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Where No Fear Was - A Book About Fear
by Arthur Christopher Benson
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WHERE NO FEAR WAS

A BOOK ABOUT FEAR



By

ARTHUR CHRISTOPHER BENSON

1914



CONTENTS

I. THE SHADOW II. SHAPES OF FEAR III. THE DARKEST DOUBT IV. VULNERABILITY V. THE USE OF FEAR VI. FEARS OF CHILDHOOD VII. FEARS OF BOYHOOD VIII. FEARS OF YOUTH IX. FEARS OF MIDDLE AGE X. FEARS OF AGE XI. DR. JOHNSON XII. TENNYSON, RUSKIN, CARLYLE XIII. CHARLOTTE BRONTE XIV. JOHN STERLING XV. INSTINCTIVE FEAR XVI. FEAR OF LIFE XVII. SIMPLICITY XVIII. AFFECTION XIX. SIN XX. SERENITY



"Thus they went on till they came to about the middle of the Valley, and then Christiana said, 'Methinks I see something yonder on the road before us, a thing of such a shape such as I have not seen.' Then said Joseph, 'Mother, what is it?' 'An ugly thing, Child, an ugly thing,' said she. 'But, Mother, what is it like?' said he. ''Tis like I cannot tell what,' said she. And now it was but a little way off. Then said she, 'It is nigh.'"

"Pilgrim's Progress," Part II.



Where No Fear Was



I

THE SHADOW

There surely may come a time for each of us, if we have lived with any animation or interest, if we have had any constant or even fitful desire to penetrate and grasp the significance of the strange adventure of life, a time, I say, when we may look back a little, not sentimentally or with any hope of making out an impressive case for ourselves, and interrogate the memory as to what have been the most real, vivid, and intense things that have befallen us by the way. We may try to separate the momentous from the trivial, and the important from the unimportant; to discern where and how and when we might have acted differently; to see and to say what has really mattered, what has made a deep mark on our spirit; what has hampered or wounded or maimed us. Because one of the strangest things about life seems to be our incapacity to decide beforehand, or even at the time, where the real and fruitful joys, and where the dark dangers and distresses lie. The things that at certain times filled all one's mind, kindled hope and aim, seemed so infinitely desirable, so necessary to happiness, have faded, many of them, into the lightest and most worthless of husks and phantoms, like the withered flowers that we find sometimes shut in the pages of our old books, and cannot even remember of what glowing and emotional moment they were the record!

How impossible it is ever to learn anything by being told it! How necessary it is to pay the full price for any knowledge worth having! The anxious father, the tearful mother, may warn the little boy before he goes to school of the dangers that await him. He does not understand, he does not attend, he is looking at the pattern of the carpet, and wondering for the hundredth time whether the oddly-shaped blue thing which appears and reappears at intervals is a bird or a flower—yes, it is certainly meant for a bird perched on a bough! He wishes the talk were over, he looks at the little scar on his father's hand, and remembers that he has been told that he cut it in a cucumber-frame when he was a boy. And then, long afterwards perhaps, when he has made a mistake and is suffering for it, he sees that it was THAT of which they spoke, and wonders that they could not have explained it better.

And this is so all along! We cannot recognise the dark tower, to which in the story Childe Roland came, by any description. We must go there ourselves; and not till we feel the teeth of the trap biting into us, do we see that it was exactly in such a place that we had been warned that it would be laid.

There is an episode in that strange and beautiful book Phantastes, by George Macdonald, which comes often to my mind. The boy is wandering in the enchanted forest, and he is told to avoid the house where the Daughter of the Ogre lives. His morose young guide shows him where the paths divide, and he takes the one indicated to him with a sense of misgiving.

A little while before he had been deceived by the Alder-maiden, and had given her his love in error. This has taken some of the old joy out of his heart, but he has made his escape from her, and thinks he has learned his lesson.

But he comes at last to the long low house in the clearing; he finds within it an ancient woman reading out of an old volume; he enters, he examines the room in which she sits, and yielding to curiosity, he opens the door of the great cupboard in the corner, in spite of a muttered warning. He thinks, on first opening it, that it is just a dark cupboard; but he sees with a shock of surprise that he is looking into a long dark passage, which leads out, far away from where he stands, into the starlit night. Then a figure, which seems to have been running from a long distance, turns the corner, and comes speeding down towards him. He has not time to close the door, but stands aside to let it pass; it passes, and slips behind him; and soon he sees that it is a shadow of himself, which has fallen on the floor at his feet. He asks what has happened, and then the old woman says that he has found his shadow, a thing which happens to many people; and then for the first time she raises her head and looks at him, and he sees that her mouth is full of long white teeth; he knows where he is at last, and stumbles out, with the dark shadow at his heels, which is to haunt him so miserably for many a sad day.

That is a very fine and true similitude of what befalls many men and women. They go astray, they give up some precious thing—their innocence perhaps—to a deluding temptation. They are delivered for a time; and then a little while after they find their shadow, which no tears or anguish of regret can take away, till the healing of life and work and purpose annuls it. Neither is it always annulled, even in length of days.

But it is a paltry and inglorious mistake to let the shadow have its disheartening will of us. It is only a shadow, after all! And if we capitulate after our first disastrous encounter, it does not mean that we shall be for ever vanquished, though it means perhaps a long and dreary waste of shame-stained days. That is what we must try to avoid—any WASTE of time and strength. For if anything is certain, it is that we have all to fight until we conquer, and the sooner we take up the dropped sword again the better.

And we have also to learn that no one can help us except ourselves. Other people can sympathise and console, try to soothe our injured vanity, try to persuade us that the dangers and disasters ahead are not so dreadful as they appear to be, and that the mistakes we have made are not irreparable. But no one can remove danger or regret from us, or relieve us of the necessity of facing our own troubles; the most that they can do, indeed, is to encourage us to try again.

But we cannot hope to change the conditions of life; and one of its conditions is, as I have said, that we cannot foresee dangers. No matter how vividly they are described to us, no matter how eagerly those who love us try to warn us of peril, we cannot escape. For that is the essence of life—experience; and though we cannot rejoice when we are in the grip of it, and when we cannot see what the end will be, we can at least say to ourselves again and again, "this is at all events reality—this is business!" for it is the moments of endurance and energy and action which after all justify us in living, and not the pleasant spaces where we saunter among flowers and sunlit woods. Those are conceded to us, to tempt us to live, to make us desire to remain in the world; and we need not be afraid to take them, to use them, to enjoy them; because all things alike help to make us what we are.



II

SHAPES OF FEAR

Now as I look back a little, I see that some of my worst experiences have not hurt or injured me at all. I do not claim more than my share of troubles, but "I have had trouble enough for one," as Browning says,—bereavements, disappointments, the illness of those I have loved, illness of my own, quarrels, misunderstandings, enmities, angers, disapprovals, losses; I have made bad mistakes, I have failed in my duty, I have done many things that I regret, I have been unreasonable, unkind, selfish. Many of these things have hurt and wounded me, have brought me into sorrow, and even into despair. But I do not feel that any of them have really injured me, and some of them have already benefited me. I have learned to be a little more patient and diligent, and I have discovered that there are certain things that I must at all costs avoid.

But there is one thing which seems to me to have always and invariably hampered and maimed me, whenever I have yielded to it, and I have often yielded to it; and that is Fear. It can be called by many names, and all of them ugly names—anxiety, timidity, moral cowardice. I can never trace the smallest good in having given way to it. It has been from my earliest days the Shadow; and I think it is the shadow in the lives of many men and women. I want in this book to track it, if I can, to its lair, to see what it is, where its awful power lies, and what, if anything, one can do to resist it. It seems the most unreal thing in the world, when one is on the other side of it; and yet face to face with it, it has a strength, a poignancy, a paralysing power, which makes it seem like a personal and specific ill-will, issuing in a sort of dreadful enchantment or spell, which renders it impossible to withstand. Yet, strange to say, it has not exercised its power in the few occasions in my life when it would seem to have been really justified. Let me quote an instance or two which will illustrate what I mean.

I was confronted once with the necessity of a small surgical operation, quite unexpectedly. If I had known beforehand that it was to be done, I should have depicted every incident with horror and misery. But the moment arrived, and I found myself marching to my bedroom with a surgeon and a nurse, with a sense almost of amusement at the adventure.

I was called upon once in Switzerland to assist with two guides in the rescue of an unfortunate woman who had fallen from a precipice, and had to be brought down, dead or alive. We hurried up through the pine-forest with a chair, and found the poor creature alive indeed, but with horrible injuries—an eye knocked out, an arm and a thigh broken, her ulster torn to ribbons, and with more blood about the place in pools than I should have thought a human body could contain. She was conscious; she had to be lifted into the chair, and we had to discover where she belonged; she fainted away in the middle of it, and I had to go on and break the news to her relations. If I had been told beforehand what would have had to be done, I do not think I could have faced it; but it was there to do, and I found myself entirely capable of taking part, and even of wondering all the time that it was possible to act.

Again, I was once engulfed in a crevasse, hanging from the ice-ledge with a portentous gulf below, and a glacier-stream roaring in the darkness. I could get no hold for foot or hand, my companions could not reach me or extract me; and as I sank into unconsciousness, hearing my own expiring breath, I knew that I was doomed; but I can only say, quite honestly and humbly, that I had no fear at all, and only dimly wondered what arrangements would be made at Eton, where I was then a master, to accommodate the boys of my house and my pupils. It was not done by an effort, nor did I brace myself to the situation: fear simply did not come near to me.

Once again I found myself confronted, not so long ago, with an incredibly painful and distressing interview. That indeed did oppress me with almost intolerable dread beforehand. I was to go to a certain house in London, and there was just a chance that the interview might not take place after all. As I drove there, I suddenly found myself wondering whether the interview could REALLY be going to take place—how often had I rehearsed it beforehand with anguish—and then as suddenly became aware that I should in some strange way be disappointed if it did not take place. I wanted on the whole to go through with it, and to see what it would be like. A deep-seated curiosity came to my aid. It did take place, and it was very bad—worse than I could have imagined; but it was not terrible!

These are just four instances which come into my mind. I should be glad to feel that the courage which undoubtedly came had been the creation of my will; but it was not so. In three cases, the events came unexpectedly; but in the fourth case I had long anticipated the moment with extreme dread. Yet in that last case the fear suddenly slipped away, without the smallest effort on my part; and in all four cases some strange gusto of experience, some sense of heightened life and adventure, rose in the mind like a fountain—so that even in the crevasse I said to myself, not excitedly but serenely, "So this is what it feels like to await death!"

It was this particular experience which gave me an inkling into that which in so many tragic histories seems incredible—that men often do pass to death, by scaffold and by stake, at the last moment, in serenity and even in joy. I do not doubt for a moment that it is the immortal principle in man, the sense of deathlessness, which comes to his aid. It is the instinct which, in spite of all knowledge and experience, says suddenly, in a moment like that, "Well, what then?" That instinct is a far truer thing than any expectation or imagination. It sees things, in supreme moments, in a true proportion. It asserts that when the rope jerks, or the flames leap up, or the benumbing blow falls, there is something there which cannot possibly be injured, and which indeed is rather freed from the body of our humiliation. It is but an incident, after all, in a much longer and more momentous voyage. It means only the closing of one chapter of experience and the beginning of another. The base element in it is the fear which dreads the opening of the door, and the quitting of what is familiar. And I feel assured of this, that the one universal and inevitable experience, known to us as death, must in reality be a very simple and even a natural affair, and that when we can look back upon it, it will seem to us amazing that we can ever have regarded it as so momentous and appalling a thing.



III

THE DARKEST DOUBT

Now we can make no real advance in the things of the spirit until we have seen what lies on the other side of fear; fear cannot help us to grow, at best it can only teach us to be prudent; it does not of itself destroy the desire to offend—only shame can do that; if our wish to be different comes merely from our being afraid to transgress, then, if the fear of punishment were to be removed, we should go back with a light heart to our old sins. We may obey irresponsible power, because we know that it can hurt us if we disobey; but unless we can perceive the reason why this and that is forbidden, we cannot concur with law. We learn as children that flame has power to hurt us, but we only dread the fire because it can injure us, not because we admire the reason which it has for burning. So long as we do not sin simply because we know the laws of life which punish sin, we have not learned any hatred of sin; it is only because we hate the punishment more than we love the sin, that we abstain.

Socrates once said, in one of his wise paradoxes, that it was better to sin knowingly than ignorantly. That is a hard saying, but it means that at least if we sin knowingly, there is some purpose, some courage in the soul. We take a risk with our eyes open, and our purpose may perhaps be changed; whereas if we sin ignorantly, we do so out of a mere base instinct, and there is no purpose that may be educated. Anyone who has ever had the task of teaching boys or young men to write will know how much easier it is to teach those who write volubly and exuberantly, and desire to express themselves, even if they do it with many faults and lapses of taste; taste and method may be corrected, if only the instinct of expression is there. But the young man who has no impulse to write, who says that he could think of nothing to say, it is impossible to teach him much, because one cannot communicate the desire for expression.

And the same holds good of life. Those who have strong vital impulses can learn restraint and choice; but the people who have no particular impulses and preferences, who just live out of mere impetus and habit, who plod along, doing in a dispirited way just what they find to do, and lapsing into indolence and indifference the moment that prescribed work ceases, those are the spirits that afford the real problem, because they despise activity, and think energy a mere exhibition of fussy diffuseness.

But the generous, eager, wilful nature, who has always some aim in sight, who makes mistakes perhaps, gives offence, collides high-heartedly with others, makes both friends and enemies, loves and hates, is anxious, jealous, self-absorbed, resentful, intolerant—there is always hope for such an one, for he is quick to despair, capable of shame, swift to repent, and even when he is worsted and wounded, rises to fight again. Such a nature, through pain and love, can learn to chasten his base desires, and to choose the nobler and worthier way.

But what does really differentiate men and women is not their power of fearing and suffering, but their power of caring and admiring. The only real and vital force in the world is the force which attracts, the beauty which is so desirable that one must imitate it if one can, the wisdom which is so calm and serene that one must possess it if one may.

And thus all depends upon our discerning in the world a loving intention of some kind, which holds us in view, and draws us to itself. If we merely think of God and nature as an inflexible system of laws, and that our only chance of happiness is to slip in and out of them, as a man might pick his way among red-hot ploughshares, thankful if he can escape burning, then we can make no sort of advance, because we can have neither faith nor trust. The thing from which one merely flees can have no real power over our spirit; but if we know God as a fatherly Heart behind nature, who is leading us on our way, then indeed we can walk joyfully in happiness, and undismayed in trouble; because troubles then become only the wearisome incidents of the upward ascent, the fatigue, the failing breath, the strained muscles, the discomfort which is actually taking us higher, and cannot by any means be avoided.

But fear is the opposite of all this; it is the dread of the unknown, the ghastly doubt as to whether there is any goal before us or not; when we fear, we are like the butterfly that flutters anxiously away from the boy who pursues it, who means out of mere wantonness to strike it down tattered and bruised among the grass-stems.



IV

VULNERABILITY

There have been many attempts in the history of mankind to escape from the dominion of fear; the essence of fear, that which prompts it, is the consciousness of our vulnerability. What we all dread is the disease or the accident that may disable us, the loss of money or credit, the death of those whom we love and whose love makes the sunshine of our life, the anger and hostility and displeasure and scorn and ill-usage of those about us. These are the definite things which the anxious mind forecasts, and upon which it mournfully dwells.

The object then in the minds of the philosophers or teachers who would fain relieve the unhappiness of the world, has been always to suggest ways in which this vulnerability may be lessened; and thus their object has been to disengage as far as possible the hopes and affections of men from things which must always be fleeting. That is the principle which lies behind all asceticism, that, if one can be indifferent to wealth and comfort and popularity, one has a better chance of serenity. The essence of that teaching is not that pleasant things are not desirable, but that one is more miserable if one loses them than if one never cares for them at all. The ascetic trains himself to be indifferent about food and drink and the apparatus of life; he aims at celibacy partly because love itself is an overmastering passion, and partly because he cannot bear to engage himself with human affections, the loss of which may give him pain. There is, of course, a deeper strain in asceticism than this, which is a suspicious mistrust of all physical joys and a sense of their baseness; but that is in itself an artistic preference of mental and spiritual joys, and a defiance to everything which may impair or invade them.

The Stoic imperturbability is an attempt to take a further step; not to fly from life, but to mingle with it, and yet to grow to be not dependent on it. The Stoic ideal was a high one, to cultivate a firmness of mind that was on the one hand not to be dismayed by pain or suffering, and on the other to use life so temperately and judiciously as not to form habits of indulgence which it would be painful to discontinue. The weakness of Stoicism was that it despised human relations; and the strength of primitive Christianity was that, while it recommended a Stoical simplicity of life, it taught men not to be afraid of love, but to use and lavish love freely, as being the one thing which would survive death and not be cut short by it. The Christian teaching came to this, that the world was meant to be a school of love, and that love was to be an outward-rippling ring of affection extending from the family outwards to the tribe, the nation, the world, and on to God Himself. It laid all its emphasis on the truth that love is the one immortal thing, that all the joys and triumphs of the world pass away with the decay of its material framework, but that love passes boldly on, with linked hands, into the darkness of the unknown.

The one loss that Christianity recognised was the loss of love; the one punishment it dreaded was the withholding of love.

As Christianity soaked into the world, it became vitiated, and drew into itself many elements of human weakness. It became a social force, it learned to depend on property, it fulminated a code of criminality, and accepted human standards of prosperity and wealth. It lost its simplicity and became sophisticated. It is hard to say that men of the world should not, if they wish, claim to be Christians, but the whole essence of Christianity is obscured if it is forgotten that its vital attributes are its indifference to material conveniences, and its emphatic acceptance of sympathy as the one supreme virtue.

This is but another way of expressing that our troubles and our terrors alike are based on selfishness, and that if we are really concerned with the welfare of others we shall not be much concerned with our own.

The difficulty in adopting the Christian theory is that God does not apparently intend to cure the world by creating all men unselfish. People are born selfish, and the laws of nature and heredity seem to ordain that it shall be so. Indeed a certain selfishness seems to be inseparable from any desire to live. The force of asceticism and of Stoicism is that they both appeal to selfishness as a motive. They frankly say, "Happiness is your aim, personal happiness; but instead of grasping at pleasure whenever it offers, you will find it more prudent in the end not to care too much about such things." It is true that popular Christianity makes the same sort of appeal. It says, or seems to say, "If you grasp at happiness in this world, you may secure a great deal of it successfully; but it will be worse for you eventually."

The theory of life as taught and enforced, for instance, in such a work as Dante's great poem is based upon this crudity of thought. Dante, by his Hell and his Purgatory, expressed plainly that the chief motive of man to practise morality must be his fear of ultimate punishment. His was an attempt to draw away the curtain which hides this world from the next, and to horrify men into living purely and kindly. But the mind only revolts against the dastardly injustice of a God, who allows men to be born into the world so corrupt, with so many incentives to sin, and deliberately hides from them the ghastly sight of the eternal torments, which might have saved them from recklessness of life. No one who had trod the dark caverns of Hell or the flinty ridges of Purgatory, as Dante represented himself doing, who had seen the awful sights and heard the heart-broken words of the place, could have returned to the world as a light-hearted sinner! Whatever we may believe of God, we must not for an instant allow ourselves to believe that life can be so brief and finite, so small and hampered an opportunity, and that punishment could be so demoniacal and so infinite. A God who could design such a scheme must be essentially evil and malignant. We may menace wicked men with punishment for wanton misdeeds, but it must be with just punishment. What could we say of a human father who exposed a child to temptation without explaining the consequences, and then condemned him to lifelong penalties for failing to make the right choice? We must firmly believe that if offences are finite, punishment must be finite too; that it must be remedial and not mechanical. We must believe that if we deserve punishment, it will be because we can hope for restoration. Hell is a monstrous and insupportable fiction, and the idea of it is simply inconsistent with any belief in the goodness of God. It is easy to quote texts to support it, but we must not allow any text, any record in the world, however sacred, to shatter our belief in the Love and Justice of God. And I say as frankly and directly as I can that until we can get rid of this intolerable terror, we can make no advance at all.

The old, fierce Saints, who went into the darkness exulting in the thought of the eternal damnation of the wicked, had not spelt the first letter of the Christian creed, and I doubt not have discovered their mistake long ago! Yet there are pious people in the world who will neither think nor speak frankly of the subject, for fear of weakening the motives for human virtue. I will at least speak frankly, and though I believe with all my heart in a life beyond the grave, in which suffering enough may exist for the cure of those who by wilful sin have sunk into sloth and hopelessness and despair, and even into cruelty and brutality, I do not for an instant believe that the conduct of the vilest human being who ever set foot on the earth can deserve more than a term of punishment, or that such punishment will have anything that is vindictive about it.

It may be said that I am here only combating an old-fashioned idea, and that no one believes in the old theory of eternal punishment, or that if they believe that the possibility exists, they do not believe that any human being can incur it. But I feel little doubt that the belief does exist, and that it is more widespread than one cares to believe. To believe it is to yield to the darkest and basest temptation of fear, and keeps all who hold it back from the truth of God.

What then are we to believe about the punishment of our sins? I look back upon my own life, and I see numberless occasions—they rise up before me, a long perspective of failures—when I have acted cruelly, selfishly, self-indulgently, basely, knowing perfectly well that I was so behaving. What was wrong with me? Why did I so behave? Because I preferred the baser course, and thought at the time that it gave me pleasure.

Well then, what do I wish about all that? I wish it had not happened so, I wish I had been kinder, more just, more self-restrained, more strong. I am ashamed, because I condemn myself, and because I know that those whom I love and honour would condemn me, if they knew all. But I do not, therefore, lose all hope of myself, nor do I think that God will not show me how to be different. If it can only be done by suffering, I dread the suffering, but I am ready to suffer if I can become what I should wish to be. But I do not for a moment think that God will cast me off or turn His face away from me because I have sinned; and I can pray that He will lead me into light and strength.

And thus it is not my vulnerability that I dread; I rather welcome it as a sign that I may learn the truth so. And I will not look upon my desire for pleasant things as a proof that I am evil, but rather as a proof that God is showing me where happiness lies, and teaching me by my mistakes to discern and value it. He could make me perfect if He would, in a single instant. But the fact that He does not, is a sign that He has something better in store for me than a mere mechanical perfection.



V

THE USE OF FEAR

The advantages of the fearful temperament, if it is not a mere unmanning and desolating dread, are not to be overlooked. Fear is the shadow of the imaginative, the resourceful, the inventive temperament, but it multiplies resource and invention a hundredfold. Everyone knows the superstition which is deeply rooted in humanity, that a time of exaltation and excitement and unusual success is held to be often the prelude to some disaster, just as the sense of excitement and buoyant health, when it is very consciously perceived, is thought to herald the approach of illness. "I felt so happy," people say, "that I was sure that some misfortune was going to befall me—it is not lucky to feel so secure as that!" This represented itself to the Greeks as part of the divine government of the world; they thought that the heedless and self-confident man was beguiled by success into what they called ubris, the insolence of prosperity; and that then atae, that is, disaster, followed. They believed that the over-prosperous man incurred the envy and jealousy of the gods. We see this in the old legend of Polycrates of Samos, whose schemes all succeeded, and whose ventures all turned out well. He consulted a soothsayer about his alarming prosperity, who advised him to inflict some deliberate loss or sacrifice upon himself; so Polycrates drew from his finger and flung into the sea a signet-ring which he possessed, with a jewel of great rarity and beauty in it. Soon afterwards a fish was caught by the royal fisherman, and was served up at the king's table—there, inside the body of the fish, was the ring; and when Polycrates saw that, he felt that the gods had restored him his gift, and that his destruction was determined upon; which came true, for he was caught by pirates at sea, and crucified upon a rocky headland.

No nation, and least of all the Greeks, would have arrived at this theory of life and fate, if they had not felt that it was supported by actual instances. It was of the nature of an inference from the facts of life; and the explanation undoubtedly is that men do get betrayed, by a constant experience of good fortune, into rashness and heedlessness, because they trust to their luck and depend upon their fortunate star.

But the man who is of an energetic and active type, if he is haunted by anxiety, if his imagination paints the possibilities of disaster, takes every means in his power to foresee contingencies, and to deal cautiously and thoroughly with the situation which causes him anxiety. If he is a man of keen sensibilities, the pressure of such care is so insupportable that he takes prompt and effective measures to remove it; and his fear thus becomes an element in his success, because it urges him to action, and at the same time teaches him the need of due precaution. As Horace wrote:

"Sperat infestis, metuit secundis Alteram sortem."

"He hopes for a change of fortune when things are menacing, he fears a reverse when things are prosperous." And if we look at the facts of life, we see that it is not by any means the confident and optimistic people who succeed best in their designs. It is rather the man of eager and ambitious temperament, who dreads a repulse and anticipates it, and takes all possible measures beforehand to avoid it.

We see the same principle underlying the scientific doctrine of evolution. People often think loosely that the idea of evolution, in the case, let us say, of a bird like a heron, with his immobility, his long legs, his pointed beak, his muscular neck, is that such characteristics have been evolved through long ages by birds that have had to get their food in swamps and shallow lakes, and were thus gradually equipped for food-getting through long ages of practice. But of course no particular bird is thus modified by circumstances. A pigeon transferred to a fen would not develop the characteristics of the heron; it would simply die for lack of food. It is rather that certain minute variations take place, for unknown reasons, in every species; and the bird which happened to be hatched out in a fenland with a rather sharper beak or rather longer legs than his fellows, would have his power of obtaining food slightly increased, and would thus be more likely to perpetuate in his offspring that particular advantage of form. This principle working through endless centuries would tend slowly to develop the stock that was better equipped for life under such circumstances, and to eliminate those less suited to the locality; and thus the fittest would tend to survive. But it does not indicate any design on the part of the birds themselves, nor any deliberate attempt to develop those characteristics; it is rather that such characteristics, once started by natural variation, tend to emphasize themselves in the lapse of time.

No doubt fear has played an enormous part in the progress of the human race itself. The savage whose imagination was stronger than that of other savages, and who could forecast the possibilities of disaster, would wander through the forest with more precaution against wild beasts, and would make his dwelling more secure against assault; so that the more timid and imaginative type would tend to survive longest and to multiply their stock. Man in his physical characteristics is a very weak, frail, and helpless animal, exposed to all kinds of dangers; his infancy is protracted and singularly defenceless; his pace is slow, his strength is insignificant; it is his imagination that has put him at the top of creation, and has enabled him both to evade dangers and to use natural forces for his greater security. Though he is the youngest of all created forms, and by no means the best equipped for life, he has been able to go ahead in a way denied to all other animals; his inventiveness has been largely developed by his terrors; and the result has been that whereas all other animals still preserve, as a condition of life, their ceaseless attitude of suspicion and fear, man has been enabled by organisation to establish communities in which fear of disaster plays but little part. If one watches a bird feeding on a lawn, it is strange to observe its ceaseless vigilance. It takes a hurried mouthful, and then looks round in an agitated manner to see that it is in no danger of attack. Yet it is clear that the terror in which all wild animals seem to live, and without which self-preservation would be impossible, does not in the least militate against their physical welfare. A man who had to live his life under the same sort of risks that a bird in a garden has to endure from cats and other foes, would lose his senses from the awful pressure of terror; he would lie under the constant shadow of assassination.

But the singular thing in Nature is that she preserves characteristics long after they have ceased to be needed; and so, though a man in a civilised community has very little to dread, he is still haunted by an irrational sense of insecurity and precariousness. And thus many of our fears arise from old inheritance, and represent nothing rational or real at all, but only an old and savage need of vigilance and wariness.

One can see this exemplified in a curious way in level tracts of country. Everyone who has traversed places like the plain of Worcestershire must remember the irritating way in which the roads keep ascending little eminences, instead of going round at the foot. Now these old country roads no doubt represent very ancient tracks indeed, dating from times when much of the land was uncultivated. They get stereotyped, partly because they were tracks, and partly because for convenience the first enclosures and tillages were made along the roads for purposes of communication. But the perpetual tendency to ascend little eminences no doubt dates from a time when it was safer to go up, in order to look round and to see ahead, partly in order to be sure of one's direction, and partly to beware of the manifold dangers of the road.

And thus many of the fears by which one is haunted are these old survivals, these inherited anxieties. Who does not know the frame of mind when perhaps for a day, perhaps for days together, the mind is oppressed and uneasy, scenting danger in the air, forecasting calamity, recounting all the possible directions in which fate or malice may have power to wound and hurt us? It is a melancholy inheritance, but it cannot be combated by any reason. It is of no use then to imitate Robinson Crusoe, and to make a list of one's blessings on a piece of paper; that only increases our fear, because it is just the chance of forfeiting such blessings of which we are in dread! We must simply remind ourselves that we are surrounded by old phantoms, and that we derive our weakness from ages far back, in which risks were many and security was rare.



VI

FEARS OF CHILDHOOD

If I look back over my own life, I can discern three distinct stages of fear and anxieties, and I expect it is the same with most people. The terrors of childhood are very mysterious things, and their horror consists in the child's inability to put the dread into words. I remember how one night, when we were living in the Master's Lodge at Wellington College, I had gone to bed, and waking soon afterwards heard a voice somewhere outside. I got out of bed, went to the door, and looked out. Close to my door was an archway which looked into the open gallery that ran round the big front hall, giving access to the bedrooms. At the opposite end of the hall, in the gallery, burnt a gaslight: to my horror I observed close to the gas what seemed to me a colossal shrouded statue, made of a black bronze, formless, silent, awful. I crept back to my bed, and there shivered in an ecstasy of fear, till at last I fell asleep. There was no statue there in the morning! I told my old nurse, after a day or two of dumb dread, what I had seen. She laughed, and told me that a certain Mrs. Holder, an elderly widow who was a dressmaker, had been to see her, about some piece of work. They had turned out the nursery lights and were going downstairs, when some question arose about the stuff of the frock, whatever it was. Mrs. Holder had mounted on a chair to look close at the stuff by the gaslight; and this was my bogey!

We had a delightful custom in nursery days, devised by my mother, that on festival occasions, such as birthdays or at Christmas, our presents were given us in the evening by a fairy called Abracadabra.

The first time the fairy appeared, we heard, after tea, in the hall, the hoarse notes of a horn. We rushed out in amazement. Down in the hall, talking to an aunt of mine who was staying in the house, stood a veritable fairy, in a scarlet dress, carrying a wand and a scarlet bag, and wearing a high pointed scarlet hat, of the shape of an extinguisher. My aunt called us down; and we saw that the fairy had the face of a great ape, dark-brown, spectacled, of a good-natured aspect, with a broad grin, and a curious crop of white hair, hanging down behind and on each side. Unfortunately my eldest brother, a very clever and imaginative child, was seized with a panic so insupportable at the sight of the face, that his present had to be given him hurriedly, and he was led away, blanched and shuddering, to the nursery. After that, the fairy never appeared except when he was at school: but long after, when I was looking in a lumber-room with my brother for some mislaid toys, I found in a box the mask of Abracadabra and the horn. I put it hurriedly on, and blew a blast on the horn, which seemed to be of tortoise-shell with metal fittings. To my amazement, he turned perfectly white, covered his face with his hands, and burst out with the most dreadful moans. I thought at first that he was making believe to be frightened, but I saw in a minute or two that he had quite lost control of himself, and the things were hurriedly put away. At the time I thought it a silly kind of affectation. But I perceive now that he had had a real shock the first time he had seen the mask; and though he was then a big schoolboy, the terror was indelible. Who can say of what old inheritance of fear that horror of the great ape-like countenance was the sign? He had no associations of fear with apes, but it must have been, I think, some dim old primeval terror, dating from some ancestral encounter with a forest monster. In no other way can I explain it.

Again, as a child, I was once sitting at dinner with my parents, reading an old bound-up Saturday Magazine, looking at the pictures, and waiting for dessert. I turned a page, and saw a picture of a Saint, lying on the ground, holding up a cross, and a huge and cloudy fiend with vast bat-like wings bending over him, preparing to clutch him, but deterred by the sacred emblem. That was a really terrible shock. I turned the page hastily, and said nothing, though it deprived me of speech and appetite. My father noticed my distress, and asked if I felt unwell, but I said "No." I got through dessert somehow; but then I had to say good-night, go out into the dimly-lit hall, slip the volume back into the bookcase, and get upstairs. I tore up the staircase, feeling the air full of wings and clutching hands. That was too bad ever to be spoken of; and as I did not remember which volume it was, I was never able to look at the set of magazines again for fear of encountering it; and strange to say some years afterwards, when I was an Eton boy, I looked curiously for the picture, and again experienced the same overwhelming horror.

My youngest brother, too, an imaginative child, could never be persuaded by any bribes or entreaties to go into a dark room to fetch anything out. Nothing would induce him. I remember that he was catechised at the tea-table as to what he expected to find, to which he replied at once, with a horror-stricken look and a long stammer, "B—b—b—bloodstained corpses!"

It seems fantastic and ridiculous enough to older people, but the horror of the dark and of the unknown which some children have is not a thing to be laughed at, nor should it be unsympathetically combated. One must remember that experience has not taught a child scepticism; he thinks that anything in the world may happen; and all the monsters of nursery tales, goblins, witches, evil fairies, dragons, which a child in daylight will know to be imaginary, begin, as the dusk draws on, to become appalling possibilities. They may be somewhere about, lurking in cellars and cupboards and lofts and dark entries by day, and at night they may slip out to do what harm they can. For children, not far from the gates of birth, are still strongly the victims of primeval and inherited fears, not corrected by the habitual current of life. It is not a reason for depriving children of the joys of the old tales and the exercise of the faculty of wonder; but the tendency should be very carefully guarded and watched, because these sudden shocks may make indelible marks, and leave a little weak spot in the mind which may prove difficult to heal.

It is not only these spectral terrors against which children have to be guarded. All severity and sharp indignity of punishment, all intemperate anger, all roughness of treatment, should be kept in strict restraint. There are noisy, boisterous, healthy children, of course, who do not resent or even dread sharp usage. But it is not always easy to discover the sensitive child, because fear of displeasure will freeze him into a stupor of apparent dullness and stubbornness. I am always infuriated by stupid people who regret the disappearance of sharp, stern, peremptory punishments, and lament the softness of the rising generation. If punishment must be inflicted, it should be done good-naturedly and robustly as a natural tit-for-tat. Anger should be reserved for things like spitefulness and dishonesty and cruelty. There is nothing more utterly confusing to the childish mind than to have trifling faults treated with wrath and indignation. It is true that, in the world of nature, punishment seems often wholly disproportionate to offences. Nature will penalise carelessness in a disastrous fashion, and spare the cautious and prudent sinner. But there is no excuse for us, if we have any sense of justice and patience at all, for not setting a better example. We ought to show children that there is a moral order which we are endeavouring to administer. If parents and schoolmasters, who are both judges and executioners, allow their own rule to be fortuitous, indulge their own irritable moods, punish severely a trifling fault, and sentimentalise or condone a serious one, a child is utterly confused. I know several people who have had their lives blighted, have been made suspicious, cynical, crafty, and timid, by severe usage and bullying and open contempt in childhood. The thing to avoid, for all who are responsible in the smallest degree for the nurture of children, is to call in the influence of fear; one may speak plainly of consequences, but even there one must not exaggerate, as schoolmasters often do, for the best of motives, about moral faults; one may punish deliberate and repeated disobedience, wanton cruelty, persistent and selfish disregard of the rights of others, but one must warn many times, and never try to triumph over a fault by the infliction of a shock of any kind. The shock is the most cruel and cowardly sort of punishment, and if we wilfully use it, then we are perpetuating the sad tyranny of instinctive fear, and using the strength of a great angel to do the work of a demon, such as I saw long ago in the old magazine, and felt its tyranny for many days.

As a child the one thing I was afraid of was the possibility of my father's displeasure. We did not see a great deal of him, because he was a much occupied headmaster; and he was to me a stately and majestic presence, before whom the whole created world seemed visibly to bow. But he was deeply anxious about our upbringing, and had a very strong sense of his responsibility; and he would sometimes reprove us rather sternly for some extremely trifling thing, the way one ate one's food, or spoke, or behaved. This descended upon me as a cloud of darkness; I attempted no excuses, I did not explain or defend myself; I simply was crushed and confounded. I do not think it was the right method. He never punished us, but we were not at ease with him. I remember the agony with which I heard a younger sister once repeat to him some silly and profane little jokes which a good-natured and absurd old lady had told us in the nursery. I felt sure he would disapprove, as he did. I knew quite well in my childish mind that it was harmless nonsense, and did not give us a taste for ungodly mirth. But I could not intervene or expostulate. I am sure that my father had not the slightest idea how weighty and dominant he was; but many of the things he rebuked would have been better not noticed, or if noticed only made fun of, while I feel that he ought to have given us more opportunity of stating our case. He simply frightened me into having a different morality when I was in his presence to what I had elsewhere. But he did not make me love goodness thereby, and only gave me a sense that certain things, harmless in themselves, must not be done or said in the presence of papa. He did not always remember his own rules, and there was thus an element of injustice in his rebukes, which one merely accepted as part of his awful and unaccountable greatness.

When I was transferred to a private school, a great big place, very well managed in every way, I lived for a time in atrocious terror of everything and everybody. I was conscious of a great code of rules which I did not know or understand, which I might quite unwittingly break, and the consequences of which might be fatal. I was never punished or caned, nor was I ever bullied. But I simply effaced myself as far as possible, and lived in dread of disaster. The thought even now of certain high blank walls with lofty barred windows, the remembered smells of certain passages and corners, the tall form and flashing eye of our headmaster and the faint fragrance of Havana cigars which hung about him, the bare corridors with their dark cupboards, the stone stairs and iron railings—all this gives me a far-off sense of dread. I can give no reason for my unhappiness there; but I can recollect waking in the early summer mornings, hearing the screams of peacocks from an adjoining garden, and thinking with a dreadful sense of isolation and despair of all the possibilities of disaster that lay hid in the day. I am sure it was not a wholesome experience. One need not fear the world more than is necessary—but my only dream of peace was the escape to the delights of home, and the thought of the larger world was only a thing that I shrank from and shuddered at.

No, it is wrong to say one had no friends, but how few they seemed and how clearly they stand out! I did not make friends among the boys; they were pleasant enough acquaintances, some of them, but not to be trusted or confided in; they had to be kept at arm's length, and one's real life guarded and hoarded away from them; because if one told them anything about one's home or one's ideas, it might be repeated, and the sacred facts shouted in one's ears as taunts and jests. But there was a little bluff master, a clergyman, with shaggy rippled red-brown hair and a face like a pug-dog. He was kind to me, and had me to lunch one Sunday in a villa out at Barnes—that was a breath of life, to sit in a homelike room and look at old Punches half the afternoon; and there was another young man, a master, rather stout and pale, with whom I shared some little jokes, and who treated me as he might treat a younger brother; he was pledged, I remember, to give me a cake if I won an Eton Scholarship, and royally he redeemed his promise. He died of heart disease a little while after I left the school. I had promised to write to him from Eton and never did so, and I had a little pang about that when I heard of his death. And then there was the handsome loud-voiced maid of my dormitory, Underwood by name, who was always just and kind, and who, even when she rated us, as she did at times, had always something human beckoning from her handsome eye. I can see her now, with her sleeves tucked up, and her big white muscular arms, washing a refractory little boy who fought shy of soap and water. I had a wild idea of giving her a kiss when I went away, and I think she would have liked that. She told me I had always been a good boy, and that she was sorry that I was going; but I did not dare to embrace her.

And then there was dear Louisa, the matron of the little sanatorium on the Mortlake road. She had been a former housemaid of ours; she was a strong sturdy woman, with a deep voice like a man, and when I arrived there ill—I was often ill in those days—she used to hug and kiss me and even cry over me; and the happiest days I spent at school were in that poky little house, reading in Louisa's little parlour, while she prepared some special dish as a treat for my supper; or sitting hour by hour at the window of my room upstairs, watching a grocer opposite set out his window. I certainly did love Louisa with all my heart; and it was almost pleasant to be ill, to be welcomed by her and petted and made much of. "My own dear boy," she used to say, and it was music in my ears.

I feel on looking back that, if I had children of my own, I should study very carefully to avoid any sort of terrorism. Psychologists tell us that the nervous shocks of early years are the things that leave indelible marks throughout life. I believe that mental specialists often make a careful study of the dreams of those whose minds are afflicted, because it is held that dreams very often continue to reproduce in later life the mental shocks of childhood. Anger, intemperate punishment, any attempt to produce instant submission and dismay in children, is very apt to hurt the nervous organisation. Of course it is easy enough to be careful about these things in sheltered environments, where there is some security and refinement of life. And this opens up a vast problem which cannot be touched on here, because it is practically certain that many children in poor and unsatisfactory homes sustain shocks to their mental organisation in early life which damage them irreparably, and which could be avoided if they could be brought up on more wholesome and tender lines.



VII

FEARS OF BOYHOOD

There is a tendency, I am sure, in books, to shirk the whole subject of fear, as though it were a thing disgraceful, shameful, almost unmentionable. The coward, the timid person, receives very little sympathy; he is rather like one tainted with a shocking disease, of which the less said the better. He is not viewed with any sympathy or commiseration, but as something almost lower in the scale of humanity. Take the literature that deals with school life, for instance. I do not think that there is any province of our literature so inept, so conventional, so entirely lacking in reality, as the books which deal with the life of schools. The difficulty of writing them is very great, because they can only be reconstructed by an effort of memory. The boy himself is quite unable to give expression to his thoughts and feelings; school life is a time of sharp, eager, often rather savage emotions, lived by beings who have no sense of proportion, no knowledge of life, no idea of what is really going on in the world. The actual incidents which occur are very trivial, and yet to the fresh minds and spirits of boyhood they seem all charged with an intense significance. Then again the talk of schoolboys is wholly immature and shapeless. They cannot express themselves, and moreover there is a very strict and peremptory convention which dictates what may be talked about and what may not. No society in the world is under so oppressive a taboo. They must not speak of anything emotional or intellectual, at the cost of being thought a fool or a prig. They talk about games, they gossip about boys and masters, sometimes their conversation is nasty and bestial. But it conceals very real if very fitful emotions; yet it is impossible to recall or to reconstruct; and when older people attempt to reconstruct it, they remember the emotions which underlay it, and the eager interests out of which it all sprang; and they make it something picturesque, epigrammatic, and vernacular which is wholly untrue to life. The fact is that the talk of schoolboys is very trivial and almost wholly symbolical; emotion reveals itself in glance and gesture, not in word at all. I suppose that most of us remember our boyish friendships, ardent and eager personal admirations, extraordinary deifications of quite commonplace boys, emotions none of which were ever put into words at all, hardly even into coherent thought, and were yet a swift and vital current of the soul.

Now the most unreal part of the reconstructions of school life is the insistence on the boyish code of honour. Neither as a boy nor as a schoolmaster did I ever have much evidence of this. There were certain hard and fast rules of conduct, like the rule which prevented any boy from giving information to a master against another boy. But this was not a conscientious thing. It was part of the tradition, and the social ostracism which was the penalty of its infraction was too severe to risk incurring. But the boys who cut a schoolfellow for telling tales, did not do it from any high-minded sense of violated honour. It was simply a piece of self-defence, and the basis of the convention was merely this, that, if the rule were broken, it would produce an impossible sense of insecurity and peril. However much boys might on the whole approve of, respect, and even like their masters, still they could not make common cause with them. The school was a perfectly definite community, inside of which it was often convenient and pleasant to do things which would be penalised if discovered; and thus the whole stability of that society depended upon a certain secrecy. The masters were not disliked for finding out the infractions of rules, if only such infractions were patent and obvious. A master who looked too closely into things, who practised any sort of espionage, who tried to extort confession, was disapproved of as a menace, and it was convenient to label him a sneak and a spy, and to say that he did not play the game fair. But all this was a mere tradition. Boys do not reflect much, or look into the reasons of things. It does not occur to them to credit masters with the motive of wishing to protect them against themselves, to minimise temptation, to shelter them from undesirable influences; that perhaps dawns on the minds of sensible and high-minded prefects, but the ordinary boy just regards the master as an opposing power, whom he hoodwinks if he can.

And then the boyish ideal of courage is a very incomplete one. He does not recognise it as courage if a sensitive, conscientious, and right-minded boy risks unpopularity by telling a master of some evil practice which is spreading in a school. He simply regards it as a desire to meddle, a priggish and pragmatical act, and even as a sneaking desire to inflict punishment by proxy.

Courage, for the schoolboy, is merely physical courage, aplomb, boldness, recklessness, high-handedness. The hero of school life is one like Odysseus, who is strong, inventive, daring, full of resource. The point is to come out on the top. Odysseus yields to sensual delight, he is cruel, vindictive, and incredibly deceitful. It is evident that successful beguiling, the power of telling an elaborate, plausible, and imperturbable lie on occasions, is an heroic quality in the Odyssey. Odysseus is not a man who scorns to deceive, or who would rather take the consequences than utter a falsehood. His strength rather lies in his power, when at bay, of flashing into some monstrous fiction, dramatising the situation, playing an adopted part, with confidence and assurance. One sees traces of the same thing in the Bible. The story of Jacob deceiving Isaac, and pretending to be Esau in order to secure a blessing is not related with disapprobation. Jacob does not forfeit his blessing when his deceit is discovered. The whole incident is regarded rather as a master-stroke of cunning and inventiveness. Esau is angry not because Jacob has employed such trickery, but because he has succeeded in supplanting him.

I remember, as a boy at Eton, seeing a scene which left a deep impression on me. There was a big unpleasant unscrupulous boy of great physical strength, who was a noted football player. He was extremely unpopular in the school, because he was rude, sulky, and overbearing, and still more because he took unfair advantages in games. There was a hotly contested house-match, in which he tried again and again to evade rules, while he was for ever appealing to the umpires against violations of rule by the opposite side. His own house was ultimately victorious, but feeling ran very high indeed, because it was thought that the victory was unfairly won. The crowd of boys who had been watching the match drifted away in a state of great exasperation, and finally collected in front of the house of the unpopular player, hissed and hooted him. He took very little notice of the demonstration and walked in, when there arose a babel of howls. He turned round and came out again, facing the crowd. I can see him now, all splashed and muddy, with his shirt open at the neck. He was pale, ugly, and sinister; but he surveyed us all with entire effrontery, drew out a pince-nez, being very short-sighted, and then looked calmly round as if surprised. I have certainly never seen such an exhibition of courage in my life. He knew that he had not a single friend present, and he did not know that he would not be maltreated—there were indications of a rush being made. He did not look in the least picturesque; he was ugly, scowling, offensive. But he did not care a rap, and if he had been attacked, he would have defended himself with a will. It did not occur to me then, nor did it, I think, occur to anyone else, what an amazing bit of physical and moral courage it was. No one, then or after, had the slightest feeling of admiration for his pluck. "Did you ever see such a brute as P— looked?" was the only sort of comment made.

This just serves to illustrate my point, that boys have no real discernment for what is courageous. What they admire is a certain grace and spirit, and the hero is not one who constrains himself to do an unpopular thing from a sense of duty, not even the boy who, being unpopular like P—, does a satanically brave thing. Boys have no admiration for the boy who defies them; what they like to see is the defiance of a common foe. They admire gallant, modest, spirited, picturesque behaviour, not the dull and faithful obedience to the sense of right.

Of course things have altered for the better. Masters are no longer stern, severe, abrupt, formidable, unreasonable. They know that many a boy, who would be inclined on the whole to tell the truth, can easily be frightened into telling a lie; but they have not yet contrived to put the sense of honour among boys in the right proportion. Such stories as that of George Washington—when the children were asked who had cut down the apple-tree, and he rose and said, "Sir, I cannot tell a lie; it was I who did it with my little hatchet"—do not really take the imagination of boys captive. How constantly did worthy preachers at Eton tell the story of how Bishop Selwyn, as a boy, rose and left the room at a boat-supper because an improper song was sung! That anecdote was regarded with undisguised amusement, and it was simply thought to be a piece of priggishness. I cannot imagine that any boy ever heard the story and went away with a glowing desire to do likewise. The incident really belongs to the domain of manners rather than to that of morals.

The truth is really that boys at school have a code which resembles that of the old chivalry. The hero may be sensual, unscrupulous, cruel, selfish, indifferent to the welfare of others. But if he bears himself gallantly, if he has a charm of look and manner, if he is a deft performer in the prescribed athletics, he is the object of profound and devoted admiration. It is really physical courage, skill, prowess, personal attractiveness which is envied and praised. A dull, heavy, painstaking, conscientious boy with a sturdy sense of duty may be respected, but he is not followed; while the imaginative, sensitive, nervous, highly-strung boy, who may have the finest qualities of all within him, is apt to be the most despised. Such a boy is often no good at games, because public performance disconcerts him; he cannot make a ready answer, he has no aplomb, no cheek, no smartness; and he is consequently thought very little of.

To what extent this sort of instinctive preference can be altered, I do not know; it certainly cannot be altered by sermons, and still less by edicts. Old Dr. Keate said, when he was addressing the school on the subject of fighting, "I must say that I like to see a boy return a blow!" It seems, if one considers it, to be a curious ideal to start life with, considering how little opportunity civilisation now gives for returning blows! Boys in fact are still educated under a system which seems to anticipate a combative and disturbed sort of life to follow, in which strength and agility, violence and physical activity, will have a value. Yet, as a matter of fact, such things have very little substantial value in an ordinary citizen's life at all, except in so far as they play their part in the elaborate cult of athletic exercises, with which we beguile the instinct which craves for manual toil. All the races, and games, and athletics cultivated so assiduously at school seem now to have very little aim in view. It is not important for ordinary life to be able to run a hundred yards, or even three miles, faster than another man; the judgment, the quickness of eye, the strength and swiftness of muscle needed to make a man a good batsman were all well enough in days when a man's life might afterwards depend on his use of sword and battle-axe. But now it only enables him to play games rather longer than other people, and to a certain extent ministers to bodily health, although the statistics of rowing would seem clearly to prove that it is a pursuit which is rather more apt to damage the vitality of strong boys than to increase the vitality of weak ones.

So, if we look facts fairly in the face, we see that much of the training of school life, especially in the direction of athletics, is really little more than the maintenance of a thoughtless old tradition, and that it is all directed to increase our admiration of prowess and grace and gallantry, rather than to fortify us in usefulness and manual skill and soundness of body. A boy at school may be a skilful carver or carpenter; he may have a real gift for engineering or mechanics; he may even be a good rider, a first-rate fisherman, an excellent shot. He may have good intellectual abilities, a strong memory, a power of expression; he may be a sound mathematician, a competent scientist; he may have all sorts of excellent moral qualities, be reliable, accurate, truthful, punctual, duty-loving; he may in fact be equipped for life and citizenship, able to play his part sturdily and manfully, and to do the world good service; but yet he may never win the smallest recognition or admiration in his school-days, while all the glory and honour and credit is still reserved for the graceful, attractive, high-spirited athlete, who may have nothing else in the background.

That is certainly the ideal of the boy, and the disconcerting thing is that it is also the ideal, practically if not theoretically, of the parent and the schoolmaster. The school still reserves all its best gifts, its sunshine and smiles, for the knightly and the skilful; it rewards all the qualities that are their own reward. Why, if it wishes to get the right scale adopted, does it not reward the thing which it professes to uphold as its best result, worth of character namely? It claims to be a training-ground for character first, but it does little to encourage secret and unobtrusive virtues. That is, it adds its prizes to the things which the natural man values, and it neglects to crown the one thing at which it professes first to aim. In doing this it only endorses the verdict of the world, and while it praises moral effort, it rewards success.

The issue of all this is that the sort of courage which it enforces is essentially a graceful and showy sort of courage, a lively readiness, a high-hearted fearlessness—so that timidity and slowness and diffidence and unreadiness become base and feeble qualities, when they are not the things of which anyone need be ashamed! Let me say then that moral courage, the patient and unrecognised facing of difficulties, the disregard of popular standards, solidity and steadfastness of purpose, the tranquil performance of tiresome and disagreeable duties, homely perseverance, are not the things which are regarded as supreme in the ideal of the school; so that the fear which is the shadow of sensitive and imaginative natures is turned into the wrong channels, and becomes a mere dread of doing the unpopular and unimpressive thing, or a craven determination not to be found out. And the dread of being obscure and unacceptable is what haunts the minds of boys brought up on these ambitious and competitive lines, rather than the fear which is the beginning of wisdom.



VIII

FEARS OF YOUTH

The fears of youth are as a rule just the terrors of self-consciousness and shyness. They are a very irrational thing, something purely instinctive and of old inheritance. How irrational they are is best proved by the fact that shyness is caused mostly by the presence of strangers; there are many young people who are bashful, awkward, and tongue-tied in the presence of strangers, whose tremors wholly disappear in the family circle. If these were rational fears, they might be caused by the consciousness of the inspection and possible disapproval of those among whom one lives, and whose annoyance and criticism might have unpleasant practical effects. Yet they are caused often by the presence of those whose disapproval is not of the smallest consequence, those, in fact, whom one is not likely to see again. One must look then for the cause of this, not in the fact that one's awkwardness and inefficiency is likely to be blamed by those of one's own circle, but simply in the terror of the unknown and the unfamiliar. It is probably therefore an old inherited instinct, coming from a time when the sight of a stranger might contain in it a menace of some hostile usage. If one questions a shy boy or girl as to what it is they are afraid of in the presence of strangers, they are quite unable to answer. They are not afraid of anything that will be said or done; and yet they will have become intensely conscious of their own appearance and movements and dress, and will be quite unable to command themselves. That it is a thing which can be easily cured is obvious from the fact which I often observed when I was a schoolmaster, that as a rule the boys who came from houses where there was much entertaining, and a constant coming and going of guests, very rarely suffered from such shyness. They had got used to the fact that strangers could be depended upon to be kind and friendly, and instead of looking upon a new person as a possible foe, they regarded him as a probable friend.

I often think that parents do not take enough trouble in this respect to make children used to strangers. What often happens is that parents are themselves shy and embarrassed in the presence of strangers, and when they notice that their children suffer from the same awkwardness, they criticise them afterwards, partly because they are vexed at their own clumsy performance; and thus the shyness is increased, because the child, in addition to his sense of shyness before strangers, has in the background of his mind the feeling that any mauvaise honte that he may display may he commented upon afterwards. No exhibition of shyness on the part of a boy or girl should ever be adverted upon by parents. They should take for granted that no one is ever willingly shy, and that it is a misery which all would avoid if they could. It is even better to allow children considerable freedom of speech with strangers, than to repress and silence them. Of course impertinence and unpleasant comments, such as children will sometimes make on the appearance or manners of strangers, must be checked, but it should be on the grounds of the unpleasantness of such remarks, and not on the ground of forwardness. On the other hand, all attempts on the part of a child to be friendly and courteous to strangers should be noted and praised; a child should be encouraged to look upon itself as an integral part of a circle, and not as a silent and lumpish auditor.

Probably too there are certain physical and psychological laws, which we do not at all understand, which account for the curious subjective effects which certain people have at close quarters; there is something hypnotic and mesmeric about the glance of certain eyes; and there is in all probability a curious blending of mental currents in an assembly of people, which is not a mere fancy, but a very real physical fact. Personalities radiate very real and unmistakable influences, and probably the undercurrent of thought which happens to be in one's mind when one is with others has an effect, even if one says or does nothing to indicate one's preoccupation. A certain amount of this comes from an unconscious inference on the part of the recipients. We often augur, without any very definite rational process, from the facial expressions, gestures, movements, tones of others, what their frame of mind is. But I believe that there is a great deal more than that. We must all know that when we are with friends to whose moods and emotions we are attuned, there takes place a singular degree of thought-transference, quite apart from speech. I had once a great friend with whom I was accustomed to spend much time tete-a-tete. We used to travel together and spend long periods, day after day, in close conjunction, often indeed sharing the same bedroom. It became a matter at first of amusement and interest, but afterwards an accepted fact, that we could often realise, even after a long silence, in what direction the other's thought was travelling. "How did you guess I was thinking of that?" would be asked. To which the reply was, "I did not guess—I knew." On the other hand I have an old and familiar friend, whom I know well and regard with great affection, but whose presence, and particularly a certain fixity of glance, often, even now, causes me a curious subjective disturbance which is not wholly pleasant, a sense of some odd psychical control which is not entirely agreeable.

I have another friend who is the most delightful and easy company in the world when we are, alone together; but he is a sensitive and highly-strung creature, much affected by personal influences, and when I meet him in the company of other people he is often almost unrecognisable. His mind becomes critical, combative, acrid; he does not say what he means, he is touched by a vague excitement, and there passes over him an unnatural sort of brilliance, of a hard and futile kind, which makes him sacrifice consideration and friendliness to the instinctive desire to produce an effect and to score a point. I sometimes actually detest him when he is one of a circle. I feel inclined to say to him, "If only you could let your real self appear, and drop this tiresome posturing and fencing, you would be as delightful as you are to me when I am alone with you; but this hectic tittering and feverish jocosity is not only not your real self, but it gives others an impression of a totally unreal and not very agreeable person." But, alas, this is just the sort of thing one cannot say to a friend!

As one goes on in life, this terrible and disconcerting shyness of youth disappears. We begin to realise, with a wholesome loss of vanity and conceit, how very little people care or even notice how we are dressed, how we look, what we say. We learn that other people are as much preoccupied with their thoughts and fancies and reflections as we are with our own. We realise that if we are anxious to produce an agreeable impression, we do so far more by being interested and sympathetic, than by attempting a brilliance which we cannot command. We perceive that other people are not particularly interested in our crude views, nor very grateful for the expression of them. We acquire the power of combination and co-operation, in losing the desire for splendour and domination. We see that people value ease and security, more than they admire originality and fantastic contradiction. And so we come to the blessed time when, instead of reflecting after a social occasion whether we did ourselves justice, we begin to consider rather the impression we have formed of other personalities.

I believe that we ought to have recourse to very homely remedies indeed for combating shyness. It is of no use to try to console and distract ourselves with lofty thoughts, and to try to keep eternity and the hopes of man in mind. We so become only more self-conscious and superior than ever. The fact remains that the shyness of youth causes agonies both of anticipation and retrospect; if one really wishes to get rid of it, the only way is to determine to get used somehow to society, and not to endeavour to avoid it; and as a practical rule to make up one's mind, if possible, to ask people questions, rather than to meditate impressive answers. Asking other people questions about things to which they are likely to know the answers is one of the shortest cuts to popularity and esteem. It is wonderful to reflect how much distress personal bashfulness causes people, how much they would give to be rid of it, and yet how very little trouble they ever take to acquiring any method of dealing with the difficulty. I see a good deal of undergraduates, and am often aware that they are friendly and responsive, but without any power of giving expression to it. I sometimes see them suffering acutely from shyness before my eyes. But a young man who can bring himself to ask a perfectly simple question about some small matter of common interest is comparatively rare; and yet it is generally the simplest way out of the difficulty.



IX

FEARS OF MIDDLE AGE

Now with all the tremors, reactions, glooms, shadows, and despairs of youth—it is easy enough to forget them, but they were there—goes a power of lifting and lighting up in a moment at a chord of music, a glance, a word, the song of a bird, the scent of a flower, a flying sunburst, which fills life up like a cup with bubbling and sparkling liquor.

"My soul, be patient! Thou shalt find A little matter mend all this!"

And that is the part of youth which we remember, till on looking back it seems like a time of wandering with like-hearted comrades down some sweet-scented avenue of golden sun and green shade. Our memory plays us beautifully false—splendide mendax—till one wishes sometimes that old and wise men, retelling the story of their life, could recall for the comfort of youth some part of its languors and mischances, its bitter jealousies, its intense and poignant sense of failure.

And then in a moment the door of life opens. One day I was an irresponsible, pleasure-loving, fantastic youth, and a week later I was, or it seemed to me that I was, a professional man with all the cares of a pedagogue upon my back. It filled me at first, I remember, with a gleeful amazement, to find myself in the desk, holding forth, instead of on the form listening. It seemed delicious at first to have the power of correcting and slashing exercises, and placing boys in order, instead of being corrected and examined, and competing for a place. It was a solemn game at the outset. Then came the other side of the picture. One's pupils were troublesome, they did badly in examinations, they failed unaccountably; and one had a glimpse too of some of the tragedies of school life. Almost insensibly I became aware that I had a task to perform, that my mistakes involved boys in disaster, that I had the anxious care of other destinies; and thus, almost before I knew it, came a new cloud on the horizon, the cloud of anxiety. I could not help seeing that I had mismanaged this boy and misdirected that; that one could not treat them as ingenuous and lively playthings, but that what one said and did set a mark which perhaps could not be effaced. Gradually other doubts and problems made themselves felt. I had to administer a system of education in which I did not wholly believe; I saw little by little that the rigid old system of education was a machine which, if it made a highly accomplished product out of the best material, wasted an enormous amount of boyish interest and liveliness, and stultified the feebler sort of mind. Then came the care of a boarding-house, close relations with parents, a more real knowledge of the infinite levity of boy nature. I became mixed up with the politics of the place, the chance of more ambitious positions floated before me; the need for tact, discretion, judiciousness, moderation, tolerance emphasized itself. I am here outlining my own experience, but it is only one of many similar experiences. I became a citizen without knowing it, and my place in the world, my status, success, all became definite things which I had to secure.

The cares, the fears, the anxieties of middle life lie for most men and women in this region; if people are healthy and active, they generally arrive at a considerable degree of equanimity; they do not anticipate evil, and they take the problems of life cheerfully enough as they come; but yet come they do, and too many men and women are tempted to throw overboard scornfully and disdainfully the dreams of youth as a luxury which they cannot afford to indulge, and to immerse themselves in practical cares, month after month, with perhaps the hope of a fairly careless and idle holiday at intervals. What I think tends to counteract this for many people is love and marriage, the wonder and amazement of having children of their own, and all the offices of tenderness that grow up naturally beside their path. But this again brings a whole host of fears and anxieties as well—arrangements, ways and means, household cares, illnesses, the homely stuff of life, much of it enjoyed, much of it cheerfully borne, and often very bravely and gallantly endured. It is out of this simple material that life has to be constructed. But there is a twofold danger in all this. There is a danger of cynicism, the frame of mind in which a man comes to face little worries as one might put up an umbrella in a shower—"Thou know'st 'tis common!" Out of that grows up a rude dreariness, a philosophy which has nothing dignified about it, but is merely a recognition of the fact that life is a poor affair, and that one cannot hope to have things to one's mind. Or there is a dull frame of mind which implies a meek resignation, a sense of disappointment about life, borne with a mournful patience, a sense of one's sphere having somehow fallen short of one's deserts. This produces the grumpy paterfamilias who drowses over a paper or grumbles over a pipe; such a man is inimitably depicted by Mr. Wells in Marriage. That sort of ugly disillusionment, that publicity of disappointment, that frank disregard of all concerns except one's own, is one of the most hideous features of middle-class life, and it is rather characteristically English. It sometimes conceals a robust good sense and even kindliness; but it is a base thing at best, and seems to be the shadow of commercial prosperity. Yet it at least implies a certain sturdiness of character, and a stubborn belief in one's own merits which is quite impervious to the lessons of experience. On sensitive and imaginative people the result of the professional struggle with life, the essence of which is often social pretentiousness, is different. It ends in a mournful and distracted kind of fatigue, a tired sort of padding along after life, a timid bewilderment at conditions which one cannot alter, and which yet have no dignity or seemliness.

What is there that is wrong with all this? The cause is easy enough to analyse. It is the result of a system which develops conventional, short-sighted, complicated households, averse to effort, fond of pleasure, and with tastes which are expensive without being refined. The only cure would seem to be that men and women should be born different, with simple active generous natures; it is easy to say that! But the worst of the situation is that the sordid banality and ugly tragedy of their lot do not dawn on the people concerned. Greedy vanity in the more robust, lack of moral courage and firmness in the more sensitive, with a social organisation that aims at a surface dignity and a cheap showiness, are the ingredients of this devil's cauldron. The worst of it is that it has no fine elements at all. There is a nobility about real tragedy which evokes a quality of passionate and sincere emotion. There is something essentially exalted about a fierce resistance, a desperate failure. But this abject, listless dreariness, which can hardly be altered or expressed, this miserable floating down the muddy current, where there is no sharp repentance or fiery battling, nothing but a mean abandonment to a meaningless and unintelligible destiny, seems to have in it no seed of recovery at all.

The dark shadow of professional anxiety is that it has no tragic quality; it is like ploughing on day by day through endless mud-flats. One does not feel, in the presence of sharp suffering or bitter loss, that they ought not to exist. They are there, stern, implacable, august; stately enemies, great combatants. There is a significance about their very awfulness. One may fall before them, but they pass like a great express train, roaring, flashing, things deliberately and intently designed; but these dull failures which seem not the outgrowth of anyone's fierce longing or wilful passion, but of everyone's laziness and greediness and stupidity, how is one to face them? It is the helpless death of the quagmire, not the death of the fight or the mountain-top. Is there, we ask ourselves, anything in the mind of God which corresponds to comfort-loving vulgarity, if so strong and yet so stagnant a stream can overflow the world? The bourgeois ideal! One would rather have tyranny or savagery than anything so gross and smug.

And yet we see high-spirited and ardent husbands drawn into this by obstinate and vulgar-minded wives. We see fine-natured and sensitive women engulfed in it by selfish and ambitious husbands. The tendency is awfully and horribly strong, and it wins, not by open combat, but by secret and dull persistence. And one sees too—I have seen it many times—children of delicate and eager natures, who would have flourished and expanded in more generous air, become conventional and commonplace and petty, concerned about knowing the right people and doing the right things, and making the same stupid and paltry show, which deceives no one.

There is nothing for it but independence and simplicity and, perhaps best of all, a love of beauty. William Morris asserted passionately enough that art was the only cure for all this dreariness—the love of beautiful sounds and sights and words; and I think that is true, if it be further extended to a perception of the quality of beauty in the conduct and relations of life. For those are the cheap and reasonable pleasures of life, accessible to all; and if men and women cared for work first and the decent simplicities of wholesome living, and could further find their pleasure in art, in whatever form, then I believe that many of these fears and anxieties, so maiming and impairing to all that is fine in life, would vanish quietly out of being. The thing seems both beautiful and possible, because one knows of households where it is so, and where it grows up naturally and easily enough. I know households of both kinds—where on the one hand the standard is ambitious and mean, where the inmates calculate everything with a view to success, or rather to producing an impression of success; and there all talk and intercourse is an unreal thing, not the outflow of natural interests and pleasant tastes, but a sham culture and a refinement that is only pursued because it is the right sort of surface to present to the world. One submits to it with boredom, one leaves it with relief. They have got the right people together, they have shown that they can command their attendance; it is all ceremony and waste.

And then I know households where one sees in the books, the pictures, the glances, the gestures, the movements of the inmates, a sort of grace and delicacy which comes of really caring about things that are beautiful and fine. Sincere things are simply said, humour bubbles up and breaks in laughter; one feels that light is thrown on a hundred topics and facts and personalities. The whole of life then becomes a garden teeming with strange and wonderful secrets, and influences that flash and radiate, passing on into some mysterious and fragrant gloom. Everything there seems charged with significance and charm; there are no pretences—there are preferences, prejudices if you will; but there is tolerance and sympathy, and a desire to see the point of view of others. The effect of such an atmosphere is to set one wondering how one has contrived to miss the sense of so much that is beautiful and interesting in life, and sends one away longing to perceive more, and determined if possible to interpret life more truly and more graciously.



X

FEARS OF AGE

And then age creeps on; and that brings fears of its own, and fears that are all the more intolerable because they are not definite fears at all, merely a loss of nervous vigour, which attaches itself to the most trivial detail and magnifies it into an insuperable difficulty. A friend of mine who was growing old once confided to me that foreign travel, which used to be such a delight to him, was now getting burdensome. "It is all right when I have once started," he said, "but for days before I am the prey of all kinds of apprehensions." "What sort of apprehensions?" I said. He laughed, and replied, "Well, it is almost too absurd to mention, but I find myself oppressed with anxiety for weeks beforehand as to whether, when we get to Calais, we shall find places in the train." And I remember, too, how a woman friend of mine once told me that she called at the house of an elderly couple in London, people of rank and wealth. Their daughter met her in the drawing-room and said, "I am glad you are come—you may be able to cheer my mother up. We are going down to-morrow to our place in the country; the servants and the luggage went this morning, and my mother and father are to drive down this afternoon—my mother is very low about it." "What is the matter?" said my friend. The daughter replied, "She is afraid that they will not get there in time!" "In time for what?" said my friend, thinking that there was some important engagement. "In time for tea!" said the daughter gravely.

It is all very well to laugh at such fears, but they are not natural fears at all, they just indicate a low vitality; they are the symptoms and not the causes of a disease. It is the frame of mind of the sluggard in the Bible who says, "There is a lion in the way." Younger people are apt to be irritated by what seems a wilful creating of apprehensions. They ought rather to be patient and reassuring, and compassionate to the weakness of nerve for which it stands.

With such fears as these may be classed all the unreal but none the less distressing fears about health which beset people all their lives, in some cases; it is extremely annoying to healthy people to find a man reduced to depression and silence at the possibility of taking cold, or at the fear of having eaten something unwholesome. I remember an elderly gentleman who had lived a vigorous and unselfish life, and was indeed a man of force and character, whose activity was entirely suspended in later years by his fear of catching cold or of over-tiring himself. He was a country clergyman, and used to spend the whole of Sunday between his services, in solitary seclusion, "resting," and retire to bed the moment the evening service was over; moreover his dread of taking cold was such that he invariably wore a hat in the winter months to go from the drawing-room to the dining-room for dinner, even if there were guests in his house. He used to jest about it, and say that it no doubt must look curious; but he added that he had found it a wise precaution, and that we had no idea how disabling his colds were. Even a very healthy friend of my own standing has told me that if he ever lies awake at night he is apt to exaggerate the smallest and most trifling sense of discomfort into the symptom of some dangerous disease. Let me quote the well-known case of Hans Andersen, whose imagination was morbidly strong. He found one morning when he awoke that he had a small pimple under his left eyebrow. He reflected with distress upon the circumstance, and soon came to the rueful conclusion that the pimple would probably increase in size, and deprive him of the sight of his left eye. A friend calling upon him in the course of the morning found him writing, in a mood of solemn resignation, with one hand over the eye in question, "practising," as he said, "how to read and write with the only eye that would soon be left him."

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