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The Database of Ornament


THE literature of religion, as of ancient and modern
travel, has given us many pictures of Eastern
shepherd life, centred round the tending and
guarding of its flocks: even the children are
herding, the maids milking, the men shearing,
guiding the flock, seeking the lost afield. We
see the group of tents; the men mounted even for the shortest
journey; the patriarch as of old sitting at his tent door; the
women child-tending, weaving within.

We see how as the grass conditions the sheep, and the sheep
the shepherd, so the gregarious sheep involve a gregarious
people; hence it is that we are in presence of a large com-
munitary family, not an individualistic one. As the larger the
flocks and herds, the larger the number of children they can
maintain: so what better can we wish the patriarch than flocks
and herds, than children as the sand of the sea, or as the stars
for multitude? As they multiply, there grows up all the
opulence of the pastoral East: maid-servants for the children
and men-servants for the flock, horses and asses, tents and

carpets, changes of raiment, weapons and jewels, camels to
carry the whole.

Hospitality we find as of old; and increasingly we admire the
native courtesy of these good folk, their loving-kindness to
their beasts and to each other. For as Abbé Hue and other
travellers tell us, these terrible Tartars are the very gentlest
of men; and well they may. Anthropologists are laying great
stress (the latest book—Shaler’s ‘Domesticated Animals,’—
more than ever) upon the importance for human progress, for
moral evolution, upon the reaction which the domestication
and care of animals have upon man himself. And if pictures
of child and pet lamb, of good shepherd and lost sheep, have
become hackneyed to us through weak iteration, we may renew
this meaning; the first any spring, from the actual scene itself;
the other from that Border gravestone over one of the many
shepherds who have sunk and slept amid its winter hill-drifts—
‘The good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.’

Realise then how gentleness is thus the unceasing education
of infancy, kindness the unceasing occupation of age, and how
this kindly life is the essential biography of vast populations
throughout ages; action forming habit, and habit character,
and character life, for the race as for the individual. In sheep-
keeping, economics and morals uniquely coincide; and thus,
even before entering upon the consideration of the human
family at all, we begin to understand the historic place of these
shepherds in the religionising and moralising of the world.
For, ‘He prayeth best who loveth best’: the theologian who
would understand, who would use the Lamb as a sacred symbol,
should first feel (ay, and use as teacher) the thrill of its gentle
influence as a living thing.

What is Western Europe but the rock peninsulas of Asia?
What fundamentally are its central populations (theologians
and all) but churlish farmers of the valleys, savage hunters of
the mountain forests, fisher pirates of the fiords, who take life
rather than tend it—to this day the armed sons of Cain? Out
of this elemental natural history of the European races grow

up mighty developments of Western industry and science, and
from the lives of these types, their struggles among each other
and with the pastors, come history, economics, and politics,
all far complexer than that of the shepherd; yet in the very
nature of their morally inferior occupations lies the root ex-
planation of why all great waves of moral or religious impulse
have come from the pastoral East. We begin to understand
the saying, ‘ex Oriente lux.’

Yet the ethical dynamics of the pastoral life are only beginning.
Here, quite literally, all men are brethren, and brethren who live
their whole lives together; hence a solidarity of family of which
we have no idea. They have no possibility of isolated career,
rarely a chance of separate initiative; and if injustice tend to
arise, if might, as everywhere, tend to be right, and elder
oppress the younger, the old parents are there to redress the
balance with their natural preponderance of affection for their
own youngest, and for the grandchildren about their knees. The
intense solidarity of family comes to a head in the Patriarch,
that type of noblest maturity for the human species. Thanks
to the healthy life of saddle and tent, he longest of all men
prolongs his prime, has children even in old age, is leader to
the last. He is at once parent and chief shepherd, leader and
general, lawgiver and judge; yet also daily guide, philosopher,
and friend. He is the repository of passive experience—that is,
of science; of active experience, meditative and practical—that
is, of wisdom: he is at once philosopher and thinker, theologian
and priest So we have in one man a combination of the qualities
which are specialised in many in our more complex societies
of less complex men; but here these are normally united, uni-
versally and perpetually recurrent, not only of old in Abraham,
Isaac, and Jacob, but throughout the nomadic hordes to-day.
In the patriarch’s hands is the ultimate control of all the wealth
and property of the community; he is the temporal as well as
the spiritual power, his blessing carries with it every gift; and
if he say, ‘Depart, ye cursed,’ what is to become of the solitary
exile in the desert?


Our patriarch epitomises experience, and this in no small
measure. Ulysses-like, he is at once geographer and navi-
gator. He knows the firmament, and where the steppe is so
featureless, and the water a changing or drying shallow if not
even a mirage, there is no sure and definite guide but the stars.
He knows too the seasons, the wind, and the rain: upon his
knowledge, his skilled navigation, the whole maintenance of
the tribe depends, for he must reach and leave each pasture
at the right season. He must adjust his journey to many
conditions, notably day by day to the indispensable wells.
He is an experienced sheep-farmer; learned in pedigrees,
skilled in breeding varieties, it would seem even in Jacob’s day,
to a degree from which our recent Western progress has still
much to learn. (Let the town reader, who thinks all sheep
alike, listen for a moment to the market-talk—’I’ll dae my
best to judge Cheviots, but I ken naething ava’ aboot Sooth-
doons.’) Again, it is he who knows the other tribes, the
clanships, the treaties and boundaries so necessary to avoid
rendering desperate the struggle for existence. In every way,
then, he is experience personified. The respect of his authority
is thus no mere sentimental one, no mere admiration of the
Old Man Eloquent; it is the child-faith in parent and teacher,
multiplied by the necessary and implicit confidence of sailor in
captain, of soldier in general.

With his old wife, he is the repository of the traditions of the
family, of which he may be the actual ancestor; or if not the
actual grandparent, the oldest uncle; and even if not by blood,
then by courtesy even from the stranger, by affection at home.
Note the Russian greeting of the village children to the stranger
as ‘Uncle,’ or how President Krüger to his own people is
‘Oom Paul’ That the family affection for their patriarch is
more than reciprocated by him, the story of Jacob (or, for that
matter, of most old grandparents alive) may equally show.

The patriarch has not only his own commanding presence, but
also the cumulative majesty of dead dynasties of patriarchs,

who rise as they recede to sublimer and diviner height. Little
wonder, then, that the pastors should have made their God
in such an image: what greater, what better, if we are to use
anthropomorphic terms at all, can they or we conceive than this
loving All-Father, or how more glorify his name than as ‘God
of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob.’

Again, this whole social and economic life organises selective
purity of race, in sheep and horse and man. The experience
of ages has given clear perception and record of the equal
importance and equal certainty of good breeding in beast and
man alike; conviction too that evil breed is avenged unto
the third and fourth generation, yet that the healing force of
Nature is greater, showing mercy to thousands, as they again
conform to the law of life.

We see then how the pedigrees and genealogies of pastoral
pride are normal to the social type. But we seldom realise
how logically and inevitably there must tend to arise a prevision
of improving type; and projecting this ideal forward into the
tribe, the advent of the Ideal Himself becomes not merely a
matter of vague hope or groundless faith, but a legitimate and
even a necessary Flacial Ideal. Here then is another of the
many ways in which modem science is not come to destroy,
but to fulfil;—to destroy, it may be, here and there for the slaves
of the letter, but to fulfil in spirit; reinvestigating origins, yet
restating ideals. Thus each young mother may again know
something of her old-world sister’s Messianic Hope.

Every Western traveller tells us of the beauty of day, of the
sublimity of night, the brilliance of moon and stars in that high,
clear, dry, serene atmosphere; and thus arises not only the
ancient astronomy, but those great tides of cosmic emotion
yet of noble confidence and serenity, which rise in Genesis, flow
through the Psalms, and culminate in the book of Job.
Yet feeling is far from wholly optimistic, for there is complete
impossibility of defence against nature. In a storm at sea we
may still be masters of helm and sail, but on land only passive

shelter will avail us from wind, or sand, or sun. We can but
sit within the tent, seek shade from the short-lived gourd, or
long for the shadow of a great rock in a weary land. The
drought may sweep away the flock as it ruins the Australian
squatter; strange pestilence may walk in darkness or smite
like the fire of God. The wind too may smite the house and it
fall; one knows not what cloud of horsemen a day may bring
forth; flocks and herds, sons and daughters, may thus alike be
reft, and Job thus fall from riches to utmost poverty in a single

Yet after a brief crisis of overmastering emotion, when the old
man cries aloud, and rends his garments, in an explosion of
agony which for the moment rises to mania, then sinks to melan-
cholia which sits refusing to be comforted, there soon returns
that persistent faith in the universal Order which no mere indi-
vidual calamities can shock; thus we have the resignation, the
settled patience of Job. Meanwhile the scattered sheep are
again gathering, they multiply into a flock; and the patriarch
lives, even to have new sons and daughters to comfort his old

Long then before the modern geologist, the patriarch had
learned that there is catastrophe as well as uniformity in the
order of Nature. Storms will beat, and houses fall, and
enemies conquer as of yore; and thus arises along with the
faith in the orderly and beneficent course of things, that gloomy
fatalism which so constantly paralyses Eastern peoples.
Wherever Nature controls man, he is ultimately pessimist.
Only in the measure of victory over the Titanic nature-forces
does he grow gay. This victory is the essential matter; it is
not a mere question of sky, as French critics often tell us.
The Celt of the Western Isles lives in the northern paradise of
beauty, and is steeped in it, yet ‘has the gloom’; for he has no
mastery over nature. Whereas, though the North Sea and its
canal banks are but grey beside the ocean fiords and hills, the
Dutchman sits jolly in Rotterdam, careless of wind and wet.
because his broad craft will ride the storm, his pile-built house

stand sure amid the treacherous mud, and his mighty dykes
ever thrust back and back the encroaching sea. Even the
scholar there is gay; the wise Erasmus praises folly.

The shepherd’s calling gives a patient certainty of increase.
One cannot make haste to be rich, yet if Nature have her way
one will be rich in time. The life is easy; from every other
ordinary economic standpoint is one which seems but indolence.
Animals do all the heavier work: and thus grows up a disdain
of labour; a disdain too of the labouring man, who seems him-
self but a beast of burden; whose toil dulls the active life of the
intellect, whose weariness quenches the passive meditative life
of the spirit; who thus becomes ‘as the beasts that perish.’
Whereas the dignity of the Arab, the pride of pastoral races,
rises in the saddle, reaches to the stars.


The pasture eaten bare, for the time being the land is waste,
incapable of use till fresh grass be grown. It cannot be
retained or guarded from other occupation; the next comers
are free to have their turn; hence the idea of individual pro-
perty in land is simply inconceivable. When attacked or
molested, the policy is if possible to strike tents and move on,
and this not from cowardice but common-sense. For here we
have no continuing city; a few more days’ grazing is not worth
risking the whole flock for. Thus the pastor has ever receded
before the farmer, Celt before Saxon, Boer before Englishman.
But while he has no notion of permanent property for himself,
the pastor can similarly have no notion or capacity of recog-
nising any permanent occupation other than as encroachment;
and hence arises the perpetual war between the incompatible
land systems of shepherd and farmer. Hence then that
ineradicable feeling of Highland peasant and Irish crofter of
the superiority of ‘right’ over ‘ownership’ in pasture, for him
mere might, let Duke of Argyll or Saxon parliament say what

they may. For where immemorial tradition is the title, what
can there be but utter disdain of new-made parchments fetched
from town? What are your law papers? what to us can they
ever be—but the intrusive rubbish of a wholly alien social
formation?—Dirt here upon the hill, however sacred at West-
minster or Edinburgh ?

Yet each of these social formations is inexorably driven and
ground against the other by its internal pressure of population.
‘The shepherds are needing a larger pasture, whatever.’ ‘Are
they? The farmer needs a larger clearing too.’ Hence the
urge of pastoral conquest recurrent through the ages, from
modern Panslavism back through the Pentateuch: hence the
steadier expansion of Rome, whose conquering legion is the
agricultural colony militant. Conversely, as these respectively
lose their ground, we have for Rome the agony of the bar-
barian invasions; or here the Saxon crushing of the Celtic
peoples. Taking the very widest view of Europe-Asia, the
apparent permanence of China is associated with her ever-
repeated inundations of pastoral immigrants—while the Fall of
Rome is, for the geographer Richthofen, but a by-product of
the building of the Chinese Wall, since this deflected upon
Europe the irresistible waves of shepherd migration.

The natural increase of the sheep and of the family is long an
advantage; yet since the pasture is constant there comes a
definite limit to this. Now arises the phenomenon of swarm-
ing, which may be by the separation of patriarchs like Abraham
and Lot; by the start of sons, like Jacob setting forth from
Isaac; or by the start of sons-in-law with the wives and flocks
for which they have served, like Jacob from Laban, for the
pastoral apprentice also marries his master’s daughter.

But for these new swarms there is no coming back to the old
pastures. Here would be a material competition, and one
which is impossible: for it would be ungrateful and impious in
the young swarm, even were it strong enough, to attack the
old. Hence it must look for new pastures—must look for a
promised land. The Promised Land of the Jews is thus, like

one of their own patriarchs, or like the characteristic incidents
of his life, something not solitary but representative and typical.
Every migration is more or less to a promised land ; and the
migrating pastors have been the invaders and conquerors not
only of Judaea but of half the world. The migration has not
only the impulse and counsel of the aged patriarch but the
enthusiasm and energy and novelty of youth and hope. The
leader here is old enough to command and lead, but young
enough to explore, to venture, and to fight ; hence the restless
energy of the pastoral invasions. These communitary shep-
herds are not only a troop of light cavalry, a chivalry of the
desert, but a religious order; little wonder that such literal
brethren support each other and their leader (‘Another for
Hector!’) to the very last. Hence it needed the religious
orders, the Templars and Hospitallers, to hold head against
the Saracens.

The characteristics of intertribal war are also worth attention.
On the one hand we have light horsemanship and skirmishing
which lies in wait to pick up stray sheep or pick off stray riders.
Tribute from pastor to farmer, much less to cities, is impossible;
for who could collect it ? The Czar and the Emperor of China
each claim vast tracts of Asiatic territory; but the colour of
their maps expresses nothing that the populations recognise,
since neither armies nor individuals can collect their taxes for
them. At most the leading points can be held as the Russians
do with the Turcomans by the tactics of pastoral victors; that
is of severity almost to massacre, then clemency, with at most
occasional tribute in kind. Of old it was rather for mountain-
shepherd, whether of Caucasus or of the Highland line, to take
black-mail from farmer and toll from merchant. For every
reason, the war-stroke must be sudden and decisive, like that
of Abraham upon his forayers, Dundee at Killiecrankie,—the
same tactics everyrwhere.

Where war for economic reasons has become extreme, the
alternatives are the sharpest; for the attack, victory or utter
retreat; for the defence, if not victory then extinction, by ex-

termination or assimilation. When religious differences inten-
sify the conflict, the alternative takes the form of ‘Sword or
Koran’: and even this is gentle and merciful, compared with
the dealings of Joshua or Gideon, Samuel or David. That the
secularist should therefore scoff at the piety of the Psalmist
or the gentleness of Samuel is therefore natural enough;
European populations gave the Mongols their commoner name
from Tartarus. Yet in all such cases such criticism is from
without not within; we see that the lion in war is none the less
the lamb in peace. Both states of life and mind are equally
genuine; but the former is temporary and exceptional, the
latter the normal and the permanent. Were this understood,
say as regards the Turks, we should not be divided into
Turcophobes and Turcophiles, each with a half truth; and
with more social science among our peoples and their
politicians, Armenian question, Eastern question, and many
more might have had happier issues.

The prize of victory, too, is enormous; sudden wealth of flocks
and herds instead of long waiting on increase, wealth of weapons
and horses, choice of captive women—perhaps the intensest in-
centive to the pastoral aggressions. The women of one’s own
tribe are like sisters: in any case the best matches are got
afield, like Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel. The unseen,
too, is more beautiful than the seen; thus the Mohammedan
paradise is but systematised and elaborated from the imagina-
tion of the boy.

In more types than the pastoral, women’s eyes have been soon
dried over slain brothers; and these women are less indivi-
dualised than Western ones. To the male cynic, sitting in
one tent seems a good deal like sitting in another; and it is
better to be mistress than maid. Save in rare cases as where
a mean and vain-glorious victor insults the slain patriarch, like
the husband of Rosamund, vengeance is little to be feared. In
the association of the lower individuality of Eastern women with
polygamy, there is obviously a vicious circle, each alternately

cause and effect. Thus we begin to work at the side of deep
inferiority of pastoral society to those of Western types.

Officers of experience tell us of their feeling of real admiration
for the swift and skilful decampment of a travelling menagerie;
for the discipline of these nomadic civilians can give a lesson
to skilled soldiers, because they have to practise it every second
morning. A point like this helps us not only to appreciate the
patriarch as a general on the march, but to understand the
terrific swiftness and impunity of the pastoral invasions in
history. What made the Huns of old so terrible was that they
were here to-day and away to-morrow, their encampments
vanishing like clouds, which no European army could follow.
It is largely the survivals of this easy mobility with associated
discipline and simplicity of transport which makes it so difficult
for civilised Europe to intervene in Armenia to-day. The same
factor told in the lightness and frequent impunity of the Scottish
raids into England; and here lay the conscious strength in
invasion of Wallace, or Bruce, Douglas, or Buccleuch.

To insist on these military details of migration is the way to
realise their importance in history. This done we may ration-
alise the story of Attila, Ghenghiz Khan, Tamerlan, or Solyman,
of course, recognising besides these purely militant types the
more spiritual leadership of a Moses, a Mohammed, or a
modem Mahdi.

But to understand the pastoral type in war, we have still to
see the emergence of a new type beside the patriarch. While
the steppe produces the instruments of peace, it is poor in the
instruments of war, and hence the need of exchange, the dawn
of commerce; probably beginning in the barter of carpets for
weapons, wool for steel.

Here then arises the caravan, with its leader of a very different
type from the old patriarch—a younger man, in whom the
active not the passive life strongly preponderates, and who is
primarily not a father, but a picked son, ready to be leader,
merchant, disciplinarian, and general: and who may become

merchant-prince and diplomatist, it may be strategist and

All this then must be taken into our study of migrations.
We are more ready to understand how the inspired caravan-
driver becomes Mohammed, how the ritual of his religion is
but the discipline of the caravan slightly idealised, his paradise
but the thinly spiritualised promises of the good time waiting
at Damascus.

While the patriarchs have no coherence, and the flocks wander
wide, the caravans have a definite route, year by year, age by
age. Not only the historian, but the archaeologist are prov-
ing to us the vast antiquity of the great trade routes, and it is
hardly possible to guess how old the diffusion of Kuen-Lun jade
or Bsdtic amber. Of late M. Champault has been revealing to
us Odin; no longer a misty Scandinavian Jove, but a cara-
van-chief trading between Odensee or Upsala in the North, with
towns of the Black Sea, of the Caucasus; his Ases Asiatic
caravaniers; their centres, the glorious Asgard, which hence
become the Northman’s quest.

From the comparative absence of organisation we pass to a
high development of it, as the patriarch passes into ruling
caravan chief. The shepherd kings seem ancient and gone;
but the caravan kings, their junior contemporaries, are still with
us—railway kings we call them now. The promotion of Lord
Elgin from North British Railway Board to Viceroyalty of
India is in fact no exceptional matter, but an instance of one
of the great processes of history.

A Highland laddie goes to Aberdeen, learns the ribbon trade,
peddles such things in Canada, shrewdly buys a railway share
or two, then more and more; sees first where the railway is
needed and then how to make it, finally rules the Canadian
Pacific Railway, leads it across the Continent. Its highest point
is called after him, Mount Stephen (Odensee again); then he is
called after it, as lord and legislator; now doubtless duly feared
and worshipped throughout his countryside, like many a

smaller deity since, or like Odin of old. Returning now to M.
Champault, he suggests a new factor in the Fall of Rome,
which gets us over the great difficulty of seeing how mere
hordes could make way against strategists like the Roman
generals without leaders of somewhat similar calibre. He finds
these requisite leaders through the cutting of caravan routes by
the Roman expansion to the Rhine and beyond the Danube,
which necessarily turned their merchant chiefs— their occupa-
tion gone—into generals of invasions: and who could stir and
organise whole populations, the more easily since these aggres-
sions were really in every way reprisals; here for appropriated
pastures, as there for ruined caravans. We know that Eastern
waves were pressing on them behind; but the empire would
not have been overthrown by mere fugitive hordes, nor mere
wandering nomad ones; and the requisite military leadership
before the advent of the skipper and forester Norsemen, is what
M. Champault’s caravaniers supply. The student of Gibbon,
the reader of the last book on the Egyptian Soudan, may thus
profitably compare notes in fresh ways.


But even patriarchs have not always been good. Paternal auto-
cracy may readily go to excess; it is just a far-reaching intelli-
gence which becomes the most readily tinged with suspicion.
Benevolent despotism then easily sours into malevolent, and
patriarchal gentleness becomes inverted into inhuman ferocity.
The corruption of the best is the worst; and given unrestrained
power, this perversion of matured intelligence, will, and feeling,
soon work out the maddest orgies of human history. Peter the
Great and Ivan the Terrible are but earlier and later types of
this degeneration; but the alienist as historian will yet classify
the lives of Czars and Sultans wholesale, in series of which the
elemental types and stages are in every asylum—the suspicious,
the megalomaniac, the homicidal, and so on. What then is to
be done with a person so dangerous ? Put him in the asylum?

But if you have only a tent? and if you do not know what in-
sanity is, nor perhaps even for years that he is insane at all? and
then only at intervals? What is to be done? Hesitatingly,
reluctantly, but gradually arises the conviction—there is no
help for us but in his death. Yet since there are no public
powers of any kind, save in the patriarch himself, who shall take
upon himself to act? And how? Can he be slain openly
among his guards, or must he be stalked in secret like the wild
beast he is? Is the slayer just judge and needful executioner
in the people’s cause for whom he dares all things, or is he
base conspirator and cowardly assassin? Shall he be for ever
held as traitor and parricide, or hailed as deliverer, acclaimed
patriarch in turn? All these things have been, and are. Why
so frequently? It is to be noted that revolution by slaying the
patriarch, whether justifiable or unjustifiable, is at any rate
effective; for there must be a new patriarch, with whom things
go back to their old ways, unless madness (this time necessarily
not quite the same madness) reappear.

The extremest Royalist has hardly affirmed any right divine
for criminal madness, at least if directed against himself; then
the natural man within him boils up as against might diabolic;
in Russia or Turkey it is thus the courtier who is most com-
monly the assassin, and hence we commonly miss the point to
which all this is leading—the ancient and patriarchal Asiatic
nature of despotism limited by assassination. Hence the
crimes, which have in late years appalled Europe, which the
anarchist and the newspaper reader are alike apt to imagine
modem, are thus remotely ancient, are social reversions, are
atavistic, not progressive. Understand then this primitive dis-
ease of power and the primitive treatment of it, and we are
ready to re-read our Scottish history, so full of royal assassins
and assassinations, as profoundly pastoral, and reinterpret the
Celtic vices in a lurid but still oriental light. Turning to practi-
cal politics, how shall we put down assassination? ask anxiously
the police and governments of Europe. By punishing the
assassin ?—much he cares; it is odds if you do not awake new

criminals. The only successful penal restraint upon assassina-
tion in history has been the terrible wholesale Roman one which
made the lives of each whole household of slaves (Slavs mostly,
i.e. pastors liable to assassinate their tyrant) responsible for that
of their master, and once inexorably crucified nearly four hun-
dred for a single crime. Wholesale deportation to Siberia is the
nearest modern approach to this, although again in Scots history
the proscribing of clans, in English history the massacres in
Ireland, are of this kind. But all such governmental violence
provokes new individual violences, and this again wholesale
violence, hence vicious circles disturbing the surface of human
history, and constantly obscuring its depths. The putting down
of anarchist outrage lies then in social education; and there
will be no safety till journalist and reader and man in the
street, instead of thinking these horrors new, modem, the work
of advanced minds, the product of recent science and what not,
shall know that these are early disease-phenomena of patriar-
chal society, wholly irrelevant to our own. The most elemen-
tary comprehension of our own social order should make it as
impossible to think of murdering a president to improve a
government, as of knocking off an engine-driver to improve his
railway track. The assassins of Garfield, of Camot, were each
bursting with vanity; each fool convinced that he had placed
himself in the foremost files of time: and pity it is the most
real precaution against any recurrence was not taken; that
press and social science were not themselves ready to expose
fully the hideous irrelevance, the wretched folly of such a deed.
But thanks to popular good sense, not to governments, the
preventive measure of general contempt has already replaced
the dangerous provocation of alarm. The whole subject of
Anarchism thus needs re-study; but with the general idea
that its dramatic crimes, its gentle doctrines also, are primarily
Oriental Antiquities, and only quite secondarily Occidental
Novelties, the conditions of criticism and re-interpretation
become fairly clear.



Auguste Comte is popularly supposed to be a radical, a demo-
cratic man of modem science. But he makes his contributions
to sociology from the standpoint of the hierarchy of feeling and
genius, of the aristocracy of action and thought. Conversely,
it is Frédéric Le Play, whose point of view it is that has been
followed and developed above, and who is popularly supposed
even in his own country to make his appeal to capitalist and
conservative, to aristocrat and priest, who has really estab-
lished for us the vital doctrine of all democracy; which is only be-
coming apparent as Liberal nonsense of the Sovereignty of the
People, of the Infallibility of Majorities of the electors of county,
city, or parish of Buncombe, goes the way of the once current
Tory nonsense about the Divine Right of Kings. Comte sees the
great stream of Humanity; but in this he calls attention mainly
to the Calendar of Great Men, to men of genius as Her chief
servants—for him, proletarian and woman are little better than
grown children, to be guided and governed for ever by patrician
and priest. But for Le Play, worker and woman unite to form
the elementary human family, and from them, not only by bodily
descent, but by social descent, from their everyday life and
labour, there develops the whole fabric of institutions and
ideas, temporal and spiritual. No blossom, however rare or
marvellous, whether of practical, intellectual, or spiritual genius
but comes ultimately from this humble root—this tiny seed of
simple daily human life:

                   ‘The lord is hay, the peasant grass—
                   This wood, but that the growing tree.’

With Comte and the historians we visit the historic dome of
Aix, and thrill as we read ‘ Carolo Magno ‘ upon its vaulted
floor ; but with Le Play we see first the living everyday Charle-
magne a solid thrifty Prankish farmer striding round his
estate, seeing that his stewards keep accounts even of the

eggs, that is, have the assured wherewithal to maintain cities
in peace, armies in war. We know the Northern Lords of Battle
—our Bruce, our Coeur-de-Lion—from legend or history; Le
Play shows us first of all the Viking axeman, not the coronet;
he sees in their axecrait, the poise and swing and skill
of woodman, of house- and boat-builder over Scandinavia or
Canada to-day. The historians, Gibbon or Comte or Sir
Walter, all explain for us much of the present by help of the
survivals of the Past; but Le Play, like Lyell, explains to us
the past from the actual Present.

The method is less romantic; there may be some disen-
chantment in learning that the commanding, the supremely
self-assertive dignity of Norman noble was based on the swift
decision and authority, the necessary and unquestioning obedi-
ence which necessarily springs up on board of every fishing
boat; and that the hauteur of Lady Clara Vere de Vere comes not
from a hundred earls nor even jarls, but from the simple ancestral
fisher-carle, whose boys must learn to look sharp with the sail
while he sits by the helm. The individuality, the independence
of the women of Western Europe is for Le Play neither Ameri-
can nor New; it is the direct product of the life-conditions of all
North Sea fisherwives, whose men pass their lives at sea, or in
intervals of rest when they return; so leaving them, indeed
compelling them, to develop the qualities of man and woman
in one. And when the mother has to be father too, then the
eldest girl, however small, must be much more of mother; so
responsibility begins early, and here as everywhere gives indi-
viduality for its fruit.

The most interesting platform on which to see the evolved
woman is thus not that of the public hall but of the railway
station; most particularly it is here in our own Waverley sta-
tion, at the arrival of that fishwives’ train, which is one of the
most characteristic sights of Edinburgh. For out springs the
fair-haired Brynhild; there with set lips under a mighty burden
frowns the stern Gudnin; there onward stride a trio, with
weather-beaten deep-lined faces sorrow-wrought, the thread

of future footsteps weaving in their hands. Would we see the
doughty countess who held her castle against the Roundheads’
cannon, who laughed even at Oliver? or Black Agnes, untame-
able even in her iron cage on Berwick wall? or the great Abbess
of Whitby presiding over Parliament? There they are every one;
to this day the primitive aristocracy of European womanhood.
It needs little physiognomy to see that the ladies of court and
drawing-room, of stage or sick-room, of platform or university,
are but their more polished, yet degenerate representatives.
Long tails, it is true, despise short tails, and fine feathers the
bare head and woven willows, yet the first woman little knows
how strongly her feeling is reciprocated by the second. The
first has the conscious advantage of more refinement, the
second has, and that consciously, more to refine. As she gives
the artist more to work on, so with the sociologist and the psy-
chologist, the moralist or the singer. For surely not only in
the life of experience and provision but in that of sympathy and
sacrifice, the daintiest reticule, the woolliest workbasket, is but
a small affair compared with the fishwife’s creel. Hark to her
homely song, any that know not how elemental economics
deepens into human feeling:—
‘Wha ‘ll buy my caller herrin’, they ‘re bonnie fish and halesome
Buy my caller herrin’ new drawn frae the Forth.
           .               .               .               .               .              .
When the creel o’ herrin’ passes, ladies clad in silks and laces
Gather in their braw pelisses, toss their heads and screw their
           .               .               .               .               .              .
Wha’ll buy my caller herrin’!

O ye may ca’ them vulgar farin’,
Wives and mithers maist despairin’
Ca’ them lives o’ men.
           .               .               .               .               .              .
Caller herrin’, caller herrin’.’


In America it is where democracy has free play, and where it
is less confused by old developments and survivals of all kinds,
that the natural growth of things is most obvious. How the
stout axeman carves his way to fortune, wealth, and power,
‘From Log Cabin to White House’ is one of the most thread-
bare themes; cind who does not see poor Richard as a canny
Yankee, Emerson as his more spiritual brother?

We may follow the same elemental clues into many phases
of life. The dull and unimaginative wealth of England and
America, which so seldom gets any realities for its money save
sorrow for its children, is half explained when we read the
story of the Industrial Revolution, and see how the nobler
leaders of the working class have been constantly wasting their
lives in barren politics; or, perhaps at best, following the fate of
Robert Bums, while it was left to too many of the grosser and
duller types, the Arkwrights and the like, to drudge or gripe
or crush their way to fortune.

Or let us now take race with occupation, and in the concluding
struggle of the Civil War, ask what is the duel of Grant and
Lee—of Grant the hammerer with Lee the strategist, but the
fight of heavy and downright hitter with wary and skilful
gipsy guide? And if we ask for light on Grant’s racial type,
what more characteristic than when he says,’ I will fight it out
on this line.’ For (all the better if unconsciously) he is renewing
the age-old war-cry of his clan—’Stand fast, Craigellachie!’ the
only possible strategy in holding one’s narrow glens. And if
Strathspey look to the American a small outlandish place for
the breeding of a hero of his continent, let him look in his atlas
and see what coast, what river-mouth in history must have
borne first the shock of the all-victorious Norse migrations
which were to be the unmaking and making of Europe. Then
he will see that these Craigellachie folk are of an old and fighting
breed, the children of King Arthur’s vanguard, the children too
of his victors.

This elemental way of looking at all men and women is no
doubt to many a commonplace, at least in general terms. They

know that if rank be rank, there must lie under its stamp the
gold; that rank is not mere stamp: that men must rise to rank,
develop rank, attain rank through function, and in the measure
of the reality and range of actual deed. That the war-duke is a
soldier at his highest, the admiral a seaman at his best, no one
will ever deny; but he who doubts or forgets that there is the
stuff of viking and admiral in every fishing village of Devon or of
Fife must surely have forgotten that Drake or Jean Bart or
Paul Jones were but such pirate-venturers (some say Columbus
too) or that the kings and nobles of Europe are proud to repre-
sent the younger branches of existing Norse peasant and fisher
stocks. As the child is father of the man, so is the worker of
all men; and it is time to be thinking less with the politician or
the positivist, of the worker as a child (to be led by the nose or
educated respectively), but to recognise in him, according to his
kind, the stuff of each type however highly developed—of skill
however masterly, of genius however sublime, of virtue how-
ever pure.

Thus, as James Watt, instrument maker, Glasgow, is the
master smith of the last century, so Lord Kelvin is but a subtler
avatar of the same craft-type; fundamentally, of course,
neither lord nor professor nor wrangler, but now the best
Glasgow instrument maker in his turn, developed by the
problems which his life there among the shipbuilders and
electricians has brought him. So Whitworth, so Armstrong is
swordsmith, arrowsmith; all the inventors in short are the
Thinking Smiths, be they lords of peace or war. Again, they
who read the secrets of life are the Thinking Rustics: thus
Pasteur is the thrifty Jura peasant, Darwin the Midland
truant and poacher, fancier and gardener, happily only half-
settled into squire.

Even in more abstract thought the same principle holds. No
philosopher, however sedentary, should need much introspec-
tion to recognise his profound kinship here with the dreamy

and dreary loafer, there with the restless and careless tramp,
rustic or urban, as his case may be.

Or shall we try politics—permit a word or two of comment on
points suggested by the newspapers of the day. Just as Oom
Paul is a Boer, or Jameson a trooper, or John Burns a jour-
nalist, or Mr. Labouchere a gamin, was not the great recent
victory of Lords over Commons primarily the old victory of
rustic over urban populations, that of slow but not silly
peasants over smart but not wise mechanics and clerks and

Next, why does the coalmaster or ironmaster, the master-weaver
or master-smith change his politics as he becomes landowner
and lord? It is not primarily a change of Society; the man is
not a mere snob: but he inevitably leaves the direct and simple
rationality of the workshop for the cautious empiricism of the
field; in a word, from artisan he has become peasant. Here for
the first time he realises the vast complexity of human affairs
and his own ignorance in dealing with them, and so his simple
Liberal formulae, made in Birmingham, repaired in Newcastle,
lose their old hold upon him. Little wonder that he lapses
from grace—deplored by his successors in the party, until the
call comes for them also to go up higher in their turn, and help
him to let well (and ill) alone.

So far, then, some outlines of interpretation of things as they
 are, that is, as they have grown, as they become; at another
         season we may think of things as they may be.

                                 PATRICK GEDDES

MLA citation:

Geddes, Patrick. “Flower of the Grass.” The Evergreen: A Northern Seasonal, vol. 3, Summer 1896, pp. 43-63. Evergreen Digital Edition, edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2016, 2018. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019.