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Gospels of Anarchy and Other Contemporary Studies . Lee, Vernon, 1856–1935.
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page: 323

ON MODERN UTOPIAS

AN OPEN LETTER TO H.G. WELLS

page: 325

ON MODERN UTOPIAS

AN OPEN LETTER TO H.G. WELLS

IN placing your name at the head of a new book of my own, my motive is, naturally, to do myself credit while showing you honour. But I also seek an opportunity of conversing with you in that perfectly intimate manner so often prevented by our own shy or philistine personality, and possible only, perhaps, under the chaperonage of that most sympathising and unreal of all phantoms, the Reader.

Our talk, of course, will be about the most wonderful of all your inventions: the planet, twin of our earth, where (as Sterne already remarked about the Continent) things are better done than over here.

I have just been re‐reading your “Utopia” and your “Anticipations”; and my thoughts are still in a prodigious welter, curdling into currents by no means easy to follow, and eddying round certain reefs, with or without beacons. One of these recurrent rocks is that against which our theological forefathers were perpetually breaking their logic, and to a certain extent their hearts: the question, if I may give it a name page: 326 formed by analogy, of the Inefficacy of Grace, the persistence of Sin and Punishment in the face of Redemption, the question why, since there was a royal road to Heaven, should so many souls go nevertheless to Hell? To you and me, and all who think like us, this self‐same query recurs for ever in a garb of evolutional philosophy: Why should progress be so little progressive? Why should Utopia be ... well, only Utopia?

This is what your books make me ask myself; whereunto, also, your books furnish at least an implicit answer, and it is about this mainly that I want to have a talk, because I find that we do not entirely agree. It is perhaps inevitable. You are—and that is the usefulness and delightfulness of you—a builder of Utopias; and all Utopias, like all schemes of salvation, pivot upon an if. Every constructive reformer is ready to set all (or most) things right, providing only you will promise to obey him on one little point, or at least grant this point might have been otherwise. Thus: if only people would observe some particular law, or (as more recent prophets prefer) disobey every law without distinction; if only people would abolish private property, or disregard all selfish (or all unselfish and merciful) impulses; if only they would be strictly communistic, or monogamic, or hygienic; if only they would think less, or drink less, or have fewer children, or (saving your presence) have a few yards less of unnecessary intestine; if only they would follow the dictates of Lycurgus, Comte, Pope Pius X., Tolstoi, or Nietzsche—then, &c., &c., &c.—as if by magic. But so long as mankind obstinately (brutishly page: 327 or sentimentally or ignorantly, as the case may be) declines to accepts the particular terms upon which the particular speaker has fixed his fancy, why, of course, all that mankind can possibly do will be mere vanity and vexation; for nothing equals the critical acumen with which every other scheme of redemption is destroyed by each successive preacher of the one thing needful. Has not Mr. Bernard Shaw achieved his comic masterpiece in the proposal, following on the demonstration of the futility of all reforms, whether Whig, Radical, Collectivist, or Anarchist, that the efficiency of the citizen should be entrusted to an office for the breeding of human beings?

But enough of such examples. Even without them, it is obvious that all Kingdoms of Heaven depend on an IF. The if of your particular Utopia, my dear Mr. Wells, is certainly the most easily admitted, if not the most easily granted, of all similar conditions; because it is the least narrow and precise, and indeed is not so much expressed by yourself as perpetually suggested to the reader’s own thoughts. This if of yours, this little bit of perfection required by you, as by all other utopists, as a starting‐point for all improvement, can, however, be summed up in a few words, as follows: Progress might have been and might be far rapider and more secure, and the world a less wretched and hopeless place for many folk, if the achievements of mankind had not been perpetually checked, deviated, or rendered nugatory, and its power of mind, heart, and will allowed in a considerable degree to run to waste. Thus, if I understand right, your Utopian planet beyond Sirius differs from its page: 328 twin world Earth exactly in so far as its past has escaped certain historical accidents which have slackened our progress; as the seed of good has fallen less often on indifferent obduracy, or been gobbled up less certainly by self‐interest and perfunctoriness; as whatever germinating wisdom has not been choked by routine and prejudice. There has been less loss of time and effort and thought in Utopia; that, take it all round, has been the difference between it and our poor Earth.

Such an explanation fits into our modern conception of Nature (in so far as Nature can be opposed to Man) as being eminently wasteful: millions of germs for one living organism, myriads of variations for one improvement. But even better does this explanation tally with the evidence of everyday life, of ingenious thoughts become dead letter, fruitful rules grown to barren routines, preferences to prejudices, convictions to superstitions; and individual talents, power, good intentions, becoming not merely the paving‐stones, but the very brick and mortar, of hell.

In your first chapter of “Anticipations” you have analysed how the coming together of the two inventions of the steam pump and the tram‐rail, both applied to the old arrangements of the stage‐coach, has bound us over to the intolerable stereotyped cumbersomeness of a railroad system. The chapter is a profoundly suggestive analysis of the deviation of what might be by what is. Such spoiling of new wine by old bottles was recognised long ago in the domain of conduct and character; and half the novels written are unconscious essays on the ruin of powers for happiness and good by the institutions and arrangements made to secure good page: 329 and happiness in other times or for other persons: marriage, inheritance, education, profession; all inventions which, when and where they do not help, inevitably impede.

And you yourself, in your very remarkable little essay called “Scepticism of the Instrument,” have drawn attention to the intellectual loss due to the very forms of our speech and the categories of our thinking impoverishing and distorting all detail and reality to suit lopsided formula. In short, nearly everything which serves a purpose is apt to become a nuisance; and economy on one side implies, at least nine times in ten, waste of something on another. Wastefulness: everything under the sun (and probably inside the sun) is wastefulness! Such will have to be the burden of the latter‐day Ecclesiastes; and in so far our latter‐day pessimism is an improvement upon that of the Preacher of even more pessimistic and more wasteful times. For the lesson of history as well as of natural science is that wastefulness tends to diminish and eliminate itself; and that, conversely, the obedience to purpose increases in all things just in proportion as a purpose forms itself and emerges out of the random lurchings and fumblings of the universe. But as yet purpose has but little to say; and; Wastefulness, which we call Chance, has the best of it. I have just alluded to the Parable of the Sower and the Seed; it has an application wider than the one which British Infants are to be taught, denominationally or not denominationally, in or out of school hours: The seed falls on the highway and is trodden to mud by the passers‐by, whom it might have fed; the fowls of the air pick page: 330 it out of the furrow and devour it; there are thousands of square miles of rock upon which it is parched, and millions of acres of thorns in which it is choked; the only exaggeration in the whole allegory being the hundred‐fold multiplication of the one little grain which chances upon good soil. “He that hath ears to hear let him hear,” concludes the Master when he has set that forth. And we latter‐day believers have heard the parable as a fair account of the ways of the Universe and of Man’s poor efforts in their midst. Only, my dear Mr. Wells, there is a point which we are apt to overlook in this whole depressing story: the rocks and the thorns, the greedy pigeons, described as if they had come into being only to frustrate that well‐meaning agriculturist, had been in that place long before the Sower himself; nay, the grain existed long before he took it into his head to use it for bread and sow it in his furrows; what he called barren soil was such only in the eyes of his hungry and hopeful effort; what he called thorns or weeds were inferior to other plants merely because they did not afford him sustenance; and the seed was wasted when it got into the crops of the birds only because he had intended that it should become bread for his belly. In other words, wastefulness is, as the Jesuit moralists would have said, a matter of direction of the intention; and the things Man happens to require for sustenance of his body and soul are not necessarily the same which the universe intends producing; nay, it may be man’s self‐engrossed imagination which attributes to the universe intentions of any sort. I have made this little digression in order to forestall from the first any accusation of pessimism, page: 331 particularly of that Schopenhauer type which holds that the universe (including its expression the Wille) is always interfering with Man’s real interests, to wit, complete or partial self‐annihilation. All that I mean is, that given that Man, with his sensitiveness to pain and consequent arrangements for trying to escape it, is merely one part, and a, recently superadded part, of what we patronisingly designate as the Great Whole, there is no wonder in much of man’s ingenuity and effort, like the seed of the parable, and from the Sower’s point of view, being wasted. The matter for astonishment to me is rather how, despite the stones and brambles and thievish birds, there should already have come to be so many bushels of wheat and barley and oats, so many well‐baked loaves, and even the most refined and least nourishing cakes, metaphorical brioches, for instance, of art, sentiment, and ideal, such as that French princess proposed to offer people in years of famine. It is this view of things in general which, among other reasons, prevents my being much surprised, or even much discouraged, at our planet differing from its twin star Utopia.

But the indifference, construed by pessimists into hostility, of the Universe to man’s rather tardy arrival and claims, is by no means the only reason for the slowness of his progress, As I have already hinted with reference to marriage, education, and similar useful encumbrances, it is man’s own presence and his own requirements which are really most to blame in this unsatisfactory business.

He is, on the whole, paying the price of his own refuse‐heaps. “Refuse‐heaps!” exclaims the sanitary page: 332 reformer and patentee for wholesale Rubbish‐into‐Fuel‐Conversion (half in Latin, of course, and half in Greek): “and pray, why should there be any refuse‐heaps at all?” Because the refuse‐heap is the chief instrument by which all progress has been achieved: the refuse‐heap called turn about unfitness, failure, vice, sin, dishonour, or merely illegality, on to which Natural Selection and Human Selection have for ever been throwing whatever, at any particular moment, happened to be in the way of their sweepings and garnishings; whatever, like the fossil which Thoreau flung out of his hermitage window, was more bother than it was worth. This rough‐and‐ready method has been, to say the least, expensive. Think of that destruction of possibilities! The variations suppressed for ever merely that one type should gain the preponderance needful for a few years! Why, early civilisation (and perhaps not so very early either) must have been a perpetual killing off of individuals too sensitive, too imaginative, too independent, too good, in fact, for patriarchal and military civilisations; even as, nowadays, individuals too good for strenuous commercialism find themselves discouraged in a quieter though equally crushing manner. And not only individuals have been exterminated, but in each survivor many a possibility sacrificed to a standard of necessary righteousness. Nay, every advance in morality has meant the sacrifice of all decent people who still clung to the practice, whatever it might be, which began to be branded as immoral; even as manslaughter and vendetta will become the exclusive privilege of “Born Criminals” with odd‐shaped ears and a taste for tattooing (see page: 333 Lombroso) only by the vigorous destruction of all possible Othellos and Orestes, with whatever chivalry and heroism there may be in them.

Mr. Lester Ward and Mrs. Stetson have told us of an irreparable loss of time and opportunity accompanying the necessary subordination of the female to the male, and the passage from the matriarchal to the patriarchal state of society. What is a great deal more certain (though we blush to mention it) is the fearful waste of excellent qualities (of which we may judge by Aspasia, Mary Magdalene, poor Gretchen, and sundry humble or eminent ladies of our own acquaintance) which must have attended, and still attend, the needful segregation of the woman destined for motherhood from the woman whose sterile and dishonourable vocation has, after all, considerably helped the establishment of the lofty monogamic household. In fact, it is doubtful whether progress has lost more by incursions of barbarians and bouts of fanaticism than by the ruthlessness of its own slow and unintelligent methods. We do not like to teach this to our children, or even to admit it to ourselves; we should be glad—yes, even you and I, dear Mr. Wells, let alone the followers of Comte—if we could lay all such mischief at the door of wicked tyrants, and capitalists, and cunning priests (those “Bonzes,” “Fakirs,” and “Old Men of the Mountain,” who were such a comfort to eighteenth‐century optimism), and blink the suspicion that morality has employed immoral methods, and progress cost some stagnation and regression. We are not yet spiritually strong and elastic enough to admit of moral instability and adaptation. We still require page: 334 the safety of sanctions, the corroboration of prejudices, the exhilaration of mutual anathema. On our fatiguing and puzzling journey towards recognition of realities we want to be comforted with what Ibsen’s doctor calls “Vital Lies.” And “Vital Lies,” however indispensable for an individual, a class, or a period, are lies nevertheless, involving failure, catastrophe, or mere perfunctoriness; and as such they also are another instance of the wasteful system on which human progress is carried on. Wastefulness! Wastefulness everywhere, says the Preacher. The refuse‐heap becomes indeed ever smaller and smaller, fewer useless things remaining to be thrown away, fewer useful things being thrown away with them; but the very process by which all this happens is wasteful itself. Nor is it surprising if the conscious spirit of man is thus wasteful, in however steadily decreasing a ratio, since it has arisen, after all, out of the unconscious automatism of the universe. And even as Pascal’s Divinity could afford injustice because he had eternity to right it in, so the Forces of Nature can be dignified and patient because they are not flustered by pleasure and pain: why should they mind how long it takes to attain anything when very likely they do not want to attain anything at all?

Such considerations, I imagine you answering, may afford a metaphysical Lenten diet for the lay priests of progress, the responsible and busy Samurai of Utopia, during their yearly retreat among the polar ice‐fields. But, practically speaking, Mankind is separate from all these cosmic forces. And seeing that Mankind is conscious of pleasure and pain, and consequently gifted page: 335 with foresight and volition, why the deuce should it not apply this foresight and volition to arranging a more tolerable earth? And here we are back, my dear builder of Utopias, at the original if of your whole system. For what has made the difference between your decent and decently happy planet and this Earth as seen from the top of a Strand omnibus has not been the accident of a war less or a discovery more, nor even the presence of a greater number of persons of virtue or talent, but simply that, in Utopia, people in general have been less inexplicably stupid and lazy and heartless and self‐indulgent than here.

Less inexplicably. For I feel in all your anger and all your humorous sadness, even as in all the anathemas of all the prophets, the sting of the inexplicable: the human race is stiff‐necked, obstinately blind to its own good. Now here it seems to me that you, like all the floaters of Kingdoms of Heaven, are distinctly unjust. The human race, I venture to say, has not shown, and does not show, itself one bit more stupid, heartless, lazy, or self‐indulgent than you or I would in its place. There has been wastefulness on the part of the Forces of Nature, the Great Abstractions who are indifferent. But as to human beings, they have been applying their poor wits and will, under extremely trying circumstances, to their daily and hourly needs; needs comprising rest and enjoyment (what we moralists call “sloth” and “self‐indulgence”) quite as much as the more obvious renovation of their tissues and replenishing of the race.

In so doing, like the famous savages of rhetoricians, page: 336 mankind frequently cuts down the tree for the fruit, and eats its corn as spinach; it damages to‐morrow, but it satisfies to‐day; and to‐day is imperious. Mankind also damages its neighbour and posterity, but it satisfies (I must repeat it) the ego’s immediate and cruel wants. Hence vice, crime and (more detrimental still in the long run) all the various perfunctorinesses and frauds which raise your indignation legitimately, but ought not (for you are a great novelist) to excite your astonishment—you who described the wiles of the hungry pseudo‐writer who did poor Mr. and Mrs. Lewisham out of their typewriter’s deposit. You are, for instance, angry that our schools should not be better adapted to the education of the young. But our schools (the one which educated Kipps, for instance) are perfectly adapted to their real vital object, namely, furnishing a livelihood to sundry genteel, incompetent moralists and scholars, and, on the other side, ridding parents and guardians of the harassing responsibility and presence of unruly youngsters. English people, less hypocritical because more practical than Latins, will even admit that seeming perfunctoriness is no drawback: Eton is useful in furnishing a lad with presentable future friends; Alma Mater, with her Schola Logicæ, Schola Mathematicæ, Schola Musiæ, and other Faust‐like inscriptions over Gothic doors, turns a boy into a man worthy of a latch‐key. The simple truth was ingenuously put to this present writer by the youth who averred that Greek and Latin, doubtless Hellas and Imperial Rome, were useful “to pass exams.” Half of our institutions, of our codes, morals, ideals, believe me, dear Mr. Wells, are useful page: 337 “to pass exams”; and exams are useful—well, in order not to have to pass any more.

Nor are the offences against progress always of this smug British type: in Southern countries (let us say) one is horrified by the suffering of galled and overladen horses; and one is forced to pick one’s way and stop one’s nose in the public street. But can we expect the miserable carter to be more careful (even if he had the money) of his harness than of his own ragged clothes, still less to unload half his freight and come back again, when his day’s work and pay depends on doing that broiling journey a certain number of times? And where would you have the sluttish housewife throw her messes when she has no place save the convenient thoroughfare?

This illustration is, I fear, rather humble and repulsive. But the lives and souls of most folk are (and still more, have been) humble and repulsive: ill‐fed, unwashed, untaught, often tired and nearly always hurried; so that one wonders how, even like those poor Southern peasants, mankind has yet been able to put by, year by year, more savings in the bank, and swell the capital of good.

“Il faut vivre, Monseigneur,” says the human race, like the jail‐bird to the Minister. And you know, dear Mr. Wells, that you abhor the only answer possible to that, Schopenhauer’s and the other pessimists’; you refuse to say, “Je n’en vois point la nécessité.” And meanwhile, living, because it has meant dying less soon and suffering less constantly, has slowly brought its remedy with it. The avoidance of pain and the snatching a scanty pleasure have been man’s page: 338 real and sole business, with the consequence, as I have repeated too often, of much destruction, of much clogging and littering, but with the consequence also of constantly increasing order and forethought and self‐control. For the lessening of our own discomfort forces a certain restraint on our neighbour; the lessening of his discomfort a certain restraint on us; foresight grows into imagination, imagination into sympathy; appetite itself ends by teaching moderation, and self‐defence, respect for others; thus, as Professor Baldwin has shown us, the child, by gradually increasing perception of the outer world and increasing experience of other folk, grows at length into the adult citizen. You, yourself, dear Mr. Wells, have written a more convincing book than this “Modern Utopia,” your book of “Anticipations,” of how the world is likely to progress by the mere shifting and pushing of its shortsighted and selfish activities. We shall, even as we have, but with increasing speed, become more sound and sane, more leisurely and sensitive and thoughtful, as we become less poor and ignorant. Our added leisure and finer sensitiveness will enable us to do less mischief in seeking our good, and make us more dependent for our comfort on the comfort of others. Our cleaner, more ventilated fancy will sicken at whiffs from even distant refuse‐heaps left by less squeamish and more hurried ancestors, refuse‐heaps into which they swept what they could not deal with, and let it fester and breed disease, such as industrial exploitation, criminal justice, marriage laws, prostitution, and so forth, which we still accept as parts of public sanitation.

Quickly or slowly, man, asserting himself in the page: 339 universe, will diminish the universe’s wastefulness. Quickly, say you, with your incomparable romancing ingenuity and intolerant novelist’s sympathy; slowly, says your brother‐thinker, Gabriel Tarde, with his historian’s and economist’s belief in strata of civilisalion, in slow permeation or levelling up. But, quicker or slower, this automatic progress requires time; and it is time which you, in your “Modern Utopia,” have suddenly taken to grudge. In thinking over the betterment which must come, you have (at least it seems to me) lost patience with the evil, the folly, and wastefulness under your eyes; and you have set to planning a royal road, to framing some device by which (as in some Monte Carlo “system”) there will be all, or very nearly all, gain, and no loss to speak of. And you have invented a Utopia where time and experience are replaced by foresight and self‐control; where forces for good shall no longer run to waste, and forces for evil be snuffed out by deliberate effort. There is already in the world an amazing amount of knowledge, of disinterestedness (at least as far as money and comfort goes), and of volition: let this be consciously applied to future improvement, no longer left to casual work, there are already a good number (perhaps there have always been)of superior men and women: let this élite direct the rest, showing its fitness to govern others by its fitness to govern itself—and behold! we have your Samurai, your voluntary oligarchy, your noble caste, recruited by the elimination of all baser motives. The idea is so good that it is not new: the Pythagoreans, I am told, were people of this kind; the Jesuits, who did such wonders in page: 340 Paraguay, were men whose individual passions had been deviated and canalised ad majorem Dei Gloriam, although the God and the Glory were sometimes queer. And to me, who am, after all, but a poor æsthete in moralist’s garb, there is about the whole thing a pleasant reminiscence of Mozartian choruses in the Zauberflöte, of a venerable, deep‐voiced Sarastro, clad in white and singing eighteenth‐century humanitarianism. The attractiveness of the notion, and its perpetual recurrence in some shape or other, suggests. that there may be truth at the bottom of it; at all events, that, by constant reverting to some such arrangement, mankind may eventually make it possible.

Eventually, but only eventually. For, and here one of my vague dissentient currents of thought finds a channel of expression, it seems to me that such a system of government by the wise and good is rather the result of the world’s greater wisdom and goodness than its probable cause. Apart from such oligarchies of persons specially fit for military or statesmanly functions (but otherwise indifferent poor enough), like Sparta, or Venice, or the House of Lords at an unknown historical period, I can imagine such government by the Wise and virtuous only in moments of emergency and crisis. In the very suggestive little Utopian novel, “Histoire de Quatre Ans,” by my friend Daniel Halévy, for instance, the austere élite of men of science take the entire management of the human cattle remaining on earth, and even break and breed them, so to speak, for the plough. But this is after the collapse of society through the over‐sudden introduction of virtually gratuitous chemical food and page: 341 consequent leisure, and a fine bout of mysterious pestilences which has purged the earth more effectually than Robespierre even could have done with purifying guillotines. And my friend Daniel Halévy does not say how the human cattle and their high‐minded farmers got on in the long run; nay, he even ends his tantalising story with an incursion of Tartars and a return of that “Great Corrector of Monstrous Times, Shaker of o’er‐rank States, and Grand Decider of Dusty and Old Titles,” the “Mars Armipotent” of splendid Fletcher’s verse. And M. Renan, while (in his pessimist moment of the “Dialogues Philosophiques”) furnishing a singularly terrible scheme of a world given over to the tender mercies of a scientific élite, has (like the charming, inconsistent, human, sly moralist he was) warned us in several other places against such oligarchies; indeed, made it quite clear that, brute though Caliban often is, it is safer to leave the world to him than to the austere and philanthropic Prospero.

It might be possible perhaps, with time (of which, however, you are very chary!) to guard against the unpleasantness of your Samurai Régime, particularly by encouraging your other class of erratic (and I fear rather rowdy) creative geniuses. It might even (and to this I should propose devoting a little of our energy) become possible to diminish the trickiness and one‐sidedness of superior people’s individual constitution, and their tendency to rough‐and‐ready logic. But even if you get perfect disinterested thoughtfulness from a minority, do you really believe this disinterested thoughtfulness, immaculate, sound, but fitful, sporadic, page: 342 and tentative, could build a world of virtue and wisdom out of the shoddy resolves, the sham comprehension, the genuine small self‐seekingness and shirking of the majority?

Why, we have not yet got the better of what is tricky and trashy in the individual saint or genius; and, as to disciples, every reformer has seen (or rather been too purblind to see) his teachings misunderstood or misapplied or turned into dead letter by those he trusted most. Did not the Apostles, under the eye of the Master, begin quarrelling for precedence?

The Samurai, therefore, may organise statistics and laboratories, but I doubt whether they will do much effective organisation of mankind at large. I venture, indeed, to think that their real use will be to organise themselves, I might almost say, each to organise himself and herself. Good, wise, and responsible people are never good, wise, or responsible enough or in the right directions and moments; and it will be a great gain to all progress if they be, personally and collectively, up to the mark, a thoroughly efficient moral and intellectual vanguard. It will be a gain if virtue and wisdom cease to be a positive nuisance. Let the Samurai educate and organise themselves and not others; if their systems of morals and education, their new scruples and new duties, their new ideals and dignities and pleasures, are really good for anything, why, then, this better born and better bred class will gradually be imitated by their inferiors; the world will rot a little less for their presence. They are the salt of the earth; let them see to not losing their savour!

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To do this will give them work enough, to breed and educate their own children; nay, one might almost say, to breed and educate their own individual thoughts and desires.

I am gradually working my way through that confusion of enthusiastic assent and ill‐defined suspicion with which your “Modern Utopia” has filled me. And now I find that while wishing with all my heart for your well organised republic, while longing to become a knightly priest of progress, while hankering even for a little sound persecution of literary fops like your Bare‐legged Nature‐worshipper and your Sentimental Philistine with his Lady and his Dear Doggie; while at all events accepting your religion of responsibility and foresight as the one my soul has ever yearned for; while ... well, while all this has been going on, something has murmured in my innermost ear, “Beware of a new perfunctory ritual, a new hypocrisy, a new intolerance; beware of a new superstition—”

For this perpetual reaching out to the Future is a violation of Reality. Mankind has not bothered much about the Future because it has had its hands full with the Present. And mankind—such, at least, is my crass instinctive philosophy—mankind has been right. And what is more, you, dear Mr. Wells, know this far better than I, and have shown it with passionate pathos and humour in “Mr. Lewisham” and “Kipps”; and it is only when you sit down to systematise and specialise the Future that you forget this living knowledge, as specialists and system‐makers always forget all save the speciality and the system. The metaphysics page: 344 of your worship of the Future are, I venture to say, wrong, as wrong as those of any other priest preaching of any other Kingdom of Heaven.

Life is not a single‐aimed effort towards continuance and development, towards becoming somebody or something different. Seen through the scheme of the historian or biologist, its facts grouped and accentuated into his special intellectual pattern, life is a ceaseless becoming. But looked at, or rather felt, in a different way, life takes the signification of a ceaseless being; and as a being, not a becoming, does life affect the real creature and constitute real experience. Life (even the life of those Patriarchs who did nothing but be begotten and beget) is not merely procreation, but endurance; and if each individual were not busy making his own few years, nay, his own hour and minute, tolerable, the Race, for all its metaphorical powers of survival, would have died out a good while ago; nor would there be much talk of a future (on earth or off it) if there were not a most imperious present, full of ease and distress.

Even as theologians inventoried life according to the requirements of a day of judgment, so, particularly since Schopenhauer and Darwin, philosophers have taken in account only the qualities which, because they are useful, are perpetuated; and have denied utility to those which are not perpetual. Philosophers have fixed their eyes on the Will‐to‐Continue, belonging to that abstraction, the Race; and have neglected the Will‐not‐to‐Suffer, belonging to the individual; a Will quite as important and a good deal more ascertainable.

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For would there have been any human or animal action at all, any thought, any volition, any effort, any food, or any love, but for the fact of individual pain, discomfort, distress, and its poor younger sister, individual satisfaction? Would you, dear Mr. Wells, and your Samurai and New‐Republicans, and your humble admirer myself—nay, a great many remarkable persons, saints, sages, John‐a‐Dreamses and Torquemadas of various ages and conditions—have all been busy with Utopias and Paradises and Hells, but for the pressure of that same Will‐not‐to‐Suffer; but for the preferences, intellectual and sentimental yet organic, vicarious yet personal and present, of our own rather odd individuality, and sometimes rather to the inconvenience of our neighbours! Our neighbours, meanwhile, not saints nor sages, nor poets nor heroes, but just the normal philistines beloved of Dr. Nordau, have (as before remarked) furthered and hampered progress by their less peculiar attempts at making the present tolerable. All mankind, superior or inferior, has been busy keeping itself alive by material and metaphorical food and rest, and also by narcotics and stimulants. This latter fact has been a little blinked by utilitarians and moralists, so I wish to insist on it: yes, the human race might have come to an end but for satisfactions and alleviations which have sometimes cost degradation and disease and an increase of misery to themselves and their progeny. The excitement and the dreams of cruelty and superstition have helped to keep the race (because the individual) going, even like the excitement and dreams of alcohol and opium. And the world would be depopulate but for the fact page: 346 that human creatures have not merely begotten others, but kept their own vital hopes alive, thanks to the Gods’ wholesale intoxicant called Love. You, dear Mr. Wells, with your Lewishams and Kippses, have brought home to your readers that those lovers, sheepishly ecstatic among the music‐filled or moonlit bowers of, say, Folkestone Leas, are re‐tempering their own soul, quite as much as replenishing the earth, in the one sort of poetry open to shopmen and housemaids, even as did the cave and lake dwellers, their ancestors. Indeed, you novelists may bring home to psychologists and sociologists and other rather dreary persons this great neglected cosmic fact: that human development depends not only on the warning power of pain, but on the restorative power of pleasure.

Now, thinking about Utopias and arranging for them is the born Samurai’s pleasure, as similar thinking of God and Heaven and living for these has been the pleasure of the Saint.

Perhaps the most useful function of all religions (as distinguished from mere codes of conduct which have employed religious sanctions) has been thus to keep alive a certain number of religious people, who, but for the exhilaration of communion with a divinity and the corroborating peacefulness of a communion with fellow‐worshippers, would have died for sheer misery and forlornness. Now, religious people have been, and are, a necessary factor in all progress, and only the more necessary for their scarcity.

Saintliness and heroism have perhaps done little direct good, perhaps done harm, practically and in the way they meant it; they have not been, most likely, page: 347 half as fruitful of useful action as the selfish and thoughtless self‐seekingness of grosser folk. But they have corrected, pruned, and lopped the instincts of life which otherwise ran to seed of death. There is more than an allegoric significance in chastity being the saintly quality above all others; since chastity, in itself sterile, keeps the young brood, the quickening germ, from neglect, from devastation and death. A certain number must preach and live for altruism, not because altruism is a principle of life, but because the egoistic life‐principles are too riotous and self‐destructive. And as with thought of one’s neighbour, so also with thought of that neighbour‐in‐time, the Future. The Future can exist only in the thought and feeling of the Present, as the Neighbour (in so far as Neighbour, as ALTER) exists only in the thought and feeling of the Ego. Both are necessary mitigations of the actually existent, of the imperious now and the imperious self; and both impose qualifications, sometimes prohibitions, on instincts and actions stronger, more vital and necessary, than themselves: “Not thus”—“Not so much”—“Not this at all.” The thought of a neighbour is to make some self less miserable; the thought of a future is to reclaim a possible present. And little by little, as the present becomes richer and the ego more complex, there will enter into the present more and more strands of the future; and the ease and discomfort of the self will be shot and veined more and more subtly and indissolubly with the ease and discomfort of the neighbour. The dreams of the dreamers will slowly become reality. The chaste, sometimes sterile, saints will have bequeathed their features to the offspring of page: 348 the teeming, the forgotten fleshly generations; and that mystery will happen to which Renan has secretly and fearfully alluded: the Divinity will have been born of the prayers of its worshippers.

In that Kingdom of Heaven there will be no saints; in the realised Utopia no Samurai; for saints imply sinners and Samurai imply uninitiate. But meanwhile—and I return to my worship of the Present—there has to be a definite worship of the Future. There are Samurai (with recognition in eyes and voice rather than in garb) needed to prevent progress being too perpetually wasted, but not, methinks, to organise it; tender‐hearted Samurai physicians to check the birth of the unfit rather than to breed supermen on Mr. Shaw’s principles; sceptical Samurai moralists less to say “believe” and “obey” than to ask “are you quite sure?” and “try for yourself.” And such Samurai, in their serene but sometimes arduous and solitary efforts at (forgive what seems an anti‐climax!) humbugging themselves and others as little as possible, will require a religion to keep them alive, a dreamed‐of future to console them for the present. They will require a book like your adventures in the Twin‐Planet beyond Sirius as an aid to devotion, a latter‐day “Pilgrim’s Progress.”

I am aware, as I write these lines, that there is an air of obscurantism about them. I confess to a superstition in favour of the secret and ironical ways of the Universe, and a perhaps mean‐spirited fear of human pre‐arrangement of all things; deeming, as I do, that our intellect, though vast, cannot yet compass the Multitudinous Unexpected; and that page: 349 what little intelligence and sympathy and will we possess is barely sufficient for everyday use and every day’s unaccountable surprises.

Thoroughly earnest and strenuous people may stigmatise this attitude as dilettanteish; and I have a notion that they do not really like me. But I feel sure, dear Mr. Wells, that you will protect me against your Samurai and their presumable Index Expurgatorius; nay, that you will pull a few wires, in order that the revised edition of the New Republican Breviary should contain some little high‐minded quotation from this over‐garrulous letter of your devoted and grateful reader.

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