The Tyranny of Shams/Chapter IX
THE EDUCATION OF THE ADULT
If it be granted that it is the interest and the duty of a nation to develop the intelligence of its people, we must conclude that the work is only half done, or not half done, by even an ideal system of what is commonly called education. I am assuming that a time will come when no youth or maiden will enter workshop or office before the age of seventeen, if not eighteen; and that the better endowed minority of our children will, without regard to their private resources, be promoted to secondary, technical, and higher schools. This minority will, on the whole, need no further attention. Cultural interest and professional stimulation will ensure that their studies continue. But the majority will fall lamentably short of the ideal of developed and alert intelligence. The added three or four years will be enormously valuable to the teacher, but in the majority of cases the intellectual interest will still be so feeble that the distractions of life will at once extinguish it.
If we speak of our actual world, not of an ideal world, this fact is too patent to need proving. Forty-five years ago a band of enthusiasts fought for the establishment of universal elementary education. The survivors of that band confess that the splendid results they anticipated have not been secured. One is, indeed, tempted sometimes to wonder whether there was not more zeal for culture among the workers half a century ago than there is to-day. When you listen to a conversation, of workers or of average middle-class people, on politics or theology or some other absorbing topic, you are astounded at the slender amount of personal thinking and the slavery to phrases which they have heard. Their minds seem to resemble the screen of a kaleidoscope, on which the coloured phrases they have read in journals or cheap literature weave automatic patterns. I speak, of course, of the mass. I have given hundreds of scientific lectures to keen audiences of working men, and I know that tens of thousands of them have excellent collections of familiar books. But the result of forty-five years of education is far from satisfactory. It was thought that, when the people learned to read, and the ideas of an Emerson or a Darwin could be appropriated by any man of moderate endowment, the level of the race would rise materially. It has not risen as much as was expected. The phrases are learned and repeated: the ideas are not vitally assimilated, because the intellect is not sufficiently developed.
Two classes of people will impatiently retort that there is no need for further development. One class consists of those who dread a higher intelligence in the workers because it leads to discontent with their condition. To which one may reply that this concern comes too late. One needs little intelligence to perceive the inequalities of the distribution of wealth. The workers of the world have perceived it, and, although only an extreme Socialist minority demands equalisation, the mass of the workers demand a higher reward. Midway between Australia and England, on the deck of a liner, I heard a group of middle-class men and women contrasting the menace of the Australian workers with the industrial content of the mother-country. We landed, to find from the journals that the whole United Kingdom was punctuated by strikes, agitations, and demands. It is too late. A distinguished Belgian prelate was taken into a large foundry, and, observing the workers, he impulsively cried: “What a slave’s life!” “Hush, they will hear you,” said the manager. In repeating the experience he added: “They have heard: it is too late.” It will be better now if, in the industrial struggle of the future, there is intelligence as well as principle on both sides. If any large proportion of work in the human economy requires the sacrifice of the intelligence, there is something wrong with the work.
Curiously enough, the other class of people who are impatient of the design to stimulate their minds consists of the mass of the workers themselves. After eight or nine or ten hours of heavy muscular work every day, they say, they have no inclination or fitness for serious literature, serious lectures, or serious art. They prefer a drink, a bioscope, a music-hall. Eight hours’ work, eight hours’ play, eight hours’ sleep; that is the ideal. A very natural and symmetrical ideal, but — it is just the ideal which “the capitalist” wishes them to cultivate, and this might suggest reflection. Someone will do the thinking while they play. Democratic government is a mischief and a blunder unless Demos is capable of thinking. If the workers of the world have an ambition to control their destinies, they must realise that their destinies are things too large and complex and important to be controlled by men with sleepy brains. There is no solution of the broad social problem of this planet which does not imply that every adult man and woman, of normal powers, shall be alert and informed and self-assertive enough to take an intelligent part in its administration.
Therefore, it seems to many that a scheme of education which ceases to operate at the age of fourteen, which teaches children to read and has no further concern with what they read, which impresses on their cortex a mass of facts of no utility or stimulation, is not a fulfilment of a nation’s duty, or a proper consideration of a nation’s interest. The grander lessons of history, the more impressive truths of science, the vital features of economics and sociology, the ennobling characters of fine art, cannot be even faintly impressed on the young mind. Yet they can be impressed on the minds of nearly all adults, and it would be an incalculable gain to the race if they were. What is being done, and what might be done, to effect this?
The nation at present leaves it to commercial interest and to philanthropy to carry out, in some measure, this important function, and we may at once eliminate the commercial interest. It supplies, at a proper profit, what is demanded. A minority ask for cheap works of science and art and history, and several admirable series of manuals and serial publications are supplied. A majority, an overwhelming majority, asks only to be entertained, and there is a mighty flood of novels and amusing works, a rich crop of music-halls and bioscope-shows and theatres and skating rinks. It will readily be understood that, regarding happiness as the ultimate ideal, I regard entertainment as a proper part of life. The comedian and the storyteller and the professional football-player are rendering good service, and it is intellectual snobbery to murmur that they “merely entertain” people. A good deal of nonsense is written about sport and entertainment. Many of us can, with pleasant ease, suspend a severely intellectual task for a few hours to witness a first-class football match. One wonders if some of the ascetics who speak about “mudded oafs” and “the football craze” are aware that the game (except for professional players) occupies merely an hour and a half a week (or alternate week) for little more than half a year.
The mischief is that so much of our entertainment appeals to and fosters a state of mind or taste which does exclude culture. We have to-day an army of puritan scouts, watching our music-halls and cinematograph films, our picture-cards and novels, our open spaces by night and our bathing-beaches by day, calculating minutely what amount of dress or undress or sexual allusion they may permit. Certainly we need coercion in these matters. No one who moves amongst our average people, in any rank of society, can fail to recognise that there would be in time a volcanic outpour of sexuality if we did not impose restriction. Whether this chaste pruriency of the modern Churches is an admirable thing, and whether its hirelings are a desirable supplement to the police-force, need not be discussed here; but what amuses one is their intense zeal to detect the narrowest fringe of impropriety and their utter obtuseness to graver matters. I have sometimes, when waiting before a lecture in the dressing-room of a variety theatre, been confronted with a notice that “the curtain will be rung down on any artist who says ‘Damn’ or mentions the lodger,” or, more candidly (in the Colonies): “Don’t swear. We don’t care a damn, but the public does.” The general public would, if it were consulted, probably make the same reply as the framers of the notice, and would blame the police for the restriction of liberty. There is, in a word, an appalling poverty of taste in the general public, and it pays the purveyor of entertainment to adapt his wares to it as far as the police will permit. To this lamentable lack of taste and culture (in the broad sense) officials and moralists are entirely indifferent as long as the comédienne does not refer to the seventh commandment. The public may be as ignorant and vulgar as they like, but they must not give expression to a natural effect of this.
The music-hall and the bioscope are the great academies of our people to-day, and their work is largly stupefying. Sentimental songs of the most vapid description alternate with patriotic songs of a medieval crudeness and humorous songs which might have appealed to a prehistoric intelligence. Bloodthirsty melodramas, sensational scenes, and infinite variations of “The girl who did what we are forbidden to talk about,” evoke and inflame elementary emotions at the lowest grade of culture. Clergymen give certificates of high moral efficacy to crude representations of passion in high life which are designed to appeal to raw feelings. The posters alone — the eccentric costumes and daubed faces and attempts at novelty in the way of leering — warn away people of moderate taste or intelligence. The bioscope is almost as bad. Apart from a few excellent travel and scenic and scientific pictures, the show is a mass of crude faking and boorish horse-play which presupposes an elementary intelligence in the spectators. Pictorial post-cards add to the monstrosities and puerilities of this kind of public education, and a large proportion of the stories published, especially in the periodicals which are read by girls and boys and uneducated women, fall in the same category. We may trust that the idea will not occur to anyone of making a collection of our picture-cards, films, music-hall posters, novelties, etc., for preservation as typical amusements of the twentieth century.
It is stupid to watch this lamentable exposure of our low average of culture week by week with complete indifference until more underclothing is displayed than we think proper. The bioscope and music-hall — I speak of the majority — are not merely entertaining; they are undoing the work of the educator. They are fostering the raw and primitive emotions which it is the task of education to refine and bring under control, debasing public taste, and appealing to a standard which is essentially unintellectual. The idea that fun may be utterly stupid and crude, provided it is “clean,” is the idea of a narrow-minded fanatic, an enemy of society.
When we pass to the next cultural level of entertainment — the better music-hall, the metropolitan type of theatue, the concert, the novel, etc. — we have a vast provision of entertainment which amuses or interests without cultural prejudice; rising at times to a positive measure of artistic education or intellectual stimulation. Two things only need be noticed here. The first is the stupidity of the kind of censorship which we tolerate; of which little need be said, since it is generally recognised. The amateur moral censorship of art reaches the culmination of its absurdity in our dramatic inquisition. The dramatist may deal with sex-passion as pruriently and provokingly as he likes, provided he leaves enough to the spectator’s facile imagination; but he must not attempt to raise love as an intellectual issue. Our people may feel love: they must not think about it as a serious problem.
The other, and more needed observation, regards the novel. There are novels of fine artistic value, like those of Phillpotts: novels of great intellectual use, like those of Wells: and novels of a general and more subtle educational value, like those of Meredith. There are novels which, like the melodrama, counteract education by their low standard of art and intelligence, and there are novels — the great majority — which entertain without prejudice. Since we have as much right to be entertained as to be instructed, novel-reading is a normal part of a normal life. Seeing, however, that a very large proportion of the community read nothing but novels, it has been felt that the novel might be used as a vehicle of instruction, and the didactic or historical novel has become an institution. Many believe that they are being educated when they read this literature.
Against this comforting assumption it is necessary to protest. Even the greatest historical novelists, Dumas and Scott, have taken remarkable liberties with the known facts, and added to the picture of the time a mass of imaginative detail. Many historical novels, like Quo Vadis or Kingsley’s Hypatia, misrepresent personalities or periods for controversial purposes; and the bulk of modern historical novels are worthless jumbles of fact and imagination. It is, as a rule, the same with the sociological novel. You must know the facts in advance — you must know where the facts end and the fiction begins — or else merely regard the book as a form of entertainment. Lately I read a serious historical work, by a distinguished writer, in which Hypatia (who was fifty or sixty years old when she was murdered) is described as a “girlphilosopher” ; clearly because Kingsley, for controversial purposes, thought fit in his novel to make her a young and rather foolish maiden. Thousands of people take their convictions from “novels with a purpose,” especially religious or sociological novels, without reflecting that the author may legitimately give them either fact or fiction. Such novels are often profoundly mischievous. A conscientious didactic novelist like Mr. Wells aims rather at raising issues and stimulating reflection, and in this Mr. Wells has done splendid service. Others have done equal dis-service, and have used artificially constructed characters for the purpose of raising prejudice against certain ideas, or have misled by a calculated mixture of fact and fiction. It was in recommending to the public one of these novels — an exceptionally silly and crude piece of work — that the Bishop of London described Christianity as “woman’s best friend.”
Religious literature is particularly offensive in this respect, but I will give special consideration to it later. Our press-criticism of books is a very imperfect system of checking the vagaries and prejudices of authors. The criticisms are very frequently marked by ignorance of the subject and by personal or doctrinal hostility to the author, while the more learned and conscientious journals often show the most ludicrous pedantry. I once published a novel, pseudonymously, and was amused to read in a London weekly, which takes great pride in the smartness of its reviews, that the author had neither an elementary knowledge of the art of writing nor an elementary acquaintance with the subject on which he wrote. I had already at that time written about twenty volumes, and I had had twelve years’ intimate experience of the monastic life with which the book was concerned. Mr. Clement Shorter, not knowing the author, had generously described the book as “a brilliant novel.” On another occasion an historical work of mine was gravely censured, though no specific errors were noted in it, by our leading literary organ, on the ground that I was not an expert on the period. I looked up the same journal’s critique of a work written on the same historical period by an academic authority, and published by his university, and I found that, though there were dozens of errors in the work, it had passed the censor with full honours. I add with pleasure that some of the most generous notices of my works have appeared in papers (such as The Daily Telegraph and The Spectator) to which my ideas must be repugnant. But most literary men agree with me that reviewing is, to a large extent, prejudiced and incompetent, and few of us would cross a room to read ordinary press-notices of our books.
One might extend this criticism to the general work of the press as the great popular educator. We must, however, reflect that the press is hampered by restrictions which the public ought to bear in mind: a journal is always a commercial transaction with a particular section of the public, and it is generally pledged to political partisanship. It is only just to remark that this materially restricts the educational ambition of many journalists. The public themselves are to blame that a large section of our press devotes so much space to sensational murders, adulteries, burglaries, royal births and marriages, wars and other crimes and follies. Sunday journals often contain twenty columns of this rubbish, and the worst parts of it are, with the most disgusting hypocrisy, thrust into prominence by especially large head-lines announcing “A Painful Case.” One imagines the working man spending five or six hours of the Sabbath reading this sort of stuff. Great and grave things, which he ought to know, are happening all over the world, but he must have sharp eyes if he is to catch the obscure little paragraphs which — if there is any reference at all — tell him how many have been put to death in Russia in the last quarter, or how the republican experiment fares in Portugal, or how democracy advances in Australia or the United States. The space is needed for pictures of burned mansions and notorious murderers and the commonplace relatives of politicians, for verbatim reports of divorce and criminal cases, for inquests and royal processions, and for the magnificent speeches of Cabinet Ministers and would-be Cabinet Ministers.
This stricture applies to the press generally. How far it sacrifices to these meretricious purposes the serious function of educating the public has been painfully impressed on us by recent experience. Only one or two journals in England surpassed our drowsy politicians in sagacity and foresight. Though an extensive reader of German literature (scientific and historical), it had never been my business to follow political or military utterances; yet, when the war broke out and I looked back on Germany’s enormous output in this department, I realised that there had been in London for a year or two enough German literature to convince any moderate observer that war was fast approaching — and this was only a fragment of an enormously larger literature. Our press had ridiculed the one or two men and journals who warned the public of the danger. Further, when it transpired that our Government had met the crisis with painful slowness and inefficiency, nearly the whole press again conspired to check criticism, and it is probable that when the war is over the press will unite with the Churches in cultivating a foolish and dangerous contentment on the part of the public. Our press is, in fact, very largely an instrument of our corrupt party-system. It never initiates reform, and it mirrors, day by day, all the crimes and follies and maladies of our social order without the least resentment or the faintest suggestion of reconstruction. Journals are constantly appearing with the professed intention of correcting these defects, yet they are almost invariably spoiled by illiberalism in one or more departments of their work, or by gross exaggerations, hysterical language, or impracticable proposals.
All this is a reflection of the generally low state of public culture, and it will not alter until we devote serious care to the education of the general intelligence. We begin at school to cultivate the child’s imagination, though it is the quality of a child’s mind which least requires stimulating and is most in need of subordinating to intelligence. In later years, when the feeble intellectual stimulation we have given is exhausted, we have to appeal to the imagination or go unheard. “I have not read a book since I left school,” a music-hall artist observed to me. At twenty-five he had become incapable of doing more than look at illustrations, as he had done in his childhood. We go on until we make the imagination itself feeble on its constructive side. Miles of generally dauby and grotesque posters line our streets; tons of the trashiest literature for the young are discharged from marble palaces in the neighbourhood of Fleet Street; novels multiply until the general public takes the words author and novelist to be synonymous; and the daily organ of the millions tends more and more to be a collection of pictures of unimportant events and persons, with a very slender and peculiar quantity of news.
If we agree that democracy will advance until the majority rule in reality, and not merely in theory, these things must concern us. It is of little use to point to the occasional periodical with small circulation which endeavours to educate, to the occasional educative column in more important journals, or to the occasional lecture or serious concert or drama. The broad fact remains that our future rulers are increasingly encouraged to refrain from mental cultivation, to mistake an appeal to the imagination for knowledge, and to debase their taste more and more with raw representations of crime and passion. The working man reads with indignation of fashionable ladies struggling to find a place in court when a man is being tried for a series of sordid murders; and the working man then reads, day after day, a three-column verbatim report of the trial, and regrets that there is not more of it.
In order to meet this grave public need an earlier generation invented night-schools and Mechanics’ Institutes. Many of these still do useful work, but their number shrinks rather than increases. The Co-operative Movement, again, set up in the early days a fine ambition to educate its adult members, but this ambition has not been generally sustained in the vast modern movement. Hundreds of lecture-societies were founded, and hundreds (about seven hundred in Great Britain, I believe) exist to-day and do some excellent work; but many of the societies which adhered most faithfully to the educational ideal are in difficulties or extinct. The travel-lecture or funny lecture and the “popular” concert encroach more and more on the serious programme. Free libraries were another hope of the reformers of the last generation, and they are now endowed by millionaires and maintained by municipalities. They exhibit, perhaps, the saddest perversion of social ambition. Neither Mr. Carnegie nor any serious municipality thinks it a duty to provide gratuitous entertainment, but at least two-thirds of their resources are really devoted to this. The enormously greater part of the work of free libraries is to beguile the idle hours of young men and the idle days of young women with novels that rarely contain a particle of intellectual stimulation.
Public museums were another device for educating the mass of the people, and they have largely failed. There has been in recent years a little more regard for the public, as well as for students, but it is still painful to see crowds passing with bovine eyes amidst our accumulated treasures. The grouping and labelling are still too academic: the general scheme and the immense wealth of detail daze the eye of the inexpert. More guides and lecturers, in touch with and informally accessible to the public, and a closer association with University Extension and Gilchrist and other lectures, are very much needed. Saturday afternoon in the British Museum is a melancholy spectacle of wasted wealth. A small model museum, designed solely for the education of the general public, would be more useful in this respect than our magnificent national museum. Unfortunately, the small museums copy the academic defects of the larger. The curator of one, on whom I urged the needs of the public, replied wearily: “Well, it will take me three years to arrange my Cephalopods, and then I will see what I can do.”
We need a comprehensive and serious organisation and development of our resources for educating the adult. Our Education Department needs to throw out a new wing with the purpose of preventing the utter waste of its work upon young children. Institutions like the British Museum ought to be relieved of the control of the Archbishop of Canterbury and one or two other somnolent gentlemen, and made the centre of a splendid and energetic system of popular instruction and stimulation. From such centres the educational officials (as distinct from learned curators and youths from Oxford and Cambridge who look upon the public as a nuisance) might issue attractive invitations and publications, and be prepared to welcome the non-student, either with “showmen” who understand the public mind or by a general and affable accessibility of the whole staff. Municipal museums and libraries and picture-galleries could be organised on similar lines by the Department, and useful private foundations, such as the Bishopsgate Institute, could be invited to co-operate, without interference in their management. The supply of novels ought to be restricted to the great masters of every country and a few moderns. The rich supply of serious literature ought to be made attractive and easily accessible to the public by good bibliographical guidance and constant lectures. These things are, of course, being done. It is not so much the local officials one quarrels with as the nation and its leaders. We want an immense coordination and development of our resources and efforts out of national funds. Lecture-societies and all kinds of educative centres and institutes — there are thousands in the country — need to be affiliated, encouraged, advised, and supplemented. The State should not even shrink from publishing. The trade supplies only the actual demand: the State must create a new and larger demand. Music would be an integral part of this scheme of education, and here again we have a large material ready for organisation.
Any man who has engaged in the work of educating and stimulating the general public will realise how urgently some such scheme is needed, and how splendid a service it would render. He will realise also that the task will be formidable. I do not for a moment conceive the general public as thirsting for culture. That is very largely due to the way in which the work has hitherto been done. The recent success of small but authoritative manuals of science and history, and of several cheap series of literary works of high value, shows that a fairly large public responds to every enlightened effort to assist them. It will become very much larger when the work is organised on a national scale and conceived as a really important function of the State. That even then the majority of the nation would rush to the reconstructed libraries and museums and lecture or concert-halls no one will imagine for a moment. We do not undo in a few years the effect of centuries of evil traditions. I am assuming, however, that these various reforms I am discussing will proceed more or less simultaneously, and will enormously assist each other. The abolition of war would release rich funds for educational purposes: the reorganisation of industry would provide a little more leisure and capacity for mental recreation: other reforms would give a general intellectual stimulation. Even now, however, much of this work could be done. If we think it sufficient that our people remain in a condition of elementary literacy and half-developed intelligence, if we fancy that the race will advance because it sets aside a special caste of scholars for the promotion of culture, we may regard our actual situation without concern. But if we desire that general alertness of mind and decision of character which a democratic rule implies, we cannot be indifferent. Aristocrats justly rail at the democracy of Athens and Rome; it was an uneducated democracy — literate, but uneducated, like ours. We need to advance, if we are not to recede; and the uplifted race of the days to come will honour the generation that taught men the compatibility of culture and entertainment.
I am speaking, in the main, of the mass of the workers, but it would be entirely unjust to insinuate that they alone need adult education. The conventions of social life, the extraordinary slavery to fashions and artificial rules, betray an intellectual flabbiness in the wealthier members of society which just as urgently calls for stimulation. We seem at times quite incapable of drawing a line between acts of real courtesy and taste, which imply a certain grace or delicacy of character, and conventional usages which have no rational basis. The insistence on these conventional usages is part of that general slavery to false traditions which I am assailing.
The most flagrant instance of this weakness of mind and character is the docility with which we meet changes of fashion in dress, or retain eccentric forms of clothing. Hardly any other feature so strongly impresses the close observer with the fact that the race, as a whole (and I speak only of civilised communities), advances little in intelligence and self-possession in spite of the progress made by its intellectual experts. One would say that here, especially, we need a strong draught of the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, — the gospel of self-assertion, of strong personality, of severe reasoning, — but I have not observed that our modern Nietzscheans differ much from their neighbours in such matters. Yet the commercial expansion of modern times is making this tyranny of fashion more ludicrous than it ever was before.
The fashion-plates and descriptions contained in ladies’ journals have always provoked the furtive smile of the male. A coterie of tradesmen, who are eager to promote business, and of wealthy ladies who are equally eager to show that their purses are unlimited, decree that the hat or costume shall continually vary in shape and colour. The Anglo-French jargon of the sartorial journalist then impresses on a larger circle of ladies the need of alertness and the horror of being démodée, — it would be proof of incapacity to say “out of fashion,” — and, as the season approaches, the proclamation of the forthcoming colour or model is awaited with more feverish anxiety than the announcement of the national budget. Schools of artists are secretly inventing some variation — the wider the variation the better — on the thousands of costumes which have already graced the feminine frame, or discussing bold suggestions of reviving an ancient model which has long disappeared even from the shops of wardrobe-dealers. Privileged ladies rise in prestige by obtaining and whispering advance information. At length the shop-windows blaze with the new colour, the journals depict an ingenious new combination of edges and folds and puckers, and womanhood plunges to the bottom of its purse with an eagerness to avoid the suspicion of financial stringency; while the discarded hats and dresses percolate romantically through lower strata of society. Is it not good for trade?
The masculine smile is, however, wearing thinner, as the absurd despotism is now almost as great among the stronger sex. Here also a group of commercial mathematicians evolve, every few months, a new combination of brim and crown and curve, and artists design new patterns of cloth and new contours of garment, and tyrannical journalists hold up to public execration the man of means or position who dares to find last year’s fashion sufficiently comfortable or decorative. “Not worn now, sir,” says the shopman, with indulgent smile, when you go to renew the hat or coat that has pleased you. The bewildering thing is, not that manufacturers should be eager to sell us new garments every few weeks, but that we bow with such docility to this ludicrous fiction of monarchy. Long trousers or short trousers, creased trousers or turned-up trousers, tight coats or loose coats, bowlers or trilbys — we listen submissively to the mandate, without the least consideration of our appearance or convenience.
Indeed, the only things that are permanent in this extravagant procession of fashions are the things that are ugly, inconvenient, or unhealthy, especially on the masculine side. The silk hat and the hard felt hat linger as if in these extraordinary creations the manufacturer had discovered the ideal head-covering. The swallow-tail coat survives as if aesthetics could advance no further in the attiring of wealthy men; even the buttons at the back, to which our fiery ancestor attached his sword, must not be abandoned. The more comfortable dinner-jacket remains a privileged client at the gate until some audacious peer or prince will dispel the oppressive reverence for the ancient swallow-tail; and peers and princes know how dangerous it is to tamper with the spirit of reverence. The starched collar and shirt are as rigidly prescribed as sacred vestments on high occasions. The lady must still hang a thick and heavy screen of cloth from her hips; first having it made too long and then holding it up with her hand in order to escape the rich organic deposit on our streets and the filth with which we suffer “domestic pets” to make our squares hideous. Her abdominal organs must, if one may credit the marvellous photographs published by the corset-makers, be reconstructed every few years to accommodate the latest scheme of body-curves. And from these upper reaches of our intellectual world, the tyranny descends through level after level of the community until it lays its last stern injunctions on the junior clerk and the post-office assistant; or passes beyond the seas and compels the Chinaman or the Japanese to discard his beautiful robe in favour of a frock-coat and silk hat, or a striped tweed and bowler, when he presents himself at the entrance-gate to civilisation.
We find an almost equally ludicrous tyranny of tradition or fashion in almost every part of the ritual of social life. Twenty years ago I issued from a rite-bound monastery into the free life of the world, to find it similarly swathed in ritual bonds. I purchased, and stealthily mastered, the “ceremonial” (as we used to call our rite-book) of this new world — a book on “etiquette” — and led for some months a strenuous and exacting life. I entered drawing-rooms with a nervous recollection of about a score of rules that had to be observed in the first five minutes, while the ritual of the mundane table entailed for a long time a good deal of furtive observation of my fellows and trembling under the butler’s eye. To this day I am not quite clear at what precise angle the elbow must stand in shaking hands. Social life is overspread by a network of these prescriptions of the unwritten law or the judicial decisions of the aristocracy which we call “manners.” There is, as a rule, so little discrimination between the formal rules of an artificial code and the real impulses of a gentlemanly nature that one has often to listen gravely and silently while ladies commend the “perfect manners” of a man whom one knows to be an adventurous ninny or a beast.
We need a new conception of civilisation, a sustained stimulation of the intelligence throughout life, a strong infusion of the Nietzschean gospel of personality and self-assertion. Some day we shall regard education as half of the nation’s serious business, and will devote half our national revenue to it. Let it not be imagined that this suggests a generation of dour and frightfully serious people who never smoke or play bridge. I omit the function of entertainment only because it has never been neglected. The supreme business of a State is to make its people happy, strong, and prosperous. We shall approach the ideal when we abolish war and reduce pauperism and crime by registering all workers, organising all industry, reforming justice and the penal system, and removing the morally diseased.
In those days education will be a vast, humane, scientific scheme for guiding the growth of human embryos into industrious and orderly citizens, and enabling the adult citizen pleasurably to cultivate his mind and taste. The development of each child will be followed as the development of a pupil is followed in the Jesuit Society, but with a care to develop its individuality fully, in harmony with the individualities of others. The child will not pass from the sphere of the educator at puberty, with unformed mind and character, to swell the great army of the intellectually listless. Ruskin’s noble ideal of “as many as possible full-breathed, bright-eyed, and happy-hearted human creatures” will replace the narrow standards of our Education Department, with which the child can have no sympathy. From the first dawn of intelligence it will feel that a well-wishing parent, the community, is training it to derive all the joy it can from life, consistently with the joy of others and the day’s duties, when its turn comes to don the toga virilis. It will have learned by that time that a development of its characteristic human powers is the richest possession it can have, and, coming to adolescence, will not at once cast aside the work of the teacher and dissipate its energy in the crude indulgence of elementary passions and futile imaginings. Neither child nor adult will shrink from work which stimulates the intelligence or refines the taste, and a fine alert race, impatient of untruth, injustice, and suffering, will set itself to develop fully the resources of this planet.