the bodies of the things you have consumed in your bloated life were
piled together, it would make a thing as big as a whole row of ricks!' If
you say that, I admit that you take the sentiment out of my sails!"
"But I don't say it," said I: "Who dies if Father Payne live?"
He laughed at this, and clapped me on the back. "You're in the same case as
I, old man," he said, "only you haven't got such a pile of blood and bones
to your credit! Here, we must stow this talk, or we shall become both
humbugs and materialists. It's a puzzling business, talking! It leads you
into some very ugly places!"
I went in to see Father Payne one morning about some work. He was reading a
book with knitted brows: he looked up, gave a nod, but no smile, pointed to
a chair, and I sate down: a minute or two later he shut the book--a neat
enough little volume--with a snap, and skimmed it deftly from where he
sate, into his large waste-paper basket. This, by the way, was a curious
little accomplishment of his,--throwing things with unerring aim. He could
skim more cards across a room into a hat than anyone I have ever seen who
was not a professed student of legerdemain.
"What are you doing?" I said--"such a nice little book!" I rose and rescued
the volume, which was a careful enough edition of some poems and scraps of
poems, posthumously discovered, of a well-known poet.
"Pray accept it with my kindest regards," said Father Payne. "No, I don't
know that I _ought_ to give it you. It is the sort of book I object
"Why?" I said, examining it--"it seems harmless enough."
"It's the wrong sort of literature," said Father Payne. "There isn't time,
or there ought not to be, to go fumbling about with these old scraps. They
aren't good enough to publish--and what's more, if the man didn't publish
them himself, you may be sure he had very good reasons for _not_ doing
so. The only interest of them is that so good a poet could write such
drivel, and that he knew it was drivel sufficiently well not to publish it.
But the man who can edit it doesn't know that, and the critics who review
it don't know it either--it was a respectful review that made me buy the
rubbish--and as for the people who read it, God alone knows what they think
of it. It's a case of
"'Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes in holy dread.'
"You have to shut your eyes pretty tight not to see what bosh it all is--it
is all this infernal reverence paid by people, who have no independence of
judgment, to great reputations. It reminds me of the barber who used to cut
the Duke of Wellington's hair and nails, who made quite a lot of money by
selling clippings to put in lockets!"
"But isn't it worth while to see a great poet's inferior jottings, and to
grasp how he worked?" said I.
"No," said Father Payne;--"at least it would be worth while to see how he
brought off his good strokes, but it isn't worth while seeing how he missed
his stroke altogether. This deification business is all unwholesome. In
art, in life, in religion, in literature, it's a mistake to worship the
saints--you don't make them divine, you only confuse things, and bring down
the divine to your own level. The truth--the truth--why can't people see
how splendid it is, and that it is one's only chance of getting on! To shut
your eyes to the possibility of the great man having a touch of the
commonplace, a touch of the ass, even a touch of the knave in him, doesn't
ennoble your conception of human nature. If you can only glorify humanity
by telling lies about it, and by ruling out all the flaws in it, you end by
being a sentimentalist. "See thou do it not ... worship God!" that's one of
the finest things in the Bible. Of course it is magnificent to see a streak
of the divine turning up again and again in human nature--but you have got
to wash the dirt to find the diamond. Believe in the beauty behind and in
and beyond us all--but don't worship the imperfect thing. This sort of book
is like selling the dirt out of which the diamonds have been washed, and
which would appear to have gained holiness by contact. I hate to see people
stopping short on the symbol and the illustration, instead of passing on to
the truth behind--it's idolatry. It's one degree better than worshipping
nothing; but the danger of idolatry is that you are content to get no
further: and that is what makes idolatry so ingenious a device of the
devil, that it persuades people to stop still and not to get on."
"But aren't you making too much out of it?" I said. "At the worst, this is
a harmless literary blunder, a foolish bit of hero-worship?"
"Yes," said Father Payne, "in a sense that is true, that these little
literary hucksters and pedlars don't do any very great harm--I don't mean
that they cause much mischief: but they are the symptom of a grave disease.
It is this d----d _bookishness_ which is so unreal. I would like to
say a word about it to you, if you have time, instead of doing our work
to-day--for if you will allow me to say so, my boy, you have got a touch of
it about you--only a touch--and I think if I can show you what I mean, you
can throw it off--I have heard you say rather solemn things about books!
But I want you to get through that. It reminds me of the talk of
ritualists. I have a poor friend who is a very harmless sort of parson--but
I have heard him talk of a bit of ceremonial with tears in his eyes. 'It
was exquisite, exquisite,' he will say,--'the celebrant wore a cope--a bit,
I believe of genuine pre-Reformation work--of course remounted--and the
Gospeller and Epistoller had copes so perfectly copied that it would have
been hard to say which was the real one. And then Father Wynne holds
himself so nobly--such a mixture of humility and pride--a priest ought to
exhibit both, I think, at that moment?--and his gestures are so
inevitable--so inevitable--that's the only word: there's no sense of
rehearsal about it: it is just the supreme act of worship expressing itself
in utter abandonment'--He will go on like that for an hour if he can find a
great enough goose to listen to him. Now, I don't mean to say that the man
hasn't a sense of beauty--he has the real ritual instinct, a perfectly
legitimate branch of art. But he doesn't know it's art--he thinks it is
religion. He thinks that God is preoccupied with such things; 'a full
choral High Mass, at nine o'clock, that's a thing to live and die for,' I
have heard him say. Of course it's a sort of idealism, but you must know
what you are about, and what you are idealising: and you mustn't think that
your kind is better than any other kind of idealising."
He made a pause, and then held out his hand for the book.
"Now here is the same sort of intemperate rapture," he said. "Look at this
introduction! 'It is his very self that his poems give, and the sharpest
jealousy of his name and fame is enkindled by them. Not to find him there,
his passion, endurance, faith, rapture, despair, is merely a confession of
want in ourselves.' That's not sane, you know--it's the intoxication of the
Corybant! It isn't the man himself we want to fix our eyes upon. He felt
these things, no doubt: but we mustn't worship his raptures--we must
worship what he worshipped. This sort of besotted agitation is little
better than a dancing dervish. The poems are little sparks, struck out from
a scrap of humanity by some prodigious and glorious force: but we must
worship the force, not the spark: the spark is only an evidence, a system,
a symbol if you like, of the force. And then see how utterly the man has
lost all sense of proportion--he has spent hours and days in identifying
with uncommon patience the exact date of these tepid scraps, and he says he
is content to have laid a single stone in the "unamended, unabridged,
authentic temple" of his idol's fame. That seems to me simply degrading:
and then the portentous ass, whose review I read, says that if the editor
had done nothing else, he is sure of an honoured place for ever in the
hierarchy of impeccable critics! And what is all this jabber about--a few
rhymes which a man made when he was feeling a little off colour, and which
he did not think it worth while to publish!
"You mustn't get into this kind of a mess, my boy. The artist mustn't
indulge in emotion for the sake of the emotion. 'The weakness of life,'
says this pompous ass, 'is that it deviates from art!' You might just as
well say that the weakness of food was that it deviated from a well-cooked
leg of mutton! Art is just an attempt to disentangle something, to get at
one of the big constituents of life. It helps you to see clearly, not to
confuse one thing with another, not to be vaguely impressed--the hideous
danger of bookishness is that it is one of the blind alleys into which
people get. These two fellows, the editor and his critic, have got stuck
there: they can't see out: they think their little valley is the end of the
world. I expect they are both of them very happy men, as happy as a man who
goes to bed comfortably drunk. But, good God, the awakening!" Father Payne
relapsed into a long silence, with knitted brows. I tried to start him
"But you often tell us to be serious, to be deadly earnest, about our
work?" I said.
"Oh yes," said Father Payne, "that's another matter. We have to work hard,
and put the best of ourselves into what we do. I don't want you to be an
amiable dilettante. But I also want you to see past even the best art. You
mustn't think that the stained-glass window is the body of heaven in its
clearness. The sort of worshippers I object to are the men who shut
themselves up in a church, and what with the colour and the music and the
incense-smoke, think they are in heaven already. It's an intoxication, all
that. I don't get you men to come here to make you drunk, but to get you to
loathe drunkenness. God--that's the end of it all! God, who reveals Himself
in beauty and kindness, and trustfulness, and charm and interest, and in a
hundred pure and fine forces--yet each of them are but avenues which lead
up to Him, the streets of the city, full of living water. But it is
movement I am in search of--and I would rather be drowned in the depth of
the sea than mislead anyone, or help him to sit still. I have made an awful
row about it all," said Father Payne, relapsing into a milder mood--"But
you will forgive me, I know. I can't bear to see these worthy men blocking
the way with their unassailable, unabridged, authentic editions. They are
like barbed-wire entanglements: and the worst of it is that, in spite of
all their holy air of triumph, they enjoy few things more than tripping
each other up! They condemn each other to eternal perdition for misplacing
a date or misspelling a name. It's like getting into a bed of nettles to
get in among these little hierophants. They remind me of the bishops at
some ancient Church Council or other who tore the clothes off two right
reverend consultants, and literally pulled them limb from limb in the name
of Christ. That's the end of these holy raptures, my boy! They unchain the
There had been a little vague talk about politics, and someone had quoted a
definition of a true Liberal as a man who, if he had only to press a button
in a dark room to annihilate all cranks, faddists, political quacks,
extremists, propagandists, and nostrum-mongers, would not dream of doing
so, as a matter of conscience, on the ground that everyone has a right to
hold his own beliefs and to persuade the world to accept them if he can.
Father Payne laughed at this; but Rose, who had been nettled, I fancy, at a
lack of deference for his political experience, his father being a Unionist
M.P., said loudly, "Hear, hear! that's the only sort of Liberal whom I
A look of sudden anger passed over Father Payne's face--unmistakable and
uncompromising wrath. "Come, Rose," he said, "this isn't a political
meeting; and even if it were, why proclaim yourself as accepting a
definition which is almost within the comprehension of a chimpanzee?"
There was a faint laugh at this, but everyone had an uncomfortable sense of
thunder in the air. Rose got rather white, and his nostrils expanded. "I'm
sorry I put it in that way," he said rather frostily, "if you object. But I
mean it, I think. I don't like diluted Liberalism."
"Yes, but you beg the question by calling it diluted," said Father Payne.
"If anyone had said that the only Tory he respected was a man who if he
could press a button in a still darker room, and by doing so bring it to
pass that all institutions on the face of the earth would remain immutably
fixed for ever and ever, and would feel himself bound conscientiously to do
it, you wouldn't accept that as a definition of Conservatism? These things
are not hard and fast matters of principle--they are only tendencies.
Toryism is an instinct to trust custom and authority, Liberalism is an
instinct to welcome development and change. All that the definition of
Liberalism which was quoted means is, that the Liberal has a deep respect
for freedom of opinion; and all that my grotesque definition of Toryism
means is that a Tory prefers to trust a fixed tradition. But, of course,
both want a settled Government, and both have to recognise that the world
and its conditions change. The Tory says, 'Look before you leap'; the
Liberal says, 'Leap before you look.' But it is really all a matter of
infinite gradations, and what differentiates people is merely their idea of
the pace at which things can go and ought to go. Why should you say that
you can only respect a man who wants to go at sixty miles an hour, any more
than I should say I can only respect a man who wants to remain absolutely
Rose had by this time recovered his temper, and said, "It was rather crude,
I admit. But what I meant was that if a man feels that all opinions are of
equal value, he must give full weight to all opinions. The doctrinaire
Liberal seems to me to be just as much inclined to tyrannise as the
doctrinaire Tory, and to use his authority on the side of suppression when
it is convenient to do so, and against all his own principles."
"I don't think that is quite fair," said Father Payne. "You must have a
working system; you can't try everyone's experiments. All that the Liberal
says is, 'Persuade us if you can.' Pure Liberalism would be anarchy, just
as pure Toryism would be tyranny. Both are intolerable. But just as the
Liberal has to compromise and say, 'This may not be the ultimate theory of
the Government, but meanwhile the world has to be governed,' so the Tory
has to compromise, if a large majority of the people say, 'We will not be
governed by a minority for their interest; we will be governed for our
own.' The parliamentary vote is just a way of avoiding civil war; you can't
always resort to force, so you resort to arbitration. But why the Liberal
position is on the whole the stronger is because it says frankly, 'If you
Tories can persuade the nation to ask you to govern it, we will obey you.'
The weakness of the Tory position is that it has to make exactly the same
concessions, while it claims to be inspired by a divine sort of knowledge
as to what is just and right. I personally mistrust all intuitions which
lead to tyranny. Of course, the weakness of the whole affair is that the
man who believes in democracy has to assume that all have equal rights;
that would be fair enough if all people were born equal in character and
ability, and influence and wealth. But that isn't the case; and so the
Liberal says, 'Democracy is a bad system perhaps, but it is the only
system,' and it is fairer to maintain that everyone who gets into the world
has as good a right as anyone else to be there, than it is to say, 'Some
people have a right to manage the world and some have only a duty to obey.'
Both represent a side of the truth, but neither represents the whole truth.
At worst Liberalism is a combination of the weak against the strong, and
Toryism a combination of the strong against the weak! I personally wish the
weak to have a chance; but what we all really desire is to be governed by
the wise and good, and my hope for the world is that the quality of it is
improving. I want the weak to become sensible and self-restrained, and the
strong to become unselfish and disinterested. It is generosity that I want
to see increase--it is the finest of all qualities--the desire, I mean to
serve others, to admire, to sympathise, to share, to rejoice, in other
people's happiness. That would solve all our difficulties."
"Yes, of course," said Rose. "But I would like to go back again, and say
that what I was praising was consistency."
"But there is no such thing," said Father Payne, "except in combination
with entire irrationality. One can't say at any time of one's life, 'I know
everything worth knowing. I am in a position to form a final judgment.' You
can say, 'I will shut off all fresh light from my mind, and I will consider
no further evidence,' but that isn't a thing to respect! I begin to
suspect, Rose, that why you praised the uncompromising Liberal, as you call
him, is because he is the only kind of opponent who isn't dangerous. A man
who takes up such a position as I have described is practically insane. He
has a fixed idea, which neither argument nor evidence can alter. The
uncompromising man of fixed opinions, whatever those opinions may be, is
almost the only man I do not respect, because he is really the only
inconsistent person. He says, 'I have formed an opinion which is based on
experience, and I shall not alter it.' That is tantamount to saying that
you have done with experience; it is a claim to have attained infallibility
through fallible faculties. Where is the dignity of that? It's just a
deification of stupidity and stubbornness and insolence and complacency."
"But you must take your stand on _some_ certainties," said Rose.
"The fewer the better," said Father Payne. "One may learn to discriminate
between things, and to observe differences; but that is very different from
saying that you have got at the ultimate essence of any one thing. I am all
for clearness--we ought not to confuse things with each other, or use the
same names for different things; but I'm all against claiming absolute and
impeccable knowledge. It may be a comfortable system for a man who doesn't
want to be bothered; but he is only deferring the bother--he is like a man
who stays in bed because he doesn't like dressing. But it isn't a solution
to stay in bed--it is only suspending the solution. No, we mustn't have any
regard for human consistency--it's a very paltry attribute; it's the
opposite of anthropomorphism. That makes out God to be in the image of man,
but consistency claims for man the privilege of God. And that isn't
wholesome, you know, either for a man or his friends!"
"I give up," said Rose: "can nothing be logical?"
"Hardly anything," said Father Payne, "except logic itself. You have to
coin logical ideas into counters to play with. No two things, for instance,
can ever be absolutely equal, except imaginary equalities--and that's the
mischief of logic applied to life, that it presumes an exact valuation of
the ideas it works with, when no two people's valuations of the same idea
are identical, and even one person's valuation varies from time to time;
and logic breeds a phantom sort of consistency which only exists in the
imagination. You know the story of how Smith and Jones were arguing, and
Smith said, 'Brown will agree with me': 'Yes,' said Jones triumphantly, 'he
will, but for my reasons!'"
OF WRENS AND LILIES
It was the first warm and sunny day, after a cold and cloudy spring: I took
a long and leisurely walk with Father Payne down a valley among woods, of
which Father Payne was very fond. "Almost precipitous for Northamptonshire,
eh?" he used to say. I was very full of a book I had been reading, but I
could not get him to talk. He made vague and foolish replies, and said
several times, "I shall have to think that over, you know," which was, I
well knew, a polite intimation that he was not in a mood for talk. But I
persisted, and at last he said, "Hang it, you know, I'm not attending--I'm
very sorry--it isn't your fault--but there's such a lot going on
everywhere." He quoted a verse of _The Shropshire Lad_, of which he
was very fond:
"'Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more'";
adding, "That's the only instance I know of a subtraction sum made into
perfect poetry--but it's the other way round, worse luck!
"And _add_ to seventy springs a score,
_That_ only leaves me forty more!"
The birds were singing very sweetly in the copses as we passed--"That isn't
art, I believe," said Father Payne. "It's only the reproductive instinct, I
am told! I wish it took such an artistic form in my beloved brothers in the
Lord! There," he added, stopping and speaking in a low tone; "don't
move--there's a cock-wren singing his love-song--you can see his wings
quivering." There followed a little tremolo, with four or five emphatic
notes for a finish. "Now, if you listen, you'll hear the next wren answer
him!" said Father Payne. In a moment the same little song came like an echo
from a bush a few yards away. "The wren sings in stricter time than any
bird but the cuckoo," said Father Payne--"four quavers to a bar. That's
very important! Those two ridiculous creatures will go on doing that half
the morning. They are so excited that they build sham nests, you know,
about now--quite useless piles of twigs and moss, not intended for eggs,
just to show what they can do. But that little song! It has all the passion
of the old chivalry in it--it is only to say, 'My Dulcinea is prettier,
sweeter, brighter-eyed than yours!' and the other says, 'You wait till I
can get at you, and then we will see!' If they were two old knights, they
would fight to the death over it, till the world had lost a brave man, and
one of the Dulcineas was a hapless widow, and nothing proved. That's the
sort of thing that men admire, full of fine sentiment. Why can't we leave
each other alone? Why does loving one person make you want to fight
another? Just look at that wren: he's as full of joy and pride as he can
hold: look at the angle at which he holds his tail: he feels the lord of
the world, sure enough!"
We walked on, and I asked no more questions. "There's a bit of colour,"
said Father Payne, pointing to a bare wood, all carpeted with green blades.
"That's pure emerald, like the seventh foundation of the city. Now, if I
ask you, who are a bit of a poet, what those leaves are, what do you say?
You say hyacinth or daffodil, or perhaps lily-of-the-valley. But what does
the simple botanist--that's me--say? Garlic, my boy, and nothing else! and
you had better not walk musing there, or you will come in smelling of
spring onions, like a greengrocer's shop. So much for poetry! It's the
loveliest green in creation, and it has a pretty flower too--but it's never
once mentioned in English poetry, so far as I know. And yet Keats had the
face to say that Beauty was Truth and Truth Beauty! That's the way we play
We rambled on, and passed a pleasant old stone-built cottage in the wood,
with a tiny garden. "It's a curious thing," said Father Payne, "but in the
spring I always want to live in all the houses I see. It's the nesting
instinct, no doubt. I think I could be very happy here, for instance--much
happier than in my absurd big house, with all you fellows about. Why did I
ever start it? I ought to have had more sense. I want a cottage like this,
and a little garden to work in, and a few books. I would live on bread and
cold bacon and cheese and cabbages, with a hive of my own honey. I should
get wise and silent, and not run on like this."
A dog came out of the cottage garden, and followed us a little way. "Do we
belong to your party, sir, or do you belong to ours?" said Father Payne.
The dog put his head on one side, and wagged his tail. "It appears I have
the pleasure of your acquaintance!" said Father Payne to him. "Very well,
you can set us on our way if you like!" The dog gave a short shrill bark,
and trotted along with us. When we got to the end of the lane, where it
turned into the high road, Father Payne said to the dog, "Now, sir, I
expect that's all the time you can spare this morning? You must go back and
guard the house, and be a faithful dog. Duty first!" The dog looked
mournfully at us, and wagged his tail, but did not attempt to come farther.
He watched us for a little longer, but as we did not invite him to come on,
he presently turned round and trotted off home. "Now, that's the sort of
case where I feel sentimental," said Father Payne. "It's the sham sort of
pathos. I hate to see anyone disappointed. A person offering flowers in the
street for sale, and people not buying them--the men in London showing off
little toys by the pavement, which nobody wants--I can't bear that. It
makes me feel absurdly wretched to see anyone hoping to please, and not
pleasing. And if the people who do it look old and frail and unhappy, I'm
capable of buying the whole stock. The great uncomforted! It's silly, of
course, and there is nothing in the world so silly as useless emotion! It
is so easy to overflow with cheap benevolence, but the first step towards
the joyful wisdom is to be afraid of the emotion that costs you nothing:
but we won't be metaphysical to-day!"
Presently Father Payne insisted on sitting down in a sheltered place. He
flung his hat off, and sate there, looking round him with a smile, his arms
clasped round his big knees. "Well," he said, "it's a jolly place, the old
world, to be sure! Plenty of nasty and ugly things, I suppose, going on in
corners; but if you look round, they are only a small percentage of the
happy things. They don't force themselves upon the eye and ear, the beastly
things: and it's a stupid and faithless mistake to fix the imagination and
the reason too much upon them. We are all of us in a tight place
occasionally, and we have to meet it as best we can. But I don't think we
do it any better by anticipating it beforehand. What is more, no one can
really help us or deliver us: we can be made a little more comfortable, and
that's all, by what they call cooling drinks, and flowers in a vase by the
bedside. And it's a bad thing to get the misery of the world in a vague way
on our nerves. That's the useless emotion. We have got certain quite
definite things to do for other people in our own circle, and we are bound
to do them; we mustn't shirk them, and we mustn't shirk our own troubles,
though the less we bother about them the better. I am not at all sure that
the curse of the newspapers is not that they collect all the evils of the
world into a hideous posy, and thrust it under our nose. They don't collect
the fine, simple, wholesome things. Now you and I are better employed
to-day in being agreeable to each other--at least you are being kind to me,
even though I can't talk about that book--and in looking at the delightful
things going on everywhere--just think of all the happiness in the world
to-day, symbolised by that ridiculous wren!--we are better employed, I say,
than if we were extending the commerce of England, or planning how to make
war, or scolding people in sermons about their fatal indifference to the
things that belong to their peace. Men and women must find and make their
own peace, and we are doing both to-day. That awful vague sense of
responsibility, that desire to interfere, that wish that everyone else
should do uncomplaining what we think to be their duty--that's all my eye!
It is the kindly, eager, wholesome life which affects the world, wherever
it is lived: and that is the best which most of us can do. We can't be
always fighting. Even the toughest old veteran soldier--how many hours of
his life has he spent actually under fire? No, I'm not forgetting the
workers either: but you need not tell me that they are all sick at heart
because they are not dawdling in a country lane. It would bore them to
death, and they can live a very happy life without it. That's the false
pathos again--to think that everyone who can't do as _we_ like must be
miserable. And anyhow, I have done my twenty-five years on the treadmill,
and I am not going to pretend it was noble work, because it wasn't. It was
useless and disgraceful drudgery, most of it!"
"Ah," I said, "but that doesn't help me. You may have earned a holiday, but
I have never done any real drudgery--I haven't earned anything."
"Be content," said Father Payne; "take two changes of raiment! You have got
your furrow to plough--all in good time! You are working hard now, and
don't let me hear any stuff about being ashamed because you enjoy it! The
reward of labour is life: to enjoy our work is the secret. If you could
persuade people that the spring of life lies there, you would do more for
the happiness of man than by attending fifty thousand committees. But I
won't talk any more. I want to consider the lilies of the field, how they
grow. They don't do it every day!"
Someone said rashly, after dinner to-night, that the one detestable and
unpardonable thing in a man was pose. A generalisation of this kind acted
on Father Payne very often like a ferret on a rabbit. He had been
mournfully abstracted during dinner, shaking his head slowly, and turning
his eyes to heaven when he was asked leading questions. But now he said: "I
don't think that is reasonable--you might as well say that you always
disliked length in a book. A book has got to be some length--it is as short
as it's long. Of course, the moment you begin to say, 'How long this book
is!' you mean that it is too long, and excess is a fault. Do you remember
the subject proposed in a school debating society, 'That too much athletics
is worthy of our admiration'? Pose is like that--when you become conscious
of pose it is generally disagreeable--that is, if it is meant to deceive:
but it is often amusing too, like the pose of the unjust judge in the
parable, who prefaces his remarks by saying, 'Though I fear not God,
neither regard man.'"
"Oh, but you know what I mean, Father," said the speaker, "the pose of
knowing when you don't know, and being well-bred when you are snobbish, and
being kind when you are mean, and so on."
"I think you mean humbug rather than pose," said Father Payne; "but even
so, I don't agree with you. I have a friend who would be intolerable, but
for his pose of being agreeable. He isn't agreeable, and he doesn't feel
agreeable; but he behaves as if he was, and it is the only thing that makes
him bearable. What you really mean is the pose of superiority--the man
whose motives are always just ahead of your own, and whose taste is always
slightly finer, and who knows the world a little better. But there is a lot
of pose that isn't that. What _is_ pose, after all? Can anyone define
"It's an artist's phrase, I think," said Barthrop; "it means a position in
which you look your best."
"Like the Archbishop who was always painted in a gibbous attitude--first
quarter, you know--with his back turned to you, and his face just visible
over his lawn sleeve," said Father Payne, "but that was in order to hide an
excrescence on his left cheek. Do you remember what Lamb said of Barry
Cornwall's wen on the nape of his neck? Some one said that Barry Cornwall
was thinking of having it cut off. 'I hope he won't do that,' said Lamb, 'I
rather like it--it's redundant, like his poetry!' I rather agree with Lamb.
I like people to be a little redundant, and a harmless pose is pure
redundancy: it only means that a man is up to some innocent game or other,
some sort of mystification, and is enjoying himself. It's like a summer
haze over the landscape. Now, there's another friend of mine who was once
complimented on his 'uplifted' look. Whenever he thinks of it, and that's
pretty often, he looks uplifted, like a bird drinking, with his eyes fixed
on some far-off vision. I don't mind that! It's only a wish to look his
best. It's partly a wish to give pleasure, you know. It's the same thing
that makes people wear their hair long, or dress in a flamboyant way. I'll
tell you a little story. You know Bertie Nash, the artist. I met him once
in a Post Office, and he was buying a sheet of halfpenny stamps. I asked
him if he was going to send out some circulars. He looked at me sadly, and
said, 'No, I always use these--I can't use the penny stamps--such a crude
red!' Now, he didn't do that to impress me: but it was a pose in a way, and
he liked feeling so sensitive to colour."
"But oughtn't one to avoid all that sort of nonsense?" said some one; "it's
better surely to be just what you are."
"Yes, but what _are_ you, after all?" said Father Payne; "your moods
vary. It would be hopeless if everyone tried to keep themselves down to
their worst level for the sake of sincerity. The point is that you ought to
try to keep at your best level, even if you don't feel so. Hang it, good
manners are a pose, if it comes to that. The essence of good manners is
sometimes to conceal what you are feeling. Is it a pose to behave amiably
when you are tired or cross?"
"No, but that is in order not to make other people uncomfortable," said
"Well, it's very hard to draw the line," said Father Payne: "but what we
really mean by pose is, I imagine, the attempt to appear to be something
which you frankly are not--and that is where the word has changed its
sense, Barthrop. An artist's pose is something characteristic, which makes
a man look his best. What we generally mean by pose is the affecting a best
which one never reaches. Come, tell a story, some one! That's the best way
to get at a quality. Won't some one quote an illustration?"
"What about my friend Pearce, the schoolmaster?" said Vincent. "He read a
book about schoolmastering, and he said he didn't think much of it. He
added that the author seemed only to be giving elegant reasons for doing
things which the born schoolmaster did by instinct."
"Well, that's not a bad criticism," said Father Payne; "but it was pose if
he meant to convey that _he_ was a born schoolmaster. Is he one, by
"No," said Vincent, "he is not: he is much ragged by the boys; but he
comforts himself by thinking that all schoolmasters are ragged, but that he
is rather more successful than most in dealing with it. He has a great deal
of moral dignity, has Pearce! I don't know where he would be without it!"
"Well, there's an instance," said Father Payne, "of a pose being of some
use. I think a real genuine pose often makes a man do better work in the
world than if he was drearily conscious of failure. It's a game, you
know--a dramatic game: and I think it's a sign of vitality and interest to
want to have a game. It's like the lawyer's clerk in _Our Mutual
Friend_, when Mr. Boffin calls to keep an appointment, being the
lawyer's only client; but the boy makes a show of looking it all up in a
ledger, runs his finger down a list of imaginary consultants, and says to
himself, 'Mr. Aggs, Mr. Baggs, Mr. Caggs, Mr. Daggs, Mr. Boffin--Yes, sir,
that is right!' Now there's no harm in that sort of thing--it's only a bit
of moral dignity, as Vincent says. It's no good acquiescing in being a
humble average person--we must do better than that! Most people believe in
themselves in spite of abundant evidence to the contrary--but it's better
than disbelieving in yourself. That's abject, you know."
"But if you accept the principle of pose," said Lestrange, "I don't see
that you can find fault with any pose."
"You might as well say," said Father Payne, "that if I accept the principle
of drinking alcohol, it doesn't matter how much I drink! Almost all
morality is relative--in fact, it is doubtful if it is ever absolute. The
mischief of pose is not when it makes a man try to be or to appear at his
best: but when a man lives a thoroughly unreal life, taking a high line in
theory and never troubling about practice, then it's incredible to what
lengths self-deception can go. Dr. Johnson said that he looked upon himself
as a polite man! It is quite easy to get to believe yourself impeccable in
certain points: and as one gets older, and less assailable, and less liable
to be pulled up and told the hard truth, it is astonishing how serenely you
can sail along. But that isn't pose exactly. It generally begins by a pose,
and becomes simple imperviousness; and that is, after all, the danger of
pose,--that it makes people blind to the truth about themselves."
"I'm getting muddled," said Vincent.
"It _is_ rather muddling," said Father Payne, "but, in a general way,
the point is this. When pose is a deliberate attempt to deceive other
people for your own credit, it is detestable. But when it is merely
harmless drama, to add to the interest of life and to retain your own
self-respect, it's an amiable foible, and need not be discouraged. The real
question is whether it is assumed seriously, or whether it is all a sort of
joke. We all like to play our little games, and I find it very easy to
forgive a person who enjoys dressing up, so to speak, and making remarks in
character. Come, I'll confess my sins in public. If I meet a stranger in
the roads, I rather like to be thought a bluff and hearty English squire,
striding about my broad acres. I prefer that to being thought a retired
crammer, a dominie who keeps a school and calls it an academy, as Lord
Auchinleck said of Johnson. But if I pretended in this house to be a kind
of abbot, and glided about in a cassock with a gold cross round my neck,
conferring a benediction on everyone, and then retired to my room to read a
French novel and to drink whisky-and-soda, that would be a very unpleasant
We all implored Father Payne to adopt it, and he said he would give it his
I was sitting in the garden one evening in summer with Father Payne and
Barthrop. Barthrop was going off next day to Oxford, and was trying to
persuade Father Payne to come too.
"No," he said, "I simply couldn't! Oxford is the city east of the sun and
west of the moon--like as a dream when one awaketh! I don't hold with
indulging fruitless sentiment, particularly about the past."
"But isn't it rather a pity?" said Barthrop. "After all, most emotions are
useless, if you come to that! Why should you cut yourself off from a place
you are so fond of, and which is quite the most beautiful place in England
too? Isn't it rather--well,--weak?"
"Yes," said Father Payne, "it's weak, no doubt! That is to say, if I were
differently made, more hard-hearted, more sure of myself, I should go, and
I should enjoy myself, and moon about, and bore you to death with old
stories about the chimes at midnight--everybody would be a dear old boy or
a good old soul, and I should hand out tips, and get perfectly maudlin in
the evenings over a glass of claret. That's the normal thing, no
doubt--that's what a noble-minded man in a novel of Thackeray's would do!"
"Well," said Barthrop, "you know best--but I expect that if you did take
the plunge and go there, you would find yourself quite at ease."
"I might," said Father Payne; "but then I also might not--and I prefer not
to risk it. You see, it would be merely wallowing in sentiment--and I don't
approve of sentiment. I want my emotions to live with, not to bathe in!"
"But you don't mind going back to London," said Barthrop.
"No," said Father Payne, "but that bucks me up. I was infernally unhappy in
London, and it puts me in a thoroughly sensible and cheerful mood to go and
look at the outside of my old lodgings, and the place where I used to
teach, and to say to myself, 'Thank God, that's all over!' Then I go on my
way rejoicing, and make no end of plans. But if I went to Oxford, I should
just remember how happy and young I was; and I might even commit the folly
of regretting the lapse of time, and of wishing I could have it back again.
I don't think it is wholesome to do anything which makes one discontented,
or anything which forces one to dwell on what one has lost. That doesn't
matter. Nothing really is ever lost, and it only takes the starch out of
one to think about it from that angle. I don't believe in the past. It
seems unalterable, and I suppose in a sense it is so. But if you begin to
dwell on unalterable things, you become a fatalist, and I'm always trying
to get away from that. The point is that no one is unalterable, and, thank
God, we are always altering. To potter about in the past is like grubbing
in an ash-heap, and shedding tears over broken bits of china. The plate, or
whatever it is, was pretty enough, and it had its place and its use; and
when the stuff of which it is made is wanted again, it will be used again.
It is simply fatuous to waste time over the broken pieces of old dreams and
visions; and I mean to use my emotions and my imagination to see new dreams
and finer visions. Perhaps the time will come when I can dream no more--the
brain gets tired and languid, no doubt. But even then I shall try to be
interested in what is going on."
"I see your point," said Barthrop; "but, for the life of me, I can't see
why the old place should not take its part in the new visions! When I go
down to Oxford I don't regret it. I go gratefully and happily about, and I
like to see the young men as jolly as I was, and as unaware what a good
time they are having. An old pal of mine is a Don, and he puts me up in
College, and it amuses me to go into Hall, and to see some of the young
lions at close quarters. It's all pure and simple refreshment."
"I've no doubt of it, old man," said Father Payne; "and it's an excellent
thing for you to go, and to draw fresh life from the ancient earth, like
Antaeus. But I'm not made that way. I'm not loyal--that is to say, I am not
faithful to things simply because I once admired and loved them. If you are
loyal in the right way, as you are, it's different. But these old
attachments are a kind of idolatry to me--a false worship. I'm naturally
full of unreasonable devotion to the old and beautiful things; but they get
round my neck like a mill-stone, and it is all so much more weight that I
have to carry. I sometimes go to see an old cousin of mine, a widow in the
country, who lives entirely in the past, never allows anything to be
changed in the house, never talks about anyone who isn't dead or ill. The
woman's life is simply buried under old memories, mountains of old china,
family plate, receipts for jam and marmalade--everything has got to be done
as it was in the beginning. Now most of her friends think that very
beautiful and tender, and talk of the old-world atmosphere of the place;
but I think it simply a stuffy waste of time. I don't tell her so--God
forbid! But I feel that she is lolling in an arbour by the roadside instead
of getting on. It's innocent enough, but it does not seem to me beautiful."
"But I still don't see why you give way to the feeling," said Barthrop.
"I'm sure that if I felt as you do about Oxford, or any other place, you
would tell me it was my duty to conquer it."
"Very likely!" said Father Payne. "But doctors don't feel bound to take
their own prescriptions! Everyone must decide for himself, and I know that
I should fall under the luxurious enchantment. I should go into cheap
raptures, I should talk about 'the tender grace of a day that is
dead'--it's no use putting your head in a noose to see what being strangled
"But do you apply that to everything," I said, "old friendships, old
affections, old memories? They seem to me beautiful, and harmlessly
"Well, if you can use them up quite freshly, and make a poetical dish out
of them, for present consumption, I don't mind," said Father Payne. "But
that isn't my way--I'm not robust enough. It's all I can do to take things
in as they come along. Of course an old memory sometimes goes through one
like a sword, but I pull it out as quick as I can, and cast it away. I am
not going to dance with Death if I can help it! I have got my job cut out
for me, and I am not going to be hampered by old rubbish. Mind you, I don't
say that it was rubbish at the time; but I have no use for anything that I
can't use. Sentiment seems to me like letting valuable steam off. The
people I have loved are all there still, whether they are dead or alive.
They did a bit of the journey with me, and I enjoyed their company, and I
shall enjoy it again, if it so comes about. But we have to live our life,
and we can't keep more than a certain number of things in mind--that is an
obvious limitation. Do you remember the old fairy story of the man who
carried a magic goose, and everyone who touched it, or touched anyone who
touched it, could not leave go, with the result that there was a long train
of helpless people trotting about behind the man. I don't want to live like
that, with a long train of old memories and traditions and friendships and
furniture trailing helplessly behind me. My business is with my present
circle, my present work, and I can't waste my strength in drawing about
vehicles full of goods. If anyone wants me, here I am, and I will do my
best to meet his wishes; but I am not going to be frightened by words like
loyalty into pretending that I am going to stagger along carrying the whole
of my past. No, my boy," said Father Payne, turning to Barthrop, "you go to
Oxford, and enjoy yourself! But the old place is too tight about my heart
for me to put my nose into it. I'm a free man, and I am not going to be in
bondage to my old fancies. You may give my love to Corpus and to Wadham
Garden--it's all dreadfully bewitching--but I'm not going to run the risk
of falling in love with the phantom of the past--that's _La Belle Dame
Sans Merci_ for me, and I'm riding on--I'm riding on. I won't have the
hussy on my horse.
"I set her on my pacing steed,
And nothing else saw all day long,
For sideways would she lean, and sing
A faery's song.
She found me roots of relish sweet,
And honey wild and manna dew.
And sure in language strange she said,
'I love thee true,'"
He stopped a moment, as he often did when he made a quotation, overcome
with feeling. Then he smiled, and added half to himself, "No; I should say,
as Dr. Johnson said to the lady in Fleet Street; 'No, no; it won't do, my
"Well, anyhow," said Vincent at dinner, commenting on something that had
been said, "you may not get anything else out of a disagreeable affair like
that, but you get a sort of discipline."
"Come, hold on," said Father Payne; "that won't do, you know! Discipline,
in my belief, is in itself a bad thing, unless you not only get something
out of it, but, what is more, know what you get out of it. You can't
discipline anyone, unless he desires it! Discipline means the repressing of
something--you must be quite sure that it is worth repressing."
"What I mean," said Vincent, "is that it makes you tougher and harder."
"Yes," said Father Payne, "but that is not a good thing in itself, unless
there is something soft and weak in you. Discipline may easily knock the
good things out of you. There's a general kind of belief that, because the
world is a rough place, where you may get tumbles and shocks without any
fault of your own, therefore it is as well to have something rough about
you. I don't believe in that. The reason why a man gets roughly handled, in
nine cases out of ten, is not because he is obnoxious or offensive, but
because other people are harsh and indifferent. I want to apply discipline
to the brutal, not to brutalise the sensitive. If discipline simply made
people brave and patient, it would be different, but it often makes them
callous and unpleasant."
"But doesn't everyone want discipline of some kind?" said Vincent.
"Of the right kind, yes," said Father Payne. "Some people want a good deal
more than they get, and some a certain amount less than they get. It's a
delicate business. It is not always fortifying. Take a simple case. A bold,
brazen sort of boy who is untruthful may want a whipping; but a timid and
imaginative boy who is untruthful doesn't necessarily want a whipping at
all--it makes him more, and not less, timid. One of the most ridiculous and
persistent blunders in human life is to believe that a certain penalty is
divinely appointed for a certain offence. Our theory of punishment is all
wrong; we inflict punishment, as a rule, not to improve an offender, but
out of revenge, or because it gives us a comfortable sense of our own
justice. And the whole difficulty of discipline is that it is apt to be
applied in lumps, and distributed wholesale to people who don't all want
the same amount. We haven't really got very far away from the Squeers
theory of giving all the boys brimstone and treacle alike."
"Yes, but in a school," said Vincent, "would not the boys themselves resent
it, if they were punished differently for the same offence?"
"That is to say," said Father Payne, "that you are to treat boys, whom you
are supposed to be training, in accordance with their ideas of justice, and
not in accordance with yours! Why should you confirm them in a wholly
erroneous view of justice? Justice isn't a mathematical thing--or rather,
it ought to be a mathematical thing, because you ought to take into account
a lot of factors, which you simply omit from your calculation. I believe
very little in punishment, to tell you the truth; it ought only to be
inflicted after many warnings, when the offence is deliberately repeated. I
don't believe that the sane and normal person is a habitual and deliberate
offender. The kind of absence of self-restraint which makes people unable
to resist temptation, in any form, is a disease, and ought to be
segregated. I haven't the slightest doubt that we shall end by segregating
or sterilising the person of criminal tendencies, which only means a total
inability, in the presence of a temptation, to foresee consequences, and
which gratifies a momentary desire."
"But apart from definite moral disease," said Vincent, "isn't it a good
thing to compel people, if possible, into a certain sort of habit? I am
speaking of faults which are not criminal--things like unpunctuality,
laziness, small excesses, mild untrustworthiness, and so forth."
"Well, I don't personally believe in coercive discipline at all," said
Father Payne. "I think it simply gets people out of shape. I believe in
trying to give people a real motive for self-discipline: take
unpunctuality, for instance. The only way to make an unpunctual person
punctual is to convince him that it is rude and unjust to keep other people
waiting. There is nothing sacred about punctuality in itself, unless some
one else suffers by your being unpunctual. If it comes to that, isn't it
quite as good a discipline for punctual people to learn to wait without
impatience for the unpunctual? Supposing an unpunctual person were to say,
'I do it on principle, to teach precise people not to mind waiting,' where
is the flaw in that? Take what you call laziness. Some people work better
by fits and starts, some do better work by regularity. The point is to know
how you work best. You must not make the convenience of average people into
a moral law. The thing to aim at is that a man should not go on doing a
thing which he honestly believes to be wrong and hurtful, out of a mere
habit. Take the small excesses of which you speak--food, drink, sleep,
tobacco. Some people want more of these things than others; you can't lay
down exact laws. A man ought to find out precisely what suits him best; but
I'm not prepared to say that regularity in these matters is absolutely good
for everyone. The thing is not to be interfered with by your habits; and
the end of all discipline is, I believe, efficiency, vitality, and freedom;
but it is no good substituting one tyranny for another. I was reading the
life of a man the other day who simply could not believe that anyone could
think a thing wrong and yet do it. His biographer said, very shrewdly, that
his sense of sin was as dead as his ear for music--that he did not possess
even the common liberty of right and wrong. That's a bad case of atrophy!
You must not, of course, be at the mercy of your moods, but you must not be
at the mercy of your ethical habits either. Of the two, I am not sure that
the habit isn't the most dangerous."
"You seem to be holding a brief all round, Father," said Vincent.
"No, I am not doing that," said Father Payne, "but my theory is this. You
must know, first of all, what you are aiming at, and you must apply your
discipline sensibly to that. There are certain things in us which we know
to be sloppy--we lie in bed, we dawdle, we eat too much, we moon over our
work. All that is obviously no good, and all sensible people try to pull
themselves up. When you have found out what suits you, do it boldly; but
the man who admires discipline for its own sake is a sort of
hypochondriac--a medicine-drinker. I have a friend who says that if he
stays in a house, and sees a bottle of medicine in a cupboard, he is always
tempted to take a dose. 'Is it that you feel ill?' I once said to him.
'No,' he said; 'but I have an idea that it might do me good.' The
disciplinarian is like that: he is always putting a little strain upon
himself, cutting off this and that, trying new rules, heading himself off.
He has an uneasy feeling that if he likes anything, it is a sort of sign
that he should abstain from it: he mistrusts his impulses and instincts. He
thinks he is getting to talk too much, and so he practises holding his
tongue. The truth is that he is suspicious of life. He is like the
schoolmaster who says, 'Go and see what Jack is doing, and tell him not
to!' Of course I am taking an extreme case, but there is a tendency in that
direction in many people. They think that strength means the power to
resist, when it really means the power to flow. I do not think that people
ought to be deferential to criticism, timid before rebuke, depressed by
disapproval: and, on the whole, I believe that more harm is done by
self-repression, obedience, meekness than by the opposite qualities. I want
men to live their own lives fearlessly--not offensively, of course--with a
due regard to other people's comfort, but without any regard to other
people's conventions. I believe in trusting yourself, on the whole, and
trusting the world. I do not think it is wholesome or brave to live under
the shadow of other people's fears or other people's convictions. All the
people, it seems to me, who have done anything for the world, have been the
people who have gone their own way; and I think that self-discipline, or
external discipline meekly accepted, ends in a flattening out of men's
power and character. Of course you fellows here are learning to do a
definite technical thing--but you will observe that all the discipline here
is defensive, and not coercive. I don't want you to take any shape or
mould: I want you just to learn to do things in your own way. I don't ever
want you to interfere with each other's minds too much. I don't want to
interfere with your minds myself, except in so far as to help you to get
rid of sloppiness and prejudices. Here, I mustn't go on--it's becoming like
a prospectus! but it comes to this, that I believe in the trained mind, and
not in the moulded mind; and I think that the moment discipline ceases to
train strength, and begins to mould weakness, it's a thoroughly bad thing.
No one can be artificially protected from life without losing life--and
life is what I am out for."
I did not hear the argument, but I heard Vincent say to Father Payne: "Of
course I couldn't do that--it would have been so inconsistent."
"Oh! consistency's a very cheap affair," said Father Payne; "it is mostly a
blend of vanity and slow intelligence."
"But one must stick to _something_," said Vincent. "There's nothing so
tiresome as never knowing how a man is going to behave."
"Of course," said Father Payne, "inconsistency isn't a virtue--it is
generally the product of a quick and confused intelligence. But consistency
ought not to be a principle of thought or action--you ought not to do or
think a thing simply because you have thought it before--that is mere
laziness! What one wants is a consistent sort of progress--you ought not to
"But you must have principles," said Vincent.
"Yes, but you must expect to change them," said Father Payne. "Principles
are only deductions after all: and to remain consistent as a rule only
means that you have ceased to do anything with your experience, or else it
means that you have taken your principles second-hand. They ought to be
living things, yielding fruits of increase. I don't mean that you should be
at the mercy of a persuasive speaker, or of the last book you have
read--but, on the other hand, to meet an interesting man or to read a
suggestive book ought to modify your views a little. You ought to be
elastic. The only thing that is never quite the same is opinion; and to be
holding a ten years' old opinion simply means that you are stranded.
There's nothing worse than to be high and dry."
"But isn't it worse still," said Vincent, "to see so many sides to a
question that you can't take a definite part?"
"I don't feel sure," said Father Payne. "I know that the all-round
sympathiser is generally found fault with in books; but it is an uncommon
temperament, and means a great power of imagination. I am not sure that the
faculty of taking a side is a very valuable one. People say that things get
done that way; but a great many things get done wrong, and have to be
undone. There is no blessing on the palpably one-sided people. Besides,
there is a great movement in the world now towards approximation.
Majorities don't want to bully minorities. Persecution has gone out. People
are beginning to see that principles are few and interpretations many. I
believe, as a matter of fact, that we ought always to be simplifying our
principles, and getting them under a few big heads. Besides, you do not
convert people by hammering away at principles. I always like the story of
the Frenchman who said to his opponent, 'Come, let us go for a little walk,
and see if we can disagree.'"
"I don't exactly see what he meant," said Vincent.
"Why, he meant," said Father Payne, "that if they could bring their minds
together, they would find that there wasn't very much to quarrel about. But
I don't believe in arguing. I don't think opinion changes in that way. I
fancy it has tides of its own, and that ideas appear in numbers of minds
all over the world, like flowers in spring.
"But how is one ever to act at all," said Vincent, "if one is always to be
feeling that a principle may turn out to be nonsense after all?"
"Well, I think action is mainly a matter of instinct," said Father Payne.
"But I don't really believe in taking too diffuse a view of things in
general. Very few of us are strong enough and wise enough, let me say, to
read the papers with any profit. The newspapers emphasize the disunion of
the world, and I believe in its solidarity. Come, I'll tell you how I think
people ought really to live, if you like. I think a man ought to live his
own life, without attempting too much reference to what is going on in the
world. I think it becomes pretty plain to most of us, by the time we reach
years of discretion, what we can do and what we cannot. I don't mean that
life ought to be lived in blank selfishness, without reference to anyone
else. Most of us can't do that, anyhow--it requires extraordinary
concentration of will. But I think that our lives ought to be
intensive--that is to say, I don't think we ought to concern ourselves with
getting rid of our deficiencies, so much as by concentrating and
emphasizing our powers and faculties. We ought all of us to have a certain
circle in mind--I believe very much in _circles_. We are very much
limited, and our power of affecting people for good and evil is very small;
our chance of helping is small. The moment we try to extend our circle very
much, to widen our influence, we become like a juggler who keeps a dozen
plates spinning all at once--it is mere legerdemain. But we most of us live
really with about a score of people. We can't choose our circle altogether,
and there are generally certain persons in it whom we should wish away. I
think we ought to devote ourselves to our work, whatever it is, and outside
of that to getting a real, intimate, and vital understanding with the
people round us. That is a problem which is amply big enough for most of
us. Then I think we ought to go seriously to work, not arguing or finding
fault, not pushing or shoving people about, but just living on the finest
lines we can. The only real chance of converting other people to our
principles or own ideas, is to live in such a way that it is obvious that
our ideas bring us real and vital happiness. You may depend upon it, that
is the only way to live--the _positive_ way. We simply must not
quarrel with our associates: we must be patient and sympathetic and
"But are there no exceptions?" said I. "I have heard you say that a man
must be prepared to lose friends on occasions."
"Yes," said Father Payne, "the circle shifts and changes a little, no
doubt. I admit that it becomes clear occasionally that you cannot live with
a particular person. But if you have alienated him or her by your
censoriousness and your want of sympathy, you have to be ashamed of
yourself. If it is the other way, and you are being tyrannised over,
deflected, hindered, then it may be necessary to break away--though, mind
you, I think it is finer still if you do not break away. But you must have
your liberty, and I don't believe in sacrificing that, because then you
live an unreal life--and, whatever happens, you must not do that."
"But what is to be done when people are tied up by relationships, and can't
get away?" said I.
"Yes, there are such cases," said Father Payne; "I don't deny it. If there
is really no escape possible, then you must tackle it, and make the finest
thing you can out of the situation. Fulness of life, that is what we must
aim at. Of course people are hemmed in in other ways too--by health,
poverty, circumstances of various kinds. But, however small your saucepan
is, it ought to be on the boil."
"But can people _make_ themselves active and hopeful?" I said. "Isn't
that just the most awful problem of all, the listlessness which falls on
many of us, as the limitations draw round and the net encloses us?"
"You must kick out for all you are worth," said Father Payne. "I fully
admit the difficulty. But one of the best things in life is the fact that
you can always do a little better than you expect. And then--you mustn't
"But a conscious touch with God?" I said. "Isn't that a rare thing?"
"It need not be," said Father Payne, very seriously. "If there is one thing
which experience has taught me, it is this--that if you make a signal to
God, it is answered. I don't say that troubles roll away, or that you are
made instantly happy. But you will find that you can struggle on. People
simply don't try that experiment. The reason why they do not is, I honestly
believe, because of our services, where prayer is made so ceremoniously and
elaborately that people get a false sense of dignity and reverence. It is a
very natural instinct which made the disciples say, 'Teach us to pray,' and
I do not think that ecclesiastical systems do teach people to pray--at
least the examples they give are too intellectual, too much concerned with
good taste. A prayer need not be a verbal thing--the best prayers are not.
It is the mute glance of an eye, the holding out of a hand. And if you ask
me what can make people different, I say it is not will, but prayer."
I was walking about the garden on a wintry Sunday with Father Payne. He had
a particular mood on Sundays, I used to think, which made itself subtly
felt--a mood serious, restrained, and yet contented. I do not remember how
the subject came up, but he said something about prayer, and I replied:
"I wish you would tell me exactly what you feel about prayer, Father. I
never quite understand. You always speak as if it played a great part in
your life, and yet I never am sure what exactly it means to you."
"You might as well say," he said, smiling, "that you never felt quite sure
what breakfast meant to me."
He stopped and looked at me for a moment. "Do we know what anything
_means_? We know what prayer _is_, at any rate--one of the
commonest and most natural of instincts. What is your difficulty?"
"Oh, the usual one," I said, "that if the God to whom we pray is the Power
which puts into our minds good desires, and knows not only what is passing
in our thoughts, but the very direction which our thoughts are going to
take--reads us, in fact, like a book, as they say--what, then, is the
object or purpose of setting ourselves to pray to a Power that knows our
precise range of thoughts, and can disentangle them all far better than we
"Why," said Father Payne, "that is pure fatalism. If you carry that on a
little further it means all absence of effort. You might as well say, 'I
will take no steps to provide myself with food--if God is All-Powerful, and
sends me a good appetite, it is His business to satisfy it!"
"Oh," I said, "I see that. But if I set about providing myself with
breakfast, I know exactly what I want, and have a very fair chance of
obtaining it. But the essence of prayer is that you must not expect to get
your desires fulfilled."
"I certainly do not pretend," said he, "that prayer is a mechanical method
of getting things; it isn't a _substitute_ for effort and action. Nor
do I think that God simply withholds things unless you ask for them, as a
dog has to beg for a piece of biscuit. I don't look upon prayer as the mere
formulating of a list of requests; and I dislike very much the way some
good people have of getting a large number of men and women to pray for the
same thing, as if you were canvassing for votes. And yet I believe that
prayers have a way of being granted. Indeed, I think that both the strength
and the danger of prayer lies in the fact that people do very much tend to
get what they have set their hearts upon. A recurrent prayer for a definite
thing is often a sign that a man is working hard to secure it. It is rather
perilous to desire definite things too definitely, not because you are
disappointed, but because you are often successful in attaining them."
"Then that would be a reason for not praying," I said.
Father Payne gave one of his little frowns, which I knew well. "I'm not
arguing for the sake of arguing, Father," I said; "I really want to
understand. It seems to me such a muddle."
The little frown passed off in a smile. "Yes, it isn't a wholly rational
thing," said Father Payne, "but it's a natural and instinctive thing. To
forbid prayer seems to me like forbidding hope and love. Prayer seems to me
just a mingling of hope and desire and love and confidence. It is more like
talking over your plans and desires with God. It all depends upon whether
you say, 'My will be done,' which is the wrong sort of prayer, or 'Thy will
be done,' which is the right sort of prayer, and infinitely harder. I don't
mind telling you this, that my prayers are an attempt to put myself in
touch with the Spirit of God. I believe in God; I believe that He is trying
very hard to bring men and women to live in a certain way--the right,
joyful, beautiful way. He sees it clearly enough; but we are so tangled up
with material things that we don't see it clearly--we don't see where our
happiness lies; we mistake all kinds of things--pleasures, schemes,
successes, comforts, desires--for happiness; and prayer seems to me like
opening a sluice and letting a clear stream gush through. That's why I
believe one must set oneself to it. The sluice is not always open--we are
lazy, cowardly, timid; or again, we are confident, self-satisfied, proud of
our own inventiveness and resourcefulness. I don't know what the will is or
what its limitations are; but I believe it has a degree of liberty, and it
can exercise that liberty in welcoming God. Of course, if we think of God
as drearily moral, harsh, full of anger and disapproval, we are not likely
to welcome Him; but if we feel Him full of eagerness and sympathy, of
'comfort, light, and fire of love,' as the old hymn says, then we desire
His company. You have to prepare yourself for good company, you know. It is
a bit of a strain; and I feel that the people who won't pray are like the
lazy and sloppy people who won't put themselves out or forego their habits
or take any trouble to receive a splendid guest. The difference is that the
splendid guest is not to be got every day, while God is always glad of your
company, I think."
"Then with you prayer isn't a process of asking?" I said. "But isn't it a
way of changing yourself by simply trying to get your ideals clear?"
"No, no," said Father Payne; "it's just drawing water from a well when you
are thirsty. Of course you must go to the well, and let down the bucket. It
isn't a mere training of imagination; it is helping yourself to something
actually there. The more you pray, the less you ask for definite things.
You become ashamed to do that. Do you remember the story of Hans Andersen,
when he went to see the King of Denmark? The King made a pause at one point
and looked at Andersen, and Andersen said afterwards that the King had
evidently expected him to ask for a pension. 'But I could not,' he said. 'I
know I was a fool, but my heart would not let me.' One can trust God to
know one's desires, and one's heart will not let one ask for them. It is
His will that you want to know--your own will that you want to surrender.
Strength, clearsightedness, simplicity--those are what flow from contact
"But what do you make," I said, "of contemplative Orders of monks and nuns,
who say that they specialise in prayer, and give up their whole time and
energy to it?"
"Well," said Father Payne, "it's a harmless and beautiful life; but it
seems to me like abandoning yourself to one kind of rapture. Prayer seems
to me a part of life, not the whole of it. You have got to use the strength
given you. It is given you to do business with. It seems to me as if a man
argued that because eating gave him strength, it must be a good thing to
eat; and that he would therefore eat all day long. It isn't the gaining of
strength that is desirable, but the using of strength. You mustn't sponge
upon God, so to speak. And I don't honestly believe in any life which takes
you right away from life. Life is the duty of all of us; and prayer seems
to me just one of the things that help one to live."
"But intercession," I said, "is there nothing in the idea that you can pray
for those who cannot or will not pray for themselves?"
"I don't know," said Father Payne. "If you love people and wish them well,
and hate the thought of the evils which befall the innocent, and the
overflowings of ungodliness, you can't keep that out of your prayers, of
course. But I doubt very much whether one can do things vicariously. It
seems to land you in difficulties; if you say, for instance, 'I will
inflict sufferings upon myself, that others may be spared suffering,'
logically you might go on to say, 'I will enjoy myself that my enjoyment
may help those who cannot enjoy.' One doesn't really know how much one's
own experience does help other people. Living with others certainly does
affect them, but I don't feel sure that isolating oneself from others does.
I think, on the whole, that everyone must take his place in a circle. We
are limited by time and space and matter, you know. You can know and love a
dozen people; you can't know and love a hundred thousand to much purpose. I
remember when I was a boy that there was a run on a Bank where we lived.
Two of the partners went there, and did what they could. The third, a pious
fellow, shut himself up in his bedroom and prayed. The Bank was saved, and
he came down the next day and explained his absence by saying he had been
giving them the most effectual help in his power. He thought, I believe,
that he had saved the Bank; I don't think the other two men thought so, and
I am inclined to side with them. Mind, I am not deriding the idea of a
vocation for intercessory prayer. I don't know enough about the forces of
the world to do that. It's a harmless life, a beautiful life, and a hard
life too, and I won't say it is useless. But I am not convinced of its
usefulness. It seems to me on a par with the artistic life, a devotion to a
beautiful dream, I don't, on the whole, believe in art for art's sake, and
I don't think I believe in prayer for prayer's sake. But I don't propound
my ideas as final. I think it possible--I can't say more--that a life
devoted to the absorption of beautiful impressions may affect the
atmosphere of the world--we are bound up with each other behind the scenes
in mysterious ways--and similarly I think that lives of contemplative
prayer _may_ affect the world. I should not attempt to discourage
anyone from such a vocation. But it can't be taken for granted, and I think
that a man must show cause, apart from mere inclination, why he should not
live the common life of the world, and mingle with his fellows."
"Then prayer, you think," I said, "is to you just one of the natural
processes of life?"
"That's about it!" said Father Payne. "It seems to me as definite a way of
getting strength and clearness of view and hope and goodness, as eating and
sleeping are ways of getting strength of another kind. To neglect it is to
run the risk of living a hurried, muddled, self-absorbed life. I can't
explain it, any more than I can explain eating or breathing. It just seems
to me a condition of fine life, which we can practise to our help and
comfort, and neglect to our hurt. I don't think I can say more about it
than that, my boy!"
One evening, when I was sitting with Barthrop in the smoking-room and the
others had gone away, he said to me suddenly, "There's something I want to
speak to you about: I have been worrying about it for some little time, and
it's a bad thing to do that. I daresay it is all nonsense, but I am
bothered about the Father. I don't think he is well, and I don't think he
thinks he is well. He is much thinner, you know, and he isn't in good
spirits. I don't mean that he isn't cheerful in a way, but it's an effort
to him. Now, have you noticed anything?"
I thought for a minute, and then I said, "No, I don't think I have! He's
thinner, of course, but he joked to me about that--he said he had turned
the corner, as people do, and he wasn't going to be a pursy old party when
he got older. Now that you mention it, I think he has been rather silent
and abstracted lately. But then he often is that, you know, when we are all
together. And in his private talks with me--and I have had several
lately--he has seemed to me more tender and affectionate than usual even;
not so amusing, perhaps, not bubbling over with talk, and a little more
serious. If I have thought anything at all, it simply is that he is getting
"It may simply be that, of course," said Barthrop, looking relieved. "I
suppose he is about fifty-eight or so? But I'll tell you something else. I
went in to speak to him two or three days ago. Well you know how he always
seems to be doing something? He is never unoccupied indoors, though he has
certainly seen less of everyone's work of late--but that morning I found
him sitting in his chair, looking out of the window, doing nothing at all;
and I didn't like his look. How can I put it? He looked like a man who was
going off on a long journey--and he was tired and worn-looking--I have
never seen him looking _worn_ before--as if there was a strain of some
kind. There were lines about his face I hadn't noticed before, and his eyes
seemed larger and brighter. He said to me, half apologetically, 'Look here,
this won't do! I'm getting lazy,' Then he went on, 'I was thinking, you
know, about this place: it has been an experiment, and a good and happy
experiment. But it hasn't founded itself, as I hoped,' I asked him what
exactly he meant, and he laughed, and said: 'You know I don't believe in
founding things! A place like this has got to grow up of itself, and have a
life of its own. I don't think the place has got that. I put a seed or two
into the ground, but I'm not sure that they have quickened to life.' Then
he went on in a minute: 'You will know I don't say this conceitedly, but I
think it has all depended too much on me, and I know I'm only a tiller of
the ground. I don't believe I can give life to a society--I can keep it
lively, but that's not the same thing. Something has come of my plan, to be
sure, but it isn't going to spread like a tree--and I hoped it might! But
it's no good being disappointed--that's childish--you can't do what you
mean to do in this world, only what you are meant to do. I expect the
weakness has been that I meddle too much--I don't leave things alone
enough. I trust too much to myself, and not enough to God. It's been too
much a case of "See me do it!"--as the children say.'"
"What did you say?" I said.
"Nothing at all," said Barthrop; "that's where I fail. I can't rise to an
emergency. I murmured something about our all being very grateful to
him--it was awfully flat! If I could but have told him how I cared for him,
and how splendid he had always been! But those perfectly true, sincere,
fine things are just what one can't say, unless one has it all written down