WHAT'S WRONG WITH THE WORLD
by G.K. Chesterton
PART FOUR: EDUCATION, OR THE MISTAKE ABOUT THE CHILD
I The Calvinism of To-day
II The Tribal Terror
III The Tricks of Environment
IV The Truth About Education
V An Evil Cry
VI Authority the Unavoidable
VII The Humility of Mrs. Grundy
VIII The Broken Rainbow
IX The Need for Narrowness
X The Case for the Public Schools
XI The School for Hypocrites
XII The Staleness of the New Schools
XIII The Outlawed Parent
XIV Folly and Female Education
THE CALVINISM OF TO-DAY
When I wrote a little volume on my friend Mr. Bernard Shaw, it is
needless to say that he reviewed it. I naturally felt tempted to answer
and to criticise the book from the same disinterested and impartial
standpoint from which Mr. Shaw had criticised the subject of it.
I was not withheld by any feeling that the joke was getting a
little obvious; for an obvious joke is only a successful joke; it is
only the unsuccessful clowns who comfort themselves with being subtle.
The real reason why I did not answer Mr. Shaw's amusing attack was this:
that one simple phrase in it surrendered to me all that I
have ever wanted, or could want from him to all eternity.
I told Mr. Shaw (in substance) that he was a charming and clever fellow,
but a common Calvinist. He admitted that this was true,
and there (so far as I am concerned) is an end of the matter.
He said that, of course, Calvin was quite right in holding
that "if once a man is born it is too late to damn or save him."
That is the fundamental and subterranean secret; that is the last
lie in hell.
The difference between Puritanism and Catholicism is not about
whether some priestly word or gesture is significant and sacred.
It is about whether any word or gesture is significant and sacred.
To the Catholic every other daily act is dramatic dedication
to the service of good or of evil. To the Calvinist no act
can have that sort of solemnity, because the person doing
it has been dedicated from eternity, and is merely filling
up his time until the crack of doom. The difference is
something subtler than plum-puddings or private theatricals;
the difference is that to a Christian of my kind this short
earthly life is intensely thrilling and precious; to a Calvinist
like Mr. Shaw it is confessedly automatic and uninteresting.
To me these threescore years and ten are the battle.
To the Fabian Calvinist (by his own confession) they are only a long
procession of the victors in laurels and the vanquished in chains.
To me earthly life is the drama; to him it is the epilogue.
Shavians think about the embryo; Spiritualists about the ghost;
Christians about the man. It is as well to have these things clear.
Now all our sociology and eugenics and the rest of it are
not so much materialist as confusedly Calvinist, they are
chiefly occupied in educating the child before he exists.
The whole movement is full of a singular depression about
what one can do with the populace, combined with a strange
disembodied gayety about what may be done with posterity.
These essential Calvinists have, indeed, abolished some of the more
liberal and universal parts of Calvinism, such as the belief
in an intellectual design or an everlasting happiness.
But though Mr. Shaw and his friends admit it is a superstition that
a man is judged after death, they stick to their central doctrine,
that he is judged before he is born.
In consequence of this atmosphere of Calvinism in the cultured world
of to-day, it is apparently necessary to begin all arguments on education
with some mention of obstetrics and the unknown world of the prenatal.
All I shall have to say, however, on heredity will be very brief,
because I shall confine myself to what is known about it, and that is
very nearly nothing. It is by no means self-evident, but it is a current
modern dogma, that nothing actually enters the body at birth except a life
derived and compounded from the parents. There is at least quite as much
to be said for the Christian theory that an element comes from God, or the
Buddhist theory that such an element comes from previous existences.
But this is not a religious work, and I must submit to those very narrow
intellectual limits which the absence of theology always imposes.
Leaving the soul on one side, let us suppose for the sake of argument
that the human character in the first case comes wholly from parents;
and then let us curtly state our knowledge rather than our ignorance.
* * *
THE TRIBAL TERROR
Popular science, like that of Mr. Blatchford, is in this matter as mild
as old wives' tales. Mr. Blatchford, with colossal simplicity,
explained to millions of clerks and workingmen that the mother is like
a bottle of blue beads and the father is like a bottle of yellow beads;
and so the child is like a bottle of mixed blue beads and yellow.
He might just as well have said that if the father has two legs
and the mother has two legs, the child will have four legs.
Obviously it is not a question of simple addition or simple
division of a number of hard detached "qualities," like beads.
It is an organic crisis and transformation of the most mysterious sort;
so that even if the result is unavoidable, it will still be unexpected.
It is not like blue beads mixed with yellow beads; it is like blue
mixed with yellow; the result of which is green, a totally novel
and unique experience, a new emotion. A man might live in a complete
cosmos of blue and yellow, like the "Edinburgh Review"; a man might
never have seen anything but a golden cornfield and a sapphire sky;
and still he might never have had so wild a fancy as green.
If you paid a sovereign for a bluebell; if you spilled the mustard
on the blue-books; if you married a canary to a blue baboon;
there is nothing in any of these wild weddings that contains even
a hint of green. Green is not a mental combination, like addition;
it is a physical result like birth. So, apart from the fact that
nobody ever really understands parents or children either, yet even
if we could understand the parents, we could not make any conjecture
about the children. Each time the force works in a different way;
each time the constituent colors combine into a different spectacle.
A girl may actually inherit her ugliness from her mother's good looks.
A boy may actually get his weakness from his father's strength.
Even if we admit it is really a fate, for us it must remain a fairy tale.
Considered in regard to its causes, the Calvinists and materialists
may be right or wrong; we leave them their dreary debate.
But considered in regard to its results there is no doubt about it.
The thing is always a new color; a strange star. Every birth is as
lonely as a miracle. Every child is as uninvited as a monstrosity.
On all such subjects there is no science, but only a sort of
ardent ignorance; and nobody has ever been able to offer any theories
of moral heredity which justified themselves in the only scientific sense;
that is that one could calculate on them beforehand. There are
six cases, say, of a grandson having the same twitch of mouth or vice
of character as his grandfather; or perhaps there are sixteen cases,
or perhaps sixty. But there are not two cases, there is not one case,
there are no cases at all, of anybody betting half a crown that
the grandfather will have a grandson with the twitch or the vice.
In short, we deal with heredity as we deal with omens, affinities and
the fulfillment of dreams. The things do happen, and when they
happen we record them; but not even a lunatic ever reckons on them.
Indeed, heredity, like dreams and omens, is a barbaric notion; that is,
not necessarily an untrue, but a dim, groping and unsystematized notion.
A civilized man feels himself a little more free from his family.
Before Christianity these tales of tribal doom occupied the savage north;
and since the Reformation and the revolt against Christianity
(which is the religion of a civilized freedom) savagery is slowly
creeping back in the form of realistic novels and problem plays.
The curse of Rougon-Macquart is as heathen and superstitious as the curse
of Ravenswood; only not so well written. But in this twilight barbaric
sense the feeling of a racial fate is not irrational, and may be
allowed like a hundred other half emotions that make life whole.
The only essential of tragedy is that one should take it lightly.
But even when the barbarian deluge rose to its highest in the madder
novels of Zola (such as that called "The Human Beast", a gross
libel on beasts as well as humanity), even then the application
of the hereditary idea to practice is avowedly timid and fumbling.
The students of heredity are savages in this vital sense; that they
stare back at marvels, but they dare not stare forward to schemes.
In practice no one is mad enough to legislate or educate upon dogmas
of physical inheritance; and even the language of the thing is rarely
used except for special modern purposes, such as the endowment
of research or the oppression of the poor.
* * *
THE TRICKS OF ENVIRONMENT
After all the modern clatter of Calvinism, therefore, it is
only with the born child that anybody dares to deal;
and the question is not eugenics but education. Or again,
to adopt that rather tiresome terminology of popular science,
it is not a question of heredity but of environment.
I will not needlessly complicate this question by urging at
length that environment also is open to some of the objections
and hesitations which paralyze the employment of heredity.
I will merely suggest in passing that even about the effect of
environment modern people talk much too cheerfully and cheaply.
The idea that surroundings will mold a man is always mixed up
with the totally different idea that they will mold him in one
particular way. To take the broadest case, landscape no doubt
affects the soul; but how it affects it is quite another matter.
To be born among pine-trees might mean loving pine-trees.
It might mean loathing pine-trees. It might quite seriously
mean never having seen a pine-tree. Or it might mean
any mixture of these or any degree of any of them.
So that the scientific method here lacks a little in precision.
I am not speaking without the book; on the contrary, I am
speaking with the blue book, with the guide-book and the atlas.
It may be that the Highlanders are poetical because they
inhabit mountains; but are the Swiss prosaic because they
inhabit mountains? It may be the Swiss have fought for freedom
because they had hills; did the Dutch fight for freedom
because they hadn't? Personally I should think it quite likely.
Environment might work negatively as well as positively.
The Swiss may be sensible, not in spite of their wild skyline,
but be cause of their wild skyline. The Flemings may be
fantastic artists, not in spite of their dull skyline,
but because of it.
I only pause on this parenthesis to show that, even in
matters admittedly within its range, popular science goes
a great deal too fast, and drops enormous links of logic.
Nevertheless, it remains the working reality that what we
have to deal with in the case of children is, for all practical
purposes, environment; or, to use the older word, education.
When all such deductions are made, education is at least
a form of will-worship; not of cowardly fact-worship;
it deals with a department that we can control; it does not
merely darken us with the barbarian pessimism of Zola and
the heredity-hunt. We shall certainly make fools of ourselves;
that is what is meant by philosophy. But we shall not merely
make beasts of ourselves; which is the nearest popular definition
for merely following the laws of Nature and cowering under
the vengeance of the flesh Education contains much moonshine;
but not of the sort that makes mere mooncalves and idiots
the slaves of a silver magnet, the one eye of the world.
In this decent arena there are fads, but not frenzies.
Doubtless we shall often find a mare's nest; but it will not
always be the nightmare's.
* * *
THE TRUTH ABOUT EDUCATION
When a man is asked to write down what he really thinks on education,
a certain gravity grips and stiffens his soul, which might be mistaken
by the superficial for disgust. If it be really true that men sickened
of sacred words and wearied of theology, if this largely unreasoning
irritation against "dogma" did arise out of some ridiculous excess
of such things among priests in the past, then I fancy we must be
laying up a fine crop of cant for our descendants to grow tired of.
Probably the word "education" will some day seem honestly as old and
objectless as the word "justification" now seems in a Puritan folio.
Gibbon thought it frightfully funny that people should have fought about
the difference between the "Homoousion" and the "Homoiousion." The time
will come when somebody will laugh louder to think that men thundered
against Sectarian Education and also against Secular Education;
that men of prominence and position actually denounced the schools for
teaching a creed and also for not teaching a faith. The two Greek words
in Gibbon look rather alike; but they really mean quite different things.
Faith and creed do not look alike, but they mean exactly the same thing.
Creed happens to be the Latin for faith.
Now having read numberless newspaper articles on education,
and even written a good many of them, and having heard deafening
and indeterminate discussion going on all around me almost ever
since I was born, about whether religion was part of education,
about whether hygiene was an essential of education,
about whether militarism was inconsistent with true education,
I naturally pondered much on this recurring substantive,
and I am ashamed to say that it was comparatively late in life
that I saw the main fact about it.
Of course, the main fact about education is that there is no
such thing. It does not exist, as theology or soldiering exist.
Theology is a word like geology, soldiering is a word
like soldering; these sciences may be healthy or no as hobbies;
but they deal with stone and kettles, with definite things.
But education is not a word like geology or kettles.
Education is a word like "transmission" or "inheritance"; it
is not an object, but a method. It must mean the conveying
of certain facts, views or qualities, to the last baby born.
They might be the most trivial facts or the most preposterous
views or the most offensive qualities; but if they are handed
on from one generation to another they are education.
Education is not a thing like theology, it is not an inferior
or superior thing; it is not a thing in the same category of terms.
Theology and education are to each other like a love-letter
to the General Post Office. Mr. Fagin was quite as educational
as Dr. Strong; in practice probably more educational.
It is giving something--perhaps poison. Education is tradition,
and tradition (as its name implies) can be treason.
This first truth is frankly banal; but it is so perpetually
ignored in our political prosing that it must be made plain.
A little boy in a little house, son of a little tradesman,
is taught to eat his breakfast, to take his medicine, to love
his country, to say his prayers, and to wear his Sunday clothes.
Obviously Fagin, if he found such a boy, would teach him to drink gin,
to lie, to betray his country, to blaspheme and to wear false whiskers.
But so also Mr. Salt the vegetarian would abolish the boy's breakfast;
Mrs. Eddy would throw away his medicine; Count Tolstoi would rebuke
him for loving his country; Mr. Blatchford would stop his prayers,
and Mr. Edward Carpenter would theoretically denounce Sunday clothes,
and perhaps all clothes. I do not defend any of these advanced views,
not even Fagin's. But I do ask what, between the lot of them, has become
of the abstract entity called education. It is not (as commonly supposed)
that the tradesman teaches education plus Christianity; Mr. Salt,
education plus vegetarianism; Fagin, education plus crime. The truth is,
that there is nothing in common at all between these teachers,
except that they teach. In short, the only thing they share is the one
thing they profess to dislike: the general idea of authority.
It is quaint that people talk of separating dogma from education.
Dogma is actually the only thing that cannot be separated from education.
It is education. A teacher who is not dogmatic is simply a teacher
who is not teaching.
* * *
AN EVIL CRY
The fashionable fallacy is that by education we can give people
something that we have not got. To hear people talk one would think
it was some sort of magic chemistry, by which, out of a laborious
hotchpotch of hygienic meals, baths, breathing exercises, fresh air
and freehand drawing, we can produce something splendid by accident;
we can create what we cannot conceive. These pages have, of course,
no other general purpose than to point out that we cannot create
anything good until we have conceived it. It is odd that these people,
who in the matter of heredity are so sullenly attached to law,
in the matter of environment seem almost to believe in miracle.
They insist that nothing but what was in the bodies of the parents
can go to make the bodies of the children. But they seem somehow
to think that things can get into the heads of the children which were
not in the heads of the parents, or, indeed, anywhere else.
There has arisen in this connection a foolish and wicked cry
typical of the confusion. I mean the cry, "Save the children."
It is, of course, part of that modern morbidity that
insists on treating the State (which is the home of man)
as a sort of desperate expedient in time of panic.
This terrified opportunism is also the origin of the Socialist
and other schemes. Just as they would collect and share
all the food as men do in a famine, so they would divide
the children from their fathers, as men do in a shipwreck.
That a human community might conceivably not be in a condition
of famine or shipwreck never seems to cross their minds.
This cry of "Save the children" has in it the hateful
implication that it is impossible to save the fathers;
in other words, that many millions of grown-up, sane,
responsible and self-supporting Europeans are to be treated
as dirt or debris and swept away out of the discussion;
called dipsomaniacs because they drink in public houses instead
of private houses; called unemployables because nobody knows
how to get them work; called dullards if they still adhere
to conventions, and called loafers if they still love liberty.
Now I am concerned, first and last, to maintain that unless you
can save the fathers, you cannot save the children; that at
present we cannot save others, for we cannot save ourselves.
We cannot teach citizenship if we are not citizens; we cannot
free others if we have forgotten the appetite of freedom.
Education is only truth in a state of transmission; and how can we
pass on truth if it has never come into our hand? Thus we find that
education is of all the cases the clearest for our general purpose.
It is vain to save children; for they cannot remain children.
By hypothesis we are teaching them to be men; and how can it
be so simple to teach an ideal manhood to others if it is so vain
and hopeless to find one for ourselves?
I know that certain crazy pedants have attempted to counter this
difficulty by maintaining that education is not instruction at all,
does not teach by authority at all. They present the process
as coming, not from the outside, from the teacher, but entirely
from inside the boy. Education, they say, is the Latin for
leading out or drawing out the dormant faculties of each person.
Somewhere far down in the dim boyish soul is a primordial yearning
to learn Greek accents or to wear clean collars; and the schoolmaster
only gently and tenderly liberates this imprisoned purpose.
Sealed up in the newborn babe are the intrinsic secrets of how to
eat asparagus and what was the date of Bannockburn. The educator
only draws out the child's own unapparent love of long division;
only leads out the child's slightly veiled preference for milk
pudding to tarts. I am not sure that I believe in the derivation;
I have heard the disgraceful suggestion that "educator," if applied
to a Roman schoolmaster, did not mean leading our young functions
into freedom; but only meant taking out little boys for a walk.
But I am much more certain that I do not agree with the doctrine;
I think it would be about as sane to say that the baby's milk comes
from the baby as to say that the baby's educational merits do.
There is, indeed, in each living creature a collection of forces
and functions; but education means producing these in particular shapes
and training them to particular purposes, or it means nothing at all.
Speaking is the most practical instance of the whole situation.
You may indeed "draw out" squeals and grunts from the child by simply
poking him and pulling him about, a pleasant but cruel pastime to
which many psychologists are addicted. But you will wait and watch
very patiently indeed before you draw the English language out of him.
That you have got to put into him; and there is an end of the matter.
* * *
AUTHORITY THE UNAVOIDABLE
But the important point here is only that you cannot anyhow
get rid of authority in education; it is not so much
(as poor Conservatives say) that parental authority ought to
be preserved, as that it cannot be destroyed. Mr. Bernard Shaw
once said that he hated the idea of forming a child's mind.
In that case Mr. Bernard Shaw had better hang himself;
for he hates something inseparable from human life.
I only mentioned educere and the drawing out of the faculties
in order to point out that even this mental trick does not avoid
the inevitable idea of parental or scholastic authority.
The educator drawing out is just as arbitrary and coercive
as the instructor pouring in; for he draws out what he chooses.
He decides what in the child shall be developed and what
shall not be developed. He does not (I suppose) draw out
the neglected faculty of forgery. He does not (so far at least)
lead out, with timid steps, a shy talent for torture.
The only result of all this pompous and precise distinction
between the educator and the instructor is that the instructor
pokes where he likes and the educator pulls where he likes.
Exactly the same intellectual violence is done to the creature
who is poked and pulled. Now we must all accept the responsibility
of this intellectual violence. Education is violent;
because it is creative. It is creative because it is human.
It is as reckless as playing on the fiddle; as dogmatic
as drawing a picture; as brutal as building a house.
In short, it is what all human action is; it is an interference
with life and growth. After that it is a trifling and even
a jocular question whether we say of this tremendous tormentor,
the artist Man, that he puts things into us like an apothecary,
or draws things out of us, like a dentist.
The point is that Man does what he likes. He claims
the right to take his mother Nature under his control;
he claims the right to make his child the Superman, in his image.
Once flinch from this creative authority of man, and the whole
courageous raid which we call civilization wavers and falls
to pieces. Now most modern freedom is at root fear.
It is not so much that we are too bold to endure rules;
it is rather that we are too timid to endure responsibilities.
And Mr. Shaw and such people are especially shrinking from
that awful and ancestral responsibility to which our fathers
committed us when they took the wild step of becoming men.
I mean the responsibility of affirming the truth of our human
tradition and handing it on with a voice of authority,
an unshaken voice. That is the one eternal education;
to be sure enough that something is true that you dare to tell
it to a child. From this high audacious duty the moderns
are fleeing on every side; and the only excuse for them is,
(of course,) that their modern philosophies are so half-baked
and hypothetical that they cannot convince themselves
enough to convince even a newborn babe. This, of course,
is connected with the decay of democracy; and is somewhat
of a separate subject. Suffice it to say here that when I say
that we should instruct our children, I mean that we should do it,
not that Mr. Sully or Professor Earl Barnes should do it.
The trouble in too many of our modern schools is that the State,
being controlled so specially by the few, allows cranks and
experiments to go straight to the schoolroom when they have never
passed through the Parliament, the public house, the private house,
the church, or the marketplace. Obviously, it ought to be
the oldest things that are taught to the youngest people;
the assured and experienced truths that are put first to the baby.
But in a school to-day the baby has to submit to a system
that is younger than himself. The flopping infant of four
actually has more experience, and has weathered the world longer,
than the dogma to which he is made to submit. Many a school
boasts of having the last ideas in education, when it has not
even the first idea; for the first idea is that even innocence,
divine as it is, may learn something from experience.
But this, as I say, is all due to the mere fact that we are
managed by a little oligarchy; my system presupposes that men
who govern themselves will govern their children. To-day we
all use Popular Education as meaning education of the people.
I wish I could use it as meaning education by the people.
The urgent point at present is that these expansive educators
do not avoid the violence of authority an inch more than the old
school masters. Nay, it might be maintained that they avoid it less.
The old village schoolmaster beat a boy for not learning grammar
and sent him out into the playground to play anything he liked;
or at nothing, if he liked that better. The modern scientific
schoolmaster pursues him into the playground and makes him play
at cricket, because exercise is so good for the health. The modern
Dr. Busby is a doctor of medicine as well as a doctor of divinity.
He may say that the good of exercise is self-evident; but he must
say it, and say it with authority. It cannot really be self-evident
or it never could have been compulsory. But this is in modern
practice a very mild case. In modern practice the free educationists
forbid far more things than the old-fashioned educationists.
A person with a taste for paradox (if any such shameless creature
could exist) might with some plausibility maintain concerning
all our expansion since the failure of Luther's frank paganism
and its replacement by Calvin's Puritanism, that all this expansion
has not been an expansion, but the closing in of a prison, so that
less and less beautiful and humane things have been permitted.
The Puritans destroyed images; the Rationalists forbade fairy tales.
Count Tostoi practically issued one of his papal encyclicals
against music; and I have heard of modern educationists who forbid
children to play with tin soldiers. I remember a meek little madman
who came up to me at some Socialist soiree or other, and asked me to use
my influence (have I any influence?) against adventure stories for boys.
It seems they breed an appetite for blood. But never mind that;
one must keep one's temper in this madhouse. I need only insist here
that these things, even if a just deprivation, are a deprivation.
I do not deny that the old vetoes and punishments were often idiotic
and cruel; though they are much more so in a country like England
(where in practice only a rich man decrees the punishment and only a poor
man receives it) than in countries with a clearer popular tradition--
such as Russia. In Russia flogging is often inflicted by peasants
on a peasant. In modern England flogging can only in practice
be inflicted by a gentleman on a very poor man. Thus only a few
days ago as I write a small boy (a son of the poor, of course)
was sentenced to flogging and imprisonment for five years for having
picked up a small piece of coal which the experts value at 5d.
I am entirely on the side of such liberals and humanitarians as
have protested against this almost bestial ignorance about boys.
But I do think it a little unfair that these humanitarians, who excuse
boys for being robbers, should denounce them for playing at robbers.
I do think that those who understand a guttersnipe playing with a piece
of coal might, by a sudden spurt of imagination, understand him
playing with a tin soldier. To sum it up in one sentence:
I think my meek little madman might have understood that there
is many a boy who would rather be flogged, and unjustly flogged,
than have his adventure story taken away.
* * *
THE HUMILITY OF MRS. GRUNDY
In short, the new education is as harsh as the old, whether or no
it is as high. The freest fad, as much as the strictest formula,
is stiff with authority. It is because the humane father thinks
soldiers wrong that they are forbidden; there is no pretense,
there can be no pretense, that the boy would think so.
The average boy's impression certainly would be simply this:
"If your father is a Methodist you must not play with soldiers
on Sunday. If your father is a Socialist you must not play
with them even on week days." All educationists are utterly
dogmatic and authoritarian. You cannot have free education;
for if you left a child free you would not educate him at all.
Is there, then, no distinction or difference between the most hide-bound
conventionalists and the most brilliant and bizarre innovators?
Is there no difference between the heaviest heavy father and the most
reckless and speculative maiden aunt? Yes; there is. The difference
is that the heavy father, in his heavy way, is a democrat.
He does not urge a thing merely because to his fancy it should
be done; but, because (in his own admirable republican formula)
"Everybody does it." The conventional authority does claim
some popular mandate; the unconventional authority does not.
The Puritan who forbids soldiers on Sunday is at least
expressing Puritan opinion; not merely his own opinion.
He is not a despot; he is a democracy, a tyrannical democracy,
a dingy and local democracy perhaps; but one that could do
and has done the two ultimate virile things--fight and appeal
to God. But the veto of the new educationist is like the veto
of the House of Lords; it does not pretend to be representative.
These innovators are always talking about the blushing modesty
of Mrs. Grundy. I do not know whether Mrs. Grundy is more modest
than they are; but I am sure she is more humble.
But there is a further complication. The more anarchic modern
may again attempt to escape the dilemma by saying that education
should only be an enlargement of the mind, an opening of all
the organs of receptivity. Light (he says) should be brought
into darkness; blinded and thwarted existences in all our ugly
corners should merely be permitted to perceive and expand; in short,
enlightenment should be shed over darkest London. Now here is
just the trouble; that, in so far as this is involved, there is no
darkest London. London is not dark at all; not even at night.
We have said that if education is a solid substance, then there
is none of it. We may now say that if education is an abstract
expansion there is no lack of it. There is far too much of it.
In fact, there is nothing else.
There are no uneducated people. Everybody in England is educated;
only most people are educated wrong. The state schools were not
the first schools, but among the last schools to be established;
and London had been educating Londoners long before the
London School Board. The error is a highly practical one.
It is persistently assumed that unless a child is civilized by
the established schools, he must remain a barbarian. I wish he did.
Every child in London becomes a highly civilized person.
But here are so many different civilizations, most of them born tired.
Anyone will tell you that the trouble with the poor is not so much that
the old are still foolish, but rather that the young are already wise.
Without going to school at all, the gutter-boy would be educated.
Without going to school at all, he would be over-educated. The
real object of our schools should be not so much to suggest
complexity as solely to restore simplicity. You will hear venerable
idealists declare we must make war on the ignorance of the poor;
but, indeed, we have rather to make war on their knowledge.
Real educationists have to resist a kind of roaring cataract
of culture. The truant is being taught all day. If the children
do not look at the large letters in the spelling-book, they need
only walk outside and look at the large letters on the poster.
If they do not care for the colored maps provided by the school,
they can gape at the colored maps provided by the Daily Mail. If they
tire of electricity, they can take to electric trams.
If they are unmoved by music, they can take to drink.
If they will not work so as to get a prize from their school,
they may work to get a prize from Prizy Bits. If they cannot
learn enough about law and citizenship to please the teacher,
they learn enough about them to avoid the policeman. If they will
not learn history forwards from the right end in the history books,
they will learn it backwards from the wrong end in the party newspapers.
And this is the tragedy of the whole affair: that the London poor,
a particularly quick-witted and civilized class, learn everything
tail foremost, learn even what is right in the way of what is wrong.
They do not see the first principles of law in a law book;
they only see its last results in the police news.
They do not see the truths of politics in a general survey.
They only see the lies of politics, at a General Election.
But whatever be the pathos of the London poor, it has nothing
to do with being uneducated. So far from being without guidance,
they are guided constantly, earnestly, excitedly; only guided wrong.
The poor are not at all neglected, they are merely oppressed;
nay, rather they are persecuted. There are no people in London
who are not appealed to by the rich; the appeals of the rich
shriek from every hoarding and shout from every hustings.
For it should always be remembered that the queer, abrupt ugliness
of our streets and costumes are not the creation of democracy,
but of aristocracy. The House of Lords objected to the Embankment
being disfigured by trams. But most of the rich men who disfigure
the street-walls with their wares are actually in the House
of Lords. The peers make the country seats beautiful by making
the town streets hideous. This, however, is parenthetical.
The point is, that the poor in London are not left alone,
but rather deafened and bewildered with raucous and despotic advice.
They are not like sheep without a shepherd. They are more like one
sheep whom twenty-seven shepherds are shouting at. All the newspapers,
all the new advertisements, all the new medicines and new theologies,
all the glare and blare of the gas and brass of modern times--
it is against these that the national school must bear up if it can.
I will not question that our elementary education is better
than barbaric ignorance. But there is no barbaric ignorance.
I do not doubt that our schools would be good for uninstructed boys.
But there are no uninstructed boys. A modern London school
ought not merely to be clearer, kindlier, more clever and more
rapid than ignorance and darkness. It must also be clearer
than a picture postcard, cleverer than a Limerick competition,
quicker than the tram, and kindlier than the tavern. The school,
in fact, has the responsibility of universal rivalry. We need not
deny that everywhere there is a light that must conquer darkness.
But here we demand a light that can conquer light.
* * *
THE BROKEN RAINBOW
I will take one case that will serve both as symbol and example:
the case of color. We hear the realists (those sentimental fellows)
talking about the gray streets and the gray lives of the poor.
But whatever the poor streets are they are not gray;
but motley, striped, spotted, piebald and patched like a quilt.
Hoxton is not aesthetic enough to be monochrome; and there is
nothing of the Celtic twilight about it. As a matter of fact,
a London gutter-boy walks unscathed among furnaces of color.
Watch him walk along a line of hoardings, and you will see him
now against glowing green, like a traveler in a tropic forest;
now black like a bird against the burning blue of the Midi;
now passant across a field gules, like the golden leopards
of England. He ought to understand the irrational rapture of that cry
of Mr. Stephen Phillips about "that bluer blue, that greener green."
There is no blue much bluer than Reckitt's Blue and no blacking
blacker than Day and Martin's; no more emphatic yellow than
that of Colman's Mustard. If, despite this chaos of color,
like a shattered rainbow, the spirit of the small boy is not exactly
intoxicated with art and culture, the cause certainly does not lie
in universal grayness or the mere starving of his senses. It lies
in the fact that the colors are presented in the wrong connection,
on the wrong scale, and, above all, from the wrong motive.
It is not colors he lacks, but a philosophy of colors.
In short, there is nothing wrong with Reckitt's Blue except that it
is not Reckitt's. Blue does not belong to Reckitt, but to the sky;
black does not belong to Day and Martin, but to the abyss.
Even the finest posters are only very little things on a very
large scale. There is something specially irritant in this way
about the iteration of advertisements of mustard: a condiment,
a small luxury; a thing in its nature not to be taken in quantity.
There is a special irony in these starving streets to see
such a great deal of mustard to such very little meat.
Yellow is a bright pigment; mustard is a pungent pleasure.
But to look at these seas of yellow is to be like a man
who should swallow gallons of mustard. He would either die,
or lose the taste of mustard altogether.
Now suppose we compare these gigantic trivialities on
the hoardings with those tiny and tremendous pictures in
which the mediaevals recorded their dreams; little pictures
where the blue sky is hardly longer than a single sapphire,
and the fires of judgment only a pigmy patch of gold.
The difference here is not merely that poster art is in its
nature more hasty than illumination art; it is not even merely
that the ancient artist was serving the Lord while the modern
artist is serving the lords. It is that the old artist contrived
to convey an impression that colors really were significant
and precious things, like jewels and talismanic stones.
The color was often arbitrary; but it was always authoritative.
If a bird was blue, if a tree was golden, if a fish was silver,
if a cloud was scarlet, the artist managed to convey that
these colors were important and almost painfully intense;
all the red red-hot and all the gold tried in the fire.
Now that is the spirit touching color which the schools must
recover and protect if they are really to give the children
any imaginative appetite or pleasure in the thing.
It is not so much an indulgence in color; it is rather, if anything,
a sort of fiery thrift. It fenced in a green field in heraldry
as straitly as a green field in peasant proprietorship.
It would not fling away gold leaf any more than gold coin;
it would not heedlessly pour out purple or crimson, any more
than it would spill good wine or shed blameless blood.
That is the hard task before educationists in this special matter;
they have to teach people to relish colors like liquors.
They have the heavy business of turning drunkards into wine tasters.
If even the twentieth century succeeds in doing these things,
it will almost catch up with the twelfth.
The principle covers, however, the whole of modern life.
Morris and the merely aesthetic mediaevalists always indicated
that a crowd in the time of Chaucer would have been brightly
clad and glittering, compared with a crowd in the time of
Queen Victoria. I am not so sure that the real distinction
is here. There would be brown frocks of friars in the first
scene as well as brown bowlers of clerks in the second.
There would be purple plumes of factory girls in the second
scene as well as purple lenten vestments in the first.
There would be white waistcoats against white ermine; gold watch
chains against gold lions. The real difference is this:
that the brown earth-color of the monk's coat was instinctively
chosen to express labor and humility, whereas the brown color
of the clerk's hat was not chosen to express anything.
The monk did mean to say that he robed himself in dust.
I am sure the clerk does not mean to say that he crowns
himself with clay. He is not putting dust on his head,
as the only diadem of man. Purple, at once rich and somber,
does suggest a triumph temporarily eclipsed by a tragedy.
But the factory girl does not intend her hat to express a triumph
temporarily eclipsed by a tragedy; far from it. White ermine
was meant to express moral purity; white waistcoats were not.
Gold lions do suggest a flaming magnanimity; gold watch chains do not.
The point is not that we have lost the material hues, but that we
have lost the trick of turning them to the best advantage.
We are not like children who have lost their paint box and
are left alone with a gray lead-pencil. We are like children
who have mixed all the colors in the paint-box together
and lost the paper of instructions. Even then (I do not deny)
one has some fun.
Now this abundance of colors and loss of a color scheme is a pretty
perfect parable of all that is wrong with our modern ideals
and especially with our modern education. It is the same with
ethical education, economic education, every sort of education.
The growing London child will find no lack of highly controversial
teachers who will teach him that geography means painting the map red;
that economics means taxing the foreigner, that patriotism
means the peculiarly un-English habit of flying a flag on
Empire Day. In mentioning these examples specially I do not mean
to imply that there are no similar crudities and popular fallacies
upon the other political side. I mention them because they
constitute a very special and arresting feature of the situation.
I mean this, that there were always Radical revolutionists;
but now there are Tory revolutionists also. The modern
Conservative no longer conserves. He is avowedly an innovator.
Thus all the current defenses of the House of Lords which describe
it as a bulwark against the mob, are intellectually done for;
the bottom has fallen out of them; because on five or six of the most
turbulent topics of the day, the House of Lords is a mob itself;
and exceedingly likely to behave like one.
* * *
THE NEED FOR NARROWNESS
Through all this chaos, then we come back once more to our
main conclusion. The true task of culture to-day is not a task
of expansion, but very decidedly of selection--and rejection.
The educationist must find a creed and teach it. Even if it be not
a theological creed, it must still be as fastidious and as firm
as theology. In short, it must be orthodox. The teacher may
think it antiquated to have to decide precisely between the faith
of Calvin and of Laud, the faith of Aquinas and of Swedenborg;
but he still has to choose between the faith of Kipling and of Shaw,
between the world of Blatchford and of General Booth. Call it,
if you will, a narrow question whether your child shall be
brought up by the vicar or the minister or the popish priest.
You have still to face that larger, more liberal, more highly
civilized question, of whether he shall be brought up by Harms
worth or by Pearson, by Mr. Eustace Miles with his Simple Life
or Mr. Peter Keary with his Strenuous Life; whether he shall most
eagerly read Miss Annie S. Swan or Mr. Bart Kennedy; in short,
whether he shall end up in the mere violence of the S. D. F. ,
or in the mere vulgarity of the Primrose League. They say
that nowadays the creeds are crumbling; I doubt it,
but at least the sects are increasing; and education must
now be sectarian education, merely for practical purposes.
Out of all this throng of theories it must somehow select a theory;
out of all these thundering voices it must manage to hear a voice;
out of all this awful and aching battle of blinding lights,
without one shadow to give shape to them, it must manage somehow
to trace and to track a star.
I have spoken so far of popular education, which began too
vague and vast and which therefore has accomplished little.
But as it happens there is in England something to compare it with.
There is an institution, or class of institutions, which began
with the same popular object, which has since followed a much
narrower object, but which had the great advantage that it did
follow some object, unlike our modern elementary schools.
In all these problems I should urge the solution which is positive,
or, as silly people say, "optimistic." I should set my face, that is,
against most of the solutions that are solely negative and abolitionist.
Most educators of the poor seem to think that they have to teach the poor
man not to drink. I should be quite content if they teach him to drink;
for it is mere ignorance about how to drink and when to drink that is
accountable for most of his tragedies. I do not propose (like some
of my revolutionary friends) that we should abolish the public schools.
I propose the much more lurid and desperate experiment that we should make
them public. I do not wish to make Parliament stop working, but rather
to make it work; not to shut up churches, but rather to open them;
not to put out the lamp of learning or destroy the hedge of property,
but only to make some rude effort to make universities fairly universal
and property decently proper.
In many cases, let it be remembered, such action is not merely going
back to the old ideal, but is even going back to the old reality.
It would be a great step forward for the gin shop to go back
to the inn. It is incontrovertibly true that to mediaevalize
the public schools would be to democratize the public schools.
Parliament did once really mean (as its name seems to imply)
a place where people were allowed to talk. It is only lately
that the general increase of efficiency, that is, of the Speaker,
has made it mostly a place where people are prevented from talking.
The poor do not go to the modern church, but they went to the ancient
church all right; and if the common man in the past had a grave respect
for property, it may conceivably have been because he sometimes had
some of his own. I therefore can claim that I have no vulgar itch
of innovation in anything I say about any of these institutions.
Certainly I have none in that particular one which I am now obliged
to pick out of the list; a type of institution to which I have
genuine and personal reasons for being friendly and grateful:
I mean the great Tudor foundations, the public schools
of England. They have been praised for a great many things, mostly,
I am sorry to say, praised by themselves and their children.
And yet for some reason no one has ever praised them the one
really convincing reason.
* * *
THE CASE FOR THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS
The word success can of course be used in two senses.
It may be used with reference to a thing serving its immediate
and peculiar purpose, as of a wheel going around; or it can
be used with reference to a thing adding to the general welfare,
as of a wheel being a useful discovery. It is one thing
to say that Smith's flying machine is a failure, and quite
another to say that Smith has failed to make a flying machine.
Now this is very broadly the difference between the old
English public schools and the new democratic schools.
Perhaps the old public schools are (as I personally think they are)
ultimately weakening the country rather than strengthening it,
and are therefore, in that ultimate sense, inefficient.
But there is such a thing as being efficiently inefficient.
You can make your flying ship so that it flies, even if you
also make it so that it kills you. Now the public school system
may not work satisfactorily, but it works; the public schools
may not achieve what we want, but they achieve what they want.
The popular elementary schools do not in that sense achieve
anything at all. It is very difficult to point to any guttersnipe
in the street and say that he embodies the ideal for which popular
education has been working, in the sense that the fresh-faced,
foolish boy in "Etons" does embody the ideal for which
the headmasters of Harrow and Winchester have been working.
The aristocratic educationists have the positive purpose
of turning out gentlemen, and they do turn out gentlemen,
even when they expel them. The popular educationists would say
that they had the far nobler idea of turning out citizens.
I concede that it is a much nobler idea, but where are the citizens?
I know that the boy in "Etons" is stiff with a rather silly
and sentimental stoicism, called being a man of the world.
I do not fancy that the errand-boy is rigid with that republican
stoicism that is called being a citizen. The schoolboy will really
say with fresh and innocent hauteur, "I am an English gentleman."
I cannot so easily picture the errand-boy drawing up his
head to the stars and answering, "Romanus civis sum."
Let it be granted that our elementary teachers are teaching
the very broadest code of morals, while our great headmasters
are teaching only the narrowest code of manners.
Let it be granted that both these things are being taught.
But only one of them is being learned.
It is always said that great reformers or masters of events
can manage to bring about some specific and practical reforms,
but that they never fulfill their visions or satisfy their souls.
I believe there is a real sense in which this apparent platitude
is quite untrue. By a strange inversion the political idealist
often does not get what he asks for, but does get what he wants.
The silent pressure of his ideal lasts much longer and reshapes the world
much more than the actualities by which he attempted to suggest it.
What perishes is the letter, which he thought so practical.
What endures is the spirit, which he felt to be unattainable
and even unutterable. It is exactly his schemes that are
not fulfilled; it is exactly his vision that is fulfilled.
Thus the ten or twelve paper constitutions of the French Revolution,
which seemed so business-like to the framers of them, seem to
us to have flown away on the wind as the wildest fancies.
What has not flown away, what is a fixed fact in Europe,
is the ideal and vision. The Republic, the idea of a land
full of mere citizens all with some minimum of manners
and minimum of wealth, the vision of the eighteenth century,
the reality of the twentieth. So I think it will generally
be with the creator of social things, desirable or undesirable.
All his schemes will fail, all his tools break in his hands.
His compromises will collapse, his concessions will be useless.
He must brace himself to bear his fate; he shall have nothing
but his heart's desire.
Now if one may compare very small things with very great,
one may say that the English aristocratic schools can claim
something of the same sort of success and solid splendor
as the French democratic politics. At least they can claim
the same sort of superiority over the distracted and fumbling
attempts of modern England to establish democratic education.
Such success as has attended the public schoolboy throughout
the Empire, a success exaggerated indeed by himself, but still
positive and a fact of a certain indisputable shape and size,
has been due to the central and supreme circumstance that the managers
of our public schools did know what sort of boy they liked.
They wanted something and they got something; instead of going
to work in the broad-minded manner and wanting everything
and getting nothing.
The only thing in question is the quality of the thing they got.
There is something highly maddening in the circumstance
that when modern people attack an institution that really does
demand reform, they always attack it for the wrong reasons.
Thus many opponents of our public schools, imagining themselves
to be very democratic, have exhausted themselves in an unmeaning
attack upon the study of Greek. I can understand how Greek may be
regarded as useless, especially by those thirsting to throw themselves
into the cut throat commerce which is the negation of citizenship;
but I do not understand how it can be considered undemocratic.
I quite understand why Mr. Carnegie has a hatred of Greek. It is
obscurely founded on the firm and sound impression that in
any self-governing Greek city he would have been killed.
But I cannot comprehend why any chance democrat, say Mr. Quelch,
or Mr. Will Crooks, I or Mr. John M. Robertson, should be opposed to
people learning the Greek alphabet, which was the alphabet of liberty.
Why should Radicals dislike Greek? In that language is written
all the earliest and, Heaven knows, the most heroic history
of the Radical party. Why should Greek disgust a democrat,
when the very word democrat is Greek?
A similar mistake, though a less serious one, is merely
attacking the athletics of public schools as something
promoting animalism and brutality. Now brutality, in the only
immoral sense, is not a vice of the English public schools.
There is much moral bullying, owing to the general lack
of moral courage in the public-school atmosphere.
These schools do, upon the whole, encourage physical courage;
but they do not merely discourage moral courage, they forbid it.
The ultimate result of the thing is seen in the egregious
English officer who cannot even endure to wear a bright uniform
except when it is blurred and hidden in the smoke of battle.
This, like all the affectations of our present plutocracy,
is an entirely modern thing. It was unknown to the old aristocrats.
The Black Prince would certainly have asked that any knight
who had the courage to lift his crest among his enemies,
should also have the courage to lift it among his friends.
As regards moral courage, then it is not so much that the public
schools support it feebly, as that they suppress it firmly.
But physical courage they do, on the whole, support; and physical
courage is a magnificent fundamental. The one great,
wise Englishman of the eighteenth century said truly that if a man
lost that virtue he could never be sure of keeping any other.
Now it is one of the mean and morbid modern lies that physical
courage is connected with cruelty. The Tolstoian and Kiplingite
are nowhere more at one than in maintaining this. They have,
I believe, some small sectarian quarrel with each other, the one
saying that courage must be abandoned because it is connected
with cruelty, and the other maintaining that cruelty is charming
because it is a part of courage. But it is all, thank God, a lie.
An energy and boldness of body may make a man stupid or reckless
or dull or drunk or hungry, but it does not make him spiteful.
And we may admit heartily (without joining in that perpetual
praise which public-school men are always pouring upon themselves)
that this does operate to the removal of mere evil cruelty
in the public schools. English public school life is extremely
like English public life, for which it is the preparatory school.
It is like it specially in this, that things are either very open,
common and conventional, or else are very secret indeed.
Now there is cruelty in public schools, just as there is
kleptomania and secret drinking and vices without a name.
But these things do not flourish in the full daylight and common
consciousness of the school, and no more does cruelty.
A tiny trio of sullen-looking boys gather in corners and seem
to have some ugly business always; it may be indecent literature,
it may be the beginning of drink, it may occasionally be cruelty
to little boys. But on this stage the bully is not a braggart.
The proverb says that bullies are always cowardly, but these
bullies are more than cowardly; they are shy.
As a third instance of the wrong form of revolt against
the public schools, I may mention the habit of using the word
aristocracy with a double implication. To put the plain truth
as briefly as possible, if aristocracy means rule by a rich ring,
England has aristocracy and the English public schools support it.
If it means rule by ancient families or flawless blood,
England has not got aristocracy, and the public schools
systematically destroy it. In these circles real aristocracy,
like real democracy, has become bad form. A modern fashionable
host dare not praise his ancestry; it would so often be an insult
to half the other oligarchs at table, who have no ancestry.
We have said he has not the moral Courage to wear his uniform;
still less has he the moral courage to wear his coat-of-arms.
The whole thing now is only a vague hotch-potch of nice and
nasty gentlemen. The nice gentleman never refers to anyone
else's father, the nasty gentleman never refers to his own.
That is the only difference, the rest is the public-school manner.
But Eton and Harrow have to be aristocratic because they consist
so largely of parvenues. The public school is not a sort
of refuge for aristocrats, like an asylum, a place where they
go in and never come out. It is a factory for aristocrats;
they come out without ever having perceptibly gone in.
The poor little private schools, in their old-world, sentimental,
feudal style, used to stick up a notice, "For the Sons of
Gentlemen only." If the public schools stuck up a notice it
ought to be inscribed, "For the Fathers of Gentlemen only."
In two generations they can do the trick.
* * *
THE SCHOOL FOR HYPOCRITES
These are the false accusations; the accusation of classicism,
the accusation of cruelty, and the accusation of an exclusiveness based
on perfection of pedigree. English public-school boys are not pedants,
they are not torturers; and they are not, in the vast majority of cases,
people fiercely proud of their ancestry, or even people with any ancestry
to be proud of. They are taught to be courteous, to be good tempered,
to be brave in a bodily sense, to be clean in a bodily sense;
they are generally kind to animals, generally civil to servants,
and to anyone in any sense their equal, the jolliest companions on earth.
Is there then anything wrong in the public-school ideal?
I think we all feel there is something very wrong in it, but a blinding
network of newspaper phraseology obscures and entangles us; so that it
is hard to trace to its beginning, beyond all words and phrases.
the faults in this great English achievement.
Surely, when all is said, the ultimate objection to the English
public school is its utterly blatant and indecent disregard
of the duty of telling the truth. I know there does still
linger among maiden ladies in remote country houses a notion
that English schoolboys are taught to tell the truth, but it
cannot be maintained seriously for a moment. Very occasionally,
very vaguely, English schoolboys are told not to tell lies,
which is a totally different thing. I may silently support
all the obscene fictions and forgeries in the universe,
without once telling a lie. I may wear another man's coat,
steal another man's wit, apostatize to another man's creed,
or poison another man's coffee, all without ever telling a lie.
But no English school-boy is ever taught to tell the truth, for the
very simple reason that he is never taught to desire the truth.
From the very first he is taught to be totally careless about whether
a fact is a fact; he is taught to care only whether the fact can
be used on his "side" when he is engaged in "playing the game."
He takes sides in his Union debating society to settle whether
Charles I ought to have been killed, with the same solemn
and pompous frivolity with which he takes sides in the cricket
field to decide whether Rugby or Westminster shall win.
He is never allowed to admit the abstract notion of the truth,
that the match is a matter of what may happen, but that Charles I
is a matter of what did happen--or did not. He is Liberal or Tory
at the general election exactly as he is Oxford or Cambridge
at the boat race. He knows that sport deals with the unknown;
he has not even a notion that politics should deal with the known.
If anyone really doubts this self-evident proposition,
that the public schools definitely discourage the love of truth,
there is one fact which I should think would settle him.
England is the country of the Party System, and it has always
been chiefly run by public-school men. Is there anyone
out of Hanwell who will maintain that the Party System,
whatever its conveniences or inconveniences, could have been
created by people particularly fond of truth?
The very English happiness on this point is itself a hypocrisy.
When a man really tells the truth, the first truth he tells is that
he himself is a liar. David said in his haste, that is, in his honesty,
that all men are liars. It was afterwards, in some leisurely official
explanation, that he said the Kings of Israel at least told the truth.
When Lord Curzon was Viceroy he delivered a moral lecture to
the Indians on their reputed indifference to veracity, to actuality
and intellectual honor. A great many people indignantly discussed
whether orientals deserved to receive this rebuke; whether Indians
were indeed in a position to receive such severe admonition.
No one seemed to ask, as I should venture to ask, whether Lord Curzon
was in a position to give it. He is an ordinary party politician; a party
politician means a politician who might have belonged to either party.
Being such a person, he must again and again, at every twist and turn of
party strategy, either have deceived others or grossly deceived himself.
I do not know the East; nor do I like what I know. I am quite ready to
believe that when Lord Curzon went out he found a very false atmosphere.
I only say it must have been something startlingly and chokingly false
if it was falser than that English atmosphere from which he came.
The English Parliament actually cares for everything except veracity.
The public-school man is kind, courageous, polite, clean, companionable;
but, in the most awful sense of the words, the truth is not in him.
This weakness of untruthfulness in the English public schools,
in the English political system, and to some extent in the English
character, is a weakness which necessarily produces a curious
crop of superstitions, of lying legends, of evident delusions
clung to through low spiritual self-indulgence. There are so many
of these public-school superstitions that I have here only space
for one of them, which may be called the superstition of soap.
It appears to have been shared by the ablutionary Pharisees,
who resembled the English public-school aristocrats in so
many respects: in their care about club rules and traditions,
in their offensive optimism at the expense of other people,
and above all in their unimaginative plodding patriotism
in the worst interests of their country. Now the old human
common sense about washing is that it is a great pleasure.
Water (applied externally) is a splendid thing, like wine.
Sybarites bathe in wine, and Nonconformists drink water;
but we are not concerned with these frantic exceptions.
Washing being a pleasure, it stands to reason that rich people can
afford it more than poor people, and as long as this was recognized
all was well; and it was very right that rich people should offer
baths to poor people, as they might offer any other agreeable thing--
a drink or a donkey ride. But one dreadful day, somewhere about
the middle of the nineteenth century, somebody discovered
(somebody pretty well off) the two great modern truths,
that washing is a virtue in the rich and therefore a duty
in the poor. For a duty is a virtue that one can't do.
And a virtue is generally a duty that one can do quite easily;
like the bodily cleanliness of the upper classes.
But in the public-school tradition of public life, soap has become
creditable simply because it is pleasant. Baths are represented
as a part of the decay of the Roman Empire; but the same baths
are represented as part of the energy and rejuvenation of
the British Empire. There are distinguished public school men,
bishops, dons, headmasters, and high politicians, who, in the course
of the eulogies which from time to time they pass upon themselves,
have actually identified physical cleanliness with moral purity.
They say (if I remember rightly) that a public-school man is
clean inside and out. As if everyone did not know that while
saints can afford to be dirty, seducers have to be clean.
As if everyone did not know that the harlot must be clean,
because it is her business to captivate, while the good
wife may be dirty, because it is her business to clean.
As if we did not all know that whenever God's thunder cracks
above us, it is very likely indeed to find the simplest man
in a muck cart and the most complex blackguard in a bath.
There are other instances, of course, of this oily trick
of turning the pleasures of a gentleman into the virtues of
an Anglo-Saxon. Sport, like soap, is an admirable thing, but,
like soap, it is an agreeable thing. And it does not sum up
all mortal merits to be a sportsman playing the game in a world
where it is so often necessary to be a workman doing the work.
By all means let a gentleman congratulate himself that he has
not lost his natural love of pleasure, as against the blase,
and unchildlike. But when one has the childlike joy it
is best to have also the childlike unconsciousness; and I do
not think we should have special affection for the little boy
who ever lastingly explained that it was his duty to play Hide
and Seek and one of his family virtues to be prominent in Puss
in the Corner.
Another such irritating hypocrisy is the oligarchic attitude towards
mendicity as against organized charity. Here again, as in the case
of cleanliness and of athletics, the attitude would be perfectly
human and intelligible if it were not maintained as a merit.
Just as the obvious thing about soap is that it is a convenience,
so the obvious thing about beggars is that they are an inconvenience.
The rich would deserve very little blame if they simply said
that they never dealt directly with beggars, because in modern
urban civilization it is impossible to deal directly with beggars;
or if not impossible, at least very difficult. But these people do not
refuse money to beggars on the ground that such charity is difficult.
They refuse it on the grossly hypocritical ground that such
charity is easy. They say, with the most grotesque gravity,
"Anyone can put his hand in his pocket and give a poor man a penny;
but we, philanthropists, go home and brood and travail over
the poor man's troubles until we have discovered exactly
what jail, reformatory, workhouse, or lunatic asylum it will
really be best for him to go to." This is all sheer lying.
They do not brood about the man when they get home, and if they
did it would not alter the original fact that their motive for
discouraging beggars is the perfectly rational one that beggars
are a bother. A man may easily be forgiven for not doing this
or that incidental act of charity, especially when the question
is as genuinely difficult as is the case of mendicity.
But there is something quite pestilently Pecksniffian about
shrinking from a hard task on the plea that it is not hard enough.
If any man will really try talking to the ten beggars who come
to his door he will soon find out whether it is really so much
easier than the labor of writing a check for a hospital.
* * *
THE STALENESS OF THE NEW SCHOOLS
For this deep and disabling reason therefore, its cynical
and abandoned indifference to the truth, the English public
school does not provide us with the ideal that we require.
We can only ask its modern critics to remember that right
or wrong the thing can be done; the factory is working,
the wheels are going around, the gentlemen are being produced,
with their soap, cricket and organized charity all complete.
And in this, as we have said before, the public school really has
an advantage over all the other educational schemes of our time.
You can pick out a public-school man in any of the many
companies into which they stray, from a Chinese opium
den to a German Jewish dinner-party. But I doubt if you
could tell which little match girl had been brought up
by undenominational religion and which by secular education.
The great English aristocracy which has ruled us since the
Reformation is really, in this sense, a model to the moderns.
It did have an ideal, and therefore it has produced a reality.
We may repeat here that these pages propose mainly to show one thing:
that progress ought to be based on principle, while our modern progress
is mostly based on precedent. We go, not by what may be affirmed
in theory, but by what has been already admitted in practice.
That is why the Jacobites are the last Tories in history
with whom a high-spirited person can have much sympathy.
They wanted a specific thing; they were ready to go forward
for it, and so they were also ready to go back for it.
But modern Tories have only the dullness of defending
situations that they had not the excitement of creating.
Revolutionists make a reform, Conservatives only conserve the reform.
They never reform the reform, which is often very much wanted.
Just as the rivalry of armaments is only a sort of sulky plagiarism,
so the rivalry of parties is only a sort of sulky inheritance.
Men have votes, so women must soon have votes; poor children
are taught by force, so they must soon be fed by force;
the police shut public houses by twelve o'clock, so soon they
must shut them by eleven o'clock; children stop at school till
they are fourteen, so soon they will stop till they are forty.
No gleam of reason, no momentary return to first principles,
no abstract asking of any obvious question, can interrupt this
mad and monotonous gallop of mere progress by precedent.
It is a good way to prevent real revolution.
By this logic of events, the Radical gets as much into
a rut as the Conservative. We meet one hoary old lunatic
who says his grandfather told him to stand by one stile.
We meet another hoary old lunatic who says his grandfather told
him only to walk along one lane.
I say we may repeat here this primary part of the argument,
because we have just now come to the place where it is most
startlingly and strongly shown. The final proof that our
elementary schools have no definite ideal of their own is the fact
that they so openly imitate the ideals of the public schools.
In the elementary schools we have all the ethical prejudices
and exaggerations of Eton and Harrow carefully copied
for people to whom they do not even roughly apply.
We have the same wildly disproportionate doctrine of
the effect of physical cleanliness on moral character.
Educators and educational politicians declare, amid warm cheers,
that cleanliness is far more important than all the squabbles
about moral and religious training. It would really seem
that so long as a little boy washes his hands it does not matter
whether he is washing off his mother's jam or his brother's gore.
We have the same grossly insincere pretense that sport always
encourages a sense of honor, when we know that it often ruins it.
Above all, we have the same great upperclass assumption
that things are done best by large institutions handling
large sums of money and ordering everybody about; and that
trivial and impulsive charity is in some way contemptible.
As Mr. Blatchford says, "The world does not want piety, but soap--
and Socialism." Piety is one of the popular virtues, whereas soap
and Socialism are two hobbies of the upper middle class.
These "healthy" ideals, as they are called, which our politicians
and schoolmasters have borrowed from the aristocratic schools and
applied to the democratic, are by no means particularly appropriate
to an impoverished democracy. A vague admiration for organized
government and a vague distrust of individual aid cannot be made
to fit in at all into the lives of people among whom kindness means
lending a saucepan and honor means keeping out of the workhouse.
It resolves itself either into discouraging that system of prompt
and patchwork generosity which is a daily glory of the poor,
or else into hazy advice to people who have no money not to give
it recklessly away. Nor is the exaggerated glory of athletics,
defensible enough in dealing with the rich who, if they did not romp
and race, would eat and drink unwholesomely, by any means so much
to the point when applied to people, most of whom will take a great
deal of exercise anyhow, with spade or hammer, pickax or saw.
And for the third case, of washing, it is obvious that the same sort
of rhetoric about corporeal daintiness which is proper to an ornamental
class cannot, merely as it stands, be applicable to a dustman.
A gentleman is expected to be substantially spotless all the time.
But it is no more discreditable for a scavenger to be dirty than for
a deep-sea diver to be wet. A sweep is no more disgraced when he is
covered with soot than Michael Angelo when he is covered with clay,
or Bayard when he is covered with blood. Nor have these extenders
of the public-school tradition done or suggested anything by way
of a substitute for the present snobbish system which makes cleanliness
almost impossible to the poor; I mean the general ritual of linen
and the wearing of the cast-off clothes of the rich. One man moves
into another man's clothes as he moves into another man's house.
No wonder that our educationists are not horrified at a man picking
up the aristocrat's second-hand trousers, when they themselves
have only taken up the aristocrat's second-hand ideas.
* * *
THE OUTLAWED PARENT
There is one thing at least of which there is never so much
as a whisper inside the popular schools; and that is the opinion
of the people The only persons who seem to have nothing
to do with the education of the children are the parents.
Yet the English poor have very definite traditions in many ways.
They are hidden under embarrassment and irony; and those psychologists
who have disentangled them talk of them as very strange,
barbaric and secretive things But, as a matter of fact,
the traditions of the poor are mostly simply the traditions
of humanity, a thing which many of us have not seen for some time.
For instance, workingmen have a tradition that if one is talking
about a vile thing it is better to talk of it in coarse language;
one is the less likely to be seduced into excusing it.
But mankind had this tradition also, until the Puritans
and their children, the Ibsenites, started the opposite idea,
that it does not matter what you say so long as you say it
with long words and a long face. Or again, the educated
classes have tabooed most jesting about personal appearance;
but in doing this they taboo not only the humor of the slums,
but more than half the healthy literature of the world; they put
polite nose-bags on the noses of Punch and Bardolph, Stiggins and
Cyrano de Bergerac. Again, the educated classes have adopted
a hideous and heathen custom of considering death as too dreadful
to talk about, and letting it remain a secret for each person,
like some private malformation. The poor, on the contrary,
make a great gossip and display about bereavement; and they
are right. They have hold of a truth of psychology which is at
the back of all the funeral customs of the children of men.
The way to lessen sorrow is to make a lot of it. The way to endure
a painful crisis is to insist very much that it is a crisis;
to permit people who must feel sad at least to feel important.
In this the poor are simply the priests of the universal civilization;
and in their stuffy feasts and solemn chattering there is
the smell of the baked meats of Hamlet and the dust and echo
of the funeral games of Patroclus.
The things philanthropists barely excuse (or do not excuse)
in the life of the laboring classes are simply the things we have
to excuse in all the greatest monuments of man. It may be that
the laborer is as gross as Shakespeare or as garrulous as Homer;
that if he is religious he talks nearly as much about hell as Dante;
that if he is worldly he talks nearly as much about drink
as Dickens. Nor is the poor man without historic support if he thinks
less of that ceremonial washing which Christ dismissed, and rather
more of that ceremonial drinking which Christ specially sanctified.
The only difference between the poor man of to-day and the saints
and heroes of history is that which in all classes separates the common
man who can feel things from the great man who can express them.
What he feels is merely the heritage of man. Now nobody expects
of course that the cabmen and coal-heavers can be complete
instructors of their children any more than the squires and colonels
and tea merchants are complete instructors of their children.
There must be an educational specialist in loco parentis.
But the master at Harrow is in loco parentis; the master in Hoxton
is rather contra parentem. The vague politics of the squire,
the vaguer virtues of the colonel, the soul and spiritual yearnings
of a tea merchant, are, in veritable practice, conveyed to
the children of these people at the English public schools.
But I wish here to ask a very plain and emphatic question.
Can anyone alive even pretend to point out any way in which these special
virtues and traditions of the poor are reproduced in the education
of the poor? I do not wish the coster's irony to appeal as coarsely
in the school as it does in the tap room; but does it appear at all?
Is the child taught to sympathize at all with his father's
admirable cheerfulness and slang? I do not expect the pathetic,
eager pietas of the mother, with her funeral clothes and funeral
baked meats, to be exactly imitated in the educational system;
but has it any influence at all on the educational system?
Does any elementary schoolmaster accord it even an instant's
consideration or respect? I do not expect the schoolmaster to hate
hospitals and C.O.S. centers so much as the schoolboy's father;
but does he hate them at all? Does he sympathize in the least
with the poor man's point of honor against official institutions?
Is it not quite certain that the ordinary elementary schoolmaster
will think it not merely natural but simply conscientious to
eradicate all these rugged legends of a laborious people, and on
principle to preach soap and Socialism against beer and liberty?
In the lower classes the school master does not work for the parent,
but against the parent. Modern education means handing down the customs
of the minority, and rooting out the customs of the majority.
Instead of their Christlike charity, their Shakespearean laughter
and their high Homeric reverence for the dead, the poor have imposed
on them mere pedantic copies of the prejudices of the remote rich.
They must think a bathroom a necessity because to the lucky it
is a luxury; they must swing Swedish clubs because their masters
are afraid of English cudgels; and they must get over their prejudice
against being fed by the parish, because aristocrats feel no shame
about being fed by the nation.
* * *
FOLLY AND FEMALE EDUCATION
It is the same in the case of girls. I am often solemnly
asked what I think of the new ideas about female education.
But there are no new ideas about female education.
There is not, there never has been, even the vestige of a new idea.
All the educational reformers did was to ask what was being done to
boys and then go and do it to girls; just as they asked what was being
taught to young squires and then taught it to young chimney sweeps.
What they call new ideas are very old ideas in the wrong place.
Boys play football, why shouldn't girls play football;
boys have school colors, why shouldn't girls have school-colors;
boys go in hundreds to day-schools, why shouldn't girls go
in hundreds to day-schools; boys go to Oxford, why shouldn't
girls go to Oxford--in short, boys grow mustaches, why shouldn't
girls grow mustaches--that is about their notion of a new idea.
There is no brain-work in the thing at all; no root query
of what sex is, of whether it alters this or that, and why,
anymore than there is any imaginative grip of the humor
and heart of the populace in the popular education.
There is nothing but plodding, elaborate, elephantine imitation.
And just as in the case of elementary teaching, the cases are
of a cold and reckless inappropriateness. Even a savage could see
that bodily things, at least, which are good for a man are very likely
to be bad for a woman. Yet there is no boy's game, however brutal,
which these mild lunatics have not promoted among girls.
To take a stronger case, they give girls very heavy home-work;
never reflecting that all girls have home-work already in
their homes. It is all a part of the same silly subjugation;
there must be a hard stick-up collar round the neck of a woman,
because it is already a nuisance round the neck of a man.
Though a Saxon serf, if he wore that collar of cardboard,
would ask for his collar of brass.
It will then be answered, not without a sneer, "And what would
you prefer? Would you go back to the elegant early Victorian female,
with ringlets and smelling-bottle, doing a little in water colors,
dabbling a little in Italian, playing a little on the harp,
writing in vulgar albums and painting on senseless screens?
Do you prefer that?" To which I answer, "Emphatically, yes."
I solidly prefer it to the new female education, for this reason,
that I can see in it an intellectual design, while there is
none in the other. I am by no means sure that even in point
of practical fact that elegant female would not have been
more than a match for most of the inelegant females.
I fancy Jane Austen was stronger, sharper and shrewder than
Charlotte Bronte; I am quite certain she was stronger, sharper and
shrewder than George Eliot. She could do one thing neither
of them could do: she could coolly and sensibly describe a man.
I am not sure that the old great lady who could only smatter
Italian was not more vigorous than the new great lady who can
only stammer American; nor am I certain that the bygone
duchesses who were scarcely successful when they painted
Melrose Abbey, were so much more weak-minded than the modern
duchesses who paint only their own faces, and are bad at that.
But that is not the point. What was the theory, what was the idea,
in their old, weak water-colors and their shaky Italian? The idea
was the same which in a ruder rank expressed itself in home-made
wines and hereditary recipes; and which still, in a thousand
unexpected ways, can be found clinging to the women of the poor.
It was the idea I urged in the second part of this book:
that the world must keep one great amateur, lest we all become
artists and perish. Somebody must renounce all specialist conquests,
that she may conquer all the conquerors. That she may be a queen
of life, she must not be a private soldier in it. I do not think
the elegant female with her bad Italian was a perfect product,
any more than I think the slum woman talking gin and funerals
is a perfect product; alas! there are few perfect products.
But they come from a comprehensible idea; and the new woman comes
from nothing and nowhere. It is right to have an ideal, it is
right to have the right ideal, and these two have the right ideal.
The slum mother with her funerals is the degenerate daughter
of Antigone, the obstinate priestess of the household gods.
The lady talking bad Italian was the decayed tenth cousin of Portia,
the great and golden Italian lady, the Renascence amateur of life,
who could be a barrister because she could be anything.
Sunken and neglected in the sea of modern monotony and imitation,
the types hold tightly to their original truths. Antigone, ugly,
dirty and often drunken, will still bury her father.
The elegant female, vapid and fading away to nothing, still feels
faintly the fundamental difference between herself and her husband:
that he must be Something in the City, that she may be everything
in the country.
There was a time when you and I and all of us were all very close to God;
so that even now the color of a pebble (or a paint), the smell of a flower
(or a firework), comes to our hearts with a kind of authority
and certainty; as if they were fragments of a muddled message,
or features of a forgotten face. To pour that fiery simplicity
upon the whole of life is the only real aim of education;
and closest to the child comes the woman--she understands.
To say what she understands is beyond me; save only this, that it
is not a solemnity. Rather it is a towering levity, an uproarious
amateurishness of the universe, such as we felt when we were little,
and would as soon sing as garden, as soon paint as run. To smatter
the tongues of men and angels, to dabble in the dreadful sciences,
to juggle with pillars and pyramids and toss up the planets like balls,
this is that inner audacity and indifference which the human soul,
like a conjurer catching oranges, must keep up forever.
This is that insanely frivolous thing we call sanity.
And the elegant female, drooping her ringlets over her water-colors, knew
it and acted on it. She was juggling with frantic and flaming suns.
She was maintaining the bold equilibrium of inferiorities which is
the most mysterious of superiorities and perhaps the most unattainable.
She was maintaining the prime truth of woman, the universal mother:
that if a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.
* * *