The Fourth Great Booklet


Vexatious Readings
Various Minds

A Leaflet For The Masses



WE think often of those school people in Tennessee who were delighted that a student editor had chosen, as an epigraph for the yearbook, a line that so beautifully and accurately expressed their own noblest beliefs about the great purpose of education: “To each according to his needs; from each according to his abilities.” When they discovered, too late, that those were the words of Karl Marx, delight fled, but, most unjustly, all unaccompanied by any of the noblest beliefs of the Educators of Tennessee.

With this startling–but not strange–event in mind, we have decided not to reveal the names of the authors of the passages in this collection. This may, of course, deprive some authors of the honor, and some of the disgrace, that they deserve, and for both we are sorry. Those who deserve honor will forgive us.

Nevertheless, if you can not rest until you know their names, we are willing to provide them, or, at least those we can remember.

I have written The Book of Kings, which will remain as a memory of my life in this world. The palaces men build fall into ruin under the rain and the heat of the sun; I have built with these verses a magnificent palace which the storm and the rain will not injure; the years will roll over this book, but men everywhere will recite it. I learned how to weave this golden cloth because I discovered long ago the secret of words.

Oh, you who look into the past, how often are you also joyous like me, and how often like me are you full of sorrow. How astonishing is the swift motion of this vaulted sky above all our heads! How often is the soul burdened with still more recent troubles!

One man’s lot is all honey and sugar, good health, sheltered life, and high fortunes; the years of another are so filled with grief and toil that his heart breaks in this fleeting world; a third man’s life is spent in disappointment–sometimes he wins, but oftener he loses. That is the way fate lifts us up, and the pain caused by the thorns is greater than the pleasure we felt at the color of the rose. If only the sixty nets of the years were like fishnets, then a clever man could find his way out; but we can none of us escape from this sky that revolves at the will of Him who made sun and earth.

Even the great conquerors of Persia struggled painfully in vain, loved combat in vain, and ceased to take pleasure in their wealth; they too departed for another world and left here all the fruits of their labors.

Consider the fate of the greatest Shah of Shahs, Cyrus the Great; examine once more the old, old stories of the world. Learn how even Cyrus did not remain upon the earth, how men by the millions ceased to obey his commands.

That is the law of every life; therefore rid your hearts of anxiety.

BUT suppose the boy had not been taught by a priest but by a professor, by one of the professors who simplify the relation of men and beasts to a mere evolutionary variation. Suppose the boy saw himself, with the same simplicity and sincerity, as a mere Mowgli running with the pack of nature and roughly indistinguishable from the rest save by a relative and recent variation. What would be for him the simplest lesson of this stone picture-book? After all, it would come back to this, that he had dug very deep and found the place where a man had drawn the picture of a reindeer. But he would dig a good deal deeper before he found a place where a reindeer had drawn the picture of a man. That sounds like a truism, but in this connection it is really a very tremendous truth. He might descend to depths unthinkable, he might sink into sunken continents as strange as remote stars, he might find himself in the inside of the world as far from men as the other side of the moon; he might see in those cold caverns or colossal terraces of stone the faint hieroglyphic of the fossil, the ruins of lost dynasties of biological life, rather like the ruins of separate creations and separate universes than the stages in the story of one. He would find the trail of monsters blindly developing in directions outside all our common imagery of fish and bird; groping and grasping and touching life with every extravagant elongation of horn and tongue and tentacle; growing a forest of fantastic caricatures of the claw and the fin and the finger. But nowhere would he find one finger that had traced a significant line upon the sand; nowhere one claw that had even begun to scratch the faint suggestion of a form. To all appearance, the thing would be as unthinkable in all those countless cosmic variations of forgotten æons as it would be in the beasts and birds before our eyes. The child would no more expect to see it than he would expect to see the cat scratch on the wall a vindictive caricature of the dog. The childish common sense would keep the most evolutionary child from expecting to see anything like that; yet in the traces of the rude and recently evolved ancestors of humanity he would have seen exactly that. It must surely strike him as strange that men so remote from him should be so near, and that beasts so near to him should be so remote. To his simplicity it must seem at least odd that he could not find any trace of the beginning of any arts among any animals. That is the simplest lesson to learn in the cavern of colored pictures; only it is too simple to be learnt. It is the simple truth that man does differ from the brutes in kind and not in degree; and the proof of it is here; that it sounds like a truism to say that the most primitive man drew a picture of a monkey, and that it sounds like a joke to say that the most intelligent monkey drew a picture of a man. Something of division and disproportion has appeared; and it is unique. Art is the signature of man.

BY a natural blending of patriotic pride with grateful piety, the very spirits of the Athenians who fell at Marathon were deified by their countrymen. The inhabitants of the district of Marathon paid religious rites to them; and orators solemnly invoked them in their most impassioned adjurations before the assembled men of Athens. “Nothing was omitted,” writes Thirwall, “that could keep alive the remembrance of a deed which had first taught the Athenian people to know its own strength, by measuring it with the power that had subdued the greater part of the known world. The consciousness thus awakened fixed its character, its station, and its destiny; it was the spring of its later great actions and its ambitious enterprises.”

It was not indeed by one defeat, however signal, that the pride of Persia could be broken, and her dreams of universal empire dispelled. Ten years afterwards she renewed her attempts upon Europe on a grander scale, and was repulsed by Greece with greater and reiterated loss. Larger forces and heavier slaughter than had been seen at Marathon signalized the conflicts of Greeks and Persians at Artemisium, Salamis, Platæa, and the Eurymedon. But mighty and momentous as these battles were, they rank not with Marathon in importance.

They originated no new impulse. They turned back no current of fate. They were merely confirmatory of the already existing bias which Marathon had created. The day of Marathon is the critical epoch in the history of the two nations. It broke forever the spell of Persian invincibility, which had paralyzed men’s minds. It generated among the Greeks the spirit which beat back Xerxes, and afterwards led on Xenophon, Agesilaus, and Alexander, in terrible retribution, through their Asiatic campaigns. It secured for mankind the intellectual treasures of Athens, the growth of free institutions, the liberal enlightenment of the Western world, and the gradual ascendancy for many ages of European civilization.

I would like to continue our discussion a while by using Fortune’s own arguments, and I would like you to consider whether her demands are just. “Why do you burden me each day, mortal man,” she asks, “with your querulous accusations? What harm have I done you? What possessions of yours have I stolen? Choose any judge you like and sue me for possession of wealth and rank, and if you can show that any part of these belongs by right to any mortal man, I will willingly concede that what you are seeking really did belong to you. When Nature brought you forth from your mother’s womb I received you naked and devoid of everything and fed you from my own resources. I was inclined to favor you, and I brought you up–and this is what makes you lose patience with me–with a measure of indulgence, surrounding you with all the splendor and affluence at my command. Now I have decided to withdraw my hand. You have been receiving a favor as one who had the use of another’s possessions, and you have no right to complain as if what you have lost was fully your own. You have no cause to begin groaning at me; I have done you no violence. Wealth, honors, and the like are all under my jurisdiction. They are my servants and know their mistress. When I come, they come as well, and when I go, they leave as well. I can say with confidence that if the things whose loss you are bemoaning were really yours, you could never have lost them. Surely I am not the only one to be denied the exercise of my rights? The heavens are allowed to bring forth the bright daylight and lay it to rest in the darkness of night: the year is allowed alternately to deck the face of the earth with fruit and flowers and to disfigure it with cloud and cold. The sea is allowed either to be calm and inviting or to rage with storm-driven breakers. Shall man’s insatiable greed bind me to a constancy which is alien to my ways? Inconstancy is my very essence; it is the game I never cease to play as I turn my wheel in its ever changing circle, filled with joy as I bring the top to the bottom and the bottom to the top. Yes, rise up on my wheel if you like, but don’t count it an injury when by the same token you begin to fall, as the rules of the game will require. You must surely have been aware of my ways. You must have heard of Croesus, king of Lydia, who was once able to terrorize his enemy Cyrus, only to be reduced to misery and be condemned to be burnt alive: only a shower of rain saved him. And you must have heard of Æmilius Paulus and how he wept tears of pity at all the disasters that had overwhelmed his prisoner, Perses, the last king of Macedonia. Isn’t this what tragedy commemorates with its tears and tumult–the overthrow of happy realms by the random strokes of Fortune? When you were a little boy, you must have heard Homer’s story of the two jars standing in God’s house, the one full of evil and the other of good. Now, you have had more than your share of the good, but have I completely deserted you? Indeed, my very mutability gives you just cause to hope for better things. So you should not wear yourself out by setting your heart on living according to a law of your own in a world that is shared by everyone.”

ANOTHER of the king’s chief men, approving of his words and exhortations, presently added: “The present life of man, O king, seems to me, in comparison of that time which is unknown to us, like the swift flight of a sparrow through the room wherein you sit at supper in winter, with your commanders and ministers, and a good fire in the midst, while the storms of rain and snow prevail abroad; the sparrow, I say, flying in at one door, and immediately out at another, whilst he is within, is safe from the wintry storm; but after a short space of fair weather, he immediately vanishes out of your sight, into the dark winter from which he had emerged. So this life of man appears for a short space, but of what went before, or what is to follow, we are utterly ignorant. If, therefore, this new doctrine contains something more certain, it seems justly to deserve to be followed.”

IT was Theuth who first invented numbers and arithmetic, geometry and astronomy, dicing, too, and the game of draughts and, most particularly and especially, writing. Now the king of the whole country at that time was Thamus, who dwelt in the great city of Upper Egypt which the Greeks call Egyptian Thebes. To him came Theuth, and revealed his arts, saying that they ought to be passed on to the Egyptians in general. Thamus asked what was the use of them all, and when Theuth explained, he condemned what he thought the bad points, and praised what he thought the good. On each art, we are told, Thamus had plenty of views both for and against; it would take too long to give them in detail. But when it came to writing, Theuth said, “Here, O king, is a branch of learning that will make the people of Egypt wiser and improve their memories; my discovery provides a recipe for memory and wisdom.”

But the king answered and said, “O man full of arts, to one it is given to create the things of art, and to another to judge what measure of harm and of profit they have for those that shall employ them. And so it is that you, by reason of your tender regard for the writing that is your offspring, have declared the very opposite of its true effect. If men will learn this, it will implant forgetfulness in their souls; they will cease to exercise memory because they rely on that which is written, calling things to remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks. What you have discovered is a recipe not for memory, but for reminder. And it is no true wisdom that you offer your disciples, but only its semblance, for by telling them of many things without teaching them, you will make them seem to know much, while for the most part they know nothing, and as men filled, not with wisdom, but with the conceit of wisdom, they will be a burden to their fellows.”

That’s the strange thing about writing, which makes it truly analogous to painting. The painter’s products stand before us as though they were alive, but if you question them, they maintain a most majestic silence. It is the same with written words; they seem to talk to you as though they were intelligent, but if you ask them anything about what they say, from a desire to be instructed, they go on telling you the same thing forever. And once a thing is put in writing, the composition, whatever it may be, drifts all over the place, getting into the hands not only of those who understand it, but equally with those who have no business with it; it doesn’t know how to address the right people, and not address the wrong. And when it is ill-treated and unfairly abused it always needs its parent to come to its help, being unable to defend or help itself.

OF Plato’s works, the larger and more valuable portion have all one common end, which comprehends and shines through the particular purpose of each several dialogue; and this is to establish the sources, to evolve the principles, and exemplify the art of METHOD. This is the clue, without which it would be difficult to exculpate the noblest productions of the divine philosopher from the charge of being tortuous and labyrinthine in their progress, and unsatisfactory in their ostensible results. The latter indeed appear not seldom to have been drawn for the purpose of starting a new problem, rather than that of solving the one proposed as the subject of the previous discussion.

But with the clear insight that the purpose of the writer is not so much to establish any particular truth, as to remove the obstacles, the continuance of which is preclusive of all truth; the whole scheme assumes a different aspect, and justifies itself in all its dimensions. We see, that to open anew a well of springing water, not to cleanse the stagnant tank, or fill, bucket by bucket, the leaden cistern; that the EDUCATION of the intellect, by awakening the principle and method of self-development, was his proposed object, not any specific information that can be conveyed into it from without; not to assist in storing the passive mind with the various sorts of knowledge most in request, as if the human souls were a mere repository or banquet-room, but to place it in such relations of circumstance as should gradually excite the germinal power that craves no knowledge but what it can take up into itself, what it can appropriate, and re-produce in fruits of its own. To shape, to dye, to paint over, and to mechanize the mind, he resigned, as their proper trade, to the sophists, against whom he waged open and unremitting war.

AS to memory, I think it should not be forgotten that just as intelligence investigates and discovers by means of division, so memory safeguards the results by bringing them together. It is necessary, then, that what we have separated in learning, we should bring together to be committed to memory. To bring together means to make a short and concise summary of those things which in writing and discussion are more prolix; this, the ancients called an “epilogue,” that is, a brief recapitulation of what has gone before. For every treatment of a subject has some beginning on which the whole truth of the matter and the power of judgment depends, and to this everything else is referred. To seek out and consider this is to bring things together. There is one fount and many rivulets; why do you follow the windings of the streams? Reach the fount and you have it all. I say this because man’s memory is sluggish, and rejoices in brevity, and if it is dispersed among many things, it does less well in particulars. We ought, then, in all learning to collect something brief and certain, which may be hidden in the secret places of the memory, whence afterward, when it is necessary, the rest may be derived. It is necessary to repeat this often, and to recall the taste from the belly of memory to the palate, lest, by long interruption, it should fall into disuse. Therefore I beg you, reader, not to rejoice too greatly if you have read much, but if you have understood much; not that you have understood much, but that you have been able to retain it. Otherwise it is of little profit either to read or to understand.

When a certain wise man was asked what is the method and form of learning, he replied, “A humble mind, zeal for inquiry, a quiet life, silent investigation, poverty, and a foreign land: these are wont to reveal to many what is obscure in their reading.” I think that he had heard the saying, “Manners adorn Knowledge,” and so he joined together precepts for study and precepts for living, so that the reader may perceive both the manner of his own life and the meaning of study. Knowledge is unworthy of praise when it is stained by a shameless life. Therefore, he who seeks knowledge should take the greatest care not to neglect discipline.

THE more ignorant men are, the more convinced are they that their little parish and their little chapel is an apex to which civilization and philosophy have painfully struggled up the pyramid of time from a desert of savagery. Savagery, they think, became barbarism; barbarism became ancient civilization; ancient civilization became Pauline Christianity; Pauline Christianity became Roman Catholicism; Roman Catholicism became the Dark Ages; and the Dark Ages were finally enlightened by the Protestant instincts of the English race. The whole process is summed up as Progress with a capital P. And any elderly gentleman of Progressive temperament will testify that the improvement since he was a boy is enormous.

Now if we count the generations of Progressive elderly gentlemen since, say, Plato, and add together the successive enormous improvements to which each of them has testified, it will strike us at once as an unaccountable fact that the world, instead of having improved in 67 generations out of all recognition, presents, on the whole, a rather less dignified appearance in Ibsen’s Enemy of the People than in Plato’s Republic. And in truth, the period of time covered by history is far too short to allow of any perceptible progress in the popular sense of Evolution of the Human Species. The notion that there has been any such progress since Caesar’s time (less than 20 centuries) is too absurd for discussion. All the savagery, barbarism, dark ages and the rest of it which we have any record as existing in the past exists at the present moment. A British carpenter or stonemason may point out that he gets twice as much money for his labor as his father did in the same trade, and that his suburban house, with its bath, its cottage piano, its drawing room suite, and its album of photographs, would have shamed the plainness of his grandmother’s. But the descendants of feudal barons, living in squalid lodgings on a salary of fifteen shillings a week instead of in castles on princely revenues, do not congratulate the world on the change. Such changes, in fact, are not to the point. It has been known, as far back as our records go, that man running wild in the woods is different from man kennelled in a city slum; that a dog seems to understand a shepherd better than a hewer of wood and drawer of water can understand an astronomer; and that breeding, gentle nurture, and luxurious food and shelter will produce a kind of man with whom the common laborer is incompatible. The same is true of horses and dogs. Now there is clearly room for great change in the world by increasing the percentage of individuals who are carefully bred and gently nurtured, even to finally making the most of every man and woman born. But that possibility existed in the days of the Hittites as much as it does today. It does not give the slightest real support to the common assumption that the civilized contemporaries of the Hittites were unlike their civilized descendants today.

This would appear the tritest commonplace if it were not that the ordinary citizen’s ignorance of the past combines with his idealization of the present to mislead and flatter him. Our latest book on the new railway across Asia describes the dullness of the Siberian farmer and the vulgar pursepride of the Siberian man of business without the least consciousness that the string of contemptuous instances given might have been saved by writing simply “Farmers and provincial plutocrats in Siberia are exactly what they are in England.” The latest professor descanting on the ancient civilization of the Western Empire in the fifth century feels bound to assume, in the teeth of his own researches, that the Christian was one sort of animal and the pagan another. It might as well be assumed, as indeed it generally is assumed by implication, that a murder committed with a poisoned arrow is different from a murder committed with a Mauser rifle. All such notions are illusions. Go back to the first syllable of recorded time, and there you will find your Christian and your Pagan, your yokel and your poet, hero and helot, Don Quixote and Sancho, Tamino and Papageno, Newton and bushman unable to count to eleven, all alive and contemporaneous, and all convinced that they are the heirs of all the ages and the privileged recipients of The Truth (all others damnable heresies) just as you have them today, flourishing in countries each of which is the bravest and best that ever sprang at Heaven’s command from out the azure main.

Again, there is the illusion of “increased command over Nature,” meaning that cotton is cheap and that ten miles of country road on a bicycle have replaced four on foot. But even if man’s increased command over Nature included any increased command over himself (the only sort of command relevant to his evolution into a higher being), the fact remains that it is only by running away from the increased command over Nature to country places where Nature is still in primitive command over Man that he can recover from the effects of the smoke, the stench, the foul air, the overcrowding, the racket, the ugliness, the dirt which the cheap cotton costs us. If manufacturing activity means Progress, the town must be more advanced than the country; and the field laborers and village artisans of today much be much less changed from the servants of job than the proletariat of London from the proletariat of Caesar’s Rome. Yet the Cockney proletarian is so inferior to the village laborer that it is only by steady recruiting from the country that London is kept alive. This does not seem as if the change from Job’s time were Progress in the popular sense; quite the reverse. The common stock of discoveries in physics has accumulated a little. That is all.

What To Do till the Undertaker Comes