WHAT'S WRONG WITH THE WORLD
by G.K. Chesterton
PART THREE: FEMINISM, OR THE MISTAKE ABOUT WOMAN
I The Unmilitary Suffragette
II The Universal Stick
III The Emancipation of Domesticity
IV The Romance of Thrift
V The Coldness of Chloe
VI The Pedant and the Savage
VII The Modern Surrender of Woman
VIII The Brand of the Fleur-de-Lis
IX Sincerity and the Gallows
X The Higher Anarchy
XI The Queen and the Suffragettes
XII The Modern Slave
I THE UNMILITARY SUFFRAGETTE
It will be better to adopt in this chapter the same process
that appeared a piece of mental justice in the last.
My general opinions on the feminine question are such as many
suffragists would warmly approve; and it would be easy to state
them without any open reference to the current controversy.
But just as it seemed more decent to say first that I was not
in favor of Imperialism even in its practical and popular sense,
so it seems more decent to say the same of Female Suffrage,
in its practical and popular sense. In other words,
it is only fair to state, however hurriedly, the superficial
objection to the Suffragettes before we go on to the really
subtle questions behind the Suffrage.
Well, to get this honest but unpleasant business over, the objection
to the Suffragettes is not that they are Militant Suffragettes.
On the contrary, it is that they are not militant enough.
A revolution is a military thing; it has all the military virtues;
one of which is that it comes to an end. Two parties fight
with deadly weapons, but under certain rules of arbitrary honor;
the party that wins becomes the government and proceeds to govern.
The aim of civil war, like the aim of all war, is peace.
Now the Suffragettes cannot raise civil war in this
soldierly and decisive sense; first, because they are women;
and, secondly, because they are very few women. But they can
raise something else; which is altogether another pair of shoes.
They do not create revolution; what they do create is anarchy;
and the difference between these is not a question of violence,
but a question of fruitfulness and finality. Revolution of its
nature produces government; anarchy only produces more anarchy.
Men may have what opinions they please about the beheading
of King Charles or King Louis, but they cannot deny that Bradshaw
and Cromwell ruled, that Carnot and Napoleon governed.
Someone conquered; something occurred. You can only knock off
the King's head once. But you can knock off the King's hat any
number of times. Destruction is finite, obstruction is infinite:
so long as rebellion takes the form of mere disorder
(instead of an attempt to enforce a new order) there is no logical
end to it; it can feed on itself and renew itself forever.
If Napoleon had not wanted to be a Consul, but only wanted to be
a nuisance, he could, possibly, have prevented any government
arising successfully out of the Revolution. But such a proceeding
would not have deserved the dignified name of rebellion.
It is exactly this unmilitant quality in the Suffragettes that makes
their superficial problem. The problem is that their action has none
of the advantages of ultimate violence; it does not afford a test.
War is a dreadful thing; but it does prove two points sharply
and unanswerably--numbers, and an unnatural valor. One does discover
the two urgent matters; how many rebels there are alive, and how many
are ready to be dead. But a tiny minority, even an interested minority,
may maintain mere disorder forever. There is also, of course, in the case
of these women, the further falsity that is introduced by their sex.
It is false to state the matter as a mere brutal question of strength.
If his muscles give a man a vote, then his horse ought to have two votes
and his elephant five votes. The truth is more subtle than that;
it is that bodily outbreak is a man's instinctive weapon, like the hoofs
to the horse or the tusks to the elephant. All riot is a threat
of war; but the woman is brandishing a weapon she can never use.
There are many weapons that she could and does use. If (for example)
all the women nagged for a vote they would get it in a month.
But there again, one must remember, it would be necessary to get all
the women to nag. And that brings us to the end of the political surface
of the matter. The working objection to the Suffragette philosophy
is simply that overmastering millions of women do not agree with it.
I am aware that some maintain that women ought to have votes whether the
majority wants them or not; but this is surely a strange and childish case
of setting up formal democracy to the destruction of actual democracy.
What should the mass of women decide if they do not decide their general
place in the State? These people practically say that females may vote
about everything except about Female Suffrage.
But having again cleared my conscience of my merely political
and possibly unpopular opinion, I will again cast back and try
to treat the matter in a slower and more sympathetic style;
attempt to trace the real roots of woman's position in
the western state, and the causes of our existing traditions
or perhaps prejudices upon the point. And for this purpose
it is again necessary to travel far from the modern topic,
the mere Suffragette of today, and to go back to subjects which,
though much more old, are, I think, considerably more fresh.
* * *
II THE UNIVERSAL STICK
Cast your eye round the room in which you sit, and select some three
or four things that have been with man almost since his beginning;
which at least we hear of early in the centuries and often among
the tribes. Let me suppose that you see a knife on the table,
a stick in the corner, or a fire on the hearth. About each of these
you will notice one speciality; that not one of them is special.
Each of these ancestral things is a universal thing;
made to supply many different needs; and while tottering pedants
nose about to find the cause and origin of some old custom,
the truth is that it had fifty causes or a hundred origins.
The knife is meant to cut wood, to cut cheese, to cut pencils,
to cut throats; for a myriad ingenious or innocent human objects.
The stick is meant partly to hold a man up, partly to knock a man down;
partly to point with like a finger-post, partly to balance with
like a balancing pole, partly to trifle with like a cigarette,
partly to kill with like a club of a giant; it is a crutch and a cudgel;
an elongated finger and an extra leg. The case is the same, of course,
with the fire; about which the strangest modern views have arisen.
A queer fancy seems to be current that a fire exists to warm people.
It exists to warm people, to light their darkness, to raise
their spirits, to toast their muffins, to air their rooms,
to cook their chestnuts, to tell stories to their children, to make
checkered shadows on their walls, to boil their hurried kettles,
and to be the red heart of a man's house and that hearth for which,
as the great heathens said, a man should die.
Now it is the great mark of our modernity that people are always
proposing substitutes for these old things; and these substitutes
always answer one purpose where the old thing answered ten. The modern
man will wave a cigarette instead of a stick; he will cut his pencil
with a little screwing pencil-sharpener instead of a knife; and he will
even boldly offer to be warmed by hot water pipes instead of a fire.
I have my doubts about pencil-sharpeners even for sharpening pencils;
and about hot water pipes even for heat. But when we think of all
those other requirements that these institutions answered, there opens
before us the whole horrible harlequinade of our civilization.
We see as in a vision a world where a man tries to cut his throat with
a pencil-sharpener; where a man must learn single-stick with a cigarette;
where a man must try to toast muffins at electric lamps, and see red
and golden castles in the surface of hot water pipes.
The principle of which I speak can be seen everywhere in a
comparison between the ancient and universal things and the modern
and specialist things. The object of a theodolite is to lie level;
the object of a stick is to swing loose at any angle; to whirl
like the very wheel of liberty. The object of a lancet is to lance;
when used for slashing, gashing, ripping, lopping off heads and limbs,
it is a disappointing instrument. The object of an electric light is
merely to light (a despicable modesty); and the object of an asbestos
stove . . . I wonder what is the object of an asbestos stove?
If a man found a coil of rope in a desert he could at least
think of all the things that can be done with a coil of rope;
and some of them might even be practical. He could tow a boat
or lasso a horse. He could play cat's-cradle, or pick oakum.
He could construct a rope-ladder for an eloping heiress, or cord
her boxes for a travelling maiden aunt. He could learn to tie a bow,
or he could hang himself. Far otherwise with the unfortunate
traveller who should find a telephone in the desert. You can
telephone with a telephone; you cannot do anything else with it.
And though this is one of the wildest joys of life, it falls by one
degree from its full delirium when there is nobody to answer you.
The contention is, in brief, that you must pull up a hundred roots,
and not one, before you uproot any of these hoary and simple expedients.
It is only with great difficulty that a modem scientific sociologist
can be got to see that any old method has a leg to stand on.
But almost every old method has four or five legs to stand on.
Almost all the old institutions are quadrupeds; and some of
them are centipedes.
Consider these cases, old and new, and you will observe
the operation of a general tendency. Everywhere there was
one big thing that served six purposes; everywhere now there
are six small things; or, rather (and there is the trouble),
there are just five and a half. Nevertheless, we will not
say that this separation and specialism is entirely useless
or inexcusable. I have often thanked God for the telephone;
I may any day thank God for the lancet; and there is none
of these brilliant and narrow inventions (except, of course,
the asbestos stove) which might not be at some moment
necessary and lovely. But I do not think the most austere
upholder of specialism will deny that there is in these old,
many-sided institutions an element of unity and universality
which may well be preserved in its due proportion and place.
Spiritually, at least, it will be admitted that some all-round
balance is needed to equalize the extravagance of experts.
It would not be difficult to carry the parable of the knife
and stick into higher regions. Religion, the immortal maiden,
has been a maid-of-all-work as well as a servant of mankind.
She provided men at once with the theoretic laws of an unalterable
cosmos and also with the practical rules of the rapid and
thrilling game of morality. She taught logic to the student
and told fairy tales to the children; it was her business
to confront the nameless gods whose fears are on all flesh,
and also to see the streets were spotted with silver and scarlet,
that there was a day for wearing ribbons or an hour for
ringing bells. The large uses of religion have been broken
up into lesser specialities, just as the uses of the hearth
have been broken up into hot water pipes and electric bulbs.
The romance of ritual and colored emblem has been taken over
by that narrowest of all trades, modem art (the sort called art
for art's sake), and men are in modern practice informed that they
may use all symbols so long as they mean nothing by them.
The romance of conscience has been dried up into the science
of ethics; which may well be called decency for decency's sake,
decency unborn of cosmic energies and barren of artistic flower.
The cry to the dim gods, cut off from ethics and cosmology,
has become mere Psychical Research. Everything has been
sundered from everything else, and everything has grown cold.
Soon we shall hear of specialists dividing the tune from
the words of a song, on the ground that they spoil each other;
and I did once meet a man who openly advocated the separation
of almonds and raisins. This world is all one wild divorce court;
nevertheless, there are many who still hear in their souls
the thunder of authority of human habit; those whom Man hath
joined let no man sunder.
This book must avoid religion, but there must (I say)
be many, religious and irreligious, who will concede
that this power of answering many purposes was a sort
of strength which should not wholly die out of our lives.
As a part of personal character, even the moderns will agree that
many-sidedness is a merit and a merit that may easily be overlooked.
This balance and universality has been the vision of many groups
of men in many ages. It was the Liberal Education of Aristotle;
the jack-of-all-trades artistry of Leonardo da Vinci and his friends;
the august amateurishness of the Cavalier Person of Quality like
Sir William Temple or the great Earl of Dorset. It has appeared
in literature in our time in the most erratic and opposite shapes,
set to almost inaudible music by Walter Pater and enunciated
through a foghorn by Walt Whitman. But the great mass of men
have always been unable to achieve this literal universality,
because of the nature of their work in the world.
Not, let it be noted, because of the existence of their work.
Leonardo da Vinci must have worked pretty hard; on the other hand,
many a government office clerk, village constable or elusive
plumber may do (to all human appearance) no work at all,
and yet show no signs of the Aristotelian universalism.
What makes it difficult for the average man to be a
universalist is that the average man has to be a specialist;
he has not only to learn one trade, but to learn it so well
as to uphold him in a more or less ruthless society.
This is generally true of males from the first hunter to the last
electrical engineer; each has not merely to act, but to excel.
Nimrod has not only to be a mighty hunter before the Lord,
but also a mighty hunter before the other hunters.
The electrical engineer has to be a very electrical engineer,
or he is outstripped by engineers yet more electrical.
Those very miracles of the human mind on which the modern
world prides itself, and rightly in the main, would be
impossible without a certain concentration which disturbs
the pure balance of reason more than does religious bigotry.
No creed can be so limiting as that awful adjuration that
the cobbler must not go beyond his last. So the largest and
wildest shots of our world are but in one direction and with
a defined trajectory: the gunner cannot go beyond his shot,
and his shot so often falls short; the astronomer cannot go
beyond his telescope and his telescope goes such a little way.
All these are like men who have stood on the high peak of a mountain
and seen the horizon like a single ring and who then descend down
different paths towards different towns, traveling slow or fast.
It is right; there must be people traveling to different towns;
there must be specialists; but shall no one behold the horizon?
Shall all mankind be specialist surgeons or peculiar plumbers;
shall all humanity be monomaniac? Tradition has decided
that only half of humanity shall be monomaniac. It has decided
that in every home there shall be a tradesman and a Jack-of
all-trades. But it has also decided, among other things,
that the Jack of-all-trades shall be a Gill-of-all-trades. It
has decided, rightly or wrongly, that this specialism
and this universalism shall be divided between the sexes.
Cleverness shall be left for men and wisdom for women.
For cleverness kills wisdom; that is one of the few sad
and certain things.
But for women this ideal of comprehensive capacity (or common-sense)
must long ago have been washed away. It must have melted
in the frightful furnaces of ambition and eager technicality.
A man must be partly a one-idead man, because he is a
one-weaponed man--and he is flung naked into the fight.
The world's demand comes to him direct; to his wife indirectly.
In short, he must (as the books on Success say) give "his best";
and what a small part of a man "his best" is! His second
and third best are often much better. If he is the first violin
he must fiddle for life; he must not remember that he is
a fine fourth bagpipe, a fair fifteenth billiard-cue, a foil,
a fountain pen, a hand at whist, a gun, and an image of God.
* * *
III THE EMANCIPATION OF DOMESTICITY
And it should be remarked in passing that this force upon a man to develop
one feature has nothing to do with what is commonly called our competitive
system, but would equally exist under any rationally conceivable kind
of Collectivism. Unless the Socialists are frankly ready for a fall
in the standard of violins, telescopes and electric lights, they must
somehow create a moral demand on the individual that he shall keep up
his present concentration on these things. It was only by men being
in some degree specialist that there ever were any telescopes; they must
certainly be in some degree specialist in order to keep them going.
It is not by making a man a State wage-earner that you can prevent him
thinking principally about the very difficult way he earns his wages.
There is only one way to preserve in the world that high levity and that
more leisurely outlook which fulfils the old vision of universalism.
That is, to permit the existence of a partly protected half of humanity;
a half which the harassing industrial demand troubles indeed, but only
troubles indirectly. In other words, there must be in every center
of humanity one human being upon a larger plan; one who does not "give
her best," but gives her all.
Our old analogy of the fire remains the most workable one.
The fire need not blaze like electricity nor boil like boiling water;
its point is that it blazes more than water and warms more than light.
The wife is like the fire, or to put things in their proper proportion,
the fire is like the wife. Like the fire, the woman is expected
to cook: not to excel in cooking, but to cook; to cook better
than her husband who is earning the coke by lecturing on botany
or breaking stones. Like the fire, the woman is expected to tell
tales to the children, not original and artistic tales, but tales--
better tales than would probably be told by a first-class cook.
Like the fire, the woman is expected to illuminate and ventilate,
not by the most startling revelations or the wildest winds of thought,
but better than a man can do it after breaking stones or lecturing.
But she cannot be expected to endure anything like this universal
duty if she is also to endure the direct cruelty of competitive or
bureaucratic toil. Woman must be a cook, but not a competitive cook;
a school mistress, but not a competitive schoolmistress;
a house-decorator but not a competitive house-decorator; a dressmaker,
but not a competitive dressmaker. She should have not one trade but
twenty hobbies; she, unlike the man, may develop all her second bests.
This is what has been really aimed at from the first in what
is called the seclusion, or even the oppression, of women.
Women were not kept at home in order to keep them narrow;
on the contrary, they were kept at home in order to keep them broad.
The world outside the home was one mass of narrowness,
a maze of cramped paths, a madhouse of monomaniacs.
It was only by partly limiting and protecting the woman that she
was enabled to play at five or six professions and so come almost
as near to God as the child when he plays at a hundred trades.
But the woman's professions, unlike the child's, were all truly
and almost terribly fruitful; so tragically real that nothing but
her universality and balance prevented them being merely morbid.
This is the substance of the contention I offer about the historic
female position. I do not deny that women have been wronged
and even tortured; but I doubt if they were ever tortured so much
as they are tortured now by the absurd modern attempt to make
them domestic empresses and competitive clerks at the same time.
I do not deny that even under the old tradition women had
a harder time than men; that is why we take off our hats.
I do not deny that all these various female functions were exasperating;
but I say that there was some aim and meaning in keeping them various.
I do not pause even to deny that woman was a servant; but at least
she was a general servant.
The shortest way of summarizing the position is to say that woman
stands for the idea of Sanity; that intellectual home to which
the mind must return after every excursion on extravagance.
The mind that finds its way to wild places is the poet's;
but the mind that never finds its way back is the lunatic's. There must
in every machine be a part that moves and a part that stands still;
there must be in everything that changes a part that is unchangeable.
And many of the phenomena which moderns hastily condemn are really parts
of this position of the woman as the center and pillar of health.
Much of what is called her subservience, and even her pliability,
is merely the subservience and pliability of a universal remedy;
she varies as medicines vary, with the disease. She has
to be an optimist to the morbid husband, a salutary pessimist
to the happy-go-lucky husband. She has to prevent the Quixote
from being put upon, and the bully from putting upon others.
The French King wrote--
"Toujours femme varie Bien fol qui s'y fie,"
but the truth is that woman always varies, and that is exactly why
we always trust her. To correct every adventure and extravagance
with its antidote in common-sense is not (as the moderns
seem to think) to be in the position of a spy or a slave.
It is to be in the position of Aristotle or (at the lowest)
Herbert Spencer, to be a universal morality, a complete system
of thought. The slave flatters; the complete moralist rebukes.
It is, in short, to be a Trimmer in the true sense of that honorable term;
which for some reason or other is always used in a sense exactly
opposite to its own. It seems really to be supposed that a Trimmer
means a cowardly person who always goes over to the stronger side.
It really means a highly chivalrous person who always goes over
to the weaker side; like one who trims a boat by sitting where there
are few people seated. Woman is a trimmer; and it is a generous,
dangerous and romantic trade.
The final fact which fixes this is a sufficiently plain one.
Supposing it to be conceded that humanity has acted at least
not unnaturally in dividing itself into two halves, respectively
typifying the ideals of special talent and of general sanity
(since they are genuinely difficult to combine completely in one
mind), it is not difficult to see why the line of cleavage has
followed the line of sex, or why the female became the emblem
of the universal and the male of the special and superior.
Two gigantic facts of nature fixed it thus: first, that the woman
who frequently fulfilled her functions literally could not be
specially prominent in experiment and adventure; and second,
that the same natural operation surrounded her with very young children,
who require to be taught not so much anything as everything.
Babies need not to be taught a trade, but to be introduced to a world.
To put the matter shortly, woman is generally shut up in a house
with a human being at the time when he asks all the questions
that there are, and some that there aren't. It would be odd
if she retained any of the narrowness of a specialist.
Now if anyone says that this duty of general enlightenment
(even when freed from modern rules and hours, and exercised
more spontaneously by a more protected person) is in itself
too exacting and oppressive, I can understand the view.
I can only answer that our race has thought it worth while to cast
this burden on women in order to keep common-sense in the world.
But when people begin to talk about this domestic duty as not merely
difficult but trivial and dreary, I simply give up the question.
For I cannot with the utmost energy of imagination conceive what
they mean. When domesticity, for instance, is called drudgery,
all the difficulty arises from a double meaning in the word.
If drudgery only means dreadfully hard work, I admit the woman
drudges in the home, as a man might drudge at the Cathedral of Amiens
or drudge behind a gun at Trafalgar. But if it means that the hard
work is more heavy because it is trifling, colorless and of small
import to the soul, then as I say, I give it up; I do not know
what the words mean. To be Queen Elizabeth within a definite area,
deciding sales, banquets, labors and holidays; to be Whiteley
within a certain area, providing toys, boots, sheets cakes.
and books, to be Aristotle within a certain area, teaching morals,
manners, theology, and hygiene; I can understand how this might
exhaust the mind, but I cannot imagine how it could narrow it.
How can it be a large career to tell other people's children about
the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one's own children
about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing
to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No; a woman's
function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it
is minute I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her task;
I will never pity her for its smallness.
But though the essential of the woman's task is universality,
this does not, of course, prevent her from having one or two severe
though largely wholesome prejudices. She has, on the whole,
been more conscious than man that she is only one half of humanity;
but she has expressed it (if one may say so of a lady) by getting her
teeth into the two or three things which she thinks she stands for.
I would observe here in parenthesis that much of the recent
official trouble about women has arisen from the fact that they
transfer to things of doubt and reason that sacred stubbornness
only proper to the primary things which a woman was set to guard.
One's own children, one's own altar, ought to be a matter of principle--
or if you like, a matter of prejudice. On the other hand,
who wrote Junius's Letters ought not to be a principle or a prejudice,
it ought to be a matter of free and almost indifferent inquiry.
But take an energetic modern girl secretary to a league
to show that George III wrote Junius, and in three months she
will believe it, too, out of mere loyalty to her employers.
Modern women defend their office with all the fierceness of domesticity.
They fight for desk and typewriter as for hearth and home, and develop
a sort of wolfish wifehood on behalf of the invisible head of the firm.
That is why they do office work so well; and that is why they ought
not to do it.
* * *
IV THE ROMANCE OF THRIFT
The larger part of womankind, however, have had to fight for things
slightly more intoxicating to the eye than the desk or the typewriter;
and it cannot be denied that in defending these, women have developed
the quality called prejudice to a powerful and even menacing degree.
But these prejudices will always be found to fortify the main position
of the woman, that she is to remain a general overseer, an autocrat
within small compass but on all sides. On the one or two points
on which she really misunderstands the man's position, it is almost
entirely in order to preserve her own. The two points on which woman,
actually and of herself, is most tenacious may be roughly summarized
as the ideal of thrift and the ideal of dignity
Unfortunately for this book it is written by a male, and these
two qualities, if not hateful to a man, are at least hateful in a man.
But if we are to settle the sex question at all fairly,
all males must make an imaginative attempt to enter into
the attitude of all good women toward these two things.
The difficulty exists especially, perhaps, in the thing called thrift;
we men have so much encouraged each other in throwing money
right and left, that there has come at last to be a sort
of chivalrous and poetical air about losing sixpence.
But on a broader and more candid consideration the case
scarcely stands so.
Thrift is the really romantic thing; economy is more romantic
than extravagance. Heaven knows I for one speak disinterestedly
in the matter; for I cannot clearly remember saving a half-penny ever
since I was born. But the thing is true; economy, properly understood,
is the more poetic. Thrift is poetic because it is creative;
waste is unpoetic because it is waste. It is prosaic to throw
money away, because it is prosaic to throw anything away;
it is negative; it is a confession of indifference, that is,
it is a confession of failure. The most prosaic thing about
the house is the dustbin, and the one great objection to the new
fastidious and aesthetic homestead is simply that in such
a moral menage the dustbin must be bigger than the house.
If a man could undertake to make use of all things in his dustbin
he would be a broader genius than Shakespeare. When science
began to use by-products; when science found that colors could
be made out of coaltar, she made her greatest and perhaps
her only claim on the real respect of the human soul.
Now the aim of the good woman is to use the by-products, or,
in other words, to rummage in the dustbin.
A man can only fully comprehend it if he thinks of some sudden joke
or expedient got up with such materials as may be found in a private
house on a rainy day. A man's definite daily work is generally
run with such rigid convenience of modern science that thrift,
the picking up of potential helps here and there, has almost
become unmeaning to him. He comes across it most (as I say)
when he is playing some game within four walls; when in charades,
a hearthrug will just do for a fur coat, or a tea-cozy just do
for a cocked hat; when a toy theater needs timber and cardboard,
and the house has just enough firewood and just enough bandboxes.
This is the man's occasional glimpse and pleasing parody of thrift.
But many a good housekeeper plays the same game every day
with ends of cheese and scraps of silk, not because she is mean,
but on the contrary, because she is magnanimous; because she
wishes her creative mercy to be over all her works, that not one
sardine should be destroyed, or cast as rubbish to the void,
when she has made the pile complete.
The modern world must somehow be made to understand
(in theology and other things) that a view may be vast,
broad, universal, liberal and yet come into conflict with
another view that is vast, broad, universal and liberal also.
There is never a war between two sects, but only between two
universal Catholic Churches. The only possible collision
is the collision of one cosmos with another. So in a smaller
way it must be first made clear that this female economic ideal
is a part of that female variety of outlook and all-round
art of life which we have already attributed to the sex:
thrift is not a small or timid or provincial thing; it is part
of that great idea of the woman watching on all sides out of all
the windows of the soul and being answerable for everything.
For in the average human house there is one hole by
which money comes in and a hundred by which it goes out;
man has to do with the one hole, woman with the hundred.
But though the very stinginess of a woman is a part of her
spiritual breadth, it is none the less true that it brings her
into conflict with the special kind of spiritual breadth that
belongs to the males of the tribe. It brings her into conflict
with that shapeless cataract of Comradeship, of chaotic feasting
and deafening debate, which we noted in the last section.
The very touch of the eternal in the two sexual tastes brings
them the more into antagonism; for one stands for a universal
vigilance and the other for an almost infinite output.
Partly through the nature of his moral weakness, and partly
through the nature or his physical strength, the male is
normally prone to expand things into a sort of eternity;
he always thinks of a dinner party as lasting all night;
and he always thinks of a night as lasting forever.
When the working women in the poor districts come to the doors
of the public houses and try to get their husbands home,
simple minded "social workers" always imagine that every husband
is a tragic drunkard and every wife a broken-hearted saint.
It never occurs to them that the poor woman is only doing under
coarser conventions exactly what every fashionable hostess does
when she tries to get the men from arguing over the cigars to come
and gossip over the teacups. These women are not exasperated
merely at the amount of money that is wasted in beer; they are
exasperated also at the amount of time that is wasted in talk.
It is not merely what goeth into the mouth but what cometh
out the mouth that, in their opinion, defileth a man.
They will raise against an argument (like their sisters of all ranks)
the ridiculous objection that nobody is convinced by it;
as if a man wanted to make a body-slave of anybody with whom he had
played single-stick. But the real female prejudice on this point
is not without a basis; the real feeling is this, that the most
masculine pleasures have a quality of the ephemeral. A duchess
may ruin a duke for a diamond necklace; but there is the necklace.
A coster may ruin his wife for a pot of beer; and where is the beer?
The duchess quarrels with another duchess in order to crush her,
to produce a result; the coster does not argue with another
coster in order to convince him, but in order to enjoy at once
the sound of his own voice, the clearness of his own opinions
and the sense of masculine society. There is this element
of a fine fruitlessness about the male enjoyments; wine is poured
into a bottomless bucket; thought plunges into a bottomless abyss.
All this has set woman against the Public House--that is,
against the Parliament House. She is there to prevent waste;
and the "pub" and the parliament are the very palaces of waste.
In the upper classes the "pub" is called the club, but that makes
no more difference to the reason than it does to the rhyme.
High and low, the woman's objection to the Public House is
perfectly definite and rational, it is that the Public House
wastes the energies that could be used on the private house.
As it is about feminine thrift against masculine waste,
so it is about feminine dignity against masculine rowdiness.
The woman has a fixed and very well-founded idea that if
she does not insist on good manners nobody else will.
Babies are not always strong on the point of dignity,
and grown-up men are quite unpresentable. It is true that
there are many very polite men, but none that I ever heard
of who were not either fascinating women or obeying them.
But indeed the female ideal of dignity, like the female ideal
of thrift, lies deeper and may easily be misunderstood.
It rests ultimately on a strong idea of spiritual isolation;
the same that makes women religious. They do not like being
melted down; they dislike and avoid the mob That anonymous
quality we have remarked in the club conversation would be common
impertinence in a case of ladies. I remember an artistic
and eager lady asking me in her grand green drawing-room whether
I believed in comradeship between the sexes, and why not.
I was driven back on offering the obvious and sincere answer
"Because if I were to treat you for two minutes like a comrade
you would turn me out of the house." The only certain rule on
this subject is always to deal with woman and never with women.
"Women" is a profligate word; I have used it repeatedly in
this chapter; but it always has a blackguard sound. It smells
of oriental cynicism and hedonism. Every woman is a captive queen.
But every crowd of women is only a harem broken loose.
I am not expressing my own views here, but those of nearly
all the women I have known. It is quite unfair to say that
a woman hates other women individually; but I think it would
be quite true to say that she detests them in a confused heap.
And this is not because she despises her own sex, but because she
respects it; and respects especially that sanctity and separation
of each item which is represented in manners by the idea of dignity
and in morals by the idea of chastity.
* * *
V THE COLDNESS OF CHLOE
We hear much of the human error which accepts what is sham
and what is real. But it is worth while to remember that with
unfamiliar things we often mistake what is real for what is sham.
It is true that a very young man may think the wig of an
actress is her hair. But it is equally true that a child
yet younger may call the hair of a negro his wig.
Just because the woolly savage is remote and barbaric he seems
to be unnaturally neat and tidy. Everyone must have noticed
the same thing in the fixed and almost offensive color
of all unfamiliar things, tropic birds and tropic blossoms.
Tropic birds look like staring toys out of a toy-shop. Tropic flowers
simply look like artificial flowers, like things cut out of wax.
This is a deep matter, and, I think, not unconnected with divinity;
but anyhow it is the truth that when we see things for the first
time we feel instantly that they are fictive creations;
we feel the finger of God. It is only when we are thoroughly used
to them and our five wits are wearied, that we see them as wild
and objectless; like the shapeless tree-tops or the shifting cloud.
It is the design in Nature that strikes us first; the sense
of the crosses and confusions in that design only comes
afterwards through experience and an almost eerie monotony.
If a man saw the stars abruptly by accident he would
think them as festive and as artificial as a firework.
We talk of the folly of painting the lily; but if we saw
the lily without warning we should think that it was painted.
We talk of the devil not being so black as he is painted;
but that very phrase is a testimony to the kinship between
what is called vivid and what is called artificial.
If the modern sage had only one glimpse of grass and sky,
he would say that grass was not as green as it was painted;
that sky was not as blue as it was painted. If one could see
the whole universe suddenly, it would look like a bright-colored toy,
just as the South American hornbill looks like a bright-colored toy.
And so they are--both of them, I mean.
But it was not with this aspect of the startling air of
artifice about all strange objects that I meant to deal.
I mean merely, as a guide to history, that we should not be surprised
if things wrought in fashions remote from ours seem artificial;
we should convince ourselves that nine times out of ten
these things are nakedly and almost indecently honest.
You will hear men talk of the frosted classicism of Corneille
or of the powdered pomposities of the eighteenth century,
but all these phrases are very superficial. There never was
an artificial epoch. There never was an age of reason.
Men were always men and women women: and their two generous appetites
always were the expression of passion and the telling of truth.
We can see something stiff and quaint in their mode of expression,
just as our descendants will see something stiff and quaint
in our coarsest slum sketch or our most naked pathological play.
But men have never talked about anything but important things;
and the next force in femininity which we have to consider can
be considered best perhaps in some dusty old volume of verses
by a person of quality.
The eighteenth century is spoken of as the period of artificiality,
in externals at least; but, indeed, there may be two words about that.
In modern speech one uses artificiality as meaning indefinitely a sort
of deceit; and the eighteenth century was far too artificial to deceive.
It cultivated that completest art that does not conceal the art.
Its fashions and costumes positively revealed nature by allowing artifice;
as in that obvious instance of a barbering that frosted every head with
the same silver. It would be fantastic to call this a quaint humility
that concealed youth; but, at least, it was not one with the evil pride
that conceals old age. Under the eighteenth century fashion people
did not so much all pretend to be young, as all agree to be old.
The same applies to the most odd and unnatural of their fashions;
they were freakish, but they were not false. A lady may or may
not be as red as she is painted, but plainly she was not so black
as she was patched.
But I only introduce the reader into this atmosphere of the older
and franker fictions that he may be induced to have patience for a
moment with a certain element which is very common in the decoration
and literature of that age and of the two centuries preceding it.
It is necessary to mention it in such a connection because it
is exactly one of those things that look as superficial as powder,
and are really as rooted as hair.
In all the old flowery and pastoral love-songs, those of the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries especially, you will find
a perpetual reproach against woman in the matter of her coldness;
ceaseless an stale similes that compare her eyes to northern stars,
her heart to ice, or her bosom to snow. Now most of us have always
supposed these old and iterant phrases to be a mere pattern of dead words,
a thing like a cold wall-paper. Yet I think those old cavalier poets
who wrote about the coldness of Chloe had hold of a psychological
truth missed in nearly all the realistic novels of today.
Our psychological romancers perpetually represent wives as striking
terror into their husbands by rolling on the floor, gnashing their teeth,
throwing about the furniture or poisoning the coffee; all this upon
some strange fixed theory that women are what they call emotional.
But in truth the old and frigid form is much nearer to the vital fact.
Most men if they spoke with any sincerity would agree that the most
terrible quality in women, whether in friendship, courtship or marriage,
was not so much being emotional as being unemotional.
There is an awful armor of ice which may be the legitimate protection
of a more delicate organism; but whatever be the psychological
explanation there can surely be no question of the fact.
The instinctive cry of the female in anger is noli me tangere.
I take this as the most obvious and at the same time the least
hackneyed instance of a fundamental quality in the female tradition,
which has tended in our time to be almost immeasurably misunderstood,
both by the cant of moralists and the cant of immoralists.
The proper name for the thing is modesty; but as we live in an age
of prejudice and must not call things by their right names,
we will yield to a more modern nomenclature and call it dignity.
Whatever else it is, it is the thing which a thousand poets and
a million lovers have called the coldness of Chloe. It is akin
to the classical, and is at least the opposite of the grotesque.
And since we are talking here chiefly in types and symbols,
perhaps as good an embodiment as any of the idea may
be found in the mere fact of a woman wearing a skirt.
It is highly typical of the rabid plagiarism which now passes
everywhere for emancipation, that a little while ago it was common
for an "advanced" woman to claim the right to wear trousers;
a right about as grotesque as the right to wear a false nose.
Whether female liberty is much advanced by the act of wearing
a skirt on each leg I do not know; perhaps Turkish women might
offer some information on the point. But if the western woman
walks about (as it were) trailing the curtains of the harem
with her, it is quite certain that the woven mansion is meant
for a perambulating palace, not for a perambulating prison.
It is quite certain that the skirt rneans female dignity,
not female submission; it can be proved by the simplest of all tests.
No ruler would deliberately dress up in the recognized fetters
of a slave; no judge would appear covered with broad arrows.
But when men wish to be safely impressive, as judges,
priests or kings, they do wear skirts, the long, trailing robes
of female dignity The whole world is under petticoat government;
for even men wear petticoats when they wish to govern.
* * *
VI THE PEDANT AND THE SAVAGE
We say then that the female holds up with two strong arms these two
pillars of civilization; we say also that she could do neither,
but for her position; her curious position of private omnipotence,
universality on a small scale. The first element is thrift;
not the destructive thrift of the miser, but the creative
thrift of the peasant; the second element is dignity,
which is but the expression of sacred personality and privacy.
Now I know the question that will be abruptly and automatically
asked by all that know the dull tricks and turns of the modern
sexual quarrel. The advanced person will at once begin to argue
about whether these instincts are inherent and inevitable
in woman or whether they are merely prejudices produced
by her history and education. Now I do not propose to discuss
whether woman could now be educated out of her habits touching
thrift and dignity; and that for two excellent reasons.
First it is a question which cannot conceivably ever find
any answer: that is why modern people are so fond of it.
From the nature of the case it is obviously impossible
to decide whether any of the peculiarities of civilized
man have been strictly necessary to his civilization.
It is not self-evident (for instance), that even the habit
of standing upright was the only path of human progress.
There might have been a quadrupedal civilization, in which a city
gentleman put on four boots to go to the city every morning.
Or there might have been a reptilian civilization, in which
he rolled up to the office on his stomach; it is impossible to say
that intelligence might not have developed in such creatures.
All we can say is that man as he is walks upright; and that woman
is something almost more upright than uprightness.
And the second point is this: that upon the whole we rather
prefer women (nay, even men) to walk upright; so we do not waste much
of our noble lives in inventing any other way for them to walk.
In short, my second reason for not speculating upon whether woman
might get rid of these peculiarities, is that I do not want her to
get rid of them; nor does she. I will not exhaust my intelligence
by inventing ways in which mankind might unlearn the violin or
forget how to ride horses; and the art of domesticity seems to me
as special and as valuable as all the ancient arts of our race.
Nor do I propose to enter at all into those formless and floundering
speculations about how woman was or is regarded in the primitive
times that we cannot remember, or in the savage countries which we
cannot understand. Even if these people segregated their women
for low or barbaric reasons it would not make our reasons barbaric;
and I am haunted with a tenacious suspicion that these people's
feelings were really, under other forms, very much the same as ours.
Some impatient trader, some superficial missionary, walks across
an island and sees the squaw digging in the fields while the man
is playing a flute; and immediately says that the man is a mere
lord of creation and the woman a mere serf. He does not remember
that he might see the same thing in half the back gardens in Brixton,
merely because women are at once more conscientious and more impatient,
while men are at once more quiescent and more greedy for pleasure.
It may often be in Hawaii simply as it is in Hoxton. That is,
the woman does not work because the man tells her to work and she obeys.
On the contrary, the woman works because she has told the man
to work and he hasn't obeyed. I do not affirm that this
is the whole truth, but I do affirm that we have too little
comprehension of the souls of savages to know how far it is untrue.
It is the same with the relations of our hasty and surface science,
with the problem of sexual dignity and modesty. Professors find all
over the world fragmentary ceremonies in which the bride affects some
sort of reluctance, hides from her husband, or runs away from him.
The professor then pompously proclaims that this is a survival
of Marriage by Capture. I wonder he never says that the veil
thrown over the bride is really a net. I gravely doubt whether
women ever were married by capture I think they pretended to be;
as they do still.
It is equally obvious that these two necessary sanctities
of thrift and dignity are bound to come into collision
with the wordiness, the wastefulness, and the perpetual
pleasure-seeking of masculine companionship. Wise women allow
for the thing; foolish women try to crush it; but all women try
to counteract it, and they do well. In many a home all round
us at this moment, we know that the nursery rhyme is reversed.
The queen is in the counting-house, counting out the money.
The king is in the parlor, eating bread and honey.
But it must be strictly understood that the king has captured
the honey in some heroic wars. The quarrel can be found
in moldering Gothic carvings and in crabbed Greek manuscripts.
In every age, in every land, in every tribe and village, has been
waged the great sexual war between the Private House and the
Public House. I have seen a collection of mediaeval English poems,
divided into sections such as "Religious Carols," "Drinking Songs,"
and so on; and the section headed, "Poems of Domestic Life"
consisted entirely (literally, entirely) of the complaints
of husbands who were bullied by their wives. Though the English
was archaic, the words were in many cases precisely the same
as those which I have heard in the streets and public houses
of Battersea, protests on behalf of an extension of time and talk,
protests against the nervous impatience and the devouring
utilitarianism of the female. Such, I say, is the quarrel;
it can never be anything but a quarrel; but the aim of all morals
and all society is to keep it a lovers' quarrel.
* * *
VII THE MODERN SURRENDER OF WOMAN
But in this corner called England, at this end of the century,
there has happened a strange and startling thing. Openly and to all
appearance, this ancestral conflict has silently and abruptly ended;
one of the two sexes has suddenly surrendered to the other.
By the beginning of the twentieth century, within the last
few years, the woman has in public surrendered to the man.
She has seriously and officially owned that the man has been
right all along; that the public house (or Parliament) is really
more important than the private house; that politics are not
(as woman had always maintained) an excuse for pots of beer,
but are a sacred solemnity to which new female worshipers may kneel;
that the talkative patriots in the tavern are not only admirable
but enviable; that talk is not a waste of time, and therefore
(as a consequence, surely) that taverns are not a waste of money.
All we men had grown used to our wives and mothers,
and grandmothers, and great aunts all pouring a chorus of
contempt upon our hobbies of sport, drink and party politics.
And now comes Miss Pankhurst with tears in her eyes,
owning that all the women were wrong and all the men were right;
humbly imploring to be admitted into so much as an outer court,
from which she may catch a glimpse of those masculine merits
which her erring sisters had so thoughtlessly scorned.
Now this development naturally perturbs and even paralyzes us.
Males, like females, in the course of that old fight between the public
and private house, had indulged in overstatement and extravagance,
feeling that they must keep up their end of the see-saw. We told
our wives that Parliament had sat late on most essential business;
but it never crossed our minds that our wives would believe it.
We said that everyone must have a vote in the country; similarly our
wives said that no one must have a pipe in the drawing room.
In both cases the idea was the same. "It does not matter much,
but if you let those things slide there is chaos." We said that
Lord Huggins or Mr. Buggins was absolutely necessary to the country.
We knew quite well that nothing is necessary to the country
except that the men should be men and the women women.
We knew this; we thought the women knew it even more clearly;
and we thought the women would say it. Suddenly, without warning,
the women have begun to say all the nonsense that we ourselves
hardly believed when we said it. The solemnity of politics;
the necessity of votes; the necessity of Huggins; the necessity
of Buggins; all these flow in a pellucid stream from the lips
of all the suffragette speakers. I suppose in every fight,
however old, one has a vague aspiration to conquer; but we never
wanted to conquer women so completely as this. We only expected
that they might leave us a little more margin for our nonsense;
we never expected that they would accept it seriously as sense.
Therefore I am all at sea about the existing situation;
I scarcely know whether to be relieved or enraged by this
substitution of the feeble platform lecture for the forcible
curtain-lecture. I am lost without the trenchant and candid
Mrs. Caudle. I really do not know what to do with the prostrate
and penitent Miss Pankhurst. This surrender of the modem woman
has taken us all so much by surprise that it is desirable to pause
a moment, and collect our wits about what she is really saying.
As I have already remarked, there is one very simple answer to all this;
these are not the modern women, but about one in two thousand
of the modern women. This fact is important to a democrat;
but it is of very little importance to the typically modern mind.
Both the characteristic modern parties believed in a government
by the few; the only difference is whether it is the Conservative
few or Progressive few. It might be put, somewhat coarsely perhaps,
by saying that one believes in any minority that is rich and the other
in any minority that is mad. But in this state of things the democratic
argument obviously falls out for the moment; and we are bound
to take the prominent minority, merely because it is prominent.
Let us eliminate altogether from our minds the thousands of women who
detest this cause, and the millions of women who have hardly heard of it.
Let us concede that the English people itself is not and will not
be for a very long time within the sphere of practical politics.
Let us confine ourselves to saying that these particular women want
a vote and to asking themselves what a vote is. If we ask these
ladies ourselves what a vote is, we shall get a very vague reply.
It is the only question, as a rule, for which they are not prepared.
For the truth is that they go mainly by precedent; by the mere fact
that men have votes already. So far from being a mutinous movement,
it is really a very Conservative one; it is in the narrowest rut of
the British Constitution. Let us take a little wider and freer sweep
of thought and ask ourselves what is the ultimate point and meaning
of this odd business called voting.
* * *
VIII THE BRAND OF THE FLEUR-DE-LIS
Seemingly from the dawn of man all nations have had governments;
and all nations have been ashamed of them. Nothing is more openly
fallacious than to fancy that in ruder or simpler ages ruling,
judging and punishing appeared perfectly innocent and dignified.
These things were always regarded as the penalties of the Fall;
as part of the humiliation of mankind, as bad in themselves.
That the king can do no wrong was never anything but a legal fiction;
and it is a legal fiction still. The doctrine of Divine Right was not
a piece of idealism, but rather a piece of realism, a practical way
of ruling amid the ruin of humanity; a very pragmatist piece of faith.
The religious basis of government was not so much that people
put their trust in princes, as that they did not put their trust
in any child of man. It was so with all the ugly institutions
which disfigure human history. Torture and slavery were never talked
of as good things; they were always talked of as necessary evils.
A pagan spoke of one man owning ten slaves just as a modern business
man speaks of one merchant sacking ten clerks: "It's very horrible;
but how else can society be conducted?" A mediaeval scholastic regarded
the possibility of a man being burned to death just as a modern
business man regards the possibility of a man being starved to death:
"It is a shocking torture; but can you organize a painless world?"
It is possible that a future society may find a way of doing without
the question by hunger as we have done without the question by fire.
It is equally possible, for the matter of that, that a future society
may reestablish legal torture with the whole apparatus of rack and fagot.
The most modern of countries, America, has introduced with a vague
savor of science, a method which it calls "the third degree."
This is simply the extortion of secrets by nervous fatigue;
which is surely uncommonly close to their extortion by bodily pain.
And this is legal and scientific in America. Amateur ordinary America,
of course, simply burns people alive in broad daylight, as they
did in the Reformation Wars. But though some punishments are more
inhuman than others there is no such thing as humane punishment.
As long as nineteen men claim the right in any sense or shape to take
hold of the twentieth man and make him even mildly uncomfortable,
so long the whole proceeding must be a humiliating one for all concerned.
And the proof of how poignantly men have always felt this lies in the fact
that the headsman and the hangman, the jailors and the torturers,
were always regarded not merely with fear but with contempt;
while all kinds of careless smiters, bankrupt knights and swashbucklers
and outlaws, were regarded with indulgence or even admiration. To kill
a man lawlessly was pardoned. To kill a man lawfully was unpardonable.
The most bare-faced duelist might almost brandish his weapon.
But the executioner was always masked.
This is the first essential element in government, coercion; a necessary
but not a noble element. I may remark in passing that when people
say that government rests on force they give an admirable instance
of the foggy and muddled cynicism of modernity. Government does
not rest on force. Government is force; it rests on consent or a
conception of justice. A king or a community holding a certain thing
to be abnormal, evil, uses the general strength to crush it out;
the strength is his tool, but the belief is his only sanction.
You might as well say that glass is the real reason for telescopes.
But arising from whatever reason the act of government is coercive
and is burdened with all the coarse and painful qualities of coercion.
And if anyone asks what is the use of insisting on the ugliness
of this task of state violence since all mankind is condemned
to employ it, I have a simple answer to that. It would be
useless to insist on it if all humanity were condemned to it.
But it is not irrelevant to insist on its ugliness so long as half
of humanity is kept out of it
All government then is coercive; we happen to have created
a government which is not only coercive; but collective.
There are only two kinds of government, as I have already said,
the despotic and the democratic. Aristocracy is not a government,
it is a riot; that most effective kind of riot, a riot
of the rich. The most intelligent apologists of aristocracy,
sophists like Burke and Nietzsche, have never claimed
for aristocracy any virtues but the virtues of a riot,
the accidental virtues, courage, variety and adventure.
There is no case anywhere of aristocracy having established a universal
and applicable order, as despots and democracies have often done;
as the last Caesars created the Roman law, as the last Jacobins
created the Code Napoleon. With the first of these elementary
forms of government, that of the king or chieftain, we are not
in this matter of the sexes immediately concerned. We shall return
to it later when we remark how differently mankind has dealt with
female claims in the despotic as against the democratic field.
But for the moment the essential point is that in self-governing
countries this coercion of criminals is a collective coercion.
The abnormal person is theoretically thumped by a million
fists and kicked by a million feet. If a man is flogged we
all flogged him; if a man is hanged, we all hanged him.
That is the only possible meaning of democracy, which can give
any meaning to the first two syllables and also to the last two.
In this sense each citizen has the high responsibility of a rioter.
Every statute is a declaration of war, to be backed by arms.
Every tribunal is a revolutionary tribunal. In a republic
all punishment is as sacred and solemn as lynching.
* * *
IX SINCERITY AND THE GALLOWS
When, therefore, it is said that the tradition against Female Suffrage
keeps women out of activity, social influence and citizenship,
let us a little more soberly and strictly ask ourselves what it
actually does keep her out of. It does definitely keep her out
of the collective act of coercion; the act of punishment by a mob.
The human tradition does say that, if twenty men hang a man from
a tree or lamp-post, they shall be twenty men and not women.
Now I do not think any reasonable Suffragist will deny
that exclusion from this function, to say the least of it,
might be maintained to be a protection as well as a veto.
No candid person will wholly dismiss the proposition that the idea
of having a Lord Chancellor but not a Lady Chancellor may at least
be connected with the idea of having a headsman but not a headswoman,
a hangman but not a hangwoman. Nor will it be adequate to answer
(as is so often answered to this contention) that in modern
civilization women would not really be required to capture,
to sentence, or to slay; that all this is done indirectly,
that specialists kill our criminals as they kill our cattle.
To urge this is not to urge the reality of the vote, but to urge
its unreality. Democracy was meant to be a more direct way
of ruling, not a more indirect way; and if we do not feel that we
are all jailers, so much the worse for us, and for the prisoners.
If it is really an unwomanly thing to lock up a robber
or a tyrant, it ought to be no softening of the situation
that the woman does not feel as if she were doing the thing
that she certainly is doing. It is bad enough that men can
only associate on paper who could once associate in the street;
it is bad enough that men have made a vote very much of a fiction.
It is much worse that a great class should claim the vote be cause
it is a fiction, who would be sickened by it if it were a fact.
If votes for women do not mean mobs for women they do not mean
what they were meant to mean. A woman can make a cross on a
paper as well as a man; a child could do it as well as a woman;
and a chimpanzee after a few lessons could do it as well as a child.
But nobody ought to regard it merely as making a cross on paper;
everyone ought to regard it as what it ultimately is, branding the
fleur-de-lis, marking the broad arrow, signing the death warrant.
Both men and women ought to face more fully the things they
do or cause to be done; face them or leave off doing them.
On that disastrous day when public executions were abolished,
private executions were renewed and ratified, perhaps forever.
Things grossly unsuited to the moral sentiment of a society cannot
be safely done in broad daylight; but I see no reason why we
should not still be roasting heretics alive, in a private room.
It is very likely (to speak in the manner foolishly called Irish)
that if there were public executions there would be no executions.
The old open-air punishments, the pillory and the gibbet, at least
fixed responsibility upon the law; and in actual practice they gave
the mob an opportunity of throwing roses as well as rotten eggs;
of crying "Hosannah" as well as "Crucify." But I do not like
the public executioner being turned into the private executioner.
I think it is a crooked oriental, sinister sort of business,
and smells of the harem and the divan rather than of the forum
and the market place. In modern times the official has lost
all the social honor and dignity of the common hangman.
He is only the bearer of the bowstring.
Here, however, I suggest a plea for a brutal publicity
only in order to emphasize the fact that it is this brutal
publicity and nothing else from which women have been excluded.
I also say it to emphasize the fact that the mere modern
veiling of the brutality does not make the situation different,
unless we openly say that we are giving the suffrage, not only
because it is power but because it is not, or in other words,
that women are not so much to vote as to play voting.
No suffragist, I suppose, will take up that position; and a few
suffragists will wholly deny that this human necessity of pains
and penalties is an ugly, humiliating business, and that good
motives as well as bad may have helped to keep women out of it.
More than once I have remarked in these pages that female
limitations may be the limits of a temple as well as of
a prison, the disabilities of a priest and not of a pariah.
I noted it, I think, in the case of the pontifical feminine dress.
In the same way it is not evidently irrational, if men decided
that a woman, like a priest, must not be a shedder of blood.
* * *
X THE HIGHER ANARCHY
But there is a further fact; forgotten also because we
moderns forget that there is a female point of view.
The woman's wisdom stands partly, not only for a wholesome
hesitation about punishment, but even for a wholesome hesitation
about absolute rules. There was something feminine and
perversely true in that phrase of Wilde's, that people should
not be treated as the rule, but all of them as exceptions.
Made by a man the remark was a little effeminate; for Wilde did
lack the masculine power of dogma and of democratic cooperation.
But if a woman had said it it would have been simply true;
a woman does treat each person as a peculiar person.
In other words, she stands for Anarchy; a very ancient
and arguable philosophy; not anarchy in the sense of having
no customs in one's life (which is inconceivable), but
anarchy in the sense of having no rules for one's mind.
To her, almost certainly, are due all those working traditions
that cannot be found in books, especially those of education;
it was she who first gave a child a stuffed stocking for
being good or stood him in the corner for being naughty.
This unclassified knowledge is sometimes called rule of thumb
and sometimes motherwit. The last phrase suggests the whole truth,
for none ever called it fatherwit.
Now anarchy is only tact when it works badly. Tact is only anarchy
when it works well. And we ought to realize that in one half
of the world--the private house--it does work well. We modern men
are perpetually forgetting that the case for clear rules and crude
penalties is not self-evident, that there is a great deal to be
said for the benevolent lawlessness of the autocrat, especially on
a small scale; in short, that government is only one side of life.
The other half is called Society, in which women are admittedly dominant.
And they have always been ready to maintain that their kingdom is
better governed than ours, because (in the logical and legal sense)
it is not governed at all. "Whenever you have a real difficulty,"
they say, "when a boy is bumptious or an aunt is stingy, when a silly
girl will marry somebody, or a wicked man won't marry somebody, all your
lumbering Roman Law and British Constitution come to a standstill.
A snub from a duchess or a slanging from a fish-wife are much more
likely to put things straight." So, at least, rang the ancient
female challenge down the ages until the recent female capitulation.
So streamed the red standard of the higher anarchy until Miss Pankhurst
hoisted the white flag.
It must be remembered that the modern world has done deep treason
to the eternal intellect by believing in the swing of the pendulum.
A man must be dead before he swings. It has substituted an idea
of fatalistic alternation for the mediaeval freedom of the soul
seeking truth. All modern thinkers are reactionaries; for their
thought is always a reaction from what went before. When you meet
a modern man he is always coming from a place, not going to it.
Thus, mankind has in nearly all places and periods seen that there
is a soul and a body as plainly as that there is a sun and moon.
But because a narrow Protestant sect called Materialists declared
for a short time that there was no soul, another narrow Protestant sect
called Christian Science is now maintaining that there is no body.
Now just in the same way the unreasonable neglect of government
by the Manchester School has produced, not a reasonable regard
for government, but an unreasonable neglect of everything else.
So that to hear people talk to-day one would fancy that every
important human function must be organized and avenged by law;
that all education must be state education, and all employment
state employment; that everybody and everything must be
brought to the foot of the august and prehistoric gibbet.
But a somewhat more liberal and sympathetic examination of mankind
will convince us that the cross is even older than the gibbet,
that voluntary suffering was before and independent of compulsory;
and in short that in most important matters a man has always been
free to ruin himself if he chose. The huge fundamental function
upon which all anthropology turns, that of sex and childbirth,
has never been inside the political state, but always outside of it.
The state concerned itself with the trivial question of killing people,
but wisely left alone the whole business of getting them born.
A Eugenist might indeed plausibly say that the government is an
absent-minded and inconsistent person who occupies himself with
providing for the old age of people who have never been infants.
I will not deal here in any detail with the fact that some Eugenists
have in our time made the maniacal answer that the police ought
to control marriage and birth as they control labor and death.
Except for this inhuman handful (with whom I regret to say I shall
have to deal with later) all the Eugenists I know divide themselves
into two sections: ingenious people who once meant this, and rather
bewildered people who swear they never meant it--nor anything else.
But if it be conceded (by a breezier estimate of men) that they
do mostly desire marriage to remain free from government, it does
not follow that they desire it to remain free from everything. If man
does not control the marriage market by law, is it controlled at all?
Surely the answer is broadly that man does not control the marriage
market by law, but the woman does control it by sympathy and prejudice.
There was until lately a law forbidding a man to marry his deceased
wife's sister; yet the thing happened constantly. There was no law
forbidding a man to marry his deceased wife's scullery-maid; yet it did
not happen nearly so often. It did not happen because the marriage
market is managed in the spirit and by the authority of women;
and women are generally conservative where classes are concerned.
It is the same with that system of exclusiveness by which ladies
have so often contrived (as by a process of elimination)
to prevent marriages that they did not want and even sometimes
procure those they did. There is no need of the broad arrow and
the fleur-de lis, the turnkey's chains or the hangman's halter.
You need not strangle a man if you can silence him. The branded
shoulder is less effective and final than the cold shoulder;
and you need not trouble to lock a man in when you can lock him out.
The same, of course, is true of the colossal architecture which we
call infant education: an architecture reared wholly by women.
Nothing can ever overcome that one enormous sex superiority, that even
the male child is born closer to his mother than to his father.
No one, staring at that frightful female privilege, can quite
believe in the equality of the sexes. Here and there we read
of a girl brought up like a tom-boy; but every boy is brought up
like a tame girl. The flesh and spirit of femininity surround
him from the first like the four walls of a house; and even
the vaguest or most brutal man has been womanized by being born.
Man that is born of a woman has short days and full of misery;
but nobody can picture the obscenity and bestial tragedy that would
belong to such a monster as man that was born of a man.
* * *
XI THE QUEEN AND THE SUFFRAGETTES
But, indeed, with this educational matter I must of necessity embroil
myself later. The fourth section of discussion is supposed to be
about the child, but I think it will be mostly about the mother.
In this place I have systematically insisted on the large part
of life that is governed, not by man with his vote, but by woman
with her voice, or more often, with her horrible silence.
Only one thing remains to be added. In a sprawling and explanatory style
has been traced out the idea that government is ultimately coercion,
that coercion must mean cold definitions as well as cruel consequences,
and that therefore there is something to be said for the old human habit
of keeping one-half of humanity out of so harsh and dirty a business.
But the case is stronger still.
Voting is not only coercion, but collective coercion.
I think Queen Victoria would have been yet more popular and satisfying
if she had never signed a death warrant. I think Queen Elizabeth
would have stood out as more solid and splendid in history if she
had not earned (among those who happen to know her history)
the nickname of Bloody Bess. I think, in short, that the great historic
woman is more herself when she is persuasive rather than coercive.
But I feel all mankind behind me when I say that if a woman has
this power it should be despotic power--not democratic power.
There is a much stronger historic argument for giving Miss Pankhurst
a throne than for giving her a vote. She might have a crown,
or at least a coronet, like so many of her supporters;
for these old powers are purely personal and therefore female.
Miss Pankhurst as a despot might be as virtuous as Queen Victoria,
and she certainly would find it difficult to be as wicked as Queen Bess,
but the point is that, good or bad, she would be irresponsible--
she would not be governed by a rule and by a ruler.
There are only two ways of governing: by a rule and by a ruler.
And it is seriously true to say of a woman, in education and domesticity,
that the freedom of the autocrat appears to be necessary to her.
She is never responsible until she is irresponsible.
In case this sounds like an idle contradiction, I confidently
appeal to the cold facts of history. Almost every despotic
or oligarchic state has admitted women to its privileges.
Scarcely one democratic state has ever admitted them to its rights
The reason is very simple: that something female is endangered
much more by the violence of the crowd. In short, one Pankhurst
is an exception, but a thousand Pankhursts are a nightmare,
a Bacchic orgie, a Witches Sabbath. For in all legends men have
thought of women as sublime separately but horrible in a herd.
* * *
XII THE MODERN SLAVE
Now I have only taken the test case of Female Suffrage because it
is topical and concrete; it is not of great moment for me as a
political proposal. I can quite imagine anyone substantially
agreeing with my view of woman as universalist and autocrat
in a limited area; and still thinking that she would be none
the worse for a ballot paper. The real question is whether this
old ideal of woman as the great amateur is admitted or not.
There are many modern things which threaten it much more
than suffragism; notably the increase of self-supporting women,
even in the most severe or the most squalid employments.
If there be something against nature in the idea of a horde
of wild women governing, there is something truly intolerable
in the idea of a herd of tame women being governed.
And there are elements in human psychology that make
this situation particularly poignant or ignominous.
The ugly exactitudes of business, the bells and clocks the fixed
hours and rigid departments, were all meant for the male:
who, as a rule, can only do one thing and can only with the greatest
difficulty be induced to do that. If clerks do not try to shirk
their work, our whole great commercial system breaks down.
It is breaking down, under the inroad of women who are adopting
the unprecedented and impossible course of taking the system
seriously and doing it well. Their very efficiency is
the definition of their slavery. It is generally a very bad
sign when one is trusted very much by one's employers.
And if the evasive clerks have a look of being blackguards,
the earnest ladies are often something very like blacklegs.
But the more immediate point is that the modern working woman bears
a double burden, for she endures both the grinding officialism
of the new office and the distracting scrupulosity of the old home.
Few men understand what conscientiousness is. They understand duty,
which generally means one duty; but conscientiousness is
the duty of the universalist. It is limited by no work days
or holidays; it is a lawless, limitless, devouring decorum.
If women are to be subjected to the dull rule of commerce,
we must find some way of emancipating them from the wild
rule of conscience. But I rather fancy you will find it
easier to leave the conscience and knock off the commerce.
As it is, the modern clerk or secretary exhausts herself to put
one thing straight in the ledger and then goes home to put
everything straight in the house.
This condition (described by some as emancipated) is at least
the reverse of my ideal. I would give woman, not more rights,
but more privileges. Instead of sending her to seek such
freedom as notoriously prevails in banks and factories,
I would design specially a house in which she can be free.
And with that we come to the last point of all; the point at
which we can perceive the needs of women, like the rights of men,
stopped and falsified by something which it is the object
of this book to expose.
The Feminist (which means, I think, one who dislikes the chief
feminine characteristics) has heard my loose monologue,
bursting all the time with one pent-up protest.
At this point he will break out and say, "But what are we to do?
There is modern commerce and its clerks; there is the modern family
with its unmarried daughters; specialism is expected everywhere;
female thrift and conscientiousness are demanded and supplied.
What does it matter whether we should in the abstract prefer
the old human and housekeeping woman; we might prefer the Garden
of Eden. But since women have trades they ought to have trades unions.
Since women work in factories, they ought to vote on factory-acts. If
they are unmarried they must be commercial; if they are commercial
they must be political. We must have new rules for a new world--
even if it be not a better one." I said to a Feminist once:
"The question is not whether women are good enough for votes:
it is whether votes are good enough for women." He only answered:
"Ah, you go and say that to the women chain-makers on Cradley Heath."
Now this is the attitude which I attack. It is the huge heresy
of Precedent. It is the view that because we have got into a mess
we must grow messier to suit it; that because we have taken
a wrong turn some time ago we must go forward and not backwards;
that because we have lost our way we must lose our map also;
and because we have missed our ideal, we must forget it.
"There are numbers of excellent people who do not think votes unfeminine;
and there may be enthusiasts for our beautiful modern industry
who do not think factories unfeminine. But if these things are
unfeminine it is no answer to say that they fit into each other.
I am not satisfied with the statement that my daughter must
have unwomanly powers because she has unwomanly wrongs.
Industrial soot and political printer's ink are two blacks which do
not make a white. Most of the Feminists would probably agree with me
that womanhood is under shameful tyranny in the shops and mills.
But I want to destroy the tyranny. They want to destroy womanhood.
That is the only difference.
Whether we can recover the clear vision of woman as a tower
with many windows, the fixed eternal feminine from which her sons,
the specialists, go forth; whether we can preserve the tradition
of a central thing which is even more human than democracy
and even more practical than politics; whether, in word,
it is possible to re-establish the family, freed from the filthy
cynicism and cruelty of the commercial epoch, I shall discuss
in the last section of this book. But meanwhile do not talk
to me about the poor chain-makers on Cradley Heath. I know
all about them and what they are doing. They are engaged in a
very wide-spread and flourishing industry of the present age.
They are making chains.
* * *