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Four Prose Fancies

I.—On Loving One’s Enemies

LIKE all people who live apart from it, the Founder of the
Christian religion was possessed of a profound knowledge of
the world. As, according to the proverb, the woodlander sees
nothing of the wood, because of its trees, so those who live in the
world know nothing of it. They know its gaudy, glittering sur-
face, its Crystal Palace fireworks, and the paste-diamonds with
which it bedecks itself; they know its music halls and its night
clubs, its Piccadillies and its politics, its restaurants and its salons ;
but of the bad—or good ?—heart of it all, they know nothing. In
more meanings than one, it takes a saint to catch a sinner; and
Christ certainly knew as well as saved the sinner.

But none of His precepts show a truer knowledge of life and its
conditions than His commandment that we should love our enemies.
He realised—can we doubt?—that without enemies the Church
He bade His followers build could not hope to be established. He
knew that the spiritual fire He strove to kindle would spread but a
little unless the four winds of the world blew against it. Well,
indeed, may the Christian Church love its enemies, for it is they
who have made it.


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Indeed, for a man, or a cause, that wants to get on there is
nothing like a few hearty, zealous enemies. Most of us would
never be heard of if it were not for our enemies. The unsuccess-
ful man counts up his friends, but the successful man numbers his
enemies. A friend of mine was lamenting, the other day, that he
could not find twelve people to disbelieve in him. He had been seek-
ing them for years, he sighed, and could not get beyond eleven. But,
even so, with only eleven he was a very successful man. In these
kind-hearted days enemies are becoming so rare that one has to go
out of one’s way to make them. The true interpretation, there-
fore, of the easiest of the commandments is— make your enemies,
and your enemies will make you.

So soon as the armed men begin to spring up in our fields, we
may be sure we have not sown in vain.

Properly understood, an enemy is but a negative embodiment
of our personalities or ideas. He is the involuntary witness to
our vitality. Much as he despises us, greatly as he may injure
us, he is none the less a creature of our making. It was we who
put into him the breath of his malignity, and inspired the activity
of his malice. Therefore, with his very existence so tremendous
a tribute, we can afford to smile at his self-conscious disclaimers of
our significance. Though he slay us, we made him —to ” make an
enemy,” is not that the phrase ?

Indeed, the fact that he is our enemy is his one raison d’être.
That alone should make us charitable to him. Live and let live.
Without us our enemy has no occupation, for to hate us is his
profession. Think of his wives and families !

The friendship of the little for the great is an old-established pro-
fession ; there is but one older—namely, the hatred of the little for
the great ; and, though it is perhaps less officially recognised, it is
without doubt the more lucrative. It is one of the shortest roads


                        By Richard Le Gallienne 309

to fame. Why is the name of Pontius Pilate an uneasy ghost or
history ? Think what fame it would have meant to be an enemy of
Socrates or Shakespeare ! Blackwood’s Magazine and The Quarterly
Review only survive to-day because they once did their best to
strangle the genius of Keats and Tennyson. Two or three
journals of our own time, by the same unfailing method, seek
that circulation from posterity which is denied them in the

This is particularly true in literature, where the literary enemy
is as organised a tradesman as the literary agent. Like the literary
agent, he naturally does his best to secure the biggest men. No
doubt the time will come when the literary cut-throat—shall we
call him ?—will publish dainty little books of testimonials from
authors, full of effusive gratitude for the manner in which they
have been slashed and bludgeoned into fame. ” Butcher to Mr.
Grant Allen ” may then become a familiar legend over literary
shop-fronts :

Ah ! did you stab at Shelley’s heart
    With silly sneer and cruel lie ?
And Wordsworth, Tennyson, and Keats,
    To murder did you nobly try ?

You failed, ’tis true ; but what of that ?
    The world remembers still your name—
‘Tis fame, for you, to be the cur
    That barks behind the heels of Fame.

Any one who is fortunate enough to have enemies will know
that all this is far from being fanciful. If one’s enemies have any
other raison d’être beyond the fact of their being our enemies —
what is it ? They are neither beautiful nor clever, wise nor good,


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famous, nor, indeed, passably distinguished. Were they any of
these, they would not have taken to so humble a means of getting
their living. Instead of being our enemies, they could then have
afforded to employ enemies on their own account.

Who, indeed, are our enemies ? Broadly speaking, they are all
those people who lack what we possess.

If you are rich, every poor man is necessarily your enemy. If
you are beautiful, the great democracy of the plain and ugly will
mock you in the streets.

It will be the same with everything you possess. The brainless
will never forgive you for possessing brains, the weak will hate
you for your strength, and the evil for your good heart. If you
can write, all the bad writers are at once your foes. If you can
paint, the bad painters will talk you down. But more than any
talent or charm you may possess, the pearl of price for which you
will be most bitterly hated will be your success. You can be the
most wonderful person that ever existed so long as you don’t suc-
ceed, and nobody will mind. ” It is the sunshine,” says some one,
” that brings out the adder.” So powerful, indeed, is success that
it has been known to turn a friend into a foe. Those, then, who
wish to engage a few trusty enemies out of place need only
advertise among the unsuccessful.

P.S.—For one service we should be particularly thankful to our
enemies they save us so much in stimulants. Their unbelief
so helps our belief, their negatives make us so positive.

                                                II. The

                        By Richard Le Gallienne 311
II.—The Dramatic Art of Life

It is a curious truth that, whereas in every other art deliberate
choice of method and careful calculation of effect are expected
from the artist, in the greatest and most difficult art of all, the art
of life, this is not so. In literature, painting, or sculpture you first
evolve your conception, and then after long study of it, as it still
glows and shimmers in your imagination, you set about the
reverent selection of that form which shall be its most truthful
incarnation, in words, in paint, in marble. Now life, as has been
said many times, is an art too. Sententious morality from time
past has told us that we are each given a part to play, evidently
implying, with involuntary cynicism, that the art of life is—the
art of acting !

As with the actor we are each given a certain dramatic concep-
tion for the expression of which we have precisely the same artistic
materials—namely, our own bodies, sometimes including heart and
brains. One has often heard the complaint of a certain actor that
he acts himself. On the metaphorical stage of life the complaint
and the implied demand are just the reverse. How much more
interesting life would be if only more people had the courage and
skill to act themselves, instead of abjectly understudying some one
else. Of course, there are supers on the stage of life as on the
real stage. It is proper that these should dress and speak and think
alike. These one courteously excepts from the generalisation that
the composer of the play, as Marcus Aurelius calls him, has given
us a certain part to play—that part simply oneself : a part, need
one say, by no means as easy as it seems ; a part most difficult to
study, and requiring daily rehearsal. So difficult is it, indeed, that


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most people throw up the part, and join the ranks of the supers
— who, curiously enough, are paid much more handsomely than
the principals. They enter one of the learned or idle professions,
join the army or take to trade, and so speedily rid themselves of
the irksome necessity of being anything more individual than
” the learned counsel,” ” the learned judge,” ” my lord bishop,” or
” the colonel,” names impersonal in application as the dignity of
” Pharaoh,” whereof the name and not the man was alone im-
portant. Henceforth they are the Church, the Law, the Army, the
City, or that vaguer profession, Society. Entering one of these,
they become as lost to the really living world as the monk who
voluntarily surrenders all will and character of his own at the
threshold of his monastery : bricks in a prison wall, privates in
the line, peas in a row. But, as I say, these are the parts that pay.
For playing the others, indeed, you are not paid, but expected to

It is full time we turned to those on whom falls the burden of
those real parts. Such, when quite young, if they be conscientious
artists, will carefully consider themselves, their gifts and possi-
bilities, study to discover their artistic raison d’être and how best
to fulfil it. He or she will say : Here am I, a creature of great
gifts and exquisite sensibilities, drawn by great dreams, and
vibrating to great emotions ; yet this potent and exquisite self is
as yet, I know, but unwrought material of the perfect work of
art it is intended that I should make of it—but the marble where
upon with patient chisel I must liberate the perfect and triumphant
ME ! As a poet listening with trembling ear to the voice of his
inspiration, so I tremulously ask myself—what is the divine con-
ception that is to become embodied in me, what is the divine
meaning of ME ? How best shall I express it in look, in word, in
deed, till my outer self becomes the truthful symbol of my inner


                        By Richard Le Gallienne 313

self—till, in fact, I have successfully placed the best of myself on
the outside !—for others besides myself to see, and know and love !

What is my part, and how am I to play it ?

Returning to the latter image, there are two difficulties that beset
one in playing a part on the stage of life, right at the outset. You
are not allowed to ” look ” it, or ” dress ” it ! What would an actor
think, who, asked to play Hamlet, found that he would be expected
to play it without make-up and in nineteenth-century costume ?
Yet many of us are in a like dilemma with similar parts. Actors
and audience must all wear the same drab clothes and the same
immobile expression. It is in vain you protest that you do not
really belong to this absurd and vulgar nineteenth century, that
you have been spirited into it by a cruel mistake, that you really
belong to mediaeval Florence, to Elizabethan, Caroline, or at
latest Queen Anne England, and that you would like to be
allowed to look and dress as like it as possible. It is no use ; if
you dare to look or dress like anything but your own tradesmen —
and other critics—it is at your peril. If you are beautiful, you are
expected to disguise a fact that is an open insult to every other
person you look at ; and you must, as a general rule, never look,
wear, feel, or say what everybody else is not also looking, wearing,
feeling, or saying.

Thus you get some hint of the difficulty of playing the part of
yourself on this stage of life. In these matters of dressing and
looking your part musicians seem granted an immunity denied to
all their fellow-artists. Perhaps it is taken for granted that the
musician is a fool—the British public is so intuitive. Yet it
takes the same view of the poet—without allowing him a like
immunity. And, by the way, what a fine conception of his part
had Tennyson : of the dignity, the mystery, the picturesqueness
of it. Tennyson would have felt it an artistic crime to look like


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his publisher ; yet what poet is there left us to-day half so distin-
guished-looking as his publisher ?

Indeed, curiously enough, among no set of men does the desire
to look as commonplace as the rest of the world seem so strong as
among men of letters. Perhaps it is out of consideration for the
rest of the world ; but whatever the reason, immobility of ex-
pression and general mediocrity of style are more characteristic
of them at present than even the military.

It is surely a strange paradox that we should pride ourselves on
schooling to foolish insensibility, on eliminating from them every
mark of individual character, the faces that were intended subtly
and eloquently to image our moods—to look glad when we are
glad, sorry when we are sorry, angry in anger, and lovely in

The impassivity of the modern young man is indeed a weird
and wonderful thing. Is it a mark to hide from us the appalling
sins he none the less openly affects ? Is it meant to conceal that
once in his life he paid a wild visit to ” The Empire “—by kind
indulgence of the County Council ? that he once chucked a bar-
maid under the chin, that he once nearly got drunk, that he once
spoke to a young lady he did not know—and then ran away ?

One sighs for the young men of the days of Gautier and Hugo,
the young men with red waistcoats who made asses of themselves
at first nights and on the barricades, young men with romance in
their hearts and passion in their blood, fearlessly sentimental and
picturesquely everything.

The lover then was not ashamed that you should catch radiant
glimpses of his love in his eyes—nay ! if you smiled kindly on
him, he would take you by the arm and insist on your breaking a
bottle with him in honour of his mistress. Joy and sorrow then
wore their appropriate colours, according, so to say, to the natural


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sumptuary laws of the emotions—one of which is that the right
place for the heart is the sleeve.

It is the duty of those who are great, or to whom great
destinies of joy or sorrow have been dealt, to wear their dis-
tinctions for the world to see. It is good for the world, which in
its crude way indicates the rudiments of this dramatic art of life,
when it decrees that the bride shall walk radiant in orange
blossom, and the mourner sadden our streets with blacks—symbols
ever passing before us of the moving vicissitudes of life.

The mourner cannot always be sad, or the bride merry ; the
bride indeed sometimes weeps at the altar, and the mourner laughs
a savage cynical laugh at the grave ; but for those moments in
which they awhile forget parts more important than themselves,
the tailor and the dressmaker have provided symbolical garments,
just as military decorations have been provided for heroes without
the gift of looking heroic, and sacerdotal vestments for the priest,
who, like a policeman, is not always on duty.

In playing his part the conscientious artist in life, like any
other actor, must often seem to feel more than he really feels at a
given moment, say more than he means. In this he is far from
being insincere—though he must make up his mind to be accused
daily of insincerity and affectation. On the contrary, it will be
his very sincerity that necessitates his make-believe. With his
great part ever before him in its inspiring completeness, he must
be careful to allow no merely personal accident of momentary
feeling or action to jeopardise the general effect. There are
moments, for example, when a really true lover, owing to such
masterful natural facts as indigestion, a cold, or extreme sleepiness,
is unable to feel all that he knows he really feels. To ” tell the
truth,” as it is called under such circumstances, would simply be a
most dangerous form of lying. There is no duty we owe to


                        316 Four Prose Fancies

truth more imperative than that of lying stoutly on occasion —
for, indeed, there is often no other way of conveying the whole
truth than by telling the part-lie.

A watchful sincerity to our great conception ot ourselves is the
first and last condition of our creating that finest work of art—a
personality ; for a personality, like a poet, is not only born, but

III.—The Arbitrary Classification of Sex

In an essay on Vauvenargues Mr. John Morley speaks with
characteristic causticity of those epigrammatists ” who persist in
thinking of man and woman as two different species,” and who
make verbal capital out of the fancied distinction in the form of
smart epigrams beginning ” Les femmes.” It is one of Shake-
speare’s cardinal characteristics that he understood woman. Mr.
Meredith’s fame as a novelist is largely due to the fact that he too
understands women. The one spot on the sun of Robert Louis
Stevenson’s fame, so we are told, is that he could never draw a
woman. His capacity for drawing men counted for nothing,
apparently, beside this failure. Evidently the Sphinx has not the
face of a woman for nothing. That is why no one has yet read
her riddle, translated her mystic smile. Yet many people smile
mysteriously, without any profound meanings behind their smile,
with no other reason than a desire to mystify. Perhaps the
Sphinx smiles to herself just for the fun of seeing us take her
smile so seriously. And surely women must so smile as they hear
their psychology so gravely discussed. Of course, the superstition is
invaluable to them, and it is only natural that they should make
the most of it. Man is supposed to be a complete ignoramus in


                        By Richard Le Gallienne 317

regard to all the specialised female ” departments “—from the
supreme mystery of the female heart to the humble domestic
mysteries of a household. Similarly, men are supposed to have
no taste in women’s dress, yet for whom do women clothe them-
selves in the rainbow and the sea-foam, if not to please men ? And
was not the high-priest of that delicious and fascinating mystery
a man—if it be proper to call the late M. Worth a man ?—as the
best cooks are men, and the best waiters ?

It would seem to be assumed from all this mystification that
men are beings clear as daylight, both to themselves and to
women. Poor simple manageable souls, their wants are easily
satisfied, their psychology—which, it is implied, differs little from
their physiology—long since mapped out.

It may be so, but it is the opinion of some that men’s simplicity
is no less a fiction than women’s mysterious complexity, and that
human character is made up of much the same qualities in men
and women, irrespective of a merely rudimentary sexual dis-
tinction, which has, of course, its proper importance, and which
the present writer would be the last to wish away. From that
quaint distinction of sex springs, of course, all that makes life
in the smallest degree worth living, from great religions to tiny
flowers. Love and beauty and poetry ; ” Romeo and Juliet,”
” Helen of Troy,” Shakespeare’s plays, Burne-Jones’s pictures, and
Wagner’s operas—all such moving expressions of human life, as
a great scientist has shown us, spring from the all-important fact
that ” male and female created He them.”

This everybody knows, and few are fool enough to deny.
Many people, however, confuse this organic distinction of sex
with its time-worn conventional symbols ; just as religion is
commonly confused with its external rites and ceremonies. The
comparison naturally continues itself further ; for, as in religion so


The Yellow Book—Vol. VI. T

                        318 Four Prose Fancies

soon as some traditional garment of the faith has become outworn
or otherwise unsuitable, and the proposal is made to dispense with
or substitute it, an outcry immediately is raised that religion
itself is in danger—so with sex, no sooner does one or the other
sex propose to discard its arbitrary conventional characteristics,
or to supplement them by others borrowed from its fellow-sex,
than an outcry immediately is raised that sex itself is in danger.

Sex—the most potent force in the universe—in danger because
women wear knickerbockers instead of petticoats, or military men
take to corsets and cosmetics !

That parallel with religion may be pursued profitably one step
further. In religion, the test of your faith is not how you live,
not in your kindness of heart or purity of mind, but how you
believe—in the Trinity, in the Atonement ; and do you turn to
the East during the recital of the Apostles’ Creed ? These and
such, as every one knows, are the vital matters of religion. And
it is even so with sex. You are not asked for the realities of
manliness or womanliness ; but for the shadows, the arbitrary
externalities, the fashion of which changes from generation to

To be truly womanly you must never wear your hair short ;
to be truly manly you must never wear it long. To be truly
womanly you must dress as daintily as possible, however uncom-
fortably ; to be truly manly you must wear the most hideous
gear ever invented by the servility of tailors—a strange succession
of cylinders from head to heel ; cylinder on head, cylinder round
your body, cylinders on arms and cylinders on legs. To be truly
womanly you must be shrinking and clinging in manner and
trivial in conversation, you must have no ideas and rejoice that
you wish for none ; you must thank Heaven that you have
never ridden a bicycle or smoked a cigarette ; and you must be


                        By Richard Le Gallienne 319

prepared to do a thousand other absurd and ridiculous things.
To be truly manly you must be and do the opposite of all these
things, with this exception—that with you the possession of ideas
is optional. The finest specimens of British manhood are without
them, but that, I say, is, generally speaking, a matter for yourself.
It is indeed the only matter in which you have any choice. More
important matters, such as the cut of your clothes and hair, the
shape of your face, the length of your moustache and the pattern
of your cane—all these are very properly regulated for you by
laws of fashion, which you could never dream of breaking. You
may break every moral law there is—or rather, was—and still
remain a man. You may be a bully, a cad, a coward and a fool
in the poor heart and brains of you ; but so long as you wear the
mock regimentals of contemporary manhood, and are above all
things plain and undistinguished enough, your reputation for
manhood will be secure. There is nothing so dangerous to a
reputation for manhood as brains or beauty.

In short, to be a true woman you have only to be pretty and an
idiot, and to be a true man you have only to be brutal and a fool.

From these misconceptions of manliness and womanliness,
these superstitions of sex, many curious confusions have come
about. The, so to say, professional differentiation between the
sexes had at one time gone so far that men were credited with the
entire monopoly of a certain set of human qualities, and women
with the monopoly of a certain set of other human qualities ; yet
every one of these are qualities which one would have thought
were proper to, and necessary for, all human beings alike, male
and female.

In a dictionary of a date (1856) when everything on earth and
in heaven was settled and written in penny cyclopedias and books
of deportment, I find these delicious definitions :

                                                Manly :

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Manly : becoming a man ; firm ; brave ; undaunted ; dignified ;
noble ; stately ; not boyish or womanish.

Womanly : becoming a woman ; feminine; as womanly behaviour.

Under Woman we find the adjectives—soft, mild, pitiful and
flexible, kind, civil, obliging, humane, tender, timorous, modest.

Who can doubt that the dictionary maker defined and distributed
his adjectives aright for the year 1856 ? Since then, however,
many alarming heresies have taken root steadily in our land, and
some are heard to declare that both these sets of adjectives apply
to men and women alike, and are, in facr, necessities of any decent
human outfit. Otherwise the conclusion is obvious, that no one
desirous of the adjective ” manly ” must ever be—soft, mild,
pitiful and flexible, kind, civil, obliging, humane, tender, timorous,
or modest ; and no one desirous of the adjective ” womanly “—be
firm, brave, undaunted, dignified, noble, or stately.

But surely the essentials of ” manliness ” and ” womanliness “
belong to man and woman alike—the externals are purely artistic
considerations, and subject to the vagaries of fashion. In art no one
would think of allowing fashion any serious artistic opinion. It is
usually the art which is out of fashion that is most truly art.
Similarly, fashions in manliness or womanliness have nothing to
do with real manliness or womanliness. Moreover, the adjectives
” manly ” or ” womanly,” applied to works of art, or the artistic
surfaces of men and women, are irrelevant—that is to say, imper-
tinent. You have no right to ask a poem or a picture to look
manly or womanly, any more than you have any right to ask a
man or a woman to look manly or womanly. There is no such
thing as looking manly or womanly. There is looking beautiful
or ugly, distinguished or commonplace. The one law or
externals is beauty in all its various manifestations. To ask the
sex of a beautiful person is as absurd as it would be to ask the


                        By Richard Le Gallienne 321

publisher the sex of a beautiful book. Such questions are for
midwives and doctors.

It was once the fashion for heroes to shed tears on the smallest
occasion, and it does not appear that they fought the worse for it :
some of the firmest, bravest, most undaunted, some dignified, most
noble, most stately human beings have been women ; as some of
the softest, mildest, most pitiful and flexible, most kind, civil,
obliging, humane, tender, timorous and modest human beings have
been men. Indeed, the bravest men that ever trod this planet
have worn corsets, and it needs more courage nowadays for a man
to wear his hair long than to machine-gun a whole African nation.
Moreover, quite the nicest women one knows ride bicycles—in the
rational costume.

IV.—The Fallacy of a Nation

It is, I am given to understand, a familiar axiom of mathe-
matics that no number of ciphers placed in front of significant
units, or tens or hundreds of units, adds in the smallest degree
to the numerical value of those units. The figure one becomes
of no more importance however many noughts are marshalled
in front of it—though, indeed, in the mathematics of human
nature this is not so. Is not a man or woman considered great
in proportion to the number of ciphers that walk in front of
him, from a humble brace of domestics to guards of honour and
imperial armies ?

A parallel profound truth of mathematics is that a nought, how-
ever many times it be multiplied, remains nought ; but again
we find the reverse obtain in the mathematics of human nature.
One might have supposed that the result of one nobody multiplied


                        322 Four Prose Fancies

even fifty million times would still be nobody. However, such is
far from being the case. Fifty million nobodies make—a nation.
Of course, there is no need for so many. I am reckoning as a
British subject, and speak of fifty million merely as an illustration
of the general fact that it is the multiplication of nobodies that
makes a nation. ” Increase and multiply ” was, it will be
remembered, the recipe for the Jewish nation.

Nobodies of the same colour, tongues, and prejudices, have but
to congregate together in a crowd sufficiently big for other similar
crowds to recognise them, and they are given a name of their own,
and become recognised as a nation—one of ” the Great Powers.”

Beyond those differences in colour, tongue, and prejudices,
there is really no difference between the component units—or
rather ciphers—of all these several national crowds. You have
seen a procession of various trades-unions filing towards Hyde Park,
each section with its particular banner of a strange device :
” the United Guild of Paperhangers,” ” the Ancient Order of
Plumbers,” and so on. And you may have marvelled to notice
how alike the members of the various carefully differentiated com-
panies were. So to say, they each and all might have been
plumbers ; and you couldn’t help feeling that it wouldn’t have
mattered much if some of the paperhangers had by mistake got
walking amongst the plumbers, or vice versa.

So the great trades-unions of the world file past, one with the
odd word ” Russia ” on its banner; another boasting itself
” Germany “—this with a particularly bumptious and self-im-
portant young man walking backward in front of it, in the manner
of a Salvation Army captain, and imperially waving an iron wand ;
still another ” nation ” calling itself ” France ” ; and yet another
boasting the biggest brass band, and called ” England.” Other
smaller bodies of nobodies—that is, smaller nations—file past with


                        By Richard Le Gallienne 323

humbler tread—though there is really no need for their doing so.
For, as we have said, they are in every particular like to those
haughtier nations who take precedence of them. In fact, one or
two of them such as Norway and Denmark—were a truer system
of human mathematics to obtain—are really of more importance
than the so-called greater nations, in that among their nobodies
they include a larger percentage of intellectual somebodies.

Remembering that percentage of wise men, the formula of a
nation were perhaps more truly stated in our first mathematical
image. The wise men in a nation are as the units with the
noughts in front of them. And when I say wise men I do not,
indeed, mean merely the literary men or the artists, but all those
somebodies with some real force of character, people with brains
and hearts, fighters and lovers, saints and thinkers, and the patient
industrious workers. Such, if you consider, are really no integral
part of the nation among which they are cast. They have no
part in what are grandiloquently called national interests—war,
politics, and horse-racing to wit. A change of Government leaves
them as unmoved as an election for the Board of Guardians. They
would as soon think of entering Parliament or the County Council,
as of yearning to manage the gasworks, or to go about with one
of those carts bearing the legend ” Aldermen and Burgesses of
the City of London ” conspicuously upon its front. Their main
concern in political change is the rise and fall of the income-tax,
and, be the Cabinet Tory or Liberal, their rate papers come in for
the same amount. It is likely that national changes would affect
them but little more. What would a foreign invasion mean more
than that we should pay our taxes to French, Russian, or German
officials, instead of to English ones ? French and Italians do
our cooking, Germans manage our music, Jews control our
money markets ; surely it would make little difference to us for


                        324 Four Prose Fancies

France, Russia, or Germany to undertake our government.
Japan, indeed, already dictates our foreign policy. The worst of
being conquered by Russia would be the necessity of learning
Russian ; whereas a little rubbing up of our French would make
us comfortable with France. Besides, to be conquered by France
would save us crossing the Channel to Paris, and then we might
hope for cafés in Regent Street, and an emancipated literature.
As a matter of fact, so-called national interests are merely certain
private interests on a large scale, the private interests of financiers,
ambitious politicians and soldiers, and great merchants. Broadly
speaking, there are no rival nations—there are rival markets, and
it is its Board of Trade and its Stock Exchange rather than its
Houses of Parliament that virtually govern a country. Thus
one seaport goes down and another comes up, industries forsake
one country to bless another, the military and naval strengths of
nations fluctuate this way and that ; and to those whom these
changes affect they are undoubtedly important matters—the great
capitalist, the soldier, and the politician ; but to the quiet man at
home with his wife, his children, his books and his flowers, to the
artist busied with braver translunary matters, to the saint with his
eyes filled with ” the white radiance of eternity,” to the shepherd
on the hillside, the milkmaid in love, or the angler at his sport —
what are these pompous commotions, these busy, bustling mimicries
of reality ? England will be just as good to live in though men
some day call her France. Let the big busybodies divide her
amongst them as they like, so that they leave one alone with one’s
fair share of the sky and the grass, and an occasional not too
vociferous nightingale.

The reader will perhaps forgive the hackneyed reference to Sir
Thomas Browne peacefully writing his Religio Medici amid all
the commotions of the Civil War, and to Gautier calmly cor-


                        By Richard Le Gallienne 325

recting the proofs of his new poems during the siege of Paris.
The milkman goes his rounds amid the crash of empires. It is
not his business to fight. His business is to distribute his milk —
as much after half-past seven as may be inconvenient. Similarly,
the business of the thinker is with his thought, the poet with his
poetry. It is the business of politicians to make national quarrels,
and the business of the soldier to fight them. But as for the poet
— let him correct his proofs, or beware the printer.

The idea, then, of a nation is a grandiloquent fallacy in the
interests of commerce and ambition—political and military. All
the great and good, clever and charming people belong to one
secret nation, for which there is no name unless it be the Chosen
People. They are the lost tribes of love, art and religion, lost and
swamped amid alien peoples, but ever dreaming of a time when
they shall meet once more in Jerusalem.

Yet though they are thus aliens, taking and wishing no part in
the organisation of the ” nations ” among which they dwell, this
does not prevent those nations taking part and credit in them.
And whenever a brave soldier wins a battle, or an intrepid traveller
discovers a new land, his particular nation flatters itself as though
it—the million nobodies—had done it. With a profound in-
difference to, indeed an active dislike of, art and poetry, there is
nothing on which a nation prides itself so much as upon its artists
and poets, whom, invariably, they starve, neglect, and even insult
as long as it is not too silly to do so.

Thus the average Englishman talks of Shakespeare—as though
he himself had written the plays ; of India as though he himself
had conquered it. And thus grow up such fictions as ” national
greatness” and ” public opinion.”

For what is ” national greatness ” but the glory reflected from
the memories of a few great individuals ? and what is ” public


                        326 Four Prose Fancies

opinion ” but the blustering echoes of the opinion of a few clever
young men on the morning papers ?

For how can people in themselves little become great by merely
congregating into a crowd, however large ? And surely fools do
not become wise, or worth listening to, merely by the fact of
their banding together.

A ” public opinion ” on any matter except football, prize-
fighting, and perhaps cricket, is merely ridiculous—by whatever
brutal physical powers it may be enforced—ridiculous as a town
council’s opinion upon art ; and a nation is merely a big fool with
an army.

MLA citation:

Le Gallienne, Richard. “Four Prose Fancies.” The Yellow Book, vol. 6, July 1895, pp. 307-326. Yellow Book Digital Edition, edited by Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2010-2014. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2020.