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The present-day English clergy are excellent men, but they are divorced from the soil. My father could remember the arrival of the first railway engine in Ramsgate, and he died at the end of the century. So he exactly represents the period of transformation. He had all the habits of thought of a man who had always taken the lead, not because he thought about it, but because it was the natural thing to do. He was entirely devoid of any artificial tone of 'uplift.' In fact he hated it, and expressed his opinion of 'cant' with direct Saxon vigor. But in his generation a tenderness of tone had crept in, and he was an example of it. When the Baptist minister of the village was dying, my father was the only minister whom he would see. Despite all the differences between their churches, they were both East Kent men; and when they read the Bible together they understood each other without many words.

In his youth he had ridden with the hounds, and had a magnificent seat on horseback. He had also played cricket with every club in the neighborhood. He knew all the farmers and the laborers; and in his later years he had christened a fair percentage of them, after playing cricket or hunting with their fathers in earlier days when they were boys together.

He was an equal mixture of a HighChurchman and a Broad-Churchman. His favorite history was Gibbon's Decline and Fall. I do not think that any of Gibbon's chapters shocked him; for his robust common sense told him that the people of East Kent, with whom he was quite content, were really very unlike the early Christians. His favorite character in the Bible was Abraham, who exhibits many features to endear him to the East Kent mentality.

My father was a natural orator, equally at home in the pulpit or at a

mass meeting either of townspeople or of countrymen. His church was always crammed with the villagers, and with townspeople who had walked some miles, and with Londoners spending their holidays in the district.

These East Kent clergy of the old school had a simpler view of the relations of a pastor to his flock than that which prevails at present. They viewed with disapproval the growth of the complex parochial machinery which obtains at present throughout England. It was a case of one-man rule. They were simple and direct in their methods, and yet they got at the heart of the people in a way denied to the present generation. As they walked through their villages, or across the country footpaths, they stopped and chatted with every man, woman, or child whom they met. They knew all about them -whether their patch of vegetable garden was good or bad, whether they were sober or whether they drank, what their fathers were like, and how their sons had turned out. They had homely advice and kindly sympathy to give. Above all, they saw to it that every child in the village went to school and had an education according to the lights of those days. They visited the schools, listened to the children, patted them on the head, and made friends with the school-teachers. It was a humanizing, kindly influence, which trusted mainly to the mercy of God to save the souls of men.


This corner of Kent is called the Isle of Thanet. The arm of the sea which separates it from the mainland had just ceased to be navigable when the Tudors came to the throne. Now its old bed forms desolate grass flats surrounded by tidal ditches. This flat marshy country is from four to six

like the cynicism of La Rochefoucauld, is beautiful in its expression. The truth is, a writer of great intellect and imagination writes instinctively in obedience to certain laws of beauty which themselves overlap the ultimate laws of decency and of delight. We may regard his vision as evil and his creed as poisonous, and may believe that no man inspired by such a creed and vision has ever ascended to the highest peaks of literature; but, as we read his masterpieces, we have no sense of the dull tedium of disgust. It is the men of lesser talents the men of half-genius and the men of no genius at all, but of abnormal vanity - who repel us with their deliberate indecorum. They are epicures of the unsavory - hosts who, in order to be original, dispense titbits of offal to their guests. They take pleasure in defiling life, and are scandalmongers about the soul and body of man.


Writers, of course, like other men, are commonly inspired by mixed motives, and it is seldom that a writer's only motive is a passion for indecency. Some of the Restoration dramatists almost achieved this single-mindedness, and the general oblivion into which their works have fallen is the inevitable reward of the single-minded bore in literature. If a number of modern writers outrage the decencies, however, it is usually only in patches. Some of them are merely escaped puritans. They are so smug and so selfsatisfied as they dabble in their mud pies that you think of them as cracked and crazy little Jack Horners. They have none of the generous joviality and superabundant spirits of the great outragers of the decencies. Their error is the result, not of an excess, but of a deficiency, of vitality. Other writers

of the kind are, as Stevenson said of Zola, 'diseased anyway and blackhearted and fundamentally at enmity with joy.' We can love almost any author who enjoys life, or even any noble author who does not enjoy it, but an author who can give us nothing but prying and joyless excursions into mud is a predestined bore, and literature will have none of him.

It would, I admit, be as absurd as it would be unjust to speak of Zola and certain other writers who have shocked the respectable as though they were obscene and nothing more. Zola in some of his novels all but achieved greatness, and there are one or two living writers with comparable preoccupations to whom, one feels, the divine gift of genius was offered at their cradles. The question at issue is not whether Zola and those others are worthless writers, but whether they may not have lost vastly more than they have gained by refusing to recognize the ordinary taboos of decency. I for one am convinced that they have lost immeasurably.

The artist, after all, is a creator of life in its infinite variety. In him the whole range of human emotion is reborn for us. If he gives us disgust, it must be only as the shadow of our raptures. He takes us through child's play and April and sunshine, through friendship and love that challenges the grave and seems even in death to defeat it, through all the conflicts of ambition, greed, and noble disinterestedness, through laughter, tears, and the medicinal wisdom that makes laughter a release into charity, and tears a release into faith and hope, and so on finally to the calm sunset peace of Prospero.

If the artist is preoccupied with the indecent, he has not that free imagination out of which the greatest and

most beautiful figures of literature have been born. He has become the slave of a fixed idea, and his imagination enjoys about as much liberty as the caged eagles on the Roman Capitol. If you want to see evidence of this, you have only to look at English lyric poetry. No Rochester, or man of Rochester's mood and mind, has ever soared to those heights to which Wordsworth and the great lyric poets have soared. I doubt, indeed, if a selection of the thousand greatest lyrics in the English language, made on purely aesthetic grounds, would contain half a dozen lyrics that would be gravely questioned on grounds of decency by a committee of bishops.

Much of the indecency of the present day, I fancy, is due to a feeling that the soil of literature is exhausted and that we can enrich it by digging deeper and working in the subsoil. Writers who take this view forget, unfortunately, that when you are digging a garden, while you are advised to dig deep, you are warned on no account to bring the subsoil to the surface. The subsoil is barren, and the great artists, if they refrained from bringing it to the surface, did so because they knew very well that nothing would grow in it. In ordinary life, if we buried the soil under the subsoil, we should find ourselves starving. Mr. Joyce seems to me to have buried the soil under the subsoil in Ulysses, and to have produced a vast waste in which the imagination


There are things that Nature never meant us to drag into the light. Just as the gardener must dig down to the subsoil and break it up with his fork, so the artist may venture as deep as he will with his curiosity, but he must be careful to leave hidden what was meant to be hidden and to cultivate the same exuberant earth that was cultivated by the great artists before him.

The instinct of shame and reticence, in spite of its many absurd manifestations, was implanted in him by Nature as a means of enabling him to distinguish between what was worth his doing and what was not. It goes deeper than superstition, though it has often been accompanied by superstition, and we owe to a hundred taboos our rise out of savagery, the progress of human society, and the development of the arts. For every great work of art is a masterpiece of suppression no less than of expression. Homer and Shakespeare knew a great deal about the animal life of man and the quagmires of the human imagination that they were not too great prudes but too great artists to put into writing.


As to where the bounds of decency are to be fixed, it is impossible to lay down an absolute rule. All we can be sure of is that decorum of one sort or another is as essential to the arts as it is to social life, and that without it the arts tend to sink into a monotony of triviality or feverishness. Rabelais and Sterne may be cited as witness on the other side, and undoubtedly the laws of decorum are looser in comic than in more solemn writing; but even of Rabelais Coleridge could say, as could be said of few of the supremely indecorous authors: 'I could write a treatise in praise of the moral elevation of Rabelais's work which would make the Church stare and the Conventicle groan, and yet would be truth and nothing but truth.'

To-day, however, it is, as I have suggested, not the comic writers, but the writers who never make a joke, who seem oftenest to transgress the bounds of decency; and it would be difficult to write a treatise in praise of their moral elevation.

Some of them have imaginations that can scarcely rise above the physical side of sex, and any uninteresting nobody making love to any other uninteresting nobody is more fascinating to them than Helen on the walls of Troy or the agony of Lear beside the dead Cordelia. They are more interested in love affairs than in love, and, in opposition to the old Sunday-school tracts, write what might be described as Witches'-Sabbath-school tracts. They too, however, have their own reticence. They too, like Homer and Shakespeare, leave things out; they leave out, indeed, just those things that Shakespeare and Homer thought important. It is as though they were trying to construct novels from the refuseheaps of the artists of the past. But, after all, if a novelist can move us neither to tears nor to laughter, it does not very much matter whether he is indecent or not, since he has already written his epitaph with his signature on the title-page. And, if he can move us to tears and laughter, we shall take him to our hearts, however he may offend the conventions of the hour.

If a defense of decency in literature is necessary, it is not in order to denounce this or that writer,

but in order to keep alive in a

generation of fluctuating thought and opinion a sense of the eternal values in the arts. Readers too easily allow themselves to be herded into opposing camps of puritans and antipuritans, and in the result we often find the antipuritans, in the heat and enthusiasm of battle, trying to foist upon us as a work of exalted genius some third-rate book that has very little merit except that it is likely to shock the pious. The puritans, to do them justice, are less concerned to prove that a book with the morals of which they agree is great literature. They are content to enjoy a bad book of a morally good kind in the same illiterate mood in which most of us enjoy detective stories.

On the whole, there seems to be no necessity to join either of the camps. Literature needs to be defended alike against the deadly decorum of the extreme puritans and the equally deadly indecorum of the extreme antipuritans. But that a profound and noble decorum is all but an essential of great modern literature I am convinced. It was not altogether by accident that the most decorous age in English history produced the greatest novelist in English literature -Charles Dickens.



WHEN the United States ship Memphis crashed against the rocks of Santo Domingo, the catastrophe was too big for any one man to see in its entirety. My part in the event was small, but it is all I know. It is all I shall try to tell.

It was hot and sticky weather, a typical August afternoon in the Caribbean. Occasional light showers drifted across the roadstead and the ship swung easily in the long swell. I had intended making an inspection of the Castine's pay department that afternoon, but a troublesome error in the balance of my own clothing return kept me hunting for an elusive discrepancy of twenty cents until nearly three o'clock. By that time I was drowsy; and as I came on deck, to find the sun shining through a patter of big, plashing raindrops, I reflected that the afternoon was too far gone to make much of an inspection. My room was on the breezy side, and an air port twenty inches square opened by the head of my berth. I went below instead of going to the Castine.

There was a two-inch batten on the long bookshelf overhead to hold my books when the ship rolled. Nevertheless, I was aroused by the impact of a thick volume of Montaigne landing in the pit of my stomach. Still drowsy, I put the book back. Before it was fairly set on the shelf, six or seven volumes of Decisions of the Comptroller cascaded all around me. I was


suddenly wide-awake. The ship had never rolled like that during my time on board.

Automatically I closed and dogged down my air port and pulled on my coat. Was there a hurricane making up? The log, kept in a desk on the quarter-deck, would show. As I started up the ladder to investigate, the engineer officer, Lieutenant Jones, ran into his room next mine, and I heard him call down the voice tube, 'Light off six more boilers!' as he began hurriedly to pull on his overalls preparatory to going below.

Another heavy roll sent the ship on her beam ends. The log showed nothing unusual in the column devoted to barometer, wind, or clouds. The yellow afternoon sun was blinking through the wet air. A little shower was drifting slowly a mile inshore, a soft breeze following its thin shadow. At the mouth of the river I could see our motor launch with returning liberty men heading out toward the ship. The surgeon, first lieutenant, and gunnery officer joined me, also peering curiously at the log for some hint of what was causing the queer, dead rolling.

Then the surgeon said, 'My God!' in a hushed voice and pointed out to sea. Miles out showed a wavering, racing line like a range of hills. After one incredulous instant no wave could possibly be so tremendous! — the first lieutenant burst into a roar of

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