'THAT VERY MAB'
By May Kendall and Andrew Lang
'Ah! now I see Queen Mab has been with you'
LONGMANS, GREEN, AND CO.
I. UNDER TWO FLAGS II. DISILLUSIONS III. THE ORIGIN OF RELIGION IV. THE POET AND THE PALAEONTOTHEOLOGIST V. ST. GEORGE FOR MERRY ENGLAND VI. JUSTICE AND THE NEW DEMOCRACY VII. MACHINERY AND THE SUCCESSFUL MERCHANT VIII. THE BEAUTIFUL IX. IN WHICH THE NIHILIST, THE DEMOCRAT, AND THE PROFESSOR OFFER A SUGGESTION TO THE BISHOP X. THE SUBSEQUENT CAREER OF THE NIHILIST XI. HOME AND FOREIGN POLICY COMBINED XII. THE DELUGE
'THAT VERY MAB'
CHAPTER I. — UNDER TWO FLAGS.
'You send out teachers of religion to undermine and ruin the people.'—Black Flag Proclamation to the French, 1883.
The moonlight, in wave on wave of silver, flooded all the Sacred Island. Far away and faint ran the line of the crests of Samoa, like the hills of heaven in the old ballad, or a scene in the Italian opera. Then came a voice from the Calling Place, and the smooth sea thrilled, and all the fishes leaped, and the Sacred Isle itself was moved, and shuddered to its inmost heart. Again and again came the voice, and now it rose and fell in the cadences of a magical song (or Karakia, if we must have local colour), and the words were not of this world. Then, behold, the smooth seas began to break and plash round the foremost cape of the Holy Island, and to close again behind, like water before the keel and behind the stern of a running ship, so they plashed, and broke, and fell. Next the surface was stirred far off with the gambolling and sporting of innumerable fishes; the dolphin was tumbling in the van; the flying fish hovered and shone and sank; and clearer, always, and yet more clear came the words of the song from Samoa. Clearer and louder, moment by moment, rose the voice of Queen Mab, where she stood on the Calling Place of the Gods, and chanted to the Islands, and to the sea, and the dwellers in the sea. It was not that she left her stand, nor came nearer, but the Sacred Island itself was steering straight, like a magical barque, drawn by the wonderful song, to the mystic shore of Samoa. Now Queen Mab, where she stood among her court, with the strange brown fairies of the Southern Ocean, could behold the Sacred Island, with all its fairy crew. Beautiful things they seemed, as the sailing isle drew nearer, beautiful and naked, and brave with purple pan-danus flowers, and with red and yellow necklets of the scented seed of the pandanus. At last Queen Mab, the fairy in the fluttering wings of green, clapped her hands, and, with a little soft shock, the Sacred Island ran in and struck on the haunted beach of Samoa. What was Queen Mab doing here, so far away from England? England she had left long ago; when the Puritans arose the Fairies vanished. When 'Tom came home from labour and Cis from milking rose,' there was now no more sound of tabor, nor 'merrily went their toes.' Tom went to the Public House or the Preaching House, and Cis—Cis waited till Tom should come home and kick her into a jelly (his toes going merrily enough at that work), or tell her she was, spiritually, in a parlous case. So the Fairy Queen and all her court had long since fled from England, and long ago made a home in the undiscovered isles of the South. Now they all met and mingled in the throng of the Polynesian fairy folk, and, rushing down into the waters, they revelled all night on the silvery sand, in the windless dancing places of the deep. Tane and Tawhiti came, the Gods of the tides and the shores, and all the fairies sang to them:
'Tawhiti, on the sacred beach The purple pandanus is thine! How soft the breakers come and go, How bright the fragrant berries blow, The fern-tree scents the shining reach, And Tane dances down the brine!'
Such is the poetry of the Polynesian fairies. It is addicted to frequent repetitions of the same obvious remark, and it does not contain a Criticism of Life, so we do not give any more of it. But, such as it was, it seemed to afford great pleasure to the dancers, probably because every one of them could compose any amount of it himself, at will, and every dancer was 'his own poet,' than which nothing can be more salubrious and delightful.
Thus the dance and the revel swang and swayed through the silver halls till the green lights began to glow with gold and scarlet and crimson, burning into dawn. Then came a sudden noise, like thunder, crashing and roaring through the silence of the sea. Queen Mab clapped her hands, and, in one moment, the Sacred Isle had flitted back to its place, and the music stopped, and the dancers vanished.
Then, as the island swiftly receded, came a monstrous wave, and no wonder, which raised the surface of the sea to a level with the topmost cliff of the Calling Place. Queen Mab, who had flown to a pine-tree there, saw the salt water fall back down the steeps like a cataract, and heard a voice say, 'The blooming reef has bolted.' Another voice remarked something about 'submarine volcanic action.' These words came from a level with her head, where the Queen saw, stranded in a huge tree, a boat with a funnel that poured forth smoke, and with wheels that still rapidly and automatically revolved in mid air. In fact, a missionary steamer had been raised by the mighty tidal wave to the level of the cliff. Then the sailors climbed into the trees, talking freely, in a speech which Queen Mab knew for English, but not at all the English she had been accustomed to hear. Also the sailors had among them men with full, sleek, shining faces, wearing tall hats and long coats, and carrying little books whose edges flashed in the sun. And Queen Mab did not like the look of them. Then she heard the sailors and the men in black coats making straight for the very pine-tree in which she was sitting. So she fled into a myrtle-bush, and behold, the sailors chopped every branch of the pine clean away, and changed the beautiful tree into a bare pole. Then they brought out ropes, and a great piece of thin cloth, white with red and blue cross marks on it, and they tugged it up, and it floated from the top of the tree. Then the people from the ship gathered round it, and sang songs, whereof one repeated,
and the other contained the words,
'Every prospect pleases, And only Man is vile.'
Soon some specimens of vile Man, some of the human beings of Samoa, came round, beautiful women dressed in feathers and leaves, carrying flowers and fruit, which they offered to the men in black coats and white neckties. But the men in black coats held up their hands in horror, and shut their eyes, while some of them ran to the boat and brought bonnets, and boots, and cotton gowns, and pocket-handkerchiefs, and gave them to the women. And the women, putting them on anyhow, walked about as proud as peacocks; while the men in black coats explained that, unless they wore these things, and did and refrained from many matters, they would all be punished dreadfully after they were dead. Now, while the women were crying at such glad tidings, came another awful crash and shock, which indeed, like the previous noise that had frightened the dancers, was produced by a ship's gun. And another cloud of black smoke floated round the point, and another set of sailors got out and cut the branches off a tree, and ran up a flag which was black and red and yellow. Then those sailors (who had men with red beards and spectacles among them) cried Hock! and sang the Wacht am Rhein. Thereupon the sailors of the first steamer, with a horrid yell, rushed on the tree under the new flag, and were cutting it down, when some of the singers of the Wacht am Rhein pointed a curious little machine that way and began to turn a handle. Thereon the most dreadful cracking sounds arose, cracking and crashing; fire flew, and some of the first set of sailors fell down and writhed on the sand, while the rest fled to their boat. Several of the native women also fell down bleeding and dying in their new cotton gowns and their bonnets, for they had been dancing about while the sailors were hacking at the tree with the black and red and yellow flag.
Seeing all this, Queen Mab also saw that Samoa was no longer a place for her. She did not understand what was happening, nor know that a peaceful English annexation had been disturbed by a violent German annexation, for which the English afterwards apologised. Queen Mab also conceived a prejudice against missionaries, which, perhaps, was justified by her experience. For, in the matter of missionaries, she was unlucky. The specimens she had observed were of the wrong kind. She might have met missionaries as learned as Mr. Codrington, as manly as Livingstone, as brave and pure as Bishop Pattison> who was a martyr indeed, and gave his life for the heathen people. Yes, Queen Mab was unlucky in her missionaries.
CHAPTER II. — DISILLUSIONS.
'The time is come,' the walrus said, 'To talk of many things.' 'Alice in Wonderland.'
It was on April 1, the green young year's beginning, that Mab arrived in England. She had hired a seagull—no, the seagull offered his services for nothing; I was forgetting that it was not an English, but a Polynesian seagull—to take her across. She did not altogether admire the missionaries, as we have seen, in their proceedings, the fact being that she had grown used to Polynesians in the course of the centuries she had spent among them, and the missionaries were such a remarkable contrast to the Polynesians. But their advent was certainly a source of mental improvement to her, for fairies as we know, understand things almost by instinct, and Queen Mab, one evening, chanced to overhear a good deal of the missionaries' conversation. She learned, for instance, the precise meanings, and the bearings on modern theology and metaphysics, of such words as kathenotheism, hagiography, transubstantiation, eschatology, Positivist, noumenony begriffy vorstellung, Paulisimus, wissenschaft, and others, quite new to her, and of great benefit in general conversation.
With this additional knowledge she started on the voyage, leaving her faithful subjects to take care of the island and themselves, till she came back to tell them whether their return to England would ever be practicable. She landed in Great Britain, then, on April 1, and the seagull went across to the Faroe Islands and waited there till the time which she had appointed for him to come and carry her back to Polynesia.
Queen Mab found England a good deal altered. There were still fairy circles in the grass; but they were attributed, not to fairy dances, but to unscientific farming and the absence of artificial phosphates. The country did not smell of April and May, but of brick-kilns and the manufacture of chemicals. The rivers, which she had left bright and clear, were all black and poisonous. Water for drinking purposes was therefore supplied by convoys from the Apollinaris and other foreign wells, and it was thought that, if a war broke out, the natives of England would die of thirst. This was not the only disenchantment of Queen Mab. She found that in Europe she was an anachronism. She did not know, at first, what the word meant, but the sense of it gradually dawned upon her. Now there is always something uncomfortable about being an anachronism; but still people may become accustomed to it, and even take a kind of a pride in it, if they are only anachronisms on the right side—so far in the van of the bulk of humanity, for instance, that the bulk of humanity considers them not wholly in their right minds. There must surely be a sense of superiority in knowing oneself a century or two in front of one's fellow-creatures that counterbalances the sense of solitude. Queen Mab had no such consolation. She was an anachronism hundreds of years on the wrong side; in fact, a relic of Paganism.
Of course she was acquainted with the language of all the beasts and birds and insects, and she counted on their befriending her, however much men had changed. Her brief experience of modern sailors and missionaries, whether English or German, had indeed convinced her that men were, even now, far from perfection. But it was a crushing blow to find that all the beasts were traitors, and all the insects.
If it had not been for the loyal birds she would have gone back to Polynesia at once; but they flocked faithfully to her standard, led by the Owl, the wisest of all feathered things, who had lived too long, and had too much good feeling to ignore fairies, though he was, perhaps, just a little of a prig. The insects, however, who, considering the size of their brains, one might have thought would believe in fairies and in the supernatural in general, if anybody did, behaved disgracefully, and the ant was the worst all. She started by saying that her brain was larger in proportion than the brain of any other insect. Perhaps Queen Mab was not aware that Sir John Lubbock had devoted a volume to the faculties and accomplishments of ants, together with some minor details relating to bees and wasps, of which these insects magnified the importance. Under these circumstances, it was impossible for her to countenance a mere vulgar superstition, like faith in fairies. She begged leave to refer Queen Mab to various works in the International Scientific Series for a complete explanation of her motives, and mentioned, casually, that she also held credentials from Mr. Romanes. Then, explaining that her character with the sluggard was at stake, she hurried away. Evidently she did not care to be seen talking to a fairy. It may be mentioned here, however, that Queen Mab's faith in entomological nature was considerably shaken by the fact that when no one was looking at her the ant always folded up her work and went to sleep—though, if surprised in a siesta, she explained that she had only just succumbed to complete exhaustion, and lamented that mind, though infinitely superior to, was not yet independent of matter.
The bees hummed much to the same tune. The Queen Bee recommended our foreigner to read a work on 'Bees and Wasps,' with a few minor details relating to Ants, by Sir John Lubbock, in the International Scientific Series. She was not, indeed quite so timid about her reputation as the ant, and even volunteered to give her visitor an account of the formation of hexagonal cells by Natural Selection, culled from the pages of the 'Origin of Species'; but she observed that, though her brain might be smaller in proportion than the brains of some inferior insects, it was of finer quality, what there was of it, and that fairies were merely an outgrowth of the anthropomorphic tendency which had been noticed by distinguished writers as persisting even in the present day. Then she departed, humming gaily, to the tune of a popular hymn in the 'Ancient and Modern' collection:
'And gather honey all the day From every opening flower?
But the whole sad history of Queen Mab's failures to enlist sympathy and protection it would be vain to tell. The fishes, all that were left of them, took her part; but they lived in the water, and she had never had very much to do with them. In the birds she found her true allies. They were not attached to the higher civilisation. The higher civilisation, so far, had treated them inconsiderately, at sparrow clubs. The Owl talked a good deal about the low moral tone of the human race in this respect, and was pessimistic about it, failing to perceive that higher types of organisms always like to signify their superiority over lower ones by shooting them, or otherwise making their lives a burden. The Owl, however, was a very talented bird, and one felt that even his fallacies were a mark of attainments beyond those common to his race. He had read and thought a great deal, and could tell Queen Mab about almost anything she asked him. This was pleasant, and she sat with him on a very high oak in Epping Forest, above a pond, and made observations. It was lovely weather, just the weather for sitting on the uppermost branches of a great oak, and she began to feel like herself again. She had forgotten to put her invisible cloak on; but as she was only half a foot high, and dressed in green, no one saw her up there. Having reached the Forest at night, she had met as yet with few British subjects; but the Owl explained that she would see hundreds of them before the day was over, coming to admire Nature.
'The English people,' he observed, 'are great worshippers of Nature, and write many guide-books about her, some on large paper at ten guineas the volume. I have sometimes fancied, indeed,' he added, doubtfully,' that it was their own capacity for admiring Nature that they admired, but that were a churlish thought. For, do they not run innumerable excursion trains for the purpose of bowing at her shrine? Epping Forest must be one of Nature's favourite haunts, from the numbers of people who come here to worship her, especially on Bank Holidays. Those are her high festivals, when her adorers troop down, and build booths and whirligigs and circuses in her honour, and gamble, and ride donkeys, and shy sticks at cocoanuts before her. Also they partake of sandwiches and many other appropriate offerings at the shrine, and pour libations of bottled ale, and nectar, and zoedone, and brandy, and soda-water, and ginger-beer. They always leave the corks about, and confectionery paper bags, for the next people to gaze upon who come to worship Nature: you may see them now, if you look down. I have often thought those corks, and cigar-ends, and such tokens that the British public always leaves behind it, must be symbolical of something—offerings to Nature, you know, an invariable part of the rite, and typical—well, the question is, of what are they typical?' mused the Owl, getting beyond his depth, as he had a way of doing.
'However,' he resumed, 'it is certain that their devotion is strong, and they offer to Nature the sacrifices dearest to their own hearts, and probably dearest, therefore, to the heart of Nature. They cut their names all over her shrine, which is, I have no doubt, a welcome attention; but they do not look at her any more than they can help, for they stay where the beer is, and they are very warm, and flirt.'
'What is "flirt"?'
'A recreation,' said the Owl decorously; 'a pastime.'
'And does nobody believe in fairies?' sighed Queen Mab.
'No, or at least hardly anyone. A few of the children, perhaps, and a very, very few grown-up people—persons who believe in Faith-healing and Esoteric Buddhism, and Thought-reading, and Arbitration, and Phonetic Spelling, can believe in anything, except what their mothers taught them on their knees. All of these are in just now.'
'What do you mean by "in"?'
'In fashion; and what is fashionable is to be believed in. Why, you might be the fashion again,' said the Owl excitedly. 'Why not? and then people would believe in you. What a game it all is, to be sure! But the fashions of this kind don't last,' the bird added; 'they get snuffed out by the scientific men.'
'Tell me exactly who the scientific men are,' said the fairy. 'I have heard so much about them since I came.'
'They are the men.' sighed the Owl, 'who go about with microscopes, that is, instruments for looking into things as they are not meant to be looked at and seeing them as they were never intended to be seen. They have put everything under their microscopes, except stars and First Causes; but they had to take telescopes to the stars, because they were so far off; and First Causes they examined by stethoscopes, which each philosopher applied to his own breast. But, as all the breasts are different, they now call First Causes no business of theirs. They make most things their business, though. They have had a good deal of trouble with the poets, because the poets liked to put themselves and their critics under their own microscopes, and they objected to the microscopes of the scientific men. You know what poets are?'
'Yes, indeed,' said Queen Mab, feeling at home on the subject. 'I have forgotten a good many things, I daresay, with living in Polynesia, but not about the poets. I remember Shakespeare very well, and Herrick is at my court in the Pacific.'
'Ah, he was a great man, Shakespeare, almost too large for a microscope!' said the Owl reflectively. They have put him under a good many since he died, however, especially German lenses. But we were talking about the philosophers—another name for the scientific men —the men who don't know everything.'
'I should have thought they did,' said Queen Mab.
'No,' said the Owl. 'It is the theologians who know everything, or at least they used to do so. But lately it has become such a mark of mental inferiority to know everything, that they are always casting it in each other's teeth. It has grown into a war-cry with both parties: "You think you know everything," and it is hard for a bird to find out how it all began and what it is all about. I believe it sprang originally out of the old microscope difficulty. The philosophers wanted to put theology under the microscope, and the theologians excommunicated microscopes, and said theology ought never to be looked at except with the Eye of Faith. Now the philosophers are borrowing an eye of Faith from the theologians, and adding it on to their own microscope like another lens, and they have detected a kind of Absolute, a sort of a Something, the Higher Pantheism. I could never tell you all about it, and I don't even know whether they have really put theology under the microscope, or only theologians.'
'And the people worship St. George still?' asked Queen Mab, who, being only a fairy, and owning no soul, had private theories of belief, based merely on observation of popular customs.
'Oh yes, St. George and the Dragon. They have them both together on the beads of their rosaries—the yellow things they count, and pray with, or pay with.' said the Owl rather vaguely.
'St. George and the Dragon! Why, St. George killed the Dragon.'
'Ah! the Dragon was not really killed.' said the Owl coolly. 'It was only syncope, and he kept quiet for a time, and grew seven other heads worse than the first. Some say St George worships the Dragon now, himself; but people always are saying unpleasant things, and probably it isn't true. At all events, the English worship St George and the Dragon till they don't seem to know which is which.'
'What, has St George grown like the Dragon then?' cried Queen Mab distractedly, wringing her hands.
'Oh no,' replied the Owl, with some condescending pity for the foreigner's ignorance. 'But the Dragon has grown vastly like St. George.'
'Is that all they worship?' said Queen Mab.
'Oh no, there are plenty of other patent religions. A hundred religions and only one sauce—melted butter, as the Frenchman said, but the sauce has outlived many of the patent religions.'
'I don't understand how religions are patent.' remarked her inquisitive Majesty.
'We call it a patent religion.' said the Owl, 'when it has only been recently invented, and is so insufficiently advertised, that it is only to be found in a very few houses indeed, and is not a commodity in general request. The Patentees then call themselves a Church, and devote their energies to advertising the new "Cult," as they generally style it. For example, you have Esoteric Buddhism, so named because it is not Buddhism, nor Esoteric. It is imported by an American company with a manufactory in Thibet, and has had some success among fashionable people.'
'What do the Esoteric Buddhists worship?'
'Teacups and cigarettes, standing where they ought not.' replied the owl; 'but I believe these things are purely symbolical, and that au fond the Priestess of Esoteric Buddhism herself adores the Dragon.'
'That is enough about that. Are there no patent religions warranted free from Dragon worship?'
'Well.' said the Owl dubiously, 'there are the Altruists. 'They worship humanity. As a rule, you may have noticed that adorers think the object of adoration better than themselves,—an unexpected instance in most cases, of the modesty of their species. But the Altruists worship Humanity.'
'And they don't think Humanity better than themselves?'
'Far from it. Their leading idea is that they are the cream of Humanity. Their principal industry is to scold and lecture Humanity. Whatever Humanity may be doing—making war or making peace, or making love to its Deceased Wife's Sister—the Altruists cry out, "Don't do that." And they preach sermons to Humanity, always beginning, "We think;" and they publish their remarks in high-class periodicals, and they invariably show that everyone, and especially Mr. Herbert Spencer, is in the wrong, and nobody pays the slightest attention to them. In their way the Altruists do to others as they would have others do to them, To my mind, while they pretend that Humanity is what they worship, they really want to be worshipped by Humanity.'
'Are there many of this sect?' asked Mab.
'There were twenty-seven of them.' said the Owl, 'but they quarrelled about canonising the Emperor Tiberius, and now there are only thirteen and a half.'
'Where do you get the fraction?' said Mab.
'That is a mystery.' said the Owl. 'Every religion should have its mystery, and the Altruists possess only this example; it is a cheap one, but they are not a luxurious sect.'
'Well.' said Mab mournfully at last, 'I must go back to Samoa; there is too much mystery here for me. But who is that?'
She broke off suddenly, for a new and mysterious object had just entered the glade, and was advancing towards the pool.
'Hush!' said the Owl. 'Do take care. It is a scientific man—a philosopher.'
It was a tall, thin personage, with spectacles and a knapsack, and what reminded Queen Mab of a small green landing-net, but was really intended to catch butterflies. He came up to the pond, and she imagined he was going to fish; but no, he only unfastened his knapsack and took some small phials and a tin box out of it Then, bending down to the edge of the water, he began to skim its surface cautiously with a ladle and empty the contents into one of his phials. Suddenly a look of delight came into his face, and he uttered a cry—'Stephanoceros!'
Queen Mab thought it was an incantation, and, trembling with fear, she relaxed her hold of the bough and fell. Not into the pond! She had wings, of course, and half petrified with horror though she was, she yet fluttered away from that stagnant water. But alas, in the very effort to escape, she had caught the eye of the Professor; he sprang up—pond, animalcule all forgotten in the chase of this extraordinary butterfly. The fairy's courage failed her: her presence of mind vanished, and the wild gyrations of the owl, who, too late, realised the peril of his companion, only increased her confusion. In another moment she was a prisoner under the butterfly-net.
Beaming with delight, the philosopher turned her carefully into the tin box, shut the lid and hastened home, too much enraptured with his prize even to pause to secure the valuable Stephanoceros.
But Queen Mab had fainted, as even fairies must do at such a terrible crisis; and perhaps it was as well that she had, for the professor forbore to administer chloroform, under the impression that his lovely captive had completely succumbed. He put her, therefore, straight into a tall glass bottle, and began to survey her carefully, walking round and round. Truly, he had never seen such a remarkable butterfly.
CHAPTER III. — THE ORIGIN OF RELIGION.
'Rough draughts of Man's Beginning God!' Swinburne.
When Queen Mab recovered consciousness she heard the sound of violent voices in the room before she opened her eyes, which she did half hoping to find herself the victim of some terrible delusion. But the sight of the professor, standing not a yard away, brought a fatal conviction to her heart. It was too true. Was there ever a more undesirable position for a fairy, accustomed to perfect freedom, and nourished by honey and nectar, than to be closely confined in a tall bottle, with smooth hard slippery walls that she could not pierce, and nothing to live upon but a glass-stopper! It was absurd; but it was also terrible. How fervently she wished, now, that the missionaries had never come to Polynesia.
But the professor was not alone, two of his acquaintances were there—a divine veering towards the modern school, and a poet—the ordinary poet of satire and Mr. Besant's novels, with an eye-glass, who held that the whole duty of poets at least was to transfer the meanderings of the inner life, or as much of them as were in any degree capable of transmission, to immortal foolscap..Unfortunately, as he observed with a mixture of pride and regret, the workings of his soul were generally so ethereal as to baffle expression and comprehension; and, he was wont to say, mixing up metaphors at a great rate, that he could only stand, like the High Priest of the Delphic oracle, before the gates of his inner life, to note down such fragmentary utterances as 'foamed up from the depths of that divine chaos.' for the benefit of inquiring minds with a preference for the oracular. He added that cosmos was a condition of grovelling minds, and that while the thoughts, faculties, and emotions of an ordinary member of society might fitly be summed up in the epithet 'microcosm.' his own nature could be appropriately described only by that of 'microchaos.' In which opinion the professor always fully coincided.
With the two had entered the professor's little boy, a motherless child of eight, who walked straight up to the bottle.
No sooner did the child's eyes light on the vessel than a curious thing occurred. He fell down on his knees, bowed his head, and held up his hands.
'Great Heavens!' cried the professor, forgetting himself, 'what do I behold! My child is praying (a thing he never was taught to do), and praying to a green butterfly! Hush! hush!' the professor went on, turning to his friends. 'This is terrible, but most important. The child has never been allowed to hear anything about the supernatural—his poor mother died when he was in the cradle—and I have scrupulously shielded him from all dangerous conversation. There is not a prayer-book in the house, the maids are picked Agnostics, from advanced families, and I am quite certain that my boy has never even heard of the existence of a bogie.'
The poet whistled: the divine took up his hat, and, with a pained look, was leaving the room.
'Stop, stop!' cried the professor, 'he is doing something odd.'
The child had taken out of his pocket certain small black stones of a peculiar shape. So absorbed was he that he never noticed the presence of the men.
He kissed the stones and arranged them in a curious pattern on the floor, still kneeling, and keeping his eye on Mab in her bottle. At last he placed one strangely shaped pebble in the centre, and then began to speak in a low, trembling voice, and in a kind of cadence:
'Oh! you that I have tried to see, Oh! you that I have heard in the night, Oh! you that live in the sky and the water; Now I see you, now you have come: Now you will tell me where you live, And what things are, and who made them. Oh Dala, these stones are yours; These are the goona stones I find, And play with when I think of you. Oh Dala, be my friend, and never leave me Alone in the dark night.'
'As I live, it's a religious service, the worship of a green butterfly!' said the professor. At his voice the child turned round, and seeing the men, looked very much ashamed of himself.
'Come here, my dear old man.' said the professor to the child, who came on being called.
'What were you doing?—who taught you to say all those funny things?'
The little fellow looked frightened.
'I didn't remember you were here.' he said; 'they are things I say when I play by myself.'
'And who is Dala?'
The boy was blushing painfully.
'Oh, I didn't mean you to hear, it's just a game of mine. I play at there being somebody I can't see, who knows what I am doing; a friend.'
'And nobody taught you, not Jane or Harriet?'
Now Harriet and Jane were the maids.
'You never saw anybody play at that kind of game before?'
'No,' said the child, 'nobody ever.' 'Then,' cried the professor, in a loud and blissful voice, 'we have at last discovered the origin of religion. It isn't Ghosts. It isn't the Infinite. It is worshipping butterflies, with a service of fetich stones. The boy has returned to it by an act of unconscious inherited memory, derived from Palaeolithic Man, who must, therefore, have been the native of a temperate climate, where there were green lepidoptera. Oh, my friends, what a thing is inherited memory! In each of us there slumber all the impressions of all our predecessors, up to the earliest Ascidian. See how the domesticated dog,' cried the professor, forgetting that he was not lecturing in Albemarle Street, 'see how the domesticated dog, by inherited memory, turns round on the hearthrug before he curls up to sleep! He is unconsciously remembering the long grasses in which his wild ancestors dwelt. Also observe this boy, who has retained an unconscious recollection of the earliest creed of prehistoric man. Behold him instinctively, and I may say automatically, cherishing fetich stones (instead of marbles, like other boys) and adoring that green insect in the glass bottle! Oh Science,' he added rapturously, 'what will Mr. Max Mueller say now? The Infinite! Bosh, it's a butterfly!'
'It is my own Dala, come to play with me,' said the boy.
'It is a fairy,' exclaimed the poet, examining Mab through his eyeglass. This he said, not that he believed in fairies any more than publishers believed in him, but partly because it was a pose he affected, partly to 'draw' the professor.
The professor replied that fairies were unscientific, and even unthinkable, and the divine declared that they were too heterodox even for the advanced state of modern theology, and had been condemned by several councils, which is true. And the professor ran through all the animal kingdoms and sub-kingdoms very fast, and proved quite conclusively, in a perfect cataract of polysyllables, that fairies didn't belong to any of them. While the professor was recovering breath, the divine observed, in a somewhat aggrieved tone, that he for his part found men and women enough for him, and too much sometimes. He also wished to know whether, if his talented but misguided friend required something ethereal, angels were not sufficient, without his having recourse to Pagan mythology; and whether he considered Pagan mythology suitable to the pressing needs of modern society, with a large surplus female population, and to the adjustment of the claims of reason and religion.
The poet replied, 'Oh, don't bother me with your theological conundrums. I give it up. See here, I am going to write a sonnet to this creature, whatever it is. Fair denizen—!'
'Of a glass bottle!' interrupted the professor somewhat rudely, and the divine laughed.
'No. Of deathless ether, doomed.'
'And that reminds me,' said the professor, turning hastily, 'I must examine it under the microscope carefully, while the light lasts.'
'Oh father!' cried the child, 'don't touch it, it is alive!'
'Nonsense!' said the professor, 'it is as dead as a door-nail. Just reach me that lens.'
He raised the glass stopper unsuspiciously, then turned to adjust his instrument And even as he turned his captive fled.
'There!' cried the boy.
Like a flash of sunshine, Queen Mab darted upwards and floated through the open window. They saw her hover outside a moment, then she was gone—back into her deathless ether.
'I told you so!' exclaimed the poet, startled by this incident into a momentary conviction of the truth of his own theory.
CHAPTER IV. — THE POET AND THE PALAEONTO-THEOLOGIST
'Puis nous fut dit que chose estrange ne leur sembloit estre deux contradictoires Vrayes en mode, en figure, et en temps.' Pantagruel, v. xxii.
Moved by an uncontrollable impulse, they all three rushed out into the garden; and far beyond them, in the sunlight, they did indeed catch one parting gleam of gauzy wings, as the fairy vanished. When the professor led the way into the room again, and, rather crestfallen, looked at the tall empty bottle and the stopper, which in his hurry he had thrown down upon the floor.
'She is gone!' sobbed the child. 'My beautiful Dala. I shall never see her again.'
He was right; the professor and the theologian, between them, had scared Queen Mab away pretty successfully. She would certainly never revisit that part of the city if she could help it. The divine looked uncomfortable. In spite of himself he had recognised something strange and unusual in the appearance of this last capture of his friend's butterfly-net, and almost unconsciously he began to ponder on the old theory that the Evil One might occasionally disguise himself as an angel of light. The poet, meanwhile, was more voluble.
'Your soul is sordid!' he said indignantly to the professor. 'You have no eyes for the Immaterial, the intangibly Ideal, that lies behind the shadowy and deceptive veil that we call Matter.'
'My soul,' said the professor with equal indignation, 'that is, if I have got one, is as good as yours.'
'No, it isn't,' said the poet; 'I am all soul, or nearly all. You are nothing but a mass of Higher Protoplasm.'
'No one need wish to be anything better. I should like to know,' cried the professor angrily, 'where we should all be without Protoplasm.'
'My friends,' said the theologian, still rather confused, 'this heat is both irreverent and irrational. Protoplasm is invaluable, but is it not also transient? The flight of that butterfly may well remind us—'
'Stop!' interrupted the philosopher. 'Was it a butterfly? Now I come to think of it, I hardly know whether to refer it to the lepidoptera or not. At all events, it is a striking example of the manner in which natural and sexual selection, continued through a series of epochs, can evolve the most brilliant and graceful combinations of tint and plumage, by simple survival of the favourable variations.'
'It is indeed,' suggested the theologian, 'a remarkable proof of the intelligent construction of the universe, and of the argument from design, that this insect should have been framed with such exquisite perfection of form and colour to delight the eyes of the theologian.'
'Not at all,' said the professor irritably. 'It was to delight the eyes of butterflies of the opposite sex. It is no more an argument from design than I am!'
'Do stop that!' said the poet. 'How can a fellow write a sonnet with you two for ever sparring away at your musty scholasticisms? Haven't we heard enough about Paley and Darwin? You have frightened away the fairy between you, and that is plenty of mischief for one day.
'Fair denizen of deathless ether, doomed For one brief hour to languish and repine.
Entombed? That will do, but I'm afraid there are not many more rhymes to "doomed." "Loomed," "boomed," "exhumed," "well-groomed." My thoughts won't flow, hang it all!'
'You are an argument for design,' said the theologian, taking no notice of the poet, 'though you won't admit it. Why won't you take up with my scientific religion?—a religion, you know, that can be expressed with equal facility by emotional or by mathematical terms. It is as easy, when you once understand it, as the first proposition in Euclid. You have two points, Faith and Reason, and you draw a straight line between them. Then you must describe an equilateral triangle—I mean a scientific religion, on the straight line, F R—between Faith and Reason.'
'Oh!' said the professor. 'How do you do it?'
'First,' said the theologian hopefully, 'taking F as your centre, F R as your radius, describe the circle of Theology. Then, taking R as your centre, F R as your radius, describe the circle of Logic. These two circles will intersect at Science, indicated in the proposition by the point S. Join together S F, and then join S R, and you will have the equilateral triangle of a scientific religion on the line F R S.'
'Prove it,' said the professor grimly.
'Science and Faith,' replied the theologian readily, 'equal Faith and Reason, because they are both radii of the same circle, Man being the Radius of the Infinite. Theology—'
'Stop!' ejaculated the professor in the utmost indignation. 'What do you mean by it? I never in my life listened to such unmitigated nonsense. Who gave you leave to talk of a scientific religion as an equilateral triangle? If it is a triangle at all, which there is not the remotest reason to suppose—but I cannot argue with you? You might as well call it a dodecahedron, or the cube root of minus nothing.'
'Oh, very well,' said the theologian with exasperating coolness. 'I thought it possible that even your blind prejudice might not refuse to listen to a simple mathematical demonstration of the possibility of a true scientific religion, but I find that I was mistaken. I am not annoyed—not at all. I prefer to look with lenity upon this outburst of passion, which might, I admit, have roused the anger of a theologian of the old school. But, believe me, I personally feel towards you no enmity—only the profoundest compassion.'
Inarticulate sound from the professor.
'I find in you,' continued the theologian with benevolence, 'much to tolerate, much even to admire. I regret that, formerly, some of my predecessors may have been led, by your aggressive and turbulent spirit, to form unnecessarily harsh judgments of your character, and put unnecessarily tight thumbscrews on your thumbs; but as for me, I desire to win you by sympathy and affection and physico-theological afternoon parties, not to coerce you by vituperation. Your eye of Reason, as I have often observed, is already sufficiently developed; supplement it with the eye of Faith, and you will be quite complete. It will then only remain for you to learn which objects it is necessary to view with which eye, and carefully to close the other. This takes a little practice (which must not be attempted in Society), but I am sure that a person of your attainments will easily master the difficulty. We will then joyfully receive you into our ranks. No sacrifice on your part will be required; you will retain the old distinction of F.R.S., of which you have always been justly proud; but we shall take the liberty of conferring upon you the additional privilege of the honorary title of D.D.'
The professor uttered a brief but trenchant observation, on which the theologian was about to launch down a reply, less brief but equally trenchant. But the poet, as his fate would have it, struck in, in the capacity of a lightning conductor, and succeeded in turning the wrath of both combatants upon his own devoted head.
'If you must quarrel,' he cried, 'pray don't quarrel here. You would fight on the very peaks of Parnassus. I can't think of a word that will rhyme except "design." Stop, now I have it:
'Bright messenger of the Celestial Nine, Now in translucent ambience entombed.'
Celestial Nine is commonplace, but what can a man do in this region of trivial souls? Soar, my mind! What does "ambience" mean, by the way? Never mind, if the Sublime is unfettered by literal meaning, all the better for the Sublime!'
At this the divine and the philosopher turned upon him together, as they were wont to do every now and then.
'This laxity of terms,' said the professor, 'is unscientific and unpractical.'
'I am a poet,' said the poet, 'I bow to no narrow machinery of definitions. Words have a gemlike beauty and colour of their own. They are not merely the signs of ideas—of thoughts.'
'I wish they were!' groaned the professor. 'They are with us.'
'The idea,' continued the poet, 'must conform to the word, when the word honours the idea by making use of it. What care I for the conventional, the threadbare significance? My heart recognises, through the outer vestment of apparent insanity, the inner adaptability. Soar, my mind!'
'And in this way,' said the professor sternly, 'ignoring the great principles of classification and generalisation, you let a chaos of disordered ideas abroad upon the universe, destroying all method and definite arrangement and retarding the great progress of Evolution!'
'A jewel-like word, a transfigured phrase,' replied the poet, 'is worth all your scientific dictionaries and logic threshing-machines put together. Ruskin was in error. He tells us that Milton always meant what he said, and said exactly what he meant.
'This had been an ignoble exactitude. How can a man whose words are unbounded confine himself within the limits of an intellectual bound?
How can he, that is to say, know exactly what he means, in words, or mean exactly what, to souls less gloriously chaotic, his words appear to express? I have always felt this an insuperable difficulty.'
'I have no doubt of it,' said the professor ironically. 'Now,' he went on, turning to the theologian, 'you see what comes of having too much soul. It is impossible but that such fixed attention to any one organ should prove injurious, even if the organ is not there. You really have a great deal to answer for, in encouraging this kind of monomania.'
'Not a bit of it,' said the theologian indignantly. 'It comes of not having soul enough, or of allowing the sway the soul should exercise to fall upon the feeble sceptre of imagination. If our misguided young friend had been thoroughly grounded in Paley's Evidences and scientific primers—for these should never be separated—do you think we should have heard anything about his chaotic soul? Not a bit of it. It would all have been as clear as an opera-glass, or as Mr. Joseph Cook's theory of Solar Light. Why didn't his parents give him my "Mathematical Exposition of Orthodoxy for Children," or my "The Theology of Euclid," on his birthdays, instead of Hans Andersen's "Fairy Tales" and the "Tales from the Norse?" It was very remiss of them.'
'On the contrary,' said the professor, 'I should have recommended the entire elimination of doctrinal matter from his studies. I should have guided him to a thorough investigation of the principle of all the Natural Sciences, with especial devotion to one single branch, as Botany or Conchology, and an entire mastery of its terminology I should have urged our gifted but destitute of all scientific method friend to the observation and definition of objective phenomena, rather than to subjective analysis, and turned his reflections—'
'Flow, my words!' said the poet dreamily. 'Soar, my mind!'
He had flung himself into the solitary armchair in a graceful and distraught pose, and with half-closed eyes had fallen into a reverie. The divine and the professor stood and gazed at him despondently.
'Such,' said the divine, 'are the consequences of the lack of sound ethical and eclectic principles in our day and generation!'
'Such,' said the professor, 'are the pernicious results of a classical training, the absence of a spirit of scientific research and a broad and philosophical mental culture.'
Those readers who have not yet perused the poet's sonnet may recognise it, of course, by the first line:
'Fair denizen of deathless ether, doomed.'
It attracted a good deal of attention at the time. The public were informed, in the 'Athaeenum,' that the poet was engaged on a sonnet, and the literary world was excited, but, not having the key, could not make out what on earth it meant. Meanwhile the professor's paper in 'Nature,' which appeared in the course of the same week, being written from a wholly different standpoint, did not tend to elucidate the mystery. The latter merely described the locality in which the fairy, or butterfly, as the professor called it, was found, and the circumstances of its capture and escape, with such an account of its manifold peculiarities, and the reasons to suppose it an entirely new genus, that Epping Forest was as much haunted for the next two or three months by naturalists on the watch, as by 'Arries making holiday. Our professor himself visited the fairy's pond several times, in the company of the poet, with whom he soon patched up a reconciliation. But Queen Mab, in the meantime, had taken her departure.
The professor also sent to the 'Spectator' an account of the Origin of Religion, as developed by his little boy, under his very eyes. But the editor thought, not unnaturally, that it was only the professor's fun, and declined to publish it, preferring an essay on the Political Rights of the Domesticated Cat.
CHAPTER V. — ST. GEORGE FOR MERRY ENGLAND
'Geese are swans, and swans are geese,' M. Arnold.
At first Mab was so overwhelmed at the nature of her reception by Science and Theology, that she meditated an immediate return to Polynesia; but the birds implored her so pathetically to stay longer, that she yielded, and went with the owl into Surrey. She had seen enough of Epping Forest.
Surrey was very beautiful, and once pleasantly established in Richmond Park, she watched the human life that seemed so strange to her with great interest, taking care nevertheless, for some time, to keep clear of anything that looked like a scientific man. The owl supported her in this policy. He was not intimately acquainted with any of the members of the learned societies, but he had a deeply-rooted and perhaps overstrained horror of vivisection. Still, being a liberal-minded bird, he extenuated the professor's conduct as far as possible.
'Perhaps he did not mean to do you any harm,' he suggested. 'He only wanted to put you under the microscope.'
'He might have had more sense, then?' returned Queen Mab, still ruffled. 'He might have seen that I was a fairy. The child suspected something at once.'
'Ah, he was an exceptional child,' said the Owl. 'Most of the children, nowadays, don't believe anything. In fact, now that education is spreading so widely, I don't suppose one of them will in ten years' time.'
'It is very dreadful,' said Queen Mab. 'What are we coming to?'
'I am sure I don't know,' said the Owl. 'But we are being educated up to a very high point. It saves people the trouble of thinking for themselves, certainly; they can always get all their thoughts now, ready made, on every kind of subject, and at extremely low prices. They only have to make up their minds what to take, and generally they take the cheapest. There is a great demand for cheap thought just now, especially when it is advertised as being of superior quality.'
'How do they buy it?' asked Queen Mab. 'I don't quite understand.'
'Well, you know a little about Commerce. Education is another kind of commerce. The authors and publishers are the wholesale market, and teachers and schools and colleges are a kind of retail dealers. Of course, not being human, we can't expect to find it quite clear, but that is what we do make out. The kingfisher and I were listening lately to a whole course of lectures on Political Economy; we were on a skylight in the roof of the building, and we found that Popular Education was part of the system of co-operation. The people who don't think, you know, but want thoughts, hand education over to the people who do think, or who buy up old thoughts cheap, and remake them, and this class furnishes the community. So that, by division of labour, no one is obliged to think who doesn't want to think, and this saves any amount of time and expense. It is really astonishing, I hear, how few people have to think under this new system. But Thought is in great demand, as I said, and so is Knowledge—whether there was any difference between the two we could not quite gather. It is a law that everyone must buy a certain quantity from the dealers: in other words, education is compulsory. Eating is not compulsory; you may starve, you must learn. The Government has founded a large system of retail establishments, or schools, and up to a certain age all the children are taught there whose parents do not undertake to have them supplied with thoughts at other establishments. I say thoughts, but it is facts principally that they acquire. Of course, some thoughts are necessary to mix the facts together with; but they generally take as few as possible, because facts are a cheaper article, and by the principles of competition and profit, people use the cheapest article that will sell again for the same price. Some writers say that thoughts at retail establishments are very inferior, and that customers had better go to wholesale dealers at once, or else make on the premises; but I don't know about that. Generally people buy the kind that comes handiest; they are not half so particular about them as about articles of food and dress, and the dealers, wholesale or retail, can sell almost anything they like if they have a good reputation. History, languages, science, art, theology, are all so many departments. Politics are always in demand, and there are many great manufacturers who issue supplies at a penny, every day, all over the kingdom. There is no branch where the labourers employed have such stirring times as the makers of politics: we call them statesmen. They seem, however, rather to enjoy it, and I suppose they get used to the heat, like stokers. I think that the burden of the whole scheme really falls most heavily on the children. But you are tired.'
'Tell me about the children,' said Queen Mab. 'I shall understand that better.'
'They have to learn facts, facts, for ever facts,' said the Owl compassionately. 'It makes one's head ache to think of it. I am a pretty well educated bird myself, though I say it; but if I had spent my time in acquiring a quarter of the knowledge those children have to acquire, then I should certainly never have been able to look at things in the broadly scientific light in which they should be looked at. It does not seem to matter what the facts are, so long as they are cheap and plenty of them; it does not even matter whether they are true, or, at least, that is of very minor importance. But see! see there! That is an example of what I have been telling you.'
A child was passing below them with a weary step. Queen Mab trembled at the sight of him, secure as she was among the broad chestnut leaves, and her fear was justified, for in another moment the professor himself came into view. The fairy-had seen the child before, and, as Mr. Trollope used to say, 'she had been to him as a god'—it was the professor's little boy. But this time the philosopher was without his butterfly-net, and she found him much less alarming. He was occupied with the pale, tired child, and telling him charming stories about coral islands, that sounded to Queen Mab's astonished ears almost like a real fairy tale. They sat down, while the professor talked. Wonderful things he told, and said not a word all the time about generalisation or classification.
'It is like a fairy tale,' said the boy, echoing Queen Mab's thought, when at last they rose to go. 'Oh, father, how I wish we could see Dala again!'
'Dala, my boy? What, the lepidoptera? Ah, I wish we could! You will find, as you grow older, Walter, that science is better than a butterfly.'
The boy looked up wistfully, and over the face of the philosopher, too, came a sudden shadow. When Walter grew older? Hand in hand, the two passed silently out of sight.
'He is a good man, after all,' said the Owl sententiously. And then there came by a British manufacturer, in a gold watch-chain and patent creaking leather boots, warranted to creak everywhere without losing tone.
'Who is that?' asked Queen Mab.
'It is one of the pillars of the Church,' replied the Owl. 'The Dragon's church, I mean, where he is worshipped by himself. In some places you may worship St. George and the Dragon together; but in the Stock Exchange, for instance, you may only worship the Dragon.'
'Is the Dragon very wicked?'
'I don't know,' said the Owl. 'I think he can't be, or else so many respectable people would not worship him. The professor doesn't, or very little; but then he doesn't worship St. George either. The people who worship the Dragon are sometimes called Snobs—not by themselves though; it is one of the marks of the true Snob that he never knows he is one. They never call the Dragon by that name either. He has as many other names as Jupiter used to have, and all the altars, and temples, and sacrifices are made to him under the other names.'
'Sacrifices!' exclaimed Queen Mab. 'What do they sacrifice?'
'It would be shorter to say what they don't sacrifice,' replied the Owl. 'Only nobody knows, for many of his worshippers sacrifice anything and everything. The manufacturer you saw go past—'
'Yes,' said Queen Mab, a good deal impressed, for the owl was speaking solemnly.
'He is sacrificing the happiness, and even the lives of hundreds of men and women. Also the playtime of the children and their innocence. As for his own peace and charity, he sacrificed them long ago. And yet—it is very strange; he calls himself a worshipper of St. George. You remember, in very early times there used to be sacrifices to the Dragon.'
'I remember,' said the fairy. 'In wicker baskets. But never anything. like this!'
'I daresay not,' said the Owl 'We do things on a larger scale now, sacrifices and all. Everybody prefers, of course, to make sacrifices of the belongings of other people; but there are certain possessions of their own that unavoidably go too—as Truth, Sympathy, Justice; abstract nouns, the names of any quality, property, state or action,' murmured the Owl, falling unconsciously into his old habit of parsing. 'The English,' he added, 'are very generous with their abstract nouns, and will sacrifice or give away any quantity of them. It is a national characteristic, of which they are justly proud.'
'Do the women worship the Dragon?'
'Certainly!' said the Owl. 'They generally profess a great deal of veneration for St. George too; but they will worship either to get front seats. I don't know why the English are so fond of front seats; back ones are just as comfortable, and one can often hear better in them; but they don't suit dragon-worshippers. They want front seats anywhere—at concerts, in the church, in art or literature, or even in subscription lists. The persons who can't afford front seats generally adore those who can, and those who can, say that the others ought to be grateful to Providence for putting them in the gallery or letting them into the free pews. There is a great deal of veneration in the English, and it shows itself in this way; they reverence the people with reserved tickets. That is why they are so fond of a noble lord, and that is why they admire Abraham, and even Lazarus, because he ultimately got such an excellent place in the next world. They don't care much about Lazarus in this, because their souls have not such a natural affinity with his when he is hanging about anyone's doorstep, or loafing round street-corners with oranges to sell or a barrel-organ. Sometimes they give him the crumbs that fall from their tables, and sometimes they don't, because they are afraid he will take advantage of it to steal the spoons. Or else they take the lofty patriotic ground, and say that their principles forbid them to countenance vagrancy, and that Heaven helps those who help themselves. This is very consoling to Lazarus, and it always gives him pleasure to hear what good moral principles the Philistines—or Snobs—have got, even if he hasn't got any himself. From what they frequently say, you would not think that they looked forward to seeing him in Heaven. It is part of their great-mindedness—a national characteristic—that the chords of their nature are more deeply stirred by sympathy with him when he has got into a good berth. I can fancy how, in Paradise, a British Snob will edge round to some retired crossing-sweeper, who was converted by the Salvation Army, and went straight up among the front row of angels and prophets, and will say:
'"Pardon me; but I remember you so well!" And I can fancy that the seraph might reply:
'"Ah, yes! I used to sweep a crossing up your street. I asked you for a copper once, and you told me to go—not where you find me."
'It would be a little awkward for the Snob: things often are; but he would soon get over it. His sense of locality, you perceive, is extremely acute. He may not always know at a glance exactly what men are in themselves, but he can always tell where they are. If you put one of Madame Tussaud's waxworks into a front seat, or on a Woolsack, or on a Board of Directors, the English would venerate it more than most real persons. Their sensibilities are so strong that the merest symbol stirs them. A noble lord need not do anything remarkable; but he is in the front row, and if he just radiates ability, that is quite enough. And he can't help radiating "ability;" it is one of his characteristics, and has become automatic.'
'What is automatic?'
'Automatic! Oh, it means acting of its own accord, without any effort of the will to make it work. Automatic actions may go on a very long time without stopping, sometimes for ever. If I continued in this strain much longer it might get automatic too: speaking often does, especially with Members of Parliament. It is as if they were wound up to say similar things one after the other, like musical-boxes, by reflex action, and you never know when they will give up. The automatic method has this advantage, that when you have had some experience of an automaton, you can always tell—suppose that it is wound up, for instance, to speak on a motion—what it will probably say next, and certainly how it will vote, and that gives you a sense of calm peace. It is a method very common among stump orators, because it comes cheaper in the long run. But there are other things—novel-writing, for instance. Novelists, many of them, are wound up at the beginning to write novels periodically, and the action gradually gets feebler and feebler, till at last it stops. It does not, however, generally stop till they die, and that is why we have so many bad novels from some writers. All authors, though, don't write automatically, any more than all clergymen preach automatically. But it is a very easy habit to fall into: I have done it myself more than once. Of course it is very useful, and very inexpensive, and an immense saving of energy, and one would advise the rising generation to cultivate it as much as possible, that their years may be long in the land. But one ought never to allow such a habit as swearing,—or shooting,' added the Owl gravely, 'to become automatic. Let me see, where did I begin? I was telling you about the female dragon-worshippers, who dress in symbolical costumes, like the old priestesses or the Salvation Army captains. Lately, though, a good many of the women who were brought up to it have taken "a new departure," and gone off after the wholesale education establishments at Camford, where they are fed on biscuits and marmalade, and illuminate the fragments of Sappho on vellum. This may not be very good: still I think it is better than the Dragon; the worst of it is that it forces up the educational prices.'
With which remark the Owl began a long series of observations, a mixture of political economy and his views on popular education, which Queen Mab found rather tedious. But they inspired her with a few verses, which she resolved, being the most philanthropic of fairies, and full of compassion for the dreary state of Great Britain in general, and of the rising generation in particular, to circulate among the Polynesian children as soon as she returned home. In this determination, unfortunately, she either forgot or ignored the fact that she had left her happy island a prey to the combined effects of annexation, civilisation, and evangelisation. But the verses ran thus:
'Upon my childhood's pallid morn No tropic summer smiled, In foreign lands I was not born, A happy, heathen child.
Alas! but in a colder clime, A cultured clime, I dwell All in the foremost ranks of time, They say: I know it well.
You never learn geography, No grammar makes you wild, A book, a slate you never see, You happy, heathen child.
I know in forest and in glade Your games are odd but gay, Think of the little British maid, Who has no place for play.
When ended is the day's long joy, And you to rest have gone, Think of the little British boy, Who still is toiling on.
The many things we learn about, We cannot understand. Ah, send your missionaries out To this benighted land!
You blessed little foreigner, In weather fair and mild, Think of the tiny Britisher, Oh, happy heathen child.
Ah! highly favoured Pagan, born In some far hemisphere, Pity the British child forlorn, And drop one sorrowing tear!'
CHAPTER VI. — JUSTICE AND THE NEW DEMOCRACY.
'They will soon be here, They are upon the road,' John Gilpin.
'I should like,' said Queen Mab one day, 'to go and see the City. Do you think it would be safe?'
'Yes,' said the Owl, 'if you fly out of the way of the smoke and the net of overhead wires, and take care not to be suffocated, and not to go near the Houses of Parliament, nor the Bank, nor St. Paul's, nor the Exchange, nor any great public building. And if you keep clear of all the bridges, and the railway stations, and Victoria Embankment, and go the other way whenever you see a person carrying a black bag.'
'Why?' inquired Queen Mab, a good deal mystified.
'Because all these places,' said the Owl, 'are in danger of being blown up. If you could get a Home Ruler to take you round now; but I'm afraid it wouldn't do, as he might put you into an explosion and leave you there, as likely as not. Besides, I was forgetting, you are immortal, aren't you? You couldn't be blown up? If so, it is all right.'
'I don't suppose I could,' said Queen Mab a little doubtfully, 'but still I shouldn't care to try. What is it like?'
'I don't know,' replied her mentor. 'I have never tried it myself. You had better ask Mr. Bradlaugh, or some eminent popular sciolist Huxley or Spencer would do. They have been exploding or blowing up popular theology for a number of years, and popular theology and Mr. Joseph Cook have been exploding them. As far as I can make out, they both appear to think it very good fun. But I was going to tell you about the black bags, which are filled with dynamite, a very explosive though inexpensive substance indeed, and carried by persons called "dynamiters." These bags are left at large in public buildings, while the dynamitards go away, and as soon as their owners turn the corner the bags explode and blow up the buildings, and anyone who happens to be about.'
'Why do they do it?' exclaimed Queen Mab, breathless.
'Nobody seems to know,' said the Owl. 'It is one of the problems of the nineteenth century. Even the dynamiters themselves don't appear to have gone into the whole logic of it I suppose that they are tired of only blowing things up on paper, and they are people who have a great objection to things in general. They complain that they can't get justice from the universe in its present state of preservation, and therefore they are going to blow as much of it as possible into what they call smithereens, and try to get justice from the smithereens. It is a new scheme they have hit upon, a kind of scientific experiment. The theory appears to be, that justice is the product of Nihilism plus public buildings blown up by dynamite, and that the more public buildings they blow up the more justice they will obtain. I hear that they have also started a company for supplying statesmen, and all public orators except Home Rulers, with nitro-glycerine jujubes to improve the voice. Nitro-glycerine is a kind of condensed dynamite. A City sparrow told me—but perhaps it was only his fun—that they were borrowing the money from the Government, under the pretext of applying it to a fund for presenting three-and-sixpenny copies of Jevons' "Logic" to Members of Parliament who can't afford to buy the book for themselves. It is reported, also, that if the Nihilists can't obtain justice enough by any less extensive measures, they will lower a great many kegs of nitro-glycerine to the molten nucleus of the globe, and then—'
'Then?' said Queen Mab, much excited.
'Then the globe will explode, and all the inhabitants, even the dynamiters themselves; but justice will remain; according to the theory, that is. But it is rather an expensive experiment.'
'How dreadful!' said the fairy. 'Do you think I had better not go to London?'
'I think you might,' replied the Owl thoughtfully. 'There would be a little risk certainly; but you could fly high, and remember that dynamite strikes downwards. You had better take the sparrow, though, for I'm afraid I should attract too much attention. Otherwise I should like to go with you.'
'I will make us both invisible,' said Queen Mab. 'That will be easy.'
'Oh, very well, if you do that!' And they started.
'After all,' said the Owl an hour later, 'as we are here, and invisible, we may as well rest on the dome of St. Paul's. Dynamite does strike downwards, and I don't see any black bags about,' he added, looking round suspiciously.
'All right,' said the fairy. 'Now you can tell me all about things,' for they had been flying too fast to exchange many remarks. 'What is this building?'
'It is one of St. George's best churches,' said the Owl.
A burst of melancholy music swelled out below them as he spoke, and Queen Mab started with delight.
'That is like Fairyland,' she said promptly. 'What is it?'
'It is the organ and the choristers,' said the Owl. 'If you fly down a moment you can look in; but don't wait long, because of the dynamite. It would be just like them,' he added pensively, 'to blow it up when we are here.'
Queen Mab obeyed, leaving the owl, still a little nervous, seated invisible on the dome.
'I have heard the music,' she said when she flew back, 'and seen the singers, and the great golden pipes the music comes out of. What a beautiful big place it is! We have nothing like that in Polynesia.'
'No, I should think not,' returned the bird. 'Look round you. That street where all the people and the vehicles are rushing up and down is Cheapside.'
'Why do they all go so fast?' said the fairy.
'Oh, for many reasons. Competition, struggle for existence, and all that. They are in a normal condition, in that street, of having trains to catch, and not having any time to catch them in. Besides, they are dragon-worshippers, most of them, and it is part of their religion to walk as fast as they can, not only through Cheapside but through life. The one who can walk fastest, and knock down the greatest number of other people, gets a prize.'
'Who are the big men in black robes who stand at corners, and look as if everything belonged to them? Are they the owners of the City?'
'They are policemen,' said the Owl. 'Products,' he went on learnedly, 'of the higher civilisation, evolved to put the lower civilisation into prisons.'
'What are prisons?'
'A kind of hothouses,' said the Owl, 'for the culture of feeble moral principles that the Struggle for Existtence has been too much for. They are a wonderful system. The weak morality is supplied with bread and water and a cell to develop in, and it is exercised on a treadmill, and allowed to expand and pick oakum, and so it is turned into a beautiful plant of virtue.'
'What do they do with it then?'
'Then they let it run wild, unless it comes across a Home Missionary, or a School Board, or Dr. Barnardo, and gets trained.'
'Oh!' said Queen Mab. 'Are there many of these hothouses?'
'A good many. You see, such a number of the members of the lower portion of the higher civilisation have moral principles that need training. The moral principle is the latest product of evolution, or so the professor says, and evolution has not yet got quite into the way of always turning it out first class. Like everything else, it wants practice. Some moral principles are excellent; but others are really bungles, and require periodical prison culture. At present we need policemen for the transplanting; but it is hoped that, in the course of an era or two, the automatic method will be so much further developed that a member of the higher civilisation who gets very drunk, or steals, will put himself to prison at once, by reflex action. I told you about that: it is a lengthy subject; but the kingfisher and I quite mastered it one day, and I daresay you will. It is much easier than portions of the Thirty-nine Articles.'
'I know what that is,' said Queen Mab; 'the missionaries were talking about it once.'
'I have taken a good deal of trouble,' said the Owl, 'but there were parts of the Thirty-nine Articles I never could make out. They are a kind of tinned theology, and so much tinned that no one appreciates them but the theologians.'
'Why is the theology tinned?' asked the Queen. 'Why don't they have it fresh and fresh?'
'They like it old,' said the Owl. 'They have tried various ways of treating it, for theology does not keep well in a scientific atmosphere. Frozen theology has been experimented with by Archdeacon Farrar and others, and has some vogue. But the popular taste prefers it tinned. And yet it is very tough, in Articles. I am surprised that no one has written a simple explanation of them: "Primer of the Thirty-nine Articles," "The Thirty-nine Articles made Easy," or "Thirty-nine Articles for Beginners;" but no one ever has. It is a book that is very much needed, and if I had any influence with the theologians I would ask them to do it at once. In days like ours, when floods of Nonconformity and Socialism are pouring in on every hand, the very foundations of Church and State are being sapped for want of a plain popular guide ta the Thirty-nine Articles, that a child could understand. A child couldn't expect to find them clear in their present condensed state, could he now? But then, when I come to think of it, perhaps there is no reason why he should.' And the owl fell into a reverie.
After this they departed in search of a more sequestered resting-place, and ultimately alighted in Kensington Gardens. And there they came upon a Democrat and an Aristocrat who was also a landholder, and the Aristocrat was saying:
'What will you do without an aristocracy? What will you look up to?' 'We shall do,' said the Democrat, 'very well indeed. We shall do, in fact, a good deal better; for we shall be an aristocracy in ourselves, and look up to ourselves, and reverence humanity. What, I should like to know, has the British aristocracy done for us?'
'We have set you an example,' replied his companion impressively.
'We have told you what to do and what not to do. We have employed you; we have let you vote for us; we have represented you in Church and State; we have given you a popular education; and a pretty use you have made of it! We have, in short,' he continued, trying hard to remember the popular maxim, 'cherished you like a viper, and you turn again and rend us.'
'All that,' said the Democrat, 'you did because you couldn't help it.' 'We have been,' exclaimed the Aristocrat with deep pathos, 'as lights in a benighted land. We have improved the breed of horses and cultivated the fine arts, and literature, and china, and the fashions, and French cookery—'
'And drinking, and racing, and gambling, and betting, and pigeon-shooting,' put in the Democrat thoughtfully. 'So you have.'
'We have come to church,' continued the Aristocrat unheeding, 'and you have surveyed us from the free seats—when you were there. I regret to say that your attendance at the established places of worship has been far from satisfactory. We have allowed you to pay us the highest rents you could afford, solely to develop in you the sense of competition and a stimulus to progress, and we have daily displayed to you, in our persons and equipments, the advantages of the higher life. Our wives and daughters have played the piano, done crewel work, danced, sung and skated, and painted on plaques for your edification and improvement. We have trained ourselves, physically, mentally, morally, and aesthetically to be a thing of beauty in your eyes and a joy for ever. Alas, you have no vision for the beautiful and intrinsically complete; you can't appreciate an aristocracy when you see one. We have even flung open our parks and grounds for your benefit, and let you admire our mansions, and you knocked down the ornaments, and smudged the tapestry and the antimacassars, and trod on the flower-beds, and pulled up the young trees, and threw orange-peel into the fountains, and ridiculed the statuary. Then you asked us for peasant proprietorship.'
'It wasn't me,' said the Democrat with unusual humility. 'It was the British public.'
'And what are you,' retorted his companion firmly—for he felt that he had scored a point—'but a representative of the British public? Alas, I could weep for your short-sightedness! When the reins of the ship of State—no, the helm of the chariot of Government, is in the hands of a semi-barbarous public, what will it do with it? The old aristocratic ballast once thrown overboard, it will drive that chariot upon the rocks of anarchy, it will overturn it upon the shores of revolution. And you, contemptible tool of an infatuated majority, what will you do then? Ah, then, too late you will cry, "Give me back my aristocracy, the aristocracy I so madly flung away!" When you have the Church and State flying about your ears, you will wish you had minded what we said to you. You will long with remorse unspeakable for the old English gentleman, the bulwark of the land; but the good old English gentleman will be no more. He will have gone to the vaults of his fathers, to the happy hunting-grounds of the noble lord.'
'You are really very eloquent,' said the Democrat, with more politeness than his wont ('I didn't think he had it in him,' he murmured under his breath.) 'But you exaggerate our intentions. We are only democrats: we are not Nihilists. We desire justice.'
'Ah, that is what you all say!' exclaimed the Aristocrat hastily. 'I have heard enough about justice: I wish it had never been invented. Never knew any of your fine-sounding phrases yet that did not end in gunpowder.'
'You mistake,' said the Democrat severely. 'Our requirements are few and simple: Universal suffrage, the abolition of the peers, of entail, and of primogeniture, the overthrow of establishments and armaments equally bloated, the right to marry the deceased wife's sister, the confiscation of landed property by the State—'
'Oh lord, yes!' groaned the Aristocrat 'I thought you were coming to that next. Take our landed property, do—I wish you joy of it! What with all your Communistic legislation and bad harvests, and backing good things that don't come off—like an ass as I was—by Jove, I feel disposed to quit the whole business and compete for a Mandarin's Button in China. It's the only country for a British Aristocracy to live comfortably in and be properly appreciated, and you can't come sneaking about with your red-hot Republicanism, for they are all good Conservatives. Who ever heard of The Chinese Revolution?'
They parted hastily, the common consequence of all lengthy argument, and the aristocrat repaired to his club, smoking a cigar to soothe his ruffled feelings, while the democrat also turned on his heel, and went to address the British public in Hyde Park. Queen Mab, however, had heard enough of social problems for one day, and she did not follow him. The Owl took her, instead, to Westminster Abbey, and offered explanations after the manner of a verger.
'This is our museum of 'dead celebrities,' he said. 'Here lie our great men—poets, soldiers, artists, and statesmen. When the British public feels elevated and sublime it comes here to look at the tombstones, and it says: "These are my great men: they worked for me. I bought them: I paid for them!" And it turns away with tears in its eyes.'
'And while they are alive?' asked Mab.
'That is rather a long subject,' replied the Owl.
'In the first place, they set up a great man, like a target, to shoot at and fight over, and find out whether he is really a great man or only a "lunatic ritualist," like General Gordon, in the view of Thoughtful persons. It takes them some time to decide: sometimes they never do decide till he has gone to his reward, if even then. It is an admirable quality in him, always, not to mind being shot at. But when the British public has really made up its mind that a man is a great man, and that however low they rate him at market value he is sure to be above the average, they sing a psalm of thanksgiving, and they cry, "Where is his coffin? Let us drive nails into the coffin of this great man! Let us show our magnanimity, our respect for the higher life, our reverence for the lofty soul! Give us the hammer." Then they begin. It is an imposing ceremony, and lasts during the lifetime of the great man, whoever he happens to be. He may be a literary great man, a poet, perhaps a Laureate. This type, according to the notions of the British public, requires a great quantity of nails, and every class of society almost brings them to his coffin. The young lady authors come, many troops of them, all conscious of greatness in their own souls, and all having made it the dream of their lives to turn their souls inside out for the benefit of a really great man. Surely, they think, there must be in the heart of him a natural affinity for the details of their inner lives. They give him the details of their inner lives: they also bring with them hammer and nails. There is nerve in those delicate fingers, energy in those sympathetic souls: the number of nails they contrive to hammer in is astonishing.
'Then the theologians come, with a doctrinal hammer and many nails, the lineal descendants of the nail that Jael drove into the head of Sisera because he fought against the Israelites. They have found out that there is a want of sound sectarian teaching in the works of the poet, and they say that in the interests of theology they must drive a nail in. They drive it: they know how to drive nails, some of the theologians. Good sound crushing, rending, comfortable nails of doctrine—none of your airy latitudinarian tin-tacks. Then come the critics: they have been brought up to it. They have all manner of nails—nails with broad heads, and narrow heads, and brass heads, and no heads, but all with points. If a critic ever should drive in a nail without a point he would feel everlastingly disgraced, but he never does: he sharpens them on the premises. He can always find a place for another nail, till by-and-by the coffin is quite covered, and then the great man is thankful to rest in it. Then the British public sings more psalms.
But it seems to afford them solid comfort and happiness to find out, or to think they find out, that a great man was really not so great after all, and that they can look down on him. It is certainly a more piquant sensation to look down on a great man than on an ordinary mortal, and makes one feel happier. There is a melancholy, sweet satisfaction—I have noticed it myself—in pointing out exactly where this or that great man erred, and where we should not have erred if we had been this or that great man. There is a calm, blessed sense of the law of compensation among humans when they murmur over the grave: "Ah! his was a mighty soul; everybody says so; but his umbrella was only gingham, and mine has a silver handle." Or, "Yes, his force of mind was gigantic; but just here he left the beaten track. If I had been in his place at that moment I should have kept it; I always do." Or, "His morality looks elegant, but it hasn't got any fibre to it. Now my morality is all fibre; you never met with such fibrous morality. What did he do with the fibre out of his? Did he pawn it? did he sell it? did he give it away? We should like to know all about it—is it in his autobiography? Did he write an autobiography? If he didn't, why didn't he? We prefer all our great men to write autobiographies. We like to be well up in them, and we think it would throw a great deal of light on the study of psychology, and gratify our sense of reverence, to know the exact details of the daily life of this great man, and at what hour he dined, and whether he wrote with a quill or a J pen. Whether the quality of the pens he used was or was not intimately connected with the quality of his moral fibre, and whether his ethical degeneration could or could not be dated from his ceasing to make two fair copies of his manuscripts. We should also like to be informed whether his studs were gold or gilt, and, if they were gold, whether it was 18-carat gold, or only 15. If they were gilt, whether he wore them gilt on principle, or because he hadn't money enough to buy a better pair; and if, supposing that it was because he hadn't money enough, why he hadn't, and whether he spent the money on cigars. Why he was not an anti-tobacconist. Did anyone ever invite him to join the anti-tobacconists? and if they didn't, why didn't they? Did he approve of the Blue Ribbon movement? Is it true that he once got intoxicated, and smashed a blue china teapot? If he did, was it by way of protest against the demoralising doctrine of Art for Art's sake? Has anybody written his wife's biography?—if not, why not? We should like it at once, and also the biographies of all his second and third cousins, and of his publishers, and of the conductor of the tramcar he once went into town by. Why did he travel by tram that day, and what had the twopence he paid for the tramcar to do with the flow of the hexameters used by him in translating the AEneid? Let us trace the effects of both on the growth of individuality in his writings, and find out, if possible, the influence of the twopence as affecting his views on the opium traffic." But what a long time I have been talking,' said the Owl, suddenly recollecting himself. 'Automatic action again. Dear me!'