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Life, we have seen, may be regarded as an art. But we cannot help seeking to measure, quantitatively if not qualitatively, our mode of life. We do so, for the most part, instinctively rather than scientifically. It gratifies us to imagine that, as a race, we have reached a point on the road of progress beyond that vouchsafed to our benighted predecessors, and that, as individuals or as nations, it is given to us, fortunately,—or, rather, through our superior merits,—to enjoy a finer degree of civilisation than the individuals and the nations around us. This feeling has been common to most or all branches of the human race. In the classic world of antiquity they called outsiders, indiscriminately, “barbarians”—a denomination which took on an increasingly depreciative sense; and even the lowest savages sometimes call their own tribe by a word which means “men,” thereby implying that all other peoples are not worthy of the name.
But in recent centuries there has been an attempt to be more precise, to give definite values to the feeling within us. All sorts of dogmatic standards have been set up by which to measure the degree of a people’s civilisation. The development of demography and social statistics in civilised countries during the past century should, it has seemed, render such comparison easy. Yet the more carefully we look into the nature of these standards the more dubious they become. On the one hand, civilisation is so complex that no one test furnishes an adequate standard. On the other hand, the methods of statistics are so variable and uncertain, so apt to be influenced by circumstance, that it is never possible to be sure that one is operating with figures of equal weight.
Recently this has been well and elaborately shown by Professor Niceforo, the Italian sociologist and statistician. It is to be remembered that Niceforo has himself been a daring pioneer in the measurement of life. He has applied the statistical method not only to the natural and social sciences, but even to art, especially literature. When, therefore, he discusses the whole question of the validity of the measurement of civilisation, his conclusions deserve respect. They are the more worthy of consideration since his originality in the statistical field is balanced by his learning, and it is not easy to recall any scientific attempts in this field which he has failed to mention somewhere in his book, if only in a footnote.
The difficulties begin at the outset, and might well serve to bar even the entrance to discussion. We want to measure the height to which we have been able to build our “civilisation” towards the skies; we want to measure the progress we have made in our great dance of life towards the unknown future goal, and we have no idea what either “civilisation” or “progress” means. This difficulty is so crucial, for it involves the very essence of the matter, that it is better to place it aside and simply go ahead, without deciding, for the present, precisely what the ultimate significance of the measurements we can make may prove to be. Quite sufficient other difficulties await us.
There is, first of all, the bewildering number of social phenomena we can now attempt to measure. Two centuries ago there were no comparable sets of figures whereby to measure one community against another community, though at the end of the eighteenth century Boisguillebert was already speaking of the possibility of constructing a “barometer of prosperity.” Even the most elementary measurable fact of all, the numbering of peoples, was carried out so casually and imperfectly and indirectly, if at all, that its growth and extent could hardly be compared with profit in any two nations. As the life of a community increases in stability and orderliness and organisation, registration incidentally grows elaborate, and thereby the possibility of the by-product of statistics. This aspect of social life began to become pronounced during the nineteenth century, and it was in the middle of that century that Quetelet appeared, by no means as the first to use social statistics, but the first great pioneer in the manipulation of such figures in a scientific manner, with a large and philosophical outlook on their real significance. Since then the possible number of such means of numerical comparison has much increased. The difficulty now is to know which are the most truly indicative of real superiority.
But before we consider that, again even at the outset, there is another difficulty. Our apparently comparable figures are often not really comparable. Each country or province or town puts forth its own sets of statistics and each set may be quite comparable within itself. But when we begin critically to compare one set with another set, all sorts of fallacies appear. We have to allow, not only for varying accuracy and completeness, but for difference of method in collecting and registering the facts, and for all sorts of qualifying circumstances which may exist at one place or time, and not at other places or times with which we are seeking comparison.
The word “civilisation” is of recent formation. It came from France, but even in France in a Dictionary of 1727 it cannot be found, though the verb civiliser existed as far back as 1694, meaning to polish manners, to render sociable, to become urbane, one might say, as a result of becoming urban, of living as a citizen in cities. We have to recognise, of course, that the idea of civilisation is relative; that any community and any age has its own civilisation, and its own ideals of civilisation. But, that assumed, we may provisionally assert—and we shall be in general accordance with Niceforo—that, in its most comprehensive sense, the art of civilisation includes the three groups of material facts, intellectual facts, and moral (with political) facts, so covering all the essential facts in our life.
Material facts, which we are apt to consider the most easily measurable, include quantity and distribution of population, production of wealth, the consumption of food and luxuries, the standard of life. Intellectual facts include both the diffusion and degree of instruction and creative activity in genius. Moral facts include the prevalence of honesty, justice, pity, and self-sacrifice, the position of women and the care of children. They are the most important of all for the quality of a civilisation. Voltaire pointed out that “pity and justice are the foundations of society,” and, long previously, Pericles in Thucydides described the degradation of the Peloponnesians among whom every one thinks only of his own advantage, and every one believes that his own negligence of other things will pass unperceived. Plato in his “Republic” made justice the foundation of harmony in the outer life and the inner life, while in modern times various philosophers, like Shadworth Hodgson, have emphasised that doctrine of Plato’s. The whole art of government comes under this head and the whole treatment of human personality.
The comparative prevalence of criminality has long been the test most complacently adopted by those who seek to measure civilisation on its moral and most fundamental aspect. Crime is merely a name for the most obvious, extreme, and directly dangerous forms of what we call immorality—that is to say, departure from the norm in manners and customs. Therefore the highest civilisation is that with the least crime. But is it so? The more carefully we look into the matter, the more difficult it becomes to apply this test. We find that even at the outset. Every civilised community has its own way of dealing with criminal statistics and the discrepancies thus introduced are so great that this fact alone makes comparisons almost impossible. It is scarcely necessary to point out that varying skill and thoroughness in the detection of crime, and varying severity in the attitude towards it, necessarily count for much. Of not less significance is the legislative activity of the community; the greater the number of laws, the greater the number of offences against them. If, for instance, Prohibition is introduced into a country, the amount of delinquency in that country is enormously increased, but it would be rash to assert that the country has thereby been sensibly lowered in the scale of civilisation. To avoid this difficulty, it has been proposed to take into consideration only what are called “natural crimes”; that is, those everywhere regarded as punishable. But, even then, there is a still more disconcerting consideration. For, after all, the criminality of a country is a by-product of its energy in business and in the whole conduct of affairs. It is a poisonous excretion, but excretion is the measure of vital metabolism. There are, moreover, the so-called evolutive social crimes, which spring from motives not lower but higher than those ruling the society in which they arise. Therefore, we cannot be sure that we ought not to regard the most criminal country as that which in some aspects possesses the highest civilisation.
Let us turn to the intellectual aspect of civilisation. Here we have at least two highly important and quite fairly measurable facts to consider: the production of creative genius and the degree and diffusion of general instruction. If we consider the matter abstractly, it is highly probable that we shall declare that no civilisation can be worth while unless it is rich in creative genius and unless the population generally exhibits a sufficiently cultured level of education out of which such genius may arise freely and into which the seeds it produces may fruitfully fall. Yet, what do we find? Alike, whether we go back to the earliest civilisations we have definite information about or turn to the latest stages of civilisation we know to-day, we fail to see any correspondence between these two essential conditions of civilisation. Among peoples in a low state of culture, among savages generally, such instruction and education as exists really is generally diffused; every member of the community is initiated into the tribal traditions; yet, no observers of such peoples seem to note the emergence of individuals of strikingly productive genius. That, so far as we know, began to appear, and, indeed, in marvellous variety and excellence, in Greece, and the civilisation of Greece (as later the more powerful but coarser civilisation of Rome) was built up on a broad basis of slavery, which nowadays—except, of course, when disguised as industry—we no longer regard as compatible with high civilisation.
Ancient Greece, indeed, may suggest to us to ask whether the genius of a country be not directly opposed to the temper of the population of that country, and its “leaders” really be its outcasts. (Some believe that many, if not all, countries of to-day might serve to suggest the same question.) If we want to imagine the real spirit of Greece, we may have to think of a figure with a touch of Ulysses, indeed, but with more of Thersites. The Greeks who interest us to-day were exceptional people, usually imprisoned, exiled, or slain by the more truly representative Greeks of their time. When Plato and the others set forth so persistently an ideal of wise moderation they were really putting up—and in vain—a supplication for mercy to a people who, as they had good ground for realising, knew nothing of wisdom, and scoffed at moderation, and were mainly inspired by ferocity and intrigue.
To turn to a more recent example, consider the splendid efflorescence of genius in Russia during the central years of the last century, still a vivifying influence on the literature and music of the world; yet the population of Russia had only just been delivered, nominally at least, from serfdom, and still remained at the intellectual and economic level of serfs. To-day, education has become diffused in the Western world. Yet no one would dream of asserting that genius is more prevalent. Consider the United States, for instance, during the past half-century. It would surely be hard to find any country, except Germany, where education is more highly esteemed or better understood, and where instruction is more widely diffused. Yet, so far as the production of high original genius is concerned, an old Italian city, like Florence, with a few thousand inhabitants, had far more to show than all the United States put together. So that we are at a loss how to apply the intellectual test to the measurement of civilisation. It would almost seem that the two essential elements of this test are mutually incompatible.
Let us fall back on the simple solid fundamental test furnished by the material aspect of civilisation. Here we are among elementary facts and the first that began to be measured. Yet our difficulties, instead of diminishing, rather increase. It is here, too, that we chiefly meet with what Niceforo has called “the paradoxical symptoms of superiority in progress,” though I should prefer to call them ambivalent; that is to say, that, while from one point of view they indicate superiority, from another, even though some may call it a lower point of view, they appear to indicate inferiority. This is well illustrated by the test of growth of population, or the height of the birth-rate, better by the birth-rate considered in relation to the death-rate, for they cannot be intelligibly considered apart. The law of Nature is reproduction, and if an intellectual rabbit were able to study human civilisation he would undoubtedly regard rapidity of multiplication, in which he has himself attained so high a degree of proficiency, as evidence of progress in civilisation. In fact, as we know, there are even human beings who take the same view, whence we have what has been termed “Rabbitism” in men. Yet, if anything is clear in this obscure field, it is that the whole tendency of evolution is towards a diminishing birth-rate. The most civilised countries everywhere, and the most civilised people in them, are those with the lowest birth-rate. Therefore, we have here to measure the height of civilisation by a test which, if carried to an extreme, would mean the disappearance of civilisation. Another such ambivalent test is the consumption of luxuries of which alcohol and tobacco are the types. There is held to be no surer test of civilisation than the increase per head of the consumption of alcohol and tobacco. Yet alcohol and tobacco are recognisably poisons, so that their consumption has only to be carried far enough to destroy civilisation altogether. Again, take the prevalence of suicide. That, without doubt, is a test of height in civilisation; it means that the population is winding up its nervous and intellectual system to the utmost point of tension and that sometimes it snaps. We should be justified in regarding as very questionable a high civilisation which failed to show a high suicide-rate. Yet suicide is the sign of failure, misery, and despair. How can we regard the prevalence of failure, misery, and despair as the mark of high civilisation?
Thus, whichever of the three groups of facts we attempt to measure, it appears on examination almost hopelessly complex. We have to try to make our methods correspondingly complex. Niceforo had invoked co-variation, or simultaneous and sympathetic changes in various factors of civilisation; he explains the index number, and he appeals to mathematics for aid out of the difficulties. He also attempts to combine, with the help of diagrams, a single picture out of these awkward and contradictory tests. The example he gives is that of France during the fifty years preceding the war. It is an interesting example because there is reason to consider France as, in some respects, the most highly civilised of countries. What are the chief significant measurable marks of this superiority? Niceforo selects about a dozen, and, avoiding the difficult attempt to compare France with other countries, he confines himself to the more easily practicable task of ascertaining whether, or in what respects, the general art of civilisation in France, the movement of the collective life, has been upward or downward. When the different categories are translated, according to recognised methods, into index numbers, taking the original figures from the official “Résumé” of French statistics, it is found that each line of movement follows throughout the same direction, though often in zigzag fashion, and never turns back on itself. In this way it appears that the consumption of coal has been more than doubled, the consumption of luxuries (sugar, coffee, alcohol) nearly doubled, the consumption of food per head (as tested by cheese and potatoes) also increasing. Suicide has increased fifty per cent; wealth has increased slightly and irregularly; the upward movement of population has been extremely slight and partly due to immigration; the death-rate has fallen, though not so much as the birth-rate; the number of persons convicted of offence by the courts has fallen; the proportion of illiterate persons has diminished; divorces have greatly increased, and also the number of syndicalist workers, but these two movements are of comparative recent growth.
This example well shows what it is possible to do by the most easily available and generally accepted tests by which to measure the progress of a community in the art of civilisation. Every one of the tests applied to France reveals an upward tendency of civilisation, though some of them, such as the fall in the death-rate, are not strongly pronounced and much smaller than may be found in many other countries. Yet, at the same time, while we have to admit that each of these lines of movement indicates an upward tendency of civilisation, it by no means follows that we can view them all with complete satisfaction. It may even be said that some of them have only to be carried further in order to indicate dissolution and decay. The consumption of luxuries, for instance, as already noted, is the consumption of poisons. The increase of wealth means little unless we take into account its distribution. The increase of syndicalism, while it is a sign of increased independence, intelligence, and social aspiration among the workers, is also a sign that the social system is becoming regarded as unsound. So that, while all these tests may be said to indicate a rising civilisation, they yet do not invalidate the wise conclusion of Niceforo that a civilisation is never an exclusive mass of benefits, but a mass of values, positive and negative, and it may even be said that most often the conquest of a benefit in one domain of a civilisation brings into another domain of that civilisation inevitable evils. Long ago, Montesquieu had spoken of the evils of civilisation and left the question of the value of civilisation open, while Rousseau, more passionately, had decided against civilisation.
We see the whole question from another point, yet not incongruously, when we turn to Professor William McDougall’s Lowell Lectures, “Is America Safe for Democracy?” since republished under the more general title “National Welfare and National Decay,” for the author recognises that the questions he deals with go to the root of all high civilisation. As he truly observes, civilisation grows constantly more complex and also less subject to the automatically balancing influence of national selection, more dependent for its stability on our constantly regulative and foreseeing control. Yet, while the intellectual task placed upon us is ever growing heavier, our brains are not growing correspondingly heavier to bear it. There is, as Remy de Gourmont often pointed out, no good reason to suppose that we are in any way innately superior to our savage ancestors, who had at least as good physical constitutions and at least as large brains. The result is that the small minority among us which alone can attempt to cope with our complexly developing civilisation comes to the top by means of what Arsène Dumont called social capillarity, and McDougall the social ladder. The small upper stratum is of high quality, the large lower stratum of poor quality, and with a tendency to feeble-mindedness. It is to this large lower stratum that, with our democratic tendencies, we assign the political and other guidance of the community, and it is this lower stratum which has the higher birth-rate, since with all high civilisation the normal birth-rate is low. McDougall is not concerned with the precise measurement of civilisation, and may not be familiar with the attempts that have been made in that direction. It is his object to point out the necessity in high civilisation for a deliberate and purposive art of eugenics, if we would prevent the eventual shipwreck of civilisation. But we see how his conclusions emphasise those difficulties in the measurement of civilisation which Niceforo has so clearly set forth.
McDougall is repeating what many, especially among eugenists, have previously said. While not disputing the element of truth in the facts and arguments brought forward from this side, it may be pointed out that they are often overstated. This has been well argued by Carr-Saunders in his valuable and almost monumental work, “The Population Problem,” and his opinion is the more worthy of attention as he is himself a worker in the cause of eugenics. He points out that the social ladder is, after all, hard to climb, and that it only removes a few individuals from the lower social stratum, while among those who thus climb, even though they do not sink back, regression to the mean is ever in operation so that they do not greatly enrich in the end the class they have climbed up to. Moreover, as Carr-Saunders pertinently asks, are we so sure that the qualities that mark successful climbers—self-assertion, acquisition, emulation—are highly desirable? “It may even be,” he adds, “that we might view a diminution in the average strength of some of the qualities which mark the successful at least with equanimity.” Taken altogether, it would seem that the differences between social classes may mainly be explained by environmental influences. There is, however, ground to recognise a slight intellectual superiority in the upper social class, apart from environment, and so great is the significance for civilisation of quality that even when the difference seems slight it must not be regarded as negligible.
More than half a century ago, indeed, George Sand pointed out that we must distinguish between the civilisation of quantity and the civilisation of quality. As the great Morgagni had said much earlier, it is not enough to count, we must evaluate; “observations are not to be numbered, they are to be weighed.” It is not the biggest things that are the most civilised things. The largest structures of Hindu or Egyptian art are outweighed by the temples on the Acropolis of Athens, and similarly, as Bryce, who had studied the matter so thoroughly, was wont to insist, it is the smallest democracies which to-day stand highest in the scale. We have seen that there is much in civilisation which we may profitably measure, yet, when we seek to scale the last heights of civilisation, the ladder of our “metrology” comes to grief. “The methods of the mind are too weak,” as Comte said, “and the Universe is too complex.” Life, even the life of the civilised community, is an art, and the too much is as fatal as the too little. We may say of civilisation, as Renan said of truth, that it lies in a nuance. Gumplowicz believed that civilisation is the beginning of disease; Arsène Dumont thought that it inevitably held within itself a toxic principle, a principle by which it is itself in time poisoned. The more rapidly a civilisation progresses, the sooner it dies for another to arise in its place. That may not seem to every one a cheerful prospect. Yet, if our civilisation has failed to enable us to look further than our own egoistic ends, what has our civilisation been worth?
The attempt to apply measurement to civilisation is, therefore, a failure. That is, indeed, only another way of saying that civilisation, the whole manifold web of life, is an art. We may dissect out a vast number of separate threads and measure them. It is quite worth while to do so. But the results of such anatomical investigation admit of the most diverse interpretation, and, at the best, can furnish no adequate criterion of the worth of a complex living civilisation.
Yet, although there is no precise measurement of the total value of any large form of life, we can still make an estimate of its value. We can approach it, that is to say, as a work of art. We can even reach a certain approximation to agreement in the formation of such estimates.
When Protagoras said that “Man is the measure of all things,” he uttered a dictum which has been variously interpreted, but from the standpoint we have now reached, from which Man is seen to be preëminently an artist, it is a monition to us that we cannot to the measurement of life apply our instruments of precision, and cut life down to their graduated marks. They have, indeed, their immensely valuable uses, but it is strictly as instruments and not as ends of living or criteria of the worth of life. It is in the failure to grasp this that the human tragedy has often consisted, and for over two thousand years the dictum of Protagoras has been held up for the pacification of that tragedy, for the most part, in vain. Protagoras was one of those “Sophists” who have been presented to our contempt in absurd traditional shapes ever since Plato caricatured them—though it may well be that some, as, it has been suggested, Gorgias, may have given colour to the caricature—and it is only to-day that it is possible to declare that we must place the names of Protagoras, of Prodicus, of Hippias, even of Gorgias, beside those of Herodotus, Pindar, and Pericles.
It is in the sphere of morals that the conflict has often been most poignant. I have already tried to indicate how revolutionary is the change which the thoughts of many have had to undergo. This struggle of a living and flexible and growing morality against a morality that is rigid and inflexible and dead has at some periods of human history been almost dramatically presented. It was so in the seventeenth century around the new moral discoveries of the Jesuits; and the Jesuits were rewarded by becoming almost until to-day a by-word for all that is morally poisonous and crooked and false—for all that is “Jesuitical.” There was once a great quarrel between the Jesuits and the Jansenists—a quarrel which is scarcely dead yet, for all Christendom took sides in it—and the Jansenists had the supreme good fortune to entrap on their side a great man of genius whose onslaught on the Jesuits, “Les Provinciales,” is even still supposed by many people to have settled the question. They are allowed so to suppose because no one now reads “Les Provinciales.” But Remy de Gourmont, who was not only a student of unread books but a powerfully live thinker, read “Les Provinciales,” and found, as he set forth in “Le Chemin de Velours,” that it was the Jesuits who were more nearly in the right, more truly on the road of advance, than Pascal. As Gourmont showed by citation, there were Jesuit doctrines put forth by Pascal with rhetorical irony as though the mere statement sufficed to condemn them, which need only to be liberated from their irony, and we might nowadays add to them. Thus spake Zarathustra. Pascal was a geometrician who (though he, indeed, once wrote in his “Pensées”: “There is no general rule”) desired to deal with the variable, obscure, and unstable complexities of human action as though they were problems in mathematics. But the Jesuits, while it is true that they still accepted the existence of absolute rules, realised that rules must be made adjustable to the varying needs of life. They thus became the pioneers of many conceptions which are accepted in modern practice. Their doctrine of invincible ignorance was a discovery of that kind, forecasting some of the opinions now held regarding responsibility. But in that age, as Gourmont pointed out, “to proclaim that there might be a sin or an offence without guilty parties was an act of intellectual audacity, as well as scientific probity.” Nowadays the Jesuits (together, it is interesting to note, with their baroque architecture) are coming into credit, and casuistry again seems reputable. To establish that there can be no single inflexible moral code for all individuals has been, and indeed remains, a difficult and delicate task, yet the more profoundly one considers it, the more clearly it becomes visible that what once seemed a dead and rigid code of morality must more and more become a living act of casuistry. The Jesuits, because they had a glimmer of this truth, represented, as Gourmont concluded, the honest and most acceptable part of Christianity, responding to the necessities of life, and were rendering a service to civilisation which we should never forget.
There are some who may not very cordially go to the Jesuits as an example of the effort to liberate men from the burden of a subservience to rigid little rules, towards the unification of life as an active process, however influential they may be admitted to be among the pioneers of that movement. Yet we may turn in what direction we will, we shall perpetually find the same movement under other disguises. There is, for instance, Mr. Bertrand Russell, who is, for many, the most interesting and stimulating thinker to be found in England to-day. He might scarcely desire to be associated with the Jesuits. Yet he also seeks to unify life and even in an essentially religious spirit. His way of putting this, in his “Principles of Social Reconstruction,” is to state that man’s impulses may be divided into those that are creative and those that are possessive, that is to say, concerned with acquisition. The impulses of the second class are a source of inner and outer disharmony and they involve conflict; “it is preoccupation with possessions more than anything else that prevents men from living freely and nobly”; it is the creative impulse in which real life consists, and “the typical creative impulse is that of the artist.” Now this conception (which was that Plato assigned to the “guardians” in his communistic State) may be a little too narrowly religious for those whose position in life renders a certain “preoccupation with possessions” inevitable; it is useless to expect us all to become, at present, fakirs and Franciscans, “counting nothing one’s own, save only one’s harp.” But in regarding the creative impulses as the essential part of life, and as typically manifested in the form of art, Bertrand Russell is clearly in the great line of movement with which we have been throughout concerned. We must only at the same time—as we shall see later—remember that the distinction between the “creative” and the “possessive” impulses, although convenient, is superficial. In creation we have not really put aside the possessive instinct, we may even have intensified it. For it has been reasonably argued that it is precisely the deep urgency of the impulse to possess which stirs the creative artist. He creates because that is the best way, or the only way, of gratifying his passionate desire to possess. Two men desire to possess a woman, and one seizes her, the other writes a “Vita Nuova” about her; they have both gratified the instinct of possession, and the second, it may be, most satisfyingly and most lastingly. So that—apart from the impossibility, and even the undesirability, of dispensing with the possessive instinct—it may be well to recognise that the real question is one of values in possession. We must needs lay up treasure; but the fine artist in living, so far as may be, lays up his treasure in Heaven.
In recent time some alert thinkers have been moved to attempt to measure the art of civilisation by less impossibly exact methods than of old, by the standard of art, and even of fine art. In a remarkable book on “The Revelations of Civilisation”—published about three years before the outbreak of that Great War which some have supposed to date a revolutionary point in civilisation—Dr. W. M. Flinders Petrie, who has expert knowledge of the Egyptian civilisation which was second to none in its importance for mankind, has set forth a statement of the cycles to which all civilisations are subject. Civilisation, he points out, is essentially an intermittent phenomenon. We have to compare the various periods of civilisation and observe what they have in common in order to find the general type. “It should be examined like any other action of Nature; its recurrences should be studied, and all the principles which underlie its variations should be defined.” Sculpture, he believes, may be taken as a criterion, not because it is the most important, but because it is the most convenient and easily available, test. We may say with the old Etruscans that every race has its Great Year—it sprouts, flourishes, decays, and dies. The simile, Petrie adds, is the more precise because there are always irregular fluctuations of the seasonal weather. There have been eight periods of civilisation, he reckons, in calculable human history. We are now near the end of the eighth, which reached its climax about the year 1800; since then there have been merely archaistic revivals, the value of which may be variously interpreted. He scarcely thinks we can expect another period of civilisation to arise for several centuries at least. The average length of a period of civilisation is 1330 years. Ours Petrie dates from about A.D. 450. It has always needed a fresh race to produce a new period of civilisation. In Europe, between A.D. 300 and 600, some fifteen new races broke in from north and east for slow mixture. “If,” he concluded, “the source of every civilisation has lain in race mixture, it may be that eugenics will, in some future civilisation, carefully segregate fine races, and prohibit continual mixture, until they have a distinct type, which will start a new civilisation when transplanted. The future progress of Man may depend as much on isolation to establish a type as on fusion of types when established.”
At the time when Flinders Petrie was publishing his suggestive book, Dr. Oswald Spengler, apparently in complete ignorance of it, was engaged in a far more elaborate work, not actually published till after the War, in which an analogous conception of the growth and decay of civilisations was put forward in a more philosophic way, perhaps more debatable on account of the complex detail in which the conception was worked out. Petrie had considered the matter in a summary empiric manner with close reference to the actual forces viewed broadly. Spengler’s manner is narrower, more subjective, and more metaphysical. He distinguishes—though he also recognises eight periods—between “culture” and “civilisation.” It is the first that is really vital and profitable; a “civilisation” is the decaying later stage of a “culture,” its inevitable fate. Herein it reaches its climax. “Civilisations are the most externalised and artistic conditions of which the higher embodiment of Man is capable. They are a spiritual senility, an end which with inner necessity is reached again and again.” The transition from “culture” to “civilisation” in ancient times took place, Spengler holds, in the fourth century, and in the modern West in the nineteenth. But, like Petrie, though more implicitly, he recognises the prominent place of the art activities in the whole process, and he explicitly emphasises the interesting way in which those activities which are generally regarded as of the nature of art are interwoven with others not so generally regarded.
However we look at it, we see that Man, whether he works individually or collectively, may conveniently be regarded, in the comprehensive sense, as an artist, a bad artist, maybe, for the most part, but still an artist. His civilisation—if that is the term we choose to apply to the total sum of his group activities—is always an art, or a complex of arts. It is an art that is to be measured, or left immeasurable. That question, we have seen, we may best leave open. Another question that might be put is easy to deal with more summarily: What is Art?
We may deal with it summarily because it is an ultimate question and there can be no final answer to ultimate questions. As soon as we begin to ask such questions, as soon as we begin to look at any phenomenon as an end in itself, we are on the perilous slope of metaphysics, where no agreement can, or should be, possible. The question of measurement was plausible, and needed careful consideration. What is Art? is a question which, if we are wise, we shall deal with as Pilate dealt with that like question: What is Truth?
How futile the question is, we may realise when we examine the book which Tolstoy in old age wrote to answer it. Here is a man who was himself, in his own field, one of the world’s supreme artists. He could not fail to say one or two true things, as when he points out that “all human existence is full of art, from cradle songs and dances to the offices of religion and public ceremonial—it is all equally art. Art, in the large sense, impregnates our whole life.” But on the main point all that Tolstoy can do is to bring together a large miscellaneous collection of definitions—without seeing that as individual opinions they all have their rightness—and then to add one of his own, not much worse, nor much better, than any of the others. Thereto he appends some of his own opinions on artists, whence it appears that Hugo, Dickens, George Eliot, Dostoievsky, Maupassant, Millet, Bastien-Lepage, and Jules Breton—and not always they—are the artists whom he considers great; it is not a list to treat with contempt, but he goes on to pour contempt on those who venerate Sophocles and Aristophanes and Dante and Shakespeare and Milton and Michelangelo and Bach and Beethoven and Manet. “My own artistic works,” he adds, “I rank among bad art, excepting a few short stories.” It seems a reduction of the whole question, What is Art? to absurdity, if one may be permitted to say so at a time when Tolstoy would appear to be the pioneer of some of our most approved modern critics.
Thus we see the reason why all the people who come forward to define art—each with his own little measuring-rod quite different from everybody else’s—inevitably make themselves ridiculous. It is true they are all of them right. That is just why they are ridiculous: each has mistaken the one drop of water he has measured for the whole ocean. Art cannot be defined because it is infinite. It is no accident that poetry, which has so often seemed the typical art, means a making. The artist is a maker. Art is merely a name we are pleased to give to what can only be the whole stream of action which—in order to impart to it selection and an unconscious or even conscious aim—is poured through the nervous circuit of a human animal or some other animal having a more or less similar nervous organisation. For a cat is an artist as well as a man, and some would say more than a man, while a bee is not only an obvious artist, but perhaps even the typical natural and unconscious artist. There is no defining art; there is only the attempt to distinguish between good art and bad art.
Thus it is that I find no escape from the Aristotelian position of Shakespeare that
“Nature is made better by no mean
But Nature makes that mean....
This is an art
Which does mend Nature, change it rather, but
The art itself is Nature.”
And that this conception is Aristotelian, even the essential Greek conception, is no testimony to Shakespeare’s scholarship. It is merely the proof that here we are in the presence of one of these great ultimate facts of the world which cannot but be sensitively perceived by the finest spirits, however far apart in time and space. Aristotle, altogether in the same spirit as Shakespeare, insisted that the works of man’s making, a State, for example, are natural, though Art partly completes what Nature is herself sometimes unable to bring to perfection, and even then that man is only exercising methods which, after all, are those of Nature. Nature needs Man’s art in order to achieve many natural things, and Man, in fulfilling that need, is only following the guidance of Nature in seeming to make things which are all the time growing by themselves. Art is thus scarcely more than the natural midwife of Nature.
There is, however, one distinguishing mark of Art which at this stage, as we conclude our survey, must be clearly indicated. It has been subsumed, as the acute reader will not have failed to note, throughout. But it has, for the most part, been deliberately left implicit. It has constantly been assumed, that is to say, that Art is the sum of all the active energies of Mankind. We must in this matter of necessity follow Aristotle, who in his “Politics” spoke, as a matter of course, of all those who practice “medicine, gymnastics, and the arts in general” as “artists.” Art is the moulding force of every culture that Man during his long course has at any time or place produced. It is the reality of what we imperfectly term “morality.” It is all human creation.
Yet creation, in the active visible constructive sense, is not the whole of Man. It is not even the whole of what Man has been accustomed to call God. When, by what is now termed a process of Narcissism, Man created God in his own image, as we may instructively observe in the first chapter of the Hebrew Book of Genesis, he assigned to him six parts of active creational work, one part of passive contemplation of that work. That one seventh part—and an immensely important part—has not come under our consideration. In other words, we have been looking at Man the artist, not at Man the æsthetician.
There was more than one reason why these two aspects of human faculty were held clearly apart throughout our discussion. Not only is it even less possible to agree about æsthetics, where the variety of individual judgment is rightly larger, than about art (ancient and familiar is the saying, De gustibus—), but to confuse art and æsthetics leads us into lamentable confusion. We may note this in the pioneers of the modern revival of what Sidgwick called “æsthetic Intuitionism” in the eighteenth century, and especially in Hutcheson, though Hutcheson’s work is independent of consistency, which he can scarcely even be said to have sought. They never sufficiently emphasised the distinction between art and æsthetics, between, that is to say, what we may possibly, if we like, call the dynamic and the static aspects of human action. Herein is the whole difference between work, for art is essentially work, and the spectacular contemplation of work, which æsthetics essentially is. The two things are ultimately one, but alike in the special arts and in that art of life commonly spoken of as morals, where we are not usually concerned with ultimates, the two must be clearly held apart. From the point of view of art we are concerned with the internal impulse to guide the activities in the lines of good work. It is only when we look at the work of art from the outside, whether in the more specialised arts or in the art of life, that we are concerned with æsthetic contemplation, that activity of vision which creates beauty, however we may please to define beauty, and even though we see it so widely as to be able to say with Remy de Gourmont: “Wherever life is, there is beauty,” provided, one may add, that there is the æsthetic contemplation in which it must be mirrored.
It is in relation with art, not with æsthetics, it may be noted in passing, that we are concerned with morals. That was once a question of seemingly such immense import that men were willing to spiritually slay each other over it. But it is not a question at all from the standpoint which has here from the outset been taken. Morals, for us to-day, is a species of which art is the genus. It is an art, and like all arts it necessarily has its own laws. We are concerned with the art of morals: we cannot speak of art and morals. To take “art” and “morals” and “religion,” and stir them up, however vigorously, into an indigestible plum-pudding, as Ruskin used to do, is no longer possible. This is a question which—like so many other furiously debated questions—only came into existence because the disputants on both sides were ignorant of the matter they were disputing about. It is no longer to be taken seriously, though it has its interest because the dispute has so often recurred, not only in recent days, but equally among the Greeks of Plato’s days. The Greeks had a kind of æsthetic morality. It was instinctive with them, and that is why it is so significant for us. But they seldom seem to have succeeded in thinking æsthetic problems clearly out. The attitude of their philosophers towards many of the special arts, even the arts in which they were themselves supreme, to us seem unreasonable. While they magnified the art, they often belittled the artist, and felt an aristocratic horror for anything that assimilated a man to a craftsman; for craftsman meant for them vulgarian. Plato himself was all for goody-goody literature and in our days would be an enthusiastic patron of Sunday-school stories. He would forbid any novelist to represent a good man as ever miserable or a wicked man as ever happy. The whole tendency of the discussion in the third book of the “Republic” is towards the conclusion that literature must be occupied exclusively with the representation of the virtuous man, provided, of course, that he was not a slave or a craftsman, for to such no virtue worthy of imitation should ever be attributed. Towards the end of his long life, Plato remained of the same opinion; in the second book of “The Laws” it is with the maxims of virtue that he will have the poet solely concerned. The reason for this ultra-puritanical attitude, which was by no means in practice that of the Greeks themselves, seems not hard to divine. The very fact that their morality was temperamentally æsthetic instinctively impelled them, when they were thinking philosophically, to moralise art generally; they had not yet reached the standpoint which would enable them to see that art might be consonant with morality without being artificially pressed into a narrow moral mould. Aristotle was conspicuously among those, if not the first, who took a broader and saner view. In opposition to the common Greek view that the object of art is to teach morals, Aristotle clearly expressed the totally different view that poetry in the wide sense—the special art which he and the Greeks generally were alone much concerned to discuss—is an emotional delight, having pleasure as its direct end, and only indirectly a moral end by virtue of its cathartic effects. Therein he reached an æsthetic standpoint, yet it was so novel that he could not securely retain it and was constantly falling back towards the old moral conception of art.
We may call it a step in advance. Yet it was not a complete statement of the matter. Indeed, it established the unreal conflict between two opposing conceptions, each unsound because incomplete, which loose thinkers have carried on ever since. To assert that poetry exists for morals is merely to assert that one art exists for the sake of another art, which at the best is rather a futile statement, while, so far as it is really accepted, it cannot fail to crush the art thus subordinated. If we have the insight to see that an art has its own part of life, we shall also see that it has its own intrinsic morality, which cannot be the morality of morals or of any other art than itself. We may here profitably bear in mind that antinomy between morals and morality on which Jules de Gaultier has often insisted. The Puritan’s strait-jacket shows the vigour of his external morals; it also bears witness to the lack of internal morality which necessitates that control. Again, on the other hand, it is argued that art gives pleasure. Very true. Even the art of morals gives pleasure. But to assert that therein lies its sole end and aim is an altogether feeble and inadequate conclusion, unless we go further and proceed to inquire what “pleasure” means. If we fail to take that further step, it remains a conclusion which may be said to merge into the conclusion that art is aimless; that, rather, its aim is to be aimless, and so to lift us out of the struggle and turmoil of life. That was the elaborately developed argument of Schopenhauer: art—whether in music, in philosophy, in painting, in poetry—is useless; “to be useless is the mark of genius, its patent of nobility. All other works of men are there for the preservation or alleviation of our existence; but this alone not; it alone is there for its own sake; and is in this sense to be regarded as the flower, or the pure essence, of existence. That is why in its enjoyment our heart rises, for we are thereby lifted above the heavy earthen atmosphere of necessity.” Life is a struggle of the will; but in art the will has become objective, fit for pure contemplation, and genius consists in an eminent aptitude for contemplation. The ordinary man, said Schopenhauer, plods through the dark world with his lantern turned on the things he wants; the man of genius sees the world by the light of the sun. In modern times Bergson adopted that view of Schopenhauer’s, with a terminology of his own, and all he said under this head may be regarded as a charming fantasia on the Schopenhauerian theme: “Genius is the most complete objectivity.” Most of us, it seems to Bergson, never see reality at all; we only see the labels we have fixed on things to mark for us their usefulness. A veil is interposed between us and the reality of things. The artist, the man of genius, raises this veil and reveals Nature to us. He is naturally endowed with a detachment from life, and so possesses as it were a virginal freshness in seeing, hearing, or thinking. That is “intuition,” an instinct that has become disinterested. “Art has no other object but to remove the practically useful symbols, the conventional and socially accepted generalities, so as to bring us face to face with reality itself.” Art would thus be fulfilling its function the more completely the further it removed us from ordinary life, or, more strictly, from any personal interest in life. That was also Remy de Gourmont’s opinion, though I do not know how far he directly derived it from Schopenhauer. “If we give to art a moral aim,” he wrote, “it ceases to exist, for it ceases to be useless. Art is incompatible with a moral or religious aim. It is unintelligible to the crowd because the crowd is not disinterested and knows only the principle of utility.” But the difficulty of making definite affirmation in this field, the perpetual need to allow for nuances which often on the surface involve contradictions, is seen when we find that so great an artist as Einstein—for so we may here fairly call him—and one so little of a formal æsthetician, agrees with Schopenhauer. “I agree with Schopenhauer,” he said to Moszkowski, “that one of the most powerful motives that attract people to science and art is the longing to escape from everyday life, with its painful coarseness and unconsoling barrenness, and to break the fetters of their own ever-changing desires. Man seeks to form a simplified synoptical view of the world conformable to his own nature, to overcome the world by replacing it with his picture. The painter, the poet, the philosopher, the scientist, each does this in his own way. He transfers the centre of his emotional life to this picture, to find a surer haven of peace than the sphere of his turbulent personal experience offers.” That is a sound statement of the facts, yet it is absurd to call such an achievement “useless.”
Perhaps, however, what philosophers have really meant when they have said that art (it is the so-called fine arts only that they have in mind) is useless, is that an art must not be consciously pursued for any primary useful end outside itself. That is true. It is even true of morals, that is to say the art of living. To live in the conscious primary pursuit of a “useful” end—such as one of the fine arts—outside living itself is to live badly; to declare, like André Gide, that “outside the doctrine of ‘Art for Art’ I know not where to find any reason for living,” may well be the legitimate expression of a personal feeling, but, unless understood in the sense here taken, it is not a philosophical statement which can be brought under the species of eternity, being, indeed, one of those confusions of substances which are, metaphysically, damnable. So, again, in the art of science: the most useful applications of science have sprung from discoveries that were completely useless for purposes outside pure science, so far as the aim of the discoverer went, or even so far as he ever knew. If he had been bent on “useful” ends, he would probably have made no discovery at all. But the bare statement that “art is useless” is so vague as to be really meaningless, if not inaccurate and misleading.
Therefore, Nietzsche was perhaps making a profound statement when he declared that art is the great stimulus to life; it produces joy as an aid to life; it possesses a usefulness, that is to say, which transcends its direct aim. The artist is one who sees life as beauty, and art is thus fulfilling its function the more completely, the more deeply it enables us to penetrate into life. It seems, however, that Nietzsche insufficiently guarded his statement. Art for art’s sake, said Nietzsche, is “a dangerous principle,” like truth for truth’s sake and goodness for goodness’ sake. Art, knowledge, and morality are simply means, he declared, and valuable for their “life-promoting tendency.” (There is here a pioneering suggestion of the American doctrine of Pragmatism, according to which how a thing “works” is the test of its validity, but Nietzsche can by no means be counted a Pragmatist.) To look thus at the matter was certainly, with Schopenhauer and with Gourmont, to put aside the superficial moral function of art, and to recognise in it a larger sociological function. It was on the sociological function of art that Guyau, who was so penetrating and sympathetic a thinker, insisted in his book, posthumously published in 1889, “L’Art au Point de Vue Sociologique.” He argued that art, while remaining independent, is at the foundation one with morals and with religion. He believed in a profound unity of all these terms: life, morality, society, religion, art. “Art, in a word, is life.” So that, as he pointed out, there is no conflict between the theory of art for art, properly interpreted, and the theory that assigns to art a moral and social function. It is clear that Guyau was on the right road, although his statement was confusingly awkward in form. He deformed his statement, moreover, through his perpetual tendency to insist on the spontaneously socialising organisation of human groups—a tendency which has endeared him to all who adopt an anarchist conception of society—and, forgetting that he had placed morals only at the depth of art and not on the surface, he commits himself to the supremely false dictum: “Art is, above everything, a phenomenon of sociability,” and the like statements, far too closely resembling the doctrinary pronouncements of Tolstoy. For sociability is an indirect end of art: it cannot be its direct aim. We are here not far from the ambiguous doctrine that art is “expression,” for “expression” may be too easily confused with “communication.”
All these eminent philosophers—though they meant something which so far as it went was true—have failed to produce a satisfying statement because they have none of them understood how to ask the question which they were trying to answer. They failed to understand that morals is just as much an art as any other vital psychic function of man; they failed to see that, though art must be free from the dominance of morals, it by no means followed that it has no morality of its own, if morality involves the organised integrity which all vital phenomena must possess; they failed to realise that, since the arts are simply the sum of the active functions which spring out of the single human organism, we are not called upon to worry over any imaginary conflicts between functions which are necessarily harmonious because they are all one at the root. We cannot too often repeat the pregnant maxim of Bacon that the right question is the half of knowledge. Here we might almost say that it is the whole of knowledge. It seems, therefore, unnecessary to pursue the subject further. He who cannot himself pursue it further had best leave it alone.
But when we enter the æsthetic sphere we are no longer artists. That, indeed, is inevitable if we regard the arts as the sum of all the active functions of the organism. Rickert, with his methodical vision of the world,—for he insists that we must have some sort of system,—has presented what he regards as a reasonable scheme in a tabular form at the end of the first volume of his “System.” He divides Reality into two great divisions: the monistic and asocial Contemplative and the pluralistic and social Active. To the first belong the spheres of Logic, Æsthetics, and Mysticism, with their values, truth, beauty, impersonal holiness; to the second, Ethics, Erotics, the Philosophy of Religion, with their values, morality, happiness, personal holiness. This view of the matter is the more significant as Rickert stands aside from the tradition represented by Nietzsche and returns to the Kantian current, enriched, indeed, and perhaps not quite consistently, by Goethe. It seems probable that all Rickert’s active attitudes towards reality may fairly be called Art, and all the contemplative attitudes, Æsthetics.
There is in fact nothing novel in the distinction which underlies this classification, and it has been recognised ever since the days of Baumgarten, the commonly accepted founder of modern æsthetics, not to go further back. Art is the active practical exercise of a single discipline: æsthetics is the philosophic appreciation of any or all the arts. Art is concerned with the more or less unconscious creation of beauty: æsthetics is concerned with its discovery and contemplation. Æsthetics is the metaphysical side of all productive living.
This complete unlikeness on the surface between art and æsthetics—for ultimately and fundamentally they are at one—has to be emphasised, for the failure to distinguish them has led to confusion and verbosity. The practice of morals, we must ever remember, is not a matter of æsthetics; it is a matter of art. It has not, nor has any other art, an immediate and obvious relationship to the creation of beauty. What the artist in life, as in any other art, is directly concerned to express is not primarily beauty; it is much more likely to seem to him to be truth (it is interesting to note that Einstein, so much an artist in thought, insists that he is simply concerned with truth), and what he produces may seem at first to all the world, and even possibly to himself, to be ugly. It is so in the sphere of morals. For morals is still concerned with the possessive instinct, not with the creation of beauty, with the needs and the satisfaction of the needs, with the industrial and economic activities, with the military activities to which they fatally tend. But the æsthetic attitude, as Gaultier expresses it, is the radiant smile on the human face which in its primitive phases was anatomically built up to subserve crude vital needs; as he elsewhere more abstractly expresses it, “Beauty is an attitude of sensibility.” It is the task of æsthetics, often a slow and painful task, to see art—including the art of Nature, some would insist—as beauty. That, it has to be added, is no mean task. It is, on the contrary, essential. It is essential to sweep away in art all that is ultimately found to be fundamentally ugly, whether by being, at the one end, distastefully pretty, or, at the other, hopelessly crude. For ugliness produces nausea of the stomach and sets the teeth on edge. It does so literally, not metaphorically. Ugliness, since it interferes with digestion, since it disturbs the nervous system, impairs the forces of life. For when we are talking æsthetics (as the word itself indicates) we are ultimately talking physiologically. Even our metaphysics—if it is to have any meaning for us—must have a physical side. Unless we hold that fact in mind, we shall talk astray and are likely to say little that is to the point.
Art has to be seen as beauty and it is the function of æsthetics so to see it. How slowly and painfully the function works every one must know by observing the æsthetic judgments of other people, if not by recalling his own experiences. I know in my own experience how hardly and subconsciously this process works. In the matter of pictures, for instance, I have found throughout life, from Rubens in adolescence to Cézanne in recent years, that a revelation of the beauty of a painter’s work which, on the surface, is alien or repulsive to one’s sensibility, came only after years of contemplation, and then most often by a sudden revelation, in a flash, by a direct intuition of the beauty of some particular picture which henceforth became the clue to all the painter’s work. It is a process comparable to that which is in religion termed “conversion,” and, indeed, of like nature. So also it is in literature. And in life? We are accustomed to suppose that a moral action is much easier to judge than a picture of Cézanne. We do not dream of bringing the same patient and attentive, as it were æsthetic, spirit to life as we bring to painting. Perhaps we are right, considering what poor bungling artists most of us are in living. For “art is easy, life is difficult,” as Liszt used to say. The reason, of course, is that the art of living differs from the external arts in that we cannot exclude the introduction of alien elements into its texture. Our art of living, when we achieve it, is of so high and fine a quality precisely because it so largely lies in harmoniously weaving into the texture elements that we have not ourselves chosen, or that, having chosen, we cannot throw aside. Yet it is the attitude of the spectators that helps to perpetuate that bungling.
It is Plotinus whom we may fairly regard as the founder of Æsthetics in the philosophic sense, and it was as formulated by Plotinus, though this we sometimes fail to recognise, that the Greek attitude in these matters, however sometimes modified, has come down to us. We may be forgiven for not always recognising it, because it is rather strange that it should be so. It is strange, that is to say, that the æsthetic attitude, which we regard as so emphatically Greek, should have been left for formulation until the Greek world had passed away, that it should not have been Plato, but an Alexandrian, living in Rome seven centuries after him, who set forth what seems to us a distinctively Platonic view of life. The Greeks, indeed, seem to have recognised, apart from the lower merely “ethical” virtues of habit and custom, the higher “intellectual” virtues which were deliberately planned, and so of the nature of art. But Plotinus definitely recognised the æsthetic contemplation of Beauty, together with the One and the Good, as three aspects of the Absolute. He thus at once placed æsthetics on the highest possible pedestal, beside religion and morals; he placed it above art, or as comprehending art, for he insisted that Contemplation is an active quality, so that all human creative energy may be regarded as the by-play of contemplation. That was to carry rather far the function of æsthetic contemplation. But it served to stamp for ever, on the minds of all sensitive to that stamp who came after, the definite realisation of the sublimest, the most nearly divine, of human aptitudes. Every great spirit has furnished the measure of his greatness by the more or less completeness in which at the ultimate outpost of his vision over the world he has attained to that active contemplation of life as a spectacle which Shakespeare finally embodied in the figure of Prospero.
It may be interesting to note in passing that, psychologically considered, all æsthetic enjoyment among the ordinary population, neither artists in the narrow sense nor philosophers, still necessarily partakes to some degree of genuine æsthetic contemplation, and that such contemplation seems to fall roughly into two classes, to one or other of which every one who experiences æsthetic enjoyment belongs. These have, I believe, been defined by Müller-Freienfels as that of the “Zuschauer,” who feels that he is looking on, and that of the “Mitspieler,” who feels that he is joining in; on the one side, we may say, he who knows he is looking on, the spectator, and on the other he who imaginatively joins in, the participator. The people of the first group are those, it may be, in whom the sensory nervous apparatus is highly developed and they are able to adopt the most typical and complete æsthetic attitude; the people of the other group would seem to be most developed on the motor nervous side and they are those who themselves desire to be artists. Groos, who has developed the æsthetic side of “miterleben,” is of this temperament, and he had at first supposed that every one was like him in this respect. Plotinus, who held that contemplation embraced activity, must surely have been of this temperament. Coleridge was emphatically of the other temperament, spectator haud particeps, as he himself said. But, at all events in northern countries, that is probably not the more common temperament. The æsthetic attitude of the crowds who go to watch football matches is probably much more that of the imaginative participator than of the pure spectator.
There is no occasion here to trace the history of æsthetic contemplation. Yet it may be worth while to note that it was clearly present to the mind of the fine thinker and great moralist who brought the old Greek idea back into the modern world. In the “Philosophical Regimen” (as it has been named) brought to light a few years ago, in which Shaftesbury set down his self-communings, we find him writing in one place: “In the morning am I to see anew? Am I to be present yet longer and content? I am not weary, nor ever can be, of such a spectacle, such a theatre, such a presence, nor at acting whatever part such a master assigns me. Be it ever so long, I stay and am willing to see on whilst my sight continues sound; whilst I can be a spectator, such as I ought to be; whilst I can see reverently, justly, with understanding and applause. And when I see no more, I retire, not disdainfully, but in reverence to the spectacle and master, giving thanks.... Away, man! rise, wipe thy mouth, throw up thy napkin and have done. A bellyful (they say) is as good as a feast.”
That may seem but a simple and homely way of stating the matter, though a few years later, in 1727, a yet greater spirit than Shaftesbury, Swift, combining the conception of life as æsthetic contemplation with that of life as art, wrote in a letter, “Life is a tragedy, wherein we sit as spectators awhile, and then act our own part in it.” If we desire a more systematically philosophical statement we may turn to the distinguished thinker of to-day who in many volumes has most powerfully presented the same essential conception, with all its implications, of life as a spectacle. “Tirez le rideau; la farce est jouée.” That Shakespearian utterance, which used to be attributed to Rabelais on his death-bed, and Swift’s comment on life, and Shaftesbury’s intimate meditation, would seem to be—on the philosophic and apart from the moral side of life—entirely in the spirit that Jules de Gaultier has so elaborately developed. The world is a spectacle, and all the men and women the actors on its stage. Enjoy the spectacle while you will, whether comedy or tragedy, enter into the spirit of its manifold richness and beauty, yet take it not too seriously, even when you leave it and the curtains are drawn that conceal it for ever from your eyes, grown weary at last.
Such a conception, indeed, was already to be seen in a deliberately philosophical form in Schopenhauer (who, no doubt, influenced Gaultier) and, later, Nietzsche, especially the early Nietzsche, although he never entirely abandoned it; his break with Wagner, however, whom he had regarded as the typical artist, led him to become suddenly rather critical of art and artists, as we see in “Human-all-too-Human,” which immediately followed “Wagner in Bayreuth,” and he became inclined to look on the artist, in the narrow sense, as only “a splendid relic of the past,” not, indeed, altogether losing his earlier conception, but disposed to believe that “the scientific man is the finest development of the artistic man.” In his essay on Wagner he had presented art as the essentially metaphysical activity of Man, here following Schopenhauer. “Every genius,” well said Schopenhauer, “is a great child; he gazes out at the world as something strange, a spectacle, and therefore with purely objective interest.” That is to say that the highest attitude attainable by man towards life is that of æsthetic contemplation. But it took on a different character in Nietzsche. In 1878 Nietzsche wrote of his early essay on Wagner: “At that time I believed that the world was created from the æsthetic standpoint, as a play, and that as a moral phenomenon it was a deception: on that account I came to the conclusion that the world was only to be justified as an æsthetic phenomenon.” At the end of his active career Nietzsche was once more reproducing this proposition in many ways. Jules de Gaultier has much interested himself in Nietzsche, but he had already reached, no doubt through Schopenhauer, a rather similar conception before he came in contact with Nietzsche’s work, and in the present day he is certainly the thinker who has most systematically and philosophically elaborated the conception.
Gaultier is most generally known by that perhaps not quite happily chosen term of “Bovarism,” embodied in the title of his earliest book and abstracted from Flaubert’s heroine, which stands for one of his most characteristic conceptions, and, indeed, in a large sense, for the central idea of his philosophy. In its primary psychological sense Bovarism is the tendency—the unconscious tendency of Emma Bovary and, more or less, all of us—to conceive of ourselves as other than we are. Our picture of the world, for good or for evil, is an idealised picture, a fiction, a waking dream, an als ob, as Vaihinger would say. But when we idealise the world we begin by first idealising ourselves. We imagine ourselves other than we are, and in so imagining, as Gaultier clearly realises, we tend to mould ourselves, so that reality becomes a prolongation of fiction. As Meister Eckhart long since finely said: “A man is what he loves.” A similar thought was in Plato’s mind. In modern times a variation of this same idea has been worked out, not as by Gaultier from the philosophic side, but from the medical and more especially the psycho-analytic side, by Dr. Alfred Adler of Vienna. Adler has suggestively shown how often a man’s or a woman’s character is constituted by a process of fiction,—that is by making an ideal of what it is, or what it ought to be,—and then so far as possible moulding it into the shape of that fiction, a process which is often interwoven with morbid elements, especially with an original basis of organic defect, the reaction being an effort, sometimes successful, to overcome that defect, and even to transform it into a conspicuous quality, as when Demosthenes, who was a stutterer, made himself a great orator. Even thinkers may not wholly escape this tendency, and I think it would be easily possible to show that, for instance, Nietzsche was moved by what Adler calls the “masculine protest”; one remembers how shrinkingly delicate Nietzsche was towards women and how emphatically he declared they should never be approached without a whip. Adler owed nothing to Gaultier, of whom he seems to be ignorant; he found his first inspiration in Vaihinger’s doctrine of the “as if”; Gaultier, however, owes nothing to Vaihinger, and, indeed, began to publish earlier, though not before Vaihinger’s book was written. Gaultier’s philosophic descent is mainly from Spinoza, Berkeley, Hume, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche.
There is another deeper and wider sense, a more abstract esoteric sense, in which Jules de Gaultier understands Bovarism. It is not only the human being and human groups who are psychologically Bovaristic, the Universe itself, the Eternal Being (to adopt an accepted fiction), metaphysically partakes of Bovarism. The Universe, it seems to Gaultier, necessarily conceives itself as other than it is. Single, it conceives itself multiple, as subject and object. Thus is furnished the fundamental convention which we must grant to the Dramatist who presents the cosmic tragi-comedy.
It may seem to some that the vision of the world which Man pursues on his course across the Universe becomes ever more impalpable and visionary. And so perhaps it may be. But even if that were an undesirable result, it would still be useless to fight against God. We are, after all, merely moulding the conceptions which a little later will become commonplaced and truisms. For really—while we must hold physics and metaphysics apart, for they cannot be blended—a metaphysics which is out of harmony with physics is negligible; it is nothing in the world. And it is our physical world that is becoming more impalpable and visionary. It is “matter,” the very structure of the “atom,” that is melting into a dream, and if it may seem that on the spiritual side life tends to be moulding itself to the conception of Calderon as a dream, it is because the physical atom is pursuing that course. Unless we hold in mind the analysis of the world towards which the physicist is bringing us, we shall not understand the synthesis of the world towards which the philosopher is bringing us. Gaultier’s philosophy may not be based upon physics, but it seems to be in harmony with physics.
This is the metaphysical scaffolding—we may if we like choose to dispense with it—by aid of which Jules de Gaultier erects his spectacular conception of the world. He is by no means concerned to deny the necessity of morality. On the contrary, morality is the necessary restraint on the necessary biological instinct of possession, on the desire, that is, by the acquisition of certain objects, to satisfy passions which are most often only the exaggeration of natural needs, but which—through the power of imagination such exaggeration inaugurates in the world—lead to the development of civilisation. Limited and definite so long as confined to their biological ends, needs are indefinitely elastic, exhibiting, indeed, an almost hysterical character which becomes insatiable. They mark a hypertrophy of the possessive instinct which experience shows to be a menace to social life. Thus the Great War of recent times may be regarded as the final tragic result of the excessive development through half a century of an economic fever, the activity of needs beyond their due biological ends producing suddenly the inevitable result. So that the possessive instinct, while it is the cause of the formation of an economic civilised society, when pushed too far becomes the cause of the ruin of that society. Man, who begins by acquiring just enough force to compel Nature to supply his bare needs, himself becomes, according to the tragic Greek saying, the greatest force of Nature. Yet the fact that a civilisation may persist for centuries shows that men in societies have found methods of combating the exaggerated development of the possessive instinct, of retaining it within bounds which have enabled societies to enjoy a fairly long life. These methods become embodied in religions and moralities and laws. They react in concert to restrain the greediness engendered by the possessive instinct. They make virtues of Temperance and Sobriety and Abnegation. They invent Great Images which arouse human hopes and human fears. They prescribe imperatives, with sanctions, in part imposed by the Great Images and in part by the actual executive force of social law. So societies are enabled to immunise themselves against the ravaging auto-intoxication of an excessive instinct of possession, and the services rendered by religions and moralities cannot be too highly estimated. They are the spontaneous physiological processes which counteract disease before medical science comes into play.
But are they of any use in those periods of advanced civilisation which they have themselves contributed to form? When Man has replaced flint knives and clubs and slings by the elaborate weapons we know, can he be content with methods of social preservation which date from the time of flint knives and clubs and slings? The efficacy of those restraints depends on a sensibility which could only exist when men scarcely distinguished imaginations from perceptions. Thence arose the credulity on which religions and moralities flourished. But now the Images have grown pale in human sensibility, just as they have in words, which are but effaced images. We need a deeper reality to take the place of these early beliefs which the growth of intelligence necessarily shows to be illusory. We must seek in the human ego an instinct in which is manifested a truly autonomous play of the power of imagination, an instinct which by virtue of its own proper development may restrain the excesses of the possessive instinct and dissipate the perils which threaten civilisation. The æsthetic instinct alone answers to that double demand.
At this point we may pause to refer to the interesting analogy between this argument of Jules de Gaultier and another recently proposed solution of the problems of civilisation presented by Bertrand Russell, to which there has already been occasion to refer. The two views were clearly suggested by the same events, though apparently in complete independence, and it is interesting to observe the considerable degree of harmony which unites two such distinguished thinkers in different lands, and with unlike philosophic standpoints as regards ultimate realities. Man’s impulses, as we know, Bertrand Russell holds to be of two kinds: those that are possessive and those that are creative; the typical possessive impulse being that of property and the typical creative impulse that of the artist. It is in following the creative impulse, he believes, that man’s path of salvation lies, for the possessive impulses necessarily lead to conflict while the creative impulses are essentially harmonious. Bertrand Russell seeks the unification of life. But consistency of action should, he holds, spring from consistency of impulse rather than from the control of impulse by will. Like Gaultier, he believes in what has been called, perhaps not happily, “the law of irony”; that is to say, that the mark we hit is never the mark we aimed at, so that, in all supreme success in life, as Goethe said of Wilhelm Meister, we are like Saul, the son of Kish, who went forth to seek his father’s asses and found a kingdom. “Those who best promote life,” Russell prefers to put it, “do not have life for their purpose. They aim rather at what seems like a gradual incarnation, a bringing into our human existence of something eternal.” And, again like Gaultier, he invokes Spinoza and what in his phraseology he called “the intellectual love of God.” “Take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? Whosoever has known a strong creative impulse has known the value of this precept in its exact and literal sense; it is preoccupation with possession, more than anything else, that prevents men from living freely and nobly.”
This view of the matter seems substantially the same, it may be in an unduly simplified form, as the conception which Jules de Gaultier has worked out more subtly and complexly, seeking to weave in a large number of the essential factors, realising that the harmony of life must yet be based on an underlying conflict. The main difference would seem to be that Bertrand Russell’s creative impulse seems to be fairly identical with the productive impulse of art in the large sense in which I have throughout understood it, while Jules de Gaultier is essentially concerned with the philosophic or religious side of the art impulse; that is to say, the attitude of æsthetic contemplation which in appearance forms the absolute antithesis to the possessive instinct. It is probable, however, that there is no real discrepancy here, for as we may regard æsthetic contemplation as the passive aspect of art, so art may be regarded as the active aspect of æsthetic contemplation, and Bertrand Russell, we may certainly believe, would include the one under art as Jules de Gaultier would include the other under æsthetics.
The æsthetic instinct, as Jules de Gaultier understands it, answers the double demand of our needs to-day, not, like religions and moralities, by evoking images as menaces or as promises, only effective if they can be realised in the world of sensation, and so merely constituting another attempt to gratify the possessive instinct, by enslaving the power of imagination to that alien master. Through the æsthetic instinct Man is enabled to procure joy, not from the things themselves and the sensations due to the possession of things, but from the very images of things. Beyond the sense of utility bound up with the possession of objects, he acquires the privilege, bound up with the sole contemplation of them, of enjoying the beauty of things. By the æsthetic instinct the power of imagination realises its own proper tendency and attains its own proper end.
Such a process cannot fail to have its reaction on the social environment. It must counteract the exaggeration of the possessive instinct. To that impulse, when it transgresses the legitimate bounds of biological needs and threatens to grow like a destructive cancer, the æsthetic instinct proposes another end, a more human end, that of æsthetic joy. Therewith the exuberance of insatiable and ruinous cupidity is caught in the forms of art, the beauty of the universe is manifested to all eyes, and the happiness which had been sought in the paradoxical enterprise of glutting that insatiable desire finds its perpetual satisfaction in the absolute and complete realisation of beauty.
As Jules de Gaultier understands it, we see that the æsthetic instinct is linked on to the possessive instinct. Bertrand Russell would sometimes seem to leave the possessive instinct in the void without making any provision for its satisfaction. In Gaultier’s view, we may probably say it is taken in charge by the æsthetic instinct as soon as it has fulfilled its legitimate biological ends, and its excessive developments, what might otherwise be destructive, are sublimated. The æsthetic instinct, Gaultier insists, like the other instincts, even the possessive instinct, has imperative claims; it is an appetite of the ego, developed at the same hearth of intimate activity, drawing its strength from the same superabundance from which they draw strength. Therefore, in the measure in which it absorbs force they must lose force, and civilisation gains.
The development of the æsthetic sense is, indeed, indispensable if civilisation—which we may, perhaps, from the present point of view, regard with Gaultier as the embroidery worked by imagination on the stuff of our elementary needs—is to pass safely through its critical period and attain any degree of persistence. The appearance of the æsthetic sense is then an event of the first order in the rank of natural miracles, strictly comparable to the evolution in the organic sphere of the optic nerves, which made it possible to know things clearly apart from the sensations of actual contact. There is no mere simile here, Gaultier believes: the faculty of drawing joy from the images of things, apart from the possession of them, is based on physiological conditions which growing knowledge of the nervous system may some day make clearer.
It is this specific quality, the power of enjoying things without being reduced to the need of possessing them, which differentiates the æsthetic instinct from other instincts and confers on it the character of morality. Based, like the other instincts on egoism, it, yet, unlike the other instincts, leads to no destructive struggles. Its powers of giving satisfaction are not dissipated by the number of those who secure that satisfaction. Æsthetic contemplation engenders neither hatred nor envy. Unlike the things that appeal to the possessive instinct, it brings men together and increases sympathy. Unlike those moralities which are compelled to institute prohibitions, the æsthetic sense, even in the egoistic pursuit of its own ends, becomes blended with morality, and so serves in the task of maintaining society.
Thus it is that, by aiming at a different end, the æsthetic sense yet attains the end aimed at by morality. That is the aspect of the matter which Gaultier would emphasise. There is implied in it the judgment that when the æsthetic sense deviates from its proper ends to burden itself with moral intentions—when, that is, it ceases to be itself—it ceases to realise morality. “Art for art’s sake!” the artists of old cried. We laugh at that cry now. Gaultier, indeed, considers that the idea of pure art has in every age been a red rag in the eyes of the human bull. Yet, if we had possessed the necessary intelligence, we might have seen that it held a great moral truth. “The poet, retired in his Tower of Ivory, isolated, according to his desire, from the world of man, resembles, whether he so wishes or not, another solitary figure, the watcher enclosed for months at a time in a lighthouse at the head of a cliff. Far from the towns peopled by human crowds, far from the earth, of which he scarcely distinguishes the outlines through the mist, this man in his wild solitude, forced to live only with himself, almost forgets the common language of men, but he knows admirably well how to formulate through the darkness another language infinitely useful to men and visible afar to seamen in distress.” The artist for art’s sake—and the same is constantly found true of the scientist for science’s sake—in turning aside from the common utilitarian aims of men is really engaged in a task none other can perform, of immense utility to men. The Cistercians of old hid their cloisters in forests and wildernesses afar from society, mixing not with men nor performing for them so-called useful tasks; yet they spent their days and nights in chant and prayer, working for the salvation of the world, and they stand as the symbol of all higher types of artists, not the less so because they, too, illustrate that faith transcending sight, without which no art is possible.
The artist, as Gaultier would probably put it, has to effect a necessary Bovarism. If he seeks to mix himself up with the passions of the crowd, if his work shows the desire to prove anything, he thereby neglects the creation of beauty. Necessarily so, for he excites a state of combativity, he sets up moral, political, and social values, all having relation to biological needs and the possessive instinct, the most violent of ferments. He is entering on the struggle over Truth—though his opinion is here worth no more than any other man’s—which, on account of the presumption of its universality, is brandished about in the most ferociously opposed camps.
The mother who seeks to soothe her crying child preaches him no sermon. She holds up some bright object and it fixes his attention. So it is the artist acts: he makes us see. He brings the world before us, not on the plane of covetousness and fears and commandments, but on the plane of representation; the world becomes a spectacle. Instead of imitating those philosophers who with analyses and syntheses worry over the goal of life, and the justification of the world, and the meaning of the strange and painful phenomenon called Existence, the artist takes up some fragment of that existence, transfigures it, shows it: There! And therewith the spectator is filled with enthusiastic joy, and the transcendent Adventure of Existence is justified. Every great artist, a Dante or a Shakespeare, a Dostoievsky or a Proust, thus furnishes the metaphysical justification of existence by the beauty of the vision he presents of the cruelty and the horror of existence. All the pain and the madness, even the ugliness and the commonplace of the world, he converts into shining jewels. By revealing the spectacular character of reality he restores the serenity of its innocence. We see the face of the world as of a lovely woman smiling through her tears.
How are we to expect this morality—if so we may still term it—to prevail? Jules de Gaultier, as we have seen, realising that the old moralities have melted away, seems to think that the morality of art, by virtue of its life, will take the place of that which is dead. But he is not specially concerned to discuss in detail the mechanism of this replacement, though he looks to the social action of artists in initiation and stimulation. That was the view of Guyau, and it fitted in with his sociological conception of art as being one with life; great poets, great artists, Guyau believed, will become the leaders of the crowd, the priests of a social religion without dogmas. But Gaultier’s conception goes beyond this. He cannot feel that the direct action of poets and artists is sufficient. They only reveal the more conspicuous aspects of the æsthetic sense. Gaultier considers that the æsthetic sense, in humbler forms, is mixed up with the most primitive manifestations of human life, wherein it plays a part of unsuspected importance. The more thorough investigation of these primitive forms, he believes, will make it possible for the lawmaker to aid the mechanism of this transformation of morality.
Having therewith brought us to the threshold of the æsthetic revolution, Jules de Gaultier departs. It remains necessary to point out that it is only the threshold. However intimately the elements of the æsthetic sense may be blended with primitive human existence, we know too well that, as the conditions of human existence are modified, art seems to contract and degenerate, so we can hardly expect the æsthetic sense to develop in the reverse direction. At present, in the existing state of civilisation, with the decay of the controlling power of the old morality, the æsthetic sense often seems to be also decreasing, rather than increasing, in the masses of the population. One need not be troubled to find examples. They occur on every hand and whenever we take up a newspaper. One notes, for instance, in England, that the most widespread spectacularly attractive things outside cities may be said to be the private parks and the churches. (Cities lie outside the present argument, for their inhabitants are carefully watched whenever they approach anything that appeals to the possessive instinct.) Formerly the parks and churches were freely open all day long for those who desired to enjoy the spectacle of their beauty and not to possess it. The owners of parks and the guardians of churches have found it increasingly necessary to close them because of the alarmingly destructive or predatory impulses of a section of the public. So the many have to suffer for the sins of what may only be the few. It is common to speak of this as a recent tendency of our so-called civilisation. But the excesses of the possessive instinct cannot have been entirely latent even in remote times, though they seem to have been less in evidence. The Platonic Timæus attributed to the spectacle of the sun and the moon and the stars the existence of philosophy. He failed to note that the sun and the moon and the stars would have disappeared long ago—as even their infinitely more numerous analogues on the earth beneath are likely to disappear—had they happened to be within the reach of predatory human hands. But the warps and strains of civilised life, with its excessive industrialism and militarism, seem to disturb the wholesome balance of even the humblest elements of the possessive and æsthetic instincts. This means, in the first and most important place, that the liberty of the whole community in its finest manifestations is abridged by a handful of imbeciles. There are infinite freedoms which it would be a joy for them to take, and a help to their work, and a benefit to the world, but they cannot be allowed to take them because there are some who can only take them and perish, damning others with themselves. Besides this supreme injury to life, there are perpetual minor injuries that the same incapable section of people are responsible for in every direction, while the actual cost of them in money, to the community they exert so pernicious an influence on, is so great and so increasing that it constitutes a social and individual burden which from time to time leads to outbursts of anxious expostulation never steady enough to be embodied in any well-sustained and coherent policy.
It is not, indeed, to be desired that the eugenic action of society should be directly aimed at any narrowly æsthetic or moral end. That has never been the ideal of any of those whose conceptions of social life deserve to be taken seriously, least of all Galton, who is commonly regarded as the founder of the modern scientific art of eugenics. “Society would be very dull,” he remarked, “if every man resembled Marcus Aurelius or Adam Bede.” He even asserted that “we must leave morality as far as possible out of the discussion,” since moral goodness and badness are shifting phases of a civilisation; what is held morally good in one age is held bad in another. That would hold true of any æsthetic revolution. But we cannot afford to do without the sane and wholesome persons who are so well balanced that they can adjust themselves to the conditions of every civilisation as it arises and carry it on to its finest issues. We should not, indeed, seek to breed them directly, and we need not, since under natural conditions Nature will see to their breeding. But it is all the more incumbent upon us to eliminate those ill-balanced and poisonous stocks produced by the unnatural conditions which society in the past had established. That we have to do alike in the interests of the offspring of these diseased stocks and in the interests of society. No power in Heaven or Earth can ever confer upon us the right to create the unfit in order to hang them like millstones around the necks of the fit. The genius of Galton enabled him to see this clearly afresh and to indicate the reasonable path of human progress. It was a truth that had long been forgotten by the strenuous humanitarians who ruled the nineteenth century, so anxious to perpetuate and multiply all the worst spawn of their humanity. Yet it was an ancient truth, carried into practice, however unconsciously and instinctively, by Man throughout his upward course, probably even from Palæolithic times, and when it ceased Man’s upward course also ceased. As Carr-Saunders has shown, in a learned and comprehensive work which is of primary importance for the understanding of the history of Man, almost every people on the face of the earth has adopted one or more practices—notably infanticide, abortion, or severe restriction of sexual intercourse—adapted to maintain due selection of the best stocks and to limit the excess of fertility. They largely ceased to work because Man had acquired the humanity which was repelled by such methods and lost the intelligence to see that they must be replaced by better methods. For the process of human evolution is nothing more than a process of sifting, and where that sifting ceases evolution ceases, becomes, indeed, devolution.
When we survey the history of Man we are constantly reminded of the profound truth which often lay beneath the parables of Jesus, and they might well form the motto for any treatise on eugenics. Jesus was constantly seeking to suggest the necessity of that process of sifting in which all human evolution consists; he was ever quick to point out how few could be, as it was then phrased, “saved,” how extremely narrow is the path to the Kingdom of Heaven, or, as many might now call it, the Kingdom of Man. He proclaimed symbolically a doctrine of heredity which is only to-day beginning to be directly formulated: “Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire.” There was no compunction at all in his promulgation of this radical yet necessary doctrine for the destruction of unfit stocks. Even the best stocks Jesus was in favour of destroying ruthlessly as soon as they had ceased to be the best: “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, ... it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.” Jesus has been reproached by Nietzsche for founding a religion for slaves and plebeians, and so in the result it may have become. But we see that, in the words of the Teacher as they have been handed down, the religion of Jesus was the most aristocratic of religions. Its doctrine embodied not even the permission to live for those human stocks which fall short of its aristocratic ideal. It need not surprise us to find that Jesus had already said two thousand years ago what Galton, in a more modern and—some would add—more humane way, was saying yesterday. If there had not been a core of vital truth beneath the surface of the first Christian’s teaching, it could hardly have survived so long. We are told that it is now dead, but should it ever be revived we may well believe that this is the aspect by which it will be commended. It is a significant fact that at the two spiritual sources of our world, Jesus and Plato, we find the assertion of the principle of eugenics, in one implicitly, in the other explicitly.
Jules de Gaultier was not concerned to put forward an aristocratic conception of his æsthetic doctrine, and, as we have seen, he remained on the threshold of eugenics. He was content to suggest, though with no positive assurance, a more democratic conception. He had, indeed, one may divine, a predilection for that middle class which has furnished so vast a number of the supreme figures in art and thought; by producing a class of people dispensed from tasks of utility, he had pointed out, “a society creates for itself an organ fitted for the higher life and bears witness that it has passed beyond the merely biological stage to reach the human stage.” But the middle class is not indispensable, and if it is doomed Gaultier saw ways of replacing it. Especially we may seek to ensure that, in every social group, the individual task of utilitarian work shall be so limited that the worker is enabled to gain a leisure sufficiently ample to devote, if he has the aptitude, to works of intellect or art. He would agree with Otto Braun, the inspired youth who was slain in the Great War, that if we desire the enablement of the people “the eight-hours day becomes nothing less than the most imperative demand of culture.” It is in this direction, it may well be, that social evolution is moving, however its complete realisation may, by temporary causes, from time to time be impeded. The insistent demand for increased wages and diminished hours of work has not been inspired by the desire to raise the level of culture in the social environment, or to inaugurate any æsthetic revolution, yet, by “the law of irony” which so often controls the realisation of things, that is the result which may be achieved. The new leisure conferred on the worker may be transformed into spiritual activity, and the liberated utilitarian energy into æsthetic energy. The road would thus be opened for a new human adventure, of anxious interest, which the future alone can reveal.
We cannot be sure that this transformation will take place. We cannot be sure, indeed, that it is possible for it to take place unless the general quality of the population in whom so fine a process must be effected is raised by a more rigid eugenic process than there is yet any real determination among us to exert. Men still bow down before the fetish of mere quantity in population, and that worship may be their undoing. Giant social organisms, like the giant animal species of early times, may be destined to disappear suddenly when they have attained their extreme expansion.
Even if that should be so, even if there should be a solution of continuity in the course of civilisation, even then, as again Jules de Gaultier also held, we need not despair, for life is a fountain of everlasting exhilaration. No creature on the earth has so tortured himself as Man, and none has raised a more exultant Alleluia. It would still be possible to erect places of refuge, cloisters wherein life would yet be full of joy for men and women determined by their vocation to care only for beauty and knowledge, and so to hand on to a future race the living torch of civilisation. When we read Palladius, when we read Rabelais, we realise how vast a field lies open for human activity between the Thebaid on one side and Thelema on the other. Out of such ashes a new world might well arise. Sunset is the promise of dawn.
 This tendency, on which Herbert Spencer long ago insisted, is in its larger aspects quite clear. E. C. Pell (The Law of Births and Deaths, 1921) has argued that it holds good of civilised man to-day, and that our decreasing birth rate with civilisation is quite independent of any effort on Man’s part to attain that evolutionary end.
 Professor McDougall refers to the high birth-rate of the lower stratum as more “normal.” If that were so, civilisation would certainly be doomed. All high evolution normally involves a low birth-rate. Strange how difficult it is even for those most concerned with these questions to see the facts simply and clearly!
 Dupréel, La Légende Socratique (1922), p. 428. Dupréel considers (p. 431) that the Protagorean spirit was marked by the idea of explaining the things of thought, and life in general, by the meeting, opposition, and harmony of individual activities, leading up to the sociological notion of convention, and behind it, of relativity. Nietzsche was a pioneer in restoring the Sophists to their rightful place in Greek thought. The Greek culture of the Sophists grew out of all the Greek instincts, he says (The Will to Power, section 428): “And it has ultimately shown itself to be right. Our modern attitude of mind is, to a great extent, Heraclitean, Democritean, and Protagorean. To say that it is Protagorean is even sufficient, because Protagoras was himself a synthesis of Heraclitus and Democritus.” The Sophists, by realizing that many supposed objective ideas were really subjective, have often been viewed with suspicion as content with a mere egotistically individualistic conception of life. The same has happened to Nietzsche. It was probably an error as regards the greatest Sophists, and is certainly an error, though even still commonly committed, as regards Nietzsche; see the convincing discussion of Nietzsche’s moral aim in Salter, Nietzsche the Thinker, chap. XXIV.
 In an interesting pamphlet, Pessimismus? Spengler has since pointed out that he does not regard his argument as pessimistic. The end of a civilisation is its fulfilment, and there is still much to be achieved (though not, he thinks, along the line of art) before our own civilisation is fulfilled. With Spengler’s conception of that fulfilment we may, however, fail to sympathise.
 Beauty is a dangerous conception to deal with, and the remembrance of this great saying may, perhaps, help to save us from the degrading notion that beauty merely inheres in objects, or has anything to do with the prim and smooth conventions which make prettiness. Even in the fine art of painting it is more reasonable to regard prettiness as the negation of beauty. It is possible to find beauty in Degas and Cézanne, but not in Bouguereau or Cabanel. The path of beauty is not soft and smooth, but full of harshness and asperity. It is a rose that grows only on a bush covered with thorns. As of goodness and of truth, men talk too lightly of Beauty. Only to the bravest and skilfullest is it given to break through the briers of her palace and kiss at last her enchanted lips.
 Ruskin was what Spinoza has been called, a God-intoxicated man; he had a gift of divine rhapsody, which reached at times to inspiration. But it is not enough to be God-intoxicated, for into him whose mind is disorderly and ignorant and ill-disciplined the Gods pour their wine in vain. Spinoza’s mind was not of that kind, Ruskin’s too often was, so that Ruskin can never be, like Spinoza, a permanent force in the world of thought. His interest is outside that field, mainly perhaps psychological in the precise notation of a particular kind of æsthetic sensibility. The admiration of Ruskin cherished by Proust, himself a supreme master in this field, is significant.
 Butcher, Aristotle’s Theory of Poetry and Fine Art, chap. V, “Art and Morals.” Aristotle could have accepted the almost Freudian view of Croce that art is the deliverer, the process through which we overcome the stress of inner experiences by objectifying them (Æsthetics as Science of Expression, p. 35). But Plato could not accept Croce, still less Freud.
 I find that I have here negligently ascribed to Bergson a metaphor which belongs to Croce, who at this point says the same thing as Bergson, though he gives it a different name. In Æsthetics as Science of Expression (English translation, p. 66) we read: “The world of which as a rule we have intuition [Bergson could not have used that word here] is a small thing.... ‘Here is a man, here is a horse, this is heavy, this is hard, this pleases me,’ etc. It is a medley of light and colour, which could not pictorially attain to any more sincere expression than a haphazard splash of colour, from among which would with difficulty stand out a few special distinctive traits. This and nothing else is what we possess in our ordinary life; this is the basis of our ordinary action. It is the index of a book. The labels tied to things take the place of things themselves.”
 This may seem to cast a critical reflection on Croce. Let me, therefore, hasten to add that it is merely the personal impression that Croce, for all his virtuous aspirations after the concrete, tends to fall into verbal abstraction. He so often reminds one of that old lady who used to find (for she died during the Great War) such spiritual consolation in “that blessed word Mesopotamia.” This refers, however, to the earlier more than to the later Croce.
 Before Baumgarten this distinction seems to have been recognised, though too vaguely and inconsistently, by Hutcheson, who is so often regarded as the real founder of modern æsthetics. W. R. Scott (Francis Hutcheson, p. 216) points out these two principles in Hutcheson’s work, “the Internal Senses, as derived from Reflection, representing the attitude of the ‘Spectator’ or observer in a picture gallery while, on the other hand, as deduced from εὐέργεια find a parallel in the artist’s own consciousness of success in his work, thus the former might be called static and the latter dynamic consciousness, or, in the special case of Morality, the first applies primarily to approval of the acts of others, the second to each individual’s approval of his own conduct.”
 This would probably be recognised even by those moralists who, like Hutcheson, in their anxiety to make clear an important relationship, have spoken ambiguously. “Probably Hutcheson’s real thought,” remarks F. C. Sharp (Mind, 1921, p. 42), “is that the moral emotion, while possessing many important affinities with the æsthetic, is in the last resort different in content.”
 Schopenhauer long ago pointed out that a picture should be looked at as a royal personage is approached, in silence, until the moment it pleases to speak to you, for, if you speak first (and how many critics one knows who “speak first”!), you expose yourself to hear nothing but the sound of your own voice. In other words, it is a spontaneous and “mystical” experience.
 It is through Plotinus, also, that we realise how æsthetics is on the same plane, if not one, with mysticism. For by his insistence on Contemplation, which is æsthetics, we learn to understand what is meant when it is said, as it often is, that mysticism is Contemplation. (On this point, and on the early evolutions of Christian Mysticism, see Dom Cuthbert Butler, Western Mysticism (1922).)
 Really, however, Plotinus was here a Neo-Aristotelian rather than a Neo-Platonist, for Aristotle (Ethics, book X, chap. 6) had put the claim of the Contemplative life higher even than Plato and almost forestalled Plotinus. But as Aristotle was himself here a Platonist that does not much matter.
 See Inge, Philosophy of Plotinus, p. 179. In a fine passage (quoted by Bridges in his Spirit of Man) Plotinus represents contemplation as the great function of Nature herself, content, in a sort of self-consciousness, to do nothing more than perfect that fair and bright vision. This “metaphysical Narcissism,” as Palante might call it, accords with the conception of various later thinkers, like Schopenhauer, and like Gaultier, who however, seldom refers to Plotinus.
 These are problems concerning which innocent people might imagine that the wise refrained from speculating, but, as a matter of fact, the various groups of philosophic devotees may be divided into those termed “Idealists” and those termed “Realists,” each assured of the superiority of his own way of viewing thought. Roughly speaking, for the idealist thought means the creation of the world, for the realist its discovery. But here (as in many differences between Tweedledum and Tweedledee for which men have slain one another these thousands of years) there seem to be superiorities on both sides. Each looks at thought in a different aspect. But the idealist could hardly create the world with nothing there to make it from, nor the realist discover it save through creating it afresh. We cannot, so to put it, express in a single formula of three dimensions what only exists as a unity in four dimensions.
 I may remark that Plato had long before attributed the same observation to the Pythagorean Timæus in the sublime and amusing dialogue that goes under that name: “Sight in my opinion is the source of the greatest benefit to us, for had we never seen the stars, and the sun, and the heavens, none of the words which we have spoken about the universe would ever have been uttered. But now the sight of day and night, and the months and the revolution of the years, have created Number, and have given us a conception of Time, and the powers of inquiring about the Nature of the Universe, and from this source we have derived philosophy, than which no greater good ever was or will be given by the gods to mortal man.”
 Thus Einstein, like every true man of science, holds that cultural developments are not to be measured in terms of utilitarian technical advances, much as he has himself been concerned with such advances, but that, like the devotee of “Art for Art’s sake,” the man of science must proclaim the maxim, “Science for Science’s sake.”
 In the foregoing paragraphs I have, in my own way, reproduced the thought, occasionally the words, of Jules de Gaultier, more especially in “La Moralité Esthétique” (Mercure de France, 15th December, 1921), probably the finest short statement of this distinguished thinker’s reflections on the matter in question.
 This diffused æsthetic sense is correlated with a diffused artistic instinct, based on craftsmanship, which the Greeks were afraid to recognise because they looked down with contempt on the handicrafts as vulgar. William Morris was a pioneer in asserting this association. As a distinguished English writer, Mr. Charles Marriott, the novelist and critic, clearly puts the modern doctrine: “The first step is to absorb, or re-absorb, the ‘Artist’ into the craftsman.... Once agree that the same æsthetic considerations which apply to painting a picture apply, though in a different degree, to painting a door, and you have emancipated labour without any prejudice to the highest meaning of art.... A good surface of paint on a door is as truly an emotional or æsthetic consideration as ‘significant form,’ indeed it is ‘significant form.’” (Nation and Athenæum, 1st July, 1922.) Professor Santayana has spoken in the same sense: “In a thoroughly humanised society everything—clothes, speech, manners, government—is a work of art.” (The Dial, June, 1922, p. 563.) It is, indeed, the general tendency to-day and is traceable in Croce’s later writings.
 Thus it has often been pointed out that the Papuans are artists in design of the first rank, with a finer taste in some matters than the most highly civilised races of Europe. Professor R. Semon, who has some remarks to this effect (Correspondenzblatt of the German Anthropological Society, March, 1902), adds that their unfailing artistic sense is spread throughout the whole population and shown in every object of daily use.
 The presence of a small minority of abnormal or perverse persons—there will be such, we may be sure, in every possible society—affords no excuse for restricting the liberty of the many to the standard of the few. The general prevalence of an æsthetic morality in classic times failed to prevent occasional outbursts of morbid sexual impulse in the presence of objects of art, even in temples. We find records of Pygmalionism and allied perversities in Lucian, Athenæus, Pliny, Valerius Maximus. Yet supposing that the Greeks had listened to the proposals of some strayed Puritan visitor, from Britain or New England, to abolish nude statues, or suppose that Plato, who wished to do away with imaginative literature as liable to demoralise, had possessed the influence he desired, how infinite the loss to all mankind! In modern Europe we not only propose such legal abolition; we actually, however in vain, carry it out. We seek to reduce all human existence to absurdity. It is, at the best, unnecessary, for we may be sure that, in spite of our efforts, a certain amount of absurdity will always remain.