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Wasteful Pleasures by Vernon Lee


     “Er muss lernen edler begehren, damit er nicht nötig habe,
     erhaben zu wollen.”—SCHILLER, “Ästhetische Erziehung.”


A pretty, Caldecott-like moment, or rather minute, when the huntsmen stood on the green lawn round the moving, tail-switching, dapple mass of hounds; and the red coats trotted one by one from behind the screens of bare trees, delicate lilac against the slowly moving grey sky. A delightful moment, followed, as the hunt swished past, by the sudden sense that these men and women, thus whirled off into what may well be the sole poetry of their lives, are but noisy intruders into these fields and spinnies, whose solemn, secret speech they drown with clatter and yelp, whose mystery and charm stand aside on their passage, like an interrupted, a profaned rite.

Gone; the yapping and barking, the bugle-tootling fade away in the distance; and the trees and wind converse once more.

This West Wind, which has been whipping up the wan northern sea, and rushing round the house all this last fortnight, singing its big ballads in corridor and chimney, piping its dirges and lullabies in one's back-blown hair on the sand dunes—this West Wind, with its many chaunts, its occasional harmonies and sudden modulations mocking familiar tunes, can tell of many things: of the different way in which the great trunks meet its shocks and answer vibrating through innermost fibres; the smooth, muscular boles of the beeches, shaking their auburn boughs; the stiff, rough hornbeams and thorns isolated among the pastures; the ashes whose leaves strew the roads with green rushes; the creaking, shivering firs and larches. The West Wind tells us of the way how the branches spring outwards, or balance themselves, or hang like garlands in the air, and carry their leaves, or needles, or nuts; and of their ways of bending and straightening, of swaying and trembling. It tells us also, this West Wind, how the sea is lashed and furrowed; how the little waves spring up in the offing, and the big waves rise and run forward and topple into foam; how the rocks are shaken, the sands are made to hiss and the shingle is rattled up and down; how the great breakers vault over the pier walls, leap thundering against the breakwaters, and disperse like smoke off the cannon's mouth, like the whiteness of some vast explosion.

These are the things which the Wind and the Woods can talk about with us, nay, even the gorse and the shaking bents. But the hunting folk pass too quickly, and make too much noise, to hear anything save themselves and their horses' hoofs and their bugle and hounds.


I have taken fox-hunting as the type of a pleasure which destroys something, just because it is, in many ways, the most noble and, if I may say so, the most innocent of such pleasures. The death, the, perhaps agonising, flight of the fox, occupy no part of the hunter's consciousness, and form no part of his pleasure; indeed, they could, but for the hounds, be dispensed with altogether. There is a fine community of emotion between men and creatures, horses and dogs adding their excitement to ours; there is also a fine lack of the mere feeling of trying to outrace a competitor, something of the collective and almost altruistic self-forgetfulness of a battle. There is the break-neck skurry, the flying across the ground and through the air at the risk of limbs and life, and at the mercy of one's own and one's horse's pluck, skill and good fellowship. All this makes up a rapture in which many ugly things vanish, and certain cosmic intuitions flash forth for some, at least, of the hunters. The element of poetry is greater, the element of brutality less, in this form of intoxication than in many others. It has a handsomer bearing than its modern successor, the motor-intoxication, with its passiveness and (for all but the driver) its lack of skill, its confinement, moreover, to beaten roads, and its petrol-stench and dustcloud of privilege and of inconvenience to others. And the intoxication of hunting is, to my thinking at least, cleaner, wholesomer, than the intoxication of, let us say, certain ways of hearing music. But just because so much can be said, both positive and negative, in its favour, I am glad that hunting, and not some meaner or some less seemly amusement, should have set me off moralising about such pleasures as are wasteful of other things or of some portion of our soul.


For nothing can be further from scientific fact than that cross-grained and ill-tempered puritanism identifying pleasure with something akin to sinfulness. Philosophically considered, Pain is so far stronger a determinant than Pleasure, that its vis a tergo might have sufficed to ensure the survival of the race, without the far milder action of Pleasure being necessary at all; so that the very existence of Pleasure would lead us to infer that, besides its function of selecting, like Pain, among life's possibilities, it has the function of actually replenishing the vital powers, and thus making amends, by its healing and invigorating, for the wear and tear, the lessening of life's resources through life's other great Power of Selection, the terror-angel of Pain. This being the case, Pleasure tends, and should tend more and more, to be consistent with itself, to mean a greater chance of its own growth and spreading (as opposed to Pain's dwindling and suicidal nature), and in so far to connect itself with whatsoever facts make for the general good, and to reject, therefore, all cruelty, injustice, rapacity and wastefulness of opportunities and powers.

Nay, paradoxical though such a notion may seem in the face of our past and present state of barbarism, Pleasure, and hence amusement, should become incompatible with, be actually spoilt by, any element of loss to self and others, of mischief even to the distant, the future, and of impiety to that principle of Good which is but the summing up of the claims of the unseen and unborn.


I was struck, the other day, by the name of a play on a theatre poster: A Life of Pleasure. The expression is so familiar that we hear and employ it without thinking how it has come to be. Yet, when by some accident it comes to be analysed, its meaning startles with an odd revelation. Pleasure, a life of pleasure.... Other lives, to be livable, must contain more pleasure than pain; and we know, as a fact, that all healthy work is pleasurable to healthy creatures. Intelligent converse with one's friends, study, sympathy, all give pleasure; and art is, in a way, the very type of pleasure. Yet we know that none of all that is meant in the expression: a life of pleasure. A curious thought, and, as it came to me, a terrible one. For that expression is symbolic. It means that, of all the myriads of creatures who surround us, in the present and past, the vast majority identifies pleasure mainly with such a life; despises, in its speech at least, all other sorts of pleasure, the pleasure of its own honest strivings and affections, taking them for granted, making light thereof.


We are mistaken, I think, in taxing the generality of people with indifference to ideals, with lack of ideas directing their lives. Few lives are really lawless or kept in check only by the secular arm, the judge or policeman. Nor is conformity to what others do, what is fit for one's class or seemly in one's position a result of mere unreasoning imitation or of the fear of being boycotted. The potency of such considerations is largely that of summing up certain rules and defining the permanent tendencies of the individual, or those he would wish to be permanent; in other words, we are in the presence of ideals of conduct.

Why else are certain things those which have to be done; whence otherwise such expressions as social duties and keeping up one's position? Why such fortitude under boredom, weariness, constraint; such heroism sometimes in taking blows and snubs, in dancing on with broken heart-strings like the Princess in Ford's play? All this means an ideal, nay, a religion. Yes; people, quite matter-of-fact, worldly people, are perpetually sacrificing to ideals. And what is more, quite superior, virtuous people, religious in the best sense of the word, are apt to have, besides the ostensible and perhaps rather obsolete one of churches and meeting-houses, another cultus, esoteric, unspoken but acted upon, of which the priests and casuists are ladies'-maids and butlers.

Now, if one could only put to profit some of this wasted dutifulness, this useless heroism; if some of the energy put into the ideal progress (as free from self-interest most often as the accumulating merit of Kim's Buddhist) called getting on in the world could only be applied in getting the world along!


An eminent political economist, to whom I once confided my aversion for such butler's and lady's-maid's ideals of life, admonished me that although useless possessions, unenjoyable luxury, ostentation, and so forth, undoubtedly represented a waste of the world's energies and resources, they should nevertheless be tolerated, inasmuch as constituting a great incentive to industry. People work, he said, largely that they may be able to waste. If you repress wastefulness you will diminish, by so much, the production of wealth by the wasteful, by the luxurious and the vain....

This may be true. Habits of modesty and of sparingness might perhaps deprive the world of as much wealth as they would save. But even supposing this to be true, though the wealth of the world did not immediately gain, there would always be the modesty and sparingness to the good; virtues which, sooner or later, would be bound to make more wealth exist or to make existing wealth go a longer way. Appealing to higher motives, to good sense and good feeling and good taste, has the advantage of saving the drawbacks of lower motives, which are lower just because they have such drawbacks. You may get a man to do a desirable thing from undesirable motives; but those undesirable motives will induce him, the very next minute, to do some undesirable thing. The wages of good feeling and good taste is the satisfaction thereof. The wages of covetousness and vanity is the grabbing of advantages and the humiliating of neighbours; and these make life poorer, however much bread there may be to eat or money to spend. What are called higher motives are merely those which expand individual life into harmonious connection with the life of all men; what we call lower motives bring us hopelessly back, by a series of vicious circles, to the mere isolated, sterile egos. Sterile, I mean, in the sense that the supply of happiness dwindles instead of increasing.


Waste of better possibilities, of higher qualities, of what we call our soul. To denounce this is dignified, but it is also easy and most often correspondingly useless. I wish to descend to more prosaic matters, and, as Ruskin did in his day, to denounce the mere waste of money. For the wasting of money implies nearly always all those other kinds of wasting. And although there are doubtless pastimes (pastimes promoted, as is our wont, for fear of yet other pastimes), which are in themselves unclean or cruel, these are less typically evil, just because they are more obviously so, than the amusements which imply the destruction of wealth, the destruction of part of the earth's resources and of men's labour and thrift, and incidentally thereon of human leisure and comfort and the world's sweetness.

Do you remember La Bruyère's famous description of the peasants under Louis XIV.? “One occasionally meets with certain wild animals, both male and female, scattered over the country; black, livid and parched by the sun, bound to the soil which they scratch and dig up with desperate obstinacy. They have something which sounds like speech, and when they raise themselves up they show a human face. And, as a fact, they are human beings.” The Ancien Régime, which had reduced them to that, and was to continue reducing them worse and worse for another hundred years by every conceivable tax, tithe, toll, servage, and privilege, did so mainly to pay for amusements. Amusements of the Roi-Soleil, with his Versailles and Marly and aqueducts and waterworks, plays and operas; amusements of Louis XV., with his Parc-aux-Cerfs; amusements of Marie-Antoinette, playing the virtuous rustic at Trianon; amusements of new buildings, new equipages, new ribbons and bibbons, new diamonds (including the fatal necklace); amusements of hunting and gambling and love-making; amusements sometimes atrocious, sometimes merely futile, but all of them leaving nothing behind, save the ravaged grass and stench of brimstone of burnt-out fireworks.

Moreover, wasting money implies getting more. And the processes by which such wasted money is replaced are, by the very nature of those who do the wasting, rarely, nay, never, otherwise than wasteful in themselves. To put into their pockets or, like Marshall Villeroi (“a-t-on mis de l'or dans mes poches?”), have it put by their valets, to replace what was lost overnight, these proud and often honourable nobles would ante-chamber and cringe for sinecures, pensions, indemnities, privileges, importune and supplicate the King, the King's mistress, pandar or lacquey. And the sinecure, pension, indemnity or privilege was always deducted out of the bread—rye-bread, straw-bread, grass-bread—which those parched, prone human animals described by La Bruyère were extracting “with desperate obstinacy”—out of the ever more sterile and more accursed furrow.

It is convenient to point the moral by reference to those kings and nobles of other centuries, without incurring pursuit for libel, or wounding the feelings of one's own kind and estimable contemporaries. Still, it may be well to add that, odd though it appears, the vicious circle (in both senses of the words) continues to exist; and that, even in our democratic civilisation, you cannot waste money without wasting something else in getting more money to replace it.

Waste, and lay waste, even as if your pastime had consisted not in harmless novelty and display, in gentlemanly games or good-humoured sport, but in destruction and devastation for their own sake.


It has been laid waste, that little valley which, in its delicate and austere loveliness, was rarer and more perfect than any picture or poem. Those oaks, ivy garlanded like Maenads, which guarded the shallow white weirs whence the stream leaps down; those ilexes, whose dark, loose boughs hung over the beryl pools like hair of drinking nymphs; those trees which were indeed the living and divine owners of that secluded place, dryads and oreads older and younger than any mortals,—have now been shamefully stripped, violated and maimed, their shorn-off leafage, already withered, gathered into faggots or trodden into the mud made by woodcutters' feet in the place of violets and tender grasses and wild balm; their flayed bodies, hacked grossly out of shape, and flung into the defiled water until the moment when, the slaughter and dishonour and profanation being complete, the dealers' carts will come cutting up the turf and sprouting reeds, and carry them off to the station or timber-yard. The very stumps and roots will be dragged out for sale; the earthy banks, raw and torn, will fall in, muddying and clogging that pure mountain brook; and the hillside, turning into sliding shale, will dam it into puddles with the refuse from the quarries above. And thus, for less guineas than will buy a new motor or cover an hour of Monte Carlo, a corner of the world's loveliness and peace will be gone as utterly as those chairs and tables and vases and cushions which the harlot in Zola's novel broke, tore, and threw upon the fire for her morning's amusement.


There is in our imperfect life too little of pleasure and too much of play. This means that our activities are largely wasted in pleasureless ways; that, being more tired than we should be, we lose much time in needed rest; moreover, that being, all of us more or less, slaves to the drudgery of need or fashion, we set a positive value on that negative good called freedom, even as the pause between pain takes, in some cases, the character of pleasure.

There is in all play a sense not merely of freedom from responsibility, from purpose and consecutiveness, a possibility of breaking off, or slackening off, but a sense also of margin, of permitted pause and blank and change; all of which answer to our being on the verge of fatigue or boredom, at the limit of our energy, as is normal in the case of growing children (for growth exhausts), and inevitable in the case of those who work without the renovation of interest in what they are doing.

If you notice people on a holiday, you will see them doing a large amount of “nothing,” dawdling, in fact; and “amusements” are, when they are not excitements, that is to say, stimulations to deficient energy, full of such “doing nothing.” Think, for instance, of “amusing conversation” with its gaps and skippings, and “amusing” reading with its perpetual chances of inattention.

All this is due to the majority of us being too weak, too badly born and bred, to give full attention except under the constraint of necessary work, or under the lash of some sort of excitement; and as a consequence to our obtaining a sense of real well-being only from the spare energy which accumulates during idleness. Moreover, under our present conditions (as under those of slave-labour) “work” is rarely such as calls forth the effortless, the willing, the pleased attention. Either in kind or length or intensity, work makes a greater demand than can be met by the spontaneous, happy activity of most of us, and thereby diminishes the future chances of such spontaneous activity by making us weaker in body and mind.

Now, so long as work continues to be thus strained or against the grain, play is bound to be either an excitement which leaves us poorer and more tired than before (the fox-hunter, for instance, at the close of the day, or on the off-days), or else play will be mere dawdling, getting out of training, in a measure demoralisation. For demoralisation, in the etymological sense being debauched, is the correlative of over-great or over-long effort; both spoil, but the one spoils while diminishing the mischief made by the other.

Art is so much less useful than it should be, because of this bad division of “work” and “play,” between which two it finds no place. For Art—and the art we unwittingly practice whenever we take pleasure in nature—is without appeal either to the man who is straining at business and to the man who is dawdling in amusement.

Æsthetic pleasure implies energy during rest and leisureliness during labour. It means making the most of whatever beautiful and noble possibilities may come into our life; nay, it means, in each single soul, being for however brief a time, beautiful and noble because one is filled with beauty and nobility.


To eat his bread in sorrow and the sweat of his face was, we are apt to forget, the first sign of man's loss of innocence. And having learned that we must reverse the myth in order to see its meaning (since innocence is not at the beginning, but rather at the end of the story of mankind), we might accept it as part of whatever religion we may have, that the evil of our world is exactly commensurate with the hardship of useful tasks and the wastefulness and destructiveness of pleasures and diversions. Evil and also folly and inefficiency, for each of these implies the existence of much work badly done, of much work to no purpose, of a majority of men so weak and dull as to be excluded from choice and from leisure, and a minority of men so weak and dull as to use choice and leisure mainly for mischief. To reverse this original sinful constitution of the world is the sole real meaning of progress. And the only reason for wishing inventions to be perfected, wealth to increase, freedom to be attained, and, indeed, the life of the race to be continued at all, lies in the belief that such continued movement must bring about a gradual diminution of pleasureless work and wasteful play. Meanwhile, in the wretched past and present, the only aristocracy really existing has been that of the privileged creatures whose qualities and circumstances must have been such that, whether artisans or artists, tillers of the ground or seekers after truth, poets, philosophers, or mothers and nurses, their work has been their pleasure. This means love; and love means fruitfulness.


There are moments when, catching a glimpse of the frightful weight of care and pain with which mankind is laden, I am oppressed by the thought that all improvement must come solely through the continued selfish shifting of that burden from side to side, from shoulder to shoulder; through the violent or cunning destruction of some of the intolerable effects of selfishness in the past by selfishness in the present and the future. And that in the midst of this terrible but salutary scuffle for ease and security, the ideals of those who are privileged enough to have any, may be not much more useful than the fly on the axle-tree.

It may be, it doubtless is so nowadays, although none of us can tell to what extent.

But even if it be so, let us who have strength and leisure for preference and ideals prepare ourselves to fit, at least to acquiesce, in the changes we are unable to bring about. Do not let us seek our pleasure in things which we condemn, or remain attached to those which are ours only through the imperfect arrangements which we deplore. We are, of course, all tied tight in the meshes of our often worthless and cruel civilisation, even as the saints felt themselves caught in the meshes of bodily life. But even as they, in their day, fixed their hopes on the life disembodied, so let us, in our turn, prepare our souls for that gradual coming of justice on earth which we shall never witness, by forestalling its results in our valuations and our wishes.


The other evening, skirting the Links, we came upon a field, where, among the brown and green nobbly grass, was gathered a sort of parliament of creatures: rooks on the fences, seagulls and peewits wheeling overhead, plovers strutting and wagging their tails; and, undisturbed by the white darting of rabbits, a covey of young partridges, hopping leisurely in compact mass.

Is it because we see of these creatures only their harmlessness to us, but not the slaughter and starving out of each other; or is it because of their closer relation to simple and beautiful things, to nature; or is it merely because they are not human beings—who shall tell? but, for whatever reason, such a sight does certainly bring up in us a sense, however fleeting, of simplicity, mansuetude (I like the charming mediæval word), of the kinship of harmlessness.

I was thinking this while wading up the grass this morning to the craig behind the house, the fields of unripe corn a-shimmer and a-shiver in the light, bright wind; the sea and distant sky so merged in delicate white mists that a ship, at first sight, seemed a bird poised in the air. And, higher up, among the ragwort and tall thistles, I found in the coarse grass a dead baby-rabbit, shot and not killed at once, perhaps; or shot and not picked up, as not worth taking: a little soft, smooth, feathery young handful, laid out very decently, as human beings have to be laid out by one another, in death.

It brought to my mind a passage where Thoreau, who understood such matters, says, that although the love of nature may be fostered by sport, such love, when once consummate, will make nature's lover little by little shrink from slaughter, and hanker after a diet wherein slaughter is unnecessary.

It is sad, not for the beasts but for our souls, that, since we must kill beasts for food (though may not science teach a cleaner, more human diet?) or to prevent their eating us out of house and home, it is sad that we should choose to make of this necessity (which ought to be, like all our baser needs, a matter if not of shame at least of decorum) that we should make of this ugly necessity an opportunity for amusement. It is sad that nowadays, when creatures, wild and tame, are bred for killing, the usual way in which man is brought in contact with the creatures of the fields and woods and streams (such man, I mean, as thinks, feels or is expected to) should be by slaughtering them.

Surely it might be more akin to our human souls, to gentleness of bringing up, Christianity of belief and chivalry of all kinds, to be, rather than a hunter, a shepherd. Yet the shepherd is the lout in our idle times; the shepherd, and the tiller of the soil; and alas, the naturalist, again, is apt to be the muff.

But may the time not come when, apart from every man having to do some useful thing, something perchance like tending flocks, tilling the ground, mowing and forestering—the mere love of beauty, the desire for peace and harmony, the craving for renewal by communion with the life outside our own, will lead men, without dogs or guns or rods, into the woods, the fields, to the river-banks, as to some ancient palace full of frescoes, as to some silent church, with solemn rites and liturgy?


The killing of creatures for sport seems a necessity nowadays. There is more than mere bodily vigour to be got by occasional interludes of outdoor life, early hours, discomfort and absorption in the ways of birds and beasts; there is actual spiritual renovation. The mere reading about such things, in Tolstoi's Cossacks and certain chapters of Anna Karenina makes one realise the poetry attached to them; and we all of us know that the genuine sportsman, the man of gun and rod and daybreak and solitude, has often a curious halo of purity about him; contact with natural things and unfamiliarity with the sordidness of so much human life and endeavour, amounting to a kind of consecration. A man of this stamp once told me that no emotion in his life had ever equalled that of his first woodcock.

You cannot have such open-air life, such clean and poetic emotion without killing. Men are men; they will not get up at cock-crow for the sake of a mere walk, or sleep in the woods for the sake of the wood's noises: they must have an object; and what object is there except killing beasts or birds or fish? Men have to be sportsmen because they can't all be either naturalists or poets. Killing animals (and, some persons would add, killing other men) is necessary to keep man manly. And where men are no longer manly they become cruel, not for the sake of sport or war, but for their lusts and for cruelty's own sake. And that seems to settle the question.


But the question is not really settled. It is merely settled for the present, but not for the future. It is surely a sign of our weakness and barbarism that we cannot imagine to-morrow as better than to-day, and that, for all our vaunted temporal progress and hypocritical talk of duty, we are yet unable to think and to feel in terms of improvement and change; but let our habits, like the vilest vested interests, oppose a veto to the hope and wish for better things.

To realise that what is does not mean what will be, constitutes, methinks, the real spirituality of us poor human creatures, allowing our judgments and aspirations to pass beyond our short and hidebound life, to live on in the future, and help to make that yonside of our mortality, which some of us attempt to satisfy with theosophic reincarnation and planchette messages!

But such spirituality, whose “it shall”—or “it shall not”—will become an ever larger part of all it is, depends upon the courage of recognising that much of what the past forces us to accept is not good enough for the future; recognising that, odious as this may seem to our self-conceit and sloth, many of the things we do and like and are, will not bear even our own uncritical scrutiny. Above all, that the lesser evil which we prefer to the greater is an evil for all that, and requires riddance.

Much of the world's big mischief is due to the avoidance of a bigger one. For instance, all this naïvely insisted on masculine inability to obtain the poet's or naturalist's joys without shooting a bird or hooking a fish, this inability to love wild life, early hours and wholesome fatigue unless accompanied by a waste of life and of money; in short, all this incapacity for being manly without being destructive, is largely due among us Anglo-Saxons to the bringing up of boys as mere playground dunces, for fear (as we are told by parents and schoolmasters) that the future citizens of England should take to evil communications and worse manners if they did not play and talk cricket and football at every available moment. For what can you expect but that manly innocence which has been preserved at the expense of every higher taste should grow up into manly virtue unable to maintain itself save by hunting and fishing, shooting and horse-racing; expensive amusements requiring, in their turn, a further sacrifice of all capacities for innocent, noble and inexpensive interests, in the absorbing, sometimes stultifying, often debasing processes of making money?

The same complacency towards waste and mischief for the sake of moral advantages may be studied in the case also of our womankind. The absorption in their toilettes guards them from many dangers to family sanctity. And from how much cruel gossip is not society saved by the prevalent passion for bridge!

So at least moralists, who are usually the most complacently demoralised of elderly cynics, are ready to assure us.


“We should learn to have noble desires,” wrote Schiller, “in order to have no need for sublime resolutions.” And morality might almost take care of itself, if people knew the strong and exquisite pleasures to be found, like the aromatic ragwort growing on every wall and stone-heap in the south, everywhere in the course of everyday life. But alas! the openness to cheap and simple pleasures means the fine training of fine faculties; and mankind asks for the expensive and far-fetched and unwholesome pleasures, because it is itself of poor and cheap material and of wholesale scamped manufacture.


Biological facts, as well as our observation of our own self (which is psychology), lead us to believe that, as I have mentioned before, Pleasure fulfils the function not merely of leading us along livable ways, but also of creating a surplus of vitality. Itself an almost unnecessary boon (since Pain is sufficient to regulate our choice), Pleasure would thus tend to ever fresh and, if I may use the word, gratuitous supplies of good. Does not this give to Pleasure a certain freedom, a humane character wholly different from the awful, unappeasable tyranny of Pain? For let us be sincere. Pain, and all the cruel alternatives bidding us obey or die, are scarcely things with which our poor ideals, our good feeling and good taste, have much chance of profitable discussion. There is in all human life a side akin to that of the beast; the beast hunted, tracked, starved, killing and killed for food; the side alluded to under decent formulæ like “pressure of population,” “diminishing returns,” “competition,” and so forth. Not but this side of life also tends towards good, but the means by which it does so, nature's atrocious surgery, are evil, although one cannot deny that it is the very nature of Pain to diminish its own recurrence. This thought may bring some comfort in the awful earnestness of existence, this thought that in its cruel fashion, the universe is weeding out cruel facts. But to pretend that we can habitually exercise much moral good taste, be of delicate forethought, squeamish harmony when Pain has yoked and is driving us, is surely a bad bit of hypocrisy, of which those who are being starved or trampled or tortured into acquiescence may reasonably bid us be ashamed. Indeed, stoicism, particularly in its discourses to others, has not more sense of shame than sense of humour.

But since our power of choosing is thus jeopardised by the presence of Pain, it would the more behove us to express our wish for goodness, our sense of close connection, wide and complex harmony with the happiness of others, in those moments of respite and liberty which we call happiness, and particularly in those freely chosen concerns which we call play.

Alas, we cannot help ourselves from becoming unimaginative, unsympathising, destructive and brutish when we are hard pressed by agony or by fear. Therefore, let such of us as have stuff for finer things, seize some of our only opportunities, and seek to become harmless in our pleasures.

Who knows but that the highest practical self-cultivation would not be compassed by a much humbler paraphrase of Schiller's advice: let us learn to like what does no harm to the present or the future, in order not to throw away heroic efforts or sentimental intentions, in doing what we don't like for someone else's supposed benefit.


The various things I have been saying have been said, or, better still, taken for granted, by Wordsworth, Keats, Browning, Ruskin, Pater, Stevenson, by all our poets in verse and prose. What I wish to add is that, being a poet, seeing and feeling like a poet, means quite miraculously multiplying life's resources for oneself and others; in fact the highest practicality conceivable, the real transmutation of brass into gold. Now what we all waste, more even than money, land, time and labour, more than we waste the efforts and rewards of other folk, and the chances of enjoyment of unborn generations (and half of our so-called practicality is nothing but such waste), what we waste in short more than anything else, is our own and our children's inborn capacity to see and feel as poets do, and make much joy out of little material.


There is no machine refuse, cinder, husk, paring or rejected material of any kind which modern ingenuity cannot turn to profit, making useful and pleasant goods out of such rubbish as we would willingly, at first sight, shoot out of the universe into chaos. Every material thing can be turned, it would seem, into new textures, clean metal, manure, fuel or what not. But while we are thus economical with our dust-heaps, what horrid wastefulness goes on with our sensations, impressions, memories, emotions, with our souls and all the things that minister to their delight!


An ignorant foreign body—and, after all, everyone is a foreigner somewhere and ignorant about something—once committed the enormity of asking his host, just back from cub-hunting, whether the hedgerows, when he went out of a morning, were not quite lovely with those dewy cobwebs which the French call Veils of the Virgin. It had to be explained that such a sight was the most unwelcome you could imagine, since it was a sure sign there would be no scent. The poor foreigner was duly crestfallen, as happens whenever one has nearly spoilt a friend's property through some piece of blundering.

But the blunder struck me as oddly symbolical. Are we not most of us pursuing for our pleasure, though sometimes at risk of our necks, a fox of some kind: worth nothing as meat, little as fur, good only to gallop after, and whose unclean scent is incompatible with those sparkling gossamers flung, for everyone's delight, over gorse and hedgerow?


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